Sunday, September 19, 2010

Moroccan Delight

On Friday night, we were treated to an incredible home-cooked Moroccan meal by our friends G & P. The impetus for this meal was a dinner the four of us had enjoyed at a local Moroccan restaurant. One of the dishes I had eaten was called Bisteeya. G, who was very familiar with Moroccan cuisine, understood that this dish was hard to prepare properly in a restaurant. He offered to treat us to a Moroccan meal prepared by him. Since he is the best chef/cook I have ever known, I knew this would be a special treat.

(On a previous occasion, before a trip to Provence, I had asked him if he could describe daube, a Provençal stew I had seen mentioned in a book on Provence. He not only described it, but he prepared a complete Provençal meal, including daube. I tried daube three times in Provence, including at Les Deux Garçons in Aix and Le Safari in Nice. None held a candle to his daube.)

On Friday, he prepared two main dishes for us - bisteeya and lamb shanks in Moroccan spices. Both were incredible.

Bisteeya is a chicken pie with chicken, onion, eggs, spices, and a layer of gound almonds, wrapped in filo dough and topped with confectioners sugar and cinamon. (The dish was originally made with pigeon.) It requires a great deal of time to prepare from scratch, the way he prepared it. I cannot begin to describe how mouthwateringly delicious this dish was.

Needless to say, the lamb was equally delicious.

The wines he served were two whites:
- Hugues Beauvignac Coteaux de Languedoc made with the Picpoul de Pinet grape
- Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand

Both were perfect accompaniments to this feast.

There are many examples of this recipe on the Internet. One of these recipes, with a picture of the finished product, can be found at

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Today's Dinner for Friends

I enjoyed making dinner tonight for our friends Ivan & Iris, and Jack & Mary Ann:
- A simple Lombard antipasto salad of celery, walnuts, grana padano cheese, and olive oil (insalata di sedano e noci)
- Acquacotta Maremmana, a soup from the Maremma area of Tuscany. Acquacotta means, "cooked water." It refers to the fact that this soup is made with water rather than a broth. I combined two different acquacotta recipes. This one had onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, swiss chard, eggs, garlic, and a bit of chili powder. It was poured over toasted stale Tuscan bread covered with pecorino Romano cheese. Many Tuscan soup recipes use stale bread (pane raffermo). I bought a fresh loaf of "Tuscan bread" from Fresh Market a couple of days ago and let it age. Of course, it was not real Tuscan bread because its ingredients included a bit of salt, which is not used in Tuscan bread.
- Stracotto alla Fiorentina - Florentine-style eye of round larded with carrots and pancetta, and cooked in wine, tomatoes, carrots, and celery, and simmered for a couple of hours. At the end, I made a sauce by using a hand blender to blend the vegetables.
- Panna cotta with a caramel sauce. It took me two attempts to make the caramel sauce. The first attempt produced a slightly burnt brick.
We had three nice wines:
- An Umbrian white made with Greccheto and Vermentino grapes and produced by Colle Solato. Colle Solato also produces a nice, every-day red.
- a 2008 Morellino di Scansano Maremma red with 85% sangiovese and 15% Canaiolo Nero produced by Mantellassi.
- a 2005 Casalino Chianti Classico Riserva

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Home-Cooked Meals in Italy

Homefood is a very interesting organization in Italy. It is dedicated to preserving traditional home-cooked Italian food. Every month, they offer home-cooked meals at homes throughout Italy. These meals are prepared by women called, "cesarine" (singular "cesarina"). They will also try to set up private home-cooked meals. The meals are reasonably priced. One has to join Homefood to participate. I'm currently trying to arrange a meal during our upcoming trip to Italy. The web site for Homefood is The site is in both Italian and English. To change languages, look for the drop-down menu toward the top of the home page.

Wine Database

On my mobile phone (HTC Tilt 2), I keep a wine database of most of the wines I've tried since 2002. (I did have a catastrophic loss of about a year's worth of data in 2003.) I currently have 1,365 records of wines we've tried. I use the database to help me when I order wines in stores or restaurants.

I used the HanDbase mobile database software to create this database. (I've used this software to create other databases for my phone.) I originally used this software with Palm phones I previously used. I kept the same software and converted it to work with Windows Mobile with  my most recent phones.)

The fields in my database are:
- Name
- Type
- Origin (Country, Region/Province/State, Town)
- Grapes
- Vineyard
- Year
- Rating (My rating system)
- Vintage
- Store
- Price
- Date (when we had the wine)
- Negociant

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Last Night's Dinner

Made crostino al tonno and spaghetti all'amatriciana last night. Both turned out nicely. The crostino recipe came from a recipe and the spaghetti from a recipe. The crostino took a lot for time to prepare than the 14 minutes than the Redbook recipe indicated. That's because they assume everything's ready to assemble. Took a while to pit the kalamata olives and tear up the arugula leaves. Doesn't help that I'm a novice cook.

Michigan Taste Treats

After visiting Sauble Beach, we went to Michigan for a reunion of my high school class. While there, we had a couple of nice food experiences. I wish we could have stayed longer and tried more restaurants. Our best experiences were:

1. Beirut Bakery ( This institution is more than a bakery. My brother has been patronizing it since 1976. It makes wonderful Arabic food like mom used to make. My brother ordered take out food for a wonderful meal that included:
- grape leaves stuffed with lamb, rice, and spices, and cooked in broth. These were nice and firm, not the mushy stuffed grape leaves often found in restaurants in the U.S. (The Arabic stuffed grape leaves are not covered in egg lemon sauce - avgolemono - like the Greek version. They can be dipped in yoghurt.)
- cabbage rolls stuffed with lamb, rice, and spices, and cooked in broth.
- Mjedara - lentils and rice cooked in olive oil and topped with caramelized onions.
- tabouleh
- cheese bread
2. Matsuchan
This is a genuine Japanese noodle restaurant like those we used to patronize when we lived in Japan. It not only has noodle dishes, but others like katsudon. Many of its clients are Japanese. One of the main types of dishes it serves are huge bowls of ramen noodles in broth and with various veggies. (Don't confuse Japanese ramen with those little ramen cups you buy in supermarkets.) Matsuchan had the three basic types of ramen broths - soy, salt, and miso. I had corn butter ramen and my wife had katsudon. With two sodas, our total bill came to $19.90.
Matsuchan is located at 5990 N. Sheldon at Ford Rd. in Canton.

Don't confuse this restaurant with Ichiban, a large Japanese steak house located just around the corner from Matsuchan. (FYI, you won't find those Japanese steak houses in Japan. I only saw a couple in 4 years - one in the U.S. military hotel in Tokyo and one outside a U.S. military base on Okinawa.)
3. Palm Palace
This is an Arabic restaurant in Ann Arbor, MI. It is part of a chain ( My brother, his wife and son took us there and treated us to a delicious meal. The food was very nice, but the grape leaves did not compare to those of Beirut Bakery. The Arabic bread was terrific - out of this world. My wife and I had the lamb combo, which included lamb meat pies, lamb shawarma, lamb kibbeh (cooked), a hummus dip, and a garlic dip.
4. DeLuca's Italian Restaurant
The night before our reunion dinner, our class had a pizza party at DeLuca's, which is owned by the family of a classmate. The pizzas were very tasty. In addition to our group of 80 or so people, who were in a separate room, the restaurant was packed - a testimony to its quality. It was wonderful to go back to a place whose food I'd enjoyed many years ago, and to see that it was still run so expertly by the same family.

Canadian Taste Treats

During a recent trip to Sauble Beach, Ontario, we had a some interesting taste treats:

1. Beaver Tails. This is the name of an Ontario type of pastry. It is one of the best desserts I've ever had. It's thin, flat, wide and messy to eat. Mine was topped with maple butter and my wife's with hazelnut chocolate. We had ours at the Beaver Tails stand in Little Tub Harbor, Toberymory.

2. I had a very nice fish & chip lunch with whitefish at the Princess Hotel in Toberymory. The menu has a mix of Canadian and Greek food. The Greek food appears to be the real thing. For example, the Greek Xoriatiki (Country) Salad did not have lettuce - the sign of a genuine Greek salad. Our waitress was originally from the Peleponnesus in Greece.
3. We had some terrific home-made ice cream at the Big Bay General Store, a terrific little store on the south side of Colpoys Bay, east of Wiarton. The same people have owned it for at least 15 years.
4. I had a delicious sausage sandwich at the weekly market at Keady. The market is a farmers market and antiques market. When a local heard me discussing a sausage sandwich as I was standing next to a booth that sold sausage sandwiches, he told me that the best sausage sandwiches were at the F&M booth. My niece and I went to the F&M booth and each had one. They were terrific. The owner, Floyd Wallerstein, said that he only uses pork, salt, and pepper, with no filler. The buns he uses are home made.
The Keady market has a lot of beautiful produce in summer. However, you have to be very careful. Some of the stands sell produce that is at the end of its freshness.
5. I tried some poutine (french fries and gravy) in Wiarton, but it did not match what I'd had in Montreal. This dish is from Quebec.
6. We had some wonderful Montreal-style bagels which my niece's husband had brought up from Montreal. (For a description of Montreal-style bagels, see
7. We had wonderful meals prepared by my two nieces.
8. In Sauble Beach, there is a Chinese restaurant called Channings. It reportedly has tasty Chinese food. What I found amusing on the web site menu is that they have a section entitled, "Canadian food." That section comprises three items:
- chicken fingers
- french fries
- grilled cheese

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tuscan & Umbrian Dishes and Wines

We'll be going back to Umbria & Tuscany soon, so I've made a list of some food terms and some Tuscan and Umbrian dishes and wines. I've concentrated on dishes that are either regional specialties or specialties of the towns we'll be visiting. We're going to Spoleto, Norcia, and Gubbio in Umbria, and Montalcino, Montepulciano, Cortona, Siena, the whole Chianti Classico area, and San Gimignano. I've tried some of the dishes before, and I've even cooked a few, but there are a number of dishes I'd like to try for the first time. There are others I plan to avoid. Hope I haven't missed any important dishes.

Some Terms

Antipasto - appetizer - literally means “before the meal”

Bacelli - Tuscan word for fava beans

Cacio - Tuscan word for cheese

Casalinga - Home cooking

Castagne - chestnuts, used in flour and otherwise in many Tuscan dishes (see marroni)

Chiocciole - snails

Lumache - snails

Marroni - chestnuts. Rounder, more plump, and more expensive than castagne

Nepitella - a unique wild herb that is described as a cross between oregano & mint or basil & mint. Considered one of the key herbs for every Tuscan kitchen & very important in Umbria

Ricci - sea urchin

Sagra - Italian word for a food-related festival. Other names for a festival are: festa, festa popolare, and fiera. A festa or a fiera can be food oriented. I am not sure of the different connotations of these terms A festa religiosa is a religious festival.

Tramezzino - a type of sandwich. The difference between tramezzini and panini is the bread. Tramezzini use soft, slice bread (that looks like Wonderbread slices). The tramezzini are triangular in shape.

Tartufi - Truffles. Truffles are “fungal fruiting bodies.” They’re like mushrooms, but grow underground. White truffles are tartufi bianchi and black truffles are tartufi neri. They are rare, expensive, and tasty. In the past, pigs were used to hunt truffles. Now, dogs are primarily used.


1. Umbrian Dishes

Attorta – apple-filled pastry dessert (Gubbio)

Beccaccia alla norcina – woodcock stuffed with gizzards, with sausage, butter, marjoram, thyme, and in season with white truffles (Norcia)

Brustengolo - a dessert made with corn flour(Gubbio)- Budelline – intestines

Castagnole – dessert made with eggs, sugar, yeast, flour, lard, honey, and anise liqueur in shape of chestnuts and fried (Gubbio)

Ceci e farro, minestra de – Chickpea & farro soup

Ceci e quadrucci - chick peas and quadrucci pasta soup

Ceriole/ciriole – type of rustic pasta season with a soffrito of garlic & oil

Ciauscolo - a spreadable salame, originally from the Le Marche region

Crescia – Gubbio specialty. Like focaccia bread. Can be eaten plain or stuffed with sausage, prosciutto, pecorino. Must have.

Cresciole di ciccioli – Rounded cakes that can be sweet or salted (Gubbio)

Farro - traditional grain. Used in soups salads and other dishes. Fed the Roman legions. Translated as “spelt,” but is supposedly not the same thing.

Farro al prosciutto – minestra w. soffritto, prosciutto bone & fat, olive oil, grated cheese

Fettunta (A Tuscan word for bruschetta)

Frascarelli – rich pasta soup once reserved for nursing women

Lenticchie di Castelluccio - famous lentils from the town of Castelluccio. Meaty texture.

Mazzafegati - sausages made with pork liver & other ingredients

Miele di Castagno - Chestnut honey (Spoleto)

Minestra di Cavolo Nero (Soup of Tuscan Black Cabbage)

Mungana – type of milk-fed veal

Mostaccioli – cookies made during vendemmia

Pagliata – veal intestine

Passata di fave di finocchietto selvatico – puree of beans of wild fennel

Porchetta – fantastic pork sandwhich (Norcia)

Prosciutto (Norcia)


Strangozzi al tartufo – strangozzi pasta with truffles

Strascinati – pasta with sauted sausage mixed with eggs mix with parmesan cheese

Tortino di patate con lenticchie

Trecciole – intestines cooked on embers

Umbrici – rough, spaghetti-like pasta

Zuppa di Farro - soup with farro grain

Zuppa di Verdura (vegetable soup, includes stale bread)


In addition to Umbrian reds I’ve had, I'd like to try

Grecchetto white wine (Spoleto)


1. Tuscan

Acquacotta Maremmana (“Cooked Water” soup) (Maremma)

Agnello - lamb

Anatra in porchetta (also called Nana in Porchetta) - roast duck

Arista (“alla Fiorentina” or “alla Toscana”) pork roast with garlic, rosemary, olive oil, sometimes sage - name from Greek word meaning “the best”

Baccalà alla Fiorentina (Florentine-style salt cod), many variations

Bastardo - a type of salame originally from Montalcino (also called Mezzone). Principally pork with a bit of beef

Biancomangiare - a mousse/custard with ground almonds. An older version included chicken.

Biroldo - blood sausage

Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Forentine steak, minimum size of 2 lbs.) I love it!

* Bread (pane) - Tuscan bread is different from other Italian bread because it is made without salt. I have read two reasons for this:

1. During the 12th Century rivalry between Florence and the powerful maritime republic of Pisa, Pisa blocked the delivery of salt into the interior of Tuscany.
2. Salt was heavily taxed in Tuscany.

Buglione di Agnello - Lamb Casserole (Maremma)

Buristo - blood sausage

Bruschetta (see fettunta)

Budino di Riso - a rice pudding pastry

Cacciucco all’Uso della Costa Maremmana - Maremma Coast Seafood Soup (Maremma)

Caciotta - a Tuscan cheese

Cantucci (cookies, biscuits) eaten with Vin Santo

Capocollo - pork shoulder cold cut

Capponi - capons

Castagnaccio - chestnut cake

Castagne Ubbriache - literally “Drunken Chestnuts” - chestnuts in red wine

Cavalluccio - rustic biscotti

Ceci - chick peas - in lots of dishes

Cenci - fried sweet pastries usually made at Carnival time in Jan & Feb

Cervello - brain

Chianina beef from the Val di Chiana (which includes Siena, Montalcino, Montepulciano & Cortona) (

Cinghiale - wild boar - used in many Tuscan dishes. Try a cinghiale ragù (sauce) over pappardelle or tagliatelle or pici pasta

Cinta Senese Pork (Siena area) - Cinta Senese pigs are a distinct breed with a white band around the fore part of the body.

Cipollata - duck sausage

Coniglio - rabbit

Crespelle alla Fiorentina - Florentine style crespelle. Crespelle are Italian crepes.

Crostini - toasted bread with various toppings - an antipasto. Similar to bruschetta & fettunta but smaller sized bread - baguette size. One of the most popular is crostini di fegato - crostini with chicken liver.

Crostoni - similar to but larger than crostini

Dolceforte - a type of sauce whose name means “sweet and strong.” It is used with meats - typically, wild boar (cinghiale) and hare (lepre). It has ingredients such as chocolate, candied fruit, sugar, raisins, onions, carrots, celery, etc.

Fagiano - pheasant

Fagioli al Fiasco - A simple cannellini bean dish. Fiasco means, “flask.”

Fagioli all’Uccelletto - cannellini bean stew with or without sausages

Faraona - guinea fowl

Farro - traditional grain. Used in soups salads and other dishes. Fed the Roman legions.

Fegatelli - pork liver

Fegato - liver

Fettunta - a Tuscan word for Bruschetta. Originally - 2 day old bread toasted and coated with olive oil & garlic. Larger than crostini. Now made with various toppings.

Ficattola - a sweet bread made with figs and often served with prosciutto

Finocchiona (Fennel-flavored salami)

Fiori di Zucca Fritti - fried zucchini flowers

Fiori di Zucchini Ripieni di Salsiccia - Fried zucchini flowers stuffed w. sausage (Siena)

Ginestrata - a soup with egg yolk, chicken broth, marsala, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar.

Guanciale, flavorful pig’s cheek - used as a flavoring in dishes rather than eaten alone

Lampredotto - type of tripe

Maremmana beef from the Maremma (Maremma)

Marroni - type of chestnuts

Marzolino cheese (probably only available in March, as name implies)

Melatelli - apples fried in batter

Migliaccio - various dishes, including a cake dessert, made with fresh pig’s blood

Milza - spleen

Minestra di Cavolo Nero - Black cabbage soup

Nana in porchetta - roast duck

Pan Co Santi - Autumn walnut, raisin, pepper bread

Panforte (fruit and nut cake) (Siena), (Montalcino)

Pan pepato - version with spicy crust

Margherita - fruitier version with powdered sugar

Panunto - another Tuscan word for fettunta

Panzanella (Salad including stale bread)

Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato soup)

Pappardelle sulla lepre - papardelle pasta on hare

Pappardelle al Cinghiali (can be with porcini) - pappardelle pasta with wild boar

Pasta e ceci alla Toscana - pasta & chick pea soup

Pasta e fagioli soup - Tuscan version w. cannellini beans and ditali or ditaloni pasta

Pecorino cheese - many, many types

Piccione - pigeon

Pici pasta dishes (Siena & south)

Pieducci - pig’s feet

Pinci (same as pici pasta)

Plum preserves made from plum (susina) called Coscia di Monaca (Nun’s Thigh)

Porcini mushrooms (porcini means “little pigs.”) Season is Sep - Oct

Prosciutto. A unique type of prosciutto, saltier, with very low production. For details, see

Raveggiolo - a delicate, soft white Tuscan cheese

Ribollita (Reboiled soup)

Ricciarelli - almond & macaroon cookies (Siena)

Rigaglie - giblets

Risotto al Chianti - risotto with beef or sausages and chianti wine (many variations)

Salsiccie (sausages)

Salumi - various cold cuts

Salviata - sage pie, sage omelet

Sanguinaccio - blood sausage

Sbricciolona - a type of finocchiona (fennel salami)

Schiacciata - Tuscan flat bread. Various types, including sweet and with grapes.

Scottiglia - meat stew with almost any kind of meat. Originally from the Maremma.

Stiracchio - boiled beef, tomatoes, garlic, red onions, etc.

Tartufo bianco - white truffles (Montepulciano, Crete Senesi)

Tartufo nero - dark truffles

Tiramisu (Siena)

Tordo - thrush. Montalcino has a thrush festical (Sagra del Tordo) last weekend of Oct.

Torrone - nougat sweet made with honey, almonds, sugar, egg whites (Siena)

Torta di Riso - Rice tart, a dessert

Tortelli Maremmani e Sugo - Maremma Tortelli & Sauce (Maremma)

Tortino di Carciofi - Artichoke flan/omelet/souffle

Trippa alla Fiorentina (Florentine Tripe)

Umido - stew. Usually “in umido” Various types.

Zafferano (saffron) (San Gimignano)

* Zucotto - a Tuscan dessert cake with whipped cream, chocolate, and nuts. Its
name supposedly derives from the word for a cardinal's skullcap.

Zuppa del Duca (same as Zuppa Inglese). Created in Siena. It's like English trifle.

Zuppa di Fagioli alla Senese - Sienese bean soup (Siena)

Zuppa Frantoiana - Olive mill soup - typically associated with the olive harvest in late autumn

Zuppa di Lentichie col Fagiano - Lentil soup with pheasant

Zuppa di Rane - Frog Soup

Zuppa di Verdura - Vegetable soup

Zuppa Inglese (see Zuppa del Duca) - dessert

Tuscan Wines

In addition to Brunello, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, there are a couple of Tuscan wines I'd lie to try or have again.

Galestro - white made primarily from Trebbiano & Malvasia (Chianti)

Vernaccia di San Gimignano (San Gimignano)