Ahhh Lavender. I love Lavender. Just the thought relaxes my mind, body and spirit. So clean and fresh. Large rolling fields of it blowing in the winds of Provence. Purple, blue, violet, indigo. French, English, Grey, Spike, Grosso. So many kinds, so many uses. Dance your fingers through the feathery foliage and inhale… It is with you all day. Dreams, memories. Reminiscent of clear crisp linen sheets and deep sleep. Laaavender. Woody, sweet, floral, pungent, piney, medicinal. Perfume of the Roman Gods. Arousing, romantic, healing, nostalgic, soothing. Lavender honey, soap, handcreme and sachets tucked away protecting your precious antique linen. Why do you love it? What are your favorite ways to use it?
I am lucky enough to live about 5 miles from the Culinary Institute of America. They have 4 restaurants and a bakery open to the public.
The Escoffier Room (French cuisine), The American Bounty (American fare), St. Andrews Café (a casual mix), Risorante Caterina de’ Medici (Italian cuisine) and the Apple Pie Bakery. I will say, though not outrageously expensive, it’s usually out of my price range. However, in the winter months, from January thru April, Monday thru Thrusday, they offer a winter prix-fixe in all four restaurants. This is a perfect time to take advantage of a wonderful meal. A three course lunch is $20 and a three course dinner is only $30!
It is an amazing price for the quality of food you get.
I have had dinner three times in the past at the CIA; twice at the American Bounty and once at the Risorante Caterina de’ Medici. We again decided to dine at the Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, partly because we love Italian food and partly because Chris has not eaten here yet. The reservation process is a snap, and can even be done online. You need to leave a $10 deposit per person when you reserve, and that seamlessly gets deducted from your bill at the end of your meal.
The restaurant looks like a Tuscan villa, painted ochre with dark green shutters. The moment that we entered the restaurant for our reservation, we were treated like royalty. Our coats were quickly taken and checked. I spoke with the maitre d’hotel and told him of my plan to take pictures and notes for my blog. I never know how the staff will react, but I certainly don’t want my camera smashed (this would happen if we were at the other CIA). He had no problem with me taking either. I should also mention that the staff in all of the restaurants consists of only students. It is part of their training.
The decor is very Italian, including a huge olive tree in the center of the room and hand blown Murano glass chandeliers that are a bit too pastel for my taste. And the place is a bit too bright, in my opinion. Most of the famous named sponsors of the Italian program are represented throughout. Colavita, Torani and Illy are just afew. (Hey, somebody has got to pay for these beautiful grounds and one of a kind education.)
Kai, our waiter, was absolutely wonderful. We conversed with him all throughout our meal, which lasted a little over 2 hours. We learned that he was from California, had done his externship in Hawaii and will be graduating with a focus in Japanese Cuisine.
For drinks, I was really impressed by the wine list. There were many wines by the glass available, though many more reds than whites. The prices were outstanding – the range was $4.00 for Pinot Grigio to $12.50 for a Barolo. The bottle prices were good, but as we can never agree on something that we would both drink‚ by the glass works better for us. I had a Masi 2005 Valpolicella, which was very good – smooth and fruity, and only $5.50. Chris had a LaRosa Morreti beer at $4.75, which was thick with flavors of yeast and chocolate.
Another thing to note was that the beer was potent at 7.2% alcohol, compared to American beer which is about half or 3%! That certainly did not stop us from each having two drinks! (Hey, it was a long dinner and I had a stressful day at work- don’t judge me!). A basket of homemade bread (also available at the CIA’s Apple Pie Bakery) was delivered to the table. I must admit, I have had Focaccia bread in Italy, and this was an absolute rival. The smell of caramelized onions emanated from the bread before you even tasted it! Ahh… Italy. This was served with a large bottle of olive oil, which was thick, fresh, green and grassy‚ just like real Tuscan olive oil. Our fresh Italian bread couldn’t help but to soak it up.
The regular menu was extensive. For primi (or first course) the majority of selections were different types of pasta and sauces, such a pappardelle and orecchiette. For secondi (or maincourse), there was chicken, fish, pork and my favorite the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a special cut of meat prepared in the traditional Florentine manner.
Our prix-fixe menu was not as extensive, but still excellent. For our primi, we both enjoyed Insalata di Pere e Gorgonzola e Noci. This was a delicious arugula and endive salad with poached pears, gorgonzola cheese and toasted walnuts. Everything was fresh, the cheese wonderfully moldy and the walnuts toasted just right. The dressing had just the right amount of sweetness and a nice bit of shallot.
For our main course, I had filetto di maiale con scarole e fagioli, which was a sauteed pork cutlet with sausage, escarole and a bean ragu. I have never tasted pork this tender, it melted in my mouth like butter. Very flavorful and all of the elements worked really well together. The ragu, was just a nice gravy with a few whole white canellini beans. It was topped with some micro greens.
Being a vegetarian (well, pescatarian), Chris chose the halibut affogata con polenta impostoiatta, which is seared halibut with black olive polenta and oven-roasted tomatoes. His was equally good, but he likes his fish very moist and in his opinion the fish was the slightest bit overdone, although I found it cooked fine. I do not care for polenta, but the rest of his dish was also delicious. The tomatoes had an intense flavor from the perfect roasting.
Dessert was a tough choice. Everything looked so good. Even cheese plates were on offer for only $5-$6. I chose the cappuccino créme brulee and Chris had the gelato (we always get different desserts‚ so we can sample more). Mine arrived with a perfectly crisp coating and creamy coffee flavored custard. The portion was too large for me, so of course Chris chipped in (literally and figuratively) and finished it. The gelato was a selection of vanilla, chocolate and nocciola (hazelnut). It was just like the gelato we devoured every day in Italy. I also had a cappuccino and Chris enjoyed a 1996 Lungarotti Vin Santo. I would have had a black sambuca along with it, but to my amazement, they only stock the regular white stuff.
At this point, the maître d’hotel asked me if would like to take pictures of the kitchen and meet the Chef! I was surprised and honored, but quickly followed to the kitchen. There I met the Chef, who gave full credit to his students for the wonderful meal, and joked that if I had $5, I could take pictures of the kitchen.
I snapped a few (after I told him too add it to my bill). Even more amazing was that he told me a new group of students take over the kitchen every 7 days! Yes, new chefs and servers (students) every week‚ and they must keep up the quality. It is nothing short of a miracle! I graciously thanked him with a grazie, grazie and in return received a very proper Italian, prego, prego!
That made my night! Whether I deserved it or not, I felt very special.
In total, the bill was $108. Very reasonable for the meal, drinks, the service and the experience that we had. As we were leaving, a few little snowflakes started to fall. It was the perfect end to a wonderful evening. I highly recommend that if you are in the area, you make a reservation. You will not only have a great meal, but you will be helping hardworking students get an education and go on to creating more wonderful restaurants for us to enjoy!
Caterina de’ Medici
Culinary Institute of America
Hyde Park, NY 12538
This time I splurged a bit.
I had heard of Masi as an Italian producer of Amarone, but they make Valpolicella and other wines as well. This particular wine was a recommendation from Jerry who authors the blog Cheers!
It is a 2003 Masi Campofiorin. It is a big red, and is done in the appassimento (semi-drying) style.
In a nutshell, some of the grapes (Veronese grapes, mostly Corvina) are laid out to dry, there by concentrating the flavors. This dried sweetened fruit is then fermented and added back into the original barrels of wine, for a double fermentation, a process that Masi created in 1964 and named ‘Ripasso’
The process gives a very distinct, syrupy, thickness and flavor to the wine. This wine is a beautiful deep color, it is rich, has a lot of body and has a velvety finish.
I can taste plum and a hint of prune. It is more lively than an Amarone, is very easy to drink and at $15, it is definitely worth the money!
I’m a sucker for a beautiful wine lable, so the detail and little cherub are an added bonus.
Another weekend excursion in the Hudson Valley. This past Saturday we headed down to Fishkill, NYfor the day. I wanted to stop by a new place located right on Main Street. I had heard really good things about it, so of course I had to check it out. It is called Cibo. Cibo (pronounced chee-bo) is Italian for "food", which is a perfect name for this place. I would call it a combination Italian caf√© and sandwich shop, with a modern flare.
When you walk in, you notice that it is spacious and has a somewhat classy feel to it. Big comfy leather chairs are set up near the window for reading the paper, sipping cappuccino or just hanging out. The food here is all homemade on the premises, except the ranch dressing, the staff quickly and cheerfully pointed out. They offer several daily specials, a full sandwich menu including panini’s pressed on home baked bread and salads. The front case is loaded with homemade Italian favorites like garbanzo bean salad, fried ravioli, roasted veggies, eggplant, and pasta salads. A few not so Italian selections like veggie burgers, crabor shrimp cakes, chicken & veggie dumplings and fried goat cheese with pesto andsun dried tomatoes, also looked delicious.
We decided to sample a little of everything. We shared the fried goat cheese, 2 fried ravioli’s, a huge Arancini, (traditional Italian rice and cheese ball), a crab cake that was served with a chive caper sauce, and a chicken on a stick that was served with a sweet and spicy apricot sauce.
Being that we were staying, rather than taking our food to go (which is an option) we grabbed a table. Cibo also has a full espresso/coffee bar, and far be it from me, a confessed coffee-holic, not to grab a good cappuccino. The cappuccino was delicious, and I was just mildly disappointed that it was not served in an actual mug, rather than a to-go cup. This seems to be a growing trend, that I will not elaborate on now, but I really like having an actual cup. Somehow it just tastes better. Plus, it allows for creative foam design!
All of the food that we sampled was fresh and loaded with flavor. One thing to note was the care and obvious thought involved in the presentation of the food; all served on modern white dishware, with some sort of creative flare. I especially liked that the arancini was served with a generous helping of homemade red tomatoe sauce that was one of the best I have tasted in a while. It had just the perfect amount of sweetness forme. Our favorites were the goat cheese and the arancini. My least favorite was the chicken stick. The presentation was lovely and the flavors worked well together, but unfortunately, I got a tough piece that was overcooked.
As our dishes were cleared, owner Tom Volpe, a 1986 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, brought over a small dish of popcorn coated with the slightest bit of a butter toffee coating that included shredded coconut. It was light and sweet, but soft and buttery. It was not heavy Fiddle-Faddle that breaks your teeth. It was a nice little treat. We were so full we could not consider dessert, but boy we were tempted! Favorites like tiramisu and triple chocolate torte lined the dessert case, each only $4.95.
I spotted some sugared pecans in a jar on the counter that are typically used in salads. They were nice enough to let me bring some home by-the-pound. Needless to say, they barely made it home thru the 25 minute car ride.
As we enjoyed our food, the smell of bacon cooking on the grill filled the air like thescent of a wonderful childhood weekend breakfast memory. We later learned that the’Cibo-ens’ were busily getting ready for a catered party that evening, which is also a service provided. Our bill, was a more than reasonable $30 for theboth of us.
We had a great time there and got the feeling that Cibo is a welcome addition to Fishkill. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday thru Saturday from 6am to 7pm.Closed Sunday. Check them out if you get to Fishkill.
Travel. I love it and I hate it.
I love to go new places and experience new things, but if I had the choice, I would close my eyes, cross my hands and snap my head like I Dream of Jeannie and arrive at my desired destination. But that is not possible, yet.
Things always happen, you can’t control it. Through my own travel adventures, and sometime mishaps, I always learn something that can make my life easier when traveling. Lord knows it is a chore just trying to figure out what to pack, what you are allowed to pack, how much liquid to take on board, does it have to be in a clear container, can I drink water or do I have to drink my own breast milk???!?!!!!?!?!?! Argh! It makes you (almost) want to say, skip it, I am staying home!
But for those of us who brave it all the time, we learn little tricks of the trade. For that reason I have decided to also include some of these tips for travel to Europe on my site.
These are things that may be common sense for many, but hopefully, will be helpful for those who are not experienced world travelers. Please feel free to share your own tips and experiences. I am always looking for new tips to use myself or to pass on to other travelers. Here are a few that pertain to money and identification.
Join a credit union. Believe it or not, the fees for credit cards are less expensive thru a credit union. Most banks charge a higher interest rate for the card, and charge a larger pre transaction fee, and a larger foreign currency to dollars conversion (as if this is so hard).
Credit unions are more member friendly. Mine only charges 1% of the transaction, where some others charge a flat fee for conversion and add-on another 2-3% for kicks and giggles. Save your pennies and spend it on a special dinner or museum admission, don’t give your bank your hard-earned money!
Also, call your credit union before your trip and do two things. First, tell them you will be traveling out of the country. Inform them of a basic itinerary and your dates. This way when several international charges pop up, they don’t report your card as stolen and leave you without a card (it happens).
Second, ask them to help you find nearby participating bank locations within your network so you can keep your ATM fees to a minimum. I’ve done this and saved beaucoup bucks. Think about it. Every time you take money from a machine, it can cost $2.00 on each end. With my credit union, I do not once pay a fee, on either end! That little bit adds up over a 10-14 day vacation!
Make copies. Make two copies of your passport, driver’s license and credit cards (front and back). Leave one set home with a loved one, a neighbor, someone you can trust. Take another copy with you and hide it in the lining of your suitcase. If you lose your ID or passport, this will come in handy when you need to head to the Embassy.
You have proof and copies of your identity with you, or at least accessible by fax from home, in the event that your luggage gets stolen. You can cancel stolen credit cards easily; you have the card number and the bank’s phone number to do so. None of this will prevent you from having to go to the Embassy, but your red tape can be half as thick!
Feel free to share some of your tips or experiences with me.
Every now and then I am in the mood for something quick and easy to make for dessert. This Italian treat combines a few of my favorite ingredients and was inspired by Giada DeLaurentiis.
Most of the recipes I like best are easy and don’t really need a specific recipe. This is why I don’t bake much. Don’t get me wrong, I like to bake but if I don’t have to… that’s a bonus!
This is also a perfect dessert for entertaining, as you can adjust how many you need with minimal effort. This recipe is designed to make 2 servings.
You will need:
Loaf of good bread either Ciabatta or a Tuscan Loaf
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice loaf on the diagonal about 1/2 inch think. Discard the first few slices as these are not large enough to use. (I use one slice per person, but if you are feeling really indulgent you can use more to your taste.)
Arrange 2 slices on a baking sheet and bake in oven for about 10-15 minutes. You really just want them to be a little crunchy and golden brown.
Meanwhile, slice about 5-6 large strawberries. When the bread comes out of the oven, set the oven to broiler. Spread a generous portion of Nutella on each slice of bread. It will start to melt.
Arrange strawberries on top of Nutella. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the strawberries. Don’t skimp – you need a good amount.
At this point, you can either caramelize the sugar using a small kitchen blow torch, or put them back under the broiler to do the job. The edges may get a little dark and crispy, but that is fine. If you use the broiler, you have less control, so make sure you watch them carefully – they will burn easily!
Serve these with coffee, espresso or a good dessert wine, like Vin Santo.
I know, I know. You are probably thinking, "A California wine, I thought this blog was about Europe". Yes, but one could argue that the Pinot Noir grape was originally grown in France, before being transplanted in US soil. It’s a stretch, I know, but I am not that much of a wine snob that when I come across a good domestic wine, I would not enjoy and recommend it! After all, a life without wine is a life… well… it is really no life at all! We were lucky enough to receive a bottle of 2005 Mirassou Pinot Noir as a gift for Chris’ birthday. I say we because he would never dream of drinking wine alone… especially with me around! So, lucky me! I have enjoyed many Pinot Noirs, not quite to the extent of Paul Gaimatti in the movie ‘Sideways’. I would never put up such a fuss about fermented grape juice. The Pinots I have tasted have been very good… or so I thought! The minute I opened this bottle, I was in heaven. Not only did the cork smell, but the smell of the wine itself radiated from the bottle. This is a wine you can taste, even before you drink it. I knew it would be good. The color is a deep ruby/garnet and the taste is incredible. It really does explode in your mouth. I taste intense cherry and plum flavors, but it is very bright too. It is a very juicy wine. And we finished it! Now the quest began. Having tasted other Pinots I figured this wine would be priced at about $17 – $20. And so we shop. And we find. And we read the bottle. To our shock, amazement and excitment, this wine retails locally for $7.99! Needless to say, many a bottle was purchased and will be enjoyed! I hope you enjoy it too! If you are lucky enough to try it, please let me know what you think.
When traveling to Paris, you must take time to visit this idyllic spot. Place Dauphine is one of the prettiest squares in the City of Light and lies literally right in the center of Paris on the I’le de la Cite, in the 1st arrondissement. It’s called a square, but is really triangular in shape.
Over 400 years ago, in 1607, Henri IV created this area as a tribute to his son, Louis the XIII. The history and architecture are still the same, but the tenants have changed hands just a few times. Many a local or tourist have come and gone and come again.
It is a quiet and peaceful spot, surrounded by large red brick buildings and faded grey cobblestone walks. Gracing the center is a lovely park with trees and benches welcoming the avid reader or picnicker.
On nice sunny days, you’ll find men playing petanque and Parisians walking their adorable, well behaved dogs. You’ll find nary a car on these small cobbled paths, which makes it seem much more secluded and far-removed, rather than smack-dab in the center of Paris.
To the east, or the narrowest part of the triangle, is the Pont Neuf, the first bridge built across the Seine. There is also a statue of Henri IV marking this spot. From here you can clearly see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre complex, and the Pont Des Arts. Located beneath the bridge is a popular, albeit smaller, Seine tour boat company called Vendettes de Pont Neuf. Here you can experience a wonderful Seine cruise, day or night.
Considering its small size, you will find a surprising number of cafes, wine bars, restaurants and even a hotel. One of my favorite wine bars, the Taverne Henri IV, is located on the Pont Neuf side of the square. This is a great place for wines by the glass, cheese plates or a plat du jour (special of the day) at great prices. This is not a tourist trap, but rather a lively, convivial spot filled with locals, so expect an authentic experience.
Any time of the day is great to visit the Place Dauphine, but after darkness falls it acquires a magical charm. The ornate street lights glow off of the cobblestone streets and a little buzz can be heard from the Parisians who are dining outside, chatting, laughing and clinking wine glasses.
You hear the occasional clip-clop of stiletto heels against the cobbled sidewalks. The Seine is steps away and the lights from the Pont Neuf shimmer off the water,the tour boats seem to disappear under the bridge and the Eiffel Tower glows in the background.
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I must confess‚Ä¶. I am a chocoholic! I would not have it any other way. It has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, a pleasure in which I can easily over indulge. So, when the reportscame out, touting the health benefits of chocolate, I was elated‚Ä¶… and in trouble! Now, I know in the US, we think of chocolate in huge candy bar form, like Milky Way, Snickers and Hersheys. While they may taste good, I would not say they are good for you. This ‚Äògood‚Äô chocolate that I am referring to is dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao, which is the actual cacao bean and it is loaded with antioxidants. There are lots of companies that are producing excellent quality, organic, healthy dark chocolate. A few of my favorites that are available locally are Valrhona, Dolphin and Green & Blacks.
Europeans really don‚Äôt know or consume much of the American brand chocolates. They have their own brands that are, in my opinion, superior to ours. Dark chocolate is always preferred to milk chocolate. Milk chocolate contains much more fat because of the milk, and the taste of chocolate is not as strong. The other thing Europeans know that we don‚Äôt is balance and moderation, especially French women! French women would never consume an entire Snickers bar in one sitting. They believe that the first few bites of the chocolate will be the best, most satisfying part. So they don‚Äôt gorge themselves, but they never deny themselves either! A few bitesis all you need.
So, to make it easy to eat good chocolate in moderation, I am sharing these wonderful bite size squares of high quality Dolphin chocolate with you. They are perfect size for everyday snacking. They offer a healthy dose of antioxidants, without being able to over do it! They come in 70% and 80% Cacao and some have infusions of Cumin, Orange and Hazelnut. Limit yourself to just one a day, as a snack or an after dinner treat. Savor it slowly, really tasting every bite and know that you are doing something healthy and good for yourself and your waistline!
Today we were lucky enough to be invited to Brunch by Chris’s mom. It was Chris’s belated birthday celebration. We went to the Hudson House in Nyack, which is located about 1 1/2 hours south of Poughkeepsie.
The restaurant is located on Main Street.The first thing that you notice while driving down Main Street is the Victorian charm that still exists in the cafes, boutiques and antique shops that line the street.
The history of the restaurant itself is fascinating. It is housed in an old brick building that in its past lives served as the firehouse (which in its irony burned down), police station and courthouse. The original jail cell, complete with iron bars, is still utilized, not so much for diners that don’t pay their bill, but as the wine cellar.
Old world charm is prevalent in the original tin walls and ceilings, wood floors, wooden bar area and deep maroon leather banquettes that line the walls. More modern touches include co-owner, Matt Hudson’s sunset photography lining the walls and a large contemporary floral centerpiece displayed atop the wooden buffet. The piece de resistance is the 15 foot long wall mural depicting the Hudson River with a view of the Tappan Zee Bridge in the background. It is impressive.
The brunch menu was extensive. It consited of selections ranging from $8 to $18 and included such classics as French toast, omelettes, quiche, salads and sandwiches.
Eggs Bendict was offered 4 different ways: traditional, with smoked salmon, with crab, or a combination of any two, for $13.
A slow roasted duck Waldorf salad ($15) stood out as unique. The best part of the menu was the bottom where it announced $3 for unlimited Mimosas, which of course we took advantage of!
To start, we shared a Fresh Fruit Platter ($8), which was presented with grapes, still on the vine, large strawberries and sliced granny smith apples, honeydew melon and pineapple. The fruit was all delicious, juicy and fresh.
For main courses, we ordered a Crab Scramble ($12), Smoked Salmon Benedict ($13) and the combination Crab and Smoked Salmon Benedict ($13). All of the dishes were presented beautifully on white obling platters, served with small cubed hash browned potatoes on the side and were dressed with Hollondaise Sauce that was rich and velvety.
The Crab Scramble was lump crab meat, eggs, red peppers and scallions. The flavors worked well together, the egg cooked perfectly, moist, but not runny. Both Eggs Benedict dishes were made up of crunchy, toasted English Muffins, smoked salmon/crab, poached eggs and Hollondaise. The eggs were perfectly set, yolks were nice and runny, but not watery, and the honey smoked salmon was nicely sweetened.
The dessert menu had eight or nine selections all at ($8) including Chocolate Créme Brulée, Pear Upside Down Cake and Chocolate Devils Food Cake with Créme Anglais. An $11 Cheese course was also offered with six selections like Brie, St. Andre, Irish Blue or a mixed plate.
There was plenty of wine and dessert wines like Vin Santo and Muscadet on the menu. We had racked up our share of Mimosas, so we passed on more wine and went right for dessert.
We had a hard time deciding, but we went with a Stickey Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce and Candied Ginger, Cardamom scented Carmel Custard with Toffee Chips and a Ginger Bread Pudding with Lemon Custard.
All three of the desserts were wonderful. The Gingerbread Pudding was served in a cup with the pudding on top, and the lemon custard as a sunken treasure on the bottom.
The Cardamom Carmel Custard was served with whipped cream and an edible decorative chocolate design adorning the top. It was thick and smooth with just a hint of cardomom, not overwhelming at all.
My dessert was a little toffee cake, very light, sitting in a pool of toffee sauce that tasted of caramel, butterscotch and toffee and topped with whipped cream. It was an “oh my goodness” kind of delicious. The kind where you make noise when you eat it! This was the best way to end the meal.
The service, especially Jose, was absolutely wonderful. They were always there refilling coffee and mimosas, clearing dishes, but you hardly knew they were there. Very attentive, not obtrusive. Jose was nice enough to give me a grand tour, which included the jail wine cellar and the room upstairs which is just as lovely and used for large parties and wedding receptions. This area was the old Village Hall as evidenced by the large bank vault behind the upstairs bar, which is now extra linen and supply storage.
We enjoyed our leisurely two-hour brunch at the Hudson House. The quality of the food and service along with the historic ambiance makes this place a wonderful find. Whether on purpose, or by accident, the decor, the menu choices, the white plates and white table cloth covered tables paired with the dark wooden chairs along with the subtle lighting reminds me of a classic French brasserie.
Maybe that’s why the Francophile in me I loved it so much. And why we will return.