7/13/16 Lunch Menu

A healthy and fresh lunch this week

Gazpacho
Chicken on Homemade Foccacia with Pesto, Provolone, and Roasted Red Pepper
Beet and Goat Cheese Salad (Add Grilled Salmon + $6.00)
Frozen Lemon Pie

*All Sandwiches served with a side of fresh fruit or house salad
*Reservations kindly advised

Summer Happenings...

I bet you are whiling away these bleak rainy days, thinking of the cool things you, your friends, and family are going to do when the sun busts loose and the kiddos get out of school.  We have some events coming up for even MORE summer fun than you have already planned!  You can never have too much fun. 

Lunch Every Wednesday 11:00-2:00

Come for an excellent lunch prepared the way food should be. Everything is house made from the soup to the salad dressings.  A fine red and white wine will be available to accompany your meal as well as a fabulous dessert.  Each week a different menu is served and will be posted on LaDolce Vita's Facebook page the Monday prior. Remember, when you eat lunch on Wednesdays, your purchases are 10% off, with the exception of electrics and La Cornue stoves!

Omelette, Quiche and Salad the Other Days

On the other days of the week, please stop in and enjoy a perfect omelette, made from organic eggs, or quiche and salad. Wine can be purchased as well as a simple dessert.

Celebrate the long, lazy days of our beloved summer with a summer-y meal and rose wines from a toute la monde! We will be featuring crisp roses from France, Spain, two from California, and a sparkly rose prosecco from Italy. Here is the menu:

Summer Solstice Dinner Party

Friday, June 24 at 6:30, $80.00 pp

Appetizers: Sonoma Rose

Ist Course: French Rose

Mille Feuille of Tomato, Lamb's Lettuce, Goat Cheese with Pesto

2nd Course: Spanish Rose

Pasta Primavera

3rd Course: Monterey County Rose

Delicate White Fish and Vegetable Confit Parcels*

or

Mustard Glazed Chicken with Vegetable Confit

Dessert: Italian Rose Prosecco

 Creme Brulee Ice Cream on Chocolate Base

Coffee

Tea

*Please let us know your protein preference.  


Salsa and Tango Party

Saturday, July 16th, $20.00 pp

Get your sexy on with dance instructions from Arthur Murray!

Everyone can dance this night, even those of us with two left feet.

Small bites will be served. The patio will be open.  There will be a cash wine, Sangria, and beer bar too with a focus on Latin America and Spain.


Old Fashioned Cookout

Friday, August 24 6:30, $35.00

Please let us know your protein preference! :) 

Yes, we can grill too, so come for an easy-peasy night of Indiana food thatyou do not have to cook! We will have some outdoor sofas to sit on and shoot the breeze.  Buffet Style at 7:30. 

Grilled Salmon or
Flank Steak

Avocado, Corn and Black Bean Salad

Panzanella

LDV's  Potato Salad 

Fruit Crisp with Ice Cream

We are excited about our bistro seating under our pretty new awning!

Food and Fashion Wednesday, May 18

Please come to the North End at 10:30 for petite fashion show, highlighting what is au courant for summer.  Mimosas, light bites, andDolce Vita's excellent coffee will be offered.  Then glide down to LaDolce Vita for a yummy, girlie lunch!  We will be offering a crisp California Chardonnay or South African Red to accompany or various lunch selections. Reservations are strongly encouraged as space is limited. 

Cooking Classes

I have taught many things throughout my life—American history, geography (if you have ever ridden in a car with me you are laughing right now), economics (if you have sat beside me in a math class with me you are in hysterics right now), swimming lessons, English as a Second Language and now cooking.  

Teaching adults, such as English as a Second Language or cooking lessons is a lot more fun than teaching a roomful of bored, hormone-jacked teenagers, let me tell you.   The most obvious reason:  adults actually WANT to be in the class.  They WANT to learn whatever you are teaching and that is pretty cool.  They care why the size of colander holes determines the price of said colander or why you must use a non-reactive pan to cool lime curd.  They want to know whether to use dry, white, liquid, paste, or scraped bean vanilla.  They dig it that you dig it.  It’s a foodie love fest during a cooking class and it is super fun.   Maybe every couple of years I have had a dud class where no one knows each other or people are shy or people are boring, everyone has taken forty xanax before arriving---I don’t know what happens ---but the class is a real snore zone.  No one laughs, not one asks questions, no one gets the jokes.  That class is 100 hours long. It is Culinary Hell.   Luckily, those are few and far between!  Most—99%- are fun, interesting, full of laughter, learning, and making great food.

Here are some photos from some of the classes taken with my trusty iPhone

 

XO,

Laura

A Note From My Temporary Desk In Paris

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We have had a lot of wonderful things going on at La Dolce Vita since we moved.  I have not written all summer because I am fighting with iPhotos but now I have hired someone to take it all away from me and handle it. I am going to kill someone or blow up my computer if I keep messing with it.  Seriously, I have wasted more time trying to download the photos from my good Canon than I wasted all the years as a teenager pining over boys.  (All the photos today will be from my iPhone and they will not be as nice, but I can't deal with this downloading/inabitlity to resize thing another second.)  I am sitting in the precious dining room in the Hotel Vendome.   It has black and white houndstooth chairs, small pink satin lumbar pillows, perfect grey walls with delicate molding all over, and sweet French music piped in.  (Actually right now it's sexy Barry White, which is fine by moi, but it was French music a minute ago.)  Almost all of the guests have arrived and we are having our first meeting at 5:00, then off to Le Meurice for our first dinner together in Paris. I love Le Meurice.  it is where I had my Sunday night I-am-so-homesick- dinner my third year in culinary school.  The first two years it was at the Ritz, but then the Ritz closed for renovations, so I had to switch to Le Meurice.  Self pity can be so expensive.

 

This summer, we've gone from this....

...to better than this!

Now it is all done, so it is even nicer than this picture.  See those pretty lights on either side of the door?  I got those on eBay.  I love eBay, as many of you  know. I also got all the tiny gold Florentine shelves that hold the hand-made French sachets, as well as the sconces on either side of the front door inside the shop. eBay is the best! I have sourced some items for the new shop not to be found anywhere around Indiana.  Like the above mentioned handmade sachets and soaps from Catherine Masson from France.  Even the boxes they come in are works of art!  I suspect that the same company who makes the boxes for Laduree makes her boxes. Please look at them when you come in. oh--and buy them for yourself or for a friend!  I saw these sachets the last time I was in Paris and have built up a nice rapport with her.


Speaking of rapport, I am also carrying Laura Selingnac hand painted porcelains.  Friday I went all the way to the tippity top north part of Paris to her workshop. Being Friday, I did not realize  the painters would not be there because France REALLY does have a 35 hour work week. It's not a myth!  But the very kind Marie took me through the teeny workshop and explained the whole process for me. These porcelain pieces are made for Hermes, the Georges V, and -----la Dolce Vita! The workshop is so small; they really are craftsman, working on a small scale.  When you purchase a piece from Laura Selignac, you really are getting a one of a kind.  I could not believe it. The firing oven is no bigger than a large microwave. 
 
Here is one of the seats where a painter sits.  The one working there the longest has been with the company 10 years.

Marie is demonstrating how they mix a blue from dry powder. 

She adds chemicals to it to turn the powder into liquid.  There were two, but she could not tell me the names of the liquids in English. 

This is a small plate they do for Hermes.  They paint the design first, which really surprised me.  They fire that in the kiln. Then they carefully paint a clear coating over it, so the background color they will paint next will not come off on it.  Then they fire that on. Then they super carefully paint the background color over the whole thing, using a stippling technique.  I think that is what she was saying. There was a little translation problem, but not much.

Here is the finished product, which sells for hundreds of Euros and takes days to make.  Quite impressive now that I know all the hand detailing.  Made only by a very few people who make all of the objects shipped all over the world. Even to Roanoke, Indiana!!!!

I want to show you a few photos of the details of the stairway in our hotel.  These French don't miss an opportunity  to make every corner of their world exquisite. Just a little panel outside my door, with a matching one on the other side.  Going up the stairs, so I will see beauty while I pant my way up the 5 flights.   Actually, this place has an elevator that WORKS. Mon dieu!

A plaster bouquet to hide the stairway lighting. Bonne idea!!

On another note, the Wednesday lunches have been going gangbusters!  (Every Wednesday, except 9/16 and9/23 from 11:00-2:00.) I am blown away, but not surprised, in the demand for high quality food in a serene setting. I have said this many times, but some people, some
nay-sayers, have said, people don't really care what they eat here in Fort Wayne. Au contraire. People do want to eat good food everywhere. Yes even in the Midwest. They just need someone to realize this and La Dolce Vita is filling a need.   Because good food will satisfy you and you are less likely to get fat when you are satisfied. You eat the right amount, you can eat a bit of it all, and you are happy. You will not want to snack on junk as much. (Don't think of my tummy when you are reading this, ok?)People are eating, staying, chatting, catching up with friends, meeting new people beside them, doing a little shopping around in the shop and taking their time with lunch.  I love it all. I am so happy.  I hope you will join us on Wednesdays for lunch because you need a good, slow, healthy lunch to be good to your hard working self. Because it has been so popular, I suggest that if you are coming with more than one person, you make a reservation. 

As many of you know, my sweet kitty, Pushkin, died last month.  We had Pushkin for 17 years. I say we with tongue in cheek because really, no one is really a cat person in my house but me.  Pushkin solidly stayed with me through thick and thin: when I quit drinking, when my little baby boys grew up and went off to college, when we brought those annoying puppies home and they had the audacity to stay, when I had my knees replaced--through it all! And now, sadly for me, he is in kitty heaven with all of our other deceased pets.  My talented sister surprised me with this  watercolor of Pushkin and I just bawled when I saw it.

Pushkin was a Norwegian Forest Cat, although he did not spend anytime in the snow, that's for sure!  He really did have long, pointy ears and was such a fluffy fur ball. 

Debbie will paint your pet for you in watercolor!  She has two sizes.  if you are interested, please let me know. It is a  wonderful way to commemorate the favorite animals in your life or to give as a gift to your loved one of theirs. She also does really pretty Christmas ornaments with pets on them.  I sold them for her last year and they all sold out! Many people gave them as Christmas presents.  Now is the time to order them, so she has time to get them done, because you cannot rush art.  

I am working on the cooking classes today as the guests arrive.  The next email will have them listed. Please remember the shop is closed this week, while we are getting our Francaise on!

Bisou Bisou, 
Laura
P.S. I saw my friend, who lives in Ohio here in Paris and we met for lunch. How crazy is that?!

Fun from Last Fall's Italy Trip

I took a group to Tuscany on a culinary trip last September, which sold out and had a waiting list. I was very sorry there was not enough space for everyone! Beautiful Jennifer Wright came, offering a yoga class every morning and an afternoon shorter, relaxing yoga to stretch out our sore muscles after hours of walking, eating, sightseeing, and shopping on cobblestone streets.

La Villa La Massa

La Villa La Massa

The morning class took place in one of the side yards of the Villa's property before breakfast.

The morning class took place in one of the side yards of the Villa's property before breakfast.

The afternoon class took place in front of the flowing Arno, the mainstay of Florence. 

The afternoon class took place in front of the flowing Arno, the mainstay of Florence. 

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Our hotel, The Villa la Massa, was built right on the banks of the Arno River.  It used to be a private villa and has been expanded and updated over the years. This is where we could have lunch, afternoon cocktails, or read by the pool. See the little swan in the middle of the river? He was there every day and waiting for pieces of focaccia.

Our day began with yoga for anyone who wanted to start their day with grace and peace (and graceful Jennifer!) Then it was to the unbelievably beautiful outdoor restaurant, overlooking the river for a delicious and elegantly laid out breakfast.

Just like at home, right?

Just like at home, right?

Everyday had a different activity, with large portions of some days free, to explore on your own.  We went to hang with the coolest guy in all of Italy, and we all fell in love with him. We had a darling guide, Christina, who took us through the Museum, which was actually built around David, and then through town to see the Bell Tower, Duomo and other important buildings.

 

I went to the REAL Eataly.  It was really cool, but whoa the prices were high. It makes me wonder if any locals actually shop here. Also, did Mario and his buddy open the store in Florence, or did he copy it for the U.S?   Hmmmmm...

Here's your sunny chef way out in the Tuscan Countryside at a very fun cooking school/hotel.  

We went to two different cooking schools, one tiny one in the evening with a delightful teacher, and this airy one in the day. The daytime class was my favorite, probably because it was fun and beautiful at the same time. It is the Borgo Corto Freda, nestled in the Tuscan Countryside. We could shop in their cave for goodies like truffle this and that, olive oils, very old balsamics, honey, jams, etc.   We made ravioli, linguine, two sauces, a stuffing, and tiramisu....

Like all good pupils, we always listened to our instructor.

Like all good pupils, we always listened to our instructor.

Shaun Quinn and Max, the manager, goofing around.  He was really funny and full of the dickens.

Shaun Quinn and Max, the manager, goofing around.  He was really funny and full of the dickens.

This was one of the trays made by our little hands.  We had great and interesting teachers!

This was one of the trays made by our little hands.  We had great and interesting teachers!

Maggie, so proud of her new baby!

Maggie, so proud of her new baby!

After we made lunch, we had even more fun eating it!  On the terrace with blue skies and birds.

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No detail was ever too small for the places we went in Tuscany.  Every restaurant, shop, museum, cooking class---was perfect. 

Why are Europeans so darned stylish? 

Each of rooms in the Villa la Massa had a giant urn of fresh fruit artfully arranged, cookies another day, and Italian chocolates put there by me. Italians are really trying to get into the chocolate race. There is a longish area where it is mainly produced and they have nick- named it the Chocolate River. 

ne day we went to Cinque Terre, where a knowledgeable young guide took us around.  We went by train, trails, and boat.  It was so fun!

Here are a couple of locals...

Someone's Nonna Is that an LV bag she is holding?

Someone's Nonna Is that an LV bag she is holding?

Not locals: Dave and Sandy Sowden, grabbing lunch in Cinque Terre!  

Not locals: Dave and Sandy Sowden, grabbing lunch in Cinque Terre!  

On our last night, we went to the incomparable Villa San Michele. Situated on the highest hill in Florence, it is where Kim and Kanye got married. Just so you know.  We arrived at dusk.

It was very chilly up on that hill, but everyone had on  layers  except  for yours truly.  La Dolce Vita threw a farewell cocktail party on the terrace before dinner to thank everyone for coming. It was Bellinis and appetizers, cute Italian waiters and even a few cuter husbands! After an hour, they lead us inside to the outdoor dining room overlooking a fairy tale lit Florence.

Denise and Hope

Denise and Hope

Jennifer and Sandy

Jennifer and Sandy

After an hour, they lead us inside to the outdoor dining room overlooking a fairy tale lit Florence.

This photo was taken in the day, when I went to beg the manager, who had been there 25+ years, to let us eat outside on the night we were coming.  Only hotel guests are allowed to eat outside, but going to see him personally changed his mind.

Just a few more pictures of Italy....

More, prego...

More, prego...

Figs, Apples and Ice Cream? Si!

Figs, Apples and Ice Cream? Si!

Lake Como, where we went with the Sowdens after the tour.

Lake Como, where we went with the Sowdens after the tour.

The Villa D'Este, out hotel's sister property on Lake Como. Five Stars. One day, Bill and I hope to stay there instead of just eat there!

The Villa D'Este, out hotel's sister property on Lake Como. Five Stars. One day, Bill and I hope to stay there instead of just eat there!

I hope you enjoyed these pictures of our trip. Have a great week! 

Ciao Bella, 

Laura

The Heart of Man: A True Story for a Winter's Day

So many violent, senseless things have happened this past year that it sometimes makes me wonder if mankind is doomed to repeat a World War to stop the reign of terror going on. Or if brutality and stupidity, in our own country, is just going to take over so people will fear for their safety at all times. Just yesterday there was another shooting, this time at a Home Depot.

Then I hear a story that assures me that there is more goodness and love than evil. Here is the story and you might know it. Please forgive me if I don't get the facts exact. 

My dear friend's husband was driving home from work one night.  They live in the country and the roads have many divots,which fill with water and freeze, causing black ice to form.  You can't see black ice, but it is there and when you hit it, you can really lose control. He hit a patch of this and flipped his car, landing head down in a big culvert in the snow. The seat belt was wrapped up around his neck and he couldn't breathe.  He managed to undo it before he passed out. 

An Amish woman was at her sink, washing the dinner dishes.  Her sink was under a window.  She saw car lights going down the road and then just disappear.  Instead of shrugging it off, she called her children and had them go out in the snowy night and look. They came in after a few minutes and said they did not see anything. Unsatisfied, she called to her husband. "I am still worried.  I know I saw a car and then -- I did not see one." Her husband put his coat and hat on, and went all the way to the road and down to the culvert, where he found the car, upside down in the snow, with my friend's husband unconscious and trapped inside the bent up machine. He ran and got tools and neighbors, who helped pull him from the mangled car. My friend's husband was very injured, but these men saved his life.

If it had not been for the perseverance of the Amish wife in sending her husband farther down the road, had she just shrugged it off , saying oh well, I am busy and my kids did not see anything, had she said, It is not my business, had she not looked out the window at that exact time, had not all the stars aligned correctly, he would have probably frozen to death.  But love prevailed that night through a good family.  They saved a husband, a father, a brother, a friend, a son-- one man who is so much more than one man to all those who love him. 

So when you are sickened by the news, remember the goodness in your friends, family, and those who you deal with in small ways throughout the day.  That is 99% of all who walk the earth, I do believe. The other 1% just get all the press.

XO,

Laura


Miette

Recently we were doing the desserts for a wedding.  We were asked to make 12 cakes, 6 of them white cakes.  The white cake recipe we use is very labor intensive, calling for 16 egg whites to be beaten to stiff peaks, then folded in at the end.  I am very proud of our white cake and feel it is the very best in town. It is light, tender, and has a perfect miette, or crumb.  I judge all white cakes on their miette.  I am a miette snob, I will admit.  Not all cakes have to have a fine crumb, for example a carrot or coconut cake, but a white cake absolutely should.  If not, it is not worth the calories in my, er, humble opinion.

We read in a few places on the internet, so you know it must be valid, that you could forgo the beating to stiff peaks and folding in.  If that were true, this could save us loads of time and sore wrists! However, this is not what I was taught so I was very skeptical. I am not one for shortcuts if the final product is compromised. Weirdly and sometimes to my chagrin, the more difficult something is, the more I seem to like/hate it. That must be the sign of some personality defect...

We decided to do a taste test, just like America's Test Kitchen, although I did not have a red apron and bow tie, darn it. We baked two small cakes, one with the egg whites whipped to all their glory, and one with the whites simply stirred in in their liquid form. 

In the photos below, can you tell which cake had the egg whites whipped and folded in in the dial step? 

CAKE A                              CAKE B

CAKE A                              CAKE B

The cake on the left, Cake A, is taller.  Not a lot, but a perceptible amount, due to the  air whipped into the whites.  Perhaps you would reason that because there is more air, the crumb would be looser.  As you can see, that is not the case at all.  The crumb, the miette, is tighter.

CAKE A                              CAKE B

CAKE A                              CAKE B

It has bonded together.  It is also more tender. When I cut the cakes, the whipped egg white cake did not crumble, but held together beautifully. The other cake got pretty messy.  

CAKE A                              CAKE B

CAKE A                              CAKE B

It stands to reason that it would be harder to frost, assuring you would absolutely have to do a crumb coat and chill the cake beforehand.

What about the taste?  Although the ingredients were the same, because the "chew" was finer on cake A, and there were no big crumbs on my tongue as in cake B, the taste was far better. Cake A was definitely more moist. It was also prettier.

You may think I am biased toward Cake A, because that is the way I believe it should be made.  To do a totally scientific study any chemistry student would be proud of, I blindfolded myself and mixed the pieces up. (Yes I did that.)  I could tell which cake was which by the feel on my fingers, as well as by the feel in my mouth.  I wanted a drink of milk after Cake B because of the unpredictable crumb size.

What is the moral of this little experiment? It is this: if you want perfection, you have to go the extra mile.  When the cover of Better Homes and Gardens scream Fast Fresh Easy, I want to laugh.  When Rachel Ray shouts out in her gravelly voice, "Dinner in 30 minutes," haha.  She happens to have full bottles of everything in her cupboards, she didn't go to the grocery herself for any of it, her cat didn't just throw up a hairball, her baby's diaper doesn't need changed, her teenager didn't just wreck the car....It is a fallacy. Stop putting the pressure on yourself that you can have a great dinner, cake, bread, kids, love life in mere seconds.  Good things taketime and a little devotion. 

At La Dolce Vita, it is worth the extra 20 minutes for us to prepare your white cake the correct way so you can savor every bite.


The Bresse Babies are On Their Way

Known all over Europe, chickens from the Bresse area of France are considered the finest, most delicious chickens.  I have eaten them many times.  In fact, when I go to France, anytime the menu says Poulet de Bresse, I order it hands down, not looking at the other offerings.  In Italy, I had it on our last night in Como. They flew them in fresh every other day to our hotel.  Why would anyone go to all that trouble for chicken?  Bresse chickens are held to the highest standards of poultry farming. For the vast majority of their lives, they run around and eat all the cool things chickens love, building strong muscles and happy hearts. The soil of Bresse is rich in lime, so the meat has a delicate flavor.  But for the last few weeks of these contented fowl's lives, they are confined (but not crammed inhumanely like the industrial chicken farms here) and feed grain soaked in buttermilk.  La de da! This formula makes the chickens develop a delicious, thin layer of fat over their muscles that is not bigger in some spots than others. Thus, it makes the meat very, very tender over their entire body.  Bresse chickens are raised naturally, without hormones, so they are a normal size, not some Terminator chickens that taste like wood. 

Pointing out les petite bleu pieds 

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After they are harvested, by French law, they must be sold with the heads and feet intact, so you can actually see what you are getting. I asked why to one of the chefs and he looked at me increduosly"How could you be sure it is Bresse if n'est pas regardez-vouz ze whole poulet?" Last December, when I went to the ginormousRungis Market outside of Paris (I wrote about it on my blog), I saw hundreds of chickens in boxes with their heads and feet still on, ready for holiday eating. It was quite a crazy sight!

The French keep the bloodlines pure, never cross breeding. A Bresse Chicken is identified by its bright red comb, its pure white feathers, and its long blue legs and feet. There are some black Bresse chickens, although they are not raised as often, and I have never seen any. 

I have been enamored with these delicious chickens for years and have been seeking a partner with whom I could raise them because I personally cannot have livestock on our property.  I have been asking different farmers and although interested, many seemed stymied by the complicated breeding procedures. Most have never heard of this breed. Many of you know Veydra van de Leur and the sweet farm she is adding to all the time. Lambs, goats, horses,chickens, bees, and now-- Bresse Chickens with yours truly! I am so EXCITED to be a partner with her. When I called her to talk about the idea, she was in with both feet! 

In about a year and a half, American Bresse will be the only chicken served at la Dolce Vita, except in the chicken pot pies.  Ours must called American Bresse because ONLY the chickens raised in the region of Bresse don't have to have a qualifier by their name.  (You know the whole French snootiness with Champagne.  It is like this with these chickens.)  It will take a year and a half for the chickens we buy to mature, lay and hatch eggs, then for  those chickens to grow up to also lay and hatch eggs before we can cut into the population. Hopefully, we will be able to purchase the scarce "teenage" chickens (called poulets) to speed up the process.  Because we all know how easily teenagers get pregnant......

Thank you, Vedyra, for saying yes to this project.  I look forward to our endeavor!

XO,

Laura

P.S. These are stock photos to illustrate my plan, as our chickens have not yet arrived.

Italy

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Taking a group to Europe has been a dream of mine for quite some time.  I love the charm of Europe- the old buildings, the accents, the food, the history, the art, the beautiful people, the---everything.  This does not mean that I don’t love the U.S.A.  I am patriotic and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  (Okay, well, maybe I could live in France if you forced me.) Being a nation of one primary language and monetary system, having clean water run out of every tap in any place, and having such an amazing infrastructure makes it easy to travel here.  If you want to go to California, New York, Ne Orleans, you hop on a plane or drive in your car.  It is simple.  But to travel to a place where the language, food, money, and mode of transportation are so different prohibits many from going.  Or maybe they do go but they see only the main sites or cities, like Florence, Rome, Venice, ba-boom, Home.

I wanted to share some of my favorite places and particularly the food with others.  I decided to take the plunge and design a trip with my travel agent in Chicago, which I then handed over to a local agency to make the reservations.

I asked my friend and trainer, (I do work out.  Really. ) Jennifer Wright, to come with me and teach yoga or lead some type of exercise twice a day.  We had done a yoga retreat where I was the chef and it worked out well, so perhaps she would like to do a culinary retreat where she was the exercise instructor.  She said yes and then it was time for me to detail it.  I chose Florence because I knew of a wonderful place I wanted to stay, the Hotel Villa la Massa situated right on the Arno River, and had been to Florence four times. Florence is actually quite small and easy to get around.  It is a city of approximately 300,000 people—not much larger than Fort Wayne.  Full of art, shopping, and amazing food, it is a dream.

I was very lucky in that we had the most wonderful guests sign up!  Really, I could not have hand picked a better group.  Everyone got along, everyone was up for all the adventures, all were hungry and no one had food issues, and most loved yoga. What could be more perfect?  It was a diverse group as well.  Two of them brought their mother, two came from out of town, a few were friends, but many of the guests I had never met.  Several were clients of Jennifer’s.  Three were men.

I left Roanoke and flew to Florence three days early to visit as many of the places as I could before the guests arrived.  It sure was a good thing, as a few important details had not been relayed correctly and needed to be straightened out.  It also gave me a chance to get to know the concierge and manager and to let them see me before the flurry of 17 other people came on the scene.  I sat down with the chef at the Villa la Massa and planned out the dinners we were eating there.  I went to the San Michele and schmoozed the manager and he finally agreed to let us dine al fresco the night of our farewell dinner.  (He had been no, no, no on that by email for the 9 months of planning.  I knew I had a very important job to do when I got there.  He had to let us eat outside and enjoy the incomparable views of the city at night or I would not be worth my weight in Australian sea salt, darn it.)

The guests arrived at various times on Friday.  One group of friends had spent several days in Positono, God’s kiss on the earth, before they arrived.   Another mother-daughter duo had begun in Rome.  Lucky them! Some added on another city after our trip was over.  Bill, another couple, and I were planning on going to Lake Como after Florence. The first night, we had a scrumptious dinner at the Villa la Massa.  Everything was amazing. The rooms at the Villa la Massa are so different from the big hotels in the U.S. Each time I have stayed there, the hotel has improved in some way.  It recently merged with the Villa d’Este on Lake Como, and the level of beauty was as close to perfection as I have ever seen. (I could not bear to wipe my face on those Italian linen towels, although Bill had no problem.)

Here are most of the cool things we did:  saw the David, had a private walking tour with an adorable Italian guide named Christina, went to an evening cooking school with a lively teacher and prepared incredible food, went to Cinque Terre for the day (super cool) where we had an energetic, young guide who could not have been better, went to another cooking school in the countryside that was really fun and in an idyllic setting, shopped, had lots of free time, and had a final cocktail party and dinner at the gorgeous Villa San Michele.  I also had a trip planned to the outlet mall, but only one guest and I ended up going.  The others decided to go into town and spend the day doing all the things they had not had time to do.  That outlet mall is something else!  It is worth a half day, at least, and an entire day if you are a size 8 or under.  All of this was combined with a daily delicious, huge breakfast buffet where we could sit beside the Arno River and yoga twice a day with Jennifer, outside as well.  

I feel so blessed to have been able to lead this trip.  La Dolce Vita has grown in so many ways.  Who could have predicted that a gratefully recovering alcoholic would one day be a Le Cordon Bleu, Paris trained chef and have this sweet little business in Roanoke?  Dreams really do come true!

Check out more pictures from our trip...

Birthday Dinner with Friends

Last night I went out to dinner with some good friends.  We celebrate each other’s birthdays, but had been unable to get together very often this winter, so we celebrated 3 birthdays together.  We generally go to the same restaurant as all of us like it.

However, I have been growing more dismayed with this particular restaurant over the years. It used to be so much my favorite, that whenever my husband would ask me where I want to go to dinner, its name would automatically spring from my lips, without any prompting from my brain.  But it has grown tired.  It has not kept up with the times.  The menu is always the same.  Even the specials are the same one they use over and over.

Last night, I decided to order something different and ordered the pork chop.  I had not had any meat for a while and was feeling a bit peaked as we used to say in Virginia. The menu said a pork chop with an apple cider demi glaze, with pesto infused rice and sautéed fresh vegetables.   I was excited.  How could you screw up a pork chop and rice?  What arrived was an abomination.  It looked like someone had thrown up all over my 12” plate. The pork chop was pretty enough, and it was sitting all nestled into the rice, nice and cozy, with the colorful vegetables beside it.  However, all over this whole plate, was a sickening, store bought liquid that tasted as far from a demi glaze as a can of pineapple juice.

What is demi glaze?  A true demi glaze is nothing more than the pan juices from the cooked meat combined with another liquid, such as wine, apple cider, coffee, etc for flavor. These are cooked down to make a thick, intense liquid to spoon over the meat. Demi glaze bases can be bought in some fine stores. They are thick and jam-like in consistency. You heat them and add a little liquid to them.

What I got last night was something like a half a bottle of sugary, indistinguishable liquid.  My rice was soaked and tasted like pineapple or apple juice.  So were my vegetables.  My pork chop was as tough as a shoe. It was so tough that the glaze did not soak in at all.  So instead of having the various flavors of the meat, rice, pesto, carrots, broccoli and zucchini, I had tepid, sweet, in every single bite.  Needless to say, I did not eat it.

On the other end of the spectrum is all this super fancy food like ferns and foraged this and that, smoked, jellied, foamed and artistically displayed that some very high-end restaurants in big cities are serving. Norway is big in the foraging movement. (Look, I don’t have one problem with foraging.  Many people forage for mushrooms especially around where I live. But the prices are astronomical for them in restaurants.)  If you include wine, you will be encouraged to have a different wine with each course causing your individual bill to begin at  $200 and only go up from there.  Only a very few can afford to eat at these places and only a few times at that.  These are the types of restaurants getting Michelin Stars and lots of press recently.  There is a big market for these restaurants, but they are out of reach for most of us.  So are we forced then, to eat only at places serving us horrible food, because they think we cannot tell good food from bad?  They are dumbing down their cooking for us. They are using all these processed sauces and bread to lower their costs.  They think that is what we want, when it is not what we want but all that we have to choose from.

I ask you and I put these out there to chefs…can’t there be more middle ground?  What about a restaurant that serves really good food, using good free range, sustainable meats and produce, instead of a giant plate of slop or a salad of four lettuce leaves and 3 micro greens for $50.00?

 

Newspaper 23 Food Trends

Every year brings food trends.  Some of them I love and am really intrigued by; for example, molecular gastronomy.  I dig it.  It is cooking with liquid nitrogen and other scientific ways of processing food. Making ice cream with liquid nitrogen or instantly freezing something to make it shatter, for example chocolate, is really cool.  Look on YouTube for some of the stuff that can be done.  The problem is, it is not for the every day cook.  Where do you train to do it correctly? Where do you get this liquid nitrogen?  And it is very very dangerous.  This is the stuff they burn warts off with!   You must use special precautions because you don’t want it to splash in your eye, burn your hands, or your face. When I see the chefs use it on Top Chef and pour that stuff over their food without goggles I shudder.  It’s like riding a motorcycle without a helmet.  In Paris, we made chocolate caviar, very neat BTW, by dropping liquid chocolate into Algin very slowly with an eyedropper, then rinsing it with a liquid called Calcic. The result was tiny beads of chocolate that looked like caviar, which were nestled into an eggshell, (Yuck, I would change that, although we baked it and so any bacteria was gone), and put that onto a bed of sugar shaken with gold dust. It was quite beautiful and would be a showstopper for a party. So yes, I am a little obsessed with this molecular gastronomy thing, although I think it could be a fad.

Food Trends I Would Like to Disappear… Forever

1. Cupcakes with frosting as high or higher than the cupcake itself.
 A cupcake was invented as a mini cake that is portable. That is why it is in a little paper liner, so your hands do not get dirty.  A cupcake has many wonderful attributes.  You can send them in for your kids’ parties and everyone gets his own and no one has to have a fork. You can take it to work.  You can decorate them all differently and release your inner Cake Boss.  But when a cupcake has frosting higher that Marie Antoinette’s wigs, you cannot eat that without getting it up your nose and all over your face.  You need a fork or your fingers and now a napkin, and maybe wet wipes, to tear it apart and eat it. Now you have defeated the purpose of a cupcake.  Can’t we just stop making everything supersized and so fattening, messy and gross?

2. Ramen buns
 I was never a Ramen eater.  I think I did not like the smell and the packaging concept.   But whole legions of college, graduate school students, and young newlyweds owe their life to ramen noodles, so I feel they hold a good place in America’s hearts.  But a bun for a cheeseburger made out of them? No.

3. Pretzel Buns.
 Not into pretzel buns either. Too salty and too tough, it makes eating a burger a dentist’s nightmare.  Leave the pretzel alone.

4. The Cronut.
 Who would have thought this small bakery in New York would come up with a patent-pending caloric, artery clogging, horrible tasting mega-money machine?  By only allowing you purchase two and only making so many—when they are out, they are out--- Dominique Asel has created a supply and demand equation that any college Economics professor would be a fool not to use in his lectures.  There are actually scalpers selling them! The foodies I know who have tried them, yes they waited in line forever, thought they were sickening. Just sayin’

5. Deep Fried grilled cheese.
 I am going to barf just thinking about this abomination.

6. Smoked everything
 I like smoke meats. I love smoked turkey, bacon, beef, and pork. Smokehouses have been a wonderful, aromatic and necessary part of curing meat for centuries.  But smoked ice cream?  Smoked water? You want me to pay for smoked WATER? Please….

7. Bottled water.
 I am so glad that many great chefs are eschewing bottled water, except for carbonated water, which I love, for filtered tap water.  The United States has the cleanest water in the world for its citizens, so take advantage of it. .    I used to have a nice pitcher of water and little Dixie cups (‘memba them?) for my kid’s parties instead of bottles.  I understand bottled water on the go, although I usually buy it in cans which are 100% recyclable, but please, don’t fill the landmines with those all bottles.  Buy a water purifier or a filtered jug and think of the future.  Amen.

8. Bacon in everything
 I love bacon.  I mean looooooove it. But keep it out of my ice cream, my cupcakes, my husband’s cocktails and chocolate.  Well, maybe a little in chocolate is interesting…

9. Celebrity Chefs who are loud and mean.
 I worship some chefs. I read their autobiographies the way some people read about presidents and other historical figures.  Chefs like Jacques Pepin, James Beard, Julia Childs, Grant Actchez, Marcus Samuelsson—they are real chefs with class and who have worked diligently for their craft.  These loud mouth guys on the food network, with wild hair, or scream at their contestants, and sickening recipes, are not real. I can’t even watch them because I have seen and worked side by side with the geniuses or the chefs who have a special touch which turns mere mortal food into divinity.

10. Food piled on the plate
 I know I have mentioned this in the past.  It is one thing to artfully construct a plate so it presents well.  That makes it pleasing to the eye and therefore part of the experience and heightens the pleasure of the dish.  But STOP putting my meat on top of my potatoes.  I know you think the juices will flow into the potatoes, but what really happens is the BLOOD from the meat flows into the potatoes and that is just disgusting.  I am a grown woman and if I want to eat the meat with a bite of potatoes, I can do it myself with my fork.  I like leaning food on other food, okay, but to pile it on in one huge, fattening mess…I won’t eat it and you shouldn’t either.  We are not pigs and I don’t want my food to look like pig slop.

11. Gluten Free.
Gluten is not an enemy. It is a protein and supplies a good food source to countless people around the world.  Carbs are the enemy. Preservatives in store bought, packaged food is the enemy. For anyone with Celiac disease, I am your humble servant and I feel bad for you. It is a terrible disease.  But this gluten free thing in the U.S. has gotten crazy. It is now a huge, multi-million dollar business.  Books are sold, packaged food sans gluten is sold but loaded with preservatives, functional medicine doctors, who are NOT M.D.s, by the way, are selling millions of dollars worth of supplements, giving their clients very expensive urine. Remember your body cannot bank a lot of nutrients and so out it comes if it cannot be used that day.   Gastroenterologists are getting loads of new patients because of the new gluten witch-hunt.  Yes, I am very, very adamant about this and not because I am a baker.   Do you think people in poor countries or in Europe are worried about gluten?  I think it is the new darling of the worried well. Why not just stop eating processed foods and limiting your carb intake? Yes bread makes your tummy puff up; so cut down on it.  When I was in France, the bread basket would arrive, and the skinny women maybe had one piece, not the whole basket like I wanted to!  The no white food diet makes sense if you want to lose weight. Want supplements?  Take a Centrum and save yourself hundreds of dollars a month.  

 

Perfect Meringue and Whipping Cream for the Holidays

I bet you already know there are two types of whipped cream and three kinds of meringue. Each one has its pluses and minuses, and I have favorites of both of them. For the holidays, let's just review them, share a few recipes, and you pick which one will be best for the dessert you will be making.

 

Meringue

Meringue is made of egg white and sugar.  SImple right?  But it is very important to make this correctly, or it will not turn out as fabulously as you deserve it to be. Remember these important details:

1. Fats prevent egg whites from forming properly, so be sure your bowl and whisk are very clean, free of any traces of fat, and that there are no yolks in the eggs whites. Remember my little tip I told you a while back? Non? Okay here it is again: Like attracts like in eggs as well as in love.  So if you get some yolk in your separated egg whites, use the egg shell to get it out.  It works almost as a magnet, whereas a spoon--or your finger-- seems to repel the yolk.

2. Eggs will work best at room temperature.  Although you don't have to wait all darned day.  Just take them out and do some prep work, throw in some laundry, play with your kids/dogs/husbands. A half hour is really fine.

3. Sugar is what  gives the eggs stabilization.  Most cooks add a little cream of tartar or lemon juice (these are mild acids) because these ingredients give more volume and stability. I did not include this in these recipes as these are European recipes, but adding a scant teaspoon of cream of tartar is possible.  These particular recipes work just as well without it though.

4. Add the sugar only after you have beaten the eggs to foamy, them add it a gradually, not in a big gush.  

5. At LCB, we make the sugar about double the weight of the egg whites.  We weigh our egg whites.  We weigh everything. (I am NOT weighing myself while here, however!) At home, you probably will not do this, but remember one egg white is app 30 grams, or a smidge over 1 ounce. 

 

Types of Meringue

1. French Meringue

 French meringue is different from meringue you might usually make in that it is basically egg whites beaten with granulated sugar, and then powdered sugar is folded in after the egg whites have been brought to firm peaks. French meringue is the easiest to make and probably the most commonly used. You can add cocoa powder mixed with powdered sugar for a chocolate flavor. If doing your meringue this way, make the first half of your sugar--your granulated sugar- the weight of your eggs. Make the second half--the powdered you are folding in-the same weight of the granulated sugar (or also the weight of the eggs.)

2. Swiss Meringue

This type is the messiest and easiest one to goof up in my opinion.  With two other great ways to make meringue, why do this? However, maybe you will want to, so here it is... Swiss meringue is made by heating the ingredients over a hot bain marie while whipping, then taking them off when they reach 120 F (or 50C) and continuing to whip until it is at the stage you like and it is completely cool.  Heating it gives it greater volume than French meringue.

3. Italian Meringue

Leave it to the Italians to make the prettiest, shiniest meringue. Italian meringue is made by making a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar), boiling it until it reaches 243 F (117 C), then adding it to the partially beaten egg whites.  You add this syrup when the eggs are at soft peaks. Most books say to pour this extremely hot sugar syrup in while your machine is running, and that is fine if you still have your plastic cover and haven't thrown it away like I have. But I do not want to burn myself by taking a chance that the super hot, sticky sugar will spray all over the place. So I turn mine off and add it all at once, then turn my machine back on. You whisk until the meringue is cooled and firm peaks form. Italian meringue is the most stable.  Italian meringue is the best to put on top of cream pies because of this, then you can torch it with  

 

Whipped Cream

My husband does not like whipped cream. While I cannot fathom what in the world is wrong with him, I just look at it as more for moi.

Whipped cream is very easy, but you need to do a few things to bring it to its full glory.  Firstly make sure your cream is well chilled. Stick your bowl and whisk into the freezer while you prep. I am telling you right now that his makes all the difference!

Cream is not as finicky as egg whites, so you can add some flavorings and/or color toward the end, when you see all is well. 

Do NOT over-whip your cream or you will get butter.  It will be really delicious once you strain it, but it is definitely NOT what you are aiming for!  Remember that one quart cream produces from  2 to 21/2 quarts when whipped. 

1. Basic Whipped Cream

Cold cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla. 

2. Creme Chantilly 

My personal favorite and the kind we use at La Dolce Vita.  It is very cold cream whipped with powdered sugar instead of granulated. I like the texture the best and when whipping my cream this way, I am assured it will not be grainy.  (I actually thought I invented this procedure until I came here and found out that this is what Chantilly cream is!  I had always thought Chantilly cream was cream whipped with alcohol. Yes, I am a goober.)

 

Here are some recipes.  These are weighed in grams and on a scale, but I am sure you can find plenty on the internet measured in cups and teaspoons.  If you do, remember the tips I told you for pure perfection!

French Meringue

8 egg whites

150 g sugar

350 g powdered sugar

-Beat egg whites until very foamy.  Add granulated sugar slowly as you beat to firm.

-When meringue is at firm peaks, take out of mixer and hand fold the powdered sugar in, half at a time.

 

Swiss Meringue

8 egg whites

500 g sugar

--Cook egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a bain marie at medium high.  Whisk as they cook. When they get quite warm, pour into a mixer and continue whisking until peaks are firm and cool. They will take on volume as they cool.

 

Italian Meringue

8 egg whites

500 g granulated sugar

125 ml water

--Heat the sugar and water in saucepan until it boils (This is called a simple syrup for future reference.) Boil unit it reaches app 243 degrees F.

-- Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. 

--When syrup is ready, pour into machine, all at once, and whip until it forms firm peaks. 

 

Happy Baking!

XO,

Laura