Monday, February 8, 2010

Ok, first comes food, because, well, I love food. Since the Palindrome party a week ago, I've been on a big of a baking kick. I baked...5? pies this week. And bagels. Yes, bagels! I think maybe when I am homesick I want to bake food that reminds me of home. Do you know they don't have bagels over here in Italy? They haven't even heard of them. So, like pie, I made it my mission this week to introduce the Italians to yet another delicious American baked good. I think next on my list will be peanut butter cookies and banana bread.

Here is the requested picture of the lemon cake pie. Now, it isn't such a beautiful looking pie, but it sure is delicious. Somehow, the ingredients separate in the oven so that there is a creme resembling lemon curd in pretty much every way (yum!), and on the top is a fluffy lemon cake. Gianluca has declared it is his favorite pie in the world, which he generally declares for every pie, but I think that he really means it for this one.

I also discovered a fantastic kind of cheese I didn't know about before in a local cheese shop. It is made from cow milk and apparently it spends some of its life maturing in hay. You are supposed to cook it up in a skillet.... i did this with wedges of it, warming it up on both sides until the outside began to caramelize and the inside was gooey and warm, and ate it with a nice salad, OHHH BOY was it good.

In that same cheese shop, I found some very tasty smoked scamorza. It's like a slightly aged, drier mozzarella than is usually found here, and it is shaped kind of like a pear and is amazing. It is also eaten after being cooked a little bit on both sides (after it is sliced). I made a tasty dinner of quinoa and vegetable stuffed peppers topped with some of this delicious cheese, and with a balsamic reduction.

Now for the bagels! I, like most Americans, like bagels. However, I also grew up hearing stories from my grandfather about the bagels of his childhood in Queens, New York. He is a first generation American, with Orthodox Jew parents from Eastern Europe. Naturally they lived in a community of Jews after arriving in NYC, and when my grandaddy was a child he would go walk and get the bagels on a regular basis. Apparently there were old Russian guys making these bagels in underground bakeries, the same way these same men made them back in the Old World. And, from what I've heard, the bagels were absolutely divine, and my grandaddy says that he's never had bagels since that could remotely approach their quality. It seems that when these old bagel makers passed on, their secrets died with them. So it has become one of my grandaddy's current missions in life to rediscover their secrets and bring kickass bagels back to the world. I think he's got it down, and he recently gave the recipe to me. I made these divine little breads and my goodness, they were amazing. I took a bite, and closed my eyes in my Alpine kitchen, and for a moment felt like I was back home.

Here is the recipe, as my grandaddy wrote it... they aren't so difficult to make, and they are far better than anything you could possibly buy in a shop nowadays.

2 cups warm water
one packet of active yeast or 2 1/2 teaspoons
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons barley malt ( preferred) or sugar
1 table spoon salt
6 to 8 cups bread flour

Add yeast to warm water and stir to dissolve
add oil, malt or sugar
add flour and salt and stir till comes away from side of bowl.
knead 12 to 15 minutes and add flour as needed, bagels do best with stiff dough
so work in flour till stiff. knead until dough is smooth
place dough in oiled bowl and let rise till doubled in warm place
Prepare oiled baking sheet with cornmeal
punch dough down. divide into 3 pieces and then each piece into 4 pieces (total of 12 pieces
roll each piece between fingers into a rope and then around fingers to produce donut shape.
place on baking sheet. spray lightly with oil and let rise till puffy ( 30 minutes+)

Place 2 to 3 quarts water in a pan and add one tablespoon barley malt or sugar bring water to boil
dunk 2 to 3 bagels at time into the water. time 30 seconds per side and remove with slotted spoon and place back on sheet. The longer they are in water the more chewy they will be.
brush with beaten egg and then add toppings (caraway seed, poppy seed, sesame seed, and a little kosher salt
bake at 450 degrees with steam (add ice cubes to pan on bottom of oven) for about 20 minutes then remove sheet
turn bagels over and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes till brown or till they appear done.

to make onion bagels add one cup of diced onions during kneading

OK, enough of food. Before I write about how this mountain guy cured me, you gotta know about the weather here. We got about a foot of snow the other day, and even when it stopped snowing, a fog had descended and I couldn't see very far, except to see that there was a lot of snow. Then, the next morning (which would be yesterday) I woke up and looked out the window and had to cover my eyes immediately because it was so BRIGHT! Crystal clear blue skies, and the towering and sharply angled Alps were glistening as if made of diamonds. I've never seen anything so bright in my life, it was incredible. To see something so bright, and a clear blue sky, is amazing after weeks of the world looking entirely like I am viewing an old black and white film, or on a good day, with everything in muted sepia tones. No colors...don't get me wrong, it is simply gorgeous here, even when everything is in shades of white, black, gray, and the occasion brown tone. Beautiful in a devastatingly austere and overwhelming and gorgeous way.

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