Monday, January 30, 2012

Dark chocolate tart with salted caramel and pecan filling

Friday was a crazy day at work. One of those days when you barely have time to eat in front of your computer because it wastes precious time. Friday was also the day I was supposed to pick up my passport at the Consulate. And the day of a general transportation strike.

Luckily I ride a bike to work so it didn’t really matter. Not until I got on it and realized the bike chain had come off of the chain holder, when or how I have no idea. So I started fixing it like I have done several times in the past. I was in a real rush, stressed about work and about my passport (remember my red tape phobia) and to top it all off I was getting black grease all over my hands. It got stuck, completely stuck, as in the pedals no longer turned forwards or back.

So now I was stuck too: no bike, no public transportation. Loads of work to get done and the clock at the Consulate ticking away.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

“Do you need any help?”

A group of college students had stopped and one of them was reaching out to help me. I usually tend to smile politely and say “no thank you” when people offer to help me, out of shyness and/or sheer embarrassment but I was so relieved I immediately exclaimed “yes!”, only to realize he would soon be covered in grease too. I warned him and offered him my gloves, but he of course politely refused (in retrospect that was sort of a weird offer come to think of it. I mean, would you wear a stranger's gloves? A lady’s - I cringe as I write that word - gloves at that, if you were a pimply college kid?).

He worked on my bike for a while, almost gave up at one point, but finally managed to fix it. I was so happy I could’ve hugged him. I said thank you a million times and waved goodbye. Now I wish I had offered them all a coffee and a croissant as I instinctively wanted to, but I was in such a rush I didn’t. Well, that is the official reason. Also, I thought they (or I?) would be embarassed to hang around making polite conversation. I regret it now, in the name of what I will write below.

Isn’t it amazing how just the right thing sometimes happens at the right time and turns a really bad day into a good day? A person who is totally disconnected from you makes a small, kind gesture for no reason other than helping you and really makes a difference.

There are so many times we are about to do something for someone and we don’t because we don’t want to intrude, we feel shy or we are simply in a rush.

Don’t hesitate, just do it! It can make all the difference.

There are times when we do things for people, like hold a door or move out of someone’s way, and they don’t even acknowledge it, making us regret we even tried to be polite or kind. Sc**w them!

It doesn’t matter, just do it anyway! It may not make a difference to them, but it will to someone else another day.

My point being, when a total stranger reaches out to you, takes their time to help not only does it make your day a better one, but it reminds you that despite all the horror and rudeness and indifference out there, people are fundamentally good. The more people make small gestures, the better place the world becomes.

Thank you, college guy, for reminding me.

Making caramel

But now about the tart. I discovered a lovely new blog the other day, where I cam across this recipe. I wanted to make a special cake for a special friend, to belatedly celebrate his birthday. I wanted something a little more than the usual cake. This turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. It is a rich, decadent tart, the kind you eat on special occasions. The contrast between the dark chocolate, the sweet velvety interior, the crunchy pecans and the flakes of sea salt is an experience. I suggest you try it.

Make it on a day when you have time. It is not difficult but it must be prepared in three separate steps, cooling in between. I got worried when I started reading about candy thermometers and caramel, because I am a scaredy cat about that kind of stuff but it turned out to be much easier than I had predicted. And you don’t need a candy thermometer. If doubtful, just take the caramel off a little earlier rather than a little later.

P.S. I have a shiny, new passport. Now on to the next step.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gluten free rice flour cake or Torta di riso

Before I start my customary monologue about unimportant things that may or may not entertain you, I just wanted to inform you of my new slight obsession, after Twitter, with Instagram these days. I also just created a Facebook page (after several attempts - I may not be that tech savvy but starting a page whilst trying to keep your personal profile... well, personal, is not so easy) that I am still sort of wondering what to do with... My point being, you can find me and hang out with me on all three searching for Nuts about food (or nutsaboutfood).

Anyhow...back to what I was going to say...

We all have some big retail mistake hiding in our closets/apartments/garages/attics/basements. That pair of shoes you love and spent a fortune for but that hurt just looking at them. That sweater that looked original and quirky in a good way at the store but that just makes you look plain ridiculous whenever you try it on at home. That thing-a-ma-jig that tells you how far you have run, how many calories you have burned and files you nails at the same time that is sitting at the back of your drawer, still wrapped in plastic. The rowing machine. The collection of 16th century poetry the New York Times wrote up six years ago that you wouldn’t have read even if you didn’t have the excuse of being a new mom.

My latest mistake was a 500gr pack of rice flour. Sure, I am aware there is a big difference between a $300,00 pair of shoes and a $3,00 pack of flour. But I don’t like wasting food and I don’t have another inch of room in my cupboards.

I was dreaming of stacks of rice cookies and goodies, not just because they are a healthy and gluten-free option, but because I love baked goods with rice in them. However, once I started searching on the Internet I realized that: a) most baked goods that contain rice flour only have a couple of tablespoons in them; 2) you need glutinous or sweet rice to make those yummy sounding Asian rice-based desserts.

I looked and looked and could not find a single recipe that had a large quantity of rice flour in it (that wasn’t for noodles or some sort of pancake/wrap).
Until I came across this little gem. It is definitely what I would call breakfast cake. It is simple, it has an interesting crumb (and I don’t mean interesting as in bad or weird, just more crumbly than moist) and is perfect to dunk into a glass of cold milk, to spread with some jam or honey or just on its own. It has just a handful of ingredients, it is the kind of cake you feel good serving your kids. And yes, it is gluten free.

What are your retail disasters? And do you have any interesting recipes with rice flour to suggest? I still have 275gr of it lying around...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Nana's chopped chicken liver

As a young child I remember my Nana B serving this appetizer when she had company, often together with pickled herrings and sour cream.

I know you can’t but help but picture us in the kitchen, preparing this together, my Nana letting me peel the hard boiled eggs and chop them up while she deglazed the pan. My grandma passing down the fabulous recipes of her Jewish heritage whilst telling the stories her grandparents from the Old Continent had told her.

Well, that is the wrong Nana you are picturing. My Nana did not cook, ever, not as far as I can remember. I don’t even think she knew how to hard boil the eggs required for the recipe.
The closest she would come to deglazing the pan as indicated in the recipe was getting out a bottle from the liquor cabinet to prepare her daily pre-dinner scotch on the rocks.

She was not maternal, not the kind of grandma on whose bosom you rested your head when you needed comfort. She had a sharp tongue and a quick temper. She smoked, she drank and she gambled pretty much till the end. She could be stingy with many, but never with the backgammon board.

She was a great story teller, that much is true. She was well-travelled and well-read - her study table was always stacked high with books, papers and dictionaries alongside an ashtray filled with lipstick stained cigarettes - and was curious about everything. She played the piano, loved music and collected art. She had a more active social life when she was 90 than I did when I was 20. She played tennis well into her eighties, donning white mini skirts and pompoms on her socks without a second thought. She spent her winters in Florida lunching "with the girls", her octagenarian friends.

She hurt her head after falling while dancing at a party and never recovered. I think she was pretty ready to go. Before the fall she often said to me: "My friends are all dead or sick. My body is starting to fall apart. I have had a full life, I did pretty much anything a gal can do. I’m bored." It frustrated her that she couldn’t drive as well as she used to or that she needed her stick to get out of her armchair because she was a fiercely independent woman. Despite marrying twice, she spent most of her life on her own, doing things exactly the way she wanted, when she wanted. And that was that, thank you very much.

She may have not been an apron-wearing, pie-baking kind of grandmother, but we had a grand time together, she and I, and I will always miss her dry sense of humor and enthusiasm for everything that surrounded her.

I was pretty excited when I found a tray of chicken livers and hearts being sold at the meat counter. When I was a kid I remember they always sold those not so noble parts inside the chicken when you bought one. Nowadays you just don't see them as much anymore. I immediately bought some and when I found this recipe by Ina Garten, I just couldn’t resist. So here’s to you Nana B.

1 pound chicken livers
about 3 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
¼ cup Port, Madeira or Sherry wine
2 eggs, hardboiled
1/8 cup minced parsley
1 tsp thyme (I only had dried thymebut fresh is better)
salt to taste
black pepper to taste

Hard boil the eggs, let cool, peel and chop.
Sauté the livers in 1 tbsp butter over pretty high heat, until just pink inside. Be careful, if you overcook them they will dry out. Put into a large bowl without draining the butter.
Using the same pan, sauté the onions in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat until browned. Add the sweet wine and deglaze the pan. Pour onions and sauce over the livers.
Add the chopped eggs, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and mix. Process in a  food processor until coarsely chopped. Season to taste and store in fridge until ready to serve on crackers or with carrots and celery. I did both.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Eggplant burgers - polpette di melanzane

It is hard to think of little else here besides the cruise ship that ran aground off of the coast of Isola del Giglio in Tuscany last Friday night. It is all over the news, on every paper, every TV channel, day in and day out. Why is it that we feel this need to become voyeurs of other people’s tragedies? Nowadays media coverage is so extreme, with its real time updates of every minor happening, that it is impossible not to be sucked in. A journalist of a regional paper is tweeting regularly and we are being flooded by photos and videos of the evacuation and the rescue operations by the coast guard, divers and now the marines.

Naturally, we are distressed about the fatalities, worried about the unaccounted passengers (where are they? what happened to them?) and shocked, to say the least, about the dubious behavior of the captain, allegedly (more like definitely - while I was writing the infuriating call between the harbour office and the culprit was broadcast) more concerned about saving his life than his passengers after deviating from the ship’s standard course. There is controversy about his authority to make this kind of decision and the fact that the ever-growing size of cruise ships for profit affects onboard safety. Last but not least, we are once again concerned about another ecological marine disaster, about 500,000 gallons of fuel spilling into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

But let’s face it, we are all victims of reality TV nowadays. How many of us here have not been sucked into the frenzy of watching every detail of these peoples’ nightmare? Who hasn’t clicked onto the blue-tinged photos of the eerie underwater world of luxurious salons and lopsided corridors, where walls have become floors and ceilings walls? Who can suppress a shudder while watching the infra-red images of thousands of people climbing down the side of the ship with rope ladders like ants in a line, such is the size of the capsized monster. Or when listening to the screams in the dark filmed by a helicopter and the victims with their cell phones?

The truth is that, whilst we are all incensed and truly preoccupied, we cannot resist the lure of the Titanic-like imagery, as the NY Times rightly defined it. We are mesmerized because that horrible night of a century ago has taken on a legendary status in our minds. Which one of us has not at one time or another imagined what it would have been like to be on the Titanic as it sank to the bottom of the sea? The ice cold deep water, the dark night, the sound of clanking metal and waves? I can’t help but wonder if some of those missing people are still blocked in their cabin or in one of the many other rooms of the ship. I can’t help imagining what it would be like to be alone on a dark, half submerged ship, I cannot resist directing and acting in an imaginary movie of which I am the sole spectator. The waiting, my calls for help echoing in the empty halls, the fear, the desperation, the cold. Hearing distant sounds and searching for other survivors…
What attracts us is that human trait, mostly compassionate but at times a little twisted, of identifying ourselves in others.
This was supposed to be a post about the sea, the sun, the island of Sicily and a traditional recipe. It turned into a post about the sea, an island and a tragedy.

Once again, we are the lucky ones, enjoying a meal with our family on a Saturday afternoon. My prayers and thoughts go those who were not so lucky on that day.

I made this vegetarian lunch because F and I were going out that evening with friends to a Brazilian restaurant and I knew I would be having enough meat to last me a week. It isn’t really the season for eggplant on this side of the world, but I couldn’t resist the huge offer in my local supermarket the other day since I recently came across a recipe I had bookmarked from Manu’s Menu a while back. It is the season for this vegetable in the other half of the world so I thought there surely would be someone out there who would enjoy this dish as much as we did.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Red tape, white soup - Cream of celeriac, potatoes and roasted garlic

You know how they say a little sneeze can start an avalanche?

Well on Monday I sneezed…

My first mistake was waiting till pretty much the last minute to get some important paperwork done. This knowing very well for something like, uhm, ten years that this day was approaching. This even if I had started working on the process well over a month ago.

In my defense I would like to point out a few of things:

  1. I am normally a pretty organized person
  2. I usually don’t leave things to the last minute
  3. The immigration officer on the other end of the phone seemed pretty relaxed about deadlines when I called to enquire
  4. How was I supposed to know that as of 1 January 2012 the whole certification procedure between bodies of the Italian Public Administrations was going to change? I mean even the guy in point 3) didn’t know! Ok, I live in Italy, I shoulda known better.

Back to Monday:

Blonde female puts papers into an envelope with a satisfied smirk (she has after all just solved problem in the above point 4) and fills out the last page of a stack of forms. She pulls out her passport to copy the number and expiry date and lets out a bloodcurdling scream. (Cut)

Yes, my passport is expiring in 3 weeks, when the abovementioned envelope should have been sitting on a desk at immigration containing a valid copy of said passport.

After this horrible Monday-morning discovery, images of a big red stamp reading "deported" loomed in my mind for the rest of the day. Images of my Italian children crying out "Mamma, Mamma" as I am being dragged handcuffed onto an airplane. My husband declaring eternal love and promising he will find a way of getting me back.

A question arises spontaneously: how the heck did I not remember that my passport was expiring exactly in the timeframe of the process required to renew that slip of paper that allows me to live in this country?

Well, the truth is I have a phobia of all things involving red tape. As a citizen of one country with a parent from another country growing up in yet a third country, my situation is sometimes a little confusing. As a person who often feels like she belongs everywhere and nowhere, bureaucracy can get a little intimidating. I am always waiting for that paragraph 10b, subsection VIII to jump out at me demanding a paper everyone else in the country has that totally screws me over because "I am not an xyz citizen" or "I wasn’t living here at the time sir". My phobia is not at all helped by the fact that I live in a country that is notorious, to say the least, when it comes to bureaucracy.

So let’s just say that despite point 1) and 2) above, this is one of the few cases when I tend to push off a problem, to pretend it does not exist.

Maybe if I don’t think about it, it will go away… (girl rocks back and forth in a dark corner with children’s song playing in the background).

Oh, and then life got in the way with birthdays and Christmas and family visiting and then the deadline was suddenly upon me. I always leave extra time for last minute problems or emergencies. But no, when it involved something as important as this, yours truly decided not to count the days and to live in lala land instead.


And that is how the avalanche started and got worse and worse.

The rest of my day was spent on the phone, on the Internet, mumbling and cursing, with a tear or two in between.

Did you know, conveniently, that immigration calling hours are in the morning and Consulate calling hours are in the afternoon? And that I work in an open plan office space? And that the lines are constantly busy and when the line is free you are endlessly transferred to another extention where you have to explain your whole life story again? I am sure my colleagues enjoyed that. And the pigeons on the terrace, where I eventually moved after a few dirty looks.

And did you know you have to make an appointment to even get in to the Consulate? And that the US passport photo format differs from the European size? And that only one out of ten photographers will print in that size? And that this is the era of digital photography so finding a photo lab (what where they even called when they existed???) is practically impossible? And that when you find one their computer has broken down? And when you find another one, they are closing early? And that I had to print out three pages in English from the Consulate's website for the Italian photographer to study before clicking away?

Well, as much as you like a good story, I will admit that at the end of all this I found a place right next to home where a lovely lady studied hard and knew exactly what she was doing (25 to 35mm from chin to top of head, no smiling, white backdrop, no headgear, no strange accessories etcetera, etcetera, etcetera).

And then after searching for the entrance for quite a while and leaving any electronic devices at the office and asking the bar tender next door if he could watch my bike helmet while I disappeared into Fort Knox because it could turn into a weapon of mass destruction if inappropriately used, and getting undressed and storing my lip gloss in a miniature locker and showing my passport and answering questions and being escorted from the elevator I actually got everything done at the Consulate in the matter of minutes with the assistance of very kind and helpful personnel, both inside and out.

And it seems, after searching on line for hours, like the deadline for my permit renewal is actually not as close as I initially read so the man in point 3) had every reason to be relaxed.

So fingers crossed, but it seems that things are looking up.

After a week like this, a nice bowl of warm and comforting soup is all I ask for.

If you have been reading my blog for a while you know about my revelation. This time I changed the ingredients around a bit, getting the creaminess from potatoes instead of flour and a nice little additional boost from the garlic.

It hit the spot!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chocolate and chestnut truffle cake


Who would've thought, when I walked into that office more than 15 years ago for an interview, that those rooms would become such a meaningful place in all our lives?

So much happened there, good and bad: that desk is where I got the call from my husband about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center; I remember calling family and friends before the lines were disconnected, to make sure they were safe. That is where one of us faced the ugly C word, another one of us announced the creation of two lives that were then prematurely lost. But it is also where I planned my wedding and then showed my honeymoon pictures. Where friendships bloomed.

The first person I saw while sitting in the hallway waiting for my interview became my wedding witness and lifelong friend; well, more of a soulmate than a friend if you ask me. We were born and grew up in the same city but our destiny was to meet on another continent. She lives across the Ocean now, but we are as close as if she were still sleeping over on the tiny Ikea couch of the first apartment F and I called home.

One day a Texan at heart walked into those rooms to make and enquiry and never left (the premises or my affection).

The pretty blonde, a real English rose, I sat down and chatted with nervously during that interview is the kind of friend I don't need to see or talk to that often to call her that.

The awesome Tasmanian with the beautiful mane of fiery red hair (to match her creative spirit and the clementines below) and the voice of a black blues singer moved back home recently and took a little piece of all our hearts with her when she did (together with two very precious things she had been waiting for for the longest time, her daughters).

The only true Italian of the gang, a good friend and enthusiastic follower of this little blog, contributed the right touch of Mediterranean character with her contagious laughter and loud chatter to this group of Americans (yes, Canadians included), Brits, Southafricans, Barbadians, Kiwis, Aussies etc. (you name it, we had it) .


What did we have in common at the beginning? Not much really, except we all spoke English. And yeah, were were all young(er), funloving and a good looking bunch if you ask me. But that was it. We came from different cultures, backgrounds and educations. We had different interests, friends, aims.

But we clicked.

I think we all realized to what extent when we separated a few years later.

In time, the evenings spent in front of pitchers of margarita (I am still paying for that night) or downing a few too many vodkas (even those who stated to have never gotten drunk - and you know who you are - are still paying for that party), the late night drives down country roads to hidden-away biker hangouts, the Halloween parties and summer barbecues gave way to weddings, baby showers and family brunches.

Most of us have moved away, others will be moving soon, some closer and some farther. But almost two decades later we still get together whenever possible.

Now we are parents, we party a little less and change diapers a little more. We may be scattered all over the world and have a wrinkle or two, but inside we are the same people and when we are together we connect.

This is a cake I made to celebrate the visit of our "Australian connection". It is the kind of cake you make for a festive occasion, a large group of people. It is rich and decadent and a slice is enough to satisfy your longing for chocolate. Well, unless you are my daughter. Yes, the one who doesn't usually eat my desserts, she had two. If she liked it and if the recipe comes from this girl, then you know you have a keeper.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Madesimo: Dogana Vegia and Osteria Vegia

I haven’t settled back into my cooking routine yet, mostly because my fridge hasn’t seen a real shopping since before the holidays. Since we got back I have used up pretty much every boring leftover I could in the freezer (so why is it still so full?), I have started opening jars of expired Laksa paste and used my last bag of dried beans. I can’t wait to fill the kitchen with fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs and start cooking up some recipes for 2012.

What I did do is some eating out on the aforementioned holidays, so if you ever happen to be in my corner of the world here are a few tips for where to get a good meal.

We had more than one lovely meal with family and good friends in this charming restaurant tucked away in Madesimo (Valchiavenna) called Dogana Vegia. The owner Dario and his lovely wife Brita and daughter Nadine make each and every meal a cozy and pleasant experience. The dishes served are traditional mountain recipes, but with a little twist: a touch of ginger here, an unexpected cut of meat there (braised buffalo meat to die for...unfortunately the picture I took in the dark was out of focus so you'll have got to take my word for it). This may not be haute cuisine, but quality is a guarantee and you go there for the unique ambience and hospitality as much as for the food.

The building, what remained of a 17th century custom house (thus its name, literally the Old Custom House) and inn for travellers, was painstakingly restored by the family over the years. Walking through the rooms brings you back to a time long gone. Dario used antique lumber sourced throughout Italy for the refurbishment and covered the whitewashed and wood panelled walls with works of art, old farming tools and everyday utensils that helped people survive in the mountains over the centuries. The light comes from a fire crackling in the hearth, fairy lights and candles on every table (a much appreciated touch often lacking in Italian restaurants).

Part of the abundant house antipasto: porcini mushrooms preserved in olive oil

The music, mostly a mix of favorite Italian oldies from the Fifties and Sixties, is not exactly folkloristic but more an indication of this place’s second nature, a pub in the late hours. You will often catch your host walking to or from the kitchen whenever a cow bell rings, singing a tune. While you pay the bill (about €45 per person for a meal complete with wine a-plenty and a homebaked dessert) you might get lucky: Dario generously offered us a round of homemade blueberry grappa (divine) both times to face the harsh winter cold that awaited us outside.

The local pizzoccheri bianchi with mountain cheese, butter and garlic

Kid goat with polenta

Cervo in salmì: venison stewed in aromatic wine sauce (apparently one of the best F has ever had)

Nadine is lovely with children and made us feel extremely welcome, but for those of you who don’t have kids, no worries, it is certainly not your typical family restaurant. We went for an early dinner and back for lunch the next time, so as to allow people to enjoy the peaceful, romantic atmosphere without disturbance.

Grolla or caffé alla fiamma

Before we knew we would be drinking grappa to top it off, we ordered a grolla for my family to taste, a tradition of this area of the Alps consisting in coffee mixed with grappa that comes in an artisanal wooden decorated cup with as many spouts as the people drinking it. It is lit and brought to the table, where you then proceed to spoon the liquid over the sugar on the rim to sweeten it. The longer you let it burn, the less alcoholic it becomes, naturally. When you are ready to drink, you just close the hole with the spoon to kill the flame.

Last but not least, if you are going for lunch I strongly recommend you walk along the river to get there, immersed in a breathtaking winter (or spring/summer/fall) wonderland. It is a good 20/30 minute walk from town and a little uphill (but hey, downhill on the way back!), however I promise you will be glad you did it after the butter and cheese and polenta.

Another great meal awaits you in a restaurant with a similar name in the town of Madesimo, Osteria Vegia. This place was already a favorite of the poet Carducci who used to sit in one of the rooms to enjoy a cup of wine and a game of cards at the end of the 19th century. The place has kept its authentic low ceilings, wood finishings and small windows and doorways. It is a nice, quaint little place for an Italian-style hot chocolate or a bombardino (a warm, strong egg-based liquer) after a day of skiing or hiking but also probably the best place in town for its pizzoccheri. Wait, let me rephrase that: the pizzoccheri neri (from the nearby Valtellina, not to be confused with the less famous pizzoccheri bianchi made in this valley, Valchiavenna, photographed above) I had there are the best I have ever had anywhere. So if you go, my suggestion is to order a nice plate of bresaola (dried, cured beef also typical of Valtellina, but well loved all over Italy) to start, a piping hot, cheesy, garlicy plate of pizzocheri afterwards, and if you are still hungry a nice plate of grilled meat to end. And then you will love me and hate me at the same time, hehe.
Pizzoccheri neri: handmade buckwheat pasta with crispy garlic (yes, those brown chips), cabbage, butter and mountain cheese. Don't you just love those plates?

Have a great week end my friends!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Porcini mushroom barley soup (zuppa d'orzo ai porcini)

Here is a list of things I will not do at the beginning of this new year:

1) I will spare you my 2011 review post with photos and links to favorite recipes. YAWN. Was that me or you? My point being, I will not bore myself or you (at least not intentionally), so let’s just make a pact: you are more than welcome to browse around this blog whenever you feel like it and put key words into the search box if you are looking for something specific and I will keep linking to past posts here and there so you can discover some "hidden jems". This however doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the many review posts out there, I did. I just can’t be bothered.

2) I am not going to describe what I did and did not eat this holiday. First of all, because I pretty much ingurgitated all life forms present on this planet in the past weeks, animal and vegetable (or fruit in the form of fermented, liquid grapes), so making a list would be pretty unnecessary. Secondly, because you are probably sick of hearing that voice (be it in your head or in every post you have read in the last week) whine "I am sooo full, I ate too much, I think I will explode". Come on, really, you know you loved gorging yourself silly, you could've stopped any time, so just shut up and stop complaining already! And last but not least, because you don’t really care how many friggin' slices of smoked salmon, panettone or turkey I ate, since it is not your tushy that will expand a size as a result. Wait, is that a chocolate-covered-marzipan-Christmas-tree-shaped lump of cellulite on my right thigh or am I just seeing things?

3) I will not write a bunch of NYE resolutions because you just recently read my Thanksgiving list of what I am thankful for and you are still recovering. This is another win-win situation (see point 1): no stifling yawns on your side and no promises to live up to or public failures to admit to for moi in December 2012.

4) I am not posting a 120 calorie detox recipe made with goji berries and seaweed to make you feel better/less guilty. What I am posting is a recipe that is healthy (it includes most food groups: grains, healthy fats, vegetables, protein, dairy), comforting (because it is after all the height of winter for many of us) and easy (you probably don’t want to slave over a meal now that the cooking marathon is finally over). This dish is served in varying forms pretty much all over the Alps and can be made as a vegetarian or even a vegan dish by leaving out respectively one or two ingredients at most.

And...I wish you all a very Happy New Year! May 2012 be all you hoped for and thank you for following me into the new year.

500gr pearl barley
dried porcini mushrooms (small to medium sized bag)
100gr smoked pancetta or bacon
2 small or 1 large carrot
2 celery stalks
1 small onion
1 or 2 garlic cloves
5 cups ca. of vegetable stock
a handful of chopped fresh parsley
olive oil
Parmesan cheese

Pour enough olive oil into a pot to cover the bottom. Soak the dried mushrooms (a small bag will take you a long way) in a bowl with hot water, making sure you just cover them. Cut the garlic into large pieces (or mince it if you like a stronger flavor) and prepare a roughly chopped mirepoix with the onion, celery and carrots and cook until toothsome. I bought pre-diced smoked pancetta but you can just as easily chop up slices of bacon or ham if you have them handy. Cook with the vegetables until golden brown and then add in the barley, letting in toast in the hot oil for a couple of minutes. By now the mushrooms should have softened so you can squeeze out the excess liquid, making sure you do not discard it! It will give to the soup extra flavor. Roughly chop the mushrooms, add them in with the rest and pour in the soaking liquid and about 5 cups of water, depending on how thick and hearty you like your soup. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the barley is cooked through and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, chopped parsley and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Skip the Parmesan cheese and/or the pancetta if you are making a vegetarian or vegan soup.