Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Chocolate Flavored Cheese

I recently tried Chocolate, Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Peanut Butter cheese in Frankenmuth, MI. All I can say is that this is a very, very bad idea.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wine & Chocolate Pairing in Frankenmuth, MI

Visiting Frankenmuth recently with a friend, we tried a wine and chocolate pairing at one of the many specialty shops along the main street.

We tried cranberry, cherry, apple and honey wine. I’m a bit of a purist about wine, so I was skeptical about these non-grape wines. I enjoyed them, but mostly because I tried to think of them as something other than wine.

As the Italians say with a shrug of their shoulders, "Boh!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Frankenmuth, Michigan

Frankenmuth is a Bavarian Disneyland 1.5 hours north of Ann Arbor. The buildings are fairly new and there is a slight a cartoon quality about the town with facades made to look like castle tops. That said, it has an authentic element since many Germans settled there. It seemed like something to see before leaving Michigan this summer.

A friend and I drove up for the day and had a good time exploring the sites, laughing at a bit at the excess and eating a heavy German lunch at the Bavarian Inn. The dining room we sat in was over the top with flowery wallpaper, costumed waiters and live music.

We started off with mixed appetizers that included pretzels, fried potato puffs and fried cheese puffs with pork. There was a cheese sauce to dip everything in. It was greasy and delicious. I had a bratwurst with a side of warm potato salad. The potato salad was surprisingly inviting. There was a light vinegar taste, but mostly the potato flavor was complemented by the onions and brought out by the warmth of the dish. With a black German beer to wash everything down, it filled us up for the rest of the day.

With a German sausage store, and a cheese store, not to mention a year-round Christmas store on the edge of town, Frankenmuth was worth seeing with the right approach.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Café Bonaparte, Georgetown, D.C.

When my husband and I were dating and he lived near Georgetown University, we would go to Café Bonaparte for brunch. We’d order savory crepes followed by sweet ones. The coffee, cappuccino or café macchiato, was always as good as it would have been if we were eating in Italy or France. With an international crowd, small tables, red wall and aluminum ceiling, we felt like we were in Western Europe.

Visiting D.C. recently, we ate lunch here. I was afraid that it might have changed over the last two years, but it was just as we’d remembered it. This time, I tried the cold calamari salad and ended with a café macchiato. I returned the next day – I couldn’t resist! – and ordered a brie, avocado and sundried tomato sandwich on a baguette. Delicious.

Does life get any better? The service is perfect, the black and white images of Paris on the walls are beautiful to look at, and when I was sitting alone, I enjoyed the scene on Wisconsin Avenue out of the large window.

I’m sure we’ll be returning regularly when we return. They have another site, which we look forward to trying, too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Georgetown Cupcakes

Cupcakes have been popular for some time. Silly me, I thought the rage was ending. While we’ve been living in Michigan, Georgetown Cupcakes opened in Georgetown and Bethesda and each one was packed whenever we passed.

The line moved quickly when we decided to wait to buy a dozen cupcakes. There were thirteen flavors available and we chose a mixed box of twelve different flavors. (We only left “Vanilla Vanilla” behind.)

The cupcakes were delicious and free of corn syrup, which I'm allergic to and lots of people prefer to avoid. My favorite flavors were the mint and the peanut butter. The frosting, something I usually can’t eat, was light, sweet and intensely flavored.

The cake was good, too, but next time I might just eat the frosting off of them all first. If we are eating cupcakes, we certainly don't have to behave like grownups, right?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Egg & Swiss Chard Pie

I believe in using holidays as an excuse to eat a dish, but not limiting certain dishes to a prescribed day. If it is yummy, why wait?

I made this Egg & Swiss Chard Pie (a traditional Italian Easter Pie called Torta Pasqualina) for Easter this year and don’t intend to wait another year to make it again.

I followed the recipe in the Silver Spoon Cookbook. I admit that I’d never eaten it before, so I can’t exactly claim it as my own tradition. That said, it was delicious. With prepared puff pastry dough, Swiss chard, ricotta and eggs broken into the middle of the filling, it was also a dish that attracted attention.

What are your favorite holiday dishes that you make throughout the year?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

In honor of Earth Day, which reminds us to celebrate the Earth *every* day, I encourage you to get into the habit of shopping at your local Farmer’s Market. To locate one near you or someplace you are traveling to, search through Local Harvest. The pictures above are from the Santa Fe Farmer's Market last summer.

My mother, photographer Melabee Miller, posted pictures on her blog from the first Earth Day in New York City in 1970. I think you’ll enjoy them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

Hard boiled eggs aren’t only for Easter. They also make great salads and additions to green leaf salads.

When I was growing up, we always carefully lowered cold eggs into boiling water. Many of the eggs inevitably cracked and leaked into the boiling water. Oopla!

The current, popular method is to heat the water with the room eggs already in the pot. By leaving the eggs in the water, their international temperature raises with the water temperature and they are less likely to crack. For more detailed instructions, see these very clear instructions.

And then what do you do with the many eggs you’ve perfectly boiled? I like to eat them whole with a little salt sprinkled on top. You can always make a great egg salad, like this Curried Egg Salad, which is where most of our Easter eggs ended up this year.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Natural Easter Egg Dye

I am hesitant to share this, but since I promised a few folks I would, I figured I should follow through.

This Easter (I know, it is long-past), I tried to make all natural egg dyes. I boiled onion skins (for yellow), beets (for red), and spinach (for green). I poured dark coffee (for brown) and red grape juice (for purple) into glasses. I mixed the colored liquids with white vinegar and placed hard boiled eggs in the mixtures.

And then my husband and I waited. We checked on the mostly-still-white eggs and waited some more. The eggs barely retained the color. The brown was goopy and started to peel off. The other colors, which seemed dark in the glasses, barely had an effect on the eggs.

In the end, we decided to use the back-up, chemical dyes. Within minutes we had brilliantly colored eggs. We knew that the all natural dyes would result in lighter, more matte colors, but we barely even achieved that.

I’m not sure what happened. I researched the process online and followed what seemed to be standard recipes.

For readers who make their own dyes, what’s the trick?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Yorkshire Pudding

I’d never tried Yorkshire Pudding until a friend kindly prepared it (along with a rib roast) for dinner one night. It was delicious and I can’t wait to make it myself. It seems to be one of the easiest things in the world to make. Regardless of difficulty, it was quite impressive!

I’m planning on following this recipe from Epicurious.

What are your favorite easy-yet-impressive recipes?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dolcezza Gelato in Washington, DC

I ate gelato as often as possible in Italy while I was living there. Nothing I’ve tried in the United States comes close to the same texture or purity of seasonal flavor. That is, until my husband and I discovered Dolcezza  in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. We immediately became regulars.

Their website reminds us of the differences between Italian gelato and American ice cream:

It contains half the fat (see, you can eat it everyday like you want to.)

There is less air mixed into the treat.

It is served at slightly warmer temperatures.

When we returned to Georgetown for a spring visit, we immediately walked up Wisconsin Avenue for a dish. Between us, we tried these flavors: cinnamon, Thai coconut milk, pistachio and honey. My favorite? The cinnamon, which was both intense and spicy.

We look forward to taste-testing their gelato at each of the four Farmer’s Markets where they sell and the Bethesda location after we move to Washington. You know, just to make sure the gelato is as good as it is at their Georgetown location. We wouldn’t want to lead you astray or spend a gelato-free day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Zingerman's Do-Over Dinner: Algerian Jewish Dinner

One approach to food writing is to always be anonymous. Eat undercover; review with a fake name. The writer will never get preferential treatment and perhaps can offer the readers a more honest review.

That said, my husband and I were invited to the Zingerman’s Roadhouse for a do-over dinner after I blogged about a less spectacular “Special Dinner.” As you might have guessed, neither of us wore Salvador Dali moustaches to twirl while ordering a drink.

Everyone was quite gracious and the food was delicious. In fact, we used the fresh bread on the table to “fare la scarpetta” after almost every dish.

The lamb in the entrée was moist and complemented the poached egg. It was a combination that I wasn’t familiar with and it worked very nicely. I’m pretty certain I’ve never had fresh dates before and the two on the salad were sweet like candy. My favorite was the Regional Chickpea & Garlic Soup. As I tasted the first bite, I heard my father’s voice joking, “There won’t be any vampires in this group!” He’s right! It was so strong it was almost spicy.

Here is the complete menu:

Appetizer: Bestel of Fresh Grilled Tuna & Potato

Soup: Regional Chickpea & Garlic Soup

Salad: Carrot Salad with Dates

Entrée: Kouski bil Ghalmi (Braised Lamb with Ras al Hanout)

Side: Chakchouka (Ragout of Chickpeas and Peppers with a Poached Egg on Steamed Cous-Cous

Desserts: Semolina Honey Cake & Almond Stuffed Cigars

I tried the Pomegranate Mojito which had Bacardi, fresh mint, simple syrup, lime juice and pomegranate syrup. Allergic to corn syrup, I was happy to discover that they make their own simple syrup and the pomegranate syrup is made with cane sugar. It would be perfect on a hot day outside.

Each dish had an interesting new taste from to the combination of flavors less common in European cooking. The flavors and the history were explained by Rebecca Wall, a graduate student at the University of Michigan who studies Algerian Jewish cuisine and history. She gave a wonderfully informative talk with slides. She ended the talk with this quote from French historian Pascal Ory:

Cuisine is one of the most distinctive expressions of an ethnic group, or, in modern times, a nation. Frequently, the last sign of an individual’s attachment to his roots before total assimilation into the host community is the consumption of distinctive kinds of food.

If you missed the dinner, I recommend this great interview with Rebecca Wall from the Roadhouse blog.

And so the saga ends. Happy eating at the Zingerman’s Roadhouse, friends! If you’d like to join me for a meal there, I have to warn you that I might wear a disguise.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Ginger People Company

I’m not a brand-loyal kind of a buyer, but I do love almost everything that The Ginger People produce. The spicy yet sweet taste of ginger comes through their numerous products. And these are products that would take quite a while to make on your own (I know because I’ve tried to make crystallized ginger and ginger syrup. Not quick activities.) So, forget about making everything yourself and indulge in a few store-bought treats.

My husband, who loves all things ginger, first introduced me to the Original Ginger Chews. They melt down eventually, but are temporarily as chewy as gum and offer a burst of energy healthier than coffee. We’ve since tried some of the other flavors, Spicy Apple and Hot Coffee, but always come back to the Originals.

The Ginger Beer is refreshing on a hot day and the syrup works just fine anywhere you’d add honey or maple syrup, like tea, pancakes, yogurt or vanilla ice cream. This morning’s yogurt smoothie with plain yogurt and blueberries perked up with a teaspoon of the syrup.

Their regular newsletters share news about the benefits of ginger (good for athletes for a quick re-charge) and plenty of recipes from drinks to breakfast to dinner to appetizers to of course, desserts. I grew up having a ginger ale if my stomach was troublesome and these dishes offer the same relief with no corn syrup. I’ve read that pregnant women with nausea rely on fresh ginger and The Ginger People’s treats.

Their products are becoming more common in specialty and regular supermarkets. I’ve found a number of them for reasonable prices at the Ann Arbor World Market. I haven’t found the Ginger Juice, though, which sounds great for a summer mixed drink. Since squeezing a piece of ginger root myself sounds troublesome, I might just order it online.

What’s your favorite ginger recipe?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shatila Bakery in Dearborn, MI

Shatila Bakery in Dearborn, MI serves “Sweets from the Middle East From the Heart of the Midwest.” Counter after counter of treats are available, including seemingly endless types of baklava, desserts with nuts (mamoul), and more, including French pastries. They also have savory pies, such as a chicken shawarma wrap.

You can order online, pick up at the counter or just plop yourself down with a coffee and enjoy them at one of their many café tables.

It can be overwhelming to see so many honey-sweetened treats that might be unfamiliar to you. The staff is incredibly helpful and there’s always the old fashioned pointing method. As in, I’ll have them all!

We love this place so much that it is included in the rounds of the Detroit area when guests come to town. It isn’t to be missed. If you go after dark, you can buy a tray to bring with you to the nearby Ford Wyoming Drive-In.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Italian Language Book Resources

For those of you interested in studying Italian, I’ve put together a list of suggested texts.

I primarily teach Italian to adults who are planning a trip to Italy to see the sites, taste the cuisine and maybe even visit relatives in small towns. These texts are geared towards this level of study. They are user-friendly, organized and offer exercises with answers. They are also fairly inexpensive, especially compared to college level textbooks.

If you are interested in private or small-group tutoring or cooking classes with a language component, please email me at ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com. I am in Ann Arbor, Michigan through the summer and then will be relocating to the Washington, DC metro area.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blog Available on Kindle!

I'm happy to announce that you can now read this blog on your Kindle. Order it on Amazon today. You can start with a free trial and then decide if you want to continue.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lemon Meringue Pie

Meringue requires more attention than other desserts.

I recently followed this recipe for lemon meringue pie. I was pleased by how it turned out: slightly browned on the edges of the peaked meringue.

Then, I put it in the fridge and planned to serve it the next day. The recipe I followed said it could be made in advance and should be served cold. When I uncovered it less than twenty-four hours later, I found that the meringue had weeped (leaked liquid) and shrunk.

It looked like a very sad little pie.

You can read here about why the pie tends to weep and shrink. The answer to the problem? Cool the pie on the counter and serve it within a few hours.

Other suggestions?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Retro Fondue Night

Fondue has returned along with leggings and tapered pants. We recently purchased a fondue pot at a yard sale and wanted to try it out before the weather turns hot and muggy.

And so, Retro Fondue Night was born. We invited another couple who we knew would enjoy a good laugh over a themed, untested meal (a clear violation of dinner-party rules.)

We started with mixed appetizers from the frozen section of Trader Joe’s: Cheese puffs and pigs in a blanket. Our guests brought potato chips and onion dip. Perfectly retro and delicious!

Cheddar cheese fondue with two types of cubed bread and vegetables to dip came next. The recipe was easy to prepare (starting on the stove top) and deliciously gooey with a slight bite from the dry mustard. Finding the denatured alcohol was a bit of a challenge, but I was finally pointed to the paint section of Mejier’s. There was one container left. See, it's a fact: Fondue has returned!

The denatured alcohol was a bit overactive. When we lit the flame, the fire reached beyond the pot. No matter what stimulating conversations we had that night, the fondue provided our entertainment. No one got hurt (although the paper lanterns above did sway in the heat) and once we extinguished the fire, we enjoyed the boiling pot of cheese.

Not willing to risk the fire again for dessert (and we couldn’t clean the singed pot without an overnight soak), I prepared the chocolate fondue on the stovetop and served it right in the pot. I followed this chocolate fondue recipe and cut up angel food cake, macaroons and strawberries for dipping. Our guests kindly brought two Jello salads, one green and one red. Yum!

Moral of the story? Keep good friends and a fire extinguisher close at all times!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dates Wrapped in Bacon

Guests on a diet won’t approve, but the cookbook 1080 Recipe’s description of Dates Wrapped in Bacon was amazing enough for me to risk it recently. Crispy and savory on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside, this was delicious and quick to make. The directions? Wrap dates in bacon and fry in peanut oil.

Inherent in those directions are buying dates instead of figs, like I did. It worked, although I think the figs were a bit too big for bite-sized treats. Oopla! Next time: actual dates.

No harm done. They were eaten up before they could get cold.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Detroit Institute for the Arts: The Art of Dining

I pull my chair up to a video-projected dinner of formal eighteenth century French dining on the top floor of the Detroit Institute for the Arts. Plates appear with written descriptions and hands with lacy sleeves show me how to handle the utensils and delicate foods. Middle-schoolers crowd into the other chairs and around the table. I can’t help but wonder along with them at the intricate dishes and formality of the meal.

The museum brought otherwise boring cases of polished silver serving plates to life. The exhibit of the dishes used surrounded us, a surprising crowd on a sunny, Friday afternoon in Detroit.

The DIA, as the Detroit Institute for the Arts is called, was recently renovated and houses an enormous collection of varied works. From Diego Rivera murals to child-friendly and thought-provoking explanations, there is really something for all ages. They creatively present material to make distant customs accessible.

Online, you can watch part of the video or visit their website.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Paella, a dish I’ve always ordered out, is now a dish I know anyone can make at home.

My mom and I prepared it together for her birthday. We followed the recipe in the Spanish cookbook 1080 Recipes, which you can find in my Amazon store. You can also find the amazing Le Creuset, which I relied on for this dish and use regularly.

Paella isn’t the easiest recipe to make because of the numerous steps. While I don’t mind cooking alone, this is at least a two-person job. A worrier, I was convinced that we were going to overcook something, from the squid to the chicken to the sausage. Nothing like that happened.

While we followed the recipe, we altered it a little for everyone’s dietary preferences and what was available: no shrimp, no monkfish, no peppers and chicken stock instead of fish stock. Phew!

It is possible to “own” any recipe and mold it to fit your tastes. I encourage you to read different versions of the same dish and notice what is always included and what changes before making your final decision. This cookbook has a number of types of paella, from fresh fish to chicken (which includes fish) to sausage to even canned fish.

Happy birthday, Mom! Cent’anni!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Slows Bar.B.Q in Detroit

Slows, a fairly new, hipster BBQ place, was hopping last Friday at 5 pm. Without a dinner reservation, we only waited half an hour with local beers from the tap, including Shorts Brewing Company.

And then we gorged ourselves. Each dish came with two sides and the portions of not-so-light food were generous. My black eyed peas and my husband’s macaroni and cheese were authentically southern, gooey and perfectly salted. Except for the ribs, which were a bit dry, the entrees were simply delicious. The table was outfitted with a selection of BBQ sauces, which you can see above.

The restaurant, with a door fashioned to blend into the wall like an old speakeasy, is very close to the old Detroit train station, the Michigan Central Station.