Food, Road Trip, The World A to Z

You Gotta Eat, Right?

Food … it’s what sustains us. When you Google food quotes, you’ll find a seemingly never-ending list:

Food is the ingredient that binds us together.

unknown author

Food is our common ground, a universal experience.

James Beard

Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.

Jonathan Safran Foer

Of course there are tons of food quotes! We need it to live. It’s a part of everyone’s life and everyone’s culture. It can be delicious, awful, adventurous, familiar … but no matter what else it is, it is essential.

When you travel, food can be a challenge … or an opportunity. After all, not everyone prepares food the way you do (or I do). The good news is, I’ve never been anywhere I couldn’t find something to eat. In Morocco, the vegetables were spiced with cinnamon and the tea was mint. In the Galapagos, the fish was fresh and the desserts were dazzling. In Lima, we tried something we couldn’t really identify. The language barrier left us wondering if it was chicken and seafood, but it was delicious, nonetheless! Later that evening, we did find South American steak on the menu.

A hotel picnic can satisfy your craving for something familiar.

If you’re lucky, you have loads of memories of a waiter putting something in front of you that turns out delicious. If you’re not, at least you have plenty to laugh about. You can always grab a couple of familiar items from a local grocery store and have a picnic in your hotel room. We’ve done that more than once.

It’s starting to look like the rest of 2020 will be filled with road trips rather than international flights, but that’s OK. Regional food can be just as exciting as international cuisine.

Rattlesnake skewers and cactus fries in Arizona.

Hop in a car and drive a few hours from home and you are likely to find something on the menu that may surprise you. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What is this?” Then try the rattlesnake skewers and cactus fries! Walk up to a vendor at a street fair and try that bacon-wrapped meat on a stick. 

Meat on a stick is a staple at fairs and festivals around the world.

Your wanderlust shouldn’t end just because you’ve found a new place to visit, popped into a museum or dipped your toes into the water on a new beach. It should also extend to your taste buds.

After all … there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Taste some of it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Food, Wine/Cocktails

When You Can’t Travel, Bring the Flavors of a Place to Your Kitchen

I discovered a dish several years ago when I picked up a special edition of Epicurious magazine. It was called “Epicurious Italy.” The title alone sold that magazine/cookbook to me. I’ve always LOVED Italian food. In fact, I pretty much love all things Italian. 

Epicurious Italy

Unable to travel during the corona pandemic, I decided, “If you can’t get out, at least bring the flavors of places to your kitchen.”  So, I’ve tried making schnitzel with spaetzle. It turned out pretty good. Greg whipped up some amazing curry dishes. We’ve co-cooked some Asian-inspired stuff. But far and away our favorite is Italian and our “go to.”

We took a cooking class through Sur La Table a few years ago and learned a few tricks, including how to make our own pasta. Then I found this compilation of recipes. We’ve tried at least a dozen of the recipes and love them all, but the Brasato al Barolo is an absolute favorite and has become our signature dish. 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe. Chefs always say, “add season and flavor to your taste.” We’ve used lots of different kinds of red wine – Barolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti, Super Tuscan blends, Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine enhances the flavor, so I’m always careful to go with a red we really like. For this brasato, I used a 2012 Mauro Veglio Barolo

This dish takes a little work, but is INCREDIBLE and well worth it. 

Before you start cooking, do your prep work. Cut up the carrots, onions, garlic and celery in advance. True story – I cheat on the garlic and buy the big jar of minced garlic at my local grocery store. Get that wine open and breathing. (NOTE: ALWAYS — seriously ALWAYS — taste the wine you’re using in your food. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food). If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own herbs, snip and clean some fresh thyme and basil. Otherwise, grab the fresh stuff from the store. It really makes a difference. I have somehow managed to keep the thyme, rosemary and mint alive, but my basil is looking pretty sad right now. 

My little herb garden.

Measure what you need and have it handy. The french call it “mise en place” (Everything in its place).  That’s one of things we learned in our cooking class and really makes cooking a lot easier (and more fun). Pre-heat your your oven.

Now you’re ready to get cooking.

Get a good sear on the beef

Step one: Put olive oil into a dutch oven and heat it till the oil shimmers. You’ll want to have it HOT so when you put the meat in to brown it, you get that sizzle. 

Step two: brown the meat (about two minutes a side).  and remove it from the pan to a plate

Step three: throw in diced pancetta and render the fat. I couldn’t get pancetta once and tried bacon. It was still good, but there was absolutely a difference. 

Step four: Add your cut up veggies and let them cook and caramelize for about 5 minutes. You will see a difference and everyone in the house will be coming into the kitchen to tell you how amazing it smells and find out what you’re cooking.

Step five: add those herbs and that garlic and stir ‘em in. The garlic will brown in about a minute if you use the jarred stuff. Fresh will take a little longer.

Step six. Stir in the tomato paste. It gets really gloppy here. Mix it up and get it clumpy but keep it moving. You don’t want to burn the tomato paste.

Pour in that wine

Step seven: Pour in two cups of wine. For me it boils almost immediately so I turn it down a bit and let it vigorously simmer till the wine is reduced by half.

Step eight: Add the meat (and the juices from the plate) back into the Dutch oven and pour in the other cup of wine and a cup of water. 

Step nine: Put the cover on and pop the whole thing into your pre-heated oven.

Step ten: Let that deliciousness cook low and slow for three hours. Your house will smell delicious. Your neighbors will be jealous. 

Now here’s the real secret. When your brasato is cooked, let it cool to room temp and pop it into your fridge for two to three days. Trust me on this. I’ve eaten it right away and three days later and waiting is OH SO WORTH IT! 

A few hours before you’re going to serve: Pull the Dutch oven out of the fridge and skim off most of the fat that’s set on the top. This is easiest when it’s cold. Throw the fat away, pop the covered Dutch oven into a 350℉ oven for 30 minutes.

Spoon everything but the beef into a blender.

Take it out of the oven and put the meat onto a plate. Depending on the cut of meat, it may simply fall apart or you will be able to slice it. Pull out the rosemary and thyme and spoon the contents of the pan into your blender.

Deliciousness on a plate.

Puree it. All of it. This delicious, beefy, wine-flavored, veggie mess is gonna be the most scrumptious gravy you’ve ever eaten in your life. There’s no need to thicken anything, just blend it to a thick liquid.

Voila — choose a vegetable (or not – I mean the gravy is mostly vegetables), mash some potatoes (or cauliflower) to hold the gravy. Grab some bread (you’re going to be sopping up every drop) and dig in.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes you just have to explore it with your taste buds.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020