Month: December 2009

Tips for packing food and wine in a suitcase

When we posted What to buy in an Italian grocery store and What to buy in a Spanish grocery store, we neglected to mention how to get those delicacies home. International airline security restrictions limiting liquids, gels, and pastes (including most soft foods) to 3 ounces in carry-on luggage means entrusting your goodies to the gorillas who slam around checked luggage. Leaving home, we try to fill our checked bags only halfway, taking up the extra space with bubble wrap and really large plastic bags. (A friend once suggested we have a bag fetish.) Hefty One-Zip 2 1/2 gallon bags are ideal. A few 1-gallon sliding zipper plastic bags are also handy. Small items like jars of anchovies, truffle oil, or pistachio butter from Sicily...Read More

Sonoma Christmas cookie

I like California's Sonoma County because viticulture and winemaking haven't yet overwhelmed traditional farming. Almost everything seems to grow there, and one great place to sample the agricultural traditions is Kozlowski Farms (5566 Gravenstein Highway 116, Forestville, California, 707-887-1587), one of the oldest family farms in the county. The farm store is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. When Carol Kozlowski's parents bought the farm nearly 60 years ago, they began growing apples and then branched out into raspberries. "We had an overabundance and began to make jam," she says. "So we put a sign on the side of the road and that launched our business." The family still grows apples and makes cider, but concentrates on developing new products and operating a farm stand stocked...Read More

What to buy in an Italian grocery store

Since so many of the regional Italian cuisines are based on food that is fresh, fresh, fresh, we're limited in what we can bring back home. But there are some dry goods and conserves that turn out to be very useful in cooking Italian dishes. We've learned not to bother with colored pastas, which cook up to a gray mess anyway, because we can buy good imported dry pasta for about the same price we'd pay for it in Italy. Here's our Italian grocery list: Anchovies. Many Americans think they don't like anchovies because they have never tasted good ones used with the restraint characteristic of Italian recipes. We look for anchovies packed in glass jars so we can make sure they are firm and...Read More

Meeting the master of meat

Bruno Bassetto of Treviso, Italy, knows meat. The 61-year-old butcher set a Guinness World Record in October by crafting a salamella—a kind of fresh pork sausage—more than 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) long. I had the good fortune to watch him trim a piece of round and make steak tartare in seconds with a pair of huge knives. But beyond his obvious showmanship, Bassetto is also a master of charcuterie. In addition to fresh meat, his butcher shop (via Mantiero 22, Treviso; 011-39-0422-231-945, also carries fresh and cured sausages, which range from slender little pepperoni to a great expression of the local Veneto sopressa (a soft, cured sausage about 3 inches in diameter). In late fall and winter, he also makes a cooked pork sausage...Read More

What to buy in a Spanish grocery store

We love visiting fresh markets when we travel. But except for dried herbs and spices, most of the goods won't make it through US Customs. Once we've snapped dozens of photos of mounds of vegetables and tables of glistening fish on ice, we head to a neighborhood grocery store (the kind where homemakers, not tourists, shop) to stock up on food essentials to bring home. Here’s our Spanish grocery list: Saffron Spaniards claim their saffron is the world’s best and price it accordingly. The larger the container, the better the deal. We usually purchase saffron in 20-gram boxes or larger. (A half gram is sufficient for a 15-inch paella.) Stored in an airtight container out of the light, it will keep up to seven years—or...Read More

Bringing food through US Customs

Sometimes you can’t bring the taste of travel back home. We learned the hard way by trying to bring in a large block of mountain ham from Spain. Mind you, this was the choicest grade of jamón ibérico (from acorn-fattened black-footed pigs), and priced accordingly. The salesperson at the factory in Jabugo assured us that it would go right through U.S. Customs because it was vacuum-sealed. When we declared the ham, Customs promptly confiscated it as if we were smuggling uncle Guido’s homemade country sausage. You can argue the validity of the policy all you want, but Customs people do not make policy. They only enforce it. One of us was already tired of pungent Spanish ham anyway. To avoid disappointment, costly or not, it...Read More

Steaming mussels in Belgian witbier

[caption id="attachment_490" align="alignleft" width="215" caption="Eric Cauwbarghs of Brasserie Kouterhof"][/caption] As Belgians will attest, beer is every bit as good as white wine for steaming mussels. Chef Eric Cauwbarghs of the Brasserie Kouterhof, which is attached to the 't Wit Gebrouw brewery in Hoegaarden, Belgium (about a half hour east of Brussels on a commuter train), showed me this straightforward but aromatic way to make a hearty winter dish of mussels and vegetables. The brewery's Hoegaarden witbier (white beer) is made with Curaçao orange peel and coriander, and the aromatics make a big difference in the flavor of the mussels. When I can't find Hoegaarden witbier at home (it's distributed selectively by Anheuser-Busch), I substitute another wheat beer and augment it with a little fresh orange...Read More