Florence restaurant guide

You can find some of the best pizza, lasagna, ravioli, and gelato in the world in the heart of Tuscany in Florence, Italy. The Italian food you find here is obviously very different from the Americanized Italian version found elsewhere. Only the freshest, often locally sourced organic ingredients are used in preparation, and most recipes are very simple yet satisfying. Continue reading “Florence restaurant guide”

The birthplace of Gelato

We owe it to Bruto and Poerio Carpigiani, the two brothers who spread gelato technology, culture, and business throughout the world. They have played a huge role in the evolution and reach of gelato over the last century. This can be traced at the newly opened Carpigiani Gelato Museum, just outside of Bologna in Italy. The museum is located at the current Carpigiani world headquarters, which also houses Carpigiani University, showrooms and a test kitchen. Continue reading “The birthplace of Gelato”

Atlanta Chef Expo 2012

A sold out event for breast cancer awareness and the love of all Atlanta foodies, the Atlanta Chef Expo hit the high note in it’s very first year. Located at the Foundry at Puritan Mill, the exhibit hall was bustling with restaurant chefs, caterers and bakers. The sweet and smoky smells attracted visitors from all over the city even on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Along with chef’s tables and exhibition booths, there was also a full service bar, cooking demonstration stage and music. Being mardi gras weekend, Carnival theme seemed to be floating throughout the expo. Not surprisingly, many Louisiana dishes were represented. Some of the highlights were:

Restaurant RowAqua Blue presented a bite size sushi grade ahi tuna on a crispy wanton which was simple and delicious. Aqua Blue continues to enjoy its presence as one of the best seafood restaurants in Atlanta. Marlow’s Tavern hit a home run with two must try dishes at the entire expo. The first was a shrimp and crab nacho with cheese…yummy! The second was fried chicken sushi with spicy chipotle sauce, a different take on the shrimp tempura sushi roll. One bite would convert non sushi lovers into one.

Catering Alley – My award goes to the Lamb BBQ Sliders prepared by Executive Chef Nicholas Walker at Cobb Galleria Centre catering. The lamb was an excellent substitute for pork and the sauce was not overbearing how it usually is in most BBQ sliders. Chef Walker always comes up with his own unique twist on classic favorites. Wolfgang Puck Catering (that operate at the Georgia Aquarium) served delicious homemade French style macrons, along with other sweet treats. It’s hard to find macrons so fresh and delicate in the south, so it was quite impressive what WPC did. JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead also surprised me with peppery homemade potato chips served with a creamy vidalia onion dressing. The salty crunchy treat made a delicious snack that I would definitely order at a restaurant.

The Chef’s Table – There were many innovative chefs in this area, who were serving handmade pasta (yes, made live at the expo itself), chicken samosas and chilled gazpacho. The one that caught my attention was a creation by Chef Rian McDonald. It was a jumbo shrimp stuffed with candied bacon, pineapples and herbed cheese, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. Highly complex!

Gluten Free/ Vegan – In my mind, the most unique award should go to Chef Barry Garber of Creative Vegan Ensembles. He was born and brought up in Georgia, but served Calcutta-Jewish-Vegan recipes that I didn’t knew even existed. There was Indian spiced ladyfingers with tomato sauce and sauteed tofu with raisins and almonds.

The Sugar Shack – Never thought I would be crazy about Creole Pretzels and Creole Crunch Popcorn, but ChayJ’s New Orleans Candies did an excellent job delivering the right balance of flavor, crunch and freshness to their products. I may need a box of those to go please!

Amusing Treats had a tree bearing customized cookies, which I thought was an interesting idea. Something to keep in mind for special occasions and party favors. I found the perfect sweet endings at Honeysuckle Gelato with caramel, fig and lavender flavors. Currently only at food trucks and some restaurants, Honeysuckle Gelato will be at grocery stores soon.

My love affair

It was love at first sight. We met in Rome, at a local café, while I was wandering around the cobblestone streets on a warm summer evening.  I admired its smooth body, dense structure and luscious high intensity. The moment it touched my tongue, I knew that we will have a relationship for life. Since then, it has consumed my mind and my wallet, while I have consumed it by the gallons.  My favorite dish is gelato, an Italian ice cream which is created when nature, technology, imagination and tradition blend together happily.

The origin of gelato dates back to ancient Rome and Egypt, when they made frozen desserts using ice and snow. Florence (circa 1600’s) is said to be the birthplace of the modern day gelato, where milk mated with sugar, cream and natural ingredients such as fruits and nuts. Ice cream is a younger cousin of gelato which claims to be richer in butterfat but is full of air.

My love for gelato has taken me on a quest around the world. I started off by desperately needing to stop and taste at every display case I passed by from Montreal to Bangalore. I would critique, compare, analyze, leaving my final judgment with the seller, whether they cared for it or not. After realizing that there were only a few quality cases out there that met my seal of approval, I decided to perfect the recipes in my very own kitchen.  After countless hours of blending, tempering, whisking, boiling, grinding and freezing, I attained a satisfactory level of competency whereby I was able to share my love with a few family and friends. Soon enough I was being told, “Your (coffee, dulce de leche, fig and port, maple walnut, strawberry) gelato is the best I have ever had!”

Like in any other marriage, I couldn’t just love. I had to study and perfect my object of affection. As a result, I ended up in training seminar by Luciano Ferrari, a world renowned gelato maker from Italy. That was like going on a second honeymoon. I discovered new creative ways and techniques that have made our relationship even more interesting.

Unlimited Italy - With a Trenitalia rail pass

What’s most intriguing about gelato is the interplay between sugar, protein and fat molecules. The delicate interaction creates an emotional product that appeals to any age, culture, or background. It is very much like the Buddhist philosophy of cause and effect. Like life, in gelato making, everything that happens is not just from one cause, but several for example the reaction of one ingredient with another can be different with just a slight change in formula. The objective is to make sure that you use the best ingredients in correct proportions and let the universe intervene to create the perfect balance of flavor, texture and density.

In addition to the many nights of sweet satisfaction, gelato has taught me a lot about living, loving and patience. I always knew our love was more than just physical, it was a spiritual connection that was meant to be.

Learn how to make your own gelato

 

Blueberry-Honey Gelato

With 2 gallons of blueberries from picking at Roland Farms over the weekend, I have been contemplating how to put them to the optimal use. Over the next few days, I will be posting totally original and finger licking recipes using my fresh picked, pesticide free, for a good cause blueberries.

The first one is a honey-blueberry gelato. I love the taste of homemade gelato as it’s fresh, creamy and you know what’s in it. The gelato recipe below is actually much healthier than any ice cream you will ever come across. It is made with mostly milk (as oppose to cream), does not have eggs, and uses fresh honey and a lot of blueberries.

Honey-Blueberry Gelato

Makes 2 Quarts

Total Time: 5 hours (Prep: 1 hour, Inactive: 4 hours)

Ingredients: 

4 cups whole milk

½ cup heavy cream

5 oz sugar

1.2 oz corn syrup

1 oz skim milk powder

3 cups fresh blueberries

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

¼ cup honey

Equipment: 

Heavy bottom saucepan

Cooking thermometer

Rubber or wooden spatula

Blender or hand mixer

Mesh strainer

Medium glass bowl

Ice cream maker

Air tight freezer safe container

Directions:

Combine the milk and heavy cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan and place on medium heat. Attach a cooking thermometer to the pan. Cook stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 170F. The milk should not form any skin.

Add the sugar, corn syrup and skim milk powder. Blend until mixed well. Cook the liquid base for five more minutes maintaining the temperature at 170F.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath placing a medium glass bowl in it. Strain the prepared liquid gelato base into the glass bowl. Let chill completely. Cover and refrigerate for four hours.

Puree the blueberries using in an electric blender. Add the lemon juice. Blend the chilled liquid base with the blueberry puree. Add the honey and mix well. Pour into the ice cream machine and let it churn for 25 minutes (or as directed by your particular machine).

Transfer to an air tight, freezer safe bowl. Freeze at least four hours or overnight.

Fun things to do during the summer holidays

It’s summer time already. The temperature is rising, the economy is still tight and the kids are out of school. It’s time to go to the pool, watch movies and have sleep-overs. But after a few days, you will get tired of all that. If you are scratching your heads on how to keep yourself and your kids entertained this summer without breaking your budget, I have a few ideas for you that involve food, travel and volunteerism.

Go

Plan a road trip to a nearby destination. Pack everyone into your car and head to a lake or beach. Rent a summer home for the week where you can cook your own food and play games. Even if you don’t have anything planned, here are some ideas for last minute trips.

Travel exchange programs are also a great way to stay for free in another city, or even country. Families can exchange homes, stay on farms, or be guests at no charge.

If you have decided to stay put this summer, you are in for a staycation. Which means you can be a tourist in your city and plan to do activities that you would otherwise do while travelling. Lodging and travel costs excluded of course.

Eat

Take a break from the regular summer camps and enrolls in a cooking camp. Learn to be a Food Network star or improve your awareness of food and nutrition. Kids and teens would also learn to work in teams and cooperate with one another.

Cooking with family at home can also be a lot of fun. Get the kids together for a fun day of making pasta, gelato, sushi or chocolate from scratch. It can be a rewarding learning experience that will bring the family together.

Give

There is no shortage of volunteering opportunities in every city. Enroll in a project or associate yourself with a cause. Make it a daily/ weekly schedule to visit an old home, children’s hospital or women’s shelter. Some of these can be quite entertaining as well, such as leading arts and crafts, sporting activities for other kids. Many charities are looking for interns during the summer who can help them with day-to-day administrative things, organizing events, etc.

By the end of summer, you would have used your time effectively to impact the lives of people and feel good about yourself.

If you have any ideas of your own to share, please leave a comment below.

An ice cream success story

After the success story of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the last century, we have a new winner! Recently established High Road Craft Ice Cream & Sorbet is a unique ice cream concept that is catching on like wildfire. Just within a few months of their operations, they are already supplying thousands of scoops of ice creams, gelatos and sorbets to hotels, restaurants and now, Whole Foods.

Over the past weekend, I got an opportunity to get a tour of their facility in Chamblee-Dunwoody, GA. High Road was formed by two recent Kennesaw State University Executive MBA graduates, Keith Schroeder and Hunter Thornton. Both were young, ambitious and entrepreneurial. With Keith’s background as a chef at some of the top hotels, Hunter’s experience in sales, and the help of their fellow MBA students; it was the perfect ice cream storm.

High Road’s distinguishing factor is their use of local, organic and sustainable products. They use pure cane instead of sugar in all their bases. Only the finest chocolate, spices and teas are bought from farmers around the world.

The second distinction in their products is their flavors. These are not your traditional vanilla-chocolate-strawberry ice creams. A lot of thought and research has gone into the production of the unique characteristics flavors incorporating spices, alcohol and fusion inspirations. In addition to the Mexican chocolate & chili, masala chai, roasted beet & basil, gin & tonic, etc. for adventurous eaters, they also offer the straightforward ice cream flavors suitable for all ages. For a complete menu selection, take a peek at their web site but don’t blame me if your mouth starts to water!

The Mother’s day weekend kept High Road really busy. Working round the clock making ice cream, Keith even brought in a bed where he spent the nights. “We have a lot more demand than we are able to supply” said Keith, who already has plan for expansions. He has placed an order for more machines than would enable them to manufacture $1million worth of products and is going to take over the entire building before the end of the year. So, what’s next for these high rollers? They are looking to expand into Asia and take over the global market, perhaps open retail locations as well.

To get your own high, visit High Road at 2241 Perimeter Park Dr., Suite 7, Atlanta from 10am-1pm every Saturday. They are open to the public for tours and tastings.

 

A taste of Italy a casa mia

The Italian language club, Ciancia met at my place last night. I have to say it was one of my most memorable evenings. Not sure if it was because of the wine, the food, or the conversations, or a combination of all of the above.

I prepared some wine and cheese platters, antipasto, penne arrabiata and fettuccini with white truffles. A good friend had gifted me a jar of fresh white truffles for my birthday, which I decided to use on this special occasion. I made a simple sauce of butter, cream, salt and pepper. Then I tossed it with the fettuccini and grated parmesan. Finally, I shaved the truffles on top and then gently tossed the pasta before serving.

People from all walks of life gathered in interest of a mutual passion for Italian food and language. The linguistic skills ranged from zero to native, so you could join in a conversation of your aptitude. Each person was required to bring a bottle of Italian wine, a dish or pay $10. We had an upside down moussaka, penne with meat sauce, salads and endless bottles of red and white wines.  

The grand finale was my home made Gelato in three flavors – chocolate, mango and maple-walnut. I could not find a recipe for mango Gelato anywhere, so came up with my own. Needless to say, it was over before you knew it!

The crowd was very diverse and eclectic. We talked about everything from food, travel, music, living abroad, volunteering, to spiritually and business. I feel like I made some really good friends who share many mutual interests.

We wrapped up the evening at midnight, by when my feet were desperately asking for some rest. I went to bed with the lingering sweet taste of truffles in my mouth.

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Mango Gelato Recipe

Make the plain base and refrigerate overnight

Peel 2 ripe large mangos, take all the pulp out into a bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, add all the mango pulp and 1 cup of the plain base in a blender. Blend until the mango is completely pureed and no chunks are remaining. Whisk into the rest of the plain base. Churn in ice cream machine for 30 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.