Food

Our Italian Honeymoon: Rome

rome-graffiti

Graffiti. So much sad sad graffiti. Crappy tags on almost every surface. Every now and then, a pathetic half-assed attempt to paint over it. It’s not art. There are some well done murals, but they are few and far between, scattered among the seldom cleaned trash bins, decaying buildings, and smells from origins of which I would rather not know. This is Rome. I expected my first encounter with the great city to be more, well, magical. But after a couple of days, all I have found is a sense of a sprawling decaying urban European center not unlike so many others I have visited. Not to say that the city isn’t welcoming and in so many ways, enchanting. Of course it is, it’s frickin Rome! I guess after all these years of anticipation, like so many things we build up in our hearts and minds, the real thing tends to be a letdown. Am I speaking sacrilege? No, I really want to LOVE it. It is, after all, our Italian Honeymoon tour!

The fact that our initial lodgings turned out to be a bit less than advertised didn’t exactly help the situation. We used AirBnB for the first time. It was a great service; everything was checked and double checked, reserved and paid for beforehand, so there were no last minute surprises. Except for the fact that the private bathroom we were promised was not quite private. Having a private room in a private residence with a bathroom in our room for our Honeymoon is what we expected. This was our own private room in a very nice flat, but the bathroom was downstairs across the “common area” and kitchen. So in order to visit, you had to suit up and traipse across the flat. Though it was supposedly ours only, I am certain there were other visitors. Don’t ask me how I know…. Oh, and did I mention we had to be quiet as we walked through the living room area as there was another guest sleeping there off to the side cordoned off by room dividers. Yep, that was his “room.” I wonder what he paid?

Not to say that AirBnB is bad. Far from it! I love the service and think it is a great boon for the planet, entrepreneurialism, and travel freedom. In fact, I’ll tell you just how truly AMAZING it is in my next few posts as I regale you with beautiful tales of the Italian countryside, fresh herbs and fruit right outside our flat, and being serenaded by the local church bells. But for our introduction to the service in Rome, the age old motto of “Caveat Emptor” rang out loudly in my cranium.

coliseum-rome

The big sights are still there, the Coliseum, Forum, Spanish Steps, Vatican City, etc, etc, and so on. And they are beautiful as advertised. Quite awe-inspiring actually. Imagine the history! Gladiators slaughtering one another, Christians being torn apart by lions, the Vatican helping the Nazis horde Jewish gold. What? Too soon? I’m just saying, the history is impressive, it’s just not always flattering.

It doesn’t help that at every tour bus stop, every attraction, and every train station, there are clone swarms of what seems to be the same Bangladeshi man aggressively hawking shitty hats, cold water, cheap Chinese scarves, some strange little squishy toy, and the ever popular iphone selfie stick for taking better self indulgent “look at me” photos from further than an arm’s length out. It may be years before I get the mind numbing sound of “selfie?” being half-heartedly “shouted” at me every ten feet. It got so bad near the Spanish Steps that one hawker aggressively pushed some “free” flowers on my wife, gesturing that, no indeed they were free. Sure. After we stated, “No, Grazie” abut ten times, he initially took them away after, of course, asking me for some cash. After my final, “No, Grazie!” He uttered some ancient curse at me and I, in turn, cordially invited him to have sexual intercourse with himself. A group of these guys recently attacked and tried to rob a U.S. policeman on Holiday. I wonder if my jerk of a rose pusher was one of those weenies. Oh how I longed to go Gladiator on him myself and take a rousing wack at his skull with a blunt object of some kind. Somebody will soon, I’m sure. Had I done so, undoubtedly the crowd would cheer me on as they did the warriors of antiquity and I would be showered with praise, gold, and virgins (which my wife would not appreciate).

Speaking of virgins… Then there’s the romance. Couples kissing out in the open, seemingly lost in their passions, sharing a gelato and groping one another in the parks. Swarthy fellas hooting, gesticulating, and whistling at the ladies as they go by. Innocent enough, but the fact that they are oogling my wife is a bit annoying. Although she is fabulously attractive and sexy as hell. Hey, she can’t help it, that’s the way God made her. Hallelujah. But it is our Honeymoon after all, so I could be just a bit sensitive. All in all, not too swept away by the whole romance thing in Rome. It’s not like the old movies with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, zipping around on Vespas, drinking espressos, and just generally being fabulous.

Kimberly-spencer-speaking-italian

No, we came to Rome amid various warnings of pickpockets, roaming bands of thieving gypsy children, and scamming taxi drivers. Not exactly a warm welcome to this once great city. It’s hard to sit back and enjoy your time here having to keep one eye out for marauders and one hand on your wallet. For all the outward leanings, this city is sadly living below it’s potential. As for the inside? Well, that is where the city gets it right. The food and the gracious hospitality. Like most sprawling metropolises I have visited, you do have to have a discerning eye for a good restaurant. Ask the locals, get recommendations, and normally, if they have pictures of the food on their windows, RUN!

pickpocket-warning-rome

Steer clear of the touristy areas and you can find some truly wonderful eats. But here in Rome, it’s hard to do as their is a tourist trap everywhere you turn. After awhile you just say, “Hey look, more ruins… Wooptadeedoo!” Be vigilant and you will find some seriously tasty treats – the best part of Rome! Like Luca’s the local Trattoria in the artsy area where we were staying just east of Termini Station with incredible caponata, friendly waiters, and a genuinely welcoming atmosphere. The cacio e pepe was quite rich and flavorful here.

pasta alla amatriciana

Then there was another random find in Nana’s Vini e Cucina near the Spanish Steps. Oh what wonderful pasta alla amatriciana! The deep rich smoky bacon, tart tomato, and savory parmesan lovingly smothered the perfectly al dente bucatini as well as my taste buds. The flavor still haunts my memory. Truly a great foodie find, made all the better by our new waiter friend Salvatore who amped up our experience by providing us with two rounds of Limoncello gratis for our “Luna di Miele.” Grazie!

In keeping with the “get recommendations from locals” motif, Salvatore recommended the leather shop just next door which my wife, Kim, had been eyeballing all through dinner. It turned out to be another great find, as the brand new hand made brown/black fine Italian leather belt that adorns my waist can attest to.

I guess my first visit to Rome could have been more romantic. And we will have a another shot at it after our stay up north in Cinque Terre for a month, and I will do my best to adore the city. Just be aware, that if I do not come back to the states, it’s probably because I cold cocked some jackass trying to push a damn “selfie” stick on me after I have thrice told him to “Feckoff!”

Freeze Food for Fast Fixins'

home-frozen-food

As a rule, I HATE frozen veggies. I almost never buy frozen food if I can keep from it.

But, being all kinds of busy, I know the value of time. Freezing food does not seem to be a valid “quick” solution. But it CAN be….

If you pre-prep certain veggies and greens, you can pop them out, fire them up, and chow down in no time flat.

There’s no end to what you can do with frozen veggies if they are done the right way. Healthy, tasty, and fast.

It may not look appealing in this form, but I can guarantee that the greens I have in here are just as tasty after the freezing as they were when they were fresh. And they will last a pretty long time.

But to get them here will take a little bit of work, not much though, and it’s nothing YOU can’t do.

Step one: Wash your greens, broccoli, or whatever veggie you are working with.

Step two: Chop your veggies up into small chunks, about a 1/4 inch or so.

Step three: Bring a pot of water to boiling, add veggies for about 3 minutes.

Step four: Have a big bowl of ice water at the ready. Remove your veggies from pot to your bowl full of ice water to halt the cooking process.

Step 5: Dry your veggies and bag ‘em!

Step 6: When you are ready, take out however much you want to cook, pop them in a pot, or place directly in a sauté pan and heat up over medium heat. Then use as you wish.

un-frozen-food-fast

If you are using a Foodsaver machine, you can even boil in the bag!

Personally, I am a big fan of mixing my frozen greens in with my morning eggs. They add great texture and some great taste.

So, freeze some goodies up for immediate deployment on your next date and spend more time with your lady than with your food.

Sexy, Easy, Tasty...No, No, I Mean the Food

So you want to impress your lady with some tasty tasty yumminess, in and out of the bedroom I’m sure. But let’s start in the kitchen shall we? In order to be good date food, a dish must have 3 things:

1. It must be easy to make.

You don’t want to be running back and forth or be completely preoccupied with your cooking duties. You want to be paying complete attention to your date! Therefore, the best dishes should be ones that can be fully prepared ahead of time.

2. It must smell, taste, and look good.

Smell is the herald of taste. When your date walks in to your place, the first thing to greet her (besides you, looking hot in jeans, a t-shirt, and an apron), will be the amazing aroma of a long cooking extravagant meal. She will know that you took a lot of time to prepare this feast just for her. Her senses and attraction to you will be inflamed from the start. Things are looking good for you, my friend! When she bites in to this thing she has been anticipating for so long, she will be completely satisfied… Well, not completely yet…

3. It must impress!

Sure, you can have a Hamburger Helper baking away and it will smell good and taste pretty darn good sometimes. But is that impressive? Uh, no. If you cook up something that sounds exotic, evokes far away lands, and has a sense of elegance to it; then you will escalate the attraction she already feels for you. Not only did you work hard, slaving away in the kitchen all day just for her, but you did so preparing a dish fit for the Princess she is! She will surely have greater interest in rewarding your efforts, because you worked so hard!

Oooooooor diiiiiiiiiid you? (Insert sly grin, with eyebrow cocked here)

Historically elegant (and easily misspelled) dishes with names like Beef Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, Chicken Cacciatora, and Osso Buco, can cause novice cooks to sweat like a chicken on Colonel Sanders’ farm. They not only have amazing names and taste as good as they sound; they are also incredibly EASY to make. All these dishes have one thing in common, they are braised.

And believe it or not, you actually need almost no culinary skill to pull these savory miracles off.

cooking-technique

You pick a meat, brown it all over in shimmering oil over med high heat, then put it in a pot with veggies, herbs, and a simmering liquid (wine, stock, etc), and cook it in the oven (or simmer on the stove) for a couple of hours. That’s basically it. You can find any of these recipes easy enough just about anywhere on that webby thing, my favorites are Saveur and Food Network‘s sites.

The beauty of these dishes is that it fulfills all of our criteria perfectly. You can pick almost any kind of meat you want and it will work. It truly is the perfect way to cook. All the work gets done ahead of time and you get to bask in the savory glow of a tasty job well done, over a glass of wine, and in the company of a soon to be satiated lovely.

braise |brāz|
verb [ trans. ]
fry (food) lightly and then stew it slowly in a closed container : [as adj. ] ( braised) braised veal.

 

Pan Seared Linguica

It doesn’t get easier! Linguiça is a fabulous Portuguese Sausage that will work as any regular smoked sausage will. But saying you are cooking up special International sausage just makes you sound cool.

What You'll Need:

  •  Pound or so of Linguiça, sliced

  • One onion, sliced

How to Make It:

Heat pan up over med high heat

Add onion, sauté for a few minutes

Add sausage, and stir fry til nice and brown on the edges and your place smells like a Portuguese street vendor cart

Serve with some crusty bread and wine.

Steamed Artichokes

Artichokes can seem like a pretty adventurous proposition...and that is awesome! Because they are really super easy to cook.

You will look like a culinary rock star with mad skills

She doesn't have to know any different. Throw in some equally easy dipping sauces and date success is assured.

steamed-artichokes

What You'll Need:

How to Make It:

Thoroughly wash and drain the artichokes. Then, cut the tops and the stems of the artichokes off.

Top the artichokes with tons of chopped garlic.

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze all the juice over artichokes.

Drizzle olive oil and salt and pepper over artichokes.

Steam artichokes over simmering water or in a steamer till the leaves come off easily and the base of leaves are soft and tasty

For the Dipping sauce:

I recommend melted butter with garlic and lemon or ranch dressing with some hot sauce mixed in for kick. Explore whatever you want!

Garlicky Potatos with Swiss Chard

Make this amazing side dish for any meat or fish dish for your date. As always, it's super easy.

What You'll Need:

  • Potatoes, chopped in 1 inch chunks

  • Swiss Chard (or other greens), chopped

  • Garlic, 4 cloves, chopped in thin slices (a la “Goodfellas”)

  • Olive Oil

  • Nutmeg powder (grated fresh is the best!)

  • Salt and

How to Make This:

Boil potatoes for about 7 minutes.

Heat sauté pan on med high heat.

Add oil.

Add garlic, sauté for a minute.

Add potatoes and sauté for 5 mins or so.

Add greens, sauté till wilted.

Sprinkle nutmeg, salt and pepper on top, serve it up!

Sautéed Asparagus and Tomatoes

Well it doesn’t get much easier than this!

sauteed-asparagus-and-tomatoes

What You'll Need:

  • Asparagus

  • Tomatoes, chopped (not from a can)

  • Garlic, chopped

  • Olive Oil

  • Salt and

How to Make It:

Heat oil in sauté pan.

Add asparagus, sauté til it starts to brown, stirring occasionally so it does not burn.

Add garlic and tomatoes.

Sauté til tomatoes break down and asparagus is cooked through.

Add salt and pepper and eat those bad boys!

Chicken Marsala

This is a date dish that is sure to impress. And, it's super tasty and easy (like all our DKYD recipes).

What You'll Need:

How to Make It:

First flour the chicken breasts (if you're flouring), brown the chicken in a little olive oil over med. high heat. Once it’s done, remove from pan.

chicken-marsala

Next step, add the mushrooms and sauté til browned. Then add the garlic for 1 minute.

mushrooms

Take the pan off the heat and add the Marsala wine. Place gently back on the heat, deglaze the pan to get up all the tasty bits. Stir in the pesto.

Drop the breasts back into the pan to coat for a minute, then serve over pasta.

Garnish with Italian parsley if you like. (See, I told you this was easy!)

Keep spicin' it up!

Tomato Relish

This recipe is just too damn easy! (I know I say that a lot, but its always true, right?) I am here to help you impress your dates as easy as possible. This recipe packs a vibrant flavorful punch and you can experiment with using it with all kinds of dishes.

tomato-relish

How Ya Do It:

Tomatoes (chopped) any kind will work, but get them fresh and in season!

Season with salt and pepper.

Now add almost anything. Try chopped parsley, cilantro, garlic, onions, jalapeños, etc., etc., and so on!

 Top anything with this super fresh and tasty condiment: fish, chicken, rice, eggs...delicious.

Keep spicin' it up!

Love Me Some Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain that comes from Peru originally. It is simple, flavorful, and very nutritious.

It is so easy to prepare, you make it just like rice! I use it instead of rice quite often.

ORDER IT NOW!

ORDER IT NOW!

 

To really punch up the flavor, I always use a stock as the cooking liquid. I like to sauté onions and garlic as the base before I add the quinoa and stock.

Experiment with almost anything you want to ad super tastiness into the mix.

My recommends:

  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Bacon
  • Leeks
  • Raisins
  • Orange Peel
  • Pine nuts
  • And so much more...ad infinitum!