This stunning vignette spotted on The Glitter Guide inspires the sort of envy that results in an hour-long Google session for my very own bar trolley. I just had to share!
I have to admit I’ve always loved the idea of stocking that sort of old world drinks cart in my living room. It’s usually accompanied by fantasies where nights of glamour can be spent cracking witty jokes and eating olives out of martinis.
Unfortunately, for now this is just a pipe dream and I’ll have to settle with reaching ungracefully into my top kitchen cupboard to break out a half-drunk bottle of Malibu.
My hunt did lead me to a lovely place though, in the discovery of this beautifully bright painted yellow trolley over at Lark!
Soon, my pretty.
There’s a certain magic in the air in Tuscany and one discovered best on foot. Walking across the rolling green hills of the Italian countryside, passing olive groves, vineyards and cascading waterfalls of jasmine, it’s easy to leave a piece of yourself behind.
I think though, the strongest memory I will keep from this first day of our walk is at the top of a particular steep hill where all of a sudden we found ourselves surrounded by flowers of pink and purple and in the middle of a flurry of butterflies.
When we were in San Miniato the night before we were to begin our 150km journey through Tuscany, our host, Anna prepared our stomachs in the way the best way she could. This was with a huge three course meal she had cooked from scratch with all locally sourced ingredients. But of course, she wasn’t done. Just as the post-meal coma was beginning to set in and our pants had become just slightly too tight, she brought out her homemade chocolate biscotti, which I was suprised to see were shaped into rounds. She then proceeded to wrap a huge pile of them in a napkin (I half expected her to hoist it onto a stick and over her shoulder after that) for us to take with us the following day.
The next morning as we decided to take a break under the shade of some olive trees along the dirt path of the Via Francigena, we broke out the biscotti. At that moment, with a soft and crunchy bite of chocolate and nuts, there was nothing more delicious you could have possibly have given me. I firmly believe when the Tuscan sun is beating down and you’re terribly unfit and endeavouring to climb 20km through the hills, chocolate is the perfect antidote to your pain.
Biscotti come in all shapes and sizes, kind of like the people who eat them, from wafer thin to big and bulky. A plethora of flavours are only limited by your imagination and your star ingredient can go from almond to pistachio to as I’ve chosen, hazelnut. The beauty of this sweet treat and my favourite thing about most recipes is the sky’s the limit. You can really make your own mark and your very own version to pass down (or keep as a secret recipe if you want to be cheeky).
When it comes to this particular incarnation of the Italian favourite, I’m doing my own thing. For starters, I’m waging a war against the dry biscotti. I have never been a fan of the thin, dry biscotti that you get offered on the side of your teacup at a cafe or the hairdresser’s. My perfect biscotti and what I loved most about Anna’s was a nice crunch giving way to a chewy interior. It’s that beautiful balance of hard and soft that in my mind makes this so satisfying.
While this might be a little more fiddly than your traditional recipe, it’s worth it for the fact that you are making what could possibly be the love-child of biscotti and brownie.
Chocolate, Orange & Hazelnut Biscotti
90g unsalted butter, softened
2 cups plain flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
one teaspoon vanilla paste or essence
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest of one orange
1 cup shelled hazelnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with parchment.
In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cocoa powder, bi-carb soda and salt. In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar until nice and fluffy using a stand mixer or hand held. One by one add your eggs, followed by the zest and vanilla while the mixer is still going on a low speed.
Turn off the mixer and scrape down sides of bowl if necessary. Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to form a stiff (but rather sticky) dough. Stir in hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
Lightly flour your hands and bench and scrape the dough out of the bowl. Working quickly, shape your dough into a flattened sort of log that’s roughly around 30cm x 10cm.
Pop the dough on the prepared baking sheet and bake until slightly firm, about 25 – 30 minutes. Cool on a bench for about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 150 degrees.
Put the dough on the tray in the freezer for about 30 minutes to help it firm up. This will make it easier to cut, while keeping the interior slightly gooey.
Slice the log into 3cm pieces and put back on to a baking paper lined tray, cut side down.
Pop back in the oven for 20 minutes, then let cool completely before serving.
Goes well with a nice cup of tea and good conversation.
I was never the most adventurous diner growing up and for many adventurous diners, I feel raw fish in its many forms, whether it be sashimi, ceviche or indeed carpaccio is the final frontier before diving headfirst into courageous eating. I remember my first foray into the world of raw seafood, during a group banquet dinner some kingfish sashimi was served up with chilli and lime. I couldn’t believe how unbelievably good it was and to this day it’s one of those dishes that’s immediately ordered if I see it on the menu.
I was recently the victim to a fairly severe craving for some kingfish sashimi which was finally satisfied last week at a lunch at Chin Chin. After lunch, I had that post-meal depression, the sort you get when you’re really happy with what you’ve just had but it’s mixed with the realisation it will probably be a while until you have it again. Enough is enough, I thought. I decided to undertake some raw fish dish making myself to some quite delicious results.
With no cooking involved and the hot weather looming on the horizon, this is a summery and fresh meal that will definitely be on high rotation this summer.
I shouldn’t have to remind you how important it is that you get the freshest fish possible, but I’ll say it again. It is terribly important that you get the freshest fish possible. This is not the kind of dish to be cutting corners and pinching pennies on, unless you’re the kind of person that likes to play Russian Roulette with your digestive system.
Go to the markets the day you’re planning to serve your carpaccio. Look for sashimi grade salmon or tuna and talk to your fishmonger to confirm that what you’re buying is right for a raw fish dish.
Salmon Carpaccio (serves four as an appetiser)
one piece of sashimi grade salmon or tuna (about 300 – 400g)
the juice of two lemons
the zest of one lemon
the zest of half an orange
two teaspoons caster sugar
one teaspoon sea salt
one large red chilli, sliced
two large stalks of spring onion, finely chopped
one extra lemon
sea salt & pepper
a handful of basil
Rinse your fish under the tap and pat dry with paper towel before wrapping in cling wrap. Pop this in the freezer for around an hour to firm up the flesh and make it easier to slice.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. To the juice and zests add the sugar, salt, chilli and spring onion and mix to combine. Remove your fish from the freezer, unwrap it and using a very sharp knife, slice it as thin as you possibly can, almost shaving the flesh along a diagonal.
In a wide, shallow dish, arrange a layer of the salmon and spoon over some of the dressing. Repeat this process, layering the salmon and the dressing.
Cover the dish with cling wrap, pressing it down on top of your salmon to form a sort of skin over the fish and submerging it into the marinade.
Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours, up to eight. Remove your salmon slices from the marinade and arrange on a plate. Spoon over some of the dressing and drizzle with olive oil and fresh lemon. Season with salt and pepper to taste and tear over a good handful of basil to serve.
Hot tip: carpaccio that has not been consumed within a day or so can be drained of its liquid, dusted in flour and pan-fried in olive oil for a delicious snack or the perfect filling for fish tacos.
While we stayed at Anna’s B&B in San Miniato, it was so wonderful to experience her home cooking and to eat like the locals ate. For our first meal with her, she placed a antipasti plate in front of each of us and I remember loving how simple it was. Sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, a couple of homemade meatballs and some pickled sardines. All local and seasonal. I wondered why I don’t eat like this back home, as an antipasti plate all to myself felt like a bit of a nice treat.
Inspired by Anna, while having some friends over on the weekend, I put together my own antipasti plate – be assured though, this one was not all to myself.
Organising something like this is pretty breezy, a quick tour of the deli hall at my local market did the trick.
half a cup cherry tomatoes
eight slices of prosciutto, sliced thinly
one large ball of mozzarella, or fior di latte
half a cup olives
four slices of grilled eggplant
five grilled and marinated artichokes
half a cup of pesto
half a loaf of ciabatta
one garlic clove
two tablespoons balsamic vinegar
fresh basil (to serve)
one chilli, chopped (to serve)
parmesan (to serve)
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place in a small bowl. Finely slice a small handful of basil leaves and add to the tomatoes. Splash over a tablespoon of the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, add a pinch of salt and pepper, mix well and set aside.
Get a nice large board (we used a big French style round one). Take the thin slivers of prosciutto and gently layer them on top of each other in ribbons, in a small pile.
Cut your ciabatta into nice, easy to hold slices and toast them in batches. Once they’re out of the toaster, cut your garlic clove in half and rub over the toast.
Tear your mozzarella ball in half and place them opposite each other on the board. Tear in half again so you have two quarters sitting together on either side.
Cut your artichoke hearts in half and place them in between the prosciutto and mozzarella.
Gently spoon your tomatoes (without too much of the liquid) into the centre of the board, then do the same with the olives so they sit beside the tomatoes.
Get a tablespoon of your pesto and loosen it with some olive oil so it’s a bit more runny. Drizzle this over your split mozzarella.
Spoon the remainder of the pesto into a small bowl, and add to the centre of your platter.
Drizzle some olive oil over your antipasti (except over the bowl), add the toast to the board and garnish the whole lot with chopped basil, chilli and freshly shaved parmesan.
In this house, Buzz is most definitely the bread baker. His passion for pizza morphed into a quest for the best homemade base possible (which I think he has definitely achieved), then obviously moving on to bigger baking. Because of this, the sweet treats in the kitchen are left to me and the bread to him.
Except this weekend, I was on a mission. I would bake my first solo loaf. Buzz left the house and I got to work – as soon as I got the dough out from its first rise, it felt beautiful and soft and perfect! When I saw it on its second rise ready to go into the oven, it was even better. But when I took it out of the oven and held it in my hot little hands I was over the moon.
There is nothing quite like tea and toast using a loaf your have made with love and your own two hands. Bread really is the beginning and the end of everything (despite our current fascination with gluten-free and low-carb diets). It’s truly humbling to be able to make the most ancient of foods and I am reminded of my grandparents, for who it was necessary and normal to bake your own bread daily.
A handful of ingredients go into your own basic loaf – flour, salt, water, yeast and oil. No additives or preservatives or chemicals like mass-produced loaves. Just good old-fashioned bread.
For this particular time, I used The Fabulous Baker Brothers Classic White Loaf recipe and it worked a real treat.
Next weekend, I suggest you give it a go – at the very least kneading dough is a really great way to de-stress at the end of a tough week. Oh, and a cheese toastie for lunch wouldn’t go amiss either.
About an hour out of Florence sits the little town of San Miniato. There are actually two parts to the town; lower San Miniato, where the train station and more modern infrastructure stands, and upper San Miniato, or San Miniato Alto, which is where we stayed.
Our host, Anna, did not speak a word of English and picked us up from the train station in her little hatchback. As the only Mediterranean in the group I would find these non-English speakers gravitate towards me in conversation – I’m sure in the hope of being understood I was the best horse to back. I scrounged up what little Italian I could remember from primary school lessons – ciao, mi chiamo came easily, but others, such as forza (when asking how strong a shelf in her car was), surprised even me!
We stayed on the top floor of Anna’s three storey B&B in a transformed attic that unfortunately for Buzz, slanted rather sharply at the edges – a terrible situation for his 6’4 frame!
Anna’s entire house was filled with knick knacks, lace doilies, fluffy nighties and we even got a scattering of fabric rose petals across the bed. It was a fascinating example of even though we couldn’t speak the same language, you can tell a whole lot about a person by the way their house is.
Anna was warm and sweet and lovely. While she prepared us dinner we headed out to the first bar we could find, up a steep flight of steps that rewarded us with a view over the valley below. A few glasses of Prosecco were enjoyed in the dying sun as long-legged Italian men in short shorts stretched in the church courtyard nearby – we had apparently stumbled upon the starting line of a race that was about to head through the middle of the town.
However Anna was waiting and we headed back to a meal she had made for us from scratch – first, an antipasti plate with tomatoes, mozzarella, meatballs and sardines – we each got one to ourselves! Homemade pizzas, one with sausages and fresh rocket, the other served bianca with eggplant and sea salt. We then had beef roast and pan fried potatoes, followed by chocolate biscotti for dessert.
None of us felt terribly guilty about any of this as our hike through Tuscany began the next day and it was all fuel for the fire.
We toddled off to bed, full to the brim and excited for our first day cavorting through the fields.
Some of the best things are red. Raspberries, love hearts and the underside of Christian Louboutin heels, to begin with.
While some of those purchases might yet be a pipe dream, the below are slightly more realistic and just as bright! That being said – for the price of a Kitchenaid you could at least get one shoe in your closet.
1. Little Ink, Paper Bakeware Heart Cake Pan, $3.75
2. Amanda Tabberer, Amalfi Coast Recipes, $49.99
3. KA for Everingham & Watson, Ceramic Milk Jug (Large) – Red, $7.95
4. Kitchenaid, KSM156 Stand Mixer Candy Apple Red, $799.00
5. Anthropologie, Porcelain Ice Cream Pint Holder, $48.00