Monday, February 22, 2010

Closer than Paris

I feel lucky to have found this gem of a place. I have no idea why the only authentic artisan European baker in the country landed in Cary, NC, but I am certainly glad. Sure, it's a forty minute drive from my house, but I always say "it's much closer than Paris". I found out about Lionel, the baker, by taking a bread class at Southern Season in Chapel Hill. What a find. Check out LaFarm Bakery's website:

Many others have found it as well. What started out as just a small bread shop expanded into a full bakery with a cafe with awesome breakfast and lunch offerings. It's now packed on the weekends. I highly recommend the french toast. It's the closest thing I've found to the best I ever had (Petunia's in New Orleans). At lunch, you can't go wrong with any of the sandwiches made on the wonderful breads. And there are plenty of sweets to chose from to finish off a savory lunch.

            Asparagus & Proscuitto Tartine
Quiche Lorraine with side salad

Croque Monsieur with side salad

If you're feeling adventurous, you can take bread making classes from Lionel at the bakery (LaFarm Bread Classes). You can even find some recipes on his website and blog. But if you're like me, you can use the hands on instruction. It is definitely an art and a skill to be respected. Also, you can buy the natural flour and yeast in bulk for your home baking needs.
I am happy to report that I successfully made a loaf of country French bread at home (from the recipe I received in class). It was a little tricky, didn't result in the most beautiful loaf and my technique needs practice. However, it tasted wonderful. And that's what really counts with home baking anyway.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Revelations in Tuscany

Why Spannocchia is Special

Perhaps this is the place that really started it all for me; this fascination about slow food. I had the chance to visit this centuries old sustainable farm two years ago as a part of Liberal Arts course ( Imagine staying in a castle, roaming the land during the day and taking classes in olive oil, wine and honey. Everything you eat is from the farm, with the exception of cheese and maybe bread, but all foods are local and whole. Think of it as a processed food detox. You might never go back, which I would consider a success story.

The Spannocchia experience is open to everyone; not just students. They offer many interesting programs during the year, but you can also simply stay ( The people are warm and obviously committed to the history and mission of the farm. They will give you a tour of the gardens and animals. You will meet the happiest pigs you have ever seen. Watch the basket of produce walk a few feet from the garden to the kitchen and tranformed into fantastic dish on your dinner plate.

On this trip, I began taking pictures of food. I tried to keep a food journal as well, but it was hard to keep up with all of the great food by the end of the week. This was just a simple lunch, but crazy good: bread salad, cabbage and canteloupe.  

I highly recommend taking a cooking class. Here I am with Daniela after we learned to make gnocchi, saltimbocca and tiramisu. Some of the programs offer multiple cooking classes. If you would like to send money, I would be happy to check that out and write a full review (hey, it was worth a shot).

The best souvenir I puchased was their cookbook. You can also buy it online. At the time of the post, they had sold out of the second edition, but will soon offer a third, so stay tuned ( I will warn you that you need to read between the lines a little. A few details got lost in translation. Still, you will learn to cook true Tuscan food, which has no resemblence to any American version of Italian cuisine that I have come across.

I finally did it. So, I bought a pasta making machine off of Craig's List at least a year ago. Since then, it had not left the box because I was afraid of impending pasta failure. I'm happy to report that I finally actually made homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage butter sauce. It takes a little time to get a hang of the pasta rolling technique, and I recommend having help until you become a pro, but the end result was well worth the effort. It will melt in your mouth. It's so good you could just serve it with a little olive oil.