Before we headed to Tuscany, I did some research and had seen that a local recommended a couple of his favourite restaurants in the town of Montecatini where we were staying. La Cantina del Toscano DOC was one of the two. We then found out from Patrizia the owner of Hotel Puccini that La Cantina was within walking distance of our hotel. Little did we know at that time that we would fall instantly in love with the food and our server Francesco and that we would return almost every evening of our stay.
Dinner that evening started with a bread basket and plenty of good quality olive oil for dipping.
I was over the moon with my selection of pasta with seafood, tomatoes and fresh basil.
D was delighted with his choice of noodles with clams and mint.
I am not sure why it struck us to also order pizzas to go, but we did. Mine was this gorgeous creation with thinly sliced eggplant and cheese.
D’s was even tastier topped with sausage, ham, oregano and stracchino cheese. There was a fridge in our room so we repackaged them and placed them in there.
Kath’s quotes: “Five tender apricots in a blue bowl, a brief and exact promise of things to come.” ― Frances Mayes, In Tuscany
Pollo al Mattone is a method for grilling chicken under a brick to keep it juicy and crisp. Both the Tuscans and the Romans claim to have invented the method. The weight of the brick presses the meat into the grill for faster, more even cooking. It also works as a cover for the meat, keeping it moist. In Italy, pollo al mattone is often cooked over a wood fire.
fresh herbs like basil, oregano, flat-leafed parsley, to taste
4 garlic cloves, smashed
salt and pepper
wash & dry two bricks
wrap bricks in aluminum foil
using a butcher's knife or large kitchen shears, cut the chicken along one side of the backbone
remove the back bone entirely if desired (we left intact)
open the chicken and lay it flat like a book
lift the skin away for the flesh or make small cuts on breast & thighs
push the garlic and fresh herbs under the skin to look like photo above
liberally salt & pepper chicken
preheat barbeque to approx. medium
heat the bricks in a closed barbeque
place chicken skin side down onto grill
using hand protection, place hot bricks over chicken covering as much surface as possible
close lid and let chicken cook 22 -25 minutes without disturbing
using hand protection, grab legs and flip the chicken so the skin side is up
place the bricks on top again
cook again for 12-15 minutes without disturbing until exposed skin is starting to brown
repeat above action and flip one last time
cook another 5-10 minutes until skin is starting to crisp and internal thigh temperature is 175 degrees
transfer chicken to platter and let rest 10 minutes before serving
I enjoyed this dish twice in one week. The first was the evening of my Mom’s Celebration of Life. I had driven back out to the lake from the city. Girlfriends of 35 years were staying with me that week. Nance handed me a glass of wine and Mary pulled the chicken off the grill to sit. What would I do without my friends?
Later that same week with Beep, Boo and the Frenchman joining us on the weekend, D tried his hand at the same recipe.
We had assembled in the gazebo as it looked as if it might rain. When the sky darkened we had to light candles to illuminate our meal. We didn’t mind a bit.
This was the finished product: chicken and ribs, new potatoes, squash and zucchini. Delicious food, cozy spot, good wine and family. Life is good.
Kath’s quote: “You know when you come across one of those empty shell people, and you think “What the hell happened to you?” Well there came a time in each one of those lives where they are standing at a crossroads… someplace where they had to decide whether to turn left or right. This is no time to be a chicken-shit, Frances“. -Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun
This is a photo of my Momma last week. There was a Hawaiian Barbeque at her personal care home. My sister-in-law accompanied her. When I saw this picture, I commented that I had not seen her so happy in a very long time. She really enjoyed the event and especially the special food that was prepared for the residents and guests. Later that evening she also indulged in a chocolate bar.
Momma loved to eat but unfortunately hospital fare just wasn’t her “cup of tea”. She did enjoy her breakfast of boiled eggs and a muffin, but for the most part, she was uninspired. Instead, she would request cans of pork and beans and fresh cucumber and tomato. Simple food that could absolutely delight her. The last thing item that I removed from the personal care home was a sign which read: “Resident has food in her fridge if she requests food during meals”. This note said many things about my Mom but especially that she knew exactly what she wanted and that food was meant for far more than nourishment for the body.
The morning after the barbecue the lovely staff at Concordia Place checked in on her to see how well she had slept and let her remain in bed until they would transfer her to her chair for her breakfast. When they came back to do so, they couldn’t rouse her. She had peacefully slipped away.
The subsequent arrangements for the celebration of her life were easy: we knew that she would want us to be modest in our burial selections, but we also knew that there better be good food and lots of it!
This is an excerpt from my part of her eulogy:
Mom silently demonstrated how to love others by cooking for them-doughnuts for all the guys who delivered papers with my brother Tom, late night meals when my brother Doug and his band would roll in after a gig, me inviting all the Keg “orphans” to Christmas dinner, well you get the picture. For Mom, having lived through poverty and the depression, food was precious, and we were precious to her and so she loved us with food. She taught us to never waste a single thing-she even kept the water from boiling potatoes and added it to the gravy; she sent all those little butter packets home from the nursing home with Sue.
Kath’s quote (from one of the many sympathy cards that we received): “When a good-bye is so unexpected and sudden, it is the wise heart that knows that sometimes it has to look back and remember in order to look forward and hope”.
Stella’s has become an institution in Winnipeg, thanks to its well executed authentic fare and cheerful service. I haven’t managed to get to Stella’s multiple locations. I am content to stick to the locale that I know the best. Unfortunately, the Sherbrooke St. had to be rebuilt after a fire but the newly opened location is even nicer than the former with light flooding into a south bank of windows.
I was meeting a foodie friend from Toronto who was in town for the recent Dietician conference. I wanted to take her to a place unique to Winnipeg. Her eyes immediately fell upon the Mexican breakfast and I know many people including my own daughter-in-law who think that it is one of the best breakfasts in town.
The tasty meal is certainly great value with a perfectly prepared sunny side up egg resting on top of soft corn tortillas and topped with tomato, green onion and grated cheddar cheese. Huge scoops of salsa and guacamole share the plate with premise made hashbrowns and a sparkling cilantro sauce.
I immediately knew that I wanted one of Stella’s famous cinnamon buns, intending to share it with my guest.
As a result I chose a lighter breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese with rice, refried beans and salsa. The dish was jammed with flavour and very satisfying. Turned out that my guest was chock full and couldn’t finish her breakfast. As a result, it was my responsibility to eat that cinnamon bun all by myself. Luckily, I had more than enough room for the decadent treat: iced, buttered and grilled! Gooey and “cinamonny”, Stella’s cinnamon buns are amongst the cities’ best. Where do you buy your favourite?
Kath’s quote:“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” -Mae West
We have a large extended family and without exception, we love to eat and dine out. The family is always a great resource for suggestions of places to try. A niece and I have been trying to find an available date to dine together at one of her favourite spots- Nicolino’s Cucina Italiana. She knows that I love well prepared Italian food. Recently, an opportunity came up for me to visit with a friend. I couldn’t resist and my niece was absolutely correct-I wish I had discovered Nicolino’s decades ago!
Chef Fabrizio Rossi originally hails from Rome and the family who own and operate the restaurant originate from Muro Lucano (making up the arch of the boot of Italy nestled between Campania, Puglia and Calabria). I cannot say that I have visited their hometown but have definitely been in the vicinity on a couple of occasions and I love the food from Rome and further south.
On this day, my friend and I were going to share our plates. She loves all Nicolino’s salads and decided upon the Feta. I looked over the extensive pizza selection but wanted to test a pasta.
Our helpful server suggested the spaghetti and meatballs and although I was willing to go with something more adventurous, my friend and I were blown away! The veal meatballs were a lovely consistency, tender and juicy. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the sauce…oohh, the sauce! I could taste the rich tomatoes, garlic, basil and love in the sauce.
The Feta Salad was unique in that the feta had either been very finely crumbled or grated so that there was plenty clinging to each and every romaine leaf. Chopped tomatoes, purple onion and pitted black olives also dotted the salad.
We had plenty of just baked bread sticks to mop up our plates and then took to eating the rest of the basket with little specks of butter on each segment.
I cannot wait to return to Nicolino’s and hope to join my niece for that elusive dinner. Hopefully the construction in front of the building will be complete so that I will not drive past it as I did recently.
Kath’s quote: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”-Sophia Loren