Tuscany: Food, Wine and “Le Terme”…Need I say more!

Wine tasting in the Banfi Castle, a Fiorentina steak in Montalcino, a fountain/cascade bath in Saturnia and more typical things to discover about Tuscany.
Let me bring Tuscany to you and discover some of the most delicious food, recipes and of course; wine (if you’re a wino like myself you will truly appreciate), and a few other surprises I discovered and wanted to share with all mythineaters.

It all starts in Montalcino the home of “Brunello di Montalcino” a luscious, deep red wine that has to be aged at least 5 years (or 6 years if it’s a Riserva) by Italian law and only made with Sangiovese grapes from the Montalcino vineyards.  If you like it just a little younger there is “Rosso di Montalcino” also luscious and deep red but more subtle, it only has to be aged about a year, still made with Sangiovese grapes from the Montalcino vineyards. Both amazing. The process is quite long, so there are about 2 weeks a year to be exact when the grapes are picked, generally the last week in September and the 1st week in October, then they are selected carefully, placed in these huge tins for fermentation, then moved into wood barrels and for the remainder of the aging they get placed in the bottle and when ready labeled and off to be sold. There are about 300 “Cantine” that you could visit, with some of the most famous in the world known as Banfi, Biondi Santi Franco, Brunelli, Campana, Colombaiolo, Il Poggiolo, Belpoggio, Barbi and Poggio Antico just to name a few.

                                    

The wine is paired beautifully with the Bistecca Fiorentina which is a loin cut from the male cow raised only in the Tuscany-Umbria region called Chianina . The bone has a “T” shape know as a T-bone steak in the USA, the smallest you could order is about 1 lb and 9 oz. and 2.3 inches thick. They cook it rare about 3-5 minutes per side (and don’t try to ask well cooked or they will give you a dirty look).  You salt it only at the end when you serve it; we accompanied the steak with some stewed veggies. It really was delicious and melted in our mouth.

               

Another famous dish around here is the “Ribollita” which means re-boiled, because every time you re-heat it, it tastes better. It’s derived from back in the day when the farmers only cooked on Fridays, so they used to get vegetables and old bread, cook it in a huge pot and then reheat it the rest of the week. The two most important ingredients are black cabbage and beans. You top it off with some Extra virgin Olive oil and Bread.

Then you have a lot of boar, that’s the meat they use for their Ragu sauce served with Papardelle.  I had Bresaola made from the Chianina cow served with rucola; and of course I had a delicious fresh Porcini soup. Crostini with Pesto, Patè or Pecorino toscano. And something very simple yet amazing, Ricotta Balls with just a bit of olive oil and Parsley.

                       

After all this delicious food there is of course endless desserts, but myself not being a sweet tooth decided that I would opt for the more simple cookies, afterall this is what Tuscany is known for. You’ve all heard about the world-famous Cantucci aka Biscotti in the USA. Then there is one that I particularly love called Brutti ma Buoni which means ‘Ugly but Good’ (in this case Delicious). It’s simply made with ground Hazelnuts, egg whites, sugar and powdered sugar.

  

Yes, I ate and drank all of this and still managed to go to Saturnia a town about 60 km south-west of Montalcino known for their Terme, which is pretty much a natural Cascade of Sulfur water that is at a normal temp. of 99,5 degrees Farenheit. It’s extremely therapeutic and highly recommended for the skin, bones and any circulatory issues one could have not to mention the relaxing benefits you get from the water. It is the most unique waterfall cascade/spring that I have ever laid my eyes on, supposedly the sulfur causes coves and that is how all theses little pockets are created. I loved every second of it and needed some detox relax after all that drinking.

    

Ciao, Hope you enjoyed Tuscany as much as I did.
 
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Low Fat Cooking – Simple Steps to Follow

Cooking and eating is the topic of most of my days, but the thing that I like to share with you today is how to manage cooking in a healthier manner that doesn’t require you to give up on flavor and still help you stay healthy and fit. I know that the word low-fat is not so attractive to some of you; and then again to some of you it might be just what you are looking for. I love that you can actually cook and eat low-fat and all you are giving up is the extra fat that your body doesn’t need. Now, I think that your body does need fats, but there is a difference between good fats and unnecessary fats. Let’s discuss this.

For instance, I think that grilled fish and chicken is more tastier than it cooked in a pan with oil, you give up on the fat because when you grill it the fat drains, hence making it less fat and the taste is delicious.
I also love lactose-free non fat or low-fat milk vs. the whole regular milk, the flavor is pretty much the same and all I am giving up on is fat.
Also I like to make my own buttermilk at home, by using the low-fat milk and lemon, it works exactly the same way but way less fat.

This is what I mean by giving up on fat but not on flavor. Things are yummy cooked the right way, we don’t have to get scared of fat, but we can learn to select it.
For example, I love almonds and walnuts, they are high in fat but all extremely good for you, so I eat them.
I love avocados, also fat. I love to use olive oil, also fat and I do like some good old Parmigiano Reggiano and will never eat any fake low-fat version, the real one is good for you and there is no substitute in my book.

So to follow are some tips on how to cook low-fat. Enjoy!

1) Grill, broil, bake, braise, steam, poach, slow-cook, and microwave foods instead of frying them. Sautéing is ok with minimal amounts of oil (preferably extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil), or use nonstick spray.

2) Choose chicken or turkey sausages or burgers instead of pork or beef sausages or burgers.

3) Choose extra-lean meat and skinless chicken breasts, and remember to trim all visible fat from meats.

4) Substitute most meat dishes each week with fish or vegetarian meals.

5) Use one egg and two egg whites per person in your favorite egg dishes or cakes; or cut fat and cholesterol completely by using egg substitute. Or also substitute 2 egg whites for one whole egg or 3 egg whites for 2 eggs.

6) Substitute whole milk for non fat or low-fat milk.

7) Oven-fry, bake or boil potatoes instead of making or buying French fries.

8) Choose reduced fat sour cream or yogurt instead of full-fat versions for stews, dips, spreads, and dressings.

9) Replace some of the fat in baked goods with applesauce, plain nonfat yogurt or low-fat buttermilk. (to make your own buttermilk: 1 cup low-fat milk mixed with 1 tbsp. lemon juice fresh).

10) Use reduced fat or fat-free cream cheese instead of the regular version for cheesecakes.

11) Use evaporated skim milk in place of light or heavy cream in soups and sauces.

12) Use fat-free chicken broth or fat-free milk in mashed potatoes, soups, gravies and stews

13) As a healthy alternative to frying, coat meat or veggies in egg whites then use bread crumbs and bake in the oven.

14) Cook fish in parchment paper or foil to seal in the flavor and juices.

15) Instead of eating potato chips, substitute pretzels, pita chips, or raw fruits and vegetables.

16) Rinse canned foods such as tuna, beans, and vegetables before using to wash away excess sodium or oil.

17) Thickening the sauce with cornstarch instead of a traditional butter-flour mixture.

18) Season vegetables with herbs and spices rather than sauces, butter or margarine.

19) Cook with lemon juice or herbs — these add flavors to food such as vegetables without adding fat.

20) Use mustard as a sandwich spread in place of margarine or mayonnaise. Or use healthy fats such as nut butters on your toast.

 

Something YUM!!…My twist on Shepard’s Pie, you’ll love it!

I had Shepard’s Pie a couple of times while growing up, as a child it’s a delicious dish….meat, mashed potatoes and a lot of cheese. Growing up I don’t think I ever ate it but I have often thought back on the times that as a child I did like it whenever it was made. However fond I was of it I couldn’t bring myself to make it, I would think about it but then a better recipe would come to mind or something healthier or just something else.

So, as you know it’s winter time and it’s cold, and in times like this one might think of lots of comfort food and in those thoughts there might be Shepard’s Pie. Well, I decided that I would make it with an Italian twist. Off to the store I went and I decided that I would put Mozzarella in it, and that I would not mash the Potatoes but keep them whole and sliced, then all of a sudden I got the brilliant idea that I would go ahead and make it kinda like a Eggplant Parmigiana or Lasagna, but maintaining the English ingredients minus the mozzarella. My Husband wasn’t fond of the thought of Shepard’s Pie; but I am lucky that he trusts me and will try new things. So, with him on board and my mind set to surprise him I made the following meal and it was delicious. It filled us up to perfection, we didn’t feel heavy and it turned out to actually be a healthier version and lighter as well.

So, here is the recipe and I hope that you enjoy it! It’s especially perfect for this whether.

Ingredients:

5  medium Potatoes

1 large Eggplant

1 lb Ground Chuck*

1/2 lb Mozzarella

Salt and Pepper

Olive oil

Slice your potatoes a little thicker than 1/4 inch thick. Place in a medium sized pot covered with salt water and allow to boil for about 10 – 15 minutes, do not allow to cook completely, just under cooked is perfect, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, slice your eggplant in 1/4 inch rounds and place in a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and allow to get golden on both sides, once you are done cooking all of the eggplant set aside.

At this point you may turn on your oven to 350° F (180° C).

Put your ground chuck in a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and allow to brown completely, add some salt and pepper, turn off once meat is cooked. Slice you Mozzarella really thin and set aside.

Grab you baking dish, drizzle just a bit of olive oil on the bottom and start layering all ingredients. Start first with a even layer of the meat, a layer of eggplant, then add a layer of potatoes add a sprinkle of salt and some pepper and then layer mozzarella, a layer of meat, a layer of eggplant, a layer of mozzarella, a layer of potatoes, continue until all is finished you want the potatoes to be the last layer at the top, then sprinkle a dash of salt and finish off with pepper. Bake in the oven for about 20 – 30 minutes.

Allow to sit for 10 – 15 minutes and serve.

* You may replace ground chuck for ground turkey or even chicken.