Friday, April 29, 2011

London, England - Liberty of London

It's Royal Wedding Day!

I don't know about you, but my clock was set at 4am this morning to start the early morning television coverage of this historic event. Maybe my fascination stems from the fact that we don't have royalty here in the U.S. and it makes it that much more intriguing, or perhaps the reason I am so excited is because I have some VERY special news to share with all of my readers: I am moving to London in two weeks!!

I have wanted to join many of my friends and move to London for over a year now, and having my Italian passport makes moving and working there a snap! No red tape and no visas to apply for ensures a smooth transition. I am also very excited to announce that I have accepted a job at the head office of oh-so-posh Liberty of London, a quintessentially British company (established in 1875, we're talking over 135 years of history and tradition here) who are world renowned for both their fabrics and their truly iconic Tudor department store on Regent Street in London. I will be the product manager of their line of interior design/furnishing fabrics and will be responsible for launching all the new seasonal collections.  

The iconic Tudor style facade of Liberty of London on Regent Street

Floors and floors of goodies inside Liberty of London
Winner of Time Out Magazine's 50 Best shops in London, Liberty is always doing something fresh and exciting. They have done some major fashion collaborations with Target, J.Crew, and Nike, to name a few. Their store houses well known classic brands like Armani and Etro, but also fosters cutting edge designers such as Proenza Schouler and Isabella Marant. Each of their six creaky wood floors feature something different, from men's and women's clothing to shoes, jewelry, accessories, bags, housewares, gifts, crafts and hobbies, interior design fabrics, makeup and beauty products, stationary sets, even a denim and scarf room, a men's barber shop, a spa dedicated just to feet, a restaurant for lunch or afternoon tea, and a florist. Talk about one-stop shopping!

And this month, the uber-famous publishing house Assouline just opened their first UK shop inside Liberty of London, known as the Literary Lounge. The new boutique is over 1,000 square feet and features not only books, but antiques and specialty items such as a Goyard trunk filled with 100 books to get your own Assouline collection started. As if this space were not fabulous enough, guests can enjoy a flute of champagne, a cup of tea, coffee or a refreshing soda as they peruse the books. Keep your eye on Liberty, they are surprisingly avant-garde for an "old" British department store!

The new 1,000 sq, ft. Assouline bookstore inside Liberty of London

Pin It

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Boston, Massachusetts - The Italian Easter Pizza Chiena

Happy Easter or Buona Pasqua! 

Being Italian-American, it is oftentimes difficult to decipher what takes precedence during Catholic holidays, the historical and religious significance itself, or the hours of food preparation involved in celebrating these highlights in the liturgical calendar. Ritual warrants days of cooking and passing on family recipes in the kitchen to the next generation. Each holiday calls for specific culinary dishes that can vary greatly from region to region in Italy. As my own roots are Neapolitan, each Easter my mother makes her mother's famous Pizza Chiena (it has many names: Pizza Rustica, Pizza Ripiena, Pizza Piena (in Neapolitan dialect: 'full pie'), Pizza Gaina, Pizza Gain, Torta Pasqualina and Easter Pie). This savory pie is usually made after Good Friday, most typically on Holy Saturday. It is a highly caloric pie that is meant to provide sustenance after the 40 days of fasting during Lent. In keeping with tradition, here is a look at this year's pizza chiena, prepared in my mother's kitchen.  

5 cups unbleached flour, unsifted
2 tsp. Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
4 eggs slightly beaten
3/4 cup warm water (from tap)
Preparation: Using a large bowl, add measured flour and black pepper, mix slightly with a fork. Add Crisco and, working fast, press together using your fingertips to blend evenly.
Make a well in the flour and add the beaten eggs and warm water (add 1/4 cup water at a time until you have a soft and pliable, but firm, dough). You may add more water if needed.
Press dough firmly together, turn onto a slightly floured surface and knead thoroughly, at least 5-7 minutes. This will produce a beautiful dough that is perfect to work with.
Cover in a bowl and let rest 1/2 hour or more.
Cut 2/3 of the dough, roll out, turning often to fit the broom and up the sides of an ungreased pan.
Roll out the remaining dough for the top crust and set aside (make a few slits.)

Have a butcher slice the cold cuts in thick strips, then remove skins and cut up all the cold cuts into small chunks.
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1 large pepperoni
1 lb. ham
1 double Abruzzese salami (about 1/2 to 3/4 lb. total), cubed
1 large sopressata (about 3/4 to 1 lb. piece), cubed
1 dozen whole eggs, just toss in bowl
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
2 lbs. fresh cheese (formaggio fresco)

Preparation: Using a large spoon, combine all ingredients, except fresh cheese. When mixture is thoroughly blended, add the fresh cheese, which has been broken into large pieces, and toss gently. The idea is not to crush this delicate cheese.
Gently pour into prepared crust in a deep dish pan and cover with top crust. Take the edges of the top and bottom dough, press together and roll it over inward, continuing around the edges then press gently with the tines of a fork. Now take any remaining scraps of dough, roll together and cut it into lattice strips to form a cross. Place in the middle of the top of the crust. Brush all over with an egg wash.
Place in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 1/2 and hour, then lower the heat to 350 degrees. Continue cooking for 1 hour longer or until golden brown. Let cool at least 6-8 hours. Cut in slices and serve. Serves 15 -20.
Note: you will need a heavy rectangular baking pan 13 inches long by 9 inches wide by 3 inches deep. 

Pin It

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina - las vacaciones de marzo en Argentina

Our last guest blog of the week brings us to Buenos Aires, Argentina courtesy of a voracious traveler and my best friend from prep school, Mercedes Barletta. Thank you to Mercedes for her thoughtful writing and stunning photographic work!

A few years ago as my thirties loomed before me, I decided to make a list of all the places I would like to visit in my lifetime and began with a 30th birthday trip to Spain. Since then I have had the great fortune of crossing Turkey and Australia off my list and this fall I was presented with an opportunity to consult my list once again. My good friend from college proposed we plan a vacation during my two-week March break (which incidentally is one of the great perks of being a high school teacher). With very little arm-twisting we settled on Argentina, a trip that brought me to my sixth continent (and most likely my last - sorry, Antarctica. I just don't like the cold!).

Our sojourn to América del Sur was spent primarily in the huge metropolis of Buenos Aires. However, we also hopped a ferry to the Uruguayan town of Colonia del Sacramento for a day, a sleepy cobbled-street locale that provided a nice contrast to the city, and flew to the breathtakingly beautiful falls of Iguazú National Park for an overnight as well.
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

A cobblestone street in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

The falls of Iguazú National Park, Argentina

While in Buenos Aires, we wanted to experience as many different parts of the city as possible and as such, we stayed in three different neighborhoods in accommodations ranging from small boutique to modern luxury hotel. My favorite was unquestionably the stunning and newly restored 1912 landmark building, the Algodon Mansion. Sophisticated and luxurious, this hotel has just ten suites, and to say I wanted to take up permanent residence in ours is an understatement. Despite its moderate size, the hotel also houses a lovely restaurant, a spa, and a rooftop pool and patio for sunning.

Algodon Mansion, Buenos Aires
Upon entering the hotel, we were greeted by our personal butler, a gentleman who would assist us with everything from our luggage to reservations during our stay. After being served a complimentary glass of champagne during registration, we were escorted to one of the Recoleta suites. Named for the fashionable and elegant neighborhood in which the mansion is located, I instantly fell in love with our room. Chic yet inviting, there was a perfect balance of old-world charm and modern amenities. Passing though the lounge area furnished with a sofa and one of the two large flat screen televisions in the suite, we entered the bedroom area where down-covered pillow-laden double beds promised dulces sueños. Already impressed, I entered the bathroom and my affections for the Algodon were sealed.

Outfitted in Italian marble and French limestone, the bathroom included an oversized steam shower with a waterfall fixture and a freestanding oval bathtub. Placed upon the twin sinks that slanted towards the center for drainage were merlot infused bath petals and a single red rose. All these elements together invited one to linger in this exquisite space.

The Recoleta Suite

Our bathroom

Rooftop pool at the Algadon Mansion

A sun deck by the pool at the Algadon Mansion

However, we didn't travel all the way to Argentina to stay indoors and the allure of good eats drove us to leave our lavish digs. Bustling with life, the sprawling city offers porteños (literally 'port people,' the name used to refer to the residents of BA) and tourists alike a myriad of options for those seeking fine dining. No neighborhood has more spots for diehard foodies than trendy Palermo SoHo. One of our best meals was served at Casa Cruz (address: Uriarte, 1656), one of two restaurants dishing out the modern Argentinean fare of chef Germán Martitegui. The décor of Casa Cruz was described by one guidebook as marked by "brooding opulence," and indeed it was. After entering through unmarked ten-foot bronze doors, warm reds accented with black and gold fill the dining room. A tower of white lilies stands in the center of the restaurant and a glassed in wine-room marks the final limit of the large open interior.

A tower of white lilies in the dining room at Casa Cruz

Since porteños typically eat after 10 o'clock, our 8:30pm reservation had us eating in an almost empty dining room. The menu, which was written in Spanish and English, presented many interesting options, but once I saw pato (duck), one of my favorite meats, I stopped looking. Served in a fig reduction with hazelnuts and truffle mashed potatoes, this was some of the most tender melt-in-my-mouth duck dishes I have ever eaten. My friend enjoyed a shrimp tamale as her main course, which also highlighted the creativity and skill of chef Martitegui. And not that this meal needed help being one of my favorites in Buenos Aires, but after we finished our meal, John Cusack (who I adore!) sat down at a table across from us. All in all, Casa Cruz served up a night to remember.

Duck in a fig reduction with hazelnuts and truffle mashed potaoes
A shrimp tamale at Casa Cruz

After an amazing ten days, Argentina certainly didn't disappoint. Whether we were eating incredible meals throughout Buenos Aires, wandering through the open-air antique market of San Telmo, seeing a fútbol game at the impressive River Plate stadium or riding horses on an estancia in the countryside, this was one adventure I will never forget.
Antique treasures at the open-air market in San Telmo
Pin It

Monday, April 18, 2011

Aspen, Colorado - Spring Skiing

Today begins 'guest blog' week at Destinations Perfected. A few of my nearest and dearest have been on some AMAZING holidays in the last month, and I thought that these fun destinations needed to be shared with all of you. Many thanks to my friends for their expert reviews, personal photos and solid writing skills!

Here is our first guest blog from Katie Quackenbush Spiegel on her spring ski getaway to the ever fashionable Aspen, Colorado:

Ah yes, spring skiing in Aspen: fresh corduroy under your flashy demo skis, the sun glinting off your polarized European sunglasses, and your face glistening with freshly applied organic sun block. Insulated goggles, neck warmer, and arctic thermal underwear are stored away at home for warmer months or the lesser East coast trails. You slice down long, picturesque runs and don’t see another skier for what feels like miles. No lift lines on the way back up. You begin to wonder why you bother skiing elsewhere, at any other time of year.
Views from the top!

And, best of all, the Rockies’ most exciting, glamorous town – a hedonist’s haven – is right at the base of the mountain, just waiting for you to pop out of your bindings and commencez le après. 

First stop: the boutique Sky Hotel's outdoor après ski hot spot, 39 Degrees. After the last run of the day, tired skiers stow their skis at the base of the mountain and hobble in ski boots to this hip Kimpton property. We stretched out on the patio and satisfied our thirst with bubbly, imaginative cocktails, and pitchers of icy cold beer alongside the heated pool and elevated hot tub (into which, generally, a few skiers dip). Ajax, Aspen’s signature downtown mountain, looms behind the patio, and when the setting sun very suddenly dips behind the mountain crest each evening, the Sky staff ensures their guests remain toasty and warm, turning on the hidden heat lamps and igniting the stone-filled “mirage” fire pits. The Sky’s burger is the best in Aspen, and Ski Magazine calls 39 Degrees one of the “best celebrity spotting” hideaways in the country: We didn’t see any stars, but we felt pretty fabulous ourselves. 
Sky Hotel - 39 Degrees apres ski scene

Sky Hotel - 39 Degrees

"Mirage" fire pits at Sky Hotel

At the crack of noon the next day, our skiers head out for a day (or, an afternoon) of fresh powder. Followed, of course, by another evening of après. Our trip happened to be timed with an historic event in Aspen: the notorious “townie” dive bar, Bad Billy’s on Cooper Street, was open for one last night before it closed for good. The iconic watering hole, not known for its grub, was always at least half full even on week nights. We enjoyed pitchers of brew and tested the array of hot sauces on our table. The most low-key local in town will be missed. 


Next stop: The SKYY Vodka Infusions launch party at BB's Kitchen, where the distiller debuted its dragon fruit-infused vodka at a swank party on the roof deck. Revelers sporting long johns and savage sunglasses tans enjoyed straight shots of vodka off of an elaborate ice luge or shaken into tasty cocktails, including one with fresh jalapeno, lemon and lime slices, and simple syrup. Every so often a thunderous boom would startle the crowd – it’s the ski patrol, creating controlled avalanches with dynamite after the mountain is clear each evening.

At the Skyy Lounge at BB's - an avalanche bomb goes off in the background

On our last day in Aspen, we headed to Highlands, a beautiful peak known for its incredible snow and empty, fast trails. After cramming in a full morning of crushing the freshies, our crew headed up the Cloud Nine lift to the second seating at the world famous Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, on top of the mountain. Cloud Nine is an absolute Aspen must-do, and it may be one of the most memorable meals of your life, but buyer beware: you will leave with wet socks. And you have to ski down the mountain to get home. 
Every window in the tiny log cabin offers sweeping views, through red-checked curtains, of the surrounding 14,000 foot snow-capped Rockies. Snug in close-packed tables, groups of friends enjoy fondue, wild game, strudels, and the restau’s infamous raclette (which, we soon learned, is rarely on the table long enough for the potatoes to brown in bountiful butter), as well as an extensive and expertly selected wine list. Cloud Nine offers only two seatings per day, and you must make reservations well in advance. It is best to go with a group. Because shortly after the seating begins and the champagne corks have been popped, skiers unclip their boots and climb onto their chairs in sock feet. Some of the more experienced diners bring wild hats, head dresses, and boas. The music begins to pulse – European club hits –  and the volume increases. And within minutes, everyone in the place is standing on their tables, spraying outlandishly expensive bubbly across the dining room, and dancing with abandon. We managed to grab a few quick bites of our raclettes before our server rushed the searing hot plates off of our tables – pear-infused balsamic vinegar had permeated the butter-browned potatoes, which paired perfectly with imported cured meats, and melted Swiss cheeses. 
Raclette trimmings at Cloud Nine

Dancing on tables at Cloud Nine

After a few more hours of dancing on tables and an indoor snowball fight , the sun began to set on Aspen once again. Our crew made its way down the silent mountain, the last ones on the face that day. And when we all popped out of our bindings after the best run of the trip, we made an observation and a pact: Nothing beats spring skiing in Aspen, and we will be back.   

Preparing to ski home after the festivities at Cloud Nine

Our crew about to make the last run of the trip
Pin It

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boston, Massachusetts - Prezza

If you want a place in Boston where everybody really does know your name, and locals flock there because they are treated with a familiar smile and delicious plates of some of the best Italian food in the city, then look no further than Prezza restaurant in the North End. I've been coming here for years, and resident bartenders Kim and Lisa will greet you by name, clear a place for you at the bar, serve up your preferred drink and ask how your week was, before you've even had the chance to take your coat off. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie at their lively bar. Beyond the actual bar itself there is a warm and inviting dining room, though nothing speaks louder than the quality of the food here. Named after the town in Italy where chef Anthony Caturano's grandmother was born (in the region of Abruzzo), Prezza prides itself on fresh, seasonal ingredients coupled with authentic Italian recipes that are full of flavor and gusto.

I want to share with you some of my favorite dishes. If you are not panting after seeing these food photos then get out the defibrillator. The menu changes seasonally, so there is always something new to try, though they are careful to maintain those signature dishes that keep people like me coming back so often. They also have a serious wine collection that exceeds 8,000 bottles and covers around 900 labels. Hands down my favorite appetizer in the city is Prezza's crispy shrimp on a bed of Italian cole slaw and drizzled with cherry pepper aioli.

I always order the homemade potato gnocchi alla bolognese, with rustic meat ragout, tomato, porcini cream and pecorino roman cheese. Creamy, rich, flavorful, yet light and not overpowering, this classic bolognese dish (as well as all of their pastas) can be ordered in a half portion as well, so you can leave room for the main dishes.

My father's favorite dish here is the spicy mussels cooked in a tomato and fennel stew and served on a bed of chorizo polenta. If I had a dollar for every time he has ordered this I would be lounging on a beach somewhere. The sausage adds a nice kick of flavor to the broth and the polenta absorbs all of the delicious juices. Dunk some of their onion focaccia bread in here and you have yourself a full meal.

As we continue into main dishes, one should note that Prezza serves a rotisserie special each evening from their wood grill, but it disappears quickly; they only have about 5 or 6 portions, so order immediately as availability is limited. This next dish is a mainstay on the menu and does not disappoint. It is a veal porter house chop served with saffron lobster risotto, broccoli rabe and red wine sauce. Bring your appetite, as this is a robust portion.

A seasonal menu addition is the Buffalo milk ricotta ravioli served with a wild boar ragu, rosemary and pecorino cheese. Wild boar ragu is a dish that I always seek out when I am in the Umrbia region of Italy and I make it a point to order it whenever I see it on a menu here in the States. These pillows of ricotta nestled in the hearty wild boar ragu are divine.

For die hard fish lovers, look no further than the fish stew with tomato, lobster, swordfish, shrimp, clams, mussels and squid. I'm pretty sure that every living sea creature is in there, so if you are in the mood to sample some fresh New England seafood, this dish is for you.

Lastly we have a crispy bone-in pork chop with vinegar peppers, potatoes and roasted onions that is coated in seasoned bread crumbs and lightly pan fried. I love to eat half of this and then bring the rest in to work the next day for lunch. Its a simple dish with a few key ingredients that is done very well. 

Again I have to say, my most favorite dessert in the city is Prezza's piping hot white chocolate bread pudding drizzled with creme anglais and topped with vanilla bean ice cream. I have dreams about this dessert when I'm asleep at night. Trust me on this one. 

As we were celebrating a special occasion on my last visit here, we ordered several of the desserts on the menu to share. Clockwise from the top left we have the aforementioned white chocolate bread pudding, then the vanilla creme brulee with fresh whipped cream and chocolate pecan brownies on the side, followed by a warm chocolate flourless cake with a molten center, vanilla ice cream and raspberry puree, and lastly, a very refreshing limoncello cheesecake on a biscotti crust.

As my maternal family members were all born and raised in the North End over many generations, we are often asked to suggest our favorite restaurant in this Italian neighborhood (outside of our own kitchens, that is). If you are looking for red and white checkered tablecloths and a heaping plate of chicken parmigiana covered in spaghetti, then there are many generic restaurants that can satisfy those needs. However, if you want truly authentic, genuine and flavorful Italian dishes cooked to consistent perfection, look no further than Prezza. This is our favorite.
Pin It