"Aren't you going on a huge trip leaving Monday?" Alan asked.
I had to wrack my brain. When you travel as much as I do, you take things one day at a time. Monday didn't ring a bell. "No, I don't think so, not this Monday," I said.
"Yes, I read it on your website. Aren't you going on a trip around the Mediterranean?" Alan asked.
"Oh," I smiled as it finally dawned on me, "Yeah, I'm going on a trip around the Mediterranean right here in my San Francisco kitchen."
That was last Monday. I did a weeklong cooking class and on the calendar on my website it listed my week as "A Trip Around the Mediterranean."
Imagine... Monday we were walking through the Provencal markets buying lavender sachets and colorful linens, Tuesday we were in Italy picking olives and figs, and by Wednesday, we were were swimming in the crystal clear blue waters off the coast of Greece. Thursday, we were eating tapas at Cal Pep in Barcelona and on Friday, we were buying spices and preserved lemons in the souks or markets of Marrakesh.
Eight students from all over the US, two assistants, one dishwasher and one teacher "cruising" the Mediterranean together.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 g) melted butter
12 tablespoons millet
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat an oven to 375oF (190oC). Beat the egg and brown sugar well with an electric mixer. Add the melted butter and 1/2 of the buttermilk. Stir in the millet. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and add to the other ingredients. Add the other 1/2 of the buttermilk. Do not mix the muffins together too much or the texture will not be good! Place in greased muffin tins.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Makes 12 muffins.
And then I'd talk about the cuisine from that particular country and explain the recipes. After dividing into groups, we cooked for the next couple hours together. I dug through my library of music to find the right music from my many trips to the Mediterranean. The students seemed to like Zucchero a lot. Or was it Emma Shappin?
Monday, when we were in Provence, we tasted warm olives scented with wild herbs and drank Provencal rosé. That was just the beginning. We made pissaladiere with crispy golden puffed pastry and lots of caramelized onions. Bouillabaisse was next and for dessert, little lemon souffle cakes that were sweet and tart at the same time.
The next day, we packed our bags and left for Italy. I insisted on starting with spritzers made with Aperol and prosecco (the same drink we served our guests when they arrived for our wedding last August). We rolled bright green spinach ravioli and filled them with ricotta and mascarpone and topped them with a sauce of fresh heirloom tomatoes and really tender leaves of basil. And then we made this really cool main course where we wrapped a baguette around pork tenderloin dusted with fennel pollen, sage, rosemary, coarse salt and lots of black pepper like they do in Tuscany. My favorite Florentine cook, Judy, introduced this to me years ago when I was teaching one of my courses st Il Leccio in Strada in Chianti.
If that wasn't the favorite of the day, it must have been the caramelized chocolate almond budino for dessert. OMG!!!
And what's food without wine, especially when you're on vacation along the Mediterranean? Everyday we have a wine maker or importer come to pour their wine and talk about the wines from that particular country.
By mid-week, it was time to fire things up so we built a really hot fire in the fireplace in the kitchen and spit-roasted a leg of lamb and then slathered it with tzatziki made from Greek yogurt, dill, spearmint and garlic. After all, we were in Greece for the day! I have a special place in my heart for Greece since Joe and I spent our honeymoon in a little villa looking over the sea in Santorini. I recalled lots of memories of my previous trips to Greece, but of course not all of them! We made galatoboureko, Joe's favorite, for dessert.
4 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup fine semolina, sifted
4 tablespoons butter
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3" cinnamon stick
Pinch of salt
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces fillo dough
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
Honey syrup (recipe follows)
Mix milk, sugar, semolina, butter, lemon rind, cinnamon stick and salt in a heavy saucepan and heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Let the custard bubble gently over very low heat for 5 minutes. Take away from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Cover with a piece of buttered parchment or waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming.
When the custard mixture is cool, blend in the eggs and vanilla.
Butter a 13 X 9" baking dish. Place about 15 layers in the dish, brushing each sheet with melted butter.
Pour the custard on top of the buttered fillo. Next place another 15 layers of fillo on top, brushing each with butter as it is placed in position. Brush the top with the remaining butter and score through the top 3 sheets of fillo into 3" squares or diamonds. Trim the edges and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until it is golden brown and the custard is set when tested with a knife.
Remove from the oven and cool thoroughly in the dish. Serve with the honey syrup.
Thursday brought us to Spain. It's summer, so naturally we began with a bowl of iced gazpacho. Later, we made our way outside to my balcony where we cooked a huge pan of paella over the open fire just like they do in Valencia. And on Friday, we started with the sensuous flavors of spicy eggplant jam smeared on crispy levain croutons followed by couscous and lamb and artichoke tagine. For dessert, we made this really aromatic crispy fillo layered with orange custard, cinnamon and toasted almonds.
Very fun week. I didn't need to pack, I didn't need a passport and I could sleep in my own bed. Yup, I did go on an amazing trip but I did it right here at home!