pelmeni/uszka with meat

Hello from the world of quarantine.  The world as we know it has changed.  If you are reading this in the future, we are currently battling a pandemic in this world of ours.  We have been exposed to a new virus, covid-19, and much of the world is on lockdown or semi-lockdown.  First it was China and then we waited.  And then Italy.  Then Spain.  Then everywhere.  I am home and I can not really do my job from home.  But it is a perfect time for babushka training.  My babushkas lived trough WWII and Communism so this is a perfect time to channel their energy. The days somehow go by faster than it would seem.

We knocked out 4 batches of these in three days, because we have nowhere to be and we can’t really be anywhere anyway but it feels good to be productive.

I don’t have any pictures but instead a video!

Here is the recipe we used (thanks to my husband’s family for teaching him so well).

Pelmeni

3 cups all purpose flour (plus more for dusting)

1 egg

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp neutral oil (like sunflower or grapeseed)

1/2 cup – 3/4 cup warm water

1 lb ground meat like beef, pork or lamb (or a combination)

1 small onion diced

2 tbsp dried cilantro

salt and pepper

broth, herbs, vinegar and sour cream for serving

  • To make the dough add the flour to a large bowl. Make a little hole in the middle and crack the egg in it, add the salt and the oil as well. Mix it slowly with a fork and add a little bit of water at a time until you have a shaggy wet dough. Start to use your hands and then lay the dough onto a hard surface to knead it. You will knead it for about 15 minutes, continue to add flour if it’s needed. Then let it rest for half an hour wrapped in a towel or plastic.
  • Mix the ground meat with onion, cilantro and salt/pepper. Let it sit in the fridge until you need it.
  • Once it’s rested roll out 1/3 of your dough to a nice thin layer. Using a champagne class or something of similar size make circles as close together as you can.
  • Fill each circle with a little bit of meat, on the stickier side if there is one. Fold the circle in half, pulling the edges if needed, and press to seal it shut. If it’s too dry use a little bit of water. Take the two ends and press them together to make a little dumpling shape.
  • Place each pelmeni on a floured cutting board so they don’t stick together. Once you have a board full you can stick them into the freezer. Once they are all the way frozen you can throw them into a bag, and save them for another time if you want.
  • To cook them bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and then place about 10-15 pelmeni at a time if there is room. They will float to the surface once they are done, let them cook a bit longer on the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon.
  • Serve with a broth, herbs, vinegar and sour cream or any combination of those!

kapuśniak – cabbage, sauerkraut and sausage soup

I love soup. Polish people love soup, and I love that they do. Soup is easy to make, it lasts a long time, it feeds many and it fills you up. Plus this one has sauerkraut which is really good for you. So many reasons to make it and love it.

Kapusta is cabbage. The underrated vegetable that kept many Europeans from starving. Kapuśnaik is just a cute way of saying cabbage soup. I mean what is not to love! I always put a lot of garlic into my soups, feel free to add less or more. I also used Italian sausage I have to admit! I was trying to avoid saying it but I just like the flavors better for this soup, traditionally it is made with kielbasa. Don’t get me wrong, kielbasa has my heart forever just not in this soup. We’ll save that for bigos (Polish hunters stew). In the meantime this is much easier and very satisfying.

Kapuśniak

2 tbsp neutral oil, like grapeseed or sunflower

half of an onion, diced small

4-6 garlic cloves, minced

2 small carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery sticks, diced

1 tsp ground fennel seeds

1 tsp dried marjoram

2 tsp salt, more to taste if needed

1 tsp pepper, more to taste if needed

4 small yellow potatoes, diced

1 cup thinly chopped cabbage

8 cups vegetable broth

1 cup sauerkraut, roughly chopped

3 Italian sausage, diced into pieces

parsley for serving

– heat the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat. add the onion and sauté until it is soft. add the carrots, celery, dried herbs, salt and pepper. sauté about 3-5 minutes. add the broth and the cabbage and potatoes.

– bring the soup to a boil and then lower the temperature to a simmer for about 10 minutes.

– add the sauerkraut and the sausages and cook for another 20- 30 minutes until the potatoes and sausages are cooked all the way through. season with more salt and pepper if needed. serve with chopped parsley.

Enjoy!

paszteciki!

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Oh man I love foods like this.  There are so many variations of dough filled with stuff in Eastern European food.  These are the kind my father said his grandmother made, so I am trying to carry on that tradition.  I can’t wait to serve them at Christmas Eve, that is when they are usually served.  On Christmas Eve in Poland you don’t eat meat and you have a big dinner in the evening, so these are perfect to munch on while you wait for the cooks to finish the meal.  They are so good fresh from the oven.

Pasztet actually means pâté, so I will have to try them with pâté next time!

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Paszteciki

1 cup milk

1 packet of instant yeast (7 g)

1 tbsp sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

6 tbsp of European style unsalted butter, softened

2 egg yolks, save the whites

300 g mushrooms – all types but the more flavorful the better

300 g sauerkraut

1 tbsp neutral oil

– first heat the milk a bit so that it is warm, about 100° F is good.  sprinkle in the yeast and sugar and stir it up a little bit.  let it sit for 5 minutes so that it blooms.

– in a bowl or in a mixer stir the flour with salt.  add the milk once it has bloomed.  stir or mix it well.  add the egg yolks, mix well.  add the butter pieces at a time.  if you don’t have a mixer, you will use your hands now. knead the dough to incorporate everything and then knead it for about 10 minutes, it will be wet, try not to add too much more flour.  cover it and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour until it is doubled (it might take more than an hour). 

– to prepare the mushroom and sauerkraut filling first clean the mushrooms and grate them on a grater so you have really small shredded pieces.  strain the sauerkraut in a strainer and press to release more liquid from it.  heat a skillet and add the oil.  cook the mushrooms until they are soft, about 8-10 minutes.  add the sauerkraut and cook for about 15 minutes on medium-low, you don’t want it to brown too much.  let the mixture cool before doing the next part.

– pre-heat the oven to 350° F.  line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

– once the dough is ready, flour your surface a bit and roll out the dough into a big rectangle, about 9 inches.  cut the rectangle into three long pieces.  fill each piece with some of the filling right down the middle and not too close to the sides.  fold the dough over the filling from both sides and press to seal it.  

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–  cut each long piece into smaller pieces about 5 inches long.  place each piece fold side down on the baking sheet.  

– lightly beat your left over egg whites and brush on the top of each piece.

– bake for about 25-30 minutes.

– they will last about 2-3 days, after that they dry out a bit.

Enjoy!

beef stroganoff!

Some people love fall. I get it. It’s not my favorite I will admit. The transition just doesn’t do me well, it hits me out of nowhere and I get a bit depressed. But I do what I can and cook and bake and start to be a babushka again.

This recipe is actually really easy and so tasty, it will impress if you think your not a good cook. It’s also mushroom season right now so feel free to use some different types if you can get your hands on them!

Beef Stroganoff

2 lbs beef sirloin, lean, cut into thin slices

1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 cups sliced mushrooms, baby bella will do just fine or some sort of button type

2 small onions, cut into thin half moon shapes

2 cups of beef broth, sometimes I use mushroom which is also good

4 tbsp all purpose flour

1/3 cup sour cream

salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup chopped parsley for serving

12 oz of egg noodles

– in a wide saucepan add the butter to melt and sauté the beef for about 5 minutes on each side until it is half browned on both sides. remove from the pan and set aside for a moment.

– in the same pan add the onions and the mushrooms until soft. add the beef back in and season with salt and pepper. add the broth and the flour and mix everything very well.

– let the sauce boil and then bring it to a simmer with a lid for 20 minutes. take the lid off and simmer for another 10 minutes.

– meanwhile cook your noodles.

– once the sauce has thickened adjust the seasoning if needed and mix in the sour cream. we like to add a lot of black pepper! serve with noodles and parsley on top.

Enjoy xoxoxo

jagodzianki! (blueberry yeast buns)

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I am going to be honest with you.  I have been determined to get a a good recipe for these mostly because I love the name.  They are good, don’t get me wrong, especially when they are fresh.  But the name is just the best.  In Polish blueberries are called jagody, so it’s just a cute word for blueberry buns.  It’s a little harder in English because it doesn’t have as many ending options of making something cute, but it would be like saying blueberry bunsies, cute little blueberry buns.

Another thing I will be honest about is that these are more popular in the Spring and early Summer when blueberry season first starts.  This year I was a little late at making these the way I wanted and I was late to go blueberry picking in Indiana like I try to do every year.  But, I did go and now I have a freezer full of blueberries!  And actually these are perfect with defrosted blueberries, I think because they turn jammy better when baked.

They are easier than you think, just like with any yeast dough you gotta stick around and watch it, because it’s alive!  The folding can also be tricky, I had many a leaked jagodzianki.

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Jagodzianki

3 cups packed all purpose flour (or 500g)

1 cup milk

1 tbsp instant dry yeast

8 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 egg

1 stick of European style butter (113g, 8 tbsp), softened

3 1/2 cups frozen blueberries, defrosted

2 tbsp potato starch

for the crumble:

3 tbsp sugar

4 tbsp cold butter

5 tbsp flour

1 egg for brushing

– heat the milk until it is lukewarm, not more than 100º F.  mix in a little bit of the sugar and all of the yeast and let it sit until it blooms.

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– mix the flour, and add the rest of the 4 tbsps of sugar in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, or in a big bowl with a large spoon.  add the milk mixture and mix on low in the stand mixture or continue with a spoon if you have a bowl instead.  add the egg and keep mixing until incorporated, possibly using your hands if not in a stand mixer.

– add the softened butter a bit at a time and knead or mix it in.  mix or knead for about 15 minutes, you want the dough to be very soft and elastic.  cover it in a bowl and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour.

– make sure there is no more liquid in the de-frosted blueberries and mix the blueberries with the sugar and starch.

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– once it doubles in size take it out of the bowl.  divide the dough into about 12 even balls.  flatten each ball on a floured surface and place about 2 tbsp of blueberries on the dough.  pinch four sides together to make a little sack to cover the berries.  really pinch the sides and twist the top slightly, and fold it in.  really make sure there is no space for liquid to leak through and place it twist side down on a lined baking sheet.

– repeat with all of them and let them sit for about half an hour.

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– pre-heat the oven to 375º.

– make the crumble by mixing the flour and sugar first in a bowl.  cut the cold butter into small pieces and add it to the flour.  mixing with your hands or a fork, but probably ending up with your hands, mix the crumble.  beat the egg and set aside.

– once the little balls have rested, brush with the egg and sprinkle some crumble on top.  bake for about 25-30 minutes.

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enjoy!!!!!!

cheesecake and jello cake (my Polish-American pie)

Does it seem weird? Does it kind-of sound not appealing? Maybe. But we do it anyway and actually it’s quite delicious. Especially because I would eat jello everyday if I made it everyday. This cake is so very Polish to me and maybe even Polish-American. I saw it in Poland. But jello is so American to me, as well as no bake cheesecake. So it’s one of those things that somehow became a thing when mainstream American commercialism made its way to post Soviet countries. At least that is my story. I can say I never grew up having this at any of my American friends houses and we have had it many times and I see it at almost every Polish bakery. So there you go.

Here is a picture of me on my second birthday eating a very similar style cake my mama made 🙂

Here is how I made mine, I thought it was very good. Also yes to no baking in the oven!!

Cheesecake and Jello Cake

2 cups crushed up ginger cookies (the dry hard kind)

5-6 tbsp butter, melted

1 cup ricotta cheese

8 oz cream cheese

3 tbsp honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

zest of half a lemon

2 packets plain gelatin – 1/4 oz each

2 cups white grape juice

1/4 cup sugar

3 1/2 cups berries (about), cut into bite size pieces if big like the strawberries especially

– mix the melted butter with the cookies and press them into an 8 inch spring form pan (or something close to that size) to create a crust. place it in the fridge for half and hour.

– mix the ricotta and cream cheese together in a food processor until well blended. add the zest, extract and honey and mix well. if the crust is hardened enough pour it onto the top and let the whole thing sit in the fridge for an hour.

– in a small sauce pan heat 1/4 cup of the white grape juice until warm enough to mix in the sugar to dissolve it. keep it on low.

– in a small bowl sprinkle the gelatin over another 1/4 cup of the white grape juice. let it sit 2 minutes.

– turn the heat off the sauce pan and pour in the other gelatin mixture and mix well with a whisk. then add the rest of the grape juice.

– if the mixture is cool pour it over the cooled cheesecake and start to add your pieces of fruit in whatever way is pleasing to you. make sure not to touch the cheesecake part with your fingers or don’t press the fruit down too much.

– let it cool about 1.5 hours until set. when serving run a knife around the edge before removing the spring form. keep in the fridge if not eating 🙂

Enjoy!

a meaty, beety barszcz

Barszcz is borscht.  And borscht is борщ.  And probably some other names.  We are going with barszcz here.   You got me?

Now the history of barszcz is deep and complex.  And that is how it should taste, even if it’s simple.  I’m sure someone will write a book about it’s interesting evolution and history, and I will read it.  If there is a book out there, correct me please!  Apparently first made with fermented hogweed (a common plant) in Poland, it eventually was just sour things.  But basically the beet was not introduced to this so called barszcz for a long time.  There are still others types of barszcz, most commonly in Poland is white with a fermented rye starter and white sausage.  I have also heard of green barszcz and each country and region has slightly differently additions.

I have been thinking about making barszcz all winter.  I have an awesome cold barszcz recipe here.  The kind I made below is a winter soup to me, it’s rich and hearty.  Polish barszcz is a clear broth most of the time, but I like having some more substance, something like the Ukrainian’s do but still simple.

Mine starts with a zakwas.  Which is kvass, which is also квас.  Zakwas is a fermented juice/liquid.  It can be also made with bread, which usually you make white barszcz from.  I also added bread to my beet kwas to help it ferment.  Here is how I made mine.

Zakwas

a couple of fresh small beets, skin on

1 tbsp sea salt

2 cups of filtered warm water

a couple of garlic cloves

stale naturally leavened bread – rye is best (optional)

1 liter jar with a lid

– make sure your jar is cleaned really well!

– chop off the ends of the beets.  wash them really well with a scrubber.  chop them into small pieces, leaving the skin on.

– mix 1 tbsp of sea salt with the water until evaporated.  place the beets in the jar, pour the water on top.  crush your garlic cloves and place in the jar.  cover it and shake it around a bit to mix everything.  you want to make sure the beets are fully submerged.  remove the lid and add more water if needed.  place the stale bread on top, also making sure it is covered with water.  if you don’t have bread that is ok, it might just take longer to get fermented.

– let the beets sit 1-2 weeks.  if your lid is very tight, open it once a day to release pressure and check for mold.  the jar I used is pretty loose so I don’t do it every day, maybe every other.  if there is mold best to not risk it so throw it out.

(also you can just drink this for health!)

Meaty Beety Barszcz

1 lb beef short ribs

1 onion

3 bay leaves

5-8 peppercorns

1 carrot, ends cut off and skin peeled

4 medium beets

5 small waxy yellow potatoes

4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

1 tbsp oil

2 cups beet zakwas

juice of half a lemon

herbs for garnish, like dill, parsley or cilantro

– place the short ribs in a large pot. cut the onion in half and place half of it in the pot along with the carrot, peppercorns and bay leaves. cover everything with 4 cups of water, a little more if not covered all the way. bring to a boil and then simmer on low heat covered for an hour.

– meanwhile peel the beets and chop them into match stick size pieces. dice the potatoes into big chunks and set aside (you can do skin on of off, I don’t mind it on).

– cut the other half of the onion into thin half moons. heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. cook the onions on medium low, slowly until they start to turn soft and lightly brown, then add the garlic. cook about 8-10 more minutes. set aside.

– once the meat has cooked for an hour and softened, remove the carrot and onion. either strain the broth and place the liquid and meat back in or try and pick out the peppercorns and bay leafs with tongs and a spoon. add the beets and potatoes and simmer covered for another 30-45 minutes until the beets and potatoes have cooked.

– add the onions. add the beet zakwas and lemon juice and stir well. you can take out the meat to serve and chop the more meaty parts into small pieces, it’s quite fatty usually and hard to leave in the soup whole.

Enjoy!!

pączki!

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I’m so happy to be back in Chicago where people actually know what Pączki Day is!  Do you know what it is?  It’s Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Ash Wednesday.  Which is the beginning of Lent, the 40 days before Easter.  Catholic’s usually give something up as a fast.  A lot of time it’s sweets, or other indulgences.  In Europe it’s Fat Thursday, and in Poland you eat Pączki, which are jelly filled donuts.

I tried making pączki in the past and failed, because I really suck at frying things.  This year however I made sure to use a good digital thermometer, fresh yeast and I found a method I like best to seal the little dough balls.

So my recipe is with fresh yeast, which is just better, it grew so much more!  You can find it in some regular grocery stores in the refrigerated section, or if you have an Eastern European store they will sell it in big chunks.  This method of folding over the dough works best when the dough is really yeasty and slightly damp from that.  So I think its best with fresh yeast, try it 🙂

Pączki

5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

40 grams of fresh yeast

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted European style butter, melted

1 1/2 cups warm milk (not hot, just warm when you stick your finger in)

1 whole egg

4 egg yolks

1 liter frying oil

jam or jelly for filling, I used a whole small jar of plum butter

powder sugar for dusting

– prepare your yeast to bloom.  place it in a bowl and squish it a bit so it is easier to stir.  add a spoonful of the sugar and 1/2 cup of the warm milk and stir to mix well.  add more milk if it’s not mixing up.  let it sit for about 5 minutes until it’s doubled and it’s bubbly.

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– mix the flour with the rest of the sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl. with a stand mixer, using a dough hook, mix the flour on low, slowly adding the rest of the milk, the butter, the yeast mixture and the eggs.  or mix everything bit by bit in a big bowl, eventually using your hands.  mix well until everything is combined but still slightly sticky.  you don’t want to work the dough too much, but you want to form a nice ball.

– place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl.  cover with a dish towel and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour, for it to double in size.

– once doubled, flour your surface and roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick.  make a light mark down the middle with your hand, not piercing through but just so there is a mark on the dough indicating half.  do the same thing with a large cup on one side of the dough, just lightly marking circles with space in between.  these will be your pączki.

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– fill each circle with a spoonful of jam or jelly.  once they are all filled, take the other half of your dough and place it over the side with the jam, make sure it fits all the way over to the other edge.  lightly press around the little jam hills to slightly seal.

– take your cup again and place it over the circle so it goes all the way through.  it should seal well from that but if not, lightly press to make sure the jam is not coming out.  set aside, under a dish towel is good to not let them dry out.

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– once you do one set of circles, mix your dough again and roll out to repeat until you have no more dough.  i did it even with one circle.  let all the circles rest and rise for 30 minutes.

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– heat your oil in a large pan on medium to high, cast iron works well for frying. you want the temperature to get to 356° F and to stay at that temperature for the whole process.

– place a couple of pączki and cook 3-4 minutes on each side, they will be quite brown. use a slotted spoon to remove them onto a plate with a paper towel. repeat.

– once they have cooled a bit sprinkle them with powdered sugar.

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Enjoy!  They are so good when fresh 🙂

pickle soup (zupa ogórkowa)

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Let’s talk about the weather, because food and weather always go together.  We are in that strange time of year where fall starts to creep up slowly. It starts with a couple of cool days that feel like heaven because the sun is still warm enough to tingle the surface of the skin.  Then it comes in fast with a day where we do not have enough clothes and we get a little tickle in our throat that turns into full on sore the next morning.  I am very much not looking forward to that day or to my first winter in Chicago in 8 years.  Every year I have dreams of trying to enjoy winter, we will see if I am better this year.  I really really want to like winter, but every time it comes around I can’t seem to keep my spirits up. What about you?

This soup seemed to me to represent this time, mostly because it isn’t really seasonal.  In some ways it is a winter soup because well, it is soup. But also because it is made from pickles so you don’t really need the bounty of summer produce to enjoy it.  But maybe it’s actually perfect right now when we are not in love with squash yet and so cold that all we want is fat.  We still want a little funky freshness, so try this funky delicious soup.

It’s a basic soup that is flavored with brine pickles to add a little tang, just enough.

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Pickle Soup / Zupa Ogórkowa

2 tbsp butter

1 onion, diced

1/2 tbsp dried marjoram

salt/pepper

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 small parsnip, peeled and diced

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

6 cups of vegetable stock

4-6 pickles in brine (not vinegar pickles), grated on a cheese grate

1/2 cup pickle brine

1/3 cup sour cream

1/2 tbsp flour

dill

– in a large pot heat the butter. cook the onions until soft. season with salt and pepper and marjoram. add carrots and parsnip. cook about 5 minutes.

– add the stock and potatoes. bring to a boil and then simmer 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked.

– grate the pickles if not already grated. once the potatoes are cooked add the pickles and simmer another 10 minutes. add the brine.

– mix the sour cream in a small bowl with the flour until combined and then add 1 cup of the warm soup. mix it well until everything is dissolved. add it back to the soup. season with more salt/pepper to taste and serve with chopped dill.

enjoy!

catania, sicily (plus a little florence)

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Espresso.  Granita.  The Catholic Church.  Scooters.  Lemons.  Oranges.  Bellisima.

I did not go to Catania simply to travel and make a guide, however, I spent a lot more time there than I thought I would, so here is a little guide of some places to go to.

This trip was my first to Italy.  I am usually not the type of person to believe the hype.  Ever since I can remember Italy has been hyped up, nearly everyone goes there for vacation and everyone loves Italian food.  I now understand why.  The majority of my time was in Sicily with a couple of days in Florence, so my experience is not all of Italy but there is really something amazing about the food in Italy no matter what part you are in, everything is so good.  They really care about their food, about where it comes from and how it is prepared.  Especially wine and cheese.  I still don’t understand how the simplest dishes can taste so good, and so much better in this country.

Before I rave about Sicily, here is my experience on mainland Italy – Florence.

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Florence was so touristy!  But it is worth it.  If you go to Florence, go to the other side of the river and wander around also, it was super chill there.  And it really is a breathtaking place, I feel like if I would have spent more time there I would have seen the different sides through the tourist parts.  It is so classy.  It’s classy without even trying to be classy, they like invented class.  It’s culture and beauty and life.  Around every corner awaits something old and beautiful and there is this ease in the people and their way of life.  I would go back.

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A lot of restaurants in the city are only open for lunch or only for dinner.  In general the food in Florence is heavy, the most famous being the Florentine Steak.  When you are here, eat local.  Don’t eat seafood, because it probably comes from Sicily (unless you are not going to Sicily, then eat it, it’s not that far away), but their specialty is meat, using all parts of the animal.  Drink Tuscan wine.  And we always went for the paté.

Here are some favorite places:

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Le Volpi e l’Uva – I marked this place after seeing it on Emiko Davies’ blog.  And I am pretty sure we had the best wine here from our whole trip.  Everything they have there comes from really small wineries, where they don’t even have to say they are organic or natural, you just know it is the real deal.  They also have little plates of food, and it is kind of hidden from the touristy parts.

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Fiaschetteria Nuvoli – Fiaschetteria means wine shop, and there are lots of these little eateries everywhere.  I don’t remember how we found this one, but we liked it so we went back a second time.  It is not just wine and it is pretty close to the main square.  It is simple food, quick service.  We had some tripe that was slow roasted with vegetables and some delicious herb sauce, I didn’t think I would like tripe (I’ve only had it in soup and tacos), but they prepared it in a way that was delicious.  Like many places in Italy, courses matter, here it was a bit more laid back which we appreciated.

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Piazza Santo Spitio – a plaza on the other side of the river that was super chill and cute, a great place to have a espresso or a Spritz.

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Trattoria Del Carmine – In general we liked trattorias, it’s more family, home cooked type of food, not fancy.  This place was old school.  If you don’t order courses you are looked down upon.  Our waiter only spoke Italian and I was having trouble making up my mind looking at an only Italian menu, and he seemed to be a bit annoyed.  I was also trying to not eat so much meat, which was stupid because that is what you do when you are in Florence.  He suggested the rabbit and I regret it to this day I didn’t get it, I bet it was delicious.  The steaks are super affordable, get a steak, if not here look for another small trattoria that is only open for dinner.  This place was open more often and that is why we ended up there.  We were in Florence during a Sunday and Monday, which are not good days for restaurant hopping.

Now on to Sicily.

Ok before I went to Sicily I must say I read a really strange book called Conversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini.  It kind-of imprinted in my mind what Sicily is without even using too many words.  It’s short, I recommend to read it if you go (maybe even on the plane), you will have a more unique experience.

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My first walk on Italian soil was Catania.  As the small plane from Frankfurt made it’s way to the island you could see Mt. Etna, the volcano that defines Sicily and especially Catania.  In some ways Catania is a dirty little city.  The Baroque buildings scattered around the city actually look dirty, and that is because Catania was built on a volcanic eruption.  But that is also what makes it unique.  Catania is the second largest city in Sicily (some say it is bigger because a lot of people live more outside the main part), but it still feels like a small town.  You start to see the same homeless people, you see a guy walking eating a danish and then later see him selling something on the street.  We walked around and ended up walking in circles because it’s just not that big.  I am not sure if we would have liked Catania as much without our French tour guide.  My fiancé was taking care of some art stuff while we were here and we had a French man who lives in Sicily as our guide unexpectedly.  He loves Sicily and actually hates France, especially Paris.  And he knew all the best spots.

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When in Sicily you eat local which means seafood, oranges, fennel, artichokes and much more.  And Sicilian wine. It is strong, but because of the volcanic soil it is complex and abundant.  Eat dessert, Sicily is known for it’s dessert, like granita, marzipan and we must not forget, the holy cannoli.

Here are some of my favorite Catania spots:

First is breakfast.  Breakfast in Sicily is a pastry, and then cappuccino (or espresso).  You only have a cappuccino in the morning, so that afternoon drink has to be espresso.  Cappuccio in Italian means hood, and cappuccino means small hood, thought to have been inspired by capuchin monks (who wear brown hoods). The pastry can be simple, but it will most likely be filled with cream or jam, some even eat a brioche with gelato.

Pasticceria Savia – This place is old school, as many of the pastry shops are. There are a number of newer ones though that are a bit fancy.  Sit here and have a nice little breakfast and head over to the the park right across the street.

Then what to see? Go to the fish market and the main square.  Right across from the main Cathedral is another small church that you can go to the top of, do that, we spent probably 1 hour up there watching a funeral procession for a firefighter and just enjoyed the view along with some German tourists who parked up there for a card game.

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Just wander around. Get a bibite, an Italian soda, at one of the little stands.  And another espresso of course. Go to the University area, a nice place to stroll.

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Catania is totally Sicily.  It’s raw and it’s rough. Sicilians are a little tougher, they are intense, but can be very nice at the same time. If there is still a big mafia influence we didn’t see it, no need to worry about that anymore it seems.  There are flee markets, where immigrants sell bootleg clothes, or just thrift items.  People drive not dangerous but without a real order.   It’s not your typical tourist place.  I heard the monastery is nice, we didn’t make it because we were busy with other things.  The beaches have little walk ways, and are nice in the summer.  And you must go to Mt. Etna, another one we didn’t get to. Overall Catania is a real place with real people.  So if that is your thing, then it’s a really cool unique place.

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Where to eat:

People go out later in Sicily, it’s always better to go earlier if you think it will be a crowded day.

Tratorria La Norma – This was our hosts favorite place.  They knew him well when we went, and the people were so nice!  They are a bit more relaxed again when it comes to ordering courses.  But the portions are not huge, they are just enough so get a little of everything, it’s fresh and simple.  Their table wine is very good, it comes a bit cold and is super fresh, and so is the olive oil.  Also my favorite dessert was here.  Just a simple lemon cake and almond and pistachio semifreddo.  And they gave us the most amazing homemade coffee liquor at the end of our meal.

Trattoria Da Nuccio – The kind of place you look for: simple, locals, fresh, the owner serves you.  Again, having a guide was nice because sometimes these places only have things written in Italian, but who cares, go anyway.  Order whatever fresh fish they have, table wine and some pasta.  You can’t go wrong when there is a table of 8 Sicilian men in the back having a good time.

Al Vicolo Pizza & Vino – This place has a wait, but it is so very good.  We were there during Easter and there is a small church up the street people visited, and there are chairs all along the sidewalk.  It is only open for dinner, and when you walk by during the day you might not even notice it.  Get pizza, any kind is good and maybe some Nero d’Avola.

And before you leave go to:

Enoteca Regionale di Sicilia – This little unassuming shop is awesome.  We wanted to take back some local wine and olive oil, because they just do it better in Sicily.  At first we walked past but then came back and decided to go into it.  The woman who owns this shop is so passionate and beautiful.  Go and ask her questions and she will tell you all the wonders of Sicily and what to get.  Such a treat on our last day.

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Overall, Italy is great, it is refined it is seasoned, it knows it’s good.

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Sicily is great because it has a little bit of everything.  It has mountains and beaches and dry areas.  It has small little villages tucked in here and there.   It has space for something still, and that is always exciting.