welcome to our new monthly format of tuesday night supper club.
this month, i would like to introduce you to an amazing woman with a very interesting culinary background. i have always been intrigued by her recipes and have been following her blog for a very long time.
last week, camilla posted these mouth watering flourless chocolate cupcakes
but she doesn't just do sweets, actually she mostly doesn't make sweets. i have become fascinated by the way she takes rarely used and/or unknown ingredients and turns them into something that makes me want to jab a fork right into my computer screen for a little taste.
sit back and get to know camilla from culinary adventures with camilla. fair warning, you will be hooked!
1. What is your culinary background...are you professionally trained, self-taught, love to cook?
I have a lot of childhood memories that involve food and cooking. I remember sitting on the kitchen counter because my dad had put me in charge of the spaghetti sauce. He often had all of his college students over for dinner parties. I was probably eight years old and I just kept stirring, stirring, and stirring while the aroma of the garlic, oregano, basil, and tomatoes swirled around me. It was intoxicating. But I wouldn’t say that I “learned to cook” until I was living in Italy during my early 20s. I had graduated from college, fled the country to let my LSAT scores expire without telling my parents that I had changed my mind about law school, and was working as an au pair in Rome. The woman I worked for was a countess who taught yoga in her studio on the bottom floor of the palazzo. One day she found out that I liked to cook. So she had the cook, Maria, teach me – processes, not recipes – and then she fired the cook. From that point on I was in charge of three meals a day for the family. While I resented it at the time, it was an incredible gift – both for my fluency in the Italian language and in the kitchen. Because electricity in Italy is so expensive, people shop on a daily basis. I went to the market every single day, except Sunday, learned what was in season, talked to the vendors, and found out how they would prepare things. So, I guess you could say I’m self-taught; but it would be more accurate to say that I absorbed ways to cook from many different Italian farmers and cooks.
2. How long have you been blogging and how did you get your start?
My first official blog post was on January 17, 2010 – for a spiced hot chocolate. But I’ve been writing down recipes and sharing them with friends for years, that’s sort of how this whole thing started. I have this red book that I’ve been scribbling recipes into for a long time. It’s tattered and there are stains and spills throughout the pages. After a meal they really liked my family would command, “Write that recipe in the red book” or declare, “that’s red-book worthy.” I’d cook for people or mention to others what I had for dinner. And, typically, the response was the same: “can I have the recipe?” So I started the blog as a way to write down the various ways I’ve put ingredients together. I don’t often measure, except when I bake, so my blog might be frustrating for some. But I hope my photos and “recipes” inspire people to step out of their culinary comfort zone and have some fun with new flavors.
3.I am always fascinated with your "theme" posts...you will take 1 ingredient and showcase it so many different ways...like your beetroot dinner for example. Is that something you have always done?
Thanks, Christy. Several New Year’s Eves ago I resolved to expand my culinary horizons by cooking a different kind of food each month. In the beginning I would pick a spot on the globe, research the culture and some traditional foods, then I would invite some close friends over for some tabletop travel. Somewhere along the way those geographically-themed dinner parties transitioned to include ingredient-themed dinners, again as a challenge. I have a good friend who says things such as “I don’t eat eggplant.” And to prove him wrong I created an entire menu around the eggplant. He gobbled it up and simply modified his declaration: “I only eat eggplant at Camilla’s house.” It’s a start. But to answer your question succinctly, whether it’s by location or ingredient, yes, themes give me focus and I have been creating my menus around them for years.
4. Your recipes use a lot of unusual and interesting ingredients...are you inspired first by what you find, or by a recipe?
I am all about adventure. I already mentioned my post-college escape to Italy. When I moved back to California I fell in love with similarly adventurous soul. A year later he proposed on a desert island off the coast of Venezuela during a SCUBA trip. A dozen years into this journey, we have two little boys and our travel adventures are slightly more tame and certainly less frequent. But, with unusual and interesting ingredients, it’s always an adventure around my dining room table. I would say that I am typically inspired, first, by an ingredient. Even my kids are trained in that regard; if we’ve never had it, heard of it, or seen it, we’ll buy it! One day at the farmers’ market, my little one gestured to a pile of prickly pear paddles and excited said, “Mommy, Mommy! We’ve never had those. Can you buy them?” So I forked over the cash and went home to research what to do with them. Together we made a tasty concoction inspired by Rick Bayless's Sopa de Hongos y Nopales..
5. Do you have a food hero or heroine?
We don’t have a TV, or rather we don’t have any television stations, so I don’t often see cooking shows or really know who the TV food personalities are. But I do love Lidia Bastianich from PBS’ Lidia’s Italy; she reminds me of the Italian woman who taught me to cook. And for the reality check that I’m really not that adventurous and for the vicarious globe-trotting, I like Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods.
6. What is your least favorite food trend?
I’m sort of out of touch when it comes to food trends. On second thought – I just did a search for ‘food trends 2011.’ It turns out, I’m actually very trendy…not because it’s a trend, but because I’ve been doing some of these things for my family for a long time. Sustainable. Locally-grown. Organic. Is that really considered trendy?!? Probably the thing I’ve seen pop up on blogs everywhere that I just don’t get: red velvet. Cakes, cupcakes, pancakes. Eating something that is made with an entire vial of food coloring should not be allowed. I tried a recipe for red velvet that included beet juice. I tried a recipe that used shredded beets. I even tried a recipe that claimed the combination of cocoa, buttermilk, and vinegar would result in a pretty red cake. No go. Maybe I just don’t like the red velvet trend because I can’t do it. That’s possible.
7. What is your number 1 kitchen essential?
Number one kitchen gadget?!? I’m admittedly low-tech. I have to remind myself how to use my can-opener every time I use it. Scout’s honor, that is true. But what could I not live without? My wooden spoons. Olive oil. A corkscrew.
8. Dream dinner party--guest list, menu, location and music.
I have this group of friends, the HOGS – the Happy Omnificent Gourmet Society. We are nine couples that take turns hosting dinner parties. We’ve been doing this for about eight years. In answer to that question, I’m thinking about a party I would throw for them – and some other foodies folks – if money were no object. Italy. It would definitely be in Italy. I would recreate one of three most memorable meals of my life. It’s not that the food was extravagant, it wasn’t. These were just the freshest, tastiest, most enjoyable wine-soaked dinners. Absolute bliss. Italian Dream Dinner One: On a farm on Lìpari, the largest of the Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the northern coast of Sicily. I had rented a room for a week and people that lived there would leave a basket of food outside of my room each morning. One night they invited me to eat with them. Fresh eggs simmered in a fresh tomato sauce with slices of the most perfect garlic I’ve ever seen and a sprinkling of fresh basil and sea salt. Freshly shelled fava beans. And fresh figs for dessert. Oh, and lots and lots of red wine. Italian Dream Dinner Two, embellished from an actual dinner that I had on my 24th birthday: On a white sand beach – Rena Bianca in Santa Teresa di Gallura - along Costa Smeralda on Sardinia. Fresh bread, pungent cheese, octopus salad, mussels steamed in wine, fresh wild strawberries, and lots of chilled, sparkling white Sardinian wine. Italian Dream Dinner Three: there’s a restaurant in Rome that we stumbled on for a joint birthday dinner. No sign. No menu. You just sit at the table and they bring you plate after plate and bottle after bottle. It was all delectable. As for music…I'd just want one really great mandolin player.
9. 3 things always in your shopping cart?
garlic, capers, whatever fruits and vegetables are in season
10. sweet or savory?
I used to answer this unequivocally: savory. I am a sucker for potato chips, but I try to stay away from them; they aren't good for my muffin-top. All my boys have sweet tooths, so I’ve ventured down the path of sugary treats more, especially during the holidays. My favorite sweet is a hearty gingerbread cake with topped with a dollop of lemon curd, or just a square of super dark chocolate from a bean to bar chocolatier. Whatever I pick as a treat, I am definitely embracing moderation more as 40 looms on the horizon.
You can find Camilla HERE...take some time and see what makes her one of my faves...
Now, it is time to see what you are working on-- (if you are new to the supper club, please go here first), then link up