Monday, November 30, 2009

Lightening up

There is not much time before the next round of eating holidays roll in. This week I am going to try to reverse some of the damage I have done to my waistline on the last feast. I am starting to get a little tired of Leftover soup (by poplular demand on the homefront I made a second batch from the very last of the last of the leftover goodies). I am ready for something else.

Black eyed peas are one of my favorite beans (peas?). I love the woody/grassy flavor. There is a depth to them and a lightness. They have a complex flavor for a bean, I guess I am trying to say.

Canned beans work fine in a pinch. I rinse them thoroughly before using.

Bean cakes are very versatile and easy to make and not too heavy in the belly. These come in at just over 100 calories a pop, more or less. Eat them with some salad and even a dollop of that leftover cranberry sauce.
For bean cakes mince the vegetables very small.

Today I used parsley, garlic, onions and celery. Cilantro, bell pepper, jalapeno, chives would work really well too. Grated carrot and zucchini should also be considered.
Mash the peas/beans up and add the chopped vegetables and seasonings.

Form into a patty, roll in breadcrumbs and pan fry in a scant amount of canola oil.

These bean cakes are REALLY good on their own or with a little of the leftover apricot-ginger chutney from Thanksgiving.

Black eyed pea cakes
1 cup of cooked black eyed peas, rinsed, drained and roughly mashed with a potato masher
3 Tbs. onion finely chopped
3 Tbs. celery finely chopped
2 Tbs. cilantro finely chopped
1 garlic clove minced
1 teas. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

1 Tbs. canola oil

Combine beans with the chopped vegetables and herbs. Taste to make sure there is enough s &p. You want them to have a bold flavor. Form into two patties and roll in bread crumbs. (If you use a 15oz can of beans you will have enough to form 3 patties)
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet and pan fry the bean cakes till golden, about 6 minutes per side.

serves 2

Those cakes are right up my alley! I make black bean burgers that I read about on an online website that I absolutely love, but I'm ready for something new! When I make the black bean burgers, I double the recipe which comes out to about 12 small patties. I wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and freeze them. Then, I can just take one or two out in the morning before work and thaw them out for dinner. Deb - do you think these would freeze well? Could I freeze them without the panko, and add it once they are thawed? Would love to hear your thoughts on this since freezing portioned-out dishes is my usual M.O.

As for wine - I am definitely feeling inspired! I would love to add jalapeno to this dish because I love a little "kick" to patties like these. I'm thinking a California Zinfandel would work well. I believe there is a context for which all wines are consumed. Different wines are appropriate for different occasions. I would not serve a $100 bottle of Burgundy at a backyard barbeque, no matter how delicious the wine, or savvy the guests. In that context, I would much rather drink a straight-forward, "fun", easy-drinking wine. These patties, to me, are fun and would be wonderful for an impromtu get-together with some friends. Easy to make in a pinch, this recipe is great for last minute plans. A simple, fruity crowd-pleasing Zinfandel would be great. The inexpensive Temptation Zinfandel from Alexander Valley Vineyards is a delicious, food-friendly wine. It has lots of berry flavors, as well as pepper and a bit of earth. A touch of Sangiovese is added to this wine which contributes to the lively fruit quality. The lush fruit will work well with the "zip" from the jalapeno that I would add. The "earthiness" of the wine will also pair well with the "woody/grassy" quality of the Black-Eyed peas that Deb describes. The apricot chutney condiment should also work well in conjunction with this wine choice! Alexander Valley Vineyards wines are readily available. The Temptation, in particular, retails for about $11.99. Can't wait to try this pairing!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

old becomes new

The best part about Thanksgiving?  Leftovers! Really good leftovers and LOTS of them! I have two soup recipes to share that are perfect for the day (or two) after Thanksgiving. The first soup I actually call Leftover soup. It is adapted from a recipe I found in Saveur magazine several years ago where you take ALL your leftovers and dump them in a pot with water and simmer for an hour. If you are eating turkey, add leftover turkey too. It may be hard to believe, but this soup really tastes good and I am not kidding when I say ALL the leftovers, including stuffing! I described this soup to my sister this morning and she said, um, yuck. Well, fine, don't try it. It is good and you will never know.
These are some of the things I put in my Leftover soup this year from L to R: butternut squash braised in apple cider, swiss chard gratin, leeks baked in mustard cream.
Adding some fresh ingredients like chopped parsley will help bring the soup to life.

This is what the soup looks like while it is cooking. See, not so strange. Hey, my kids ate it and LOVED it.  THAT is the true test!

The other soup has two inspirations, the first being a cup of leftover pumpkin puree that didn't make it into a pie. The other piece is some fiery chili peppers that my sister (yes the same skeptical one) brought home from her recent trip to Vietnam.
My sister brought me some spices from a market in Vietnam, packed in these sweet little baskets. I can't wait to try them all. The chili peppers are insanely good, really fiery and fresh with an indescribable fragrance.

The ensuing soup is a cream of pumpkin with ginger/garlic/chili paste. It is sweetened with leftover applesauce and in this case heavy cream (leftover from the creamed onions) where I might otherwise use coconut milk. This soup's distinctive flavor is a blend of creamy sweet and spicy and it is delicious. It is perfect in small portions as an appetizer because it is so rich.

Making a paste with a mortar and pestle is really fun. You get to POUND your food. Very satisfying.

So look around your kitchen and don't be afraid to put those Thanksgiving day leftovers to good use. These soups will bring yesterday's mashed potatoes to today's new heights.

Leftover Soup
1 onion chopped
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup of stuffing
1 cup of mashed potatoes
1 cup of baked squash
1 cup of gravy (optional for vegetarians)
1 cup of cooked turkey meat (optional for vegetarians)
1 cup of any cooked vegetable
6 cups of water or stock
1/2 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Saute chopped onion in olive oil in a large soup pot. When onion is softened and golden add all the remaining ingredients and simmer for one hour. Taste to adjust seasoning. Serve over cooked macaroni or noodles if you like!

Pumpkin Ginger Soup
1 inch of peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves
2 dried chili peppers
1 Tbs canola oil
1 cup of pumpkin puree
1/2 cup applesauce
4 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream or coconut milk
With a mortar and pestle pound ginger, chili and garlic into a paste (or use a blender, adding a Tbs of water to make the paste). Heat oil in soup pot and saute ginger paste for five minutes till it starts to turn golden. Add the rest of the ingredients except the cream and simmer for 15 minutes till the flavors are blended. Taste to see if the flavors are balanced. Add salt or a teaspoon of sugar to get the right blend. Put the soup in a food processor or food mill to puree. Put pureed soup back into the pot and add the heavy cream or coconut milk and bring soup up to a simmer. Serve hot!

Well, the first one does sound "different", but I could definitely see why it would be delicious. On Thanksgiving, I like to make a "mish-mosh" of all the different flavors on my plate, letting every dish blend into the other. I scoop up a little of everything in each bite. So, why wouldn't this soup taste good? That's exactly what it is. And, it makes my job of wine pairing very easy! I would enjoy the same wines I would have with my Thanksgiving feast! Deb - there was no cranberry sauce in your soup. What are your thoughts on adding it? Just curious! So, getting back to the wines - I would choose a buttery, rich Chardonnay and/or a fruit forward, soft and elegant Pinot Noir.

The pumpkin ginger soup sounds outrageous! I definitely will give that a try. To pair a wine with anything, again, you must look to the seasonings, spices, herbs, and sauces. Pair the wine with those elements. The ginger, chile and coconut milk ingredients are reminscent of Thai cuisine. Certain wines have an afinity with Asian flavors. Look to a Gewurtztraminer, with wonderful flavors and aromas of lychee fruit and spice. I think this combination would be absolutely fabulous! Hugel makes outstanding Gewurtztraminer as does Schaetzel. As I often mention, always ask your local wine shop for recommendations.  But my advice would be to look to Alsace, France for a spectacular example of this incredibly aromatic, wonderful varietal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'll Drink To That

Every holiday and family get-together, I am assigned the task of creating the wine list. It is not a job I take lightly, for I love being afforded this honor! While I would not label my relatives "aficionados", they certainly enjoy wine. They are quite savvy when it comes to the usual varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc. But I take the holidays as opportunities to introduce them to something they would not have chosen on their own.

But Thanksgiving is different. Most often, I do not choose something aside from the usual varietals. This is simply because I know what works best with the traditional Thanksgiving fare. In response to Deb's last post, I received a question regarding Beajolais Nouveau, so I thought I would address this first. Like Champagne is to New Year's; Beaujolais Nouveau is to Thanksgiving. The annual release of this holiday staple occurs on the third Thursday in November, every year. The vintage typically does not matter - the release of this wine is preceded by enormous marketing campaigns. However, the 2009 vintage is different - it produced better-than-average Beaujolais, and the Beaujolais Nouveau is just a preview of the great quality of this vintage in France. I tasted it last week upon its arrival - and it is indeed very nice. Beaujolais is fresh, and bright, but not always very complex. It is a simple, easy-drinking wine which is always fun to include at Thanksgiving. To read more about this vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau, check out the article in The Wine Spectator.

This year, I will bring my favorite choices of Prosecco or other sparklers for starters; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the meal. My usual Prosecco is the La Marca from the Veneto region in Italy. Prosecco is perfect for sipping alongside cheese and crackers, dips and crudite. For Chardonnay, I will be bringing the Morgan Santa Lucia Highland Chard from California. It is delicious, rich and intense with a wonderful, buttery mouthfeel. The subtle oak flavors are not too overpowering for traditional Thanksgiving dishes.

The Stephen Ross Central Coast Pinot Noir will be my choice of red for this year's feast. It combines wonderful red fruit flavors, spice, and earth. The palate is rich and creamy with soft tannins. This delightful Pinot Noir is a huge crowd-pleaser to boot!

For Thanksgiving, I like to keep it simple. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are my sure-fire "go-to" wines for this festive get-together where wine typically takes a back seat to food. At least at my house. It's usually all about the food.

To everyone and their families, have a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

getting ready

The countdown has begun for what many consider to be the biggest cooking holiday of the year. Everyone is thinking about food right now, from what to cook to what to eat (and what not to eat), how to organize everything and to how to afford it all.  Here are a few finds I would love to share with you to keep your holiday smooth and happy.

Michael Natkin has done it again. I came across his recipe for Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Candied Pepitas and Cider Vinegar and I think it is perfect for the holiday. I featured Michael's recipe for leek fritters a while back. He is a regular contributer to the web site Serious Eats and he has his own blog Herbivoracious. His Brussels sprouts recipe looks easy and delish and I think it is worth a try.

Katie at Party in my Pantry offers up a great cranberry sauce (she is calling her recipe chutney) that is also simple and delicious. Cranberry sauce is really so easy to make. I urge you, if you have any doubts, to try making it yourself rather than from a can. You will NEVER go back, I promise you.

I am stocking up on all sorts of ingredients right now:

Patel Brothers supermarket in Jackson Heights, Queens sells nuts by the pound at VERY reasonable prices. Can you see the price tag on these pecans? $5.99 per pound!! My local supermarket is selling them for $9. I will be making pecan pies with them. I made the dough today, rolled it out and put it in a pie tin and stuck it in the freezer till I am ready to bake.
Butternut squash will store in a cool dry place for weeks. I am going to braise them with apple cider . Don't get discouraged with the peeling. Cut the squash into smaller chunks before you peel,  they will be easier to handle that way.

Speaking of peeling. My family insists on mass quantities of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. Normally I would leave the skin on the potato for a rough mash with herbs, but that would be rejected by the familial purists on this occasion. SO, I peel and quarter the potatoes the day before and store them covered in water in the fridge overnight. Drain and refresh with clean water on the day of and cook as you would. I put my cooked potatoes through a hand cranked food mill for a really nice texture.

Small pearl onions baked in cream look especially pretty in three colors. Don't be afraid to mix things up a bit. I got these as a trio at B.J.s. I use the same mustard cream sauce for them as I use on my baked leeks.
Don't forget to combine varieties of apples when making a pie or apple sauce for a more complex apple flavor. These are macs and granny smith, a classic combo.

For a really pretty garnish I love to use pomegranate seeds. These were 2 for $5, not exactly a bargain, but a nice treat. Put the seeds in salads, or over rice pilaf, squash gratin, mixed with green vegetables or even piled up on the turkey platter. They are as colorful as gems and give a wonderful tart burst of juice.
These pistachio nuts were a reasonable buy at both B.J.s and my local supermarket at $10 for a two pound bag. I use them in my green bean dish as follows:

Green Beans with Pistachio Nuts
Blanch one pound of trimmed green beans in boiling salted water for 5 minutes or until the beans are tender. Drain beans and wrap in a damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight.

Before serving remove beans from fridge and allow to come to room temp (or use beans right after blanching), heat olive oil in a pan and saute a finely minced shallot. Cook about 10 minutes till shallot is soft and golden and a little crispy, then add 1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts and the beans to the pan and toss to coat until beans are warmed through and the nuts are lightly toasted.
serves 6-8 as a side dish

Happy happy happy Thanksgiving !!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

lucky me

Being a good cook has its drawbacks. The best meals to be had are generally the ones cooked at home. Which means a night out on the town at a swanky restaurant becomes a rare treat. Especially when my husband, who does not cook except tuna salad and is not an adventurous eater to boot, questions the need to go out at all when, heck, we can have a perfectly delicious dinner at home.

Sometimes its nice to get out of the kitchen and let someone else do the cooking (and cleaning and shopping and menu planning). With this aim in mind I called upon my dear friend Ilene to join me as we treated ourselves to "a nice dinner out." Ilene suggested Locanda Verde, a restaurant located in Tribeca that she had read rave reviews about. Sounded good to me!

The evening started out a bit rocky. The restaurant would not let us expand our 6pm on-a-Tuesday night reservation that was made a month in advance, to include ONE extra person (our friend Olga who wanted to join the fun) even when Ilene called every other day for two weeks prior to see if they would accommodate us. Ok, fine, whatever.
When I arrived at the appointed time the place was PACKED and NOISY!  The restaurant is gorgeous, lots of dark wood and sparkly lighting, but the ceilings are very high and the acoustics are cavernous, which is to say, not conducive to easy conversation.  Alas.
AND there was a single table sitting empty next to us for at least half our meal!! (the maitre d' explained they save tables for walk-ins, so clearly Olga should have walked in).
That all being said, the service was EXCELLENT. Truly excellent. Our server was an attentive mind-reader who always knew exactly when to appear at our table AND laughed at our jokes (yes, we told jokes).
Taken from Ilene's cell phone: Blue Crab Crostino, AMAZING!

Ok let's get to the food. GOOD!!! Really great. As good as Mama makes, with top notch ingredients and no TOP CHEF weirdo flourishes. The cuisine is Northern Italian. Sophisticated, simple, and PERFECT. I can't complain about anything and I really like to complain. Constructive criticism I call it. So, I have none for Locanda Verde's food. They got it all right. The menu offered lots of tempting small plates, pastas and entrees.

The wine was really good too and here is the point I have been trying to make. We shared an ANTIPASTI called Burrata with peperonata, escarole and fried Rosemary ($14). I have never tried burrata before and I was very curious about this trendy soft cream-filled mozzarella cheese. Sublime!! So light and creamy and fresh tasting. The peperonata had a nice vinegary bite to it. I was drinking a white wine I had never tried before either, a Ronchi di Cialla Ribolla Gialla 2008 that our server recommended to me when I told her I liked a well rounded white wine. It was DELICIOUS - kind of an apricot-orange flavor with a scent of tulips (?). All I know is that it was great alone and tasted great with the cheese. Ilene was drinking a glass of Grifalco Aglianico del Vulture, a really assertive, sophisticated red with lots of mineral flavor. She was quite happy!

Rosemary plants are easy to grow in small pots and can last outside during the winter
We ate a whole lot of other things including a dessert that a gentleman sitting at a table next to us bought for us (for details on that you have to read a DIFFERENT kind of blog! I told you, we told jokes). The dessert was OUTRAGEOUS, a maple pudding that was so light and airy and full of flavor we could have eaten an entire gallon of it. They paired it with a super tart and beautiful red cranberry sorbet. It was divine and I generally don't order desserts.

SO, back to the point here, I was going to try to come up with a recipe using my new friend burrata, but hey, where the heck am I going to get it? I looked on-line at Fairways, Dean and Deluca, Zabars and Citarella and none of these stores feature it on their web sites. Which is not to say they don't carry it, but I guess it is not one of the more frequent on-line purchase requests. So I will keep my eye out for it when I make my routine rounds to every supermarket in NYC and keep you posted.
I don't suppose I will find burrata in this Indian market in Jackson Heights

Amanda, what do you think of our wine pairings with the amazing burrata?

Your night sounds amazing and Locanda Verde definitely sounds like a place my husband and I would enjoy. Hey - maybe we can double date there sometime! I have to be honest and say that initially I was a little put off by the fact they would not expand your reservation to include one more. Having been in the NYC restaurant business for 12 years, my experience was to always try to bend over backwards for the customer. I totally understand the concept of leaving room open for walk-ins - but for 1 more? My school of thought would have had me accepting the extra reservation had I been the receptionist/manager/hostess or whoever answered the phone.

That being said - everything else sounds amazing. I'm glad the excellent service and the food made up for it. I have to admit - I am not familiar with the white wine you enjoyed. So, I did a little research. The grape, Ribolla, is a white Italian wine grape grown mostly in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy. Your description sounds wonderful. I learned that this varietal typically produces light wines with floral notes. Based on your description, it may have had some oak aging, which would attribute some roundness and structure to the wine. Soft-cream filled mozzarella would definitely require a wine with a little more body, if it is going to be a white. A rich, round, buttery Chardonnay would also work wonders.  But again, as is always my caveat when it comes to Chards - watch out for those with too much oak!

Though I absolutely love Aglianico del Vulturo, I do think it is a bit overpowering for this dish. BUT - more and more I learn that the most important thing in food and wine pairing is that the match work for the indulger. If your friend liked the pairing, then it was perfect. Personally, if I were going to pair a red with a young, fresh, creamy mozzarella, I would pick one that was lighter in style. A Sangiovese from Tuscany would work, or even a Barbera. Today, there are many California wineries that are producing fruity, delicious Barberas. One of my favorites is from Steve Clifton, of Brewer-Clifton fame. He and his wife, Chrystal, began their own line called Palmina, which focuses on Italian varietals grown in California. They produce a delightful Barbera. It is fresh, bright, and full of fruit - and is incredibly food-friendly! Now that I think about it - this is the wine would make an exceptional match for the Burrata!

Deb, please keep us posted as you try to track down this interesting cheese!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanks Mate!

A change in weather brings a change in ingredients. Summer vegetables may be disappearing from the farmer's markets but it is still possible to make a delicious salad from what is available. My trip to Union Square Green Market this weekend became a hunt for salad ingredients. I wanted something that would really express the season. Leafy greens love cool weather and my search was rewarded by a selection of gorgeous arugula varieties. The oak shaped leaves of a particular bunch won my heart and got dumped into my shopping bag. They were followed quickly by a really picturesque bundle of red and white radishes the size of my pinkie.

To round out the FALLness of this salad I decided to add some roasted sweet potatoes. Not long ago I cooked a buffet lunch for a wedding shower. The bride-to-be was marrying her Australian sweetheart and she wanted the menu to reflect his heritage. She asked me if I could prepare a spinach salad with roasted pumpkin, a recipe that for her typified Australian cooking. It sounded delicious to me and in fact the finished dish was very popular with the party guests. More recently, my friend Ruth who grew up in Australia, brought a big green salad studded with sweet potato cubes to a pot luck book group meeting we were attending. So there seems to be something to this Australian inclination.

Lemon vinaigrette with lots of garlic and ground black pepper seemed like a good way to dress this robust salad. I loved the contrast of textures and colors to the final dish. I added some peppitas (pumpkin seeds) as a crunchy garnish. The inclusion of the sweet potatoes turned this simple salad into a filling and satisfying meal. Any Australian wines come to mind Amanda?

Arugula Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes 

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 bunch arugula, washed (you could substitute spinach leaves)
1/2 cup sliced radishes
1/4 cup toasted peppitas

Lemon Vinaigrette
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic finely minced
1/2 teas. dry mustard
1  1/2 teas. salt
1 Tbs. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup good quality extra- virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 F
Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil and soy sauce and lay on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Set potatoes aside to cool to room temperature. Assemble the rest of the salad ingredients in a large bowl and add the cooled sweet potatoes.

Combine the lemon juice, garlic, mustard, s & p and whisk together to combine. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify.

Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss well to coat all the arugula leaves.

Serves 2

Wow - this salad looks beautiful! I would definitely look to drink something with citrus notes and good acidity. These characteristics will work wonderfully with the lemon vinaigrette. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc would do the trick. But, in keeping with the Australian theme, I might look to a Verdelho to complement this gorgeous salad. The earliest plantings of Verdelho can be traced back to Portugal in the 15th century. The varietal then first appears in Australia around 1820.

The grapes were typically used to make medium-sweet wines. However, modern winemaking techniques eventually helped unleash some other surprising characteristics of Verdelho. This varietal can also produce crisp, aromatic, fresh wines with  herbaceous, citrus notes.

Mollydooker is a terrific producer in Australia. Their wines are always highly rated by the most influential wine critics. (The price tags of these wines typically reflect this point, as they are not cheap). Their wines are given quirky names, like The Boxer Shiraz, Two Left Feet, The Maitre d Cabernet, The Scooter Merlot, Blue-Eyed Boy get the picture. The Verdelho is called "The Violinist". It retails for about $25. This white has rich, round fruit with mouth-watering citrus and pineapple flavors. It's creamy and ripe, with floral aromas too.

Deb - I think this salad will pair perfectly with this wine. Again, if you can't find Mollydooker's Verdelho, ask your local wine retailer to recommend one from a different producer!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Call Me Crazy

The craving came on strong. I wanted olives and I wanted them bad. Nothing compares to that briny, bitter, sour burst of rich oil-soaked heaven. At least that was the way I was feeling last night. I had just come home from seeing the movie Precious (yes, good, good, go) and needed to fix a quick dinner from the contents of the fridge (a familiar theme, but isn't this always the way?). I knew I would find some olives in there, I buy them in large quantities for the parties I cater. Fairways has my favorite olive bar these days with their huge selection. I found the end of a container way in the back shelf. Relief!
I mixed black and green olives to build up a really strong olive flavor

When I think olives I immedialty think pasta. I decided to make a really garlicky-olivey oil base to dress the spaghetti. The other find from the fridge was a handful of tiny sweet bell peppers that I have been seeing in the markets lately. I think one of them was a red jalapeno pepper which suited me perfectly.
These sweet red and yellow peppers are really cute. I stuff them with cheese and bake as an appetizer. The one jalapeno in the back got mixed in by my happy mistake.

I chopped the peppers up small, along with an onion and plenty of garlic and started to slow cook it all in the olive oil. Ok vegans, turn your heads for a minute, I then added a tin of anchovies (yeah!) and the olives, roughly chopped, and let it all cook down while I cooked the pasta.

I found the jar of capers I pulled out of the fridge after I had finished cooking. I would have put them in to intensify the sour briny flavor.

The finish was a big splash of white wine and a ladleful of pasta water to loosen everything up. I even ran outside to my backyard in the rain, in the dark, to pick a few straggling basil leaves. Mix the drained pasta with the olive sauce to coat completely. Top with grated cheese. So so so good!

Spaghetti with Olives and Garlic

1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper or 6-8 small bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 cup olives, chopped
2 Tbs. capers chopped
1 small tin of anchovies (optional), chopped
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbs. fresh basil, chopped or torn
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 lb. spaghetti, cooked al dente

Heat olive oil, add garlic, onions and peppers and cook on a medium low heat so they simmer, for about 10 minutes until vegetables begin to soften and turn golden. Add the olives, capers and anchovies if you are using them, and continue to cook, allowing all the ingredients to soften and mush up a bit, another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling water for 6-8 minutes. Before draining the pasta scoop out a ladleful of the cooking water and add to the olive mixture. Add the white wine and simmer another minute or two. Add the chopped basil and stir in the drained pasta. Toss in the pan to coat the spaghetti with the sauce. Top with grated cheese and serve.

serves two

This actually happens to be one of my favorite pastas to make, and one which I make frequently. I always welcome the addition of the anchovies! I'm in love with the whole anchovy, caper, olive combination. I always like to add something spicy to the mix, as you did in this situation. I love fresh spicy peppers, but if I don't have any on hand, I just add some crushed red pepper. The only other thing I do differently is I add cheese that is shredded or shaved because I like the gooeyness it provides! I've never added mixed olives - can't wait to incorporate that tip! And the chopped onion! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

I am also thinking of the perfect wine. Look for a Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which is named for and produced almost exclusively from the Tuscan city of San Gimignano in the province of Siena in Italy. Right now, we are selling a lot of Cesani Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which for $9.99 is a great bottle of wine. Typically, Vernaccia produces wines which are elegant, and full of white fruit flavors. Delicate aromas of citrus and almond abound, with the wine offering crisp, fresh flavors. The wine can be powerful and full-bodied with a wonderful richness as well. I think the round fruit flavors are a great match for this pasta dish. The exotic fruitiness will be a great counter-balance to the saltiness of the dish. As my stomach growls, I sit here pondering when I will have the next opportunity to try out this sure-fire combination!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A bloggers life

One of the many pleasures of writing this blog is the surprising emergence of so many new friends and the reconnecting with so many old friends. It is virtual community building and it's pretty great! Today Amanda is occupied with family matters and could not contribute a wine suggestion. I thought I would take the day off too, from recipes, and give a shout-out to some of my fellow bloggers out there, friends both old and new who are posting their hearts out and are well worth a visit.
Life without Amanda

First up is my friend Katie and her blog post today is on Stuffed Acorn Squash. She uses quinoa as the stuffing and it reminded me a bit of my recipe for Quinoa Stuffed Patty Pan Squash, but Katie's recipe is a little more Southern Italian with it's olives and artichoke hearts. Katie and I went to culinary school together and her blog A Party in my Pantry is a fun and informative passionate foodie's take on the world from her hipster pad in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Katie loves all things Michael Pollan and among her many culinary skills she is a mean raw foods chef.
When we are not foraging our way through Jackson Heights, Queens looking for unusual ingredients Katie and I try to get out of town. This was our visit to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Bedford, NY

A new friend who is only known to me as tofugirl, emerged after reading our Roxbury Farm post and recognizing it as her own CSA. Tofugirl's blog Open Mouth Insert Cookie is witty and pretty, with lots of great food photos. She focuses on baked goods and has a lot of inspiring recipes.
As you can see I could use some help with baking. I force every family member to accept a homemade birthday cake from me every year. They are gracious.

I made Mark Bittman's Pear Upside Down cake from the recipe in the NY Times today. It came out so pretty. It is quite sweet and tastes like a coffee cake. I would add lemon zest to the pears next time for a little counterbalance to the sweet. And maybe some cardamom or nutmeg in the batter.

Another blog that I am really enjoying is Tales of Expansion. The author Sarah's blog came to my attention by a mutual friend who thought our blogs should "meet". Sarah's blog is really personal and funny, loaded with pictures depicting her quest to chronicle every bit of food that comes across her plate and allowing none of it to go to waste. It is quirky, charming and very entertaining.
The mutual friend leading me on a hike in New Paltz, NY

For a more sober and yet very inspiring take on the food world I always refer to Pam and her Hook Mountain Growers site. The photos are gorgeous and Pam, a physician and homesteader, offers a super smart and articulate analysis of the state of agriculture today. She keeps us all real.
Pam made me a delicious lunch fresh from her garden when I visited her this summer. Chard Tacos with tomatillo salsa!

Off the topic of food is my friend Pat who writes the snarky and often hilarious blog i-cant-believe-im-not-bitter. Pat's sophisticated world view collides with the inanities of life and results is her humorous take on how to make sense of it all.

Several friends have blogs in the works and I can't wait for their debuts, so stay tuned.

AND- I can't get away with out mentioning my husband's blog Left at the Gate. Alan started his blog five years ago as an outlet for his unrequited love of thoroughbred horse racing. His blog has become one of the most respected and widely read blogs in that industry. He is my pride and inspiration. I have even forgiven him for writing about me on his blog as a character known as "the head chef." He thinks he is pretty funny.

To all of our friends, new and old, to all of our readers, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your continued interest, encouragement and support. We are enjoying writing this blog so much and we appreciate that you took the time to visit us!

Thank you,
Deborah and Amanda

Come again for a new recipe on Friday

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dinner Simplicity

Halloween is over and still the weather remains magnificent!
The sky was so clear this weekend it was impossible not to stay outdoors. We actually grilled lunch in our backyard on Saturday. After a long hike on Sunday dinner plans needed to be simple. Stir fry seemed to be the way to go. This is the perfect way to clear out all the odds and ends in the fridge and make everything palatable again.

I like to cut carrots into what I call a ROUGH julienne. Not so fussy as a classic julienne, but still with slim angular shapes. I decided to combine the carrots with a few leaves of swiss chard I had on hand.
Hot oil in the wok gets seasoned with chopped garlic and ginger (about a Tbs of each), then the carrots and roughly chopped chard gets a quick cook. I finished the dish with a drizzle of soy sauce, rice vinegar and a tablespoon of oyster sauce.
The chard really cooked down and the carrots kept their shape and firmness. This dish really tasted good and was very simple to prepare.

A large batch of fried rice is always popular with my WHOLE family. Amazing. I chopped up about a cup each of cabbage and onions. I had a half of a cooked sweet potato left over that got cubed up to be included in the mix.

Celery chopped on an angle helps it to stir fry quickly and still keep the crunchy texture.

I like to add something green to the fried rice. I used edamame rummaged from the freezer. Peas and green beans work well too.

Again, I season the oil with garlic and ginger, then add all the vegetables to soften up and get a little golden.

When the vegetables are about done I added cooked rice. After tossing the rice around for awhile I created a well in the center of the wok and poured in 3 beaten eggs which I quickly scrambled and then stirred to combine with the rice. To finish I added 2 Tbs. tomato paste, a splash of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.

We ate really well and I managed to get a myriad of vegetables into everyone's belly with a minimum of fuss to boot. Is there a wine that would complement this meal Amanda? Alan had a glass of merlot, but we both agreed it was not a particularly inspired pairing.

I would have to agree on the Merlot. It would not necessarily be my first choice. If red is the preferred wine for these dishes, I would recommend something a little lighter with plenty of fruit, like a Barbera from Italy. It is the most cultivated vine in the region of Piedmont. I would definitely go with a younger Barbera, which  typically has fresh and bright fruit. Due to the low level of tannins, the wine is soft, and elegant. Barbera is a very versatile, food friendly varietal and often results in easy-drinking reds. You can definitely find Barberas in a variety of price ranges, from $10-$30. There are plenty of well-made wines out there for under $15 though. Some of my favorite producers for this wonderfully food-friendly wine are Vietti and Giacomo Conterno.

So, Barbera would be my first choice for red. That being said, my personal preference would actually be Rose. Something again with an abundance of fruit. In my opinion, the ripe fruit flavor of the wines would create a nice harmony and balance with the saltiness of the soy sauce. One of my favorite Roses is the Crios Rose of Malbec from Susana Balbo. It is full, rich and loaded with fruit and spice. I think this would be the ideal match for these recipes.  Susana Balbo is one of my favorite producers from Argentina. She creates more expensive wines under her own name. The Crios wines make up her line of more affordable wines, though the less expensive pricetag is no reflection of quality. Her Crios wines typically sell in the $15 price range. Though the Rose of Malbec can be found for around $10. If you can find her wines locally, I highly recommend them. They are truly special!