Monday, March 29, 2010

back to reality

One of the bonus effects of going away is coming home again with eyes wide open. My week at the beach in beautiful Antigua cleansed my brain and soul. The minute I walked back into my home I saw dust, disorganization and STUFF. At least that is how it struck me. My life here is complicated and weighted down with so many things. Travel lightens your load and allows you to exist for a brief time anyway, with the bare essentials.
The island of Antigua charmed us again with it's simplicity and pride of place.  The first thing that hits you is color- my winter starved eyes drank it all in- the houses, the flowers, the sea.

Some of the beautifully colored buildings of Antigua.

The resort we favor, Hawksbill is streatched out over nearly a mile of pristine and remote beachfront property that has old-school charm and a down-at-the-heels rustic appeal that is impossible to create- it's authentic and weather beaten and suits us to a T.

Our little beachfront cottage home away from home.
While we were there we became aware of a couple of guests with a handful of small children awaiting the momentous return of their husbands who had spent 76 days at sea rowing across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua harbor, raising money for charity!  The two British rowers arrived not with bulging arm muscles as we expected, but rail thin and weather beaten as mountain climbers spending a month on K2. The reunion unfolded over the course of the week as the rowers with their children in tow slowly lost their dazed expressions and regained their land legs like returning astronauts.
We were vicariously exhuasted and exhilerated by a job well done without having to leave our lounge chairs!

And then the cooking class. I dragged myself from a reclining position to head up the hills to Nicole's Table where chef and culinary educator Nicole Arthurton conducts classes from her beautiful home featuring a huge veranda with sweeping views of the island. Nicole's style is breezy and casual.
Everyone gets busy prepping the meal.

Nicole puts the finishing touches on our feast.

The menu was classic Caribbean including West Indian pumpkin soup, roasted vegetables with plantains and some of the freshest snapper I have ever encountered that we stuffed and baked.

The big tip of the day from Nicole was to add a scotch bonnet pepper (one of the hottest peppers around) to the soup pot for flavor without the heat. The pepper is fished out at the end of the cooking and can be served on the side for those who like things fiery. Genius! I asked Nicole if any other chili pepper could be substituted and got a resounding NO! the flavor can't be replicated. Well ok, I'm convinced.
We ended the meal with a beautifully moist and dense Key Lime Rum cake made from tiny, juicy local limes. There was enough for me to bring back a slice to my husband who was still glued to his beach chair as if he had just rowed across the Atlantic (sorry hon, I know you work really hard, kiss).

Here is Nicole's recipe for West Indian Pumpkin Soup. Don't forget the scotch bonnet peppers, but if you can't find them, try the soup anyway, it is a winner. Amanda, we had some very nice, light and fruity Argentine wine with the meal, a Trivento Tribu Sauvignon Blanc 2009. But maybe you have something else in mind?

West Indian Pumpkin Soup
-from Nicole's Table
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb. pumpkin, peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
1 whole scotch bonnet pepper

s & p to taste
a dash of ground nutmeg for garnish
1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

In a large sauce pan heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onions and celery and cook till translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook another two minutes. Add the carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin and some salt and saute the vegetables for about 10 minutes till they start to soften. Add the stock or water and the scotch bonnet pepper (be careful to leave it whole). Bring the soup to a boil and then lower heat and cover to simmer for 15-20 minutes. The vegetables should be fork tender. Remove the scotch bonnet pepper and puree the soup with and immersion blender or in batches in a food prossesor. Adjust the seasoning of the blended soup and add the nutmeg and cream if you are using it.
Heat through to barely a simmer before serving.

It sounds like you had a wonderful time, Deb! The pictures are beautiful and really tell the story of beautiful scenery and culture - and a great vacation! And the class in which you participated seems like it was educational and fun at the same time. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

Deb, are scotch bonnet peppers difficult to come by? Where would you suggest looking - farmers' markets? Whole Foods? Fairway? Seems like the soup would be delicious without them too, as you mentioned. But, at the same time, I would think they would lend something unique and distinct to the soup. I would definitely want to try to track them down!

The recipe seems nice and straightforward. The Trivento wine you described is a great choice for this soup. I would choose something from Argentina as well. I've written before about wines from Argentine producer Susana Balbo. I am a huge fan of hers, and often suggest wines from her terrific line-up. She produces wines under the "Balbo" label which tend to be fairly pricey (albeit delicious!). Her "Crios" line (which means 'offspring') are less expensive and incredibly wonderful. The Crios label consists of a Malbec, Rose of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes. All are outstanding, and affordable at approximately $11.99 per bottle. The wines achieve high ratings from wine critics year after year.

I would pair either the Torrontes or Rose of Malbec with the West Indian Pumpkin Soup. Torrontes has beautiful aromatics, combined with the exquisite peach flavors of a Viognier, and the crisp acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc. There is plenty of fruit, so if you do find that scotch bonnet pepper, and would like to enjoy it with the soup after it is removed, the heat will be quelled by the wine.

The Rose of Malbec would also be a wonderful complement to the soup. The strawberry and spice flavors of the wine would make a scrumptious match to this West Indian treat!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Well, Deb's away on vacation, and I'm having blog withdrawal. I miss our correspondence, and Deb's updates on what she will be focusing on for the next post. Her absence has caused to me reflect on many things - things about which I've become aware over the many months that have passed since the birth of our blog.

I have always loved food, and the creativity involved in the myriad of recipes brought forth in my countless cookbooks and magazines. I have spent hours upon hours in my kitchen, chopping, dicing, stewing, braising, and really preparing dishes that take all day, and a laundry list of ingredients to prepare.

Deb's posts, her recipes, and her style of cooking and preparation have really changed the way I eat, and have inspired in me a completely new appreciation for food - particularly in produce. In the past, I preferred cooking labor intensive meals. I gained a certain satisfaction in that. In contrast to that, Deb has taught me the beauty in simplicity. Under her careful guidance, she allows the ingredients to speak for themselves, gently coaxing their greatest attributes out of each one. I have gained a completely new appreciation for cooking as a result. I am endlessly so impressed with each recipe she shares with us - and what she can do with just a few ingredients - many which I typically already have on hand.

Case and point - last night I had a wonderful dinner at the HoHoKus Inn in New Jersey. I had Arctic Char with confit, horseradish foam, Chiogga beets and arugula jus. Don't get me wrong - it was delicious. This whole molecular gastronomy thing is interesting with all of the foams and such. When I was in Spain last summer, I certainly experienced my share of "foams". But again, Deb's style has made me appreciate the pleasure in leaving the ingredients alone, and allowing them to shine through their freshness - celebrating them for what they are.

So - thanks, Deb, for showing me how to really appreciate food.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

a change of scene

Body baring weather is quickly upon us. My season changing ritual is to head to a day spa for some desperately needed rejuvenation. It seems that Koran spas specialize in body scrubs and that is what I am looking for when shedding the winter doldrums. My current favorite is Aura Wellness Spa on 33rd Street in Manhattan. The polished interior makes me feel pampered, it has never been crowded any time I go, AND they have these amazing igloo shaped saunas and steam rooms with crystal incrusted interiors. You have to see it to believe it. The decor says relax and indulge but once you get behind the treatment-room doors it is all business. The body scrubs are SERIOUS and I happily endured the aggressive handling in order to kiss my winter skin behind.

Skipping home post-scrub all smooth and silky I passed by countless Korean restaurants with very tempting menus and I had kimchee on my mind. But pressed for time I headed straight home to stir up some miso soup for myself.
Thinly sliced vegetables cook quickly in Miso soup and still retain a little crunch.

Miso is so versatile and is really easy to use. There are many traditional recipes for miso soup, but I allow myself to improvise for a quick light meal. This version started with some stock (vegetable or chicken), the miso, a handful of thinly sliced vegetables, a sheet of nori cut into thin strips and some rice noodles. Within 10 minutes I had a delicious and very satisfying soup. 

My new skin and I are going on a week long vacation with my husband to the Caribbean Island of Antigua. I have arranged to take a cooking class while I am there with cooking instructor Nicole Arthurton who runs the cooking school out of her beautiful home. I am SO EXCITED and can't wait to share with you what I learn from Nicole when I get back.

Simple Miso Soup
4 cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1 cup of thinly sliced Vegetables (scallions, zucchini, celery, carrot, cabbage, green bean, snow pea, etc.)
1 sheet of Nori cut into thin ribbons (I fold the sheet of nori up and use a scissor to cut it)
4 oz Rice Noodles soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
4 Tbs. Miso
1 Tbs. Soy Sauce
1 Tbs. Sesame Oil

Heat the stock in a sauce pan, when it comes to a simmer add the vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Ladle from the pot about half a cup of the stock and put it into a small bowl. Mix the miso into the bowl to thin it out. Pour the miso mixture back into the soup pot. Add the noodles, soy sauce and sesame oil and simmer for one more minute. ENJOY!

Rice noodles come in lots of shapes and sizes. I have seen different instructions for cooking on various packages from adding cold water, to boiling water, to luke warm water. It seems to work fine if you soak the noodles in warm water for 5-8 minutes till noodles are tender and then use them in a soup or stir fry. 

I hope you are enjoying a relaxing, wonderful vacation, Deb! Sounds terrific. I cannot wait to hear about it - especially the cooking class!

I happened to be in Whole Foods this afternoon, and picked up the ingredients for this soup. I am a huge fan of Miso Soup and it is always a must when I go out for Japanese. This was my first attempt at the soup, and I was happy to see how incredibly easy and quick it was. But it didn't taste anything remotely akin to restaurant miso. It was good - just very different. Deb - isn't miso, well...miso? What could account for such a completely dissimilar flavor? Would it have to do with the brand of miso? Are there different qualities or blends?

I followed Deb's basic recipe, but added a twist here and there. I did not use noodles. And, instead of the nori seawood, I used Akame. It is actually more noodle-like, and I used quite a bit of it, along with onions, carrots and cabbage. I intentionally filled it up with veggies and seaweed to make it a little more substantial and hearty - so I could have it for lunch all week and it would satisfy me. (My appetite is on the bigger side). The soup came out light and delicious - and filling.

But - as for the wine - there really is no wine that I would pair with this. There is honestly not one that I could think of that I would want to sip alongside Miso Soup. However, whenever I dine on Japanese food, I love to sip Sake. Not the inexpensive, warm, not-so-great quality Sake. I love the higher-end, sublime Sakes that have a higher percent of the rice grain polished away (which makes a higher quality Sake). I find the varied flavors and styles of Sake so incredibly delicious, and interesting; and I would not hesitate to make it my drink of choice when it comes to Miso Soup.

While Sake is referred to as a "rice wine", it is actually brewed more in the style of beer, then fermented like wine. Futsu-shu is ordinary Sake, with the same status as table wine. Tokubetsu is special or premium Sake - the kind I enjoy. These Sakes are distinguished by the degree to which the rice is polished.

Recently, I participated in a sushi and Sake tasting at which I tasted a wonderful line-up of premium Sakes. One of my favorites was Ama No To Heaven's Door Tokubetsu Junmai. (at least 30% of the rice grain is polished away). With a slightly earthy, raisiny flavor and subtle elegance, this Sake would work perfectly next to Miso Soup. I love the idea of this combination! The Ama No To Heaven's Door can be found for around $34.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


My Irish eyes are smiling. No, not over green beer. There is action going on in my backyard. The earth is finally stirring up some fresh shoots.
The crocus are up!

Forsythia buds

Chives! I can start harvesting them now.

An oregano that I planted in the fall.

In honor of St. Patrick's day I made a fair amount of corned beef for my clients this week. The dish that got me excited, however, was a red cabbage braised with shredded apple.
Red cabbage has such dramatic color.

I let the cabbage cook down till it is really caramelized and adjust the seasoning to get a deep sweet-tart flavor. A handful of nuts at the end of cooking will add some crunch and a little protein.
The cabbage will be brightly colored when it first goes in the pan but as you cook it down the color will get deeper and darker. Make sure to cook it till the color is a dark, dark burgundy. My camera ran out of batteries before I could take the photo.

This cabbage dish is really tasty and not CABBAGEY at all. Meaning that it should appeal to most. The dark rich sweetness gets a nice counterpoint from the tart apple. I wish I could show you the picture. I added pistachio nuts at the end and the light green color of the nuts made a very festive presentation.

Amanda is there any wine to celebrate an Irish holiday?

Braised Red Cabbage and Green Apple
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 head of cabbage, shredded or finely sliced
1 green apple, shredded
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
s & p to taste
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook till golden and tender. Add the cabbage and the apple and cook, stirring frequently for 15 minutes on medium to low heat, being sure not to let the cabbage burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. The cabbage should begin to be tender and start to dry out, at which point add the apple juice and stir. Allow the juice to simmer down into the cabbage for about 5 minutes. Cover the cabbage and cook another 10 minutes till the cabbage has browned and caramelized. Add the chopped nuts and serve.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Story of Stuff

Obsession is a funny thing. Most of the time we are alone in our personal fervor. If we are lucky, our friends and loved ones smile at us indulgently when we go on about something they don't really care that much about. When we find someone who shares our obsession, what a blissful meeting of the minds!

I had the pleasure of catering a book party last week to welcome author Annie Leonard, a writer who truly speaks to my soul. Leonard's amazingly well researched and thought out book, The Story of Stuff is a riveting account of how our consumer society is impacting the planet on every level.
Lucky me got a signed copy from the author. I am completely immersed in the text.

You perhaps may not be losing sleep at night wondering where your trash goes, like I have since childhood (and apparently Ms. Leonard has too), but the trail of our use and disuse of everyday items should be fascinating to all.

The brainy and charming Ms. Leonard honored me with a visit to the kitchen where I was nailed to the stove cranking out hors d'oeuvres. I gushed over her book and paid compliments to her hilarious recent appearance on the Colbert Report.  As for the food: The hostess of the party loves to stay with healthy options so the menu was filled with lots of fresh vegetables. I made the Moroccan couscous rolls featured in a previous post, mushroom pizzas and Thai vegetable rolls among other things.

The next day, in the spirit of reduce reuse recycle, I decided to take a look at the ingredients I had left over from making all those hors. There was literally only a handful of this and that by the time I had done all the cooking for 100 guests, just enough for a light lunch for my daughter and I.

The spinach and broccoli were leftover from the vegetable rolls, the sauteed mushrooms were the topping for the pizzas. A simple pan saute seemed to be the way to go.

The mushrooms were bought at The Fruit Exchange at Chelsea market, one of my favorite places for produce, they have a huge selection of organic and non organic stuff (stuff!). The mushrooms were a mix of trumpet, shiitake and baby bellas.

To make a simple meal from these leftovers I started with a base of onions, garlic and creole seasoning slowly cooked in lots of olive oil to bring a boost of flavor to the vegetables

I put everything into the pan with a splash of white wine and then reduce reduce reduce till everything is cooked down and tender.

The dish was finished with a large handful of chopped mint and a sprinkle of pine nuts, both left over from the couscous rolls.  These vegetables would taste great served over rice. My daughter scarfed them up mixed with noodles. It would also work well as a crepe or omelet filling. The mushrooms really dominate with a deep woodsy flavor.
Don't be afraid to go with what you've got. A well seasoned oil will bring different elements together to make a cohesive and delicious whole. Amanda- I know you love mushroom dishes. What wine would you serve with this?

The Story of Stuff seems like such an interesting book - I must seek it out! And the book party sounds like it was a success! I'm having a "Mom's Spring Get-Together" this week, and I have been toying with the idea of making the Moroccan Cous Cous Rolls - I'm just not sure if this is something that will turn out fantastic my first time trying it! But after making Deb's Black Bean and Sun Dried Tomato Quesadillas for dinner twice this week, I know they will definitely be on the menu! Absolutely delicious and so easy! And, my big meat-eater of a husband loved them too!

This current simple pan sautee also looks like a winner. I love the idea of serving it over rice for a quick, healthy dinner. As the warm weather approaches, I love to enjoy lighter fare for my meals and this one hits the nail on the head! For this recipe, I want something with nice minerality, and enough fruit to complement the creole seasoning.  I would pour myself a glass of white Burgundy to sip alongside this dish. As we know, Burgundy can be extremely expensive. For something enjoyable yet affordable, look for a simple Bourgogne Blanc, or a Macon Villages. The cooler climate of Burgundy produces a racier, crisper, livelier Chardonnay than other warmer regions like California or Australia which produce riper, fuller Chardonnays. You don't want a wine that's too big or it will overpower this delicate dish. As a general rule - if a Chardonnay is what you are looking for - choose Burgundy for lighter fare, and California for creamy, richer dishes.

A Burgundian Chardonnay will offer notes of earth and minerals, making it a nice match for the mushrooms. And the rich, complex fruit notes will pair well with the creole seasoning.

J.J Vincent, Olivier Leflaive and Vincent Girardin are producers which are relatively easy to find. The Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les Setilles is worth seeking out. It offers up lively acidity and green apple and citrus flavors. It is medium in body and has all the elements to make it a great partner for Deb's recipe. It can be found for around $15-$17 per bottle.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We'll be back!

Having lived in Manhattan for nearly my entire life, I know that island like the back of my hand. From a childhood on the Upper West Side, high school in Harlem (Music and Art High School, now known as Laguardia), and adulthood in the West Village, there is barely a street I don't know and have walked on.

Then I moved to Queens five years ago. The culture shock has still not quite worn off. My new borough seems incredibly homogenous to me architecturally. I have never seen so many brick house, all built from THE SAME BRICK, anywhere else in my life. It really unnerves me sometimes and makes navigation a perplexing challenge. But, ah, the cultural diversity, yes the diversity. It is wild and wonderful and also takes a bit of getting used to. So many cultures here in Queens, no one really knows what any one else is about exactly, but there are plenty of ways to find out.
A longing look at Manhattan from Queens. Behind me is Socrates Sculpture Park, a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.

For someone willing to explore there is a lot to be found. Over the weekend we celebrated a dear friend's birthday at an Argentine restaurant in Long Island City that I chose by doing a little research on the internet. The idea was to find a place to eat after an evening ice skating at the new indoor rink City Ice Pavilion (that place is fun and should be checked out if you skate or would like to skate.)

The restaurant La Vuelta is located on the very quiet western end of 44th Drive. A charming room (brick!) and a tempting menu of Argentine specialties, La Vuelta, which roughly translates as a return visit, suited everyone in our party.

At La Vuelta, Michele thinks about what to order next. The chalkboard listed all the daily specials. 

Admittedly, Argentine cuisine, known for it's steaks, doesn't do much for vegetarians. There were cheese empanadas and sun-dried tomato quesadillas for the meatless eaters, all very fresh and tasty. AND the very best plantain chips with a cucumber-dill dipping sauce that we ravenously attacked.  The food was good (my husband raved about his skirt steak and mashed potatoes), the atmosphere was very relaxed and the prices reasonable. La Vuelta was a winner.

We liked the wine too, an Argentine Santa Isabel Malbec 2009. Amanda do you think that is a good choice for my version of sun-dried tomato and black bean quesadillas?

Sun Dried Tomato and Black Bean Quesadillas
8 flour tortillas
1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 cups grated cheddar or monterey jack cheese
1 cup of cooked black beans roughly mashed

Lay a tortilla in a hot pan and cover with 1/4 of the cheese, beans and sun dried tomatoes. Place another tortilla on top and flip the quesadilla in the pan after about 5 minutes, when the tortilla begins to brown and the cheese has melted. Cook for another 5 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients to make 4 tortillas. Serve immediately with chili onion relish.
Chili Onion Relish
1/2 onion
2 jalapeno peppers
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbs. Cilantro
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 teas. salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend.

Well, thank you Deb, for giving me one less thing to think about today - what to have for dinner! This recipe looks wonderful and simple. It is particularly appealing to me as it doesn't require a big trip to the market. Most of the ingredients I already have on hand which makes it all the more attractive. The only things I need to pick up are some sundried tomatoes and cilantro! Then I'm good to go!

Your choice to enjoy an Argentine Malbec with this recipe was spot on. Malbec is produced around the world, and is stylistically different depending upon its origin. In Mendoza, the largest wine region in Argentina, the grape produces rich, dark, juicy wines.

In France, Malbec is used as primarily for blending, particularly in Bordeaux. In the southwest of France, in Cahors, the grape produces bigger, more robust wines with greater tannins. Argentine Malbec however, has great concentration of fruit, which will allow the wine to withhold the heat of the Chili Onion Relish. And, the typical mocha and spice flavors of the wines will make an interesting, and mouthwatering complement to the black bean component of the quesadilla.

Recently, I tried some Malbecs from La Posta Vineyards, located in Mendoza. I was very impressed with their 2007 Pizzella Family Vineyard Malbec. At $14.99, this ripe, juicy 100% Malbec is a great bargain. Red berry flavors abound, and the wine displays beautiful aromatics as well. Argentine wines are absolutely worth seeking out as the represent a terrific bang for the buck. Impressive Malbecs can definitely be found in the $10 and under price range.

For other expressive, outstanding Argentine Malbecs look to Susana Balbo and Bodega Catena Zapata.

Monday, March 8, 2010

spice and everything nice

No, not from my backyard, not yet. This time of year grocery stores are practically giving daffodils away.  I got these at Whole Foods, three bunches for $5!

My friend Katie and I share a passion for discovering the diversity of ingredients and food culture here in NY City.  Katie has been exploring Ethiopian cuisine in particular for a while. She has posted her observations and experiments on her blog Party in my Pantry.  Katie's enthusiasm is infectious and piqued my interest in the culinary traditions of this East African country. A few years ago the Ethiopian born chef Marcus Samuelsson published a collection of recipes, The Soul of a New Cuisine, covering the entire African continent. I adore this book with its gorgeous photos, fascinating text and beguiling recipes. With the book as my guide I am beginning to explore the depth of cuilinary riches Africa has to offer. My current wish list is to hit one of the Ethiopian restaurants Katie has visited here in New York. How about it Katie?

The following recipe is Katie's play on a traditional Ethiopian okra dish. Not having okra on hand she substituted collard greens, with excellent results. The greens are combined with some traditional spices and chopped tomatoes to make a fragrant, hearty dish. If you want to make this more filling, add in some cooked beans like chickpeas.
I bought these greens at a local Asian market here in Queens. I have no idea what they are, I could not read the sign. They taste like mild mustard greens.  At $0.79 per pound, a true bargain! Asian markets are one of the best places to find a wide variety of fresh affordable greens.

The perfume from this dish is intoxicating. Cardamom has a very flowery, fragrant smell and is often used in Indian desserts. Pairing this spice with a green vegetable was new to me. I loved the aroma coming up from the pan as I sauteed the spice paste.

The finished dish is wonderful, full of flavor and carrying hints of life far away. The tomatoes add a tart counterpoint to the sweet cardamom-ginger spice combo. The greens keep everything really grounded. I loved this dish and will be making it again and again.

Thank you Katie!

Amanda, I am wondering if there is perhaps a South African wine that might work well with this delicious dish?

Ethiopian-Style Greens OR Bamya Alich'A
-adapted from the blog: Party in my Pantry

4 cups chopped greens (collard, mustard, bok choy, kale, spinach)
2 quarts salted water for blanching
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced red onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 fresh chilies, minced, or to taste
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped, seeded peeled ripe tomatoes or 1 14oz can
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs lemon juice

Wash the greens, trim off and discard any rough stems. Coarsely chop the trimmed leaves. Bring salted water to a rolling boil and blanch the greens for 10 minutes or until tender (the variety of greens you are using will determine how long you cook them, collards take longer than mustard greens. Taste often to determine doneness). Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and cook the onions until they are light brown. Add the garlic, chilies, ginger and cardamon and stir to combine ingredients. Cook the onion spice paste on low heat for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes so the flavors begin to combine. Taste at this point to adjust seasoning. Add the greens and cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning and remove from the heat. Finish with lemon juice. Serve hot or at room temperature.

I think of myself as fairly well-rounded when it comes to cuisine. I've been introduced to the fare of different cultures since I was a small child. However, it occurs to me now that somehow Ethopian cooking and experiences seem to have escaped my radar. Which in a way delights me - for now I have something new to discover! I truly gain such enormous elation from exploring previously unchartered culinary territories!

Deb - you are right on target with looking to wines from South Africa to complement this dish. As I have mentioned in earlier posts - wines from particular regions have an affinity for foods from the same region. Of course, pairing wines and dishes from the same countries is not a steadfast rule, but rather a simple, fun suggestion, and "experiment".

Located in the Koelenhof region near Stellenbosch is one of South Africa's greatest white wine producers, Mulderbosch. Mulderbosch produces a wonderful Chenin Blanc, referred to as "Steen" in South Africa. An excellent food wine in general, this is the perfect choice for a vegetable stew. Filled with terrific tropical fruit flavors, the wine also presents notes of ginger and cloves - a beautiful complement to the spicey flavors in the dish. The wine is off-dry (it has a slight touch of sweetness) which is really a characteristic this recipe requires.

If you are looking for something a little "bigger", I would not hesitate to recommend a Rose - like Mulderbosch's Cabernet Sauvignon Rose. With red fruit flavors on the palate, this ripe, fresh, bright wine also offers up spice flavors like nutmeg and pepper.

I am going to cook up this recipe right away! It's next on my list! Deb - thanks for sharing Katie's recipe, and Katie - thanks for the inspiration!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

bottom of the barrel


It is starting to feel serious. We are still looking at weeks of fresh vegetable drought. I do believe there are a few signs of hope. The twigs I am forcing to bloom indoors have finally sprouted a SINGLE leaf. Ok, that's one down. Also spotted was the first poking of the daffodil bulbs I tucked into the ground many months ago. Well, it is a start.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, I am looking hard at the same old thing. Those tiresome root vegetables are really driving me crazy. Instead of attempting transformation I have decided to dive directly in and glorify what I've got. A simple roasting of three winter vegetables can become not such a bad thing. I had some pumpkin, a hunk of rutabaga and a few carrots to play with. The strategy was to cut them into relativley small pieces so they would cook quickly.

There is a slight color difference between the three vegetables, but I wanted to emphasisize their differences even more by cutting each one into a slightly different shape. When mixed together after cooking you would be able to tell them apart.
The carrots are cut on a cylindrical angle, the pumpkin is cubed and the rutabaga is in wedges.
A splash of oil and soy sauce, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a few garlic cloves complete the preparation. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender.

The results have lifted a smile to my face. The smell from the oven was inviting. A bite of each vegetable revealed their individual characteristics. The rutabega had a balanced and buttery flavor. The pumpkin had a deep, smokey sweetness. The carrot played the high note with a fresh, almost green taste.
So I have found some solace and will continue my patient wait for the vernal stirrings of the earth.

Deb, the picture of the daffodils beginning to peek through the ground really made me smile! As I sit here at my desk looking out the window at the leafless trees and dreary grey skies, the thought of impending bright yellow flowers blooming in the not-so-distant future truly made my day! And my involvement in this blog and your inspirational recipes have really sparked and solidified my interests in eating locally and seasonally. As a result, I just cannot wait till Springtime produce is abundant! I am eagerly anticipating the transition into the different delicacies the warmer weather will offer us! Can't wait to hit the farmers' markets and have been doing research on CSA's.

Rutabagas - wouldn't even know what to do with them. Thank you for giving me an option! The sweetness from the vegetables and the "buttery" flavors you describe will partner very well with a white wine from the Rhone in the South of France. I was just at a Chateauneuf du Pape seminar yesterday, so I have Rhone on the brain. And, Rhone whites are among my favorite wines. I love the richness and depth of the wines, the creamy mouthfeel and intense aromatics. The whites I tasted yesterday were from the highly touted 2007 vintage. The wines showed absolutely beautifully.

The varietals used for Rhone whites are Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, and Grenache Blanc. Nuts, honeysuckle, citrus, spice and tropical fruit are flavors you will experience enjoying these wines. I just adore the depth and complexity of these wines. As the vegetables used in this recipe are full-flavored veggies, I would go with a full-flavored wine. I think the flavors in this dish would overpower a lighter style of wine. The richness of the wine will pair perfectly with the bigger flavors in Deb's recipe.

If you are unfamiliar with Rhone whites, I highly recommend giving them a shot. You won't be disappointed. Start off with something simple and inexpensive, and look for wines produced by E. Guigal or Perrin et fils. The wines by these producers should not be hard to find.

Monday, March 1, 2010

making the best of it

All thoughts of dining al fresco anytime soon have flown out the window. The long haul of winter just seems to be getting longer each day.

We still need to eat, drink and be merry, don't we?  A season defying hors d'oeuvre that I love is something I call Moroccan Couscous Rolls. They are a play on the classic stuffed grape leaves. The difference is I use collard greens for the wrap and seasoned couscous for the filling. The rolls are served with a fruity sweet and sour glaze. As is my style, I rarely make this exactly the same way twice. Instead I improvise from a basic plan and taste everything as I go to create a balanced flavor that has some character.

Collard greens are perfect for this dish because they are large, cook quickly in boiling water, and hold their shape when tender. They give the rolls structure and a fresh mild green taste. After blanching till tender, I will carefully run a knife along the rib of each leaf to remove the raised section so they will lay flat. This is a bit time consuming and requires a little attention with a steady hand, but it is not difficult to achieve.

For the filling I mix steamed couscous with pine nuts, chopped mint, currents, a dash of cinnamon and a plop of mayonnaise to keep everything together. The variations on what to add are endless. One of my favorite additions is pomegranate seeds, for color and a pop of juiciness.

The glaze is simply some fruit jelly melted down with a little splash of vinegar, salt and lemon juice. I just keep tasting this mixture as it cooks to get the right balance of flavors. I aim for a pronounced tart fruitiness that is not overly sweet.
Ikea's Lingonberry preserves is one of my favorites. It has the deep fruity flavor I am going for and a tiny hint of bitterness to keep it interesting.

Wrapping the rolls is fairly simple once you get the hang of it. Lay a leaf out flat, put about a teaspoon of filling in the center, fold the two sides in as flaps, then fold up the bottom flap to cover the filling, and roll up toward the top. It does require nimble fingers and a bit of experimenting to get your technique down, but it is easily mastered.

The collard leaves can be blanched the day before and stored in a stack, wrapped in plastic in the fridge till you are ready to begin rolling. The finished rolls can be made hours in advance and chilled in the fridge before serving. I like them a little bit cold, it adds to the freshness as you bite into them.
These little cuties are great with other hors d'oeuvres, especially heavier items that might be fried or cheesy, as they lend a light counterpoint to the spread. They are also really good the next day when you are grazing in front of the fridge looking for a tasty leftover nibble.

Any wine suggestions Amanda?

Wow! This really looks like such a fun, festive dish! It's beautiful! I would love to give this a shot, and I think I will. However, something tells me mine might not come out as exquisite and lovely as Deb's! Love this recipe for the Spring! In fact, I am so excited about my wine selection for this dish! As Spring approaches, I crave Rose. And everything about this recipe just calls out for a juicy, lush Rose with hints of spice! The spice and berry fruit flavors of the wine are perfect for the combination of cinnamon and mint flavors of the cous cous, as well as the fruit preserves. Yum Yum!

Belle Glos makes a delightful Rose - the Oeil de Perdrix Pinot Noir Blanc. (Oeil de Perdrix is French for eye of the partridge) It is rich and full-bodied, with bold berry flavors. I envision sipping this wine while enjoying Deb's Moroccan Cous Cous Rolls on a warm Sunday afternoon! Makes me extremely eager for Spring to arrive! This food-friendly Rose retails for around $16.99.

I have also mentioned the Crios Rose of Malbec before, made by one of my favorite producers, Susana Balbo in Argentina. A lovely bouquet of fresh berries delights the nose, while flavors of cherries, strawberries and spice dance on the palate! I adore this wine! I couldn't think of the more perfect wines for this recipe! Balbo's Crios line (all delicious) can be found for around $14.99.

I would also recommend pairing a sparkling Rose, something inexpensive would work just fine. The Chandon Brut Rose from California  sells for around $16.99. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir, this is a creamy, fruit forward sparkler which is the perfect addition to any Springtime get-together!

Can't wait to test out this dish (and of course, the wine to go with it!)