Monday, February 22, 2010

stir crazy

We are in the home stretch here for Winter. That's what I'm trying to tell myself at any rate. In fact it will still be weeks before the Green Markets in NYC are showing any new produce. Hang in there! It will be worth the wait when the first lettuces and chives and radishes hit the market.

Until then...
Looking at the same old stuff and in an effort to generate some excitement I try to shake things up with a little knife action. I want to make a very simple vegetable dish that is pretty and flavorful enough to combat the end of winter blues.

The idea is to chop the vegetables small, into what I call a rough julienne cut, then quickly blanch them. For the next step you toss everything together in a pan with seasoned oil and thats it!
Cut everything relatively the same size, narrow strips on an angle. Blanch each vegetable in salted boiling water for one or two minutes until tender but still crunchy. I like to blanch each type of vegetable separately because a carrot will be done in 30 seconds while a green bean can take two minutes. This way all the vegetables are cooked to their perfect doneness. I use one large pot of boiling water and fish out each batch of the cooked vegetables with a spider before dropping the next batch in.

My beloved spider, purchased in Chinatown years ago.

To make the seasoned oil: Finely mince as much garlic as you like and saute briefly in olive oil and/or butter. Add chopped fresh herbs and any other seasoning you are in the mood for. I had some fresh thyme on hand. Then add all the vegetables into the pan and toss to coat with the seasonings. Serve right away. The vegetables will have some crunch and a savory goodness. 

This technique accomplishes a few things: you can combine odds and ends of vegetables and season them any way you like AND it makes everything seem new again (well a little anyway.)

Amanda what are we going to sip with this spirit-lifting solution to a cold drab day?

Sauvignon Blanc is the way to go. To be more specific, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. When grown in NZ, the grape exhibits a grassy, herbaceous, vegetal character. It's also been known to display aromas of asparagus. Because of its herb-nuanced flavor, it is a perfect match for vegetables in general (especially green vegetables). Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand are extremely crisp and lively, which will help "lift the spirit" on a cold, dreary day! 

Kono Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice at $9.99 per bottle. The wine comes from the cooler region of Marlborough, which results in a wine full of citrus, gooseberry and stonefruit flavors. (Sauvignon Blancs from warmer climates have more richness of fruit). 

Also look to the Loire Valley in France for some wonderful Sauvignon Blanc options. A favorite producer is Pascal Jolivet. Also, be sure to pick out a recent vintage. Jolivet's Sancerres are typically youthful and racy with great balance and elegance.

I agree with Deb - I am so ready for Spring! This recipe and wine pairing is ideal to "set the mood" for the impending warmer weather! I am in a Springtime State of Mind!

Friday, February 19, 2010

trying tapas

Tapas are such a treat for those doing the eating. For the ones doing the cooking it is another story. This traditional small plates bar food of Spain can make a great party theme, as Amanda suggested in the last post, but not for the feint of heart. Tapas, like hors d'oeuvres, are labor intensive - lots of little things need to be prepared. Such is the case with the classic Spanish tapas dish croquettes. I was curious about croquettes because they seem to be featured on all tapas menus. Having never made them before a little research was needed.

The classic recipes I found on-line described a bechamel sauce based paste that is chilled and then rolled in breadcrumbs and egg and then deep fried. Really, just a thick bechamel sauce? Um, yeah. Bechamel is a classic white sauce of butter and flour that is thinned with milk. I have tasted traditional croquettes in tapas restaurants and it had never occured to me that this was how they were made.

Ok, let's try it. Most of the recipes call for chopped ham to be added as the flavoring. In keeping with our vegetable point of view I decided to go with swiss chard, sauteing it with some onions and garlic.

I confess I was feeling skeptical about the whole deal. A sludgy paste of flour dipped in bread crumbs and FRIED! I dont know. Didn't really sound healthy or good.

Making the bechamel did nothing to assuage my skeptism. It comes out like grade school paste. Not really appetizing. I folded in my cooked chard and then refrigerated the mush overnight as the various recipes suggested. Next day: form the croquettes, dip, dip, dip and fry.
The assembly line.

Still not convinced I took a bite. YO that is GOOD!!! I can't believe how yummy they came out! Creamy and crispy with a rich flavor from the chard. Kind of like a savory doughnut, which seems obvious now. I am stunned.

When would I make this again? I don't know, it isn't really everyday cooking as it is so time consuming and wont be appearing on any weight watchers list. I almost want to plan a whole tapas party around them. Eat them right out of the fryer and bliss will follow!

Swiss Chard Croquettes
-adapted from Tapas Recipes, small plates from Spain

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 bunch swiss chard, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic finely minced
½ cup onion, chopped
7 Tbs. Butter
¾ cup flour
2 ½ cups cold milk
1/2 teas. ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 cub of bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

Heat oil in a sauté pan and add the chard, garlic and onions. Cook for 10 minutes until the chard is tender. Drain chard and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the flour, stirring continuously. Allow the flour to cook in the butter for a couple of minutes, continuing to stir.
Start adding the cold milk little by little, stirring all the while until you have a thick, smooth sauce.  Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the cooked chard and continue to cook for 3- 4 minutes. The end result should be quite thick. Let the mixture cool completely - it is usually a good idea to leave it overnight.
Take a scant tablespoon of the mixture and form into a croqueta, a 1 1/2 - 2 inch cylinder. Roll the croqueta in the breadcrumbs, then coat in the beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs again. Make sure the breadcrumbs are always dry to ensure an even coating.
Heat the oil for deep-frying in a large, heavy-based pan until the temperature reaches 350ºF or a cube of bread turns golden brown in 20-30 seconds. Fry in batches of no more than 3 or 4 for about 5 minutes until golden brown. Remove with a slatted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.

makes about 36 croquettes

I'm definitely willing to give this one a try! I had a very light lunch and now it is 3:30 and my stomach is growling reading this post! By the way, in case you were wondering - guess what I had for lunch? Brussel Sprouts!!! Leftover from last night. The ones I made following Denise Landis' recipe! Outstanding! In fact, not only did I have them for lunch, but my mother in-law is coming for dinner tonight and guess what is on the menu?! Yep - you got it - Brussel Sprouts with Sherry and Pecans. Can't wait. Might even shake things up a bit and add some carmelized shallots. Serving them alongside salmon.

Back to the croquettes and the Tapas first inclination was to suggest Pinot Noir. But, if I were to do a Tapas themed night at my house, I would be pouring Spanish wines. And I would have both red and white. So, starting with red - I want something simple. Again, the context in which you are drinking the wine is important. I don't want an expensive, complex, serious wine for a fun, light-hearted night with friends. If "fun" food is served, I want a "fun" wine to match. Something light, fruity and food-friendly to match a variety of the foods that will be enjoyed. Go for a Grenache, or perhaps Tempranillo.

These days, I am enjoying a delicious, affordable Garnacha (Grenache) from Spain called Evodia. The Garnacha comes from old vines, and the wine offers sweet fruit, and is very smooth drinking. It's easy-going, and not overly complex. I love the idea of this wine with these croquettes! Evodia can be found for around $8.99. If you can't find the Evodia, ask your local shop for a recommendation on a nice, affordable Garnacha.

For white, Cava would be a wonderful choice. Cava is a sparkling white - Spain's answer to Champagne. Just a great option for a Tapas themed party. Cristalino Brut Cava is a big seller here at Wine and Spirit World. And at $7.99 a bottle, it's just the perfect crowd-pleasing sparkler! The Spanish varietals used are Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. This is such a crisp wine with bright citrus flavors and hints of green apple. A terrific match for fried foods! And, extremely versatile. Renowned wine critic Stephen Tanzer from the International Wine Cellar calls the Cristalino an "extraordinary sparkling wine for the price".

Tapas, sparkling white and wonderfully fruity reds - this is definitely a recipe for an incredible night with friends!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

all you need is love

Transitioning between two cooking zones- from brisk, sunny Florida to icy-grey New York.
Our delayed flight gave me ample time to finish the book I was glued to Just Kids, the memoir by Patti Smith about her early days as a young struggling artist in NY City and her creative partnership with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. I am a huge Patti fan so I was presold on her message, but the book is truly great. Smith really captures the creative experience from inspiration to realization. The struggle for young artists to break through with their art and gain recognition is huge. Her book is a moving tribute to her late friend Mapplethorpe who shared with her his passionate commitment to their artistic pursuits. And at times it seems they lived on nothing but that loving commitment.

Why am I going on about this? I guess it got me thinking about inspiration and love. I came upon this little comment on a facebook post yesterday. It is a recipe by cookbook writer Denise Landis.

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sherry-Butter Glaze, by Denise Landis: Trim sprouts but otherwise leave whole. (If they are large, cut a shallow X in the bottom of each one.) Melt a generous amount butter, add brussels sprouts, stir until lightly browned all over. Add chopped toasted pecans and toss for a minute, then throw in a generous splash of sherry (dry or cream...I like the sweetness of cream sherry). Immediately cover, turn heat to low, and cook just until sprouts are tender in the center but not overcooked (don't let them turn gray!). Serve hot. But honestly, I eat them straight from the fridge, cold, the next day...

Denise and I attended the same High School. I just love the way she wrote this recipe, so simple and so obviously filled with love for cooking. Maybe I am still coming off a Valentine's day high, but I am feeling all gooey for passion and the commitment to doing things we care about deeply.

My lovely and brilliant friend Ali sent me a photo today of her weekend spent in the kitchen with her husband and a group of friends cooking up a storm. They included my pumpkin ravioli and a few other recipes I have made with Ali. Her joy at trying something new was infectious  and I asked her to allow me to share the photo:
The beautiful Ali in red.
As I am writing this I am stuffing my face with Brussels Sprouts. As usual I strayed a bit from the instructions. I happened to have the oven on at 425 degrees so the sprouts cooked in there rather than pan roasting. The pecans were left whole rather than chopped and I didn't have any sherry so cognac was substituted. The sprouts cooked up in about 15 minutes and are DELICIOUS!!! Denise is really on to something here. So good and there will be none left for me to eat cold tomorrow!

I LOVE Brussel Sprouts! And I am going to make this one tomorrow. It is right up my alley! Though I have to admit, the wine pairing had me stumped. Brussel Sprouts are extremely hard to pair with wine and I really couldn't come up with anything that seemed appealing to me. So I thought, and I thought, and came up with what I think would be a wonderful idea for an impromptu get-together with friends!
Tapas restaurants are "in" these days, popping up all over the place. And, Sherry is of course an obvious staple at these establishments. I envision a night of tapas at my home - olives, cheese, almonds, Denise's Brussel Sprouts, among other delicacies - paired with a variety of Sherries. Especially this time of year. A lit fireplace, friends, and delicious, simple fare, and of course Sherry, sounds like the perfect night to me.
A Sherry would be the natural match to the Sherry and pecans in this recipe. Right now, I have an open bottle of Alvear Carlos VII Amontillado Sherry which I have enjoyed sipping these cold winter nights. This is what I'll use for the Brussel Sprouts tomorrow night, and sip it alongside the dish! I am predicting a winning match!
For those of you unfamiliar with Sherry, Amontillado is an aged Fino, and can be dry or off-dry (a little sweet). The Carlos VII is dry, and is light chestnut in color. It has a wonderful bouquet, and a nutty flavor with hints of fig.  A 500ml bottle will run around $20. 

note from Deb- Sherry seems like the obvious and excellent choice as it is 
called for in the recipe. I really want to make this one again (and again!)
and I  will use sherry next time (although the cognac was fantastic). 
Amanda you will LOVE the sprouts. I went to bed last night craving more!

Monday, February 15, 2010

better than snow shoveling

The wind is howling and the temperature has dropped. Yes, I am in Florida on a winter break, hahaha! I am not complaining. We are guests in my mother-in-laws beautiful home overlooking Sarasota Bay. I can see pelicans and herons soaring past the large plate glass window looking for their breakfast in wind whipped water. Peace and tranquility abounds.
A windy walk on the beach. The air temperatures barely brushed the low 50s.

For me the big event of the trip is a visit to the Saturday farmer's market. I have to say that Sarasota is a little loose in their definition of farmer's market. It is really more of an outdoor produce market. Much of what is sold comes from as far as California. I am not sure that the concept of local produce has been grasped here. As a shopper you have to pay attention to what each vendor is selling and ask where it comes from. I even came across the ubiquitous garlic from China. Seriously.

The sights and sounds of beautiful fruit and vegetables managed to sooth my cranky soul and I sent the kids forth to gather the ingredients for tomato salsa, a task they readily complied with as this is one of their most favorite treats. I taught them this recipe years ago and it has become a fun group project with the big payoff, typical of kitchen activities, that we get to eat our efforts!

Which brings me to this video of chef Jamie Oliver talking about the state of our collective eating habits in this country. The video was brought to my attention in a post from blogger, cook book writer and famed Long Island City dinner party hostess Zora O'Neill. Thank you, Zora.
Oliver is blunt in his assesment, to say the least. AND I have always found him to be way too fond of his own pretty face which he plasters on everything that passes through his hands. None-the-less, his message is a good one and stimulates plenty of thought. Teaching our children to cook is a very worthy endeavor and I have to admit that for all my home cooking, my kids could learn a few more lessons by the stove. I compiled a list of foods they knew how to cook by themselves at a young age and I see they certainly could survive on it, perhaps not thrive. So my mission is to encourage us all to teach our survive and thrive skills to those we love.

French Toast
Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Pasta with cheese and peas
Tuna salad sandwich
Scrambled eggs
Green Salad
Spaghetti and Tomato Sauce

Ok, lets get back to salsa- fun and easy to make, it turns any occassion into a party. We are talking basically a big wet salad made from fresh ingredients. Even vegetable haters love it. Show the kids how to make this and they will party for life!

After you finish this life lesson you may want to relax and sip some wine while nibbling on whatever salsa the kids leave in the bowl, which probably won't be much. Amanda, does any wine pairing come to mind for Tomato Salsa?

Tomato Salsa
1 large tomato finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
3 Tbs. cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lime
Place all ingredients in a bowl and allow to marinate for 15 minutes before serving.

Love this post, Deb! Let me first say that I can only hope that by age 10 my children are eating tuna salad, guacamole and peas. Not in their repertoire as of yet, at ages 6 and 4. But as my husband and I love all things food, I am praying my children will follow suit. I feel fortunate that I am married to a culinary graduate, and it would be a wonderful pleasure should my kids inherit his culinary talents! Currently, my kids can fix their own breakfast as long as it's candy and is within their reach. (Even if it's not within their reach, they will go to great lengths to get it). Yesterday morning, I tried to "sleep in" a little. At 9:15 am I went downstairs to find my son, chocolate lollipop in hand (and on face), and my daughter holding a box of gumdrops in one hand and 3 tootsie roll pops in the other. Yes, I do have to start working on their culinary skills.

Well, this recipe is making me crave salsa and chips! I usually take the easy way out and purchase "home-made" salsa from Whole Foods, or Kings. I think it's time I made my own. But to answer Deb's question - yes! A wine pairing absolutely comes to mind! When I think of salsa, I immediately think of a crisp, lively, refreshing white. While this is the sort of wine I'd be more apt to drink in the warmer weather, I can't think of anything I'd enjoy more with this fresh, bright salsa.

Albarino would be my first choice for this recipe. This white varietal is grown primarily in Galicia, in northwest Spain. The Rias Baixas DO is particularly known for producing a significant amount of this grape. Albarinos typically are very aromatic, and light, with ripe fruit flavors of apple, citrus fruit and peach. The wines are crisp with lively, bright acidity.

Bodegas Martin Codax is known for making wonderful Albarinos. The 2008 Burgans Albarino from Bodegas Martin Codax is one of my favorite everyday white wines. (when purchasing an Albarino, always be sure to get one from a recent vintage - the wines do not age well.  Younger is better). The Burgans is fruity and complex with great balance - and a great value at $12.99.

I am having a "mom's night out" at my home on March 19th, to welcome Spring. I have been thinking of the menu. Now I have one more recipe to add! Thanks, Deb!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

a snow story

Snow day. Despite the travel inconveniences and the SHOVELING, it forces us to slow down and that can be a good thing. The day at home got me looking around for a little splash of brightness to break up all that white.
Even the vegetables I had on hand were white.

No point looking out back for flavor, my herb garden is buried.

A gift from a friend who had just returned from California would do the trick.
These juicy, thin skinned lemons are always welcome in the kitchen. They will bring a happy zing to just about every dish. I like to add them to the roasting pan to caramelize with other vegetables. Today I chopped up one of the lemons and some cauliflower and tossed everything with a pinch of curry powder and enough olive oil to coat the vegetables.

Mario Battali's rustic Italian cooking inspired me to start using the green leaves of the cauliflower as well as the florets. The cauliflower roasts at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

The lemons add a tart sweetness and a bit of color to the vegetables. This is a simple pleasure for a slow, cold day. Save a slice for your tea and snuggle down to watch the snow fall. 

Well, this is a tough one, I must admit! Probably because Deb's cup of tea looks like that would be the perfect match to this comforting dish. It just looks so satisfying sitting there alongside the cauliflower. I never thought of using the cauliflower greens - I must try that! I didn't even know they were edible! I guess that's why I'm the wine writer and Deb's the chef.

Deb's is a simple, beautiful dish. So, I am going to suggest something equally simple and delightful for the wine - Vinho Verde from Portugal. Typically low in alcohol content, this is the way to go. And, what makes it even better is it's incredibly inexpensive pricetag! Vinho Verde can typically be found for $6-$10.

These crisp, aromatic wines come from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal, and are really known as Portugal's best whites. Made from the Alvarinho (Spain's Albarino), they typically display flavors of citrus fruit and green apple, and are slightly effervescent. Vinho Verdes pair particularly well with salads too. Be sure to drink these wines if you buy them, and don't hold onto them. They are specifically made for early drinking. In fact, "Vinho Verde" means "green wine", a reference to the wine's youth.

The lemon in Deb's dish will bring out the best in the wine - the clean, fresh, crisp flavors. This is a match made in heaven! (Next to Deb's cup of tea with a slice of lemon!)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tiny Bubbles

Valentine's Day is quickly upon us. I can't think of another "holiday" which evokes such a wide range of attitudes. For some it is dreaded, for others it is revered. I, myself, will be stag this Valentine's Day while my husband is on a flight back from San Diego. Nonetheless, Valentine's Day is typically a day I enjoy. For me, it is really just an excuse to share some superb bottles of wine and an exquisite meal with my hubby.

Like flowers and chocolate, Champagne is a must-have for Valentine's Day. This is a day that screams for a bottle of Rose - I don't know why, but there is something more "romantic" about it. People often think of Champagne as a libation to "toast" with, or to enjoy before a meal. But it is also one of the best accompaniments to the meal itself. Experiencing a superb bottle of Champagne with a delectable dish is truly one of the great luxuries in life. There is just something so satisfying and special about bubbly and a perfectly paired meal.

Dining at home is a popular option these days as many are watching their wallets. So, we thought we'd give you all the necessary ingredients to creating a special night at home with your love! A bottle of bubbly is the first place to start. My absolute favorite Rose Champagne is from Ruinart. This Champagne house is the oldest in France. Fine, elegant, and powerful, this Rose is an incredible match for food. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it is actually better when enjoyed with food than casually sipped. Domaine Ruinart Brut Rose will work particularly well with a "rich" dish. It is full of wild cherry notes and is wonderfully concentrated.

While a bottle of Ruinart sells for $70, there are plenty of more affordable options. At $59, Taittinger Brut Prestige Rose is another great option (although it is still a bit pricey, it is actually considered a great value). With fine bubbles and a brilliant pink hue, it has a velvety mouthfeel and wonderful fresh fruit flavors.

Still, there are great values for sparkling Rose outside of France. Many can be found in California, for very affordable prices. In this category, I would recommend the Chandon Blanc de Noirs for only $15.99 per bottle. This bottle of bubbly is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. With dominating rich fruit flavors of black currant and strawberry, there is such a delightful creaminess on the palate making this an ideal "food" partner.

These wines are definitely worth seeking out for this special day! To complete our recipe for a great night in, I will turn to Deb for food advice. Deb - these are three incredibly food-friendly choices. I would say a dish with some richness would be ideal. What special recipe would you recommend pairing with these celebratory, romantic sparklers?

Champagne sipped with a rich meal is one of my favorite treats! Valentine's day is as good an excuse as any to indulge yourself and loved ones with a great dinner. I have been noticing pumpkin ravioli popping up on menus and in markets for awhile and have tried it once or twice in restaurants, but never made it myself. It seems like a rich and special-enough dish to perfectly compliment any of the sparkling Rose wines Amanda has suggested.
To make the recipe, I started with fresh pumpkin and roasted it for extra flavor. My first thought was to use walnuts in the recipe, but then I decided to go with pepitas (pumpkin seeds)  instead. I toasted the seeds with some seasoning and ended up with plenty of extra to toss on salads or to snack on, a nice treat in itself! To continue with the filling I ground the toasted pepitas in a food processor then added some scallions, sage, goat cheese and the roasted pumpkin and blended till smooth.
Wonton wrappers make easy work and very tasty ravioli! They seal easily with a little water.
For the sauce I decided rather than introducing more ingredients I would use the same elements that were in the filling as a compliment to the dish. Cubing up some of the roasted pumpkin to add to the sauce adds color and texture and it is in keeping with the sauce that mirrors what is going on inside the ravioli.
 Toasted pepitas and fried sage leaves make a really pretty garnish
There was a fair amount of pumpkin filling left over so I decided to follow Jacques Pepin's lead by using it in a gratin, similar to the one he made on Fast Food My Way last week.  I ended up with three recipes in the quest for one: the toasted pepitas, the pumpkin ravioli and the pumpkin gratin. I guess this becomes a fair amount of work. If you want to kick back and be taken care of on the big V-day then make reservations and enjoy! But if you happen to be feeling plucky and inspired and want to lavish a little love on yourself and a special someone then GO FOR IT! Call it a labor of LOVE.

Pumpkin Ravioli with a Creamy Goat Cheese & Sage Sauce 
For the Ravioli:
2 cups of fresh pumpkin 
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup *toasted pepitas -see garnish recipe below
1 scallion minced
2 Tbs minced fresh sage
1/4 cup goat cheese
3 Tbs. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1package of wonton wrappers
2 quarts of salted water
Cut the pumpkin into large chunks and toss with the oil. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender. Set aside 1/2 cup of the cooked pumpkin for the sauce. Put the pepitas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse till finely ground. add the pumpkin, scallion, sage, heavy cream and goat cheese and pulse till well blended. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper accordingly.
Lay wonton wrappers on a flat surface and put 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle of each one. With your fingertip run a bit of water around the edge of the wrapper and fold the wrapper in half to seal the filling inside. Figure on about 10 raviolis per person. There will be enough filling to make enough for 8 people (that is a lot of Love!) Use the left over filling to make the pumpkin gratin recipe that follows. Boil the water in a large pot and carefully drop the raviolis into the pot. They will cook in about 5 minutes and come bobbing up to the surface. Gently strain. Toss with the sauce (below) and garnish with the pepitas and sage leaves before serving. 

for the Creamy Goat Cheese Sauce:

1/2 cup roasted pumpkin cut into small cubes
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Goat Cheese
2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
1 scallion cut into small rings
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan and heat till simmering. Allow sauce to gently simmer for 5- 10 minutes till the goat cheese melts and the flavors develop. Taste to adjust seasoning. Add the cooked ravioli to the sauce and gently turn them so they are covered with the cream sauce.

For the Garnish:
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 teas. cayenne pepper
1/4 teas. ground allspice
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 bunch of fresh sage leaves
2 Tbs. flour
3 Tbs. Olive oil.
Toss the pepitas with the cayenne, allspice, salt and oil and lay on a flat cookie sheet. Place in a 350 degree oven for 6-8 minutes till toasted. Keep an eye on them so they don't burn. They can be stored in an airtight container for 2 weeks.
meanwhile- dredge each sage leave in flour and shake off excess. Heat olive oil in a small skillet and cook the sage leaves quickly in the oil till they crisp up and the color darkens, about 30 seconds. They will burn so watch them carefully. Drain on a paper towel.

Pumpkin Gratin:
Take the leftover pumpkin filling and add 1 beaten egg for every cup of filling you have. Butter a baking dish and pour the pumpkin egg mixture in. Top with some more cheese if you like. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until the filling sets. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Southern Comfort

All dressed up and ready for the game. Waddya mean, the Jets are out?

It's game time! The Super Bowl. All I can say is THANK YOU to the powers that be that the Jets did not make it this year. Otherwise my home would be in an INSANE frenzy of excitement and expectation. I really could not manage that. Instead we will watch the game in a civilized manner with minimal name calling, cursing and crying. No one's voice will be hoarse the next day from hysterical screaming and cheering at the television screen. My husband and children roll their eyes at me because I don't GET the concept of wearing the exact same clothes and sitting in the exact same position as you did when the last crucial game was won. All I can say is THANK YOU Jets for not quite making it this year and I wish you all the best next year.

Super bowl parties are a great excuse to get together on a cold day and eat junk food. Where does a wine drinking vegetarian fit into all this you may ask? Well, they are invited to the party too. Who says vegetarians don't have gross, unhealthy foods of their own to contribute to the pot luck?
Everything you need to get the party started.

A few years ago I catered a party where I was specifically asked to make pimento cheese for the Southern birthday boy. What the heck is that? It was explained as a mushy mess of cheese and pimentos that means the absolute universe to anyone who grew up on the stuff. Oh, ok. I made a batch and was horrified, but served it anyway.
The finished product. Not so pretty.

The leftovers ended up in my fridge and a few weeks later I pulled it out and tasted it. Boy was that stuff GOOD!! It had improved with age and I couldn't get enough of it. Ah HA!! Perfect yucky party food! I have made a batch for Sunday and I thought I would try it as a canape, putting a dollop on cut-out rounds of toast and sticking it in the toaster oven for a minute. Doesn't a toaster oven seem like the perfect Super Bowl party cooking tool?
Yeah team!

Pimento Cheese Canapes
2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup of Mayo
8oz. *Pimentos, minced
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. Bourbon

8 slices of bread cut into rounds or quarters
1 Tbs. canola oil

for the cheese: Mix the first five ingredients and store in fridge for up to six weeks. serve as a dip or spread

for the canapes: brush the bread with the oil and toast till crispy and golden. Add a dollop of the pimento cheese on top and put in the toaster oven till cheese begins to melt and bubble.
Serves 8

*Full disclosure: When I first made pimento cheese I said "what's up with PIMENTO"?  I mean, does it have to be pimento? Why not some other kind of pepper? I was told that PIMENTO IS ESSENTIAL! Well ok, but, I made mine with hot pickled peppers called Piri Piri. And I liked it! The peppers give some heat and the pickling provides the tang. I'm just saying. Experiment.

Hmmmm. Sounds Interesting. Perhaps I should give it a try. My initial reaction is probably what Deb's was at first - call it "skepticism". But Deb, if you sing its praises, then it can't be bad! What attracts me to this recipe is that you don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy it! Seems like a crowd-pleaser to me! Sounds like something you could even heat up in a bowl and serve with tortilla chips (what Super Bowl Party would be complete without tortilla chips?)

I personally will be watching the game at a friend's house with several other couples. I figure that the women will be drinking wine and the men will be gulping down beer and eating wings. Of course, there will be a lot of different things to eat, so I wouldn't pair a wine with any single item. And, on Game Day, I definitely don't want anything too "serious" or complex. I just want a simple, fun, easy drinking wine, a wine that I would enjoy at a barbeque perhaps. I will probably bring a nice jammy Zinfandel for all to enjoy. (Seghesio, Ravenswood, Rosenblum). If you are planning to drink white, again, just a simple wine - Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay perhaps. When I choose wines for a large, informal gathering like a Super Bowl party, I want to make sure the wines are not too "out there", and that my choices are ones that will appeal to everyone. I save my "off the beaten path" wines for smaller gatherings where the attendees really appreciate, or want to experiment and learn about wine.

But, after all, it is the Super Bowl. There's always beer as an option...

Monday, February 1, 2010

no place like home

One of my favorite discoveries in Queens is the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadow Park. I remember the park vividly from my childhood visits to the Worlds Fair, but having lived my entire life in Manhattan I never happened to set foot in the park again until I moved to Queens five years ago. The museum, situated in the middle of the park, looks onto the famous plaza which holds the amazing and massive globe sculpture, truly magnificent up close. There are all sorts of strange architectural fair-ground leftovers dotting the park that are fun to explore as you walk around.

My husband and I love to wander inside the  museum, paricularly on cold winter Sundays. It is generally a sleepy place with a wide range of international exhibits, but on occasion it busts out into party mode.
The Queens Musuem of Art is famous for its Panorama, a model scale replica of every building in New York City built by 1992

Yesterday was one of those party days. The museum was hosting an evening called Ecuadorian Renaissance in New York 2010. There were artists, musicians, installations, paintings, photographs and Argentine wine to be sampled.

The crowd seemed to be largely from Ecuador and the atmosphere was festive, elegant and proud. It seemed that a lot of memories were being stirred. We were invited to write our impressions of the event in a large journal and we hung out to sip wine and listen to some very catchy Ecuadorian hip-hop artists perform. The exhibit that most caught my eye was a video installation recalling a favorite national dish called Locro. The video was silent but I got the general idea that Locro was some kind of a potato cheese soup.
Installation by artists Maria Viteri & Maria Fenanda Moscoso
I was able to piece together the recipe from watching the video.

When I got home I Googled the name of the dish and came upon multiple recipes, each slightly different. Locro is described as a beloved Ecuadorian dish that has as many variations as people who cook it. Inspired, I read over a few recipes and came up with my own version. Aside from the crucial ingredients of potatoes and cheese, there were a few recurring variables to consider.

The inclusion of milk, eggs, annatto oil, cumin and pumpkin, were debated on several sites. I decided to go with the annatto oil and a little bit of milk, and for an American touch I used Cheddar cheese. In no time I had a large pot going. The soup was so good! Really hearty and warming and full of flavor, I could see how this soup could ignite passionate feelings and remind one of home.

I made annatto oil from annatto seeds that I buy in the hispanic section of the supermarket. Add a teaspoon of seeds to 1/4 cup of oil, heat for 2-3 minutes till oil turns bright orange. Turn off heat and allow oil to seep for 15 minutes, then pour oil through a strainer and discard seeds.

One recipe recommended CRACKing the potatoes open with the point of your knife by inserting and twisting, rather than chopping them. I HAD to try this! It worked best when I first cut the potato in half, as I was afraid I would break the tip of my knife off inside the potato. 
I also left some of the peel on the potatoes.

Locro- Ecuadorian Potato Cheese Soup
1 Tbs. Olive oil or Annatto oil
1 onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. salt
3 scallions, minced
3 Tbs chopped parsley
2 lbs potatoes peeled and cut into cubes
4 cups water
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
cayenne pepper or paprika for garnish

Heat oil in large soup pot. Add onions, garlic and salt and cook till golden and softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add the scallions and the parsley and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the potatoes and the water and bring to a simmer. Cook for at least half an hour till potatoes are soft and cooked through.

Add the cheese and the milk and stir, continuing to simmer until the cheese melts. Put half the soup in a food processor or through a food mill to puree. Add the puree back into the soup pot with the rest of the soup. Heat through and serve. Garnish with a pinch of paprika or cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of grated cheese. serves four.

While I sit here contemplating a wine, I must fill you in on the meal I am eating as I write - Deb's Chickpea, quinoa and spinach burger recipe. One word to say - SCRUMPTIOUS! Delightfully crispy on the outside, and just full of flavor all around, I plated mine with fresh crisp greens topped with a soy vinaigrette. A perfect, light, and satisfying dinner. Thanks Deb, for another winner!
As for the Ecuadorian Potato Cheese soup - this is one soup recipe where you can actually go heavier on the wine, especially with the cheddar. And, really red or white would work, depending on your mood. I personally would lean towards red on this one. Malbec is certainly one option, and Argentina is a good source. The wines are dark and juicy with typically mild tannins. In this case, the tannins are fine as the cheddar will soften them. A Malbec would serve to complement the rich creaminess of the soup as well.
One of my favorite producers of Malbec at the moment is Catena, located in the Mendoza region of Argentina. This is such a deep, dark, rich, lush outstanding wine, and can be found for only $16.99. The flavors are complex and layered, with tobacco and spice coming through on the palate. Susana Balbo is another incredibly talented winemaker in Argentina who includes world-class Malbec in her fabulous line-up of wines.
If you are fancying white with this soup, I would go for either a rich, creamy California Chardonnay (not too much oak) or perhaps a white from the South of France - one of my favorite areas for whites. Grape varietals used are usually Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette. If you have not yet tried any whites from the Rhone, please do! Rich, creamy and mouthfilling, the wines display beautiful nuances of honey, peach and almond. Stand-out producers to seek out are Chateau Pesquie, Guigal, Domaine Jean-Luis Chave and Domaine Giraud.  Trust me - these wines are worth seeking out!
For Deb's recipe, it's OK to go with a bigger and bolder wine as mentioned earlier. Just think of the soup's characteristics and translate them into wine. Be sure not to go too light on this wine! Enjoy!