Friday, March 25, 2011

spring ahead

Sometimes you have to go backwards in order to move forward. That was the idea, at least, when my husband and I drove up to the Berkshire Mountains of Massachussets last weekend. MA is about three weeks behind us in NYC as far as weather and the seasons go.
There is still snow on the mountains and nary a bud nor green shoot in sight. What we did see was plenty of raging streams which are a real Northern springtime phenomena caused by all the melting snow.
 The water was moving so quickly if you fell in you would be whisked out of sight in a blink.

While in the Berkshires we hiked in a state forest, went to visit two museums and ate in a couple of very nice restaurants.
Beartown State Forest offered up this pristine trail around frozen Benedict Pond. The air was so pure and the silence so profound I wanted to weep. While on the trail we met a group of young hikers on their way down the mountain from where they had spent the night camping outdoors to witness the Super Full Moon. We were very impressed!

The Clark Institute in Williamstown had a European Portraits show in addition to their fantabulous nineteenth century European and American paintings collection.  MassMOCA, the gallery and performance space in North Adams, dazzled us with an over the top installation of taxidermy and plastic flower sculptures by Petah Coyne.
I couldn't resist posing in front of this delightful site-specific spray painting by artist Katharina Grosse at MassMOCA. The colors just scream SPRINGTIME!

Dinner at  Castle Street Cafe in Great Barrignton was a warm respite from the cold. They have live jazz on the weekends and we caught the tail end of a set while we ate Linguini Provencal and French Onion Soup. On Saturday night we splurged and had an elegant meal at The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough. With a rustic yet formal simplicity, the decor, worthy of Emily Dickinson, transported us back a few centuries. It was about half way through the meal when I realized the entire dining room was lit solely by candle light. Dinner was nothing less than perfect, if perfection is your thing. I swooned over an appetizer of a single seared scallop topped with a chunk of lobster and surrounded by an insanely rich lobster sauce. Pretty darned good.

All this eating and drinking and hiking kept me too busy to think much about my own cooking. I am offering up this link to my friend and fellow chef Katie's recipe for Vegetable Stew cooked in Guinness. The idea really grabbed my interest. The stew slow cooks for four hours and the Guinnesss reduces down to a syrupy gravy. Sounds amazing!

Amanda. What would one drink with a vegetable Guinness stew if one was not drinking Guinness?

Deb, the pictures are beautiful and it sounds like you had an amazing time! The Old Inn on the Green sounds spectacular. I fondly remember a trip I took to Great Barrington with a friend and her family when I was 14. Many, many moons ago!

For Katie's Vegetable Stew cooked in Guinness, I would definitely stick with red. The Guinness I'm sure produces a wonderfully rich, flavorful sauce. So I would opt for something medium to full bodied with plenty of depth and complexity to complement the gravy. The gravy's syrupy texture combined with the full-flavors imparted by the Guinness call for a wine that is "big" enough to not be overpowered by the sauce. Cabernet Franc has a flavor profile I think would be perfectly suited to this stew. It is one of the main grapes used in Bordeaux. It is also used in other regions to produce Bordeaux-style wines, (Meritage) when blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This relative of Cabernet Sauvignon is widely planted in the Loire Valley, specifically Anjou, Saumur Champigny, and Chinon.

Typical aromas and flavors include tobacco, green pepper, raspberry, chocolate and cassis. While the most "classic" Cabernet Franc examples can be found throughout France, there are a plethora of fine domestic Cab Francs as well. The cooler French regions produce lighter versions of the grape while warmer regions such as California produce wines with greater alcohol and therefore more body. I'm thinking domestic for Katie's stew. St. Francis McCoy Vineyard Cabernet Franc is a reasonably priced ($19.99) jammy, spicey wine with hints of chocolate and a medium body.

So if Guinness is not what you're craving, ask you local wine shop for a recommendation on a great Cab Franc!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


We are on the edge of Spring and I am bouncing with joy. The longer days mean the growing season can really begin. I had the incredible good fortune to be invited to tour a NYC public school's new rooftop greenhouse, courtesy of Wellness in the Schools (WITS) and New York Sunworks. WITS worked tirelessly to get the (massive) funding for this fantastic project. The pictures tell the whole story. I will only add that we were also invited to taste the crops, picking cherry tomatoes right off the vine and plucking tender baby greens from their hydroponic homes. Heaven!
Isn't this sublime!? This pristine space is used for growing and teaching. What lucky students. The blue tub in the center is a fish pond that houses tilapia. Not for eating! They do something nutritious for the plants with the waste.

Cherry Tomatoes!
 Snap peas!
Hydroponically grown greens and herbs.
Everything was so fresh and green. The air made you woozy from all the Oxygen.
In case you were wondering if worm poop was good for anything.

A nibble on this kale confirmed that it was as tender as any lettuce I have ever eaten. Now this is a kale salad I would be interested in.

As a Wellness in the Schools cook I was invited to work with a few of our other cooks to come up with a harvest tasting menu to present to the entire school next month- eight hundred servings! We naturally thought of salads and are now planning the details for this exciting event. In order to showcase the leafy greens we are preparing a selection of vinaigrettes to dress them with. One way to get some variety into a standard oil and vinegar emulsion is to create some fruit infused vinegars. The fruit will give the vinaigrette a distinctively perfume-y yet subtle fruity flavor.

To pursue this thought and in an experimenting mood I picked up a ripe mango at my corner grocery store. Mangos come into season in May (in the Caribbean, that is) so I am pushing things a bit, but we in NY are the lucky recipients of the imported crop, so mangos in their season are worth seeking out, even here. Strawberries, again I'm pushing it, will be everywhere soon (ish) and citrus fruits are on the way out from the winter season. So stradling all this and common sence be damned, I made a few infusions for my own consumption and I would be happy to share them with you if you would like to come over for a salad.

 Get yourself some tender leafy greens; they will soon be flooding the farmers markets.
Infused vinegars: mango, strawberry and tangerine

Fruit Infused Vinegars
•Use 1/4-1/2 cup of fruit to 1 cup of cider vinegar. 
•For citrus fruits use just the peel and add a tablespoon of the zest.
•Wash and chop the fruit and smash it a bit with the back of a spoon or the side of a knife to bruise it a bit.
•Put the fruit and the vinegar in a clean jar and cover. Leave in a cool dark place or fridge for at least 24 hours.
•Strain the fruit out before using.

The strawberry vinegar is my favorite. The sweet springtime flavor really comes through. The tangerine vinegar has a beautiful bouquet. The mango vinegar had the more subtle flavor. I suggest using the ripest mango possible. Young tender salad greens will be elevated to a fragrant high when you dress them with these vinegars.

I am in awe of all that WITS is accomplishing. Any plans for Mr. Telepan to launch it nationally??!! What an incredible gift he (and his staff) are giving to the children.

These infused vinegars sound wonderful! And simple! You can choose your wine based on the choice of fruit. For example, for a vinaigrette using strawberry, or cherry infused vinegar, pick a bright Rose with lot of ripe fruit flavors. The wines you choose should have good acidity to stand up to the acidity of the vinegar. For citrus infused vinegars, opt for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with the characteristic citrus flavors. A bright, bubbly will work also, like Prosecco. Rieslings are also know as being highly acidic wines, and work very well with salad too. In fact, this would be a great option for a vinaigrette using mango-infused vinegar.

The main thing you want to do when pairing a salad with wine is to create flavors that are in balance. If your wine does not have enough acidity, and the dressing is to overpowering, it will fall flat. It might be a good idea to use a little more oil when making your vinaigrette - this will soften the acidity thus making it more wine-friendly. The fruit, too, will soften the acidity of the vinegar. Adding a bit of cheese to your salad is also a great idea! Cheese serves as a great neutralizer for vinegar's astringent acidity. These tips should make your wine and salad pairing much easier!

Here's to Spring and all the beautiful, healthful gifts nature has to offer us!

And congrats, Deb, for all the wonderful things you and WITS are achieving together! You are truly making a difference.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What's that green?

-DeborahWalking across Central Park this Friday afternoon I was floating on air; the promise of a new season had me elevated. Good fortune found me with my camera. Bad fortune showed the battery quickly dying. I managed to shoot a few Springtime sightings before the camera went black.
Daffodils are beginning to pop up at the 69th Street entrance on Central Park West.


and more buds!

The grass is doing its damnedest to make an appearance.

Even the sea lions at the zoo were taking advantage of the blast of sunshine.

My giddy mood altered quickly when I got home to discover my sweetie hubby sick and cranky with a wicked head cold. SOUP was all he wanted, so I got down to business, looked into my empty cupboard and fridge and improvised a simple miso soup to soothe his throat and warm the belly.

Miso soup is so easy to make and it can handle a variety of ingredients. The miso paste itself comes in several types. I like a medium flavored miso (red) for soups rather than the dark versions (barley) or the light (white) misos. I'm not a connoisseur, but I find the medium color the most versatile. It is fun to sample different misos to see which you prefer.

•Heat up a quart of water or vegetable stock in a saucepan.
•When it comes to a boil add a cup of thinly sliced or grated vegetables
-some possibilities are scallions, carrots, winter squash, summer squash, mushrooms, sprouts, leafy greens, tofu, green beans, sea vegetables
•cook for about five minutes until the vegetables are tender.
•add a swig of soy sauce.
•add a small bundle of rice noodles, stir and cook five more minutes.
•place a quarter cup of miso into a stainer and lower the strainer into the soup pot stirring to dissolve the miso into the broth, do not let soup boil once miso has been added.
•taste and adjust seasoning
My husband was grateful for the steaming savory liquid, but seriously questioned what the green stuff was. SPINACH, eat it!

Amanda I would love a glass of wine right now. Forget the miso soup. What will make me think of Spring?

In the wine world, nothing shouts "Spring" more than a beautiful, crisp glass of Rose! I haven't gone that route yet. Rather I am waiting, ever so patiently, for that first perfect Spring day. I don't want my first sip of Rose for the year to be wasted on a not-so-great day. I wait too long for that moment to have it thrown away if the weather is not "just right". So I will continue to wait.

There's nothing like sipping a glass of Rose outside, on a warm, sunny Spring day. Extremely versatile when it comes to food, pair a pretty pink wine with barbeque, grilled vegetables, salads, fish, and even omelets. There are so many wonderful values out there, and a plethora of styles to choose from. For a bigger, bolder style, seek out a Rose from the Bordeaux region of France. The Chateau Fontenille Bordeaux Clairet is a fine example, and only $11.99! A blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, this Rose is full of fresh fruit and fine character. For something more crisp and light, France offers plenty of options. Look for something from Tavel, or Cotes de Provence. Domaine Ott, while pricey, can offer beautiful representations of Provence. Their Les Domaniers is a spicey blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. At around $22 it's not necessarily an "everyday" wine - but it is worth the price! Looking for something with loads of fruit? Check out a Rose from Chile, Spain or Argentina. One of my perennial favorites is the Crios Rose of Malbec from Susanna Balbo. This Argentine gem can be found in the $10 price range.

Roses are fun, warm-weather wine. Remember, these are meant to be enjoyed when young - do not cellar these. Make sure the ones you are buying are recent vintages too - look for 2010's. Stay away from anything like 2008 or before. So, go stock up on some Roses! Crack open a bottle on the first perfect Spring day that comes your way!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I kind of find it therapeutic, actually. Put on some music, have a little drink.  It's very different to cooking in a school kitchen. It's like having a massage, really.

-Jamie Oliver speaking about cooking at home for his family 

The music is on, the drink is poured. Let the massage begin! Jamie Oliver cracks me up. He is a very earnest bloke and I really admire his work. His heart and soul are truly in the right place. I am trying to imagine cooking at home as a massage and while I would not quite phrase it that way I get what he means. It is relaxing and keeps you loose and toned, both stimulated and at peace. On a good day at least! 
This week my cooking mind went blank. End of winter ingredient options are not that exciting any more. I don't know where it came from exactly, but I started having a craving for popcorn. Not the stuff you make in the microwave, but the stove top version made from whole kernels. 
This is the way I made it as a kid, in a wide pot with a coating of vegetable oil at the bottom, heated high until the three or four test kernels I had thrown in would pop. My rule of thumb then is to cover the bottom of the pot with a single layer of kernels, cover and shake. If the popping gets too frenzied and you are concerned about burning, move the pot off the flame for a few seconds periodically to allow the heat to come down. 
Popcorn can be found in farmers markets and health food stores.  It would probably be worth going organic on this one if you can. My Grenada spice mix (sea salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and bay) was still beckoning me so I sprinkled that on top of my popped corn with a little drizzle of melted butter. What a treat! Surprisingly, the cloves in the spice mix really stood out and tasted amazing on the popcorn. I could not stop eating it. (Maybe that is not such a good thing?)  Other spice mixes would work equally well. Try curry powder or chili powder or even a blend of dried herbs. 
Popcorn with wine? Why not? It makes a great snack or party appetizer. The seasoning can be whatever you want and you could make the case that it is healthy or at least not heinously UNhealthy, so enjoy!

I totally agree with Jamie Oliver. I find cooking extremely therapeutic - the chopping, dicing, mincing, etc. It's hypnotic. It relaxes me and just puts me completely someplace else, mentally. It's my "go to" drug so to speak.

I am tired of microwaving popcorn. In fact, I use the microwave less and less and would just love to get rid of the thing already. Next time I make popcorn, I will definitely use this method, especially since it means I don't have to go out and buy a new popcorn maker. I never would have thought of just cooking it on the stove, in a pot. Love this idea.

I would not get crazy over a wine pairing of course. Anything will do - just decide what you are in the mood for, and what the setting and occasion are. For a night curled up with a good book or movie, I would sip on something comforting - red perhaps that's rich and "warm". I might even pour myself a snifter of cognac or armagnac, especially if it is a chilly night. If this is part of party starters, I'm drinking Prosecco or Cava. If the boys want to enjoy it for their poker night or baseball game with the guys, a seasonal beer might be fun, e.g. Sam Adams Summer Ale on a warm night.

For this particular fun snack idea, I would not pair with the ingredients but rather with the context of the setting, the company, and your frame of mind!