Monday, February 28, 2011

The Spice Island

Nutmeg growing on the tree, Grenada's most famous crop.

The best way to kick the prolonged winter blues is to get out of town. Last week, spent in the incredible Caribbean island of Grenada, was completely restorative and beyond inspiring! This charming island hosts a rain forest and is dense with lush beauty. We saw a lot of rain while there which is unusual for this time of year, but the result is a lot of healthy greenery. The people of Grenada are so kind, warm, and gracious my heart was captured the minute I arrived.
The Grand Etang Forest Reserve in Grenada has trails for hiking.
The Seven Sisters waterfalls was a short hike into the forest. The water was really that green and a perfect temperature for cooling off. Too bad we didn't get to see any monkeys.
Pink Gin Beach, a dramatically beautiful beach on the southern tip with billowing clouds worthy of a Turner painting.

Sea shells collected by the 
sea shore

Ahhhhhhh, paradise!
The benefits of rain!
Lest you think all I did was walk around with my jaw hanging open admiring all the natural beauty, let me assure you that my jaw was also moving up and down quite a bit eating all the delicious local delicacies the island has to offer. The smell of nutmeg follows you just about everywhere and that is not a bad thing as far as I am concerned. I had nutmeg waffles, nutmeg ice cream and nutmeg scented polenta, just to name a few spectacular offerings. The resort where we (husband and I) stayed was the incomparable LaSource. The food was fantastic and much local produce was featured. I began to take notice of the braised vegetable dishes that usually contained pumpkin and chayote, two very typical Caribbean crops. 
The green chayote is about the size of a large grapefruit. These whole spices which include nutmeg and cloves are sold strung together as natural air fresheners for your kitchen. I bought mine from a beach vendor. (Check out my friend Pat's blog post about shopping on the beaches of Grenada.)
These vegetables are easy to cook, have great flavor and are very satisfying. Pumpkin has a nice creamy texture and sweet nutty flavor. Chayote (or christophene) has a crisp watery texture and a light bright flavor. The two combined create an attractive dish. I picked up a Grenadian spice mix at the market which is a blend of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and bay leaves. I am going to be using it to season EVERYTHING for a while.

I cannot say enough about the wonderful island of Grenada, it is well worth making a visit to this very special place!

Braised Pumpkin and Chayote with Grenadian Spices

2 Tbs. butter
2 cups cubed pumpkin
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups cubed chayote
1/4 teas. ground nutmeg
1/4 teas. ground cloves
1/4 teas. cinnemon
1/2 cup water (or coconut milk) 
1/2 lime
3 Tbs. toasted peppitas for garnish

Heat butter in a saute pan and add the cubed pumpkin and the salt and pepper. Cook stirring frequently for 10 minutes till the pumpkin is almost cooked through. Add the chayote, the spices and the water. stir to copat all the vegetables with the butter, pan juices and spices. Cover and cook for another ten minutes till the chayote is tender. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime over the vegetables and top with toasted pepitas.

To toast the peppitas (pumpkin seeds) lay them flat in a pan, sprinkle with a little olive oil and salt  and place in 350 oven for 5 minutes till lightly golden brown.

Welome home! Sounds (and looks) like you had a marvelous trip! The pictures are gorgeous. I hope you came back well-rested! As for your delectable recipe...I have looked up and down for pumpkin this time of year and have been unable to come across any. Where did you find it? And, is the chayote readily available? That is a vegetable (or fruit?) I am entirely unfamiliar with.
Gewurztraminer would be a very interesting, and I'm sure beautiful, choice for this dish. Typically off-dry, this grape produces wines with astounding floral aromas. Flavors of lychee and passionfruit are common. Gewurz (it's nickname) is incredibly unique and really cannot be compared to any other wine. Loaded with spice, it would complement the Grenadian spices in Deb's dish perfectly.

To find the finest expression of Gewurz, look for one from Alsace, France. Styles range from dry to very sweet. The sweet wines are perhaps among the most delicious I have ever experienced - they are indeed heavenly. But for Deb's recipe, I would stick with dry or slightly off-dry.

And, as an "aside"...20 more days till Spring! Yay! Looking forward to switching culinary gears and loading up on all of nature's Springtime goodies!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

spicy potatoes

A sign of impending Spring,  forced forsythia branches from my backyard.

We are heading into the home stretch. I can just feel it. The days are getting longer and the wind has shifted, blowing in the beginning of a new season. Don't hang your coat up yet. There are still plenty of cold days to go, but the countdown to warmth has begun.
Cooking remains back to basics until the farmers markets kick in again. I am looking at potatoes with a weary eye, but not giving up hope. I came across a Thai version of these stir fry potatoes and decided to give them a try using the chili's my sister brought back for me from her recent trip to Cambodia.
Needless to say I got a little carried away with the chilies when preparing this recipe, overly excited by my special ingredient, I ended up making it a little too spicy for my husband to eat. Sorry sweetie. I loved it, spicy is always good for me. The chopped scallions give the dish a burst of freshness and some needed color.
This dish is easy to make and quite delicious to eat. Watch out for the chilies and make it as spicy as you like.

Spicy Wok Fried Potatoes
• boil 4 unpeeled red potatoes in a pot of salted water till cooked tender (the potato will slide off a knife when stabbed)
• drain potatoes and coarsely chop them.
• heat about 3 Tbs. canola oil in a wok
• add 2-6 dried chilies, depending on your taste
• stir fry the chilies for barely a minute then add the potatoes. Cook on high heat stirring frequently for about 3 minutes. Let the potatoes get brown and crispy.
• add one bunch of chopped scallions and salt to taste and continue to stir fry for another minute.
serves 2

With the leftovers (the portion my husband wouldn't eat) the next day, I adding a couple of beaten eggs to the potatoes and pan fried them to make something akin to a Spanish tortilla. Wonderful!

Mmmmm. Spicy, fried potatoes. Doesn't get much better than that! And I love what you did with the leftovers! Such a great idea! The perfect wine for this meal jumped out at me immediately. It was the spicy element of the chilies that immediately cried out for a "sweet-ish" Riesling. The reason for me is really two-fold. First, a wine slightly on the sweet side is really what you want to look to pair with spicy foods. The sweetness of the wine will quell the heat of the chilies, which is very important. A drier wine, higher in alcohol, will only intensify the heat. Plus, the heat will destroy the flavors of the wine. So, sweetness is definately a quality you want to look for. Second, Rieslings are acidic wines. The acid of the wine will help cut through and balance the richness of the oil.

Remember, when you are pairing wine with food, you want to pay attention to the dominant flavors (sauces, dressing, spices) in the dish. For particularly spicy dishes, you want to stay away from a lot of reds - especially ones high in tannin. If you are really craving a red, look for a simple Grenache perhaps. There will be an abundance of fruit which can work well with spicier foods.

To become acquainted with Riesling, look for German wines from St Urbans Hof or Peter Mertes. Trimbach, from Alsace is another terrific producer worth seeking out. These producers all make wines in the $10-$15 price range.

Friday, February 11, 2011

a fine romance

 Cards for everyone in the family. Gotta spread the love!

There is something romantic about a tart. Even the word TART sounds sexy and risque! With Valentine's day on our doorstep my fancy has turned towards pastry crust. In particular I am thinking about a whole wheat crust for a savory tart. Improbably for this time of year I could not shake the desire to fill my tart shell with zucchini. Potatoes and mushrooms would help fill it out.
By sauteing the vegetables before adding them to the crust the flavors get built up. The idea is to cut the vegetables into a small dice so they cook quickly and stay tender.
The crust I had in mind was a simple whole wheat crust. I found a recipe online and then tweaked it a bit. The results were divine! The crust tasted great and had a truly delicate texture which is exactly what I was after. For the filling I added a few eggs and some cheese to the vegetables, almost like a quiche, but a little less eggy. This tart makes a nice starter to a romantic dinner or could be served as part of a breakfast, say, in bed!

Zucchini Potato Mushroom Tart
The Filling:
2 medium zucchinis cut into a small dice
1 cup mushrooms, cut into a small dice
1 medium red potato, cut into a small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs. Butter
2 Tbs olive oil
2 eggs beaten
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup cheese coarsely grated (fontina, chedder, grueyer, or goat)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the the oil and the butter in a saute pan. Add the zucchini and the garlic and cook quickly for 4-5 minutes until the zucchini browns a bit and is tender. Remove zucchini from pan and put into a bowl. Put the potatoes in the pan and saute for 7-8 minutes until the potatoes are tender and brown in spots. Put the cooked potatoes in the same bowl with the zucchini. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for 5 minutes until tender. Add the mushrooms to the bowl with the other vegetables. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, the cheeses and the milk and then pour it over the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the tart shell and bake at 350 for 25 minutes until set.

The Tart Shell:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup butter (cold), cut into small pieces
2 Tbs. vegetable shortening
1 Tbs. sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 Tbs. Milk

Put the flours, the salt and the sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter, bit by bit, pulsing once or twice with each addition. Add the shortening and pulse a few more times. Slowly add the milk, one Tbs. at a time, pulsing as you go untill the dough just comes togetther. Remove dough from the food processor and wrap in plastic wrap, flattening the dough into a disc. Refridgerate dough for one hour.
Heat oven to 4oo degrees. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out on a flat surface between two pieces of saran wrap. Roll it out gently to about 1/4 inch thick and wide enough to fit a 9 inch removeable bottom tart pan. Transfer the dough to the pan and gently crimp the edges. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes till the crust is golden. Remove from oven and proceed to the instructions for the filling above.
Happy Valentine's Day !

Looks incredible! Staying home on Valentine's Day is so full of possibities! There are an infinite amount of things to cook and wines to drink. Candles, a little Barry White in the background perhaps...A plethora of ideas to "set the mood".

Deb's tart seems like the perfect Valentine's dish. And, I have the perfect "romantic" wine  to partner with it - its soulmate if you will. The Hugel Cuvee Les Amours Pinot Blanc is without doubt a delicious match for this tart! From Alsace, France, it is more fleshy than usual for a Pinot Blanc. It is creamy yet bright and fresh, with aromas of flowers and citrus fruit. The body, texture and flavors all work in sync with the flavor profile of the Zucchini Potato tart to create the perfect marriage! A mouthwatering combination!

And what's also amazing about this wine is the price. It can be found for around $10-$11. Hugel is one of the top producers in Alsace, and one of my personal favorites. It will simply shine next to Deb's work of art!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

a wintery lentil salad

Let's not even mention the weather. Forget it. There is nothing to say. The good news is that being cooped up allows one to spend some time thinking about things. Like recipes!
Lentils were on my mind and I felt a longing to combine them with a strong lemony flavor. Lentil salad I'm thinking, with a lemon vinaigrette. I would need some dark leafy greens for the "bed" and some cheesey cheese to keep it interesting. I stopped on my way home today and picked up a bunch of spinach and some Danish Blue cheese.  Ready to get started!
The other element I wanted to add to this salad was roasted shallots, deeply caramalized and gooey. The finished salad would require a lot of steps, but none too complicated and all fairly quick.

For the lemon vinaigrette I wanted it to be super tart and lemony so I made a lemon oil by heating the zest of a lemon and a few cloves of garlic in olive oil to intensify the flavor.
Lemon zest, garlic cloves, and black pepper corns get heated in olive oil.
While the lentil were boiling I quartered a few shallots and popped them in the oven to roast. It then occured to me to toast up some peppitas (pumpkin seeds) while I was at it for a little crunch. The preparations all required a bit of busy work, but the results were worth it. 
The salad was a smash hit as far as I'm concerned. The lentils were still warm and had a great earthy flavor, the spinach wilted slightly and had a fresh irony taste, the peppitas gave a nutty crunch, the shallots were smooth and sweet and the blue chese gave the knock-out punch: sharp, tangy and creamy. Each bite held a multitude of flavors and textures with the assertive lemon vinaigrette bringing it all together. Without TOO much trouble I had a salad that would be right at home in a trendy restaurant and it barely took me half an hour to make.
What weather?
Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, NY was so peaceful and quiet this weekend. Is it too soon to be thinking of picnics?

French Lentils, Blue Cheese and Roasted Shallot Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

3 cups water
3/4 cup French Lentils
zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 shallots, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup raw peppitas
juice of one lemon
1/2 teas. salt
freshly ground pepper
1 bunch spinach, washed and spun dry
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan and add the lentils, let them cook for about 20 minutes, till tender, then drain and allow to cool a bit.
In another small saucepan add the olive oil, the garlic cloves, the peppercorns and bring to a low simmer for about five minutes, then turn off heat and allow the oil to cool. Peel and quarter the shallots and toss with a tablespoon of the lemon oil. Put the shallots in a small pan and roast for 15 minutes till very golden and tender. Put the peppitas in a small baking tray and toss with 2 teaspoons of the lemon oil and toast in the oven for 5 minutes till golden (watch that they don't burn). Strain the rest of the olive oil and reserve to make the vinaigrette.

Make the vinaigrette: in a small bowl combine the lemon juice, salt and ground pepper to taste. Slowly add the rest of the olive oil, whisking as you go. 

Arrange the spinach leaves on a platter. Mound the lentils in the center of the platter. Arrange the roasted shallots around the lentils, sprinkle the blue cheese and the peppitas over the salad and then drizzle the lemon vinaigrette on top.
Serves two.

Wow! Absolutely gorgeous! Can't wait to try this healthy wintertime salad. For wine, my thoughts actually go in two directions. The first would be to focus on the blue cheese component of the salad, and enjoy a wine with a touch of sweetness. Typically a sweeter wine is the perfect match for a blue cheese, whether it be a Sauternes or even Port. The sweet quality of the wine is a delicious contrast to the salty nature of the cheese - a match made in heaven!

With that in mind, I would choose a Chenin Blanc. The grape has different characteristics depending on where it is grown. For example, in the Anjou region of France the wine will exhibit a dryer style, while in Vouvray,  it will be more off-dry (slightly sweet). The honeyed, floral flavors of Vouvray would lead me to this option. Chenin Blanc is a very versatile wine when it comes to food, but there are such a large variety of styles that you should be familiar with what you are buying when you are searching for the ideal match. The wines can be very dry or very sweet, and lots of places in between! I would choose an off-dry style for Deb's salad - this will work marvelously with the strong, dominant flavors of the blue cheese.

My other inclination would be to focus on the flavors of the lemon vinaigrette and match a wine accordingly. Sauvignon Blanc is fresh, tangy and citrusy with good acidity. With this in mind, a Sancerre would be my second choice.

While either wine, though very different, will work - I'm leaning towards the Chenin Blanc! I guess the only way to find out for sure is to make the salad, pour two glasses of wine, and see for myself! But if you are unfamiliar with this grape, make sure you seek the assistance of a knowlegeable salesperson so you know what you are getting!