Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tweeting and Tasting Bonny Doon Syrah with Roasted Sirloin

Bonny Doon Syrah red wine served with with Roasted Sirloin

My coffee kicking in, I was ready to get a blog post finished this morning. I realized I had several in the queue here, all various food and wine pairing posts from the past month or so. Which to finish? Well, I had a pretty good photo for this, a definite nod in favor of getting this one done. There's also a good backstory to this one, a "Twitter success story" of sorts. Made me think of Matt of Hoot N Annie fame exhorting wineries to embrace social media more...and to actually be social on social media, such as in this post.

The Twitter story starts with Randall Grahm, whose title per his Twitter bio @RandallGrahm is "Founder, Winemaker, Terroirist/Vinarchist and Prez-for-Life" for Bonny Doon Vineyard. Despite having well over 300,000 followers, Randall still manages to be very personal and engaging on Twitter. I noted a tweet one morning about some olive oil he was producing, which piqued my curiousity (we go through EVOO about the same rate as wine here!).
As you can see, Randall quickly chimed in with some interesting notes about their EVOO. This must have been lingering in my mind a bit as I perused the section of "big, bold reds" at Pairings. I was looking for something from that department, in the twenty-something dollar range, to serve with our sirloin steak that night. I was planning to prepare my go-to garlic/cumin rub on the steak, so was thinking a zin or syrah would be good to pick up the spice element. There were a number of good contenders waiting to be plucked from the shelf, but the nod went to the 2010 Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah.

Now, typically if I think I might blog about a wine or wine pairing, I take a few rough notes that evening, to be cleaned up and elaborated upon later. But this tale started on Twitter, so in the spirit of that medium, I'm going to share my raw, unedited notes with just a few extra notes. Here goes:

first impressions
label of 2010 Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah red wine

Big chewy wine.
what does frankincense smell like? (here the blogger is clearly in the Christmas spirit. Typically he might have summoned something like "violets" or "forest floor" to describe the bouquet.)

further thoughts post-dinner
nose: musky. hint of bacon?
taste: blackberry, meaty. chewy, thinking pork (the blogger may be influenced in his description by past Twitter exchanges with @RandallGrahm wherein the winemaker noted that many of their wines have an affinity for pork)

curious how it would age. (drinkable now but I suspect it might be even better in a few years!)

definitely has a spice element that worked nicely w the cumin in the rub.

OK, that was about it in my "night of" notes. Wrapping up now...
A quick note on the steak preparation: when my grill is covered in snow, I prepare the rub with roughly equal parts cumin, garlic powder, salt and sometimes a dash of something else, such as cinnamon or sage. I rub it on the steak, let it sit for about 20 minutes. Then I sear both sides of the steak in a skillet on the stove top, then roast for about 10 to 12 minutes at 400. Gets it to a nice medium rare. Not quite as good as grilled but still quite yummy. And in case it didn't come across clearly enough in my brief notes, I'm definitely adding Le Pousseur to my "wines to get again list"!

It seems my mention of my wine choice being influenced by earlier Tweets with Randall might encourage him to continue his active presence there...a good thing!

One final note of interest on the pairing is that Randall said he typically pairs this wine with "softer foods" which I'll have to try. I'll sign off for now with that tweet, but perhaps will be back with an update with any further insight Randall or others might have on this wine and pairings for it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Super Simple Christmas Pizza

I typically wouldn't bother posting anything so simple. Or that I put together so haphazardly. But it is almost Christmas, and I might not be the only one that still has substantial shopping left to do and a need to make food for a few gatherings. So maybe something simple but festive looking isn't such a bad idea? Maybe even worth a blog post? I vote yes!

Now, this Christmas pizza wasn't born out of a desire to create something aesthetically pleasing for the holiday. Rather, it was prompted by my quest to limit waste of food. It bugs me to no end that something like 40% of food in America gets wasted. I'm on a constant quest to use as much of the food in our home as possible, to lower that figure and our budget. Now, when the food in question is pesto, I'm definitely on a mission!

Here's what you need for this:

Pesto--about 1 cup or a little less will do. I had some leftover, but if you want to whip up a fresh batch, here's my always popular recipe.
Mozzarella cheese--I like the fresh mozzarella, and had a ball of it left from making pizza last week.
Tomato pasta sauce--I rarely use jarred tomato sauce, but do tend to keep it on hand for the occasional quick supper. Of course if you have a cup or so of your own that's awesome.
Pizza crust--Again, if you want to make your own, kudos to you...but your veering away from the simple theme. I go with the Whole Foods 365 Organic Whole Wheat, which we almost always have around because my 8 year old loves it with his dairy free cheese.
Olive oil--Just a tbsp or two will do.

The process: Preheat oven to 400. Place 1 pizza crust on a pizza baking tray. Slice your cheese up thin. Spread the olive oil over the crust to lightly coat. With a tablespoon, spread the pesto over roughly one half of the pizza, then with a clean spoon spread the tomato sauce over the other half. I find a fairly thin coating of the sauce is good so as not to overwhelm. Place the mozzarella slices around the pizza evenly. Put in oven, bake for about 10 minutes until cheese melts and begins to bubble and brown. Slice and enjoy! We had this for support last night but small slices would work to serve as a party appetizer.

The wine: We had some Chianti with this which is an obvious choice. Try a Barbera or Dolcetto for some variety!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

November Wines of Note

bottles of Bordeaux wine and their corks

I enjoy reading Matt and Annie's post on their Hoot N Annie blog about their top 3 wines of the month on a regular basis, and have been meaning to do something similar for awhile. It's fun to see what other wine savvy friends are enjoying, and to track what I've enjoyed. Posting some of my favorites monthly will also help me get back into doing an annual "Wines of the Year" column, which I haven't gotten to in recent years. The final nudge getting me going on this post is that I'm embracing the concept of creating "mini-habits" to help achieve goals, and my first one is to write 50 words every day. Now that I have that commitment to do some very consistent writing, a monthly post on wines of note is a natural. (oh my, just did a word count on this paragraph, more than double the goal write there!)

Now, I like Matt and Annie's style of picking 3 wines each every month, but just looking at my November wine sampling, keeping it a bit more open-ended is going to make more sense for me. I've got more detail on wines we had at home, but I had some great wine out and about, too. For instance, a few of us shared a great bottle of Italian red after our board meeting earlier in the month. It probably tops some that I've got here, but I couldn't tell you much more about it other than it being Italian and red! OK, enough preliminaries, on to my "Wines of Note" for the month.

bottle of 2009 Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato from the Piedmont region of Italy.
2009 Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato This Italian red wine from the Piedmont region has a lot of depth and layers of complexity. This paired nicely with some rigatoni with meat sauce. Ruché is an Italian red grape varietal, pretty uncommon at least in the US.

2010 Pont de Gassac Pays de Hérault This white blend from a great Languedoc winemaker features Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon if my notes are correct. Bright fruit, had the body to stand up to my Festive Fall Fettuccine.

2010 CasalVegri Valpolicella If you like Valpolicellas at all, definitely give this one a try if you can, it's top notch! We enjoyed with some roasted chicken and mushroom risotto.

Value department: The three wines mentioned above were in the $20ish range, not bad at all given their quality. But if like me your always on the lookout for enjoyable "every day" wines for closer to $10, you definitely need to get acquainted with wines from Portugal! In November, I enjoyed the 2009 Quinta da Casaboa Tintaboa, red blend of native Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Alicante Bouschet.
Ray Schaefer preparing for Bordeaux Wine Seminar

Now, I've covered my highlights of wines we enjoyed here with our meals. But my number one wine highlight for November was definitely the Pairings Wine and Food Bordeaux Seminar, part of a fun wine club series they host. Unfortunately, I seemed to have misplaced my notes, though they weren't especially detailed as I was more focused on enjoying the wine and conversation. Some that stick in my mind as being especially good from that event are the 2005 Chateau la Croix de Gay from Pomerol (predominantly Merlot), the 2006 Chateau Pedesclaux from Paulliac on the Left Bank, and the 2005 Chateau Coutet Sauternes-Barsac Cru. Again, with out the notes, I'll just say "Yum!" to all 3, and any of them would make wonderful Christmas gifts to any serious wine person on your list!

This is probably a good time to mention that all of the wines I've mentioned this month were found at Pairings Wine and Food in Winchester, MA. If you like wine and you are somewhere in the Boston area, definitely check out the shop...particularly on Saturdays when they have 6 wines with food pairings from 4 to 7, every week.

I realize I've written all this about November wines without mentioning Thanksgiving or anything from the U.S. Let me set that straight before signing off! We brought and enjoyed a Hahn Pinot Noir and a Deep Sea Pinot Noir, both from California. My sister brought a Mumm sparkling rosé, which was a nice way to get things started!

Now, I anticipate future monthly wines of note posts will be much shorter. But between Thanksgiving and a wine club gathering, there was an abundance of very good wine to sample and share about! Stay tuned for Decembers wines of note, and please let me know if you've come across noteworthy wines I ought to try!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Festive Fall Fettuccine

fettucine tossed with turnip cream, collard greens, cranberries and walnuts

If I put the main ingredients in the post title, you might have quickly passed this one by. But that would be a shame, because this is a tasty version of fettuccine, well-suited for fall. Now that you're reading this far, I can encourage you to stick with it and give it try!

OK, you're still with me? Leftover turnip puree served as the inspiration for this dish. Now, it's not too often I find myself inspired by turnips. But I was tried out Barbara Lynch's recipe in  Stir: Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition for Pork Chop with Caramelized Apples, Celery and Spiced Walnuts, which she recommended serving over turnip puree. It was a tasty dish, but generated a lot of extra turnip puree. Noting its thick creaminess, I figured that it would make a good basis for a pasta sauce. But it would need some salt and sweetness to offset the slight bitterness of the turnip. Bacon, which I like to cook with greens, and cranberries seemed to be in order...

I made this dish a few weeks ago, and am just now getting to finish up the post on the day after Thanksgiving. Which leads me to suggest that this would a nice way to use leftover turnips (see my note on how to do that in the instructions). I'd also imagine adding a few cups of bite sized pieces of turkey meat to the dish would be tasty, and a nice change of pace from turkey sandwiches!

Enough preliminaries, on to the details of the dish!

For the turnip puree (basically half of Chef Barbara's recipe is right for this dish):
1 cup heavy cream (I used coconut cream because of a dairy allergy).
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lb turnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

For the rest of the dish
1 bunch collard greens, coarsely chopped (other dark leafy greens like chard could work)
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup or so chicken broth
1 or 2 slices bacon
pinch salt and red pepper flakes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
bit of fresh oregano (or other fresh herb you have on hand)
12 ozs fettuccine noodles
1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted & coarsely chopped
handful of dried cranberries
1/4 cup or so feta cheese (or pecorino would work)

Make the turnip cream: Heat the cream and butter in a pan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the turnip and a pinch of salt. Reduce to simmer, partially covered, for 30 to 45 minutes, until the turnip is tender when pierced with a fork. Puree the combination in a food processor until you get a nice, even consistency. Return to the pan and keep warm on very low heat as you make the rest of the dish. Note: If you have cooked, mashed turnip already on hand from Thanksgiving or some other occasion, you could heat that turnip gradually with the cream, stirring to gradually combine.

Make the rest of the dish: Heat a large pot on medium high and spray with cooking oil (I use olive oil). Add the bacon and cook until it is nice and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and cool it on paper towel set on a plate to absorb the excess grease. Pour most of the extra grease out of the pan, but leave a bit for that bacon flavor! When the bacon is cool, crumble it into bite sized pieces and set it aside to add to the dish later.

Add a tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan, heat on medium. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or so until it starts getting fragrant. Gradually add the greens in a few batches, stirring the greens as you add them so they get well coated with the oil and garlic. Add a light pinch of salt, then stir in the chicken broth and balsamic vinegar. (You could certainly use other cooking liquid in place of chicken broth). Heat the liquid until it begins to simmer, then cover to cook gently on moderate heat. Stir the greens occasionally. You'll want to braise the greens for at least 20 minutes, 30 is better if you have time, so they get nice and tender, absorbing the garlic and broth flavor. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes about halfway through the greens cooking time.

Start boiling the water for pasta after you've added the greens. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta when it's done, then toss the pasta with the turnip puree. Once the turnip has coated the noodles well, toss in the the greens. Be sure to use up all the good liquid from cooking the greens to capture all the nutrients and flavor. After mixing the greens and pasta, stir in the cheese followed by the bacon. Plate the pasta, and top each dish with a bit of the walnuts and cranberries. Serve at the table with a bit of extra cheese, and enjoy!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thumbs-up, Dairy-free Grilled "Cheese"

Boy enjoying a dairy free grilled cheese
I tend to focus here on some of the fancier or at least creative dishes I cook. But for seven years now, we've been figuring out how to get our son with multiple food allergies safe, healthy and tasty food. Food allergies can be a bit overwhelming to those unfamiliar or recently diagnosed with them. So I will make a point to do more sharing about some of the recipes, tips and techniques that we've learned over the years. Our son B is allergic to eggs, all nuts, dairy and sesame seeds. See disclaimer at bottom of post.

A grilled cheese is far from fancy, but it is a comfort food that many of us have enjoyed. However, we've found it to be a challenging item to replicate with the products we've tried previously. Well, sure, I've stuck a some tasteless soy cheese between bread and tried to make a grilled cheese, but until this latest attempt, was never tasty enough to lure B away from his daily soynut butter sandwich. So let me describe each ingredient that combined to work for a tasty grilled "cheese" for our lad, followed by instructions just in case you haven't made one successfully before!

The "cheese":  When I mentioned B is allergic to dairy, Ellie in the Whole Foods Woburn cheese department suggested the Daiya cheddar style shreds specifically for making grilled cheese. This product is also soy free, with tapioca and/or arrowroot flours, some vegetable oils and pea protein listed among its main ingredients. The product is vegan-friendly. Unlike some other dairy-free cheeses we've tried, this melts quite nicely. Given the ingredients, this doesn't have the protein or calcium of a dairy cheese. Our son eats meat so we're not worried about getting enough protein.

daiya cheddar style shreds and earth balance spread
two of the key ingredients for dairy free grilled cheese!
The bread: Those that haven't contended with food allergies would probably be surprised at how hard it can be to find bread that doesn't contain milk and/or eggs. Oh, and of course, other breads that don't have those items may contain nuts, or have potential traces of them. Lately we have been choosing Whole Food Organic 100% Whole Wheat Bread. It's free of milk, eggs, and nuts, with wheat being the only listed allergen. It does contain the stipulation that it is "produced in a facility where various types of nuts...are used." We've been comfortable choosing Whole Foods products with this label, as long as it doesn't indicate potential for traces of nuts or that it was made using shared equipment that also uses the allergens we avoid.

The "butter": A generous amount on butter on the bread is key to getting a grilled cheese to cook up with that nice golden brown color. We have long been fans of the Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread. In fact, unlike some other dairy substitutes that I eschew, given that I can eat dairy, I like this about the same as cow's milk butter for many things. In fact, for spreading on something like grilled cheese, I'd rate in better because it's a bit softer and easier to spread. This is also vegan-friendly, made with a natural oil blend.

OK, that's the ingredient recap, typically the biggest challenge with find a food allergy friendly solution! Here's the simple method:

1) Start heating a no-stick frying pan on medium. Get your two slices of bread ready, and spread the Earth Balance spread on one side of each of the pieces of bread.
Earth Balance spread on a slice of bread

2) Turn the bread so the buttery side is down. Sprinkle the Daiya cheddar slices on one of the pieces of bread. My son likes a modest amount, as shown below, just enough to make the pieces of bread stick together. I got a thumbs down when I piled on more than this!

3) Put the other slice of bread on top of the cheese to close up the sandwich. I spray a bit of canola oil on the pan before putting the sandwich on to cook. Hold the sandwich carefully as you transfer it to the pan, to keep the shreds from slipping out. Let the sandwich cook on one side until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Press down with a spatula on top of the sandwich once or twice during the cooking. Slide the spatula underneath the bottom of the sandwich to turn, using your other hand on top of the bread to keep it together. Carefully turn it over to cook the other side, takes about 3 to 4 more minutes. Look at the side to see the cheese is melting to know it's about done. If the top hasn't browned to your liking, turn it over to cook for another minute or two. When the bread is nicely browned on both sides and the cheese is melted, you are ready to put the grilled cheese on a plate and enjoy!

Disclaimer: Food allergies can be life threatening and must be taken very seriously. In posts such as this where I discuss things we've used and made to work around our son's allergies, the intent is to share our experiences, including products and techniques that have worked for us. Hopefully you might come up with some new ideas from this blog. Every case is unique, however, so you should be certain to read labels carefully, consult your own doctor, and always have an Epi-pen handy, if prescribed. Keep in mind we are just one family doing our best to manage food allergies; I'm not a medical professional and don't purport to offer medical advice. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rigatoni with Kale and Sausage

kale and sausage sauce simmering in pot

I've shared about recipes similar to this in the past, but the proportions on this came out just right, so it seemed worth sharing. Not to mention I'm overdue for a blog post here! Kale and sausage often mean kale soup around here, but I do like featuring these ingredients in a hearty pasta dish, too.

1 bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
4 roasted garlic cloves, smashed (I had them on hand, you could just use the fresh garlic if you like, but increase the quantity if you do that)
1 onion, chopped
14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
handful of basil and oregano, chopped
2 Andouille sausages (fairly small ones, I used Niman Ranch, probably about 1/2 lb total)
12 ounces rigatoni or other short pasta shape
1/4 cup shredded cheese, I used a combo of cheddar and gouda that I was trying to use up
extra parmesan cheese at the table for serving
2 tbsp olive oil
dash of salt

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan. Add the sausages, turn them over occasionally, to get them browned. This takes 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the sausages and set aside. When the sausages cool, slice them in half lengthwise then cut slices across, to create half circles.

Add another tbsp of the olive oil to the pan, heat on medium. Add the onions, cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh garlic, cook for another minute. Add the kale in batches, stirring it in with the onions and garlic, letting it start to wilt a bit to create room for more. Once all the kale is in, add the chicken stock and tomatoes, the fresh herbs, sausage, salt and tomato paste. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer covered. Let the kale simmer for a good 30 minutes, taking the cover off toward the end to thicken the sauce a bit.

rigatoni being stirred in pot with kale and sausage sauce

Cook the pasta according to package instructions while the kale simmers, aiming to have it done around the same time as the sauce. Add the drained pasta to the pot with the kale, stir to combine thoroughly. Stir in the cheese, serve with a bit of parmesan at the table, and enjoy!

rigatoni with kale and sausage served for dinner

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Muscat: Another Wine Pairing Option for Indian Food

Chicken Tikka Masal and Aloo Palak, paired with a Muscat

Though it was written over five years ago, my post on Pairing Wine with Indian Food continues to be one of my most visited blog posts. People seem hunger (or thirsty?) for this information, so when I find another good pairing for Indian food, I figure I ought to do a quick post to share it.

2009 Domaine de l'Oriel Muscat
Back when I wrote that older post, I was often going with Sauvignon Blanc with Indian. These days I lean toward something with a bit of residual sweetness to offset the spice. Unless I'm getting really creative, and try something like this Carmenere I blogged about. Last Saturday we had plans for Indian takeout, so the 2009 Claude Weinzorn Domaine de l'Oriel Muscat stood out from the tasting lineup at Pairings Wine & Food as a good one to grab for dinner. It proved to be a good choice!

We ordered Chicken Tikka Masala, Aloo Palak and some vegetable samosas from Ambassador Indian Restaurant in Woburn. The food was very tasty, as usual. While I'm at it, I should commend the staff at Ambassador for how attentive they are to food allergy concerns. The person who took our order went through the entire menu to note which items were safe or could be made safely for our son to have with his various food allergies. If you have food allergy issues and are in our area, you should definitely put this on your list of restaurants to visit.

Of course, this post is primarily about the wine pairing. This Muscat is from one of Alsace's top producers--a little more background can be found on this Alsace wine site. The wine has a nice full mouthfeel, a bit of mineral background and nice, ripe fruit. Not super-sweet, but just a enough touch of sweetness to serve as a nice counterpoint to the spicy food. Definitely adding this particular wine and Muscats in general to my list of wines to pair with Indian food! Have you found a favorite wine to pair with spicy cuisine like Indian? Do share, if so!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Grilled Steak with Cumin Garlic Rub

steak grilled with a cumin garlic rub served with a salad and Bordeaux
As much as I like to experiment, when your 8 year old loves something that has enough flavor to also make the grown up palates happy, you make that dish a lot! So this simple rub for grilled steaks gets made a lot here. I figured I should share before grilling season is a distant memory! Cumin, garlic and salt are the main ingredients, and depending on what you like and have on hand, you can add in some other spices as you see fit. Give it a try, and do some experimenting of your own, too!

cumin, garlic and salt ready to be combined for rub
For the spice rub
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
optional: try a pinch of cinnamon, or a 1/2 tsp of sage or other dried herb that strikes your fancy.

Steak: This amount of rub is good for about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of steak. If you have more steak, increase the rub ingredient proportionally. We've enjoyed this with sirloin, porterhouse and ribeye.

Method: Combine all of the rub ingredients. Rub it evenly onto both sides of the steak, and let it sit out at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. Pre-heat your grill on medium high, spraying with cooking oil first. Put the steak on the grill, over direct heat, and close the grill. Cooking time depends on preference and thickness. I find the steaks I get come out with a nice medium rare to medium doing 5 to 6 minutes per side.

Remove the steak from the grill a bit ahead of your optimal doneness as it will continue to cook. Let it rest on a serving platter for a couple of minutes. Serve drizzled with the juices that build up on the platter. Enjoy with the a big red wine of your choice! Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural choice with steak, but a Zinfandel can also be a nice match for the spices here.

Beef with this rub also can be a good base for steak tacos, as shown below.
steak with cumin garlic rub served in a soft taco

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Callalloo: Easy Recipe for a Tasty Caribbean Green

callalloo greens being sauted in a skillet

My ears perked up when the woman next to me at the farmer's market inquired in a Caribbean inflected accent about callalloo. Back when I was working in Cambridge, a vendor at the Central Square farmer's market turned me on to this tasty green popular in the islands. And he urged me to use the meaty stems as well as the leaves, which makes it a heartier side. But it's not something I've seen at the grocery store, so hadn't made it in years. I was glad to come upon it at our local market at Spence Farm last weekend and make up a batch following this simple recipe. And yes, though its flavor is a bit different than some more familiar greens, it too tastes good with bacon!

a bunch of callalloo greens
bunch of callallo ready for prep
1 strip bacon
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
bit salt red pepper flakes
callalloo, coarsely chopped including stems
pinch of salt

chopped callalloo on a cutting board

Heat a large skillet with cooking oil on medium. When hot, add the strip of bacon and cook until nice and crispy. Remove the bacon, set on a plate with a paper towel on top to cool. Empty most of the bacon grease, leaving a bit in the pan for flavor.

Add a tbsp of the olive oil to the skillet on medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for a minute until it begins to turn golden. Gradually stir in the callalloo in batches, so that one batch begins to cook down creating room for more greens. Once all the greens are in the pan, stir to combine with the garlic and the 2nd tbsp of olive oil. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and salt. Saute for about 15 minutes until the greens are softened, stirring occasionally. You want to have a bit of liquid in the pan, if needed add a bit of additional oil and/or some water. White wine would be another option.

The greens are ready when nice and tender. Crumble the bacon and stir it into the greens shortly before serving. We had this along with some mashed potatoes, which was a nice combo, though rice would be a more traditional accompaniment. Though the stems have a meaty quality to them, we also enjoyed a bit of roast chicken with this dish, too. If you're looking to try a new healthy vegetable, give this one a try!
callalloo side dish served with mashed potatoes, corn and chicken

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Grilled Onion Vinaigrette for Green Salad

grilled onions added to vinaigrette for a tasty dressing
Here's a quick and easy way to use leftover grilled onions: add them to a vinaigrette for a tasty salad dressing! This one is so simple it doesn't warrant an ingredient list; I'll just give you the basic idea. Start with a basic combination of extra virgin olive oil and vinegar, 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. For a salad to serve 2 to 3 people, I use 3 tbsp olive, 1 1/2 tbps balsamic vinegar. Stir vigorously to combine, add some salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of chopped fresh herbs if you have some on hand. I used oregano from our prolific plant.

Take your leftover grilled onions* out of the fridge, heat for 10 seconds or so in the microwave so they are about room temperature. Combine the onions with the oil and vinegar, let it sit for at least 10 minutes before serving to let the flavors meld. I used one heaping tablespoon of the onions. I like to toss the dressing with the salad to get it to consistently cover the lettuce leaves. I used a nice head of local red leaf lettuce. All it needed in addition to the dressing was a bit of toasted nuts and parmesan cheese and, voila! Great example of how one can add a flavorful twist to an every day salad, and make it a real treat.

salad grilled onions dressing
*Note: In case your not in the habit of grilling onions, a few words on that. I chop an onion in thin slices, toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I put the onions in a grill pan, which keeps it from sliding the the grates of the grill into the fire. I put the pan about half on direct heat, half on indirect, and stir occasional. It takes about 15 minutes to get them nicely caramelized. Great flavor boost to burgers and other grilled items.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Tavola: An Italian Take on Fresh, Local Food

Not sure why it took me so long to try A Tavola restaurant in Winchester center. It's just a couple of miles from my house, has a good reputation and a strong commitment to fresh, local food. Plus, they have an innovative food education program for children called Seed to Plate. Oh well, glad I had the chance to finally get there last weekend for a dinner with my sister and her husband, who are fairly regular there.

burrata to the left, prosciutto on the right
They have a nice selection of "piattini", small plates for the table. We started by sharing duck prosciutto with foie gras and balsamic, Maple Brook Farm Burrata with Shaved Mushrooms and Pea Tendrils, and an arugula salad with pickled ramps (photo on top of post). I definitely had to try some salad when I saw they grow their own greens, and I wasn't disappointed with its peppery freshness. The burrata, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, was especially tasty.

what's under here?
Pork seems to be a specialty of the restaurant, so I ordered the lightly smoked pork roast for my entree. It was presented with some flare, coming to the table with a cover that was dramatically lifted to let hot steam pour out. There were a couple different cuts of the pork on the plate. The larger piece was soft and tend, prepared with an herb blend of some sort. Then there was also what seemed to be a smaller chop. Very savory, and the grilled polenta side I ordered with it was a nice touch. It was also served over some well cooked kale, which soaked up the pork flavor well.

A Tavola has a pretty good wine list, primarily Italian, which certainly makes sense given their menu. My one critique of the experience was the red wine that we ordered was served warm, like it had been sitting around the kitchen. I certainly run into this issue at plenty of places, but one would like to see a restaurant which overall provides high quality food and service more aware of how to properly store and serve their wines.

Overall, A Tavola shows a strong commitment to well-prepared fresh foods. The menu offers a nice array of choices with the small plates, pasta dishes and meat/fish entrees. I look forward to a return visit!
The tasty pork roast was revealed!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Filet Mignon with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Some recipes don't require much introduction. I'd put this Filet Mignon with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms in that category! A great cut of steak like this doesn't need much to make for a special meal. One could simply grill it with the rub, but the mushrooms make a nice addition to the flavor. Save this one for a time your looking for a special yet simple summer meal!

cooking oil spray
2 portobello mushroom caps
4 filet mignon steaks, 4 to 6 ozs each
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

for the rub
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sage
pepper to taste

Combine the rub ingredients in a small ball. Rub both sides of the steaks so that it is lightly coated with the mixture. Heat the grill to medium high, and let the steaks sit with the rub for about 10 minutes.

Spray both sides of the mushrooms, then place them on the grill. After about 5 minutes, flip them over. Put the steaks onto the grill at this time. The mushrooms take about 10 minutes total to get cooked through, they should be nice and tender. Keep an eye on them so they don't shrivel up too much. Remove the mushrooms when done, let them cool a bit on a plate. Slice the mushrooms thinly when cooled slightly, toss them in a bowel with the olive oil and vinegar, along with salt and pepper to taste. Put the bowl of mushrooms at the table to serve on the the steaks.

The filets take about 4 to 5 minutes per side to get to medium rare. Keep a close eye on them, you don't want to overcook filet mignon! Remember they will cook a bit more as they rest. Remove from the grill when cooked the way you like, let stand for a few minutes before serving topped with the mushrooms.

Wine Pairing: I've really enjoyed the Cass Winery Grenache a few times, but Ray at Pairings Wine and Food had told me the 2010 Cass Mourvedre is even better. It's also about $10 more ($35ish total) so I waited to try it with a special meal. The filet mignon definitely qualified! I didn't capture tasting notes but just remember thinking the wine was a real treat and good match for the meal. Cass Winery provides a shining example of the high quality wines produced in Paso Robles, often giving traditional French varietals a tasty twist in the California sun. Cass is part of the SIP Certified network, meaning they use sustainable practices producing their wines; another reason to enjoy them.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Grilled Swordfish with Pineapple Salsa

Grilled Swordfish with Pineapple Salsa served on blue plate
I went to Whole Foods planning to get the tuna on sale to make this recipe. But I couldn't pass up the freshly caught swordfish that was being filleted to order when we got there (and it was on sale, too). I figured the basic approach to the pineapple salsa would work for swordfish too, so I converted the recipe and made Grilled Swordfish with Pineapple Salsa. We really enjoyed it, and also had enough of the salsa to go with some pork chops we had on hand. Double-yum! I generally just link to other folks' recipes I make, but there are enough changes I made--along with helpful tips--to re-blog it here. Not too mention the MyRecipes site was lacking tasty photos! I made another version of pineapple salsa recently for chicken, but grilling the pineapple as done here definitely enhances the recipe.

coring a pineapple

1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into bite-sized chunks* see note below
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Cooking spray
1 swordfish steak, about 12 ozs
1 tablespoon canola oil
3/8 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (original recipe called for mint, bet that would be good too)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced

Pre-heat grill to medium-high. Boil orange juice in a small saucepan 15 minutes or until reduced to 1/4 cup. Beware: orange juice can quick boil over the sauce pan. Transfer juice to a small bowl; stir in soy sauce. Once it starts to boil, lower to medium high and keep an eye on it. Learned this one the hard way! I'm not a frequent boiler of orange juice.
pineapple and onions in a grill pan

Place pineapple and onion on a grill rack or grill pan coated with cooking spray. Grill 5 minutes on each side or until the onion is tender. Remove from grill; let stand 5 minutes. Coarsely chop, and transfer to a bowl.

Brush both sides of the swordfish evenly with oil; sprinkle evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Place fish on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; brush with half of juice mixture. Grill about 5 to 6 minutes; turn fish over. Brush fish with remaining juice mixture; grill another 5 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Note your grilling time for the fish will depend on the thickness of the swordfish steak. Mine was about an inch thick.

Add the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper, basil,oregano, lime juice and serrano pepper and next 3 ingredients to pineapple mixture; toss.  Serve the swordfish with a generous topping of the salsa and enjoy! A side of couscous went nicely with this, along with some greens. I served with a Rioja rosé, which I think was the right idea, but the particular wine was a bit big for the dish. Something a bit more delicate and nuanced, but enough heft, like a Bandol perhaps, might be ideal.

*Coring pineapple: you can Google for more details instructions, but as you can see from my photo above, you basically twist the top off, chop off both ends, then start cutting off the sides to reveal the fruit. Cut the fruit off around the core and chop.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Perfect #Wine? A Noble Quest!

When my friend and fellow wine aficionado offered to share a wine written up as "almost-perfect", I was intrigued. I eagerly accepted the opportunity, and set to planning a little dinner. The wine in question was the 2001 Mas de Daumas Gassac, Cuvée Emile Peynaud. The wine is labeled a "vin du pays" which typically implies a humble French wine, but here the term applies because this wine doesn't conform to the traditional French wine classifications. It's made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, produced according to the methods of the Medoc region of Bordeaux. They have found a way to make some pretty wines in the foothills of the Massif Central, a previously overlooked part of the Languedoc region. (source: "The World's Greatest Wines").

Typically I'd plan a special meal to go with such a wine. But the evening we landed upon for this wine coincided with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, so I wanted a simple preparation that could be made and enjoyed before the puck dropped. A big Cab seemed to call for beef; Grilled NY strip steaks topped with grilled onions, along with some salad and couscous, answered the call nicely.

John and Liz arrived at the appointed time, and John eagerly set the bottle in a suitably prominent place on the counter for us to admire.  "Should we start with some white, and save this for dinner?" I inquired. This would be following be the typical approach to this sort of foodie gathering at our place.

John smiled, "I think we should get started with this now," proffering the Mas de Daumas, "It's going to take awhile to drink and enjoy this."

Now, this comment was a bit of a head scratcher at first. This was not a larger bottle of wine, and when several of us gather on such an occasion, there is usually more than one opened in the course of the evening. John continued, "It's a very big wine. We opened it at Pairings when I bought it yesterday."

Hmm, interesting. A substantial investment in a bottle of wine that's a dozen years old, and it was opened the previous day for a couple of small tasting pours? But John's confidence that the wine would hold up to being open that long was well-founded.

Now here's where I must confess the limited notes I do take were tossed somewhere during the quick post-dinner/pre-game cleanup. What I recall a week later was that this hit me from the start as being a huge wine, big bouquet of forest floor and blooming flowers. The first taste was a bit overpowering, I'm quite sure my first comment was simply, "Wow!". Never could have guessed that it had been opened for 24 hours nor that it was a 2001. Taste of leather, prunes and ripe berries. It evolved in the glass, softening a tad, showing great depth and complexity, various spices coming through along with the other tastes. It surely was a wonderful treat!

The production of this wine was extremely limited; 2,500 bottles according to this article. That low number along with the great quality means if you happen to find a bottle somewhere it is not likely to be inexpensive!

Now, on to this comment I read about this wine being "almost-perfect". That leads to an interesting there such a thing as a perfect wine? It strikes me that a winemaker might might have some vision for the perfect wine that she might make from a particular vineyard. But I suspect that might be a quixotic quest. For those of us who simply enjoy good wine, what would constitute perfection? A top notch Bordeaux? Barolo? Or perhaps this interesting gem from the Languedoc?

Alas, I suspect we could not single out wine wine as being truly perfect. But I'm willing to try others that are associated with claims of perfection! Trying to coax the most wonderful wine out of a great vineyard is truly a noble quest, one that I'm happy to appreciate.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pasta with Greens, Gruyere and Bacon

Pasta with Greens, Gruyere and Bacon. Cooking Chat recipe.
Gruyère is one of my favorite cheeses. The rich nuttiness makes it a tasty snack on its own, and it also melts nicely to impart a lot of flavor when cooking. So when I was asked if I wanted to sample  cups Emmi Kaltbach™ Cave-aged Le Gruyère®  I quickly agreed. Though I was tempted to just crack it open when it arrived and start nibbling, I waited a week or so to plot what I wanted to make with it. When last weekend's weather didn't look good for grilling, it seemed like a good time for a pasta dish featuring the Gruyere cheese. Collard greens were on sale, so I grabbed them to combine with the cheese and bacon, and I was well on my way to a tasty new dish! You can easily substitute other greens here. This method for fixing the greens along with the bacon is also my go-to way of fixing them as a side dish.

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch collard greens, coarsely chopped
½ cup or so chicken broth
1 or 2 slices bacon
pinch salt & red pepper flakes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
bit of fresh oregano (or other fresh herb you have on hand)
1/2 cup Emmi Kaltbach™ Cave-aged Le Gruyère® cheese, shredded (plus extra to serve at table)
12 ozs elbow macaroni or other short pasta

Heat a large pot on medium high and spray with cooking oil (I use olive oil). Add the bacon and cook until it is nice and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and cool it on paper towel set on a plate to absorb the excess grease. Pour most of the extra grease out of the pan, but leave a bit for that bacon flavor! When the bacon is cool, crumble it into bite sized pieces and set it aside to add to the dish later.

Add a tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan, heat on medium. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or so until it starts getting fragrant. Gradually add the greens in a few batches, stirring the greens as you add them so they get well coated with the oil and garlic. Add a light pinch of salt, then stir in the chicken broth and balsamic vinegar. (You could certainly use other cooking liquid in place of chicken broth). Heat the liquid until it begins to simmer, then cover to cook gently on moderate heat. Stir the greens occasionally. You'll want to braise the greens for at least 20 minutes, 30 is better if you have time, so they get nice and tender, absorbing the garlic and broth flavor. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes about halfway through the greens cooking time.

Start boiling the water for pasta after you've added the greens. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta when it's done, then toss the pasta with the greens. Be sure to use up all the good liquid from cooking the greens to capture all the nutrients and flavor. After mixing the greens and pasta, stir in the cheese followed by the bacon. Serve at the table with a bit of extra grated Gruyère , and enjoy! This can be a main course, though we did have a bit of salmon on the side, and served with a nice Greek white wine.

Full disclosure: The Gruyère was provided to me as a free sample. The recipe is my own creation!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa

You don't mind easy recipes, do you? If not, I'll keep them coming! Been a busy spring, not much time for fancy or complicated here. But I am still coming up with some tasty new creations, like this Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa. I also used the salsa with mahi mahi I grilled the same night, which also worked nicely too.

Chicken Marinade
2 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
½ of a lime, juiced
1/4 tsp salt

3 chicken breast fillets, rinsed and patted dried

Pineapple Salsa
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped into small pieces (I cut a typical pineapple chunk size into quarters).
1 small red onion & ½ green bell, coarsely chopped & grilled (see grilling note below)
bit of cilantro, chopped
juice of ½ lime
tsp chipotle in adobo sauce (optional, you could also add a pinch of cayenne for kick, or add a jalapeno to grilled onions and peppers)

Start by combining the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the chicken breasts, toss them to get the chicken well covered with the marinade. Cover and put the chicken in the refrigerator, unless you are doing a quick marinade (e.g. 15 minutes or less.  I marinaded for about an hour, which was came out well, but I'd say you could do up to 4 hours if you wanted.

Pre-heat the grill to medium high. Toss the onion and peppers with olive oil, then spread them into a grill pan. Grill them for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that get nicely cooked and a tad charred all over. If you don't have a grill pan, you can wrap the peppers and onions in aluminum foil to cook on the grill, though I really prefer the grill pan for the charring effect.

You can start combining the salsa ingredients as the peppers and onions are grilled. Toss those in with the rest of the ingredients when they are done and have cooled a bit. Set the salsa aside while you grill the chicken. You could also make the salsa in advance, it tasted great the 2nd day after the flavors had a chance to meld.

Get the chicken ready to grill by shaking off the excess marinade, reserving the extra in the bowl. Put the chicken on the grill, flipping the chicken after about 5 minutes. Brush the chicken with the extra marinade after flipping it to help keep the chicken moist. The chicken takes about 10 minutes to be ready, check for doneness at that time. I simply cut it open a bit to see that it is white all the way through, though you can use a thermometer too. Remove the chicken from the grill. Plate the chicken topped with plenty of pineapple salsa and enjoy!

The photo below is actually of the salsa served on the mahi mahi, along with some greens and blackeyed peas. We concluded the chicken came out better and more blog worthy, after eating it sans photo!