12/17/09

Has your Santa been naughty or nice? Goji and Riserva

Poor Santa. He has to stuff his big belly down sooty chimneys and haul his sack full of goodies in a mad dash from North pole to South. Perhaps a smooth, fruity glass of 2005 Falernia Carmenere/Syrah Reserva from the Elqui Valley of Chile will brighten his spirits. The Goji berry cookies will nourish him and provide antioxidants and vitamin C to ward off any sniffles as he works hard to bring Christmas cheer round the world. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or any another day of gratitude; I wish you joy and happiness! I saw the following anonymous quote that expresses the wish well: "There's more, much more, to Christmas than candlelight and cheer; It's the spirit of sweet friendship that brightens all year. It's thoughtfulness and kindness, It's hope reborn again, For peace, for understanding, And for goodwill to men!"
There's a lot of hype about Goji berries, like the story of Li Qing Yuen,  a Chinese man who allegedly lived to be 252 years old eating Goji berries daily; some brands claim their Goji berry products fight cancer and cure diabetes and glaucoma. The non-hype facts are that the berry, which has been cultivated in China for thousands of years, contains six vitamins, including high concentrations of vitamin C  (up to 148mg per 100 grams), potassium, iron, selenium and vitamin B2, plus Beta-carotene and Zeaxanthin (this is one of the carotenoids in the retina--so there may be some truth to the glaucoma story).  It's also known as "wolfberry" and is a member of the Solanacea family (tomato, potato, eggplant, etc.) An interesting bit of trivia is that wolfberry was introduced to the UK in the 1730's where it can be found in hedgerows, feeding and sheltering birds. Hedgerows are lines of bushes and trees that have been woven together, some since Anglo-Saxon times, to form natural fences between pastures and farms. Since reading about hedgerows in National Geographic years ago, one of the places on my travel "wish list" is to go to see them in rural England (see article on Bexley) They can be a tangled mass of vegetation many feet wide and tall,  habitat for an amazing biodiversity of insects, birds and small animals.





GOJI BERRY AND PECAN OATMEAL COOKIES:
2 sticks softened butter
1 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 extra large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
2 2/3 cups uncooked rolled oats
1/2 cup Goji berries
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar together in electric mixer, stopping occasionally and using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla and almond extract, mixing well after each addition. Sift the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Add the flour mixture in batches, mixing until just mixed.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the oats with a spoon, then stir in the Goji berries and pecans. Using a large tablespoon, spoon heaping dollops onto buttered cookie sheets, leaving at least an inch between cookies. Bake 9 to 12 minutes until golden brown and cooked in the center. Use a spatula to place on wire rack to cool. Makes about 30 3" cookies.

This week's Online Grapevine suggests the World Class Wine Gift...

12/9/09

Melted Cheese, please! + Hurrah! Syrah!

I hope my acupuncturist and Shiatsu practitioner don't read this...in Chinese medicine, cheese is to be avoided as it "causes dampness in the body". In fact, my incredibly knowledgeable acupuncturist gave me a detailed, scientifically documented, and thorough explanation of why our digestive system is not designed for ingesting dairy. It seems irrefutable; but I love cheese! I can't promise not to eat cheese, just to eat less of it! Sometimes, one just needs a bit of gooey, melty cheese, especially on a cold day with a great glass of wine to pair with it. I thought of this as I reflected on what to serve with the luscious 2006 Matthews Estate Syrah. It received 92 points from Wine Spectator and it's a wonderful wine. The expert winemaker describes it thusly: "A beautifully aromatic wine with ripe blueberry and fresh fig. A lingering of leather, black pepper and spice. A palette focused with mild tannins and minerals, a structured wine with a soft lingering finish leaving you with hints of violets. This Syrah shows Matthews' move toward a cooler climate style, with subtlety and layers of game and beef blood." In my (non-expert) tasting, I have no idea what is meant by "game and beef blood"--the idea of drinking blood sounds hideous to me! I don't taste that, what I do experience with the Matthews Estate is a rich, complex Syrah with structure, a full mouth of fruit with notes of black pepper and spice, and the lovely lingering smooth finish the winemaker describes. I was thinking that a multi-flavored dish with Portobello (a good pairing for Syrah) would complement this wine and that a cheesy center (similar to Chicken Cordon Bleu) would be a fun surprise. Voila! A recipe was born, I hope you enjoy it.

I actually love my acupuncturist and shiatsu practicioner--they have been restoring my energy and healing my body! I recommend Shiatsu Rincon in Carpenteria for a sublime experience. It's tucked into Gubernador Canyon and housed in a handcrafted home with a genuine Japanese o-furo (hot bath). Relax in the private bath overlooking a peaceful Zen garden, then give yourself over to capable hands for the best Shiatsu you've ever had, then acupuncture to heal hurts or revitalize your system. Ahh, bliss...

QUINOA STUFFED SAVOY CABBAGE WITH PORTOBELLO SAUCE:
8 Savoy cabbage leaves (about half a head)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dry lentils
1/2 cup dry quinoa
2 cups broth--either vegetable or chicken broth
2 Tbsp. butter + extra for greasing muffin tin
1 Tbsp. garlic (about 2 cloves) minced
1/2 cup minced onion
1 cup Portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. marjoram
1 5.5 oz. can of V8
4 oz. Gruyere--cut into 1 oz. chunks
Green top of one shallot, sliced finely

Boil enough water in a pot to cook the Savoy cabbage (about 2 quarts). When the water boils, put in the cabbage leaves and blanch for just a couple minutes so the leaves are cooked but before they start falling apart. Carefully put into a collander, rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, and drain.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse lentils, drain, then put into a pot with the broth and quinoa. Bring to a boil, stir, cover tightly and turn heat to low to simmer for 15 minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the onion, garlic, mushrooms and spices over low heat until onions and mushrooms are cooked. Divide in half and put half in with the quinoa mixture, stir thoroughly--the quinoa will be soft like mashed potatoes. Set aside to cool, taste and add additional salt if desired.

Add the can of V8 to the half of the mushroom mixture still in the saucepan and simmer for ten minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Put into the blender and puree until smooth. Grease four of the holes in a large muffin tin with butter. Pat the cabbage dry with a paper towel if needed. Put a cabbage leaf in each hole, then use the extra leaves to fill in so the Savoy will line the muffin tin hole with enough left to cover the top when done (see photo at left). Fill each cabbage leaf halfway with the quinoa mixture, then place the Gruyere in the center. Fill the rest with quinoa mixture, packing it down so the top is level with the top of the muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes.

Reheat the sauce so it is warm when the cabbages are ready, taste and adjust seasoning. Carefully put a (unheated) cookie sheet on top of the muffin tin, then quickly turn it over so the stuffed cabbage ends upside down on the cookie sheet. Spoon a fourth of the sauce on the bottom of each serving plate, then use a spatula to center a stuffed cabbage on each plate, sprinkle with minced shallot greens. Serves 4. Pair this recipe with the 2006 Matthews Estate Syrah.




12/3/09

Cows Gone Wild and Bird on the Barbie


Highway 5 is the main artery for travel between northern and southern California, a flat straight shot throughout he heart of the San Joaquin Valley--growing fields for a quarter of the U.S. agricultural production and former stomping grounds of writer John Steinbeck. You can still see traces of his world, while whizzing by at breakneck speed, in little farming communities like Los Banos with rusted tractors, faded signs and barns. But mostly one sees  mile after mile of farms, watered by a Byzantine and archaic system of levees, dikes and canals that channel water from the Sacramento watershed. Signs saying "Congress Created Dust Bowl" have sprouted up along the highway as the third year of drought and water wars continues. Midway, the massive Harris Ranch stockyards are perceptible by your nose miles before the eyes see them reach towards the horizon. The Harris Steakhouse is famous for their beef but we decided this time to continue onto the windmill of Andersen's Pea Soup in Santa Nella for a tureen of the green stuff before continuing on to family in Redding.
     They have a ranch tucked away in the wooded hills south of town and us "city slickers" had the chance to wrangle the cows from one pasture to the other. We made a bit of a mess of things as we stupidly stood in the path of the cows, confusing them and ultimately causing them to run off in the opposite direction. Not a good thing as the back acreage extends for miles and takes over 4 hours to travel by quad. Turning them meant running up the slippery, rocky slopes to try and get ahead of them and turn them by flapping our jackets. It seemed like fun until a thousand pound monster ran at me full speed and I jumped behind a tree. So much for being a cowgirl!


    The Thanksgiving turkey was cooked on the bbq--stuffed with onions and herbs, coated with olive oil and cooked 12 minutes per pound over coals. Note the drip pan under the turkey with the coals around the outside to prevent drippings from catching fire. Our host also has an oil can that he uses to cook chicken (see photo at left) The coals go on the bottom and half chickens are hung on hooks on the bars across the top, the oil can lid is put on and the chicken slowly cook/smoke until done.

      On the way home, we stopped in Napa for a day and found a new favorite restaurant: Celadon on the riverfront which is rated #1 restaurant in Napa by TripAdvisor. Reviewers raved about the goat cheese and fig appetizer; it deserved the praise--warm goat cheese in a macadamia nut crust with sliced apple and figs infused with port. Yum! The acai/basil gimlet has an excellent sweet/tart balance but we found the cactus fruit margarita too sweet. We sampled crispy coconut shrim p and halibut with Manila clams which was perfectly cooked. The creme brulee was one of the best I've had--topped with baked banana. Napa is lovely in the autumn, the weather was crisp and the sunshine brilliant. Grape leaves are turning color--it's New England on the vine.



SALMON WITH RIPE CHERRY GLAZE:
2 lb. salmon cut into four fillets
1/3 cup cherry preserves
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup red wine
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. minced ginger
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Mix preserves, juice, wine, sugar, and ginger in a glass bowl. Marinate the salmon fillets, skin side down, for two or more hours. Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with the oil and heat over medium flame for a minute. Carefully place the fish, skin side down, in the pan with long tongs (to avoid being spattered with hot oil). Reduce heat to low, cover with the lid and cook until the fish is nearly opaque. Remove the fish with a spatula to a serving dish and cover with the lid. Remove any skin left in the pan but keep any brown bits. Add the rest of the marinade and the red wine ; turn the heat up to medium. Deglaze the drippings: stirring in the liquid and scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan to mix well. Reduce the sauce by half, then spoon over the fish and serve with the 2007 Ernst & Co. Pinotage. Serves 4.
*Regarding this week's wine pairing for the recipe, if you havent' heard of Pinotage: "In recent history South Africa has been known for Pinotage, a varietal developed in 1925 by Professor A.I. Perold by crossing Pinot Noir and the Southern Rhone blending-grape Cinsault. It tends to make a chewy, tannic, medium-bodied wine with pungent fruit aromas." (Jim Clarke, "Cape Crusaders", StarChefs.com)

11/24/09

Happy Thanksgiving

Dear readers--cheers and a happy Thanksgiving! May your day be filled with love, spicy aromas, mouthwatering food, luscious wine and sanity. If you can eat whatever you like without repercussions, skip the rest of this post. For those of you (like me) for whom Thanksgiving is both a glorious celebration of food and the most challenging day of the year, read on. This day will mark the apex of hospitality, the day when years of refining recipes yield a perfect meal, a celebration of plenty with overeating expected and glorified, a day coded with layers of family history, when sometimes the old scars get picked instead of happy memories shared, a day when those of us who must exercise discipline to maintain a normal weight struggle to feast without overdoing it to the point of self-loathing. Here are some tips to enjoy the day:
Pal up! Find a family member at the dinner who has the same problem of overindulgence and decide to help each other make good choices. If your family sabotages you, arrange to have a friend's cell number for phone support.
Gear up! Just as an athlete would survey the course and make a plan, figure out what is good for your body and what is not and strategize.
Put a circle around it! Allow yourself one plate of food filled as much as you want and a small dish for dessert, but not one bite or nibble more. Like eating in general, it's the nibbling that can add up, so no "cleaning up" in the kitchen that doesn't involve washing the dishes. You know what I mean!
Be in the moment! Slow down and eat each bite like it's the last one you'll have in this world--really enjoy what you're eating--slowly!
If all else fails, I'll tell you my secret if you promise not to laugh--visualize being a pig. I came to the painful realization over ten years ago that I just cannot eat chocolate sanely and in moderation, so I decided to not eat chocolate--one day at a time. When all my defenses are down, I use my power of imagination and visualize myself in a trough of chocolate, wallowing in every type of chocolate dessert and stuffing myself, getting bigger and piggier with every bite. The mental image is so disgusting that I want to make a better choice to eat something like pumpkin pie that I can eat sanely. As foodies, we live to eat, but like love, food should always be kind and never hurt us. There's a world of delectable food--and wine--to be savored, but let's eat and drink with gusto but not excess.

11/18/09

Winery of the Year Plus Harvest Stew Baked In A Sugar Pumpkin

Looking for a Thanksgiving recipe that celebrates fall but doesn't involve turkey? How about chunks of slow cooked pork stewed with yams, spices, vegetables and peaches? This recipe always gets rave reviews and looks festive presented in its golden brown pumpkin. Last Saturday's menu: I served sauteed mushrooms as appetizers, along with spanokopita and black olive tapenade, paired with the 2006 Forgeron Chardonnay. Entree was the pork stew below, garden greens salad, herb onion bread with two cheeses: creamy Bucherondin and Delice de Bourgogne. We were drinking lightly, so sipped our Forgeron with dinner and never got around to the red wine. The stew would pair well with the 2006 Merryvale Merlot.
ARGENTINIAN STEW BAKED IN A PUMPKIN:
spray olive oil
3 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 medium skinned, chopped tomatoes (or one 14 oz. can)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 medium yams, peeled and chopped small (about 2 cups)
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 can corn kernels (about 1 cup)
2 peaches, peeled and chopped
1/4 bunch of parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 lime
1/4 cup cooking sherry
1 big Sugar or Cinderella pumpkin (about 10 lb. or two 6 lb. if large is not available)
3 Tbsp. melted butter
Spray Dutch oven with oil and put over medium high heat. Brown the roast all over then turn the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook, turning the roast over, for a couple more minutes, then cover the meat with water, add the bay leaves, put the lid on and cook for 3 hours or until the meat is falling apart. You may need to turn the heat down--the water should be simmering but not at a boil. Remove the meat to a plate to cool and carefully strain the broth, returning the strained broth to the Dutch oven. Simmer the broth with the tomatoes, pepper, potato and yams until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the corn, peaches, parsley, cilantro, oregano, cumin, lime and sherry. Remove the fat from the pork and break the meat into chunks into the stew. Stir and taste--add salt and pepper if desired, but you may like the flavor without them. In the meantime, cut the top off the pumpkin at an horizontal angle so the top will make a lid (and not fall into the stew). Scoop out the seeds and pulp from the pumpkin and brush inside with the melted butter. Spoon the stew into the pumpkin, top with the pumpkin "lid" and bake in 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the pumpkin is soft but not falling apart. Serve the stew with scoops of the inside of the pumpkin. Serves 8.
HERB ONION BREAD:
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter
1 pkg. active yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 small onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. dill
1 tsp. rosemary, minced or ground
Scald milk, add sugar, salt and butter. Dissolve yeast in water and mix into the milk mixture. Add the flour, onion, dill and rosemary and mix well. The dough should be very thick but just stirrable with a wooden spoon; add a 1/8 water if all the flour can't be mixed in. Cover bowl with a wet towel and let rise 45 minutes. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a bread pan with oil. Spoon the dough into the bread pan, cover with the wet towel and let rise about 20 minutes or until dough is just below the top of the pan (it will rise above the pan during baking). Bake 1 hour.


This week's Online Grapevine special is three highly-rated wines from Napa's Merryvale Winery, voted "Winery of the Year" by Quarterly Review of Wines. They are in the forefront of sustainable viniculture and have received many accolades.

11/11/09

Thanksgiving Wine Sale and Tofu Curry

This is the first Thanksgiving in 20 or more years that I haven't cooked the dinner, which is a bit sad for a foodie like me. I delight in going through my recipes and perusing Farmer's Markets to create the menu. But, traveling to see family is more important than anything else, so I'll be happy to be the dishwasher! As a kind of substitute, this weekend I'm baking Argentinian Stew in a big sugar pumpkin for a party of eight and making fresh herb bread. I'll post the photos and recipes on the blog. If it's sunny, I'll use my solar oven! I baked half an acorn squash and a spaghetti squash last week on a day with thin cirrus clouds. The temperature never rose over 200 degrees, but the squash was done after about 4 hours of cooking. In case you're interested, I bought my solar oven from www.sunoven.com and if any of the doomsday predictions come true--ie no more petroleum or I lose my job and they turn off the utillites--I'll still be cooking!
TOFU CURRY WITH LENTIL RICE:
This lentil, rice and tofu combination makes a nice healthy meal with protein and fiber rich lentils. The lentil rice recipe makes a good side dish at Thanksgiving. Prepare the tofu curry for your vegetarian guests, though the turkey lovers will like this, too. The mild complex spices will perk up plain turkey and will go well with sweet cranberry sauce. Pair this tofu curry recipe with the 2007 Melrose Pinot Gris for white wine lovers, pair the recipe with the 2006 Eberle Côtes-du-Rôbles for red wine drinkers. Serves 4.
CURRY:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. nutmeg
6 Tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 13 oz. can coconut milk
1/2 lime
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 cake of medium or firm tofu
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Thai fish sauce
Cook the ginger, garlic, turmeric and cumin in the oil in a wide, deep saute pan for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Add the nutmeg, peanut butter, chili, lime juice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and fish sauce and stir well until peanut butter has warmed up and mixed in with the rest of the ingredients. Add the tofu and simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
LENTIL RICE:
1/2 cup dry lentils
2 cups rice
4 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. butter
pinch saffron
1 tsp. ground clove
1 tsp. turmeric
Wash lentils and put into rice cooker or pot with a lid, along with the broth, rice, butter and spices. Heat on medium until it boils, then cover tightly and turn the heat to low. Simmer 1/2 hour. Fluff with a fork before serving.
This week's Online Grapevine wine discount special is either a 4 or 12 bottle wine sale with two Rhone blends, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Gris. These are perfect for Thanksgiving because the whites are crisp and dry to balance out the richness of gravy, dressing and butter. The Rhone blends will match well with Thanksgiving spices of cinnamon and clove and flavors of cranberry and sweet potato. The "Thunder" is 55% Grenache, 29% Mourvedre, and 16% Syrah. The Côtes-du-Rôbles is 47% Syrah, 29% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 4% Viognier.

11/4/09

Backyard Bowls + Holiday Wine Gifts

Fall is the best season in Santa Barbara, the air is crisp and sparkling, the temperature cool. The prevailing autumn breeze clears away any particles in the air and the specular reflections on water and foliage are sharp and dazzling as shards of glass. The lower arc of the sun backlights waves, sending rays of light that almost blind the eyes with their ferocity. Along with the angular intensity of the light comes a palpable, magnified energy in the atmosphere. One's inhalations become deeper, the air fills the lungs with a sense of well-being and the body is invigorated with the season. Looking up at gulls wheeling above the sand, one is aware of the enormity of space around and overhead, and there is a heightened sense of being alive. I have to be outside, I want to be out on my bike or walking everywhere. One of my favorite forays is to ride along the beach to State Street then up to Backyard Bowls to have one for lunch. If you think healthy food means something tasteless and bran-like, then you must try one of these. Chockful of nutrition, acai is a berry from the Amazon that has the most anti-oxidants of all fruit. Backyard Bowls crush and freeze acai to make a sort of melty sorbet which can be combined with fruit, nuts, granola, peanut butter, etc. My favorite is the Original with a bed of yoghurt with crunchy granola and fresh fruit. Each mouthful is an explosion of fresh goodness. Plus, it's served in a bowl and what can be more primal that eating from a bowl with a spoon? Think of the maternal love in the bowls of cereal you ate when you were a kid, bowls of ice cream (the ultimate comfort food), hot bowls of soup nourishing and warming on a cold day--bowls are the ultimate cultural symbol of nourishment. So to eat a backyard bowl after a ride past the powerful ocean, with the body and senses grateful for the keen celebration of life, is to be completely in the moment of gustatory bliss.
For those of you who are not in Santa Barbara, you can make a version at home. It's not the same, but will give you a small glimpse of how good this can be. The key is to find Sambazon acai sorbet. Fortunately, they have a search feature on their website. Use the best organic fruit you can find and top-quality yoghurt.
This week's Online Grapevine is about holiday gift ideas! Wine club memberships, wine gift baskets and select wines...

10/29/09

Sukiyaki and Holiday White Wine Sale

This recipe should be called "Japanese-American Style Sukiyaki" because it is stronger and deeper in flavor than the traditional style served in restaurants. My dad was born in Japan and I loved to watch him make it. Though he was a "issei" or first generation Japanese-American, like many immigrants, his dishes had a "nikkei" flavor to them--meaning that the traditional recipes had changed to reflect American tastes and available ingredients. At New Year's parties, mochi making gatherings, picnics and Buddhist Temple suppers, and at home, I remember cucumber with bay shrimp and fennel seed, teriyaki green beans, potato salad with chiso and other recipes common to the community but never found in a restaurant. I've thought that Japanese-American style recipes would create an interesting and unique cookbook, but a Google search yielded just a couple of links for "Japanese American cookbook". The first for Avenue Food has a post by Sarah Kiino that describes recipes from Japanese-American church cookbooks: "Of course, many of the "Japanese" recipes are about as Japanese as General Tso's Chicken is Chinese. They have Japanese elements, sure, but were created by Japanese Americans, often several generations removed from the homeland." From the National Association of Japanese Canadians forum: "there is a Japanese American culture and that culture is based not on exact rules, but on the recollections of what our Issei parents and grandparents interpreted of their homeland into their lives in America. Food products like they had back home were not available and so they tried to get something that was similar (like using yams in tempura instead of kabocha)." Only a few cookbooks are mentioned, and the National Japanese American Historical Society cookbook is no longer available on their site. Like the small Japantown in Denver, which used to house mom-and-pop groceries, restaurants and shops clustered around the Buddhist Temple, the cultural heritage of Japanese-American food may disappear, assimilated and dispersed into the mainstream.
Though Sukiyaki contains beef, this is one example of when a clean, crisp white wine pairs better than a red wine which would conflict with the deep flavors of soy sauce, ginger and sugar.
SUKIYAKI:
3 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 cup thinly sliced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. ginger, minced
1 lb. sliced steak (if you have an Asian market--use the very thinly sliced sukiyaki beef, otherwise slice filet mignon as thin as you can, or use lean ground beef made into small meatballs, see below* for more notes)
1/4 Mirin (Japanese cooking sake)
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
2 cups vegetables, cut into bite size, such as bean sprouts, green beans, zucchini, broccoli, green pepper, baby corn, water chestnuts
2 cups coarsely chopped napa cabbage or bok choy
1 cake of tofu, cut into 1" cubes
1. In a wide, deep pan, cook the ginger, garlic and onion in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the onion is translucent, add the beef, browning on all sides. Then add the soy sauce, Mirin and sugar and stir gently to mix. Add the cut vegetables and stir, then cover the top of the beef and vegetable mixture with a "lid" of the napa cabbage or bok choy.
2. Turn the heat to low and simmer for approximately half an hour--until the vegetables are nearly cooked. Then stir the top layer of bok choy or cabbage in with the rest of the ingredients and add the tofu cubes. Cook another five minutes, stirring carefully so the tofu doesn't break apart (turning the ingredients with a wide spatula works well). Serve with hot Japanese rice and the 2007 Greenwood White Riesling. Serves 4. Leftovers can be piled onto a bowl of the leftover rice and reheated in the microwave to make a sukiyaki "donburi" or rice bowl. Top with kizami (red pickled grated ginger).
*Note on beef: if you can buy prepared Japanese sukiyaki beef, this is best. This can be found in most Asian markets and is made by freezing the steak, then using a machine to slice it very thin. If you have to slice your own steak, use filet mignon if you can afford it because less tender types of steak will become tough in the cooking. Another alternative that's easier on the budget is to use lean ground beef, shaped into small meatballs.

The 2007 Greenwood White Riesling is one of six white wines in this week's Online Grapevine special. The Online Grapevine changes each week, but always offers FREE wine shipping in the continental US. (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii)

10/21/09

Thanksgiving Wine, Menu Planning and Minty Gazpacho


It's not too early for those of us who love to cook to start planning our Thanksgiving menu. It's bound to be a heavy feast with a lot of rich food, so starting with a light, lo-cal soup sounds perfect to me. It's chilled and crisp with enough flavor to pique to the taste buds' interest but won't fill you up before the main course arrives. Plus, you can make this a day or two beforehand, cutting down on the time in the kitchen on the big day. I'm always looking for an excuse to chop vegetables with my chef's knife (see Aug.10 post); but if you don't have the "joy of chopping", this soup is quickly prepared in the food processor. Historians believe gazpacho was created during the Roman occupation of southern Spain--no blenders then! Originally crushed in a dornillo or large wood bowl in the fields, the soup was a common lunch for the agricultural workers. The addition of tomato to the gazpacho originated with Christopher Columbus who initiated the era of exchange of plants and animals (and unfortunately, diseases) between the Old World and the New. Imagine if the exchange had never happened. Italian cuisine would be without tomatoes and the Swiss would be bereft of chocolate! In Spain, there are regional variations of gazpacho, some without tomato, some adding almonds, or cumin. I made this version with mint from the garden. Instead of adding bread to the soup, as is common with Spanish recipes, I toasted the bread Italian style with olive oil and Parmesan for crunchy croutons.
MINTY GAZPACHO WITH HERBED WHOLE GRAIN CROUTONS:
4 medium very ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber
1/2 green bell pepper
3 garlic cloves
1/2 small sweet white or red onion
2 tsp. white vinegar
9 Tbsp. olive oil approximately (5 for soup, around 4 for the croutons)
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. minced mint plus one sprig for each serving as garnish
2 Tbsp. minced cilantro
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 slices whole grain bread, 2 day old is best
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
2 tsp. fines herbes (purchased in spice section or made from recipe below)
Boil enough water to submerge tomatoes, when it boils, add the tomatoes and cook a couple of minutes or just until the skin splits. Remove and cool, then peel off the skins. Put the tomatoes in a flat bowl and mash thoroughly with a potato masher (or process in food processor). Peel the cucumber and cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Mince the cucumber, bell pepper, onion and garlic finely by hand or with food processor. Add to the tomatoes along with the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, minced cilantro and onion. Mix well and chill (at least an hour). Cut the crusts off the bread, toast until dry, then remove and brush with olive oil, sprinkle with cheese and fines herbes then toast until golden brown. Cut them into small croutons about 1" square. To serve, put 3/4 to 1 cup of gazpacho in a small bowl (this recipe makes 4 cups) and garnish with croutons and a sprig of mint. Refreshing with a crisp glass of the 2006 RaDog Dry Gewurztraminer.
This week's Online Grapevine wine discount special is four perfect Thanksgiving wines: RECIPE FOR FINES HERBES:
Simple! Mix equal parts chopped chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon and use for sprinkling on salads, cooked eggs, soups and croutons.

10/15/09

Chicken Pot Pies and Half Price Wine

When the weather turns colder, there's a temporary sense of loss and a lack of energy. Chinese philosophy would ascribe it to the seasonal movement of chi. For me, it is the realization that the hot, lazy days of summer are over. No longer can doors and windows be flung wide open letting in the brilliant sun and the air thick and heavy with the scent of growing things. No more watering vegetables and searching for the bright red of tomatoes and strawberries among the deep green foliage, eating them hot and juicy right out of the garden. I have a sadness to see long days shorten. But life turns inward, towards hot cups of tea by the fire and the preparation for the holidays. I enjoy the fellowship of the holidays, sharing food and conversation with friends and family but there is a sense of dread, too, mostly centered around gift giving. I hate shopping! So, working for a wine company has helped enormously as I increasingly give wine at the holidays (sometimes with jars of homemade jam, tins of cookies or bundles of sage from the garden). Those of us in Southern California are fortunate to be within driving distance of the Wine Warehouse sales at Touring & Tasting. I stocked up with $58 Cabernet Sauvignon for $25 a bottle and $26 Whites for $13 at the last one, so I'm set this year! For those who are too far for the Santa Barbara wine events, this week's special would make a great gift. It's a half price sale on a wine sampler that's already a great deal at full price--with free shipping to boot! Send the gift of wine this holiday--no parking hassles, no crowds, no fuss!
This week's recipe is perfect for the colder weather. Enjoy with a bottle of 2008 Saucelito Canyon Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc from the Wine Cellar.
INDIVIDUAL CHICKEN POT PIES:
1 14 oz. can of chicken broth (almost 2 cups)
1 lb. chicken meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup peeled and diced potato (about two small potatoes)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup peeled and diced carrots (two large)
1 cup frozen peas
1 bay leaf
5 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
1 tsp. poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, nutmeg)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 frozen deep dish pie crusts
Let the pie crusts come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring broth and bay leaf to a boil then add the chicken, potato and carrots. Cook 5 minutes or until the carrots are softened but not mushy. Remove the bay leaf and turn off the heat. In the meantime, cook the onion in butter in a saucepan (at least a quart size) over low heat until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally. Whisk in the flour until well mixed. Using a slotted spoon or sieve to keep the chicken and vegetable back, carefully pour in a third of the broth and whisk until well mixed. Continue with the next two thirds, whisking after every addition. Then add the half and half, milk, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. Whisk well and cook over medium heat for a few minutes until the mixtue has thickened. Add the chicken and vegetables, adjust seasonings, then ladle into soup bowls. Turn the pie crusts over onto a lightly floured cutting board and pat it flat with your hands. Cut the dough into wide strips. Weave the strips over the tops of the bowls and trim the ends 1/2" below the outside rim. Roll leftover dough in long "snakes" and put around the edges of the pies, pinching the dough around the edges to seal the edges. Crimp with your fingers or a fork. Let some spaces remain between the woven dough for steam to escape. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the filling is bubbly and the crusts are golden brown. Serves 4.

*Note for vegetarians: substitute 2 cups chopped portabello mushrooms for the chicken and vegetable broth for the chicken stock. Rather than cooking the mushrooms in the stock, like the chicken in the recipe above, cook them in the butter with the onion. Portabellos will give the pies rich flavor, replacing them with button mushrooms will not give the same depth of flavor.

10/7/09

Cheers To Saving $40--Plus Feijoada, The National Dish Of Brazil

The "city of love and mysteries" as Antonio Carlos Jobim sang, will host the 2016 Olympic Games. The gorgeous scenery of Rio de Janeiro will bring our flat panels to life with the lush green of Corcovado, the azure blue of the bay and the sensuous color and movement of Brazilian samba. Years ago, I captured the sounds of Brazil on tape: the soft patter of rain on the roof in the pretty fishing village of Buzios, brightly painted fishing boats bobbing in the harbor; the melodic sound of Portuguese weaving through the bustle of a marketplace; Caetano Veloso's melodic jazz on the car radio as we drove through verdant hills of papaya and palm; the jungle sounds of parrots and the buzzing and chirping of innumerable insects. The sounds evoke the aromas of Brazil--fertile, lush to the nose with the scents of tropical flowers, wet earth, sweat, and humid air redolent of cooking spices like cumin and clove. I used to have a brother in law who rode his bike from Sao Paolo, through Central America and Mexico, to California. Before we went to meet his family and see his hometown, I read every Brazilian book I could find, like Jorge Amado's mesmerizing novels of sensuous women and the working men who loved them, set in the frontier towns of the Recife and Ilheus where jungle was chopped and natives slaughtered to make way for prosperous plantations, and his vivid descriptions of local cuisine like vatapa (mashed shrimp, bread and coconut milk). I was a meat eater then and enjoyed the churrasco: skewers of grilled meat, and the fish and pork stews complex with spices, plus the first tuna pizzas I'd ever seen (this was way before Wolfgang Puck!). Brazil is the largest country in South America; the fifth largest in the world. Its native population has seen the influx of many immigrants--the Portuguese colonists, African slaves, Italians, Germans, Syrians, Lebanese, and Japanese. The beautiful contemporary Brazilians come in every shade of skin color and Brazilian food is as varied, too much to cover in a few paragraphs! But, I dug out some this recipes from when I had Brazilian family. Enjoy!
Brazil's national dish! You can make it with traditional meat ingredients, or with the adapted ingredients for the American kitchen.
FEIJOADA--BRAZILIAN STEW WITH BLACK BEANS:
Adapted Ingredients:
1 lb. smoked ham, cubed
1/2 lb. pork or beef ribs
1/2 lb. lean pork roast
1/2 lb. lean beef roast
1 lb. Mexican chorizo, sliced
OR
Traditional meats:

1/2 lb. of each: salt-cured pork foot, ear, tongue and tail
1/2 lb. carne seca (dried beef)
1 lb. linguica sausage, sliced
PLUS
1 lb. dry black beans
6 strips of smoked bacon
2 Tbsp. of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
salt to taste
black pepper
hot sauce (like Tabasco)
6 oranges: one for juice
How to prepare authentic feijoada meats:
Wash the salted pork parts (not the linguica) carefully and cut off excess fat. Soak in water with the dried beef for 24 hours, changing the water four times during this period. Then bring the water to a boil, pour the water out and fill the pot again and reboil. Repeat this so you have boiled the meat three times (this removes excess fat and saltiness plus tenderizes the meat). Take the meat out of the water and set aside.
For BOTH authentic and adapted recipes:
Soak the black beans in 2 quarts of water overnight in a separate pot. Then, put the pot on low heat and simmer for 4-5 hours (add water, if necessary, to keep the beans covered). In a Dutch oven, fry the bacon then pour out the grease. Chop up the bacon and set aside. Add olive oil to the Dutch oven and cook the onion, garlic and cumin in the pan for two or three minutes. Add sausage and cook another 3 minutes, stirring. Add the rest of the meat, bacon, and beans with 1 quart of the cooking liquid the beans were in (add water if not sufficient and save any extra cooking liquid for use later if you need it), vinegar, hot sauce and the juice of one orange. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn the heat to low and put the cover on slightly ajar (so there is a 1/2" gap) and cook for 2 hours or until the meat is tender. You may have to add some water (or the leftover bean cooking water)--so the stew has some sauciness but not is not thin. If the soup is too thin, put 1/2 cup of beans in a small bowl with some of the broth and mash into a paste, then stir the mashed bean into the stew to thicken the sauce. Separate the meat from the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces; put it back in the stew. Add salt to taste, if necessary. Serve over white rice and orange slices, with the Molho A Campanha on the side. Traditionally served with farinha de mandioca (flour made from cassava) which is a bit tart and nutty. Serves 10-12.

MOLHO A CAMPANHA:
1 large onion, minced
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 hot pepper, minced (malagueta pepper if you can get one)
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tsp. salt
Mix well. If the vinegar taste is too strong, add a little of the cooking liquid from the beans. Wine pairing for this recipe: the 2007 Carmichael "Sur le Pont" Syrah.

This week's Onlne Grapevine wine discount special can save you $40!

10/1/09

Recipes to pair with Pinot Noir

Quick and easy!
Seared Halibut Salad with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Sesame:
1 lb. Alaskan halibut (Ocean-friendly per Seafood Watch) cut into bite-sized pieces
5 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. sesame seed
1Tbsp. almonds, chopped
1 sun-dried tomato, minced
1/4 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt, or more, to taste
1/2 head of romaine lettuce, chopped
1 handful of arugula, chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
1 ripe tomato, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 Tbsp. vinagrette or Italian dressing
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used farmhouse cheddar)
Prep the salad by tossing the lettuce, arugula, and cucumber in the dressing (the salad should be lightly dressed). Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat and add the garlic, onion, oregano, almonds, sesame seed, sun-dried tomato and the halibut and cook until the fish is just cooked and not overdone. Rather than stirring as it cooks, which will break up the fish, use a spatula and turn the fish carefully to cook on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and adjust to taste. Spoon the hot fish over the salad, sprinkle with cheese and garnish with the avocado and fresh tomato. Enjoy with a nice glass of the 2007 Trifecta Pinot Noir.

From Riverbench Vineyard, a recipe to pair with their Estate Pinot Noir:
Cranberry Glazed Cornish Game Hens:
This dish is so easy to make yet so elegant. The high toned cranberry glaze pairs perfectly with our Pinot Noir that’s just bursting with red fruit nuances! Enjoy a glass while you baste the hens and you’ll be in heaven.
• 2 cornish game hens
• 1 cup canned cranberry jelly
• 1 tbsp. lemon juice
• ¼ cup white wine
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
• 1 tbsp. butter, softened
• Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove any giblets from the hens, then rinse them and pat dry. Rub with butter and then season liberally with salt and pepper or your favorite poultry seasoning. Place the hens, breast side up, in a sprayed baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, melt the cranberry jelly until smooth in a small saucepan. Add the wine, lemon juice and thyme and warm through. Keep on low heat and continue to stir so that it remains melted. After the hens have roasted for about 30 minutes, coat them liberally with the glaze. Continue to roast for another 20 minutes or until the hens are done, basting often with the remaining glaze.
The hens are delicious served with sweet potatoes or wild rice. Enjoy with the 2006 Riverbench Estate Pinot Noir!

Check out the Online Grapevine wine discount sales--every week a new offer! This week is a special discount on California and Oregon Pinot Noir:

9/23/09

Discounts During Recession...and Clam Chowder

The Fish Enterprise is having a lobster special--a 2 lb. lobster with 2 sides for $29.95! (Wonderful with a glass of Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio) It seemed like an affordable splurge so we went out on a weeknight and were pleasantly surprised to find the place packed. In this time of recession, there are many nearly empty restaurants, even on weekends. My heart goes out to restaurant owners because I know how difficult it is to run one in normal times, so this economic downturn must really hurt. Anyway, we did our part and spent some money to help keep the economy growing. My daughter offered me a taste of her clam chowder which I refused, explaining that I never find good clam chowder in a restaurant. It's usually gummy and thick with flour...except for once long ago, when I had clam chowder in a French restaurant in Colorado and it was made with fresh clams, clam juice and real butter. It was thin but oh, so delicious. My daughter rolled her teenage eyes and said "Oh, Mom, only foodies remember a soup they they had in high school!". We had a laugh over that. But, the next day I couldn't keep that delicious clam chowder from the past out of my mind and just had to try my hand at making it from scratch. Fortunately, in Santa Barbara there are several venues to buy seafood right off the fishing boats; I was able to buy live littlenecks. I didn't find a recipe I liked--I didn't want bacon grease or much flour, so I worked on creating a soup, mostly thickened with potato, with the fresh, clean, salty taste of clam unmasked with bacon, and not gummy like library paste. It took me 3 hours total, but was worth the "yum" compliment it received. I had to take more ribbing about my clam chowder obsession, but I reminded my daughter about the recent cake she decorated with fondant. Only a foodie stays up until 4 am to make a cake!
We're all looking for discounts and bargains to save what little money we have left. This week's Online Grapevine is right up our alley: from exotic Spain, fine table wine at a huge discount. You can receive the wine at your doorstep for less than $10 a bottle when you order a case.
SANTA BARBARA CLAM CHOWDER:
3 lb. live clams
tops of a bunch of celery
3 carrots
handful parsley
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig oregano
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 baking potatoes, cut into pieces, for broth
3 red potatoes, peeled
1 small onion, minced fine
1 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 cup half and half
salt and white pepper to taste
chives for garnish
Live clams should be shut and shells intact. Otherwise, they may be dead and will give the soup a bad taste. Soak the clams in water for a couple of hours so they discharge dirt and sand. Wash the celery and cut off the tops, including the leaves, to use for the soup. Peel the carrots if you want to use them later. (I saved them after cooking and pureed them in a blender, then melted some butter and added the pureed carrots, added salt and pepper to taste, then served as a side dish for a different meal, sprinkled with paprika.) Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Scrub the clams then carefully add them and cook for 5-10 minutes until all the clams have opened. Remove the clams and shells to a dish to cool. Add the celery, carrots, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and oregano to the broth and turn the heat down to medium low so the broth is at a low boil. Remove the clam meat from the shells and reserve--put the shells back into the broth. Cook for about 20 minutes, skimming any foam off as it cooks. Add the potato (no need to peel them and the peel adds vitamins). Cook another 30 minutes until the potato is completely soft and falls apart when you push on it with a spoon. Remove from heat and let the soup cool so you can strain the broth through a fine mesh colander into another pot. Pick out the carrots, if you want to save them, and also save the potato to a wide dish. Discard the rest. Discard any potato skin left on the potatoes, then mash them. Stir the mashed potato into the soup. Chop the clams and red potatoes and add them. Turn the heat on low and simmer until the potato is tender. In the meantime, melt the butter over low heat and cook the finely minced garlic and onion in it for five minutes. Add the flour and stir until well mixed. Cook for a minute, then add a cup of the broth, a bit at a time, stirring with each addition until you have a runny paste. Then, spoon it into the broth a bit at a time, stirring with each addition. (Adding the flour/butter mixture directly will create lumps!) Add the half and half and season to taste with white pepper and salt. Garnish with chopped chives. Serves 4 and is good with cornbread and honey and a glass of the 2008 Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Blanco.

9/16/09

Red Wine and Hearty Nutloaf With Homemade Marinara

Red wine pairs well with meat, but many of us are cutting or eliminating red meat from out diets. The reasons can range from the philosophical: no guilt about eating "Bessie", to practical: it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat, to financial: a vegetarian diet can be less expensive, to personal: less cholesterol mean less risk of heart attack, to global: it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat (seems unbelievable, but a cow requires 30-50 gallons per day, plus the water needed for feed and processing). Whatever the reason, if you are looking for a healthy, satisfying and environmentally friendly pair for this week's red wines, try this nutloaf. There's nothing mushy or bland about it; it's spiced and chewy with a bit of crispiness and the recipe is a product of my effort over the last year to get it right! (To view a related Newsweek article, click here plus more from the New York Times here.)
HEARTY NUTLOAF IN HOME-MADE MARINARA:
4 Tbsp. minced garlic (2 for sauce, 2 for loaf)
4 Tbsp. minced onion (2 for sauce, 2 for loaf)
5 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup minced mushrooms (can include the stems)
3/4 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup manchego or parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup Japanese panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. oregano, minced
2 Tbsp. basil, chopped
1 Tbsp. marjoram, minced
1/2 cup red wine
5 ripe tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, saute half the garlic, onion and all the mushrooms in 2 Tbsp. of the oil over low heat until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Stir the egg in a mixing bowl, then add the sauteed ingredients, the almonds, cheese and panko and mix well. Pat into a greased mini loaf pan and bake for approximately 1/2 hour until the loaf is firm. The olive oil may make a foam on top, simply wipe with a paper towel.
While the loaf is baking, pop the tomatoes into boiling water; remove them to cool when the skin splits. Cook the other half of the onion and garlic in 3 Tbsp. olive oil over low heat until the onion is translucent. Add the oregano, marjoram and basil and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the wine and simmer while you peel and chop the tomatoes in a bowl to retain the juice. Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer while the loaf cooks, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle sauce onto the plates, slice the loaf and place it on top. Serves 4 and is wonderful paired with the Bourassa 2003 "Harmony3".
This week's Online Grapevine wine special (with free shipping in the continental US):
Save $100: Beautifully Blended Wines
Bourassa 2003 "Harmony3" (Napa Valley, CA):
This wine represents the best varietals from vineyards in the Napa Valley. Crafted by legendary Napa Valley master winemaker Gary Galleron. (Retail: $60)
Merriam Vineyards 2005 "Miktos" (Russian River, CA):
The very best barrels of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc with a dash of Petit Verdot. Deep and dark with black raspberries, dried currant and tobacco notes. Retail: $50)
Silver Mountain 2002 "Alloy" (Central Coast, CA):
This big, luscious wine is rich with aromas of black cherry, blackberry, ripe black plum, and dark chocolate. (Retail: $26)
Order 3 bottles, one of each of the above, for just $89, $84 for Wine Club members.
Order 6 bottels, two each of the above, for just $169, $159 for Wine Club members.

To view this week's special, click the button below.

9/10/09

New Sri Lankan Recipe

To Sabrina--please see the April 7 '09 post for an answer to your question on the Sri Lankan Masala. Thanks to you and all my readers for sending comments and questions! The Sri Lankan post has been my most visited blog, according to Google Analytics, so I've added a recipe there for green beans.

If you're in Southern California, don't miss the Touring & Tasting Wine Warehouse Sale on Saturday (see my August 26 '09 post for details). I went to the Northwest Wine tasting last night and bought a case of the Forgeron Chardonnay for only $12 a bottle (normally $25). In general, I prefer red wine and I dislike the oaked, maloactic Chardonnays of California. But the Forgeron is more in the French tradition, made in Oregon with some time in French oak, but still crisp, light and aromatic. If you are not in California, but plan to visit our lovely state and do some wine tasting, call Shannon at 805-965-2813 ext. 100 to see if Touring & Tasting is having a wine event. There's usually at least one a month; next month is a wine tasting to benefit Hospice of Santa Barbara. Cheers!

9/8/09

Alice Water's Beef Stew

Only foodies will understand this--I had to go see the movie "Julie & Julia" again, just to hear the lines: "But what do you like to do?" ---"Eat!"; and "I think about food all day and dream about it at night!". Why?--it's a validation! If someone as world-renown and well-respected as Julia Child was food-obsessed, then I'm not a horrible person for caring so much about what I eat. Besides, it's a wonder to watch Meryl Streep--definitely the finest actress of our time--embody her character. The popularity of the film has renewed interest in Julia Child's first cookbook--over a million people bought "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking" last month. I imagine most of them immediately turned to page 315 to look for the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe. (For those who haven't seen "Julie & Julia", the character played by Amy Adams is in raptures over this recipe.)

Julia Child enjoyed great success in her lifetime with three decades on TV, the publication of seventeen books, plus seeing her kitchen enshrined in the Smithsonian (click here for a Flash presentation). Several interesting articles about the spike in interest in her have been printed in the New York Times, including "After 48 Years, Julia Child Has a Big Best Seller, Butter and All" by Stephanie Clifford, who points out that modern cooks may have trouble with the amount of butter and bacon fat in many of the recipes. I think this is especially true in California where we have been influenced by another powerful and innovative woman: Alice Waters, who was one of the originators of "California cuisine" with her emphasis on sustainably farmed, organic, seasonal produce. When "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking" was published, science hadn't established the correlation of saturated fat to heart disease nor discovered the benefits of the micro-nutrients in fruits and vegetables. Today, we want to maintain our health by limiting the saturated fat in our menus. This doesn't prevent Julia Child's cookbooks from having a deservedly prominent place in our cookbook shelf--since every cook needs to know how to make the basic French sauces and there are many wonderful and surprising recipes, like Epinards en Surprise (Spinach Hidden under a Giant Crepe) or Galettes au Camembert (Camembert Biscuits) that spark innovation.

Another criticism that has been brought up by other writers about her recipes is that many require extensive preparation, which in today's society of working moms and dads, is not always possible. (I would like to point out, in her defense, that the classic French recipes she adapted were even more labor intensive.) But for those who would like to try a shortcut, here's a recipe for beef stew, published in the LA Times, adapted from Alice Water's book "The Art Of Simple Food". It has the same basic ingredients as Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon, slowly cooks for the same length of time, but requires less prep. I'd be curious to hear a taste review from any reader who tries this recipe.
Note: Adapted from Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food." The stew can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven. LA Times online 10/10/07
(click here to read about Chez Panisse Cafe and a recipe for Halibut Tartare or here for recipe for Avocado, Grapefruit and Fennel Salad)
 ALICE WATER'S BEEF STEW:
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2 -inch cubes
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oil
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 whole cloves
2 onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs savory
2 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns
3 tablespoons brandy
1 3/4 cups red wine
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
8 cloves coarsely chopped garlic and 2 cloves finely chopped garlic, divided
1 thin strip orange zest
2 cups beef broth (or chicken broth)
1/2 cup small black olives, such as nicoise or small kalamata
1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
1. Season the beef with generous amounts of salt and pepper at least 1 hour, or up to a day, before preparing. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the bacon and cook until it is lightly brown but not crisp. Remove the bacon and save it for another use. Add the meat to the pan, browning well on all sides, in as many batches as necessary. As the meat is browned, transfer it with a slotted spoon to a heavy pot or braising dish.
3. When all of the meat is browned, pour off most of the fat and lower the heat to medium. Stick the cloves in one of the onion quarters and add the onions to the heated saute pan along with the carrots. Tie a bouquet garni of thyme, savory, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in a small cheesecloth bundle (a tea ball works well too), and add it to the vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are lightly browned, then remove the pan from heat and add the vegetables to the beef in the stew pot. If using the oven, heat it to 325 degrees.
4. To the saute pan in which the vegetables were cooked, add the brandy and red wine. Place the pan over high heat and cook until the wine is reduced by about two-thirds, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the reduced wine over the beef and vegetables.
5. Gently stir in the tomatoes, coarsely-chopped garlic, orange zest, broth and 1 teaspoon salt. Check the level of the liquid; it should be at least three-quarters of the way up the cubes of beef. Add more broth if needed.
6. Cover the pot tightly and cook at a bare simmer on the stovetop or in the oven for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat is almost tender. Check the stew occasionally to make sure that it is not boiling (lower the heat if necessary) and that there is enough liquid. When the meat is almost tender, add the olives for the final 30 minutes.
7. When the meat is tender, turn off the heat and let the stew settle for a few minutes. Skim off the fat. Discard the bouquet garni. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Stir in the finely chopped garlic cloves. Serve with the chopped parsley sprinkled over. Serves 6. Wine pairing: the 2004 Brian Carter Cellars Solesce.
Each serving: 432 calories; 46 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 15 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 87 mg. cholesterol; 840 mg. sodium.

9/2/09

Oregon Wine Sampler ... V Mertz Restaurant Omaha


When friends heard I was going to Omaha, they had a lot of snide comments like: "Oh, you're going to Omaha--well, have fun--if you can". I expected a decaying Midwestern town with a shabby Main Street lined with 1950's storefronts. Instead, Omaha is a vibrant modern town with sculpture gardens, clean wide boulevards, landscaped parks dotted with sculpture and glass and metal architecture mixed in with restored fine brick buildings. Besides Warren Buffet, Omaha is home to numerous billionaires and millionaires and several Fortune 500 companies, many of whom shower the city with their munificent philanthropy. And it has at least one world class restaurant, which I found through the useful TripAdvisor website. One enters V Mertz through a covered passageway between two exposed brick walls verdant with flowers. The restaurant decor is elegant but warm with soft pools of lighting. The evening we dined there, Executive Chef Kyle Anderson sent out an amuse bouche with a spoonful of salmon ceviche, a round of savory quinoa and tiny ramekin of tasty truffle soup that we all would have liked to have licked to the last drop. Sadly, my iphone couldn't take a good photo by candlelight, so I'm substituting one of the restaurant's website photos of a different fish dish to demonstrate their aesthetic presentation, but my entree was actually a perfectly cooked piece of wild salmon with corn succotash, watermelon cooked sous vide (boiled in a vacuum pack) with cracked pepper, lemon verbena, parsley and sherry vinegar (absolutely delicious!), roasted onions, greens, and a delicate corn foam and corn puree spiced with coriander, fennel, clove and allspice--the flavors of each part of the dish creating wonderful taste combinations with the rest. The V Mertz wine list has won awards from both Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. On the waiter's recommendation, the 2005 Robert Sinskey "Three Amigos" (Los Carneros, California) was an excellent pairing for the salmon. Speaking of Pinot Noir--the wine pairing recipe for this week's Pinot sale is for fresh figs stuffed with Mascarpone and Gorgonzola. These are a sensuous, luscious delight and you will love these as an appetizer, dessert or for nibbling while enjoying the 2007 Trifecta Pinot Noir in your Oregon Wine Sampler shipment.
FRESH FIGS STUFFED WITH MASCARPONE AND GORGONZOLA:
10 large figs
1/2 mascarpone (you can use creme fraiche + 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)
4 Tbsp. Gorgonzola
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup honey
mint leaves
This recipe requires fully ripe, but not mushy, figs. Cut them in half and scoop out a bit of the center for a place for the cheese stuffing. Toast the pine nuts until golden brown under the broiler. Let cool, then mix the rest with the cheese. Spoon the mixture into the figs and drizzle with honey. Garnish with mint sprigs. Serve with the 2007 Trifecta Pinot Noir.