Sri Lankan Masala

6 tsp. cumin seeds
6 cardamon pods
4 coriander seeds
6 tsp. fennel seeds
1 clove
1" stick cinnamon
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. coconut milk or yoghurt
1/2 pound firm white fish cut into chunks (can also use chicken or meat)
Sesame oil
Crush the cumin, cardamon, coriander, fennel and cloves in a spice grinder. Film a cooking pot with oil, and cook the spices in the oil over low heat for a minute. Add the vinegar and tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes over low heat. Add the fish (or meat) and cinnamon stick, stir, cover and cook over the lowest heat for 20 minutes, stirring often. Add the coconut milk, stir, add salt if needed, and cook another ten minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and serve over rice pilaf. Serves 4 as part of a meal.
Sri Lanka is a tropical island about 1/6 the size of California off the southeast coast of India. Lush and tropical, Sri Lanka is renowned from its spices and its cuisine has been influenced both by India and the many traders who have come to take advantage of natural resources such as rubber, tea and coconut. Roast beef and chicken came from the British, the popular rice pilaf called Lamprais and meatballs wrapped in banana leaf called Frikkadels are Dutch-influenced and many of the desserts came from the Portuguese. Sri Lankans learn to cook from their families and rarely use a recipe, so dishes will vary quite a bit. The common element of Sri Lankan cuisine is their liberal use of spices, particularly chilli, cardamom, cumin, and coriander; and the use of coconut. This recipe is adapted from a recipe given to me by Jasmine, a lovely Sri Lankan lady who invited me over to her house to try the cuisine of her native land. She doesn't need to measure her ingredients, so I worked on replicating the same taste at home with measurements for those of us who did grow up having these delicious dishes every day. Jasmine served it with rice pilaf and three vegetable dishes, including the below, also adapted. Jasmine is one of the founders of "Children Of Joy" which provides a home for girls orphaned by the Sri Lankan civil war.
1 1/2 cups green beans
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. cardamom pods
1 Tbsp. cloves
1 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Grind the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and turmeric together until fine. Cover bottom of a saucepan with the oil, fry the garlic and onion over low heat until onion is translucent. Add spices and cook, stirring for a few minutes to release the flavors. Add the beans and cover. Cook until green beans are soft, stirring occasionally. Salt to taste. Serves four as part of a meal.

This week's recipe pairs well with the Sunce Malbec from the Russian River appellation of Sonoma County. We had an unbelievable special on this wine--just $15 for this bottle that retails for $50. When you use your 10% off coupon (offer ends 5/10/09 as supply lasts) you are buying this bottle for just $13.50! The 2005 Malbec: exudes a typical Malbec nose: rich, deep aromas of fruitcake, truffles, and hints of anise. In the mouth this inky wine shows balanced fruit from start to finish, with flavors of black cherry, raspberry, and mild earth as well as nuances of vanilla and spiced clove. Exceptionally age worthy for 12-15 years." Sunce Wines are Estate grown and sustainably farmed. Only 20 barrels of this wine was made, so it is very difficult to find. To see this week's wine special, click here.


Tips On Making New Mexican Chili Rellenos

How To Make Authentic New Mexican Chili Rellenos
I grew up in Colorado and my family would drive down a couple times a year to Santa Fe to visit friends, so I grew up eating blue corn enchiladas at the now famous The Shed restaurant and the crispy, puffed sopapillas at the local's hangout Plaza Cafe, as well as home-cooked meals in the houses of our friends. I remember the chili rellenos in particular, just a light coating of egg (with just a touch of flour) around chilis which had been charred to remove the skin and stuffed with melted cheese and surrounded by sauce made from scratch. Que rico!
What a shock to move to California and bite into a pillow of deep fried dough! That's the way chili rellenos are made by most restaurants outside of New Mexico--battered and fried with canned sauce. I never order chili rellenos any more, just make them at home. It's a bit of work, but worth every minute of prep time.
What wine to pair with chili rellenos? Try pairing a Zinfandel to stand up to hot New Mexican food if you've made your chilis fiery, or a fruit-forward red if the heat index is set to mild--I tried the Cosentino '05 Syrah from the Touring & Tasting cellar which complemented the deep flavors of the rellenos.
By the way, spring brings squash blossoms to our gardens and farmer's market. Substitute them for the chilis for a lighter dish, perfect for breakfast or brunch.

Authentic Chili Relleno Recipe
For sauce:
12 dry red chilis (from a ristra* if you are lucky to have one, or you can find dry red chilis in a Mexican market)
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup minced onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 Tbsp. cumin
3 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
Fresh cilantro
Using gloves, wash the chili pods and remove all the seeds and the "veins" or fibers that hold the seeds. Put into a saucepan with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 15 minutes. Pour into a blender and whirl until well blended. While the chilis are simmering, you can heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Simmer the onion and garlic until onion is transparent, then add seasonings and cook another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. At this point, you can puree the onion and tomatoes in the blender if you want a completely smooth sauce (for instance, if you are going to use this sauce for enchiladas instead of rellenos) Otherwise, add 1/2 the chili sauce and taste it--if you want more spice, add the rest. Then cook another 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.
For chilis:
4 green chilis, preferably New Mexican Sandia
Monterey Jack, cut in sticks 1/2"x1/2"x 1" less than the length of the chili
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. milk
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp ground sage
Roast the chilis on the grill or under the broiler, turning as they blacken so the whole skin is puffed up and charred. Where the skin is still bright green, the skin will still stick to the chili. Run under cool water and peel off the skin (don't put the skins down your disposal!) Carefully make a slit in the side of each chili and with a sharp knife, cut the top of the fibers that hold the seeds. Carefully remove all the seeds and dry the chilis on paper towels.
Stuff each chili with a stick of cheese. Whisk the eggs, milk, flour and seasonings. Heat a frying pan coated with oil and pour in 1/4 of the egg mixture, turn the heat down to low immediately and place one chili on one side of the pan--you're going to cook the egg a bit, like an omelet, then roll up the egg so the chili ends up in the middle. Put the cooked chilis in a heated pan and when they are all done, spoon the sauce over and enjoy!
*Ristras are wreaths of dried red New Mexican chilis. If you travel to New Mexico, you can bring one home and hang it on your wall--when you need red chilis, just pull them off!
Note: New Mexican red chili is really HOT, with powerful capsaicinoids--the chemical compounds that give that burning "chili" sensation. If you get it into a nick or cut in your hands, it will hurt, so use gloves. Also, make sure you don't touch a chili when cleaning it and rub your eye with your hand.


Two Panzanella Wine Pairing Recipes

Two Panzanella (Italian bread salad) Recipes:capsaicinoids
Enjoy with the 2005 Castello di Monastero Sangiovese.VERSION 1:
2 cups cubed dry bread (set it out overnight if it is fresh)
olive oil spray
garlic powder
1/4 cup grated Parmesano Reggiano
I can drained Northern white beans
bunch fresh basil, chopped
1/2 pound mozzarella in chunks
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1/2 lemon--juice of
4 cups arugula
4 Tbsp. old red wine or red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the cubed dry bread with the olive oil on all sides, then sprinkle all sides with garlic powder, salt and fresh ground pepper. Toast in the oven until light brown, stirring occasionally, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and toast until medium brown. Take out of the oven and set to the side.
Put the rest of the ingredients, except the arugula, into a large serving bowl and mix. Adjust the balance of the dressing by adding more salt and balsamic vinegar to your taste. Toss in the arugula and toasted bread just before serving.

2 cups cubed dry bread (set it out overnight if it is fresh)
olive oil spray
garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesano Reggiano
1 tomato chopped
I can drained corn kernels
1 can drained artichoke hearts or 1 1/2 cups fresh steamed baby artichokes
4 cups arugula
1/3 cup old red wine or red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
bunch fresh basil, chopped fine
3 Tbsp. fines herbes
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the cubed dry bread with the olive oil on all sides, then sprinkle all sides with garlic powder, salt and fresh ground pepper. Toast in the oven until light brown, stirring occasionally, then sprinkle with half the Parmesan cheese and toast until medium brown. Take out of the oven and set to the side.
Mix the basil, fines herbes, vinegar, olive oil and the rest of the Parmesan together, then adjust the balance of the dressing by adding more salt and balsamic vinegar to your taste. Mix with the vegetables, then toss carefully fold in the toasted bread just before serving. Enjoy with the 2005 Castello di Monastero Sangiovese.
NOTES: bread with large airspaces, like foccacia works best. Dense bread doesn't let the air in to crisp properly. Also, fresh bread that is moist will not crisp well, so this is a great recipe to use for bread that is still edible, but getting dried out. If you can't find spray olive oil, use 1/3 cup regular olive oil and 4 cloves minced fresh garlic, but this tends to saturate the bread cubes, using olive oil spray will keep the inside of the cubes dry. I used curly French arugula from my garden, but you can substitute any greens that have some structure--like frisee or romaine. Avoid lettuce that will get limp under the weight of the vegetables.


What's So Special About Napa Cabs?

It's been over 30 years since the Judgment of Paris wine tasting put Californian Cabernet Sauvignons front and center on the world's stage. If you haven't read the history (or seen the romanticized film Bottle Shock), European winemakers and afficionados used to look down their noses at American wine. Were they surprised when the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon beat out classified Bordeaux Estates like Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Montrose, Château Haut-Brion and Château Léoville-Las Cases in a blind tasting conducted by French wine experts!

Since then, Napa winemaking has grown (in stature and in physical dimensions) to become an internationally recognized wine powerhouse. Year after year, stellar wines have cemented Napa's reputation. The quintessential Napa Cab is layered, complex, but with texture and structure to allow the aromas and flavors reveal themselves.

Interestingly, only 9% of Napa Valley is planted in vineyards. Despite its huge reputation, Napa wines represent just 4% of California's wine production--a reason, besides the taste, that Napa wines sell at a premium.


Spiced Oven Beef Stew Wine Pairing Recipe

1/2 cup water
2 tsp. allspice
1 bay leaf
3 lb. chuck roast cut into 2" chunks
1/2 cup red wine
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 medium onions, cut in chunks
1 cup beef broth
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. marjoram
1 tbsp. thyme
1 tbsp. dry parsley or 4 tbsp. chopped fresh
1/2 tsp. sage, crumbled
6 medium potatoes, quartered
2 ribs celery, thickly sliced
6 carrots, thickly sliced
In a saucepan, boil water, bay leaf and allspice. Cool a bit, then put in a glass bowl with the meat and wine, mix well, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove meat and reserve liquid. Brown meat with onions in the oil over medium heat. Add the liquid, beef broth, salt, and the rest of the seasonings. Cover and bake at 350° for 1 1/2 hours stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and carrots and celery; cover and cook 30 minutes longer, or until meat and vegetables are tender, stirring every 10 minutes. Serves 4.
Enjoy with the 2005 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.


Cheese 101

People thought WE were nutty for cheese--going two hours out of our way on a trip up north to take in a day of the California Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma. But, in the first seminar, we met two (unrelated) parties who had driven all day Friday from Orange County and would drive back Sunday night. Now those are true CHEESEHEADS!

I stumbled across this festival online and will be seriously considering making travel plans next year. For those of us who adore cheese, what could be better than an event all about tasting and learning about one of our favorite foods. All I can say is that I'm glad we didn't get tickets to the elaborate dinner Saturday night as it was all we could do to roll ourselves up to the room and beach ourselves on our beds like great whales washed ashore!

But...what we missed was an exquisite Gala Dinner of six courses, all with local artisanal cheese, paired with boutique wines and prepared by a stellar roster of chefs, including one of our favorites: Duskie Estes of Zazu in Napa (see my Thursday, January 22, 2009 blog). Sigh.

With many seminars to choose from, we ended up with "Preserving & Advancing the Artisan Food Movement" , "Blues Around The World", "Cheese Appreciation 101" and "Artisan Cheese In Everyday Cooking".

Here are my notes from the Cheese 101, led by Judy Creighton from the Cheese School of San Francisco, everything you need to know about how to taste cheese and get the most out of the cheese tasting experience:
How To Taste Cheese:
  1. Take a good look at your cheese. Just like when you taste fine wine, you swirl it in the glass to view the color and body--look at the color and texture of the cheese. Poke it with your finger! Is it soft, crumbly, curdy, firm?
  2. Smell it. As you would judge the aroma of wine, assess the cheese aroma. Is it weedy, moldy, fruity, fresh smelling?
  3.  Take a small bite and move it all around the mouth. Just like wine, again, you want it to hit every part of the palate so you can savor all the five flavors: bitterness, saltiness, sourness, sweetness and umami (a savory sensation caused by compounds such as glutamate) and the seven ancillary sensations: dryness (as in tannins), metallicness, hotness (of chilis), coolness (as in menthol), numbness, kokumi (heartiness from amino acid extracts--called mouthfeel in wine tasting), and temperature. All of the various combinations of these taste sensations result in myriad experiences in tasting cheese!
  4.  Along with the above, note the texture of the cheese which can be a factor in whether or not you care for that particular sample.
  5.  Note the aftertaste, which may be different than the sensations you have while the cheese is still in the mouth.
The American Cheese Society uses the following terms:
BODY: buttery, chalky, close (like a wine that is closed), corky, cracked, creamy, crumbly, curdy, defective rind, firm
TEXTURE: gassy (like Swiss Emmenthaler), greasy, hard, mealy, oily, open, pasty, rough, rubbery
APPEARANCE: runny, separation, smooth, supple, soft, soiled, spreadable, translucent, waxy, weak
BOTH AROMA AND FLAVOR: acidic, animal taste, barny, bitter, buttery, chemical, clean, complex, condensed milk, cooked, creamy, delicate, earthy, feedy-weedy, flat, fragrant, fresh, fruity, pleasant/unpleasant, malty, metallic, mild, milky, moldy, nutty, piquant, pungent, rancid, salty, satisfying, sharp, sour, strong, stale, tangy, tart, sweet, lacking in flavor, yeasted

Intrigued? Buy this week's wine special and try some cheese with it. See how the cheese changes when the wine accompanying it changes. Take some notes and compare with friends and if you have any super cheese pairings to suggest with one of this week's wines, please email and I'll post the suggestions next week.

Here are my general suggestions for cheese pairings with this week's wine special:
'04 Collier Falls Zinfandel--Muenster or Point Reyes Blue
'02 Collier Falls Cabernet Sauvignon--cheddar or Parmesan
'06 Collier Falls Primitivo--Gouda or Pecorino

Arugula Salad With Toasted Hazelnuts and Shaved Midnight Moon

6 small handfuls arugula
1/3 cup hazelnuts
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive il
2 ounces Midnight Moon or Parmesano Reggiano shaved
Kelsie Kerr, a chef at Alice Water's famed Chez Panisse Restaurant, used Cypress Grove's Midnight Moon but you can substitute a good Parmesano Reggiano. Preheat the oven to 350. Toast the hazelnuts about 15 minutes until deep brown. Place the hot nuts in a towel and roll them to remove their skins. Chop them coarsely. Mix the vinegars with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Let sit a few minutes to infuse. Whisk in the olive oil and adjust dressing to taste. Toss the arugula with the vinaigrette and half the hazelnuts. She suggests using your hands to toss the salad so you can feel the right amount of dressing--enough to coat the arugula. Arrange on a plate and "fluff" so the salad looks beautiful. Garnish with cheese and the rest of the nuts.