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.
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.


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.)
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):
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Bourassa 2003 "Harmony3" (Napa Valley, CA):
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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)
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Order 3 bottles, one of each of the above, for just $89, $84 for Wine Club members.
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To view this week's special, click the button below.


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!


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)
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2 -inch cubes
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.


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.
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.