Setting Sail On The Blue Mediterranean

Aahhh...looking forward to relaxing aboard the Celebrity Solstice on our Mediterranean wine cruise. Touring & Tasting sold out all our reserved staterooms--we have 32 people signed up to leave Barcelona for Nice, Florence/Pisa, Rome, Naples, Venice, Kotor and Montenegro, taste Brys and Rodney Strong wine, have a sommelier guided tour of the 2-story wine tower, enjoy a four-course wine pairing lunch...and generally have a wonderful time! I've been looking into port excursions and was excited to realize that we can visit Cinque Terre when we dock at La Spezia, Italy. Most people will take off for Pisa and Florence, especially if they haven't visited the art lover's dream city Florence, with its trove of masterpieces like the statue of David and Pitti Palace. I've been fortunate to visit both cities, but not Cinque Terre, a string of five colorful villages perched on cliffs above the cerulean sea. I've nabbed some photos from Wikipedia:


Blackened Salmon and Pinot Noir

I used my cast iron skillet to make blackened salmon last night--it was so juicy and flavorful! I posted a blackened salmon recipe for a salad last year, this one is spicer to contrast with the creamy flavor of the fava bean risotto. The salmon had a lovely crispy, herb crust around it from being seared and cooked on cast iron. We paired it with a bottle of the 2007 ArborBrook Heritage Cuvee Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley--a rich, smooth Pinot that was in a Touring and Tasting wine club in a previous month  (I see it's also here) but you could pair one of the Pinot specials from the Online Grapevine as well.
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. salt or sel gris
1 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. coriander
1 Tbsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. tarragon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. garlic powder
4 salmon fillets
olive oil
Grind the spices together with a mortar and pestle and coat the salmon fillets with the spice mixture. Drizzle olive oil over the bottom of your cast iron pan until the bottom is coated. Heat over medium for a couple minutes without letting the oil smoke. Place the fillets in the pan, turn the heat to lowest setting and cover loosely with lid or tin foil. Let cook for about 10 minutes or until you can see that the bottom of the fillets are firm. Turn them carefully and let cook another couple of minutes uncovered. Serve immediately with fava bean risotto.

You may wonder why you have to stir the risotto for the entire cooking process. I've found the two main factors in making great risotto are good quality Arborio rice and tenacity in stirring the risotto during the entire cooking process. Risotto will never attain the creaminess without constant stirring which loosens the outer layer of the rice as it cooks and mixes it with the broth to make a thick sauce. So roll up your sleeves and be prepared to tone your upper arms when you make risotto!
This was my last crop of fava beans. Because I picked them fresh, I didn't need to blanch the beans to soften the outer peel in order to peel them after popping the beans out of their pods. The outer shell of fava beans from the store are often hardened and difficult to peel.
3 Tbsp. butter
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup good white wine
2 cups fresh, peeled fava beans
4 cups chicken or broth
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
3/4 cup grated good quality Parmesan cheese
Prepare to be stirring the risotto for about half an hour--have everything ready and in arm's reach. Heat the broth until just below boiling, then turn off heat. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the wine , turn up the heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring until wine is absorbed. Add a cup of the hot broth and continue cooking and stirring until broth is absorbed, repeat this with the next 3 cups of broth. After you add the last cup, cook and stir until broth is half absorbed, then add the lava beans, salt and pepper. Continue cooking and stirring until the broth is absorbed, then add cheese and stir until cheese is mixed in. Serve hot with blackened salmon and a glass of Pinot Noir. Serves 4.


Gluten Free or Low Gluten: No Gluten For Punishment

In a recent CNN article, Carina Storr asked  "Will A Gluten-free Diet Improve Your Health?". She points out that one does not need to have full-blown celiac disease to feel discomfort from eating gluten; there is a spectrum of gluten intolerance from celiac disease to gluten sensitivity. In celiac disease, the body's immune system reacts to gluten by producing antibodies that destroy villi--which line the intenstine and make food absorption possible  People suffering from gluten sensitivity don't test positive for the antibodies, but feel uncomfortable after eating gluten. Science Daily reports that a Mayo Clinic study has found gluten intolerance is 4x as common as in the 1950's and that "the group most affected is women in their 40s, 50s and 60s". That's my age group and I find that I am joined by the majority of my female friends in feeling that gluten in any large quantity makes us feel bloated and tired. Conversely, reducing gluten leads to more energy and a sense of well-being. No wonder gluten-free foods generated $1.5 billion in the US last year!
Here's a short list of ways to reduce your gluten intake (this is not a guide for those with celiac disease, see the Mayo Clinic's guide) :
1. replace up to half your recipe for baked goods, pancakes and waffles with buckwheat flour. Despite its name, buckwheat is a seed that is not related to wheat.
2. have corn tortillas instead of wheat
3. use gluten-free wraps (available at health food stores) instead of bread for sandwiches
4. serve cornbread instead of bread with meals
5. make your own granola instead of paying a fortune for store bought gluten-free cereals
6. use cellophane noodles (check the package to make sure they are made from yam) instead of noodles, also soba (buckwheat noodles) in the Japanese markets or Asian section of the grocery store
7. make polenta as a base for your marinara sauces instead of pasta
8. craving pizza but don't want the crust? Fill a large mushroom cap with marinara, top with grated cheese and other pizza topping and grill
Here are two recipes to get you started--I made the buckwheat bread tonight and served it with homemade vegetable soup and Brie.
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup regular flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups room temperature water
Add to mixer bowl, mix for a minute on medium low (number 2 on Kitchenaid), scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, then mix another 2 minutes.
Sponge Topper:
1 1/4 cups regular flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1/2 Tbsp. rock salt
2 Tbsp. caraway seeds
In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients with a whisk. Cover the sponge with the flour mixture, seal the top with plastic wrap and put in a warm place to rise for 2 hours. The flour should be soaked in and the mixture bubbly.
Final Additions and Baking
1 Tbsp. softened butter
Add the butter, attach the dough hook and mix on low (number 1 on Kitchenaid) for about a minute. Scrape the sides down with a rubber spatula, then mix for about 8 minutes on medium low (number 2 on Kitchenaid). The dough will be on the wet, sticky side and become less sticky as it is mixed with the dough hook. Remove from the bowl onto a well-floured surface and knead by hand for 2 minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough is elastic and springs back when pressed with a thumb. I have a huge, heavy, ceramic bowl that is big enough for me to knead the dough in--and can be used in the step below.
Spray a bowl with olive oil and roll the dough around so it is coated with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size--about 1 1/2 hours.

Cut a 15 1/2" square of parchment paper (it comes in 15 1/2" width). Put it into the Dutch oven and press it into the corners, folding the sides up so it fits inside the Dutch oven. The paper will keep the shape of the Dutch oven and be easier to handle later. Place it on the counter and put the dough into it. Shape into a ball, spray it with oil and cover tightly with the plastic wrap. Let it rise 45 minutes, no longer. Remove the plastic wrap and make some slits in the top with a very sharp knife.
Prepare and preheat the oven by putting the rack at its lowest position and putting the Dutch oven and lid on the rack. Turn the oven to 450 degrees (it will preheat for 45 minutes).
Preparing to put bread in the oven:
You want to minimize the time the oven door is open, so have everything ready before proceeding. You'll need oven mitts to handle the hot Dutch oven. The bread dough should be right next to the oven so when you open the door you can quickly--but carefully--lift the parchment paper and dough place it gently into the Dutch oven, fold the ends of the paper outward, put the lid on top, then shut the oven door.
Bake for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 400 degrees and remove the lid. Bake another 30 minutes or longer, until the bread is golden brown.
Cool the bread on a wire rack.

Makes 12 muffins
1 1/2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk, slightly warmed
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup pecan pieces + 12 whole pecan pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with muffin cups. In a large mixing bowl, add the rice flower, brown sugar, xanthan gum, cinnamon and salt. Sift in the baking soda and baking powder to get rid of any lumps. Mix the dry ingredients together.
In a separate bowl, add the melted butter, eggs, milk and lemon juice and mix well. Add the dry ingredients, the blueberries and the nuts to the liquid ingredients and stir quickly with a spatula. It will make a stiff dough. Use a large soup spoon to spoon the dough into the cups. Top each muffin with a whole pecan half. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-17 minutes.

This week's Online Grapevine wine pairing is a delicate Cream of Potato and Celery soup to pair with the 2009 Poet's Leap Riesling.
3 medium potatoes
3 stalks celery
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 medium onion (about 3/4 cup), chopped
1 tsp. celery seed, ground
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 tsp. white pepper
2 tsp. salt
1/8 cup sherry
1 pint half and half
chives for garnish
Peel potatoes and chop into eighths. Peel the strings off the celery stalks and cut into fourths. Put in a pot with enough water to cover the vegetables plus the bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Cook until vegetables are soft, then drain the vegetables, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid. In a saucepan, melt the butter and cook the onion and garlic in it until the onion becomes translucent. Stir in the celery seed and pepper. Let the onion mixture and the drained vegetables cool for a few minutes, then put into a food processor with the salt, sherry and half and half. Process until there are no lumps, but the soup still has some texture. Add a bit of the reserved cooking water, if necessary, for the desired consistency. Adjust salt to taste. The soup can be served warm or chilled--place the soup in a glass bowl that is inside a larger bowl of ice to chill. Garnish with chopped chives. Serves 8. Pair with the 2009 Poet's Leap Riesling.


Moving Madness: End Of The School Year

A quick post this week because I'm hitting the road like thousands of other parents to pick up my daughter from college. This past school year was like water slipping through one's fingers: delightful to experience, impossible to hold. The traffic is going to be crazy on the 101--wish me luck!
Have you wondered what to do with extra egg yolks? After making the meringue cookies last week, I ended up with nine of them and could not find a custard recipe using heavy cream instead of evaporated milk which always tastes canned, so I devised my own with a lovely Kahlua flavor. The extra egg yolks make the dessert very rich--good with blueberries and whipped cream.
Bake the custard in a glass dish inside a larger dish that can be filled with water. I used a 9" glass deep-dish pie dish inside a layer cake pan. The volume of liquid in this recipe fits the 9" pie dish to the top, so when the custard is inverted in the final step, the serving plate is in contact with the custard, preventing it from falling apart.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Baked in topping:
1/2 cups sugar
1/4 Kahlua
Simmer sugar and Kahlua over lowest heat in a heavy bottomed pot for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour into the bottom of a glass pie dish and swirl to coat.
9 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds into the top of a double boiler or bain-marie. (the best way to do this as the bean is really thin and often curved, is to cut it in half, then split it down the middle) Add the cream and sugar and heat until is hot to the touch, but before bubbles form. Remove the top pot and set aside to cool.
Whisk the egg yolks together in a separate bowl. Slowly start adding the warm cream mixture a bit at a time, whisking the eggs continuously with the other hand. Pour into the pie dish,put it into the pan with water, then into the oven.
Cook the custard for about 45 minutes, until the center is just set but still a bit jiggly. Remove from oven and set the custard dish on a pie rack until it is room temperature. Then refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. To unmold, put hot water into the outside pan again, put the pie dish inside for half a minute, then remove. Put the serving plate on top of the pie dish and slide to the edge of the counter so you can get one hand underneath the pie dish and the other on top of the serving dish. Quickly invert and the custard will land on the serving dish--garnish with whipped cream for a nice presentation. This recipe garmered many compliments, so I hope you enjoy it!


Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake, Soaked in Cointreau, Made From Scratch

It's not so easy to find a decadent chocolate bundt cake recipe made from scratch on the web. I fault the proliferation of advertising-dollar-driven recipe sites like about.com who offer minimal payment to anyone who can write up content for them which increases their web traffic and in turn their revenue dollars. Most recipes start with cake mix as the base--what's the point of that? So here is a made from scratch recipe for a really rich chocolate cake that should satisfy any chocolate lover. I made it last night for Touring and Tasting's Summer/Fall 2011 magazine release party and it garnered many compliments. Our lovely wine club manager, Shannon, hosted the soiree and cooked up a storm with a lavish spread of fresh caught crab claws, grilled albacore, tri-tip, vegetarian treats galore and, of course, great wine.

I had the chance to try some of the wines that will be in upcoming Touring and Tasting wine clubs: the Landmark Pinot Noir (supple and fruity, from Sonoma), Winderlea Pinot Noir (you can taste the French oak; grown on that coveted Jory soil--read about our visit),  Covington Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (I love their Sangiovese; this Cab was excellent as well) and Bianchi Syrah (a big, bold Syrah from Paso Robles).

The cake takes some time to make, so prepare yourself with a big chunk of time. I also whipped up a plate of meringue cookies (recipe from joyofbaking.com) served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream for those odd people (like myself) who don't eat chocolate. I piped the meringue using the flower attachment on the piping bag which gave a nice look to them, like a swirl of soft serve vanilla. These are melt-in-your-mouth meringue cookies. The next time I make them, I'm going to swirl them into a nest to pool some homemade fruit compote inside, then top with whipped cream and toasted almonds--yum.

Touring and Tasting is now over 15 years old and growing strong! Our talented wine club manager, Shannon, also shot the cover photo for the upcoming issue--soon to be in bookstores, airports, and hotels near you! The upcoming issue is the largest yet. Did you know Touring and Tasting was started with a few thousand dollars charged to a credit card? Now the magazine has a distribution of over 100,000 and hundreds of wine club members who enjoy tasting hand-selected wines. The Cellar Tour is the most popular club.

Cake Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted into measuring cup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate pudding

1/4 cup Cointreau

4 eggs 

1/4 cup milk 

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

1cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Cointreau soaking concoction:
4 tablespoons butter 

1/2 cup Cointreau

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Sweet whipped cream ingredients
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
Other ingredients
1 cup chocolate frosting (I used store bought but homemade is better)
About 1/4 cup strawberry jam
Fresh strawberries, about a pint
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray and flour a bundt pan. Sift together pre-sifted cake flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt into mixer bowl. Add the pudding, Cointreau, eggs, milk, vanilla and oil and beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, then mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan, then sprinkle the top with chocolate chips and gently swirl them into the batter. Bake for 45 minutes, or until done when a toothpick comes out clean. Put the cake still in the bunt pan, on a wire rack. Bring butter, Cointreau and sugar to a boil in a small pan. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool for a few minutes. The top of the cake (which will become the bottom) will be uneven as the center rises more than the sides. With a bread knife, carefully cut the top of the cake flat. Drizzle the butter/sugar/Cointreau mixture over the cake evenly. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Whip the whipping cream in the mixer until it forms soft peaks. Add half the powdered sugar and mix it in, then the other half and mix it in. Add the lemon extract and whip together. Set aside. Use a knife to make sure the sides of the cake will not stick by inserting the knife between the cake and pan around the edges. Spread the strawberry jam over the top of the cake to coat it completely. Place a serving plate over the bundt pan, holding the dish with one hand and the bundt pan in the over, quickly invert them and pull up on the bundt pan to release the cake. Frost the cake using a pastry knife. Fill the center with sliced fresh strawberries, top with whipped cream, make a ring of whipped cream around the base, then decorate with whole fresh strawberries.
6/6/11 UPDATE:

I made the triple chocolate cake again, but soaked it in Kahlua and just dusted it with powdered sugar. It's so dense and rich that a sliver makes a serving. Use the above recipe for the chocolate bundt cake, substituting Kahlua for the Cointreau. For the soaking liquour, use the following:
4 tablespoons butter 

1/2 cup Kahlua

1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract