Saturday, December 22, 2012

Beginning of the World Mayan Dinner

video

Click here for an HD version.

I missed it.  The end of the world came and went.  I didn't even notice.  When I woke up on December 21st, I looked out the window at the rising sun and realized I would have to go to work after all.  My disappointment deepened at the thought of missing the opportunity to throw an end of the world dinner party, even if the world didn't end.

So if the 20th of December was the last day of our existence, it only stands to reason that the 21st is a new beginning.  I used this logic to invite friends over for a Beginning of the World Mayan Dinner Party.  The menu included guacamole, fresh Ix'ni Pec salsa, Mayan shrimp ceviche, and Tikin Xic grilled fish.  You can find all the recipes at Yucatan Adventure Eco-Cultural Travel Guide.  I made a few substitutions out of convenience, but stayed true for the most part.  We enjoyed every bit of it.

All of the components of this meal are light, and feature healthy acidity.  There is also a bit of piquance from the habanero peppers and achiote marinade.  I decided on a 2009 Ledson Winery and Vineyards Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  The body was perfectly matched, the acidity well balanced with the food, and flavors of pear, pineapple and citrus a wonderful complement to our meal.

I decided to take an alternative approach to the typical photography I post.  Christmas came a few days early, so I decided to shoot the entire event with my new GoPro.  It was fun.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Pastured Chicken Paired with 2011 Barboursville Vineyards Virginia Sauvignon Blanc



This is a hurricane Sandy special edition of Craig's Grape Adventure.  When a hurricane is bearing down on you, what do you do?  Me?  I open a bottle of wine and head to the kitchen!

This meal was inspired by a recent visit to P.A. Bowen Farmstead which is an "old-fashioned pasture-based, mixed species, soy-free farm that uses modern technologies and biodynamic techniques."  Spectacularly rich cheese made from raw milk is the crown jewel produced by the farm.  My eyes get all dreamy when thinking of this wonderful cheese.  But cheese is not the only product sold at their farm store.  Pastured chicken, processed on the farm weekly, is a prominent offering.  Last Friday, I visited the farm to photograph and video chicken processing.



After four hours of shooting, I purchased a freshly plucked chicken for this meal.  I settled on roasting the chicken with rosemary and garlic.  This is a simple preparation that allows the flavor of the chicken to shine through.  In the case of a pastured chicken, this is important.  Unlike the relatively flavorless industrial chickens from a big box grocer, pastured chicken from the P.A. Bowen Farmstead is abundant with flavor.  However, the flavor is difficult to describe.  As I contemplated the flavor and tried to find words, I finally settled on an analogy.  This pastured chicken represents the terroir of the pasture it comes from, much as exceptional wines express the region and soil where the grapes are grown.  The flavors of clover, and multiple grass species speak through the chicken.



The 2011 Barboursville Vineyards Virginia Sauvignon Blanc is a treasure.  Although Virginia is not known for Sauvignon Blanc, the folks at Barboursville have broken the code.  The nose is light and floral with herbal hints.  The subdued and refreshing aromas are reinforced by a similarly subtle flavor - much less "in your face" than California interpretations or those of New Zealand.  Dried apricot is the most pronounced with supporting flavors of stone fruits and a hint of pear.  The acidity is well balanced with the flavors - it does not distract and is consistent with the subtle nature of this wine.  The finish is surprisingly long and elegant with a pleasing hint of honeysuckle.  I am impressed with wines that do not scream for my attention but rather invite me to explore - a much appreciated restrained approach.  Barboursville has hit all the right notes in this somewhat softened version of Sauvignon Blanc.  Well done!

The restrained approach to roasting the chicken with rosemary and garlic mated perfectly with the similarly restrained Sauvignon Blanc from Barboursville Vineyards.  Neither demanded undue attention, but rather invited enjoyment of the well balanced combination.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken
  • 10 red potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary finely ground with a mortar and pestle
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 head cleaned garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 stick of butter
  • Salt and Pepper

Preparation

  1. Rinse the chicken and pat dry.  Allow to rest and continue to air dry for 15 minutes.
  2. Leave butter at room temperature to soften.
  3. Combine ground rosemary and minced garlic with the butter to form a paste.
  4. Season the inside of the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then stuff with the head of garlic and rosemary sprigs.
  5. Coat the chicken with the butter-rosemary-garlic paste reserving approximately 1/3 of the paste for the potatoes.
  6. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan (with grate).
  7. Put chicken in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
  8. Melt the remaining butter paste in the microwave and pour over the potatoes in a large bowl.  Season the potatoes with salt and pepper then toss to coat evenly.
  9. After 30 minutes in the oven, add the potatoes around the chicken and continue in the oven for another 60 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 170-180 degrees.
  10. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

Monday, October 8, 2012

Curried Pumpkin and Squash Soup Paired with 2010 Fox Run Vineyards Finger Lakes Riesling


With the onset of cooler weather comes pumpkins and all the fine squash family members.  The cooler weather also proclaims the start of soup season...at least in my mind.  Although I love the refreshing cold soups of summer, the luscious soups of fall and winter are always welcome on my table.

Today I made curried pumpkin soup from a couple of pumpkin varieties and a little help from an acorn squash.  Curried pumpkin (or squash) soup is easy, makes the house smell wonderful, and is quite rewarding when paired with a beautiful Riesling like the 2010 Fox Run Vineyards Finger Lakes Riesling.  Using a curried approach to pumpkin makes the wine pairing easy.  Just ask any of your Indian friends and you will find that Rieslings and Gewurztraminers are routine.

Making this soup is easy.  Start by selecting a pumpkin, or a couple of varieties as I did.  Clean the pumpkin then cut into cubes about two inches square (rectangles are fine too!).  Cut enough to completely cover two sheet pans then slice two onions to fill in any remaining holes.  The pumpkin should be placed skin side down.  Season with salt and pepper and place in a 400 degree preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Switch positions (top to bottom) of the sheet pans, and continue to roast for another 25 minutes.

When done roasting, the pumpkin should be fork tender.  Harvest the flesh from and add to a 4 or 5 quart soup pot (including the roasted onions).  Add 32 ounces of chicken broth (vegetable broth works fine as well), 1 tablespoon curry powder and a can of coconut milk.  Stir and bring to temperature over medium heat.  Finally, puree the mixture with a submersion blender, adjust seasoning, ladle into bowls, and garnish with finely sliced scallions.

Now you are ready to enjoy the wonderful magic of Riesling and curry.  For this pairing, I chose one of two successful approaches; medium sweet with good acidity.  The 2010 Fox Run Vineyards Finger Lakes Riesling is delightfully balanced with a touch of sweetness and healthy acidity complementing the citrus, honey, and stone fruit flavors.  This wine has a wonderful nose of apricot and tropical fruits that make it difficult to delay a first sip.  It is inviting to say the least.

When pairing with curry, Riesling reigns.  However, be careful of Riesling that are too sweet.  Either a dry Riesling with strong acidity, or a medium sweet would be a good choice.  The 2010 Fox Run Vineyards Finger Lakes Riesling offered the best of both worlds - mild sweetness and refreshing acidity.  Just right.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Taste Test: Free Range Chicken vs. Industrial Chicken


Inspired by Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck, Chef Sue and I decided to do a side-by-side taste test of free-range chicken vs. mass produced “industrial” chicken.  In her book, Nina goes into great detail regarding the benefits of eating pastured, free range, and otherwise more naturally raised animals without the modern influences of confined spaces, cages, steroids, growth hormones, antibiotics and the feed created for quickly growing and fattening the animals.  She makes a strong case for the health and humane treatment of the animals along with the nutritional benefits of pastured and free-range approach.  With respect to pork and beef, she adds that flavor is greatly improved in comparison to industrially produced meats.  With this in mind, we decided to see if there was a discernable flavor difference between free-range chicken and it’s industrial produced counterpart.

We started by purchasing two skinless, boneless free-range chicken breasts from Chesapeake’s Bounty (www.chesapeakesbounty.com) in Saint Leonard, Maryland.  We then went to a big box grocer and bought two skinless, boneless, major brand industrially produced chicken breasts.  Chef Sue prepared the chicken identically; seasoned with salt and pepper, seared over high heat with a little olive oil, then placed in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes keeping the chicken in the sauté pan.  The chicken was removed from the oven and allowed to rest in the sauté pan for 10 minutes.

Now for the tasting.  We found no appreciable difference in flavor.  The only difference we found was a marginally juicier and tenderer consistency with the industrial chicken.  Chef Sue hypothesized this difference was a result of the industrial chicken being younger.  She came to this conclusion in part because the free-range chicken breast was much larger than the industrial chicken (say 50% larger).  We cannot say with any confidence the industrial chicken was actually younger, but it seems like a reasonable guess.

Based on this near stalemate of a taste test, there are several things to consider when making your choice between free-range chicken and industrially produced chicken.  In addition to claims of improved nutritional value of free-range chicken, you may consider the manner in which the chickens are treated; confined cages vs. green fields.  These considerations will likely be balanced with the cost.  The free-range chicken was priced at over three times that of the industrial chicken.

As far as the nutritional claims go, all but a couple of the studies I could find focused on the nutritional value of eggs.  These were led by evidence supporting substantially improved nutrition from free-range eggs.  The studies regarding nutritional value of the chickens were less decisive and marginally favored free-range.

You will need to make your own judgment regarding the full breadth of issues associated with your chicken purchase, but from a flavor perspective, we found no appreciable difference.   For now, if you will excuse me, I’m feeling hungry and am thinking the leftovers are looking good.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Food Movements - In Praise of Eating Well




In recent months I consumed a number of food related books as part of my normal reading diet.  My diet is dominated by fiction, but thanks to the row of book readers on my iPad including iBooks, Nook, Kindle, and Google Play, I forced myself to hide non-fiction behind one of the icons.

My most recent foray into non-fiction was Real Food:  What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck.  I was completely fascinated by the book and recommend you add it to your reading list.  Nina goes into great detail and debunks many food myths relating to fats, oils, industrial food, cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity among many others.  Part of my attraction to the book was the confirmation of things I suspected, and support for the things I love and practice.

Nina’s book is one among many that mark a revolt against industrialized foods.  It is another touch point in the food movement encouraging people to eat better.  Can you remember a time in your life (assuming you have more than 20 years experience at the dinner table) when there were more “food movements” than we have today?  Here is a partial list (no slight intended if your “movement” is not represented here):

Slow food
Real food
Whole food
Nose to tail
Local food (Locavore)
Organic
Free range
Heirloom
Community Supported Agriculture
Farm to School
Food Cooperatives
Farmers Markets
Farm to Table
Simple Food

And guess what?  This list doesn’t contain all the others focused on the global politics of food, sustainability, environmental impacts, fair trade and diminishing biodiversity represented in the modern food supply chain.



My intention is not to critique or elaborate on these movements but to highlight some of the commonalities among those listed.  In one way or another, these movements each focus on eating better, eating healthier, forsaking processed industrial foods, and encouragement to eat locally produced meat and vegetables.

In  Real Food:  What to Eat and Why Nina encourages me to continue what I am already doing.  Eat fresh food, buy locally from farmers markets and roadside stands as much as possible, avoid the interior isles of the grocery stores where the processed food lives (well, I do have to wander into no-mans land to pickup my coffee and olive oil), and pay no attention to the naysayers who demonize whole, rich, dairy products, eggs, meat, and animal fat.  Within these broad confines there are also grades of goodness such as free range and pastured animals vs. caged, medicated, and industrially produced proteins.  There are also tremendous issues with industrialized produce, but if you swear off the interior grocery isles filled with cans, jars, and boxes, you are taking a step in the right direction.

Of course, by following this advice you will need to cook – and I mean time at the cutting board and simmering pots, not tearing open cardboard boxes and setting the timer on the microwave.  Real cooking.  Real fun.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crab Bisque, Crayfish and Cheese Grits, Cajun Fried Aligator with a Sweet and Spicy Remoulade Paired with Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling



In my last post, Adventures in Juice Land Aided by Cold Soup, I wrote about my recent exploration of a juice diet (strong armed by Chef Sue) along with my thoughts on moderation when embarking on any similar dietary trek.  This pairing is part of that moderation and features somewhat of a seafood theme of crab bisque (brackish water) , crayfish and cheese grits (saltwater), and fried alligator (fresh water).

My real dilema with this meal was the wine pairing.  Early on in the conception I settled on a refreshing Riesling.  I was confident a dry Riesling would pair well with the bisque and the alligator, but as I thought further I was concerned a dry Riesling might be challenged by the strong and spicy flavors of the crayfish and grits.  There was only one thing to do - select both a dry Riesling and an off dry Riesling and let the chips fall where they may.  It turned out to be a pleasing decision.



I selected two Rieslings from Chateau Ste Michelle; a 2010 Columbia Valley Dry Riesling, and a 2011 Columbia Valley Riesling.  The winemakers tasting notes for the dry Riesling state “The Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling is a crisp, dry and refreshing style of Riesling. It exhibits fresh flavors of white peach and mandarin orange, and ends with a clean finish. This is an incredibly versatile food wine and my favorite with oysters.”  I agree with these tasting notes and would add that the aromas nicely echo the flavors - you taste precisely what the nose foretells.  I would also add that the wine has a well balanced acidity that reinforces the winemakers claim this is a versatile pairing wine.



The 2011 Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling is the slightly sweeter sibling of the 2010 dry Riesling.  The sweetness is developed in moderation and does not detract from the prominent peach and citrus flavors.  Winemakers tasting notes: “Our Columbia Valley Riesling is a blend of Riesling from throughout Washington’s Columbia Valley. We craft it to be a refreshing, off-dry Riesling vintage after vintage. The wine delivers sweet lime and peach character with subtle mineral notes. This is our “any day Riesling” that is a pleasure to drink and easy to match with a variety of foods.”  At times, the sweetness of some Rieslings can limit pairing options, but in this case the sweetness is sufficiently moderated that pairing options are more diverse than the sweeter interpretations.






The great fun of this pairing - two wines and three components to the meal - presented six pairing combinations leading to a thoughtful and enjoyable meal.  I will start by saying both of the wines worked nicely across the plate.  The peach flavor featured in both wines worked splendidly across each of the pairings.  However, both Chef Sue and I had our favorites - and our assessment was in lock step.  The dry Riesling worked best with the crab bisque and the alligator.  Both benefited form the well balanced acidity.  Our favorite pairing was the 2011 Riesling with the crayfish and grits.  The added sweetness balanced perfectly with the piquance of the crayfish and cheese grits. 






At less than $10, these wines are exceptional values, magically enjoyable, and great choices for pairing with your favorite dishes.  I highly recommend both for your next pairing or simply enjoying as a refreshing choice on a warm summer day.


As you read through the recipes, you will note that the quantities far exceed a dinner for two designed for moderation.  I plan on enjoying the leftovers for a couple of days!  Blissful.


One final note - please accept my apologies for the photography.  Unlike my normal dining room photo studio products, these shots were taken with my iPhone.  I sadly forgot to pack my camera and lighting kit for our weekend retreat.  I will do better next time barring any further age induced memory lapse.


Recipes


Crab Bisque


Ingredients

  • 1 pound freshly picked crab meat
  • kernels from four ears of roasted corn
  • 1/2 onion diced
  • 5 basil leaves finely chopped
  • juice from 5 large tomatoes (either use a juicer, or mash the tomatoes through a colander) 
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
Preparation
  1. Combine corn, onion, basil and tomato juice in a pot over medium heat and allow to cook for two hours (important in reducing the acidity).  Add water as necessary to maintain appropriate consistency.
  2. Just before you are ready to serve, add the crab and heavy cream.  Bring to serving temperature and ladle into bowls.

Crayfish and Cheese Grits



Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 pound cleaned precooked crayfish
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 tomato finely diced
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon creole seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon chili pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Bring water and half and half to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese.
  2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil.  Sauté onions and garlic until onions are tender.
  3. Add diced tomato, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, creole seasoning, and chili pepper. Sauté until liquid is reduced by half.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Plate the grits and top with shrimp mixture.  Enjoy.

Cajun Fried Alligator

Ingredients
  • 1 pound aligator loin cut into bite sized cubes
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup corn meal
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 1 teaspoon cajun seasoning
  • salt and pepper
Preparation
  1. Prepare egg wash by beating egg with a dash of water.
  2. Prepare breading by combining corn meal, panko, cajun seasoning and a dash of salt and pepper.
  3. Coat alligator cubes in egg wash then coat with breading.
  4. Gently place coated alligator in 375 degree oil and cook until golden brown.
  5. Serve with sweet chili pepper remoulade for dipping.
Sweet Chili Pepper Remoulade

Mix 1/2 cup sweet chili pepper sauce (available at any Asian market) with 1/2 cup mayonaise.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Adventures in Juice Land Aided by Cold Soup



Earlier this year Chef Sue purchased a juicer.  I was skeptical.  Back in the mid 90s, we had a juicer which was a great idea, but cleaning the damn thing hardly justified the end result.  Things have changed since the 90s.  Today's juicers are better designed and easy to clean.  Making fresh juice now takes less time, from start to cleanup, than brewing a pot of coffee.

Since the time of her juicer purchase, Chef Sue concocted increasingly complex juices more and more frequently.  I was amused.  Eventually she began replacing meals with fresh juices made from kale, cucumber, spinach, celery, beats, carrots, apples, berries, oranges, melon, grapefruit, pineapple and just about everything else you can find at the farm stand.  I continued to smirk and giggle - when she wasn't looking.  Then I realized she was shedding weight.  Wow, there might be something to this.



After a bit of thought, I became less mocking and more intrigued.  Think about it; how big of a vegetable basket do you need to equal the calories in your perfectly prepared steak?  And what are the nutritional differences?  Now take that basket of vegetables and run them through a juicer to extract all the important stuff.  The result is a nutrient rich condensation of raw, unprocessed fresh veggies and fruits with comparably few calories.  It started to make sense to me, and I joined in Chef Sue's juicing - on occasion.

Chef Sue's juicer subversion strategy was beginning to take hold.  A couple of weeks ago, she sealed the deal.  One night she asked if I wanted to watch a documentary on juicing.  I reluctantly agreed.  After watching the movie, I decided to jump in with both feet.  If you care to watch the video "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead" here is the link:  http://www.jointhereboot.com/.  I have been doing the juicing thing now for nearly two weeks and have shed seven pounds, regained lost hair, regrown a finger lost in a tragic golf accident, and watched that nasty rash disappear.  Well, at least I did lose the seven pounds.



Being a firm believer in moderation, I cannot live only on juice (or any other restrictive miracle diet).  I cannot live without something to chew on, and cannot imagine sustaining myself without the world of flavors I enjoy.  So I modified the approach to include principally cold soups (great during the heat of summer!), not feeling guilty if I decided to pan sear scallops, or enjoy a nice meal of pulled pork with friends.  And to my joy, I recalled that wine is grape juice!  No need to dump my favorite beverage!

Several bushels of fruits and veggies, and 7 pounds lighter, I am happy with my compromise.  Over the last couple of weeks I have researched/created several cool summer soups with something to chew on.  The only exception is the first recipe - I made this simply to satisfy my desire for wonderful flavor and a touch of variety (warm soup).



And don't worry, I have not conceded our routine wine pairing extravaganzas.  On the menu for this evening is crab bisque, fried crab and grit balls, crawfish and cheese grits (a take on shrimp and grits), and fried aligator strips paired with a yet to be determined Riesling.  My mouth is watering already!

Here are the recipes for the soups I have used to supplement the juice program.

Recipes


Curried Zucchini Soup

Ingredients



  • 4 medium zucchini
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Slice the zucchini lengthwise then cut into 1 inch sections
  2. In a 4 quart or larger pot, sauté onions until tender with olive oil.  About half way through the process add the minced garlic.
  3. Add curry powder and stir to coat evenly.
  4. Add zucchini, chicken broth, and coconut milk.  Cover and continue to cook over medium low heat until zucchini is tender – about 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender.
  6. Season to taste and serve.

Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 5 ripe tomatoes 
  • 2 large cucumbers, chopped 
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped 
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic 
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped black olives 
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste 
  • 2 1/2 cups water 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced 
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced 

Preparation

  1. Score a cross in the base of each tomato. Cover with boiling water for 1 minute, plunge into cold water, drain and peel away the skin. Remove seeds and chop the flesh so finely that it is almost a puree. 
  2. Mix together the tomatoes, 1 of the chopped cucumbers, 1 of the chopped green pepper, garlic, olives, vinegar, oil and tomato paste, and season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. 
  3. Use 2 to 3 cups of chilled water to thin the soup to your taste. Serve chilled with the chopped onion, green pepper, scallions, cucumber, and herbs and served separately for diners to add to their own bowls. 

Mango Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 2 fresh mangos 1/4-inch-diced 
  • 2 cups orange juice 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1 cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch dice 
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice 
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice 
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic 
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced 
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, basil or cilantro 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Preparation

  1. Process mangoes, orange juice and oil in a blender or food processor until pureed. Transfer to a medium bowl, along with remaining ingredients. 
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Watermelon Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 6 cups cubed seeded watermelon 
  • 2 cucumbers, chopped 
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped 
  • 1 onion, chopped 
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped 
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint 
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger 
  • 3 tablespoons honey 
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice 
  • 20 small mint leaves 

Preparation

  1. Reserve a dozen (or so) small pieces of watermelon for garnish. 
  2. Working in batches, place the remaining watermelon, the cucumbers, red bell peppers, onion, jalapeño pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, 3 tablespoons of fresh mint, the ginger, honey, and pineapple juice into a blender, and blend for about 30 seconds per batch. 
  3. The mixture should be well blended but retain some texture. Pour into a large bowl, and refrigerate 1 hour. Serve in bowls, and garnish each bowl with a couple of chunks of the retained watermelon and 2 small mint leaves. 

Avocado and Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 large tomatoes 
  • 1 avocado - peeled, pitted and diced 
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels 
  • 2 tomatoes, diced 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
  • salt and pepper to taste 

Preparation

  1. Using a juicer, extract the juice of the 4 large tomatoes. 
  2. In a medium bowl combine the tomato juice, avocado, corn, 2 diced tomatoes, cilantro, and lemon juice. 
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill for 1 hour and transfer to serving bowls. 

Chilled Cantaloupe Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 cantaloupe - peeled, seeded and cubed 
  • 2 cups orange juice 
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

Preparation

  1. Peel, seed, and cube the cantaloupe. 
  2. Place cantaloupe and 1/2 cup orange juice in a blender or food processor; cover, and process until smooth. 
  3. Transfer to large bowl. Stir in lime juice, cinnamon, and remaining orange juice. 
  4. Cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour. Garnish with mint if desired. 

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

Monday, July 2, 2012

Salmorejo, Curried Chicken and Crabcake Sliders

Sometimes an unplanned dinner can turn into something spectacular.  This was exactly one of those instances.  On Saturday, Chef Sue was picking up some veggies and in a moment of weakness bought a chicken.  Once home, she put it on the rotisserie thinking it might come in handy sometime later in the weekend.  Meanwhile, I was reading an article on salmorejo - a traditional Andalusian dish from Spain.



With my recent enjoyment of cold soup during the oppressive heat we are experiencing the DC area, I plunged ahead with my research of salmorejo.  Salmorejo is the creamy yet creamless cousin of gazpacho made with breadcrumbs, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and vinegar.  It is peasant food which puts good use to leftover bread.  Bless those peasants - it is simply delightful and creamy beyond belief.

As I researched salmorejo, I found the recipes did not vary much, but in each case the recipes emphasized the need for ripe tomatoes.  With the poor quality of store purchased tomatoes, I recommend buying them from your local farmers market or a road side stand to avoid the greenhouse ripened tomatoes that are hard as baseballs.  If you cannot get seasonal vine ripened tomatoes, canned tomatoes would be a better choice than the grocer version.



The meal came together when we decided to make curried chicken salad from the rotisserie chicken, add crabcake sliders from fresh Maryland crabs, and add freshly grilled corn on the cob.  In summary, a perfect meal for a hot summers day.

A couple of notes about the curried chicken salad.  Start with your favorite chicken salad recipe and add some curry, diced apple, halved grapes, and nuts of your choice (I prefer chopped walnuts).  Easy and tasty.



This meal was not planned as a wine pairing, so we pulled a bottle of daily drinker Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc.  It worked just fine and was a refreshing addition to the meal.

Recipe

Salmorejo


Ingredients
  • ·      1 pound panko breadcrumbs
  • ·      1 ½ pounds ripe red tomatoes (approximately nine medium tomatoes), peeled and seeded.
  • ·      1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ·      1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • ·      1 garlic clove
  • ·      salt to taste
  • ·      Serrano ham
  • ·      2 hard boiled eggs

Preparation
  1. 1.     Put the panko and the tomatoes in the food processor and blend until well combined.  If you don’t have a large food processor, you may have to do this in batches.  If you don’t have a food processor, a blender will work and will definitely require several batches.  Be sure to put the tomatoes in first then work in the bread crumbs.
  2. 2.     Add the raw garlic and olive oil. Blend until the mixture turns creamy and smooth.
  3. 3.     Add salt to taste and vinegar, and mix again.
  4. 4.     Refrigerate at least three hours.
  5. 5.     Garnish with Serrano ham and slices of boiled eggs.
  6. 6.     Variations on this recipe include the addition of red peppers, onions, and lemon.  Experiment and have fun.
In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Avocado, Zucchini and Roasted Corn Gazpacho and Spicy Garlic Foam Paired with 2010 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Coast Wente Clone Chardonnay



There are few things more refreshing on a hot summer day than gazpacho.  And if you are trying to get back into "beach" shape or just eat healthy, it does not get much better than Gazpacho.  Neither of these are motivators for me - I just love the flavor and the feeling of being satisfied that I don't normally have following a bowl of soup.

Gazpacho is rooted in the Southern Spanish region of Andalucia and is traditionally tomato based.  The history of gazpacho in Spain goes back (in theory) to dishes introduced by the unwelcome visits of the Moors and/or the Romans that were adapted to local tastes to form what we know as traditional Gazpacho.  Since these times, creative cooks have introduced a number of variations that resemble gazpacho only from a fundamental perspective - a rustic and substantial cold soup made from uncooked vegetables.  With this long history of adaptation, gazpacho can rightfully or wrongly include any vegetable you can imagine.  Our adaptation (prepared by Chef Sue) takes full license to adapt - and is well worth it!



The principal flavors of this dish come from the creamy goodness of the avocados, texture and sweetness from the corn, added texture and mild flavor of the zucchini, and a touch of piquance from jalapeno.  To this, Chef Sue added a spicy garlic and cayenne foam.  To accompany our gazpacho, Chef Sue made grilled cheese sandwiches layered with goat cheese, gouda, and swiss with zucchini, pepper, and cucumbers mounted between fresh rye bread.  Ah, grilled cheese - a completely distinct discussion for another day.



With the spicy components of this dish, I would not normally choose a chardonnay - particularly one with notable oak, butter, or vanilla flavors that would likely clash with the spicy components.  However, the 2010 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Coast Wente Clone Chardonnay acts more like a Sauvignon Blanc with crisp acidity, peach, pear, and pineapple flavors, and barely noticeable oak influence although the wine is oak barrel aged for eight months.  This is a truly refreshing Chardonnay that complements the cool refreshing flavors of the gazpacho.  Unlike many wine pairings, we left this meal feeling invigorated - not a common experience.



Based on this experience, and my opinion of the 2010 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Coast Wente Clone Chardonnay behaving more like a Sauvignon Blanc, I would alternatively recommend a crisp, fruit forward Suavignon Blanc as a good choice.



Recipe


Avocado, Zucchni, and Corn Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 2 zucchini, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 4 ripe avocados
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh corn, grilled, or oven roasted in the oven with husks on.  Finish under the broiler to add a light char.
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 5 cups cold water
  • season to taste with salt and pepper

Preparation

  1. Put the zucchini, yellow onion, bell pepper, onion, jalapeno and garlic in bowl of food processor and pulse until the pieces are well chopped and short of being minced or pureed. 
  2. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl. 
  3. Put 2 avocados in the food processor and pulse to puree while adding 3 cups of water.
  4. Dice the remaining 2 avocados and add to the bowl of vegetables.
  5. Add the avocado puree, fresh grilled corn, cilantro, lime juice, 2 cups of water, and season to taste after gently mixing with a large spoon.
  6. Cover and refrigerate until cold. 
  7. Ladle into soup bowls and serve with cayenne and garlic foam and cilantro garnish.

Cayenne and Garlic Foam

Ingredients

  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • 2 cloves diced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 handful of cilantro chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon cream cheese

Preparation

  1. Add all ingredients to a sauce pan and bring to boil.  
  2. Remove from heat and let cool.  
  3. Strain and pour into a culinary foamer.   Refrigerate for one hour.  If you do not have a culinary foamer, chill, add 1 tablespoon of lecithin granules and create foam with an immersion blender.  Serve over gazpacho.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig