Thursday, July 29, 2010

Your Best CSA/Farm Market Menu Contest

Ancient Fire Wines and Kate’s Kitchen and are teaming up to create some buzz for CSA/Farm Market inspired menus. There are so many fresh ingredients the possibilities are limitless!

For the next week we are asking for visitors to submit comments to this post on both blogs with a menu inspired by selections found in their CSA share or purchased at a local farm market. Menus can be for any meal of the day and should include the name and ingredients of each of the dishes being prepared. The majority of the ingredients used must come from the CSA/Farm Market, but staple items from the pantry and fridge are allowed; use your own judgment as to the “staple” nature of items used. Detailed preparation steps are not required for entry. Make sure you also tell us why you love a certain ingredient or what your goals were for combining the flavors, and of course anything else that excites you about fresh, local food.

The prize for the lucky winners will be a feature in each of the host’s blog one day the following week. The hosts will pick multiple winners randomly from all the entries we accept (see the rules above) and will contact winners for more information. Take pictures of anything applicable. If you win and you can get us photos we’ll post them. If you have complete recipes available we will also consider including those or link to your site where they are posted.

Kate's contest post. Please leave a comment with your/recipe menu idea and your contact info both on the Ancient Fire Wine Blog and with Kate.


Margot and Jay

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ribera del Duero - Spanish Wine

This visit is virtual, and hopefully our descriptions are enticing to anyone wanting to explore winemaking all over the globe.

Ribera del Duero. Located on the northern plateau of Spain within the community of Castilla y Leon, it is one of nine recognized winemaking areas in the community. It is believed that viticulture has been part of this region and its culture for over 2,000 years. What we recognize as winemaking today became part of the local culture in the twelfth century, most likely introduced by Benedictine monks from the Burgundy region of France. Even with this longstanding history it was not until the 1970’s that the region became internationally known for its wines.

Heralded for its natural beauty with sweeping views of the Duero river Valley, this region has maintained it sense of history. Along with the modern winery facilities that dot the landscape the region also boasts testaments to its past through the various monasteries, churches and the Peñafiel castle, in the town of Peñafiel. This castle not only provides breathtaking views of the valley but it is also home to a wine museum. This wine museum is known as a must see if you are visiting the region and is geared towards serious wine lovers who really want to know the details of winemaking and viticulture.

The heart of this wine region is the Milla de Oro, or Golden Mile, which is a parcel of land that runs alongside the Duero River. The area is said to have been the land that proved vineyards could grow and florish in this sometimes harsh region. Along the Milla de Oro you will find many of the cornerstone wineries of the region including Vega Sicilia, Pingus, Abadia Retuerta and Mauro.

Wines from this region of Spain are almost exclusively red wines and the white wine that is produced from the Albillo grape is consumed locally. The predominant red grape is Tempranillo under its regional name Tinto Fino. Though the majority of the bottlings are blends with Grenache (Garnacha), Cabernet, Malbec and Merlot there are some varietal bottlings that get high praise.

Due the fusion of Mediterranean and Continental climates (due to being on a high plain), fertile soils and moderate-to-low rainfall the grape growing areas are especially suited to the production of excellent red wines. The Tinto Fino grape has a thicker skin and smaller berries which translates into surface area and an extraordinary extraction of color and body in red wine vinification.

Wines bottled under the region’s DO (designated Spanish wine region) come in several classes, Joven, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva and Rosado. Starting with no oak we then have oak aging and bottle aging for one year each, one year in oak and two in the bottle and then to a select category only made in the best years, requiring five years of aging two of which are in oak. Rosado wines are early released wines made without skins with fresh fruit flavors and easy drinking.

There are some similarities here to Rioja to the north, but ultimately differences in local geography and climate (terroir if you like), the grapes, and thus the wines, are quite different between the regions.
The regional cuisine is dominated by the Castilian-Leonese style where you might find chickpea based stews as a signature dish. Made in many styles, they often include vegetables, sausage and meats. They are found alongside soups, both used to fend off the cold of the winters of the region. Roasted lamb and suckling pig are other specialties found within in the sub-regional cuisines. This area is also known for its long history of bread making.

We chose to recreate two dishes, a Garlic Soup and Olla Podrida, a slow cooked stew of meats, beans and vegetables. Its name means “rotten pot” which is a reference to the method of letting it cook so long it turns into a mess of a dish!

The Castilian Garlic Soup (Sopa de Ajo) is a very simple soup made of sautéed garlic and ham with water, salt and paprika to give it some zip. We used the recipe at as a guide and served the bread on the side rather than in the soup. We let is simmer for a longer time only because we had the time. Looks good!

While it may be simple, we assure the soup is really, really good! It is light with a subtle heat. The egg is essential adding its own flavors and textures. We feel like this soup celebrates garlic as a flavor and not just an accent or spice. Margot thought this might be excellent for breakfast and during the colder months here at home.

The Olla Podrida was a bit more of an experiment, something that never having had can’t clearly be considered authentic. The name translates to “rotten pot” or “putrid pot” or “messy pot”, a reference to the long slow cooking time and the eventual breakdown of the dishes’ ingredients.

I smelled this dish cooking in the slow cooker all day! Here is what is looked like when I assembled it. The recipe follows.

(stew combined and ready to cook)
Olla Porida (Messy Pot, Slow Cooked Stew)

4 meaty pork ribs
2 Linguica sausages
1 ham steak
3 leeks
1 medium onion
3 carrots
3 cloves of garlic
2 - 28oz cans of garbanzo beans
1 – 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 medium tomato
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp paprika
1 cup of water
Salt & pepper to taste

(10 hours later)

Spray the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray. Turn on to high. Sear the ribs on all four sides for few minutes before using. Cut the sausage and ham into chunks and sauté briefly. Slice the onions, leeks, carrots, diced the garlic and chop the tomato and place in the slow cooker. Add the sausage. Add the cumin, chili powder, paprika, 2 tsp salt and ½ tsp of black pepper. Mix well. Open the cans of beans and drain. Add to slow cooker. Open the can of tomatoes and dump into cooker. Mix well. Remove 6 cups of the mix in the cooker and place the ribs on top of the remaining mix. Add reserved mix and 1 cup of water to slow cooker and cover. Cook on high for 3 hours and low for 6-8 hours. At 4 hours and beyond, stir stew twice per hour. Serve with crusty bread and Tempranillo based wine.

We paired both dishes with the Gazur 2007 Ribera del Duero we sourced from The wine has a wonderful fruity aroma and strong raspberry flavors. Some dark cherry tartness was easily recognized as was some smoke and spice. The mellow tannins would make for a nice smooth introduction to bold red wines.
The wine made the garlic and gameyness in the ham pop! The flavors in the wine and the meat in the Olla Porida were so well matched. The subtle heat of the stew was not extended by the wine which made for consistent enjoyment.

Margot said “I do not have words for the deliciousness we just had.” I guess that says it was good.

Somehow I think we did a good job capturing the spirit of the Ribera del Duero region and have an appreciation for some of the food culture one might find when visiting.


--Margot & Jason

Picture citations

(4,5,6) Our own

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Cold One on a Hot Day

During the past few months Jay has made a point to delight you all with various drinks: herbed cocktails, beer comparisons, and most definitely wine. When I was walking through the grocery store last week I saw one of my favorite summer time drinks sitting there in the aisle, no ID required this beverage is for everyone: Root Beer.

On a hot day nothing makes me happier then “crackin’ open a cold one”. In my case the biggest joy comes from an ice cold bottle of root beer. Now, I am not talking about just any old root beer, nope, it has to be the good stuff. I guess you could say that I am a root beer snob. When looking for a root beer there are a few criteria that MUST be met:

1. It MUST come in a glass bottle. No cans or plastic bottles allowed.
To have the true root beer experience is to have that feeling of that cold glass against your hand as you drink it.

2. Small batch is good and local small batch is even better. Just like with regular beer the smaller batch root beer tends to have more flavor complexity and lower carbonation. Let’s call it “artisanal” root beer, A&W and Bargs need not apply.

3. Natural, natural, natural ingredients. This is also why smaller batch is better. I want an ingredients list that does not require a PhD to read.

On this particular day the brand that caught my eye was Squamscot Old Fashioned Beverages ( located in Newfields, NH. More than anything it was the old fashioned, not flashy, packaging that caught my eye. In my experience sodas that are less flashy on the outside tend to have a better product inside. The only downside is that the six packs were in the aisle, not in cold storage. Upon getting my bounty home I immediately placed a few bottles in the refrigerator and waited…….

When I opened the bottle I knew I was in luck the very quiet and short, psszzzzz that escaped made be sure that it was not over carbonated. This pleasant noise was followed by that sweet root beer bouquet that has just a hint of vanilla to it. The flavor was wonderful, root beer, vanilla, with just a splash of that spiciness that a good root beer has that for some reason reminds me of atomic fire ball cinnamon. After a long hot day Squamscot Root Beer really delivered and will be a staple in the refrigerator for the remainder of the season.

Since I love root beer as a beverage I figured I would search for an interesting way to cook with it. I found a recipe for Chicken Breast Fillets in Root Beer Marinade from the Food Network:

  • 6 (5-ounce) boneless chicken breast fillets
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon dry minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 ounces root beer
Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade and add the chicken breasts. Marinate for approximately 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the grill. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the grill. Grill until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

Though the serving recommendation was to have this in a bulkie roll sandwich style with french fries Jay and I opted to have the chicken as it was with some veggies on the side. While making the marinade I was thinking that the root beer flavor would most likely be over powered by the other ingredients due to the proportions, and I was right. Though there was a slight carmelization on the outside of the chicken the actual flavor of the root beer was almost indistinguishable. The chicken was very moist and the marinade gave it a light flavoring. Jay and I both agreed that though good, the marinade did not deliver much bang for the buck based on the preparation time and expense of ingredients used to prepare it.

Guess I will just have to stick with drinking my root beer until I find a new way to cook with it. Do you have a recipe to share?


Perspectives on Food Culture

There is lots of media coverage these days about food fads and how many voices there are in food criticism, restaurant reviewing, etc, etc. So much so you would think this is something entirely new. Not so.
I've been food focused my entire life. First it was eating, then cooking, food in the media, regional cuisines, food celebrities, wine and now a little bit of everything in food and beverage pairing. I am not alone.

My expressions of my food focus haven't always been the same. Modern blogging and marketing tools make sharing your food experiences, mundane and spectacular, with the world. Anyone who really knows what I mean from the second paragraph knows that there have always been conversations about food. It is the final act of eating; commentary. In days gone by we would talk about our food experiences in person, on the phone, in letters and with people we knew. Friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers all sharing tips on making and enjoying good food at home and wherever a good local eat was to be had.

The ability to cast your comments far and wide is what has changed. And maybe not always for the better.
Since starting blogging I have seen all sorts of articles about foodies, food fads, food-centric lifestyles, etc.

You've got it, Wikipedia has a great foodie article that explains the culture!

Articles like "So You Think You're a Foodie?" at the Kitchen Rap blog can be worked both ways. With a foodie wish list like that a curious person can explore the world. Opinions on the foods will vary and because the evaluation of food is always first person, we all must understand the difference between objective and subjective content in our reviews. With a bad attitude about food purity or stylistic rigidity this list can become a weapon of hateful vitriol, and for no good reason.

The controversy around the term foodie and the fusion of ideas that surrounds it can be fierce. Up until now I have avoided all of this by trying not to use the word and taking a different perspective on the food world. So here's what I think.
Food preparation is a first-hand activity using ingredients that can vary, processes that aren't foolproof and with senses of taste and smell that change as we grow. Add to that, the fact that each persons’ experiences and tastes are different, and you find that food is personal, REALLY personal. You have to be there from beginning to end to appreciate all of it. An affinity for specific ingredients, processes, customs and accompaniments by different cultures are all different expressions of people who participated in cooking first hand. Good and bad is hard to discern if you don't live with the food along its journey. Any opinion I have of a random dish will be based on how it presents itself to me, and not liking it is almost entirely a personal preference.

Last week I came across an article by the College Critic about authenticity in our food culture. This topic bothers me as well, especially with wine. "Drink only the best producers." "Wine from produce other than grapes is not wine and is uninteresting." "Wines made from grapes that aren't mainstream or from regions that aren't in the headlines aren't really worthy." All of these ideas come from an authenticity or nostalgic trip where objects must be grouped and compared to an arbitrary example of the perfect style of thing they are supposed represent. Take a look at the article for a great review of the issue.

OK, can't we all just get along? Every day presents a new opportunity for us to enjoy the consumption of food and beverages, first to live; and also for enjoyment. The things we choose to consume will come from everywhere, be made by many different people with different ingredients and different passions. When you review something you should be interested primarily in describing the thing, its colors, textures, aromas and flavors so that others can frame the experience. When it comes to whether you liked it or not, it should again be based on the how the attributes were perceived. Unless the dish is clearly flawed it should be hard to say or think something negative and expect it would apply beyond yourself.

We need to keep talking about food and sharing our experiences. I can only imagine where all social media laden, big headline making, celebrity chef studded food obsession is going to take us. Good thing we all still need to eat! Our rules should be simple. Get out and eat and drink what looks good, enjoy it and share useful information with fellow adventurers. Where we eat, who made it, how authentic or trendy it is or how consistent it is with the fad of the day are nothing without a few other things. How about comments on how certain aromas, flavors and textures combined and worked together? Any beverage pairings that caused comments? Maybe it is how a dish was presented, the occasion it was enjoyed upon or the people it was enjoyed with.

There is so much more we can consider with what we eat, why should we get hung up on labels and weird notions about what makes certain food experiences "super cool"?



Monday, July 26, 2010

Tour de France Wrap-up – Live Yellow, LIVE STRONG

Reminder: The Boboli Grilled Pizza Recipe Challenge still running. Check out the challenge and entry information.

Three weeks in July. Twenty-one teams, 189 riders. Three thousand, six hundred and forty-two kilometers. Many different countries, several distinct disciplines, and lots of action. Beautiful scenery, history and regional foods, wines and cultures. That’s the Tour de France.

Last week in my roll-up of bloggers paying homage to the Tour we saw many different perspectives on the faces and places of Holland, France and Spain. Finishing up this weekend the tour rides to the town of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux region is on the Tour route each year, although the last time the tour rode finished in the town of Bordeaux was in 2003. The race will finish in Pauillac for the first time ever on Saturday. That route is the final time trial of the Tour and the results from the day will likely decide the victor for another tour. It is fitting that the race should wrap-up this way in Bordeaux, a location that sets the tone for much of the wine world year after year.

I’ve only enjoyed a couple of Bordeaux wines in my life and the best was a white from Graves in 2006. I met the winemaker and saw pictures of the family chateau where this wine had been made for years. I told him of my winemaking adventures and he offered words of encouragement for taking up a noble craft. Pretty cool!

As luck would have it my winemaking would present a Bordeaux friendly story for the last day of the tour. Earlier in the year we started a Petit Verdot wine from a kit. Traditionally used in Bordeaux style blends, this grape is full and dark with a solid earthiness to it, and a bit of pepper spice. We bottled ours today and the early taste bodes well for the future of this wine. I even used a small amount of this wine with some Cabernet I had available. I expect to be adding some Syrah and Malbec to create a complex blend with some a wonderful combination of aromas and flavors.

The scenery along the race course of the two days leading up to the finale was exceptional. Rolling hills of vines and little roads connecting clusters of weather worn buildings with the magnificent chateaus. A visit to Bordeaux is on my list, but a visit to some of their wines is shorter term!

Check out the Tour web site for all the results, video and stories from what the advertisements were calling "The most epic race ever!"

To start the final day Lance Armstrong and the Radio Shack Team caused a bit of a stir with unapproved jerseys emblazoned with a huge 28 on the back. 28, twenty-eight million people living with cancer world-wide. Conservative at best, the executives of the foundation and Lance will all say that. 28 million. That is a lot of people. I am one of them. Please live well and LIVESTRONG. Take care of yourself, get out and do stuff just because you can and be an example of living the one life we all get. Get involved with LIVESTRONG, the American Cancer Society or any number of other organizations battling cancer. Save a life, reduce someone’s suffering, FIGHT BACK!



Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blogging Seredipity And A New Herbed Cocktail

*** Reminder: The Boboli Grilled Pizza Recipe Challenge still running. Check out the challenge and entry information.

Yesterday as I was reading through blog postings I saw a New England trip wrap up from Jessica at The Messie Kitchen. I've been following her trip as a means to discover new things in my own backyard. At the end of it she mentions being home and laid up for a bit and not being able to cook to provide fodder for her blog. I shot off a note with an a mention of a blog I had ready on cold summer soups. Well, my guest post on two soups inspired be fellow Foodbuzzers is up at The Messie Kitchen. A big thank you to Jessica for helping another blogger grow their network. Make sure you check our the posts on her trip to New England and all of her other adventures.

So Margot sends me a note yesterday to ask if the mojito from Kate's guest post will be ready when she gets home. Unfortunately I had no fresh mint on hand and we didn't want to make another grocery store trip this week, so we postponed recreating the mojitos. Of course I had to come up with something. I went back to the current issue of Imbibe magazine to look at what other herbs they had used in the "Cocktails From The Garden" article. Thyme! I have lots of that growing out back.

The drink the the article "Artemis Flower" contained muddled thyme, bourbon and sambuca. I decided to create a new version of the classic Yellow Bird cocktail. I heard of these in Jamaica and can say they are an excellent drink, but strong and with flavors from the Galliano (that's what is in the glass above) that you may need to let grow on you. The flavor profiles with this drink and the one in the article will be different but not that much. Because of the color of the Galliano, bright yellow, I am going to name this drink the "Big Bird".

Big Bird
2 parts bourbon
1/2 part lime juice
1/2 Galliano
1 part simple syrup
1 lemon wedge
several sprigs of fresh thyme

Muddle the lemon and thyme at the bottom of a shaker. Add the bourbon, juice, Galliano and syrup. Stir gently. Strain into an ice filled glass. This drink is as strong as its parent and spicy from the thyme. It is refreshing from the explosion of flavors and fresh herbs.

I didn't get a picture of the drink, but the yellow in name of the drink is clear from the glass of Galliano at the head of the post.

We made a variation of this with ginger infused syrup. It was spicier and tasted sweeter.

Summer cocktails from herbs picked fresh from out back has turned into an unexpected pleasure. It has helped me immensely in creative combinations and visualizing flavors ahead of time. Try it. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!



Herb Cocktail Throwdown Round 2 - Tarragon Spritzer

*** Reminder: The Boboli Grilled Pizza Recipe Challenge still running. Check out the challenge and entry information.

I guest posted this white wine spritzer recipe at Kate' Kitchen yesterday.

I chose tarragon this time for its subtle aroma. I will intertwine it with the drink in two ways. First I am going to rub the inside of the glass with a sprig of tarragon. This will leave some oils behind that will get into the drink. The second way is the sprig used for garnish. This will make the aromas available to your nose to bring it all together.

Ancient Fire 2010 Tarragon Spritzer

2 parts Ancient Fire 2008 Viognier
1/2 part Lillet Blanc
1 tsp simple syrup
1 part proseco
1 lemon slice
2 sprigs of fresh tarragon

Rub the inside of a wine glass with one sprig of tarragon. Add the wine, Lillet, syrup and proseco. Mix gently. Garnish with a lemon slice and a small part of the other tarragon sprig.

This drink is crisp and refreshing with a very subtle sweet fruitiness to it.

The wine we used is from the oldest batch of homemade Viognier we have left and our last really successful batch. There has been one since that was marginal and the one we have going now is too young to say. This wine has held up well for two years and has wonderful floral and fruit aromas and flavors.

The choice of Lillet Blanc was based on something Margot said last night when we are planning our drink. “I always see tarragon and lemon together.” Lillet is a fortified and flavored wine with herbs and citrus. It sounds like the cocktail version of having lemon with tarragon to me. The slight sweetness in the Lillet helps soften the drink a bit and make it fun to drink! You could use club soda instead of sparkling wine, it really depends on how much alcohol you want in the drink.



Friday, July 23, 2010

Great Mojito Mint-off

*** Reminder: The Boboli Grilled Pizza Recipe Challenge still running. Check out the challenge and entry information.

Kate & Connie from Kate's Kitchen are guest posting today for a next round of herb-infused cocktails. You'll find Jason over at their blog today with a spin on a refreshing summer drink. Kate & Connie's post for a Limoncello Gin Cocktail with Thyme started it all. They then challenged us to come up with another grilled herb drink, and we posted Grilled Herb Cocktails.

Take it away Kate & Connie!

You remember the kids visit? Where we tried a different cocktail every night? Usually, Sunday nights are our cocktail nights. Connie gets out his drink cookbooks and hunts for something new and different. Or, sometimes one of us will be hungry for an old faithful. A lemon drop. Or, Clegg's margaritas. No experimenting. Just relax and enjoy something we know we love. So it was to be the evening we had mojitos. An old faithful. Well, Matt wasn't having any of that! There were three kinds of mint in the herb garden and we needed to try each and have a mint-off. Ok, fine. Sounds like fun to me. So, we made three kinds of mojitos. One with peppermint. One with spearmint. And, one with chocolate mint. When all was said and done, the chocolate mint won hands down. It was softer. Played better with the other ingredients. All five of us agreed. Therefore, in the future, chocolate mint it is. Whether it's proper or not :-)

Chocolate Mint Mojitos

2 parts rum
juice of 1/2 lime
1 part simple syrup
8 chcocolate mint leaves
club soda to taste
1 spring chocolate mint sprig for garnish

Muddle the mint leaves with the lime and simple syrup.

Really, it doesn't always take a committee to make the drinks. But, it's a lot more fun!

Pour in the rum. Shake in a cocktail mixer with ice until thoroughly chilled. Pour into glasses and top with club soda to taste. Garnish with a mint sprig.

And, serve with a smile!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Simple Life - Pan Roasted Potatoes

Sometimes the over-complication of our lives can seep into our cooking and eating. Recipes that have a mile long ingredients list and require every cooking utensil you own. Life is hectic enough in this multi-tasking world why do we let it invade the sanctuary of our kitchen?

It took some small red potatoes from our CSA vegetable share and some fresh garden basil to snap me out of it and give that reminder to slow down a bit. Indeed less can be more. Jay and I are really enjoying the CSA and we have enjoyed many different fresh vegetables, cooking them in various ways. Two weeks in a row now we were received the most lovely small red potatoes. Ideas abound and in the past I have loved the standard “smashed” potatoes throwing everything available into them to add some flavor.

The difference this time is that the CSA has made me realize the joy of tasting my vegetables, not the sauce, not the seasoning, the actual vegetable. I decided to de-clutter my food and knowing that we had fresh basil from the garden I made the following.

Pan Roasted Basil Potatoes

1 lb small organic red potatoes
One large handful of fresh basil leaves
3 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Cut the red potatoes down to the size of the smallest potato so that they cook evenly. Place the ½ of the olive oil in the bottom of a roasting pan then add the potatoes. Add the remaining olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Place the basil leaves evenly over the top of the potatoes. Roast in the oven for about 35 minutes, turning once, until golden and cooked through.

Easy, simple, delicious, zen…..



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Exploring Indian Cooking

Since meeting many fine people from India during my gig at Fidelity I have grown to love the many flavors of Indian food. I have eaten Indian dishes from different regions in restaurants and have had recipes from several regions of India shared with me. The amazing adventure this has sent us on is really getting good.

Much like how we decide which wines to make, we have reproduced restaurant dishes several times. Different dishes require different ingredients, but sometimes technique makes the difference. The Malai Kofta I made early on was only alright, but not restaurant quality. More recently I have had a success with Tarka Dals (cooked lentils or beans with onions, spices and butter), Palak Paneer and an assortment of pre-made appetizers and breads purchased at the Indian market.

Looking to branch out I paid attention from the first episode I saw of Indian Food Made Easy on Cooking Channel. The practical applications of the dishes gets high marks. Much more like what you and I do.

This past week I cooked Besan Pudas for a second time. These are an Indian crepe style bread that are often season with spices and vegetables. The first time they contained zucchini and cumin seeds. They were good, but not that good. This time I used cracked cumin seeds and caramelized onions. Much better. I didn’t end up getting any good pictures of the finished dish, but the bubbling butter has to count for something.

Caramelized Onion Besan Pudas

1 cup gram flour
¼ rice flour (I made my own)
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp coarsely cracked cumin seeds
1 cup water
1 medium onion, sliced and caramelized

Mix all but the onions until smooth. Let sit 10 minutes.
Heat a griddle or fry pan over medium heat.
Use vegetable oil to grease pan.
Fold in the caramelized onions to the batter.
Spoon about ¼ cup of the batter per Puda on to the pan and spread thin using a circular motion.
Grill until golden on both sides.

One other repeat adventure was making the fresh cheese paneer. I used a recipe and neatly documented process from Show Me The Curry. What a rewarding experience. The taste is clean and the texture is firm when cold and nice and soft when warm.

I took the wrapped curd and hung it over the cut open milk jug. DIY paneer!

This process is very easy but takes time and must be watched closely during the early steps. We have eaten the finished cheese a couple different ways. On skewers with vegetables and a spicy yogurt sauce, in Palak Paneeer, and fried up with some butter. Any way you cook it this cheese is a nice way to eat fresh.

One of the things I needed to get a better feel for early on was spices. I still have a nice long list of Indian spices I have yet to try, mainly because the ones I am trying are so much fun.

Below is a tray of spices I laid out to use in an Indian meal I made for some new friends.

From left to right, top to bottom: Corriander (fresh gound), Cumin (fresh ground), black pepper, Garam Masala, Chili Paste, Salt, Black Cardomom pods and a western-style Curry Powder. One item that I realized should have replaced the salt was Turmeric. I use it all the time.

This past week my menu consisted of

Tarka Dal
Potato Lentil Samosa
Spinach and Onion Pakora
Besan Puda
Cucumber Tomato Raita (made at home)
Tamarind Chutney
Mango Lassi

I wrote about one version of Tarka Dal in May. The spin this week was to use a small red chili (whole), lots of cumin and sliced onions for the tarka.

The Raita was made in a simple fashion after looking at a whole bunch of recipes. I have had this a few times and I was hopeful that the cooling properties of the dish might be a nice contrast for guests.

Cucumber Tomato Raita

4 oz Greek yogurt
1 large tomato
½ large cucumber
½ tsp Lemon juice
Coarse ground coriander
Black pepper

Chop the tomato and cucumber into bit size pieces. Combine the yogurt and lemon juice. Chop 4-6 mint leaves and incorporate. Add the coriander, salt, pepper to taste. Chill before serving. This made a wonderful garnish for the breads and after I got a bite of the hot peppers used in the Dal.

This week’s meal was paired with the Ancient Fire Gewurztraminer/Riesling blend from 2008. The dishes had a little heat and the wine has a little sweet, with nice fruit flavors. The wine didn't overwhelm the food and was flavorful enough to have a nice finish. We also enjoyed one of the last bottles of the 2008 Ancient Fire Plum Dessert wine with Kheer brought by our guests. That wine is one of my absolute best!



Central New England Amateur Winemakers Wine Tasting - July 10, 2010

In May when Margot and I were at the WineMaker Magazine Conference we met so many wonderful people. Talking to them about similar interests made the days overwhelming. I even offered my award winning strawberry wine recipe to anyone who was interested in it. Hopefully folks are having good luck with their own batches.

We also met some local amateur winemakers that were there learning, networking and enjoying some wine for a few days.
As I alluded to in my conference recap Noel Powell (photo to the right) and I had exchanged a few e-mails before leaving for the conference and hoped to meet each other during it. We actually did, while standing in line. We hadn’t seen each other yet and both of us happened to turn in the right direction at the right time and were staring at each other. We enjoyed some meals and wine together, talked shop and had some good laughs. Noel, Margot and I sat together at dinner where we met Kelly & Robbie Rogers from NC. What a blast that night. As a table we took home 13 medals. Not bad for some folks from the East Coast!

Immediately after the awards dinner Joanne and Barry Crawford (in the picture below) found us and introduced themselves indicating they were from Georgetown, MA and were excited to meet some other local winemakers. Lucky for her Noel was there, and from Westford, MA, so she was even more excited that we WERE finding each other and lived close enough that we would be able to meet again. Joanne was also award winning from the same night, something we all thought the folks from CA should keep in mind. Joanne proposed a group tasting of our wines and we all agreed it should happen.

We all got home and e-mailed a bit with Margot and I offering up the first location and plans to kick it off. Each winemaker was encouraged to invite family and friends, we all have our fans who we love to serve our wine too! Margot and I invited a bunch of our wine tasting friends and a whole group of new faces from the Manchester Area Wine Lovers group. This was my second event with the group and was meeting all but one of them for the first time. I knew this was going to be good.

Noel brought a wonderful selection of wines including Revenge of the Zin, Malbec, two styles of Chardonnay, Syrah, Cranberry, Cranberry Banana and Seyval Blanc.

Joanne brought her Marilyn Merlot, Lambrusco and Pinot Noir.

Margot and I selected Amarone #1 from 2008, a Pinot Noir 2009 and the Plum/Riesling also from 2009.

The wines were received with considerable comment, some surprise and plenty of refills! All of the wines were worthy of drinking, personal tastes aside. The reds were the big winners on the day and were only matched by Noel's Chardonnays that split the group between a dry Chablis style and fuller bodied lightly oaked version.

We also collaborated with guests on snacks and ended up with a fantastic spread of cheese, crackers, spreads, cured meats, olives, filo cups, bread & oil and desserts. So many things that went well with the selection of wines. No wonder there was a period of time I was bringing the wine to the dining room where the food was. That was before I spilled some of my own wine onto me whilst pouring a fresh glass. Too funny, and I did have a buzz.

I asked my friend Josh Mazgelis if he would like to come and take pictures for the afternoon. Josh has a 365 Photoblog going and loves the opportunity to shoot so this worked great. The pictures throughout this blog are works of his and I think they go a long way to elevate the story surrounding the event. Hopefully Josh will help me learn more about working the camera with food so I can do more at home with my smaller projects.

As guests arrived we had lots of mutual introductions and joyous conversations were going on everywhere. The wine was flowing and each winemaker was serving their own, others and guests were comfortable enough to grab more as needed. It was a very relaxed and conversation filled afternoon.

(Gabriel, Geno & Noel talking wine)

(Geno telling a good story)

(I love serving wine to the ladies...)

(Joanne, Barry, Wayne, Meredith & Margot)
(nice arial shot of the busy tasting)

(drink up everyone!)

Chris & Nancy Obert, authors of the book The Next Harvest about New England Wineries, were able to attend something that was fully expected to be a lot of fun. We have spent time with them at NH winery events in the past, and I have attended several of their New England winery wine tastings at their home. We were excited to finally be able to invite them to our place. They hit it off with guests right away with copies of their book making the rounds and we got ours signed finally. In the picture (below and left) I have no idea what I was saying to them, but I sure look serious about it.

I had conversations about food and wine pairing, swapped winemaking tips, talked a little bit about travel and of course had fun smelling, tasting and discussing all of the wines. There were conversations about who liked what better and the various attributes of the wines and the styles they represented. One of the topics I have thrown out a couple times to test the idea is that of having a sensory evaluation party that uses foods from the market to help associate aromas and flavors with wines. Huge roars of support for something like this. Expect that to be coming later this year hopefully.

As the day wound down we grabbed some group pictures and bid farewell to new friends who we hope to see again soon.

(that is a pretty happy group of winos!)

(Me, Joanne, Noel and Geno)

The core winemaker group and some long time fans sat down to talk through the day’s fun and enjoy some more of the wines. The topic switched to that of starting a winemaking club. We all knew this was going to come up from earlier conversations, but no substance had yet been put to it. We don’t have an official name yet, but the Central New England Amateur Winemakers is descriptive enough in the short term. We do have a president. Thank you Noel! We also have a growing list of ideas of what kind of group we want to build. I am so proud to be in this place at this time to be able to get involved in this. I am hopeful that my hosting, cooking, food & wine pairing, mixology and technical skills can be applied to help our new club to great heights. You’ll hear more about us for sure!

The party cleanup was going on throughout the later part of the event and ended up being pretty manageable. But I have to thank my Mom for that; something I would have normally done but was justifiably engrossed in other things. Much thanks.

We have had a number of wine tastings and wine dinners at our house over the last few years, a trend that will continue for sure. On this day we heard returning guests talking about how much fun this event was and our new friends sure made us feel like they enjoyed themselves as well. This event was a wonderful example of how hosting can be done and why you set out to do it in the first place.

Thank you to Barry, Bob, Donna, Joanne, Josh, Margot, Noel, family, friends and the gang from We had a lot of fun. We’ll see you soon at the next event!

There are more photos below from the aftenoon.
Please enjoy.



(Bill on the left and Chris & Nancy on the right)

(Noel carefully serving Karen some wine. Chardonnay perhaps?)

(Wayne & I)

(Amy & Brian)

(Margot and I sure had fun!)

(My Dad trying to be funny!)

(Brian, Vincent, George and Lynn)