Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Simple & Tasty Breakfast Casserole

I woke up early on Sunday morning and got right to work on our post on the charity wine tasting held the day before. An hour later I was getting hungry and figured that if I made some noise in the kitchen and got the coffee going Margot would be up soon after. Me, sneaky?

But what to make for breakfast?

We had some chunks of Italian bread and some sharp cheddar cheese left over from the event the day before and a breakfast casserole came to mind. Plenty of eggs in the fridge. With no bacon around I wasn’t sold on the idea, but then genius struck. Forget the meat. I used sliced pears and apples instead. To add some complexity to the dish and maybe flavors reminiscent of meat I used some Chinese five spice with the salt, pepper and cinnamon to season the casserole.

Thirty minutes later we had what turned out to be the best breakfast casserole to ever come out of our oven!

Simple & Tasty Breakfast Casserole

10 eggs
½ loaf of soft bread, cut into ¾ inch chunks
2 ripe pears, seeded and sliced thin
1 ripe apple, seeded and sliced thin
4 oz cubed sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup half & half
¼ tsp Chinese Five Spice
Dash of cinnamon
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place the bread in the bottom of the dish. Layer the apple and pear over the bread. Sprinkle the cheese over top the fruit. Sprinkle the seasonings over the top. Beat the eggs and half & half together. Pour into the baking dish, covering the bottom. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until a nice inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool a bit and serve.



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cocktails, Dinner & New Zealand Pinot With Friends

The Project Food Blog competitors are neck deep in voting for round two and no doubt thinking about what do for round three, a luxury dinner party with friends. Our party was planned and scheduled before we knew what the outcome of round one was, and we went ahead with it with a few modifications when we found out the pressure was off. As part of our wine region project we had queued up the Marlborough
region of New Zealand and its Pinot Noirs for our next destination. Our luxury dinner party combined the following elements: 
  • Guest preparation of the appetizers
  • Classic cocktails made by yours truly (Manhattans, Sidecars and Martinis)
  • A main dish ingredient commonly associated with New Zealand, lamb
  • A beautiful table for us to enjoy dinner at
  • Three 2008 Pinot Noirs from the Marlborough
  • Getting dressed up just because we could
(the full menu and recipes can be found at the end)

Right off I will admit that I was disappointed with many of the pictures I took, so much so that there aren’t any of the dishes we enjoyed for dinner. This is an area I am in desperate need of some breakthroughs and have to plan to practice a lot more at.

(The cucumber canapes did not last long at all!)

(These were my favorites, but I am a sucker for cheese)

For our visit to the Marlborough region of New Zealand Margot prepared some background on winemaking in the country including how Marlborough has grown up to be recognized world-wide for its wines. I focused on the food and wine to pair with it.

Winemaking in New Zealand can be traced back as far as the early 1800s. However, it was not until the late nineteen-sixties that the industry started to become what we recognize today. What changed was the agricultural trade in New Zealand, most specifically the end of historic trades that the country had with Europe regarding meat and dairy. The land that had one time been seen as undesirable for animal pasture were very well suited for growing vines. This was due to the low moisture and low soil fertility in these regions. Combined with new laws allowing pubs to stay open longer, and a rash of young New Zealanders who were traveling abroad and a wine culture was born.

The Marlborough region started to be recognized in the 1980s, primarily for its Sauvignon Blanc which many critics called outstanding. Some critics even claim that the Marlborough region of New Zealand could not be matched as a place to grow Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Due to the growing climate it was always believed that red varietals would do quite well in New Zealand. Pinot Noir was first introduced in the early eighties and have grown in popularity even since. New Zealand Pinot Noirs are primarily recognized for being strongly fruit driven. Today Marlborough is the largest wine district in New Zealand and many consider it to be the home of the modern wine industry in the country.

We started with classic cocktails and it turned out that nobody other than myself had ever a Sidecar so a round of them were setup. I am enjoying learning about tending bar so this was the easy part of the evening!

(First some brnady over ice)

(Then some Cointreau & lemon juice)

(A healthy stir and drink!!)

(When I tend bar I also get to have fun!)

(Can't forget Margot. Cheers everyone!)

When searching for wines I wanted to find three examples of Pinot Noir that would offer a nice cross section of what one can expect from this wine. I was lucky enough to find all of the selections from the same vintage, 2008.

Oyster Bay 2008 Pinot Noir

This was the first wine we tasted and we all agreed that it was smooth with noticeable oak. I personally thought the nose was understated and earthy. This wine made the beets in the salad taste sweet and was a decent match for the earthy, gamey flavors in the lamb. None of really felt that there were lively fruit flavors present and were not overwhelmed by the wine.

Momo 2008 Pinot Noir

From the moment all of us smelled this wine we knew it was going to be different. Lively berry & cherry aromas were easily detected. The flavors in this wine were also forward and easily detected with a nice touch of spiciness and a bit more alcohol. This oak in this was more restrained, but detectable, and promoted a silky long finish. This wine paired fantastically with the lamb.

Tohu 2008 Pinot Noir

We finished with this wine and again were met with cherries and berries on the nose. I also picked up a bit more earthiness in the nose from the Momo. The similarities between this and the Momo seemed more representative of the region’s Pinot Noir, something Margot was able to confirm from the overall descriptions she came across in her research. The toasted almonds from the beet salad were a particularly interesting match for this wine, and it again paired very well with the lamb.

All three wines can be found for around $20 per bottle and I would highly recommend either the Momo or Tohu for an excellent example of Marlborough Pinot Noir.


Parmesan Wafers Topped With Avocado Mousse
English Cucumber and Boursin Canapes
Braised Lamb with Mushroom & Tomato Ragout
Creamy Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
Beet Salad with Feta Cheese, Almonds and Chives
Spiced Pineapple with Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

Everyone enjoyed the meal. The lamb fell of the bone and had a wonderful earthy flavor with just enough rosemary. I placed it on a bed of the creamy mashed potatoes, covered it with mushrooms and tomatoes and then drizzled a reduction made from the cooking juices. It got quiet immediately after everyone dug in. The beet salad was definitely a first attempt as you can even see from my notes in the recipe. It was a nice pairing choice with the wines, something I will get back to again.

(Mmmmmm, spiced pineapple)

We finished the evening with a dessert consisting of spiced warm pineapple with vanilla frozen yogurt. A nice small portion with a cup of coffee spurred conversations of what we were going for our next gathering. Now that is the way to finish a party!




(Made by Amy & Brian Wheeler)






English Cucumber and Boursin Canapes

(Made by Ed Paul)

This recipe used as the foundation for these can be found on page 93 of the Entertaining Newport Style Cookbook. Mini cocktail shrimp and capers were added for additional flavor and texture.

Braised Lamb with Mushroom & Tomato Ragout

6 - ¾ inch lamb chops
1 ½ pounds of sliced mushrooms (baby portabella & shiitake)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup red wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325. Place oil in bottom of a large casserole. Heat briefly and spread to coat the bottom of the dish. Place the onion, garlic and rosemary in the bottom of the casserole. Place the lamb chops in 1 layer. Season with salt & pepper. Add the mushrooms, tomato and bay leaf. Pour the wine and stock over. Cover and cook for 2 ½ hours. Remove lamb chops and most of the tomato and mushroom to a heatproof bowl, cover tightly and return to the oven, which can be turned off. Reduce the remaining cooking liquid down over medium heat, flavor with salt & pepper and thicken with corn starch & water.

Creamy Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

3 pounds of white potatoes, peel and cut
4 tablespoons of butter
¾ cup milk or half and half
6 oz shredded parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Boil the potatoes until fork tender. Drain and mash with the butter and milk. Add the cheese and season with salt & pepper.

Beet Salad with Feta Cheese, Almonds and Chives

3 large beets
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted in the oven
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Salt & pepper
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Place the beets in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and boil covered until easily pierced with a fork. Drain, allow to cool and remove the skin. Cut into bite sized chunks. Place in a bowl and toss with the feta cheese. Season with salt & pepper. Spoon into small bowls and garnish with the slivered almonds and chives. (It occurred to me as I was eating this that vinegar or lemon juice might be a nice addition to this to prevent the beets from being too dry and adding some additional flavor)

Spiced Pineapple with Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

1 pineapple, peeled and cut into ½ slices
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons light gold rum
1 vanilla pod, cut lengthwise, with seeds removed (for use)
seeds from 4 black cardamom pods
1 tablespoon honey
1 pint vanilla frozen yogurt

Heat the butter in large sauté pan. Add the vanilla seed, cardamom seeds, honey and rum. Cook for a few minutes to allow it to combine. Lay pineapple slices into pan in one layer. Cooking, turning every few minutes until just getting golden brown on each side. Remove to a cutting board and cut into 1 inch chunks. Serve with frozen yogurt and coffee.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The World Championship Chili Cookoff

The 2010 World Championship Chili Cookoff will be held in Manchester, NH on October 1st through the 3rd. This is the finality of the 44th year the cookoff has been held and a big league event for the city to be hosting. By the end of the weekend the world-wide chili cooking community will have crowned their 2010 champions from beautiful Veteran's Park in the heart of downtown Manchester.

Foodbuzz helped arrange press passes for Margot and I to cover the event. It goes without saying that we are very excited to capture the spirit of this event and share it with all of you. We haven't decided yet what our posting schedule and topics will be, rather we plan to see what the vibe turns out to be and go from there. We expect to interview the staff from the Mayor's office who are organizing the effort for the city, the International Chili Society president, past and present competitors and winners, volunteers and attendees. And of course we'll do some sampling ourselves and take some notes on how to make great chili at home.

For more information about the event you can check out the links below that include logistics and ticket information if you want to attend.

International Chili Society

City of Manchester Chili Cookoff Page

Chili Cookoff Facebook Page

See you at the cookoff!


 { the photo above was borrowed from the event page. we are promoting the event through our blog and hope our use of it is in that spirit. }

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fighting Cancer With Wine & Food

Every year we host a number of wine tastings at our home as a way to share our homemade wines with friends and explore new and interesting food and wine pairings. Our most serious and purposeful tasting is not held at our house however, rather at the home of long-time family friends, Tom & Marilyn where they live in Connecticut. This tasting is where we fight cancer with wine and food. Our third annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer wine tasting was held on September 25th and yet again was a fun time and a successful way to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.

The turnout was lower than we all had hoped, but we all agreed that the unusually warm September day may have had some people out enjoying the last of summer. If it was raining we would have been overrun and might have run out of wine! No harm, no foul.

My brother Tim joined us again this year with several wine and beer selections. Our Grapecrushers (wine-making club) president Noel Powell had hoped to join us, but got backed up with projects at the last minute and had to drop out.

We brought the following Ancient Fire wines to share:

2008 Gewurztraminer/Riseling Blend
2009 Syrah/Mourvedre Blend
2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
2009 Plum/Riesling
2010 Petit Verdot
2010 Viognier
2010 Chablis
2010 White Blend (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier)
2010 Strawberry
2010 Blackberry Cabernet

Margot's goat cheese, smoked salmon and dill bites are pretty and tasty!!

For snacks we prepared goat cheese, smoked salmon & dill bites, three kinds of cheese and crackers, honey-cinnamon flan, bite-sized caprese salads and dark chocolate. My sister-in-law Abby also made her caramel apple dip which contains cream cheese, caramel sauce and granola served with sliced apples. Tom & Marilyn provided trays of fruit which all together made for a nice spread.

Drawing prizes!!

My parents organized the door prizes and drawings with contributions from themselves, Margot & I and Tim & Abby. We had bottles of homemade wine, Thomas Hooker Beer, signed copies of The Next Harvest about New England wineries, a breast cancer awareness basket and a Vermont country basket with a selection of Vermont food products. My mother alos parted with a Vera Bradley bag which made one of Tom & Marilyn’s neighbors one happy guest!

More prizes!!

We got off to a slow start but once a number of guests arrived Tim, Abby, Margot and I were busy talking about different types of wines, beers and suggesting guests try them with the different snacks available. The smoked salmon bites paired nicely with the white wines and the Plum/Riesling made a good match for the caramel apple dip. Margot’s Blackberry Cabernet was the most popular wine all day and found a nice opposite in the dark chocolate.

Tim explaining the Thomas Hooker mixed pack and tasting invitations.

At the end of the day we raised $478 with more donations expected before our event next month. I can’t think of a better way to share something we love so much with friends and give back to our communities. It truly takes the strength of families and communities to fight cancer. We are here, we are fighting and we will win. Fight Back!!!

I can't tell if Abby and Margot are manning the bar or drinking it all!!

If you would like to make a donation to support us in the fight against cancer you can donate online via

Thank you for your support.



Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cooking Out Of Your Comfort Zone

As I mentioned in my PFB Challenge #1 post, fresh ingredients
are the beginning of so many wonderful things.

When I started on the Project Food Blog journey I told my wife that no matter how far I got was going to complete the challenges as a way to gain new experiences and connect with others, Considering the clear ability for the popular Foodbuzz Featured Publishers to rally people around anything they do I didn’t expect much. I didn’t make it to round two, but the experience shared here was already in the bag and needed only a write up. Our dinner party for challenge #3 is already planned and will go ahead. We had intertwined some dishes from New Zealand with Pinot Noir from its Marlborough region as part of our Wine Region Project, so we have a lot to look forward to!

When I reviewed the details of PFB Challenge #2 my impression was that we were being asked to pick a cuisine that we had little to no first hand (cooking and maybe not eating either) experience with, which means we would be experimenting with new ingredients and techniques. I didn’t feel that something exotic, although that is subjective, was being called for, just something you couldn’t do with the proverbial one arm tied behind your back and your eyes shut. I picked a Mexican meal of tamales, salsa verde and honey cinnamon flan. I’ve never made tamales or flan before and don’t make Mexican food at home except an occasional taco here and there.

The first challenge was sourcing a few ingredients that aren’t typical in the grocery store here in New Hampshire, fresh tomatillos and banana leaves or dried corn husks to wrap the tamales. The tomatillos were found at a Latin grocery in downtown Manchester. No go on the corn husks or banana leaves. More lead time is likely needed to find those. We do have lots of fresh corn around which is what I used and made the process more difficult. I’m supposed to be challenging myself, right?

I knew only anecdotally that getting the tamale dough to the right texture is absolutely key and if not it would mean a sinking ship, literally. In my research I found that if your tamale dough floats in water you have reached the desired consistency and can proceed. What else you put inside the tamale can cover a broad range, but it was also apparent that whatever it is it should have some flavor, otherwise the tamales would be bland and in deep need of seasoning. I went with a roasted chicken marinated in lime, cilantro and tequila mixed with sauteed onions and garlic.

Research on flan indicated getting it right also comes down to the right texture through a combination of a good base and the right amount of cooking time. I have plating flair to consider with both this and the tamales and that not being a strong suit of mine sums up a nice challenge.

Here is what I came up with. The recipes can be found at the end.

These tamales aren't pretty at all. I didn't take any pictures as I was building them. I was
too busy swearing at myself for not having the right stuff to work with.
I was feeling pretty good here. I
would have beaten the egg a bit more
before I combined the ingredients.

OK, so I thought I had gotten a reasonably ripe avocado. Wrong!
I was going to make a fan of avocado slices with some tomato
and corn garnish. It ended up being a salad of bit size chunks.

I have to say I am pretty happy with this. If you can taste it through the screen then my
work is done here. Pictures are getting better, one by one.

I cropped around the edges of a plate that I could not get clean.
Coffee liqueur is quite obvious on a white plate!!! Looks good though.

The taste in the tamales was excellent and I will definitely make these again so I can work on the technique of rolling them. I'll definitely use banana leaves which allows for a larger tamale and different types of filling. The salsa verde was pretty spicy so the cooling effect from the sour cream (it was thinned with some half & half) drizzled over the dish worked very well. The fresh tomato, avocado and corn salad added a nice texture for the combined bite.

The flan came out with a texture resembling creme brulee or custard so I believe I got it right. The speckling of it is something I have to look into. I didn't expect that and don't yet know what I did or didn't do that may have caused that. Next time I am going to try one big one. Getting that on to a plate will be a challenge!!

As we were cooking we eased our challenge fears with a tequila-based drink I found in the Bartender's Bible named the Poker Face.

1 1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz Cointreau
4 oz pineapple juice
1 lime wedge for garnish

Combine and stir in a rocks glass. Add ice and garnish with the lime.




Tamale Filling

1 pkg split chicken breasts
Juice of 2 limes
2 Tbsp cilantro paste
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp oil
1tsp water
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced

Combine lime juice, cilantro paste, salt, oil and water. Mix well. Pour over chicken and let marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350. Place chicken in a roasting pan and pour marinade over. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 1 and ½ hours. Allow to cool. Cut the chicken off the bone, chop into small pieces and let rest at room temperature.

Saute the onion and garlic until beginning to brown. Combine with the chicken and set aside.


1 cup yellow masa harina
½ cup white masa harina
½ cup rice flour
9 ounces vegetable broth
2 ounces of tea made of steeped annatto berries (1/4 cup) and 2 dried ancho chiles
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup lard
Fresh corn husks of 8 ears of corn

Mix lard and 1 ounce of broth with an electric mixer until fluffy. Mix masa, rice flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl. Continuing to use the hand mixer, add portions of the flour mixture, broth and chili/annatto tea to the lard until mixed well. When a small portion of the mixture floats in water it is mixed well enough to use.

Put both baskets of a bamboo steamer in a wok on high heat with water to the bottom of the steamer.

Place a smear of tamale dough on the short end of the several layered corn husks. Place 2-3 Tbsp of the chicken in at the center of the dough . Roll the tamale up in the corn husk and tie of with cotton string. (This is where technique really comes in to play and I don’t have it, yet!)

Place the tamales on both layers of the steamer and steam for one hour. Water will need to be added to the steamer often while the tamales are cooking.

Avocado, Tomato & Corn Salsa

1 Avocado, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
Kernels of 1 ear of freshly cooked corn
Juice of ½ lime
Dash of salt

Combine all ingredients, mix well.

Salsa Verde

15 tomatillos, husks removed, washed and cut in wash
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 handful fresh cilantro
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 of a jalapeno, seeds removed (optional)
4 medium Poblano chiles, roasted with skins removed
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp sugar

Combine first 3 ingredients in the food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until pieces are smaller than a fine dice. Place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Honey Cinnamon Flan

1 can condensed milk
1 cup 1% milk
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup honey
¼ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325. Combine 1/4 cup of honey and cinnamon to create glaze. Spoon glaze into bottoms only of 6 small ramekins. Combine remaining ingredients and mix until well combine but not frothy. Pour into ramekins. Place ramekins in a 13x9 cake pan and fill with 1 inch of boiling water. Bake in oven for 40 minutes or until knife into center of flans comes out clean. Allow to cool and then invert onto a plate and drizzle with coffee liqueur.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Quickies: Morning Noon & Night Cocktail Challenge

I came across the invitation for the Quickies: Morning Noon & Night Cocktail Challenge and knew I needed to come up with something really good to enter. That is the challenge, isn't it.

On the Quickies On The Dinner Table home page Denise offers a bit of humor about the name of her site and Internet searches gone awry. While my first idea for a drink was a play off of this theme, it didn't end up being the best one. More on that at the end of the post. Be sure and take a spin through the Quickies site. You'll find inspiration for many things there.

Lazaro Cooks! is co-hosting this event. I found Lazaro's blog through Natasha at the 5 Star Foodie Culinary Adventures blog. Make sure you take a tour there as well. The photos, recipes and insights are well worth it.

My official contest entry is called a "Dirty Orange Soda". Margot loved this when I made it and her intuition about my creations is not to be disregarded.

Dirty Orange Soda

4 oz orange juice
1 oz mango vodka
1 oz vodka
1 oz Cointreau
splash of blood orange bitters
club soda
orange wedge

Mix the first five ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well. Pour into a highball glass. Top off the glass with club soda and garnish with an orange wedge.

The picture below is one of those unexpected outcomes from a typical photo editing technique. Ordinarily I might have undone the effect and tried something else, but it looks pretty cool so I am going to go with it.



My original drink idea was a drink called the "On The Wet Spot" and was a spin on a "Between The Sheets". Denise, I hope you enjoy what turns out to be a pretty funny joke following your lead.

On The Wet Spot

1 oz dark rum
1 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz Applejack
1/2 oz apricot brandy
splash of lemon juice
4 drops Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake well and strain into a rocks glass.

Mixology Monday Report

Doug over at the Pegu Blog hosted this month's installment of Mixology Monday on the subject of limes. His roundup of drinks and hilarious journey through the submissions, comments and all that is lime can be found at his web site linked above. Out contribution was the Basil Vodka Gimlet, a cocktail that nicely merged the lime and basil flavors very well. Take a moment to check out the pictures, posts and follow-up comments. I feel like a serious newb here, these guys know their stuff and most use ingredients that I have yet to have in my bar collection.



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Boston: Wine, Food, a Molasses Flood and Rum

One of the books on my summer reading list was Dark Tide by Michael Puleo. This book was the winning selection for the city-wide reading project in Boston this year. The reading program culminated with a Boston Public Library event on September 20th with the author. Margot and I both took the afternoon off and planned a fun day in the city, finishing with the evening lecture at the library. More on the book and the event later.

A beautiful day in Boston.

Margot hasn’t been in Boston with me since February and before Clover Food Lab debuted their truck in Dewey Square. Earlier this year I wrote about Clover during their second week at the new location and have enjoyed breakfast and lunch there a couple of times since. Margot has been dying to check out their fresh, vegetarian menu and especially the rosemary fries. Unfortunately, and only at first, did we think our visit would be incomplete when the board said they were out of fries. We ordered sandwiches, a chickpea fritter and soy BLT, and a couple of ginger lemonades grabbing one of the nearby tables. And then the cavalry arrived. I watched attentively to see if a crate of potatoes was on the supply truck and then they appeared. These fries are worth the wait. Freshly thin cut, fried golden brown with so much rosemary you’d think that was all there was. You can smell the rosemary in the air when they are cooking. Mission accomplished.

The next stop on our journey was to the very small and easily missed plaque explaining the incident of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 on Commercial Street in Boston. You will find it on a stone wall near the playground and bocce courts on the Causeway Street end of Commercial Street. Not much for such an unusual historical event. We walked along the waterfront for a while on a beautiful fall day.

From there we headed over to Boylston and Newbury streets to poke around in shops and get some dinner before heading to the library. I had a few places I wanted to visit where I hoped I might turn up some additions for the bar and future cocktails. As I write this I am enjoying my very first glass of Berkshire Mountain Distillery’s rum that was purchased at Bauer’s Wines & Spirits on Newbury. This is a great example of a gold rum with clean flavors and a moderate amount of oak aging influence. The newest batch of BMD Bourbon hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but I’ll be there the day I find out it has. They also make several styles of gin, a vodka and a corn whiskey that would be worth checking out. Another great way to go local!

We also stopped in at Deluca’s, one of the neighborhood markets, where I found some ginger beer and blood orange bitters. Stay tuned for my exploits using those two new ingredients.

Our food and wine needs were well satisfied at Piattini Wine Cafe on Newbury. Our waiter David explained that in Italian piattini means small plate, and that the small plate selections on their menu are a popular way to try a variety of dishes with your fellow diners. Their wine list has selections from around the world and of course a nice concentration on Italian styles. To drink Margot went with a glass of the Castello D’Albola 2004 Chianti Classico and I chose the Fresco Bianco flight. My flight included the 2006 Pala Vermentino ‘Crabilis’, 2006 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc and the 2004 Domaine Schlumberger Pinot Blanc. Our small plate adventure involved the Misto di Formaggio (olives and three cheeses), Bruschetta Gamberetti (shrimp bruschetta) and the Ravioli ai Funghi (mushroom ravioli).

The wines in my flight represented a couple things for me, two new varietals in the Vermentino and Pinot Blanc and overall a good bet that the restrained flavors would make a good match with the variety of foods we would be trying. The Vermentino had mild aromas of field greens and a nice clean finish. The tasting notes indicated I should watch for an “almond-like aftertaste”. I don’t know that I identified it as almond or almond-like, but I could detect something of creamy sensation, and the distinction they were making was quite evident. The olives expressed some sweetness in the wine, which was both interesting and refreshing. The Pinot Blanc had a wonderful lemon nose, was crisp with a medium length finish. It went well with all three dishes and tasted fresh with each sip. I’ll be buying some of this for additional food pairing experiments. The Sauvignon Blanc had the most pronounced nose of the three wines, containing some green pepper and grass, with lots of citrus flavors that stayed through the finish. It didn’t pair so well with the food, coming across bitter except with the bread and oil that didn’t seem to affect it one way or another. The Chianti Margot was drinking was very good. I am ashamed to admit that my only taste was with the mushroom ravioli and that I found it worked well, but we didn’t take any notes.

All three dishes were very tasty. The bread used for the bruschetta was over toasted but with other bread on the table that was easily resolved. The shrimp and pesto on it were very tasty and the fresh red and yellow tomatoes were a pleaser. The cheese plate included Manchego, Auribella and Trugole, all of them tasting fresh. The Auribella had the strongest flavors of the three, almost tasting like a young parmesan cheese. The mushroom ravioli was the star of the show, served with a creamy pancetta sauce. David clarified that we indeed were aware of the meat in the dish when taking our order. We were confused, “yes we want mushrooms and meat in the same dish”, but he explained that more than one a vegetarian ordered this dish without fully reading the menu only to be met with something they didn’t want to be in the same room with when it was delivered. Not us. At one point David checked on us and offered an insider tip for us based on our glowing review of the mushroom ravioli. From time to they offer a special of a black truffle stuffed pasta served with a white truffle sauce, but should we come by and it isn’t mentioned we should ask, because if they have what they need the chef will happily prepare it for us.

While we ate we struck up conversation with Colleen and Tara sitting at an adjacent table. As we talked we realized they were foodies too, and then the conversation got serious. Food truck weekend in NYC, a tip to try the Kim Crawford New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and the “compost cookie” at Momofuku Milk Bar in New York. I found a recipe for the cookies that have a name that is totally worth exploring. We passed over our card and told them to shoot us an e-mail so we could get them on the invite list for out next wine tasting.
And finally, the molasses flood. The Rabb lecture hall at the Boston Public Library was standing room only by the time the event kicked off. Dark Tide has been selected an astonishing 13 times for city reading projects. I am elated to have been able to participate in just one and learn something about a historical event largely relegated to the urban legend that molasses can still be smelled in the hot summer air 91 years later! The author, Michael Puleo, covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes and more than I can faithfully cover here. I will share two things that help place the book in a literary context. First, there are four parallel themes woven together in the book. From the role of US Industrial Alcohol in constructing a faulty tank to store molasses used in the production of industrial alcohol for the making of munitions during World War I, a change in the relationship of corporations, government and society, the rise of anarchists and social unrest and finally to immigration and the lack of involvement of non-citizen immigrants in the goings on in their own neighborhoods. It sounds like a lot but the themes played out together then and were fit together well in the book now. The second aspect that is notable is the telling of the story through the eyes of people whose lives would not have otherwise been shared if this event had not occurred, and I venture if this book had not been written as well. To this day, Dark Tide was published in 2003, there is not a single other book written as a historical account of this event. Being figured in this book is a very singular historical legacy to be sure. Mr. Puleo explained who he felt the heroes and the villain were in the book and how he enjoyed sharing the stories of ordinary people whose lives were forever changed by a wall of molasses 40 feet high travelling at 35 miles per hour on a cold day in January of 1919.

One quote from the book stands as an example of how unique this event was and still is. “Send all available rescue vehicles and personnel immediately – there’s a wave of molasses coming down Commercial Street”. This was uttered by Frank McManus, a Boston police officer, during what would have been a routine report back to the central station if the molasses tank hadn’t collapsed right in front of him. Talk about a strange phone call to have!

As we made our back to the bus via South Station we came upon something that I still can't figure out. The stairs up from the train and the entire lobby of the station were decked out with advertising for Appleton Jamaican Rum. This is my very favorite rum and the 12 year aged had a beautiful banner hanging from the ceiling. It was my final picture of the day. From molasses to rum, a fitting way to end a fun day in Boston!



Monday, September 20, 2010

PFB Voting & Mixology Monday

Voting for Project Food Blog opens today. My Ready, Set, Blog! post is up and ready for a look. If you find my post worthy of a vote I sure would appreciate it. Good luck to everyone who is competing in the ten challenges!

Today is Mixology Monday for September. Find out more about the monthly event here and make sure you keep an eye out for the roundup Doug at the Pegu Blog will be pulling together.



Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rum Treasure - Guest Post From Spice Sherpa

We have a special post today from Karen Marely of Spice Sherpa just in time for International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! The romantic vision of pirates is filled with adventure, free spirits, treasure, and rogue personalities–all set against a backdrop of the Caribbean’s alluring waters. This is the fuel of National Talk Like a Pirate Day held every year on Sept. 19th.

Buried treasure, colorful speech, and freedom from the confines of civilization. Who doesn’t dream a little bit about that occasionally? After all, I think all food lovers and chefs have a bit of old-school pirate in their blood. Whether we define our treasure as fresh, local produce or an obscure ingredient; we follow our maps, relentless in our quests. In the kitchen we follow codes of conduct (the cookbook) or interpret recipes and our imagination to suit our own private escape.

Strange thing about stereotypes, they have a way of being grounded in reality. In the case of pirates, pillaging and plundering were standard activities during the Spice Wars of the late 1500s and early 1600s. Spices were the treasure of the time. Nutmeg in particular was worth its weight in gold…if not more.

In honor of National Talk Like A Pirate Day I concocted a drink that celebrates all that’s fun and sexy in pirateland. It’s filled with ginger syrup (from those Caribbean Islands), chai tea (spices from the Spice Islands), and of course…rum.

To be fair, I drank something like this at a bar called Lento about three years ago. I don’t quite remember all the ingredients but the drink was so delicious I dreamed about it for three years before finally doing something about it.

Here’s my version. I call it Rum Treasure.

First, you need to make some ginger syrup.

1 cup of water
1 cup of white sugar
½ cup peeled and thinly sliced, fresh ginger root (and maybe a touch more if you want it stronger)

Combine the sugar and water in a sauce pan over medium heat. Heat until sugar is completely dissolved stirring occasionally.

Add the ginger and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Pour through a strainer into a container and let cool.

Rum Treasure

1/3 cup strongly brewed black chai tea, chilled.
1.5 Tbsp of ginger syrup
Generous shot of good quality rum (I used Bacardi black label, aged 8 years).
1 tsp cream

Garnish: crystallized ginger and a pinch of garam masala spice blend

Combine tea, ginger syrup, and rum into your glass. The ginger syrup will settle on the bottom, as shown below, so take care to stir gently but thoroughly to combine the syrup. Add the cream. Combine gently.

Make a small snip in a morsel of crystallized ginger and place it on the rim of the glass. Sprinkle a pinch of garam masala on the top.

Tip: I like to taste the spirits in my cocktails. Increase the tea to ½ cup if this mixture is too strong for your liking.

Another tip: You’ll have a ton of leftover ginger syrup. Add it to sparkling water for a non-alcoholic ginger beverage. Jason at Ancient Fire experimented with several different cocktails using ginger syrup last week, be sure and take a look other ways to use the tasty syrup.

For information on and uses for ginger click for more from Spice Sherpa.

That said, ahoy…

Drink up me hearties! And if ye be lookin’ for recipes, stories ‘n’ folklore featuring spices found across the 7 seas, set your sails and point yer stern o’er to Spice Sherpa.

And yer cap’n asks what say you about all this fuss and poppycock o’er talkin’ like a bilge rat pirate (I be politely askin’ for yer comments)!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mixology Monday - Basil Vodka Gimlet

Food and beverage blogging has turned into an addiction. Every day I get new posts sent to me from all over the world. The connections other bloggers have made in the broad universe we all occupy often provide even more leaps for me find out more. I can't help clicking! I heard about Mixology Monday this way. Mixology Monday is a monthly online cocktail party. Did somebody say cocktail party?

For this month’s event on September 20th the subject is lime. Lime is epic when it comes to cocktails and is always best when used fresh. My cocktail for the party is a Basil Vodka Gimlet made with hand-infused basil vodka and a lime syrup made from lime zest and juice.

Lime Syrup

½ cup water
½ cup superfine sugar
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 4 limes

Slow simmer the sugar, water and lime zest for 5 minutes. Take it off the stove and allow to cool. Strain the cooled syrup to remove the zest. Add the lime juice and mix well. Chill and use at the bar.

Basil Vodka Gimlet

2 parts hand-infused basil vodka
2 parts lime syrup

Mix vodka and syrup in a rocks glass and add ice to fill glass. Garnish with fresh basil and/or slice of lime. The flavors in the drink a nice and clean and the lime provides a crispness and acidity that makes this drink and ideal refresher for a hot summer day.
I wrote about my first attempt with this drink, a few others and the process I used to make the basil vodka back in July. You can check that post out here.

Earlier this week I also made a batch of pirate grog that also features the eponymous lime in an old cocktail. Arrrrrr, come check out my spin on grog!



Thursday, September 16, 2010

Project Food Blog Challenge #1 - Who am I as a foodie?

Project Food Blog Challenge #1 - Who am I as a foodie?

I’ve always been about food and drink. There are pictures of me (somewhere, finding them hasn’t been successful yet) banging on pots and pans in the kitchen while my mom cooked up dinner for my family. My mother tells me that as soon as I understood what the kitchen was for that I wanted to be in there creating and preparing food.

( Enjoying a homemade wine sangria before a Kid Rock concert. )

When a group of families from my hometown went camping I was always the first one up getting the cooking fire going, and roaming from site to site to find out what breakfast delights I could help with and ultimately enjoy. I had a high school home economics teacher who brought my mother to tears of joy when explaining what a pleasure it was to have me in class, and a man no less!! For a time I thought of culinary school as a potential direction after high school, but an affinity for math and science got the better of me and I went on to a career in information technology. I get excited about cookie swaps and preparing holiday meals for the whole family.

( Pan roasted potatoes. This simple recipe was pushed to its peak
potential through use of fresh herbs from my own garden. )

When I go on vacation I learn about where I am visiting through the local food and seek examples both mundane and unique. Not being into sports, I am more worried about having homemade snacks and good beer to enjoy when friends invite me over to watch games I could care less about. For the last six years I have made beer, wine and hard cider at home, and have twenty-six amateur competition medals proudly on display in my dining room. I love farmstands, quirky food stores, food television and I think about food and beverages 24 x 7. But what does all of this mean in defining me as a food blogger?

I am the single pot stew of food bloggers. Like a good single pot stew my food adventures and my blog are a balance of essential ingredients, with a mix of just the right seasonings, cooked for the just right amount of time, and paired with a beverage the makes the dish sing. Each day my food blogging stew gets more interesting with new ingredients, seasonings and pairings.

( Starting with fresh ingredients is always the beginning of a wonderful journey. )

Why do I think I have what it takes to be the next food blog star? Attitude.

Being the best at anything is never because of only one thing. It isn’t something you achieve and then get to keep, and always starts within. In 2003 I was diagnosed with cancer and ultimately this experience changed my life. Before my diagnosis I was too focused on work and didn’t appreciate the opportunity I had in my life. Since then I have learned to ask the right question. Instead of “why?”, I ask “why not?” I am not afraid to try new things, take risks and live the only life I have to its fullest potential.

( Bubbling butter. So much goodness begins here! )

Do I think I create the best recipes, have the best techniques or take the best pictures? No. Is my writing as good as it is ever going to be? No. Do I already know all of the right people? No. What I do know is that each blog entry I write is an expression of who I am, embodies my experiences and that I enjoy every minute of it. Does this competition scare me? Of course it does. I have so much more to learn in this world and something I wrote yesterday will always have room from improvement based on my experiences today. My fellow challengers have their own unique stories and are out there as much as I am. I have to expect that when I read their posts I will wish I had walked in their shoes for just long enough to learn what they did.

( A grilled rosemary Sazerac. Creating new spins on my
favorite style of cocktail is a never-ending source of enjoyment )

None of this will stop me from trying to fully express myself in these challenges hoping that what I do brings a smile to the judges and my peers, and that I earn a chance. I have what it takes to be the next food blog star because I believe I do and I will do as much as I can to win. I will be happy with the outcome for me, whatever it might be, while cheering on my competition to rise to their own best potential.

The Foodbuzz badge shown below is my Project Food Buzz competitor link and will hopefully be visible in my profile for the next few weeks, meaning I will be actively competing in the challenges being offered. Regardless of how far I go I am already cheering on my fellow competitors as they enter the PFB stadium. Please join me in doing the same.



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ancient Fire Pirate Grog

We regret to inform that the previously scheduled program will not be aired tonight. Margot might have Strep so our tour of the Marlborough wine region of New Zealand, its Pinot Noir and a tasty lamb dish paired with the wine has been rescheduled to next week.

In it is place I have sown an ode to rum in the form of grog. Grog has a storied history starting with the British Royal Navy and all sorts of seafaring folk, including pirates, in the times of the colonization of the New World.

The following links provide a more in depth history than I could summarize here.

For the foodie, the beverage was most often concocted with water, rum, lime and spices. This form was devised specifically to ensure water wouldn't spoil on long voyages and that voyagers might consume some vitamins to fend of scurvy and the like.

The Contemplator's Short History of Grog

Wikipedia's Entry on Grog

Global Gourmet's Recipe for Grog

Ancient Fire Pirate Grog

18 oz of nearly boiling water
6 oz Mount Gay Eclipse rum
1 cinnamon stick
10 allspice berries
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 Tbsp superfine sugar

Add the cinnamon stick and allspice berries to the hot water. Allow to steep for 1 hour. Add the rum, lime juice and sugar. Mix well. Allow to cool to room temperature. Serve over ice in a rocks glass (way more classy than the pirates did, but hey!!) with a slice of lime.

Grog made using this recipe is a very light cocktail with a nice hit of spice and citrus. Margot thought it might be a perfect fit for a hot summer day. You could get drunk on it, but it would take a quantity and some time.

Arrrrr!!! Fetch me my grog wench!