Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Super Bowl for Your Super Bowl Party

In getting ready for a small Super Bowl gathering we're having tomorrow, I've racked my brains trying to think of quintessential Pittsburgh or Arizona foods to serve and haven't come up with much. So it's back to fall-back mode.

I always think a pot of chili simmering on the stove or in a slow cooker is a perfect football-watching main course. People can serve themselves whenever they want and you can make the chili a day or two before. (It only gets better that way.)

While there are many variations, for the most part, it all comes down to meat browned and then simmered with vegetables in a spicy tomato sauce. This recipe sets itself apart simply in its beauty. Green and orange bell peppers contrast with diced tomatoes and both kidney and black beans. And, as an interesting serving twist, Southern Living (the source for the original recipe) suggests serving the chili in individual mini (1 1/4 ounce) bags of Fritos.

Note: I adjusted the recipe to match up with sizes of cans that I could find at the grocery. Like most chilis, this one can handle improvisation, so go for it.

Super Bowl Chili
Adapted from Southern Living.
Serves 12-15.

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 large white onions, coarsely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped coarsely
1 large orange (or yellow) bell pepper, seeded and chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 can (10 ounce) beer
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (16 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (16 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
Garnishes: finely chopped onion, shredded cheese, sour cream

Cook ground beef and next five ingredients in a Dutch oven over medium heat for ten minutes or until meat crumbles and is no longer pink. Stir in tomatoes, beer, tomato sauce and spices (reserve beans) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour and 45 minutes, stirring every twenty minutes or so. Add kidney beans and black beans and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

(Can be refrigerated overnight to let flavors meld even further before serving. The chili can also be frozen for up to 3 months.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blue Cheese Bacon Dip

Now for a break from all the healthiness that has been on the blog lately...

Here is a delicious hot dip that might show up at our annual Academy Awards Party. (And that would be great served at this weekend's Super Bowl parties.) You can serve it with crackers and toasted baguette slices, but I think it would also be delicious with high-quality (or homemade!) thick-sliced potato chips.

Blue Cheese Bacon Dip
From Southern Living.
Make approximately three cups dip.

7 bacon slices, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup half and half
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted

Cook chopped bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until crisp. Drain bacon, and set aside. Add minced garlic to skillet, and sauté 1 minute.

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add half and half, beating until combined. Stir in bacon, garlic, blue cheese, and chives. Spoon mixture evenly into 4 (1-cup) individual baking dishes. (This way, you can serve them one at a time and keep hot dip on the buffet.)

Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Sprinkle evenly with chopped walnuts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Controlling Clutter

All too often, I am overwhelmed...inundated by the "stacks." Recipes to go through. Bills to pay. Magazines to read. Not too mention the clothes--clean or dirty--that seem to end up scattered on the floor rather than stashed in their proper hampers or drawers. So I have put back into active practice some de-cluttering techniques I have learned over the years. No, it's not time for "spring" cleaning. But these tips might be just the thing for a New Year's resolution/winter home makeover.
  • Every item should have its home. I know...easier said than done. But the first step to controlling the clutter is setting up an organized system. (Need help? The Container Store has made a multi-million dollar business of helping the less organized among us.) Set up laundry hampers or baskets according to water temperature so that you're sorting as you go, rather than digging through a huge pile of mishmash on laundry day. (I do the same for dry cleaning--sorting laundry items according to the level of starch they need.) Place dishes and other cooking tools in cabinets and drawers in logical fashion according to proximity to stove, chopping block or the dining room. And, if bills are scattered about, do like I did and buy one of these. It's been a lifesaver.

  • Don't let things get out of hand. We have a tradition called "fifteen minute fire-out." The TV and computer are turned off and the kitchen timer is set. For fifteen minutes, I (hopefully we) straighten and neaten and put things where they belong. And, yes, sometimes that means taking various stacks of paperwork and combining them into one big one that can be neatly set aside and dealt with later. It's even helpful to do twice a before bed and once before work. I've found that things are a lot let stressful getting up in the morning or coming home at the end of the day if you don't have all of the detritus of your life staring you in the face. And you'll be surprised how much you can accomplish in a concentrated fifteen minutes. I have discovered I can put a dishwasher full of dishes away in the two minutes it takes me to heat my water for my daily cup of morning tea.
  • But of course every now and then an overhaul is necessary. Periodically, it is necessary to completely empty a cabinet of its contents and evaluate each item. Drawers. Closets. Even the refrigerator. Do you use it regularly? Or does it hold such sentimental value that it simply must be kept? (If you're using that criterion for things in your refrigerator, have a problem.) You'll be surprised that, especially if in the right "simplify my life" mood, you can pare things down rather easily. In just the last week, I have discarded extraneous colanders, excess coffee mugs and ties that have outlived any fashion sense they might have once had. And by "discarded" I mean put into the garage for one of our semi-annual garage sales. But just as easily they can go to Goodwill or Salvation Army or any of the other worthy charities that will put them to good use.

So get started!

Feel free to share any of your simplify/beautify ideas in Comments. We all could use new ideas!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce

Here's another Chinese dumpling recipe I tried during our Year of the Ox celebration. They are slightly lighter than the pork version I previously posted.

I have to confess...when I first saw the recipe, the fish sauce in the dipping sauce was a real turn-off. If you've used it before, you know that just taking the lid off the bottle can send a "perfume" through your kitchen. But you also know that it is an imperative undernote in all sorts of Asian cooking...although it is usually heated as it is mixed with other ingredients. So I was nervous about using it in its powerful incarnation straight out of the bottle. It works though. Don't be afraid.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings with Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce

Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce:

2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger

To prepare sauce, combine the first 5 ingredients.


2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup finely chopped leek (about 1 large)
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped (I saved a bit of time by pulsing the shrimp in my mini food processor.)
30 wonton wrappers

To prepare dumplings, heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add leek and 1 tablespoon ginger; sauté 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Combine leek mixture, mirin, salt, black pepper, and shrimp, stirring well.

Working with 1 wonton wrapper at a time (cover remaining wrappers with a damp towel to prevent drying), spoon about 1 tablespoon shrimp mixture into center of each wrapper. Moisten edges of wrapper with water; bring 2 opposite corners to center, pinching points to seal. Bring remaining 2 corners to center, pinching points to seal. Pinch 4 edges together to seal.

Add water to a wok or large skillet to a depth of 1 inch; bring to a boil. Line a bamboo steamer with 15 carrot slices or cabbage leaves; arrange 15 dumplings on top. Cover with steamer lid. Place steamer in pan; steam dumplings 12 minutes. Remove dumplings from steamer; cover and keep warm. Repeat procedure with the remaining carrot slices and dumplings. Serve with sauce.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

I've decreed that the New Year (not so new now, huh?) will be a healthy one in my life. More time exercising and healthier eating. In a wonderful bit of serendipity, I ran across this healthy recipe on the Everyday Food program as I was sweating on the elliptical trainer.

It's carb-friendly and easy to fix. The scallions are a great addition. Don't omit the mint...I was nervous about it, but it's a perfect underlying layer of flavor. And it wasn't bad as a reheated leftover the next day. If you can handle the calories, make sure and have a crusty piece of good bread alongside to sop up the juices.

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta
From Everyday Food.
Serves 4. (But I halved the recipe rather easily and had plenty for two plus leftovers.)

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 thinly sliced scallions
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined large frozen shrimp, thawed, tails removed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh fresh mint, plus more for garnish
4 ounces feta cheese

Preheat oven to 475 degrees with rack set in upper third. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium.

Add scallions, garlic, and oregano; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add tomatoes. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until no liquid remains in skillet, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add shrimp and mint to skillet. Stir to combine; transfer to an 8-inch square (or other shallow 2-quart) baking dish. (Note: Save yourself a pan by using an ovenproof skillet. Place it directly in the oven to finish.) Crumble feta over top.

Place in oven and bake until liquid is bubbling, cheese is beginning to brown, and shrimp in center of dish are opaque, 15 to 20 minutes.

Food/Wine Pairing: This dish screams for a light and citrusy wine. Pour your favorite Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. If you have a favorite Greek white, honor the feta in this dish by uncorking it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Year's Dumpling Delight with Chili-Garlic Dipping Sauce

Happy New Year! Chinese that is. (Almost. The real deal is Tuesday.) 2009 is the Year of the Ox, and we decided to celebrate by making traditional steamed dumplings. They were quite delicious...although extremely labor-intensive between the slicing and dicing and one-by-one assembly. Try them though...they're something that every self-respecting home chef should make at least once.

(I actually made several different kinds last night. I'll be posting all the recipes soon. These were the best of the lot though. And the dipping sauce is fantastic. Worth making for your take-out eggrolls next time you have delivery Chinese food.)

New Year's Dumpling Delight with Chili-Garlic Dipping Sauce
From Cooking Light.
Makes 3-4 dozen dumplings (depending on the size of your wonton wrappers and the generosity of your filling method).

Chili-Garlic Dipping Sauce:

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons green onion, minced
1 hot red chile, minced

To prepare dipping sauce, combine first 7 ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.


10 ounce ground pork
3 1/2 cups shredded Napa (Chinese) cabbage
1 1/4 cups thinly sliced leek (about 1 large)
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
1 cup thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 3 ounces) (I chopped them roughly after slicing.)
1 tablespoon minced or grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake (rice wine) or sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
40 wonton wrappers

To prepare dumplings, combine pork and next 10 ingredients (pork through black pepper) in a large bowl.

Working with 1 wonton wrapper at a time (cover remaining wrappers with a damp towel to keep from drying), spoon a scant tablespoonful of pork mixture into center of each wrapper. Moisten edges of wrapper with water; bring 2 opposite corners to center, pinching points to seal. Bring remaining 2 corners to center, pinching points to seal. Pinch 4 edges together to seal. Place dumplings, seam sides up, on in a bamboo steamer lined with cabbage leaves, banana leaf or carrot slices.

Arrange half of dumplings in a single layer in a bamboo or vegetable steamer. Steam dumplings, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove dumplings from steamer; place on a platter. Keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining dumplings. Serve with dipping sauce.

Food/Wine Pairing: Perhaps I should have gone with something more Asian here like sake, but I discovered that a glass of sparkling rosé was delicious with these.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: Gin and Sin

As I posted the other day, the juicer is sitting out on the counter and getting lots of use. So why not put it to use for a refreshing cocktail?

Gin and Sin
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces gin
1/4 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 dashes grenadine (adds a nice touch of sweetness, but also turns things a girly pink)

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Juicing and Juice Recipes

I came to a realization two weeks ago. After a decadent holiday period of eating and drinking, I was sluggish and bloated. I had definitely been vegetable and fruit-deficient. Cheese? Yes. Wine? You betcha. But steamed veggies or a crisp apple? No freaking way.

And yet, the idea of a pear eaten out of hand or a crisp salad wasn't yet in the taste buds. So I turned to another solution. The juicer. We have a great Krups centrifugal juicer that has unfortunately been gathering dust on its designated shelf. Begrudgingly, my other half (the one who wants no appliances to live on the countertops) said we could get it out and leave it out.

And the juicing began. Now I've done nothing too exotic at this point. Apple, carrot and pear. I've thrown a bit of ginger root or beet in, but want to soon take the plunge with cucumber, beet greens, green pepper, grapefruit...even fennel.

Now remember...juicing is not as healthy as eating the fruits and vegetables themselves. You miss out on lots of fiber. But juice can be a great mid-afternoon snack and is a great way to get lots of fruits and vegetables in an easy "delivery" method.

To spur me on, I've bought the mini-book The Top 100 Juices. Here's a recipe from it that I'll be trying this week. The authors say it's a perfect post-workout drink.

Asparagus, Celery and Carrot Juice
10 asparagus spears, shopped into chunks
6 celery stalks including tops, chopped into chunks
2 large carrots, trimmed and cut into chunks

Press alternate chunks of vegetables into juicer. Stir juice and drink immediately.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Beet and Goat Cheese "Ravioli" with Pistachios, Microgreens and Orange Balsamic Drizzle

Beets and goat cheese are wonderfully wine-friendly...both separately and especially together. Sauvignon Blanc provides just the right acidity and fruitiness to play off the earthiness of the beets and the chalky minerality of the goat cheese. (I love Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with either or both. There's a nice herbal quality to the wine that I like a lot.)

When planning for our recent wine dinner, I combined several recipes I had on file to come up with this amalgam. It's fairly easy to prepare, but the results are both elegant and delicious.

Beet and Goat Cheese "Ravioli" with Pistachios, Microgreens and Orange Balsamic Drizzle
Makes eight servings.

For "ravioli":
8 medium beets (I used a mixture of red and golden.)
3/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces) fresh goat cheese, softened
1 tablespoon minced chives

For dressing:
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 star anise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For garnish:
2 tablespoons shelled pistachios, lightly crushed
8 tablespoons microgreens or mildly flavored sprouts
To assemble the ravioli, cover the beets with water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer the beets over moderate heat until tender, about 1 hour. Drain and let cool. Peel the beets and slice them crosswise 1/4 inch thick. You need 32 slices.

In a small bowl, blend the goat cheese with the minced chives and season with salt and pepper. Arrange 16 beet rounds on a work surface. Dollop a teaspoon of goat cheese in the center of each round and top with remaining 16 rounds. Press lightly. Place two ravioli on each of eight salad plates.

To make the dressing (which you can do ahead of time), combine the orange juice, vinegar, sugar and star anise in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup (about 10 minutes). Stir in the salt and pepper. Let cool. (The dressing can be refrigerated at this point. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Drizzle a tablespoon or so of dressing over each plate. Top with crushed pistachios and a pinch of microgreens. Serve with a nice finishing salt if you have it.

Wine Pairing: As I said at the beginning of the entry, this is a perfect dish for Sauvignon Blanc. I am partial to Spy Valley, Geyser Peak and Ferrari Carano's or Mondavi's Fume Blanc. For the wine dinner, I served it with the Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc. It has all the tang of a good Sauvignon Blanc with what I call smokiness from a little bit of oak aging. Try it. It's one of our new house wines.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Substitute in a Jiffy: Skillet Cornbread

I will confess that one of our most-used convenience foods is Jiffy cornbread mix. It's just the right size--add milk and eggs and you're on your way.

And my other half cannot and will not eat chili, black-eyed peas or anything similar without cornbread. Therefore, we had a crisis on our hands a couple of nights ago when I fixed this delicious Barack Obama-inspired chili. There was no Jiffy cornbread mix in the pantry. Never fear...just had to go back to making it from scratch.

And after finding this recipe, Jiffy may be out of the picture. The shortening in the cast-iron pan makes the bottom wonderfully crispy without burning. And the bread itself is tender with just enough sweetness.

(Note: I doubled this recipe and baked it in an 11 inch square cast iron pan.)

Skillet Cornbread
Serves 6 to 8.

1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the shortening in an 8 inch cast iron skillet. Place the skillet on the oven's middle shelf.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs until frothy. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix just until the ingredients are combined. Do not overmix; the batter should be lumpy.

Carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet. Cook until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Yes, We Can: Delicious and Healthy Turkey Chili

Tuesday begins a new era for us all. Yes, it's "just" a new president, but so many have such great expectations. All of us should hope and pray that President Obama succeeds. We need some good news!

Rumor has it that one of President-elect Obama's favorite foods is chili. While I haven't tried his personal recipe (which is apparently readily available on the Internet), we had this for dinner tonight in anticipation of a much-anticipated Inauguration.

(Skip the Fritos and grated cheese on top and this is a healthy, hearty and delicious meal.)

By the way, here's my traditional chili recipe. Not very different from this one...

Quick Turkey Chili
From Southern Living.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes (Substitute tomato sauce if you don't want chunks of tomato in the finished product.)
1 (16-oz.) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (I like lots of beans in my chili, so I used two cans.)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beer (or 1 cup additional chicken broth)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Sauté chopped onion in hot oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until tender; add garlic, and sauté 1 minute.

Add turkey, chili powder, and cumin, and cook, stirring often, 8 minutes or until meat crumbles and is no longer pink. Stir in tomato paste, and cook 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and next 5 ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Food/Wine Pairing: Here is an occasion when the perfect match is not a contrast, but a clone. The tomatoes and sauteed onions (and even the mildness of the turkey) bring a sweetness to the bowl...but there's a lingering spicy heat on the back of your palate with each spoonful. Zinfandel is a wine that does the exact same thing. A glass of Ravenswood Vinters Blend Zinfandel was a home run with this one....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Asian Coleslaw with Wasabi and Peanuts

I have my go to recipe for coleslaw. Rich with celery seed, it's the perfect combination of sweet and tangy. An awesome side for hamburger, ribs or fried catfish.

But I've been looking for a recipe that could give me the same crunch of cabbagy slaw, but with an alternative dressing. This one fits the bill perfectly. Rich with Asian ingredients like ginger, wasabi and sesame oil, it would be quite tasty alongside grilled shrimp or seared tuna. I might even try it with the steamed salmon I'm fixing tonight.

Asian Coleslaw with Wasabi and Peanuts
Makes six servings.

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped green onions
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons wasabi paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced (or one bag pre-cut coleslaw mix)
2 radishes, halved and then thinly sliced
1/2 cup lightly salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Whisk together first ten ingredients in a large bowl; add cabbage and radishes. Toss to coat. Cover and chill for at least one hour. Serve topped with chopped peanuts.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Extravaganza: Wine Dinner 2008

All the blogging, all the recipes, all the cooking, all the drinking (ok...maybe not all) that I do culminates in a once-yearly multi-course meal with wine pairings. The event started about ten years ago. I was in a great wine club and got three bottles of wonderful wine each month. As a single guy in a small apartment not suited to a lot of entertaining, the good bottles would pile up. My family (parents and siblings who all lived in the area) benefited greatly...I would open several bottles in one evening at a grand dinner. My pairing skills steadily improved, and the food I made to accompany the wines got more and more exotic.

Eventually, I joined other wine clubs and continued to learn more and more about food and wine pairing. As the years progressed, I fixed a wine dinner for some friends and hosted a "pot luck" wine dinner with others. My parents even paid me to create one for some of THEIR friends. But the tradition with my family continues. A decade later, despite the fact that my brother had moved across the country with his own family, we still get together for a night of decadence.

Sometimes the dinners have a "theme"...the one featuring all Spanish wines and foods was a showstopper. And sometimes they feature a surprise pairing...Columbia Crest Grand Estates merlot with a bacon and tomato sandwich anyone? But they are always educational...and exhiliratingly exhausting for the chef/sommelier.

The 2008 dinner was the week of Christmas with all in attendance. There was no real theme this year...other than the fact that I tried to serve wines that we haven't had very often. Prosecco instead of Champagne. French Chardonnay instead of California. You get the drift.

I'll post the menu and pairings in two parts. First comes summary of impressions and thoughts. The recipes themselves will follow over the next several weeks. Hope you enjoy dining and drinking with us..even if only vicariously. And try a dinner like this yourself. it doesn't have to be this involved. try three appetizer, main and dessert. Your guests will love you for it. And your culinary skills will get a great test in juggling the preparation of several courses at once.

Hors d'oeuvre: Bagel Chips with Ricotta, Chive Puree and Prosciutto
I passed this as everyone arrived. It's really yummy. Lots of layers of flavor: creamy ricotta, toastiness from the bagel chip and almonds in the chive oil, and bracing tang from chives and prosciutto. It was paired with Zardetto Prosecco. A great start.

First Course: A Trio of Appetizers
We all sat down to the table laden with glasses. (Bless my other half for his handwashing abilities the day after!) Topped off our Zardetto Prosecco (I love carrying wines over from one course to another to highlight how they pair with a variety of foods.) and dug in to three wonderful appetizers. I always like to show off the different qualities of sparkling wine...toasty, citrusy, fresh. And the Prosecco had an off-dry (just barely on the sweet side) quality that also made for some interesting flavor combinations.

A spanikopita cup (say that five times fast) combined flaky puff pastry, sweet spinach and tangy feta. Tiny phyllo shells were filled with a light and delicious mousse of goat cheese and Parmesan with a hint of black pepper. And jumbo shrimp were coated in Parmesan, parsley and lemon-laced breadcrumbs and then baked until crispy. A sip of Prosecco brought something different to each one.

Second Course: Beet and Goat Cheese "Ravioli" with Pistachios, Microgreens and Orange Balsamic Drizzle
Beets and goat cheese are wonderfully wine-friendly...both separately and especially together. And Sauvignon Blanc provides just the right acidity and fruitiness to play off the earthiness of the beets and the chalky minerality of the goat cheese. I combined several recipes I had found to create this showpiece. The original plan was to serve it with a French Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre. However, after tasting the Chateau St. Jean Fumé Blanc recently, it was the wine of choice. It's so deliciously layered with flavor that it's joined out house wine list...quite an accomplishment since Sauvignon Blanc is not one of our favorite varietals.

Third Course: Lemon Shallot Scallops with Couscous
You can probably detect a trend. As most folks do when serving several wines, I build the wines from lightest to heavier. So it was time for a white wine with a little more heft. But no California Chardonnays for us this year...although we've had some wonderful ones at past gatherings. I chose a French Chardonnay from the Saint Veran region of Burgundy. (Pouilly Fuisse is an enclave within Saint Veran for you oenophiles out there.) The wine had a decent backbone of minerality, and it was an additional blast of lemony acidity when sipped with the scallops.

Fourth Course: Fennel, Orange and Parmesan Salad
I really wanted to serve a rosé as a part of our progression. And why not serve one from an unexpected region? Texas. Yeehah. The Mcpherson Rosé of Syrah is wonderful. A great bridge from white to red. It has undertones of strawberry and cranberry. It had just enough acidity to pair with the layers of flavor in this light salad.

Do I have your attention? Stay tuned...the remainder of the menu, including an easy-to-assemble main course and a decadent dessert, will be posted within the week.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: Clementine Negroni

January is citrus season here in Texas. The produce section is filled with beautiful Rio Grande Ruby Red grapefruit. And there are still those cute little clementines that started to show up around Christmas time. I have my eye on a three-citrus marmalade recipe I recently found, but a cocktail is always a great way to use these delicious fruits. This one focuses on the clementine...those little seedless tangerines so many of us in the South find in our holiday stockings.

Clementine Negroni
From Bon Appetit magazine.
Makes two cocktails.

3 clementines, peeled
1/4 cup Hendrick's Gin
1/4 cup Campari
3 tablespoons sweet vermouth
Ice cubes
2 clementine slices (for garnish)

Place 3 whole peeled clementines and orange bitters in cocktail shaker and muddle until clementines are broken down.

(Note: I will admit that I cheated with a recent batch and simply juiced the three clementines into the shaker. While it eliminated the stress relief accomplished via muddling, the cocktail turned out just fine.)

Add gin, Campari, and vermouth. Fill shaker 3/4 full with ice. Shake vigorously 30 seconds. Strain into 2 Martini glasses, dividing equally. Garnish each with clementine slice.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Keep It Simple, Stupid: Roasted Onions, Potatoes and Spinach

Delicious does not have to be difficult. Sometimes the simplest of ingredients prepared in the most basic of ways yield the most sublime results. Here's a great example. Vegetables easy to find at the grocery store roasted in a fantastic (and healthy) combination of textures and tastes. Try it and see.

Roasted Onions, Potatoes and Spinach
Makes six-eight servings.

2 large onions, halved and peeled
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and partially crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons vegetable broth, chicken stock or water
4 cups spinach (5 ounces), rinsed and chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a large roasting pan.

Trim off ends of onions. Cut into wedges, slicing end to end. Place in a large bowl and separate somewhat, leaving a couple of onion layers attached with each wedge.

Cut potatoes into large wedges; add to onions in bowl. Add garlic, oil, vinegar, bay leaf, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste; toss to coat.

Transfer vegetables to roasting pan and spread in single layer. Sprinkle with broth or water.

Roast vegetables 30 minutes, stirring once or twice and adding water, if necessary. Add spinach and mix. Roast for an additional 10 minutes until vegetables are tender and golden.

Serve warm.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Avocado Yogurt Dip with Cumin

Here's a simple and healthy dip to serve at parties or to use as a pre-dinner snack. For those of us trying to lose a few as our New Years resolution, it's perfect.

Avocado Yogurt Dip with Cumin
From Cooking Light.
Makes two cups.

3/4 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ripe peeled avocados, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender, and process until smooth.

Serve with pita chips and carrot and celery sticks.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: Pear Martini

I always wonder what to do with pear vodka. And I always end up going back to the basics. A martini. I've posted one with lemon and rosemary before. Here's one with the nutty taste of Amaretto thrown in. (You might substitute Tuaca's vanilla flavors for the Amaretto if that's your preference.)

Pear Martini
Makes two cocktails

5 ounces pear vodka
1 ounce Amaretto
2 ounces simple syrup
1 ounce lemon juice

Shake in cocktail shaker with crushed ice and strain into two chilled martini glasses.


Environmental Day: More Green Tips

A part of a more beautiful life is doing what you can to make sure our world stays healthy. Here are a few suggestions of things that you can do to help keep the planet healthy:

  • All of us crave a burger every now and then. When you're grilling at home, try using ground bison meat instead of beef. Grass-fed bison are more environmentally friendly than feed-lot cattle are. And it's healthier for you than beef as well.

  • Make sure you have a programmable thermostat on your heating and cooling system at home. For example, you can use the timer feature to set the thermostat lower while you're sleeping, then turn it up as you're getting out of bed. Also can set it lower during the day when folks are at work or school. You'll be amazed at how much you'll save on energy bills.

  • Have a radiant barrier installed in your attic. It reflects the heat hitting your shingles to keep things cooler all summer long.

  • And, while this one sounds silly, reduce the margins on your documents before you print them. Over time, you'll save lots of paper...and therefore lots of trees.

  • Use biodegradable trash bags. Our landfills are nasty things, already filled with refuse that will take decades to decay. Surely you already recycle, so most of the trash you send off twice a week is already more environmentally friendly...go the extra mile and use bags that will break down much more quickly than traditional plastic garbage bags. You can find examples at BiobagUSA or EcosafePlastics.

More soon. Just try one or two of these and you're well on the way to doing your part.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Shredded Parmesan Brussels Sprouts

I've suggested something like this before, but I thought it was time to post another Brussels sprouts recipe. Even if you don't think you like them, try this. You might be surprised. It's a great way to get your kids to try them also.

Shredded Parmesan Brussels Sprouts
Makes eight servings.
From Food & Wine.

3 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425°.

In a food processor fitted with a slicing blade, coarsely shred the brussels sprouts. On 2 large rimmed baking sheets, toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and spread in an even layer.

Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, until the brussels sprouts are tender and browned in spots; rotate the pans and stir the brussels sprouts halfway through roasting.

Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, toss and bake for 1 more minute, or until the cheese is melted.

Transfer the brussels sprouts to a bowl and serve.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Another Recipe Using Stouffer's Spinach Souffle: Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Here's another easy recipe using the orange box ubiquitous in many of our freezers. Feel free to experiment with this one. You could add chopped water chestnuts, more spice or even your favorite herbs. It's a very forgiving recipe. It makes a fairly big batch so have plenty of tortilla chips and a hungry crowd around.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Makes approximately 5 cups.

2 (12 ounce) boxes Stouffer's Spinach Souffle
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
Hot sauce to taste

Cook spinach souffles in microwave according to package directions. Place cooked souffles in medium bowl. Add other ingredients and stir to incorporate.

Place into two small baking dishes. (I do this so that I can replenish the buffet with a hot batch once we're through the first one.) Sprinkle with additional Parmesan Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until warmed through and slightly browned on top.

Serve with tortilla chips, pita chips or toasted bread.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

How to Use Your Leftover Black-Eyed Peas: Dirty Hoppin' John

Apparently there are a lot of us trying to figure out what to do with our leftover black-eyed peas from New Year's Day. This recipe of mine from last year is tops on Google right now. But here's another one.

I love dirty rice, so adding black-eyed peas to it ala Bobby Flay looked like a great idea. Now if only I had some fried catfish or fried oysters to go alongside...

Dirty Hoppin' John
Adapted from Food and Wine.
Makes 6-8 main course servings.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tub (20 ounces) chicken livers
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about four cloves)
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
2 cups cooked black-eyed peas (or substitute 1 can (15 ounces) black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed, or one 10-ounce box frozen black-eyed peas, thawed)
2 3/4 cups chicken stock
4 thyme sprigs (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
Lousiana hot sauce, for serving

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the chicken livers, season with salt and pepper and sauté over high heat, turning once, until nearly cooked through, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken livers to a plate and let cool slightly. Coarsely chop the livers.

Add the onion and bell pepper to the saucepan and cook over high heat, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir for 1 minute, until coated. Add the peas, stock, thyme and 11/2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender and the stock is absorbed, about 18 minutes.

Discard the thyme sprigs. Fluff the rice with a fork. Stir in the chicken livers , cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer the rice to a bowl, fluff with a fork and serve with hot sauce.

Food/Wine Pairing: Dirty rice calls for a "dirty" wine. Try an Italian Sangiovese or California Zinfandel with this one.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Making Your Own Ricotta Cheese

In reorganizing my recipe files recently, I came across several articles on making homemade ricotta cheese. It seemed simple enough, so I did it to make this wonderful appetizer last week. It's worth a try. Even though it uses an entire half gallon of milk to make 1 1/2 cups of fresh ricotta, the freshness and creaminess are worth it. I have a couple more recipes I'm going to repeat the process for soon. If blog worthy, I'll share them.

Fresh Ricotta Cheese
Makes 1 1/2 cups

8 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Line colander with four layers of cheesecloth. (I had to use paper towels in a pinch.) Set colander in sink.

Bring milk and salt to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in lemon juice. Let simmer until curds form, 1 to 2 minutes.

Using finely slotted spoon, scoop curds form pan and transfer to cheesecloth-lined colander. Let drain one minute (curds will still be a little wet). Transfer cheese to a bowl and cover. Chill until cold, about 3 hours.