Saturday, February 27, 2010

Carrot and Ginger Risotto

Yesterday was one of those rare days when I had nothing to do.  A friend who was coming to stay with us last night ended up changing his plans, and since I had requested the day off from work anyway, I ended up with the afternoon and evening free.  With the luxury of time, I decided to try my hand at Thomas Keller's soffritto recipe from the Ad Hoc Cookbook.  It's a great book filled with tons of practical recipes that you can actually make at home, but many of them take a lot of time to do them justice.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity, and one that wouldn't likely come again anytime soon.

A soffritto is any combination of slowly fried vegetables commonly used in Italian and Latin American cooking.  The most basic recipe includes onions and olive oil, but tomatoes seem to be a common theme as well.  Many Latin American soffrittos also include peppers, both sweet and spicy, as well as a variety of other seasonings.  Italian versions are often made with celery and carrots in addition to onions.  I had some carrots and a little ginger root in the fridge, so I thought, why not?  It's a common enough flavor combination that always yields delicious results.

The trick to a proper soffritto is to cook the veggies in a little bit of oil at as low a heat as possible for a really long time on the stove top.  Keller's recipe suggests five hours!  The vegetables eventually give up their water in the the bath of slowly simmering oil, becoming more concentrated.  After several hours, they caramelize and form a richly flavored paste.  Keller suggests making a big batch of it and freezing it or keeping it in the fridge for use over the course of a week.  The depth of flavor that it added to my risotto was remarkable.  Read on for the recipe...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Copertino Riserva, Cantina Sociale Cooperativa

Step into a time machine and go back 50 years or more, and you'll have the same experience as drinking a glass of this wine from Copertino Riserva by Cantina Sociale Cooperativa.  They have been making wine since the 1930's and I'm certain that their methods haven't changed much since then.  I found this bottle refreshing in its rustic charm and excellent with our meal last night.  I'm tasting it now after it's been open for about twelve hours and it's holding up quite nicely, and for the price at around $12, it's a heck of a bottle.

Copertino is a small town in the province of Puglia, which is located on the heel of the boot of Italy.  Puglia has lately gained some recognition for inexpensive, but characterful wines.  Primitivo, Negroamora, and Malvasia Nera are all grown there in great quantities in fertile soils with plenty of warm weather and sun.  These are all ancient grapes that it is theorized were planted by the Romans.  The climate makes the Southern part of Italy suitable for bulk production of wines, but a few estates are doing some interesting things with keeping yields low coupled with modern wine-making technology.

What this bottle represents to me is tradition.  Wine cooperatives are common in Italy because it is expensive to own and operate presses, fermentation equipment, barrels, and bottling lines.  Grape growers have often inherited ancient vineyards sites and usually don't have enough money, time, or interest to make their own wines.  What often happens is that they band together, have a big party, and make wine together every year.  Cooperative wines are often not great, but this one, in my opinion, is an exception to the norm.

The 2001 is made mostly from Negroamaro (the name means black and bitter) with a splash of Malvasia Nera added for perfume.  The color is a beautiful  ruddy ruby red with some browning around the edges, showing its age of nine years now.  The opaqueness of the core suggests that is lightly filtered if at all, which gives it an interesting thick texture when you drink it.  On the nose there are aromas of black cherry, cranberry, black olives, licorice, carraway, rooibos tea, game, autumn leaves, and woodsy spices.  It's a wine that I could smell all day and find something a little different each time.

Fabulously Fierce Friends, Kate

CQ writes: To a certain degree, your friends define who you are.  You identify with them and admire them for their best traits and often take on the characteristics that you admire in them.  This series will profile some of the amazing people that I have met over my years in music and the food service industry.  I'd like to share with you how fantastic they are. Starting on the first Friday in February, I will publish a different Fabulously Fierce Friend's answers to a standardized list of questions along with a little of their backgrounds.  I think you will enjoy reading their responses as much as I have, and maybe even learn a little something along the way too.

Kate writes: Kate putters around her kitchen with her dogs on a mountain in Montana. When she is not procrastinating, she is writing a book about sailing outlaws in the 1980s.

cq: 1. Who are your role models - food related or otherwise?

kate: Leonard Bernstein for creativity, my grandmother for cooking and handicrafts.

cq: 2. What is your drink of choice?

kate: Right now, Campari, tonic and grapefruit juice.

cq: 3. What is your favorite cookbook or other food related book?

kate: American Jewish Cookbook published 1954.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Classic Caesar Salad

The weather outside is frightful, but my roasted chicken dinner with Caesar Salad is delightful.  After all of the amazing gourmet experiences I've been having lately, and all of those I'm sure to have on my upcoming trip to Seattle, I felt that a night of cooking comfort food and Olympic watching was in order.  Chicken of course is one of my favorites, but I seldom eat salads, especially in the winter.  The Romaine lettuce was calling out to me at the market this afternoon, so the idea of a Caesar Salad came to mind.  I haven't made it in ages, and I decided it was high time to have one.  I'm glad I did because it was delicious.

There are a couple of accounts of how the Caesar came into existence.  My favorite is that it was invented by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana in the 1920's.  Having run out of ingredients at his popular restaurant, he improvised the salad tableside for his guests.  The best Caesar dressing is made to order and can be amazingly delicious.  I learned how to make the dressing from a wonderful chef years ago during a brief stint at a restaurant that closed shortly after it opened.  What I took away in knowledge could fill a book though.  It was a tremendous learning experience, and now I can make a killer Caesar.  Read on for my recipe...

Rialto, Cambridge, MA

I don't have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to write about how wonderful my meal was last night.  It certainly will go down in my memory as one of the best meals I have had.  The food, service, ambiance, and attention to detail all combined to make for a fantastic experience from start to finish at Jody Adam's Cambridge restaurat, Rialto at the Charles Hotel.

I arrived there at around 5:45 and found a cozy bar stool in the corner to wait for Dan to join me.  I had initially only planned on attending their complimentary wine tasting, which takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 on Wednesdays.  Dan and I were going to eat a light bite at the bar after he finished up his teaching from their affordable bar menu, but I decided that having a meal in the dining room was long overdue, being that Rialto is such a mainstay in the Boston/Cambridge culinary scene.  My birthday is coming up soon, so I figured a little impromptu splurge dining experience could be justified.

I had met Brad Nugent, sommelier, earlier in the day at the Austrian wine tasting event that day.  I was at once reminded of how small Boston is.  Brad was congenial and solicitous, asking about my trip to the museum earlier that afternoon and pouring me two tastes of wine: Crios Torrontes and Torbreck Shiraz.  Both of the wines were tasty, and I couldn't believe that this is offered every Wednesday for free.  Some complimentary appetizers arrived, and a few minutes later, chef Jody Adams herself came over.

Roni Horn at ICA, Boston

Yesterday was another gloomy and rainy New England winter day.  I almost didn't go to the ICA here in Boston to see the Roni Horn aka Roni Horn exhibit because of the awful weather, but I certainly am glad that I did brave the elements afterall.  In fact, I think I may have enjoyed the show even more because of the weather.  It was a fantastic collection of sculpture, photography, paintings, and poetry all by the artist, Roni Horn.

Horn is an American artist born in the 50's here in New York.  She is a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and now splits her time between New York and Iceland.  Her work is largely concerned with identity and the experience of the here and now.  Her work has been shown the world over and her works have earned her quite a bit of recognition in art circles.

I could give you a detailed description of the pieces that I saw, but I feel that it would defeat the purpose of the artist's work.  I think what she really wanted was for me to use her works as a mirror for what was going on inside myself while I was walking through the show.  Her photographs, paintings, blocks of pink glass, and giant ant farm were all hugely minimalistic and didn't offer much to analyze in terms of content or construction other than the obvious.  Instead, I spent the afternoon pondering in a meditative state focusing on the feelings evoked within myself by the art.  I hope I didn't miss the point of the show, but the dreary weather put me in that sort of mood.  Plus, I am a huge Romantic after all...

Austrian Wine Tasting: Wines of Rudi Pichler, Stadt Krems, and Paul Achs

About a month ago I received an invitation through the Boston Sommelier Society to attend a tasting of Austrian wines.  I immediately replied that I would love to be there since Austrian wines are some of my favorites and it's tough to find really good ones in retail shops because they are still considered obscure and come at a premium.  Trade tasting are often tedious because of the amount of people in attendance and the dearth of quality wine shown, but I will hand it to Winebow and MS Walker for putting on a nicely orchestrated, organized and informative event with plenty of great wine to taste.  The delicious free lunch from Eastern Standard didn't hurt either!

For the most part, Austria produces its best wines from two grapes: Gruner Veltliner and Riesling.  I love Riesling and Gruner has enjoyed a little bit of a cult wine status here in the Boston restaurant scene over the past ten years.  There is a handful of red being produced from Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, and Pinot Noir, but these are rare and typically very earthy and sometimes very tannic when compared to domestic wines at the same price point.  The reds, though very good, are vastly unappreciated and misunderstood in the American market, therefore, it follows that I must like them.

The afternoon began with a lecture given by Fritz Miesbauer, Rudi Pichler, and Paul Achs.  The three spoke about their wines and led a tasting of six wines that they felt best showcased their individual view points of the terroir and wines from their production.  Their eloquence and candor charmed the audience and I think everyone in attendance enjoyed the wines put in front of us immensely.  All three winemakers were clearly passionate about their wines and their home of Austria.  I was particularly struck with the message they were delivering about wine and place, each speaking in detail about the soil content of their vineyard sites and the aspect of the hillsides.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Matt's Makkhani Murghi

CQ writes: Matt and I went to high school together years ago.  We both pursued musical careers as performers and ended up doing different things with our lives. Who knew that we would also both grow up to be such food lovers? Here is a recipe he recently posted on Facebook that he agreed to let me re-post here. I hope you enjoy it, as I know I will.

Matt's Makkhani Murghi

For years I went to my local Indian buffet thinking that what they called Chicken Tikki Masala was what I wanted. I had experimented with recipes over the years and been sadly disappointed. Recently, I came across a recipe for Butter Chicken that sounded very much like what I was looking for. I even learned that it was often mislabeled as Tikki Masala!

So after trying out an initial recipe and somewhat liking it I hit the internet and every Indian cookbook I could put my hands on. What follows is what I consider to be what I have been after all these years. It is lengthy, but there are things you can make ahead like the marinade and tomato puree and your spice blends. Marinate one day. Broil the next. Make the Tomato Gravy the day after that and assemble.

Chef Rick Ryan's Chipotle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chipotle Chocolate Chip Cookies
(one of my favorite recipes for a dark and smokey chocolate treat)

2 Cups AP Flour
1/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Chipotle Powder

(mix all dry together)

2 Sticks Butter softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

(cream butter and sugar then add remaining ingredients)

Add dry mixture to wet then add in chocolate chips

11.5 oz package chocolate chips

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes

Enjoy and watch the heat!

Chef Rick Ryan owns Doris and Dixie

Di Lenardo, "TOH!" Tocai Friulano

I'm drinking a little Tocai Friulano tonight with my take-out dinner while watching the Winter Olympics.  What a great way to unwind after my work week!  Today was my "Friday" and I was ready for a glass of wine and some tube time.  I picked it out of the fridge because I knew it would be crisp, refreshing, and immediately enjoyable, and I certainly was not disappointed.  In fact, I really enjoyed this inexpensive bottle, and it served its purpose quite nicely.

Tocai is a commonly planted grape in the North-Eastern part of Italy.  It has nothing to do with Tokaji, the famous sweet wine of Hungary, though they sound the same when spoken.  It may, however, be one in the same with Sauvignon Vert, a less-refined cousin of Sauvignon Blanc.  I buy into the theory mainly because the common aroma of grapefruit and the usually citrus flavored palete remind me of some of the great wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume made from its cousin, Sauvignon Blanc.  Tocai is just a little more understated and does not usually have the level of complexity that these benchmark Loire wines are known for.

The region of Friuli is incredibly dynamic and there are many grape varietals growing there; both red and white as well as international and local varietals.  Winemakers are much further ahead of the curve than many of the winemakers of the rest of Italy and many other parts of the world for that matter.  They take full advantage of the latest in wine-making techniques, a school of thought led by the great Mario Schiopetto who revolutionized white wine-making the world over from his home in Northern Italy.  For example, Di Lenardo used pneumatic presses to make this particular Tocai.  It's a device that slowly and gently crushes the grapes to ensure purity in the juice.  Champagne is another wine that uses gentle crushing, often by pneumatic press, to make only the best quality wines.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Banh Mi, Where have been all my life?

Have you ever had a Banh mi?  I hadn't until today, when I went on a hunt for them in Boston's Chinatown.  I was inspired by a conversation about them with my friend, Annie, who I just went to Portland with.  We were talking about charcuterie, and Banh mi came up.  She was waxing on quite poetically about them, and I was embarrassed that I had never heard of them before.  She filled me in that they are Vietnamese sandwiches that are made with various lunch meats, pates, mayonnaise, pickled vegetables, and cilantro.  In fact, you can fill them with a myriad of all sorts of different delicious things.  They were invented when the French occupied Vietnam as a result of the two cultures coming together to make possibly the most delicious lunch you'll ever hope to eat.

I took the T down to the Boylston street stop and walked a couple of blocks to the intersection of Beach and Washington where there are three Banh mi places on a single block.  I picked up a sandwich at each of them for comparison and took them to work as a surprise for my friends.  Annie, Beth (the pastry ninja), and I all ate them together at family meal and compared notes.  I cut each sandwich into three parts and put a piece of each on separate plates.  It was fun talking about them together and we ended up liking each one for different reasons.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Adriano" Red by Ramos Pinto

Portuguese non-fortified red and white wines are off the radar for most folks.  For almost everyone, Port is the only wine associated with a country that is rich and varied in its offerings for the Å“nophile.  For that very reason, you can find some pretty amazing bargains when it comes to the $10 and under category if you know what you're looking for.  I don't know about you, but I'm very pleased if I can find a wine that is good enough for everyday consumption that comes in at a price that I can afford to drink a couple of times a week.  That's why I was so excited to discover "Adriano" Red made by the venerable Port house, Ramos Pinto on my last wine shopping excursion.

I have a feeling that part of the reason Portuguese reds are so misunderstood and under appreciated is because they are made from grapes that we Americans have a hard time pronouncing.  Because of our country's labeling laws, we tend to order wine in restaurants and shop for it in stores by looking for our favorite varietal: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, etc.  You won't see these varietals in Portuguese wines at all.  Instead you'll see difficult to pronounce and spell regions like Duoro, Alentenjo, and Estramadura and obscure varietals like Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz.  Indeed, the "Adriano" red is made from a blend of these three grapes, and it's named for the region it comes from, the Duoro.  These factors work against the consumer as obstacles between them and the cash register in an unassisted sales environment.

What the Portuguese and their wines do have going for them is a lot of farming know-how, a rich wine-making culture, relatively cheap labor, and a new interest from foreign investment.  In the case of Ramos Pinto's "Adriano" Red, the folks in sales make things a lot more appealing to the consumer by designing beautiful, even sexy, packaging and creating an easy name that just about anyone can comfortably pronounce.  The price certainly doesn't hurt either.  I snatched up 6 bottles on sale at my favorite wine shop for $6 each!  In all honesty, it would be a bargain at twice the price, but I'm not telling my friends at the liquor store.