Monday, August 27, 2012

Portobellos with Arugula and Parmigiano

According to Mario Batali, this dish -- Portobellos with Arugula and Parmigiano -- was one of the first dishes that he put on the menu at his restaurant, Pó, in New York City.  The recipe can still be found on the menu.  

This dish was the first dish in a three-course dinner featuring recipes by Mario Batali.  The common theme was that all of the recipes feature the use of the grill.  This recipe comes from Mario Batali's book Italian Grill.

The recipe itself is very versatile.  For example, the recipe calls for the use of anchovy paste, which I did not have when I made this dish.  I still think that the recipe worked out well even without the paste.  The combination of the grilled mushroom, the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and the lettuce makes for a light and tasty salad.  The addition of Parmigiano Reggiano completes the dish.  If you do not have any Parmigiano Reggiano, you can substitute Parmesan cheese, which will work just as well.


PORTOBELLOS WITH ARUGULA AND PARMIGIANO
Recipe from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano, at p. 28
Serves 6

Ingredients:
6 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of anchovy paste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
Generous 4 cups trimmed arugula, washed 
    and spun dry
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Coarse sea salt
Ground black pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved

Directions:
1.  Grill the mushrooms.  Preheat the gas grill or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.  Place the portobellos on the grill and cook, turning two or three times, until slightly softened, 5 to 8 minutes.  Transfer to a platter, arranging the mushrooms gill side up.

2.  Prepare the mixture.  In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the oil oil, the anchovy paste, vinegar and thyme.  Spoon the mixture evenly over the portobellos and let stand for 30 minutes. 

3.  Prepare the arugula.  In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and lemon juice.  Season with coarse see salt and pepper.

4.  Plate the dish.  Divide the arugula among six plates and top each with a mushroom.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the Parmigiano Reggiano over the salads.  Serve immediately.

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

At our wine dinner, this dish was paired with the Sobon Estate Roussanne (2011).  The wine has floral aromas, with elements of butterscotch and pear. While the wine is normally paired with seafood and poultry dishes, it worked very well with the salad.  The richness of the wine worked well with the extra virgin olive oil in the dish, along with the mushroom and Parmesan cheese. 

ENJOY!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kyklos Moschofilero (2011)

The author of the Odyssey and Illiad, Homer, once wrote described the region known today as Peloppenese as "Ampeloessa" or "full of vines."  This reference also meant that there were a lot of grapes and even more wine.  Although Homer described a land "full of vines," he did not mention the types of grapes that were growing in the region.  Homer's words, spoken and written thousands of years ago, still ring true today.  Peloppenese or Ampeloessa is still full of vines, including Moschofilero or Μοσχοφίλερο. 

Moschofilero is a white grape varietal, with a skin whose color is variously described as grey, pink or even purple.  The grape is a temperamental one, and, bad weather could easy affect a vintage.  If the conditions are right, Moschofilero grapes produce a crisp white wine, with floral aromas and a spicy tone on the palate.  Moschofilero wines often draw comparisons to Rieslings, Gewurtzraminers and Muscats, even though the grape bears no relationship to those varietals.  

I recently purchased a bottle of Kyklos Moschofilero.  The word "Kyklos" means circle, which, according to the label, is a reference to winemaker Yannis Voyatzis approach to cultivating the Moschofilero vines.  I tried to find out more information about how Voyatzis cultivates the vines; however, I was not very successful.

The wine pours a very light color.  The aroma of the wine had some floral elements, but the principal aroma was lemon and other citrus.  The wine typifies everything that I have read about Moschofilero ... a light, crisp wine that is full of citrus (lemons), melon and honeydew.

This wine could be paired with dishes much like a Spanish Albariño or a French Picpoul de Pinet.  In other words, this wine pairs best with lighter dishes, especially seafood dishes and salads.

I found this wine at a local grocery store. It sells for about $12.00 a bottle.  

ENJOY!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wine Club ... Mario Batali's Italian Grill

As followers of this blog may recall, we have hosted two wine dinners.  The first one was in November of last year, in which we prepared dishes from Frank Stitt's Bottega.  The second one was back in March of this year, when we prepared a four course dinner featuring Haitian cuisine

It is time again for Clare and me to host another wine dinner. Given it is August, and in light of our desire to enjoy the summer while it lasts, we decided that the grill should be the focus of this wine dinner.  Clare suggested that we should make some dishes from Mario Batali's Italian Grill.  Given how much we both enjoy Mario's food, that sounded like a great idea.  

The general rules for hosting a wine dinner are fairly simple.  The host couple prepares the meal within a certain budget.  Our previous dinners featured four courses, generally an appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert.  For this meal, we decided to do three courses, which would allow us to focus more on each course.

The First Course ... Portobellos with Arugula and Parmigiano.  Mario writes that this was one of the first dishes that he put on his menu at his restaurant Po, so it seems natural to begin the dinner with it.  The large portobello mushroom caps are grilled, topped with a vinegar and oil dressing with the arugula placed on top. 

The Second Course ... Chicken Thighs with Snap Peas and Agliata.  This dish features chicken thighs coated with a garlicky bread crumb mixture that are cooked slowly over the cooler part of the grill.  According to Mario, the result is juicy meat with a toasted herb crust.  The chicken thighs are served over snap peas. 

The Third Course ...  Grilled Peaches in Primitivo.  While Mario has a lot of great recipes in Italian Grill, he does not have any recipes for a dessert using the grill.  So, we decided to take one of Mario's recipes from another cookbook (Molto Mario).   The dessert is Peaches in Primativo.  Our twist is to grill the peaches before we add them to the Primitivo syrup.  

Of course, all of this is subject to change given the availability of ingredients.  Still, we are both excited about being able to close out the summer wine club dinners with an evening by Mario Batali's grill.  Until then ...

ENJOY!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Waapiti Chili

The Shawnee and Cree called it waapiti or "white rump."  These animals were not mere white-tailed deer.  They were taller, heavier and much more majestic creatures.  The waapiti bulls were crowned with a large rack of antlers, jaggedly reaching for the sky.  Traveling in herds of bulls or cows, the land of the waapiti stretched across North America, as far as their eyes could see and their legs could take them.  They could be seen meandering through forests, emerging occasionally along the edges to feast on nearby grasses.  They could also be seen climbing hills and mountains, surveying the lands for food and predators.  

They had predators, such as the Native Americans. The Cree, along with the Kootenai, Ojibwa and Pawnee hunted the waapiti for its meat, as well as its thick hides, which could be made into warm robes for colder weather.  Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest used the bones and antlers of the waapiti for their harpoons and fishing equipment.  And, for the Oglala tribe in the Great Plains, the waapiti were valued for more than their earthly contributions of meat, hide and bone.  The waapiti were considered a dominant animal spirit, associated with love, passion, strength, courage and swiftness. 

Today, waapiti -- or, as we know them, elk -- are valued for a completely different reason ... as a healthy alternative to beef.  Although the range of the elk has been drastically reduced due to hunting and loss of habitat, some farmers and herders have taken to raising herds of elk for consumption.  Raising elk stands in stark contrast to how cows are raised.  Rather than being stuffed in feedlots, elk are free-range, allowed to roam and graze on grasses and native grains.  Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in elk (as they also do in bison), and, given the free-range lifestyle, elk can live healthier lives without the need for antibiotics.  In the end, elk (and bison) provides a healthier alternative to beef, with less fat and cholesterol than feed lot beef.

I recently found that a local grocery store carried elk patties.  The ground elk meat presented an interesting challenge.  I quickly pulled out my phone and Googled possible recipes using elk.  I Immediately came across a recipe for elk chili.  It looked interesting, but I thought I could do a little more to make the dish stand out.  First, I decided to use different color bell peppers, to add color to the dish.  I chose some small red, orange and yellow bell peppers.  Second, I decided to add some jalapeno peppers, which would not only add some green to the color profile of the dish, but they would also add some heat to the chili.  Third, I decided to go a different route with respect to the beans.  Like many chili recipes (outside of Texas), the elk chili recipe called for the use of kidney beans.  Those beans are fine, but I wanted to choose the healthiest beans I could find.  I decided to use borlotti beans, which had a little more Vitamin C and Iron than the traditional kidney beans. Finally, I decided to use a little beer to make the chili.  The beer, combined with the liquid from whole tomatoes, helped to elevate the sauce for this dish. 



WAAPITI CHILI
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com
Serves 3-4
Ingredients:
1 pound of ground elk meat
1 cup of bell peppers, finely diced
4 small jalapeno peppers, finely diced
1 1/2 cup of onions, finely
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 can of whole tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon of seas salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
6-8 ounces of beer
1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1.  Brown the elk meat.   Season the meat with the salt and ground black pepper.   Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium high heat.  Add the ground elk meat and brown the meat.  Use a spatula or a spoon to break up the meat into smaller pieces as it browns.  Once the meat browns, which should take about four to five minutes, remove the meat from the pan and set aside.   Drain all but one tablespoon of the grease from the pot.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Add the onions and saute them over medium high heat for about two to three minutes.  Add the bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and the garlic.  Continue to saute the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft. 

3.  Make the chili.  Add the tomatoes, dried thyme, dried oregano, smoked paprika and brown sugar.  Also add the paste and water from the tomato can, as well as the beer.  Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer.  Return the meat to the pot.  Simmer for fifteen minutes to half an hour.   Serve immediately.

You can also add some garnish, like crumbled cheese or chopped scallions.

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

For this dish, I think a beer works best.  I drank a Heavy Seas Loose Cannon Hop3 Imperial Pale Ale with this dish.  The pairing with an Imperial Pale Ale, especially the Hop3 works very well, adding a nice hoppiness that complemented the spice in the dish. 

ENJOY!

For more information about elk, check out the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pasta Salad with Melon and Pancetta

Recently, I wanted wanted to make different dishes for my beautiful wife, Clare.  (This is just one of the many ways that she inspires my cooking hobby.)  I decided that I would try something very different ... a pasta salad.  I do not make pasta salads, which is rather odd given how much I love pasta.  I guess that, for me, pasta is always something that is served hot, with a a warm sauce.  (I would be remiss if I did not mention the meatballs and sausage.)  Cold pasta in salad form did not seem to fit into that mold.  Do not get me wrong, I eat pasta salads and really like most pasta salads.  I just never thought of making one.

Once I decided to make a pasta salad, I set off through the Internet to find a recipe that was interesting enough for me to try.  I came across a recipe from the Bon Appetit website.  The recipe called for the use of orecchiete, which is the ear-shaped pasta that originated from Puglia (or Apulia).  It also incorporated a couple of ingredients that I really like ... melon and, of course, pancetta.  The combination of pasta, melon and pancetta work very well together.  The recipe also calls for ricotta salata, a dry version of ricotta cheese, to be used like a garnish.  I could not find any ricotta salata at the store where I did my shopping; so, I decided to leave it out.  The salad still turned out very well. 


PASTA SALAD WITH MELON AND PANCETTA
Adapted from a recipe by Soa Davies in Bon Appetit (Aug. 2012)
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 to 3 ounces of pancetta
4 ounces of orecchiette pasta
Kosher salt
3 1/2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
2 cups of melon, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/3 cup of fresh mint, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons of thinly sliced scallon
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce shaved ricotta salata or crumbled feta cheese

Directions:
1. Brown the pancetta.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Arrange the pancetta in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Bake until brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.  Let the pancetta stand until cool enough to handle, then break into bite size pieces or into crumbles.

2.  Cook the pasta.  Cook pasta in medium pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally until al dente.  Drain the pasta and run under cold water to cool.  Drain and set aside.  

3.  Finish the dish.  Whisk oil and vinegar in a large bowl.  Add half of pancetta, cooked pasta, melon, half of mint, scallion and red pepper flakes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Transfewr to a serving dish and sprinkle remaining pancetta and mint over the salad. 

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

There were no recommendations provided with the recipe for pairing the dish with either beer or wine.  Given the lightness of the salad, I think that the best pairing would also be on the lighter side.  If you are looking for a beer, a light pilsner would work well.  If you are lookinf for a wine, a light white wine, such as .  Here are a couple of potential options:

Great Lakes Brewing Company -- The Wright Pils
Pilsner
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Light flavors of hops and malts

L'Ecole No. 41 -- Columbia Valley Sémillon
87% Sémillon and 13% Sauvignon Blanc
Walla Walla, Washington, USA
Flavors of apples, pear and a little melon

ENJOY!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Nefarious Ten Pin

"It takes character to brew beer with character."  So say the brewers at Ska Brewing in Durango, Colorado.  I have previously reviewed one of Ska Brewing's beers, the Decadent IPA, which had a lot of character.  The Decadent IPA is one of the "Robust Reincarnations" brewed regularly by Ska Brewing.  Another such reincarnation is the Nefarious Ten Pin Imperial Porter.

Just like the Decadent, I would buy this based on label alone (if I in fact bought beer based upon the labels).  Adorning the ska skeleton with a crown and a robe, as well as providing a mace topped with a golden pin, that image could catch my attention from across a store.  

However, no beer can be judged on the label alone; instead, the beer should be judged according to standards such as the Beer Judge Certification Program ("BCJP").  However, the BJCP does not have style standards for imperial porters such as the Nefarious Ten Pin.  The BCJP relegates imperial porters to the catch-all category of "specialty beers." 

Notwithstanding the lack of guidelines, there are expectations, which this imperial porter easily satisfies.  The Nefarious Ten Pin pours a near black color, with a thin, wispy foam that coats the surface.  The brewers describe this beer as "creamy, chocolaty sweet with hints of coffee and bing cherry."   The description is largely correct.  The roasted malts used in the brewing of this beer provides a nice coffee aroma to the beer.  The aroma also has elements of chocolate, but that element is much more prominent in the flavor.  The beer is creamy and smooth, with a good amount of chocolate flavor.  There was a sweetness to the taste of this beer, which helps it to stand out from other imperial porters.  

The brewers suggest that this beer pairs well with sweet, rich desserts, like cheesecake and chocolate.  Others offer some more interesting pairings, such as pizza and Thai cuisine. I am not sure that any imperial porter goes well with either pizza or Thai cuisine, but pairing often turns on individual senses and preferences.  

In any event, this beer has limited distribution east of the Mississippi.  I have been able to find it at beer stores in Chicago, but not in any stores further east.  Still, if you see a bottle, it is worth a try, even if you do not pair it with pizza.  

ENJOY!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Grilled Beef Heart with Herbed Viniagrette

As I continue my culinary journeys, there are a few people who I follow.  One of those individuals is Michael Ruhlman. Michael is an author, food writer and blogger.  He is one of the writers behind Thomas Keller's cookbooks.  However, Michael has several cookbooks of his own, including Ruhlman's Twenty.  The fact that Ruhlman is from and promotes Cleveland, where I grew up, is just another reason to listen to what he has to say.

One (of many) Ruhlman's recipes that I have wanted to make is his Grilled Beef Heart with Herbed Vinaigrette.  As I continue to expand my cooking knowledge and skills, I have become particularly interested in cooking with ingredients that are a little out of the ordinary. Offal constitutes a category of such ingredients.  Brains, hearts, kidneys, livers and more.  I recently discovered that a local grocery store carried beef hearts, so I bought a two and one-half pound heart, pulled up Ruhlman's recipe and began to cook with this ingredient for the first time.

Beef heart is a relatively healthy choice for someone looking to cook beef.  It has less fat than most other cuts of beef, and it is packed with protein.  Beef heart contains several B vitamins, lycopene, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, selenium and zinc.  Beef heart also has Coenzyme Q10, which is said to boost energy levels, help improve the immune system and act as an antioxidant.  Coenzyme Q10 is also believed to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure and help prevent heart disease.  That's right, eating beef heart may help improve your heart ... or so they say.  It is important to note that beef heart, like other organ meat, does have a lot amount of cholesterol.  (I tried to figure out the levels of good and bad cholesterol in beef heart; however, I was not successful in that endeavor.)

Overall, this is a great recipe.  The grilled beef heart was delicious, but the vinaigrette really put the dish over the top. 


GRILLED BEEF HEART WITH HERBED VINIAGRETTE
Recipe adapted from one by Michael Ruhlman
Serves 6

Ingredients (for the beef heart):
1 beef heart, trimmed and cut into slices or chunks
1/2 large shallot, chopped or diced
Salt, as needed
Black pepper, as needed
Olive oil, as needed
Arugula or Spinach, one handful per serving

Ingredients (for the herbed vinaigrette):
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1/2 large shallot, minced
1 tablespoon of oregano, parsley, chives or 
     1 tablespoon of basil, parsley and rosemary
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1.  Marinate the beef heart.  Liberally salt and pepper the beef heart, add the shallot and oil.  Toss the ingredients to combine.  Refrigerate the beef for at least one hour and up to overnight.

2.  Prepare the vinaigrette. Combine the vinegar, shallot and salt.  Let sit for five to ten minutes.  Stir in the herbs.

3.  Cook the beef heart.  Grill the beef over hot coals or over high heat on a gas grill.  Thread the pieces on water-soaked skewers.   Grill the beef heart for two to three minutes on each side for medium rare (maybe one to two minutes if the pieces are smaller).

4.  Plate the dish.  Arrange the arugula or spinach on a plate, top with the beef heart and spoon some of the vinaigrette over the beef heart. 

PAIRING THIS DISH

There is not a lot out there about pairing beef heart with either wine or beer.  And, I have to admit that when I ate this dish, I did not drink a beer or wine with it.  So, it is fairly hard for me to suggest a pairing.  Nevertheless, I think that there are a couple of obvious suggestions. Just as red wine pairs well with beef, a red wine -- such as a Pinot Noir or a Chianti -- could pair well with this dish.

ENJOY!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin's La Grande Dame (1998)

Veuve. Cliquot. Ponsardin.  Three words with a lot of history behind them.  The Champagne house was founded in 1772 by Philippe Cliquot-Muiron in Reims, France.  The Champagne house passed on to Philippe's son, Francois Cliquot.   François married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin in 1798.  After François passed away in 1805, the Veuve Cliquot company -- which was involved in banking, wool trading and, of course, Champagne -- was in the hands of Madame Cliquot Ponsardin, a "veuve" or "widow" in French.  Hence, Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin.

After taking control of the company, Madame Cliquot Ponsardin focused on winning over the nobility, sending much of the Champagne to royal courts throughout Europe, as far away as Russia.  (Over one quarter of the Champagne production in 1805, the year during which Madame Cliquot Ponsardin took over the house, was sent to Russia.)  The Champagne won the favor of the royal houses, helping to boost the image of Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin as one of the premier Champagnes in the world.  Such royal approval continues today, with Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin holding a royal warrant of Queen Elizabeth II in Great Britain. (For those -- like me -- who may not know what is a royal warrant, it is simply a designation that allows companies to advertise they supply goods or services to a royal family.)

Madame Cliquot Ponsardin
Madame Cliquot Ponsardin also made several important contributions to the Champagne making process.  Working with the cellar master, Antoine de Müller, Madame Cliquot Ponsardin invented the riddling rack in 1816.  The rack allows Champagne bottles to be stored upside down (or sur point).  This allows the dead yeast to gather near the cork.  The yeast are then frozen and the plug is removed, which is the process known as dégorgement.  A small amount of wine is added, the wine is re-corked and then aged.  This rack allowed for the transformation of Champagne.  Prior to the invention of riddling and the riddling rack, Champagne was a sweeter wine, with large bubbles and sediment in the bottle.  Based upon her accomplishments and the success of the Champagne house, Madame Cliquot Ponsardin was often referred to as "La Grande Dame" by her peers.

Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin memorialized that title in 1969, when it produced the first La Grande Dame to honor Nicole-Barbe Cliquot Ponsardin.  The 1998 vintage of the wine is made with 64% Pinot Noir (Ay, Verzenay, Verzy, Ambonnay and Bouzy) and 36% Chardonnay (Avize, Oger, Mesnil-sur-Oger). The grapes come from Lot 510 2572, and désgorgement took place between December 2006 and January 2007.

The reviews of La Grande Dame set the bar very high.  For example, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate describes the Champagne as follows: "The 1998 La Grande Dame reveals notable clarity and precision. This focused, poised wine emerges from the glass with well-articulated flowers, pears, smoke, crisp apples and minerals in a medium-bodied style. The wine appears to have enough freshness and sheer depth to support another decade or so of aging."  That is a very impressive description.

It is not only very impressive, but also very accurate.  The pictures do not do justice to this Champagne.  La Grande Dame has a light golden color, and, as the wine sits in the glass, there are continuous streams of perfectly sized beads of bubbles race from the bottom of the glass to the top. As for the aroma, the winemaker describes La Grande Dame as having "typical Chardonnay characteristics" at the fore, "with the arrival of floral and mineral aromas (acacia, ferns, chalk)." After agitating the wine, the winemaker suggests "scents of candied fruit (citrus, apricots, quince) and sweet almond emerge..."  If one keeps agitating the wine, "rare notes such as peaty malt, tobacco and delicate herbs, are gradually unveiled."

I have to admit that I did not get all of those aromas from La Grande Dame, partly due to the fact that I did not want to sit around agitating the wine.  I wanted to get to tasting it.  Before I took a sip, I did get the sense of pears and apples, as well as some floral and a little mineral elements.  As for the flavors of the wine, I found that La Grande Dame was crisp, full of a bright, tart citrus flavors, such as grapefruit, which were accompanied by other fruits, including pears and apples, along with a little spice or mineral on the edges.

As for pairing this wine, once could certainly just enjoy La Grande Dame on its own without any food.  However, I wanted to see if I could pair it with a recipe or a dish.  After a lot of research, I paired this Champagne with Seared Sea Scallops with an Carrot-Orange Gastrique and Pureed Cauliflower.  This pairing originated with a blog post, Brigadoon with Bubbles: A Veuve Cliquot Brunch, where one of the courses was a Seared Diver Scallops with Carrot Orange Gastrique and Parmesan Pancetta Crisp.  I modified the dish by eliminating the crisp and adding the cauliflower puree.  I wanted to turn what was an appetizer into a main course.  Even with these changes, the pairing still worked very well.

I have tried and enjoyed many great wines from around the world.  La Grande Dame (1998) stands as the best Champagne that I have ever had.  If you have a chance to try this wine, do not pass on that opportunity.

ENJOY!

For more about Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin, La Grande Dame, and Madame Cliquot Ponsardin, check out the VCP's website and Wikipedia.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Seared Sea Scallops with Carrot-Orange Gastrique and Cauliflower Puree

For my 40th birthday, a friend gave me a very special gift.  Knowing that I enjoy fine wine, he gave me a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin's La Grande Dame (1998).  He said that, in his opinion, La Grand Dame was the best French Champagne, with perfect strands of bubbles.  My friend gave me the wine with one "condition," that I enjoy the wine rather than simply storing it in my basement or a cellar.   After thanking him profusely, I said that I should have no problem with that "condition."  I had immediately planned on sharing it with my beautiful Angel, Clare.

Soon thereafter, I began thinking about whether I could pair the La Grande Dame with  food.  In particular, I wanted to make a special dish that could be presented with the wine.  I began to research possible pairings with cuisines and ingredients.   I found a web post called Brigadoon with Bubbles: A Veuve Cliquot Brunch.  The author/blogger described a multiple course brunch that was paired with Veuve Cliquot wines.  The one dish that caught my attention was the Scallop, Orange and Carrot Gastrique with a Parmesan Pancetta Crisp.  That dish was specifically paired with the La Grande Dame (1998).  According to the writer, "the pairing worked beautifully."  So, I had my recipe.  The only problem was that I did not have a recipe.  The author/blogger only described eating the dish, not how the dish was prepared.

I now had a challenge ... to create a recipe based solely on the name of the dish.   The name has three components ... scallops, a carrot/orange gastrique and the Parmesan pancetta crisp.  Given Clare does not eat meat, I decided to forgo the Parmesan pancetta crisp.  I also decided to replace that component with a cauliflower puree.  The puree would give me a base upon which the scallops could be placed.  As for the remaining components, the scallops had to be seared and I had to make a carrot and orange gastrique. 

I now had a problem ... I had never made a gastrique before.  Generally speaking, a gastrique is a sauce made from caramelized sugar that is deglazed with vinegar.  It is a combination of sweet and sour (or tart), that is often enhanced with other flavor components, such as fresh fruit, herbs or, in my case, carrot and orange juice.  I dutifully studied "how-to-make gastrique" pages in preparation for making this dish.  And, although I wanted to do a couple "test-runs," I decided that I would go ahead and make it for the pairing.  Truth be told, I really wanted to try the La Grande Dame and, given the fact that I have not been cooking as much as I used to, I did not want to have to wait for the opportunities to try making gastriques.

In the end, everything worked out well, with one exception.  The scallops seared well, the gastrique was very good, and the puree, which Clare made, was very good.  That last bit is significant because I am not a fan of cauliflower, but Clare did a great job.  The one thing I need to work on, as you can see from the picture below, is my presentation.  Well, I guess I need to have something to work on....


SEARED SEA SCALLOPS WITH CARROT-ORANGE GASTRIQUE
AND CAULIFLOWER PUREE
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the Sea Scallops):
About 1 pound of sea scallops
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Ingredients (for the Carrot-Orange Gastrique):
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of water
1 pound of carrots
1 orange (Valencia)
2 cups water
1/2 cup of white wine vinegar

Ingredients (for the Cauliflower Puree)
2 pounds of cauliflower
1/4 cup of skim milk
3 tablespoons of utter
Garlic powder

Directions:
1.  Prepare the Carrot-Orange Juice.  Rinse the carrots and cut into pieces.  Puree the carrots in a food processor or a blender.  Add a tablespoon of water if the carrots are a little dry.  Remove the carrot puree to a large bowl and add two cups of hot water.  Let it the puree sit and steep for fifteen to thirty minutes.  Then strain the puree and set aside the juice.  Add the juice of one orange to the carrot juice.  Stir the juices and set aside.

2.  Prepare the Cauliflower Puree.  Steam the cauliflower florets in a steamer for about twenty to twenty-five minutes.  Remove the florets and place in a blender.  Add the butter and milk.  Blend the cauliflower until it is a smooth puree.

3.  Prepare the gastrique.  Add the sugar and water to a small, non-reactive saucepan.  Heat the mixture over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves and begins to bubble.  Watch the sugar mixture very carefully as it begins to caramelize.  You want to the mixture to have a nice golden color.  Once that color is achieved, add the vinegar.  Do not add it in a slow stream; add the vinegar quickly.  The sugar will harden, but it dissolve again as the mixture cooks.  Once the sugar has re-dissolved, add the carrot/orange juice.  Begin by adding one-half cup.  Taste the mixture to determine its tartness.  Keep adding the carrot/orange juice until you have added at most two cups.  If the mixture is still too tart, you can add a little more sugar.  Once you have the taste you want, continue to cook the gastrique until it is reduced and thickens a little.

4.  Sear the scallops.  Heat the oil on high heat in a pan.  Add the scallops and cook on high heat for about four or five minutes (depending upon the size of the scallops).  Flip the scallops and continue to cook about three to four minutes more.

5.  Plate the dish.  Spoon the cauliflower puree on the center of the dish. Plate four to five scallops over the puree.  Spoon the gastrique over the scallops and around the sides of the puree.

In the end, this was a great dish.  I will definitely make it again.

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

This dish was made for a special wine, Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin's La Grande Dame (1998), so I highly recommend that wine as the natural pairing for this dish.  However, it is a very expensive wine, so if you do not want to spend that much money on a wine, consider a French Champagne or sparkling wine.

ENJOY!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Moqueca Baiana

Recently, I was looking for a new fish dish to make for my beautiful wife, Clare.  I wanted a recipe that was easy, but, at the same time, was interesting enough to grab my attention.  More specifically, I was looking for a dish from another country, one which has a little story behind it.  I found that dish ... and it comes out of Brazilian cuisine.

The dish is called Moqueca or Muqueca.  Although generally referred to as a "seafood stew, " many recipes actually produce a fish stew.  The recipes call for the use of white fleshed fish as the principal ingredient and, inevitably, at the end, they suggest that as "variations," one could use or add lobster shrimp, scallops, or other seafood. 

What makes this dish fascinating is that there are two versions -- Moqueca Capixaba and Moqueca Baiana -- and each of the versions is a nod to the different influences upon Brazilian cuisine.  The Capixaba version is made principally in Southern Brazil, in the state of Espirito Santo.  This version features the influences of Brazil's indigenous peoples.  It is the simpler of the two Moquecas, with fish roasted on banana leaves over hot coals.  By contrast, the Moqueca Baiana is the version made in the northern state of Bahia.  This version is heavily influenced by the African populations in Brazil.  It uses palm oil and a base of coconut milk, which create a flavorful broth for the mixture of vegetables (onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and chiles) and a nice buttery flavor that complements the fish. 

I decided to make Moqueca Baiana, although I changed the recipe in a couple small respects.  First, I did not have any dende oil (or palm oil), so I just omitted that ingredient.  Second, I did not have any the requisite chiles.  The recipe calls for malagueta peppers, which are fiery, red peppers that are widely used in Portuguese-influenced cuisines, which includes the cuisines of Brazil and Mozambique.  The peppers actually go by separate names, depending upon their maturity when they are picked.  If the peppers are a small size when picked, they are known as malaguetinha in Brazil or "piri-piri" in Portugal.  If the peppers are allowed to mature and reach a larger size, they are called malaguetão in Brazil or malagueta in Portugal.  Given the recipe calls for malagueta peppers, I presume that the larger peppers are supposed to be used.  However, I did not have any fresh or dried malagueta peppers, I only had ground piri piri peppers.  I decided that I wanted to use fresh chiles and keep the heat in check since I was making the dish for my wife.  I went with a couple of serrano chiles, which have a lower rating on the Scoville Scale than the malagueta peppers.  I also chose serrano chiles because I thought that the diced chiles would add a nice green fleck to the combination of red tomatoes, orange bell pepper and yellow bell pepper.  For once, I was thinking of the presentation.

Finally, the dish calls for "white fleshed fish."  This general description covers a wide range of fish, including cod, haddock, hake, and pollock.  The local store had limited options for white fish, offering only hake.  Generally speaking, populations of hake in some areas, such as the in the northern Atlantic Ocean, are doing okay, while they are overfished and struggling in other areas, such as in the Atlantic Ocean around the Carolinas.  Of course, the store did not specify where the fish was caught; instead, it just stuck a yellow fish sticker on the sign.  I begrudgingly bought some hake, which worked especially well with this dish. 


MOQUECA BAIANA
Recipe from Whats4Eats
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds of white-fleshed fish, cut into chunks
2 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of oil
2 onions, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, diced
1-3 chile (malagueta) peppers
3 cups of tomatoes, peeled and seeded
2 cups of coconut milk
2 tablespoons of dende oil (optional)

Directions:
1.  Marinate the fish.  Toss the fish, lime juice and salt together in a large, non-reactive bowl and set aside to marinate for about 30 minutes.

2.  Saute the onions, peppers and tomatoes.  Heat the oil in a medium sized pot over medium flame.  Add the onions and peppers.  Saute until hte onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and chile peppers, saute for an additional minute.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes more to cook them down.

3.  Add the coconut milk and fish.   Stir in the coconut milk and the fish with its marinadse.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low.  Simmer gently for about 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.  Adjust the seasoning.  Stir in the dende oil.  

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

If you are looking for a good pairing, one website suggests an oaked Chardonnay wine (that is, a Chardonnay that has been aged in oaked barrels) pairs well with dishes that use coconut milk.  I have reviewed one Chardonnay that was aged in oak barrels, which may go with this recipe (although I have to admit that I am not sure):

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard -- Chardonnay (2010)
100% Chardonnay
Comus, Maryland, USA
Flavors of pear and apple

ENJOY!
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