Friday, March 28, 2014

Mushroom Bolognese

When one thinks of a Bolognese, it is a sauce made with onions, celery, tomatoes and cheese, with meat.  Beef, pork or lamb.  One never thinks of a vegetarian Bolognese and a vegan Bolognese gives me the shivers.  A true Bolognese has been on my short list of dishes to make.  However, because Clare does not eat beef, pork or lamb, that dish has to wait for a night when I am only cooking for myself.  

In the meantime, I decided that I would make a Bolognese recipe that Clare would eat.  I found a recipe by Sarah Grueneberg, a Top Chef contestant, which provided a good starting point.  The one thing that caught my attention was the use of a variety of ingredients at the outset ... not just onions, carrots and celery (which are usually found in Bolognese sauces), but also parsnips and turnips.   Grueneberg's recipe also calls for the use of dried porcini mushrooms and king oyster mushrooms.  The latter mushrooms are chopped with the vegetable mixture, while the former provide the "meat" in the dish.

I decided to alter the dish in a few ways.  First, there was the mushrooms.  Rather than use porcini and king oyster mushrooms, I used a combination of portobello, oyster and shiitake mushrooms.  I decided to use half with the vegetable mixture and keep half sliced to serve with the pasta.  The substitution of these mushrooms for the porcini created another issue.  This led to the second substitution.  Grueneberg relied upon the water from rehydrating the porcini for the sauce.  I needed something in place of that liquid.  This was not really a problem at all.  I used about 1 cup of vegetable stock in place of the porcini water.

The third substitution involves the pasta.  Grueneberg uses spaghetti in her recipe.  When it comes to a Bolognese, I think that a flat pasta is better, because it shows off all of the elements in the sauce.   Fettuccine would work well with this recipe; however, if you can find pappardelle, that is the pasta of choice.  Its wide flat noodles provide the most space for the Bolognese sauce to cling to the pasta. 

Finally, the recipe calls for the use of 1/2 cup of wine.  Given that I was making a Bolognese sauce, a wine from Emilia-Romagna -- the region where Bologna is located -- would have been the ideal choice.  I could not put my hands on a non-sparking wine from the region, such as a Sangiovese di Romagna.  So, I went with a Sangiovese wine that is a lot easier to find ... a Chianti Classico from Tuscany.

Adapted from a recipe by Sarah Grueneberg 
and available at Food & Wine
and some other recipes

1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
1 medium parsnip, chopped
1/2 small turnip, chopped
3 ounces of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces of portobello mushrooms, sliced
3 ounces of oyster mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine (preferably Sangiovese)
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1 1/2 pounds of pappardelle (or fettuccine)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1. Prepare the vegetable base.  Pulse the onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, turnip and one-half of the mushrooms in a food processor until finely chopped  In a large pot, heat the oil.  Add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 20 minutes. 

2. Make the Bolognese sauce.  Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the wine and red pepper, and cook until the wine evaporates.  Add the vegetable stock, cover partially and cook over low heat, stirring until thick, about another 25 minutes.  Add the cream, rosemary and 1/4 cup of grated cheese and simmer for 5 minutes. 

3. Cook the pasta.  Heat a pot with salted water until it boils.  Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.  (Generally, dried pasta takes several minutes while fresh pasta only takes about 1 to 2 minutes.)

4.  Finish the dish.  Add the warm pasta, butter and 1 cup of water to the sauce and toss, stirring until the pasta is well coated.  Serve immediately.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Skouras Anassa (2012)

It can be a little daunting when it comes to Greek wine.  For starters, There is some degree of intimidation in the names of the grapes. Agiorghitiko. Mavrodaphne. Tsaoussi.  Moschofilero.  Those names have often left my tongue tied.  When I was recently making Galopoúla me Dendrolivano for my beautiful Angel, I needed a Greek wine to use in the dish (and, of course, to pair with afterwards).  I perused the Greek wine at a local grocery store and found the Skouras Anassa, which is a blend of a familiar grape and a less familiar one.

Skouras started in 1986 in Pyrgela, Aros, and it has worked with both indigenous and international grape varietals.  The Anassa represents that combination of local and international, because it is a blend of 70% Moschofilero and 30% Viognier.  The emphasis on Moschofilero provides this wine with its Greek character, as that grape is well known for its floral aromas and spicy tones, while the Viognier contributes some fruit, such as pears and peaches, as well as minerality to the taste of the wine.

When it comes to Anassa, it pours a very light, pale color.  The wine is described as being a medium bodied white wine with  aromas of ripe apricot, citrus and orange peel, finishing with a clean, crisp finish.  As for myself, I could sense the citrus and even some apple in the aroma.  Those apples carry over to the taste of the wine, which also included bright lemons and some slate.  The citrus somewhat mellowed as the wine warmed up, leaving the minerality (that is, the slate) to shine through as the finish brings a tart bite on the tongue.  

When it comes to pairings, this wine works very well with poultry, such as the Galopoúla me Dendrolivano (Rosemary Turkey) or Katapoulo me Dendrolivano (Rosemary Chicken).  I think that it would also work well with a variety of seafood dishes, which are plentiful in Greek cuisine.  

I found this wine at a local grocery store.  It sells for about $10.99 a bottle.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Galopoúla me Dendrolivano

When looking for a recipe to cook, there has been one that always seems to appear in my searches ... Kotopoulo me Dendrolivano or Rosemary Chicken.  It is a relatively simple recipe from Saveur and it uses one of my favorite herbs, namely, rosemary.  However, I always had one obstacle ... my beautiful Angel, Clare, does not eat chicken.  I would set the recipe aside for a night when I would be cooking for myself and I would continue to look for something that I could cook and that Clare would eat.

One day I came across the recipe again, and, this time I decided to make it.  Rather than use chicken, I decided to make it with turkey, which Clare does eat.  So the recipe went from Kotopoulo me Dendrolivano (Rosemary Chicken) to Galopoúla me Dendrolivano (Rosemary Turkey).  (Please note I am not a native Greek speaker, so excuse me if I got the translation wrong.)  At long last, I would be making this recipe.

If I was making Kotopoulo me Dendrolivano, I would be looking for bone-in chicken quarters, consisting of both the thigh and leg.  Most supermarkets carry chicken broken down in that fashion.  Those markets do not usually carry turkey quarters.  It is usually a choice between legs or thighs.  Rather than make that choice, I went in a completely different direction.  I chose turkey cutlets. 

This  choice created some additional work.  First, I needed to do something to ensure that the cutlets, which come from the breast, would not dry out during cooking.  Second, I needed to revise all of the cooking times because, if I followed the times for cooking the kotopoulo, I would have wooden galopoúla that could have used to build triremes.  So, I decided that I would do a short and quick brine to help add some moisture to the cutlets.  I found a recipe that called for 1/4 cup of salt in 2 cups of water and used that as a rough guide.  Although the recipe called for the cutlets to remain in the brine for 3 hours or overnight, I just did it for a little more than one hour.  Three hours would probably have worked better, but overnight would have meant that we would have gone without dinner.

Once the cutlets were removed from the brine and patted dry, I turned to the remainder of the additional work.  The recipe called for braising the protein in the oven for at least 45 minutes. If I cooked the cutlets for this long, I would once again find myself cooking turkey planks better suited for purposes other than eating. (Remember those triremes?)  I decided to cut the cooking time by two-thirds and even a little more, reducing the braising time from 45 minutes to 10 to 15 minutes.  I also decided to do the braising on the stovetop in a covered pan rather than in the oven.  This is important because it allowed to watch the turkey and check it to ensure that it did not dry out.

One last note, the recipe calls for 1 cup of wine to be used to make the pan sauce.  When I make a recipe from a wine-producing country or culture, I try to use a wine that local cooks could have used.  In this case, I found a bottle of Skouras Anassa (2012), a blend of Viognier and Moschofilero, that sold for about $9.99.  The wine worked very well and made a great pairing for the dish.

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 2-4

4 turkey cutlets
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour, for dredging
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup white wine
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 fresh bay leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup of sea salt
2 cups of water

1.  Brine the turkey.   Dissolve the 1/4 cup of sea salt in 2 cups of water in a large bowl.  Place the turkey cutlets in the water and make sure that they are completely submerged.  Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 to 2 hours, but 3 hours or more would be better.  When the brine is finished, drain the cutlets and blot them well to dry them.

2.  Prepare the brined turkey.  Season turkey generously with salt and pepper.  Put flour on a plate and dredge turkey in flour to coat, shaking off excess.  Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat.  Add turkey and cook, turning once until browned, about 5 minutes.  Add wine, rosemary and bay leaves.  Return the pan to the heat until the wine is reduced by half, about 2 minutes.  Add 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil.

3.  Braise the cutlets.  Cover the pan and cook until the turkey is tender, about ten to fifteen minutes.  Uncover and stir in lemon juice.

4.  Plate the dish.  Place one to two cutlets on a dish and spoon the pan sauce over the turkey.

This was a great dish and I will definitely make it again ... perhaps I will also make Kotopoulo me Demrolivano as well.  Until then ...


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Conway's Irish Ale

According to the Oxford Companion of Beer, it was first called "Enniscorthy Ruby Ale."  The "ruby ale" was brewed by the Lett's Brewery in County Wexford, Ireland.  Owned by the Killian family, Lett's Brewery produced the ruby ale until the 1950s, when the brewery closed and they sold the rights to market the beer under the George Killian brand.  Those rights ultimately were purchased by Coors, who produced the Killian's Irish Red Ale.  (The Killian's Irish Red Ale also happens to be the first beer that I ever drank.)  That gave rise to the name "Irish Red Ale," as well as the beer named after George Killian, which became one of the most popular beers since Coors began brewing it in 1981.

Fortunately, for craft beer lovers, there is another Irish Red Ale named after someone.  This particular beer is named after Patrick Conway.  "Pa Conway" was the grandfather of Pat and Dan Conway, who are the co-owners of Great Lakes Brewing Company.  Patrick Conway was a Cleveland who directed traffic for 25 years near the brewery and who is described as a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy, which seems like a good inspiration for an Irish Red Ale.

Brewed with Harrington 2 Row Base Malt and Crystal 77 malts, along with Northern Brewer, Mt. Hood and Willamette hops, the Conway Irish Ale is an excellent representation of the Irish Red Ale style.  Returning to the Oxford Companion of Beer, the style is characterized by its color and malt profile, which typically includes caramel and/or toffee like sweetness.  The roasted malts provide a dry finish with a slight hint of bitterness.  Pours reddish orange in color.  biscuit, toast, bready aromas.  Caramel in taste.  Hint of hops in the background.

The Conway's Irish Ale pours a reddish-orange color, with a foam that quickly recedes to the edges of the beer.  The aromas are a little bready or biscuity, provided by the malts with little to no hop elements.  As for the taste, those bread-like and biscuit-like characteristics carry through and are at the forefront.  Some sweetness, like a caramel or molasses, is also present, but it gives way to the dryness that one expects in the finish of an Irish Red Ale.

As one would expect, the brewers at Great Lakes suggest that the Conway's Irish Ale pairs well with corned beef, shepherd's pie, and any meat or vegetable stews.  This beer would pair well with a lot of other dishes, including grilled or braised meats and vegetables, as well as other earthy or hearty dishes.  Bottom line, when it comes to pairing, think Pa Conway and his "meat and potatoes." 

Great Lakes Brewery released the beer earlier this year and it can be found for about $9.99 a six pack at any store that sells Great Lakes beer. 

Happy St. Patrick's Day and ...


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Baby Chef: Ground Beef and Carrot Puree

As our little guy grows older, it is important to introduce him to new foods, textures and tastes.  I have to admit that it is difficult, especially with our busy schedules and a little guy who is now moving and moving fast.  Still, I have committed myself to make some new things for our little guy to try. 

During a recent business trip, I took a baby food cookbook to read on the plane.  I came across a recipe for beef and carrot puree.  The recipe called for cooked ground beef, carrot puree, yogurt and chicken broth.  It was a very interesting recipe, although I was a little concerned about a couple of the ingredients.  First, from what I have read, there is some concern about feeding yogurt or milk based products to a baby that is less than one year old.  Second, chicken broth has a lot of salt.  Even the reduced sodium chicken broth has a lot of salt.  There is a much greater consensus about not feeding salty things to a small one.  So, while I really liked the recipe, I wanted to skip the yogurt and chicken broth when I made it.

There was one other consideration.  I do not ordinarily buy regular beef for myself, given all of the issues with beef produced by mass-agricultural concerns.  (That is a post for another day.)  I usually buy locally raised, grass-fed beef (or at least grass-fed beef).  When it comes to our little guy, only the best would do.  So, I bought some grass-fed ground beef to use in the recipe.

As with just about every baby food recipe, this dish is really easy to make.  Just cook some ground beef in a pan (with no oil or butter) until it is cooked thoroughly.  Steam some carrots.  Add the beef and carrots to a food processor, and, pulse with some water until you reach the desired consistency.  The end product is certainly not haute cuisine, but then again, the clientele is not looking for something fancy.  

One last note ... when making the puree, I started with just a little amount of water, and added water in small amounts.  In the end, I did not puree the mixture all the way, because I wanted there to be some texture.  I have that, after having fed an infant with purree after puree, it takes some time for them to get use to changes in texture. 

After all was said and done, the puree got mixed reviews from our little one.  He was skeptical at first, but he ate the first few spoonfuls readily.  After several spoonfuls, he tired of the food and did not want any more.  He did eat the rest of it, which means I'll be making more and, perhaps tweaking the recipe.  Perhaps a little spice for the little guy?

Recipe adapted from The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet
Page 88

2 ounces of cooked ground beef (do not add salt or oil)
2 tablespoons of pureed carrots
2 tablespoons of water

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend to the desired consistency.  You can use additional water if necessary.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Götterdämmerung.  It was the last of the four operas in Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. The fourth opera represents the climax of a story that begins with an ugly dwarf, Alberich, who comes across Rhinegold, an invaluable treasure that provides the possessor with power over the world.  Meanwhile, the goddess of youth, Freia, was kidnapped by giants who wanted payment in return for building a palace for the god Wotan.  Assisted by the gods Donner and Froh, Wotan finds Alberich and, long story short, Wotan takes a ring from Alberich and becomes entranced with it.  Alberich curses the ring, "ceaseless worry and death shall be the destiny of all who possess it." After being warned about the curse, Wotan throws the ring on the hoard.  The giants fight each other over the ring, with one killing the other.  Horrified by these events, Donner clears the air with lighting and a rainbow appears ... leading to the new castle, known as Valhalla.  

For hop lovers, the Götterdämmerung represents Stone Brewing's effort to create a Valhalla of India Pale Ales. A grand castle or monument to the style, all in commemoration of Stone Brewing's 17th anniversary.  The brewers used "a grain bill comprised exclusively of pilsner malts and German hops with crazy awesome names like Herkules, Hersbrucker, Magnum, Merkur, Opal, Smaragd, and Strisselspalt."  the brewers then dry-hopped the beer with Sterling hops, which are an American hop with Saaz parentage.  The brewers used this hop to impart "a bit of familiarity," but drinkers are warned that the Götterdämmerung "is a unique beer that takes the IPA - a style we've already pushed far beyond its previous limits over the years - to interesting new territory."

The beer pours a nice orange and gold color, which clearly identifies the style of the Götterdämmerung.  The aroma of this IPA evinces tart citrus and a little pine.  Those pilsner malts are completely dominated by the hops with respect to the aroma ... and the taste.  The Götterdämmerung has a taste that is chock full of hops.  The bitterness is first to greet you, with elements of grapefruit and lemon in the taste.  The bitterness of this beer acts like tannins in wine, sticking on the tongue long after the beer has been sipped.  Indeed, as I write this post, it has been at least a couple of minutes since I sipped the beer and my tongue is still in the grips of the hop bitterness.  (This is a feeling that, as a hophead, I quite enjoy.) 

When it comes to food pairing, Stone Brewing offers a variety of choices. These include honey-ginger chicken skewers, crab cakes, grilled peaches with blue cheese, citrus salad with goat cheese, Thai seafood salad, rotisserie chicken, Cajun shrimp and grits, and cedar plank salmon.  As for cheeses, they suggest Grana Padrano, Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped Cheddar, Green Mountain Blue Cheese, and Point Reyes Blue.

I found a bottle of the 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung at a local beer store for about $10.99, although it was on sale for $7.99.  As this is a seasonal, look for it now because it may be gone soon ... and forever.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Etruscan Chicken

As I recently opened a bottle of Birra Etrusca, a craft beer brewed based upon an ancient beer recipe of the Etruscans, I felt that it was only appropriate to prepare a dish based upon an ancient Etruscan recipe.  The goal was to produce a meal that would have been eaten by Etruscans as they would have enjoyed the beer.  To achieve this goal, I needed to do a lot of research.

The logical starting point is the Etruscan civilization itself.  The word "Etruscan" is not Etruscan at all; they referred to themselves as the Rasenna. The Romans gave them the "Etruscan" name, as well as the reputation of being heavy drinkers and eaters.  Some later Roman writers presented a more moderate view of their predecessors, with Posidonius and Diodoro Siculo writing that the Etruscans had advanced literature and science, much of which was adopted and improved by the Romans themselves.  The Etruscans also had a well developed cuisine.

Etruscan cuisine was centered in many ways around meat, both cultivated and wild. The Etruscans had domesticated cattle, goats and pigs, but they particularly favored game, such as deer, boar and even rabbits.  They also cultivated a wide range of cereals, nuts fruits and vegetables, including apples, artichokes, carrots, grapes, olives, onions, pears, pine nuts, pomegranates, and walnuts.   Of all these ingredients, the onion was perhaps one of the most important.  Archaeologists found depictions of onions on reliefs in tombs and the ingredient is present in many recipes, including those that evolved into dishes cooked in present day Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.

I found an Etruscan recipe for rabbit, which incorporated ingredients that would have been used by the Etruscans, such as olives, onions and pine nuts.  While I enjoy rabbit, it is a little difficult to find and all of the little bones in rabbit make it a chore to eat.  Fortunately, this recipe is easily adapted for other proteins, such as chicken.  So, I decided to make this recipe with skinless, bone-in thighs.  I did encounter one obstacle to making this recipe: I thought I had pine nuts and, as it turned out, our cupboard was bare in that regard.  I made one additional substitution, using blanched almond slivers in place of pine nuts.  The substitution worked because the Etruscans cultivated not only pine nuts but also almonds.  (This substitution makes the dish much cheaper, as almonds cost a lot less than pine nuts.) 

Overall, this Etruscan Chicken recipe produced a delicious meal that reminded me of the types of dishes that I ate when I was in Tuscany.  Of course, Tuscan cuisine evolved from Etruscan cuisine, so that link seems only appropriate.  At some point, I will make this recipe with rabbit.  More to come....

Recipe from Mangia, Figlie
Serves 4

8 chicken thighs
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
4 ounces black olives
1 red onion, finely chopped
Rosemary and sage, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup pine nuts (or substitute almonds)
1/4 cup raisins
Sea salt 
Ground black pepper

1.  Prepare the chicken.  Place the chicken thighs in a bowl of water with the vinegar. 

2.  Saute the onions.  Put 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and red onion in a large unheated frying pan.  Place over medium heat and allow the onions to saute for 10 minutes.   

3.  Brown the chicken.  Drain the chicken and add it to the pan.  when the chicken is browned on both sides, add salt and pepper to taste and the white wine.  Cook slowly for about 20 minutes covered.  

4.  Add the pine nuts and raisins.  Add the pine nuts and raisins and stir.  Cover again and allow to simmer together for 10 minutes more.

5.  Finish the dish.    Before removing from heat, add the olives, sage and rosemary, all finely chopped.  Let the dish sit for 20 minutes and serve.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Beer of the Etruscans

Long before the Romans, there were the Etruscans.  Long before there was wine, there was beer.  Dogfish Head worked with two Italian craft brewers -- Birra del Borgo and Birra Baladin -- and a biomolecular archeologist, Dr. Patrick McGovern, to explore the intersection between the Etruscans and beer.

The intersection was found in well-preserved Etruscan tombs dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries B.C.  According to academic research, the tombs were found at Carmignano and Verucchio, along with other locations in Tuscany.  Archeologists discovered ancient vessels in those tombs.  While the contents of those vessels had long evaporated, the Archeologists were nevertheless able to identify contents through the residues left in the vessels.  Those contents gave rise to the discovery of a wheat and barley brew that was consumed by the Etruscans.

A later discovery in a 6th century B.C. tomb at Pombia provided further insight into the Etruscans' beer-like brew.  Archeologists found a small, terracotta urn with a water-tight seal. Inside the urn were the ashes of a deceased Etruscan male.  Someone also placed an impasto beaker filled with liquid inside the urn before sealing the vessel.  Studies were performed on the beaker and a pollen analysis determined that more than 90% of the pollen was from trees, cereals and hops.  The beverage had been made by fermenting cereals to produce a high alcohol content beer. 

The brewers of Dogfish Head, del Borgo and Baladin performed their own "research pilgrimage" to those early Etruscan tombs. Their research led them to recreate the 8th cenutry B.C. recipe, which was based on on chemical and botanical evidence of tree resins; beeswax and honey, whole pomegranates, hazelnuts, grapes and apples found inside ancient jars and drinking bowls.

Each brewer produced the beer -- Birra Etrusca -- using their own method.  Dogfish Head used bronze vessels, a popular material in brewing and cooking in the Etruscan era.  The ingredients for this ancient ale included honey, hazelnut flour, heirloom wheat, myrrh, gentian root, raisins, pomegranate juice and pomegranates.

The Birra Etrusca pours an amber color, with a good off white, persistent foam.  The aromatic elements are sweet, foreshadowing the honey, raisins and pomegranates used to produce the beer Sweet aroma from the honey, raisins and pomegranates. Some spice emerged as well, perhaps a little clove or allspice.

As for the taste of the Birra Etrusca, it was one of the more unique tasting beers.  Perhaps it is simply a statement of how far beer has changed over centuries and even millenia.  The beer was much sweeter than I expected, even knowing that honey, raisins and pomegranates were used to make it.  I clearly identified the pomegranate, as well as the honey, but the use of wheat provided some recognizable malt characteristics -- like some breadiness -- as well.  Other flavors emerged as I drank the beer, such as the grapes and hazelnuts. 

I still see this beer in stores, which is a good thing, because it is definitely worth trying (and trying again).  If I recall correctly, the Birra Etrusca sells for about $12.99 a bottle.