"LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
attributed to Mame Dennis

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Foodie Pen Pal Program

My first Foodie Pen Pal box was about discovering treasures that were right under my nose. The priority mail box arrived full of things I can get quite easily, but that aren’t currently on my usual shopping list. What a great reminder—and a wonderful assortment of treats that I will now seek out. I was matched with Val from South Carolina. From her blog, I could tell that she lives a very active and healthy lifestyle. I was excited to learn from that, since I tend to take my enjoyment of food and wine a little to far. (Shocking to read, I know.) 

In my introductory email, I told Val that I was interested in local food culture. She sent me a Grawnola Bar, made in South Carolina, which I enjoyed for breakfast only a couple days after it arrived. It was made up of sprouted seeds, nuts and dried fruits (very tasty!) and kept me satisfied until lunch. I am tempted to order a box online.

I also told her of my love of soup, especially this time of year, so in my box there were two organic boxes of soup which are now stashed in my desk drawer at work. It’s nice to know that they’re there for a day when I need a quick, warming meal.

I also added a stash of treats that got me through many an afternoon this month: fruit leather (which I haven’t had since I was a kid, and this kind was much better than what I remember) and dark chocolate squares. That stash is now depleted, but I assure you they were thoroughly enjoyed!

Val sent me a recipe for her favorite morning smoothie, which I haven’t had a chance to try yet. I am saving the natural peanut butter she sent in the box, which is one of the ingredients. The recipe will be a nice change from the usual smoothie I’ve been making with kale or chard from my CSA blended with mango, ginger and chia seeds.

She also sent me a tub of delicious blueberry almond granola from Whole Foods that she said she stirs into her yogurt in the morning. This is what I’ve been having for breakfast this week, and I’m hooked. Sitting here, looking at the last portion that I’ll probably have as a snack today with plain Greek yogurt, I know that I’ll have to go in search of granola soon. There are no Whole Foods near me (so this was a special treat!) but plenty of stores where I’m confident I can find a good variety.

This box of treats got me to change up my breakfast routine, which seemed appropriate because I sent a box to Sheila, who has a blog devoted to that most important of meals. 

I'm so happy to have found this program, and look forward to this month's exchange (and being better about the timing of it.) You can find out more about how you can participate too here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Recipe for Riesling, With Love.

These flavors love riesling.

Fresh, fragrant flavors like fennel and dill are among my favorites to pair with a dry Finger Lakes riesling. They bring out the herbal notes in the wine, highlighting its layers of flavor, so when I saw this recipe on Food & Wine's website I knew that the white wine in question had to be riesling.

It is a straight-forward recipe where the lamb chops are briefly marinated in garlic, lemon zest, fennel stalks and wine, then pan-fried. The bulb of the fennel is thinly sliced and dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette. I also made garlic mashed potatoes to soak up the delicious pan sauce.

Lamb with white wine may seem an odd combination to some but, in fact, it's an excellent example of the concept of contrast in wine & food matching. It works because the sharp acidity of a crisp wine, such as a dry Finger Lakes riesling, cuts through the richness of the lamb. A wine like this cleanses your palate between bites, preparing it for more rich flavors, heightening them. In this dish, fennel salad serves a similar purpose.

I used local lamb from Windsong Farm in Burdett, along with local garlic and local rieslings, both in the marinade and in my glass. I loved how the fennel stalks and lemon zest were used in the marinade (no waste!), reinforcing the flavors in the fennel salad and the riesling. The garlic mashed potatoes provided a welcome earthiness.

Maybe you're devising your own riesling-friendly meal for Riesling Hour tomorrow evening. (I'd love to hear about it.) I hope you'll at least join me in raising a glass of Finger Lakes riesling. What better way to celebrate all this beautiful region has to offer?

No matter where you are tomorrow evening, open a bottle of your favorite Finger Lakes riesling. (Maybe two, it's hard to pick just one favorite!) Log on to Facebook or Twitter. Share your thoughts (and pictures!) about the wine you're drinking, along with the food and company you're enjoying with it. The best thing about wine is how it can bring people together. Cheers! 

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Shrimp three ways, with Chardonnay

For weeks, Pat has been bugging me to cook the shrimp he knew were in the freezer. A Cuban-style Mojo preparation is my go-to for shrimp, but I wanted to do something different. Feeling uninspired, I turned to Tastespotting, as I so often do. I also consulted with my wine-and-food-loving work chums at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars. I came away with so many tempting ideas I couldn't narrow it down to one choice. This, and my never wanting to make things easy for myself, is how shrimp three ways was born. Shrimp cook quickly, so most of the recipes were pretty fast and simple. Certain themes and ingredients came up again and again on my recipe search, so I started to break them down into categories. Balance is the key, and I wanted to include a variety of flavors and cooking techniques. Tied together with a pan of Jiffy cornbread (Pat's favorite) and a bottle of Lamoreaux's fabulous Chardonnay, it was the perfect way to belatedly celebrate our second anniversary together.

The rich flavors in this buttery, beer-boiled preparation highlighted the sweetness of the shrimp. It's a great, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-your-hands-in-there kind of dish-- it feels primal, which makes me enjoy the food in a different way. Keep an eye on the timing, though, or the shrimp will get rubbery. Next time I will finish with a dusting of Old Bay.

The classic Spanish tapa "Gambas al ajillo" was a delicious way to represent the natural affinity shrimp has with garlic. The only drawback to this simple recipe is that it had to be prepared a la minute. Chopped parsley adds a nice burst of color and a green freshness that contrasts with the sweet, earthy garlic flavors.

Bacon-wrapped shrimp sounded like a great idea, which is why I chose this recipe. However, in my kitchen frenzy the bacon burnt to a crisp (I probably should have used thicker bacon.) I went ahead with the marinade, and I was so glad I did. It had a great combination of spices, which I think would work well in many applications, including chicken. I substituted pimenton de la vera for half the paprika in this recipe, which added a smokiness that almost made up for the missing bacon. Grilling the shrimp definitely produced the best texture for my taste-- not to mention the easiest cooking method.

The variations are endless. These recipes are definitely keepers, but I know I'll be on the look out for other shrimp recipes to mix it up next time. There was no clear favorite. Each of these dishes easily stands on its own and, when served over rice, provided great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chenin Blanc

Wednesday night was the third time this tasting group has met, so I thought it was high time I start documenting it, if only for my own reference. The tastings are not only a useful way to hone my wine tasting and writing skills, but a fun way to find new favorite wines and discuss them with some of the most fascinating and knowledgable people in the Finger Lakes wine industry.

We've previously explored Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah/Shiraz. When Morgen, the mastermind behind all this fun and discovery, emailed saying she was arranging for us to taste nine Chenin Blancs from around the world, I was excited because this is a grape I haven't much opportunity to taste. I've heard it called a "winemaker's grape" because of its versatility, much like Chardonnay. It turns out that no one in the group was overly familiar with it. Wikipedia informed us that angelica and greengage were common descriptors of wines made from Chenin Blanc. Well-- at least now we knew what to expect. Above is a shot of the first of three flights we tasted blind.

The first wine was pale straw in color and had lush tropical fruit (lychee?) and pear on the nose, which continued through to a vibrant palate. The mouthfeel was supple with a touch of minerality and a lingering finish. It turned out to be a 81/19 blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier from California. At $12 a bottle, Robert Parker called this vintage one of the "Top 50 Super Domestic Wine Value." As it turned out, this was my favorite wine of the evening. This doesn't seem fair, considering my love for Viognier may have something to do with it.

Pine Ridge (California)
2008 Chenin Blanc-Viognier
12.8% ABV

The screwcap on this next wine gave it away as from the New World. It was very similar in color, but smelled like smoke. Actually, I think rubber tires is a more accurate descriptor, but not something I could identify it until the discussion. Canned pears on the palate. The smoothness and sweetness (despite little residual sugar) made us suspect some malolactic fermentation. There was something distinctly Chardonnay-like about it. The finish was short-- clean and mineral, coming back full circle to the rubber tires in the nose. 
Indaba (South Africa)
2009 Chenin Blanc
13.5% ABV

The flight finished with another wine of the same pale yellow color. There was beeswax and vanilla on the nose. The palate offered bright fruit (pear and fig) with some sweetness and a touch of funk (quinine?) that made us suspect an older vintage (which didn't end up being the case.) The rich honeyed finish suggested the Old World. Upon reflection and revisitation, this was my favorite Chenin of the tasting.

Francois Pinon (Vouvray)
13% ABV
The Toms examine a bottle from the second flight, perhaps noticing that all the wines from this flight had screwtop closures. 

A strong whiff of acetone was my first impression of this first wine. There were fruit flavors on the palate, but generic, and a short, steely finish. The consensus was that this had been a wine that required a lot of tinkering with in the cellar. 
Robertson Winery
2009 Chenin Blanc
13% ABV

I got toast and something green on the nose of this second wine, others got the rubber that I need to get better at identifying. My first sip was slightly effervescent on the palate. It reminded me of Chardonnay, which made me wonder if there had been some light oak treatment (apparently not.) There were also similarities to Sauvignon Blanc, boxwood and steamed broccoli. Removing the brown bag revealed the much-recommended, lauded and anticipated Estate Bottled Paumanok, from our fellow New York State winemakers on Long Island.

Paumanok (North Fork)
2008 Chenin Blanc
12% ABV

The next wine is the only one I didn't get a photo of: Very floral and overripe on the nose-- rose petals-- a creamy mouthfeel and flavors of honey yellow apple. Some might call this wine flabby, and the finish acrid. 
Man Vinters (South Africa)
2009 Chenin Blanc 
13.5 % ABV

Flight three, wine one: Light yellow in color with vinegar on the nose which blew off to reveal honey and baked apple or pear. This wine was much sweeter on the palate than I expected, but balanced with a nice acidity. Ripe starfruit and (once someone said it, it was all I could taste) canned mandarin oranges. 
Francois Chidaine  (Montlouis Sur Loire)
2005 Les Tuffeaux
The next wine was very pale with citrus and floral notes both on the nose and the palate. Lean and acidic, there was also iced tea on the palate and a mineral finish. The screwtop closure suggested a New World wine, but much to our surprise, we were wrong. 
Monmoussau (Vouvray)

Aaron can't believe it.
The next wine had a deep golden color. The nose was very honeyed, with late harvest characteristics and some oxidation. More honey, dried fig and papaya on the palate. It was a dessert Chenin Blanc, and a delightful end to the evening.
Le Haut-Lieu (Vouvray)
2003 Moelleux
Premiere Trie

Actually, Antoinette's Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart, along with the many other goodies, everyone brought along, were the delightful end to the evening.
See you all after harvest!

Monday, May 17, 2010


To say people eat dinner late in Argentina is an understatement. We were often the first ones at a restaurant at 9pm. Most days we ended up making lunch our main meal, and then have some bar snacks with our drinks in the evening, as we did on the night we arrived in Buenos Aires. Picadas are generally served on a rustic wooden board, and can be made up of a variety of delicacies such as cheeses, cured meats, olives, nuts...the sky is the limit, really.

The ingredients on the board pictured were all smoked, an excellent complement to an earthy Malbec. It came with wonderful, fresh rolls, and baba ganoush, an inspired addition. Did I mention that this picada for two, on special with an enjoyable table wine, came to less than U$15 in one of Mendoza's posh districts near the Park Hyatt?

The influence of the traditions of Italian antipasto, Spanish tapas and French making-a-meal-out-of-delicious-nibbly-things is clear. These foods go with wine naturally, each item interplaying with the wine in it's own way. This is what pairing should be: spontaneous, casual and integral to enjoying both the food and wine, not over-analyzed and pretentious (though sometimes I do like over-analyzing it myself!) I love eating this way. It feels so civilized.

Every bar we went to brought you a salty snack: peanuts, potato chips or palitos (cracker sticks). No one would presume to ask you to enjoy a drink without something to graze on.

Now, I have a confession to make: Argentina is a place you go to for excellent, reasonably-priced red wines, but it was so hot for most of time that we were there, the local beer (the malty Quilmes in most of the country and our favorite beer of the trip, the crisper Andes in Mendoza) was more refreshing. I also understood why my Oma speaks so nostalgically about Campari & soda (served in a siphon), for which I've inherited her affinity.

We still drank our fair share of wine as well. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wine Blogging Wednesday: Gamay

2007 Gamay
Sheldrake Point 
(Finger Lakes)
"An Estate wine produced entirely from Gamay Noir grapes grown in two blocks (about 3.3 acres) in our 44-acre vineyard located on the west shore of Cayuga Lake.
On October 5, 2007 5 tons of grapes were hand-harvested (22 Brix, 8.2 g/L Ta, 3.29 pH) then crushed and de-stemmed into a stainless steel tank. The wine was fermented on the skins (RB-2 yeast) with daily pump-overs. The fermentation temperature peaked at 91F.
The Gamay was pressed after seven days on the skins then racked into older, neutral French and American barrels. Malolactic fermentation finished by November 20, 2007. The Gamay spent six months in neutral barrels."

     I chilled the wine slightly for my first tasting last night, as this is how I understand it is traditionally served. This wine is ruby-colored, a beautiful, clear jewel-tone of medium intensity. The nose is floral, with aromas of white flowers, iris and violet which opened into red fruits, specifically red currant, with a hint of vanilla. The wine is light-bodied and dry with a tart acidity, which dominates the palate. There are notes of pomegranate, cranberry and under-ripe plum, with strawberry on the finish. More aromas and flavors were evident as the wine warmed up. I suspect the acidity of the wine would make it very food-friendly, so I am going to serve it with dinner tonight and see how that goes.

     The wine benefited from being open for a day, even though I Vacvin-ed it. Even served slightly chilled, it was more open and the red fruits much more evident on the nose. The acidity seemed to have mellowed, displaying softer cherry and (ripe) plum flavors with some nice, light spice reminiscent on the sandalwood on back of the palate.

     The wine was pleasant with the hodge-podge we had for dinner tonight: a little homemade margherita pizza made with some leftover whole wheat dough to start, and as well as the grilled mushrooms on the side. (I thought this would be good since the Gamay grape is related to Pinot Noir.) The best pairing was the roast pork slices that we warmed through on the grill. The fruit forwardness in this Gamay complemented the pork, and the acidity valiantly cut through the fattiness.

Thanks to http://drinkwhatyoulike.wordpress.com!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

As Argentine as Maté

As if our day at the cataratas hadn't provided us with enough adventure, we had a particularly eventful bus trip to Buenos Aires. Our bus left Puerto Igauzu around three p.m. The highways was being blocked by a group of maté growers, or materos, protesting unfair compensation. The price of maté to the consumer had increased, but the producers weren't seeing any of that money. This is similar to what is happening with milk prices in the US, greatly effecting the dairy farms in central New York, where I live, and putting many of them out of business. When I asked our bus driver why we were stopped, he blamer it one diez perejiles locos. While I can't translate this comment and retain the nuance, it literally means "ten crazy parsleys."

    Maté is a vital part of Argentine daily life (as well as Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Chilean) and national identity, especially in the northeastern province of Misiones where the bulk of it is grown. It is traditionally drunk out a gourd, dried and hollowed out, through a bombilla (left), a metal straw with a strainer at the bottom to keep you from sucking up the leaves, is a social event. The maté (the gourd itself) is filled with yerba (pictured below, the dried leaves from a plant related to the holly family), top it with almost boiling water from a kettle or thermos, drink, refill with water before passing it to the next person. The drink is bitter, so many people ad sugar until they develop a taste for it.

The traditional gaucho (Argentine cowboy) is often pictured with maté in hand, and for a time drinking maté was seen as old-fashioned and fuddy duddy. In the past decade or two it had been re-embraced by the young people, becoming popular with students. What better way to keep yourself awake while finishing that big paper or design project? An afternoon catching up with friends is undoubtedly spent matéando (Yes, the ritual of drinking of maté is so important as to merit its own verb) while munching on agridules (square little crackers whose flavor is a moreish combination of savory and sweet), perhaps followed by coffee and facturas. People fill up their thermoses at gas stations on long road trips, and families tote their maté and bombilla, along with a day's supply of yerba and hot water in specially designed carriers with them on the beach. You can even buy a disposable kit, in case you forget your own. (pictured above)
It got dark during the five hours we were stopped. Luckily, the beautiful, cloudless January afternoon turned into a warm, breezy evening. The bus drivers and passengers, alike, stood around smoking and drinking maté. Time wore on, the massive cue grew longer and thermoses were drained. The taxi driver ahead of us went on a mission, loaded down with thermoses, and returned to a big round of applause. He taxi driver had saved the day, and matéando continued!

Crisis averted.