Saturday, May 24, 2014

National Chardonnay Day's Wine Surprise!

Did you celebrate National Chardonnay Day this week? The group that gathered last night claimed the 23rd as the day to celebrate according to the website National Wine Days. Food and wine was brought by all, and as I opened the door, one of our friends handed me some brown bags. He proposed a wine challenge. Never one to pass up the opportunity to taste and learn, I rounded up the wines, opened them and readied the group for the fun task.

Five identical numbered brown bags held five different Chardonnays - two French, two Californian and one from Australia. I handed out index cards and we began the "hard work" of identifying which wine came from what country. Lots of laugher ensued as we started at one end and worked down the wine lineup.  As a wine professional, I know that the more people enjoy wine, the more interested they become. Our friends were no exception. Five tastes, five opinions and five bottles quickly dissolved into lots of questions of typicity, (that's a geeky wine term that refers how a wine measures up to the characteristics of a particular wine from a specific location), vintage and oaked versus non oaked wines. 

After more teasing and tasting, we finished and I revealed the results, removing one brown bag at a time. A big cheer went up as all the tasters pegged the first Chardonnay as California. Not only had all the tasters guessed correctly, they all loved the wine. Truchard Chardonnay is from a family-owned producer of estate grown reds and whites in California's Carneros Region of Napa Valley. I've had the opportunity to visit Truchard, and its land is gorgeous, the people, (and felines:), friendly and all the wines are just delicious.

Most guessed the second wine - a Chablis from France. Many of us remembered the BIG jugs of "Chablis" that were a prominent feature of parties that our parents threw in the seventies and eighties. What fun it is to learn that Chablis is made from Chardonnay, and thankfully, doesn't taste anything like the watery, sometimes sweet, sometimes acidic liquid that "claimed" to be the famous wine of Northern Burgundy. This Chablis from winemaker Francois Servin is textbook Chablis - crisp and clean flavors of apple and tropical fruit are dominant and delicious.

Number four was an unoaked Chardonnay from the Central Coast in California, Chamisol. You may think, as some of our tasters did, that California Chardonnay is always oaky tasting with flavors of butter and cream. You'd have probably identified this wine as French... However, this winery vinifies its grapes in stainless steel which creates a wine with a creamy mouthfeel and makes it sing with crisp apple, tropical fruit and yummy acidity.

A Beaujolais Blanc from Burgundy was our final wine. I threw it into the mix as a ringer. Evil, I know. I couldn't resist. Although most of the group scored by choosing France as its provenance, not many think of Beaujolais as more than a bubblegum-flavored-publicity-stunt wine that is served up the third Thursday every November. Ce n'est pas vrai, mon ami! This white charmer is made with 100% Chardonnay and is rich with flavors of apple and melon. Jean Paul Brun is the maker of this interesting wine, a steal at about $20, with the aroma and flavors of a $35 bottle.

Which leaves the surprise. What a surprise!

Bottle number three was unveiled. Australia is the home to this grocery store bottle, Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay. Pear and apple flavors with a medium toasty finish make this inexpensive quaffer a real bargain. I know its a steal - I bought it at Publix for $5. Oh yes, $5. Although not the evenings favorite, we were all astounded at how well it held up with the rest of the lineup. For $5, it would be my perfect, I'm-making-dinner-on-a-Wednesday-night-and-need-a-couple-of-cups-of wine-for-my-recipe-and-the-rest-for-me glass. White Sangria? Check. At the pool? Check. After an ALTA tennis match? Check, Check Check. Bin 65 is Lindeman's wine of the month, and that's reflected in the $2 discount at Publix. Run, don't walk and stock up for the hot summer months.

What did we eat with our Chardonnay lineup? Seafood of course. Shrimp scampi and this Spanish Caper, Olive, Pepper and Tomato Salad, along with Farro and a luscious Ratatouille. 

Tomatoes, Olives & Capers with Spanish Vinaigrette
4 Large Ripe Tomatoes
16 Cups Baby Greens
1 Cup Chopped Manzanilla Olives
1 Cup Sliced Large Capers
1 Cup Chopped Piquillo Peppers
½ Cup Chopped EACH Parsley and Cilantro
*Spanish Vinaigrette
Slice the tomatoes and arrange them on a large plate. Toss the greens with the dressing, vinaigrette and herbs. Layer them on top of the tomatoes and scatter the olives, capers and peppers on top. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow dressing to absorb into the salad.
*Spanish Vinaigrette
½ Cup EVOO
1 TB Capers – Chopped or Caper Paste
2 TB Sherry Vinegar
2 TB Orange Juice
1 TB Dijon Mustard
Sea Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper to taste

Shake all the ingredients together in a jar and taste for salt and pepper.

What's better than friends, fun and good food and wine? Nothing!

I bought the wines at Publix grocery store, Costco and from Teresa at Sherlocks Wine Store in Brookhaven. Since I specialize in "SMART Wine" or wine that is affordable and delicious, you know I didn't pay too much for any of the bottles I shared!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Slaw + Purple Cabbage = Perfection

I've been entranced by purple cabbage this spring. All of a sudden that round, heavy purple head that sits in every grocery store veg department is calling my name. Its not just me, though...I've read a couple of different articles in my foodie magazines that extoll the virtues of purple foods. "Anthocyanins"  are responsible for the purple color in foods like cabbage, potatoes,  asparagus, even crazy purple carrots! They also create the deep dark red color of cherries and blue of blueberries. But for me? There's just nothing like the seductive purple pigment that is begging me to add it to the menu.

                                                 Maroon Carrots from the Farmers Market
I also love slaw. In the winter it adds a fresh crunch to dinner when lettuce is sadly out of season. Spring and summer offer it the opportunity to cool off a hot day. I guess it was only a matter of time before I would find purple cabbage indispensable to my slaw recipe library. So when I had to come up with a recipe to side up with a veggie Mexican feast, the crunchy-crispy-shredded-salad was the answer.

The original name of this slaw was Cumin Lime Slaw. The only hitch with this name was the limes. Holy Moly! Have you seen the price of limes in the grocery store? Yesterday I cuddled up with one in the produce section and then quickly put it back when I saw the sign, $1.69 apiece. Wowza. The good news is that lemons make the slaw tasty, too.

I use the food processor to shred the purple cabbage, carrots and radishes. If you've forgotten how to cut Napa Cabbage, you can get a quick video reminder here: Chopping Napa Cabbage.

Cumin Citrus Slaw
Fast, Easy, Fresh!

1/2 Head Purple Cabbage
3 Large Carrots, Peeled if they are not organic
6 Radishes
1/2 Head Napa Cabbage, Chopped
3 Green Onions, White and Green Parts
1/4 Cup Fresh Citrus Juice (Lemon or Lime or Combo)
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Dijon Mustard
1/2 Tsp  Sea Salt
1/4 Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Shred the cabbage, carrots and radishes in the food processor. Dump them into a bowl with the napa and green onions. Shake the juice, oil, cumin, dijon, salt and pepper together in a jar and drizzle over the salad, tossing it well. Let the slaw stand for an hour to allow it to wilt slightly - and serve. (Its great as a stuffer in a soft, warm corn tortilla with a couple of slices of avocado, OR as a topper for your favorite burger.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mostly Meatless - SPRING Strawberry Jam Salad

I love berries. Earlier this week I was in the car headed to a week of fun work in St Pete, Florida. Its not a bad drive at all - I get in the car at my house and seven hours later I pull into my sister's driveway. Podcasts and audio books keep me company, and I always pack a PB and J for the drive since I'm not a fast food fan. Nothing stops me except a fuel and potty break, then its back on the road quickly.

Except for Monday, when I spotted the UPICK sign along the highway. About 10 miles of giant billboard strawberries tempted me to stop. In my mind, I calculated how long it would take me, and just how deep into rush hour traffic my sweet bliss would cost me. Over an hour and I would be hitting Tampa at 5:00, one of the most frustrating cities I've travelled through. (And this comment, from an Atlanta resident!)

I could taste the sweet warm berries, ripe and drippy, messy and perfect. Not the grocery store kind, those boxes of pretty red ones that taste like plastic, oh no. I wanted real berries. As I passed the last sign that said, "Turn here", I did. No, not for the UPICK, but for a container of berries that someone else toiled over, and spent the time I couldn't afford. I arrived in St. Pete with a pink stained shirt, smelling like strawberries. Heaven!

Here's one of my favorite strawberry recipes, to celebrate strawberry season. (Mom would like it for Mother's Day, too!)

Spring Strawberry Jam Salad

The Dressing 
1/4  Cup Strawberry Jam
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tsp Dijon Mustard
3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Tsp each Sea Salt and Black Pepper

The Salad
8 Cups Spring Greens - Baby Spinach, Arugula or other Lettuces
1 Cup Shredded Red Cabbage
1 Cup Shredded Carrots
2 Cups Sliced Strawberries
4 Oz Goat Cheese, Crumbled
1/4 Thinly Sliced Green Onions
1/2 Cup Toasted Sliced Almonds

Step One To make the dressing, add the jam, vinegar, mustard and oil to a jar and shake well. Season with the salt and pepper. 

Step Two To make the salad, toss together the salad ingredients. Beginning with half of the remaining dressing, toss the salad, adding more if necessary.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rooibos Poached Pears OR Peaches with Ginger

Don't you love a recipe that evokes oohs and ahhs from your guests? This one qualifies. Bright flavor from the fruit, rich flavor from the tea and a hit of ginger make it irresistible. Bonus! Its easy to make - even ahead of time.

I had never tasted ROOIBOS (ROY-boss) until I visited South Africa. A beautiful red tea made from an indigenous shrub it has no caffeine, low tannins, packed with antioxidants and tastes great. What's not to like? Its been imported to the United States since the early 1900's and has recently become popular and easy-to-find in the grocery store. We've been serving it to our friends at Cancer Wellness as an iced tea with lunch. Garnished with a piece of orange or now that strawberries are in season, a big fat red strawberry hanging on the glass, and we get rave reviews.

It was the tea's glamorous red color that led me to develop this recipe. I absolutely love wine poached fruit, and serve it often as a "lighter" dessert. This time though, I was looking for a non-alcoholic version to serve at a survivor class. I hit on the rooibos idea and began to research. I found quite a few recipes using lots of spices and sugar, like cinnamon and allspice, even star anise. Great ideas, but I wanted the rooibos flavor to shine.

Here's my final recipe. I've made this dessert with pears and peaches, with and without the frozen yogurt,  mint garnish or not, (Check out the Spicy Tuesday recipe here if you are interested in what mint does for the dish). But the rooibos and ginger always shine together to create a great ending to a good meal.

Rooibos Poached Peaches
4 Cups Brewed Rooibos Tea

½ Cup Honey
2 TB Chopped Crystallized Ginger
4 Peaches, peeled, halved, and pitted 

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt and Mint for Garnish
Step One In a large saucepan, heat the tea and molasses until just boiling. Add the peach halves with cut side facing up. Reduce the heat to low and cook until tender, when they can be pierced easily with a skewer, about 8 minutes. Remove the peaches from the sauce. (If the sauce is still very liquid, you may want to reduce it further by continuing to simmer it.

Step Two To serve, place the peach in a bowl and top with vanilla frozen yogurt. Drizzle additional sauce over the top and garnish with fresh mint.