Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall - Winter Fancy Dinner Party Menu





I love to entertain.  And when I do, I love to serve many courses and pair a wonderful wine with each one.   While it may seem like a lot, with some good planning, and a little cook ahead time, a fancy dinner party isn’t so hard to put together.


LindySez likes it good, but she also likes it easy.

I remember many times during my childhood, my Mother when making the holiday dinners would get so stressed and tired that it was hard for her to sit down and actually enjoy the meal she had created.  So I like to take my time and spread the work over a number of days, doing only what has to be last minute… at the last minute.   That way I can actually sit down and enjoy myself and my guests on party day.

With a little planning, and some  refrigerator room, you can get this done.

So here’s my menu:

Appetizers

Hummus and Bread Sticks
Rosemary Almonds
Artisan Cured Olives

First Course

Served with:  2004 Verget Chablis Fourchaume

Second Course

Served with: 2004 Hartford Four Hearts Chardonnay – Russian River Valley

Intermezzo

Entree

Served with: 2001 Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Dessert

Served with: Point Reyes Vineyard Lat Harvest

OK, it sounds like a mouthful, right?  Oh, and it was, many a wonderful mouthfuls!

Let’s start at the beginning, the appetizers.  Caviar is totally impressive and very simple to prepare,  open a jar, no prep needed.  Since I was using caviar in two places, I just bought  a bigger tin (2 ounces) and used some of it for the appetizer and some for the fish course.  I usually get mine from the refrigerator section of Bev-Mo, but most higher end grocery stores carry it.  (Do not buy the stuff in cans on your grocery stores selves…it is not good...and probably one of the big reasons why people say they don’t like caviar. Good caviar does not taste fishy, it taste fresh from the sea).  The Hummus and bread sticks come from Trader Joes, but you can get them in almost any store. Rosemary Almonds? Also TJ’s,  but you could make them by frying some blanched almonds in some oil and adding  rosemary, let them cool then put it into a zip top bag.  I buy mine and keep them in the freezer, taking them out about an hour before I need to serve them, you don’t want to serve frozen nuts.  (Keeping nuts in the freezer is a smart idea, as they turn rancid easily). Get your olives from your favorite grocery store olive bar (here in California they are everywhere). All of these appetizers go well with a champagne or sparkling wine.  How celebrant is that?

Now to the first course: The Winter White Vegetable Soup can be made almost a week in advance.  I usually make mine 3 to 4 days ahead. There is a huge advantage to cooking things in advance , for one you get to taste and correct the dish making sure it tastes exactly as you want it to;  or if necessary…throw it out and start again it over.   Although if you follow the recipe and don’t make too many substitutions, it should all work out o.k.

LindySez RANT: I hate it when I read a viewer comment after a recipe and they say “I didn’t like this recipe, but I didn’t have ingredient A…so I substituted D, and I didn’t have C so I put in this…then I boiled it instead of baking it“.  OK…slight exaggeration. While I love to  read recipes because they give me wonderful ideas, I also know that you cannot always  interchange ingredients. If you are a fairly experienced cook and  know something about flavors and textures,  you can probably come up with a reasonable substitute. But if you don’t,  well then darn it, make it like it’s written.

Immediately follow the soup with the tart.  The tart topping of peppers and onions can also be made in advance, just keep it in the fridge and take it out at least an hour before you want to make them.

Party Tip: Make a menu.  My friends think I post the menu to impress them and while I do want them to know what they are having,  I also use it to keep track of what I’m serving.  Did you ever go to a holiday meal where at the end the hostess says “Oh Darn…I forgot the ( fill in the blank)”? I know I have.  So when I have a dinner party I not only have a menu, but I have a time-line and plate sketch which shows me the plate I plan to use, and how I want to lay out my food. I thank  Hubert Keller for teaching me that trick.  And I set my plates out, where I can see them and be reminded about what is supposed to be on them.

After the first naturally comes the second.   The Sea Bass in Cabbage Leaves with Caviar is a  most decadent and impressive  dish.  And it’s so easy.  While you can make the sauce only a few hours in advance (I hold my sauce in a thermos)  the fish can be wrapped in the cabbage leaves the day before.  Keep, covered in  a container, lined  with some paper towels to them keep them  dry, and refrigerate.  Set these to steam while you are enjoying that Sweet Pepper Tart.

The Chili-Lime Sorbet is Dyno-mite. You can actually make this a week or more in advance.  I like to serve it in a demitasse or espresso cup, with a thin slice of jalapeno on top and a slice of lime for garnish. (If making a sorbet is too much, buy something light to serve in between, like Lemon or Mango sorbet.  It really helps to cleanse the pallet between courses).

Now for the main event.  Keep in mind that you don’t need to make huge portions of anything.  You get more courses with smaller portions. Again, all of the elements of the  main course can be made in advance.  The German Style Short Ribs are really better when they sit for  couple of days in the refrigerator, allowing all those  flavors to marry. Then, when ready, reheat.  Skim any hardened fat off the top before reheating and make this a low-cal meal (um, yeah, right!).  Put the meat, along with your  Timbale of Potatoes in the oven as your time-line advises…and you will be on track for a great  and relaxing dinner.

It’s dessert time. Slice the cheesecake you made the day before, put up some coffee, tea, or  both add a little late harvest wine and take a bow.  The dinner was great, your guests have gone home happy and full. Now it’s time to put on some great music and clean up.  Since most of it was made days before…it’s not so bad.  OK, there are a few dishes, but it was so worth it!

Here’s how I do a time-line…I work backwards from what time I want to serve the main course entree, and forward from the time guests are due to arrive.  Think of your time-line as your stress free recipe for success.  If you only have to look at one place for all your temperatures and cooking times, rather than having to refer to recipe after recipe, it’s just going to be that much smoother and easier to get it all on the table on time.

Guest due to arrive: 6:00


First course 7:00

5:00 Make the sauce for the fish course – hold in thermos

5:30 Bring in all the prepared food

6:00 – Set out appetizers, get out steamer (I use my rice cooker to steam the fish)

6:15 Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Put toppings on tarts.

6:30 Start heating the  soup, add cream – adjust seasonings

6:45 Put tarts in oven, set time for 25 minutes
Waters to table
Butter to plates
Start Steamer

7:00 Serve soup

7:20 Serve Tarts
Put fish in to steam
Lower oven heat to 325 degrees F. Put Short ribs and potatoes in the oven

7:45 Serve Fish

8:15 Serve intermezzo
Finish short ribs
Remove timbales from oven
Put dinner plates in oven to briefly warm

8:30 Serve main course
Ask guests if they want coffee or tea with dessert, if so, start coffee pot and hot water

9:00 serve dessert

Talk – laugh – have fun!

LindySez: That’s how she does it.  And if you have teenage children, hire them to help with the serving and clean-up.  It’s good training for them, and lets you relax all the more.

And now the Wine Geek weighs in with a word, or two, about our wine choices, why we chose what we did and what to look for as a good substitution.



2004 Verget Chablis Fourchaume


Our first course called for lean white wine and we chose an old world premier crus Chablis from the Fourchaume vineyard. Chablis is a very distinctive lean expression of Chardonnay, producing steely mineral tones and rich stone fruit flavors. Chablis typically receives little or no new oak and has been known to age. The Verget Fourchaume was a perfect pair for this first course.
If you cannot find this exact wine: Most any premier crus Chablis will give you the minerality and stone fruit flavors which paired so well with creamy soup, rich bleu cheese and the crunchy and tangy onion red pepper tart. If New World wines are more your style, look for unoaked chardonnays, sometime marketed as “naked Chardonnay” Or look for American producers of Chardonnay who use a very limited oak regime. Avoid sweeter, malolactic style chards (known for their creamy, buttery notes) which will overwhelm the flavors in this dish

2004 Hartford Four Hearts Chardonnay-Russian River Valley
 

With the second course, we shifted gears upward in the Chardonnay family and served the Hartford Four Hearts from the Russian River Valley. Unlike the Chablis, this wine is rounder in style and had flavors which paired nicely with the delicate sea bass and helped to highlight the creamy clam and tomato sauce. Four Hearts Chardonnay goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and is also 100% barrel fermented imparting a distinctive blend of pear, orange blossom and nectarine notes balanced with a weighty crème brulee like character and zesty acidity.
If you cannot find this exact wine look for other wines produced in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley or ask your local wine merchant for lean restrained Chardonnay’s which go through malolactic fermentation and have a fairly aggressive oak program.

2001 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosche Vineyard

With the entree,  the braised short ribs, we confidently served up a traditional and well know old Napa Valley Cabernet from Freemark Abbey. As the premier “brand” in the American Wine world, Napa Valley has made it’s most distinctive mark producing world class Cabernet Sauvignon for 120+ years. The warm climate and cool nights create ripe, lush full bodied flavors of currant, cassis, and blackberry, and this worked perfectly with the meat course. Our Bosche Vineyard cabernet had succulent aromas of cherry, black raspberry syrup, and walnut meat in addition to holiday spices like clove and nutmeg. Chocolate and caramel flavors round out the wine which has a long finish.
If you cannot find this exact wine look for other Napa Valley Cabernet producers. While Cabernet from other appellations will suffice, you are want to pair this dish with a cabernet which features flavors of black fruit, and rich undertones of chocolate and dark cherry.

Point Reyes Late Harvest Viognier (NV)

For Desert we served a Point Reyes Vineyard late harvest Viognier to pair with the Bellwether Farms cheese cake. As expected tropical fruit notes from the Viognier were punctuated by apricot and honey. The wine’s character was rich and unctuous which perfectly paired with the creamy sweetness of the Bellwether fromage.
If you cannot find this exact wine: Serve any new world late harvest Viognier, or sauvignon blanc. You are looking for sweet, tropical notes and a rich honey character. If you want to get more adventurous, ask your wine merchant for an Old World Sauterne selection-there are many affordable ones under $35 dollars (such as Chateau Barsac) Or if you are in the mood to pull out the stops—then get your hands on a bottle of Chateau Yquem ($275+ for the 2007 vintage) and be prepared for an explosion of flavors that will be the perfect finish to this Fancy-Schmancy dinner party!

Cheers!
The Wine Geek

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mastering the Tasting Room, or to Spit or not to Spit


Sniff…Sip…

While one of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting wine country is visiting the various wine estates and sampling their wares, it can also be one of the most intimidating experiences for the un-intiated. Being armed with knowledge coming in can be the best way to overcome any feelings of…whatever…

So here we go:

Tasting means tasting: Tasting rooms are licensed by the respective state ABC’s (Alcohol Beverage Control Boards) to offer free tastes of wine. By law, a taste should not be more than 2 oz. In general a tasting room is not licensed to sell or serve glasses of wine like a restaurant or wine bar. That said, getting to know your host can result in getting a bit more than a “taste”.
It’s okay to spit: Many wineries will provide a spit bucket. If you are going to taste a lot of wine, spitting is the best way to appreciate all wine, especially those that are several hours away from your current destination. (Alcohol tends to dull the senses when consumed….but you know that….) Of course, if you are the DD, spitting is not only recommended but required.
When a tasting fee is not a tasting fee: Some wineries charge for tasting to recoup costs and to keep out the “let’s go party for free crowd” but you can still find some wine tasting rooms that don’t charge. Most wineries will offer a menu of available wines to taste that day and perhaps a reserve menu for an additional fee.  And most, but not all wineries will refund the “tasting fee” with the purchase of a bottle. If you are unsure, ask upfront.
It’s okay to hang out and shop for candles: If you don’t want to taste wine, that’s okay. In fact, if you want to bring children into the tasting room, that’s okay too…Some rooms are more kid friendly than others and will offer an apple juice and crackers/cookies to the young fry….
Your host is there to teach, for the most part: Most people who work in tasting rooms are very very knowledgeable about wine, want to socialize but aren’t particularly adept at “sales”. Therefore, you can have a wonderful educational experience and walk out the door. Don’t feel that you have to buy anything. Wine tasting is about discovery; what you like is what you should buy.
There are three primary ways to evaluate a glass of wine. Why you are evaluating that wine may fall into one of two categories: I am looking for wine I like to drink or I am blind tasting this wine to determine what it is and where it was made. As most you probably fall into the former, (finding wine to drink) I present the following steps for your evaluation pleasure. If you interested in the latter, (“blind tasting bingo”) I would suggest you contact a professional association, such as the Court of Sommeliers for their evaluation technique.
So here is the best way to evaluate a wine:

Sight

  1. The color of a wine is the first clue to its quality. White wines should be varying shades ranging from white to yellow, red wines from deep red/purple to brown. For the most part white wines will fall between straw and yellow, and red wines will be purple, ruby or garnet. When evaluating the wine visually, look for clarity (clear or cloudy) color, concentration (low-high) and evidence of gas, (“spritz”) then swirl the glass to determine the viscosity. This is the famous exercise of finding the wines “legs.” Legs are the alcohol in the wine which falls more slowly and forms “legs” on the side of the glass. Rule of thumb, the more legs and the faster they move, the higher the alcohol content of the wine, the slower and less numerous legs indicate a lower alcohol content.

Sniff

  1. Swirl the glass gently to produce a fairly vigorous wave circulating in the liquid.  The point of this is to activate the aromatic components in the wine so when the bouquet of the wine smelled can be fully appreciated.  When you taste wine, you are only able to detect four distinct flavors, sweet, sour, salty and bitter.  Your nose, however, can pick up over 200 different aromas.
  2. When sniffing, tilt the glass toward your face at a 45 degree angle, with your nose slightly below the rim of the glass, inhale gently for 3 or 4 seconds.  The scents in a wine may change during the course of the sniff.  Use one side of your nose and then the other.  You will find that you have one nostril that is more “dominant” and picks out more of the different scents.

Sip

  1. Take a good mouthful of the wine in order to coat all surfaces of your mouth.  Roll the wine around in your mouth.  The tongue has sensors in different areas that detect sweetness, saltiness, acidity and bitterness.
  2. To maximize the flavor of the wine, take in air while it’s in your mouth.  With your head in a normal position, draw in some breath- using gentle suction with the lips pursed.  It’s only necessary to allow the tiniest opening – less than the width of a pencil – and to suck in immediately.  Close your lips and breathe downwards through the nose.

Now…Swallow or Spit?

  1. After tasting, you can either swallow it, or do as the pros do, and spit it out.  Either way, the taste of the wine will remain.

Dinner Possible - Green Chili Chicken Tortilla Soup



I have all these beautiful chilies growing right now in my garden…so I decided to make this yummy Green Chili Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Whether your cold is coming from the inside (achew) or the outside (brrrr)…this soup is going to warm you up…
LindySez - SoSousMe and cheers to a great, easy soup.

Green Chili Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe


Friday, October 23, 2009

Red Wine with Chicken? Yes, yes you can.

So most people, having to think about dinner only have to decide what to make.  LindySez is trying to make that process easier for you, but just when she thinks she has it nailed…Chicken breasts, roasted potatoes and a green salad, the DH calls and says…”I hope you are making something red wine friendly…cause I’m bringing home a 1994 and we need to see if it’s still playing.”   GREAT..what do you do to make this red wine friendly?
Well, it turned out nicely…and in less then 30 minutes from start to table…the trick that turned it…onions.  Well, that and a few herbs.  I tossed the potatoes with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and minced rosemary, threw them in the oven to roast, put Italian seasonings on the chicken breast, gave them a good saute (well, more of a fry, I wanted them good and brown) in hot olive oil, finished them in the oven and then browned a sliced onion in the pan, scraping up all the browned bits,  added some chicken stock and let that boil down a bit; poured that over the chicken and voila – red wine friendly dinner.  And guess what?  The 1994 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet…still played nice.
LindySez: Remember the wine pairing theory?  Red wine can go with anything, it’s all in the preparation.

About Me - Who is this LindySez


When I was young, I loved food.  Now that I’m all grown (well, let’s just say mostly grown), I still love food.  Good food.  Not necessarily fussy food, or fancy food  although if someone else is cooking it, fussy and fancy is fine.

When I was young, while other kids were watching cartoons and Sheriff John (green light, red light, anyone remember that?)  I turned on  the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child.  I often helped my Mom in the kitchen, she was a good cook, from Germany, so many of the dishes we had came from there, Sauerbraten ( a long braised beef roast that had been marinated for days in a mixture of wine, onions, garlic and herbs),  Hassenpfeffer (Rabbit) and sauerkraut; stuff the neighborhood kids thought was “crazy food”, of course half of them were eating hot dogs, canned spaghetti compliments of Chef Boyardee, and cold cereal, so in comparison I guess we were eating crazy food.  My parents also taught me the importance of family meals; we ate together most every night right up until the time I left home.  These are traditions I still hold on to.  Although my youngest is now a senior in high school and very busy, we try to sit down at least a few times a week, and Sunday night dinner is still pretty much mandatory.  Sitting down and sharing a meal is the best way to keep in contact with your children, although I do caution you to keep the conversations light, and to not turn dinner into a nightly confrontation of why you didn’t do this, or why did you do that…but it is an excellent time to share your views and thoughts about the world, and listen to them as they share theirs.  Key word there…LISTEN…Old joke – “Why did God give you two ears and only one mouth?”…”So you would use your ears twice as much as your mouth.

When I was in grade school they had mandatory Home Economics for all the girls, the boys went to Wood Shop.  Doesn’t work that way in today’s world, thank goodness, but back then all of us girls were supposed to learn to “take care of our families” and the guys, well, they needed those skills to “work around the house”…funny to think how much the world has changed in such a short time.  I remember getting the cooking assignments; some real dandys like Chili with Beans, which was really pretty much kidney beans, in tomato sauce with some cut up chunks of beef, not much chili involved at all; but I made it all in good cheer.  Until the day the teacher told us we were going to make a “Broccoli Custard Casserole” for our side dish.  NONE of my favs…didn’t like broccoli then, mostly cause it was frozen and then cooked to death, and egg custard, not  for me thank you very much, put them together and gag me with  spoon.  So I told her, “I’ll make it…but I won’t eat it.” The eating of our creations was required, so I again said “not me” and then spent the rest of the period in the principal’s office.  I spent a lot more time in the principal’s office after that, but I figured I would rather sit in there than have to eat some of that incredibly inedible stuff they were presenting as food.  But I did pass the course and did graduate into the big world of high school.  So I thought I would skate through Home Ec…first day of school I go to my class and sit down, the teacher comes in, NO WAY, it’s the same  teacher…man, I just can’t believe it…I thought I left her behind in 8th grade..I glare at her, she looks at me, and breaks into a big smile.  “I’m sure” she said, “we will get along just fine Linda…in high school you get to pick your own dishes to prepare.”  We did get along just fine, cook to cook and by the end of the year I was her assistant.

I married young;  my first husband was not an adventurous eater even though his mother was Belgium.  She mostly tried to fit in and cook American, although as time went on; she would sometimes cook something from her “home” and I did learn a few dishes and tricks.  But ultimately she mostly cooked from the pages of Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day and the like.  For my ex it was meat and potatoes…no fish - “you might get a bone.” After 17 years, life moved on.  I met my current and last husband soon after.

Well, what would you expect when two foodies meet in a bar.  Food and wine are a huge part of our life.  We travel to experience food.  We try new restaurants; new foods…if I cook it, he’ll eat it.  We love to taste and drink wine.  Our original commingling of wine (200 bottles) has turned into a wine cellar of over 1000; although it’s still hard to figure out what to drink with tonight’s dinner.

LindySez and the Wine Geek get marriedI’ll always remember the first time he cooked for me…he came over in a Tux with a bag; inside was Cornish game hens and wild rice.  Whoo hoo, I got me a live one here. I found out later, that was the only thing he really knew how to cook, but it was an impressive start and he still looks good in a Tux.

We are very lucky; our lives have always had some sort of food element in it, either through entertaining our friends, impromptu parties or being entertained by clients. The only dark spot was when we moved to Tulsa; the fish became scarce; the meat prominent and the weight went on.  Luckily that only lasted 14 months, 7 days, 4 1/2 hours before we were on a plane and headed to the city of food, San Francisco, where he was going to be the new VP of Marketing for the Convention Bureau…can we say “Hallelujah?”

LindySez with Chef Bobby FlayAs he slowly changed the image of the city – to the city with the best restaurants… from the city with the best icons, we got to eat in some of the best restaurants in the world, Dankos, Fleur de Lys, La Folie, The Ritz Carlton Dining Room, The French Laundry, Masa’s and so many more… we also got to dine with Ruth Reichel, and other editor’s and publishers of epicurean magazines…and trust me, when you are eating with publishers and editors of epicurean magazines, you get some over the top meals;  you are not generally ordering “off the menu”.  I also got kitchen tours, and was able to talk to the chefs, Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys, showed me his “book” where he laid out all his plates so they would all be the same…a trick I still use for dinner parties.  I got to go to Aspen with Food and Wine magazine for their 10 Best New Chefs  for 4 years in a row, not only getting to meet and talk with the likes of Bobby Flay, Mario Batali (don’t try to drink Mario under the table, he’ll win), Rick Bayless, Jacques Pepin and many more, as well as the new and upcoming chefs, who either were being recognized or were in culinary school following their passion for food.  OK, funny story, we were invited to an “after” party, that the newest best chefs were having after they finished serving their “signature” dish to about 1000+ people…we are so excited…we get there, they get there and they start making the snacks, I’m antsy with anticipation, what wonderful creations will we be eating…and then they come out….with frozen pizza rolls, cocktail wieners in barbecue sauce, some frozen egg rolls, and then there was the $2500.00 kilo tin of Beluga caviar.  Yes, easy cocktail party food.

I absorbed information, techniques, ideas.  That’s what I want to share with you.  And yes, I met Julia Child.  A wonderfully warm lady…with a fantastic sense of humor. As a matter of fact, with only a few exceptions I find that most all chefs are warm, caring and inviting people.  That’s why they cook.  That’s why I cook.  To share our love.

Now I live in Sonoma County, my husband is realizing a life’s dream of working in the world of wine, selling some of the best juice in the country and I am going to continue to pursue my love of cooking.  My eldest son and my granddaughter both say that the best time they have when they visit with me is to cook with me. So I hope you will enjoy it as well. To me, a knife hitting a wooden cutting board makes a delicious sound.  It relaxes me.  If you use a glass cutting board cause you worry about germs (we’ll get into that in a Rant and Rave)  switch boards and feel the relax.  I’ll share tools, tricks and of course, recipes with you…and hopefully not bore you too much with stories, but you can always skip past those and just get to the good stuff…the food.

Cheers – Lindy

aka LindySez aka SoSousMe


 

Under Pressure - Split Pea Soup

So, it’s Scout night…I usually do something quick and easy for the boy so he can get to his meeting, and then something a little more slow and easy for the hubby and me…but all of a sudden I am reminded that this is a “Court of Honor” meeting…where all the boys are awarded the badges and recognition they get for their last 3 months work…and it’s a 6 month Court, which means the leadership roles the boys play also changes…so it’s important that we are THERE…but wait, I’ve not only not thought about how to feed all of us the same thing, but it’s my son’s birthday…so I quickly look to the pantry…it’s always a good thing to have a well stocked pantry, but more on that later..split peas…k…we all like split pea soup…onions, carrots and celery are a staple…ham hocks in the freezer…k DINNER.  But I only have an hour…so…pressure cooker to the rescue.

“Pressure cookers are scary”…this comes from the tales of kitchen lore, the days when the lid BURST off of the pot, spraying hot food everywhere.  “What’s that on the ceiling Mom?”  “Dinner” she replies.  Well, it is true, sort of.  In the “olden days” before the days of litigation and safety standards; pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they do today.  Early pressure cookers only had a basic primary safety valve and if poorly maintained; the pressure could not be properly released.  Modern cookers (and I say modern loosely, I bought my pressure cooker at the LA County Fair over 20 years ago) typically feature two or three independent safety valves, as well as interlocks to prevent the opening of the lid while it’s internal pressure exceeds atmospheric pressure.  Proper maintenance is still important to keep the cooker working the way it’s supposed to, keeping food particles out of the valves and keeping the rubber gaskets free of dried foods to allow it to properly seal and set.  So use some common sense and check the valves and gaskets before you start to cook.  Another thing you want to avoid is over-filling the pot with liquid, never fill more than 2/3 to 3/4 full, check the manual on your model for details.

There are a lot of advantages to cooking in a pressure cooker.  While boiling water cannot exceed 212 degrees F, when trapped inside a pressure cooker the steam under the locked lid can reach temperatures up to 250 degrees F and can be maintained at 15 pounds of pressure.  Cooking at 15 pounds of pressure cuts most cooking times by 1/3…from the moment you put on the lid, until you release the pressure.  You can use less water since the liquids are “trapped” AND less energy. Steaming vegetables can be done in as little as 3 minutes, potatoes, 15.  And by using the steamer basket, the vegetables retain more of their nutritional values.

Releasing the pressure is important.  Generally, if you are cooking something delicate or something that can easily be quickly overcooked, such as vegetables, use the “quick release” method.  When the food is cooked, take the pressure cooker to the sink and run cold water over it, the pressure will be quickly relieved.  For stews and heartier dishes allow the pot to sit for 10 or 15 minutes and let the pressure drop on it’s own.

I love my pressure cooker.  I love it better than my crock-pot.  And there’s a few reasons why…

1. It’s a great “last minute” tool.  With a crock-pot you have to think of dinner in advance.  Most of us have to go to work, so that means that you have to either prepare your ingredients in the morning, or have them done the night before.  And if I decide I want beans with dinner, I can make them, in about 1/2 hour…no pre-soaking needed.  (Just add 1 tablespoon oil for each cup of beans to the water to keep them from foaming up and yes, clogging that important valve thing).

2. Most of the time, you need to brown the meat and the vegetables before putting them in a crock-pot…just another dirty pan to clean.

3. Many crock-pot recipes overcook in the time you are at work.  I’ve had a couple chicken dishes where the chicken fell so apart, that the tiny little back bones were so mixed in with the meat…well, dodging bones when I eat is not my idea of fun, or good eats.

4. I find that many times when cooking in a crock-pot, the long, slow cooking process makes everything taste kind of alike.  Mucks up the flavors.

Now I don’t want you to think I don’t have, and use a crock-pot, I just like the way food tastes and the time control I have with a pressure cooker.

LindySez: Step out of your comfort zone for just a minute; look at your pressure cooker’s manual for general information and then give it a spin.  Here’s a few great recipes to get you started.

Under Pressure Split Pea Soup

Pretty Darn Good Chili Verde

Beer Braised Beef with Onions

Once you do it, I think you’ll love it.

A Different Kind of Muffin Top

Mornings are tough.  Trying to get everyone ready and out of the house with something in their stomachs becomes a daily challenge.  And then you get the “I don’t want that” or “I don’t like that” coming out of their mouths.  Or simply “I don’t have time”.  Well, here is a couple of ideas that are portable, grab and run. Chocolate Banana Muffins and Wheat Germ Banana Muffins. With the addition of wheat germ you up the nutritional value and add fiber.  And what kid is going to object to chocolate?  Well, there may be a few, but they are few and far between.

Say goodbye to the Mc Donald’s  sausage biscuit, the $3.00 muffin at Starbucks and the bagel with cream cheese.  Try these cheaper, and much healthier alternatives.  And don’t forget about the Super Simple Scones recipe.  With the addition of nuts and dried fruits, especially blueberries and almonds (both known as “Superfoods“) you add a great nutritional punch.

LindySez: SoSousMe again, I like to save money and I like to know what’s in my food.
Feel free to share your morning quick recipe ideas.

Linguine with Fresh Pesto and Tomatoes

The summer garden is winding its way down.  The tomatoes will soon be gone; and my basil is near the end.  I know I will miss the tomatoes once they are gone, but for right now, I’m ready to be done with the tomatoes.  Perhaps next year I won’t plant quite as many plants (I say that every year, and then I get all excited come spring and start buying all kinds of new varieties, plus all my favs and end up with 20 + tomato plants).  And anyway, during the winter months, I do so enjoying going into my freezer and getting out a container of homemade tomato sauce or marinara.  So, more than likely, I will be once again looking forward to the beginning and the end of tomato season.  But for now, I’m going to enjoy the last of my crop with this great simple dish -

Linguine with Fresh Pesto and Tomatoes…

Ingredients
  • 3 quarts water
  • 12 ounces linguine
  • 1/2 cup Basil Pesto (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups seeded and diced fresh tomatoes, preferably a mix of Heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Basil Pesto
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 2 2/3 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Directions
  1. Make the Basil Pesto – Drop the pine nuts and garlic through the food chute of a food processor with the motor running; process until minced, stopping to scape the sides of the bowl as necessary. Stop the machine; add basil, cheese and lemon juice; process until finely minced. With processor on, slowly pour the oil through the chute and process until well blended.
  2. Meanwhile; bring the water to a rolling boil. Add a large pinch of salt; cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well – reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  3. Combine the pesto and pasta in a large bowl; toss well. Use the reserved pasta water to thin as necessary. Add the tomatoes, basil and feta. Toss gently to coat. Adjust seasonings; serve immediately.
This dish can be made in less than 30 minutes.  As you boil the water, make the pesto (if you need to buy pre-made pesto, buy the kind in the refrigerator section) and dice the tomatoes.  Then once the pasta is cooked, you just toss it all together.  Add a salad and it’s a great quick and easy dinner.
Remember – as long as you are making pesto anyway, you can always make extra.  Put it into ice cube trays in the freezer; once frozen pop the little cubes out and put them into a zip-top bag.  Anytime you need a little pesto, pop one out.  Pesto is great when added to a vegetable, bean, or minestrone soup. Just gives it a little pizzaz…

LindySez – Eat fresh and seasonal foods whenever you can.

Dare to Prepare - Fennel

A bulb of fennel looks very much like a “ball” of celery.  Fennel is often mislabeled “sweet anise,” in the supermarket causing those who don’t like the flavor of licorice to avoid it.   The confusion stems from the fact that both plants contain an essential oil of similar chemical composition and share a licorice-like flavor and aroma. The flavor of fennel, however, is sweeter and more delicate than anise and, when cooked, becomes even lighter and sweeter than in its raw state.   Fennel leaves are feathery and make a nice garnish or can be chopped and used as an herb.  The top stalks can be added to soups or stocks for seasoning,  but are generally too tough to eat.

The first fennel grown in the United States was grown in 1824 by Thomas Jefferson when he received a packet of seeds from the American Consul in Florence.  If you would like to grow fennel in your garden, be sure to choose Florence fennel for its edible bulb.  Common fennel will give you edible leaves, and eventually fennel seeds, but the rest of the plant will be too tough and stringy to eat.

To Choose: Someone once told me that fennel with a round bulb is female; flat is male.  Not sure if that’s true, I’ve not delved into the sex organs of fennel; but have found that the round bulbs are more tender and sweeter, so maybe that proves they are female.  The bulbs should be white, with crisp bright greens – no cuts or bruises.

To Prepare: Separate the top stalks and leaves by slicing across close to the bulb.  Trim the base of the bulb no more than is necessary, then quarter the bulb lengthwise.  Prepare according to your recipe.  If left exposed to air for too long it may discolor, so either rub the exposed parts with lemon juice or put it in cold water with a splash of vinegar.

Fennel is great raw, although the licorice flavor will be more prominent, or you can braise, roast or grill it.  It is lovely with fish and plays nicely with tomatoes, oranges, lemons, apples, walnuts and dill.

LindySez: Try it.  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again, I promise…

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Roasted Fennel

4 Servings
Ingredients:
2 medium fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preparation:
Heat oven to 375 F
Trim the fennel bulbs and blanch them in boiling water for 9 to 10 minutes.  Immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process.  Cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices.
Brush the roasting pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and arrange fennel slices in a single layer. Brush the tops with the remaining oil.
Roast 15 minutes, then turn.  Continue roasting another 15 minutes or until the slices can be easily pierced with a skewer and they are lightly browned.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot or at room temperature.
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Fennel – Carrot Confit

6 – 8 Servings

Ingredients:
2 medium fennel bulbs – halved, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound carrots – peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
¼ cup olive oil – extra virgin preferred
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (use only the yellow, none of the white pith as it is bitter)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves- minced
2 cloves garlic – minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
Heat oven to 275 F.
In a large baking dish, toss the fennel with the carrots, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, thyme leaves and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spread the vegetables evenly in the pan.  Cover tightly with foil and bake in oven for 2 hours.  The vegetables should be very tender.
Warm a 10 to 12 inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Working in batches, add the vegetables and their juices and cook, stirring gently until slightly browned, about 8 minutes per batch.  Put in a warm serving dish and garnish with minced fennel fronds, if desired and serve.

Lindy’s party tip:  The carrots and fennel can be prepared and baked up to 2 days before.  Place covered in the refrigerator and then finish by frying them prior to serving.
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Chicken Thighs with Fennel, Lemon and Garlic

(Reprinted  from the Chronicle San Francisco Cookbook)
Serves 4 – 6

Michael Bauer devised this one-pot dish, inspired by Richard Olney.  Because of their meatiness and density, chicken thighs work much better than white meat for this recipe.  Slices of lemon are cooked in a fennel – and garlic-laced broth.  The lemon melts down, adding a lovely tart flavor.  If it’s too puckery, add a teaspoon or so of sugar.

Ingredients:
8 – 12 chicken thighs, bones and skinned
Flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups dry white wine
12 garlic cloves, quartered
1 lemon, peeled, seeded and sliced
3 fennel bulbs, sliced
Sugar to taste (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fennel tops

Preparation:
Lightly coat the chicken with flour that has been well seasoned with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and sauté until browned on all sides.  Remove the chicken from the pan: set aside.
Add the wine to the pan and simmer, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom.  Add the garlic and lemon slices; let boil about 5 minutes.  Add the fennel, cover and cook about 10 minutes.  Stir well, and then return the chicken to the pan, placing it on the fennel.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes.
Lindy’s party tip: Can be prepared to this point 2 days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.
Just before serving, taste the sauce.  If it’s too tart, add a little sugar.  If necessary, boil the sauce rapidly to reduce excess juices.  Remove the chicken from the pan.
Combine the zest and fennel tops and stir most of the mixture into the fennel, reserving a little for garnish.  Spoon the fennel onto serving plates and top with the chicken.  Garnish with the remaining lemon zest – fennel top mixture

Recommended Wine Varietals: A California or Italian Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio or a  California or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Why they work: First of all, Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio.  Where it is grown will tell us the wine’s style.  A California or Italian Pinot Gris will be on the crisp, more acidic side of the spectrum.  This works well with the lemony chicken.  The same holds true for the California and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.  The fresh high-toned acid will bring out the brightness of the dish.  Sauvignon Blancs are also known for their citrus fruits – lemon, lime, and grapefruit, which again works well with the lemony chicken, and the tropical fruits – pineapple and melon will complement the sweetness of the fennel.
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Halibut with Herbs and Fennel Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 (4 – 6 ounce) halibut steaks or fillets
1 1/3 tablespoons marjoram, minced (if you don’t have marjoram, you could use oregano.  Marjoram is slightly sweeter and a little milder than is oregano, so use only 1 tablespoon oregano.)
1 1/3 tablespoons thyme, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest (be sure to only use the yellow part, no white pith)
1 teaspoon orange zest (ditto as above only using the orange part, of course)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced laterally
1 cup canned tomatoes, with juice
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
2 tablespoons basil leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonad)
2 tablespoons parsley, preferably Italian flat leaf, minced

Preparation:
In a small bowl combine the herbs and zests.  Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper, then spread the herb mixture on one side.  Set- aside.
Put 1 tablespoon oil in a saute pan; when hot, add the fennel and cook until the fennel starts to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes.  Add the wine and cook until the wine is reduced by 1/2.  Add the tomatoes along with their juice;  use the back of a spoon to mash them slightly, simmer on medium-high heat until reduced by 1/2.  Reduce heat to low; add the olives and capers; simmer until the sauce is very thick.
In another skillet, heat the remaining oil.  When hot, add the fish herb side down.  Cook about 3 minutes; turn.  Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary; cook until the fish is just cooked; another 3 to 4 minutes.  Do not overcook the fish.  (This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when cooking fish is they overcook it and it gets all dry and yucky – keep the fish moist, cook only until it’s opaque.  If you cook it until it “flakes easily with a fork” you’ve already overcooked it.)
Place the fennel with sauce onto a warmed plate; place the fish, herb side up on top, sprinkle with basil and parsley.

Wine Recommendation: A fruity Merlot.  (What!  Red wine with fish?)

Why it Works: Merlot is generally softer and silkier than a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Its flavor profile is generally red fruit driven with undertones of black fruits.  Its characteristic soft tannis work well smoothing out the slightly acidic tomato sauce.

Dinner Possible - Chicken Parmesan

Is it time for dinner? Sometimes it’s so hard just to think about what you are going to make, and then you have to think about what to have with it.  It’s no wonder so many of us, and maybe you, remember the old…meatloaf Monday, spaghetti Tuesday…etc…Well, let’s shake it up!
Here is a quick and easy preparation for dinner tonight or any weekday meal when you want to get dinner on the table in a hurry.  If you’ve been paying attention…have you been paying attention?…then you will have some homemade marinara sauce already in your freezer.  If you haven’t…well then…go ahead and use your favorite pre-made sauce…

Chicken Parmesan

Ingredients
  • 4 (about 4 ounces each) boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (and can we agree not to use the stuff in the green can?)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (or mix some oregano, basil and thyme together)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, or as needed
  • 8 ounces spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
  • 3 cups marinara sauce, either homemade or your favorite prepared sauce, heated
  • 1 cup (4 – ounces) part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Chopped fresh parsley or basil or both, optional

Directions
  1. Place the chicken breasts into a large zip top bag; using a meat mallet (not the pointy tenderizer side, but the flat side) or rolling pin, pound to 1/4 inch thickness.
  2. Combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasonings and pepper in a shallow dish.
  3. Split the mayonnaise between each breast and spread it evenly across the top with a spatula or knife. Dredge each breast, mayo side only, in the breadcrumb mixture.
  4. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Place the breast, breaded side down; cook until brown, about 5 minutes; turn and cook the other side until done, about 5 minutes more.
  5. Preheat the broiler.
  6. Place 1 cup of the cooked spaghetti in each of 4 oven-proof bowls or gratin dishes. Spoon 1/2 cup of the marinara over the spaghetti, top with a chicken breast then another 1/4 cup of sauce. Top with 1/4 cup of the mozzarella cheese.
  7. Broil for 3 – 4 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. Garnish with the herbs, if desired.
  8. Per Serving: 592 Calories; 15g Fat (5g Sat, 7g Mono, 3g Poly); 48g Protein; 65g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 1327mg Sodium.
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Serve this with a salad lightly dressed with this low-calorie yet tasty dressing.  While you might think putting chicken broth in your dressing is a little weird, it really does add a “meatiness” to the dressing and keeps the calories down.  Remember, you don’t have to use all the dressing, just enough to “kiss” the greens, not drown them.  Store any left-over dressing covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions
  1. Place all the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend or process until smooth. Use sparingly over salad greens.
  2. Per Serving: 27 Calories; 2g Fat (1g Mono); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 150mg Sodium.

LindySez - SoSousMe – Dinner in less than 30? Yeah Baby!

Cheers to Julia Child and the Bouef Bourguignon

Reading the ingredients of Boeuf Bourguignon in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking I thought, “this sounds a lot like beef stew” and you know what…it is…but when prepared as written…it isn’t.  Yes, they both use beef cubes, carrots, onions, wine, beef broth and mushrooms, but the transformation of these ingredients is so way different.
I always knew about drying off the meat before browning it, otherwise it puts off too much juice and simply boils.  Also doing the meat in batches, again so it has some breathing room to allow it to brown.  But here is what really makes this dish so different from Beef Stew…
1. Simmering the bacon for 10 minutes; removes some fat, but mostly some of the smokiness and salt.  Big difference.  I just used 6 ounces of thick sliced bacon, since I couldn’t find and didn’t have the time to order a chuck of bacon with rind.  Not sure if that made a huge difference in flavor, I’m going to guess not.
2. Thinly slicing the carrot and onion; they simply melted into the rich sauce.
3. Browning the meat, then adding the salt, pepper and flour and putting it in a hot (425 degree oven) for 8 minutes, stirring once at the half-way mark (that would be 4 minutes)…really did cook the flour without burning – what a great technique.
4. Browning and braising the pearl onions and adding them at the end.  This gave them a wonderful depth of flavor. BTW – you can peel the onions or even use frozen ones.  If using frozen, be sure to thaw them out and pat them dry before browning them.
Richly browned and braised onions
Richly browned and braised onions
5. Browning the mushroom pieces in butter and adding them to the sauce at the end.  See above. And for those of you who know me well, yes, I did taste one.
Mushrooms
Mushrooms
I did not, however, pour the sauce through a colander and skim the fat, as I really didn’t have much fat.  I think the meats we have today are so much leaner than when the recipe was written, so no fat to skim, and one less pot to wash.  Actually, if time allows, the best way to do this is to put the casserole in the refrigerator overnight (makes the flavors just that much more friendly with each other) then skim any fat off the top the next day, or even the day after that, before you reheat it.  Beef Stew and Boeuf Bourguignon are both dishes that are better as “left-overs).
Bouef Bourguignon
Boeuf Bourguignon
Beef Stew generally has potatoes in it.  Boeuf Bourguignon is usually served with either boiled potatoes, buttered noodles or even steamed rice…but I chose to serve it with some of Rough Mashed Garlic Red Potatoes…it was a great choice.
Boeuf Bourguignon with Rough Mashed Garlic Potatoes
Now, let me warn you.  This dish is not a quick to prepare any night meal, although as I said, it can be prepared in advance and then reheated.  But you need to allow yourself at least an hour, just to properly prepare and brown the meat.  Then 3 hours in the oven…of course if you have a pressure cooker, you could have it cooked in 1 rather that 3 hours…
LindySez: Bon Appetit. And thank you Julia for such a delish Beef Stew in Red Wine, with Bacon, Onions and Mushrooms.
Rough Mashed Garlic Red Potatoes
Make sure you don’t peel the potatoes.  The skin stays on to add flavor and color.
1  pound small red potatoes
4 cloves garlic
1 cup cream or half and half (or milk, or low fat milk if you must), or as needed
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cook the potatoes in salted water with the garlic cloves until the potatoes are tender.  Drain well and return to the pan, place the pan over low heat and shake to dry the potatoes out.  When the potatoes are dry and starchy looking, add the butter and mash with a potato masher, adding cream until they are your desired consistency.  Taste and add salt and pepper, stir and serve.

Wine Pairing Theory - Or how to serve red wine with fish...

A quick history of pairing theory…


One of the oldest myths about food pairing is white wine with fish, red wine with meat; I say myth, because it’s the easy way out and simply isn’t true. A more modern philosophy among foodies has evolved in recent years which strives to match the styles of wines with the weight of the food that is the body of the dish or “Paired Weight Theory”.  Thus light body wines go with light bodied foods, heavy body wines with heavy bodied foods.  (There is also a rogue camp of foodies who believe that any dish can be made to match any wine, think steak and White Zinfandel, but we’ll save that discussion for another day, or read any book by wine consultant Tim Hanni). The key to working with the Paired Weight Theory is broadly understanding how different varietals are classified and of course having a good enough sense of the dish you’re making’s eventual “weight”

In general, most whites wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier should be classified on the light side of the scale, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese (Chianti in Italy) and French Beaujolais are generally medium bodied and reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah, are full bodied and should be considered heavy.  A key factor which plays into this classification this is the body of the wine. Body takes into consideration viscosity (including alcohol content) texture, (silkiness, chewiness, meatiness,) and saturation.
So first you must consider how the food is being prepared.  Are you grilling, roasting or frying?  Is your chicken being prepared with a lemon sauce or is it a full bodied Chicken Cacciatore?  Each of these preparations would call for a different style of wine.
To balance the textures, compare the elements of your food with the elements of your wine.  As an example, a lightly grilled halibut steak seems a good match for a nice light Chardonnay, but if you add a squeeze of lemon, the sweet fruit in the Chardonnay is going to fight with the lemon, making the wine bitter.  A better pair would be a Sauvignon Blanc because of its higher acid.  Conversely, putting a cream sauce over that halibut would make it a perfect Chardonnay choice.

Keep this in mind:  For every bite…you don’t want the wine to fight!

  • Sweet foods need a sweeter wine; otherwise the palate cannot perceive the sweetness of the wine, causing it to taste bitter or tart.
  • Sour or acidic foods need a wine with more acidity, or the wine will seem flat and dull.
  • Salty foods and acid work well together, as the acid in the wine helps keep the salt in check.
  • Bitter and astringent foods would accentuate the bitterness of a wine, so look for wines that are full flavored and fruity.

A couple of other things to think about:

  1. Quality – The better the wine, the better it will pair with a wider variety of foods and styles.  The flaws in lesser bottles of wine will jump up and down on your palate when served with any ingredient that is not in perfect harmony with the varietal.
  2. Winemaker Style Is that Chardonnay overly oaked or is it more fruit forward?  Pinot Noirs can run from very rich and fruity, to mushroomy, earthy and lean.  It’s easier to change your foods preparation then it is to change a winemaker’s style of winemaking.  But, with tasting and comparing, you can also find a winemaker’s style that you like, and that works well with the foods you like to eat.
  3. Personal Preference - What you like is what you like.  No one is going to be able to convince you, nor should they, that there is only one wine to go with any particular food.

So when you think fish and you’re mind thinks white, remember to think of the texture and weight of what you are serving.  By changing herbs, spices and cooking styles, you can change a “white” wine dish into a red wine friendly dish.

LindySez - SoSousMe- I like red wine and here are my top 5 favorite red wine with fish dishes:

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1. Seared Ahi and a Cabernet Sauvignon

Let’s start with Seared Ahi.  Ahi actually works more like a steak than fish.  Most of the time it’s served rare (and rightly so); that makes it even more steak-like.

Simple Seared Ahi

Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 4 fresh Ahi tuna steaks (get the best quality you can)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
  1. Rub the tuna with the oil. Season well with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy pan over high heat; throw the tuna in the pan and sear it for just a few minutes on each side. You want the middle to be rare. (If you insist on cooking it through, just make sure you don’t overcook it).
  2. Per Serving: 174 Calories; 4g Fat (1g Sat, 2g Mono, 1g Poly); 33g Protein; trace Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 319mg Sodium.
Why it works: Cabernet’s from California will generally have higher tannins, a heavier mouth feel and will compliment the texture of the Ahi just as they would a steak.  The strong presence of black fruits (think blackberry, cassis and blueberry) enhance the meat mouth feel of the Ahi and compliments the simple salt and pepper seasoning.
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2. Cioppino and Zinfandel

Cioppino is a tomato-based seafood stew that was created by Italian fishermen in San Francisco around the turn of the century.  While today, Dungeness crab is considered a required ingredient, you should use whatever fish you like; and use what is fresh.  No mater what seafood you use, it’s the tomato base that ties this stew to Zinfandel.

Lindy’s Cioppino

Serves 6
Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 leek, cleaned, cut in half and then thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes with juice
  • 1 cup bottled clam juice
  • 1 cup dry white wine, (a Sauvignon Blanc works well here)
  • Large pinch red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 whole mussels or clams (or splurge and use both) cleaned
  • 12 whole raw medium shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails left on
  • 1/2 pound bay scallops
  • 1 Dungeness crab, cleaned, broken into pieces and cracked or lobster cut into pieces, or other crab if you have a local favorite
  • 1 pound snapper, halibut, cod or other white fish, cut into bite sized pieces
  • Minced parsley

Directions
  1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil; add the celery, onion, garlic, leek, fennel, thyme and bay leaf. Saute 5 minutes.
  2. Add the wine and reduce by half (about 3 minutes); add the tomatoes, clam juice, saffron, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the mussels or clams (or both); remove them to a bowl as they open. This keeps them from overcooking. Discard any shellfish that does not open.
  4. Add the rest of the seafood and cook until the shrimp is pink, scallops are opaque, crab is hot and the fish is cooked. Divide the shellfish between 6 heated bowls; ladle the stew over; top with parsley and serve with a good garlic bread. and a nice bottle of Zinfandel or Chianti. (In Italy many fish stews are served over a garlic crostini, you can do that too with this if you so desire).
  5. Per Serving: 309 Calories; 12g Fat (2g Sat, 7g Mono, 2g Poly); 32g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 79mg Cholesterol; 654mg Sodium.
Why it works: Zinfandel’s flavor profile is loaded with red and black fruits and sweet and savory spice notes like cinnamon and white pepper.  The tomato based Cioppino is high in acid and the slight sweetness and higher alcohol of the Zin soothe one another into a mellow flavor.
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3. Swordfish and a “Super Tuscan”

Swordfish is a dense fish with a firm texture.  It can be grilled, fried, broiled or baked.  Serving it with an olive tapenade makes it the perfect choice to go with a nice Super Tuscan*. Together, the texture of the fish and the savory toppings puts this dish into the heavy bodied category.

Baked Swordfish with Olive Relish

Serves 4
Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/3 cup kalamata or black oil cured olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, chopped (you can do these yourself or you can use bottled, I use bottled)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 anchovies, drained and minced (this really gives a good flavor to the relish, so try to use them and don’t go yuck)
  • 2 teaspoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 (6-ounce) swordfish steaks

Directions

  1. Combine the olives, peppers, parsley, anchovies, capers, vinegar and garlic in a small bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, allow to sit for a while to let the flavors blend, 1 hour would be great. ( LindySez Party Tip: Make this the day before and let it sit overnight covered in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the swordfish on both sides with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Heat an oven proof skillet over medium high heat until hot; add the fish and sear on both sides until brown; then pop the pan in the oven to finish the cooking process; cook until done, about 10 minutes more.
  3. Put the fish on a warm plate, top with the relish.
  4. Per Serving: 338 Calories; 20g Fat (3g Sat, 9g Mono, 2g Poly); 34g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 68mg Cholesterol; 653mg Sodium.
Why it works: Think of the ingredients in this recipe independently and you have many of the most popular toppings for pizza; garlic, olives, anchovies and red pepper.  If this dish included tomatoes (it does not) a Chianti or Sangiovese would be a great pairing partner.  However, the red peppers are less acidic and sweeter than tomatoes; therefore, the addition of Cabernet in the Super Tuscan blend smooths out the normal acidity of Sangiovese grapes by adding some needed tannins and concentrated black fruit.  The density of the swordfish matches the texture of most red meat.
*Super Tuscans  burst onto the scene in Chianti in 1975 with the introduction of Tignanello (80% Sangiovese and 20% cabernet).  The Piero Antinori of the legendary Antinori wine making tradition was trying to offer a new way to make Sangiovese interesting to the world again after it had faded due to dismal production and abysmal cheap wines for almost 3 decades.  The result has helped to redefine Chianti and upgrade production on the Sangiovese grape.  Antinori was, at first, scorned by the DOC (the controlling authority in Italy) and was forced to label Tignanello as a lowly Vin di Tavolo (table wine).  Today, Tignanello and other Super tuscans carry the IGT classification (indicazione geografica tipica).
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4. Halibut and Merlot

Halibut is a mild flavored, medium textured fish.  This combination works well with a Merlot, the fennel and orange zest bringing out the fruit Merlot is known for.

Halibut with Herbs and Fennel Tomato Sauce

Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 4 (4 – 6 ounce) halibut steaks or fillets
  • 1 1/3 tablespoons marjoram, minced
  • 1 1/3 tablespoons thyme, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (yellow part only, no white pith)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (ditto above, only the orange part)
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olive
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
  • 2 tablespoons basil leaves, chiffonade
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley

Directions
  1. In a small bowl, combine the herbs and the zests. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then spread the minced herbs on one side. Set-aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan. Add the fennel and saute until the fennel starts to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the wine is reduced by 1/2. Add the tomatoes along with their juice; using your spoon mash them slightly. Simmer over medium high heat until reduced by 1/2. Reduce heat to medium low; add the olives and capers and simmer until the sauce is very thick.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a skillet; when hot, add the fish herb side down. Cook about 3 minutes; then turn. Add a little more oil, if necessary; and cook until the fish is just cooked through. Do not overcook the fish. (This is the biggest mistake people make when cooking fish, they over cook it, and then it becomes all dry and yucky. If you cook it until it “flakes easily with a fork” you’ve overcooked it. Keep it moist in the center, cooking only until it’s opaque.)
  4. Place the fennel mixture onto a warmed plate, top with fish and sprinkle basil and parsley over.
  5. Per Serving: 394 Calories; 15g Fat (1g Sat, 6g Mono, 2g Poly); 37g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 54mg Cholesterol; 712mg Sodium.

Why it works: Merlot is generally softer and silkier than Cabernet Sauvignon.  Its flavor profile is generally red fruit driven with an undertone of black fruit.  Its characteristic soft tannins work well smoothing out the slightly acidic tomato sauce.
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5. Salmon and Pinot Noir

A classic combination.  Add bacon and it’s a no brainer.

Salmon with Lentils and Bacon

Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, minced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 (2-inch long) orange peel strips (orange part only, no white pith)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 4 (6-ounce) salmon steaks or fillets ( use wild caught salmon if at all possible; it’s got better taste, better texture, it’s good for YOU and it’s good for the environment)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives or green onion tops (try the chives, they really are different than green onion tops)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon or 2 teaspoons dried

Directions
  1. Combine the lentils, onion, carrot, orange peel and water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup cooking liquid; discard the orange peel. Return the lentils to the pan; season with salt and pepper. (LindySez Party Tip: Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill the lentils and reserved cooking liquid separately.)
  2. While the lentils cook fry the bacon until crisp. Remove, drain and chop into pieces. (Hint: I like to have uniform pieces of bacon in my dish, so I slice the bacon first into uniform pieces and then fry them.)
  3. Place a frying pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of oil; heat until shimmering. Season the fish with salt and pepper and place in the frying pan. Cook until just opaque, turning once. (LindySez: Party Tip- to really impress…if using salmon steaks, cut out the center bone and separate each half. Starting at the thickest part; roll the salmon to form a circle; tie with kitchen string. After cooking, remove the string and you have a nifty little salmon circle.)
  4. Meanwhile, add enough reserved cooking liquid to the lentils to moisten them; mix in the cream, parsley, chives and tarragon; bring to a simmer. Add the bacon. Spoon lentils onto warmed plates; top with the salmon and serve.
  5. Per Serving: 423 Calories; 10g Fat (3g Sat, 3g Mono, 3g Poly); 49g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 102mg Cholesterol; 135mg Sodium.
Why it works: There is probably no more famous food and wine pair than Salmon and Pinot Noir; think of them as the Abbott and Costello of food and wine.  They work on most all the levels of pairing theory: ingredients from common geography (Oregon, Washington, North Coast CA) and body weight (both medium). The typical flavor profile of Pinot Noir is combination of red fruits (cherry, cranberry and raspberry), black fruits (black cherry and plum); and a wonderful earthiness that ranges from moist earth and mushrooms (typical in red burgundies from France); to a softer more elegant style found in the Pinots from the New World (California, Oregon and Washington, as well as New Zealand).

LindySez - Now do your heart good -  eat some fish, and enjoy the health properties found in it as well as in red wine!


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dinner Possible - Balsamic Blackberry Chicken Breasts Menu

This dinner is simple to prepare and everyone loves the sweet and sour tastes of the blackberry balsamic glaze.  And it’s low-cal too.  The whole thing, with a glass of wine, (that’s a standard 5 ounce pour) comes in at less than 575 calories and only 8 grams of fat.  If you’re not drinking  wine, it would be about 100 calories less, but LindySezfor 100 calories, I’ll enjoy the wine.

Blackberry Balsamic Chicken Breasts

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 (about 4 ounce) boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallot, (or onion)
  • 1/4 cup pinot noir wine, (or another red wine or if you don’t drink use chicken broth)
  • 1/2 cup seedless blackberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Directions
  1. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the top of each breast, then season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the breasts, herb side down and cook, turning once, until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and keep warm.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the shallots to the pan and saute for one minute. Add the wine (or broth) stirring to scrape up any brown bits; simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Add the jam and vinegar and simmer until the preserves melt. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the breasts and serve. Serves 4
Serve this with this simple but tasty orzo.  Orzo is a small, rice shaped pasta.  It cooks in about 10 minutes.  So start the water to cook the orzo at the same time you start the chicken.

Herbed Orzo

Ingredients
  • 1 cup orzo pasta
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced tarragon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
  1. Cook the orzo according to the package directions. Drain well. Return to the pot and stir in the herbs along with salt and pepper, to taste.  Serves 4
Add a healthy, tasty broccoli dish.  Just remember to cook the broccoli only to crisp tender, don’t overcook it into mush.

Steamed Broccoli with Lemon Zest

Ingredients
  • 1 pound broccoli
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon (zest first, juice second)
  • Salt
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, (optional)

Directions
  1. Discard the lower third of the broccoli stem (compost!). Peel remaining stem and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Cut the broccoli crown into 2-inch florets. In a steamer set over boiling water (if you don’t have a steamer, a metal colander will work), cover and steam the broccoli until it is crisp tender, about 4 – 5 minutes. When done, toss it with the olive oil, lemon zest, juice, salt and red pepper flakes, if using.  Serves 4
If you are drinking wine, I recommend a  Merlot, Shiraz, or Pinot Noir.  Their flavor profiles will will work well with the blackberry glaze as well as play nicely with the lemon zest and herbs.

LindySez: -So there you are.  Dinner for tonight or any weeknight that I think the whole family will love. Cheers!