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Friday, October 30, 2009

Bookclub 2009: "My Life in France" meets "Savor the Moment"

As I had mentioned before in a previous entry, last month I offered to host our October Bookclub meeting at Chez Miskew. The book selected this month was “My Life in France” by Julia Child and my plan for the menu was to make something inspired by Julia as well as a dish (or two) from “Savor the Moment."
Now, if you have seen the movie Julie & Julia or are familiar with Julia Child you are probably aware of a particular dish that's synonymous with her cuisine. Yes, I am talking about Boeuf Bourguignon. I am a big fan of this dish, making it AND eating it. It also generally garners rave reviews from my guests. It is made with an entire bottle of red wine (usually Burgundy), sautéed mushrooms, carrots, bacon, thyme and pearl onions. The recipe I use also calls for some Cognac which gives it a wonderful, rich flavor. While it is absolutely delicious, the only problem I’ve had involves the meat called for in the recipe. Beef chuck tends to dry out the longer you cook it. So while the soup itself tastes better the longer it cooks, the meat - not so much. Enter Thomas Keller, culinary god and chef/creator of world-renowned, Michelin 3 star restaurants French Laundry and Per Se. The month the movie was released, as an homage to Julia Child, he shared his version of this classic French dish with Wine Spectator Magazine and made it with short ribs. I was so excited when I saw this – problem solved! The beautiful thing about short ribs is the longer you cook them the better they get. In fact, they need to be cooked at least 4 hours in order to reach the perfect consistency; at which point they literally melt in your mouth. So that was the top secret, experimental recipe at my dinner party the previous weekend. I used my tried and true Boeuf Bourguignon recipe, and used short ribs instead of the beef chuck. I am happy to report it turned out perfectly both times.
Because there are a few vegetarian girlies in Bookclub, I wanted to have an alternate, non-meat dish as well. (Although, come to find out, the Boeuf Bourguignon was fabulous enough to get a few non-meat eaters to convert – at least for the night!) I had been wanting to make the Golden Butternut Squash Lasagne (pg. 195) and being as the weather had dipped below 90 degrees last week, it seemed like the perfect choice. One of the great things about this dish is the filling, consisting of roasted butternut squash and rosemary infused milk. I opted to use fresh rosemary which gave it a fresher flavor. This recipe can also be made a day or so in advance. The day of Bookclub, all I had to do was cook up the noodles, assemble the lasagna and whip up the topping. Let me assure you, this dish is worth every amount of effort that goes into it and then some. I know I have previously mentioned my disdain for vegetarian dishes but this one was almost enough to convert ME. It has a creamy texture and a wonderful sweetness as well. You absolutely have to make this dish at some point during the holiday season - it will definitely be making an appearance at my Thanksgiving dinner and, judging by the requests for seconds, it seemed to be a big hit with the girls as well, vegetarians and carnivores alike.
As for the wines, because I know you were wondering, I decided to have a little pairing contest. With the help of Bob Leone, Manager of Crown Wine & Spirits, I selected 3 different wines from 3 very different areas of the world: a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia and a Rioja from Spain. Now you might ask, “Where is the French wine? It is Beouf Bourguignon after all.” I selected the other wines, frankly, based on value. European wines are currently quite costly and with a nice sized guest list, people requesting suggestions of wines to bring and a husband in commercial real estate I decided to go with great values. I chose great wine-making areas and stuck with what they did best. I set out the 3 wine selections on each table and let my guests experiment with tasting. By the third wine, these girls were getting pretty darn good with their tasting notes. You might think the Pinot Noir would’ve been a sure bet to win the best pairing. Boeuf Bourguignon is made with Pinot Noir after all; however, the hands down winner of the evening was...drumroll…the 2006 Kaesler Shiraz from Australia!!! The luscious fruit flavors of ripe black cherry and some nice spice really complemented the dish beautifully. I think the short ribs gave the Boeuf Bourguignon an extra layer of decadence that required something with more body to it. I will tell you though, we had a lot of fun in the process!
As for dessert, I served Crème Brulee with fresh raspberries and the Deep Chocolate Raspberry Cake (pg. 253) from “Savor the Moment.” I made the Crème Brulee the night before and carmelized the sugar right before serving. It turned out perfectly creamy and I got to use my new, bad-ass Home-Depot blowtorch. Despite having a few glasses of wine, it worked out just fine. I love digging into a Crème Brulee while the sugar is still warm and the custard is nice and chilled – YUM! The cake was also delicious: rich, dense and veeery chocolately. It was made with mostly semisweet chocolate with creamy chocolate ganache frosting and luscious, raspberry filling. To be honest, I could have pulled the cake out of the oven a few minutes earlier – it was a lit-tle on the dry side. But as Julia Child famously said, "Make no apologies!" The cake did go very well with the creamy Crème Brulee. Judging from what was left, I think the two desserts were pretty well received.
After going around the table and taking turns sharing everyone’s most memorable dining experience (ranging from dessert at J. Alexander’s to a meal on the Orient Express) the evening drew to a close. I sent everyone home with a CD of music inspired by my trip to France in May and offered a selection of Halloween candy to go. It was such a wonderful evening enjoying food, wine and lots of laughs with some fabulous girls. I think Julia definitely would have approved!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things: Linguine with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Maria cheerfully sang in The Sound of Music, “these are a few of my favorite things…” and in this dish we have pasta, asparagus, and prosciutto - definitely a few of MY favorite things! In addition to being delicious, this is a pasta dish you don’t have to feel guilty about. There’s no heavy cream or red sauce to contend with that'll follow you around through the holidays and beyond. Just lovely linguine tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. It's also a great dish for Fall. I don't know about you but when the temperature starts to drop, I start to crave pasta. The prosciutto and asparagus work together so nicely too. The slightly sweet, salty flavor of the prosciutto contrasts beautifully with the color and crunch of the green asparagus. It is also, essentially, a one pot meal – less clean up for whomever's responsible for the “dish-doing” in your house - and the recipe can be easily doubled, in case you want to share with friends or have leftovers hanging around in the fridge. As an added bonus, it's also a cinch to make. The entire recipe is only 6 sentences long - another one of my favorite things.
As for wine, a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc would be great with this dish. Something with a lighter, crisper style to highlight the asparagus and lemon flavors yet enough body to complement the creaminess of the olive oil and Parmesan cheese. If you were in the mood for red wine, you might want to try a Dolcetto. This light and fruity red is from the Piedmont region in Italy. It is a great “everyday” wine and would be a nice alternative to white. So make it a date night at home or invite some friends over for a nice, light pre-holiday meal. The Linguine with Asparagus and Prosciutto will not disappoint. Buon appetito!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Delicious Dinner in a Dash: Tropical Island Shrimp

Looking for a delicious, low-maintenance meal to make tonight? Something not too labor or time intensive that your loved ones will think you slaved over? Grab your copy of “Savor the Moment” and flip to page 187, girlfriend. The Tropical Island Shrimp is what's for dinner!
As I've said before, “Savor the Moment” is chock full of fabulous, time-saving "Dinners in a Dash"and this is definitely one of them. Provided your grocery store has ripe mangoes, avocados and peeled & deveined shrimp - you are all set! (Trust me, if mine does, I'm certain yours will!) This recipe is delicious and has a distinctly Florida vibe, calling for lots of fabulous, fresh ingredients: garlic, red bell pepper, jalapeño, cilantro, lemon juice – what’s not to like about that!
To maximize efficiency, I got the basmati rice started first and prepped the avocado and mango. I sliced them and tossed them with the lemon juice as indicated in the recipe. Be sure to coat the avocado especially well with the lemon juice to prevent it from browning. Then, I prepped the shrimp and got them marinating in their delicious little shrimp jacuzzi. The combination of jalapeño, cilantro and lemon juice smelled heavenly! Once the rice was done and the shrimp were through marinating, I cranked up the skillet and sautéed the bell pepper. Then, I tossed in the shrimp with the marinade followed by the avocado and mango mixture. I’ve never really “cooked” avocado or mango before and, I have to tell you, it is really delicious. The mango becomes even sweeter and the avocado takes on a richer, more buttery texture.
Once the shrimp were cooked through and everything was sufficiently warmed up, I spooned the mixture over the warm, fragrant basmati rice and sprinkled generously with the chopped cilantro. Voila! Tropical Island Shrimp is served and you are a "Savor the Moment" rock star - in 30 minutes or less! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Perfect Prelude to a Meal: Baby Greens with Pears

After a long weekend visiting family in North Carolina, I am running a little behind on my cooking. That and the fact I had a dinner party on Saturday for which I have to admit I, um, made a recipe that wasn’t from "Savor the Moment." Gasp! In my defense, it was a recipe I had wanted to try for awhile - actually an adaptation of a recipe. I can’t go into detail because I am serving it next week at Bookclub. I’m hosting the meeting at my house and the book, you may ask, is Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” My plan is to make one of Julia’s recipes and one from "Savor the Moment" – and yes, in case your were wondering, there will be wine involved as well. Should be a fun night!
But I digress, back to Saturday’s dinner party. Even though the main course wasn’t from "Savor the Moment," the first course was. I chose the Baby Greens with Pears as a prelude to my experimental meal. We invited our good friends Chad & Jean who were very willing accomplices and taste-testers. They also brought some fabulous wine as well! I chose the salad because it includes some of my favorite things: pears and Gorgonzola cheese. I was also intrigued by the vinaigrette which called for walnut oil, cinnamon and balsamic vinegar. I had never used walnut oil before so I did purchase that but I already had everything else in my pantry. After assembling the vinaigrette the salad is really a cinch to prepare. Be sure to purchase your pears a day or so ahead so they are nice and ripe. I used the prepackaged Baby Romaine mix at Publix which was sooo convenient. As a pairing for the salad, we had a Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris, a white wine from Alsace, France. This dish needed something with a little sweetness to it to complement the tangy deliciousness of the cheese. A Riesling would also be a wonderful choice.

The Dish:
Baby Greens with Pears (pg. 121)

The Wine:
2004 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve, Alsace, France

I am happy to report the top secret, experimental dish turned out to be a big success and will definitely be making an appearance next week at Bookclub. The flavors of the salad also melded together beautifully: the sweetness of the pears together with the salty, tanginess of the cheese = fabulous! I loved the flavor of the walnut oil in the dressing too – it added a rich smoky, nutty flavor to the salad. The wine was also a nice pairing with subtle flavors of honey and starfruit with nutty overtones and nice acidity. In light of the yumminess of the salad I just might have to make it next Wednesday night too – we shall see. It really is a perfect prelude to a delicious dinner with friends.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ooh La La: Romantic Dinner for Two!

Tonight a nice romantic dinner for two is on the menu: Dijon Lamb Chops with Shallot Sauce and Green Beans and Friends. Ooh la la! Now, I am a big fan of lamb chops but they are not something I make on a regular basis. There’s always the leg of lamb on Easter Sunday but lamb chops, not so much. Also, as it turns out, they are quite expensive. At the butcher I had the option of the New Zealand lamb, which apparently is a bit gamy, or the domestic lamb which were bigger, cleaner-tasting chops but, coincidentally, slightly more expensive. I decided to go with the domestic (against my husband's newly instituted fiscal policy) and asked them to cut them with the double rib as indicated in the recipe. I must say they were some nice-looking chops! Though a non-veggie fan, the Green Beans and Friends sounded surprisingly good with bacon, shallots and mushrooms. Those are definitely some of MY best friends. Instead of regular green beans I bought haricorts verts, I think they make a nicer presentation than your typical green beans and have a nicer flavor...a little more ooh la la since they are French too!
Once home, I got to prepping the two dishes. I started with the shallot sauce for the lamb chops. Since it has to reduce, I got that going first. Then, the green beans. You need to blanch them for five minutes, then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process – yes, just like they do on Food Network! It was easy enough and I felt very chef-y in the process. Then I sautéed the bacon in the skillet and chopped it up to top the beans when they were done. I then proceeded with the shallots and mushrooms and finally added the green beans back to the skillet to warm though. Since the lamb chops only were supposed to take 10 minutes I figured they could hang out for a little know, since they're all friends.
The prep for the lamb chops was easy enough and reminiscent of the pork chops I made for my sister’s birthday with the Dijon mustard and bread crumbs. I think the key to this recipe, however, is to stick with 1 1/2 inch lamb chops or thinner. Mine were closer to 2 inches. Although I thought that was close enough, as it turns out, 5 minutes per side under the broiler was not near enough time to cook them. The coating started to burn and they were a very underdone rare in the center after the indicated cook time – YIKES! I decided at this point to just set the broiler to low and leave them in awhile longer keeping my fingers crossed that the inside would cook before the outside completely charred. Meanwhile the shallot sauce was approaching the perfect level of reduction on the stove and smelling absolutely fabulous.
The sauce calls for white wine otherwise I might have chosen a Pinot Noir to go with this meal, which, frankly, would still be a great choice. For a dry white wine I selected a Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé - a French Chardonnay from the Burgundy region. This wine has a nice minerality to it with fruit overtones and a touch of oak; unlike the heavy oak influence you find in some American Chardonnays. Maison Louis Jadot is know for producing great wines from the Burgundy Region. They were also participants in last year’s Boca Bacchanal and poured some fabulous wines we had the opportunity to sample.

The Dishes:
Dijon Lamb Chops with Shallot Sauce (pg. 156)
Green Beans and Friends (pg. 216)

The Drink:
2007 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé Burgundy, France

Fortunately, the lamb chops cooked to a beautiful medium rare before all the breading charred on them – whew! The great thing about the shallot sauce is, besides being absolutely delicious, it can also hide any, um, imperfections when spooned atop the chops. The addition of the butter to the sauce when taken off the heat is also truly decadent. The lamb chops also, thankfully, turned out to be amazing – the Dijon mustard baked with the breadcrumbs had such a fabulous, rich, mouth-watering flavor. Even the beans which had to hang out a little longer than expected were truly delightful. With its mineral and apple notes and touch of oak the Pouilly Fuissé went well with the meal as well. I would definitely pair these two dishes together again in the future.
So, after a little nail-biting, dinner for two turned out to be a great success! Although, much to my dismay, the pictures of this beautiful dish mysteriously disappeared from my camera (much like the two remaining lamb chops I had hoped to save for the next day!) Fortunately, that was the only thing that turned out to be disappointing. Definitely well worth the effort for that special someone – enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Passion for Poultry: Herb and Lemon Roasted Chicken

I absolutely adore a roasted chicken. It is one of my favorite things to make OR eat. I have my own, personal recipe involving carmelized onions and rosemary that is absolutely delicious and makes the house smell outrageously good. As testament to my roast chicken obsession, after hearing Diane Keaton in the movie “Something’s Gotta Give” refer to Paris’ Le Grande Colbert’s roast chicken as “the best in the universe” I just had to check it out while we were there in May. Turns out she was right. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to making “Savor the Moment’s” Herb and Lemon-Roasted Chicken.
After reading the recipe, it was clear this chicken had all the makings of a tasty bird. Chopped fresh rosemary and thyme, garlic, and lemon…what’s not to love about that? The visually appealing idea of spreading the herb mixture under the skin also sounded great. I usually do my Thanksgiving turkey this way and it makes a beautiful presentation.
After chopping the herbs, I took my poultry shears and removed the wing tips of the chicken and then proceeded to loosen the skin from the breast and legs. This part definitely takes a bit of patience (not necessarily my forte!) but is relatively easy. You don’t want to tear the skin if at all possible, but, if it does happen, it’s not THAT big a deal. Once I had the skin pretty well separated I used my fingers to spread the herb mixture over the breast, thighs and legs – again a little patience required but well worth the effort. Once sufficiently “schmeared” with the mixture, I chucked the lemon rinds, garlic and fresh herbs into the poor bird’s, um, “cavity”, slathered on some olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkled liberally with kosher salt and pepper, and popped it into the pre-heated 450 degree oven.
There’s something about the aroma that begins to fill the house within the first 5-10 minutes after you put a chicken in the oven that is intoxicating. Within minutes the smell of rosemary, thyme, garlic and lemon were wafting through the kitchen…just dreamy! To go with our lovely bird I selected a medium-bodied California white wine that is a blend of Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier grapes called Blancaneaux. This particular wine is the proprietary white wine of Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate. A proprietary wine is one referred to by name alone, not varietal or vineyard, and is usually a blend of several grape varieties. Proprietary labels are owned by certain producers to distinguish a particular wine that they feel has consistent qualities year after year. Other examples of proprietary wines include Opus One and Insignia. Tonight’s wine received a rating of 90 points and is a little pricey for an everyday wine at $40 retail. But tonight it was definitely worth it!

The Dish:
Herb and Lemon-Roasted Chicken (pg. 170)

The Drink:
2006 Rubicon Estate Blancaneaux Rutherford, CA

After reducing the oven temperature to 350 degrees and roasting the chicken for about 40 minutes longer, it was looking beautifully browned. I pulled it out of the oven and let it hang out while I made the gravy. I skimmed the fat from the drippings and transferred them to a saucepan rather than making it in the roasting pan. I actually used a baking sheet to cook the chicken because my roasting pan was too large for this bird. I do recommend using an appropriate size roasting pan if you have one handy even though the baking sheet worked just fine. Although I do occasionally suffer from gravy phobia (“making it” not “eating it” - just to clarify) this is not your traditional gravy. This gravy is made simply by adding water to the drippings to deglaze the pan and simmering until reduced to ¾ cup. It was so easy to make and also smelled fantastic while simmering away on the stove.
Once the gravy was reduced, I was excited to carve up that bird and see if it was as good as I’d hoped it would be. I am happy to report the chicken was dee-licious: crisp-skinned with the beautiful herb-design visible underneath and very tasty! The gravy was also fabulous - definitely worth the effort and lighter than traditional gravy which calls for the use of flour or some other thickening agent. The wine also went beautifully with the bird with its overtones of fig and apple with a nice acidity on the finish. Garnished with fresh herbs and lemon slices, the chicken really made a nice presentation. And although this recipe claims it “serves four” tonight, I’m afraid, it only served two!
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