Saturday, July 31, 2010

Orange Candy Demystified, a refreshing summertime treat

Dessert isn’t something I focus on much in my writing. Possibly because I don’t eat many sweets, but there are certain desserts and candies that will always have a place in my heart. Cheesecake is certainly one of them, as well as truffles. Then there are orange candies. You know, the ones that your grandparents always kept in a glass jar on the end table in the living room. However, I’m not here to talk about mass-produced mounds of sugar and artificial flavorings. No, I’m here to talk about real, home made, orange candies.

If you’ve never made candy in your home then you are missing out on one of the most wonderful experiences that you can provide to your family and your guests. Most people probably assume it’s too difficult, but I’m here to tell you it’s not. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

The recipe I’m giving you today is for orange candy; however, you can convert this recipe to accommodate any citrus fruit that has a rind, and each time you will create a unique result, true to the flavor of that fruit.

But let’s not stop there. One day, while planning the menu for a client, I got to thinking about dessert and how I could make something new and different, that they’d never seen before. Then it came to me; a candied dessert cup. Imagine a summertime dessert that starts with a citrus gelato, topped with strips of orange candy, a sprig of mint and presented in an edible candied orange cup. I’ll leave the gelato for another time, but the cup is easy and it’s just a slight modification to the recipe below.

Orange Candy

The best part about this recipe is that you also make yourself a nice glass of fresh squeezed orange juice in the process.

2 - 3 oranges (or lemons, limes, grapefruit, ect.)
12 fl oz water
1 lb sugar
4 oz corn syrup

Plus 1 cup of sugar in a bowl for coating the candy.

Slice the oranges in half. With a reamer or orange juicer, juice the orange. Then, take a spoon and work your way between the remaining fruit and the rind. Be careful not to pierce the rind. Scrape the inside of the rind until all of the fruit and membrane have peeled away (see picture for end result).

Now, slice the fruit as you’d like for the candy. You can make strips, squares and other shapes, or you can leave the orange cut in half to create the candy cup. (A note on the candy cup; turn the peel on its side and slice a small amount from the bottom to create a flat surface. This will help the cup stand on it’s own and for the candy process to sweeten the bottom of the rind.)

Now, place the orange slices in a cold pot and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Remove the orange rind from the water and repeat three times (cold water, boil, remove) to remove the bitterness of the rind. (This may seem time consuming but it’s quite easy.)

In a pot, place the water from the recipe above and turn the burner to medium-high. Add the sugar while stirring and then add the corn syrup. Allow this mixture to come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Add the orange rinds to the simmering water and sugar mixture; make sure the rinds are submerged. For candy strips, simmer for one hour. For candy cups, simmer for 1½ hours.

Remove the candy (no longer rinds) from the mixture when the time is up and lay them out on a cooling rack.

One at a time, drop them into the bowl of sugar and flip them around until completely covered with a thin coating.

(Do the same with the candy cup.) Set each candy to the side and allow them to cool and dry completely.

You’ve just made orange candy. If you made the orange candy cup, add a scoop or two of gelato with a sprig of mint and a few orange candy slices on top, to create an elegant and delicious dessert.

Here’s a really great twist: Skip coating them in sugar. Allow them to cool and dry for four hours. Then, in a double boiler, (bane marie) slowly melt 7 ounces of semi-sweet baker’s chocolate, stirring regularly. Once the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the stove and place on a warm towel. Dip (I like to use a tooth pick) each orange slice into the chocolate and lay them out in a cool area (preferable under 70 degrees) on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. During this process, if the chocolate in the bowl become too cool, return the bowl to the double boiler for 30 seconds while stirring. Allow the orange slices to cool completely for one to two hours.

You’ve just made chocolate-covered orange candies.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I remember my Grandmother’s “Sunday Sauce”

Those childhood memories and the things they do to us. They capture us in the moment. Leave us longing for what we once had. The smell of your father’s tobacco or the song your mother sang you to sleep. For me, and I’m sure, for many who had the fortune of growing up with an Italian influence, I fondly remember my grandmother’s Sunday sauce. It wasn’t something you’d ever expect at a restaurant. It was probably not perfectly seasoned… but it was magical. It was warmth and the safe feeling of having your entire family around you, waiting in anticipation of the amazing meal that your grandma had spent hours preparing.

Is it any wonder why you’re taught about nostalgia in culinary school? It’s because it is the key to our hearts and minds.

Last week, I found myself at a dinner with fellow writers and wine enthusiasts, at a restaurant named Cesca on the upper west side. A cozy and inviting place with an old-world feel, yet a perfectly relaxed atmosphere. Firstly, I was there for the wines, and they were great. However, what caught my attention in the midst of it all, and stopped me dead in my tracks, was when the server brought me their Sunday sauce. Understand, I hardly order off the menu and usually ask the staff to bring me whatever the kitchen feels like making me (a great way to try new things and let chefs get creative). So as I looked down at the plate in front of me and the aromas began to waft up to my senses, I was taken aback.

It was one of those moments where it seemed like the world was moving forward without you. I sat there, no longer sipping wine or taking notes... I sat there with the sudden realization that they truly made me a Sunday sauce, in the same style that I had enjoyed every Sunday of my childhood life. What’s more, this was actually on their menu under the exact name of “Sunday Sauce” and I simply didn’t make the connection until that moment.

What did it taste like? Exactly what it should have. A red tomato sauce that had been slow cooked with meatballs, sausage and pork. Perfect acidity and the same texture I remember. I enjoyed myself so much that I failed to write a single note, simply because it was that good. Such a simple thing and yet I haven’t experienced it in all the years I’ve been working in restaurants or wining and dining.

And so, before I publish a single note on the wine from that night, I must say. Cesca is a restaurant that deserves some attention. I can assure you, it will get another visit from me in the near future. And I’m happy to recommend it to all of you, if for no other reason, than to taste that Sunday Sauce. Well done.

After all of that, you might think that the wine was an after thought, but I assure you, it was amazing. Snooth editor and community manager, Greg dal Piaz, brought a selection of rarities and well aged beauties, from old school California cab to 1978 Barolo. Put the wines with the food and add the great company and you have an evening that I will not soon forget.

On to the notes:

  • 2005 Vare Ribolla Gialla - USA, California, Napa Valley (7/12/2010)
    Talk about an interesting wine as the nose hits you with almond, pistachio and olives yet somehow… ripe. What was expected to be a semi-sweet palate turned out to be remarkably dry with roasted nuts, minerals and grassy hint. The finish was a bit simple but in all honesty, this bottle is worth it for the bouquet alone. (89 pts.)

  • 2008 Di Filippo Montefalco Grechetto Colli Martani - Italy, Umbria, Montefalco (7/12/2010)
    On the nose I found lemon sabayon with hazelnuts and a bit of sea air. The palate was rich with canned peaches, vanilla and a hint of lime with a nice fresh finish. (88 pts.)

  • 1984 Daniel Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California, Napa Valley (7/12/2010)
    Excellent, old school, Napa cabernet as your senses are assaulted with dusty, dark red fruit, eucalyptus, stems, and balsamic vinegar. On the palate, I found a rush of menthol and strawberry fruit. It was immensely fresh and lush for a wine of over 20 years old. The finish keeps a hint of menthol and carries red fruit. (89 pts.)

  • 1990 San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT (7/12/2010)
    The nose showed red fruit with sauté mushroom and a bit of olive. On the palate, I found ripe dark cherry, spice, old cedar and leather strap mixed a dusty sweetness. The impeccable balance on the palate really makes this a showstopper of a wine. I enjoyed it immensely and was only disappointed that there wasn’t more in the bottle on my second pass (94 pts.)

  • 1978 Prunotto Barolo Cannubi - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (7/12/2010)
    The nose showed, crushed fall leaves, parchment paper and soft strawberry fruit. The palate showed fresh, vibrant cranberry fruit with bitters and a hint of old wood yet so lush and velvety. The finish carried the sour red fruit into a soft red fade that kept me filling my glass. (86 pts.)

  • 2005 Maculan Torcolato - Italy, Veneto, Breganze (7/12/2010)
    A wow of a desert wine as aromas of apricot, rhubarb and peach nectar waft up through your senses. The palate is lush yet fresh, with ripe peach and mango followed by a sour apple wash of acidity as it goes down into a mellow, fresh fruit finish. I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle. (91 pts.)

  • Wait, wait wait, one last thing that's worth the extra read... this was a blogger dinner after all and I met with a number of fascinating people whose work has really impressed me. Foodies and wine lovers alike will all enjoy the following links.

    Food, Wine and the business is perfectly mixed in this blog by Susannah Gold. Susannah's experience in the industry and time abroad lends to some amazing insights on wine and food at avvinare. It's also a treat to listen to her speak Italian, if you're ever face to face.

    This was my second time meeting Diane Letulle and just like the first, she’s a real treat to talk with. Diane’s an accomplished wine educator and blogger as well as the writer of The Manhattan Wine Examiner. You can also find her blog at Wine Lover's Journal.

    Lastly, Sasha Smith, the writer of Spin the bottle NY, which I’ve found myself reading quite often lately. Sasha’s blog is a breath of fresh air with a diverse content that’s set off by her witty yet highly informative writing style.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    1998: Barolo Retrospective

    With a cellar full of young vintages of Barolo, from the last 15 years, 1998 stands out as a vintage that is not just entering its drinking window but also doing it with style. The 1997 vintage is not really my speed as many of the wines come off to me as drinking well but uninteresting. The 2000 vintage provides me with a good amount of head scratching as I’m still trying to figure out if they are too soon or just not aging as well as I had hoped. Then there’s 1998, a hot vintage, marked by drought and a vintage that’s often overshadowed by the big vintages surrounding it and has been for many years at an odd stage that was ungiving to the taster.

    However, within the last year or so, 1998 has begun to really shine and most bottles are now entering early maturity. The top shelf is utterly stunning and the mid-level bottles are highly enjoyable. At this tasting, it was remarkable, how each of the bottles were in pristine condition and coming along well into their maturity. Each was giving and a delight to drink and the best part is that, with a little searching, each can still be found at market. I listed my favorites first but this, by no means, is intended to dissuade you from trying any of the latter.

    And so, on to the notes:

  • 1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (6/28/2010)
    The bottle of the night for me as this beauty wafted intense aromas into the air. The wine showed a classic nose of rich red fruit, accentuated by florist shop, tar and menthol. The palate revealed full-bodied sour cherry and anise with a sweetness to the mid-palate that finished with roses in a soft, velvety tannic finish. Give this another three to five years and I think it will be even better.(94 pts.)

  • 1998 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (6/28/2010)
    My number two wine of the night, the Bric dël Fiasc initially showed cherry and potpourri dust but with time transformed into something more with cherry compote, allspice, hard red candy, roses and cooking sausage. The palate showed a good amount of structure and intense cherry fruit with herbal tea and mushrooms. The finish presented silky tannin that lent to a brilliant aftertaste of sour red fruit. This bottle is drinking wonderfully now but will undoubtedly continue to improve with time.(93 pts.)

  • 1998 Luigi Pira Barolo Marenca - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (6/28/2010)
    My number three wine of the night and honestly it was a close call against the Scavino, Bric dël Fiasc. The nose of the Marenca, draws you in with dusty red fruit, topsoil, undergrowth and sweet tar. On the palate, I found ripe strawberry with savory mushroom and tobacco that lead to a clean red fruit finish with silky tannin. This wine is drinking great right now with proper decanting. (93 pts.)

  • 1998 Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (6/28/2010)
    The nose showed dusty cherry and cranberry with rose petals and slight sour cream note. On the palate I found velvety red fruit leading to a sweet mid-palate with cinnamon and dark chocolate. This bottle showed underwhelming at first but with a good amount of time in glass it truly filled out and revealed multiple layers that weren’t seen in my initial tasting notes.

    Also, important to note, is that a small amount of this wine came home with me that night and was absolutely wonderful with even more time exposed to air. In the end, I believe this bottle may have vied for second place if it was given more time.(92 pts.)

  • 1998 Albino Rocca Barbaresco Riserva Vigneto Brich Ronchi - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (6/28/2010)
    Modern but very interesting as the the nose showed cherries and cranberry with sandalwood, dried meats and dark chocolate. On the palate, the wine was soft as velvet with dark cherry and tobacco but faded into a drying red fruit finish. (91 pts.)

  • 1998 Conterno Fantino Barolo Riserva Sorì Ginestra - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (6/28/2010)
    On the nose, red fruits fade into undergrowth and tar. The palate showed strawberry with cinnamon, rose petal and a hint of honey. However, the finish closed down with rough tannin that made it hard to judge. Out of everything i tasted this evening, I'd say this one certainly needs a little more time to come around. (90 pts.)

  • 1998 Elio Altare Barolo Vigneto Arborina - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (6/28/2010)
    The nose came off as restrained to me as if I was smelling Barolo through a veil with light notes of red fruit and roses. On the palate, I found cherry with old cedar, which lead to a soft tannic pull on the finish.

    This bottle did not receive the same decanting and the others in the flight and may have really come around with more time. (89 pts.)

  • 1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo (6/28/2010)
    Slightly muted on the nose with red fruit, crushed fall leaves and potpourri. On the palate, I found sour red fruit and savory broth with a slightly elevated amount of acidity. Having tasted this bottle in different vintages, young and mature, I have to believe that this is in a odd stage of it’s life and may show better with more time or a longer decant. (89 pts.)

  • In closing, I would love to drink any of these wines again. The showing was amazing and points don't do these bottles justice as I was hard pressed to decide between them. The Paolo Scavino, as my number two bottle of the night, is an amazing value since Wine-Search shows you can purchase bottles as low as $80. It was a great evening and I strongly suggest that anyone, who loves Barolo, should seek out some '98's to try in the near future.

    Lastly, I want to give credit to the staff and Chef at Paprika restaurant. The food, mostly northern Italian, was amazing and the ambience made for an excellent moment in time for tasting fine wine. Their pasta menu is sure to please and the Chef's specials were simply exquisit. Give them a try at 110 St. Marks Place in the East Village or check out their website at: Paprika

    Saturday, July 3, 2010

    A summer savior for a cold weather cook

    I am a cold weather cook. I like my food hearty and rich with deep flavors. I like my wine big and austere with a mammoth’s share of savory and sweet aromas followed by mouth-filling and coating qualities. Does this mean I don't cook during the summer? Of course not. But what it does mean is that you'll find me behind a grill for most of the summer instead of over the stove. I find the one thing that saves my sanity in the summer months is the art of grilling. I'm sure we'll get more into this topic as the summer progresses.

    However, my preferences can't interfere with my professional life and so, when preparing a meal for clients and friends, I'll go to the warm weather regions of the Mediterranean for inspiration. Especially the more simple preparations that keep you removed from the stovetop for any extended period of time. Salads and cold food preparations can be perfect for a summer afternoon or soiree, and an imaginative salad can easily fill the role of first course or appetizer.

    One of my true favorites that is frequently requested at events is an orange salad with fennel and red onions. It’s refreshing with intense flavors of citrus, anise, a sharp bite of onion and the earthy sweetness of parsley. For wine, one of my all-time favorite, value-oriented producers fits the bill perfectly; Cantina Zaccagnini.

    2009 Cantina Zaccagnini d’Abruzzo Colline Pescaresi (Pinot Grigio) – This wine shows tropical fruit, cut grass and minerals on the nose. On the palate, I found buttery lemon curd followed by granny smith apple with a medium body and a fresh citrus finish. The vibrant acidity of this wine carries its plush body well and makes it a great compliment to salads and seafood.

    Orange salad with fennel and red onions
    Serves 4 – 6 (make at least an hour ahead so the juices have time to marinate the salad.)

    4 oranges (For an interesting twist you could use blood oranges, but increase the number to 6.)
    1 bulb of fennel (cleaned, trimmed and sliced batonnet (think of the size of a French fry))
    1 large red onion (cut in half and sliced thin)
    ½ cup orange juice
    2 - 3 Tbls. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    2 tsp fresh chopped parsley
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Set a pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Prepare an ice bath on the side. When the water comes to a boil, add the fennel. Allow the fennel to blanch for 3 minutes and immediately remove from the boiling water and add to the ice bath. Allow the fennel to chill completely, but do not leave it in the ice bath any longer than necessary because the water will begin to leach flavor from the fennel. Once cool, set the fennel aside.

    With a pairing knife, cut the peel from the oranges. (As seen on the right side of the page.) Start by slicing off the bottom and top, then set the orange on the now flat bottom, and cut from top to bottom so that the entire peel is cut from the flesh of the fruit. Now, hold the peeled orange in your hand over a bowl and with a sharp paring knife, and slice the fruit out from between the fibrous membrane of the orange.

    This is called supreme or segmenting an orange. (It’s a great skill to learn.) As you cut the fruit from each orange, make sure to squeeze the remaining juice from the membrane before discarding.

    In a bowl, mix together the orange, fennel and onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper and half of the chopped parsley. Then add the orange juice and olive oil. Toss again and taste for seasoning. Make any necessary adjustments. Place the bowl under refrigeration for at least an hour for the juices to marinate the salad.

    Serve on chilled plates. Pile the salad in the center, sprinkle with remaining parsley and spoon the remaining dressing around the salad.

    Then serve.

    To find the 2009 Cantina Zaccagnini d’Abruzzo (Pinot Grigio) on Wine-Searcher, click HERE!