Saturday, November 27, 2010

What’s Cookin’ For the foodie in us all.

There’s a new home for the foodie in us all; What’s Cookin’.

What’s Cookin’ in a new website, from the people at Snooth, with weekly updates about anything food. From tips and tricks, to recipes, to restaurant reviews, What’s Cookin’ provides them all and the best part is that I’ve joined them in bring you lots of great new content. I’ve listed a few of my pieces that have already been published and I invite you to check them out and explore the new site. If you like what you see, then by all means, sign up for their e-mail list. Enjoy!

Eric Guido's Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

As a child, I never understood bitter vegetables. Maybe it has something to do with our developing taste buds, or maybe it’s that we’re simply not subjected to enough bitter flavors in our youth. Whatever the case may be, as a child, whenever my family would eat radicchio, escarole or broccoli rabe, I would cringe and turn up my nose. In fact, it wasn’t until I was working in a restaurant, in my late twenties, that I truly developed a taste for bitter greens -- and it was this dish, Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage, that turned my head... Read more at: What's Cookin'

Genevieve's Chocolate Chili

I have a friend who has an insatiable passion for chocolate. Being originally from Belgium, and having spent a lifetime learning about food, Genevi├Ęve now applies her knowledge to both food and the making of artisanal chocolates, which are sold at Coffee Bites in Brooklyn. She also hosts a very exclusive, annual party in New York City devoted to chocolate in all forms. Sweet, savory, and salty can all be found, and each year I look forward to her new creations with unbridled anticipation... Read more at What's Cookin'

Old World meets New York

German food is a cuisine that warms the soul. It reminds many of us of a time long gone, when mothers spent half the day in the kitchen preparing meals for the entire family. Dishes like Sauerbraten, J├╝gerschnitzel and Wiener Zwiebelrostbraten may sound alien to the passerby, but are truly stables of tradition in a world where we may have crossed a little too far into the lean and light fare of many trendy restaurants. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that when I go out to a restaurant, I want to eat real food... Read more at What's Cookin'

I Can't Cook Without My... Cast-iron Pan

If I could pick only one item from my kitchen, it would be the cast-iron pan.

I remember growing up in my grandmother’s kitchen. In that time she went through her share of pots, utensils, pasta rollers and mixers, but there’s one thing that she was using from when I was a baby to when I began working in kitchens myself: her cast-iron pan. To this day that pan remains part of her repertoire, something of a secret weapon from days past; a relic yet still a highly effective tool... Read more at: What's Cookin'

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tasting Australia: Elegance, intensity and value? Absolutely!

I am a huge fan of blind tasting to truly judge the quality of wine. Blind tasting not only allows you to forget about any preconceptions you bring to the table about the producer; it also removes the price tags and the labels that are created to incite reactions in the taster. Some tasters will set these wines into flights of prestige, yet I feel that even that is cheating in a way. In my mind, if a $20 bottle of wine scores “Wine of the Night” over bottles that cost $80 - $100, then so be it.

This week I brought a group of tasters together to help me taste through a sample of wines from Yalumba, an Australian winery, making wines from the Barossa valley and crediting themselves as the oldest family owned winery in Australia. The majority of wines showcased a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. (Yalumba's Website!)

The idea was simple: take the three samples and place them against another three bottles from my cellar… AND pull no punches. From Yalumba we had one of their top bottles, the 2004 Signature, followed by the 2008 Scribbler, which is something of a seconds bottle to the Signature. Lastly from Yalumba, we had the 2008 Patchwork, which is a straight Barossa Shiraz. The competition read like a who’s who of Australian wine starting with Penfolds 2003 RWT, one of my favorite bottles coming out of Australia. Also, there was the 2006 Watcher, a Rolf Binder bottling that delivers amazing value for its price. Lastly, we had none other than Wine Spectator’s runner up for Wine of the Year, Two Hands 2008, Bella’s Garden.

The wines were all served in bottles of similar size and weight and then covered in aluminum foil. One guest was then asked to place them in any random order, at which time they were numbered one through six. The notes are listed in the order these were tasted with a rundown of the taster’s reactions, and yes, the results were surprising…

Flight 1 was an amazing set of wines. Not only did it contain the “Wine of the Night” but it also showed the runner-up of the evening. In the end, it was the Yalumba, Signature 2004 ($40) which beat out what has long been my favorite bottle from Australia, the Penfolds RWT 2003 ($85).

1. Penfolds, RWT Shiraz 2003 – The 2003 RWT opened up with cherry fruits, dusty chocolate cocoa powder, rock dust, licorice and animal fur on the nose. The palate started tight but turned plush and velvety with time in the glass as flavors of red fruits, black pepper, dark chocolate and leather strap washed across the palate. The finish was long and refreshing. (93 Points)

2. Yalumba, The Scribbler 2008 – The nose on the 2008 Scribbler was, at first, baffling but once the initial surprise faded, it turned truly lovely, as aromas of citrus zest, prunes, brown sugar and violet candies formed a gorgeous bouquet. On the palate, I found dark fruit, wild berries and herbs with a plush and palate saturating texture, which led to a very pretty finish. (90 points)

3. Yalumba, The Signature 2004 – The 2004 Signature was utterly captivating with its aromas of cranberry sauce and bright sour cherry with soy, green stems and black pepper. The palate was focused and concentrated, yet fresh with dark chocolate covered cherries which turned to sour berry and savory broth with salty minerals. The finish was smooth and velvety as the dark red fruits slowly faded. (94 Points) - “The Wine of the Night”

Flight 2 was more difficult to judge, as each wine showed individual qualities but completely different styles. However, the best part about this flight was that it put some serious value wines head-to-head and turned out a $20 winner. Fetish, The Watcher 2006 ($20) was the wine of the flight and easily beat the $45 Two Hands Bell’s Garden 2008, which has just recently won runner up to Wine of the Year but on this night almost finished last.

4. Yalumba, Shiraz 2008 – The nose showed sweet cherry candy with animal musk, confectioners sugar, burnt butter, undergrowth and a hint of violets. On the palate, I found dark fruits with cinnamon and butter, which led to a soft red fruit finish. (89 Points)

5. Fetish, The Watcher 2006 – The 2006 Watcher showed to be a beautifully elegant and cerebral wine as aromas of florist shop, animal musk, toasty oak and green stems filled the senses. The creamy, full bodied palate showed red fruit, holiday spice and earthy minerality, which turned to sour fruit on the fresh, gorgeous finish. (92 Points)

6. Two Hands, Bella’s Garden 2008 – I tend to refer to wines like this as a party in a bottle. This wine showed big, rich aromas cherry, clove, cinnamon, chocolate and caramel, yet still came across as fresh. On the palate, I found black cherry jam, plum sauce, cinnamon and dark chocolate, but with a perceptible amount of heat. The finish showed red candied fruit and lingered for well over a minute. (90 points.)

The final results:

1st Place - Yalumba, The Signature 2004 (94 Points) “The Wine of the Night”
Find it on Wine-Searcher!

2nd. Penfolds, RWT Shiraz 2003 (93 Points)
3rd. Fetish, The Watcher 2006 (92 Points)
4th. Yalumba, The Scribbler 2008 (90 Points)
5th. Two Hands, Bella’s Garden 2008 (90 Points)
6th. Yalumba, Shiraz 2008 (89 points)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Wine Lovers: 101 (buy, store, and drink better)

People are always asking me for tips to improve their wine buying, storing and drinking experiences. So, I felt it was about time to put some on my most common tips down on paper to share. While this list is in no way the end-all of wine drinking mysteries solved, it does make for an excellent guide for the beginner and even intermediate wine enthusiast.

Shopping wine on the information highway - One of the biggest revelations in my wine collecting life was the discovery of Wine-searcher is a free service that allows you to specify the wine you're looking for and the area you'd like to find it in, whether it is your state or country. Add to that the ability to check prices and retailer ratings, and you have a website that is a must for any wine enthusiast.

Where NOT to store your wine - A kitchen may seem to be a convenient place to keep a small wine rack, but the reality of it is that the constant temperature swings from your oven can cook your bottle in no time or on a warm day. In the same token, a room with a lot of windows may be aesthetically pleasing to you, but your wine sees it in a different light. Ultraviolet rays damage wine and direct sunlight can cook it as well. Keep your bottles in a dark place where temperatures remain relatively unchanged, such as a hall closet or basement, and away from any hot water heaters or boilers. For any long term storage, you’re better off looking into professional storage or building your own cellar but this tip will keep your go to bottles safe.

Let it breath – If there’s one thing I learned that has truly improved my enjoyment of wine, it’s to let it breath. Almost any bottle will improve with a small amount of exposure to air, however not all wines react well to decanting. To play it safe, I open the average bottle of wine at least one hour before I plan to drink it. Right after popping the cork, I’ll pour a small half glass sample for myself so that I can evaluate it at opening, verse how it improves an hour later. Also, this practice gives the wine a little more air exposure in the bottle as the fill of the bottle will come just under the shoulder.

“Room temperature’ doesn't necessarily mean room temperature - The flavors of the things we eat and drink change drastically with temperature. Wine is no different, but one thing to remember as a wine drinker is that the term "room temperature" for red wines is referring to a room of 65 degrees, which is far off from the average home or apartment. Whenever I have a red that’s a little warmer than I’d like, I’ll either give it twenty minutes in the fridge or chill my glasses before pouring.

Let it settle - Wine is a living, changing thing (maybe not by strict science), but one thing that many collectors and enthusiasts will swear by is that a bottle is better when given a short rest period after transport. Try buying a bottle the day before you need it so that it can have some time to rest. If you're having it shipped to you, give it at least a week or two of rest. The wine will be in better spirits when it's time to pour and your chances of getting a glass full of sediment will be significantly reduced.

Start a tasting group – The best way to learn about wine is to taste more than one bottle next to another. What’s the difference between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon? It’s easy to tell when they’re both in front of you. By starting your own tasting group, you can learn about wine and host a social event all at the same time, and you can even share the expense with other wine enthusiasts.

Pairing wines with food by region – What’s the easiest way to pair wine with food? Look to the wines that are made closest to the recipes origins. If you consider what the people who created the recipe liked to drink, you’ve already made a big step in the right direction.

Do you have any wine tips to share? I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Not your typical Primavera

Sometimes you have to think outside the box or risk being nothing more than a cook. I found myself in this position when working for a customer that was on a very special diet. Little did I know that one of my creations would become a repeat favorite that is often requested and constantly praised: Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Squash Primavera over red quinoa (pronounced: KEEN-Wah).

What started out as a recipe that may have resembled Pasta alla Norma became something much more because I needed to make the sauce into something so engaging, flavorful and significant that it would please the senses, the palate and the appetite, all on its own. This dish is vegetarian and extremely healthy but if you let that deter you, or convince yourself that “healthy” may equal “boring”, then you will be missing out.

Fire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera is a sauce loaded with vegetables in a sweet and spicy tomato reduction. The vegetables remain slightly firm, and each of them holds their own characteristic flavors. As you work your way through this dish you first find the sauce at center stage, which is smooth yet bursting with tomato flavor. It is slightly sweet but with a spicy kick that is only felt at the tail end. The ricotta cheese adds a creamy contrast and helps to cleanse your palate and prepare you for the next bite. Now comes the squash with an intensity that only roasting can obtain. Yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant are all identifiable through their colors but also through their unique flavors. When you add a little quinoa to your fork, you realize how it all comes together, with a slightly crisp mouth feel and nutty flavor. It takes the sauce to the next level and creates a medley of flavors and sensations on your palate that causes eyes to roll as the satisfying sound of “umm” echoes around the table.

When it came time to pick the wine, Sangiovese was the first thing that came to mind. I decided to go with Chianti Classico from one of my favorite producers, Castello di Monsanto. I’ve always found Chianti to be a great compliment to tomato sauces with a spicy kick.

2006 Castello di Monsanto, Chianti Classico Riserva - This bottle is a great example of how time, exposed to air, can affect a wine. When first opened it showed sour berries, leather, fall leaves and a hint of confectioners sugar on the nose. However, after two hours, you find fig and ripe berries with cedar and undergrowth. Black cherries and wild berries fill your palate. Then comes rosemary and a hint of cedar, which adds further complexities to your next bite. The medium-long finish is juicy and fresh as it flaunts its brisk acidity, cleanses your palate, and keeps you coming back to the glass for more. (91 Points)

Fire Roasted Tomato and Squash Primavera over red quinoa
(Serves 4)

This recipe takes a good amount of prep time but I think you’ll find the actual cooking process to be quite easy. Since the presentation depends on the vegetables, make sure to take your time and make them as uniform as possible. You can make the sauce hours, or even a day, ahead of time and then warm at the time of service. I advise using a large roasting pan for the fire roasting and to sweat the mire poix. You will also need a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a medium size saucepot.

(Optional) A note on the preparation of the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant: Wash them thoroughly because you will be using the skins. Do not peel them. You should aim to have a piece of skin on each piece of squash. Slice the squash into thirds (length-wise) with the centerpiece about two times the size of the other two. Reserve the two side slices and turn the center slice on its side. Now slice again into thirds. The result should be that the center of the squash (containing the majority of the seeds) would be left over without any skin. You can leave the center of the squash out of the recipe. The slices you made with the skin intact are what you want to use for your small dice. This is not necessary, but it adds a significant amount of visual appeal to the final product.

(Optional) A note on the San Marzano tomatoes: It’s beneficial to remove the seeds because they add bitterness to the final product, but it is not absolutely necessary to do so. This is not as difficult as it may sound, nor do you need to remove every seed. Set up two bowls with a wire mesh strainer in each and one bowl without. Open a can and pour the contents into the first strainer. Take a tomato in hand and, with your thumb, open the side of the tomato over the second bowl and strainer. Juice and the seeds will flow out of the tomato. Place that tomato into the third bowl and continue to do this until you have deseeded all tomatoes. Once this is complete, collect all of the juice into one bowl and, with a spoon (or your hand), massage the remaining contents from each strainer into the juice until the only thing left are seeds. In the end you should have one bowl of dry, deseeded tomatoes and one bowl of strained tomato juice.

2 28oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes (drained with seeds removed and juice reserved)
2 cups sweet onion (small dice)
1 cup carrot (small dice)
6 cloves garlic (fine dice)
1 cup yellow squash (small dice)
1 cup zucchini (small dice)
1 cup Italian eggplant (small dice)
2 Tbls. capers (rinsed and drained)
¼ cup sherry vinegar
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup white wine
¾ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. oregano (dry)
1 tsp. basil (dry)
1 Tbls. butter

1 ½ cups red quinoa
1 ½ cup vegetable stock
1 ½ cup water
1 Tbls. butter

1 cup ricotta cheese
salt & pepper (for seasoning)
olive oil (as needed)
1 bunch fresh basil

The Sauce

Pour the strained tomato juice into a medium pot and place over a medium flame. Stir in the sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano and basil. This mixture will cook like this through most of your cooking process, but it is important to stir from time to time. The goal is to reduce the liquid by half.

Turn your broiler on low and place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Put the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant into a bowl and pour in enough olive oil to coat the vegetables. Toss to coat and season with salt. Check to make sure you have added enough oil; each piece should be lightly coated. Add more if necessary and pour the yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Spread the vegetables out and place in the oven on the center rack.

Place a large roasting pan over low heat (it will likely span across two burners) and pour enough olive oil to just barely cover the bottom of the pan. Add the carrots, onions and garlic, and stir to coat with oil. Season them well with salt and allow them to sweat over low heat for about five minutes.

Check on the squash in the oven and stir if it appears to be browning.

Using your hands, break up the tomatoes into small chunks and place them into the roasting pan with the onions, carrots and garlic. If there is any juice at the bottom of the bowl, pour it into the saucepot, which should still be reducing. Also add the capers to the roasting pan and stir to combine. Continue to cook for about three minutes.

Now pull the squash from the oven. If it doesn’t look done, it’s okay, because it will continue to roast with the rest of the mixture. Pour the contents into the roasting pan and stir again to combine.

Place the roasting pan into the oven under the boiler on low. Roast, under the broiler, for six minutes and then stir. Repeat this process three more times (24 minutes total) but make sure that nothing begins to burn. While these items are roasting, check to make sure that the sauce is not reducing too much. Your goal is to reduce by half.

Now pull the vegetables from the oven and place the roasting pan back onto the stovetop over a medium flame. Pour in the white wine and stir. Continue cooking for another five minutes to allow the wine to cook off.

The sauce should be properly reduced at this time. Pour the contents of the saucepot into the roasting pan and stir to combine.

Remove from heat, add the butter and stir until combined. Lastly, season with salt and pepper to taste. It can be served now or cooled and set aside for later.

Red Quinoa

Cooking time can vary depending on the brand you buy, but the ratio of quinoa to liquid should be about 1 to 2.

Place vegetable stock and water in a medium saucepan, over high heat, and bring to a boil.

Add red quinoa and stir. Reduce heat to low medium and cover. Cook for about 15 - 20 minutes but make sure to check packaging for cooking times.

While the quinoa cooks, take the basil and remove the ‘blooms’ for garnish. Take a small bunch of leaves and chop fine.

When the quinoa is done, add the butter and stir to combine. Season the quinoa with salt and pepper. Lastly, add the chopped basil and stir. The quinoa should have a fresh, vegetal and nutty flavor.

The Plate

Take a two-inch, round dough cutter and place in the center of the plate. Spoon the quinoa evenly around the dough cutter. Ladle the primavera sauce into the center of the dough cutter. Top with a dollop of ricotta cheese and a basil bloom. Pull the dough cutter straight up and off of the plate. Clean the rim of your plates with a warm, moist towel and serve.