Spanish Style Meatballs and A Glass of Manzanilla Sherry, A Pairing

Sherry, or jerez as I knew it in Colombia, is a simple, yet complicated fortified wine, and one I need to understand in my wine studies journey. This weekend Scott wanted to make his favorite meatball recipe from La Cocina de Mamá, by Penelope Casas, a Spanish cookbook full of traditional recipes and their stories. These meatballs are loaded with smoked paprika, saffron, garlic, and parsley, and the challenge was to find a wine that could stand up to the flavors, while respecting and enhancing them, and manzanilla sherry came to mind. 

manzanillasherryaurora

What is sherry?
Initially I thought sherry was a distilled spirit, like brandy or grappa, especially since it is served in small glasses, as I watched Frasier and Niles Crane do for a decade. In reality, sherry is a wine fortified with grape spirit and aged sherry. The fortification process of sherry, and other wines like port and madeira, allows for the wine to age in specific ways that change the original product.

Sherry is the wine of the southwest region of Andalusia in Spain, where three major cities or towns, known as The Sherry Triangle, produce three distinctive wines. Jerez is the most recognizable named town associated with sherry, as the Spanish name for sherry is Jerez. However, sherry is also produced in and around the towns of San Lùcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. What is most interesting to me is how each of these areas produces a sherry with distinctive flavors based on their geographical location and proximity to the ocean.

Sherry has been the fascination of many artist through centuries, I remember the first time I read The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe, where the argument about a cask of amontillado was the bait for a murder. One interesting and confusing line, for I hadn’t yet studied sherry, was, “and as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish between sherry and amontillado.” Turns out there are different styles, not just based on geographical location like a Fino from Jerez and a Manzanilla from San Lùcar, but also differences based on how the sherry is aged.  

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French Cassoulet and Red Burgundy, A Pairing

French cassoulet has become a regular in our home and on this blog, I bring it back from time to time with variations depending on the mood, from vegetarian to rich and meaty. This time it became the star of the holiday season together with a bottle of a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, or red Burgundy. The fitting bottle of Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus from Bouchard Père e Fils lifted the otherwise rich bean and meat casserole, and gave me a reason to write another post.

Burgundy is a complicated wine region, and a pursue understanding it one glass at a time. The region is a dichotomy, a place where only two major grapes, chardonnay for white Burgundy and pinot noir for red Burgundy, make for layers of complexity in style from village to village through the rather small chunk of land. And yes, even though Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy it’s a separate entity when it comes down to what is known as red or white burgundy wine.

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Winter Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

With the arrival of winter depart the tender, lush green lettuces of spring and summer and the mood changes to crunchy and hearty greens to make interesting salads to hold our attention through the colder months of the year. Fortunately, nature’s wisdom allocated flavorful vegetables to each season, including winter when fennel, Brussel sprouts, chard, and kale are sweeter than during the summer months. This salad uses all of them , many from our garden, plus fennel fronds, carrot greens, apples, and sunflower seeds, dressed in a mustard vinaigrette. 

Our garden is going strong producing small batches of chard, lacinato kale, and arugula on a weekly bases, plus some carrots we left on the ground after the big harvest a few weeks ago. I used them on their own or mixed with different vinaigrettes and toppings. Sometimes the harvest is lower than our weekly consumption, so I purchase other seasonal vegetables to bulk up the salad and use our greens as fine accompaniments. For this salad I purchased fennel and Brussel sprouts. 

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Coq Au Vin and Cru Beaujolais, A Pairing

I’ve embarked on a new wine studies journey with the goal of becoming a certified sommelier. The task involves a heavy amount of studying, tasting wine {perks!} and learning the harmonious art of food and wine pairing. For me, each step requires a sensorial activity where I can experience what the books tell me. Luckily, wine, itself, is a sensory experience, especially when paired with food. This is a journey I can’t tackle alone, fortunate for me, Scott has been in the wine industry for more than a decade and I take advantage of his expertise each step of the way. 

When I told Scott that I had finally made the decision to pursue a certification in wine studies his eyes lit up, he has nagged me for years about it but I didn’t see the need as I wasn’t working with wine or intended to do so. This year I started working at a wine-focused restaurant in the guest-serving side of the spectrum rather than the kitchen, which is a shift in mentally, but also un uphill battle of information and new knowledge. Wine is now a part of my everyday life, at work or at home.  

As part of this journey, on the weekends Scott and I are going to prepare a dish and pair it with a wine, using regionality, flavor profiles and intensity to create a rewarding meal with an educational angle. This week we cooked coq au vin, a traditional French dish, and paired it with a Cru Beaujolais from Château du Moulin-À-Vent, both from the Burgundy region in France. 

The Dish
Coq au vin is chicken stewed in wine, most notably red wine, although it can be cooked in any wine. Coq au vin’s history had a male chicken or rooster as its star in French country fare, and the recipe was first published in L’Art du bien manger, by Richardin Edmond in 1913. Because the rooster’s meat is tough it isn’t a highly priced protein as it requires long cooking for little meat, nowadays recipes use chicken, which is tender in comparison and takes 30-40 minutes to stew. 



As always when it comes to traditional French food I resourced to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, whose directions are precise and well-researched. And as always Julia uses butter to cook everything, including the bacon to help render the fat to brown the chicken. The main ingredient in the recipe, beside the chicken, is the wine, and it’s here where the first decision on the pairing begins. Julia suggests using either a red Burgundy, a Beaujolais, or a Chianti, wines which are naturally high in acid, to cook the bird and to drink. Because the flavors of the wine concentrate as it cooks, yielding a deeply flavored sauce with a good balance of acid from the wine and fat from the butter and the bacon, we started with a vibrant Cru Beaujolais with cherry and dark berry notes, great for drinking as well as cooking. 



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A Fake Romesco Sauce and An Exciting Month

I’ve had an exhilarating few weeks since the Green Tomato Chutney post that closed the summer growing season.

A group of chefs from El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Girona, Spain visited Denver to create a pop-up dinner at the Halcyon Hotel a few weeks ago. A pop-up dinner is a popular concept that high-end, often Michelin Starred restaurants, do around the world to showcase their culinary creativity and bring their local traditions to a new space. Part of the Roca team’s goal with traveling to other countries or cities, is to select two (lucky) students to go to their restaurant for an all-paid four-month internship, to do so they work with a hospitality focused university in each city, which is how Metro State University of Denver was chosen, and how I got to work with the chefs and an array of hardworking students from our school during an exciting week of molecular gastronomy and Catalan specialties.

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Green Tomato Chutney – The End of the Growing Season {or maybe not}

greentomatouses

The first snow of the season brought with it change to the garden. We cut down the tomato plants and harvested all of the tomatoes that the squirrels and the hornworms have left behind; harvested the genovese and purple basils to make one last batch of pesto; and built a hoop-house on the garden bed that gets the most sun during the fall and winter, to continue cultivating salad greens, peas, carrots and beets. 

hoophouseforcoldweathervegetables

This was a great garden year. Since April, when we began harvesting the first baby arugula and lettuce leaves, followed by a hefty harvest of shelling peas, and a few handfuls of chives and tarragon. The first few harvests of the early season excited me to continue sowing seeds and eventually planting warm weather crops, like tomatoes, beans, and squashes. The flowers shone with multicolored petals dazzling the bees and butterflies, creating a beautiful nature dance through the backyard. We cultivated and harvested potatoes for the first time; had a successful carrot crop that is still going; rejoiced in abundance of greens through the entire season; and grew the biggest tomato plants we have ever seen. 

This was an abundant year. Enough for us, the bunnies, the squirrels, the hornworms, and enough to preserve for the winter months. We froze peas, golden beans {a yellow version of green beans}; canned tomato sauce, pesto, salsa verde, pickled beets and carrots, and green tomato chutney, utilizing produce grown in our backyard. Walking to the garden and harvesting vegetables, herbs, or greens for dinner is a new found pleasure that we wanted to extend through the winter when we have few local fresh ingredients here in Colorado, so Scott built a hoop house over the bed that currently hosts an array of greens, like mizuna, arugula, red leave lettuce, chard, and peas; and where I sowed more carrots, beets, radishes seeds, and some more greens to replace the current plants once their crop turns too bitter. 

mixedgreenshomegrown

On Monday, I put my boots on, a winter jacket, hat and gloves, and walked to the hoop house dusted the snow off of it and harvested salad greens for dinner. I loved it. Even with freezing cold fingers, or perhaps because of the odds of being out in the snow harvesting greens for salad, I found the experience energizing, the idea that life continues even through the devastating effects of a hard freeze on a snowy day. The power we have to protect or destroy nature, and how responsive nature can be to a caring hand.

butterflies

Before the snow, on Sunday, we thanked the garden for its hard work. We walked around the playful butterflies as they hopped from blossom to blossom, and the chickadees eating the seeds of the sunflowers I’d cut and placed on the dining room table, a trick I learned from a dear British friend who used to live next door to our former house years ago, before I ever knew what it was to care for a garden. 

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Cooking in the Woods

Why do we go camping?
To spend restless nights on uncomfortable air-mattresses and wake up with sore hips and shoulders; to use bushes as toilets at three in the morning because the toilet is too far to walk at that hour; to wash dishes, hands, faces and teeth with unforgivably cold water. Maybe we go camping to have an uninterrupted visit with nature, with the cruising moose and the curious bear. To build a fire, to cook dinner, and hold warm cups with gloves and hats on, and to stare at the endless sparkles of the night skies.

I was introduced to camping by Scott, who is as enthusiastic for the outdoors as a Labrador puppy is for a tennis ball. Camping and I had a rough start in Utah where walls of wind carried sand into everything in its path: our tent, our cloths, the plate of food I was eating and the cup of coffee I was drinking. I banned camping from our lives for a couple of years after that, but after fifteen years married I have learned to compromise, so I go camping once in a while with two conditions: the campsite must be near civilization, and there must be a bathroom with walls, a door, and a roof. I used to have third condition: no camping in Colorado where there are bears, moose, and mountain lions, but after a few times camping on the Pacific Coast I decided to let my guard down. Silly me.

A few weeks ago we ventured to Winter Park, CO, for a weekend with nature.
I was looking forward to cooking on the fire, strolling around with Mr. Miles and lazily reading by the Fraser river. We found a site neatly secluded behind tall pine trees and bushes near the river,  we promptly sat up the tent, unloaded the food and wine, and Scott went to get wood from the camp host while I made a quick lunch of pork-black bean nachos with salsa verde and peach-corn salsa. He came back, wood in hand, staring at me,
“Don’t freak out,” he said 
“Why? what happened?” I asked, wondering if something had happened to our families, the world, a bomb? who knew?
“The host told me that there’s a small bear roaming around, to be careful,” he replied.

There are always bears roaming around Winter Park and the Frasier valley, when we lived there we saw them often, in the woods, trash containers, or by the river, and I knew they must have been watching us, waiting for us to make a mistake and leave food out so they can have a clean alibi when they break in. So, I keep going with my day, always with one eye on the bushes for good measure.

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Rustic Peach Crostata, with Shiro Plums and Chamomile Honey

We await with patience the arrival of the peach. Each year, for the past seven years, we count the weeks to the date Steve Ela, from Ela Family farms, gives us the season’s opening gala of the most celebrate fruit in Colorado. Sweet and tangy flesh with juices flowing down our chins, hands, and sometimes forearms, the peach is a glorious reminder of the abundant season; each bite is nature’s reward for our endured patience and loyalty. 

coloradopeaches

I didn’t grew up eating peaches, in fact I don’t remember it much in my childhood, and have a slight memory of it in my early-tweenties when I was in a search for new foods back in Colombia where mangoes, pineapples, and guanabana are the everyday fruit staples. Peaches don’t do well in tropical climates, making them hard to find or too expensive compared to a pile of locally grown passion fruit. 

Peach has become my mango. I don’t purchase tropical fruits because, well, I’m not in the tropics. So I dream of peaches during the cooler months when I drown my desires with spoonfuls of the homemade peach-ginger or peach-vanilla jams, atop warm oatmeal, with toasted almonds and a drizzle of honey, as I stare out the window to the fallen leaves or the piling snow. It’s a constant reminder of the bounty of summer.

shiroplums

As peaches arrive so do the trail of baked goods and jams to use up and preserve the harvest. Even thought we eat many of the peaches fresh {leaning over the sink with a towel nearby} the CSA (community supported agriculture) share provides us more than enough for our weekly consumption. Last year we received entire flats of peaches, back to back, turning our house into a mini jam factory churning dozens of jars that lasted us until a few weeks ago. 

I never thought of the idea of making jam and canning enjoyable, and I find myself void of words on how much I’m enjoying this preserving business. It might be silly but it feels as if I’m honoring the season and nature’s hard work by preserving what comes out of the earth in our area. It never occurred to me before, living in Colombia, that preserving was a thing, we have two seasons there – rainy and not rainy – and unless there are severe floods or landslides, or government manipulation of the goods {that’s a totally different subject not to bore you with at this moment}, we have the same foods available year round, so why would I ever worry about preserving back then. Now it’s different. I live in a place with seasons, and I’m learning the true meaning of seasonality. 

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Herb and Tomato Focaccia


I shared this recipe with the Boulder County Farmers Market and it appeared on The Boulder Daily Camera  together with other in season produce in Colorado, and a word from a Colorado farmer about tomatoes. 


Since we return from Cinque Terre I’ve been on a focaccia-making kick. With rosemary, or mixture of herbs like oregano, french tarragon, thyme and parsley; with roasted garlic, and the latest one topped with tomatoes and an assortment of herbs from the garden. Focaccia is my favorite bread to make at home. It’s easy to get lured by this bread. It’s delicious, simple to make, and I’d dare say, foolproof.  

herbfocaccia

I used to make focaccia when I worked at a small restaurant as a pastry chef more than a decade ago. Making this bread was easier than making any other bread because I didn’t have to tiptoe around it in fear of rough handling it and ending with a deflated, hard bread. This is a flat bread, so it was already a winner, regardless of how busy I was, or how much I neglected it, it always worked. Because it is a flat bread, part of the process is to use ones fingers to stretch the dough on the sheet pan, poking and pushing to create its distinctive dimples and to force it to fill the pan all the way to the edges. 

I hadn’t made it at home in a few years and the experience of having it in its homeland, tasting it and enjoying its light crumb, crunchy edges, and slightly chewy texture, made me crave it again. In Cinque Terre, we found many Focaccerias, but we also found the flat bread in small produce stores where they sold it by weight. They had several broken pieces of different sizes for the customers to choose, then they weighted it, and handed it in parchment paper to keep the oil from getting all over our hands. 

herbfocacciawithtomato

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Heirloom Tomato Salad + Garden Lessons: Diversity

Summer reaches its peak when the markets begin to fill with tomatoes. Our garden tomatoes are still green, as each cultivar fills in with new blossoms and sets fruit. At the market were we go there’s a farm stand that each week displays an array of tomato cultivars with a rainbow of yellow, orange, purple, pink, green, red, tie-dye, and multiple shades of colors, shapes of cherry, grape, elongated, round, boat and even deformed, flavors high in acid and sweetness, and nuances I never knew existed. All different, all beautiful, all tomatoes. 

tomatobasilsalad

This year we planted five different tomato cultivars: cosmonaut, speckled roma, black cherry, cherokee purple, and pink Berkeley tie-dye, to create a microsystem of diversity and insure a harvest for different uses. The speckled roma to make sauce, the cherry tomatoes to sprinkle in salads or make a quick pasta pomodoro, the cherokee purple and cosmonaut to slice in big slabs and eat simply adorned with a sprinkle of salt. Next to them we planted a couple of miniature red and yellow pepper plants, a few purple, globe, genovese, and lemon basil plants to impart flavor {or so I read}, and marigolds to ward off pests. Purslane made its home sharing space underneath the tomatoes helping break the hardpan, clay Colorado soil, while growing deep roots and releasing nutrients from the sublayer. 

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