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. 


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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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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Sprouted Bean and Farro Chili, To Warm Up my Colombian Bones

Winter is when the tag “Made in Colombia” sticks up from my back, even after 15 years living in Colorado, the frigid temperatures make me wheeze, my bones ache, and all I want to do is eat.

vegetarian chili high protein

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Vegetarian Lentil Soup and Lentil Salad

Lentils are, and have been, one of my favorite foods since I was a little girl. The smell of lentils cooking brings back many memories of home and family gatherings, and the same recipe has been part of my family for generations, a way to teach the young their first cooking lessons. Lentils have an invaluable nutritional make up: high in protein, fiber and iron, and low in sugars and fat.lentils

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Black-eyed Pea and Swiss Chard Vegan Minestrone

Paging the latest issue of Food and Wine magazine I stumbled upon a recipe for minestrone, which reminded me how much I love this hearty bean soup. Many variations use some sort of meat like sausage, bacon, pancetta or ham, but I wanted a vegetarian {vegan actually} version of it.

Since I have been trying my luck with black eyed peas lately, it seemed like a great recipe to use them. I didn’t grow up eating this dalmatian looking legume and didn’t know what to expect the first few times I cooked it, but they are easy to manage, hold their shape well while cooking and have a subtle earthy flavor. It’s said that this cowpea – as it’s also known- originated in North Africa and was introduced to the Americas by the Spanish settlers becoming a favorite in the south.

Black eyed peas cook fast if they have been soaked over night, and cook even faster in a pressure cooker. I grew up cooking with a pressure cooker and was one of my first acquisitions in my married life here in the states, but after working my inexpensively made cooker to death I fell into the hands of convenience and began using canned beans {which are good to have for on the fly meals, but don’t taste as good and cost more than the dried counter parts.}

vegetables for vegan minestrone

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Orange and Rosemary Chicken, A Recipe from Provence

We had two oranges sitting on the dashboard of the car soaking up the almost 90 degree Provençal weather. The sunflower and lavender fields were all dead, “Oh yes, too late for that!” our AirB&B hostess told us over a glass of chilled rosé on her back patio.provence backyardWe had left Chamonix-Mont Blanc the day before to continue our “Tour de France” near Lyon on the town of Vienne. Continue reading Orange and Rosemary Chicken, A Recipe from Provence

The Economics of Pesto

“What is that green sauce you put on the pasta?” my mother asked.
I was the first in my family to try the international, obscure sauce named Pesto.
“I saw it in a food magazine, it said it was Italian and that people who know about food really like it,” I told my mother.

My first pesto was a lesson on the important of ingredients.

The basil variety sold in Colombia is strong, hard to find and randomly used. The recipe, if I recall well, asked to substitute part of the basil with parsley, I decided to skip the basil, because really what was the need?

I used lime juice instead of lemon because in Colombia, and most Spanish speaking countries,  a “limon” is the green, citrus readily available to use in guacamole, and “lima” is either the capital of Peru or a citrus fruit no one uses.

Pine nuts? no idea what those were so I used almonds. And the parmesan cheese came in an envelope sold near the pasta, close to the corn oil. Done! I thought, this will be the best, most international sauce my mother has ever tasted.

The green pasta sat in the refrigerator until it was trash day.

I parted ways with the sauce after a taste of its bitter, rancid offerings, until my first year in culinary school Continue reading The Economics of Pesto

Yellow Peas with Wild Rice Pilaf

“Looking at the world from other species point of view is a cure for the disease of human self-importance.”
Michael Pollan

The rain has fallen for days on end. The chewy moisture in the air tastes of minerals and earth, and it smells like a morning on a camping trip to the mountains. 

The grass is taller than the hungry bunnies frolicking around it, and the garden blossoms one sprout at the time. mr bunnyPea plants stretch their skinny fingers in search of new legs to lean on. Arugula with its spicy personality grows an inch a day, keeping up with my clippers and my winter-tired appetite. Reddish buttons peek from the dirt announcing the soon to come radishes, and the chives are ready to welcome the bees with their lavender-colored puff of hair.

Spring has held its promise of wild change. From snow, to hail, to endless rain.

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Colombian Arroz con Pollo: A Country’s Addiction to Rice

I’m addicted to rice, it’s time to admit it. I’m not looking for a recovery plan, although it would be interesting to go to rice rehab if it existed. It doesn’t, I looked it up.

I grew up eating rice everyday — yes everyday. Lunch, dinner, and sometimes breakfast if the meal consisted of leftovers, or calentado, as we call it in Colombia, which is leftover lentils or beans mixed with rice and topped with a fried egg, and sometimes slices of avocado. Rice is an important ingredient in the Colombian pantry and intricate part of life; in 2013, rice consumption per capital was 111.5lb.

colombian arroz con pollo and fried plantains

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Vegetarian Sprouted Bean and Farro Soup

A couple of months ago, I found sprouted bean trio at the store, something I hadn’t seen before. The product is from tru Roots, which also carries quinoa and other nutritious grains, and it’s composed of mung beans, green lentils and adzuki beans.

I was curious to try different recipes with it and see what the difference between regular dried beans and sprouted dried beans was. Flavor-wise, I didn’t find any difference, however, the cooking time is much shorter, making it a great addition to the pantry for quick, healthy meals. Another big difference is the chemical changes in the beans after they sprout, which makes them easier to digest and allows the body to better absorb the nutrients. Continue reading Vegetarian Sprouted Bean and Farro Soup