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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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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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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Roasted Carrots with Pesto and Hazelnuts

For the first time we have a good carrot crop growing in the garden, thanks to the netting keeping the rabbits out, plus good seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. We have harvested a few carrots each week and there are still many roots underground and many fronts blowing in the wind, plus I just sowed more for fall harvest.  I love going out to the garden and uprooting vegetables from the earth, snipping greens and herbs, and plucking squashes, tomatoes and beans. It is a primordial connection to life, to the earth, and to our true nature. 

With the summer heat the carrots get spicier and not as sweet as I’d like them, so I roast them at 400°F for 20-25 minutes in a foil pouch to make them sweet and tender. I’m not always excited to turn the oven on when is 95 degrees out, but when I do, I take the opportunity to do a large batch of roasted vegetables, like beets, carrots, cauliflower, and somehow potatoes always make it in the mix. Thankfully, it has been cool and rainy here in Colorado for the past week and today a little sun is coming through the window, the grass waking up plush and green, and the bees getting busy in the garden with the many flowers sprouting from the rain. 

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Cinque Terre, The Home of Focaccia

Sitting on the balcony of our tiny apartment in Cinque Terre admiring the open sea, the birds flying free over it, the waves crashing against the ancient rocks, the sun slowly and patiently setting on the far horizon, holding my husband’s hand on one side and a glass of wine on the other, has been one of the most inspiring and calming experiences of my life. I felt alive. 

We arrived at Cinque Terre after a stressful ride from Genova to La Spezia where we parked the car, loaded our suitcase with bottles of wine, and took the train to Rio Maggiore. This, we had read, was the easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre villages, and the best way to ensure a parking spot. On the train, we wondered if we could open one of those bottles to drown our nerves after our first encounter with the Italian way of driving on a narrow highway composed of bridges and tunnels. 

A quick train ride to Rio Maggiore through, yet another, tunnel with round openings where we could see the bright turquoise sea and the resplendent sun for seconds at the time, increased our giddy excitement. Rio Maggiore is the first village from the south {or last from the north, you choose your orientation}, it has a marina, and around from it a rock beach against a tall cliff that echoes the waves pushing the rocks, back and forward; a supernatural experience, especially at night, with closed eyes, and the cool breeze brushing against our bodies like the whispers of spirits. 

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Summer Squash Salad + Garden Lessons: Fences

One of the advantages of having a backyard is the possibility of growing food, cultivating flowers, both for our enjoyment and for the bees, and creating a nurturing environment for all . Since we moved in to this house we have slowly reshaped the backyard to create a garden where us and the critters can live in harmony. Something the bunnies don’t want to align with their eating habits. In past years they ate the carrot, beet and peas sprouts, chomped on the beans, herbs, and flowers, dug the bulbs: daffodils, tulips, and garlic, and reigned the garden beds at night and whenever we were not around.

This year, after the first few offenders began digging bulbs and eating sprouts, I asked Scott to build some sort of barrier to give the plants a chance to grow and give us a decent harvest. For the ground level beds, where the flowers and a few herbs reside, he built a PVC pipe structure and wrapped bird netting around it, for the two raised beds where I planted and sowed all the vegetables, he used flexible pipes and created a dome on which we laid the netting securing it on the edges with bricks and clamps. It worked. Or so I thought. 

 

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Slow Food Nations Denver

Slow Food Nations, a gathering of people from around the world centered on food, made Denver the epicenter of conversations that revolved around food freedom, sovereignty, taste, cooking, farming and everything in between. On Saturday morning a panel led by Slow Food’s founder and president Carlo Petrini addressed, with contagious passion, a flock of hungry for fair food followers on the streets of downtown Denver. 

“We must have global consciousness around food,” said Petrini, “a vision that is local, that allows us to know, respect and support our local producers, our local food, and our local community… at the same time we ought to have a global vision of food and value other communities the same way.” 

This is the second time Slow Food has chosen Denver to bring voices around real and fair food for all. In 2015, the conversation revolved around Slow Meat, questioning the meat production processes and systems established in the U.S. and the record meat consumption of our growing society. 

Slow Food changed the way I see food. For more than a decade I have followed this grassroots organization and its philosophy that good food is a right not a luxury. It was Alice Waters who first introduced me to Slow Food when I became enchanted by her vision and passion for supporting local farmers, for eating a summer peach with the pleasure and excitement of a once a year occasion, and for her relentless dedication for change in our food system, beginning with educating children through direct immersion in school gardens.

This weekend I met Alice Waters, I sat in two of her talks and relished in her ideology of “seducing people through taste,” as she said. Waters, as many of the important public food figures who visited us this weekend, believes that if we put our efforts together we, all of us, can help change our toxic food system. “I can’t think about food without thinking about the land,” she said, and her sentiment carried out through the conversations and the different events held over the weekend. Denver chefs and visiting chefs from around the country and the world put together dinners to honor the land, the sea, and the cultures, including flavors of Mexico, sustainable seafood, heritage grains, plus many workshops in techniques like sourdough bread, cheesemaking, butchering, and more. 

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