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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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 day around Modena and a Cheese excursion

For my husband’s 40th birthday, we planned a trip to Italy to eat and drink until our hips were unrecognizable. Everyone told us it was an easy task to accomplish; one of his coworkers said he gained 18 lbs {eighteen pounds (!)} on a week-long trip to the land of pasta, prosciutto and parmegiano-reggiano; so we set out on a goal to learn about the culture, one pound at the time.

After a quick stop in Paris {more about that in another post}, we flew to Bologna where we picked up our car rental, a Mini, as my husband wanted to surprised me and indulge my unreasonable obsession with the tiny car. This was the bigger, 4-door version, which is like wanting to eat prosciutto and ordering Easter ham instead, it is pork, it is cured, it is not prosciutto. The Mini is a mix of advance machinery and old style glam, pretty leather seats, race car dashboard and incomprehensible computerized entertainment and navigation system.  While we fiddled with the car and the GPS, it began to rain. The black-grey skies circled overhead and the GPS lady couldn’t find her way out of the roundabout onto the highway. 

We had rented an Airb&b apartment in Modena, about an hour drive from Bologna, and the heavy rain followed us all the way to the parking lot our host had suggested for us to leave the car and drag our suitcases to the apartment, because driving in the historic area of town is a privilege for only those with a resident sticker on the windshield of their cars. We sat in the car looking at deep puddles around the parking lot unwilling to soak our entire wardrobe on the first day. We walked to the apartment, without bags, assessed the street situation, went back to the car with drenched shoes and socks, broke the law by driving to the apartment building, jumped out of the car, dumped the bags on the street, I stayed behind and struggled with the bags up four sets of stairs – no elevator-  and my husband drove away. So far no arrest has been made. It rained all night, many pairs of socks were soaked in the making of these memories. 

After a hot cup of coffee and fresh pair of socks and shoes, we put on our rain coats, opened our umbrellas, and set out to explore Modena. The lights shined on the wet roads as we hustled from building to building in an attempt to stay somewhat dry on our way to the local market, Mercato Albinelli, which to our luck stays open late on Saturdays. The front door was adorned with basil, thyme, and rosemary planters, and piles of strawberries and asparagus. Dozens of vendors offering meats, vegetables, cheeses, prosciutto, culatello, porchetta – oh the porchetta! – anything one could need for a homemade meal, I wanted to buy it all, I dreamt of walking there everyday with a my shopping basket to buy the day’s fresh produce chatting with the vendors in Italian, and eating prosciutto for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

After our shopping we walked back to the Piazza Grande and experienced our first aperitivo, the Italian version of happy hour where the restaurant or bar puts out an impressive display of food, banquet style, and the patrons pay a minimal fee, in our case at Caffe Concerto we paid €5 each, for an all-you-can-eat {read all the prosciutto you can eat} buffet, plus the cost of drinks. At this point, one day in, I began to worry about whether we could walk, waddle, or roll by the end of our Italian journey.  

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Poached Apple Muffins with Oat-Sunflower Seed Topping

The cold of winter inspires me to bring warmth into the kitchen, and what a better way than by poaching fruit. Apples’ delicate floral essence surfaces when poached, specially when paired with spices like cinnamon and vanilla, and a few strips of orange peel, creating the fragrant melody of a garden in bloom.

Back in my pastry days I used to poach apples and pears for tarts, to fill wedding cakes, or to serve alongside ice cream and a buttery cookie. At the restaurant, the first few tries were agonizing since we used a pot big enough for me to bathe in and the apples that stayed on the bottom for too long became mushy and unmanageable for slicing.

My boss used to say, whenever we (the pastry cooks) made big no-no’s, “Next time just put the money directly on the trash!” I had to find ways to use the apples to escape the wrath of the budget chat, and to avoid convincing myself that I was better at math than pastry.
The apples smelled and tasted just as good as the non-mushy ones so I pureed them and made a sweet and velvety applesauce perfect for breads and muffins, and to fill cakes – Ahhh! the little victories.

This week I poached a dozen apples, some to use in a cream tart and mini tartlets for a dinner party, and some to puree and make this muffin recipe.poached apple muffins with sunflower seeds

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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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Apple Crisp with Oats and Rye Flour

This crisp topping became my number one, most favorite, can’t live without trick for easy, delicious and healthy desserts after years of avoiding excessive pie dough making. Pie dough takes skill and practice, I have neither.
I had never made a pie crust or a pie when I started pastry school back a million years ago. The dough seemed complicated compared to a pâte sucrée, or sugar dough use to make European style tarts, plus the obsession with flaky layers as a required end product for a dough that looks more like a crumbly mess when first mixed than a dough frightened me.

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The Art of Canning: A French Revolution

Admiration! For those who know how to preserve the harvest of the season, from pickling to canning, to cheesemaking and vinegar shaking. Canning foods is a novelty to me; it isn’t a tradition in Colombia to make soups or sauces at home for canning, at least not in my family or anyone I know. The only canned foods I remember eating growing up were sardines {which I disliked very much,} tuna, marmalade, and figs in syrup – all purchased products.

I received my first gift of homemade jams a couple of years after moving to the States. “You made this?” I asked, “how? at home? or do you have a factory?” Mistrusting the gifts as ‘odd’ I re-gifted them; the following three weeks more generous canners brought their offerings.

“What am I supposed to do with jalapeño jelly?” I asked the boy, “I dislike spicy food and more if it’s mixed with sugar, that’s just weird. And what’s an apple butter? would it bother my lactose intolerance?”

Seven years ago we signed up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) with Ela Family Farms which grows peaches, apples, plums, pears and tomatoes. When the fruit started coming it didn’t stop for three plus months; we had fruit chopped in the freezer for smoothies, we made crisps, cobblers, pies, muffins, sauces and chutneys for chicken and pork, we marinated peaches in wine {delicious} and we still had fruit going bad – it was time to investigate that at-home-canning-deal.

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Food Photography Workshop-New York City

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to take a food photography and styling workshop at Sunday Suppers, with owner Karen Mordechai, and Aran Goyoaga from Canelle et Vanille. I have followed both of these ladies’ work and was excited to travel to New York city and learn from them.

food photographyThe studio is located in WilliamsBurg, Brooklyn. The place is a white canvas, literally. Continue reading Food Photography Workshop-New York City

Tortilla de Patatas

The first signs of life in the garden this year was brought to us by the pointy, green blades of chives reaching out for a whisper of crisp air. The plant has grown to 10″ tall leaves that keep multiplying.

Last year, we planted a baby chive that didn’t really do much other than figure out its new accommodation arrangements. This year, however, its power keeps me hoping it’s going to be a great garden year. This is the kind of plant I can stand behind, plant it once and enjoy it forever!

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