Well, the winter kitchen has brought me another achievement. In my quest to try to create beloved comfort foods from different ethnic traditions, this week brought me to the noble task of trying to create my first phở. I've found this Vietnamese soup deeply satisfying when I've ordered it from restaurants, including a memorable one in Phoenix, where my family tried it for this first time, and Rice & Noodles in Lancaster.
The recipe I chose to follow was from Epicurious: this vegetarian version which read well and allows for lots of opportunity to be versatile with toppings. The process was actually really satisfying in and of itself. I turned it into a two-day task, making the vegetable stock on the first day, refrigerating it, and then using it in the full recipe two days later.
The stock gave me ample opportunity to clear out my vegetable larder a bit, and took about an hour and a half to complete. It felt kind of like distillation, taking vegetables, browning them, and then bubbling them into a kind of rich essence.
The second part of the recipe was also kind of fun. I basically made a second layer of broth based on the first part, this time adding great-smelling spices: star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, bay leaves. I found that the resulting soup still needed quite a lot of salt added to come into balance, which I achieved through adding more soy sauce.
While the phở was bubbling away, I prepared a lot of different extra ingredients and toppings, including rice noodles, sautéed tofu, steamed cabbage and carrots, water chestnuts, and edamame. The green toppings included jalapeno, chives, fresh lime, and--of course--cilantro.
For a first effort, I'll have to say I was pretty satisfied with the end result. While it didn't transport me to those restaurant experiences, it definitely had a lot of interesting flavor, well grounded by the depth of the twice-made broth.
We paired the soup with some fresh summer rolls, some of whose ingredients were doubled from the veggies for the soup. It was a nice crunchy companion.
In terms of wine pairing, knowing that any oak or sweetness would clash with the soup and all of the other flavors, including lots of green flavors, we went with one of our most versatile wines with food: the 2019 Dry Rosé.
So there we have it: one more experience to move the culinary horizon just a bit. Can't wait to find out how far we'll go!
Ah, winter. Here you are. Added to our COVID cabin fever, we now face, well, the usual cabin fever on TOP of the new/old one. We're all somehow together in our isolation, though, sharing survival tips for the cold and quiet days.
Here are a few of my favorite strategies:
1) Enjoying big goblets of bold red wines.
2) Comfort foods. Recently, I've become a serious student of comfort foods, revisiting some of my favorite recipes and seeking out new ones. What exactly makes a food a comfort food? Certainly we all seek out foods which take us to fond places in the past, favorite childhood suppers or winter dinners with friends. Food has such strong emotional elements, keeping us connected to other people and times.
Here are a few of the other elements and ingredients which I've noticed seem to be most prevalent among our family's favorite winter comfort foods:
-Root vegetables. Just about every recipe seems to start with chopping onions, and many start with pans of lusciously sweet roasted root vegetables such as carrots, beets, potatoes, radishes. These underground wonders of energy storage are their own little lessons in hibernation, storing starch, fiber, and nutrients in vibrant and friendly packaging. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme make excellent root vegetable companions.
Some of my favorite root vegetable dishes include beet salads, including one I made recently with goat cheese and arugula, and potatoes with fennel.
Other vegetables which seem to often hit high on the comfort food barometer include all kinds of squashes and cabbages. It's hard not to feel better when a crock of squash soup or big saucepan of red cabbage is simmering.
-Cheese. Cream. Yup. 'Tis the season of macaroni and cheese, of vegetable gratins, of cream of mushroom soup (tonight I really enjoyed the Pioneer Woman's recipe). This time of the year, more than any other, I keep lots of wonderful melty cheeses on hand: Gruyère, Fontina, Parm.
-Ghee and Indian Spices. I'm definitely a sucker for these. I find that substituting ghee for olive oil when sautéing vegetables or enlivening spices can add real warmth to a recipe. For a long time, several of my favorite comfort foods have been varieties of daal--a variety of Indian lentil side dishes. So satisfying!
-Food in Bowls. Lately, it seems like I'm serving just about every one of my daily meals in a big ol' bowl. Why is it that bowls and spoons seem so comforting? I've become obsessed with Gordon Ramsay's scrambled eggs technique, and I love crawling back into bed in the morning with a bowl of these silky soft eggs, topped with a bit of cheddar cheese. Lunches are often soups or grain bowls, and lots of suppers--pastas, stews, curries--are ladled and tucked into big bowls, too. It's fun to curl around food.
-Umami. Much has been made of this soul-satisfying savory element in foods, and for good reason. It really is quite amazing what dimensions umami-rich foods such as Parmesan, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar, sauerkraut, and soy sauce add to a winter comfort-food diet. Of all the comfort foods I've cooked this month, the one which actually made both Carl and me crave more and more and more the most was a twist on a ginger ramen recipe I found on Epicurious. It's a simple and pleasurable recipe base, to which I added bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, carrot matchsticks, and garlic-marinated shrimp. We drizzled Asian chili oil over our bowls of the elevated ramen noodles, and could simply not get enough of it. I love food experiences like this!
So cheers to the comfort brought our way during our cold and quiet seasons, by our wines, foods, and loved ones. Together, we'll make it through.
Our family has certain holiday food traditions which begin as soon as December does. (One certain family member is so opposed to what's called "holiday creep" that we are strictly forbidden from humming even one note of "Jingle Bells" before Thanksgiving, as well.) There's a snack mix we call "Scrabble" which we only enjoy at Christmastime, and this year I think it took six batches for us to make it through!
Another December treat is chocolate truffles. For the month, we fill goblets with these festively-wrapped chocolates and put the goblets strategically around our shared living space. They are so rich and decadent that eating one takes me on an actual short vacation. Most of the truffles are also combinations of flavors: dark chocolate and raspberry, white chocolate and cappuccino.
Pairing wine with chocolates is a favorite past-time, and through the years Allegro has enjoyed many opportunities to share various wine and chocolate combinations with friends and customers. There are many reasons why wine and chocolate can work so well together: both can bring elements of bitterness, of sweetness, of fruit, of decadence on the tongue.
A few favorites from our current line-ups:
-White chocolate/citrus with Viognier
-Dark chocolate/raspberry with Merlot (a real classic!)
-Dark chocolate/orange with Salsa
-Pretty much any chocolate with Forté
Another sweet pairing has been Carl (and his wines) with our favorite regional chocolatier: Frederic Loraschi. Steeped in French chocolate-making traditions and based in Harrisburg, PA, Frederic makes exquisite chocolate collections which we enjoy sharing with employees and friends. The chocolates (sourced from single origins around the world) could not be more elegant, perfectly crafted. Opening the gold chocolate collection box feels like unwrapping eight presents, all at once.
Cheers to the tastes of this special season, and to pairings greater (and more delicious) than the sum of their parts!
Yeah, it's my one fortified wine pun, but it's also my favorite way to toast to the first and/or largest snowstorms each winter. So when the flakes of this afternoon's nor'easter started falling in earnest, of course I knew what to do: break out the Allegro Forté, wrap myself in a cozy blanket, and sit by the window to watch the cardinals and chickadees darting through the dancing snowflakes.
Even before the first sip, ruby-style ports delight me. Their rich red color and viscosity are notable. Then that sip: decadent raspberry fruit melting away into sweetness on the tongue, with the warmth from the alcohol (the wine, fortified by spirits, has an ABV of 20%) chasing the flavor to my core. One single sip can turn an ordinary moment into a special one, just like a sky and field full of snow.
Cheers to comfort, to joy, and to the special moments of this season!
Some wines make us gush. Some foods make us sing. And when the exact right combination of wine and foods comes along, it's not hard to go full-on operatic. When Carl and I tasted the just-released 2019 Cadenza Vineyards Albariño with dinner foods specially chosen to make its acquaintance, it was one of the best matches we'd tried in quite a while. Cue the aria...
In a blog post from late September, I recorded a couple of notes about the grape's history here in our Cadenza Vineyard. We also surmised that "It should pair wonderfully with light seafood dishes including shrimp and scallops." Well, now that the wine is ready for the dinner table, I decided to put that prognostication to the test.
For dinner, I made Fettuccini Alfredo, one of the easiest and most delightful pasta dishes in my repertoire. If I'm using fresh pasta, the entire preparation of the dish (including grating the Parmesan) takes only about a total of ten minutes.
To grace the bed of pasta, I also cooked shrimp and scallops in butter (laced with smashed garlic cloves) and finished them with a spritz of lemon and a bit of fresh dill.
All that remained to prepare was the spinach salad, with a fresh lemon-based vinaigrette, and a bottle of our lightly chilled Albariño.
Wow. The dinner foods and wine met each other so seamlessly that Carl called the pairing "ridiculous." When sipping the wine, the edge of bright citrus is first evident, but then it combines in tone and texture with the cream, pasta, and sweet seafoods. The wine and food integrated not just in flavor but also in a textual way, silky and delightful.
This new (to Cadenza Vineyards) style of white wine is a real joy for foodies. Both the big dash of Viognier and its treatment in neutral oak barrels in the cellar make it more than a one-note wine. It was certainly fun to welcome it onto our table, and I'll look forward to inviting it again soon.
Cheers! The 2019 Allegro Petit Verdot has arrived!
Back in mid-September I wrote a post about this grape's growing potential at our vineyards in The Brogue and Stewartstown. As the 2020 wines now sit, full of potential in their fine oak barrels, the 2019s are starting to appear in Allegro's tasting rooms.
Our 2019 PV was grown in what was then called Martha Clara Vineyards (now RGNY), a beautiful site on Long Island's North Fork. The fruit was wonderfully ripe, and the wine is well balanced between bright fruit, acidity, and body.
Traditionally, recommended Petit Verdot food pairings include dishes which are quite bold and rich, including beef and lamb. With our first bottle of the 2019, I made a family favorite one-pot recipe in our instant pot: Pulled Pork with Biscuits. The rich and tangy barbecue flavor met up nicely with the acidity in the wine, and the flavors definitely complemented each other as well.
As colder weather eventually begins coming our way, there's not much I enjoy more than planning for lots of opportunities to enjoy bold red wines, alone and with all kinds of satisfying foods. A red wine night tends to be a good one.
Well, yes--sometimes I do have this. (Cue Tommy Shaw: "I've got too much...") As I write this, the election results are still pending, ballots are still being counted, and we're being asked to go against our American nature and be, of all things, patient. What to do, when we're tired of waiting? Well, sometimes I just start chopping.
My huge boxes of fruits, veggies, and herbs from my CSA (Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative) have stopped coming, as of this week, now that the summer season has ended. Thanks to their generosity, however, the veggie drawers in my fridge have still been overflowing from the bounty of the past few weeks. Sometimes our meals focus on just one veggie or two, but on other days I just pile up a huge variety, turn on some loud tunes, and get out the big knife.
One of our favorite fall veggie feasts is a supper of roasted vegetables. Roasting is so easy and so rewarding. I just turn on the oven to 400 degrees, rub a variety of chopped vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, and get everything (including sprigs of fresh herbs and smashed garlic cloves) roasting in shallow layers. I check on them every ten minutes or so, stirring things up, and usually everything is done within about 30-40 minutes. We eat the veggies in large bowls, piled on top of buttered pasta.
This week, our roasted veggie night included an incredible array of colorful root vegetables, including Chioggia (candy cane-colored) beets, watermelon radishes, and sweet potatoes.
Our wine of choice with this roasted bounty was Allegro's 2019 Steel Chardonnay. This light and fruity wine (with no oak to clash with the veggies' natural roasted sweetness) was just right.
Tuesday night found me in the warm and welcoming home of my friend Tracie, social distancing but enjoying time together while the polls across the nation began to close. Part of what made being there so instantly wonderful was the smell of the stew on the stove: Bigos (Polish-style hunter's stew, complete with big hunks of carrot, potato, and bacon).
I was so inspired by Tracie's stew that yesterday afternoon, waiting, with--well, yeah--still too much thyme, etc., I decided to keep the stew train rolling, and I got to work making one of my own.
Chopping everything for my hearty Vegetable Stew took almost an hour, but I wasn't in any hurry. Round one of chopping included the onions, carrots, peppers, and celery. Round two was all the fresh herbs I could find, plus garlic. Then came the potatoes and cabbage. Once everything--including barley, red wine, and tomatoes--was together in the pot, there was still a good hour and a half until supper, plenty of time for the house to become scented with goodness and for me to make a fun batch of "Fluffy Cathead Biscuits" and get them in the oven.
We tried both Allegro's 2017 Merlot (some of which I had already stirred into the stew) and our 2019 Dry Rosé with dinner, and actually ended up preferring the Rosé. Again, the vegetables' inherent sweetness came through in the stew's flavor, and the fruity wine paired well.
While I undertook these culinary tasks, the world didn't change much. No presidents were announced; no world-views changed. But I did. Mindfulness of good food, of good work, is good for me, no matter how much I am asked to wait or worry. The warmth and scents of home cooking make our homes welcoming places. Food and wine bring us together, and will always bring us together, no matter what.
Like many people, I enjoy my foods and wines seasonally. During the summer, I like my foods and wines light and zippy; I tend to prefer dry whites and rosés to reds. But, once "sweater weather" comes around again, so do the dry reds. By Christmas, I've usually gone all the way to port.
Harvest is in full swing, the late afternoon sunlight is slanted and gorgeous, and it's time for wonderful red wines. For our happy hour yesterday, Carl and I broke out a bottle of the 2017 Cadenza Vineyards Merlot. What a lovely wine!
Its backstory: In 2015, we planted three acres of Merlot on the very best part of our Brogue ("Cadenza") estate vineyard. This was the hillside which East Coast viticulture expert Lucie Morton called our "heritage vineyard" site, worthy of planting vines which would resonate for decades to come. On a frigid, snowy day in March of 2014, Carl had gotten bud-wood from friends Ed and Sarah at Black Ankle Vineyards in Maryland. The 181 clone vines were virus-free, and Carl also wanted them for the dark fruit character of the Merlot grapes. The canes were sent to Herrick Vines out in California, where they were grafted and planted. Then, in 2015, cuttings of the Merlot were shipped back to us for planting.
In the harvest of 2017, our estate Merlot were ready for their first picking (in what was called third "third leaf" autumn). 2017 was a good growing year and the crop came in at 1.5 tons per acre, about half of what we can expect from more mature vines. Carl was pleased with the long-anticipated Merlot, which he had thought would be put into a rosé but which instead was already ready to be in the mix of 2017 vintage dry reds.
The 2017 Merlot was fermented in tanks, rather than bins, to bring out its fruit character. Then it found its way into eight barrels, where it remained for twenty months, after which it was bottled, John Crouch-style, unfiltered and unfined. Some became our first estate Merlot, and the rest, which had been picked a little later, went into our 2017 Cadenza VIneyards Bridge and 2017 Cadenza Vineyards Cadenza. The varietal Merlot also includes 16% Cabernet Franc and a smidge of Cabernet Sauvignon.
As Carl says, this 2017 Merlot tastes of potential. It has a nice balance of concentration, tannins, acidity, and alcohol, and even high and low flavor notes. There's some definite power, although it is still too young to have a lot of complexity. In the making since that spring of 2014, the wine tastes fittingly like fruition, and is a harbinger of the many estate-grown Cadenza Merlots to come.
Cadenza Vineyards wines are available only at Allegro Winery in The Brogue or online at www.cadenzavineyards.com.
The very best days are Pizza Shop days.
I love pizza. Seriously. I also love making it. In our kitchen, Pizza Shop days mean time and effort, all of which is worth it, no matter what. Because...pizza.
Yesterday was a Pizza Shop day because of a very special bottle of wine. Carl's recent visit with our long-time friend Mike Fiore at neighboring Fiore Winery & Distillery in Maryland netted him a bunch of great stories and a seriously wonderful bottle of wine: Fiore's 2014 Sangiovese.
(More on that wine in just a bit...)
When it comes to making homemade pizza, my routine stays pretty much the same each time, though the toppings don't. Here are my tips and tricks for great pizza:
1. The dough: I use a variation of a recipe from my wonderful friend Margaret: For two pizzas I mix together 1 1/2 cups of water, 3 T. of extra virgin olive oil, 1 T. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 3 cups of white bread flour, and 1 T. yeast. Then I knead them into a soft dough and let it rise for an hour while I get other ingredients together. These pizzas will bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes.
2. The stones: Pizza has to be baked on stoneware. This is non-negotiable.
3. The sauce: My go-to for marinara sauce comes from a 2018 Epicurious recipe for Sunday Stash Marinara Sauce. The recipe makes about 12 cups of sauce--enough to be portioned into 4 batches, most of which I freeze. It's a fun recipe to make--I love crushing the peeled tomatoes in my hands, and an immersion blender is always a good time.
4. The cheeses: I tend to use a variety of cheeses, including mozzarella (shredded and fresh), Fontina, and Gruyère. I definitely don't skimp on the cheese--for a decent cheese pizza, I've been known to use nearly four cups of cheese. Freshly-grated Parmesan is a must.
5. The toppings: I tend to mix things up quite a bit. One of my favorites is making a white pizza with olive oil, cottage cheese, and veggies (such as seared mushrooms with fennel seeds) in the mix. Every single pizza I make has a generous portion of minced garlic (1 to 2 cloves per pizza) somewhere in the balance of toppings.
I think that's about it. Last night's pizzas were accompanied by a simple salad of mixed greens and watermelon radishes from our CSA. I am currently obsessed by radishes, and these are the absolute prettiest. My go-to vinaigrette includes juice from 1 lemon, 2 T. white wine vinegar, 2 T. extra virgin olive oil, and pinches of garlic powder, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
And...that beautiful wine, Fiore's 2014 Sangiovese. It was like tasting Italy.
Carl really treasures his friendship with Mike and Rose Fiore, which extends back to when we first came to Allegro in 2001. Mike is an excellent storyteller. He also really appreciated John Crouch--Allegro's co-owner and winemaker before us--and understands this region's promise for winegrowing and winemaking.
One thing which I find really interesting is how different Allegro's wines and Fiore's wines are stylistically. Since Allegro, and Carl's winemaking, use Bordeaux as a point of reference, tasting regional wine with such Italian characteristics is an exciting difference.
Honestly, Carl was floored by the wine. He described it eloquently, noting its "electricity." The wine, from six vintages ago, is vibrant, full of fruit, and "zinging" with acidity. Earthy undertones ground the wine, which is truly a great accompaniment to foods (including all that pizza!). It's a great blend of tradition and life.
Here's how Carl describes Mike's bold style: "As a winemaker, Mike always swings for the fences. Every single time. And this time, he hit it out of the park."
This wine is on Fiore's current wine list, and next time (soon--very soon), we will be picking up a case. I'll keep those pizza stones warm...
Recently our CSA surprised me by including in our fruit share a package of regionally-grown organic muscadine grapes. This is a native grape variety most often associated with the South. When I told Carl about them, he right away exclaimed, "Scuppernong!" That left me with questions.
It turns out that scuppernong grapes are the type of muscadine grape that Carl is most familiar with. When people mention either name to southerners, it seems that just about everyone has a memory of being at a home which has grapevines growing somewhere in the yard. Muscadine grapevines. People are quickly drawn to the memory of popping the flesh of these thick-skinned grapes into their mouths, savoring the tart-sweet taste, and spitting out the seeds.
Carl's mom is from North Carolina and his dad from Tennessee, so he immediately recognized the variety, though it is seldom grown this far north.
Back when I worked in our tasting room, it did seem that every time I poured our sweet Harmony wine or Suite wine it would evoke in people the exact same experience. Over and over, people would tell me that the wine immediately transported them to memories of their grandparents' or parents' houses, where the native Concord or Niagara grapevines in the backyard put forth those familiar bursting flavors.
Muscadine is a different species--Vitis rotundifolia--than Concord or Niagara grapes, which are members of the Vitis labrusca species. All are native to North America, but are associated with different regions.
As unfamiliar as I was personally with muscadine grapes, I did immediately know what I wanted to do with the ones which found themselves in my kitchen. I am a huge fan of the PBS series called A Chef's Life, which follows the experiences of North Carolina's wonderful chef Vivian Howard. I had recently watched an episode from season 1 in which Howard focused on muscadines. In the episode she spoke with a local winemaker about making muscadine wine and she developed muscadine grape menu items for her restaurant, Chef & The Farmer. I remembered her topping a pizza with a muscadine grape spread, caramelized onions, and blue cheese. I had wondered what this tasted like, and now I set about to find out for myself.
Rather than making a whole pizza, I decided to put together a batch of flatbread, which all members of my family really like and which only takes about an hour and a half (including rising and cooking time) to make. While the flatbread was rising, I roasted the grapes together with shallots, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
For supper last night, we topped the flatbreads with a variety of toppings, including the grape/blue cheese combination. It was complex and surprising, a blend of sweet, tangy, and creamy flavors which was really memorable. My recipe is here.