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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Phenomenal Persimmons !

Persimmons are one of the culinary world’s astonishing gifts.   It seems everyone is taken with their gorgeous color, but I’m always surprised at the number of people who don’t know quite what to do with them.    I can think of endless yummy possibilities for this fruit of Asian origin.

                          Hachiya is larger & acorn shaped;  Fuyu is smaller & squatty
                   

First, there are several varieties of persimmons and they are very different.  The two most common in California are the Hachiya and the Fuyu.   Hachiya are the larger of the two, shaped like an acorn.  Be mindful that this varietal is quite tannic and must be fully ripe (i.e. ooey gooey soft) before eating.  Fuyu is by far my fave---in fact we have planted two Fuyu trees.   Unlike Hachiya, Fuyu can be eaten when rock-hard and they are absolutely delicious.  

                                         Autumn salad is frequently on our menu

My favorite persimmon dish is one of the simplest---preparation takes maybe 15 minutes.   I call it “autumn salad.”   Other than the vinaigrette salad dressing (EVOO, balsamic, shallot & Dijon mustard), it has four ingredients:  fuyu persimmon, blue cheese (I prefer Stilton but Roquefort is also terrific), lettuce (I especially like arugula) and roasted nuts (love pecans or walnuts).    This is a perennial dish at our house during the fall and winter months. 

                                      Stephanie's persimmon cake is totally phenomenal

Fuyu persimmons do soften to the point that they’re no longer possible in a salad.  No worries as I use them in desserts----everything from cakes to more adventurous versions of Trifle and Tiramisu.   I was given the recipe below for a persimmon spice cake nearly 40 years ago by a dear friend (who had obtained it from an elderly woman).  It’s one of my most treasured recipes, and a great way to use persimmons of any variety that have softened.   The cake is also perfect for the upcoming holidaze.


Ingredients:

3 cups pureed persimmons (either variety will work)

2 tspns baking soda

½ cup butter at room temp

1 2/3 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 tspsns lemon juice

2 tspsns vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tspn baking powder

1 tspn salt

1 tspn ground cloves

1 tspn ground cinnamon

½ tspn ground nutmeg

1 cup walnuts

½ cup raisins


Directions:

Add baking soda to fruit and set aside (but use very soon as it will turn into a solid block).   In a separate large bowl, beat butter and sugar with a mixer.  Add flour and spices.  Then, add persimmon mix and stir until just blended.  Last, add in nuts and raisins.

Pour into greased and floured pan (can use a tube pan or any other cake pan).  Bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes, pending type of pan utilized.

If you really want to be decadent, you can add icing (like that great recipe of cream cheese + powdered sugar + butter), but it really doesn’t require it.   A dollop of whipped cream can be added, but most of the time I serve it plain and wait for the accolades to begin.


Bon Appetit!



Friday, November 20, 2020

Wines to Pair with Turkey

                                            Wine-Knows has much for which to be thankful


Thanksgiving is just around the corner so many of us are making preparations for a holiday dinner.  What type of wine we serve will depend upon the preparation of the turkey.  For example, wines that best accompany a smoked turkey differ from those that pair with a traditional roasted turkey.  For those deep frying your turkey, this requires other wines.   As a lover of smoked turkey, I'll start there.


Smoked Turkey

Smoking imparts bold flavors so a smoked turkey requires a bold wine.  If you’re a red lover, I would recommend a Syrah.  A good Syrah offers a range of deep complex flavors that can stand up to the smoking process.  In fact, Syrah often has a smoke profile with nuances of bacon, spicy notes of white or black pepper and black fruits.  All of these partner nicely with a smoked meat.    

 

While Zinfandel would work with smoked turkey, Zins have high alcohol content.  Assuming most Thanksgiving celebrations will start with pre-dinner holiday libations, I’m hesitate to recommend Zinfandel for this reason.  No one wants a Thanksgiving that involves over-drinking.  Nonetheless, in moderation, Zin’s big black fruit along with tobacco and spice flavors can work beautifully with smoked meat.

 

If you’re serving a smoked turkey and prefer to feature a white wine then this certainly is yet another option.  Like red wine, a white paired with a smoked turkey needs to be able to stand up to the strong smoke flavors.  The best white wine to do so would be a dry Riesling, preferably one with a little age on it.  

 

Deep Fried Turkey

To choose a wine for a fried turkey, one has to consider the pre-frying process.  Recipes many times call for a rub (common ingredients include brown sugar, paprika and chili powder).    A flavor-chocked rub demands a wine that can stand up to it such as a Syrah or Zin.  Other methods prior to frying involve injecting the bird with a liquid such as lemon juice, butter, olive oil, and ground herbs.  If this method is used an oaky and/or buttery Chardonnay would work, as would a Merlot for red lovers.

 

Roast Turkey

Classic roast turkey and stuffing can work with a multitude of wines, pending the side dishes served.  If a traditional feast is prepared (e.g. with a side of cinnamon-laced sweet potatoes, buttery mashed potatoes and rich gravy), then I suggest a dry Gewurztraminer which can cut through the richness and play well with the spice.   Less sweet side dishes and a roast turkey with stuffing pairs well with a Pinot Noir.

 

Have a joyful day of giving thanks and stay safe...even if it's family.



Friday, November 13, 2020

Spain’s Greatest Culinary Gift---Membrillo

 

                                        The perfect autumn bite, membrillo & manchego

Membrillo is a thick jam made from quince fruit….think of a very thick version of apple sauce in the form of a nearly-solid brick.  My husband and I so love membrillo that quince was one of the first of 30 fruit trees that we planted when we moved to San Diego over ten years ago.  Quince is closely related to the family of apples and pears, and like it’s relatives it ripens in the fall.   It’s time to make membrillo!

                          Our quince tree is loaded with fruit, each the size of a large apple

Once a very popular fruit, quince has sadly fallen from popularity in the US.  Most Americans (including many foodies) don’t even know what it is, let alone know the incredible confection it can make.    Membrillo is thought to have originated in Spain.  Many countries in Europe, however, make their own version of a thick quince jam (e.g. France where it is called pate de coing; in Italy it is referred to as cotognata;  and the Portuguese say marmelata).   Wildly admired in all of South America, it is called dulce de membrillo in the southern hemisphere.

 

                           I often serve membrillo with fresh quince for a still-life effect

Membrillo is used both for breakfast and dinner.   Served like a jam for breakfast, membrillo is often served with toast in Europe or South America.  In the evening, membrillo can appear as an appetizer (manchego cheese and membrillo are a perfect bite before dinner with a glass of cava).   Membrillo can also perform after dinner on a cheese tray with roasted nuts and a loaf of a great bread, or substituted in a recipe for any dessert using a jam (think Trifle for the upcoming holidays, a tarte, or even a rustic galette).

 

             This Manchego cheesecake with membrillo topping may grace our Thanksgiving table

Just like any fruit jam, making membrillo requires cooking quince with sugar.  Farmer’s markets sometimes have quince this time of year but if you can’t find it don’t despair.  The already made membrillo is widely available for sale on the Internet.   Or, join Wine-Knows next autumn for one of their two trips to Spain:   www.WineKnowsTravel.com.



Friday, November 6, 2020

Italy’s Best Soft Cheese

 
                                           La Tur is one of Italy's gastronomic treasures

For nearly twenty years I’ve been extolling the virtues of La Tur cheese.   Oui, it has a French sounding name but the cheese is actually made in the foothills of the Italian Alps.   Hailing from the same district as the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as the highly prized white truffle, La Tur ranks in the same premier gastronomic category as these other super-stars from Italy’s Piedmont area. 

La Tur offers the best of three cheese worlds: goat, sheep and cow.  It seems La Tur combines all the best characteristics of each animal’s milk, creating a delicious product where the sum is greater than the parts.  There is a grassy-citrus tang like a goat cheese.  The sheep’s milk contributes a mild nutty profile.  Finally, there’s the super rich and buttery nuance from the cow’s milk.     

This Italian cheese rock-star  is luscious.   Few cheese have a more succulent and silky texture.  Available in small rounds of about two inches in diameter, this meritage cheese is the perfect size for an autumn dinner for two persons.   Served with a ripe pear, a decadent fuyu persimmon, yummy fall figs, some roasted walnuts and a loaf of artisanal bread I can’t think of a better meal that requires only five minutes of prep time.

Enjoy the fall colors….and La Tur (which is available at most cheese stores, as well as Whole Foods).

Buon appetito!


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Granada & Seville: Spain’s 2 Jewels

Granada’s Alhambra Palace is one of the architectural treasures of Europe

 A client who is coming on the Wine-Knows' Mallorca tour next year asked me recently, “Which city in Spain is your favorite?”   While I love Madrid, I immediately knew that my numero uno choice had to be either Granada or Seville.   But, which one?  Both are located in Spain’s southern Andalusia region which borders the Mediterranean.  Choosing would be very difficult.

The Alhambra can be seen from all over Granada

Granada is arguably one of Spain’s most compelling cities.  Located at the foot of the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains, it was ruled by the Moors for over 800 years.  In fact, Granada was the last Moorish stronghold in all of Spain.  This city is world famous for its Alhambra Palace, a walled fortress that is one of Europe’s most breathtaking pieces of architecture.  But, there is so much more to Granada than this astonishing Islamic citadel.

The historic old town offers authentic charm

Granada has a palpable soul.  The city has an energy, especially the historic Moorish quarter that surrounds the spectacular hilltop Palace.   Known as the Albaicin quarter, think of it as an exotic Casbah with meandering cobblestone alleys, a mélange of intimate flamenco clubs, atmospheric Bohemian cafes… and then layer on seductive bars with twinkling lights, exotic aromas from both restaurants and homes, and a distant guitar serenading lovers.  Granada's old town is intoxicating. 

Seville seduces both the young and old

Seville, on the other hand, has been voted one of the globe’s Top 10 cities to visit.  It has an air of sophistication.  It’s passionate.  It’s also mucho romantico.  There’s no wonder why the city is the capitol of passion-based flamenco dancing, and one of the most loved by travelers in Europe.  Sevilla has all the trappings for allure, including horse-drawn carriages, quiet pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, a jaw-dropping flood-lit Gothic cathedral, and even its own spectacular Moorish castle.

Seville's cathedral will provide a jaw-dropping background for Wine-Knows’ dining

But, wait!  Seville has an added bonus….it is very near Sherry wine country.   In about an hour visitors can go from a coffee on one of Seville’s  plethora of dramatic squares to tasting a flight of wine in the Sherry countryside.

Moorish architecture mesmerizes in both Granada & Seville

Granada or Seville?   I choose both….as can you for Wine-Knows will be visiting both Granada and Seville next October, 2021.  Currently there are a few spaces available so check out these two astonishing gems on www.WineKnowsTravel.com.



Saturday, October 17, 2020

Mallorca's Healthy Mediterranean Diet

                     This Mediterranean island's cuisine & lifestyle embody healthy living

Mallorca is a mucho seductive island just off the coast of Barcelona.   This dreamy Spanish isle has a rich history involving the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, and its cuisine reflects an interesting tapestry of all of these past conquerors.  But, Mallorca’s food is much more than its historical roots.  Its culinary profile closely parallels the Mediterranean Diet, one of the healthiest diets on the planet.

 

                      Agricultural villages such as this one are a mainstay in the island's economy

The word “diet” comes from the Greek word “diatia” which means way of life.  The United Nation’s cultural arm (UNESECO) considers the Mediterranean Diet to be part of Mallorca’s cultural fabric.   Foods and lifestyle are intrinsically linked in the Mediterranean Diet.   This means that one’s way of living (both physical activity and community/family connections) are equally important to the actual food one eats.

Amphora were used for centuries to transport olive oil & wine

There are four cornerstones of the Mediterranean Diet and Mallorca has them all.  First, the island’s cuisine features an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish. Secondly, little red meat is consumed and dairy products are used in moderation (local olive oil is used).  Thirdly, agriculture is a big part of the island’s economy.  In addition to olives, Mallorcans raise a plethora of crops such almonds, carob, figs, apricots, tomatoes, peppers and onions.   (There’s no need for a farmer to go to the gym or out for a run after a hard day in the fields).  The last foundation of the Mediterranean diet is wine.  Mallorca’s wine industry is undergoing a significant Renaissance.

Fruit & old-world décor provide an unforgettable backdrop at this restaurant

Wine-Knows’ October 2021 trip to Mallorca will feature a week’s stay at a swanky private villa----and there are only 2 remaining spots.  Why not join us for the Mediterranean Diet, sensational island scenery, and some killer wines from grape varieties that grow only on Mallorca?   www.WineKnowsTravel.com


Friday, October 9, 2020

The Other Bordeaux----Sauternes


                                        Sauternes are among the world's most expensive wines

The grape harvest for Bordeaux’s white and red wine finished some weeks ago, but it is just starting for Bordeaux’s prized sweet wines, Sauternes (pronounced sew TAIRN.)  Sauternes is some of the priciest wines on the planet (a bottle of an old Chateau Yquem sold a few years ago for $117,000---that's $26,000 a glass, or $2,200 a sip!)   One of the reasons is that the berries are picked one at a time, rather than one bunch at a time.  Let me explain.

                                 Sauternes is a wine district, a town, and a sweet wine

Known as “liquid gold,” Sauternes is pricey because of the labor intensive process required to make it.  Grapes for these sweet wines are hand-picked carefully by workers who have been trained to look for “botrytis.”   Known also as the “noble rot,” botrytis is a fungus that attacks very ripe grapes.   Typically, it does not attack the full bunch, but only certain berries.  Workers must often make several passes through the vineyards over a period of weeks, picking only the grapes that have been effected with noble rot.  In some cases one vine is necessary to make one bottle of the most expensive Sauternes.

                          Botrytis concentrates flavors & causes flavor, as well as aroma changes

So how can rotted grapes possibly make such a magnifique wine?   First, the botrytis penetrates the grape’s skin and causes it to lose nearly 75% of its water.  However, much more than dehydrating and concentrating the flavors, botrytis actually causes a chemical change in the grape’s aromas and taste profile.  Third, while all of the above is occurring, the fungus also increases the actual acid levels so that this sweet wine is not cloying sweet.

                            Damp & warmth together create the perfect storm for botrytis

The terroir of Sauternes is key to botrytis.  The fungus does not happen every year, but only when certain conditions in the environment occur at the same time.  There are two rivers, one cold and the other warm, that converge into one river near Sauternes.  The mixture of warm and cold creates a mist.   Providing the afternoons are warm, this mist in addition to the heat create the perfect milieu for botrytis to thrive. 


If you’re one of the lucky Wine-Knows joining the September 2021 trip to Bordeaux, you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of the world's most famous Sauternes.  The sweet life doesn’t get any sweeter than sipping a Sauternes at its birthplace.



Friday, October 2, 2020

Sicily’s Ferrari of Chocolate


                                      Modica chocolate is characteristically grainy in texture

Italy makes some of the world’s most delicious chocolate pleasures.   Among  the Italian chocolate elitists, is one that is located on the island of Sicily.  Known as Modica chocolate, the delicacy can only by law be produced in the town of Modica.  This “town of chocolate” uses an ancient Aztec technique that was brought to Modica by the Spaniards in the 16th century (Modica had a close connection with the Spanish Crown).  Modica chocolate is now protected by the European Union with a special designation PDI, which guarantees the consumer it’s the real deal.

                            Modica is replete with chocolate makers using the Aztec method

Wine-Knows was to have visited Modica today but COVID delayed our Sicilian journey until October 2021.   Next year we'll learn that chocolate is produced the same way that it was at the time when the Spanish conquistadors sailed to South America and discovered the culinary magic of the Aztecs.   The Aztec technique of “cold” processing is used in all Modica chocolate.  Typically, chocolate is produced using heat which makes it smooth, but the cold method produces a characteristic crunchy texture as seen in Modica chocolate. Another major difference of the Aztec-based tradition is that there is no added butterfat---the only fat present in Modica chocolate is the cocoa butter that is naturally present in the cocoa bean.

                      The 21st century has brought upscale packaging & dozens of flavors

The Ferrari of Modica chocolates is Bonajuto. The oldest firm in Modica, the family of this company has been making chocolate since the early 1800’s.  In 1920 Bonajuto won the Gold Medal at the International Exposition in Rome.  Fast forward a hundred years…Bonajuto, while based on tradition, has become innovation-driven, research- based, and ethics-centric (Bonajuto’s cocoa comes from certified plantations that do not use child labor and working conditions are protected and safeguarded.)

                  The ingot shape, popular in Modica, was used by the Aztecs to shape their gold

More than 500 years after the Spaniards first brought the cocoa bean to Modica, chocolate has become Modica’s black gold.  There are too-many-to-count chocolate shops in the town.  Chocolates come in every size and shape, with flavors such as cinnamon, chili, orange, sea salt, cardamom, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, white pepper, and vanilla.   Many shops even sell frozen chocolates for tourists to buy, especially during Sicily’s hot summers.

Lucky travelers on Wine-Knows tour rescheduled for next year, October 2021, will visit Bonajuto for a tasting and tour of the facilities.    But, you don’t have to go to Sicily to buy Modica chocolates as they’ve become world famous.   You can buy Bonajuto online from many sellers in the USA.



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Eat, Sip, Travel: Sicily


                                   Ortigia island is part of the mainland city of Syracuse

Wine-Knows was to have begun its Sicilian food and wine adventure a few days ago, but COVID changed our course. To honor what might have been , I'm writing this Blog.

We were to have started our journey on the historic island of Ortigia (one of ancient Greece's most important colonies), where timeless beauty   abounds : dazzling squares flanked by majestic Baroque buildings with elaborate rot iron balconies, and a labyrinth of pedestrian only alleyways lined with palaces and simple fishermen's homes that wind down to the emerald Mediterranean.  Joined to the mainland by a short bridge,  Ortigia is a deeply atmospheric place of myriad architecture styles and a tapestry of cultures. 

                                  Capers are much more intense tasting than caper berries 

Capers are an important part of the Sicilian cuisine. The caper bush grows wild here and Sicilian capers are prized by gourmet chefs around the globe. Capers appear in some form or another on every menu (from antipasto to pasta, and from veggies to meat dishes). Yesterday we were to have visited Ortigia's market to taste the difference between capers and caper berries: caper, the bud of a Mediterranean shrub, is more intense, while the berry (which is the actual fruit of the caper shrub) are much more delicate.   T he island's most prized capers are not brined but preserved in salt. 


       Eggplant is used in Sicily's famous caponata, as well its other signature dish, Pasta Norma

Caponata is one of Sicily's signature dishes.   There's something magical in the mathematics of this sweet and sour stew of eggplant, peppers, celery, capers, onions and onions:   the whole is better than the sum of its parts.   Something special happens when the sweet tomato paste melds into the red wine vinegar and coats the veggies like a yummy blanket.



                                  Cassata, Sicily's hallmark cake, is studded with candied fruits

Candying fruit in Sicily is an art form and citrus is one of the most popular.   Catholic nuns, who sold sweets to support their convents, introduced the candying process to Sicily.   The island's two most famous desserts (cannoli and cassata) both use candied fruits.


       These arancini filled with ooey-gooey cheese were to have been one of the appetizers last night

Oranges are so popular that they have given their name to one of Sicily's most traditional foods, arancini ( “little oranges") .     T hese golf ball rounds (think meat balls), are filled mainly with rice but often flavored with chicken, beef, or even vegetables. 


                Pastry shops are filled with stunning miniature marzipan “fruit” such as these

Another important part of Sicily’s gastronomy is the art of marzipan.   A delicious paste made of ground almonds and sugar (Sicilian almonds are unsurpassed in flavor), marzipan is a serious business in Sicily.  In addition to fruit, marzipan also comes in the form of other food products such as ears of corn, tiny pumpkins, and even carrots.  Like cassata and cannoli, marzipan came from the culinary tricks of nuns in Sicily’s convents.


                         Feudi di Pisciotto is a jaw-dropping 18th century wine estate

One of our stops for two nights was to have been Feudi di Pisciotto, a boutique hotel located on a historic 400 acre farming estate.   Producing some of southeastern Sicily’s best wines, this estate’s winemaker was to host us for a private tasting followed by this  dinner at Fuedi’s award-winning restaurant:

  • Seafood Couscous (in homage to Sicily’s Arab rule for centuries). Served with the estate’s top wine, Cerasuolo (a blended light-tannin red)

  • Grilled swordfish with grilled lemons & purple cauliflower, capers & estate olive oil.     Served with the estate’s Nero d’Avola named after Gianni Versace

  • Minature house-made cannoli filled with local ricotta, chocolate & candied oranges.    Served with the estate's dessert wine named after another famous designer, Gianfranco Ferrè
The tour has been changed to next October, 2021. At the moment there are two spaces available: www.WineKnowsTravel.com

Long live Sicily!          


Monday, September 21, 2020

Who Invented the Deli? The Answer May Surprise You!


                                              Deli and Italy are for many synonymous

Italy is home of pasta, vino, salami, mozzarella, pesto, focaccia, prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano, pepperoncini, panini, tiramisu…. and the deli, which sells all of these items.  The Italian deli is one of the greatest sensory shows on our food earth.  Pungent cheese mixes with the intoxicating smells of gigantic hanging hams just waiting to be sliced.  Lasagna fresh-from-the-oven causes a Pavlovian reaction.   Aisles are filled with a Noah’s ark full of olives, olive oils, capers, balsamic vinegars, and tins of San Marzano tomatoes.  And, let’s not forget the aroma of garlic---no vampire would get within 50 meters of an Italian deli.

  Labor-intensive eggplant parmigiana is  a perfect solution for Italians who don't want the hassle

Every city in Italy is replete with delis.  Their reputations are often based on their homemade ingredients which fill their display cases.  With both parents often working in Italy, the deli has become the Italian healthy version of fast food:  eggplant parm is a favorite item that can quickly be reheated.  Always popular meatballs, made from closely guarded deli recipes been passed down for generations, can become a speedy dinner by simply boiling water for pasta.   Many delis are also known for their seafood salad---calamari, shrimp and mussels dressed with olive oil and lemon (add a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine and this makes a perfect dinner for time-bankrupt Italian households).

Eataly is a deli on steroids


There are many fabulous deli’s in Italy.   Eataly in Turin (the brand’s original location) is totally awesome.  This is a food emporium extraordinaire----a deli combined with a butcher shop, bread seller, seafood market, pastry shop, wine store, pizza parlor, foodie’s gift store, general grocery store, vegetable market, and a culinary bookstore. 

                               Peck has a nearly endless supply of gastronomic sweets

In my opinion, however, the ultimate deli in all of Italy is Peck in Milan.  Located not far from the city’s famous cathedral, Peck has always been my favorite for takeout. Many times over the years I have taken the train from nearby Lake Como to pick up ingredients for a picnic dinner on the terrace of my hotel in Bellagio.   Peck’s seafood salad with lobster and scallops is off the Richter scale.  If I’m feeling really decadent I buy a small slice of foie gras with truffles.  But, Peck’s also sells pieces of magnifico rotisserie chicken which I often pair with their pepperonata, a stewed mélange of multi-colored peppers with hints of anchovy, garlic, olive oil and a drizzle of good balsamic.

All of this time I have assumed that deli was an Italian word.  Wrong.   Deli is from the word “delikatessen,” a German word.  In 1700 the word was first used by a German food company that sold bananas, mangoes and plums it had imported from exotic places like the Canary Islands and China.  The company, Dallymar, is still in business today and remains the largest business of its type in Europe.


                      Like many things in Italy, it's all about the heart & soul of the owners

Although the word deli is not Italian, I think it sounds Italian.   That made me think of the Italian word “delicato,” which stems from a Latin word meaning “giving pleasure, delightful.”    So in my mind I’m going to keep my notion of deli as Italian.  While the Italians may not have invented the concept of a store selling a cornucopia of exotic foods, to me the delis of Italy give great pleasure and are a culinary delight.