Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Curry 101

      Curry is a complex melange of ingredients  that vary by geographical region.

My husband and I are soon heading to Singapore and Malaysia prior to joining our group of Wine-Knows in Vietnam for a two week tour.  We’re going a week early to take cooking classes on Penang Island.  But, not just any cooking class.  This one comes very highly recommended by one of our clients who has returned twice.  I am told that this curry class is the bomb.

Curry is a complex combination of several spices and herbs that vary from country to country. Archaeological evidence, dating back to 2600 BC, indicates that it probably originated in India.  Nonetheless, curry has spread to all neighboring countries of India (e.g. Pakistan, Nepal) and is now a traditional dish of all the Southeast Asia nations.  Even China utilizes curry, as does the Philippines.  Trade routes also took curry to Africa where it still plays a huge role in many African nation’s cuisines.

All curries are known for their special aromatic qualities.  Most of them contain coriander, cumin and turmeric as base ingredients.  Depending on the country (and even the geographical region within the same country), the following are examples of possibilities that can appear in varying proportions and combinations:   ginger, star anise, fenugreek, garlic, lemon grass, galangal (a cousin of ginger), kaffir lime, mustard, fennel, cinnamon, tamarind, pepper, and chiles.

Curry seasonings are used to flavor a variety of dishes.  Often used in meat dishes, curry can also be used with poultry, fish and even vegetable dishes.  It can appear in appetizers, as well as the entree, side dishes, and even on occasion, in desserts.

Curry was so loved by the British Colonial government in India during the 18th century, that Indian merchants decided to make it commercially for sale.  A powdered form of this mélange of enticing spices and herbs was very popular with Brits who took buckets of it with them when they returned to England.  Curry powder is now probably available in every large supermarket throughout the world.

Stay tuned for recipes from our cooking class in Malaysia and best wines for pairing with curry dishes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How to Locate Difficult to Find Wines

We’ve all been there---tasted an older vintage wine that we’ve admired but none of our local wine stores have that particular year.   Or, we’ve tried some relatively unknown wine that we’ve “gotta have” but it’s nowhere to be found in town.   There’s a quick and easy solution:  online!   Over the years, there are very few wines (if any) that I couldn’t locate with a few key strokes.

We live on a hill, which until recently, had only two houses on it.  Both homes on the street are in the wine business so UPS and FedEx know this street well.  It’s rare that a week passes in which one of these companies doesn’t deliver wine to one of our homes.  My husband is on a first name basis with the delivery drivers.  We consider ourselves veterans of online wine purchases. 

Ordering online has some real advantages.  The first is obvious for those difficult to find wines----simply locating them.  The second is the price which is often lower than many of the local retail shops.  For pricey wines there’s another economic advantage in ordering from an out of state company:  no tax.  Yes, there is a shipping fee (about $3 a bottle for a case), but the shipping fee is canceled by the tax savings on expensive bottles.

Online wine sales also have some disadvantages.  If you need a wine quickly, buying it on the internet won’t work unless you want to be held hostage for a “rush” delivery fee which is often $20 per bottle.   If you can wait for 5-6 days, you’ll be fine for most online suppliers.  Weather also can be a detriment.  If you’re spending some big bucks in the height of the summer, an internet sale probably isn’t a good idea as 100 degree temperatures are bad for any wine.

Below are some tips for ordering online:
  1. Make sure you check the box for no vintage substitution.
  2. Consider the weather.  If there’s a heat wave, delay shipping.  Regardless, leave directions in the comments box to ship only on a Monday (wine should not be sitting over the weekend in some non-airconditioned wharehouse).
  3. Ask to be removed from any email promotions so that you’re not bombarded with SPAM.

     Here are my 3 favorite websites for ordering online:
  •  I really like this one as it lists the availability by price throughout the US.
  •   Same as above, but this site lists many of the critics ratings so you can see how the wine stacks up among the experts.
  •   Listed by price, location and critics ratings.

My favorite retailer, which has a website, is K & L Wine Merchant.  There's only one problem as its located in California, which means you'll be paying tax.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Minestrone Better than in Italy!

       Ring in the New Year with this extravagant soup!

January for many of us means taking off those extra pounds we've put on over the holidaze.  Moreover, New Year's resolutions often include recommitting to living a healthy lifestyle with routine exercise and healthy eating.  This soup fits the bill perfectly for weight loss and health.  Oh, yeah...did I mention that it is outrageously good?

Chocked full of flavor, this take on an Italian vegetable soup promises to please even the most discerning gourmet.  To add a little more richness, I throw in my Christmas turkey carcass.  If that's not an option, you can also add just a turkey leg.  For absolutely killer complexity, add a smoked piece of meat (preferably chicken or turkey, however, a piece of lean smoked pork would also work.)


  • 1/3 lb. pancetta, finely chopped
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 6 celrey ribs, chopped
  • 1/3 cup EVOO
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 28 oz can of chopped or whole tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 Qrts water
  • 5 cups of Savoy cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cups of escarole, coarsely chopped
  • 1 head of parsley, chopped
  • 1 piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 cans of cannellini beans, including their liquid (19oz cans)
  • Optional:  grated Parmigiano-Reggiano & chopped basil


Cook pancetta, onions, celery, and carrots in oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat, stirring only occasionally so that vegies develop some carmelization.  In the meanwhile, cut out stems from chard and chop stems (set aside chopped leaves for later).  Stir chard stems into pancetta mixture with garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt and 3/4 teaspoon of pepper.  Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until tender and begins to stick to bottom of pot (about 45 minutes.)

Push mixture to side of pot, adding tomato paste to cleared area. Cook, stirring constantly until paste begins to carmelize (about 2 minutes.)  While paste may stick to pot, don't let it burn.

Break up tomatoes and add them and their juice.  Add water, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.  Bring to a simmer.  Stir in cabbage, escarole, parley and cheese rind.   Simmer, covered, until green are tender (about 30 minutes).

Add chopped chard leaves and beans to soup, simmering partially covered about 10 minutes.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  For a splurge, add to top of soup bowls grated cheese and freshly chopped basil.

This recipe easily serves 10.  With El Nino bearing down, the soup is a perfect healthy treat for a cold and rainy winter's night.

Buon appetito!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Have a Sweet 16 New Year

        Wine-Knows will visit Chateau Yquem, one of the world's greatest sweet wines, 
on the Bordeaux tour in September 2016 

Sweet wines are not just for dessert.  I was reminded on Christmas Eve how versatile a sweet wine can be.  I paired a 20 year old Grand Cru Alsatian Gewurztraminer with a salad of Stilton cheese.  Salads are one of the most difficult foods to work with wine because of the acid in their vinaigrette.  Further complicating matters was the strong blue cheese, but it all worked beautifully.  Here are some guiding principles for pairing sweet wines in 2016 with courses other than desserts. 

Salt loves sweet.  Sweet wines can be a great match for certain cheeses. Salty cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Feta, Manchego, or a blue such as Stilton pair well with a late harvest wine, Port, Sherry, or Sauternes.

Spicy begs for sweet.  Spicy foods are a match made in heaven for slightly sweet wine such as a Moscato or a German Riesling.  The cool temperature, as well as the sweetness of the wine, helps mitigate the effect of the capsicum heat of the food.

High alcohol pairs with high fat.   Sweet wines have higher alcohol levels than table wines.  That’s why a Sauternes or Tokaj is often served with foie gras, even as an appetizer.  (That’s also why highly marbled beef works best with a high alcohol red such as a Zinfandel.) The principle is the same.  Rich with rich.  Heaven with heaven.

Wishing you a sweet 2016.