Friday, November 25, 2016

Hearts of Palm Salad

                                                 A wonderful winter (or summer!) salad

I’m working on the finishing touches of Wine-Knows upcoming trip to Chile & Argentina.  Hearts of palm are a big deal in both countries and every day my lunch is a fresh hearts of palm salad (it’s usually served with a simple vinaigrette and tomatoes).   While fresh hearts of palm are unavailable in the U.S., Trader Joe’s and Costco carry the product canned.  Check out this  scrumptious salad, one of my most requested recipes.   

Serves 6-8 persons

Ingredients for Vinagrette:
  • Small clove of garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (stems removed)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup good quality EVOO

Salad Ingredients
  • 14 oz jar of hearts of palm
  • 4 medium ripe, but firm, avocados
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 head of Romaine lettuce
  • Optional:  if its tomato season, I sometimes add bite size pieces

Make the Vinagrette:  
Mix first 5 ingredients in a food processor, then slow drizzle in the olive oil with machine still running.

Assemble the salad:  
Drain hearts of palm and cut into bite size pieces.  Place in salad bowl, along with thinly sliced red onion.  Cut each avocado into about 6-8 pieces (as you toss the salad, the avocados will disintegrate a little, so start with larger pieces).   Add avocado and head of Romaine torn in bite size pieces.  Mix in salad dressing and gently toss.  Adjust for salt and pepper. (Add leftover Turkey for a main course salad).

Bon provecha!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Madeira, My Dear!

                                        Madeira's wine-making process is very unique

Although the volcanic Madeira Islands are closer to Marrakech than to Lisbon, Madeira’s wine-making culture is very much Portuguese.   Madeira makes two types of wine.  The most famous, their fortified wine, is the one this article will address.  Production of unfortified wine (table wine) has sky-rocketed 500% in the last decade and these table wines are rapidly improving in quality.  Table wines from Madeira, however, will be handled on this Blog separately in a future article.

The Islands of Madeira have a long and illustrious wine-making history, dating back to the Age of Exploration when Madeira was a standard port of call for ships heading from Portugal or Spain to the New World or East Indies.  Madeira wines, as well as the island’s tropical fruits, were loaded on ships for trade.  The wine we know today as Madeira was an accident.

The sea voyage was long, arduous, and hot.  To prevent wine from spoiling winemakers copied the practice of Port producers and added a little brandy to prevent spoilage.  On one of the trips, however, a wine shipment went unsold so the kegs returned to Madeira after several months of a round-trip journey.  What was in the barrels was very different.  Months of tropical heat had transformed the wine’s flavor. Locals very much enjoyed the new tasting beverage…and the rest is history. 

Today Madeira is noted for its unique wine-making process which involves heating the wine.  What also makes Madeira production unique is the aging process, meant to duplicate the effect of a long sea voyage through tropical climates.  There are three main methods used to heat and age the wine.

  • Cuba de Calor:  Used for inexpensive Madeira, this process is for bulk aging done in stainless steel or concrete vats.  The tanks are heated to temperatures of 115-130 degrees Farenheit for a minimum of 90 days.
  • Armazem de Calor:  The second process more gently exposes the wine to heat and can last from six months to > one year.  Think sauna.  Large wooden casks are placed in a specially designed room outfitted with steam pipes. 
  • Canteiro:  This method is used for the highest quality Madeiras.  Wines are aged without the use of artificial heat.  Instead, wine is stored in warm rooms and left to age by the natural heat of the sun.  This heating process can last from 20-100 years. 

Because of its unique production process, Madeira is a very robust wine that can be quite long lived…even after opening.  With the holiday season just around the corner, the following are suggestions for pairing the wine with foods. Madeira’s powerful acidity cuts through fat, making it a noble companion to a creamy soup, fatty meat or game, custard, soufflĂ©, and a rich cheese.  A holiday dinner with foie gras, roasted duck or goose, a velvety mushroom soup, or a decadent English trifle are all grand possibilities for the upcoming season to showcase Madeira.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

ABC---Anything But Champagne

                          Why not step out of the box and try some other terrific sparkling wines?

The holidaze are around the corner and in our house that means lots of bubbly.  We like to keep a variety of sparkling wine from around the world in our cellar for many reasons.  First and foremost, it’s all about quality-price ratio.  Most of the Champagnes we like are $50 - $100 per bottle.  There are a plethora of well-crafted sparklers out there for considerably less.  Second, the quality of the bubbles discussed below will surprise you.

The first bubbly may shock you.  It’s from England.  Nyetimber's sparkling wine sent shock waves throughout the wine world when it beat out many Champagnes in blind tastings.  (Remember, that Southern England is roughly the same latitude as the Champagne district).   Nyetimber (from West Sussex) even beat out fancy Grand Crus such as Billecart Salmon, which is one of my perennial faves. $50

The second sparkler is French.  It can’t be called Champagne as it is not produced in the Champagne district.   But, it is produced just across the border in Burgundy.  Cremant de Bourgogne is a good alternative for >50% less.  Try Domaine Charles Bauer for one of the best renditions.  $30

Having recently returned from Spain, I am smitten with Cava.  This sparkler is produced in the same labor-intensive matter as Champagne, must strict E.U. laws dictate that nothing on its label references Champagne.  We had some killer bottles of Cava that could wreak havoc on its French counterpart in a blind tasting.  Try Castell d’Age Aurelia Gran Reserva, a steal for $20.

If you want a knock-your-socks off bubbly that could seriously compete with the real deal Champagnes (and are willing to pay for it) then look no further than Italy’s Franciacorta wine district near Verona.  Ca Del Bosco produces earth-shaking sparkling wines in the $50-$80 range.  Ferghettina (from the same area) is also a jewel that shouldn’t be missed (and I love the shape of their bottle).  $40-50

Moving a little closer to home, the next bubbly is American….but it’s from a state that may shock you:  New Mexico!  No, I’ve not lost my mind.  This Champagne knock-off has also won lots of awards and would warrant a spot in an “ABC Blind Tasting.”  Gruet is the producer.  $30

Last, but not least, California’s Roederer is also one of my favorites.  Owned by a French Champagne producer, this American cousin is a terrific buy.  There's more good's readily available.  $20

Maybe an ABC tasting might be a fun way to celebrate the holidays?   Have fun learning your alphabet!

Friday, November 4, 2016

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve been a raving fan of Trader Joe’s for nearly 30 years.  In the 1980’s there was only one TJ’s in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Once a week I’d make the 30 minute trek.  Prior to relocating in 2009 to San Diego, I made certain that there was a TJ’s nearby our new home.  Suffice to say, I love TJ’s!  With the holidaze just around the corner, here are some of my favorite things---many of which are only stocked at this time of year.

  • Pumpkin Caramel Danish Kringle:  A friend in Arizona turned me on to this.  I could kill her for doing so.  While TJ’s carries the almond version most of the year, the Pumpkin is only available in the autumn…and it sells out immediately, so buy it if you see it.
  • Honey Crisp Apple Cider:  Another friend recently got me hooked on honey crisp apples, thus when I saw this fresh, unfiltered cider being offered as a sample I made the mistake of tasting it.  I’m now hooked (and, yes, it’s worth the 120 calories for one cup)!
  • Brie with Porcini Mushrooms:  How could I possibly resist buying this last week?   A marriage made in heaven.  Don’t miss.
  • White Stilton with Cranberries:  I buy a wheel of blue Stilton every year from a special farm (Long Clawson) in England and have it shipped.  Recently I tried TJ’s white version.  It also comes with dried apricots but I think I prefer the berry.
  • Hearts of Palm:  TJ's thankfully carries this year around and I always have 6 or 7 jars on hand at all times.  I’ll be blogging next month about a sublime winter salad I make with them and avocados.
  • Papparadelle (both plain & lemon):  Always stocked, this is my go-to pasta and I buy oodles of it at a time (providing it isn't already sold out).  It’s also my husband’s favorite.
  • Zonin Prosecco:  at $7 a pop, this is the perfect sparkler if you’re going to mix it into something.  Our favorite concoction to use it with is an Aperol Spritz.  We keep a case of this Prosecco on hand as with the amount of entertaining we do bottles disappear quickly when making our beloved Aperol drink.  This is a regular item and they sell an insane amount.