Friday, January 28, 2022

Cumin is Delicious & Heart Friendly!

                                        Cumin is critical to Morrocco's signature dish, Tagine

I’m certain there are many lovers of the musky-earthy spice cumin, however, how many of you knew that cumin was also good for our heart?  In fact, medical researchers have shown that cumin is an anti-oxidant.  This anti-oxidative property prevents inflammatory damage to the heart and all blood vessels.   Inflammation has been shown to be the culprit for heart attacks, strokes, and a variety of other heart system maladies such as high blood pressure.

                                                       Cumin is a relative of parsley

Cumin is the dried seed of a flowering plant.  This plant is actually a member of the parsley family.   Thought to be native to Asia or the Eastern Mediterranean, cumin is used in many cuisines around the globe for its distinctive flavor and aroma.  It is found as one of the ingredients of India’s curry powder and garam masala, multiple Middle Eastern & North African recipes,  Mexico’s achiote blends, Spain’s sofrito, South Asia’s powdered mix called dhana  jeera, as well as in American chili powder.

                             Curries around the globe all have one thing in common:  cumin

India is currently the world’s largest producer of cumin---approximately 70% of cumin is produced there.  The cumin plant requires hot temperatures to grow.  Syria used to be a dominant player on the global market in cumin production, however, that market has ground to a halt.

From ancient Mesopotamia to current day street tacos, cumin has spiced up our culinary world for millenniums.   With healthy food being a dominant theme today, cumin is a healthy option for flavoring as it offers neither fats nor calories.  Furthermore, its heart-healthy benefits make it an ideal choice to jump-start 2022!


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Alsace: France’s Best Kept Wine & Food Secret

                                   Alsace is an architectural as well as wine & food treasure*                    

Ask well-traveled Francophiles if they have visited Alsace and the answer from many will be, “non.”    Serious wine-lovers will frequently add that it’s on their bucket list, and knowledgeable French foodies will remark similarly.  Alsace’s far northeastern location (bordering Germany) requires a significant trek from popular destinations such as Paris, Provence, the French Riviera and Bordeaux, but it’s a journey that should be made by all wine and food aficianados.

                                         Captivating Hansel & Gretel wine villages abound

Alsace is one of France’s hidden gems on many levels.  First, the wine is stunning.  However, because of the area’s close proximity to Germany, Alsatian wines are often mistakenly thought to be sweet.   Most of Alsace’s wines are dry.  Alsace is mainly a white wine region, on the other hand, dry reds are also produced.

                             Alsace has the largest number of Michelin star restaurants 

In addition, the Alsace area is a gastronomic powerhouse.   Alsace has more Michelin star restaurants per square kilometer than any other area in Europe.   One of France’s major foie gras producers, Alsace also entices the gourmet traveler with a cornucopia of ethereal specialty products such as truffle-studded foie gras, foie gras with cognac, terrine of foie gras, foie gras en croute and foie gras mousse.

     Artisanal boulangeries turn out out products not seen elsewhere in France such as Kugelhof (R) 

Also, Alsace is a food-lovers dream for cheese.  The year-around green Vosges mountains of the district create a perfect milieu for frommage from cows and goats. Alsatian cheese is one of the oldest cheeses in France.   Some historians believe cheese in Alsace can be traced back to the era of Charlemagne in the 9th century, however, others say cheese-making began in the 7th century in an Alsatian monastery.

                Wine-Knows will be taking a group this year Dec 6-16 for the Christmas Markets

The Alsatian region is also an enchanting architectural jewel.  A unique combination of French and German influences, Alsace’s villages are right out of Hansel & Gretel with brightly painted half-timbered houses, elaborate rot iron balconies filled with cascading flowers, and leaded-glass windows.  The entire region is a treasure trove of picturesque.


                                              Strasbourg is Alsace's wine & food capital

Wine-Knows has taken several groups to Alsace and has another tour planned in early December this year to the most famous Christmas market in all of France, Strasbourg.  The capital of Alsace, Strasbourg is a ground zero for gastronomy and Alsatian wine. While all of our tours for next year (2023) are sold out, we do have some openings on this year's pre-Christmas trip.  During the tour we’ll cross the border to visit Germany’s most famous Christmas markets (e.g. Nuremberg & Heidelberg).  Both Alsatian & German Christmas markets provide rich culinary experiences---foods from historic labor-intensive recipes, only made during the yuletide holidays, are very special delicacies.


 * This photo of Colmar is courtesy of Tripadvisor

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Give me Five! 5 New Grapes for 2022

Let’s get 2022 off to an exciting start with five new delightful wine grapes to try.  When I say new, I mean new to Americans---all of these varieties have been growing for centuries in Europe.   In fact, wine lovers who have traveled to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, the Greek Island of Santorini, northwest Spain, or Sicily may have sampled them, but essentially these varietals remain unknown to Americans.  The good news is that all of them are imported----and because of their obscurity, they are terrific buys (many at rock-bottom pricing considering their quality).

                                 Korcula island is home to both the Posip grape & Marco Polo

Posip, an intensely aromatic and flavor-chocked white wine grape, is Croatia’s best kept secret.   Grown exclusively on the Dalmatian coastline, this variety is indigenous to the island of Korcula (better known as the island where Marco Polo was born).  Posip is the result of two obscure grape varieties crossing in a Korcula vineyard.  This sleeper wine delivers tastes of figs, citrus, apricots and almonds, along with decent acidity.  I recently bought online a case of my favorite producer, Black Horse.  The name of the wine is Mega Vieta and the 2020 vintage is superb. ($20 per bottle)

                                         Santorini offers mind-boggling views & stunning wines

The second of the five new varietals is also from an island, but this one's located in Greece.  Santorini is certainly one of the most dramatic gems of the Mediterranean.  The Assyrtiko grape, like Posip, is native to the island on which it is grown.  Assyrtiko thrives in Santorini's  arid climate in inhospitable volcanic ash soil.  This wine is reminiscent of a Sauv Blanc with a lemon-lime profile with compelling mineral nuances.  Like Posip, Santorini's native variety brings the necessary acid to carry the wine's structure.  Look no further than Gaia or Sigalas for the best producer.  Plan on $25-30 bucks per bottle.

Keeping with the theme of islands, let's now move to the Mediterranean's largest:  Sicily.  There are two unknown grapes here that need to jump-start your 2022.  The first is a varietal called Grillo.  On a recent Wine-Knows' trip to Sicily, I couldn't get enough of this white wine which offers apple, citrus, and almond nuances.   I particularly enjoyed Valle dell'Acate's Zagra at <$20.

                         This Frapatto is named after haute couture designer, Carolina Marengo 

The second Sicilian varietal you need to try is Frapatto, a red wine grape.   Frapatto is, however, a light weight red so it works perfectly with fish, seafood and poultry prepared in a simple way without complicated sauces.    Think strawberries and cherries laced with a floral component.   One of my faves is Feudo del Pisciotto's Carolina Marengo Kisa.  It's available for about $30 buck.   

          Pazo Senorans is always a must-visit winery on Wine-Knows' Galicia tours (next trip 2024)

The last of the five new wine grapes is from the mainland of Spain, an area called Galicia in the far northwest corner of the country.   Albarino, the name of the grape and the wine, comes from the province of Galicia.  This grape is grown in Spain as well as Portugal.  In Galicia it reaches its pinnacle creating wines with a beautiful melange of stone fruit and citrus flavors.   I highly recommend Pazo Senorans who produces several Albarinos that range from $20-30.

Have an adventurous 2022 and try some of these unknown wines!