Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Whole Lot of Sauvignon Blanc and Puy Lentil Salad

I'm really blessed to know a lot of great people who love wine almost as much as I do. I few of them even love wine more than I could ever hope to and put me to shame with their knowledge. Once a month for a little over a year now we've been getting together to taste wine and get Wasted. Well we do tend to get tipsy but that's also the name of the group. It's all Lindsay's fault she started it.

This month the fella and I hosted a Sauvignon Blanc tasting, the perfect wine to ring in summer in our backyard. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and we ended up packed into our tiny living room enjoying ourselves immensely until the rain ended. We tried some good and no so good stuff. I'll leave it up to Lindsay to do the hard core reviewing and I'll stick to taking ridiculous pictures of the wine and posting a recipe for the lentil salad that had everyone making yummy noises.

The 2008 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand was the winner of the tasting as far as I was concerned. It was light with just the right amount of citrus and sweetness. At about $22 it is well worth investing in especially if you don't think you like Sauv Blancs this one will prove the varietal has redeeming qualities.

There is this weird thing with Sauv Blancs where in the $15 or under range buying them is a bit of a crap shoot. There are a few good ones like the Riesling-esque $9 a bottle Quarry Hills Sauv Blanc that just came in to the wine store and we can't keep on the shelves for all the people buying it by the case. Aside from getting lucky and finding the rare keeper a lot of them make you wonder if you've accidentally poured yourself a glass of lawn clippings or cat urine (sorry for that image.) And four of our wines that day definitely fit in the overly green and grassy category.

I chose the 2008 Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc once again from the Marlborough region of New Zealand and the 2008 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from the same region. Both grass monsters. The Vicar's Choice Reserve Sauv Blanc is actually complex and has a slightly sweet grapefruit kick, I should have spent the extra couple of bucks and got that. The Kim Crawford was just disappointing, it's been so good in past years and tasted like the lawn this time around.

The 2008 Starborough Sauv Blanc from the Marlborough region was the best of the grassy wines since it wasn't over poweringly green but still not something I would buy. The 2008 Beau Joubert Oak Lake Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc blend from Stellenbosch South Africa was interesting but also packed too much green-ness to really fall in love with. I was just glad to have a South African wine that had none of the artificial banana flavor that so many of the whites in that area seem to be ruined by.

In the midst of the young Sauv Blancs that were making us all feel like we were chewing on field of clovers there were a couple really nice bottles that shook things up and surprised us all. The 2008 Boogle Vineyards Sauv Blanc from Clarksburg California was a delight. It was a bit sweet and light, something I would find and buy. The 2007 Luna Vineyards Freakout White Blend from Napa Valley was just a good departure from all the New Zealand wines and gave us a chance to rest our palates on something super easy to drink.

And then sadly there were the two wines that just didn't quite work out in the scheme of things. I'm almost positive the bottle of 2006 Ceago Sauv Blanc from Clear Lake California was a bad bottle. Supposedly it doesn't happen much in screw tops but I've heard really good things from customers and my wine genius boss about this wine. I refuse to believe all these people are drinking vinegar and enjoying it so I will give this one another try and get back to you.

The 2007 Domaine Sauvete Sauvignon de Touraine Oneiros from the Loire Valley might just have been too different from everything else to be enjoyable. We probably should have drank it first with clear palates because it was very French and very typical of the traditional Sauv Blanc with a heavy cat pee nose. It wasn't my favorite but I can see someone who enjoys French whites really getting into it.

Blah, blah, blah. Wine, wine, wine. I know you all just came for the lentil salad so here it goes.

Nigella is amazing and I want to cook everything from her book Forever Summer and am very happy I started out with this lentil and goat cheese divinity. It's simple and oh so delicious. Just make sure to use the Puy lentils as they have the structure to hold up to this salad. My other advise is to use the oil from sun dried tomatoes for the olive oil in the recipe, it added an extra layer of yummy go the recipe and it made sure that oil didn't go to waste which I always feel guilty about. Now I will always know what to do with it.

The hard part is resisting the urge to eat all the marinated goat cheese before you serve this. Not that it would be too much of an issue considering this recipe makes enough to serve a hungry houseful of winos and have enough left over for three people to eat for lunch. It is the gift that keeps giving.

As you can see the fella was a big fan. Or maybe it was just the wine. Who knows.

Puy Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad

1 10-ounce log goat's cheese
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried mint (I omitted this)

3 cups Puy lentils
1 onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chili oil

4 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces jarred sweet peppers in oil
bunch fresh mint, chopped (also omitted this)

Crumble the goat's cheese and marinate in half the juice and zest of the lemon, 4 tablespoons olive oil (I used excess oil from a jar of sun dried tomato) and dried mint. Seal in a container and reserve until just before serving.

Put lentils in a large saucepan of water and add onion, garlic cloves and chili oil. Cook for about 25 minutes or until tender then drain. Keep an eye on the lentils so they don't get too soft and don't think of substituting the Puys for another lentil with less character and structural integrity.

Pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil over the warm lentils in a large serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then add the remaining half of the lemon juice and zest. Drain the sweet peppers, chop them coarsely and mix them into the lentils. Mix with your hands or very carefully with a wooden spoon making sure not the crush and mangle the lentils.

When the lentils have reached room temperature add the marinated goat's cheese and sprinkle over them with the fresh chopped mint and serve immediately.

Original recipe from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer cookbook.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Heart Cline

There are some benefits to writing a food blog. You have an excuse to collect all your favorite recipes somewhere that you go back and find easily and cook from again and again (the fella keeps laughing at me every time he finds me cooking off my own blog.) People share their favorite recipes with you. Your significant other won't argue as much when you keep asking him to do ridiculous amounts of dishes. And sometimes your favorite winery sends you wine in the mail.

I wrote about how much I love the Cline Mourvedre a couple months ago and had a holy-crap-people-other-than-my-mom-read-this-thing moment when Cline contacted me to say how much they liked my quote about them. Their thank you was to send me a couple bottles of their wine, the Cashmere blend and a bottle of Mourvedre. To which I have to say a huge thank you back to them because their wine is freaking fantastic but I think we all know wine that comes to your door on a Friday afternoon is somehow just a little bit better.

The fella and I opened the Cashmere right that second (well after I stopped jumping up and down and cooing over it.) I've kept meaning to buy a bottle as I remember loving it in years past but never got around to it. My memories of past vintages are so fond however that I suggest the Cashmere to a lot of people who come into the wine store looking for a nice un-scary red for under $15. So I was excited to try the 2007.

It's delicious. Seeing as its a blend of Mouredre, Syrah, and Grenache its a pleasant surprise that the wine tastes like the best aspects of each varietal. The fruity complexity of Mourvedre, the huge chocolatey tannins of Syrah, and the interesting spice of Grenache. It very much lives up to it's name as it somehow combines these huge powerful grapes and makes a very smooth drinkable wine. I'll be buying another bottle soon.

The Mourvedre I'm saving for the next evening I come home after a long day and need something I can count on to make my mouth very happy. And speaking of things that are happy making I will leave you with a picture of the fella smelling flowers at Cline during our trip there last year. And since I'm not leaving you with a recipe let me at least share with you yet another reason I don't respect Gary V's taste in wine though he is a fascinating character. Here is what he has to say about Cline. To which I can only say bah! He needs to spend more time drinking and less time wasting all that wine in the dump bucket.

I can't believe him. "It reminds me of a diner...a little too candy, candy, candyland..." say what? More Cline for me I guess, you can have the snobby wines Gary.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Antipasto Pasta

Let's talk carbs. Specifically pasta.

Yes the whole point of this diet is to cut out a lot of carbs and all sugar but you can still have carbs there are just a lot of rules. First you can only have carbs one meal out of the day, preferably for lunch when your metabolism is working harder. That means one carb/low fat meal and one protein meal a day. Secondly only whole grain carbs are allowed, brown rice and whole wheat pasta for example. Lastly the carbs have to be eaten with as little fat as possible so that your body doesn't absorb a load of fat along with the carbs.

So what does this leave for you to eat for low fat/carb meals? Plenty you just have to get creative, give up the idea of ever having cheese on your pasta, and look really hard for the couple grocery story products that you can eat. Lucky for you I've already done the last step, the intensely annoying and soul draining part for you. Seriously I was torn between breaking into tears or throwing sauces on the floor the first couple times I tried to shop and found how little there was to eat that was sugar free and diet friendly.

The other rule with pasta is that it has to be very thin angel hair pasta made with hard wheat. Montignac claims the pasta dough being forced through the thin metal pasta extruder during production causes a reaction in the wheat that makes it harder to break down into bad carbs while being digested. A lot of his quasi science leaves me scratching my head so I just take his word for it and any of my scientist readers can let me know if this is total crap.

There are three pasta brands I've found in stores in Madison that fit all these quantifiers. Bella Terra Organic Capellini Angel Hair, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Angel Hair, and Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted Grain Angel Hair. In regular grocery stores these brands hide in the organic section rather than in with the regular pasta.

Pasta sauces get a little more complicated depending on how strict you want to take the low fat rule. I've found some good sauces with less than 2 grams of fat per serving from Barilla and Classico. The roasted red pepper and tomato basil in both brands were especially tasty. I was very surprised that the least expensive brands more consistently were sugar free.

In the past I've been posting pasta recipes with penne and lasagna noodles going off the French version of the diet that didn't specify the angel hair only rule. Apparently the American diet needed more rules to keep us fat lazy poor eaters under control. Substituting angel hair in for my earlier recipes will make them perfectly legal for the diet however.

For now I'll post a very tasty and very easy recipe that will work for the weight maintenance stage of the diet when you can add a little more fat into carb meals without any dire consequence. This is when you aren't losing weight but are following most of the same rules to keep your weight steady. It works, I haven't lost or gained a single pound while eating this way. Next week the fella and I are going hard core on the weight loss phase again to see how much more weight we can get rid of, though the vacation from counting GI levels has been nice. I highly recommend taking a month off from the strict eating after a couple months just so the low GI doesn't break your will to live too much.

This recipe just involves tossing some marinated veggies into store bought pasta sauce to make it a little more special and give it a home made feel. It was delicious. We had pan roasted cauliflower with thyme and lemon juice as a side and El Coto Rioja which I believe I may have already raved about once before. It really is a wonderful spicy Spanish wine in the under $10 price range. With wine this good for that price I see no reason to spend more. Plus I'm a sucker for quirky labels.

Antipasto Pasta

1 16-ounce package whole wheat angel hair pasta
1 28-ounce jar sugar free pasta sauce
1 4-ounce jar marinated artichokes, drained, halved
1 10 to 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, cut into strips
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves, sliced or chopped

Cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, following package directions, until tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.

Meanwhile, place the marinara sauce, artichokes, peppers, and olives in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.

Add sauce to pasta. Stir to combine. If desired, add some of the cooking water if too thick. Top with basil. Serve.

Original recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs Enlightened Cooking.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Crockpot White Fish and Artichoke

Would you believe this meal came completely out of the crockpot with recipes that involve absolutely no measuring? Well wrap your mind around it because its true.

The night before I threw some pesto and cheese on the fish, wrapped it in foil and put the fish packets in the fridge over night. I washed and trimmed the artichoke and got out the crockpots so that in my pre coffee haze I could manage to get this cooking quickly before going to work.

The fish went into the crockpot with a timed setting. This way the fish could cook for 3 hours and then be kept warm until I got home. It was perfect and flaky and not at all over done or fishy. Sometimes I love technology.

The artichoke went in the smaller old school crockpot with some water and lemon juice. When I got home the house smelled green and welcoming. There are few things I love to eat more than artichokes so coming home between jobs to pull the leaves off a perfectly cooked artichoke was a dream come true.

None of this is the fella's favorite thing in the world so I made it while we was in Boston a couple weeks ago and was a very happy girl. Sometimes cooking for one can be thrilling. I can do something as crazy as dual crockpot cooking without getting any funny looks. It was thrilling.

I highly recommend crockpotted artichokes. Not that it takes long to boil them regularly but there is something really nice about coming home to ready to eat food especially something as esoteric as an artichoke.

Crockpot Fillet of Sole with Pesto

1 to 2 pounds of white fish (I used sole)
bottled pesto
shredded Parmesan cheese

Spread out a layer of foil on the counter top. Put a piece of fish in it. Cover it with a spoonful of pesto. Sprinkle on some shredded Parmesan.

Fold over the foil to create a little packet. Put the packet in the crockpot.

Continue to layer in foil packets until you run out of fish.

Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours. You really should check it after 3 hours. The fish is done when it is fully white and flakes nicely with a fork. The stuff on the bottom will cook the same as the stuff on the top.

Original recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking.


Crockpot Artichokes


Clean and prep the artichokes however you like to do so.

Put the artichokes in the slow cooker with liquid. I put the artichokes stem-side down in my big slow cooker and sprinkled them with a little salt, pepper, and fresh-squeezed lemon. Then I poured over about 2 cups of water (adjust to the size of your slow cooker; you may need a little less) and a drizzle of olive oil.

Cook on low for 6 hours or until the leaves can be easily pulled away. The final cooking time will depend on the actual heat of your slow cooker and the size of the artichokes.

Idea from the kitchen section of Apartment Therapy.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

After the third or fourth night in a row of having vivid Salvador Dali-esque dreams about baking cookies I knew something needed to be done. I ceded to my subconscious and scoured the internet for a cookie recipe, any cookie recipe I could eat. No flour, very little starch and no sugar puts most recipes out of the running. After looking through enough gluten free vegan blogs I found cookies I could make with what I had on hand without much trouble and gleefully went about doing so.

The great thing about these cookies is that since they are vegan and therefore egg less there is really no reason to cook them. You could very easily mix this up and eat it raw to satisfy a cookie dough craving. With my new found ice cream obsession I'm thinking of making this batter again and tossing it raw into vanilla custard. The decadence of such a thing is grin worthy and obviously something I will try very soon.

For the first time around however I resisted the urge to eat all the dough raw (though a couple spoonfuls were sacrificed before the oven got turned on) to see how these would turn out. Substituting in the agave nectar caused a strange reaction in the oven, browning the bottom of the cookies heavily without burning them. There was a bit of smoke in the kitchen and the cookies weren't very pretty but otherwise they were great little treats.

Believe the recipe when it says that super creamy more expensive peanut butter is best. I used the cheap natural peanut butter I had on hand and ended up with gritty cookies. If taste is more important to you than texture use whatever nut butter you have, your cookies will just look odd.

Also the original recipe involved sugar and corn starch so switching that out for agave nectar and arrowroot caused interesting problems. You may have to play with amounts of sweetness and starch to get a good consistency. I would suggest putting in too little agave and then adding the arrowroot bit by bit until you get the dough to firm up. I made the mistake of tossing in all the agave and then adding too much arrowroot to compensate. If you've never tasted raw arrowroot I wouldn't suggest it as it isn't pleasant. Almost like a gritty fermented yam or something along those lines. Not something you want your cookies to taste like. So use the arrowroot sparingly.

I've yet to find sugar free chocolate chips so I used a meat hammer to break up baking chocolate. This was extremely satisfying and worked out well. The uneven bits of bitter chocolate worked out well in my overly gritty cookies

Apparently these cookies did a good job imitating real cookies because I haven't had cookie lust dreams since making them.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

1 1/2 tablespoons flax seed meal
3 tablespoons water

1 c. creamy peanut butter (the kind that does not separate into oil and nuts is best)
scant 3/4 cup agave nectar

1 tablespoon arrow root
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a small bowl or ramekin, use a fork to whisk together the flax meal and water. Allow to sit 3-4 minutes or until it gels.

In a mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter and agave nectar. When the flax seed egg replacer has gelled, add it to the mix. Add the arrowroot and mix well. The mixture should be pretty stiff. Add more arrowroot if the mixture is too soft to hold peaks when you lift the spoon out of it.

Stir in the chocolate chips as gently as you can.

Refrigerate the cookie dough for 15-30 minutes. Turn the oven to 350 degrees to preheat during this time.

Scoop the chilled cookie dough into small balls using a normal eating-sized spoon. Place the cookie dough balls onto a baking sheet about 2 inches apart from each other.

Bake cookies at 350 degrees for around 15 minutes. You want to take them out once the tops are getting brown. The cookies may still seem soft at this point, but they will harden as they cool.

Original recipe from the Aprovechar healthy cooking blog.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chicken Piccata Two Ways

At this point chicken piccata is probably like a gin and tonic, no one really needs a recipe for it, at some point it just became a part of the collective conscious. Just to be a brat not only am I going to post about it even though everyone and their dog knows how to make it, I'm going to go ahead and post two recipes for it.

This is all Giada De Laurentiis' fault. I just don't get the big deal about her, she doesn't cook anything super special it is all head slappingly easy and involves way too much butter. And this is coming from someone on the cream and butter diet, as so many of my friends have dubbed it. This is how most people probably feel about Rachel Ray, I realize. Which is fine. More thirty minute meals for me and more needlessly butter clogged arteries for them.

I was willing to give her a try though so on a low maintenance cooking night I pulled up her version of chicken piccata and followed it to the letter. The fella made pea pods with sesame seeds. We then sat and looked at the lake of butter on our plates for a while. Six tablespoons of butter and five tablespoons oil for two chicken breasts? It was ridiculous and didn't add anything to the dish. We certainly couldn't taste the lemon or capers, not to mention the peas pods as everything was overwhelmed by the barrage of butter. The leftover were not good. It was a chicken breast in butter sludge, I wasn't impressed.

This didn't make me want to try any more of Giada De Laurentiis' recipes. What it did make me want to do is make my own version of the same recipe which is much lower in fat and higher in flavor. It's something that came out of a cookbook of my mothers that I've played with over the years to the point that I have the portions down to the way that the flavors seem perfect to me. Obviously I'd suggest making my lemony slightly salty version if the chicken piccata mood strikes you so that's the one I'm posting here. Hunt for Giada De Laurentiis' recipe at your own risk or if you're looking for an excuse to eat a stick of butter but feel guilty just chewing on it straight out of the fridge.

My Chicken Piccata

4 chicken breasts, pounded flat
2 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 glove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons butter
fresh lemon slices

Pound chicken breasts flat then season with salt and pepper. Over medium heat add oil to a skillet. Saute the chicken for 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and pour excess fat from pan.

Deglaze pan with wine, then add garlic, cooking until slightly brown and the liquid is reduced to half. Add broth, lemon juice, and capers.

Return chicken to the pan and cook for one minute on each side or until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to plates for serving.

Finish liquid in pan by adding butter and lemon slices. Warm until butter is melted and sauce is creamy then pour over chicken breasts.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Coconut Milk and Saffron Ice Cream

It's been a shamefully long time since I've blogged.

Partly because I hit a plateau in the diet; I haven't lost weight in a while and we've been eating the same handful of recipes over and over again so there hasn't been much to say. The fella also disappeared to Boston for a man vacation for a couple weeks and my single girl menus were nothing to brag about. Lastly with spring has come a full social schedule which hasn't left me time to sleep let alone write. I know, excuses, excuses.

No worries, during this time I've continued to cook a few new and interesting things and I have a bunch of wine to tell you about. Hopefully I'll have some time to write about all of this soon. First I have to tell you about my newest obsession.

Ice cream.

A little fairy (okay it was my mother) left an ice cream maker for me a couple weeks ago and I haven't stopped experimenting with ice cream since. Custards sweetened with agave nectar work really well so these have been some very tasty experiments. It also helped that I discovered David Lebovitz about this same time. This man knows what he's talking about when it comes to frozen treats so I've stuck with his recipes thus far and been very happy.

Writing about food comes with a fair amount of hyperbole and metaphor but there is none of that when I say this is the best ice cream ever created . I mean it literally. Make this ice cream and you could seduce anyone. It could get you a promotion. You could probably use it to get out of jail. Okay now I'm exaggerating but it really is that good.

Not only is it amazingly sweet and rich it is super easy. These four simple components make it taste like you spent hours slaving over complex mixtures of mysterious sweet ingredients. The secret really is the saffron which pairs perfectly with the coconut milk and creates a unfathomably delicious flavor. It tastes like....something. You can't quite wrap your mind around what but its fabulous and comforting and coats all of your taste buds in a halo of yum.

I've already made this twice. The first time I made the recipe as is (all I changed was to use agave in place of his sugar) and it was enough to share with a friend after dinner. So I had to be a bitchy foodie running around telling people how good it was but not having any proof. The next time I quadrupled the recipe and that was the perfect amount of this. It was enough for the fella and I to nibble on for over a week and share with a few people so they could see what I was talking about.

If you have an ice cream maker you have to make this, it's too simple and too good not too. If you don't have a machine Mr. Lebovitz has you covered. So go, now.

Coconut Milk and Saffron Ice Cream

2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup coconut milk
scant 1/4 cup agave nectar
scant 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer gently for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and chill the mixture thoroughly.

Once chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Once churned, be sure to scrape any saffron threads clinging to the dasher back in to the ice cream.

Vow to never buy store bought ice cream again.

Original recipe by David Lebovitz on his blog Living the Sweet Life in Paris.