Saturday, March 22, 2008

The rites of spring

Spring has most definitely sprung. There are so many terrific things in the stores, it is hard to know where to start.

Today Madame was reading at the Easter service at 7pm, and it wasn't clear when she would be home, so dinner needed to be quite flexible with regard to time. It also needed to be light - it was likely we wouldn't eat until after 9.

I had had a mediocre Spanish tortilla a couple of weeks back, and had a hankering for a tasty one. I also wanted to make sure we had some nice lamb for Easter Sunday, so off to Whle Foods I went.

They had some local heirloom tomatoes - and the were as sweet as could be. So dinner was coming together in my head. The tortilla with som eof he left over olive/preserved lemon relish from the Mroccan feast and a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes, a couple of our new, tender, basil leaves, some toast strips, Mozzarella (from the Dallas Moxarella Co.) a hint of balsamic vinegar and some large sea salt crystals. It turned out wonderfully.

Now for the tortilla. There are a couple of keys. Mak sure that the potatoes/onions are pressed tightly together before adding the eggs. Make sure you cook the eggs really slowly. Oh and of course, don't forget the saffron.

Spanish Tortilla
1 large russet potato
1/2 medium onion sliced (leaving bite sized pieces)
4 eggs
6 strands of saffron
a little butter to cook the onions in
salt/pepper to taste

Peel and cut the potato into 8 pieces. Immerse in salted water and simmer for about 15 minutes - or until just cooked through (no rsistance to a knife). Meanwhile soften the onion in a little butter in a small (8") non-stick pan. Transfer the onions to a bowl when translucent and sweet. The onions should not take on any color.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a little salt/pepper and the saffron. Beat the eggs with a fork until they become homegenous. Leave to stand.

Drain the potatoes and slice very thinly. Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the pan in which the onions had cooked. Cover the potato layer with the onions and another layer of potatoes. Place the pan on a med/low flame and warm them. Press the potato/onion mixture with the back of a spatula to squeeze out any air.

When the potatoes are warm, pour the egg mixture over them. Pull the cooked edge of the eggs away from the pan, allowing more raw egg to come in contact with the pan. Turn the heat to low and leave to cook for about 10 minutes - until set in the center. Invert the mixture in the pan and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes - until the whole tortilla is fully cooked.

Invert on the serving plate and garnish with some greens. Shake a little smoked paprika over the surface and serve.

Luckily there are left overs!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring time in Texas

The danger of frost has not completely past, but we are feeling safe now. The weather has been spectcular this weekend, so I have been filled with the desire to get the herb garden going again. Also the tomatoes . Probably a bit early yet for peppers.

So, I have been playing in the dirt. Lots of young basil, thyme, cilantro plants in. The oregano and mint are coming back nicely and even the parlsey is beginning to wake up.

We are so looking forward to home growwn tomatoes with home grown basil and home made bread. We don't grow olives here, or I might be tempted to make our own oil to go with it. Buffaloes (for fresh mozarella) would look a little out of place too, sadly. Oh well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Open That Bottle Night – Feb 23, 2008

The event

For the Wall Street Journal Open That Bottle Night party we chose to invite some friends over (originally planned to be 12, but because of flu season, reduced to 9) with the following instructions. “Please bring a bottle of a wine that is special to you, an appetizer that goes with it, and be prepared to share with the group why it is special.”

Everyone who came entered well into the spirit of the event with some delicious wines, excellent appetizers and much swapping of stories and general camaraderie.

The guests

· P* Phyllis and Christopher (hosts)

· ** Kat and Dan

* ·* Bette and John

· S* Suzy and Griffin

· C* Kathy

The party of the first part

The evening was divided into three quite distinct sections. The “Party of the First Part” was some general mixing/mingling and getting to know people. We held this in the kitchen with some relatively boring wines (provided by us!) and some appetizers – a caponata with toasts and garnished with olives carved to look like baby rabbits on a some mixed greens, and baked cheesy puffs called gougeres.

We played a variant of the guess who I am game where a label with a name is placed on your back and through elimination you have to figure out who you are. In this case we put grape varieties on the labels so everyone needed to figure out what kind of grape they were. The Gewürztraminer caused the most difficulty.

As people arrived, we placed their appetizers on the dining table which had been tastefully(!) covered with pages of a Wall Street Journal. The wines were sequenced for tasting, and the appetizers assigned sequence numbers. The mixing/ice breaking certainly worked well! After about 5 minutes there were no strangers.

The party of the second part

The “Party of the Second Part” was the main event. It was here that we were tasting the wines and listening to their stories. Now this was not a sophisticated tasting. It was as much about the stories, the reasons why things were special, the sharing of experiences, and the food pairings. We arranged the wines in the optimal (or close to it) tasting sequence.

First Pairing - Phyllis and Christopher

The wine

Domaine Du Duc De Magenta – Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru 2004

The food

A salad of baby spinach, oranges, toasted almonds, tomato, avocado and grilled chicken served as a summer roll in rice wrappers. The salad dressing was a mixture of orange and key lime juice with a little extra virgin olive oil. The wraps were softened in the dressing instead if the more normal warm water.

The story

This specific bottle was not in itself special, but the style and vineyard is. When Phyllis and Christopher were “dating” this was the first expensive bottle of wine that Phyllis had had. In fact it was the first bottle of white wine that benefited from being served warmer than ice cold. The experience of having something that luxuriant opened her palate to the delights that can be discovered in a bottle of wine.

Second Pairing – Bette and John

Bette and John brought 2 wines (one red and one white) from Oregon.

The wines

King Estates Pinot Gris - 2002

Firesteed Pinot Noir – 2006

The food

Bette had made some dense crackers with gorgonzola baked in. These crackers helped prepare our mouths and greatly enhanced the wines.

The story

In the 1960s when John was at the University of Oregon, all the land around was “truck farms”. Fresh peaches, plums and other fruit in the late summer – a really wonderful place to eat from the land. Bette was an East Coast Girl, so when John introduced her to the delights of Oregon, she was amazed. Move on to their 40th. Anniversary and they went back to Oregon. The area is now planted with vines, and making high quality wine. They tasted their way up and down the valley, settling on the Firesteed winery as a favorite. The story ends with a knock on the door about 2 weeks after the trip, and there is a delivery for Bette – 2 cases of the Firesteed Pinot Noir.

Third Pairing – Suzy and Griffin

The wine

Senorio D Las Vinas Rioja Crianza

The food

Suzy and Griffin brought puffs filled with a little white cheddar and shrimp. The wine was light enough to go perfectly with the puffs. They were much admired and few left!

The story

One of Suzy and Griff’s children had been in Spain last year. On a visit, they had become quite taken with this wine, and wanted to bring some home. Cutting to the chase – 17 bottles of it. So the bottles were packed in checked luggage (of course since security prohibits carrying liquids – especially 12 liters of liquids) on the plane too. Come to customs on reentry to the US, and they nonchalantly admit to having 17 bottles of wine – no problem for the inspector, and they were in – and able to share a bottle with all of us.

Fourth Pairing – Kat and Daniel

The wine

Sister Creek Reserve 2004 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec blend

The food

Kat cannot eat dairy or wheat, so she always finds innovative ways of preparing things that would typically use bread or cheese. This evening she made stuffed mushrooms – stuffed with hot Italian sausage and topped with crushed tortilla chips – instead of breadcrumbs. The group was pretty quiet (for a change) while chowing down on these!

The story

Kat is a Texas girl through and through. On a road trip she discovered this little winery in Texas (near Sisterville) , and while she didn’t hold out much hope for it, she gave it a go. It was surprisingly well balanced and full flavored. It certainly gave the rest of us a new appreciation for the wines of the second largest state.

Fifth Pairing – Cathy

The wine

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

The food

Moroccan meat balls with plum sauce. The wine is such a big Cabernet Sauvignon that something with really bold flavors and, as advised by Chef Syre, the Executive Chef at the Four Seasons, without tomatoes. The small lamb balls were spiced with fresh mint, garlic, cinnamon, and cumin. The plum sauce added a little fruitiness without being overly sweet or cloying.

The story

Cathy is a “California Cabernet girl”. One day she was eating at Café Annie in Houston (one of the best restaurants in the state of Texas) and wanted a bottle of the Silver Oak Cab. To the restaurant’s embarrassment they were out of the Silver Oak. The sommelier suggested that she try the Long Meadow Ranch Cab, and that even though it was more expensive than the Silver Oak, he would let her have it for the same price. He thought it was a better wine.

The trouble is that the 2003 is now sold out, so Cathy had to scramble to find a bottle to bring. A few years back she had given a bottle to one of her better customers, so she called to ask if he happened to have any. Now we understand why there is none available, the customer had bought several cases. Fortunately he was delighted to return the favor to Cathy – thus giving us all a terrific experience.

The party of the third part

Now that the tasting was over, the party moved on to the conversation and carousing stage. We had placed some dark chocolate M&Ms on the coffee table – so it seemed natural to drink something bold with them. Since we had not yet had a Shiraz, I pulled one out from the collection – in this case an Ausvetia 1998 from South Australia. It was a bit long in the tooth, but went absolutely beautifully with the chocolate. While Zinfandel is often the chocolate choice, I really like a full-on Australian Shiraz.

Even the clean up wasn’t terribly hard – we had used disposable bamboo plates, so it was easy to toss them. Just a lot of wineglasses to wash!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Moroccan Dinner

Our Sunday dining group (Sundays at 4) met this weekend for a dinner that had a Moroccan theme. The idea of the event is for all of us to research some things to do that fit with the theme, make the dishes, share them and talk about the food - how we did it, what the challenges were, where we found the recipes, etc. We also settle up at the end of the evening so that we have all paid for everything. A great way to enjoy friends and to extend our food repertoires.

For this event, Bette and John brought some "Moroccan Cigars" and spiced carrots as appetizers. Judy and Rocco brought 2 salads served prettily together in a single large lettuce leaf. The main course was a beef brisket tagine. Judy and Rocco also served a coconut/banana/pineapple dessert that was to die for, and some orange stuffed dates. The dates were not the only things stuffed at the end.

The group has rules about what is allowed to be charged for wine - no more than $20 per bottle may be added into the final total before we split the bill up.

Because the food was pretty bold, and would kill subtle flavours, we served a Beaujolais Villages with the Tagine and a Matua Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for everything else. Total cost including wine for the dinner was around $90 or $15 per head including wine.

This post has all the recipes that we followed for the dinner. Some as links to other sites, some as inline recipes.

First Judy's Red Pepper Salad:
6 medium red bell peppers (2 lb)
1/4 cup raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons harissa* (spicy North African condiment)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat broiler. Arrange peppers on a broiler pan and broil peppers about 2 inches from heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until skins are blackened, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap, then let stand 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel peppers, discarding stems and seeds, and quarter each lengthwise. While peppers are broiling, soak raisins in 1 cup hot water 15 minutes, then drain well in a sieve. Whisk together lemon juice, harissa, and sea salt, then whisk in oil until combined well. Toss peppers with dressing and sprinkle with raisins and walnuts. Cooks' note:Roasted peppers can be tossed with dressing 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Moroccan Carrot Salad,1977,FOOD_9936_31954,00.html



3/4 cup water
1/2 cup plain couscous
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 large banana, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon (packed) golden brown sugar1
1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons chilled whipping cream
5 tablespoons sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco López)
1 tablespoon triple sec
1/2 cup candied pineapple, minced
1 1/2 cups diced peeled fresh pineapple

Bring 3/4 cup water to boil in heavy medium saucepan over high heat. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Fluff with fork. Melt butter in small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add banana and sugar and sauté until banana is soft, about 1 minute. Cool. Using electric mixer, beat cream in large bowl until soft peaks form. Fold in cream of coconut and triple sec. Reserve 6 tablespoons whipped cream mixture for topping. Fold candied pineapple, couscous, and banana into remaining whipped cream mixture in large bowl. Divide mixture among 6 parfait glasses or dessert bowls. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover whipped cream mixture and puddings separately and refrigerate.) Top each pudding with some of reserved whipped cream mixture. Sprinkle each with fresh pineapple and serve.

Sweet Stuffed Dates,1977,FOOD_9936_86409,00.html

Tagine of beef brisket with a preserved lemon relish, served over plain couscous

I don't have a tagine so I used a slow cooker for the next recipe. It turned out well and the cleanup was a snap (for which Madame thanked me!). The recipe was adapted from several sources. However there were some minor challenges! I had bought the couscous at Whole Foods in bulk and didn't know ahead of time how long it would take to steam. Answer about 90 minutes. I should have bought the instant packet cousous from the grocery store. Luckily I tested it out ahead of time, so it was cooked. The measurements are not nearly as precise as the recipe below describes. I mention 1/2 an onion because that is what we had left over from something else. You don't want to use more than 1/2 a raw onion at the end - the flavor would be too overpowering! So if you don't have a spare 1/2 onion, justadd more to the first step.

3-4 lbs beef brisket - leave most of the fat on
6 cloves garlic - halved
2T Finely ground white pepper
2T finely ground coriander
2T finely ground cinnamon
1T dried ginger
2T finely ground cumin
1/4t freshly grated nutmeg

1cup beef stock
1 cup dry red wine
2 bay leaves
several strands of saffron
2T honey

4 1/2 large yellow onions - divided use
6 carrots
2 ribs of celery
1 cup dried apricots
1 can plum tomatoes (divided use)
5T neutral oil

1 cup pitted green olives
2 preserved lemons
1/2 cup each parsley and cilantro - divided use

1 1/2 cups couscous
up to 1 quart of water

24 hours before serving, mix all spices together and rub 1/2 of the spices onto the meat, rubbing deeply into the fibers. Also stud the meet with garlic cloves. Leave to rest in the fridge overnight (covered unless you want spicy flavored butter and eggs!) 10 hours before serving, remove the meat from the fridge, heat 2T oil in a large pan (dutch oven skillet or whatever) and brown the meat on all sides - total about 8-10 minutes. Remove the meat and set aside to rest. Into the same pan, add 2 more T of oil and the rest of the spice mixture. Stir to toast the spices and then put in the 3 of the onions (sliced), the celery in 3/4" pieces and the carrots in 3/4" pieces. Cook slowly mixing well to ensure the spices are well into the vegetables. Add a sprinkling of salt. You will be salting at various stages, so go lightly at this stage.

Heat the beef stock, and bloom the saffron in it. Add the wine, honey and bay leaf and mix well.

Once the onions are translucent, add 3 of the canned tomatoes diced. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the crock pot. Rest the beef onto the vegetables and pour over any drippings. Place the dried apricots all around (and under) the meat. Pour the stock/wine mixture over the meat and cover.

Set the crockpot to the medium setting (6 hours) and leave to cook on its own.

Heat the remaining 1T of oil in the pan and soften 1 finely diced onion until translucent. Add the remaining tomatoes chopped finely and cook for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse the preserved lemons. Take the onion/tomato mixture off heat and add the chopped olives and preserved lemons . Stir in 2T each of chopped parsley and cilantro. Leave to cool. This mixture will be quite salty, so do not add salt to it.

2 hours before dinner, steam the couscous (if using bulk) or 30 minutes before cook it according to the box (if using instant).

1/2 hour before serving, remove the meat from the liquid, slice into 1/4" slices and reserve. Drain the fat from the pan liquid (there will be a lot) reserving the vegetables. Return the sliced meat to the pot and set to keep warm. Slice the remaining 1/2 onion and add it raw to the pot. For serving, place a mound of couscous in the serving bowl, and pile the meat/vegetables over it. The couscous will absorb some of the juices.

Garnish with some sprigs of cilantro and parlsey. Serve family style with the olive/lemon relish handed separately