A Harmony of Flavors

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Quick and Simple Potato Side Dishes

My husband is a staunch "meat and potatoes" Midwesterner. I love my meat and potatoes too of course, though I am very happy with many dishes my husband won't touch. Potatoes, being a part of that wonderful duo, play a large part in our meals. My husband has most fond food memories of his Dad preparing potatoes in a pan to accompany burgers on a Saturday night. I never ate my father-in-law's potatoes, but judging from descriptions and demonstrations, I get the sense that he cut the potatoes in large slices and cooked them in fat of some kind with a lid on for part of the time at least and adding water to help them steam. My husband has prepared these in the past to show me how, and he would use the spatula, while turning browned sides upwards, to chop, chop away, so the potatoes end up as
15-Minute Pan Potatoes

a sort of hash. As a matter of fact, his idea of hash is cutting up leftover meat and adding it to the cooked potatoes to heat through. No gravy, no anything at all to give flavor - except ketchup smothering the whole meal on his dish.

Over time, while I have tried to make his potatoes, I don't like to have to stand at the stove with thickly sliced potatoes, trying to get them cooked through. My method differs a bit in that I prefer to slice the potatoes quite thinly, and in smaller, quarter rounds, so they cook quickly and evenly. This also means I don't need to chop, chop away to get them smaller as they cook. My method takes about 15 minutes of cooking, total. He accepts my version gladly enough, so I see no reason to make something that takes up more time and attention. I would prefer to leave the skins on, but he will not tolerate potato skins, so, alas, they are skinless. Here is my Pan Potatoes recipe:

Sliced thinly in quarter rounds

Pan Potatoes

Serves 2 - 4

1 3/4 to 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
3 tablespoons oil or bacon grease
1 teaspoon salt

After about half the total cooking time
Once potatoes are peeled, begin heating a large skillet, preferably nonstick on medium or medium-high. Have a lid handy that will fit the pan. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Lay one half flat side down and slice it again lengthwise. Leave the two strips together and slice across, thinly. Repeat with all the potatoes. Place the oil or grease into the hot skillet,coating the pan evenly, and place all the potatoes into the pan. With a spatula, toss the potatoes well to coat them all with some of the oil. Cover the pan. Leave the heat on medium or medium high and cook for about two minutes. Uncover and toss the potatoes, so that much of the brown is now upwards. Cover and repeat at 2 - 3 minute intervals, tossing briefly each time to scrape up and expose the browned parts. The potatoes are cooked through at about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and toss well.

Another type of potatoes I have been making for years and years - again, which could be made with skins on if desired - are Oven Steak Fries. As mentioned, my husband loves potatoes, and aside from his Dad's Pan Potatoes, Steak Fries have always been a hit. I make my steak fries in the oven, and while they are not fat free, I feel they are less fatty that deep fried potatoes. These come together in under an hour, with only one interruption in the middle to turn them over. Get them going while your main dish is being prepared and you're all set.
Oven Steak Fries

Oven Steak Fries

Serves 2

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil)
salt as desired, to taste

In the baggie with butter and oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (375 on Convection). Melt the butter; I do this in a zip top bag in the microwave on very short bursts of 10 seconds or so. Add the oil to the bag and have it handy. Slice the peeled potatoes about 1/2 to 5/8-inch thick. End pieces can be left whole. Others, slice in half, or thirds lengthwise to make them about 1-inch wide. Place all the sliced potatoes into the zip top bag and seal. Move the potatoes around in the bag until all the potatoes are well coated. Have ready a large baking sheet with rim. Pour out the potatoes onto the baking sheet and arrange them so none are overlapping. Squeeze out the oil & butter mixture remaining in the bag over the potatoes. Bake them for about 20 minutes. They should have begun to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and turn all the potatoes over so the browned side is up. Return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are nicely golden and cooked through. Sprinkle with salt before serving.
Potatoes on the pan in the oven

I hope these two methods for potatoes will help someone to get a meal on the table in a timely manner with minimal fuss. We both eat these potatoes very often, so I have perfected the methods for them for over 20 years. Neither method takes much time to prepare. One requires supervision for 15 minutes, the other only once in the middle of the approximately 40 minute baking time. Other spices could be used - just not for my husband's version! I have sometimes sneaked in a little shallot with the pan potatoes, but not often. Enjoy these methods at your leisure and season them to fit your needs.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Easter Tradtions

I know that Easter is not celebrated by everyone. At this time in my life, I wouldn't really say that I "celebrate" Easter except for being with family who do celebrate. Still, some foods are associated with a holiday since earliest childhood and those foods continue to bring happiness. Beets with horseradish was my paternal Grandma's accompaniment for the Easter Ham and Kielbasa. Other accompaniments to Easter meals are Pascha Bread (a rich bread similar to the Jewish Challah), and something she called "Sirets" (or Cirets or Hrudka - the spelling varies). 
Sirets, sliced

This last, Sirets, is a sort of "egg cheese". It was never one of my favorite foods, but my Dad just loved it, and the last time I recall seeing my Grandma, and knowing how Dad love it, I asked Grandma how she made Sirets. My Grandma had a very strong accent and spoke broken English all her life. Grandma really had no written recipes, so when she gave a recipe, she may or not have left things out. My Mom swore she did. I feel that a large part of the true difficulty was that Grandma assumed that you would somehow just "know". True to Grandma's way, when I asked her to tell me how she made Sirets, she replied, "Oh, you know; just take a quart of milk in a pan and add in a dozen eggs and a little salt and sugar and cook until it separates and then pour into a cheesecloth. Hang the cheesecloth from a faucet until it stops dripping." 

Grandma's directions were okay. She used her hands to help explain what she was describing. She gave no amounts for the salt and sugar. I know for sure that I made this at least twice for my Dad, long after Grandma was gone from our lives. The first time, Dad felt it needed to have just a little bit more salt and sugar than what I had used, though it was perfect otherwise. After consulting together on what I had used and what we felt the sugar and salt measurements should be, the second time I made Sirets Dad pronounced it perfect. I have a hard time distinguishing what is perfect in this case, as after all these many years I still do not care for this particular food. I do trust my Dad's word, so my  measurements are based on what he liked best.
Making Sirets: Milk, eggs, salt & sugar in pan; whisk. Cook, stirring until the mass separates into large curds.

I have had the recipe for Sirets on my website for a long time, but had no photos of my own, so I really wanted to make this again, despite not caring for it. Ever since Grandma gave me her "recipe" I have made only half the given recipe since Dad was the only one who ate it. I would use 1 pint of milk and 6 eggs and add in 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. This Easter, as it would be only me to eat this Easter food, I further cut the recipe in half, using only 1 cup of milk, three eggs and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. I will place the whole recipe here, in case there be any of Yugoslav / Serbian descent (or anyone) who want to try their hand. I will place the amounts for 1/2 and then 1/4 the recipe in parentheses. The method does not change. If this sounds interesting, make the tiny amount as I did this time and you can at least see what it's like.

Making Sirets: Pour hot mixture into cheesecloth lined colander, let drain, gather and hang to finish dripping.

Sirets or Cirets ("Egg Cheese")

1 quart milk (or 2 cups or 1 cup)
12 eggs (or 6 eggs or 3 eggs)
2 teaspoons salt (or 1 teaspoon, or 1/2 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons sugar (or 1 teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon)

In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the amount you are making, place all the ingredients and whisk the eggs into the milk. Set the pan on medium heat and switch to a silicone spatula or wooden spoon and stir constantly until the mixture has separated into large scrambled egg-like curds, leaving a pale liquid. For the smallest amount, this process took 7 minutes. It will take longer if you are using the full amount. 

Set a large piece of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel (not terrycloth) over a colander and pour in all the mixture in the pan. Allow it to drain. Begin gathering the cheesecloth with the intent to squeeze any extra liquid from the mass. Tie the cheesecloth with kitchen twine, and then hang the cheesecloth bundle from the faucet over the sink or anything that will allow drainage. Once the mass stops dripping, squeeze tightly, twisting the top of the cheesecloth to compact the mass into a nice firm ball. Set the ball into the refrigerator to chill completely. To serve, slice the unwrapped ball as desired.

On plate, clockwise from left: Croissant, ham, Beets with Horseradish, fried eggs, Sirets
I still celebrate these food traditions as often as possible. I automatically make the Beets with Horseradish whenever ham is in the house. I have been making Mom and maternal Grandma's bread (traditionally made for Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving) as a matter of course for so long now; it is just always in the house. While I do have some of the bread made, I found out some years back that using large croissants to sandwich the ham and beets with horseradish is magnificent for Easter breakfast. I have not made hard boiled eggs for Easter for many years, and did not this year, so I made fried eggs. My breakfast yesterday was most excellent, whether completely traditional or not.

I hope everyone had a most wonderful Sunday, whether celebrated as Easter or not. We spent the day with family in a small town here and it was very convivial as always, the food was excellent and plentiful, and the children were happy. What better day could one desire?

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Winefest Renaissance and Fine Fishing Friends

I have been absent from blogging for almost a solid week. I kept meaning to come up to my office and write a blog, but it was one crazy-busy time. Today I have free time; a real rarity lately.

For the last month I had been prepping for the Winefest Renaissance event to benefit the Boys and Girls' Club of Aberdeen. My part in the event was to create 6 different foods to pair properly with 6 wines I chose to showcase for the event. I believe I have already written about all the appetizers I created, except possibly the Chicken and Artichoke Spread with Pine Nuts. 

Chicken Artichoke Cheese Spread with Pine Nuts
This last is an old recipe I altered very slightly to better pair with the Sancerre wine. To make things a bit easier on myself, I used a rotisserie chicken from the deli and just removed all the meat from the bones and chopped it for the spread. Instead of using a mold to form the spread, I rolled it into logs and rolled the logs in a mix of finely minced fresh parsley and fennel fronds. It went wonderfully with the wine, as did everything else, for which I am grateful. There would be nothing worse than to try and demonstrate how good a wine can taste with the proper food and the pairing not work!

Chicken Artichoke Spread with Pine Nuts

makes one mold, or 2 long, thin logs
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, finely minced
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 (6 or 7 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, minced
1/2 cup pine nuts, or other nuts of choice
3 scallions, white & light green parts only, minced
1 teaspoons capers, minced
3 olives, minced
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Place the cream cheese, chicken, Parmesan and artichoke hearts into the food processor. Alternatively, all this can be mixed by hand or stand mixer, if the cheese is soft enough at room temp. Process until well mixed, then add in the rest of the ingredients and process just to combine. 

To make in a mold: line with plastic wrap a container large enough to hold the spread. Press the mixture in evenly and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until needed. This can be done up to 3 or 4 days in advance. To serve, uncover the mold and set a plate over the top. Holding the mold on the plate firmly, flip over the mold and plate and remove the outer plastic wrap.

To make into a log: Form into two or more logs as needed. If serving on crackers, the logs should not be much larger in diameter than the crackers. Once the logs are formed, chop herbs of choice (such as parsley, fennel or cilantro) very finely. Coat the logs in the herb mixture. Keep chilled until needed; up to 3 or 4 days. Do not freeze.

On the evening prior to the Winefest Renaissance Event, our great friend Rich arrived with three fishing buddies; Tom, Dick.... and Allan. I had prepared a lasagna the week before so I would not have to try and concoct a dinner in the midst of making all these little appetizer foods for the event. The lasagna was tasty, but I definitely need to give that recipe another try. Too dry, not enough sauce. Oh well. We had a meal, and I had fresh garlic bread and wine - no one went hungry. I even made my Best Apple Crisp, Ever at the last minute using frozen apples I had prepared and frozen last Fall. The guys went out fishing the day of the event, returning home to shower and change around 3 PM. No fish, alas. 

Sunday, once the whole affair was done with, I had a lot of leftovers, so I set out everything that was left and between the 4 guests, my husband and myself, we did a really good job of polishing off the rest. That day was a blur.

Basic Potato Roll Dough, made into Buns
Monday I made a Chicken Curry for dinner. I also decided to make some Naan Bread to pair with the Chicken Curry and the Peas in Tomato Sauce. I had made Mango Chutney last Fall sometime, so that was also part of the meal. The guys came home from their fishing day with 5 Northern Pike. I understand that these particular fish are difficult to filet as there is something about the way the bones run that requires a bit of special skill. One of the group, Tom, was the only one that had done this in past, so he worked gamely to get all the fish fileted and frozen. Dick used one smaller fish to make Ceviche, which turned out fantastically good.

On Tuesday the fishing crew decided they might stay out late. They said not to try and hold supper. So I made pulled pork (recipe to come at a later date)

Baby Greens, Mandarin Oranges and Candied Almonds

and potato salad (see my blog of March 11 for the Potato Salad recipe). As I had no buns, I made some, using my Basic Potato Roll Dough recipe. I had bought some ring molds the last time I shopped at Inspire here in town. Inspire is a fantastic store featuring gourmet kitchen utensils and home decor, as well as serving gourmet coffees and chocolates. My plan with these ring molds was to try making buns and maybe at some point English Muffins. Haven't gotten to the English Muffin part yet, but the ring molds worked splendidly for the buns (see photo above). It ended up that the guys got back right at supper time, so we all sat down to eat. 

Perfect Medium Rare Filet Mignon
Yesterday was my birthday. The guys said I had been so hospitable and welcoming, as well as serving them all sorts of wonderful foods, that they were going to cook me a meal for my birthday. The day started out with Dick already in the kitchen making coffee when I surfaced. He also made a batch of scrambled eggs with bacon for the three of us who were awake for breakfast at that point. I was thoroughly questioned about my likes and dislikes for a fine meal. They wouldn't allow me to do anything at all to contribute, though I stayed in the kitchen most of the day just to be able to point them in the right direction to find ingredients or utensils. Merriment abounded all the day long as they shopped and then prepped the foods. All of them contributed some skill set to the day, at differing time slots. While Dick prepped potatoes and onions to be made on the grill, Allan and Tom worked on making the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room work again. Later they worked on some of my dining room chairs that are coming apart, and took a look at my kitchen table that won't come together! Rich was in charge of getting the potatoes and onions on the grill in sufficient time for the filet mignons to get done at the right time. Dick made a huge salad with mandarin oranges and also candied some almonds to use for the salad. He made a salad dressing I will try to approximate at some time, using vinegar, olive oil and frozen orange juice concentrate. Allan used to own and run restaurants, so he was chosen to grill the filet mignons. Dick also sauteed mushrooms in butter to serve with the steaks. I had requested coleslaw, because I just love it, so that was also served. They even went and got me a little bakery cake and candles.
Blowing out my candles

The meal was to-die-for good. I cannot imagine going out anywhere for a finer meal. My husband is a wonderful man, though no gourmet cook. He will take me out for my birthday and we have enjoyed some truly fine meals together over our 25 years together. I appreciate fully being taken out to dine; I thoroughly enjoy being served, since usually it is I who serve meals. Having this wonderful meal come out of my own kitchen without my help was truly out of the normal realm of things in my little universe. I sat and sipped tea while watching everyone cook and repair things. If any of you guys read this blog, my heartfelt thanks to Rich, Dick, Allan and Tom for a most enjoyable birthday from beginning to end. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest..

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Savory Little Appetizers

Porcini Rubbed Flank Steak, 2nd Trial Run
The creation of the little appetizers for the upcoming Winefest Renaissance continues. Time is now getting short and I am trying to accomplish as much ahead of time as possible. Regardless, there will be a huge rush to the finish once Saturday rolls around. Besides the 6 appetizer pairings of my own, I was asked to make a couple of appetizers to pair with the "special wine tasting", open to only 25 select people. These wines will all be rated 90 or above. Most of them are red wines (and mostly Italian), so the flavors should require nice hearty flavors in a food pairing. In my blog of March 19th I already wrote about the trial run of the Porcini & Coffee Rubbed Flank Steak, which was to be topped with garlic mashed potatoes. The way I tried these the first time just flat-out didn't work. I tried stacking the layers differently and this was better, as seen at right. However, the subject of the Garlic Mashed Potatoes still had been bugging me.

The reason being that the first time I made the potatoes they were far too runny. Using russets the second time, I did everything possible to ensure that the mixture stayed dry enough. The only problem was it was so dry it would barely go through the piping bag. Making a fair lot of these, this could be very tiring on the hands, and these are not the only part of the overall food pairings that require piping. The more I thought about it, the more I went with the idea that maybe tried and true would be best in this instance. So, instead of the mashed potatoes I made my Gorgonzola Walnut Spread that was such a hit with the flank steak last year. The flavors are bold and it should work well. 
Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tartlets with Savory Bean Filling

Anyway, the other appetizer I am making for that special wine tasting section of the event is Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tartlets with Savory Bean Filling. I had made a really delicious bean filling some years back, but made it on the fly. I never wrote down what I did, and had tried to make it again - twice now - and it just was not what my palate remembered. The Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tartlets are a variation of my Savory Blue Cheese Coins, but switching out the cheese and nuts. Making these as little coins and topping them with the Bean Spread would probably also work well, but the little tartlet shells are too cute a presentation to resist. Anyway, for whatever reason, I tried the Bean Filling again and it turned out just perfect, and just as I remembered. It is not an identical recipe, but close enough, and maybe even more tasty.
Using pestle to form the tart shells

For the tart shells, if you make the recipe for the savory coins and slice the little chilled log of dough, you just set one little slice into each tart cup and I find a perfect instrument to form the shell is the little marble pestle from my mortar and pestle set. The thick end presses the dough into the well, then the narrow end can be used to press it into the corners. Fingers could be used also! Here is my recipe.

Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tart Shells

Tartlet Shells, baked
makes about 85 mini-tart shells

1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup blue cheese crumbles
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cold, in small cubes
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

In this recipe, first toast the hazelnuts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the hazelnuts on a small baking sheet with rim. Roast them for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven, pour them onto a kitchen towel and fold the towel around the nuts for a few minutes to cool slightly. Rub the nuts inside the towel very vigorously to remove as much of the dark skin as possible. Once cooled, place the toasted nuts into the food processor and process until well broken. Add in the flour, the two cheeses and the salt and process to combine. Add in the cubes of butter and process in short bursts until the mixture makes crumbs. In a small cup, combine the egg yolk and water, then add this to the food processor and pulse again, until the mixture starts to stick together. Turn out onto a surface (no extra flour is needed) and with the palm of the hand, smear the dough mixture in one long movement. Use a bench scraper to gather the dough and fold it onto itself then smear again. Fold the dough and turn and repeat this process until the dough has come together completely. Divide into 2 or 3 long, thin rolls about 1-inch in diameter. Wrap the rolls in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

When ready to work with the dough, preheat oven to 375 degrees. If forming simple "coin" shapes, slice the cold log into thin (3/8 or 1/4-inch thick) slices. Set them on a baking sheet to bake. If making tartlet shells, slice the discs into slightly thicker slices. Set one slice into each well of the mini-tart pan and press into a tart shell shape. Bake the little shells for about 15 minutes, until golden. Cool. These can be made ahead and frozen for up to a month. 

I erred on the high side when making the bean filling. Since everything used can easily be cut in half, feel free to halve the recipe if desired. It is highly tasty and equally good used as a dip for sturdy chips or crackers, or spread or piped onto crackers.

Savory Bean Filling / Dip / Spread

Makes about 3 1/2 cups of bean filling - halve recipe if desired

2 (15.5 ounce) cans white beans
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 (4 ounce) jar diced pimiento, drained well
2 cloves roasted garlic, or fresh if desired
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
4 scallions, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
4 teaspoons olive oil

Drain the cans of beans in a colander and run copious quantities of cold water over them until any foaming has stopped. Place them in a food processor with all the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil. Process for 2 - 3 minutes, adding in the olive oil 1 teaspoon at a time if needed for a good consistency, or if the processor is straining.
The Savory Bean Filling/Dip/Spread can be made up to three days in advance, if time is pressing. It is best if the filling is piped into the tartlet shells. If you are not proficient with a piping bag and tips, use a heavier "freezer" type zip-top bag and cut a hole in one corner, making a diameter of about 1/2-inch. If you know your way around a piping bag and tips, use a large open star tip to fill the tarts.  Anything small will clog with the bits of rosemary, scallion or anything else that hasn't gotten completely pureed smooth.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.    

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Port and Chocolate Salami

With the big wine tasting event just one week away, I am now going into high gear with finalizing the 6 appetizer dishes being created to pair with 6 specific wines - none of which I have tried except for the Warre's Warrior Port. I did this same thing last year, going in essentially blind, except for my knowledge of what the different varietals are like, and my trusty Wine and Food Pairing sheets. I knew I wanted to use chocolate, and walnuts help tone down sweetness as well as tart dried fruit like cherries. While port is a sweet wine, no wine can pair with anything too sweet. Nuts are a great accompaniment, as are many cheeses.

Fonseca Bin 27 Port and Warre's Otima Tawny
Port is a confusing wine, to those who do not know too much about wines. And if you are unfamiliar with port, though you love other wines, this will apply here also. Port is a fortified, sweet wine that originally came only from in and around Oporto (a port - as in, on the water, for shipping - town), in Portugal. Now, "port " wines are being made in Australia, South Africa, the US and many other places, and often from many grapes never used in Oporto. A fortified wine has had brandy added to the partially fermented wine to stop the fermentation process before it ferments out all the grapes' sugar. This makes port a dessert wine, which can be one of exceptional sweetness and depth. The very best port wines are vintage wines. A "Vintage" is only declared in years that the port growers (in Portugal) decide that the grape crop is worthy of making the greatest wine. Many factors come into play, but weather is the most overriding factor in wine-making everywhere. If the weather doesn't cooperate, the wines may come out just so-so; not the result vintners look for!

Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port
To make recognizing a true Vintage Port even more confusing, and I speak from my experience while still learning, is that some ports are labeled "Late-Bottled Vintage", for example. The word Vintage in there is confusing; is it a vintage or not? Not. Or a label that states "20-year old" - does that mean it is a vintage that was aged? Nope. Or another is having a year on the bottle that gives you the year the company was founded - but it is a year, right? No, not vintage. Then again, even among vintage ports, there are some few that are "declared vintage", but from a year that is not a declared vintage! What?! Well, these are found on occasion when a particular port grower has a certain small plot of land with a particular name all its own. Possibly that year was not the overall best for port growers all around Oporto, but that one little vineyard had optimal growing weather. There are little micro-climates possible in many vineyards. So for example, the very first Vintage Port I bought, before I was as familiar with this phenomenon, was a Fonseca "Guimaraens", 1967. Fonseca, along with many other wonderful Port wine growers, have certain little vineyards such as this. For these small vineyard selections, they may declare a vintage year, even though the rest of the Port growers do not see the crop as good enough. It turned out that my first purchase was a truly wonderful vintage. Beginner's luck. 

Then, aside from these red vintage ports, there are ports known as Ruby or Tawny. When you have the great vintage ports that need to be cellared for 20 years before they become palatable, Ruby Port is a nice change, meant to be drunk young. It can be pure plonk. Or it can be really very good. It has a lovely color, giving it the name Ruby. Tawny port is red port which has been left in a barrel over very long periods of time. Red wine, as it oxidizes with age, becomes lighter, more brick colored, and if very old, a lighter tawny color. In a barrel, with the amount of air that is available, the wine oxidizes more rapidly. Tawny ports can also be really lovely wines, slightly less sweet than some of the great vintage wines.

Warre's Otima Tawny Port left; Fonseca Bin 27 Port right
And then there are the red port wines that are called port, that don't fit into any of these categories, such as two of my most favorites, Fonseca Bin 27 or Warre's Warrior. These two are about the closest to what a vintage style will be like, but at a far more reasonable price. They are great to have on hand, because they are always good. I will be serving the Warre's Warrior for the wine tasting event. All this info, and there are so many other styles of Port to choose from!

In the past, I have made a recipe I found in an ad in the Food and Wine Magazine, to pair with port. Essentially, a chocolate candy with walnuts and dried cherries, it is a very good pairing, and easy to make. It is what I had planned to serve with the port wine tasting. And then I was online, looking for something else entirely, as usual, and came across a recipe for Chocolate Salami. I now see there are so many variations out there, but I went forging ahead on my own.

First off, it is the cutest idea ever. I used the recipe I found as a baseline concept, but changed the ingredients to fit my need. I wanted to have a dessert that was not too sweet, so the sheer amount of condensed milk and dulce de leche seemed excessive. I decided to use only dulce de leche and skip the condensed milk. The cookies called for were "biscuit cookies". Vanilla Wafers can be a little more sweet than I wanted, so I found some called Leibniz Wafers and they are perfect in this recipe. Vanilla Wafers could be used. I wanted dried fruits in it, and used dried cherries and blueberries, along with walnuts, for their bitterness factor. I used a whole teaspoon of Kosher salt per recipe I made, balancing out the sweet with enough salt to give it character. When I finished making it, I tasted a little bit with a Fonseca Port I had opened on the counter and OMG! What a most heavenly-perfect match. 
So, after finishing the recipes for the event, here is what I did:

Chocolate Salami

3 slices per serving = about 24 slices depending on thickness of slices

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup dulce de leche
7 ounces wafer cookies, such as Leibniz 
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2/3 cup walnuts, broken
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dried blueberries
confectioners' sugar for dusting

With a mixer, first beat together the butter and cocoa until very creamy. Add the dulce de leche to combine.

in a large bowl, crush the wafer cookies to medium-small bits. They do not need to be completely pulverized. Add the salt, walnuts and dried fruits. Make a well and scrape in the cocoa mixture. First using a spoon or spatula, begin to combine the ingredients, then switch to hands when the mixture gets too stiff to stir. Squeeze the ingredients together until the cocoa mixture is completely combined. Turn out onto a surface and divide into two equal parts. Begin rolling one section into a log. This will take a bit of patience, as with all the nuts and fruits, the mixture wants to break apart. Eventually it will come together, making a very dense log. Make the log as smooth as possible, rolling it out to about the size of a paper towel center roll. (If you have a couple of empty paper towel rolls handy, they are great for storing the logs until they get solid enough on their own.) Repeat this with the second part of the mixture, making two logs. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap or waxed paper, twisting the ends. Slide the logs into paper towel rolls if available. Another alternative is using a baguette pan. The rounded forms help the logs to stay round while chilling. Set the logs into the refrigerator to chill completely before serving.

To serve, slice the logs with a very sharp knife in about 1/4 inch thick slices. The amount of slices per log will depend on the thickness of the log and the length, and how thick the slice. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.    

Friday, April 4, 2014

Beer Bread Turns Out Perfect

I  mentioned a few days ago that I have been trying to prepare for the arrival of 4 guys as guests here next week. Making bread and getting it frozen so it's available at a moment's notice is one way to prepare. I saw a recipe for a bread using a whole bottle of beer, and thought, "most guys like beer, so this should be good". My husband is one exception - he hates beer. Even so, I decided to give it a try and see what the flavor was like. At worst, my husband wouldn't eat it. At best, everyone would love it. 
Beer Bread

I took the concept from that same cookbook that has so often steered me wrong in past, but with the amount of experience I have with making bread, I can usually see when there are problems and correct before they go too far wrong. Sometimes, there needs to be more tweaking, such as with the Cinnamon Raisin Bread I made last week. Eventually it comes out right or I give up the recipe concept as a no-go and leave it at that. The Cinnamon Raisin Bread was wonderfully tasty; no problem there. The only real difficulty was how it rose gigantically and spilled sticky cinnamon sugar butter all over the oven. Easily fixed: make 3 loaves instead of 2 from the recipe.

The Sponge: just mixed; after 30 minutes note bubbles

Back to the Beer Bread. Making a sponge to start with is a nice way to avoid having to knead for a full 8 or 10 minutes. The action of the yeast in the sponge takes on a part of the process. I made the sponge, and let it set for 30 minutes, though 45 minutes would also have been fine. You can see here how it is nice and bubbly after that time. The beer is slightly heated before using it in the sponge. I warmed it on the stove, while prepping the other ingredients. It takes seconds to whisk the sponge ingredients together, just until they are combined. Then you let the yeast do the work for you. After the sponge grows, you add the rest of the flour and knead for another 5 minutes or so, until the dough comes together nicely. 

This recipe uses a long, slow chilled rise after the loaves are formed, which really gives the yeast time to work slowly, and may also contribute to the overall tangy flavor of the bread. You will need room in the fridge for this long rise. Or, if you are still having freezing weather like we are - I set the pan, well covered, in my "sun room," which is at about 50 degrees. All this cold weather is good for something, after all. I set the loaves  onto a chair, and tented flour sack towels from over from the back of the chair to cover the bread. I didn't want the towels to stick to the loaves and chance deflating when uncovered. If you begin making the bread in the afternoon, you may allow the bread to do its slow rise overnight. I started the loaves early in the morning, and baked after 6 hours in the chilled sun room and the bread was done at supper time.

French Bread Pan
I have a large French Bread pan I acquired many many years ago, and it is wonderful to use. It keeps the bread nicely rounded and it is long; probably about 15 or more inches. I used the French bread pan to make my Beer Bread, forming the loaves nice and long. I lined the pan with parchment. This was a new idea; something I had never done before with this pan. The pan is perforated so the heat can really get to the crust and make it nice and crisp. Parchment is also porous, so I just gave it a try. I sprayed the parchment with cooking spray before setting the long, formed loaves into the wells. 

After all, the bread came out with a far crispier crust than I have ever managed previously with any loaf. The finished bread did have a slight bitterness at the end, but tastes wonderful. I shared an end with my husband and he liked it very much, despite that slight bitterness. I cannot truly taste beer, but it is evident that there is something very different in the flavor from other French Bread or other loaves of this sort. Here is my recipe.

Just out of the oven

Beer Bread

makes 2 long loaves

1 (12 ounce) bottle of beer
1 tablespoon + 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
pinch of sugar
1 cup warm water, 100 to 115 degrees
1 cup bread flour

2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
up to 2 cups more bread flour

1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Make the Sponge: Heat the beer briefly to about 110 to 115 degrees, or until it feels nicely warm, not hot, on your pinkie finger. Set aside. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, whisk together the 1 cup bread flour, pinch of sugar and salt. Whisk in the warm water and then the beer until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute or less. Set the sponge aside to rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly. Do not try to speed this process.

Once the sponge is ready, if using the mixer, attach the bread hook and add in the first 2 cups of bread flour and the salt and slowly start the mixer. If working by hand, add these ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the spoon becomes difficult to work with, switch to kneading by hand. Once these ingredients are well incorporated, begin adding more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, up to 2 cups, as needed. Knead until smooth. This process should take about a total of 5 minutes. 

Loaves risen, after 6 hours; ready to bake
Set the dough into a greased bowl, turning once to coat. If using a heavy duty mixer, just remove the dough hook and leave the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside to rise until about tripled in volume. Do not try to speed the rising process. The rising time should be about 2 hours or so.

Once risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Gently knead out the large air bubbles and roll each piece into a log shape, then using palms and a rocking motion, roll out to long narrow loaves. If you own a French bread pan, grease the pan. Line with parchment if desired. Alternatively, grease a baking sheet and strew with cornmeal; set the formed loaves on the baking sheet, well apart. Brush the loaves with oil, then gently dust with a little flour. Make 1/4 inch deep slashes diagonally across the loaves, about 4-inches apart. Cover the loaves lightly and set in the refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours for a very slow rise.

To Bake: Preheat oven to 425 (400 on Convection). Remove the bread from the refrigerator. Mix together the 1/4 cup water with the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry brush, gently brush this over the loaves. Set the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, brushing with the salt water once more about half way through the baking time.  When done, the loaves sound hollow when tapped. If you own an instant thermometer, the internal temperature should be about 204 degrees. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Great Pasta Salad as a Side or a Meal

I have been making variations of this pasta salad for a long time now; probably close to 20 years. It uses pasta of a kind that will have enough little nooks and crannies that will pick up and hold the little lentils, bits of vegetables or cheese. I have most often used bowtie pasta, but medium shells will work, or even something like penne. 

I made it again a couple of days ago, and it always strikes me how much I love this combination.  The cheese used can be varied. Feta makes a wonderful combination if you don't care for blue cheese, which is what I used in the recipe this time. The herbs could be cilantro or basil or parsley. I think dill would also be tasty, depending on what cheese is used. I tossed in a jar of mushrooms this time, but in summer, fresh chopped heirloom tomatoes would be an exquisite addition. Try using different lentils if you have them. I am going to try this again with little green DePuy lentils one of these days.
Pasta with Lentils and Blue Cheese

I love this salad. Most times that I make it, I eat it as my meal. It has pasta, vegetables, lentils and cheese. More than enough for a meal. If you are a die-hard carnivore, it can certainly be a side dish. I made it the evening I grilled steaks (when we had a break in the cold weather and I could get out the grill), so we ate it as a side dish. Tonight I will have it for dinner on its own. I think the salad tastes best just off-warm. Personal preference. It can be eaten hot, cold, or anywhere in between.

Pasta and Lentils with Blue Cheese

Serves 6 - 8

1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 pound pasta (shells, bowties, fusilli, etc) 
1 tablespoon salt for cooking pasta
1 cup pasta cooking water1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 carrot, grated or julienned
1 large or 2 small stalks celery, sliced thinly
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded, chopped (or use a small jar, drained)
1 jar (6 ounces dry weight) mushroom slices
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 pound (about 1/2 cup) blue cheese crumbles or Feta
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or basil, or parsley)

Set the lentils into a saucepan and add water to just cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.

While lentils are cooking, bring a medium pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add the tablespoon of salt to the water and then the pasta. Cook the pasta for the time given on the packaging. Once done, scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water; set aside. Drain the pasta and set in a large bowl.

While those two things are cooking, heat a large skillet, then add the olive oil. Add in the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until just tender. Pour the vegetables into the bowl with the pasta, along with the cooked lentils, the red bell pepper and mushrooms. Add in the cheese and herb of choice and toss well to combine. Taste for salt. This dish is wonderful with lots of freshly cracked black pepper.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.