Monday, April 26, 2010

Simple Onion Tart

Puff pastry is one of those magical foods that are always in my freezer. I know that I should one day learn how to make this glorious, flaky, buttery treat, but until then, the frozen variety is perfect. From “palmiers” to “brie en croute” to “beef wellington”, this versatile unleavened pastry contains several layers of butter, which gives it all those wonderful layers.

A perfect wine pairing would be a subtle Pinot Gris or Viognier. I made this a few weeks ago for a cocktail party and barely a crumb was to be found.

Simple Onion Tart

1 Sheet puff pastry
2 Medium onions
3 T. Butter
2 t. Fresh thyme leaves
1 t. Sugar
Salt and pepper
1 egg + 1 t. water

Peel the onion and cut in half lengthwise, then slice thin. Over medium heat, melt the butter, add the sliced onions. Toss the onions so the melted butter covers the onions. Season with salt and pepper and add the sugar. Toss and continue to cook, until the onions are a golden color but not too dark. Add the thyme leaves and toss. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a large cutting board, place the puff pastry and lightly roll to smooth out any lines. Score around the pastry with a one inch boarder. This will enable the pastry to puff around the edges. Place the cooked onions in the center and spread to the score line. Mix the egg and water together. Using a pastry brush, place the egg wash around the edges to assist with adding a deep golden color to the crust.

Place on a baking sheet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove and cut into squares for serving. Enjoy with a light salad or alone.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Italian Wine Bar + Crostini Recipe + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 2

Tuesday night was the second of six classes – “Thinking, Eating and Drinking”. This week we traveled to Italy, figuratively that is. With the theme, “Italian Wine Bar”, we were transported to Italy for the evening. What an absolute treat, especially after a long day at work, it was a terrific way to unwind by eating and drinking – what could be better for a foodie.

Italian wine bars are more social institutions than anything else. At an Italian wine bar you’ll find delicious crostini, small slices of bread spread with chicken liver pates, olive tapenade and perhaps even white truffles and butter, as well as bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and basil. For those wine bars with tables, plates of local cheeses and salumi are usually available, as well as hot pasta or, the special of the day. In Florence and Rome the wine bars are called vinaio, or enoteca or fiaschetteria. In Venice they’re called bacari.

We focused on “Country Wines” and had a gathering in Italy versus a class. Our palates are being embraced and opening up with new characteristics of flavors in the wines. As Chad points out during the class, “All great wines come from crappy soil”. In other words, the soil or terroir needs to be rugged and not perfect. The grapes thrive in this type of soil. We focused on making the connection between food, wine and life. If you think about it, these three interchange on a daily basis, from dinner with your family to dining at the fancy restaurant in your favorite city. We make connections all the time and once your awareness is awakened, the conversations begin.

Suzanne prepared a beautiful platter of crudités, featuring multicolored spring radishes and carrots along with fresh fennel. A simple preparation with leaving some of the natural leaves and stems enhanced the presentation. The flavor was enhanced by a bit of lemon juice and Malden salt tossed on the veggies, then arranged on the platter. (I made it for Charles and I for Thursday evening - photo above) We enjoyed our first wine; MV Russian Prosecute did Valdobbiadene which originates north of Verona, in the Veneto region of Italy. This was fresh; dry wine is reminiscent of ripe pears and sweet apples.

Time to continue to taste wine with our next selection, 2008 Santa Caterina Vermentino, from the Ligurian DOC of Colli di Luni. Aromas of flowers, rosemary, straw, grapefruit and apple introduce the flavors to follow on the palate. Bone-dry, with a chalky mouthfeel, this wine shows a perfect balance between lively herbaceous fruit and a hint of minerality. With fava beans in season, we enjoyed a fava bean puree on a crisp crostini with a shaving of ricotta salada on top. I have included my recipe for Crostini with Edamame and Parmesan Reggiano at the end of the posting. Perfect with the wine!

Onto the 2008 Cantina Tollo Pecorino which is from Abruzzian village of Tollo. This wine has body/weight associated with it along with a creamy mouth feel. Aged in neutral wood, it has hints of melon, ripe mango, honey and a nutty macadamia flavor. We associated a “maderized” or oxidized quality to the wine.

We experienced unique white wines and now the journey continues to the red country wines. First was a 2008 Grosjean Gamay from Valle ‘ d aosta which is right under Switzerland. Just a side note, my husband and I went to Europe for our honeymoon almost 12 years ago. One of our stops was Switzerland and our hotel sat at the bottom of the famous Matterhorn. Typically this famous mountain is shrouded in fog, but our timing was perfect. We enjoyed a Swiss wine from our balcony. Back to the Gamay, this is a high acid wine with a distinct earthiness along with strong cherry flavors. A slight aromatic hint of cocoa was present – just a dusting of bittersweet chocolate flavor. To pair with the wine, we had a Tapenade Crostini. The recipe is from Lulu Peyraud, who wrote “Lulu’s Provencal Table" by Richard Olney.

Two more wines to taste. The 2008 Venturini Valpolicella from the Veneto region near Venice was a very earthy, musky and light bodied wine. It definitely had a mushroom quality. This was paired with a Chicken Liver Crostini. I did not grow up with eating liver, nor do I gravitate to it now. I am open minded and wanted to enjoy the entire experience, so I ate it. Surprise – I actually enjoyed it. With the wine, the flavors were perfect.

Our last wine of the evening was a 2008 Case Ibidini Nero D’Avola from Sicily, which is an extremely warm region in Italy. This wine had a sweet, jammy flavor and brightness to it. The color is a ruby red with pleasant tannins. We enjoyed a Brandade Crostini with hints of garlic and cream. Again, Suzanne nailed the pairing. If you have not made a brandade, I would highly encourage you to try.

The evening was coming to a close, but not without a bit of cheese and Walnut Levain bread. We enjoyed two cheeses: Robiola and La Tur. Robiola is an Italian soft-ripened cheese, made with varying proportions of cow’s, goat’s milk and sheep milk. La Tur is a very soft cheese made in Alta Langa, Piedmont, and Italy.It is pale colored, with a soft, increasingly wrinkled rind as it ages. Inside, its light, airy texture is so runny that it is spreadable. It is quite smelly, and has a tangy, pungent, slight mushroom flavor.

Looking forward to week three of “Thinking, Eating and Drinking” and sharing the journey with all of you.

Crostini with Edamame and Parmesan Reggiano

1 ½ C. Shelled edamame
1 C. Parmesan Reggiano – Cut into tiny cubes
1 T. Fresh thyme leaves
Grated zest of one lemon
¼ C. Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
20 Crostini’s (Italian baguette or Pulgiese)

In a large bowl, add the shelled edamame, parmesan reggiano cubes, thyme, lemon zest and olive oil. Toss and add salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the Italian baguette or Pulgiese bread into about 20 slices. If you use Pulgiese bread, you will want to cut each slice in half. Brush with olive oil. Grill for extra great flavor and be sure to watch carefully and flip often until crispy. You can bake or toast in the oven instead of grilling.

To serve, place prepared crostini on a large platter. Top each one evenly with the edamame mixture and enjoy.

*Adapted from a recipe orignally from Tori Ritchie

Thursday, April 15, 2010

James Beard's Onion Sandwich + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 1

About a month ago, I attended a wine class at the beautiful new Lafayette Library. The class was taught by Chad Arnold and special guest Suzanne Drexhage. Chad has been in the restaurant and wine business for twenty five years along with teaching wine courses at UC Berkeley Extension since 2004. He contributes to wine magazines and teaches at St. Mary’s College. Suzanne too has extensive experience in the restaurant and wine business. Currently she works in the kitchen at Chez Panisse and is involved in various projects around the Bay Area related to the food and wine industry.

The class had a unique perspective that I had not experienced prior, which intrigued me to take the six week course they promoted during our class. The six week course is titled, “Thinking, Eating and Drinking”. You are probably wondering what type of “thinking” really happens when eating and drinking wine – you might be surprised.

Here is a snip it from the course description: “The central focus of this course is the application of language to experience – and here, in this course, we will do this through food and wine! We will talk about the connections between wine and food and art and life. To support our ideas of a complete meal, we will read poems and look at paintings too! This will be an amazing course, and it will be challenging and stimulating – and most of all it will be a lot of fun!”

The Tuesday night was class number one of six. Everyone introduced themselves and shared their food and wine experience and what they hoped to gain from attending the class. Each person had unique perspectives, which I think will lend to a remarkable journey for everyone. The class was designed around onions, yes I said onions. Let me clarify a bit for you. Suzanne brought a large basket of various varieties from the onion family including, shallots, spring onions, green garlic, leeks and sweet red onions. She prepared the food we tasted with these ingredients and Chad chose interesting wines to taste and pair with the food. Along the way, we had discussions around the elements within the food and wine. For any foodie, this class seemed to be designed especially for them.

So you are probably wondering what was served, well I was not disappointed by any of the selections. We began with a blind tasting of Allan Scott, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand that embodied the flavor profiles of grapefruit, lemongrass and a hint of minerality. It paired beautifully with the Leek, Green Garlic and Goat Cheese Frittata. This classic pairing of goat cheese and sauvignon blanc is like a marriage made in heaven.

Now onto the second wine, a 2008 Berger Gruner Veltliner from Austria. The very best Gruner Veltliner wines have distinctive, pungent aromatics, an exotic array of fruit, herb and spice flavors, attractive mineral undertones along with mouth puckering acidity. We enjoyed the most incredible Onion Tart that simply melted in your mouth with a light buttery flakey crust and sweet caramelized onions.

A little bubbly was next on list.  We enjoyed Domaine J. Laurens Cremant de Limoux. This wallet-friendly French 'Blanc de Blancs' is a hidden gem. It drinks like an expensive French Champagne with a rich yeasty nose and body to match. It's called 'Cremant de Limoux', the official name for a sparkling wine from Limoux in the southern region of France. This wine has a creamy mousse and delightful yeasty and toasty flavors which dance on the palate.

You are probably thinking, are they having more wine, but of course. We now are moving into the solo red for the evening, Chateau De Vaugelas Corbieres, Le Prieure. Château de Vaugelas has a commanding, ripe, flattering nose of black fruit and spices and is warm and velvety on the palate while being exuberant and at the same time elegant. This was paired with a very surprising treat – The James Beard Onion Sandwich. The match between the wine and onion sandwich mellowed each other. I remember growing up that my Mom would enjoy making onion sandwiches for a late night snack - I guess they have been in "vogue" for a while. Someone in the class did not even like onions and was now a convert. They were both amazing and the recipe for the sandwich is included.

The evening’s journey is coming to a conclusion with our last wine, Chateau Bergin Rousette de Savoie Altesse. Rousette de Savoie wines have a structure not unlike a light Chardonnay. They should be dry, light to medium weight, and a very few are oak fermented or matured. Aromas can include yellow stone fruit with a delicate floral character. We enjoyed this wine with two hand selected cheeses – Tome de savoie, a cows milk cheese and Chevrot, a goats cheese with artisan breads. One word - Perfect.

Great conversation and knowledge was shared during the evening. Not to mention the food and wine were amazing.  I can hardly wait to attend week number two and share with all of you my journey.


James Beard’s Onion Sandwich

Good White Bread
Mayonnaise, preferably homemade or artisan
Spring onions, sliced thin or chopped
Fleur de Sel
Flat leaf parsley, chopped fine

Apply mayonnaise generously to one side of the two slices of bread and then the other. Lay flat on a cutting board. Add the onions to one side, sprinkle a bit of fleur de sel and then place the other slice on top. Carefully cut the crusts off and then cut into four triangles. Spread a bit more mayonnaise on the edges of each little sandwich and lightly dip the edges into the chopped parsley.

Friday, April 9, 2010

BLT Bites

Who in this world doesn’t love a good bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich? These are mini versions which are perfect for a cocktail party or kids.

Today I attended a “Celebration of Life” for a little girl named Chloe who lost her six month battle to brain cancer. It was an emotional service however the love expressed for Chloe was tremendous and how she touched everyone’s heart. She is a special little angel who will always be in my heart and I dedicate this posting to an extraordinary little princess.

BLT Bites

Bacon, 6 slices cooked crispy
6 Slices white bread
12 slices of tomato
1 C. Arugula

Cut off the crusts on each slice of bread, cut each slice into four squares and toast. To assemble, spread mayonnaise on each toasted square, add the tomato slice, then one half slice of crispy bacon and top with a few arugula leaves. Place the other slice of toasted bread on top and secure with a tooth pick.

Makes 12 BLT bites

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cuban Sandwich

I had a lot of leftover ham from Easter and traditionally always make navy bean soup, and probably still will. My experimental side came out and for such a long time, I have been curious about the Cuban sandwich. The flavors all sound so wonderful. I decided to substitute the traditional pork for the turkey. Using a baguette adds a bit of flair along with an easy way to eat the sandwich.

After digging through my pantry for my Mario Batali panini press, I started cooking the sandwiches and the smell was out of this world. After taking one bite, the key to the deliciousness is the dill pickle. Between the crispy crunch, salty ham and the melted swiss cheese, this is one incredible sandwich that I highly recommend you try.

Cuban sandwich

1 Sourdough Baguette
1 lb. ham (cooked and sliced)
1 lb. roasted turkey (cooked and sliced)
1/2 pound Swiss cheese (sliced)
Dill pickles (sliced)
Olive oil

Preheat a griddle or panini press on medium heat.

Cut the baguette into quarters and slice each quarter in half lengthwise for the sandwiches.

Make each sandwich by layering the cheese on each side then top one side with ham and the other with turkey and add the pickles. Place both sides together and brush with olive oil.

Place one sandwich onto the hot surface. Put a clean, heavy skillet on top of the sandwich to flatten it. Press the bread down to about 1/3 of its original size. If you use a panini press, the heavy skillet option is removed. Turn the sandwiches after 2 to 3 minutes. The cheese should be melted and the bread is golden brown. Slice each sandwich in half diagonally and serve.

Makes four sandwiches.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

{ Mini Peanut Butter and Chocolate Sandwich Cookies }

Chocolate and peanut butter are a cookie marriage made in heaven. These little delicacies remind me of an Oreo cookie but with more punch of flavor. Several weeks ago I was shopping in downtown Danville with a good friend and we stopped in a darling café to get an iced latte. There was one lone cookie left and it was a mini peanut butter and chocolate sandwich cookie. I was inspired to create my own version of this little gem.


1 C. Four
½ t. Baking soda
¼ t. Salt
½ C. Butter
¾ C. Dark brown sugar, packed
1 Egg
1 t. Vanilla
1 C. Peanut butter, smooth

Use an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla extra, salt and baking soda and mix. Add the peanut butter and cream for a couple minutes. Add the flour and mix well together. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Use a 1 inch ice cream scooper to form one inch balls. Roll in your hand until smooth and then place onto non-stick cookie sheet and press with your fingers until about ¼ inch thick. Using a thin fork, gently press down to form lines and turn 45 degrees to place second set of lines. Bake at 350 for about 9 minutes. Let cool one minute, remove and place onto wire rack cool completely before filling with the chocolate ganache. Place about one teaspoon of thicken ganache on cookie and then place an equal sized cookie on top and gently push together. Makes approximately 32 sandwich cookies.

Chocolate Ganache

½ C. Heavy cream
1 C. Semi sweet chocolate chips

Create a double boiler by putting hot water in the bottom of a sauce pan and place a metal or glass bowl on top that is slightly larger. Put the burner on medium to heat the water. Add the cream and chocolate chips. Let melt slowly and stir until it is a thick syrup consistency. Let cool about 15 minutes, then place into refrigerator until when you stir it, it has a pudding feel. About 15 to 25 minutes before using.