Friday, March 20, 2009

I Love Facebook....

Why? Because I can keep in touch in with old friends.  I used to work for the world's greatest research firm - unfortunately it was not a money making model and we got acquired by a much more successful organization.  It's a great gig - believe me. I had to leave and come back to realize it.  Still, the friends that I made at the old company have turned out to be some of the most cherished that I have.  We may only see each other occasionally, but when we do, the years fall away.  

Anyway....back to Facebook - the best part of this is that we stay in touch via Facebook - we were and are, a force of geeks and Facebook works for us.  We can keep tabs on each other...and because of this, I was able to connect with my pal Paul, whom I adore, to let him know that I'll be in his neck of the woods for a business trip.  Paul, because of the ease that Facebook allows, (or they may actually TALK to each other, but I can keep with my train of thought) Paul to reach out to one of my all time favorite guys Slaby, to get together and have dinner at a wonderful Boston tapas place.   Isn't technology a wonderful thing?? This will make my whole trip  :)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend Recap

I'm suffering from anti-camera-itis.  Not sure why, I just forget to dig the camera out.  The weekend was pretty quiet. R was due to have a sleep-over Friday night and one of her guests was grounded Friday afternoon, so that shot that.   To make her feel better I made her a special wild mushroom and truffle pizza.  It was gorgeous and tasted great - do you think I remembered to take a picture of it?   NO!!!!!  Simple recipe - roll out some frozen pizza dough (after it's thawed - obviously), brush with a little truffle oil. I buy mine from this local purveyor, JD Gourmet and it's pungent as all get out.  Saute wild mushrooms, shallot  and baby bellas in a little olive oil and butter. Spread over the dough, add shredded mozzarella and drizzle white truffle oil over top. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes and you're in heaven. 

Saturday I had to run errands, get the car fixed and see my mom for a bit.  The kids built my latest addition to the wine rack while I made dinner - can't even remember what it was now...  Watched the Graduate and fell asleep on the couch. 


Sunday, went into the winery and Louis told me I was ready to give tasting's. I did okay, still need to remember a lot more, but it was fun.  The 06 Cabernet Reserve is drinking so well right now - smooth, full with nice berry and some plum, not the least bit's drinking more like a Bordeaux than a straight cab. The 06 Chardonnay has turned the curve, it's getting more golden and is becoming more buttery than ever.  All I can say is WOW.  While we have a loyal following, this place is the best kept secret in NJ!


After we closed, Louis' mom made us some incredible pasta fagiole which we happily paired with the Cab Reserve.  She's a lovely lady and my co-worker and I had a wonderful time eating and laughing with her in the kitchen of the tavern.  A great ending to the day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It never fails to amaze me....

....When I hear from someone that they read my blog.  I don't get a lot of comments, so in my mind, I have maybe a half a dozen pleasant, faithful souls who humor me and read my ramblings, but once in a while, there are a few things that make you realize you are out there far more than you realize.  For example, I logged into my gmail account the the other day and received a lovely email from my favorite wine merchant - Mr David Moore of Moore Brothers wine shop.  I had mentioned that I stopped into Moore Brothers to pick up some Chinon Cab Franc after visiting my mom in the hospital.  Mr. Moore wrote that he appreciated the reference and that their thoughts were with me.  I would recommend Moore Brothers (and have, many, many times) to anyone who loves and appreciates fine wines - but this small note, makes me appreciate them even more. If you are in the Philadelphia metro area, the Wilmington area or in NYC, go immediately to this wine shop - it is an education, an experience and an all around great place to experience wonderful wines that you may not see every day. 

If that email were not enough, I was chatting with my old boss today who mentioned that my blog was enough to make him want to become a chef - and a Facebook comment also mentioned my blog.  It warms the heart - I appreciate all of this so much.  It's my passion and my joy and I'd write it even if no one read it, but  c'mon folks, comment!

Look at what I woke up to this morning


Plotting world dominance, no doubt.......if they ever decide to get up.....

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Discussion of Soups.....

A friend of mine was disheartened to learn that Campbell's Tomato Soup, a favorite since childhood was full of corn syrup. So upset that he Twittered it.  Of course a ton of us responded with well, of course it is - tomato soup isn't sweet...and several of us responded with recipes for a homemade version. I sent a Tuscan version that I loved - found it online somewhere and have been using it for a couple of years now:

2lbs tomatoes – use plum in the winter when the seasonal ones aren’t available (I've even used canned San Marzano tomatoes in a pinch)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (you will need more for serving)

2 large cloves of garlic – minced

6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Fresh basil leaves shredded for garnish (to taste)

3 cups of stale Italian bread cubed. (if you don’t’ have stale bread – which I always do, we don’t eat it fast enough – toast some in the oven until dry and hard)


Blanch the tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for 1 minute.  Transfer to a bowl of ice water.  When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and discard skins. Cut cross wise and seed with your thumb.  Place the tomatoes and seed in a sieve and drain.  Scrape the seeds against the sieve to extract as much of the juice as possible.


Heat oil in a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat – add garlic and sauté until just fragrant – don’t let it brown! Add tomatoes and juices and the bread. Sauté until the bread has softened – should take a few minutes.  Add stock, heat until boiling, then reduce to a simmer until the bread breaks down and the soup is thick.  You may have to use a hand blender to smooth it all the way out.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Ladle into bowls and add basil and drizzle with olive oil. 


This got me looking at soups - I want to avoid the processed stuff as much as possible and besides, for the most part, canned soup is awful. To me, any weather is soup weather, but when it gets warmer, I look to lighter soups - a good thing too, because the weather here is starting to lighten up. I'm letting the kitties back out on the porch, which makes them happy as clams. 





This past Saturday, I decided to make a lighter version of minestrone soup that I found in Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food (If you don't own it, You won't be sorry).  It's not that heavy gloppy soup that minestrone's often become; she had recipes for every season and because it was a warm day I chose the lighter option.  It is such a simple and soothing soup.  Yes, it took some work, chopping the veggies to a similar size, but the outcome was well worth it.  




Alice Waters' Minestrone Soup


I c. Cannellini beans (Alice, being Alice recommended fresh which had to be soaked overnight and cooked separately - I didn't have any, and so I used canned organic - worked just fine)

1/4 c. olive oil (don't skimp here, it's critical to the richness and the lightness of the soup)

1 large onion finely chopped

2 carrots peeled and finely chopped (I also threw in a good sized parsnip too)

2 celery stalks, diced.

4 garlic cloves coarsely chopped

5 thyme sprigs (leave whole)

1 bay leaf

2 tsp of salt (again, don't skimp here)

3 cups of water (because I added extra veggies, I used 3 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of vegetable stock - you may need more - use your eyes to gauge it)

1 small leek diced (I had a medium/large leek and love leek, so I used it)

2 medium zucchini (I used a milder form of zucchini - I'm not a fan of the green zucchini)

2 medium tomatoes peeled seeded and chopped (I used the equivalent of grape tomatoes which I sliced - no peeling or seeding)

2 cups spinach coarsely chopped (left this out, too - the cupboard was bare!)



Heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onion, carrots, celery - cook for 15 minutes until tender - don't be tempted to do this over higher heat to speed up the process, you want to really sweat the vegetables.


Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf and salt and cook for another five minutes.  Then add the stock/water and bring to a boil - I added the 3 cups and realized I needed more, so added about 1 1/2 cups of water.  When the liquid is boiling, add the leeks.  Cook for five minutes, then add the zucchini and the tomato. Taste for salt.


Drain the beans  and rinse if you are using canned then add to the soup.   I also cooked about a cup of whole wheat pasta separately and added that too.  Simmer for another 10-15 minutes.  Add a ladle or two of the pasta water if you need more liquid. 


Ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle some freshly grated parmesan cheese over top. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Let the Pairings Begin...

I have been given a task to start building tasting menus for Louis to begin pitching our wine/dinner pairings.  This clues me in a a couple of things. 

1. I have to build up my cellar a bit

2. I have to invite people over for dinner as I begin to plan pairings.

Before that can happen, I have to do some homework - which I started this week.  I'm working on the triangulations of flavors.  Those that know me well may scratch their heads and think, "Hmmm, now I've NEVER heard that word come out of Margo's mouth", and they'd be right. I don't mean to make this sound complicated - because I always believe that one should go with your gut, but I need to have the gut feel in the back pocket and the next level of more subtle matches.  For example - I love duck with plum sauce.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural blend with duck - both are hearty, but plums are a better match with merlot (and its plummy flavors)than a cab, which will overwhelm the plum.  Duck L'Orange will stand up to a Cab, but a berry or a plum sauce won't.  Hence triangulations. 

I've been putting flavor mixes and trying to come up with matches, specifically, matches with Amalthea's wines.   As I build my stores, I will put together more recipes, but to hone my taste, I'm working with both Amalthea wines and what I have in house.  For example - tonight, after a long week(lots of work, ex giving my daughter a hard time about a band rehearsal, mom in the nursing home, etc),  I decide to treat myself to dinner.

I didn't want to eat out, I'd been working in my sweats all day with a baseball hat on my head and wasn't motivated enough to change. So I decided to leverage the vegetables in the freezer.  I've been pouring over Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, and decided to make her version of Mushroom Ragu.  Most ragu's that I've seen are very heavy on the tomato; Waters' recipe is more like a mushroom bolognese.  It's a simple (pardon the pun) recipe and incredibly rich and delicious.  Waters calls for heavy creme or creme fraiche, but I substituted half and half - it didn't hurt it at all.  it was fabulous.  I had also picked up some broccoli rabe and some beets at the market - I parboiled the rabe and the beet greens, then did a light saute with some garlic, olive oil and beef stock.  It was wonderful and hearty - I put a dollop of greens on top of the dish. It was comforting and not too heavy.  


I paired the dish with a cabernet sauvignon -



in this case, a Chilean cab that came in my wine club selection. The heartiness of the cab, marries well with the earthiness of the mushrooms and cuts through the creaminess that is the background of the sauce.  A great way to spend a  Friday evening. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day....

We spent the day, not so snowed in.  Yes, we got a good 8 inches of snow, and because of that it was a lazyish sort of day. The teens in their sweats watching bad TV, and me in my sweats working in the living room.   I go the kids to shovel most of the walkway (if not my car).  After the kids shoveled the walk and the drive, I made hot chocolate (cinnamon, hint of chili pepper) and lunch. Back to work for a few hours.  Made a chicken shepherd's pie with carrots, turnips and bacon ( I will NEVER be a size 6 again, hell, 8 is a distant memory). This was a total throw together and it turned out great!   For the real job, I managed to push out the outline for a webinar, answer a bunch of inquiries and started to outline a speech for March.  I love this job - the wine is a love thaaang.  If I could make money from the "mistress" my life would shift...;-)  

I've been reading up on viticulture and starting to figure out my pairing menus.  I'm starting to set up tasting  nights. I'm lucky enough to have a pretty extensive cellar right now and can start tasting. I think I'll invite a few friends over for a more formal testing to take notes and start working out some pairings. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Labor of Love.....




I started working today at Amalthea Cellars vineyard.  I've visited the place many times and always left wishing I could work there - and I finally got my wish.  Today, I was in observation mode;  I listened to Debbie (another wine lover) and Louis (the owner) take customers through tasting and a cellar tour, got to discuss future potential food pairings and the upcoming festivals.  All I can say is that I was one happy camper - it was just slow enough today (impending snow keep the traffic light) to really ask questions and compare wines.   I think I'm gonna LOVE this job!

I was starving by the time I got home, so I whipped up some pasta carbonara for myself and the kids, now we're settling in to watch W....good day :)