Friday, November 30, 2007

Wine class: Tempting Tempranillo

Last night I went to a wine class at The Wine Authorities called Rioja: Tempting you with Tempranillo. I learned so much -- there are actually excellent white Riojas -- and tasted some great wines that are a super value like the $9.99 Cruz de Piedra Garnacha Calatayud 2005.

These guys really have a passion for wine and amazing knowledge. What's great is that you couldn't meet two more unpretentious guys. They make wine accessible, they want to share their knowledge, and they are always very happy to make recommendations to people who visit the store. Snobbery is obnoxious and thankfully you won't find that at The Wine Authorities.

Craig and Seth design their classes themselves. The Rioja class began with an overview of the wine history of Spain, the growing regions, wine designations, and the varietals. Then the tasting began as a deeper exploration. We tasted two whites. I especially enjoyed the Bodegas Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco. It was a rich ambery gold in color. The bouquet was cheesy at first and moved to spicy and sherry-like. By the end of the evening, it reminded me of toffee. I could drink this by the bucket but it would give me a headache. It costs $23.99.

We moved on to the reds next sampling five wines: one 100% tempranillo, one 100% garnacha, and three blends. Two of the blends were traditional in style and production methods. The third represented the modern styles of wine making in the region.

I enjoyed all of them, but especially worth mentioning is another wine from Bodegas Lopez de Heredia, the Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva 1987. It was an amazing color. I've not seen anything like it: rich brown red, almost rust in color, but translucent. It reminded me of dried fruit and sherry. It is priced above the $50 upper end of the wines Craig and Seth carry in the store, but they can order it.

The other red I really enjoyed was the one made in the modern style: San Vincente Rioja Tinto 2002 priced at $49.99. It is a dark, inky red more like a Bordeaux than a traditional Rioja. 2002 was not a great year but Seth and Craig pride themselves on not being vintage prejudice. If there was a great wine made in a bad year, they will not shy away from it just because the year is wrong.

There is a class on wines from central Italy on December 20. More classes to come next year.

For me this has been quite a week for food and wine. I am going to take a break for a couple of days but will be back soon with an easy recipe that won second place in a dessert contest!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Twenty course tasting menu: Jujube

Last night several local bloggers dined at Jujube , the "almost Asian" restaurant, in Chapel Hill for Chef Charlie's fantastic tasting menu. We had twenty exquisite courses, yes, twenty! Each course was a small plate with a delectable morsel of two or three bites. Here is the run down:

Chips and dip:
house made ricotta and butternut squash puree with a taro chip, salt cod with a shrimp cracker, and Tuscan duck liver pate with a sesame chip. Loved the salt cod!

Calamari salad with dashi aspic, cerignola olives, and black Chinese vinegar reduction: dashi is a Japanese fish stock and the olives were mild and green. The vinegar was sweet and rich and a nice compliment to the squid and the hint of lime lurking in the aspic.

Wagyu beef carpaccio with egg gribiche and a potato waffle chip: Wagyu is the American version of Kobe beef-- nice, happy, beer-fed cattle. The beef was amazingly tender and very delicate in flavor. I've never had carpaccio so yummy! Gribiche is like a mayonnaise but the eggs are soft boiled instead of raw. It includes Dijon mustard and some parsley. I nearly licked the plate.

Encorotza: In Italian this mean "carriage" and it is basically a grilled cheese sandwich. The chef de cuisine, Josh DeCarolis, takes this simple delight to new heights with mini smoked buffalo mozzarella and anchovies sandwiches dipped in egg and fried. I am a huge fan of cooked, melted, oozing cheese so this was one of my favorite dishes.

Porcini-stuffed rice fritters with aged shoyu: basically risotto balls made of sweet sticky rice sitting atop a sweet, thick, soy sauce. Italian-Asian fusion at its finest!

Things you can do with shrimp
Gambas plancha: The chef's charming take on this typical dish found in Spanish tapas bars included a pretty Puerto Rican pepper which is mild but looks like a habanero. The peppers were thrown into a deep fryer without batter causing them to blister and plump up. I'd be tempted to eat an entire plate of these peppers!

"Shrimp and grits" -- tempura shrimp with crispy daikon cake and oyster sauce: Oh my goodness, the oyster sauce was wonderful! They make their own oyster sauce from amino acids and it doesn't actually have oyster in it. I wish they would bottle and sell it! Its smooth saltiness was a beautiful foil to the crispy, sweet shrimp.

Shrimp and edamame siu mai with fennel cream: These little dumplings stuffed with chopped, fresh soy beans and shrimp were atop a fennel cream that gave the dish a hint licorice sweetness.

Seared foie gras with Vietnamese-style shrimp pate and mint: I've eaten foie gras in some great places like Nana's in Durham and the inestimable Gotham Bar and Grill in NYC, but hands down this was the most delicious foie gras I've eaten. It was a silken, buttery morsel of yumminess, cooked to perfection, not overdone or underdone. The mint was a surprising and delicate touch.

Things that are neither shrimp nor meat
Braised salt cod with fennel, capers, and olives:
this was one of the two dishes that I was not overly crazy about. I was a bit disappointed because I love every ingredient in the dish. It was simply too salty even for me (I am an advocate for salt and its amazing properties). I much preferred the salt cod flaked with the shrimp cracker in the chip and dip starter course.

"White-trasherole": This cheeky take on the green bean casserole w/ cream of mushroom soup included Chinese long beans, shitake mushrooms in cream, and fried shallots. MMMMM, mmmm good, minus the Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.

Quail egg filled won-ton with brown butter and truffle: This dish was the other one I didn't really love. I'm not saying it was awful. I'm only saying that out of 20 dishes this one and and the salt cod were my least favorite. This one was basically a ravioli (using won-ton wrapper) stuffed with sauteed spinach and a quail egg that gently poached when cooked so the yoke is runny when eaten. A bit of shaved black truffle garnished the ravioli. I know black truffle with eggs is combination that many people love, but I prefer black truffles with stronger flavors that can stand up to the strong earthiness of this divine mushroom that is more expensive than gold. Keep reading for examples of what I mean.

Seared scallops with squid ink and black truffle cream: Loved it! The scallop was perfectly cooked, sweet and flavorful. The cream sauce was a dark, mysterious, purple black thanks to the squid ink which also added a briny flavor to compliment the earthy truffle. The briny, earthy sauce and the sweet scallop combination was a balanced marriage of flavors.

Venison truffle angolotti with robiola cream: By the time we got to the meat courses, I was starting to suffer from sensory overload, fatigue, and a full tummy. That didn't stop me from wanting to lick the plate again! This dish was another of my favorites. Angolotti is a stuffed pasta. Robiola is a creamy Italian cheese made of goat or sheep's milk. It should be no shocker that both of my favorite dishes include cheese! The robiola cream also included cilantro and lemon giving brightness to the rich, heavy venison pasta. I wonder if I could go back and order just a plate of this!

Seared sweetbreads with persimmon-shallot compote: Wow, I've had sweetbreads twice in one week. I have to say that the idea of eating thymus gland of a calf is disconcerting. Once I got over my squeamishness, I discovered that sweetbreads are good. Oddly, it reminds me of pork rather than beef.

Truffle stuffed spinelis steak with roasted fingerling potatoes: Loved this one too! Unlike my other two favorite dishes, this one does not have cheese. It was fork tender steak from a ribeye with shaved black truffle stuffed inside. The earthy truffles went great with the steak. I think it might have had a garnish of cilantro but I don't quite remember. By this point I was simply hoping to be capable of tasting the remaining courses.

Grilled venison with truffle jus and farro: Farro is a grain from emmer wheat. It seems very similar to bulgar wheat but coarser. I really liked the texture of it. It is one of the oldest cultivated grains. The venison was tender and the truffle jus, well, it was truffly. I was so full by this point that I could only muster ONE bite much to my dismay.

Bacon not stirred: Before we began the desserts, the chef presented us with digestifs of Makers Mark and butterscotch in glasses rimmed with salt and...wait for it...bacon brittle! It tasted fantastic but I was done drinking by this point so I only had a taste.

Sweet potato pie with candied baby walnuts: All these years I've been missing out by not eating candied baby walnuts! They are an Armenian specialty. Young walnuts, green husk and all, are preserved in a dark syrup. The chef served a thin sliced of sweet potato pie with slices of candied walnut on the side. Sweet potatoes make an excellent pie! This one was smooth and rich with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Truffled chocolate truffle: The last bite of the dinner was so good that I almost couldn't bring myself to eat today! I have never tasted anything quite like this combination of dark chocolate and black truffle. Yes, black truffle powder in the chocolate. The forcefulness chocolate stands up well to the earthiness of the black truffle. The perfect morsels were shaped even like black truffles. I think I may have died and gone to heaven for just a moment.

My dining companions will be posting their impressions on their blogs:

Eat at Joe's Hopefully Joe can give a rundown of the wines we drank. I didn't drink very much because I had to drive. Plus I am done with writing this tome!

Cooking Eating Durham DurhamFood had two friends with him so he should have some interesting views based on their discussions after the meal.

Eclectic Glob of Tangential Verbosity Lenore will even post photos of our dinner on Flickr as soon as she has time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Daring bakers: Tender Potato Bread

I recently joined an online community of home cooks and bakers. Every month we are given a challenge recipe that each of us tries. Everyone must follow certain elements of the recipe but there is room for creative license. On a given day at the end of the month we post our results on our various blogs.

My first challenge recipe to make was the tender potato bread. I have to say that I was somewhat bummed that it was not a gorgeous dessert! It worked out just fine though because I served the bread at my Thanksgiving dinner.

It was also surprisingly easy to do the basic recipe. I was nervous about doing anything complicated since I'd never handled potato dough but it was a success!
The crumb is moist and dense with bits of potato but not at all heavy or stodgy. I don't know what baking chemistry occurred to make that happen. I'm not a huge baker, so I am always impressed by the magic of food chemistry.

The recipe makes one loaf plus a small loaf, or 12 dinner rolls, or a foccacia. I chose the loaf and dinner roll. The loaf was especially gorgeous. I didn't like the shape of the rolls. I was hoping for rounder. They looked more like hockey pucks than baseballs. While very tasty, I would have preferred something a little more attractive.

No one seemed to mind the hockey pucks, and maybe I'm exaggerating, because we ate them up. I sent half a loaf of bread home with some friends and I kept the other half for the endless cycle of turkey sandwiches.

Here is the recipe as I followed it for tender potato bread:

2 large Idaho potatoes (approx 8 0z), peeled and cut up
4 cups of water, save this water after boiling potatoes
1T plus 1t of salt
1 package of active dry yeast
7 cups unbleached all purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
1T unsalted butter softened
1 cup whole wheat flour (I use Bob's Red Mill...they are nice people)

Put potatoes and water in a pot and bring to boil, then add 1t. salt. Cook until potatoes are very tender. Drain but SAVE the potato water. Thoroughly mash the potatoes w/ a masher or food mill.

Measure out 3 cups of the potato water, adding additional water if necessary to make 3 cups. Put the water and the potatoes into the bowl you plan to mix the dough in. Allow to cool to lukewarm and mix well. I cooled the dough to 100F on a candy thermometer (as I am notorious at killing yeast by putting it into hot water).

Sprinkle the yeast over the water/potato mixture and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir. Then add 2 cups of the unbleached flour. Mix well. Allow it to rest another 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 1T of salt and softened butter. Add the 1 cup of whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached flour and stir until it is incorporated. At this point 4 of the 7 cups of flour will have been used.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface (you'll need the remaining 3 cups of flour for the surface and you'll pick up the flour as you knead the dough) and knead for 10 minutes. This is my favorite part!

Bear in mind that this is a very soft dough even once it is kneaded. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl cover w/ lid or plastic wrap also oiled (I smear some butter on everything so there is no sticking). Allow it to rise for 2 hours or almost double in volume. My bowl wasn't quite big enough so the dough raneth over.

Turn the dough out again onto a floured surface and need gently for several more minutes. Divide the dough into two unequal portions: one portion is 2/3 of the dough, the other is 1/3 of the dough.

Shape the larger piece, on a floured surface, into a 12 x 8 inch rectangle. Roll it up from the narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and place the loaf seam side down into a buttered 9 x 5 x 2.5 loaf pan. Cover and let rise 35 or 45 minutes or until puffy and almost doubled.

Shape the rolls by dividing the smaller piece of dough into 12 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Place them in a buttered 13 x 9 cake pan or baking sheet leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes until puffy and almost doubled.

Brush dough with butter. Slash the top of the loaf three times with a sharp knife. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes. Then put the oven on 375 for the remaing time: the rolls cook for an additional 25 to 30 minutes and the loaf for an additional 40 to 45 minutes.

Dinner at Federal, again!

Last night, finally feeling hungry again, I headed with a friend to Federal. I love that place! The daily specials are consistently good and a great value.

My companion ordered roasted duck with cranberry relish and roasted potatoes. It was good but a bit too Thanksgiving-ish for me. I don't want poultry w/ cranberries again any time soon, or at least until Christmas.

I ordered beef stew with spaetzle and baby carrots. Spaetzle is basically small homemade dumplings. It reminds me of homemade pasta cut into short pieces. The beef stew had a rich gravy that the spaetzle soaked up. The beef was fork tender. It was perfect comfort food and enough for two meals. I look forward to having the leftovers for lunch today!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Not hungry

Don't know about you, but I'm still full from Thursday's feast.

I made a really tasty sandwich with the turkey, cranberry, and stuffing on homemade potato bread with mayo (Hellman's). It was seriously carb overkill because then I had to take a nap for two hours.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What are you fixing for Thanksgiving?

The silver is polished, the linens are clean and the shopping is almost done. For the first time in a while, I'm hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I'm fixing the standard fare with a few twists: turkey breast w/ an orange and honey glaze, corn bread stuffing with kale instead of sausage (so the vegetarians can eat it), cranberry and caramelized onion confit, and a starter of smoked trout with watercress and granny smith apples. We'll also have mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, pie, and homemade dinner rolls. I've got port and stilton to finish the meal.

I hope it goes well. There is a lot of housecleaning and cooking that needs to happen in the next 24 hours!

My friends are hitting the Wine Authorities today to pick out some vino to go with the turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Let me know what you are cooking that is interesting or different from the usual.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

South Carolina adventures

I just returned from a long weekend in Hilton Head w/ a friend who has a condo down there. She and I had a great time shopping and eating and sleeping late.

If you ever happen to be down there stop by a placed called The Boathouse. They are well-known for their daily specials which are inspired preparations of the catch of the day they buy from local fishermen. All I needed to hear was "we got a 25lb snapper off the dock this morning" to know that I'd be a fool not to order the snapper special. It was served on top of a bed of garlic spaghetti squash with a side of wild mushroom risotto and a tomato salad.

My friends ordered shrimp and grits and the other daily special: flounder with saffron rice and steamed veggies. It was a whole fish (headless) and my friend ate every morsel! The shrimp and grits were almost too rich. For me to say there was too much cream in anything is rare, but the cream and cheese in the grits competed too much with the delicate shrimp flavor.

After Hilton Head, I stopped by Beaufort, SC, on my way home (pronounced "Bewfort" as opposed to "Boefort"). It's a small version of Charleston and the second oldest town in SC. The little town has a very interesting and troubling history: battles between the English and the Spanish, battles with the Creek and Temmasee Indians, the amassing of great wealth through slavery, and shifts in the agricultural industry.

I enjoyed walking around the town, looking at the river and reading the historic markers. I picked out a cafe with large porch facing the river for my lunch. It's worth a visit if you ever get the chance.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dining bliss: Bonne Soiree

Recently I dined with a friend at the sublime Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill on W. Franklin Street. It was dining perfection: a beautiful setting, attentive service, wonderful food and wine.

Bonne Soiree is a gorgeous little place tucked into a square behind Panang. The lighting is dim, beautiful and very flattering. The walls are a cool, soothing blue. The ceiling are painted dark brown and the curtains are luxurious brown dupioni silk. It embodies elegance without stuffiness. The average age of customers seemed to be around 55 so if you are looking for young and trendy, this is not the place for you. We noticed several business dinners as well as couples and families (like the parents taking their UNC student out to dinner, not young children).

Bonne Soiree only has eleven tables. Making a reservation is a must. The advantage of this small establishment is that the service and food are very focus on precision and subtlety. I will go as far as saying that the service is -- bar none-- the best I've experienced in the area with the exception of Fearrington House. The staff was attentive but unobtrusive. We were never in want of anything. The proprietors manage the front with an attention to detail. They made excellent food and wine recommendations based on our preferences. I was most delighted that they served hot tea after the meal in a proper china teacup. The delicacy of tea really does require china, not a pottery mug!

The food matched the service in elegance, detail and subtlety. We started by sharing the terrine of chicken liver. It was smooth and rich and served with two mustards, pickled red cabbage, poached pear slices, and some field greens. We had a half glass of 2006 Spatlese on the recommendation of the proprietor. The fruity, yet fairly dry wine accompanied the terrine perfectly. My friend had fork-tender braised lamb for his dinner. He had a glass of Haut-Medoc that was smooth, smokey and full. The lamb was very good, but it did not match the trout that I ordered. The trout was truly inspired! The chef stuffed a trout filet with oven-roasted tomato and spinach then wrapped the filet in bacon. The bacon wrapped filet sat atop a crispy potato cake surrounded by a buttery, chanterelle mushroom sauce with a touch of tarragon. Every flavor in the dish was subtle and balanced. The chef must be a genius! I've not had a dish in a long time that was such a perfect marriage of flavors.

I had a terrible time deciding which dessert to order. I settled on a six layer coconut cake. The cake had coconut milk mixed into the batter. The frosting was silky, shiny and reminded me of a seven-minute frosting. Huge flakes of coconut topped the frosting. It was more than I could possibly eat, so like an overgrown five year old, I had three bites of cake and then ate the frosting. As much as I liked the coconut cake, I wished that I had ordered something more complex in flavors. My friend ordered a pear and almond tart with a scoop of ice cream. Again, the flavors were well-married and balanced. Sometimes I find almond desserts too heavy on the almond. This dessert succeeded at enhancing the delicate flavor of pear with the almond. I don't know what the ice cream was but it tasted like browned butter and browned sugar. I could eat it by the gallons!

Bonne Soiree is dining bliss. I cannot wait to go back!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Food and art

This Nasher Museum Art-for-All event looks like it could be fun for people who like modernism/post-modernism in food and art. I'm previously engaged or I'd be there! If you go, let me know how it was.

Nasher Art-For-All
Thursday, November 15, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
At the Nasher Museum of Art

In celebration of the exhibition: "Taste of the Modern: Rothko, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg, Kline."

7:00 pm Bar opens

7:20 pm Gallery Talk with Duke graduate student Heather Mallory. Ms. Mallory's research focuses on Nouvelle Cuisine.

8 - 9pm Cheese tasting led by Duke Senior Bryan Zupon. Zupon's cooking was recently featured in the New York Times.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Prison food

I had a very memorable meal today. I ate lunch at Central Prison in Raleigh. I must've been expecting gruel or something because it was surprisingly more edible than I'd imagined. We had barbecue chicken, collards, fried potatoes, carrots and iceberg lettuce salad. It needed a lot of salt and pepper. I would say that it was one notch above school cafeteria food. At least it well-balanced.

Why I was at the big house today is a long story, but suffice it to say that I'm involved with a group in Raleigh that got a tour and a lesson or two about drugs, race, poverty, and mental illness.

The inmates joked to us about the food, but their biggest complaint is not being able to hug loved ones who come to visit. They also want the outside world to know that what we see on TV and the movies is not real. Real prison life is more mundane, very structured, and very boring.

I was shocked to see how young so many of the inmates are. Many are kids, barely 20. How do we prevent kids from ending up on death row or life w/o parole?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Brazilian steakhouses: Brasa and Chamas

On Saturday I took my dive buddy to lunch for his birthday. He chose Brasa, the Brazilian steakhouse in Briar Creek. For those of you who have not been to one of these so-called Brazilian steakhouses, they are basically heaven for red-meat carnivores. Chicken and fish might appear on the extensive salad bar, but that's about it. Everything else is red, bleeding meat brought to the table on giant spears. They don't have menus. At Brasa there are three levels: $10 for the salad bar only, $18 for salad bar plus 5 types of meat, $23 for salad bar plus 9 types of meat.

Now, I'm as much of a carnivore as the next girl, but I am not such a fan of these places. I'd much rather have one steak that is done perfectly than all-you-can-eat piles of flesh. Might be a good place for people doing South Beach though, except all of the meat at Brasa was really fatty. I love a nicely marbled steak but I don't really want to see it dripping puddles of grease.

Chamas, at Brightleaf Square in Durham, offers higher quality meats that taste a lot better and don't have as much fat dripping off of them. Chamas also serves these yummy, cheesy popovers. Another good thing about Chamas is that they are easy to work with for event planning. I believe Chamas is locally owned, although I could be mistaken.

We had a good time at Brasa, but we were underwhelmed by the quality of food for the price of it. The best thing we had was yellow rice and black beans which my dive buddy does superbly in his own kitchen for a couple of bucks.

So the next time you want to please a meat and potatoes kind of person who does not like "frou frou food" as my dive buddy would say, take them to Chamas. But be warned, it will leave your wallet a lot lighter. For dinner the fixed menus is around $30/person. For the price, you could go to Rue Cler and order two steaks frites.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Broccoli soup with chive pesto

With the onset of colder weather I am ready to start making soups. Tonight I had a lovely dinner of broccoli soup, bread (I really like the half loaf from La Ferme Bakery that WholeFoods carries since I don't live near the actual bakery in Cary), and cheese from the Chapel Hill Creamery.

What makes the soup extraordinary is a garnish of pesto made from chive, olive oil and cayenne. My fabulous friend in Pinehurst gave me the recipe. He calls it fit for the gods.

Broccoli soup w/ chive pesto:

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (or 1T butter for the extra tablespoon)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
a good glug of dry white wine
1 pound broccoli, stems and crowns cut into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
4 cups home made chicken broth
salt and pepper

Puree 1/4 cup oil, chives, and cayenne in blender. Season with salt. -- Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil or butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and bay leaves; cook until onion is golden, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Add a good glug of wine and let it burn off. Add broccoli; stir until bright green, about 1 minute. Add broth. Simmer until broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Cool soup slightly.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth, about 1 minute per batch. Return soup to pot. Rewarm until hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide soup among 6 bowls. Drizzle with chive-cayenne oil and serve.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Better than pumpkin pie

Several years ago when I was planning Thanksgiving dinner, I felt bored and uninspired by the prospect of pumpkin pie. For one thing, I can never get my pie crusts to turn out quite as delicious as my grandmother's. For another, I don't like having to cook something just for the sake of ritual. And finally, I actually prefer sweet potato pie to pumpkin but then I didn't want to forgo a delicious recipe for mashed sweet potatoes as a side dish.

Happily I stumbled across a recipe from Gourmet for pumpkin cheesecake with bourbon sour cream topping. It suggests pumpkin pie flavors with a new twist. And the bourbon sour cream topping, well, need I say more?

Now I make it almost every year for the holidays not because I have to but because it is so good and everyone loves it. It has to be made the day ahead so that frees up your time on the big day. If you are really frazzled, lick the bowl where you made the bourbon sour cream topping. Or just have a shot of bourbon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


For the Cuban feast I fixed with my friends on Saturday, I made picadillo which is basically seasoned ground beef served over rice. But this is no ordinary ground beef dish. It is flavored with spices, olives and raisins. As leftovers it is very tasty as filling for a burritos or tacos.

I looked for picadillo recipes online but they were so varied that I could not decide what to do so I consulted my beautiful Cuban friend who is fabulous cook. She sent me her grandmother's recipe. It allows for quite a lot of adaption because the seasonings are basically to taste.


3lb lean ground beef
2T. olive oil
1c. white wine
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium cubanelle peppers or green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic
2 small can of tomato sauce
lime juice
garlic powder
onion powder
lemon juice
dried oregano
salt and pepper
sliced green olives with pimento

Mince the garlic with some lime juice and salt. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a minute. Add the peppers and cook until the veggies are softened and the liquid begins to evaporate. Pour in a cup of white wine and cook until it cooks away. Begin adding 1 can of tomato paste little by little, alternating with seasonings: add lemon juice, oregano, salt, pepper, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder. Remove from heat.

In another skillet, brown the beef seasoning w/ salt and pepper. Drain the fat. Add the tomato mixture. Cook over medium heat, adding sauce from the other can of tomato sauce if needed. Add a little water to the mixture if it is too dry. It should be a thick sauce, not a runny liquid. Adjust all of the seasonings. Stir in the sliced olives and a handful of raisins. Cook until the raisins and olives are warmed.

Serve over rice and with a plate of sliced avocados topped w/ a mixture of garlic minced w/ lime juice and salt. Fry up some very ripe plantains for a side dish.

Monday, November 5, 2007


On Saturday, I had some friends over for a Cuban feast. I made picadillo, fried plantains, and an avocado salad. My friends brought red beans and rice and collard greens.

I fixed mojitos for cocktails. Often I find mojitos overly sweet. A dash of bitters and going easy on the sugar fixes that.

Tomorrow I'll write about my Cuban friend's grandmother's recipe for picadillo, but for now, here is the recipe for the famous Cuban cocktail:


2-3 t. powdered sugar
Juice from 1 lime
4 mint leaves
2 oz. white rum
2 oz. club soda
dash of bitters
1 sprig of mint for garnish

Put the mint leaves, lime juice and sugar in a glass. Muddle with a wooden spoon until the mint leaves are crushed and the sugar disolved in the lime juice. Fill the glass with ice. Add rum and stir. Top with the club soda and a drop or two of bitters and stir again. Garnish w/ a sprig of mint.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The best rice crispy bars

On Halloween I joined some friends on the front porch of their house where we ate pizza and passed out candy to the kids. As if candy weren't enough on Halloween, a friend of mine made this recipe for rice crispy bars from the New York Times food section. I immediately noticed these were not the usual. They had a rich, nutty flavor thanks to browning the butter and the marshmallow before stirring in the cereal. It is a grown-up twist on a kid's treat! I asked her for the recipe:

Caramelized rice crispy treats from NYT, 10/30/07

8 ounces butter, salted or unsalted, preferably cultured, plus extra for pan
1 10.5-ounce bag marshmallows
1 12-ounce box Rice Krispies cereal.

Line rimmed sheet pan w/ parchment paper or wax paper, or butter it well. In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Watch closely and stir often.

When butter is evenly browned, stir in marshmallows. (If using unsalted butter, stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt.) Melt and cook, stirring often, until mixture turns pale brown, then stir constantly until lightly browned but not dark, 3 to 5 minutes.

Turn off heat, add cereal, and mix well, preferably with a silicone spoon or a spatula. Scrape into prepared pan and press down lightly. If necessary, butter hands to press mixture flat. Let cool, and cut into squares or bars.

Yield: 30 to 50 treats.