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Archive for August, 2009

How I have managed to go 21 years without trying Swiss Chard… the world may never know. As I mentioned before this green intrigued me and was on the top of my “must try” list. The leaves are broad and look stunning on their colorful stalks. The striking yellow, orange, pink and red of Rainbow Chard look too beautiful to eat. I found a bunch of Swiss Chard with a red (almost a purple wine color)stem at my local grocery store and decided to give it a try. It was extremely easy to prepare, looked gorgeous on my plate, tasted great and to top it all off, it is good for you! How could you go wrong? It is high in vitamin K (1 cup= 306% of your daily value!) which promotes bone health, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and iron.

How I Prepared:
Wash; Strip leaves away from stems and slice into strips; Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet on a Medium high heat; When pan starts becoming hot, add about a teaspoon of garlic to the oil to infuse; add the Swiss Chard and Saute until wilted (about two minutes).

I used tongs to move the chard around the pan, and as the chard wilted, the garlic took on the bold purple color from the veins of the leaves. The contrast of the dark green with the purple was very eye pleasing. The taste of chard is slightly bitter and salty; a perfect canvas for garlic or crushed red pepper. Sauteing the chard gave it a subtle tenderness but it still maintained it’s sturdy composition. It was a substantial side dish and a delight to eat. (I served it with fresh coho salmon, pan-seared and finished with a lemon dill butter and flavored basting oil…I know I felt like a chef when I plated it all…I should have taken a picture it looked very professional.)

Wine Pairing: Riesling. The the bitter/salt complex along with the spicy notes in garlic (or red pepper..whatever you choose to prepare it with) need something fruity and clean to refresh your palate.

Explore Your Produce,

Nora

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Get Inspired!

Lately I have been grocery shopping with an open mind. Instead of having strategically planned meals in mind, I pick one star item and focus everything else around it. My star items, of course, are things I don’t normally cook with and HAVE to try. I have made quinoa with sauteed vegetables and roasted salmon, and crusted tilapia with purple potatoes, using my newly gained pan-searing skills to cook the fish. The class that I took on pan-searing caused me to think outside the box when preparing proteins. I usually just throw some salt, pepper and olive oil (sometimes other herbs and lemon) on them and use grilling or roasting methods for a given amount of time. I never thought to gauge the “done-ness” of an item on temperature rather than time or use things such as finishing butters to deglaze the pan and make a extraordinary flavorful sauce. I think it is important to explore new items and methods of cooking. Not only does it expand your cooking repertoire but it helps avoid dinner time doldrums.

My next venture: Swiss Chard.

Have fun with cooking!

Nora

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I’ve Got The Blue(s) Cheese

Ah, blue cheese! Crumbled on a salad, shaved on a sandwich or just a good ‘ol hunk by itself, there is nothing better than the succulent taste of blue cheese. To me, the best blue cheese has a strong flavor with a creamy finish that leaves you salivating for more. Because of the strong characteristics, blue cheese is often paired with fruit, sweet peppers and tomatoes and nuts. The sweetness of a Riesling really complements the piquant blue cheese.

This week, as I walked in to the bread department I was greeted by a big voice and…a hunk of blue cheese (YAY!). The cheese of choice: Amablu St. Pete’s Select. It is America’s first cave-aged blue cheese produced by Faribault Dairy Company in Minnesota. It was outstanding. End of discussion. Many of the American made blues I have tried tend to be creamy with little flavor. When I crave blue cheese, I want the powerful good stuff. The flavor of this cheese is strong but not over bearing. It has a creamy texture and a clean finish. This is the type of cheese that you want to pair with simple things, or eat alone. When I first tried this cheese I just wanted a chunk of hearty bread (well…to be more specific I really wanted a German-style malted barley bread) and a huge plate of heirloom tomatoes dressed simply with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The demo lady (I think I need to update my terminology…suggestions welcome.) had the cheese paired with a dense multi-grain with currant bread which was a phenomenal combination. The sweetness of the currants complimented the sharp earthy flavors of the cheese, and the texture of the grains was a perfect contrast to the creaminess of the cheese. Needless to say I was making myself little “sandwiches” and munching on them ALL night. It was one of those perfect food pairings where once you’ve had a taste, a little voice in the back of your head tells you to go back for more.

Get the Amablu(s),

Nora

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I have been away from my blog for a few days, but have not been idle with my time. In my absence, I earned a certification in the art of pan searing, made another trip along the Seneca Wine Trail, and attended a lecture regarding the anti-aging benefits of red wine at the New York Wine and Culinary Center. Speaking of red wine and the Seneca Wine Trail, Hermann J. Wiemer has amazed me once again (be still my heart).

My newest heart throb: Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007. This wine is the definition of elegance. Upon first glance, the deep ruby color borders a shade of black, and is absolutely stunning. It is a wine that looks like it is meant for royalty. The aroma is sweet, and has distinct plum and berry characteristics. You expect a berry flavoring to coat your mouth as you take in the first sip but your taste buds are in for a pleasant surprise. The initial impression is the sweet and slightly tart sensation that you anticipate from the berries but is quickly overpowered by a subtle smokey flavor. Just when you except a dry finish, the berry flavors reemerge, exciting and pleasing your taste buds. It is a well rounded, luxurious wine.

This wine would pair nicely with a rich chocolate dessert, but my dish of choice was dinner: Sliced Grilled Sirloin over (my version of** see below**) Greek Salad. To me, red wine and red meat are a match made in heaven, so a medium rare sirloin steak was my first choice for this meal. I thought the sweetness of the berry characteristic would play nicely with the saltiness of the feta cheese and olives and the acidity of the tomatoes and lemon in the vinaigrette would balance the smokey undertones. The wine complemented the meal (and vice versa) and I have fallen for another Finger Lakes red. Good thing there are health benefits to drinking red wine and having a Mediterranean diet.

Live Well and Enjoy,
Nora

**My version of Greek Salad: 2 cups mixed salad greens, sliced cucumber, sliced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, Greek Feta (crumbled), 1/4 cup chick peas, 1 TBS roasted sunflower seeds, grilled and chopped red pepper, and 2 TBS store bought “Greek Feta Yogurt” dressing.

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I am a farmer’s market junkie. I know where all of the small markets are during the week and live for waking up at 6am on Saturday morning to battle over fresh produce. I am friendly with the pasta man, dessert lady, fish monger, granola bakers, yogurt cultivators, produce farmers and wine sellers (I should probably learn their REAL names some day). I love having conversations with all of them and learning the stories behind their food. The granola bakers only use locally produced ingredients, the dessert lady comes from Buffalo and hardly sleeps before coming to the market and the yogurt cultivators make small batches of yogurt so each tastes slightly different. I like the idea of supporting local growers, but to me there is NOTHING better than products tended to with love and devotion. I know my granola bakers spent hours in their small production center creating the perfect concoction and that my produce farmers tend to their crops religiously to ensure they are superb and flavorful. Farm-fresh yogurt has a unique flavor that will never be duplicated by mass produced products and my dessert lady makes things that could never be trumped by generic desserts found in grocery stores.

During the summer months, the produce at farmer’s markets is unbelievable. I recently have been enjoying blueberries the size of my head (I’m not joking), beautiful and succulent heirloom tomatoes, fresh sweet corn and zucchini that are large enough to feed a small village. Not only are these products superior to those sold in grocery stores, but they are also wallet friendly. Do yourself and community a favor: buy local.

Shop on,
Nora

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I have admitted that I am a food snob, clearly I have an affection for wine and today I have to confess, I am a bit pretentious about beer. Why would I drink a Bud Light with my meal when I could have a carefully crafted microbrewery beer? I want to enhance the foods that I am eating with my drink not ruin them. Using good ingredients in a meal makes it taste better, and drinking better wine and beer does the same. If you aren’t drinking the good stuff what is the point?

My favorite microbrewery is the Middle Ages Brewery in Syracuse, New York. From the outside you would never guess that this place was a brewery. There are no signs and the parking area (well, it is a side walk really) is non-existent. You walk in to a little room filled with burly men tasting beers and two fat cats basking in the sun. They have clever labels on their brews and even more clever names. My favorite beer they produce is called the “Wailing Wench”. It is a very flavorful hoppy beer that they deem “full bodied and screaming with hops”. The label features a voluptuous “wench” who appears to be screaming (with hops?). Their seasonal Apricot Ale is also surprisingly good. If you typically don’t like fruit flavor beers, neither do I, but this one is worth the try. The apricot flavor pairs nicely with the ale, enhancing the beer without making it too sweet. Next time you go to the grocery store skip over the 30 racks of Coors and Budweiser and make your way over to the 6 packs of microbrewery beer. Your taste buds will thank you.

Drink up,

Nora

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mmm…Can you think of anything more comforting than a warm, freshly baked loaf of Italian bread? Me either. It brings me back to my childhood, when I would come home from swim practice with wet hair on dark winter nights. Anticipating my starvation and chill, my mom was armed with mounds of spaghetti and a steaming loaf of this sauce loving bread. Naturally, I could never wait until dinner was served and would tear through the crusty shell, digging out the stretchy warm interior. My family always knew when I would sneak pieces of bread because I would leave it on the counter completely gutted. Working in a bakery, I have been exposed to many different types of artisan breads from different regions of the world. My mature palate prefers French sourdough and German malted barley breads to the traditional Italian bread. Despite this fact, every time the bakers pull the Italian out of the brick oven my mouth waters, my heart melts and I revert back to my 8-year-old self. When in need of comfort at 6am, Italian bread is the preferred snack of the bakery workers (perhaps tied with warm cheese bread…SO GOOD!). And naturally, we eat it child style: dig out the middle, throw the rest away, and then hide so no one will suspect it was you.

Do we ever really grow up?

Nora

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