Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Popping the Cork for New Year's?

In case you can't tell from my previous posts, Champagne is definitely one of my favorite things. With it's lively fruit flavors, crisp acidity and signature, nose-tickling carbonation, it just calls to mind good times with friends and happy occasions.

I have even kept some of my most memorable bottles over the years (empty of course!): the bottle of Freixenet I drank on Pledge Saturday at Rollins College (yay, Kappa Alpha Theta!), my first bottle of vintage Champagne (a 1966 Dom Perignon), as well as my first bottle of Cristal. A few years ago, I even had the opportunity to open a bottle of Champagne using "sabrage," a technique for opening a champagne bottle with a saber. I was terrified, but luckily the top popped off on my first try - whew!

I plan on opening a bottle of Champagne (or 3) on New Year's Eve (although not with a saber!) and, if you are planning on doing the same, I have included some tips from "Savor the Moment" on how best to handle your bubbly. You can also check out one of my favorite SNL skits where Christopher Walken as "The Continental" describes "shum-pan-yeh" in the most eloquent way. Whatever your drink of choice may be, enjoy and have a happy and safe New Year's!

Popping the Cork (pg. 21)
The best way to pop a cork on a bottle of Champagne is to first make sure the bottle has been stationary for at least a coupe of hours. This reduces the volatility of the carbonation, lessening the liklihood of the cork's flying out when the bottle is opened. Hold the cork in place with one hand and, with the other hand, untwist the wire cage that secures the cork in the bottle. Rest the bottle on your hip, and twist the bottle slowly, while continuing to hold the cork in place. Ease the cork upward, applying gentle pressure to keep it from popping out and making sure that the bottle is not pointed toward anyone. To prevent accidents, wrap the top of the bottle in a towel.

Also, ever wonder what the heck someone was talking about when they referred to a "Jeroboam" of their favorite wine or Champagne? Below is your cheat sheet to wine bottle sizes - some are even named after Biblical kings to sound even more fabulous!

A Champagne bottle contains 750 milliliters. A split is 1/4 of a bottle. A magnum is 2 bottles; a Jeroboam is 4 bottles; a Rehoboam is 6 bottles; a Methuselah or Imperial is 8 bottles; a Salmanazar is 12 bottles; a Balthazar is 16 bottles; and a Nebuchadnezzar is 20 bottles

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner 2009: Maryland Crab Cakes, Herbed Beef Tenderloin & a "Tilt to Milt!"

With the passing of Steve’s dad, Milton Miskew, on December 9th, this holiday season had somewhat of a somber tone. Milt had been in declining health in recent years, but his mind was sharp and his warm sense of humor indelible. He passed away peacefully at home during his usual nap...a true blessing. We had just been up to North Carolina to visit him in October to celebrate his 85th birthday. We had crabs flown in from Baltimore for an authentic Maryland crab feast with the entire family – one of his favorite meals. We are so happy to have had that time with him.
On Christmas Eve this year, Steve and I were looking forward to attending an early Mass at St. Vincent’s and making a quiet, albeit delicious, dinner at home. In honor of his Dad, Steve made real Maryland crab cakes using his family’s closely gaurded recipe. They are almost entirely jumbo lump crab meat with just a little bit of the secret “sauce” to bind them together. Don’t worry, Uncle Tom & Aunt Marthy, the family secret is safe with us! With the crab cakes we enjoyed Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne NV which was a wonderful pairing with its lively apple and citrus notes and the perfect choice for a “tilt to Milt.”





For our second course, I made the Herbed Beef Tenderloin with Shallot Wine Sauce (pg. 148) from “Savor the Moment.” I halved the recipe since, as is, it feeds eight: nothing wrong with having some leftovers! The tenderloin is marinated in a delicious mixture of rosemary, thyme, garlic, shallots, orange zest and spices including ground nutmeg, cloves and bay leaf. It’s very convenient to make since you pop it in the fridge in the morning, let it marinate for 8 hours or longer and then pop it into the oven.
With meats, especially larger cuts, it’s always best to let them come to room temperature before roasting or cooking; this process is called “tempering.” Thomas Keller includes a page dedicated to the importance of tempering and resting both meats and fish in his new book “Ad Hoc at Home.” He writes, “If you put a piece of meat, poultry or fish straight from the refrigerator into a hot pan or oven, it can’t possibly cook evenly. To ensure even cooking, you must allow it to come to room temperature.” This can take as long as an hour for larger cuts of meat such as a prime rib or beef tenderloin. Hey, who am I to argue with the genius of Thomas Keller?! I do what the man says.
Once sufficiently “tempered”, I placed a meat thermometer into the thickest portion of the tenderloin before putting it into the oven. When preparing a large, read “expensive,” piece of meat, the only truly reliable way to ensure it is not over (or under) done is to use a meat thermometer. I love my Williams-Sonoma digital roasting thermometer & timer. It’s gotten us through many a Thanksgiving meal and dinner party with perfectly cooked meats and greatly decreased our reliance on the “cross your fingers” method of preparation.



The recipe states to roast the tenderloin at 400 degrees to an internal temperature of 130 degrees for rare and 140 degrees for medium. Best to opt on the under side since, when you remove the meat from the oven, it will continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes or so. Nobody likes an overdone beef tenderloin and it’s very avoidable! I cooked until the thermometer said 135 degrees and the meat came out a beautiful medium rare.
The Shallot Wine Sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the tenderloin and is made with the pan drippings from the meat together with butter, chopped shallots, fresh chives, red wine vinegar and red wine. You just reduce the mixture over medium heat for a few minutes and then spoon over the meat. Hungry yet?
I served the tenderloin with sautéed mushrooms, steamed asparagus and a special bottle of red wine: a 2003 Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Stelling Vineyard. Nickel & Nickel was established by the partners of Far Niente in 1997 and produces 100 percent varietal, single-vineyard wines that best express the distinct personality of each vineyard. The 100 acre Martin Stelling Vineyard, where the grapes for this wine are grown, is located in the Oakville, Napa Valley appellation and is the primary vineyard for renowned Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon (fabulous!). The Stelling is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and, upon pouring, had a gorgeous deep, ruby color with aromas of ripe berry, vanilla and spice. It was a wonderful pairing with the beef tenderloin with its rich, ripe blackberry, currant and cassis flavors with nice spiciness from the oak. Milt definitely would have approved, with his signature Ukranian toast of “Na Zdorov'ye!”
We thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas Eve dinner for two, reminiscing about Christmases past and looking forward to the beautiful day ahead.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Share "Savor the Moment" with Friends this Holiday Season!

I don't know about you, but I love getting homemade, baked treats around the holidays from our friends and neighbors. That's probably because we are fortunate enough to know some pretty good cooks! We look forward to delicious sticky buns from the Langfords, tasty bread from the Plamanns, we even got a stollen from Bill & Peg Emes last year that was pretty darn good! I usually make Ina Garten’s Rosemary Cashews from her “Barefoot in Paris” cookbook (one of my favorites), package them in a glass jar and tie it with a decorative, holiday ribbon. This year, however, my lucky friends and neighbors are in for a different treat: they will be receiving the famed “Savor the Moment” Magical Toffee.

Now, you may have actually had this particular confection or something similar before. Upon sampling “The Toffee” I’ve heard many people comment, “Oh, I had that at so and so’s party, luncheon, etc.” It's a mouth-watering mixture of brown sugar, chocolate, nuts and saltines (the secret ingredient), that come together in a deliciously, decadent way. In addition, it only has 5 ingredients, takes about 10 minutes to make and is pretty much foolproof. A word of caution though, this recipe has the same addictive quality as crack OR the The Real Housewives of Atlanta depending on how you roll. Be sure you have a plan to move it out of your house in a timely fashion or you will find yourself eating the whole batch! It was always the most popular sample item we served at any Savor the Moment promotional event, people would come back for thirds. I once had a lady try to copy the recipe down right in front of me – without buying the book! Thankfully, that was an isolated incident and I have included the recipe below because it is just that good.

I usually make “The Toffee” and stick it in the freezer overnight to let it set up really well. I use light brown sugar, milk chocolate chips and chopped pecans but cashews would be really nice too. In addition to the Magical Toffee, there are a few other recipes from “Savor the Moment” that would be fabulous for holiday gift giving as well:
1. Spiced Boca Nuts (pg. 66) – the coconut, curry and cayenne will have you craving these.
2. Celestial Sugar Cookies with Royal Frosting (pg. 48) – yummy and you can omit the frosting & sprinkle with sugar crystals if you prefer.
3. Poppy Seed Bread (pg. 89 ) – pour the delicious, festive almond orange glaze over the freshly baked bread.

Present your favorite hostess, friend, relative or other lucky recipient with their very own copy of “Savor the Moment” along with a sample of any of the abovementioned treats and they are sure to have a very happy holiday. I hope you enjoy making these recipes and have a very happy & healthy holiday season as well. Cheers!

To purchase copies of "Savor the Moment" please visit www.jlbr.org.

Magical Toffee
Arrange 40 saltine crackers on a foil-lined 11x17-inch baking pan. Bring 1 cup butter or margarine and 1 cup packed brown sugar to a boil in a saucepan and boil for 3 minutes. Pour over the crackers. Bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes. Sprinkle with 12 ounces chocolate chips and let stand until softened. Spread over the top and sprinkle with 1/2 cup nuts. Place in the freezer to cool. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

In a Hurry? Savor some Raspberry and Thyme Glazed Pork Medallions

This time of year, while we are all running around in a cocktail party and holiday shopping induced haze, it is nice to know that a delicious, home-cooked, weeknight dinner is only 30 minutes away. It’s an added bonus when that meal could also double as the main course at a dinner party. That, my friends, is the beauty of “Savor the Moment”; a treasure trove of fabulous, fast and, in many instances, frugal meals right at your fingertips.

Tonight’s recipe, Raspberry and Thyme-Glazed Pork Medallions (pg. 165), is tasty as well as a real time saver: the recipe itself is only 5 sentences long. In addition, I bet you even have most of the ingredients in your pantry right now (yes, even you "non-cookers"): canola oil, balsamic vinegar, orange juice and raspberry preserves. All I had to pick up at the store was the pork tenderloin, red onion and some haricorts verts. I actually doubled the recipe because it only “serves two” and, of course, I always like to have some leftovers.

Once home, I sliced the tenderloin into 1 ½ ” thick medallions and sautéed them in the heated canola oil until they had some nice, brown color to them. As Anne Burrell, one of my favorite chefs, says, “brown food tastes good!” So true! I watch her show "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" religiously every Saturday morning at 10:30am on Food Network (don't ever call me then). I always learn something new and, in additon to being a brilliant chef, she's also the kind of gal you'd love to hang out with because she just seems like so much fun. I had the chance to meet her at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in Miami back in January. What a fun night!






After the pork was seared, I added the onion, vinegar, orange juice and raspberry preserves and simmered for a few minutes. Next, I stirred in the thyme, salt and pepper and cooked until the sauce was slightly reduced and voilà – dinner was ready! I served the pork with the sauce generously spooned over the top with steamed haricorts verts, wild mushroom orzo and, of course, a nice red wine. I went with the 2007 Brophy Clark Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. This wine is from California’s Central Coast and is bursting with ripe, red cherry flavor and light toasty oak; a great match for this dish. The dish itself is actually sweeter than I anticipated because of the raspberry preserves so be prepared for that juicy, burst of sweetness.

All in all another tasty dish perfect for satisfying your appetite for less time in the kitchen this holiday season, without sacrificing any of the fabulous flavor. Don't forget to purchase your copies of "Savor the Moment" for holiday gift-giving at http://www.jlbr.org/. This is one gift that definitely keeps on giving!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Over Your Leftovers? Try Roasted Sea Bass in Prosciutto

For anyone who’s hit their limit with Thanksgiving leftovers – they were definitely great while they lasted – this is a fantastic, Quick Cook recipe perfect for a tasty weeknight meal or even entertaining friends. It takes all of about 30 minutes to make including prep time – no joke! It was so good I just had to include the recipe:
Roasted Sea Bass in Prosciutto
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, crushed
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 (6-ounce, ½ inch-thick) pieces Chilean sea bass fillet, cod or other firm white fish
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
5 or 6 (or more) very thin slices prosciutto
Garnish: shaved fresh Parmesan cheese; 4 rosemary sprigs
Combine the butter, rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a small nonreactive bowl and mix well. Arrange the fish on a foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and spread with the butter mixture. Arrange the prosciutto over the fish, covering the tops and sides.
Roast at 450 degrees on the middle oven rack for 15 minutes or until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the shaved Parmesan cheese and rosemary sprigs.
Note: The herb butter can be prepared in advance and chilled until needed; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using. The fish can be prepared in advance and stored, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before roasting.
Serves four
I made the butter mixture right before assembling the fish - softening the butter in the microwave at 10 second increments to be sure it didn’t get melty. I spread each fish fillet with the mixture, then wrapped each one with two pieces of prosciutto. I served the dish with creamy, Parmesan rice and asparagus. The creamy texture of the fish is so nicely enhanced by the lemony, herb butter and saltiness of the prosciutto – truly a mouth-watering combination!
I served this delicious dish with a 2007 Masi Masianco, an Italian, white wine made from a blend of Pinot Grigio and Verduzzo grapes (75%/25%). This wine is a “Supervenetian,” which are wines made from a combination of grapes from the Veneto and Friuli regions of Italy that utilize the "appassimento" process which involves laying grapes out for partial drying after harvesting. This process adds more body, richness and complexity to the finished wine. In this case, the Verduzzo grapes were harvested and then ripened on racks for three weeks before beginning fermentation.
With its flavors of lemon cream, peaches and dried apricots the wine was a perfect pairing for the sea bass. The maker of this wine, Masi Agricola, is slated as one of the Featured Vintners for the upcoming 2010 Boca Bacchanal. Masi is a producer of wines from the Venetian region and specializes in the production of Amarones and Reciotos, using the aforementioned historic technique of "appassimento" (drying of the grapes). Masi rediscovered and refined the technique of double fermentation using semi-dried grapes, and markets successful wines such as Campofiorin, its special selection Brolo di Campofiorin, Valpolicella dell'Anniversario Serego Alighieri and Passo Doble, produced in Argentina. After trying the Masianco, I look forward to sampling their other selections at Boca Bacchanal, March 19-21, 2010. Hope to see you there! For more information please visit: http://www.bocabacchanal.com.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

DIAD at the Caring Kitchen in Delray Beach

The Junior League of Boca Raton, with its dedication to promoting voluntarism and improving the community, requires its active members to complete a number of volunteer hours each year. Today, I completed my "Done in a Day" (DIAD) shift at the Caring Kitchen here in Delray Beach. I have done this shift every year since joining the League almost 5 years ago. It is truly time well spent and I love it since it benefits my immediate community - we live just a few miles away!
During a shift, approximately 10 Junior Leaguers descend on the facility and whip together about 200 turkey sandwiches, in efficient assembly-line style, for children in local after care programs. It's such a great feeling knowing those kids will have a nutritious snack between the time they get out of school and when they get home. The girls were nice enough to let me photograph them today, latex gloves and all. Thanks, Ladies!
The Caring Kitchen is the hot meal program of C.R.O.S. Ministries in Delray Beach located at 196 NW 8th Ave. It is primarily carried out with food donations and volunteers from the community. The program has also recently added additonal services in an effort to help people acheive self-sufficiency. If you are interested in volunteering or making a donation please visit: http://www.crosministries.org/kitchen.htm. 'Tis the Season!
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