Friday, January 31, 2014

Weekend Wino: Masi Modello Delle Venezie & Tilapia Oreganata

This week my friends at Wine Chateau, a major online retailer of wine and libations, and I have decided to feature an old favorite of mine, Masi Modello Delle Venezie!

Each person has their own relationship to wine whether it be why they drink a certain type or often, the acquisition of tastes and preferences as the individual becomes more experienced with wine.  For me, Masi was the graduation wine from sweet whites to red.

My moment of graduation occurred 12 years ago while dining on a rare filet mignon at an Italian restaurant with friends.  A bottle of Masi was ordered for the table and I politely accepted a glass, even though I was convinced I'd have to choke it down.  What happened when I took my first sip, was curious.  I did not recoil as expected, but I rather enjoyed it.  My next few sips of the wine held my attention as I, for the first time, sat and contemplated what I was drinking-all while masking my shock as to not tip off my friends. 

My experience with Masi is not to say the wine is Moscato-sweet.  It isn't.  Its just to say, that for someone who may fall prey to the safety of what they know-Masi will be a pleasant surprise.

THE WINE: Masi Modello Rosso Delle Venezie

Fruit notes of cherry and plum with a soft tannin and low acidity allows this wine to be very versatile. 

Fun Fact: Masi is the name of a small valley in the Venetian Region of Italy.
Other types of dishes that would work with the Masi: I recommend filet mignon or chicken pietro.

Tilapia Oreganata
Serves 4

4 fresh tilapia filets
1 cup panko
1 cup italian breadcrumbs
1/2 cup parmesan
4 whole garlic cloves
3 tablespoons butter-melted
1/2 cup olive oil

In small oven-safe ramekin place garlic cloves and pour olive oil over the top so all cloves are completely submerged in oil.  Place ramekin in oven at 350 degrees.

As the garlic is roasting, place tilapia filets in oven-safe casserole dish.  In seperate bowl, mix panko, breadcrumbs and parmesan.  Once garlic is roasted, use a spoon to remove cloves and let cool.  Pour olive oil into panko mixture.  Mix with fork.

Once garlic is cool enough to handle, rub each filet with softened garlic-coating completely.  Take panko mixture and pack over each filet-coating completely.  Pour melted butter over filets.

Cover and bake tilapia at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until tilapia will flake with a fork.

Serve over angel hair pasta with diced tomato and fresh basil.



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thai Inspired: Chicken Noodle Soup

 It is this writer's opinion, that chicken noodle soup may be the most boring soup ever.  The noodles are mushy and make me feel as though Im eating glorified baby food.  Restaurant chicken noodle soup is worse.  Most of the soup you eat in a restaurant comes out of a bag.  No one tastes it before serving it and people eat it up and act as though its a 'healthy' alternative to...what exactly?

The truth is, the bagged soup you adore from your favorite chain sandwich shop dressed up in a bread bowl, is the same salt-laden slop you're getting from the local cafeteria, greasy-spoon diner and fancy Italian bistro.  They serve you this because you happily devour it at gorged prices and all they had to do was thaw it out.

I'm not sold on this automated cycle-plus, the bagged soup is so salty I struggle to eat much of it.  Soup is easy to make and a wonderful one-pot wonder.  Plus, this time of year, there are few things that simultaneously satisfy hunger and soothe the soul. 

My solution to my personal distaste to chicken noodle soup was the substitution of rice noodles.  With some practice and experimentation-I have now redefined my distaste for chicken noodle soup and now only opt for good, homemade chicken noodle soup.

I make this soup every time Levi or I have a cold.  Its perfect for clearing a stuffy nose!

Thai Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 6-8

3 quarts chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 small yellow onion-chopped
1/2 package dry thin rice noodles
Fresh cilantro
Fresh green onions
cayenne pepper
salt & pepper

In medium saucepan boil 4 cups of water.  As that is coming to a boil take a stockpot, add stock, carrots, celery and onion.  Cook until stock is slowly boiling and vegetables are tender.  Add 1 teaspoon cayenne and taste-adjust to allow for a mild spice.  Salt & pepper stock as needed to suit taste.

In seperate bowl place dried rice noodles and pour the boiling water over them.  Let them sit for 3-5 minutes until tender. Drain.

Take soup bowl, add desired amount of noodles, top off with chicken soup and add chopped green onion and chopped cilantro to soup.  


Friday, January 24, 2014

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Weekend Wino: Argentine Malbec & Picadillo Rice

This week my friends at Wine Chateau, a major online retailer of wine and libations, and I have decided to feature the recently popular Argentine Malbec!

Malbec is a regular visitor in my home and last summer, as you may remember, I was asked to review the documentary, Boom Varietal, from First Run Features.  Boom Varietal, took a look at how the Malbec grapes, originally from France (used in Bordeaux), immigrated to South America and flourished in the hot days and cool nights of Mendoza-the central region of Argentina.  

A few years ago, Shiraz's popularity caused producers to begin mass producing to keep up with demand. Wine lovers became disenchanted with the lack of quality suddenly being put into Shiraz (and at the same price!) and began searching for something new-finding the lovely Malbec awaiting its discovery.

People found the Mendoza Malbec to be a good wine at a lower price than Shiraz and wine lovers quickly began spreading the word.  If you havent heard of Malbec prior to reading this article-you will be amazed on how often you see it now.

THE WINE: Luigi Bosca Malbec Reserva 2010

The Luigi Bosca Malbec was a pleasure beginning to end.  A medium bodied wine with little tannin, makes the Malbec easy for anyone to palette.

The fruitiness and balance allow for this Malbec to be enjoyed alone or with a meal-another reason for its popularity!  

TIP: Look for the name 'Mendoza' on the label to ensure you're purchasing an authentic Argentine Malbec.  Argentine wines contain 100% of the grape on the labels-so don't worry about getting a shady blend.

Fun Fact: Today, Mendoza (approximately the size of Germany), has over 600 wineries, covering 350,000 acres.*

Other types of dishes that would work with the Malbec: Beef is heavily consumed in Argentina and pairs well with Malbec.  I also find dark meat chicken to go well with this type of wine.

*Resource: Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World: Complete Wine Course.

Picadillo Rice
Serves 4

1 lb ground pork
2 small yellow onions - diced
1 green pepper - diced
1 small tomato - chopped
2 cloved garlic - minced (separated)
2 cups water
1 cup rice (not instant)
1 13oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon butter
black pepper
olive oil
Garnish (optional): fresh cilantro, avocado or sour cream.

In medium saucepan cook 1 small onion in olive oil until soft.  Add rice, water, canned tomatoes, butter, pinch of salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne.  Cook according to rice directions.

As the rice is cooking, in skillet, brown pork and onion.  Once cooked through, add garlic, green pepper, tomato, large pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, 3-4 turns of black pepper.  Cook through.

Once rice is finished, dish into bowl and top with beef mixture.

Garnish with cilantro, diced avocado or sour cream.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Slow-Carb Curried Egg Salad with Avacado

In Downtown Champaign, Illinois there is a coffee shop on Walnut Street called Cafe Kopi.  The cafe stands out with its canvas awning woven with Christmas lights and the unusual amount of people sitting outside sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes in 30 degree weather. 

When I lived in Champaign, Kopi was a favorite stop.  Inside the coffee bar is constructed of Spanish tile and the walls adorned with that months local artist-each showcase carefully curated by the owner, Paul.  Paul can be found inside chatting with customers or quietly working in the tiny, open-air kitchen. 

Walking into Kopi, you know you're somewhere special-somewhere that has carefully ensured their clientele in catered to.  They were among the first in the Downtown to have free WiFi available for guests and yet, I would guess, they will be among the last to adapt uniforms for their staff.  Individuality, is silently and profoundly encouraged and treasured at Kopi.  So few places exist so fiercely and sweetly in their own value-system.

A dish on Kopi's menu is a curried egg salad pita.  I probably first had this dish ten years ago, but since-so many times.  When I left Champaign in 2005, there were a lot of restaurants and dishes I missed, as Champaign has so many.  But no dish did I miss more than Kopi's curried egg salad pita.  The balance of hard boiled egg, curry powder and red onion takes you over and forces your mind to fully focus on what you're eating.  It is one of those moments, you begin to understand true food pairings and are able to redefine to yourself-what 'complement' means.

I have recreated this dish in my kitchen multiple times, but my version always seems slightly sad as it isn't complemented by the ambiance of Kopi and a Cafe Miel.

Here is my nod to Kopi's Curried Egg Salad Pita.

Curried Egg Salad w. Avocado - Slow-Carb
Serves 4

6 hard boiled eggs - diced
2 avocados - smashed into a paste
1/2 cup relish
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/4 small red onion - finely diced 
1/2 cucumber - quartered and chopped
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
Black pepper (if desired)
Cayenne (if desired)

Set up plate(s) with bed of spinach.  Mix all ingredients into a bowl. Serve over spinach. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Snowy Day Soup: Hearty White Bean & Turkey Soup (Slow-Carb)

On this fine Illinois snowy day, I decided to (finally) take down my Christmas decorations and stay-in.  I like living in a climate that forces you to slow-down from time-to-time.  Outside my window the foot-traffic is minimal, silencing the neighborhood and I can see smoke floating out of chimneys as my neighbors stay home and out of the snow.

Its peaceful in an otherwise active part of town and I enjoy the silence as I unhook ornaments and carefully wrap lights-as to not make the decorating difficult next year.  

Levi comes home from the gym and out of the snow-he asks me about dinner (at 3:30pm).  Early dinners on Saturdays are not rare for us-as we often spend much of the day working on errands in order to stay in and relax at night.  

Soup is my go-to cold weather meal.  I can generally cook it all in one pot, its hot and fairly versatile-so typically I can achieve any goal I may have: hearty, savory, spicy, healthy, etc.  

The goal for todays soup was: Slow-Carb.

Snowy Day White Bean & Turkey Soup
Serves 6

1lb. Ground Turkey
1 med onion-diced
1c green pepper-diced
1 13oz can green beans w. liquid
1 4oz can muchrooms-drained
2 cans Northern Beans - with liquid
1 qt. can (32oz) diced tomatoes
3cups beef stock
1 cups Water
Cumin (approx 2 teaspoons)
Dried Oregano (approx 1 tablespoon)
Cayenne (approx 1 teaspoon)
Salt (to taste)
Pepper  (to taste)

In large pot brown turkey and onion in 1 cup water.  Once browned, add all remaining ingredients-and bring to a boil.  Once boiling for 15 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Weekend Wino: Spanish Rioja Wine with Venison Chili

The approaching weekend leaves the mind the opportunity to wonder into our own customized world without the hassle of work.  If your anything like me, one of the questions you ask yourself is, 'What am I drinking this weekend?'  

With the help of my friends at Wine Chateau, a major online retailer of wine and libations, we have started the exciting new Weekend Wino feature, where we pair wine with a complementary dish!  And unlike so many pairing articles-we provide the recipe and the link to buy the exact wine featured.

I've been really excited to get the ball rolling on this feature-especially it being the time of year where so many people are practicing healthier habits.  I, for one, am doing the Slow-Carb diet, developed by Tim Ferriss in his book, The 4-Hour BodyI am a fan of any diet that requires minimal exercise and still lets me drink!  The venison chili in this recipe is a slow-carb recipe and can be easily adapted for your own preferences.

THE WINE: Marques de Riscal Rioja Proximo 2009

My favorite part about drinking wine is the story that can be learned from each bottle.  Looking at the region (North-Central Spain), the websites and the types of grapes used (Tempranillo)-opens the mind and awareness of the drinker, giving them a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Awareness is the best flavor any wine bottle holds.

TIP: Look up the funny words or locations on the labels so you understand what you're reading.  

Rioja wine is grown in North-Central region of Spain.  Rioja wine is traditionally a light textured, low tannin wine with moderate acidity.  The acidity makes it a great pairing for a red chili dish-so the tomatoes offset the rioja's intensity.

For a more novice wine drinker, the acidity can be a deterrent for this bottle as it pairs better with food than alone.

There are 3 types of Rioja wines:
  • Crianza: Released after 2 years of aging-minimum 1 year in oak barrels
  • Reserva: Released after 3 years of aging-min 1 year in oak
  • Gran Reserva: Released after 5-7 years of aging-min 2 years in oak
                                 *The price/btl. increases with the aging process

Other types of dishes that would work with the Rioja: a heavier tomato-based dish featuring red meat.

Venison Chili - Slow Carb
Serves 8
Approx Time: 6 hours

1lb bag dried kidney beans
1lb ground venison
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart (32oz) canned diced tomatoes with juice
Chili powder-to taste
Cumin-to taste
Cayenne pepper-to taste
Salt - as needed
Water-as needed

Take dried beans, rinse and cook as directed on bag. Let sit full hour.

In large pot add 1 cup water, venison, onion and garlic. (Note: adding the water to the meat when it cooks helps it to crumble nicely.)  Cook meat through.  Add tomatoes, beans and enough water to just cover the beans.  Bring to a boil.  Taste and add 1 tablespoon of chili powder and cumin.  Add 1 teaspoon cayenne. Taste and adjust seasoning until it suits your preference-add salt if needed.  Allow to simmer, uncovered for 3-4 hours, stirring every 20 minutes and adding water as it thickens (2 cups at a time).

After 4 hours taste to make sure the beans are cooked through and tender.  If not, simmer longer (but 4 hours should be plenty!). 

Serve with the lovely Marques de Riscal Rioja Proximo 2009 and Enjoy!

Special Thanks to the Wine Chateau for recommending wines for this feature!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Future Foodies: What Food Will You Have At Your a Retirement Party?

Today I put together a retirement event at work.  They are pretty standard, cake, punch, hors d'oeuvres, coffee...this woman had been with the same company for 35 years.  About 100 people came to wish her well and thank her for all of her hard work. But before they all showed up, you know what she said to me? 'Thirty-five years working in insurance. I never wanted to work in insurance and when I retire, I never will work in insurance again.' 

Thirty-five years of a job she hated. 

I look out over the handmade ham and Swiss turnovers, meatballs bubbling in the silver chafing dish, the cake with pink, purple and yellow flowers encircling the well wishes carefully written across the top and I think, 'If I'm stuck in a crappy job for 35 years-I better have more exciting food at my retirement party.'

I haven't decided if that's a weird thought or not.  But it did make me think-with all the 'foodies' out there-what's going to be their boring retirement food?  Or will they even have boring food?  Are we going to walk around with bones, straws stuck in them, sucking the marrow out-as opposed to just add water fruit punch? Will we be dipping the crudité into tomato gelee? Will the dessert be represented by the dark chocolate shavings over my steak tartare? What will the food look like?

But then, the idea of retiring seems so foreign.  A 'party' in a dull conference room. Ending a job I hate.

No, none of that seems right.  A doctor told my grandmother the fastest way to die was to retire.  And if I'm going to die-I'm going to be doing something I love.  Because anything else, is a waste of time.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Grocery Game: Seeing Beyond Your Status Quo

I've been told I'm weird.  On many occasions in fact, but the most popular cause of my weird perception is my love of grocery shopping.  I love to go to the grocery store.  Ever since I was first out on my own, I have always found buying groceries to be a liberating task.  It is something so individualistic, so personal and is often the most reflective activity we do.

I do my shopping  at Meijer.  This is not a sponsored post-so I'm telling you this because I'm honest.  I find them to have one of the best selections in town, the nicest produce and I love their 'mperks' specials and coupons.  

One of my favorite things about going to Meijer is that I haven't tried everything they offer.  I can easily find new fare to experiment with or test on my family (Levi). Writing gives me an excuse to keep coming up with new recipes to try out-Meijer gives me a reliable place to find them.  Ghee is readily available, along with pickled pigs feet* and a fairly incredible selection of dry beans.  I walk down the isles with my mind in a constant state of wonder about what I can create throughout my week.  

My second favorite thing about grocery shopping is that a 'splurge' is typically less than $5.  You remember my saying I'm rather cheap, right?  I don't often go clothes shopping and since I work in food-dressing up doesn't happen often. So my splurges include items we don't eat very often like, whole artichokes, fresh cherries or plums.

Finally, there are so many individual items in a grocery store, as we are animals of routine-it's easy to overlooks items that may make our lives easier.  

Example 1: this week I found a bag of frozen diced green peppers for $2.  I buy frozen veggies often and had never noticed the green peppers before.  In my garden, I pick as many peppers as I can, dice and freeze them (this process keeps me in peppers for the next year), but this past summer I had a horrible pepper crop and wasn't able to freeze any.  While in the fresh produce department a pepper costs .77-$1.29/ea. and only amounts to about a 1/2 a cup-the $2 bag of frozen amounts to almost 2 cups of diced peppers.  Saving me a few dollars (more because how many times do you buy a pepper and not use it?) and adding a lot of flavor to my quiches and soups.

Example 2: Levi is the healthier eater of the two of us.  I have a horrible sweet tooth and often opt for a glass of wine at night.  Levi eats salads almost everyday.  He used to hound me about getting spinach from the store, but I always thought it was too expensive and made spinach a 'special occasion' item.  Then we discovered the bunches of spinach and the greens variety at the market.  A bunch of spinach was only $1.49-half the price of a bag and approximately the same amount! Spinach is no longer a 'special' item.

If you hate grocery shopping, here are a few tips that may help:

1. Change your menu: don't revamp everything all at once, but find a menu item each week that does excite you- it's more fun to buy something your excited  about!

2. Take your time: rushing through any task makes it more stressful than it needs to be.  Try going to the market when you don't have to pick the kids up in 20 minutes.  Let yourself be hypnotized by the flow of the isles and let your mind wander.  But do take your list, backtracking is annoying.

3. Have a list: a list saves you time and money.  It also is a great tool to engage the kids with, if you have no choice but to bring them.  Use it to play 'I Spy' and put them to work for you!

4. Splurge on something: your spouse may get upset over the $50 pair of shoes, but the fresh veal you bought on sale and made into osso buco? Never.  Plus, how fun will it be the next day to tell your co-workers you made osso buco for dinner? Especially when they tell you they had hamburgers!

Let the food you make for your family be enriching at all levels. 

*I've never consumed pickled pigs feet, but I very much enjoy the idea of shopping in places where they are available. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Snowmageddon 2014: A Country Girl's Thoughts on being Snowed In

Meteorologists are often wrong or misguided with their predictions of the upcoming weather-especially  in Central Illinois, where unpredictability is the norm.  The one prediction I can count on is the severe weather prediction.  Fortunately, we have the technology now to provide a few days notice-giving me (and you) adequate time to get groceries and gas up the car.  

 In a time where convenience is demanded by our Western mentality, how do we have the audacity to demand the same of the weather?  The weather is a special example of a force bigger than ourselves and how by slowing down, making a plan and living the plan is a healthy practice of our patience.  

Take this opportunity to slow down, enjoy the quiet, appreciate the modern convinces-and not take them for granted.