July 29, 2010

Drink the Pink

I'd resisted long enough. After visiting several wineries this spring that were proudly showing off their newest bottlings of Rosé, I set aside my preconceived notions of sweet soda-pop wine and said yes.

And yes. And yes, and yes.

My earlier encounters with pink wines happened back in the 1980's. With next to no wine experience, the ubiquitous White Zinfandel of the day was my "entry" wine. Bob Trinchero at Sutter Home can be thanked, I suppose, for marketing his 1970's winemaking "accident" which provided me entree to the wine world. But I didn't love it, and no wonder I haven't given Rosé much due since. It wasn't entirely different from the pop I drank as a teenager.

The wines I braved up for this spring are in a whole realm of wine beauty unto themselves. Here are four recent experiences, all Oregon Rosés; two from the Willamette Valley and two from the Umpqua Valley. I'm placing them here in order of depth of color, which by no coincidence reflects the varietal from which they are produced. The first two deeper pinks are primarily Merlot; the second two lighter colored Rosés are made from Pinot Noir grapes. While they are each beautiful, delicious and have a welcome place at the summer table, I do have clear favorite, to which I will offer my Rosé Pink Ribbon at the end of this post.
Pfeiffer Blushing Bride Rosé
First up: Pfeiffer Vineyards Blushing Bride. The sweetest of the offerings in this post, I find this $16 bottle is best as an aperitif, though Robin Pfeiffer recommends serving it with Thanksgiving Turkey. I can easily imagine it being complimentary to sage, rosemary, thyme and buttery gravy.

As Danuta Pfeiffer explained, sometimes our Willamette Valley fall weather comes early and/or our summers are too cool to produce enough heat units for ripening of their one-acre of Merlot grapes to their prime. It is in those cooler Oregon years when Pfeiffer makes their Rosé. While I will not wish for cooler weather, for my taste, I may possibly prefer the Rosé over Merlot. To make their Rosé, Pfeiffer leaves the stems intact and allows the juice to sit on the skins and stems for 24 hours, which adds a faintly appreciable bonus of tannin.

While I may not be blushing, since wedding bells are in my near future, I also find the name catchy as we make nuptial preparations. It would be a fun wine to serve at a bridal shower!

Palotai Bella Rosa
One of my favorite little boutique wineries is Palotai Vineyard and Winery in the Umpqua Valley, and their Rosé offering, also made from Merlot grapes, is called Bella Rosa. Winemaker John Olson shared this with us just after bottling and pre-labeling, so as you see, my bottles are naked. John describes this wine as having notes of pomegranate, passion fruit and blood orange, but immediately upon pouring I detected a clear strawberries-and-cream nose. The pomegranate came on the palate. The passion fruit, I suspect, is a product of the wee bit of Viognier John added for depth and structure, and the creaminess from a spot of barrel-fermented Reisling that had remained on its lees for four months blended in just before bottling. I never quite found the blood orange, per se.

A lovely aperitif, the Palotai Bella Rosa Rosé is completely dry and has a brisk acidity, and therefore also makes a delightful food-pairing wine. I served it with a tomatillo/avocado salsa and a mango/tomato salsa as part of an appetizer course, but can imagine it with an array of food pairings. Shellfish... Soft summery cheeses... Be still my overactive food imagination.
King Estate Pinot Noir Vin Gris
Next up is the King Estate 2009 Pinot Noir Vin Gris. May I take the opportunity to mention that My Baby and I will be married at King Estate in precisely 73 days? The grounds, buildings and view are beautiful, the food there is phenomenal and King Estate wines are very easy to place.

This I found to be the most tart of these three Rosés, and if I had been blindfolded I would have thought for sure I was drinking a King Estate Pinot Gris. King Estate de-stems and cold-soaks the Pinot Noir grapes for 72 hours on their skins. The juice is then fermented as they do their whites. The resulting soft pink color and crispness make me think of a chicken-strawberry-feta salad. Next time, that will be my pairing for this wine.
HillCrest Vineyard 2009 Inside Out Pinot Noir Blanc
Lastly, another long-time favorite winery of mine, Hillcrest Vineyard, produced a 2009 Inside Out Pinot Noir Blanc. Once again, the white flesh of the Pinot Noir grape had minimal contact with the darker skins to make this very pale, almost salmon-colored wine. This Rosé was the most subtle in flavor and most complex in texture of this line-up. I haven't checked with Dyson DeMara, the owner and winemaker at HillCrest, to learn if the stems were left intact during that first brief pre-fermentation soak, but my guess is a solid yes, as the wine offers a soft tannic brush on the tongue.

Nothing about this wine stand up and shouts, "Pick me, pick me!", but that enamors me all the more. This wine's gifts are in its understatement. As is Dyson's way, this wine is terrific with food of all sorts; I can imagine it with any summer meal I can conjure. While its bone-dryness makes it a bit less attractive to me as a stand-alone sipper, I'm a food-and-wine pairing sort of gal, so the HillCrest Inside Out Pinot Noir Blanc takes my early summer "Drink the Pink" Rosé Pink Ribbon.

July 26, 2010

Sherbetty Plum Ice Cream

Plum Sherbet

"What is more mortifying than to feel you have missed the plum for want of courage to shake the tree?" Logan Pearsall Smith

Two of our plum trees are bursting with sweet ripeness, and as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, which is why you're about to be introduced to plum sherbet/ice cream. I've been a part of this Willamette Valley property for three summers now, and after letting the plums over-ripen and fall to the ground unused for two seasons, I vowed to finally make better use of this gift of nature.
Yellow-Fleshed Plums

One of the trees produces yellow-fleshed fruits which are simultaneously syrupy and acidic; the other tree gives a firm red-fleshed fruit which is quite floral flavored, but lacks any tang. By combining both, the yellow plums really perk up the mixture and lift the floral notes of the red plums to shining brilliance. Throw in a little cream and a vanilla bean, and how can this be wrong?
Flesh and Juice of Yellow and Red Plums

I adapted the formula from DayDreamer Desserts who posted a lovely white peach ice cream last week. A few changes and it made a beautiful pink sherbet. Technically, it's hard to know what to call this frozen yumminess: ice cream, due to its level of butterfat, or sherbet because of its fruit puree base. No matter what you call it, I'm certain that yummy will be one of the descriptors you use. Plummy yummy.
Fruit Puree, Ready for the Stovetop

Sherbetty Plum Ice Cream
Makes 2 quarts

Fruit Puree
2 cups plum flesh and juice (do this with your fingers over the bowl of your measuring cup)
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup sugar (my fruit was very sweet; use more sugar if your fruit is tart)
Scraped seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean (reserve pod for custard base)
Pinch of salt

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until sugar is dissolved and fruit is very soft. Remove from heat. Strain through fine-meshed sieve over bowl, pressing lightly on solids to remove all juicy goodness. Cool. (I placed this in a sink filled with cold water, stirring occasionally, to speed cooling.)

Custard Base
Skins and pits of plums, above
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped into pan, and reserved pod from above
4 egg yolks
2 cups cream

Combine plum skins and pits, milk, sugar and vanilla bean in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture just reaches a boil. Strain.
Milk, Skins and Pits, Ready for the Stovetop

Whisk egg yolks in a 2 quart mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in hot milk mixture, slowly at first to temper the eggs. Pour mixture back into saucepan and cook over medium heat just until small bubbles begin to appear and mixture has thickened slightly.

Whisk custard mixture into cooled fruit puree. Cool entire mixture, again utilizing a cold water/ice bath if necessary to promote quick cooling. otherwise, refrigerate until cold.

Stirring well, add cream until fully incorporated. Freeze according to your manufacturers directions. Store well-sealed in your freezer.

Enjoy with people you love who are also delighted to be enjoying the bounty of the land.
PS-- We've been doing a lot of living this summer, (going for the plums and shaking a few trees!!) and therefore my posts are a little less frequent, but as I've heard it said, I'm live-y live-y living so that I have great stuff to type-y type-y type about. We've made some great discoveries and have enjoyed some truly lovely life-moments which I am excited to share with you in the next couple of weeks.

July 20, 2010

An Ode to Breakfast

French Toast with Homemade Blueberry Sauce

For me, something as simple as breakfast can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. I wake up with tanked blood sugar, and just never get into a pleasant rhythm until I've corrected that problem. Without breakfast, I find myself working far too hard at being nice. My brain doesn't engage, and just forget altogether about applying any critical thinking to my tasks. I come up with no good answers to the question, "What am I going to do today?" even when I'm due at work in an hour. Tying my shoes and finding car keys can seem too hard.

Blueberry Blueberry Orange Scones

This photo-driven post is an homage to the meal of the day that sets me up well for the other two. You'll see reoccuring themes here and there (I apparently have a deep fondness for the blueberry in the morning!) What you don't see is the most common breakfast I eat... I keep a box of Kashi Go Lean cereal in my desk drawer and 8 oz. cartons of Tillamook yogurt (a Pacific Northwest brand) in the fridge at work for the two or three days a week I report to the office.

Black Bean and Egg Stuffed Poblano Chiles

Links to recipes are included where they exist.

Spinach, Mushroom, Red Pepper, Onion Saute, Waiting for an Egg Custard and Baking

Blueberries, Wheat Berries, Greek Yogurt and Honey

Red Raspberry and Lemon Scones

Blueberries, Irish Oats, and Vanilla Yogurt

Lemon-Poppy Seed Scones and Five-Minute Eggs

Five-Minute Eggs and Bakery Cheese Brioche

(and yes, that's Tiger before, well, you know...) Eggs Shirred in Chard Sauce and Buttered Sourdough Toast

July 16, 2010

Pizza Crust: Everything You Knead to Know but Were Afraid to Ask

I've been making pizza a long time, and have made every mistake in the book. A nice pizza is about as close to food nirvana as it gets for me, so after some 30 years of seeking perfection, I turn out a pretty fine home pizza. As I was literally whistling through making a couple pizzas last night it occurred to me that my experience may be of some assistance to those just starting out. Here are some things I learned the hard way. Hang in with me for a few paragraphs, and it will all come together when you get to the recipe below.
It all starts with the foundation: Crust. You can throw all kinds of amazing toppings onto a pizza, but if the crust is flabby or tough the enthusiasm of the crowd (even if it's a crowd of one) deflates quickly. Several important variables make or break good pizza crust, and if you pay just a little easy attention and know what to look for, you are the complete master of the process. As Stephen Covey says, "Begin with the end in mind."

First, you must take the temperature of your water. Yeast is a living organism activated by water. Think of your yeast as little sea monkeys... if the water is too cool, they stay in their state of suspended animation. If the water is too hot, you kill them before they have a fighting chance to entertain and delight. I aim for the high end (110°) as the water cools a degree or two as it is poured into my stainless steel mixing bowl. An ">insta-read thermometer is excellent for this job.

Two Sauces: Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Chard, Both From Our Garden

The other big trick is to have patience when stretching the dough out in the pan. As you knead your dough, long stretchy gluten strands form. Those elastic strands need to relax after such a hard workout before they are willing to relent under the touch of your hand. We've all had the ball of dough shrink back into itself like a rubber band as we are giving it the gusto, yes? Plop your ball of dough onto your olive-oiled pan or stone, give it a gentle pat or two, and walk away for 10 or even 20 minutes if it's a cool day. At this stage, think of your dough as a reticent lover... feign disinterest for a few moments and it will turn to putty in your hands when you return, willing to surrender to your affections and to be shaped and molded by your tender touch.

And then there's the oven temperature. Have you calibrated your oven lately? Most ovens need to be calibrated occasionally. Go to your owner's manual or look online for instructions on how to do yours. Your pizza will thank you. Your cakes and cookies will thank you. You will thank you for lessening your oven timing frustrations. One of these neat oven thermometer gizmos does the trick for this job. See how it will hang from your oven rack?

Once you are certain that your oven temperature is accurate, preheat the oven to 450° for convection; 475° if it is a standard oven. Preheating to the full temperature is important here. Pardon my irreverence, but you want to take your beautiful pizza to hell and back as quickly as possible. This is the only way to get your dough nice and golden and crispy on the bottom all the way to the center while not overdoing it with your toppings. Some people swear by a 500° oven for pizza: I've found that my toppings, especially cheeses, get far too brown and dry at that temperature before the crust is golden edge to edge underneath.

Pizza Crust
3/4 cup tap water, 100-110°
3/4 teaspoon yeast
1 generous teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (I'm a fan of King Arthur flour in this application. The slightly higher protein makes great crust.)

Place water in bowl of your mixer. Sprinkle the yeast on top. After a minute, give it a quick stir, and allow it to sit for 5 minutes until it is completely dissolved.

Toss in the salt and 1 cup of the flour. With the dough hook, begin to knead on medium speed. As the first cup of flour is incorporated, add another 1/2 cup. After that is worked in, add another 1/4 cup. You may or may not need any or all of the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, depending on exactly how many drops of water you initially measured, the ambient humidity, and the moisture level in your flour. It should take not more than 10 minutes from the time you begin adding flour until it is done kneading. Some cooks adamantly weigh their flour rather than scoop it into a measuring cup. There's something to that, but in actuality the moisture variables still exist no matter how the flour is measured. It's best to learn to feel the dough and add more or less to touch.
Yellow Squash, Artichoke Hearts, Red Peppers, Onion and Proscuitto on the Left, Unbaked

How do I know what the dough should feel like, you ask? The dough should form a soft, loose ball on your dough hook and leave very little gooey residue on the sides of your mixing bowl. There may be a slight film of wettish dough clinging to the sides of the bowl, but very little. Allow the dough to knead for a few minutes before adding that last bit of flour to see how much of the water it will soak up in its re-hydration process. Too much flour/too little water always produces a tough pizza. You'll recognize this if your dough stays in a tight ball after kneading. If you suspect you've added too much flour, you can always correct this by adding back water teaspoon by teaspoon.

On the other hand, too much water/too little flour produces a flabby crust that will not crisp up until it's burnt. You can tell if you need more flour if your dough is extremely droopy after kneading. It should just be a softish, slightly sticky ball.

I never complete my kneading on a board with more flour to make it easier to handle, as I find this toughens the dough. Use lightly oiled hands to work with the dough. If the dough is the correct consistency it will stick to your hands without a little oil, so go ahead and put a few drops of oil on your fingers.
Spanish Chorizo, Mushrooms, Red Pepper, Onion and Brined Olives on the Right, After Baking

With lightly oiled fingers, I gather the dough into a ball and leave it right in its mixing bowl to proof, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Rising can be hurried along if necessary by placing the bowl in a warm place, but the more interesting flavors will develop if you have time to let it raise in a cool place. I hesitate to give a specific time to allow, as temperature is a variant. It may only take 40 minutes to rise on a warm day or in a warm spot, and up to 1 1/2 hours if your kitchen is cold or you place the bowl in a cool place. I have even placed the bowl in the refrigerator overnight, allowing it to reach room temperature before proceeding, with terrific results. This recipe can easily be doubled (double everything except for the yeast), and it can be frozen to excellent result. I often make a double batch and freeze half. Simply thaw to room temperature and proceed from there.

Some other pizza success factoids: Toppings--less is more. Too many toppings, including cheese, and the moisture released from softening cell walls is counterproductive to that crisp-bottomed crust. Restrain yourself. Use highly flavored stuff, and you won't miss the bulk.

Pans: I have both a stone and a heavy black metal pan. Both work very well and give excellent results. In years past I've worked through every pan imaginable... Pans with little perforated holes, double-layered pans, etc., and have found that by following the above guidelines in regards to the dough, just about any pan gives a good crust. In other words, I learned that the problem wasn't my pans, but me.

Topping ingredients: Give verve to your pizzas by combining creamy, tangy, meaty (mushrooms, sausage, etc.), bitter (greens), tannic (nuts), sweet (onions, figs, raisins, etc.,) elements. We often scour the fridge and pantry for little interesting bits. While no two pizzas are ever the same that way, we eat pizza frequently and never get tired of the never-ending array. By blasting beyond a pepperoni rut, you open up whole new worlds of pizza nirvana.

Here's a link to the chard sauce recipe, pictured in one of the above pizzas. Just omit the nutmeg for a terrific versatile pizza and pasta sauce.

Because I'm in a spunky mood and this has been an excessively long post, if you've made it this far I'll put your name in a drawing for your choice of the insta-read or oven thermometers. Just email me by noon, Monday July 19, with your thoughts on this post, which thermometer you'd like, and you'll be entered.

Now you're off to the races. If any of you give these methods a try, please let me know how they work out for you.

To your success!

July 13, 2010

Come With Me to the Casbah

My Oregon Casbah Kebabs
People traditionally cook what is making noise in their back yards, I suppose, and since sheep are raised all over the world, a quick search on Epicurious gives us lamb done up in a vast array of global cuisine: Lamb au Pistou; lamb with herbes de Provence; chimichurried; charmoula'd; Oaxacan spiced; Hunan sauced; gremolata sprinkled; Bulgogi'd; hot potted; tzatziki'd; soulvaki'd and slapped into Turkish pita. Lucky for us, the spice boats floated, and we can do all of these things with our local lamb at a whim.

Our lamb is raised just minutes from our house, is grass fed and given no antibiotics or growth hormones, and is processed locally, too. The lamb is truly one of the blessings of living in the Oregon countryside, as creative and interesting meals show up frequently featuring this local product.

Have I shared with you the day an ewe made a visit to my front porch? She stood their baa-baa-ing at the glass front door, as if she wanted in for tea. Having been raised in the city, this discombobulated me so that I regret to say I forgot to reach for my camera, but that impression is forever burned in my mind. Country living has its facts, and having next week's dinner stop over for a visit is one of them.
This recipe is my loose adaptation from the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook. This was printed as a dressing for a Northern African-inspired salad, and most salad dressings make fantastic marinades. It is as delicious drizzled over a lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad as it is here, so make plenty and use it generously. It features sumac, a really interesting tart, astringent, deep reddish-purple spice that just recently has shown up in my kitchen.
Reustle Prayer Rock 2008 Tempranillo Reserve
My Baby decided on the Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyard 2008 Tempranillo Reserve as a pairing, and I must say he's gifted. This wine is redolent of plum, coffee and toast with silky tannins, which was amazing with the spiced lamb. I am pleased to say that the wine comes from the Umpqua Valley AVA, an up-and coming wine region producing many spectacular wines, and is also less than 100 miles from home. Local, local, local. Interesting how foods from within a region seem to taste good together, yes?

My Oregon Casbah Marinade and Salad Dressing

In a jar combine:
Juice of one lemon (save zest for rice pilaf)
1 tablespoon ground sumac
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried)
salt to taste

Screw lid on jar and shake well. Add 4 tablespoons olive oil and shake again.

For lamb kebabs, cube tender lamb shoulder and place in zip-top bag with enough marinate to coat well. Place in refrigerator one hour or overnight. Thread skewers with lamb, red bell pepper, sweet onion and large cherry tomato. Grill over medium coals until meat is at desired level of doneness (we prefer medium), about 10 minutes, turning every five minutes.

Serve on bed of rice pilaf. In this case, I simply used a Near East pilaf mix, but stirred in the lemon zest before lidding it. Before serving, I tossed in 1/3 cup lightly toasted pistachios.

July 7, 2010

Proscuitto Wrapped Sea Scallops with White Beans, Chard and Cherry Tomato

As unimaginable as it is that 2010 is half-over, June was a fun month. Really fun. We traveled to My Baby's youngest daughter's college graduation. We attended a high school graduation party. I met and spent a weekend with My Baby's old grad school friends. We roasted marshmallows and watched fireflies. We had a phenomenal meal at Piccolo Restaurant in Minneapolis, and a fun lunch at Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter in Stillwater, Minnesota. We dined with guests under our apple tree. We hosted my future sister-in-law and her lovable and handsome puppy, Ranger, for a delightful weekend. We had dinner with all three of my grown children and my daughter-in-law all at the same time. We drove the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, and tasted our way through a generous sampling of Washington wine. For the second time, I heard an amazing musician, Jonatha Brooke, at an outdoor concert. I moved into a cute new part-time pad in my work-away-from-home town.
Somehow we managed to keep up with the garden and lawn and our day-job responsibilities besides during our busy June fun. And we managed to craft several delicious meals at home.
Here's one of them, and it's delicious. Speed is the name of the game with this one; only about 12 minutes once you've got your ingredients prepped:

Proscuitto-Wrapped Sea Scallops with White Beans, Chard and Cherry Tomatoes
3-5 bay scallops per person
1/2 slice thin proscuitto per scallop
one hefty bunch rainbow chard, roughly sliced
one pint cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
one 15 ounce can white beans, lightly drained
chopped fresh rosemary
chopped flat-leaf parsley
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Gently warm beans with a good-sized pinch of the fresh rosemary in a small saucepan.

Wrap proscuitto around scallops and secure with a toothpick. Heat a decent splash of olive oil in a saute pan. When oil is quite warm, place scallops in pan. Turn scallops to evenly brown on all sides, allowing proscuitto to brown well before turning, about 4 minutes total. When done, remove to plate and loosely cover to keep warm.

Add a swirl more olive oil to scallop/proscuitto juices in same saute pan. Toss in sliced garlic and stir well for one minute, moderating heat as to not brown or burn garlic. Throw in another big pinch of rosemary. Add tomatoes, allowing them to blister on each side before turning. Blister on all sides. Toss in slice chard, stirring frequently, for about two minutes more until well wilted and the tomatoes are just beginning to give up their juices. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon the white beans into a deep bowl. Top with chard/tomato mixture. Place scallops on top, and sprinkle with parsley. With a well-chilled Pinot Gris, this is delightful.

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