Sunday, March 18, 2007

Spring is ... there

Here we are, Big Mary and the Handsome Venezuelan, happily trapped in La Casa Amarilla. Up to our cheeks in snow. I'll let you picture just which cheeks...
Meanwhile, I'm stressed out about the Marketing Event next Wednesday for the "day job" where we are going to celebrate the first day of Spring.

As I've ranted before, there are so few oppotunities to cook seasonally; that, cooking within the confines of what is (and used to be) purely seasonal does add a lift into my already light tread. There are the usual suspects: asparagus, peas, strawberries; but of course these are the same suspects that have now become year round harbingers of Spring. I wanted to also focus on morel mushrooms, rhubarb, fresh goat cheese, Spring lamb, baby greens and fava beans.

Given that the choice of theme was, how shall I say... Less than original? Yeah, that says it. I wanted the evidence of Spring in the menu to be somewhat subliminal. First priority - delicious. Next - innovative, and Finally - Spring. The truth of the matter is, Spring flavors speak for themselves. If not obscured, they bring that bright green, herbaceous, subtle, fresh element into whatever dish you place them into.

Hors D'oeuvres are my absolute, hands down favorite kitchen medium. It's just more bang for the buck, with less risk. For me, that's just a slice of heaven.
We'll be serving:

Smoked Trout Rillettes with Horseradish Cream on Potato Crisps
I make a smoked trout salad with no mayo or cream. Just fine chopped fennel, radish, chive and dill; mixed into broken up smoked trout with thyme oil and lemon juice. Crisp fried potato squares, a dab of horseradish cream and topped with smoked trout rillettes.

Buttermilk Minted Pea Soup with Mint Granita
Served in a demitasse cup, this is a cold pea soup. I use frozen peas, they're just more reliable. Saute some shallots, add the thawed peas, chopped scallion and vegetable stock. Puree with fresh mint leaves and chill quickly. Add buttermilk and seasoning to taste.
Make a strong flavored mint tea, with a small amount of sugar. Turn this into a grantita which garnishes the soup.

Zucchini Corn Cakes with Goat Cheese and Tomato Basil Salsa
Really more summer, but needed some veg options. I just make a cormeal pancake batter and add it to shredded (squeezed dry ) zucchini to make bite sized pancakes. Top with whipped montrachet chevre and a salsa of red & yelow tomatoes with basil. I developed this recipe for Martha Stewart Everyday, so if anyone want's it, post a comment. Work's full size too.

Moroccan Lamb in Kataifi Nests
Make kataifi nests by buttering mini muffin pans and sprinkling lightly with sugar. Pull off a small amount of kataifi (shredded phyllo) and swirl into a bird's nest. Place in prepared mini muffin tin, sprinkle with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. Bake until crisp.
Seperatly, saute ground lamb with diced onions, Moroccan spices, harissa and currants. Finish with a tiny splash of orange flower water. Fill the nests with the warm lamb mix. Pipe a small amount of lebne(or drained yogurt)on top and add a tiny sliver of preserved lemon peel.

Bresaola with Favas
Toast mini crostini of semolina baguette with garlic oil. Set aside. Peel and blanch fava beans. Chill in ice water. Peel again and set aside half. Puree one half with olive oil , salt & pepper. Rough chop remaining half. Slice bresaola into slivers and combine with rough chopped favas and extra virgin olive oil; about a 50/50 mix of beans and beef. Using a vegetable peeler, create chards of peppercorn romano cheese. Schmear a bit of fava puree on each crostini. Top with a portion of the fava bresaola mix. Garnish with a pepper romano chard.

Thai Crab with Minted Cucumber Relish
Make a Thai green curry sauce with green curry paste, galangal, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, sugar and mayonnaise. Clean some jumbo lump crab and combine with chopped scallion and fine diced red pepper. Add green curry sauce to taste. Fine dice cucumber and heavily season with salt. Press and drain for 20 minutes or so. Rinse well and combine with Indian mint chutney, rice wine vinegar and sugar. Set aside. Fry mini popadum from Indian market. Combine hors d'oeuvres by placing a small amount of crab salad on popadum and garnish with minted cucumber salsa.

Parmesan Beignets of Italian Greens
Saute swiss chard, spinach, escarole and sweet dandelion greens (each variety seperately) with a touch of garlic. When cool, squeeze dry. Combine with fresh ricotta cheese (if store bought, drain over night), fresh ground nutmeg, a touch of Parmesan cheese and salt & pepper. Roll into balls, dredge in flour, then eggs, then a 50/50 mix of parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Freeze and fry to order.

Confit of Duck with Fresh Morels in Mini Corn Cups
You got me. I'm gonna have to pull this one out of my nether regions! And that's IF I find fresh morels.

In a few days, I'll post the rest of the menu and a killer/easy recipe for truffles. Just didn't want to leave my kids alone for too long....

Contented eating,
Big Mary

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The best wines found in Pennsylvania... Who'da thought?

As much as the Handsome Venezuelan and I enjoy, cherish and thrive at La Casa Amarilla in the Poconos, the fact that wine and liquor sales are goverened by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has usually prompted us to shuttle our wines from our local wine vendor here in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Before I proceed, let me tip the turban to these lovely folk at Slope Cellars on 7th and 15th here in Brooklyn. Their entire back section of Slope Cellars is filled with "Cheap & Tasty" wines, that have rarely failed to please. All wines boxed here (as opposed to shelved) are 10 bucks or less, and we've found quite a few memorable quaffs here.

In a similar vein, I have been tickled fuschia with the new development at my "State Store" in Pennsylvania. They have instigated a new program called Chairman's Selection, using the entire state's buying power to get some great prices on some outstanding wines.

Not sure who this "Chairman" is, but I'd love to bend my elbow with him/her over a few weekends, cause this muthafuka knows wine. We've not had one bottle that disappointed us. And then there were a few that just slapped us in the face and made us sit in a corner till we felt humbled.

Here's two that deserve a long drive to find...
Australian Grant Burge Barossa Shiraz 2004
Exceptional balance with a perfect tannin presence. Just dries the palate enough to let the flavor of the wine sit there until the next sip, even if it's 5 minutes later. Full fruit, but all plum, prune and bing cherry, nothing bright and berry here. The wood flavor is so integrated you don't experience it as the oakey barrel flavor you get used to. More chocolate and earth.

This Shiraz reminded us both of a French Bordeaux 1998 St Estephe we brought back from Paris. That wine was about $28 in Paris in 2003. This beauty was $10 this weekend. I can only hope there's a case left when we return Friday night. They suggest it could handle up to 10 years of cellaring. For me, that's the greatest challenge this wine presents. Purchasing enough to have some left in 2014.

Chilean Montes Sauvignon Blanc 2006
This wine makes me want to have a restaurant just so I can make this my house white.
I've already given a bottle of this to Uptown/Downtown Eastside Lady C as well as Isla Sue. Haven't heard their opnions, but every time I open another bottle, I am infatuated all over again. It's so bright and crisp it reminds me of a Portuguese Vihno Verde. Neither the HandVen or I can decide if the slight effervensence is in our minds or our glasses. (Some have opined that the effervesence is in our heels. We decline comment.) Lots of citrus, especially grapefruit in a glass of this Sauvingnon Blanc, also fields of green grassiness. Exceptionally bright and acidic, probably too much for some, but I just find it an exceptionally gifted teenager of a wine. We bought the last two bottles on Saturday. Please order more Mr. Chairman.

I know I promised input of Chile. I'll try to get back on that track soon.

For now my pretties, Contented Eating (and Drinking)
Big Mary