Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Gallows, South End, Boston

Almost a year ago I journeyed to The Gallows in the South End for the first Boston Food Bloggers meet up.  Seemingly hundreds of Boston area food bloggers piled into its four walls, mingling, chatting and scarfing down all of the tasty bites the Gallows had on hand for us.  I had a smattering of food, and resolved that I would soon return to try more of their menu, and really learn what makes them sing.  A few days ago, I finally had an opportunity to make good on this resolve. 

The Gallows from the moment we entered, was warm, welcoming, and most of all, fun.  The staff fell right into an easy comfort, cracking jokes where appropriate, recommending favorites, and answering any ridiculous question we could come up with.  The food didn't miss a beat and only improved on the experience.

We began our meal with an order of their Simple Poutine.  Poutine, if you are unfamiliar, is Canadian in origin, a hearty serving of freshly fried potatoes topped with creamy cheese curds and a brown gravy.  The Gallows version is, in a word, addictive.  The cheese curds, just a bit tangy and salty, are the perfect topper for the crisp french fries with a nice gravy to make the whole mess that much more tempting. Honestly, with something as devilish as Poutine, you really can't go wrong.  

I had a difficult time deciding on my entree, finally settling on the slow roasted Berkshire Pork, which was served atop fresh apple sauce, and topped with a salad of escarole and chicory with a bacon vinaigrette.  The play between the bitter, crisp greens and the sweet apple sauce was a stroke of genius, with the pork playing a harmonious role between the two. I did wish that the bacon vinaigrette had a bit more bacon to it, as it was overpowered by the other flavors, and the pork was a bit on the fatty side, however to be honest, neither really made for negative feel to the dish.  

The cocktails, at The Gallows, are another high point. Libations I sampled were well balanced, each flavor described present, and all in a pleasing way.  They are, I will say, potent as well.

The Gallows is not a spot to be missed, and I am kicking myself for delaying my visit so long.  It is a spot where patrons can immediately settle in for an evening of fun, well designed drinks and delicious, comforting food.    

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Taberna De Haro, Brookline

There are those restaurants that sit, quietly, without proclamation, waiting for you to find them.  They have been around for ages, their food known to be good, classic, and dependable.  Perhaps it is their dependability that makes their presence known, but not emphatically.  Taberna De Haro in Brookline in one of these restaurants.  Opened in 1998, Taberna De Haro has stood the test of time, offering authentic Spanish Tapas to the hungry residents of Brookline and Boston.  As my sister, a lover of tapas, was in town over the holiday weekend, and she has recently returned from a trip to Spain, I couldn't think of a better spot to check out.

We began our journey of tapas with the Tortilla Espanola, a rustic dish of potatoes layered high into an omelet and then sliced into wedges.  This was a simple and clean preparation, with little adornment.  The result was a satisfying intro into our tapas meal.

Next were Piquillos Rellenos, roasted red peppers, stuffed with Branada and then pan fried.  Branada is an ingredient I haven't been introduced to previously- so I thought I'd provide a little explanation here for anyone else who hasn't tried it.  Branada, in its basest form, is an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil.  Here it was stuffed into those wonderful peppers which, when roasted take on a beautiful earthy and tangy flavor.  The Branada was a bit grainy for my liking, with a tongue feel similar to light sand, but the flavors were lovely together.  

Next we tried the Alcachofas salteadas, sauteed artichoke hearts.  This was another simple preparation of tender artichoke hearts, quartered and then sauteed in olive oil and garlic.  The beauty of this dish was in its incredible simplicity- a showing of respect for the ingredients used.

Habas con jamon were delivered next, and were a standout of the evening-though the menu named fava beans in the dish, delivered were lima beans.  The difference was inconsequential however as the combination of the hearty beans with the wonderful smokey richness of the ham was a perfect combination.  It was a dish that we all enjoyed multiple helpings of, and were sad to see when it was done.

Next to our table was my stand by tapas order: Gambas al ajillo: a cast iron pan, sizzling with hot oil, and full of small shrimp and a healthy dose of garlic.  Taberna de Haro's offering did not disappoint with full flavors coming through, but not overpowering the delicate flavor of the fresh shrimp. 

Rounding out our table of food were the Chorizo a la Sidra, chorizo sausage braised in sparkling cider, and Ensalada de endivias con cabrales, a wonderful salad made simply of endive and blue cheese crumbles.  The chorizo was a good dish, though I felt that the cider reduced was too sweet for the sausage and overpowered it's spicy nature.  The salad, however, was perfect.  Bitter endive, crisp and refreshing, paired with tangy blue cheese was a wonderful addition to some of the heavier dishes we enjoyed.  

I was really impressed with Taberna de Haro, though from the rave reviews I've heard around town I knew that that was to be expected.  The beauty of their food is in the great simplicity with which it is prepared.  It is the confidence they show in their end result to not muddle every dish with extraneous garnish, or complicated ingredients.  Taberna de Haro graces every table with the feel of what a meal in Spain would be, full of flavor and life.           

Monday, November 28, 2011

King Arthur Flour Potato, Onion and Dill Crackers

So Thanksgiving is's sad really, but the end of Thanksgiving marks the beginning of my favorite month of the year so it's a bittersweet ending for me.  However, of course Thanksgiving tends to last long past the day itself, especially if you're measuring in leftovers.  The one thing that I always find that we make far too much of is mashed potatoes.  Now, I'd never complain about too many mashed 'taters but at some point the question becomes- what to do with them before they spoil?  This year I was bound and determined to come up with a good use. 

Flipping through what has become my go to guide for all baked goods, the King Arthur Flour cook book, I found a recipe for Potato, Dill and Onion Crackers that used pre mashed potatoes.  I was sold immediately.

2 cups (8½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. dried dill weed ( I used fresh and chopped it fine)
1 Tbsp. onion powder
4 Tbsp. (½ stick, 2 ounces) butter
1 cup (10 ounces) mashed potatoes, or 1 medium russet potato (about 8 ounces) plus 3 Tbsp. (1½ ounces) salad oil and 1 tsp. salt (see Note)
¼ cup (2 ounces) water
~ Coarse salt for sprinkling

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, dill, and onion powder. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork until the mixture looks like small crumbs. Add the mashed or roasted potatoes, mixing to combine everything evenly. Sprinkle the water over the mixture a tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork to distribute it evenly. Continue adding water until the dough just comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the dough as thin as possible (about ⅛ inch thick) on a lightly floured surface or on a sheet of parchment paper. Prick the dough all over with a fork, brush with water, then sprinkle with coarse salt. Cut the dough into strips with a ruler and a pizza cutter or fluted pastry wheel. You can make whatever shape and size you like: small squares, diamonds, or rectangles. Any scraps or odd shapes can be squeezed together, then rolled again.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased baking sheet, or slide the parchment with the cut crackers on it onto your baking pan. Bake the crackers for 18 to 22 minutes, until they begin to take on a light golden-brown color. Remove the pan from the oven and put it on a rack to cool the crackers. They will finish crisping as they cool.

These crackers had a delightful onion dill flavor, and a certain unexpected creaminess from the potatoes.  I rolled a couple batches a bit too thick and they weren't as crisp as they should have been, but otherwise they were delicious.  Think a baked potato loaded with onions, sour cream and fresh dill- a wonderful combination!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Joy Bauer's Ginger Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

I am a rather ridiculous fan of the Today Show.  Not in a creepy way or anything, but I love them, I love the reporting style, I love their fun pieces, I love the banter between the hosts.  I love the Today Show.  So when I was contacted by Joy Bauer's people to join her Food Cures Network I was all in.  Joy Bauer is the nutrition expert for the Today Show and in her book Food Cures she looks at different foods and which can actually help those suffering from a host of ailments, and which can prevent new ones from appearing.  Through each section, she provides lists of the foods that can be used to help combat different concerns, and helpful recipes to incorporate these foods into your daily life.  For example- there is a section on Healthy Hair and Ms. Bauer suggests  that foods rich in B vitamins, Biotin, Iron Rich Protein, Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, and Zinc are best for healthy hair.  She follows this with suggestions for fruits like Pineapple, Tangerines and Mangoes, veggies such as Kohlrabi, Soybeans and Rutabagas, and of course lean proteins, sea foods, grains, nuts etc. And then finally, she creates meal plans to best aid in menu planning.

As I have been flipping through the book, a number of recipes stood out to me, but none so much as her Muffins with a Mission. She states that these muffins can aid in Eye Health, Arthritis, Migraines, Hair, and Cancer Prevention.  Even more exciting for me, they were healthy, ringing in at just 131 calories per muffin and 5 grams of fat, and were made with whole wheat flour for sustainability.  They also contain Pumpkin, so I immediately thought they would be perfect for the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend-when quick breakfasts and snacks are in high demand.  

Ginger Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

cooking spray
1/2 cup(s) sugar, brown (packed)
1 1/2 cup(s) flour, whole-wheat pastry, (if you can't find whole wheat pastry flour, may substitute regular whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon ginger, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg(s)
1 cup(s) milk, fat-free
1/2 cup(s) pumpkin, puree
1/4 cup(s) oil, canola
1/2 teaspoon orange peel (zest), grated


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly spray 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

3. In a small bowl, beat the egg for 30 seconds, until foamy. Add the milk, pumpkin, oil, and orange zest. Beat well. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and stir until the flour mixture is moistened.

4. Fill the muffin cups three-quarters full with batter. Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops spring back when you touch them with a finger. Turn out muffins onto a wire rack to cool. Once cool, you can freeze the muffins, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 months.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes with Apple CIder Syrup

Sometimes life just gets away from me. Over the past few months I feel like I have been running non stop, the hours running into days, days into weeks, and weeks into months. I realized that I haven't taken a full week off of work since last December, so I thought, when better to take some time off than the week of one of my very favorite holidays-Thanksgiving? So here I sit, the week stretching ahead of me, with the promises of relaxation, family, friends and food- could it be any better?

I am fully in the holiday
spirit at this point, embracing all things winter, Thanksgiving and yes, even Christmas, awaiting more snow flakes, and cozying up with hearty dishes. Sunday afternoon I found myself craving some breakfast foods for lunch, so I indulged my craving and found a recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes.

Low Fat Pumpkin Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp canola oil
1 cup nonfat milk
1/3 cup pure pumpkin
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Combine egg, oil, milk and pumpkin in a small bowl. Stir pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients. Leave to stand for five minutes.
For each pancake, scoop 1/4 cup of batter on to a hot griddle or nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray. Turn pancakes when bubbles appear and edges are cooked, after about 2 minutes. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes on second side.

Makes 8-10 pancakes.

While the pancake batter was resting I turned my attention to what I'd be topping them with. I knew that plain old maple syrup, while delicious, wasn't going to do these guys justice. I wanted something to really celebrate the season, something that would serve as a perfect compliment to the beautiful pumpkin. I decided that nothing would do better than Apple Cider Syrup.

2 cups of Apple Cider
2 t pumpkin pie spice

Pour the cider into a small pot, add the pumpkin pie spice and set over medium high heat. Allow to boil, uncovered, until the liquid reduces into a thick syrup. Remove from the heat.

Pour over a stack of piping hot pancakes.

The flavors here were exactly what I was hoping. The pancakes were rich in pumpkin flavor, and the syrup had the beautiful sweet tart flavor of apples that brought the two together into beautiful autumn harmony. These were easy to whip up, and since they contain many of the same ingredients as other Thanksgiving dishes, they are a perfect Thanksgiving morning breakfast to enjoy while watching that fabulous Macy's Parade!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shrimp Cocktail, with Fresh, Homemade Cocktail Sauce: Another Perfect Appetizer for Thanksgiving

It always astounds me how much planning goes into Thanksgiving dinner- it's wonderful, awesome, joyful planning, but it's planning.  I think what really gets me is that it's planning for a dinner that by and large, the majority of America eats the same things for- Turkey, Stuffing, Potatoes (always a variety), Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, and something green.  Right?  Something along those lines?  Sure- we may vary up different facets of it, but for the most part it's a pretty standard meal. However, every year, about two weeks before Thanksgiving, my mom starts the menu planning.  Don't get me wrong- I totally understand-somehow even with the skeleton set, it is still a lot of details.  The biggest question is usually- what to do as a starter?  Yesterday I talked about Butternut Squash Bisque for an appetizer- and believe me it works. However, my family is more toying with the idea of shrimp for a starter course this year.  As soon as it was mentioned my mind went immediately to chilled, refreshing shrimp, dunked into a perfectly spicy cocktail sauce.  Heaven....

Of course, a bad cocktail sauce can ruin the whole thing right?  Pasty, flavorless, or even monotoned with one dominant flavor and shrimp cocktail goes from phenomenal to forgettable.  I decided to make my own so I could be sure of the right flavors as a test run.  I wanted really bright flavor, with a fair amount of contrast to it.

1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
2-3 chopped cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons extra spicy horseradish
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup chopped tomato (fresh or canned)
salt & pepper

Add all ingredients into a food processor, blender or bowl to accommodate an immersion blender.  Combine until the ingredients are finely pureed.  Chill for for an hour (+), and serve with a plethora of cooked, chilled shrimp.  

While the color of this cocktail sauce is a bit, off, it's flavor is bright and spicy, full of freshness from the dill and the lemon juice and a bit of sweetness from the onion. After the shrimp were done, I started looking for other things to start dipping into this sauce.  Definitely a perfect start to a big Thanksgiving feast!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Butternut Squash Bisque- A Perfect Thanksgiving Appetizer!

I set aside every Sunday to spend in my kitchen.  Life has been a bit crazy the last few months, and with all of the running around, I am not always guaranteed quality kitchen time during the week, so I set aside Sundays for nothing but me, my special "cooking" play list, and my fridge full of groceries.  Often I make soups to last the week for lunch, or I'll bake to my little hearts content, trying to make myself more comfortable with the processes involved with baking.  This week, after my disappointing visit to Garden at the Cellar to try their Butternut Squash Bisque, I couldn't get the idea of rich, creamy soup out of my mind.  I decided that making my own batch, to my own specifications was the only way to remedy the situation.

I began with half of a butternut squash- those suckers are pretty big, and I knew that I don't need to be eating a ton of creamy bisque's.  After slicing it in half, peeling the outside and then removing the seeds, I cut the squash down into 1.5 inch pieces, or there abouts.  I placed them onto a baking sheet, preheated the oven to 400 degrees, and then tossed the squash with 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped sage, 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or enough to evenly coat the squash) and about 3 tablespoons of Maple Syrup-basically just a sparse drizzle to give a hint of maple-y sweetness.  I roasted the squash for about 20 minutes, until the pieces were fork tender.  I do need to note- you want to watch these pretty carefully- because of the sugar in the syrup there is a high risk of burning them and ending up with a pretty foul flavor, but if you keep an eye on them- it will work perfectly.

While the squash cooked I made a quick "stock" from 1/3 cup chopped sweet onion, 4 cloves of chopped garlic, another 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage, and a bottle of Pumpkin beer.  I began with a medium size sauce pan over medium high heat and melted 2 teaspoons of butter, and then added the onion and the garlic.  As they began to sweat I added the sage, salt and pepper.  Then finally, I poured in the beer and left it to boil and reduce.  About 10 minutes later it had reduced by 1/4 and had great flavor of sweet onions, sage and the lovely pumpkin beer. 

The grossest looking photo ever- but it illustrates my point
Once the squash had finished roasting, I transferred it to my food processor, and then strained in the beer stock, and pureed the two together.  Once finely pureed I then went the extra step that I feel is so necessary to create a good soup- I ran the liquid through my chinoise- a cone shaped strainer made of fine mesh.  Because the strainer is so fine, it takes a fair amount of added effort to push the liquid through, but what finally pushes through is silky smooth.  I reheated this final liquid on the stove and added just 1/4 cup of heavy cream while it cooked. 

My final step was to create a little adornment and combined even parts of sour cream and apple cider to make a perfect drizzle for my bowl of bisque.

The result was a soup rich in flavor of with the wonderful fall flavor of the squash, a subtle sweetness, those traces of wonderful warming spices of sage and cinnamon and nutmeg, and a creamy richness that warmed my soul.  This is what I had been dreaming about. 

Butternut squash bisque is simple to make, and would make a wonderful appetizer for Thanksgiving.  It could be made a head, read a couple of days ahead, and then frozen to be heated up on the day when so many other dishes are being created.  It is very rich and decadent, so a little goes a long way...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maple Cornbread

Last weekend, as I geared up to watch my beloved Patriots, I got a hankering (yes a hankering- I said it) for some chili.  So I whipped up a batch, but as I was considering my big pot of spicy goodness as it simmered on the stove, I realized another craving- good, crumbly corn bread.  Now, under normal circumstances, I am not a cornbread fan. Often I find it to have an odd bitter after taste, or it's too greasy, or it just has an awkward mouth feel.  However, when done correctly- cornbread is simple and delicious.  The corn meal makes for a crumbly texture, the flavor steeped in corn and butter, and the overall affect light and fluffy.  It's real beauty is in its versatility- it can stand up to the hearty spice of a good chili, or be simply adorned with just a pat of butter and allow it's simplicity to shine. 

Knowing how wonderful cornbread could be when made correctly, I set out for a recipe that wouldn't disappoint.  I turned, of course, to my King Arthur Flour cookbook- I swear-that book is a godsend!  I found a recipe for Maple Cornbread within its folds and immediately decided it would be worth a try.  

Maple Cornbread, from King Arthur Flour

1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 cup (4 3/4 ounces) yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon (3/8 ounce) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) milk, whole, skim or 2%, your choice
1/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) maple syrup
1/4 cup (2 ounces) melted butter
2 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Lightly grease or oil an 8 x 8-inch square or 9-inch round baking pan.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt until thoroughly combined. In a small bowl, or in a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, melted butter and eggs. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cornbread for about 20 to 25 minutes, until it's lightly browned and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove it from the oven, and serve it warm with butter and additional maple syrup, or with a main dish -- red beans and rice are nice! 

I really enjoyed this cornbread.  The maple flavor was very light, but it did cure the dreaded bitter flavor.  I paired this with a very spicy chili and loved its texture and homey goodness next to the big flavors, and I also topped it with a piece of griddled ham and an over easy egg for a wonderful breakfast for dinner meal.  I think this might just become my go to corn bread!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Catalyst, Kendall Square, Cambridge

As some of you may have heard, I have recently begun writing a weekly column for Boston Magazine's on line food edition Chowder, called Taste Test.  The premise behind Taste Test is for me to check out restaurants soon after they open, or launch a new menu, or make some other substantial change to their offering, choose a dish that best encompasses their food philosophy and report back to you all- the viewing audience.  It has been a truly wonderful experience to work with the team at Boston Magazine, not to mention collaborating with such an amazing piece of Boston culture.  Boston Magazine is awesome, truly and completely.

Last week I made my way over to Catalyst, a newly opened restaurant in Kendall Square.  Catalyst was opened by Chef William Kovel, formerly of the late great Aujourd'hui in the Four Seasons which shuttered several years ago.  Kovel's reputation from that time led him to work as consulting chef at 28 Degrees in the South End for some time, and now finally brought him to his own space- the realization of many dreams coming true.  I had the opportunity to meet with Chef Kovel last December, just as the space for Catalyst had been acquired and he was mulling chair decisions and table top looks.  I toured the empty space and he marked where each section of the restaurant would fall- the partially open kitchen, the massive bar, the conference room spaces....his vision was clear, and it was evident that this restaurant would be a treasure.  When it opened last month I was thrilled to finally get to see the reality of the space, and the creations of his menu.

We began by splitting a salad billed as:  Arugula, Endive, Asian Pear, Walnut, Berkshire Blue Cheese, Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette.  Understanding our desire to share the salad, it was delivered to our table on separate plates, making what could be an awkward venture, easy and appealing.  The salad was absolutely delicious.  Peppery Arugula and lightly spicy Endive paired with sweet pear and tangy blue cheese created a dish that touched on every flavor sensation.  The combination resulted in a crisp, refreshing salad, but which packed a full and addictive punch. This salad would end up being the star of the evening.

Next we also shared a second appetizer, the Crispy Quail, served with Black Mission Fig, Gastique, Mizuna, and an Autumn Berry Jam.  Delicate as a quail is, this was served on a single dish and we were left to divvy it ourselves.  Though I appreciated the touch on the salad, here it would have been difficult to split the quail with finesse.  Quail has a very strong flavor, similar to the dark meat of a chicken, rich and gamey.  Paired with the figs and jam the sweetness was a nice contrast, though I felt that the gastique was lost in the mix.  The mizuna, a Japanese Water Green, provided a nice relief with its peppery flavor.  Though the quail wasn't as crisp as anticipated, the dish showcased, once again, a strong suit of Chef Kovel's- layering flavor components to create "perfect bites" when all are brought together.

I dined on the Garganelli, Chicken Oysters, Bacon, and Black Truffle Butter for my main course.  I'll refer you to my thoughts found on for the full review.

Finally, we ended the evening with the Bosc Pear Tart, House Made Crème Fraiche Ice Cream, and Candied Almonds for dessert.  Here, again, Kovel showed off his skill of layering components.  The tart itself was tender and moist, with butter and pear flavors in even distribution.  It was decadent and sweet, the contrast was brought in with the slightly tangy Creme Fraiche ice cream, and then the wonderful and satisfying crunch of the almonds.  

Catalyst is absolutely an experience.  The space is warm and welcoming, and the staff, for the most part, are knowledgeable and helpful.  Kovel's presence is felt in every dish, and throughout the space as he wandered from station to station ensuring proper execution.  Are there missteps to be had?  Absolutely, the restaurant has only just celebrated its one month birthday, however over all, it is apparent, from the moment of entry, that attention to detail is chief and that the restaurant as a whole will attempt to dazzle their patrons.     

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mauritson Wines: A Pairing Dinner at Legal Seafoods

A few evenings ago I had the opportunity to share in a truly notable experience.  Clay Mauritson, owner of Mauritson's wines, hosted a dinner party at Legal Seafood's in Park Plaza.  I have never had an opportunity to share a meal with someone with so much raw knowledge of wine, and I was thrilled to experience all that the evening had to offer.

Mauritson Wines was founded under two decades ago, and entered the Boston market just 10 years ago.  It was founded by our host, Clay Mauritson, who, after growing up as part of a grape growing family, found his calling in turning those lovely berries into wine.  Today, the Mauritson family still honors their families legacy of growing grapes for a variety of wine makers, but now also supply their fruit into their own label- a true family business.

We began our evening of dining sampling with a trio of hors d'oeuvres, a mini tuna tartare served a top a slice of cucumber and mixed with avocado and a white soy sauce, a stuffed mushroom filled with sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese, and finally a king crab tartlette served with a yuzo aioli.  These were paired with Mauritson's Sauvignon Blanc, from the Dry Creek Valley in California vintage 2010.  I love a good Sauvignon Blanc, and this was a perfect accompaniment for the small bites of food.  It was crisp, with a scent of apple, and without any hint of oak, resulting in an incredibly pure, clean flavor.  Pairing a bite of the tuna tartare with a sip of the wine resulted in strengthening the flavor of the cucumber, a taste that had otherwise gotten lost under the mound of dense fish. 

Our next course was poached cod, served with a tamarind jam and pureed parsnips.  This dish was served with a glass of Mauritson Chardonnay, with grapes from the Alexander Valley, vintage 2010.  Normally, I am not a Chardonnay fan, I find them either far too dry, too heavy in oak flavors, or too laden with a heavy buttery flavor which decreases its appeal as a refreshing white wine.  The Mauritson Chardonnay contained bright notes of pear and apple, which served to dull the creamy flavor to a perfect resonance.  It was a rich wine, a great pairing with the very light cod, and with very little after taste resulting in an extremely clean finish.  Aside from the pairing here the cod was very lightly seasoned, but when paired with both the garlicky parsnips and the very sweet onion jam, the flavors enhanced the subtleties of the fish and resulted in a good bite.

Our second course was seared Salmon, served atop saffron lobster mushroom risotto accompanied by a black truffle and tarragon compound butter.  This was served with a beautiful glass of Malbec, bottled under the Rockpile name, in Rockpile area, vintage 2007.  Often it is considered a "risk" to pair seafood with red wines, I think we are trained to think that fish is "light" and therefore really only goes with a white wine.  However this certainly isn't the case.  Pairing a full flavored fish like Salmon with a bright red wine, such as the Rockpile Malbec was delicious.  The Malbec was incredibly smooth with a rounded full flavor, not over powering, and perfect to pair with the salmon whose natural flavor was enhanced by the earthy truffles and light acid of lemon zest.  This was an artful pairing, and one I'm glad was presented.

Our next course was paired with two wines, the Mauritson Zinfandel, from the Dry Creek Valley, vintage 2009, and the Mauritson "Clough" Cabernet Sauvignon, from Sonoma, vintage 2007.  We were served fork tender "Barbacoa" Braised Beef Short Ribs, which celebrated fall by being served atop black garlic mashed potatoes and a host of roasted root vegetables.  The two wines were as different as could be.  The Zinfandel is Mauritson's flagship wine, and it was easy to see why.  Full bodied, slightly sweet, with a wonderfully jammy scent, this was a wine that I could easily sip daily.  It tasted the way I anticipate Zinfandel to taste, and in that, it was a comforting drink.  While I found that the flavor was lost somewhat with the dish it was served with, I would gladly serve this with a spicier entree to allow for a wonderful harmony.  The Cabernet Sauvignon is what is known as a single soil wine.  The Mauritson family is so in touch with their land that they have pinpointed an area where only soil sub sect Clough is found.  They have chosen that spot to grow their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, exposing them to that limited flavor profile.  The result was crisp red, a slight scent of mint, and dry personality, which paired perfectly with the slightly sweet short ribs.

Finally we were served the Rockpile label, Independence wine, from the Rockpile area, vintage 2008.  This was served with a dark chocolate bread pudding, drizzled with a cherry caramel sauce and sprinkled with a marcona almond brittle.  The dessert was a decadent as it sounds- deep rich chocolate, cut with the sauce and punched up with the textural contrast of almonds and brittle.  Definitely a wonderful end to the meal.  The wine, unfortunately, was not my favorite of the evening.  It was sweet as a dessert wine should be, but contained an odd smoke flavor that I had difficulty placing.  When paired with the sweet dessert my taste buds were able to concentrate on the sugars more, but on its own the flavor was a bit distracting.  

I was highly impressed with Clay Mauritson, not only for his knowledge and passion for wine or his gumption for starting a wine label at 23 (or there abouts) but for his production of incredible wines.  A staunch opposer to Chardonnays previously, I will be seeking out a bottle of the Mauritson.  I may be stocking my wine cabinet with a few bottles of the Zinfandel as well...I would urge you to give these varietals a try- Mauritson Wine is a family owned and operated business that produces a solid line of delicious wines.   

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanksgiving Style Meatball Subs!

So yesterday I updated you guys about my twist on Cranberry Sauce- adding lots of different spices and herbs to give it a unique twist without destroying the integrity of real cranberry sauce, today- how about a twist on that classic Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich??  Really now, is there anything better than a good old fashioned roasted turkey sandwich on white bread, with mayo, stuffing, and a little cranberry sauce?  Honestly, in my world there isn't.  So after I completed my Not So Average Cranberry Sauce, I turned my attention to using it to twist up my favorite sandwich.

Last year I made some delicious Thanksgiving Meatballs with a pan dripping gravy dip.  I served them at a late fall party and they were really well received.  I decided to make them again, but instead make full size (baseball size) meat balls.

1 lb ground turkey meat

1 1/2 tbsp dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 small apple, chopped
2 tsp chopped garlic (or to your liking)
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp fennel seed
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1 egg
1 -2 cups breadcrumbs 

In small bowl combine the dry ingredients for the meat balls listed above, with the chopped fruits and garlic. In a separate plastic container, place the turkey meat, and crack the egg into this container. Add the bread crumb mixture a little at a time, combining as you go until the turkey meat is the right consistency. It should still be somewhat wet, able to hold shape, but with enough visible breadcrumbs.

Once the breadcrumbs are fully incorporated into the meat, form large balls, about the size of a baseball, between your hands. Place the meat balls on a cookie tray and cook in a pre heated 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. 

Once the meatballs are fully cooked, set aside to cool.  Then prepare your favorite sandwich bread (or hoagie roll). Load with sharp cheddar cheese (I used a spreadable version), pile in your meatballs (I sliced mine to make them more manageable) and then add your cranberry sauce!  I have popped these into a 400 degree oven to toast them up, and I've grilled them on a pan griddle to make them warm and melty- both are delicious alternatives! 

These sandwiches have all the flavor of Thanksgiving, with a 1/4 of the effort.  Thanksgiving leftover sandwich in February?  Don't mind if I do!

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...