Thursday, April 26, 2012

Almond Vanilla PANNA COTTA

Panna Cotta (Cooked Cream) is an Italian dessert that is easy to make and great for spring. It has a custard-like texture but contains no eggs, so using good cream is essential. There are so many recipe variations, but it traditionally consists of cream, sugar, vanilla or almond extract, and gelatin. If using all heavy cream is too much for you, you may use ½ cream and ½ milk, ½ milk and ½ butter milk, or use a nondairy product such as almond milk or soy milk. It all works well. My recipe is in the middle of the fat spectrum, with 50% cream and 50% milk. This is a good way to start if you want to experiment more.

Wine suggestions:  A fine, sweet sparkling wine, such as Moscato d’ Asti from Piedmont, or a late-harvest Riesling (Spätlese).

PANNA COTTA with Almond-Vanilla Flavor
Makes 4 six-ounce glass cups or ramekins

2 teaspoons (1 package) unflavored gelatin
1 cup whole milk (bring to room temperature)
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
Fresh seasonal berries


In a medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and stir well to blend. Set aside until the gelatin is completely absorbed.

In a small saucepan, combine cream and sugar over moderate heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Do not boil the cream.

Remove from heat, then slowly pour the cream into the milk and gelatin mixture. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, and whisk to completely dissolve the gelatin. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a large glass measuring cup or clean bowl.

Pour the mixture into 4 glass cups or ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set -- at least 2 hours. Serve Panna Cotta with fresh berries of your choice.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spanish White Wines -- ALBARIÑO, VIURA

Spanish White Wines -- ALBARIÑO and VIURA

Albariño, a fashionable white wine in Spain, is also increasingly popular in the U.S. The wine, known as el vino del mar (“wine of the sea”), is made from a small, lemon-yellow to pale green grape that grows mostly in the cool coastal climates of northwestern Spain – particularly Galicia’s Rias Baixas – and northern Portugal’s Vinho Verde region. It is thought to be related to Riesling.

The golden-colored wine has aromas of fruit and flowers, and is known for being well-balanced and light, with a refreshing crispness/acidity. What I like about this wine is its excellent affinity for seafood, particularly grilled or steamed fish and shellfish, and raw clams or oysters on the half shell.

The 2010 Burgans Albariño Rias Baixas (above on left), is delicious, with notes of lemon, peach, mineral and a touch of tropical fruit on the nose. It sports good body, with a savory yet exotic disposition.

90 points Wine Enthusiast: “Simply delicious white wines with lip-smacking freshness, bright peach and apple flavors, and clarity from front to back. It’s a little leesy but a lot more crisp and oceanic, with a well-cut body and mild citrus undertones throughout” (11/2011). Also 90 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate: "The Burgans Albarino is a perennial Best Buy in these pages....”

2011 Castell De Raimat, is in fact not from Rias Baixas, but from Catalonia’s western-most grape growing region, Costers Del Segre. Raimat is owned by Cordoniu, the big, long-time Cava producer that even has a winery in California. I enjoyed its fresh, light floral and fruit qualities.

Viura (aka Macabeo) is another popular white wine in Spain. It is thought to have originated in the Middle East, a probable scenario given that it grows well in hot, dry climates such as North Africa. It is typically used in young wines, Cava, and for blending (in reds as well as whites). The wines are light, dry and aromatic, with mild acidity.

The 2009 Marques de Montañana has a floral bouquet and pale straw color. Its mild flavor goes well with almost all kinds of food, but especially with Tapas and Paella. I just had this wine with steamed chicken breast with a light lemon cream sauce.

2010 Burgans Albariño Rias Baixas, $12.99 at K&L Wines

2011 Castell De Raimat Albariño, $9.99 at Whole Foods Market

 2009 MARQUES DE MONTAÑANA Viura, $3.99 at Trader Joe’s (amazingly good for the price)

Baby Spinach Salad with Warm Dressing

 It was very warm last Sunday in my neighborhood. The nearby farmers market was full of fresh green vegetables... so many that I was tempted to buy all of them, and almost did. I bought a beautiful bagful of spinach that was only five bucks, plus some Thai basil, baby broccoli, Chinese spinach, spring scallions, radishes, peas, beets.... I think I have a problem! Anyway, I made this spinach salad for lunch as soon as I came back home. Tomatoes are not  in season yet, so I used dried cranberries. Also I added some sliced kumquats after I took the photographs. It was so good!

Baby  Spinach Salad with Warm Dressing – Insalata di Spinaci
4 servings

1 bag (12 ounces) cleaned baby spinach
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms (4-5 ounces)
5- 6 ounces fine smoked bacon (e.g., applewood-smoked), sliced into about ¼ inch pieces
½ cup walnuts, lightly roasted and roughly chopped
½ cup dried cranberries
4-5 ounces dry-aged Ricotta cheese (Ricotta Salata), or Feta cheese if you prefer.

Mustard vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or honey mustard
1 clove of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of red wine or raspberry vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
    Freshly grated black pepper

·         Cook the bacon in a small skillet over low-medium heat about 4-5 minutes or until crisp. Drain the fat and transfer bacon to small plate. Set aside.

·          In a small saucepan, mix together the mustard, garlic and vinegar. Add olive oil and black pepper and whisk briefly. Warm up the dressing over low heat. Set aside and keep warm.

·          In a large mixing bowl, toss together the spinach, onion, mushrooms, bacon, walnuts and cranberries. Add the dressing and toss all ingredients together. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer to serving bowl or divide onto individual plates. Shave the ricotta cheese using a vegetable peeler and sprinkle on top of the salad as garnish.

 Note: In summer, you may use cherry tomatoes instead of dried cranberries.

This is Chinese spinach, which I didn't know until recently. You can eat it raw, but it is great in a stir-fry, or in noodles or soup.....

Produce from the Menlo Park Farmers Market, Sunday April 22, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Linguine with Baby Broccoli and Mushrooms

I have been seeing this tiny broccoli in the nearby farmers market. They are very tender and have pretty yellow flowers, but they don't smell and taste like the typical baby broccoli. It has a mild and delicious flavor. I enjoy using it in pasta, stir-fry, soup, etc. Pasta dishes are part of my typical dinner repertory, but these days I mostly like to make it with just a couple of seasonal vegetables as the starring ingredients.

With the weather really warming up in the Bay Area, it is time to enjoy light and crispy chilled Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco -- perfect with vegetable pasta.

 Heat olive oil in a skillet. Saute chopped onion and a couple cloves of minced garlic for few minutes.
Stir in the baby broccoli and sliced mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Do not over cook vegetables.
Cooking tip for fresh vegetables: Cook quickly over medium high-heat.

Serve with freshly-grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Crepes with Strawberries and Sabayon

Strawberries are in season. They are not quite sweet yet in California, but getting sweeter every week. This is the first dessert I learned to make (along with creme caramel) when I was in culinary training many years ago. It was a very popular dessert in the restaurant where I was working, and we made a lot of them in spring. Plus, I remember when I made it at home for my sisters they loved it. It was the first time I received a compliment from my sisters... so this dessert is a bit nostalgic for me.

Top with whipped cream, any remaining Sabayon filling, or pureed fresh strawberries, then one or two reserved strawberry halves.


Crêpes with Strawberries and Sabayon – Crêpes Fourrées aux Fraises
(Makes 8 filled crepes)

For Crêpes (makes about 12 eight-inch crepes):
¾ cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar
 pinch of salt
2 whole eggs
1 cup of milk
1 ½ tablespoons butter, melted
melted butter or light vegetable oil for the pan

For Sabayon cream:
½ cup sweet white wine (e.g., Marsala, Muscat)
¼ cup sugar
4 large egg yolks

1 pint strawberries (or more, if making a puree for topping)
1 tablespoon Kirsch (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
whipped cream for topping (optional)

Rinse the strawberries and pat dry. Halve 4 to 8 small strawberries and save for top of the crepes. Dice the rest and place in a bowl, then sprinkle with Kirsch and sugar and mix well. Set aside.

Making the Sabayon:
In a medium bowl, whisk together wine and sugar. Add egg yolks and whisk the mixture briefly.
Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and whisk vigorously until the mixture becomes frothy and stiff (keep whisking... you may slow down, but try not to stop until peaks form). The sabayon is ready when the mixture is thick and holds its shape when you lift the whisk.

Pour the sabayon over the diced strawberries in the bowl and mix well. Place the bowl in refrigerator while making crepes.

Making the Crêpes:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Then add briefly-beaten whole eggs and whisk well. Add the milk until the mixture becomes smooth (you may do this part in a blender). Strain the mixture through sieve into a clean bowl. Add the melted butter and mix.

Using a nonstick frying pan (about 8-inch diameter) over low-medium heat, wipe the butter or oil onto inside of pan using a folded paper towel. Pour in about a 2-ounce ladle (1/8 cup) of the crepe batter, spreading quickly to cover bottom of pan. Cook about 40-45 seconds or until the crepe moves/slides inside the pan. Turn the crepe using a small spatula or a chop stick and cook about 10-15 seconds more. Place the cooked crepe on a clean large plate. Repeat the process to cook all crepes. You can stack one crepe over another without any paper or foil between.

Place about 2 tablespoons of the strawberry/sabayon filling in the middle of a crepe, fold over crepe onto the filling about 1 inch from left and right, and roll up from an un-folded side to make a log. Top with whipped cream, any remaining sabayon filling, or pureed fresh strawberries, then one or two reserved strawberry halves.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Simple Lamb Stew - Cordero al Chilindrón

    When I think about food, the first thing to come to mind is what's in season. I grew up in a big city where summer was hot and humid and winter was cold and dry. It is nothing like living in California. We had to dress differently and eat differently, of course. But tomatoes and cucumbers were not available in winter and strawberries were available only for a couple of months in spring; unlike here, where these are available almost year-round. I often miss enjoying deliciously ripe fruits and vegetables in each season, and also the different kinds of seafood at different times of the year.

Lamb is delicious in spring with its mild and tender meat. This is a very simple Spanish stew with lamb, onion, bell pepper, garlic and a little chili pepper. It's all cooked in one pot and doesn't take a long time. I don't eat a lot of meat so I added some carrots.

This dish is good with Syrah/Shiraz, Garnacha (middle of p. 2), Tempranillo and Zinfandel (top of p. 2), which is grown only in California.

Cordero al Chilindrón: Spanish Lamb Stew
Serves 4

About 1 1/2 pounds chuck or leg of lamb, trimmed of fat as much as possible and cut into bite-sized chunks
  salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika, preferably Spanish
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, seeded and diced. You may use 1 cup of roasted pimiento in jar (12 oz.)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
1/4 cup ham or cured pork (e.g., pancetta), diced (optional)
1 carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2-inch (optional)

Season the lamb with salt, pepper, paprika and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside for 15 minutes.
In a large pot or skillet, heat remaining oil and sautee the lamb over medium heat 4-5 minutes or until the meat is lightly browned.

Add the onion, pepper and garlic, and sautee for a couple minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, chili and ham. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Place a lid slightly off over the pot, so the steam can escape. Stirring occasionally, cook for 15-20 minutes
or until the meat becomes tender. Do not overcook -- spring lamb is pretty tender. Serve with steamed rice or country bread. Garnish with freshly-picked mint!

Monday, April 2, 2012


Syrah and other wines (e.g., Grenache, Viognier) typical of the Rhône River region of Southern France are gaining in popularity in the U.S. Among the most popular is Syrah or Shiraz (Syrah is called Shiraz in Australia and goes by either name in many other regions).

Syrah is full of character and famous for its majestic longevity. Some of the best and most distinctive Syrahs are Côte Rôtie and Hermitage, from the northern part of the Rhône River, south of Lyons.

Deep purple and tannic when young, Syrah has strong tar and peppery flavors. The wine matures slowly and becomes full-bodied with more depth and complexity as it ages. It has been the choice for pairing with game meats (gibier) in France for centuries. Australia has been producing a large amount of Shiraz in recent years, and they often blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon and other red wine grapes.

In California, Syrah/Shiraz wine production has increased dramatically, particularly in the Central Coast region. Most of the wineries are relatively small but produce wonderful wines, albeit somewhat expensive, due to the smaller production. I recently attended the Rhône Rangers wine tasting event (Rhône-style wines by American wine makers) in San Francisco and tasted many wonderful, well-made wines, but the retail price of many is $30 or more per bottle – not an everyday wine.
However, I recently found a good Shiraz from Australia made by the famous Côte Rôtie wine maker Michael Chapoutier in collaboration with Napa wine distributor Anthony Terlato.
The 2009 Terlato-Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier  Victoria ($13.99 at K & L Wines) contains 5% Viognier for a bright, spicy and elegant Aussie Shiraz. It is different from typical Australian Shiraz, and I enjoyed the wine and its affordable price.

My other dinner wine choice is the 2010 Sainte-Croix Syrah-Merlot ($4.99 at Trader Joe’s), which is a 50/50 Syrah-Merlot blend. It is a Vin de Pays (one level above table wine) d’Oc (from the South of France) but well balanced. This is a great value in a Syrah... and good with spring lamb at this time of year.

FLAVORS/AROMAS associated with Syrah wine:
Ripe blackberry, black current, plums with a hint of smokiness, blueberry jam, black cherry, prune, spice/pepper, olives, roasted nut, oak, tar.

2010 Sainte- Croix  Syrah-Merlot

2010 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier  Shiraz-Viognier