Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday/Thursday

It's another cheap wine of the week Thursday. What can I say? Wednesday escaped me. This week's wine comes from our handy dandy case special that was highlighted last week.

Now, you may know that I am not always a big white fan. But for summers of high heat and humidity, I tend to make exceptions. There's something very refreshing about the glass of wine you're drinking to sweat big drops of water all over your shirt because it's so much cooler than the ambient air. And I know that it's perfectly acceptable to chill some reds, but those reds tend to be on the lighter side of the spectrum and I'm not a big fan of lighter spectrum reds, so oh well for me.

Anyway, this week's white is the Conte Jacopo Frascati Superiore. It is distributed by the same company that brought us last week's Montepulciano, Casata Merge. I have never had a Frascati before, so I didn't know what to expect. With a little help, I learned that Frascati is a white wine very much associated with the city of Rome. This blend can be made made sweet or dry, still or sparkling. The major varietal is Malvasia biance di Candia along with a mixture of other grapes that make each Frascati unique. So, armed with a little bit more info, we were ready to taste this one!

It was lovely. Very fruit forward, but not sweet, much more on the citrus side. A little mineraly on the finish, but just enough to give you a crispness, not enough to make you pucker. This was reminiscent of a good Pinot Grigio, to give you an idea of the flavor profiles. It would be great paired with a light pasta or a seared fish or (as we had it) some homemade pizza.

I'm guessing this is not a super-readily available wine, but if you come across a Frascati of any sort, I would encourage you to try it. It's not amazingly amazing, but it's worth the experience. And, apparently, if you are in Rome ever then this is what you'll be drinking on the white side, so try a bottle now so you can be prepared!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Balsamic BBQ Chicken and Buttermilk Cornbread

I needed an excuse to use buttermilk last week. See, I was making this banana bread because I really, really wanted banana bread. I wanted it enough to go to the store and buy buttermilk for it. But since I rarely use buttermilk and knew it would end up just sitting in my fridge and slowly curdling, I wanted to find a good use for the rest of it and plan my dinner around that.

What do I come up with? Buttermilk cornbread, of course. Because who doesn't love buttermilk cornbread? And what to make with cornbread? BBQ, of course. Except we don't have a grill and it would need to be some sort of roasted BBQ. Then I remember that Giada has this Balsamic BBQ recipe I've used before that is fantastic. And then I found this blogger who suggested adding in some green and yellow onions to the roasting pan, which I thought was a nice touch. Viola. Dinner.

Together, it was a great comfort food dinner. The chicken was tangy and perfectly done and the cornbread was a little sweet and nicely dense. I will confess to sopping up the sauce with the cornbread and eating every last crumb.

Note: If you're planning on cooking both of these for dinner in one night, I recommend you cook the cornbread first and then let it sit and cool and continue to moisten as the chicken bakes, just a thought.

Balsamic BBQ Chicken

3 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on (could be done with legs too)
1 c balsamic vinegar
3/4 c ketchup
1/3 c brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T Worcestershire (could substitute soy sauce)
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 green onions, sliced

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
2. Combine everything but the chicken and onions in a small saucepan and stir till incorporated
3. Heat over medium heat about 15 or 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened
4. Place chicken thighs skin side up in a baking dish and surround them with the onions
5. Pour about 3/4 of the BBQ sauce over the dish, reserving the rest for serving
6. Bake for about 40 minutes, basting with the pan sauce every 10 minutes or so so the chicken stays moist
7. When chicken is done, serve by topping with the now caramelized onions and pouring some fresh sauce on top

Buttermilk Cornbread

1/2 c butter
2/3 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c buttermilk
1/2 t baking soda
1 c cornmeal
1 c flour
1/2 t salt

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
2. Grease or butter an 8 inch square pan
3. Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave
4. Pour butter into a large bowl along with the sugar and whisk to combine (I decided against using my Kitchen Aid for this recipe so as not to use extra electricity, and doing it by hand worked out swimmingly)
5. Add eggs and beat until nicely blended
6. In your measuring cup of buttermilk, drop the baking soda in a stir to combine, then add mixture to the bowl and stir in
7. Add cornmeal, flour, and salt and whisk until only a few lumps remain
8. Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test
9. Be sure and serve with lots of butter and honey!


Monday, July 26, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - The Hamilton Guacamole

I may or may not be betraying long held family secrets by doing this, but I am finally posting my guacamole-making method. Every time I make it, people ask me what's in it, and I finally figured that the world deserved to know how this delicious guac is made. (It's really not very hard at all...)

As with many things that get passed down over time, there aren't really any perfect ratios to this recipe. So what I'll do below is offer the ratios I used the last time I made it (which was for a large group), and let you play from there. You may want to make it a little spicier, or less so, or add different herbs (chopped cilantro is a perfect companion), or add more avocado, or fire roast your own chilies and add them in. You get the picture.

However you make it, guacamole is always delicious. But this method yields consistent delicious results that your friends will ask for by name. I promise. So, without further ado, The Hamilton Guacamole.

The Hamilton Guacamole

8 avocados
Roughly 2/4 of a 24 oz jar of Pace Picante Chunky Medium salsa
1 T Garlic salt
2 t pepper
1 t salt
1 lime

1. Slice and pit the avocados, scooping the delicious insides out with a spoon and dropping them in a large bowl
2. Pour salsa on top of the avocados (you may want to start out with less then add more as you go to taste)
3. Add garlic salt, pepper and salt (ditto with the spices)
4. Using a potato masher (or, for a smaller batch, a nifty avocado masher), start to mash up the avocado chunks and mix in the salsa
5. Keep mashing and stirring with the masher until everything is incorporated (NOTE, DO NOT PUREE, one of the joys of good guacamole is the chunkiness)
6. Taste and add any spices or extras you want to, like cilantro
7. Squeeze the lime into the mixture and stir around to add some kick
8. NOTE, If you're letting this sit for any amount of time, leave the freshly squeezed lime juice on top and don't mix it in, then cover with saran wrap that is touching the surface of the guac, the citric acid prevents browning. But be sure to mix everything together before you serve
9. And there it is, in all its glory!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Four Cheese Bacon Mac and Cheese

Welcome to some ridiculously hot/humid weather! It seems that no matter where you are in the country right now it's miserably hot. Except San Diego, of course... there are a few moments when I wonder why we moved...

At any rate, last week one of my dear friends Sarah moved away to South Carolina (boo!!) and so we had a going away party for her with a bunch of hungry people to feed. And the next day we had a potluck dinner at our church after the service. Being the thrifty person I am, I tried to come up with something to make that would serve for both occasions. So I decided on a restaurant tray full of baked macaroni and cheese. But not just any ol' mac n' cheese. No sir. This has four different delicious white cheeses and some great crispy bacon thrown into the mix for good measure. Nom.

I found this recipe a couple years ago and and it's always served me well. Of course, I've tweaked it a bit, and I usually manage to use different cheeses depending on what I have a bunch of in our fridge. But the bones are solid and yummy. For this excursion I made a double portion, but I'll put up the single recipe here. Rest assured, it is decadent and fatty and completely caloric, but oh so very good. A note about the pictures, they just don't do its cheesy goodness justice. Sorry, you'll just have to trust me on this one.

Four Cheese Bacon Mac and Cheese

1 T olive oil
Half a package bacon, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T butter
5 T all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk
1 cup half and half
3/4 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t nutmeg
1 lb shell pasta, cooked al dente
4 oz shredded Parmesan
4 oz grated Gruyere
4 oz grated Fontina
4 oz grated white English Cheddar
1/2 c seasoned bread crumbs

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
2. In a large saute pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat
3. Add the bacon and cook till just starting to brown
4. Add the onion and garlic and cook till onions start to get translucent, stirring frequently so the garlic doesn't burn
5. Add the butter and flour and cook till a thick paste/roux forms
6. Add the milk and half and half to the pot and whisk till everything is dissolved together
7. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce it to a simmer
8. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and let simmer for about 3 minutes until slightly thickened
9. Remove the pan from the heat and and add the pasta and the grated/shredded cheeses
10. Stir together till cheese melts and the pasta is well coated
11. Pour into an appropriately sized baking dish (about 3 quarts)
12. Cover the top with the bread crumbs
13. Bake uncovered about 40 - 45 minutes, until the top is browned and it's nice and bubbly and melty


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's Back! - Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday

So for all my frugal wine lovers out there, Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday has finally returned! After a good month or so of 1) drinking less wine and 2) drinking not as awesome cheap wine or wine on the more expensive side, I've finally hit upon something that's worth writing about again.

In fact, I've hit upon 3 different great cheap wines. They all came to us courtesy of Que Syrah wine shop on Southport near our apt. They offered a $100 case of summer wines as part of a 4th of July grilling deal. For only $110 (after taxes) we got 3 bottles each of 4 different types of wine. When you break it down, that's about $9.15 a bottle. Out of the four different wines, I've really enjoyed three of them, and I'll be showcasing those each Wednesday for the next three weeks. I highly recommend you stop by Que Syrah and see if they're still offering this case deal. It's well worth it.

This week's find is the Casata Merge Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. As you've probably figured out by now, I'm a sucker for Italian varietals. And I hold a soft spot in my heart for Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, because it was a specialty varietal at my old winery. This one is a very good representation of the grape. It's fruity but with a nice earthy backbone. There's a little bit of a kick right at the end of your sip but the finish is still nice and smooth. We had it with a balsamic bbq chicken and cornbread tonight and it was a perfect complement.

This was a great summer red. Not too heavy, but able to hold its own against some of the barbecued meats that summer brings. So go find it! Try it! And enjoy it!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Salmon Sandwiches with Garlic Aioli

The other day I went to a great new place in Wicker Park called the Wicker Basket Cafe (yes, very cute). While my friend Sarah and I were enjoying delicious sandwiches and olives, I decided to also get a loaf of amazing looking ciabatta to do something with for dinner that night. As I was trying to figure out what to make out of it, I asked Brad what kind of sandwich he wanted. Salmon was his answer. Salmon sandwiches. Really? Can you do that?

I figured it was worth a try. Salmon is delicious. Sandwiches are delicious. Fresh ciabatta bread is really delicious. Might as well put them all together.

So I got some salmon fillets, doused them in herbs, got some arugula, tomatoes and avocado, cut up the bread, and made my own garlic aioli. Yes, you heard me, my own garlic aioli. Apparently this is no big deal to chef types. But to me, it was a triumph! It didn't break or anything. My whisking arm did its job well. And, oh my word, was it worth it. So yummy!!

I highly recommend this as a great summer sandwich that's a little out of the ordinary and a lot delicious.

Salmon Sandwiches with Garlic Aioli

8 oz salmon, skinned and cut into two fillets
1 T 21 seasoning salute by Trader Joes (can substitute lemon pepper)
1/2 lemon
Olive oil
Half ciabatta loaf, sliced
1/2 tomato, sliced
2 oz Arugula
1/2 avocado, sliced
Garlic aioli, recipe below

1. Lightly cover salmon fillets in olive oil, then liberally season with the herb mixture
2. Squeeze lemon half over fillets until covered well
3. Heat a glug olive oil over medium high heat in a nonstick skillet
4. Saute fillets in olive oil till cooked through, about 3 minutes on each side
5. Meanwhile, coat the ciabatta halves in aioli (the more the better!), and layer arugula, tomatoes and avocado on the bread
6. Add salmon fillets when finished cooking and viola! The perfect salmon sandwich!

Aioli Ingredients
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 t salt
2 egg yolks
1 c olive oil
1 t Dijon mustard
1/2 t water
1 t lemon juice
(Note, make sure all your ingredients, including the eggs, are at the same temperature, this allows for proper mixing)

Aioli Directions
1. In a food processor (or, if you want to be authentic, a mortar and pestle), combine garlic and salt till well mixed
2. Transfer mixture to a medium sized non-reactive bowl (like ceramic or stainless steel)
3. Whisk the egg yolks in until well combined and thickened
4. Whisk in half of the olive oil, adding the oil very slowly and whisking constantly so the oil gets completely emulsified
5. Now whisk in the mustard, water and lemon juice until incorporated
6. Add the rest of the olive oil slowly, whisking constantly
7. The resulting aioli should be a little thinner than mayonnaise, if it's too thick, you can add a little water to thing it out
8. Note, your aioli can now sit for up to 48 hours after the initial mixing process. However, if it separates (you'll know it when you see it) you can add another egg yolk and whisk to combine. That will re-emulsify it.
9. Second note, if you're like us and cannot get enough of the aioli, cut up the other half of the ciabatta loaf in small strips and use that to dunk in the aioli to eat to your heart's content alongside the sandwiches


Friday, July 16, 2010

Recipe of the Moment - Berry Sangria

To all of my loyal blog readers (this one's for you, Jenna), I apologize. It's been a busy couple of weeks. My kitchen feels just as neglected as this blog. But it's high time that all that changes! There is good eating to be done! There are good things to be drinking!

I'm going to finally get the few pictures I've taken this month of things I've made up in the next couple of days. And I'm going to start with a late Fourth of July idea. However, it's super versatile and gorgeous and so it's suitable for any time, not just the first few days of this month.

In case no-one's noticed, it's been really, really hot here in Chicago the last few weeks. (Okay, there have been some nice days thrown in the mix, but they've been fully overshadowed by the hot ones.) One of the problems with having people over when it's hot out is the drinks you serve. Iced tea, iced coffee, straight ice... you run out of options pretty quickly. As you know by now, one of my favorite remedies for this problem is a sangria (see here). And this one is a perfect one for summer, full of fresh summer berries (which have been on deep discounts lately!), and very patriotic with the red white and blue. Chill it all day in the fridge to make sure it's super cool and and all the flavors are melded. Your friends will thank you when they're hanging out at your place and not melting.

As a special touch, rim the glasses with a little sugar for a little sweet start to every sip. It makes it look pretty too.

Berry Sangria

2 bottles (1.5 L total) dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)
2 lbs strawberries, halved
1 lb raspberries
8 oz blueberries
8 oz blackberries
1 c triple sec (optional)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1/2 cup sugar (plus extra for rimming glasses)

1. Add all ingredients to a large punch bowl or pitcher
2. Let chill in fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight (the natural sugars of the fruit react with the acidity of the lemon juice and the added sugar and macerates the berries all down into yummy goodness the more time you let it sit)
3. Before serving, taste and add more sugar, if you would like it a little sweeter, and stir to combine
4. Sprinkle some sugar on a plate, moisten the rim of your serving glasses and twirl in the sugar to coat the rim
5. Ladle fruit and liquid into the glasses to serve