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Boeuf Bourguignon

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beef-two-stages.jpgBeef Stew in Red Wine - Super any Sunday
Made this at least a day ahead. Day of - Go skiing, make the rest of the Super Bowl buffet or read a book and know that your Boeuf Bourguignon is getting better in the refrigerator. Just warm and serve.

beef-b-veggies.jpgCarefully, we follow Julia Child's recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. Except we start by frying a piece of bacon in the Le Creuset because we don't have lardons (Bacon's flavor adds depth, salt pork works, too, but if you don't have it skip it. It the bacon is too salty, boil it for a few minutes and then pat dry before frying). Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Remove bacon. Heat the oil and 1 Tbs. olive oil to almost smoking. Brown 1.5 lbs of beef uncrowded on all sides. We used a package of stew meat from the freeze and it was cut a little smaller than we prefer. Julia suggests 2-inch cubes. This amount is perfect as a complete meal for two or serves four with other courses.

Put browned beef in a bowl with 1 Tbs of flour and a little salt and pepper. Brown 1/2 onion and a carrot in the Le Creuset, then return the meats to it, and cook uncovered in the middle of the oven for 4 minutes. Toss and return to oven for another 5 or so minutes. This browns the flour and forms a nice crust on the meat.

beef-burgandy.jpgRemove. Turn the oven temperature down to 275. (I know this is low but low is slow is perfect for Denver dryness and altitude). Stir in 1.5 cups of a good red wine (a pizza wine will do, but better won't hurt) and enough stock so the meat is barely covered. Add 1/2 Tbs of tomato paste, 1 clove garlic, thyme and 1 bay leaf. And the bacon. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove and set in the lower third of the oven. Check to make sure the liquid only simmers and let it go for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when it pierces easily with a fork.

 When the meat is cooked, we use a slotted spoon to take out the big chucks of onion and carrot. They've already given up their flavor. We add mushrooms and small white onions to the casserole and let it cool, uncovered. Then cover and refrigerate. Just warm up slowly in the casserole before serving. 

Roasted, boiled or mashed potatoes are great to help soak up the sauce, but bread, pasta or rice work, too. If you want a green vegetable, peas are great. Julia suggests you serve a young, full-bodied French wine with this dish, and she's right, of course. 
persimmons.jpgSorbet making is simple, and the finished frozen assemblage is a very good palette cleanser for a complex, finely flavored meal.

For this reason, and because I bought two persimmons at Thanksgiving that were horridly unripe until the end of the year, I made a persimmon sorbet as the 'amuse bouche' for a 2010 New Year's Eve meal.

I mashed and pressed very ripe persimmons through a fine sieve.  This took some time, but it gave me the opportunity to use a cool whisk/dough hook I got for Christmas.

I pressed the mash with a spoon as well to make sure I got all of the strained pulp. The actual minutes spent sieving was minor -- 5 minutes total -- although that is a long time doing any one thing, so I would press, let it sit and do other things for the meal I was preparing for New Year's Eve 2010.

sorbet-syrup.jpgTo make a sorbet, simply add 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water (with the husk of a vanilla bean, if you'd like the final product to have a vanilla flavor. Otherwise, add the flavor you're looking for) and boil for 10 minutes. The syrup will thicken slightly, and then remove the vanilla bean, add the persimmon and 1 Tbs. lemon juice and 1 Tbs. vodka and combined in a stainless steel bowl. Covered with a plastic lid and put it in the freezer.

Every now and then, for the next 3 hours, I stirred the sorbet so the texture would be fine rather than jagged like ice cubes. My total stirring was once or twice every hour.

The persimmons taste is fruity but subtle, and dry with an almost chalky taste. In an unripe fruit it's all chalk and inedible. The vodka and lemon added just the right brightness, and the vanilla made the aroma aphrodisiacal.

We served a golf-ball sized portion of this sorbet in wine glasses on a little drizzle of a dry red cherry liquor and placed a fried sage leaf or two on top. (Take sage leaves from the garden, wash and pat dry. Fry in a small amount of olive oil for less than a minute, and just until they shrivel. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with great salt.)

This course was served with a sparkling Vouvray from Marczyk's Wines. The wine was subtle -- like the persimmon's fruitiness -- and dry. The smell of the Vouvray was stronger and more acerbic than champagne and with the vanilla in the sorbet was almost a focusing agent. The salty fried sage leaves reminded us that savory food was soon to come.
MenuCard2010.pngTo enjoy making and eating a multi-course meal as an alternating gift for each other. My husband and I made that our goal  when we started -- 10-years ago -- our current New Year's Eve dinner tradition. I'd make a little 'amuse bouche' or something to start and pick a drink to go with it. Then my husband would make a small first course and put it with another wine, and vice-versa until we'd had soup, a little main course, maybe a salad - some course to make it even - and dessert. Variety - and pleasure - was what we were after, and each of these courses was very small. Hopefully, wine was left in each bottle.

Then one New Year's Eve, friends who were stranded by snowy-road closures came to dinner. Each of us took a turn in the kitchen making a course to go with a wine, which is more easily finished with 5 to 10 friends than by just the two of us.

Since then we haven't really cared if it was just us, or anyone else that wanted to join it. This year, the menu was basically our doing -- great friends did join in --  so I can be brutally critical of how it turned out, starting with the Persimmon Sorbet.

The persimmons taste is fruity but subtle, and dry with an almost chalky taste. In an unripe fruit it's all chalk and inedible. The vodka and lemon added just the right brightness, and the vanilla made the aroma.

We served this in wine glasses with a sparkling Vouvray from Marczyk's Wines. The wine was subtle -- like the persimmon's fruitiness -- and dry, which is something unique to persimmons. These understatements worked to set the scene for the next courses and settle everyone to the table after tasting stand-around food. The smell of the Vouvray was stronger than champagne and with the vanilla in the sorbet was almost a focusing agent. The little fried sage leaves reminded us that savory food was to come.

We had offered a very short martini of vodka infused with olives to start and it was okay, but probably too much. We also opened a sparking Syrah that someone said was like grape juice. This should have been saved for dessert. A dry champagne would have been the best choice with hors d'oevres. But the sorbet erased all that.

And the next course was the star. Steuart made the stock for the lobster bisque with shrimp shells and vegetable peels that we save in the freezer, and with the skin from the salmon. When the lobster was cooked and added it was the smell of the sea. He thickened the bisque, not with heavy cream, but with pureed canned pumpkin. This was garden pumpkin so no salt or sugar was added and it's flavor was lighter than cream's. We'd just bought some Tasmanian Pepperberries at Savory and this taste was the sparkle in this star. A few whole pepperberries were placed on a dollop of Creme Fraise on the top of the soup. It looked great, but when you actually eat the pepperberry, which is strong but sweet, your mouth goes a little numb. The white wine was overpowered by all this and our best choice pairing with this course would have been a completely dry champagne or San Pellegrino. Except for the dwarfing of the wine this was the gift of the night.

For the main course, the fish monger at Whole Foods had cut up two very similar fillets of farm-raised Norwegian salmon. He removed the skin and we took it home for the stock of the bisque. We're leery of farm fish, but he said this fish ate better than most Americans, so we gave it a try. The wild Sockeye we'd used in our last en croute was very lean and a little too dry surrounded by the pastry. Perfect timing would make the sockeye work fine, but I knew I'd be busy on New Years eve, so this was a great choice. I made the pastry with butter instead of the ground suet I'd used last time and the dough was much easier to work, but maybe not as puffy if that's how one judges puff pastry. Between the two fillets of salmon I put thinly sliced onion and mushroom -- raw. With the sockeye I'd sauteed them in advance. The farm salmon, no saute, entry into a hot 450 degree oven, turned down to 350 degrees, and 45 minutes made it hassle free. We let it rest somewhere warm until we served it. Depending on this rest time and how warm it will be you could cut down the cooking time, but this salmon was pretty forgiving.

Steuart's Bearnaise sauce was great on the potatoes and any bits left on the plate were great with the salmon. Two kinds of crispy at once -- the pastry outside the salmon and the Parmesan cheese on the potatoes gave your brain something to play back and forth with as this course was eaten. And inside each was the strong salmon flavor contrasting the homey blandness of great potatoes. Green beans weighted the green side of the color pallet and Steuart had sprinkled on out favorite pepper from Savory -- Aleppo -- but it was just too much. Savory's beautiful white pepper was already on the potatoes. Live and learn. Another reason it was too much was that the light red Valpolicella (Madonna di Como) was already a strong addition to this complex course, pulling everything together nicely.

Next, we just ripped open a clam of mixed greens and dressed it with a reduction of Balsamic vinegar mixed with a little olive oil. Less is more.

The cheese and crackers gave us a moment to finish up the wines open on the table. And the fresh bread Steuart had made (Bittman's No-Knead).

Pat brought an unfrosted chocolate cake that was perfectly light in texture, dark in color, rich in chocolate flavor and delicately dusted with powdered sugar. It invited in coffee, more champagne and the New Year.

Champagne and Popcorn

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Celebrating something special: Roederer & Redenbacker.

Roederer.jpgThe perfect August celebration -- meeting friends at 5 p.m. on their fifth floor balcony at the Magnolia, a boutique, downtown Denver hotel -- started with champagne and popcorn.

August in Denver is very hot for people used to living in the mountains, so I crave cold bubbly wine. I wouldn't have guessed to pair it with popcorn until the wine rep at Argonaut suggested it.  The simple white kernels, popped and tossed with our great French sea salt came to the hotel room in a paper sack where the champagne and friends greeted us coldly and warmly, respectively.

Leo, the wine rep, had made a good call. He surprised us, too, by being such a fan of French champagne. He suggested the Roederer Brut Premier. The price had just come down a little, and so it now landed in my price range.

I love how champagne bubbles make you breathe and smell the wine. The Roederer's dry sweetness reminds me of a day in an open meadow by a stream at about 11,000 Colorado feet above sea level. When I think of this place in my mind there is nothing wrong with the setting, no sticks scratching my legs, no rain forcing me to cover up, and that's exactly what I like about nice champagne -- there's nothing wrong. And popcorn, the way my husband makes it, also comes with nothing not to like.

btw -- The bottle we were drinking really was champagne -- meaning it comes from the Champagne region of France, near Reims, which unbelievably rhymes with France.

Spinach Calzone

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FoccaciaPizza.jpgI wanted to make a spanikopita but did not have any phyllo pastry. I had the ingredients to make a pizza crust and decided to make a spinach pie -- part Italian part Greek. Serve as a light main course for dinner or as a party dish cut into slices.

 

Spinach Calzone

Dough:

2 tsp. dry yeast

1 c. warm water

2 T. sugar

3.5 C flour

1 T salt

¼ C extra-virgin olive oil

Filling:

Fresh spinach about 1 lb

2 heads of roasted garlic

cottage cheese

Parmesan cheese

1 egg

1 pinch nutmeg, to taste

salt and pepper


Make the dough: dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar.

Using a food processor, add the flour, salt and water and extra virgin olive oil. Mix it up and knead to the desired consistency by hand. Put the dough in a plastic bag and let it rise in the fridge. Let the dough come to room temp before trying to knead.

 

Make the filling: put the clean spinach in a sauce pan with a cover and cook on low heat until wilted. Pinch into a colander and let it sit and drain.

After garlic has roasted for about 40 minutes in foil and cooled, squeeze roasted garlic cloves from their skin into a mixing bowl. Chop cooked spinach and add to roasted garlic. Stir in cottage cheese and parmesan, stir in raw beaten egg. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

 

Take dough out of fridge and let come to room temp. Preheat oven to 375 f. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to about ½ inch thick.

 

Put  one half of dough on a cooking sheet. Put filling onto dough and smooth out to about 1 inch in depth. Place second half of dough on top of spinach mixture. Roll the bottom selvage up around the top and crimp to seal edges. Brush with egg wash, salt and pepper.

 

Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes, rotating for even baking. Let it rest before cutting.

Serve with a tomato salad.

 

Seafood Stew

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seafood_stew.jpgIt's February, so Steuart is making a hearty seafood stew. Mussels were on sale -- so we took a pound of those, and abouta 1/4 pound of shrimp, fresh barramundi also on sale at WholeFoods, and a calamari steak. All together,  we spent less than $10 on fish and that made enough stew to serve four people.

The broth was created by, first, sauteed the onion, garlic and bell pepper, then adding a can of tomatoes and about 1/2 can of water. Steuart let that simmer while he watched a little of the Winter Olympics.

vegetable-stock.jpgtomato-stock.jpgseafood_stew_calimari.jpgseafood_stew_shrimp.jpgseafood-stew-mussels.jpgSeafood Stew
-1/2 onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic
-1 bell pepper (this, or a few mushrooms, a mild chili pepper) chopped coarsely
-1 tsp dried oregano (or herbs de Provence) and 1 tsp. fresh parsley
-1 14 oz.  can tomatoes
-1  c. water
-1/3 lb. ($3) unpeeled shrimp (8 shrimp)
-.25 lb.  ($1.75) calamari steak
-.25 lb. ($2) barramundi skinless
-1 lb mussels
-1 tsp. flour
-1 Tbs. olive oil
-2 Tbs. fresh parsley


When we were fifteen minutes from the time we wanted to serve the stew, Steuart lightly floured the calamari steak, and cooked it quickly in the pre-heated olive oil. (Burner on medium).

He peeled the shrimp and kept the shells. They are waiting in the lid for the pan he's using to cook the calamari.

After the calamari cooked for a minute on each side, he removed it. Added the shrimp shells and 1/2 cup of water. This will make a flavorful broth so there is no need for a canned fish stock or clam juice. While this simmered, he chopped the calamari into cubes.

A quarter cup of white wine was brought to a boil with a clove of garlic and the mussels tossed in. These should cook just until they open. The ones that don't should be discarded. The shrimp, fish are added to the vegetable stew, then the mussels and wine, and stock strained from the shrimp shells.  Let the last minute additions warm up a minute while you chop some fresh parsley to put on top, and open the wine.

We drank a 2007 Valpolicella made by Cantina del Castello. This is a medium bodied Italian wine from the Venetto region. Winter and tomatoes are to key to why a red will go well with this stew. But the delicate tastes of the different fish can be overwhelmed by a heavy red.

 

Pizza with three cheeses and meat

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pizza_meal.jpgThe best pizza crust sits around for a while.  We learned that from our trip to Virgilio's Pizzaria in Lakewood. This explains why when I make pizza dough it just doesn't have the feel in my hands that comes from a crust from our local pizzeria. Abo's is a local pizza chain that started in Boulder, and has a branch near our house. We can walk or ride there and carry back a large pizza dough in the Tupperware we bring from home (no Styrofoam box that can't be recycled) and we're out $4.  Well spent.
 
Three cheese with more Pizza
1 lg. pizza dough
1 tbls. olive oil
2/3 lb. ground beef
1 tbs. French thyme
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 onion, in round thin slices
2 oz. goat cheese
1/4 cup of half & half
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine

Stretch the dough to fill a large cookie sheet preferably with small sides (I think you call this a jellyroll pan). I do this by letting the dough hang itself. Width, then lengthwise. My pans aren't round so I've not gotten into the spinning but I can see how it works. I let the dough hang from my hands and forearms until it's square then let it hang longer to fill the length and then lay it down on the sheet. It's probably contracted and is too narrow by now, but I carefully pull it out to the sides, tucking it into the edges of the pan. If I'm going for a really thin crust I set something in the middle so that the dough can ease into it's space while I prepare the toppings.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
pizza_three_cheese.jpg
For this pizza, Steuart browned hamburger from our cow.  He added oregano and thyme, brushed the crust with olive oil, and likewise, the onions. Steuart put these onions in the oven while it was heating. 

Mash the goat cheese (if it is a dry variety like our local Haystack Mt. Cheese) with the half & half. Add enough so that the cheese is the consistency of school paste. Brush the goat cheese mixture onto the dough. Spread the meat over the top, add the onions, the mozzarella, the Parmesan cheese and finally the chopped garlic. Cook for 20 minutes and check doneness. If the cheese isn't browned to your liking let it go a few more minutes.

We served this with a bottle of Italian wine we'd bought on sale at Argonaut Liquors. A 2004 Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Valpantena Ripasso. Drinking the first sip of this wine, it tasted like a thin veil of forest. With the pizza, it was in its element. Elegant velvet.

Oysters and Sashimi Menu

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Menu for a simple Asian meal

oysters_chopsticks.jpg
The main course was an assortment of sashimi fish, which was to be preceded by miso soup and a half dozen oysters. The table was set for main course, so were eating the oysters with chopsticks. I was on the second oyster before I realized how much easier this was than dragging an oyster away from its shell with a tiny fork. I like to keep my condiment tastes separate from my main food thing, at least at first, so I took a pinch of onion, ate it, then pinched an oyster. The onion has a way of opening your smell organs, and then the salty meat of the oyster just tastes so much better. Bread with butter, keep the whole process down to earth, and can be held with the fingers.
oyster_asian_dinner.jpg

Just Add Champagne

It was a weeknight, so we're only going to drink one bottle of wine with the entire meal.  I've always had a hard time finding something to drink with Japanese food, but I know I prefer a French-style bubbly wine with oysters, so we opened a Chandon California Brut Classic that was on sale around New Years for about $15 at Argonaut.

The champagne brought out the sweetness in the oysters, the heartiness of a miso noodle soup and the beetiness in the grated beets that garnished the sashimi plate. It was such a wonderful choice that I wondered if anyone else agreed with me, and I found this link at the Wine Spectator.

Follow the next link to find my recipe for Miso Noodle Soup, and if you're a cook with nice knives who feels comfortable making sashimi, here's what Steuart did to make the main course quite nice. Steuart cut sashimi-grade tuna and salmon in small pieces and fit each one on a cucumber slice. Then, he grated fresh beet and daikon radish and placed it on a center island of seaweed salad. A great soy sauce from Pacific Mercantile in downtown Denver lead the condiments that also included the stinging green stuff made from real powdered wasabi and a pile of pickled ginger we bought (already pink) at Whole Foods with the fish.

We picked up each little bit on it's own, each of us making our own parade of tastes.