Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stuffing Recipe that Rocks

Stuffing has never been one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes, until there was stuffing with pancetta and chestnuts. This recipe is courtesy of celebrity chef, Giada de Laurentis and it has become a family favorite. Here is little Italian-American fusion that works. For red wine fans, this recipe is super red wine friendly. One cautionary note--please don't stuff your turkey with "stuffing." See the explanation in the "Roasting and Brining a Turkey" post.

Ciabatta Stuffing with Chestnuts and Pancetta

6 TBL (3/4) stick Butter (halving it with olive oil is cool)
8 Oz. Pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 Large onions, finely diced
2 Carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 Celery stalks, finely diced
2 TBL chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 Garlic cloves chopped
2 (7.4 oz) Jars roasted peeled whole chestnuts, coarsely broken
1/4 Cups chopped Parsley
1 Lb day-old Ciabatta bread, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2/3 Cup or more canned low-salt chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Large eggs, beaten to blend

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Butter a 15 by 10 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 2 TBL of butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a large bowl. Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, and garlic.

Saute until the onions are very tender, about 12 minutes. Gently stir in the chestnuts and parsley. Transfer the onion mixture to the large bowl with the pancetta. Add the bread and parmesan and toss to coast. Add enough broth to the stuffing mixture to moisten. Season the stuffing, to taste, with salt and pepper. Mix in the eggs.

Transfer the stuffing to the prepared dish. Cover wtih buttered foil, buttered side down, and bake until the stuffing is heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top is crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: Bubbly and More!

"What wine should I serve on Thanksgiving?" This is always the most frequently asked question of me leading up to turkey day. Wine selection can be challenging with the wide variety of flavors and dishes at our traditional feast. Cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, scalloped oysters, and the star of the show, turkey, blend sweet, creamy, savory, herbaceous, earthy, and spice into a state of culinary chaotic nirvana. So what wine(s) can we serve to cut through and compliment this cornucopia of tastes? Fortunately, there are a multitude of options to pick from. Because of the host of flavors and individual preferences (and prejudices), a mix of white and red is preferred. Here are my varietal and regional thoughts concluding with my grand pick of 2009. As for specific domaines or wineries, your local wine merchant can ably assist you. My suggestions are in no way intended to be exhaustive. Please comment with your own recommendations.

Thanksgiving lends itself to a broad choice of fun and interesting white alternatives. Any of these can also play the aperitif role. I often begin dinner with a spicy (red pepper and cumin) butternut squash or pumpkin soup. Last year I served a German Spatlese Riesling with the spicy soup. Surprisingly, this was selected as the star of the evening by my dinner companions. The elegant sweetness of the Spatlese neutralizes the fire of the soup while the the spiciness lessens the sweetness. Simply lovely.

There are many other white wines that can be served throughout the entire dinner. Spicy Gewurztraminer has always been a classic Thanksgiving wine. Strong consideration goes to Riesling, particularly German Kabinett. The 2007 vintage in German was outstanding and offers fair value. Wines from Alsace, France are ideal partners including Riesling, Pinot Gris and/or Pinot Blanc (my aperitif pick). My Oregon friends can be heard screaming rightfully for Oregon Pinot Gris. Also a wonderful choice. In his fourth quarter issue of Burghound, Allen Meadows raved about 2007 and 2008 Chablis (Chardonnay). The limestone chalkiness of Chablis proves a zesty match with oysters.

Now for a wine with a different color, a top Red vin is essential for me on Thanksgiving. Light and medium body wines seem to work best. Pinot Noir is the obvious preference. The wide range of Pinot Noir styles all seem to work for different reasons. The more fruit present Pinot Noir of California and Oregon mirror the fruit flavors of our feast. Yet, Burgundy compliments the earthy and savory. In recent years Burgundy usually finds it way into my glass.

Because Thanksgiving is an exclusive American holiday, there are justified proponents of the true native varietal, Zinfandel. Who would argue? It's lush fruit can be Zinful. There is an exciting universe of options, notably among the "Rs" of Zin--Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenbloom.

Other considerations are from France's Loire Valley (Cabernet Franc), Cotes du Rhone and Cru Beaujolais. For my after dinner beached whale imitation, a glass of Pedro Ximenez from Spain with pumpkin pie is certain to export me to a dreamy world. In the likely event an emergency digestive is required, a bottle of Armagnac will be nearby. Alternatively, a little Bourbon on the rocks can toast my Kentucky heritage.

Now, Here is my grand overall pick.

In 2009 you had to be living under a rock to not be challenged by the downturn in the global economy, whether it was for yourself, a dear friend or a beloved family member. In honor of the woes of 2009, my pick is Rose Champagne (or sparkling wine). Bubbly is a classic match for turkey and all that goes with Thanksgiving. For the value minded (all of us), the highly respected Ghislaine de Montegolfier, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne and president of Champagne Bollinger (one of my personal faves) stated in the December issue of Decanter, "You can be sure some excellent Champagne will be available at competitive prices, thanks to a succession of stellar vintages and a fall in demand brought about by the economic crisis...Champagne houses will be doing what they can to boost sales this Christmas, so you can expect some attractive offers."

After all Napoleon is credited with saying about Champagne, "In victory we deserve it. In defeat we need it." Regardless if it is deserving or needed, we should all expect Champagne this year... or anytime.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Roasting and Brining Turkey

We have all had a turkey on Thanksgiving that was more like dry, stiff cardboard than edible poultry. Here is a solution to roasting a turkey that will guarantee a flavorful, succulent bird and raving fans. The credit for the detailed preparation outlined below goes entirely to Brian Patterson, Hospitality Manager, at the American Medical Association in Washington, DC, and a long time member of the faculty at his alma mater, L'Academie de Cuisine French Culinary School. Having had the pleasure of attending classes at L'Academie for seven years, you can be assured Brian's classes (and dozens of classes by other terrific chefs) are a must for anyone desiring to improve their cooking skills. Brian's knife skills classes are outstanding and legendary. Knowledgeable and entertaining, he will improve your skills in the kitchen by quantum leaps. I recommend signing up immediately upon release of seasonal catalog, because classes fill up instantly. Register for online notices and peruse the catalog at L'Academie conducts classes at their recreational school in Bethesda, Maryland and the professional school in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Roasting and Brining Turkey

If possible, buy a fresh turkey, one that has not been previously frozen. If you do use a frozen turkey, thaw it out in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. If you get your turkey one day or more before you are going to cook it, it is a good idea to remove the turkey from its package, rinse it, and rewrap in new plastic and place it in the refrigerator. Remember that turkey, like chicken is a host for salmonella, and all utensils and food preparation surfaces that come in contact with raw turkey should be thoroughly washed and, ideally, sanitized with a mixture of bleach and water.

Place the wrapped turkey in the sink before removing the wrapping, to avoid making a mess of your counter top. Remove the turkey from the package, remove the neck, giblets, and other goodies from both cavities (this may mean un-hooking the legs from a plastic retainer designed to hold the legs in place at the opening of the cavity. Rinse the bird thoroughly inside and out with cold running water to remove standing blood and juices and any slimy film that may be on the skin. Pat the bird dry with paper towels inside and out.

BRINING The skin and surface of a roasted turkey can be enhanced by brining. Brining also makes the meat more moist and flavorful. A brine is a mixture of salt, sugar, water, and pickling spices. The brine cures or partially cooks the outer 1/2 inch of the roast which preserves the roast prior to cooking, and it helps seal in flavor and moisture. You will need a large enough container to allow the turkey to be completely immersed in the brine. A five gallon plastic bucket from a hardware store is perfect and costs about $2. Brine the turkey up to 24 hours prior to cooking. Remove the turkey from the brine an hour prior to placing it in the oven, to allow the skin to air dry. A turkey that has been brined does not require further seasoning. Here is the formula for a brine :

1 Gallon Water
1/2 lb Salt
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Tbls Pickling Spice
3 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
Combine all the ingredients, bring to a boil, cool and strain. Refrigerate until needed.

I avoid cooking stuffing in the cavity of the turkey, especially a large one, for the following reason: By the time the heat from the oven has worked its way through the turkey to start cooking the stuffing, the turkey is done, and stuffing is raw. So you either over-cook the turkey to finish the stuffing, or, if you serve a perfectly cooked turkey, you run the risk of serving stuffing that is not only undercooked, but that has also been in contact with raw turkey juices (blood) and standing in the cavity about 100 degrees for several hours. It is much safer, and more efficient to cook the stuffing separately. If you do stuff a turkey, NEVER stuff a raw turkey with warm stuffing, whether it is the night before or right before you are about to cook the bird. I like to stuff thyme, strictly to flavor the turkey, not to eat as a stuffing.

IF YOU HAVE NOT USED A BRINE season the turkey with plenty of salt and pepper inside the cavity. Once you have finished seasoning the cavity of the turkey, replace the legs in the plastic retainer, or tie the legs in place in such a way as to hold the cavity closed. Rub the turkey with oil such as olive oil (to enhance the golden color of the finished bird) and season with plenty of salt and pepper (use white pepper if you do not want the "freckles" of black pepper). IF YOU HAVE USED A BRINE, skip seasoning and slathering the outside of the turkey.

If you are more concerned about flavor than appearance, roast the turkey with the breast-side down most if not all of the overall cooking time. Most of the flavor and juices of a turkey are in the bones of the back, therefore, if the bones are on top, the flavorful juices will cascade down throughout the meat, making the breasts more moist. Place the turkey on a roasting tray that permits access to the juices that collect in the tray with a baster or a spoon. To begin, place the turkey--breast-side--into an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees. Once the breast side is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, invert the turkey so the breast-side is facing down.

About 15 minutes after inverting the turkey, turn the heat down to 325 degrees. The initial heat sears the outside of the bird, sealing in the juices and giving a roasted flavor. I recommend leaving turkey breast-side down for the duration of the cooking.

In order to schedule the timing of other dishes and time to serve, plan on cooking turkey for about 7 minutes per pound. However, the most reliable method of knowing when the turkey is done is by using a very accurate meat thermometer. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes or so, however, in order to maintain a consistent temperature, avoid opening the oven frequently. I do not cover the turkey while it is roasting. Do not pierce the meat other than to take the internal temperature, as this drains the meat of valuable juices. The internal temperature of the turkey should be 170 degrees. Using a meat thermometer, take the temperature at the last place to be cooked, right in the elbow of the thigh, on the side facing the breast. In general, the juices should run clear. If the juices are cloudy or bloody, the turkey is not yet fully cooked. Once the turkey is cooked, it is very important to ALLOW IT TO REST, COVERED, IN A WARM PLACE FOR 1/4 - 1/3 OF THE OVERALL COOKING TIME. A large cooler is perfect not only to hold the turkey while it rests, but also to transport it once it is cooked. Allowing the turkey to rest permits the juices to re-distribute throughout the meat. This makes the meat more moist, and avoids creating puddles of juice on the carving board, leaving the juices in the meat where they belong.

Bon Appetit!

Domaine Pierre and Jerome Coursodon

Last night I enjoyed a 2005 Domaine Coursodon St. Joseph from the Northern Rhone of France with a beouf Dube (beef stew) at Le Lavandou, a Provencal restaurant, in my Cleveland Park neighborhood. Starting in 2006, this wine is labeled "Silice" This past January, I had the good fortune of meeting Pierre Coursodon and his son, Jerome, at the Cote Rotie Marche aux Vins in Ampuis. This annual three day gathering of the wine producers from the region affords trade professionals a convenient opportunity to taste the wines. And the locals have the opportunity to taste and purchase at favorable prices before the juice is exported to the four corners of the world.

The Coursodons are third generation vignerons (vine growers) in the village of Mauves in the southern St. Joseph appellation. Jerome's son, Antoinne, who was born in 2003 is expected to become the 4th generation. Pierre's grandfather ,Gustave, who unfortunately passed away in 2005, was the former mayor of Mauves, and a catalyst in developing St. Joseph into the prominent wine region that is today. As a historical side note, during WWII Gustave's home was occupied by the Germans and was destroyed in August 1944 as the Germans retreated. The occupation, however, never stopped him from tending to his vines.

The Coursodon wines are classic expressions of St. Joseph Northern Rhone Syrah. This bottle was medium bodied showing warm black fruits with a soft touch of chocolate. Restaurant owner, Florence Develliers, called the St. Joseph the perfect match for Daube. On another chilly autumn evening in 2006, I had the Delas St. Joseph with a wild boar and red wine stew at Le Chateau in Tournon, the largest village in St. Joseph. Winter stews and Northern Rhone Syrah warms the heart and the soul, transporting me emotionally to France every time.

The Coursodons produce two higher end reds, St. Joseph Paradis St. Pierre Rouge and La Sensonne. Their whites are highly recommended.

In the photo from left to right are Jerome Cousodon, moi (with the purple teeth), Pierre pouring and Gilles Barge, a superb vigneron in Cote Rotie. I stayed at Gilles' chambre (B&B) during my stay.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cranberry Sauce with Roasted Shallots Port and Red Wine

For years certain Thanksgiving dishes have not done it for me. Cranberry sauce was one, especially that jello, silo shaped stuff in a can...Gross!! In the last few years I began searching for and creating traditional dishes that are more red wine friendly and thus tastier. Here's a cranberry sauce recipe that I have been serving during the holidays for several years that is not only palatable, but extraordinary. It is a sure hit.

Credit must be given, however, to Andrea Immer-Robinson's Fine Living Network series, Pairings with Andrea. I friend told me recently that her professor at Wharton graduate business school advised her to "steal shamelessly." When it comes to recipes, I always have, while giving proper credit, of course.

Cranberry and Roasted Shallot Sauce with Port and Red Wine


18 Medium shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise through the root end

1 TBL Extra Virgin olive oil

5 TBL Balsamic vinegar

1/2 Cup granulated sugar

1 Cup Dry red wine (Zinfandel or Pinot Noir)

2/3 Cup Ruby port

1/3 Cup Light brown sugar, packed

12 Oz Bag fresh cranberries

TBL Fresh Thyme (or dried)

1 TBL Chopped fresh parsley


Preheat oven to 400F

Toss shallots with oil and minced fresh thyme on small rimmed baking sheet.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes.

Drizzle 1 TBL vinegar over shallots, toss to coat. Continue roasting until shallots caramelize, stirring occasionally about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Bring red wine, port, brown sugar, remaining 4 TBL of vinegar, and granulated sugar to boil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Add cranberries; cook until berries pop, stirring occasionally about 8 minutes.

Mix in parsley and shallots.

Transfer to bowl. Cover and chill overnight.

Serve cold or at room temperature.

Note: This dish can be made up to a week in advance if kept refrigerated.

Prices Soar at Hospices de Beaune

British wine writer Jancis Robinson (best there is) reported on Twitter shortly ago that 2009 prices soared at the Hospices de Beaune aucton in Beaune, France this past weekend, even with "increased quantities." According to Ms. Robinson, "Reds +31pc, whites +8pc so +20pc overall." Burgundy producers have raved about the 2009 harvest describing it as good if not better than the highly acclaimed 2005 vintage. This is not good news for U.S. consumers given the value of the cellar dwelling dollar. To quote the always eloquent Ms. Robinson, "Eeek." Ditto!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Laura Reinas Brings Us Olive Oil from BRAZIL!

This past week I heard author Malcolm Gladwell speak at Elliott Masie's Learning 2009 conference in Orlando. Of course, one his best sellers is Tipping Point, which "is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire." I can't help but believe this is happening with high quality Extra Virgin olive oil. Quality olive oil production is not only about the old world of Italy, Spain, France and Greece. Similar to the spread of wine, the new world has caught on. Australia, California, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Tunisia, and New Zealand are producing oils that have earned a place in our pantry.

Now, here comes Brazil. With their growing economy, Brazil might be about to enter the world stage. Thanks to the wonders of social media, I recently met an enthusiastic evangelist for Brazilian olive oil, Laura Reinas. I have included below a post from Laura about Brazilian olive oil ( It is good to know through Laura that we can track the progress of olive oil production in Brazil. A bottle of Brazilian olive oil might be in our pantry in the not so distant future. Perhaps, I should order the Portuguese version of Rosetta Stone.

"Yes, We Have Olive Oil!

The olive groves, very diffused throughout the Mediterranean, took place thanks to the speed of the Cretan and Phoenician ships, and the adoption of olive oil as the local currency, which made planting trees very important economically for the people of the region. These plantings are now spread around the world with their seedlings taken by settlers to countries such as America, Argentina and Chile.

And following the logic that Argentina and Chile produce quality olive oil, why not Brazil?

There is a responsibility for producing a quality olive oil that reflects Brazil’s rich cultural and economic history. Currently producing Brazilian olive oil carries a big task in cultivating a large estate of olive trees in ‘Serra da Mantiqueira,’ bordering the states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. The seedlings adapted to the climatic conditions, which are not very favorable conditions of the Mediterranean region, because in Brazil, we have a lack of sandy areas and harsh winter.

There are 37 varieties planted, especially the Grapollo for oil, and Ascolana for table olives.

While the first harvest has been frustrated because of hailstorms that occurred in the region, the expectation remains that Brazil will produce quality olive oil on a large-scale basis as in European countries, such as Portugal and Spain, old world examples of success and tradition in the production of large quantities of fruit.

This step in the production of domestic olive oil can also help the Brazilian economy, reducing dependence on imports and helping in agriculture.

In the future you can look forward to your table and pantry including a bottle of high quality Extra Virgin olive oil from, yes, BRAZIL!"

Laura Reinas

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

French Wine Society Master Level Exams

I just now received the exciting news that I passed both the Rhone and Provence Master-Level exams sponsored by the French Wine Society and endorsed by the French based organizations Inter Rhone and Vins de Provence. I believe I will pull the cork on a fabulous Rhone or Provence wine tonight. This is nice gratification after much travel and tasting. It's tough work but somebody has to do it.

Thanksgiving Olive Oil, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler

As I gaze at the golden, burnish orange foliage from my window, I'm reminded that Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. Actually it is the smell and anticipation of those traditional Thanksgiving culinary treasures awaiting us. With the coolness of autumn, there has always been one particular Extra Virgin olive oil that offers the perfect pairing with Thanksgiving and hearty autumn dishes. L'Estornell Organic Extra Virgin is my Thanksgiving olive oil. Produced by the renowned Vea family in Sarroca de Lleida in Catalonia, Spain, west of Barcelona and Tarragona (where my son spent his semester pluses abroad). For wine lovers, their estate is near Priorat or Priorato in Spanish. The Vea olive trees are planted on the steep terraces much like the the famed slopes of the Priorat vineyards.

Why is L'Estornell the perfect match for Thanksgiving culinary delights? Almond trees are grown near and among the olive groves giving the olive oil a distinct nutty, toasty aroma, offering a perfect accompaniment to the earthy dishes of autumn. I often like to describe olive oils by comparing them to a celebrity. L'Estornell can be described as Jennifer Aniston with hints of Adam Sandler, lovely, a little spice, always popular and with added nuttiness.

For these challenging economic times, L'Estornell offers one the best values among premium estate olive oils from the old country, which can be pricey given the lowly value of the dollar. Distribution among speciality food stores and Whole Foods Market is wide spread. To give you flexibility on size and price, bottles come in three conveneient sizes, 375 ml, 500 ml and 750 ml. There's also organic and conventional. Look for the bird, the L'Estornell, on the label. The Veas honor their arch nemesis, the L'Estornell, which loves to eat the olives when they are at peak ripeness. Each harvest is a race between bird and man. According to the legend, the L'Estornell only picks the best fruit.

Remember--Fresh is Best! Check the label for the harvest date. With this oil it will be clearly stated on the back label as "2008/2009." Avoid bottles with "2007/2008." Olive oil should be consumed within 18-24 months from the harvest.

Now, let's eat! Drizzle L'Estornell over hot pumpkin or butternut squash soup. Adding the nectar over any warm autumn dish enhances it's flavors and provides a nice dose of healthy. It could possibly help with the post-Thanksgiving dinner indigestion, too. So, this year place a bottle in the center of your Thanksgiving table.

For newcomers to premium Extra Virgin olive oil, L'Estornell is an excellent choice to begin your exploration. Over ten years ago, L'Estornell transitioned my parents to more flavorful and healthier eating. Until then they had lived on butter (nothing wrong with a little butter) and other cheap, gross and flavorless oils. At 87 and soon to be 83 years young, they are in their home tonight in Maysville, Kentucky cooking and drizzling enthusiastically with quality Extra Virgin olive oil. Chances are it is L'Estornell.