Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Discovering the Everyday

 Got the March Food and Wine Magazine last week. I often have to laugh, when reading my gourmet mags, as they are continually discovering or rediscovering nutritious edibles vegheads have long cherished, like chia seeds, yogurt, or kale.

 There's a smart group of food-savvy people that have always known about kale-- around these parts, we call them Southerners, and when we're not busy wishing we had the 'nads to use as much butter and sour cream in our pound cakes as they do, we sometimes notice how very veg-focused their cuisine can be. This is true of Southern food from the most down-home dishes to the hoity-toitiest. Southerners  ''know from" beans, potatoes, greens, tomatoes, squash-- you name it, Southern Living has recipes for it: mashed, creamed, baked with other veggies under a crumbly topping, or cooked on the stove with seasonings till there's pot liquor to die for. Or shredded raw and served in a slaw.

 That's why, a few years back, I jumped at the chance to own Frank Stitt's Southern Table, a hardcover cookbook heavy with the weight of all the good vegetable recipes it contains. Still wrapped in plastic, it was priced at a mere $2 at a thrift store where the staff clearly had no idea of real value. It was a find, but after opening it, and reading Stitt's heartfelt and well written homages to his local ingredients and their purveyors, I'd have considered it a bargain even at $30. At Stitt's Alabama restaurant, the Highlands Bar & Grill, he takes familiar dishes and serves them up with a refreshing twist. From the Watermelon Margarita  to Pea Cakes with Tomato Salsa, the menu makes for a tantalizing read.

 One of my first favorite recipes from Southern Table was Miss Verba's Pimiento Cheese. I had only vague childhood memories of some bright orange jarred horror version of this delicacy, but the loving way Stitt described it, I knew I had to try making it fresh for myself.

 Love at first bite. Then, I skewed the recipe for my own palate, making it tangier and maybe less creamy by adding dijon mustard, garlic, and more hot sauce. Here it is, for you to try, if you haven't already. A cheese dip with veggies, that kids might actually eat!

Miss Verba's Pimiento Cheese,  from Frank Stitt's Southern Table
(slightly adapted by Mari)

1 lb. sharp yellow cheddar

1/4 lb cream cheese, softened

3 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded & chopped

1/2 C homemade mayo, or best quality commercial mayo

1 tsp sugar

1 clove garlic, minced fine (optional)

1 heaping Tbsp dijon mustard, or more to taste
Splash of hot sauce, such as tabasco or cholula ( I used Frank's)

1/8 tsp cayenne, optional

 Grind the cheddar in food processor fitted with grating disk, or grate on the small-holed side of a handheld grater*. Put grated cheese into a large bowl, and add all other ingredients. Blend together thoroughly. Refrigerate and serve chilled. Keeps several days in fridge, covered.
Best with crackers like saltines, or crisp vegetable strips-- carrots, celery, peppers, cukes.  Also makes a mean grilled cheese, and is delicious on any burger or sloppy joe type of filling. Or just spread it on a thin slice of baguette and munch.

*Note-- it really has to be hand-grated cheese to taste right. The FP makes it too creamy, and pre-grated cheese in a bag doesn't have the flavor-- I know, I tried it once.

 Now that we're being fooled into thinking Spring is here, why not have some Pimiento Cheese with crackers and a glass of cool white wine? Maybe we can't sit outside with it, yet, but we can think about a garden dinner. And planting an herb patch, soon.

 Peace, Mari

Monday, February 13, 2012

Our New Address!

Finally, the simplified address I wanted for this blog all along has become available. Find us at:

 See you later! Peace, Mari

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sherry Baby; or, When You Want That Taste of Honey...

Special weekend update-- get thee to Premier wines on Delaware, snap up a few bottles of the huge inventory of perfectly good wines they are selling for a pittance to thin out their stock.

You may know already, and if not, I'm sorry to shock you with it: Premier is moving in May, further in to Tonawanda. They've been my main wine store since I moved into the neighborhood, and it's sad to watch them go.

 But before that, they're almost giving away the store. And that is an opportunity!

 Yours truly just got home from a standout event there, a sherry tasting class featuring pours of nine different styles of sherry, from Pedro Romero Bodegas. It was too good to keep to myself, so I raced home to tell you about it.

 Our presenter was Tom George, the enthusiastic voice of Frontier Wine Imports, a well regarded importer of Spanish and other European wines. He was generous with the details of how and why sherries are made the way they are, sold the way they are, taste as they do, and also touched on why America still has an imperfect picture of sherry's flavor profile and uses. Premier was generous in giving us 9 different tastes of this excellent fortified wine.

 I kept notes about the various flavors and aromas, and I want to tell you, you should be hauling ass to Premier right now to get some of these wonderful bottles at their outrageously reduced prices.

We tasted all the way from ultra perfumed dry to liquid raisin sweet. My favorite, I confess, remains the dry Fino. Refreshing, with unexpected crispness, it's perfect for sipping with a pre-dinner nosh of cheese, dried fruit, nuts and olives, or maybe alongside a grilled pizza with goat cheese and red pepper. And honestly, any of these would be good that way, though some of the sweeter sherries beg for pairing with a rich, dried fruit tart or chocolate cake. More on that later.

The Fino was bone dry, with a full fragrance of crisp fruit and light caramel; at first taste it showed more brightness than expected, but after I moved to the brighter acidity of the Manzanilla and then back, the edge of the Fino seemed softer, with hints of fig, maple and fresh dates.

The Manzanilla, just as dry or drier, but thinner and more delicate, is considered the better choice of the two; but to my palate, needed food to show its stuff clearly. Either of these would be good with a pan of roasted veg, I believe; they have enough acid to cut through the oil and carbs, and I have a suspicion that the lighter and more floral Manzanilla would indeed shine alongside the smokiness of soybacon. The nose on this Sherry was a wash of citrus, moss, and light prune. I could see drinking it with a smoked eggplant soup, and hope to try that sometime in future.

From there we drank two Amontillados, a medium dry, and a dry rich. Again, I preferred the first, but wouldn't kick the rich dry out of my glass, either. The medium dry came on with a lush nose of leathery dried pear and light brown sugar, and tasted most of browned caramel, with nutty hints of buttered popcorn. There was long, slightly raisiny finish. This is a big food wine, and could stand up to both acidic and rich foods-- I had to wonder what it would taste like alongside a curried carrot soup. Alone or with food, it would be a delicious reward for struggling through our modern lives.

 The dry rich Amontillado showed heavier caramel yet, brightened with strong citrus notes and, I thought, a ghost of dried apricot along with its primary toasted hazelnut or almond flavors.

 Then things started to get serious. Back-to-back Olorosos, dry and full rich, showed themselves as deep dinner wines, not to be taken for a mere aperitif. It's a shame more people here don't serve sherries with meals. We're missing so much: a wide spectrum of food wines pared down to the dessert genre, or slubbed off as an esoteric salon refreshment of priests, B-movie villians, and great-grandmothers.

 Our 'teacher' told us an anecdote about trying to sell an Oloroso, and how the would-be buyers brushed him off until they tasted it with a steak. For us, I'd have to say, I can perfectly picture myself happy slurping the full rich with a meal of portobello steaks or duxelles over mashed potatoes and green beans. Sweet potato hash, with or without soybacon, would be luscious too, and this sherry could take the spice of some hot red pepper thrown in, easily. When you sample a bevy of sherries, you begin to understand the genius of paprika as a seasoning. The flavors here were a meld of prune plum, toasted almond and syrupy lime coming off a heady perfumed bouquet of rich brown sugar and green moss with a whiff of citrusy cilantro.

 We'd been tasting in pairs, and this was the first time that I, and my tasting partner and bandmate J., preferred the second choice of a pairing. It was a knockout, although the dry Oloroso had beautiful acidity, and filled our mouths and noses with big, bright, crisp sour apple, cut grape, and minor blonde roast coffee notes. I'd try it with a mixed veg stew, or even a red sauce dish-- it has enough acid to match, and meld its fruitier quality into the mix for a neat complement.

 You might be thinking at this point, when did she go all wine critic on us? Truth is, I've always loved wine. It was my cocktail of choice even as a teen, (Sangria!) and as school age kids, my sister and I were given a singular holiday treat in the form of a tiny pink cordial Depression glassful of whatever red was being served with the feast. 

 As for sherry, I had an after work ritual for maybe a year and a half, two years, while living in Indianapolis. Take off shoes. Wash hands. Chop and start cooking for dinner, then sit with my feet up and read, drinking a small glass of Fino or Amontillado, nibbling on a tiny wedge of parmesan or romano cheese, some nuts or olives, raisins or dried apricots, and maybe a cracker. A good way to reclaim my adult brain at the end of a day spent with energetic young children. So I've been into sherry for over a decade now.

 Of course, in Spain, they serve sherry with food all the time, but here, unless it's a self-conscious tapas party raining down manchego and sardines, it doesn't happen. Part of this can be blamed directly on Harvey's Bristol Cream. Luckily, the cream sherry we tried next was not in the same class as good ol' Harvey's. Nor was it as complex and layered an experience as the wines that had gone before; but it was a sherry I could see myself enjoying in small amounts. With aromas of candied peach and peach pit, it was sweet but not cloying, showing plenty of sugary berry and fatty nut flavors.

 The last two sherries were the high sweet end of sherry-- a dark rich Moscatel that came on with a deep, deep hit of prune and light brown sugar, and the syrupy Ximenez extra rich. The last is definitely a treaty dessert wine, standardly recommended to be chilled and dripped over vanilla ice cream or paired with a dark mousse cake. I'd amend that to a pistachio or maple walnut ice cream (or burnt almond if you can find it anywhere anymore) alongside a thin slice of pear or apple tart, or for more contrast, a not-too-tart cranberry dessert.

 This was purely luscious. A sweet plummy bouquet gave way to concentrated honeyed fig. As I swirled it over my tongue, a so-light note of buttered wheat toast led to layer upon layer of deep, dark caramel, dried prune and date, toffee-washed tobacco and back to fresh fig. Honestly, more than the taste poured for us at Premier would be too much for me without an accompanying dessert, but it was ambrosial while it lasted. I can't recommend this brand of sherry highly enough, for its complexity and smoothness, and rich flavors, not to mention it's reasonable everyday cost.

If reading this hasn't moved you, maybe the fact that many of these finely crafted sherries are waiting to come home with you for a mere $11.99/bottle can. I know I'm excited to try sherry as a wine to be drunk with meals again, and not just my pre-dinner snack. It has been way too long.

 Drink something good tonight! Peace,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Announcements: Things to Eat, Places to Go, Evil to Stop!

Happy Imbolc!

 Usually this blog keeps a purer food focus, me being a foodie and not an evangelist-- but recent efforts by our fearless friends at PETA to pressure McDonald's into a cleaner ethical space have called to me. Check out their McCruelty ads, (nasty to see) and get the info there. Spread it around, if you can. What has Mickey D's ever done for vegetarians? Not much, besides the inner and outer pollution they create and promote. They are not alone in that, but there's no denying they have alot to answer for.

 On a pleasanter note, the Buffalo Live Food Meetup is having a number of events this month, notably a potluck at the Snyder Holistic Health Center. The Buffalo Vegan Meetup Group at Merge is having a meet & greet dinner next week, too.  I like these groups, and the only reason I haven't joined them both is financial inability to contribute my fair share of the goodies at meetings. It won't stop me forever!

 Also happening this week: the PeopleArt Coffeehouse Open Stage, where you can donate (or not), have a cup of joe or some herb tea for a pittance, watch local musicians perform original music, and even get up on stage yourself if you choose. It's this Friday the 3rd, at 9pm; show up a bit earlier for the sign-up sheet.Yours truly will be hanging out drinking tea, and I'd love to see you there.

 I've been crockpotting as usual for this time of year, even without the usual constant snowfall to encourage me. I have FAWM to spur me instead, and making songs is hungry work. Last night, we feasted on black bean and spinach tacos from the slowcooker, with rice. Nice to have the food safely cooking itself while I'm diddling around with words.

 I'd found some organic cilantro at the market and used it both in the taco mixture, and in a simple topping of equal parts chopped cuke and red pepper flecked with the lemony herbal greenery. Better than shredded lettuce! For more flavor, throw the unused long stems of cilantro on top of the bean mixture while it cooks, then discard them before stirring. This recipe serves 2, with maybe some leftovers. To make sure there's leftovers, add an extra cup of cooked beans.

Black Bean and Spinach Taco/Burrito Filling

Throw into a small (1 1/2 to 2 qt.) crockpot:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried oregano
dash celery seed (optional)
1 jalapeno, seeded & chopped, or one canned chili, or crushed red pepper to taste
1 small onion, peeled & chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped fine
1/2 bell pepper, any color, chopped
2 cups cooked black beans or 1 15/16 oz can black beans, rinsed & drained*
1/3 cup wine, leftover coffee or beer
fresh chopped cilantro, to taste (optional)

 Add a bit of salt to taste, cover & cook on high for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or on low for several hours.

Stir, season to taste with more salt & cumin, and more fresh chopped cilantro if desired.

Add one or two of the following: several handfuls of fresh spinach leaves (it can take half a 10-oz. bag easily), ripped; half a cup of frozen corn kernels, thawed and drained, half a small zucchini, diced small; a cup of chopped tomato; half a cup of fennel bulb, diced small.

Stir in raw veg, cover & cook on high for about 15 minutes, to warm through. Serve on mixed lettuce as a salad, or in tortillas, or pitas, with toppings like guacamole, shredded cheeses, salsa, or shreded raw veg.

*You can, of course, use pintos, kidney beans, navy beans, or a mix of beans-- in which case, add in some chickpeas.  If using a larger slowcooker for a larger amount, double the aromatic seasonings, spices and liquid. Triple the beans, and add as much fresh veg as you like.  

 Eat something good tonight! Peace,