Saturday, April 21, 2018

A LIP-SMACKING LIP-STINGER: PICPOUL DE PINET


This month the French #winophiles are in the Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, bordering Spain, Andorra, and the Mediterranean Sea. If the geography hasn't given it away: this region is home to a variety of warm weather wines including those made from Picpoul, aka Folle Blanche. The soil - often the soul - of wine, here is primarily limestone and sand.

Limestone soil is an abundant source of plant-accessible CaCO3, calcium carbonate, and because limestone is basic, it allows greater nutrient uptake by the vines. It also has excellent water retention and drainage capacity, which allow less irrigation and less chance of water-logged soils that grapevines dislike. Calcareous (calcium carbonate-based) soil is also cooler in temperature, allowing delayed ripening of grapes. Delayed ripening in naturally acidic grapes further increases the acidity of the wine pressed from these grapes, and results in wines with a mouthwatering, delicious, acidity such as in Picpoul de Pinet or even Muscadet (melon de bourgogne) wines from the Loire Valley. A majority of these wines are best enjoyed within 3 years or so, although a rare few can be cellared for a few decades. I cant imagine why anyone would want to cellar such delicious wines that are perfect for summer and seafood!

Picpoul is not a grape commonly seen in the US, and neither is wine made from it. The one I was able to easily find was the 2016 Hugues Beaulieu (HB) Picpoul de Pinet. HB is a  cave cooperative in the Pomérols region of Languedoc. This wine has no oak, is a pale yellow colour with a green tinge. It is a "steely" bone-dry, crisp wine with juicy acidity and aromas and flavour notes of grapefruit, lemon, green apple, and salinity. The finish is medium and clean - overall a delicious wine!

As with Muscadet, the Picpoul would pair splendidly with seafood - oysters especially, or fatty river fish such as trout or eels. But it also holds well with rich dishes - ones with bechamel sauce, chèvre, or cream. Wild mushrooms are a delicacy of Languedoc and a favourite around our house, so we paired the Picpoul with croûtes aux champignons: creamy mushrooms on toast, and a green salad.


See what the other #winophiles are saying here:
  • Michelle of Rockin Red Blog says, "Picpoul...Take Me Away."
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm encourages us to Pick a Picpoul to Enjoy al Fresco This Summer.
  • Susannah of Avvinare features Picpoul de Pinet - A Refreshing White from the Languedoc.
  • Jill of L'Occasion shares Mediterranean Bliss: Picpoul de Pinet.
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick! pairs Picpoul de Pinet and Steak Tartare Redemption. 
  • Nicole of Somm's Table writes Cooking to the Wines: Font-Mars Picpoul de Pinet with Crab Cakes and Fennel-Apple Salad.
  • Payal of Keep the Peas posts A Lip-Smacking Lip-Stinger: Picpoul de Pinet.
  • David of Cooking Chat makes a case for Picpoul Wine with Pesto and Other Pairings.
  • Lauren of The Swirling Dervish says Picpoul de Pinet: Your Go-To Wine for Spring.
  • Lynn of Savor the Harvest asserts The Single Variety Wine For Summer- Picpoul de Pinet.
  • Gwendolyn of Wine Predator has Picpoul Goes Southern with Shrimp and Grits.
  • Rupal of Syrah Queen will also have a title soon.
  • Jane of Always Ravenous pairs Halibut with Spring Vegetables and Picpoul Wine.
  • Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles shares Picpouls from Pinet and California and a Seaside Pairing
  • At Culinary Adventures with Camilla, we're Pairing Bourride à la Sétoise with Picpoul From France to California's Central Coast.

CROÛTES AUX CHAMPIGNONS: CREAMY MUSHROOMS ON TOAST



CROÛTES AUX CHAMPIGNONS: CREAMY MUSHROOMS ON TOAST
- 1⁄4 cup onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 8 oz. wild mushrooms, sliced (chanterelles, cepes, morels - or crimini if it's easier)
- 4 oz. dry white wine, such as Picpoul or Muscadet
- 3 oz. cream (or you can use a fresh cheese like cream cheese or farmers cheese)
- 2 slices of a whole grain country-style bread
- shavings of goat's milk gouda or a hard salty cheese like parmesan cheese
chives, for garnish (optional)
  1. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook over medium heat until the juices start to run. Uncover, and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates, making sure the mushrooms don't stick to the pan.
  2. Add the wine, reduce by half, then stir in the cream or cream cheese. Let it all simmer for a few minutes, until thickened.
  3. Lightly toast the bread and place on a baking sheet. Top with the mushroom mixture and grated cheese.
  4. Broil just until the top starts to brown. Garnish with chives if using, and serve immediately, preferably with a glass of a bone-dry wine like Picpoul de Pinet or Muscadet!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

THE RHÔNE: A TASTE OF TERROIR WITH THE #WINOPHILES

While Bordeaux may be a prolific and perhaps most famous wine region of France, the Rhône offers the edgy and raw side of French wine with overt expressions of terroir. Whether it's a cool weather northern rhone Crozes-Hermitage grown in granitic soils mixed with clay and sand, or a warmer weather Châteauneuf-du-Pape grown in galet (pebble) laden vineyards that often hide any hint of underlying soil. These pebbles, mostly quartzite, absorb heat during the day and emanate it at night, creating a warm microclimate around the vines, and allowing the grapes to fully ripen. Incidentally, quartzite is the same material often used in road construction! And then there is juicy and refreshing wine from the Luberon, a warm and very sunny region that allows white grapes to fully ripen and regain composure at night when temperatures drop significantly.

Maison Chapoutier, one of the Rhône's oldest wine producers and the first to print their labels in Braille as a matter of course. In fact, the Braille print is the very first thing I noticed on the labels when I received sample wines for the #winophiles March wine event. Why Braille? Why not Braille, because wine is one of life's sensory pleasures that can be enjoyed sign unseen!

On to the wine... thanks to Liz Barrett, I received a Luberon Ciboise (white), a Ch.-du-Pape (red), and a Crozes-Hermitage (red) to try. And...


The 2016 Luberon La Ciboise is a blend of grenache blanc, vermentino, roussanne and clairette, and is unoaked. With notes of citrus blossoms, herbs and light flowers, this youthful wine is balanced, fresh, clean, and juicy. We had it on its own before dinner (no food pairing) because it's delightful and we did not want to burden it with any competing flavours since it's almost delicate in aromas and flavours. And then...



We enjoyed the reds with a terrific cheese and charcuterie board with garlic sausage, a dry cured sausage, Pont-l'eveque, Epoisses, and tomette vendeenne cheeses, olives, and mustard amongst other things. The 2015 La Bernardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a young, delicious wine with a beautiful clear ruby colour and notes of freshly turned earth, white pepper, dried roses, fresh ripe red fruit. A medium bodied wine, soft tannins, generally straightforward and not too complex, with a medium finish. We had the 2015 vintage in 2018, but this wine is still developing and would do well with a few years in the bottle.


The 2015 Les Meysonniers Crozes Hermitage is 100% syrah and it's a bold, forthcoming wine with a gorgeous purple-ruby-violet colour. The nose shows earth, mushroom, black fruit, dried flowers, and undeniable spice. On the palate: earth, black fruit, leather, black pepper, and slight herbal notes. This full-bodied wine is a cool climate wine and doesn't have the juiciness of warm weather wines. But it's delicious after an hour or so of decanter time, and will do very well with at least another 4-5 years in the bottle.


Also see the food pairings and Rhône wine reviews by my fellow French #Winophiles:
  • Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator tells us about “Duck à l’Orange with M. Chapoutier’s Biodynamic, Organic Rhone Wines”
  • Jill Barth from L’Occasion writes about “Braille on the Label and Other Pioneering Moments of Chapoutier”
  • J.R. Boynton from Great Big Reds writes about “The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine Fondreche Persia 2012  (Ventoux)”
  • Jeff Burrows from Food Wine Click shares “Northern Rhone Wines and My Steak Tartare Disaster”
  • David Crowley at Cooking Chat at tells us about “London Broil Steak with Châteauneuf-du-Pape”
  • Rob Frisch at Odd Bacchus writes about “Return to the Rhône”
  • Susannah Gold at Avvinare writes about “Rhône Gems from Chapoutier in Chateauneuf, du Pape, Crozes-Hermitage, and Luberon”
  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table tells her story of “Cooking to the Wine: Les Vins de Vienne Gigondas with Gratinéed Shepherd’s Pie”
  • Camilla Mann from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares a post on “Sober Clams + a French Syrah”
  • Jane Niemeyer at Always Ravenous shares “Bison Burger Paired with Northern Rhône Syrah”
  • Martin Redmond Enofylz at shares “A Taste of The House of Chapoutier”
  • Rupal Desai Shankar at Syrah Queen writes about “Chapoutier: King of the Rhône”
  • Lauren Walsh at The Swirling Dervish writes about “France’s Rhône Valley: Mountains, Sea, Wind, and Wine”
  • Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog writes about “Maison M. Chapoutier: Expressing Terroir Through Biodynamics”

Monday, March 27, 2017

FONDANT AU CHOCOLAT: MELTED CHOCOLATE CAKE + WALNUTS



This fondant (melted, in French) is so easy to make, keeps well overnight so it's perfect to make ahead if you're serving it at a party, and - most importantly - it's unbelievably delicious! No need for special ingredients other than the very best dark chocolate you can get, no complicated techniques, no gadgets needed other than a whisk or a spoon, and takes no more than 45 min. from start to finish (once you have all the ingredients lined up... mise en place)!

In all the years I've made this cake, I can't believe I haven't photographed it until now. Enjoy!

FONDANT AU CHOCOLAT: MELTED CHOCOLATE CAKE + WALNUTS
makes: 1 8 in. cake, 6-8 servings

- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 6 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I usually use 55%-65% Valrhona)
- 3/4 cup butter, diced
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or any other nuts, or none if you want a plain cake)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting (optional)
  1. Combine the sugar with the water in a medium saucepan and heat until it simmers and the sugar is dissolved. Don't boil the sugar and water mixture! Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from heat and let it cool for a few minutes while you prep the next steps. 
  2. Put a deep baking sheet (or an oven-proof pan large enough to hold the cake pan) in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven (with the baking sheet/pan in it) to 350F/180C. Grease an 8 in. cake pan with butter and line the bottom with parchment paper; lightly brush the parchment with butter. Boil 2-3 cups water.
  3. Add the lightly beaten eggs into the chocolate mixture and whisk until mixed well. Mix in the flour and chopped walnuts (or whatever nuts you're using, if any). Pour the batter into the greased cake pan, set the pan on the rimmed baking sheet in the oven, and pour hot water into the rimmed baking sheet until it reaches a depth of 1/2 in. or so.
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the center is firm (but not too firm or else the sides will be overcooked). Let it cool for a while before turning it out onto a serving plate, and let it cool completely before dusting with confectioner's sugar.
  5. Serve as is with coffee, or with whipped cream (the cake is sweet enough that we like it with unsweetened whipped cream). Or if you have an impossibly sweet tooth: serve with vanilla ice-cream.

Monday, February 13, 2017

CHOCOLATE ALMOND CANTUCCI (BISCOTTI)


Adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, one of my favourite American cookery books.

Cantucci are made to last a long time so the dough has no perishable fats that could go rancid (oil, butter, etc.), so if anyone is trying to pass off cantucci containing any fat other than eggs, they're not cantucci! These are also known as biscotti (biscuits) outside Italy/Europe. But really, they're a specific biscotti from Prato. Regardless, they come together in no time and are very versatile... delicious with pine nuts or any other nut, raisins, chocolate shavings, etc.

They're supposed to be very dry, and are usually enjoyed dipped into coffee or a sweet dessert wine - traditionally Vin Santo -  when they soften a bit, making them bite-able.

Chocolate Almond Cantucci (Biscotti)
Makes 2-3 dozen biscuits, depending on the size of the loaf and thickness of slices


- 2 cups sliced almonds
- 1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp almond or vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp citrus zest (lemon or any type of orange)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Spread the sliced almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until just fragrant, about 7 min.
  2. In a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla (or almond) extract, and zest until the mixture falls in a nice ribbon (3-4 min.).
  3. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt, and fold the almonds into the dough (it will be a very stiff batter rather than a dough).
  4. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, divide the dough into two portions. Shape into 3-4 in. wide logs using moistened hands so it doesn't stick. The dough will spread a bit so space logs at least 3-4 in. apart. Re-moisten hands as needed and smoothen out any lumps or unevenness in the logs.
  5. Bake until just firm, 25-30 min. Remove from the oven and cool for 10-15 min. (If baked or cooled for too long the logs might harden, making it difficult to slice them so do keep and eye on the time).
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F/150 C.
  7. Remove each cooled log from the parchment and set on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut log into diagonal slices, about 1/2 in. thick  Lay the slices on the baking sheet - they can be quite close together, don't need to be spaced (use two baking sheets if needed, although I have never needed to do that).
  8. Bake cut cantucci for 10 min., then flip onto the other side and bake another 10-15 minutes until crisp.
  9. Enjoy with a coffee, espresso, or a dessert wine. The crumbs from cutting the biscuits are terrific on ice-cream! 



Sunday, May 15, 2016

EASY PÂTE BRISÉE (SHORTCRUST PASTRY)



This is an easy fool-proof recipe for a classic French pastry dough, aka pate brisée, great for any recipe that needs a flaky pastry crust - pies, tarts, quiches, even empanadas / baked samosas. Enjoy!

Pate Brisee (Shortcrust Pastry)
Makes: 1 10-1/2 in. crust (enough for one quiche, pie or tart)

- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 large pinch salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in small pieces
- 3 to 4 tbsp chilled water
  1. Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process to mix.
  2. Cut the butter in chunks and add it to the flour. Process it, using pulses, until the butter is incorporated into the flour and the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.
  3. With the food processor running, add water 2 tbsp at a time and process briefly, using pulses, just until the pastry beings to hold together in large clumps. A way to check is to take a few tbsp of the flour-butter-water mix and press into a clump. If it holds well, it's got enough water. If it crumbles, it needs more water, 1 tbsp at a time.
  4. Remove the pastry onto a floured work surface and gather it into a ball.
  5. Refrigerate for 15 min before using in any tart, pie or quiche recipe.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

CHOCOLATE POTS DE CREME




Chocolate Pots de Creme

makes: 10 servings

- 10 oz. (300 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1-1/2 cups cream
- 1-1/2 cups whole milk
- 4-1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1 espresso (or 1 tsp instant coffee powder - optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- 7 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- to garnish: your choice of fresh raspberries, chopped pistachios, whipped cream, shaved chocolate, etc.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).  Set 10 4- to 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups in a roasting pan or deep baking dish. Or split between two pans like I did, if you don't have a large enough pan to fit all the containers.
  2. Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat the half-and-half, sugar, instant espresso or coffee powder, if using, and salt until quite hot, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot half-and-half mixture over the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Let cool until tepid, then whisk in the egg yolks and the vanilla. (If the mixture looks at all grainy, whisk well or purée in a blender until smooth.)
  3. Transfer the custard mixture to a large measuring cup or pitcher and divide evenly among the ramekins.
  4. Fill the roasting pan or baking dish with warm water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the perimeters of the custards are just set and the centers are still slightly jiggly, about 35 minutes.
  5. Transfer the custards from the water bath to a wire rack and let cool.
  6. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, garnished with small mounds of whipped cream, raspberries and chopped pistachios.

MIXED SPROUTS: GUJARATI CUISINE




Mixed Sprouts: Gujarati Cuisine
makes: 6 servings

- 6 cups sprouts
- 1 tbsp. plain or spiced ghee (or coconut oil)
- 2 dried cayenne chiles or chiles de arbol
- 1 tsp. heeng (asafoetida)
- 1 tsp. ajmo (ajwain, carom/bishop's weed seeds)
- 1 tsp. powdered turmeric
- 1 tsp. powdered cumin
- 1 tsp. powdered coriander
- 1 tsp. cayenne powder
- 1 tbsp. tamarind paste
- 2 - 3 tbsp. jaggery (or sugar, to taste)
- 3 cups water
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 4 tbsp. chopped cilantro, to garnish
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  1. Heat the ghee in a large pan, add in heeng, ajwain, whole red chilies. 
  2. When it's all aromatic, add the sprouts, turmeric, enough water to submerge the sprouts. Pressure cook until done. 
  3. OR - Add steamed sprouts, turmeric, and just enough water to submerge the sprouts. 
  4. Cook to a simmer, then add powdered cumin, coriander, cayenne powder, tamarind paste, and jaggery. Bring to a fast simmer and cook for a few minutes. 
  5. Lower the heat and add salt. Taste and adjust seasonings. 
  6. Turn off the heat and garnish with lemon juice and cilantro. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

SOUTHWEST SUMMER SALAD WITH MANGO VINAIGRETTE




I travel a fair bit for work, and when I travel, I try to keep to my usual eating habits. Especially in places that I know will have excellent fresh vegan/vegetarian food. A few months ago I was in a small town in southern CA and I looked around for lunch spots. I found a cafe near my site which served only vegan food - I *had* to go! And I was hooked!! I ate there every single day of my trip, and I ate their version of this salad. It's *that* good! And so filling.

And the mango vinaigrette - let's just say I now have this dressing in the fridge *all* the time in case I suddenly crave it! You can really put any vegetables you wish on this salad... if you don't have jicama, use radishes. Toss on some roasted vegetables: cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, a whole jalapeño, etc. Add a bit of roasted chicken or a filet of salmon to make it heartier.

Garnish with parsley instead of cilantro, or coarsely chopped almonds instead of pumpkin seeds. So many ways to make this your own...

Southwest Summer Salad with Mango Vinaigrette
makes: 2 servings

- 1/2 cup diced tomato
- 1/2 cup diced cucumber
- 1 small jicama, peeled and cut into batons
- 1 avocado, halved
- 1/2 cup sliced red onion
- 2 tbsp. lime or lemon juice
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- 3 cups mixed salad greens
- 2 cups cooked quinoa (or rice, millet, or lentils), cooled
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp. roasted pumpkin seeds
- 2 tbsp. currants or raisins
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 jalapeño, sliced
- 1 cup Mango Vinaigrette (recipe below)
  1. In a bowl, combine tomato, cucumber, and red onion. Toss with lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper.
  2. Divide salad greens into two salad bowls or plates.
  3. Top each with 1 cup of cooked quinoa/millet/rice. Arrange the tomato mixture, jicama, and an avocado half on the greens. Drizzle with 2-3 tbsp. of the vinaigrette. Garnish with the sliced jalapeño, cilantro, pumpkin seeds, currants/raisins, and cayenne pepper.
  4. Serve additional dressing on the side.
Mango Vinaigrette
makes: approximately 1 cup

- 1 cup chopped fresh (or frozen) mango
- 1/2 cups safflower oil
- 1/8 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1 tbsp. rice vinegar (use lime juice if you don't have rice vinegar)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 in. piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Store leftovers in the fridge.