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Volume 41 Issue 2 • May 12-25, 2011
now in our 41th season

Wine is of the Essence

by Jenn Farmer - chef and food fanatic

One of my favorite things about having dinner parties is the wonderful variety of wine and beer that the guests bring.  Recently I hosted a party where we ate authentic Mexican cuisine.  We indulged in citrus slow roasted pork, roasted chicken with chilies, homemade tortillas, tamales, bacon with beans and spicy Pico de Gallo.  Just like my guests, there was an eclectic variety of drinks.  The wine selection interested me a great deal.  All three wines were Spanish reds, yet each tasted very different.  All of the wines accentuated different aspects of the meal. It was fascinating, especially when we allowed the younger bottle to be open and “breathe a bit”.  Some of the flavors were so complex; there are no words to describe the flavors and textures. 

Here is a great appetizer.  My guests typically drink a medium heavy red with it, but if you are like me any wine is worth a try. 

Clam Ceviche on the half shell.

  • 12 cherrystone clams, scrubbed and cleaned
  • One quarter cup red onion, minced
  • 6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 12 small lime wedges
  • 1-2 tablespoons dry red wine (Pisco or Tequila are great substitutions)
  • One medium tomato seeded and small diced
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Crushed ice or rock salt
  • Fresh black pepper and red chili flakes (for guests to add at the table)

Carefully shuck the clams over a bowl, scrape and clean 20 of the best half shells.  Refrigerate the shells.  Cut the calms into one half inch pieces.  Mix the clams with onion, lime juice, jalapenos, wine, tomato and chopped cilantro.  Strain the clam liquor over the clams, mix and chill for an hour, or up to two.  Carefully arrange the clean shells on a platter of crushed ice or rock salt.  Spoon the ceviche evenly into the half shells.  Garnish the platter with lime wedges. Yields 20 shells

One of the greatest things (and most confusing) about wine is the vast variety.   I am not a wine aficionado and don’t have a well-trained palate.  I have taken a very unpretentious attitude toward wine.  To me wine can be enjoyed with a hot dog as easily as with a fine dining meal, or it can be sipped and savored alone.  In fact, learning about the wine and where it is from is as exciting to me as drinking it.  Regardless of one’s experience level, there are endless sources and vintages of wine to choose amongst, keeping it interesting.

Cooking with wine is just as much fun.  I rarely cook with a wine that I would not drink.  That’s not saying I don’t save the remnants of good bottles and allow them to turn vinegary for salad dressings.  My Alfredo sauce is mediocre at best when I forget to throw little dry white wine in with the sautéed shallots.  Boeuf Bourguignon would just be a boring beef stew if it wasn’t for the aromatic red wine that it is slowly roasted in.  The following is an adaptation of a classic dish called Veal Blanquette.  Since some of my family dislikes the idea of eating young calf, so I have substituted chicken instead.  For veal lovers, add 2 pounds cubed veal instead of the chicken. 

Coq au Vin Blanc

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 1 pound pearl onions, peeled (frozen are ok too).
  • 8 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 2 oz. prosciutto, minced
  • One quarter cup flour
  • 1 cup white wine (dry)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • One half a pound of parsnips, peeled, halved and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 pounds new potatoes, washed, and halved
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • One quarter cup chopped parsley
  • A few Tablespoons cream or half and half

Heat a deep sauté pan over medium high heat, with a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Dry the chicken thighs well before adding to the hot sauté pan with salt and pepper.  Do not crowd the chicken, browning well on each side.  Set aside cooked chicken.  Add a couple more tablespoons of oil to the sauté pan and cook the pearl onions (also not crowding the pan), until they are golden brown, stirring up the browned bits.  Add to the pan with chicken.  Add a little more oil and carefully brown the mushrooms.  Stir in prosciutto and let cook for a minute.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir well.  Deglaze with white wine and let it reduce for a moment.  Then add broth, and remaining ingredients barring the fresh herbs.  Allow to simmer on low heat for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are done.  Stir in fresh herbs and cream, and simmer for a minute, then cover and let stand for about 5 minutes.  Serves 4-6  

I am sure you may be wondering how a brownie recipe snuck in here, but I love eating chocolate with the right wine.  A dear friend of mine in California sent me this recipe.  She loves to add unique salts to the mix.  One night we successfully used a smoked sea salt, and then ate the brownies with a nice quality California red Zinfandel.  We added little crème fraiche ice cream and were very happy with the results.  The only downfall was that we had too much fun, and work was not fun the next day.  I have changed the brownies to include our own local Nantucket sea salt (available at the Easy Street Cantina).  I think it really captures the essence of Surfside beach on a sunny day.  Eat at your own risk, the salt slows you down a little, but the brownies are still addicting. 

Surfside Salty Brownies

  • 1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • One quarter cup plus 2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons bourbon or red wine (vanilla is ok too)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nantucket Sea Salt (any sea salt can be substituted)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9 inch square metal cake tin with foil or parchment, making certain to drape it over the pan’s edge.  Lightly grease the foil or parchment. 

Meanwhile in a double boiler, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate over low heat.  Stir occasionally until melted.  Remove from heat and whisk the cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and flour into the ingredient into the mixture to until the batter is prepared.  Pour the batter into the pan.  Using a spatula smooth the brownie surface, and sprinkle with Nantucket Salt, gently swirling a bit of the salt into the batter. 

Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the edge is set but the center is a bit soft.  If you like to check with a toothpick make certain that a toothpick inserted still has a bit of batter on it.  The brownies should cool for a while, and then refrigerate them until they are chilled through.  Lift the brownies with the aid of the foil or parchment from the pan.  Slice into 16 portions.  Let warm to room temperature and enjoy!  Serves 16

 

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