Monthly Archives: November 2013

Vibrant Rioja and Your Thanksgiving Feast

Vibrant Rioja winesVibrant Rioja event

Rioja for your Thanksgiving feast? I know, it’s not a wine and food pairing that I wouldn’t have considered either, but after attending an event for Vibrant Rioja put on by Padilla/CRT last month, I wonder why I’d never thought of it before. Usually, the wines that we choose in our family for holiday meals come down to a. whatever is around b. whatever we can buy at the grocery store (being in Virginia you can do that, unlike in New York) or c. whatever I might have brought with me on my visit down South.  Food magazines offer suggestions for American Pinot Noirs or Zinfandels or some other vintage that happens to be the popular one of the season.  It all gets a bit confusing, not least because of the pressure to make a decision with the whole family relying upon my tastes, to the point where grabbing a beer from my dad’s stash just seems like the easiest route to go.

Wines and TapasWines and Tapas

Riojas tend to be low-acidity, food friendly wines, which was demonstrated to us that evening in the best way possible – by pairing different vintages with a variety of dishes.  The Marqués de Cáceres 2012 was the perfect way to get into the festive mood.  It’s bright pink color, berry notes and clean finish made this the perfect wine to enjoy while nibbling on sliced meats and Spanish tortilla while talking to the other attendees about what they do in the food business.

Chorizo Corn Bread StuffingChorizo Corn Bread Stuffing

My favorite pairing of the evening is one that would have pleased one of my wine instructors.  She taught us to pair smoky flavors with oaky wines.  Well, the Chorizo Corn Bread Stuffing, maybe something I can introduce to my family’s holiday table, worked beautifully with the round, ripe, deep, red fruit flavors of the Castillo Labastida Crianza 2010 which had been aged in American oak, picking up those notes.  It was a match that made me want to go back for seconds and thirds of the stuffing the balance between the wine and food were just so wonderful to enjoy together.

Dinner PlateDinner Plate

A wine that seemed to pair well with just about everything that we were served was the Conde de Valdemar Reserva 2006.  This wine was aged in American and French oak, combining the best characteristics of both while also letting the fruit flavors shine through on the palate.  We enjoyed it with the Duck in a Sherry-Citrus Sauce, the stuffing, the Carrots and Cauliflower in Romesco, and the Green Beans in Cream Sauce.  The diversity of tastes that this wine paired with would make it a great holiday meal partner.

Churros & Spicy Chocolate SauceChurros and Spicy Chocolate Sauce

For dessert, we had a wine that seemed to me to have a more sophisticated personality as well as a beautiful nose.  The Dinastia Vivanco Reserva 2005 was served alongside a platter of Churros and Spicy Chocolate Sauce.  The crisp, fried dough dusted with sugar dipped in rich, creamy chocolate with a kick of heat was a great balance with the wine, bringing out some of its spice notes.

Glasses of RiojaGlasses of Rioja

This year, I think I might try introducing Rioja to our holiday dinner table.  It might take some convincing, I know, given the entrenched tastes of my family members, but I’m game to try it.  I just really enjoyed how much these wines seemed to go so well with all the foods that we tried.  No matter what you serve for this holiday season, I hope that you are surrounded by family and friends and fellow wine-lovers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Salame al cioccolato (Chocolate Salami)

Salame al cioccolato slicedSalame al cioccolato (Chocolate Salami)

Yesterday, as a thank you to the supporters of her recent Kickstarter Chocabaret project, Jackie Gordon (aka The Diva That Ate New York) hosted a chocolate-themed gathering at her home.  When the reminder for this event flashed up on my phone on Friday, 24 hours before it started, I had a mild moment of panic.  Oops!  I realized that I was supposed to make something chocolate inspired to bring with me.  Then, that idea lightbulb went off, just like in the comics, and I thought, “Hey, why don’t I make a chocolate salami.  That will be different.”

Chocolate spreadChocolate spread

This dish proved to be a hit, which gave me some relief, as I’d only made it once before in culinary school for our buffet, where it came out just so-so.  One of the guests kept going back time and time again for slices of the salami.  It was hard to resist it, I know from having put it together the night before.  Inspired by Italian meat products, it combines smooth and creamy chocolate mixed with chunks of cake (to represent the fat that is usually in meat salami), pistachios (like in mortadella), and dried cranberries for a bit of tartness all rolled into a log and then dusted with powdered sugar to mimic a log of cured meat.  Given the reception that this recipe had at an event full of food people and chocolate-lovers, I think I’m going to be bringing it to a few more parties this holiday season!


Salame al cioccolato (Chocolate Salami)

Prep time: 20 minutes to put it together, plus time overnight to set

Serving Size: about 25-30 slices


125 ml Heavy Whipping Cream

2 tsp. Instant Coffee

1 Tbsp. Brandy

1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

350 g Semi-sweet Chocolate (70% cocoa)

85 g Vanilla Cake (or cupcake), cut into 1/2 cm cubes

20 g Pistachio Halves

30 g Dried Cranberries

Powdered Sugar for dusting


Heat heavy cream in a saucepan over low heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan.  Add coffee, brandy, and vanilla extract to the cream.  Then, add chocolate and stir into the cream until thoroughly melted and smooth.

Chocolate mixtureChocolate mixture

Gently fold the cake pieces, pistachios, and cranberries into the chocolate mixture.  Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface.  Pour out the chocolate mixture onto the center of the plastic wrap lengthwise.  Fold one edge of the plastic wrap over the chocolate mixture and then fold the opposite edge over top of that one twist the edges and roll the mixture into a log using the plastic wrap, like you would do for making a log of compound butter.  You will end up with something that looks like the below.

Wrapped up and ready to go in the freezerChocolate Salami

Place the chocolate salami in the freezer to set.  Once firm, it can be put in the refrigerator and kept there until ready to serve it.  I left the log in the freezer overnight and moved it to the refrigerator in the morning, as I needed to travel with it to the party, so I didn’t want it to be come too soft before it got to its destination.  Just before getting ready to serve, dust the chocolate salami with confectioner’s sugar on all sides.  Cut into thin slices to serve.

Remains of Salame al cioccolatoThe remains at the end of the party

Buon appetito!

“Cooking from the Heart” with Chef John Besh at The International Culinary Center

Chef John Besh adding crab bodies to fish stewChef John Besh adding crab bodies to pan

“I thought today might be a good day to cook fish heads,” Chef John Besh announced as he kicked off his culinary demonstration on Thursday, Halloween Day, at the International Culinary Center to a room packed full of students from all the programs as well as a few alumni like me and a couple of my classmates.  Taking advantage of a day off from the catering kitchens where I usually work, I slid into a seat in the front row, anticipating some delicious treats and looking forward to stories and tips from this celebrated chef, who was in New York City with his team, touring and promoting his new cookbook “Cooking from the Heart,” which talks about his own personal journey and growth as a culinary professional.

Fish Soup w RouilleSoupe de Poissons (Fish Soup) with Rouille

Regaling us with stories of his own (and his chefs’) cooking exploits, Chef Besh walked us through not just the process of making a classic Provençale fish soup and how layers of flavor are built at each stage of the cooking process.  Seared crab bodies lend a subtle nuttiness to the finished product.  “Fish heads add a great viscosity to the soup.”  The soupe de poissons is also the base for a classic bouillabaisse, so a good flavor profile in the base is important to the final dish.  He added lots of saffron to the broth as well as other aromatics: “using dried herbs and spices work well with long, slow braises,” he advised.  To accompany the soup, Chef Besh whipped up a classic rouille, a mayonnaise with garlic and harissa and served it to us with toasted bread rounds.

Chef John Besh making rouilleChef Besh making rouille

He also talked to us about his own personal development in becoming a chef after attending culinary school.  “It was important to me to know the stories behind the food,” he explained.  This journey took him to Germany to the Black Forest region and to Provence in France.  At each step he worked with trained masters of their profession who challenged him, let him make mistakes and learn from them.  He also spent time with home cooks in those areas, too, capturing even more of the feel of the local cuisines.  These stories and the recipes that he developed from these lessons are captured in “Cooking from the Heart,” a copy of which we received at this demo.

Cooking from the Heart cookbookChef John Besh’s latest cookbook

It was very clear from the demo and the passion and delight that Chef Besh’s showed in his cooking on Thursday, that this is a very special book.  It’s a fond look back at the road that a bright, young culinary graduate took in order to become a chef, a recognition of all the people and places that have inspired him along the way.  This is a book that makes you just want to curl up on the couch, as I did, and read it as a piece of literature.  At the same time, the recipes are also inspiring and heart-warming, the terrines, soups, vegetable dishes, and desserts that capture useful techniques and terrific tastes and are rooted in the heritage of the countries in which he studied, and can also translate to meals on your table for family and friends.

Pear ClafoutisPear Clafoutis

We wrapped up the demo with a piece of a Pear Clafoutis, another classic dish, and a simple and tasty dessert that is very easy to make.  It’s super flexible as well, as Chef Besh explained, as it can be made using almost any seasonal fruit that you have available.  Throughout the demo, Chef Besh highlighted the efforts of his team of chefs and discussed how he sends them to get further training with some of the same chefs who taught him along the way.  Of course, he also ribbed them a bit as well for their own culinary exploits, including one of them who had dumped a whole vat of soup on a prominent chef.  He ended the demo by recognizing the folks who work with him, “There’s no way that I could do the work I do, have the life I have, without this team.”

Buon appetito!

Normally, at this point, I might offer this book as a giveaway item on this site, but I’m hanging onto this one, folks.  You should put it on your holiday gift book list, too.