Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Soup du Jour

So today is the was the first day that actually felt like spring here in New Hampshire.  What did I decided to cook?  Soup.  Not really sure where the drive for that came from, but I was produce shopping today and I just sort of let the ingredients drive my cooking plan.

First, I made a Minted English Pea & Cucumber Soup.  I kept this one nice and simple and let the incredible freshness of the peas shine through.  I am more than ready for my garden to start blooming so that I can try this with my own produce.  Soup or not, I really feel that this just spoke to the bright, freshness of spring and really worked today.

Second, I prepared a Curry Roasted Cauliflower & Spring Onion Bisque.  I love using cauliflower in soup because it brings this delicious, flavorful creaminess that allows me to use less daily products to achieve the texture that I want.  The spring onion added another dimension of flavor behind the curry but kept it milder and sweeter than a traditional red or yellow onion.  All in all, not my favorite creation of the day, but a solid effort and nonetheless enjoyable.

Finally, I challenged seasonality and created what I consider to be my crowning jewel of the night.  I know chestnuts are traditionally a winter item, but they just looked fantastic and I decided to bid adieu to winter with a Roasted Chestnut and Shaved Black American Truffle Bisque. 

This past December, James and I traveled to Napa Valley where I had the opportunity to taste some of the most amazing food I've ever eaten... among which was the Roasted Chestnut Bisque at Redd.  I've thought about this dish numerous times since then and when I saw the chestnuts today, I really just wanted to see what I could do as far as recreating it, but putting my own spin on it at the same time.  I feel that the texture was a perfect match but we took different directions in flavor.

Being the end of the season, I felt that the chestnuts weren't as bursting with flavor as I would have liked them to be in order to let them stand alone... enter the black American truffles.  I soaked the chestnuts in a black truffle oil and a champagne fleur de sel before pureeing them with a locally made Vermont cultured butter and fresh milk (yes, I said milk, not cream).  I think that chestnuts have a creamy texture to begin with and they were able to impart what I was looking for in my soup without needing to laden it with heavy cream... just a personal opinion.  I added some shaved black American truffles and pea shoots to top it all off and add a little bit of texture.

See, soup can work in all seasons!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Buzz from the Vine: #1

Although I have a deep rooted love for all things edible, my true passion typically comes in a 750 milliliter bottle. Part of my reasoning for writing this in the first place, was to document my journey on my way to my ultimate goal... to be the fourth person in the world (and the first woman) to possess both the MW & MS certifications.  Please bear in mind that this is going to be a long, complicated journey... emphasis on the word long. 

That all being said, I really want to dedicate a reoccurring excerpt sharing some of my favorite wines, interesting facts I've learned though out my studies and quite frankly, anything I happen to come across in the wine world that I deem worth sharing. 

I can't think of a better first installment, than to share a little bit about one of my favorite wines... Boekenhoutskloof's The Chocolate Block.  For clarification purposes, that's pronounced Boo-ken-hoo-its-kloof (now you can sound all knowledgeable when you order it).  It's a South African, Northern Rhone Valley impersonator from Franschhoek with, as the name would imply, rich, dark chocolaty aromas.  The syrah-heavy blend also boasts an easy-drinking fruit forwardness that isn't always found in South African wines.  On the forefront, there's a deep plum/black currant flavor that trancends effortlessly into a licorice/mint finish.  If your a fan of Australian Shiraz, give this a try and I promise you'll be an SA convert in no time. 

As for pairing this wine (or any wine for that matter), the first thing to consider is matching the body and texture of the food and the wine.  The Chocolate Block has a rich, velvety texture and I think it's important to be sure you're balancing that against the food you're pairing with it.

This is a wine I've been in love with for years and this past Friday, Chef Matthew Maue of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro in Foxboro, Massachusetts designed us an impeccable meal that truly played off every positive aspect of the wine.  If you ever have the opportunity to dine there, take advantage of the chef's tasting menu and let Matt's creativity drive your meal. 

Just to share a few highlights from the menu, our first course was a shaved asparagus salad in a caper vinaigrette with filleted anchovies, shaved Cabot 2-year aged cheddar and a perfectly poached egg.  The best way to describe the flavor is to imagine a deconstructed Caesar dressing with the creamiest, richest texture possible.  The freshness of the asparagus played against the salty, creaminess of the other components, all of which brought out the best possible characteristics in the wine.  If you've ever eaten a salted caramel, you can  understand how the salt essentially "wakes up your palate" and makes the caramel actually taste sweeter.  Use that same logic to pair a crisp, salty salad with a chocolate-aroma laden wine. 

My favorite pairing came with our third course, a ricotta gnocchi tossed in a simple New Zealand lamb ragu.  The gnocchi were blanched just long enough to bring out the creaminess of the ricotta, but not so long that they started to get a starchy potato texture.  This coupled with the richness of the lamb complimented the body of the wine in ways that I can't even describe.  It truly was a perfect match.

Hopefully I've enticed you to give The Chocolate Block a try.  Sadly, it's not the easiest wine to find but I'm more than happy to share a few places where I know you can get a hold of a bottle.  As I mentioned before, Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro in Foxoboro, MA carries it on their wine list.  In the Boston area, Martignetti carries it at their retail store.  I've also purchased it on line at, which is a fantastic site dedicated with Southern Hemisphere wines.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Saga of the Duck Wonton

About a month ago, we were searching for a restaurant on a random Friday night.  After much deliberation and our standard procedure of analyzing online menus, we decided on Unum in downtown Nashua... driven almost entirely by the prospect of the duck confit wontons on their bar menu.  We arrive and the bar is packed, so we ask for a table.  I've working in restaurants my entire life and I couldn't imagine it being an issue ordering an appetizer off the bar menu while sitting in the dining room.  Apparently, I was mistaken... we were graciously informed by the manager (as he leaned over our table with his exposed chest hair poking out of his unbuttoned shirt) that their kitchen wouldn't be able to handle an order from the bar menu, in the dining room on a weekend night.  Mind you, we're sitting about 15 feet from the bar...

We overcame frustration #1 and decided to return 2 weeks later, sit at the bar, and enjoy what we imagined would be a deliciously decadent treat.  This will now lead us into frustration #2... the duck confit wontons have been removed from the menu.  They just never got around to updating the website.  But, we did receive confirmation from the bartender that the wontons were in fact, quite fantastic. 

We have since sworn off Unum... also taking into account that their food really just wasn't all that good.

This in turn, has lead us to tonight's culinary adventure... is it morally wrong to eat duck on Easter?  At least it's not rabbit.

My take on the duck wonton... a slow roasted duck breast (with deliciously crispy rendered skin), white truffle-spring onion risotto, sherry-poached apricots and a pinot noir/cranberry reduction... all wrapped in a crispy fried wonton wrapper and topped with a Hoisin-Plum sauce.  

James & Amber: 1
Unum: -2

Oloroso Sherry-Poached Sun-Dried Apricots

The Roasting of the Duck Breasts

Wonton Assembly Part 1

Wonton Assembly Part 2
The Final Product