Dinner Party: Inspired by Chenin Blanc, a Middle-Eastern Feast

I’d been waiting for some time for the epic dinner that took place at Stevie’s house with four of my favorite people (myself not included). While in South Africa at Glen Carlou, I’d tasted through their portfolio, including a sweet wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc. I bought a bottle with the express desire to share it with this group – and I was overjoyed when the day finally came.

This wine, combined with my lamb supply and Stevie’s desire for Kuku Kadoo, resulted in the following delicious menu:

Pan-fried lamb chops, scented with cumin
Kuku Kadoo
Persian zucchini frittata
Parsley and tumeric cous cous
served with lamb jus
with rosewater, strawberries, and whipped cream
We sipped on some lovely riesling provided by Stevie and Josiah while cooking, and quite soon, the boys discovered what a seamless cooking team Stevie, Alexxa, and I have become:
Stevie manning the Kuku Kadoo and the wok

Alexxa, hard at work on chopping strawberries

Whipping the meringue
The team at work
We sat down for our lovely Middle-Eastern-inspired dinner with fingers crossed, hoping that all of the elements would meld together… and they did. The use of complementary spices throughout the savory dishes was fantastic, and the various textures – from the smoothness of the Kuku Kadoo to the graininess of the cous cous and the bite of the pesto a top the crispy (and still medium rare) lamb – added a fuller dimension to the meal.

The spread.
Once the meal was complete, we assembled the tasty-but-not-so-beautiful meringues layer by layer, while Josiah, with his rippling forearms and new two-pronged wine opener (recently procured on a trip to Burgundy), opened the Chenin Blanc.
Wonderful, with its chewy texture and rosewater accent

The somm in action.
When I had tried the wine in Africa, I’d been hesitant. I am not the biggest fan of sweet dessert wines, but rather than the cloying sweetness I expected, I had been surprised – it tasted like eiswein, usually grown in the world’s coldest regions and made from frozen grapes, giving the wine a high level of acidity that cuts through the residual sugar. This wine, though from the hot growing region of Paarl, had the same effect on the palette. AND it was delicious with the nutty, floral, and fruity dessert.

Other Things: Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and Brooklyn Museum of Art

I know I write predominantly about food and wine, but I do have other interests… I swear! When Mom was here this past weekend, we spent a really hot day in Park Slope exploring the Botanical Gardens and the Brooklyn Museum. It was a bit too hot for the former – a lot of the plants were drooping as a result of our continuous heat wave – except that the “Herb” Garden was in full swing. Check out some of the yummy goodies they’ve got growing (ok, this is food-related, but still cool!):

a beautiful beetroot section

sweet and thai basil

celery stalks

lettuces of all kinds
a single pineapple!

Afterwards, we went to cool off at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which is a decidedly wonderful museum. Even though my major in college was art history-focused, I find that I do not spend nearly enough time exploring art in this city. Who knew that so many fantastic pieces and shows were tucked away in the heart of Brooklyn?

Currently on display are an Andy Warhol exhibition (the late years), an African art exhibition (which I studied my senior year – I’ve retained much less than I thought), and a display of the the museum’s costume collection. We’d seen the sister fashion-oriented show at the Met the week before, and I’d been underwhelmed. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself engrossed in this exhibit: the collection is extensive, and because it is predominantly donor-based, the clothing is in exquisite condition. Also by virtue of the donor’s tastes, a few designers are more heavily represented than others, including Elsa Schiaparelli, whose work I love. The layout of the show was not incredibly visitor-friendly (chronology was only a loose organizational mechanism), but the pieces – from dresses to shoes to drawings – more than compensated.

Some favorites:

Halston caftan

Charles James evening gown

Elsa Schiaparelli suit with piano-button details

1940s happy-face swim ensemble

summer dress with beautiful pleating

Celebrations: Mom’s in town!

So, I’ve been a bit remiss in my posting because my lovely mom has been in town! Here are some highlights of our time together, which of course revolves around lots of food:

A Riesling tasting at Terroir, with Paul Grieco and winemaker Ernie Loosen.
Mr. Loosen, who brought over a vertical of his own wines for the tasting from the Erdener Treppchen vineyard, including a 1976 Auslese and a 2006 Auslese Goldkap.
 Our insalata caprese, with basil from my new herb garden!
Yummy succotash with corn, red onion, zucchini, and squash,
baked with lots o’ butta.
Additionally, we discovered a new French bistro, Bistro de la Gare, in the West Village, which provided a deliciously simply meal. Mom’s summer cannelloni were outstanding, with their paper-thin pasta shell overflowing with fresh spinach and the tiniest hint of ricotta. We also visited Fort Greene, hitting up the Flea and the farmer’s market at the Fort Greene park – here, we bought the most delicious cow’s milk cheese from a farm in Connecticut, as well as herbs for my new windowsill garden. 
Then, we had the best meal (Mom’s emphasis) at Bar Boulud after a show, thanks to Josiah’s able skills as a sommelier and the lovely fresh fish we tried. Between Toni, Mom, and me, we tasted almost all of the fish on the menu, which Josiah paired with a beautiful white Burgundy:
coquilles saint-jacques meunière (me)
dayboat scallops, stone ground polenta
purslane, brown butter, hazelnuts

truite arc-en ciel (toni)
local rainbow trout, roasted corn
olive, zucchini, smoked tomato coulis

limande au four (mom)
baked summer flounder, herb salad
glazed market vegetables
lemon buerre blanc

Each of us thought our own dish was the best, polishing our plates. Then we finished the meal with a beautiful apricot tart (the work “tart” vastly under-represents the presentation of the dish – a puff-pastry-like shell surrounded four distinct apricot-halves, served with a tart and refreshing red currant and lemon verbena ice cream), as well as a plate of the macarons and chocolates. Josiah gave us a taste of a Sauternes – not usually a favorite of mine because it can be quite thick and cloyingly sweet; however, this one was tasty with the apricots and rather refreshingly easy on the palette. Bar Boulud is hands down my favorite one of the chef’s restaurants and, in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in town.
And finally, we had an easy, rustic pizza night at Keste, a Neopolitan-style pizzeria on Bleeker Street. The staff is almost entirely Italian; the wine list features wines from the Campagna region; and the pizza is one of the most authentic I’ve had in Manhattan. We ordered the Regina Margherita and the special, a four-cheese white pizza with prosciutto, whose crunchy parmigiano flavor made it my favorite. We washed down not one but two carafes of Falanghina, a medium-bodied white wine I discovered in Rome last year. Following the pizza and wine, we walked around the corner to L’Arte del Gelato for the finishing touches on a great weekend.
And she comes back today!!

Creative Time: Pimento Grilled Cheese

A few years ago, when my mother and I went to Bonnaroo with a bunch of her friends, we prepared massive amounts of pimento cheese, using the large format Cuisinart that lives in her kitchen in Atlanta. To differentiate the two, we added some chopped jalapeno peppers and jus to one of the containers – and this spicy cheese spread was a total hit!

A Southern requisite.

Rather than waste half a jalapeno, a jar of pimentos, and half a block of Vermont cheddar cheese which didn’t make it into my marinated vegetable salad, these leftovers were perfect fodder for remaking this spicy pimento cheese. Since I lack a large food processor, I adapted and used a Microplane, which finely shredded the cheese.

Got to stick with the Vermont white cheddar!

This consistency ended up being a welcome bonus, as it greatly reduced the amount of mayonnaise needed to keep the spread together and created a dense, rich flavor. I added some ground pepper, but no salt, since the cheese was already quite salty. Then, I cut the rest of the previous day’s baguette into halves and created pimento grilled cheese sandwiches. Served with a yummy summer salad, it was a delicious, easy, and economical dinner!

Salty, cheesy goodness.

Quick and Easy: Marinated Vegetable Salad

After the eat-fest that was Fourth of July weekend (er, well, my life in general), Toni and I decided we would try to tone down our diets. It’s the best time of year to do so anyway: produce is at it’s finest, and it’s so hot in this city that one hardly wants to turn on the stove. Mom gave me a few ideas, via our friend Chef Jacques Pepin, for some quick and easy summer salads. Yesterday, we tried the first one.

Thanks Chef!

The ingredients in this salad can all be found in most grocery stores: canned artichoke hearts (I prefer those preserved in water, not oil), caponata, pimentos, green olives, parsley, a bit of jalapeno, and cheddar cheese. Everything was chopped into bite-size pieces and tossed with a bit of olive oil. We let it sit to let the flavors meld while we cut up fruit for another no-cook salad: cantaloupe, apples, kiwi, and banana.

It’s prettier than it tasted…

The marinated vegetable salad was a success, with the predominant flavors of each vegetable shining through. We ate it with a bit of toasted baguette. The fruit salad, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment. We had bought the produce at the Food Emporium near Toni’s place, since the market was not open on Tuesday, and almost everything we bought was absolutely tasteless (the watermelon, the beacon of summer, didn’t even make it into the salad!) Thank goodness for the kiwi, which redeemed it, at least a little…

Celebrations: Fourth of July Weekend

I spent Fourth of July weekend out in East Hampton, where my aunt Barbara lives during the summer. As usual, it was food-and-wine-filled affair. Toni latched on to the fact that we had a patio and a grill, so we cooked all meals outdoors, thanks to the grill master. The first night, we had blue fish, grilled corn, roasted radishes and potatoes, and blackberry cobbler, all from the local market. 
Little market, long line. 
Saturday night, Toni and I grabbed our rental bikes and headed to Tutto Italiano, an Italian outpost of Citarella down the Montauk Highway, to pick up some pizza dough and the house-made mozzarella. We then selected some grill-worthy veggies at the grocery store, including red peppers, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, and Portobello mushrooms. We roasted them on the grill. Once they were charred, we put the dough over the open flame, using a piece aluminum foil as a makeshift pan. After letting it toast a bit, we added the tomatoes and mozzarella, covered for a moment, and finally arranged the grilled vegetables on top. Although the pizza dough was slightly burned on the bottom (we should have flipped the dough before adding the various ingredients), it was deliciously simple. Good cheese and produce really make all the difference. 
You can’t even see the roasted tomatoes under all that cheese,
but they were delicious. 
Our final night was the Fourth of July, so we decided a traditional barbecue was in order. Barbara picked up some freshly ground beef from the local butcher, as well as some watermelon. Together we headed to the store to pick up some more charcoal (we’d gone through all of it), salt & pepper kettle chips (which hardly made it out of the store), and some ketchup (Barb picked up the reduced sugar variety – she said by accident, though I hardly believe her – which ended up tasting just fine). 
Sharing in the festivities 
With some homemade guacamole to munch on as the charcoal burned, the three of us sipped the lovely bottle of Dashe ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ that Stevie had recommended we bring as a gift. The wine was selected since Barb loves chilled red wines, and Malbecs tend to fill her icebox. Stevie thought the Dashe zinfandel would be a nice alternative, and since it was a 2009, our glasses danced with the bright red fruits that might have dissipated in a later vintage. My grandmother Nena is a Dashe drinker, and I have always associated their juice with its rich, jammy quality. The old vines provided a nice, summery change. 
Stevie’s pick. Verdict = A hot red for a summer night.
We blended some salt, pepper, and chopped onion into our patties, and then threw them onto the grill after having cooked some more corn, onions, and tomatoes. Since the pantry was lacking in the bun department, we ended up tasting a butter croissant – a perfectly decadent burger. We were so full that we finished the meal with nothing more than a little watermelon. What a wonderful way to spend our midsummer nights!
Burger, roasted veggies, and grilled corn – nothing says summer like this!