"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Roasted Chicken with Lemons, Garlic, Onions, and Fresh Herbs

We have a Meyer Lemon tree in our back yard. Right now, the tree is overflowing with lemons. Yesterday, my boys and I went to the back yard to pick some lemons so we can lighten up the tree a bit. With so many lemons around, I was trying to think of something to make for dinner with the lemons.

While shopping at Berkeley Bowl, I decided to pick up a couple of whole chickens and thought about roasting them with lemons. I love lemon chicken! I like the fresh citrus flavors that lemons bring to chicken dishes. I asked the Butcher to butterfly them for me. To butterfly the chickens, the Butcher cut out the backbones, and opened up the chicken a little bit, without splitting it completely in half. I told him that I would never be able to do that, he said, I'll show you one day. . . it's easy. Right! Maybe one day I'll try it, but for now, I said thank you to my Butcher.

I roasted the chickens with a mixture of lemon, onion, garlic cloves (unpeeled), fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, and white wine. The recipe below is fairly simple. But, the result is a mouthwatering, falling off the bone, savory, and delicious chicken dish that will please your culinary senses.

2 whole Chickens (about 4 pounds - butterflied)
2 lemons (cut into 6 pieces each)
2 medium onions (sliced)
1 whole head of garlic (take all the cloves out but do not peel)
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
About 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of white wine
2 Tablespoons of butter (diced)
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Rinse the chickens under cool water, and pat dry. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Place the chickens in a large roaster (skin sides up). Arrange the onions, garlic and lemon slices around (not on top of) the chickens. Remove the leaves from the thyme and rosemary, and sprinkle them on top of the chickens and the onions/garlic/lemons. Put the stems in the roaster. Pour the wine in the roaster (around the chickens). Add the butter on the vegetables.

Cover the chickens first with some parchment paper. Then, cover the roaster tightly with aluminum foil to seal the moisture in. Place the roaster in the oven, and cook for about 2 hours. Uncover and crank up the heat to 400 degrees.  Roast for about 40 minutes (until the skin is nice and crispy, and has a beautiful golden brown color). Once done, remove from the oven and let the chickens sit for about 15 minutes. Serve with your favorite side dishes. Enjoy!
Tonight, we served the chicken with mashed sweet potatoes (my 5-year-old son's favorites) and roasted brussels sprouts. The chickens came out very moist and juicy, and loaded with lots of concentrated flavors. My friend Keith stopped by to bring me some home-made chicken stock, and tried some of the chicken. He is the king of roasts. He said he was speechless about how moist and flavorful the chicken was.

If you try this dish, make two chickens because you will absolutely love the fact that you will have leftovers for the week. Right now, I am a happy camper because we have dinner for at least two nights during the week.

I hope you have a great week ahead. Until next time . . . Cheers!


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Slow-Braised Veal Shank Osso Buco with Spinach Pasta

Osso Buco is one of my favorite dishes to make. Although, now every time I make it, I am a little anxious because a few years ago, I got burned really badly on my forehead and under my eye. While I was browning the meat, the hot oil splattered on my face and, well the rest . . . you can imagine! After multiple visits to a Dermatologist, and a few weeks of looking like Frankenstein, my face healed eventually. But, I don't let fear overcome me!

I particularly like to make Osso Buco in the winter when the weather is cold and everyone is either sick or trying not to get sick. It's a real comfort food. Plus, I love that you can let it simmer in a Dutch Oven for 3 to 4 hours while you relax, read a book, watch a movie with the kids, go the gym, whatever you want. After simmering for hours, your house smells heavenly, and you end up with a deliciously tender meat sauce. The best compliment I received tonight from my kids (other than the fact that they ate everything) was my 5-year-old son who said "Mom: The meat was soft and really yummy. Can I have it again with my special birthday pasta?" (He is referring to these fun pastas I get from Cost Plus that come in different themes - birthday, sea life, and seasonal like valentine or holiday.)

Osso Buco is fairly easy to make (although it requires some time). Here is my version of the recipe:

4 Veal Shanks (or beef shanks or lamb shanks)
1 large onion (diced)
2 carrots (diced)
2 celery stalks (diced)
3 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
One 28-ounce can of Crushed Tomatoes (Italian flavored or with basil)
1/2 cup of red wine
Beef broth (about 1 cup)
1 sprig of fresh thyme
2-3 sprigs of fresh parley
1 dried bay leaf (or 2 fresh ones)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper 
2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

1 package of pasta (whatever pasta you like)
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Chopped parsley for garnish 

(Close-up of the marrows, which are my favorite parts.)
Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Heat a Dutch Oven (or large heavy pot) over medium high heat. Add the vegetable oil. Sear the meat on all sides until golden brown (about 8-10 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside. Drain the oil in a bowl or old can. 

Turn down the heat to medium. Add the olive oil. Add the carrots, onion, and celery. Cook until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the wine, stir, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the whole can of tomatoes, and stir. 

Tie the fresh herbs together (use some kitchen string). Add the meat back to the pot. Add enough beef stock to almost cover the meat. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce the heat to really low. Simmer for about 3-4 hours (stirring a couple of time) until the meat is really tender - fallen off the bone marrows. Remove the herb packet and discard. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste. 

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and stir in some Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley. Place the pasta on a large serving bowl. Add the meat sauce on top.  Garnish with some Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley. Enjoy!

Tonight, I decided to try this spinach pasta that I found at Cost Plus. It was delicious! But, I like that it was light and does not stick together when you cook it.

The Wine?
Osso Buco calls for a delicious, medium to full-bodied wine. I think it goes best with a red wine like a Sangiovese, a Cabernet Sauvignon, or blend. But, feel free to experiment and enjoy it with whatever wine you prefer. Today, I picked up some new wines at Cost Plus - they are having a wine sale (extra 25% off) so I stocked up a little. When Cost Plus has big wine sales, I usually like to pick up a few bottles of new wines that I haven't had before to experiment. One of the bottles I picked up was a bottle of the 2009 Twenty Bench Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, CA). [http://www.ninenorthwines.com/wine/2009-twenty-bench-cabernet-sauvignon-napa-valley.htm]
I opened it up about 1 hour before we were ready to drink it. We poured into a Decanter. It was delicious! It's actually a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. It's medium bodied. On the nose, you are welcomed with enticing aromas of vanilla and black cherry, with a hint of espresso. It has a beautiful red color in the glass. On the palate, your mouth is greeted with flavors of dark berries, raspberry, with a little bit of oak flavor. I recommend decanting it because it opens up very nicely after it has a chance to breathe. The tannins are softer, with a longer finish. I think I would definitely pick up another bottle of this wine . . . or two!

I hope you are having a healthy and enjoyable weekend with your family! For us, we're trying to fight off this terrible bug that's going around. . . . knock on wood!

Until next time . . . Salute!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Honey Mustard and Goat Cheese

(Roasted Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Honey, Goat Cheese, Dijon Mustard and Parsley)
As a current employment litigator, there are days when I go to work and I have a fairly good sense of what the day will be like - long, adversarial, stressful, and at times unpleasant. To help ensure that the day ends on a happy and uplifting note, I usually try to prepare dinner ahead of time (in the morning) so I can look forward to enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal with my family when I get home. Today was one of those days. So, before I went to work, I decided to stuff some beautiful pork tenderloin with goat cheese and dried raisins, and a rub that consists of whole grain Dijon mustard, honey, and fresh parsley.

The picture I took with me to work this morning was me sitting around the dinner table tonight, enjoying a succulent and juicy pork tenderloin that was bursting with delicious flavors, and sharing stories and laughing with the kids. It made such a huge difference in my attitude and how I reacted to people and "stuff" during the day. At the end of the day, I found myself doing exactly what I had pictured . . . sharing stories with the kids and having a blast laughing just about everything (from the kids reading comics out loud from the Captain Underpants Book Series, to playing hide and go seek, to talking about my daughter's expanders that she just got to fix a cross-bite and prepare for braces, to what they were like when they were in my tummy). They helped me forget that the past 10 hours even existed. To me, that's what makes me whole!

So, if you are ever looking for a great and easy (10-ingredient) pork recipe that you can prepare ahead of time, that's versatile, and that stores very well, check out this one that I created. I hope you enjoy this with your loved ones!

2 pork tenderloins 
1/4 cup of Dijon Mustard (whole grain)
1 Tablespoon of honey
2 Tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
About 8 ounces of goat cheese (crumbled)
1/2 a cup of golden raisin
1 cup of dry white wine (like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio) or whatever wine you have on hand
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon on extra virgin olive oil 
Soak the raisin in the white wine for about 20-30 minutes if you have time so they can plump up. Drain and chop finely. [NOTE: I started soaking mine before I took a shower in the morning, so by the time I am dressed, they are ready.]

Rinse the pork under luke-warm water and pat dry with paper towel. Use a sharp knife to make a pocket (lengthwise) down the middle of the tenderloin (don't pierce it through). Season generously with salt and pepper (inside and out).

In a small bowl, combine the mustard, honey, and 1 Tablespoon of the parsley. Mix well to combine. 

In another small bowl, combine the goat cheese, chopped raisin, and the other 1 Tablespoon of parsley. Mix well to combine. 

Stuff the pork with the goat cheese mixture. Tie with kitchen strings if you have some - or use toothpicks to seal the opening so the cheese mixture doesn't fall out when cooking. Then rub the mustard mixture all over the pork. 

If making ahead, store the pork in a tightly covered container for up to 24 hours. (I stuffed and marinated the pork in the morning before I went to work and stored it in the Fridge until I got home). 

When you are ready to cook it, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Sear the pork on all sides until you have a light golden brown color (about 8-10 minutes). Be careful not to burn them or let the cheese fall out too much. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Transfer the pork to the lined baking sheet. 

Roast the pork in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 145 degrees.  [To check the temperature, insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. Once it reaches 145, it's done. Here is useful USDA guide: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Roasting_Those_Other_Holiday_Meats.pdf

Take the pork out of the oven and transfer them to a platter. Cover the meat with some aluminum foil. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. Slice and serve with your favorite side dish (like potatoes, rice, orzo pasta) and/or a salad.  

If you are looking for a nice well-balanced wine to go with the pork, I would recommend a Syrah or Zinfandel as these would go well with the whole grain mustard and the goat cheese. But, I think even a white wine (like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay) would go well with it too because of the touch of honey and sweet golden raisins.  For us, we enjoyed a glass of the 2007 Arrowood Syrah (unfiltered and unrefined), which is medium bodied and well balanced wine, with soft tannins. It has flavors of dark cherries and ripe blackberries with a hint of peppercorns. 

(Roasted pineapple chunks with brown sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon, served with vanilla ice cream)

For a little sweet ending to your evening, and something the kids will enjoy, how about some pineapple chunks roasted in brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla for about 30 minutes with a side of vanilla ice cream? It's the perfect ending to what may have been a rough day. . . .

Until next time  . . . Cheers!


Monday, January 21, 2013

A Day (and Meal) to Remember: Ham and Cheese Stuffed Veal Chops with Cheesy Bacon Potatoes

Inauguration-Worthy Dinner
(Truffle Pecorino Cheese and Ham Stuffed Veal Chops, Cheesy Bacon Potatoes, and Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas)
Today represents a confluence of meaningful and memorable events -- events that my children will remember for the rest of their lives and events that I hope they will share with their children. Today (January 21, 2013), we celebrate the life and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  On this same day, we celebrate another momentous occasion - the inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States for a second term. Both of these men represent Hope, Humanity, and Love.

This past couple of weeks, my kids have been learning a lot in school about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Obama. One of the wonderful things I love about my children is their curiosity and their ability to ask unfiltered, but yet thought-provoking, questions. Since Patrick and I are an interracial couple (he was born and raised in Arizona to parents of Irish, Native American, and Mexican descents, and I was born and raised in Haiti to parents of African, French, and Native American descents), the kids have been asking us some very good questions about how we met, our relationship, and our ancestral histories - questions that sometimes as adults we seem to brush to the side because, well you know, it doesn't matter, right?

Our 10-year-old daughter recently asked whether we ever thought about what would have happened if people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks never stood up and fought for the freedom of African-Americans. She said: "I don't think you would have met Daddy at UC Berkeley, gotten married, and have us. She said, if slaves were never freed, Daddy would probably be your master, and I would probably have to work as a servant." She said she is happy that things turned out the way they are. She also said that President Obama being elected means that even people who look like her and me can be President. My 6-year-old son said: "I don't think it's fair that kids weren't allowed to go to the same school as their friends. I would be sad if I didn't get a chance to go to school with my friend Luke." My 5-year-old son said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died because he wanted everyone to love each other no matter what their color was.

In celebration of this monumental day, I wanted to seize the opportunity of a "day off" to spend some quality time with my family, especially my children. Family time usually means cooking up something yummy for dinner. For dinner tonight, I wanted to make something extra special to celebrate this historic day and also that my whole family loves. The meal consisted of Ham and Cheese Stuffed Veal Chops (courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine), Cheesy Bacon Potatoes with Sweet Pears (the kids' favorite!), and Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas (courtesy of moi!). This meal is a reminder that no matter where we came from, Patrick and I are stronger because of the journey we have taken together, we are grateful for where we have arrived, and we look forward to the adventures we have ahead of us and the journey we will continue to take together. This special meal is dedicated to our children who every day teach us about Love and Hope.

Truffle Pecorino Cheese and Ham Stuffed Veal Chops
You can download the recipe on the Food and Wine Magazine's Website (http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/ham-and-cheese-stuffed-veal-chops/print). I followed the recipe almost completely, except that I made only half the portions. I also used a Cast Iron Skillet to sear the veal because it gives the meat a beautiful and even sear.

NOTE: I got my meat at Berkeley Bowl. I Love Berkeley Bowl! I cut the pockets in the meat myself - usually I would ask the Butcher to do it, but I wanted to make sure I cut the right size for my fillings. You don't need a lot of the truffle pecorino cheese, but wow! That's some delicious cheese! The Madeira sauce is superb! It tastes like a wonderful Marsala sauce, and it pairs perfectly with the veal.

Cheesy Bacon Potatoes with Sweet Pears

About 2-3 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and thinly sliced)
2 Bartlett Pears (soft, but not too ripe) (peeled, cored, and thinly sliced)
1 Cup of shredded Swiss Gruyere Cheese
1/2 Cup of shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
1/4 Cup of finely chopped yellow onions
1/4 Cup of crispy chopped bacon
2 Cups of Heavy Whipping Cream
1 whole sprig of fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic (smashed, but not crushed)
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Unsalted butter - for greasing the baking dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease some cookie sheets (about 3) with cooking spray. Arrange the sliced potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheets (don't overlap). Sprinkle the potatoes with a little bit of olive oil - so they don't get too dry. Arrange the pears in another greased baking sheet. Bake the potatoes in the oven for about 15 minutes until soft - but not mushy or burned (watch them so they don't burn). Bake the pears for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, simmer the Whipping Cream, with the smashed garlic and the whole thyme spring in a medium saucepan over low heat - do not boil the cream. Once it is about to boil, turn off the heat and set aside.

Butter a large (ceramic or Pyrex glass) baking dish. Arrange 1/2 of the baked sliced potatoes in a single layer in the baking dish. Then, add 1/2 of the sliced pears. Season the potatoes/pears with salt and pepper. Add about 1/2 of the onions, 1/2 of the bacon, and 1/2 the cheese. Repeat the layering of potatoes and pears, salt and pepper, onions, bacon, and cheese.

Remove the thyme and garlic from the Whipping Cream. Pour the cream over the potatoes. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Uncover and then continue baking for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Check the potatoes with a fork - they should be nice and soft.

Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas
Use about 1-2 pounds of sugar snap peas. Remove the ends if you'd like (some people don't care about the little ends, but I do.) Rinse the snap peas under cool water. Steam to your desired crispiness (I like crispy snap peas, so I steam them for about 5-7 minutes). Drain the snap peas. Put them back in the pot.

Add about 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for about 2 minutes over moderate heat. For some extra flavor, add 1 garlic clove (crushed) and cook for another minute.

The Vino?

Tonight, we went with something simple, but delicious. We had a glass of the Benziger 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma, CA). This is a full-bodied Cab that is loaded with delicious flavors of plum, black cherries, and ripe dark berries. You also get some wonderful notes of cocoa with a hint of cassis, and has a long and soft finish on the palate. You can pick up a bottle at your local grocery store (Safeway has it on sale).

Here's to hope and never stop believing!

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Monday, January 7, 2013

Roasted Chicken with Fresh Ginger, Garlic, Cilantro, and Sweet Balsamic Vinegar

(Roasted Chicken - Marinated for 24 hours)

If you are a parent (especially a working parent), I imagine that one of the standard items usually found in your shopping cart at Safeway or Costco is a whole roasted chicken. It's convenient, easy, versatile, and, most importantly, it's something the kiddos will eat without starting World War III in your house. But, sometimes, the store bought roasted chicken can get a little boring for the "grown-ups".

Many of us have tried to roast the whole chicken in our own ovens. Most of the time, it comes out perfectly crispy, golden brown, and tasty. Other times, not so much. Maybe it's the color - that brown color that the store bought chicken always seems to have. Maybe it's the flavors or seasonings. Maybe it's the moisture in the chicken (or lack of it).  Whatever the reasons, I've got another option for you to make and enjoy a deliciously oven-roasted chicken that is packed with bold flavors and makes your mouth water the minute you pull it out of the oven. And, the best part is: You can do all the preparation the night before, keep it in the refrigerator overnight, and put it in the oven to roast until you get perfectly dark brown chicken pieces - the kinds that look like they just came off your grill on a hot summer day. Here is the recipe: 

1 whole chicken (I like organic chicken, but you can use whatever chicken you would like. Ask your Butcher to cut it up in 8 pieces, without the guts.) 

For the Marinade:
1/4 cup of fresh ginger (finely chopped or grated, if you prefer)
2 cloves of fresh garlic (finely chopped)
1 Tablespoon of fresh cilantro (chopped)
2 Tablespoons of honey
Juice from 1/2 a large orange (Navel Oranges have a lot of juice)
2 Tablespoons of sweet balsamic vinegar (if you only have regular balsamic, use about 1 Tablespoon and add a little more honey)
1 Tablespoon of soy sauce (low sodium)
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin (if you have it)
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Basting Liquid:
1 Tablespoon of honey
1/2 Tablespoon of sweet balsamic vinegar (or regular vinegar)
1/2 Tablespoon of soy sauce
About 1 Tablespoon of the fresh orange juice (if basting liquid is too thick)
[Stir everything together to mix well.]

Rinse the chicken pieces under cool water, and pat dry. Lay the pieces on a clean baking sheet. Season the chicken generously with kosher salt and pepper (inside and out).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ginger, garlic, cilantro, honey, orange juice, soy sauce, olive oil, mustard, cinnamon, and cumin.  Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple of turns of fresh ground black pepper to the mixture. Stir to mix well. Add the chicken pieces to the mixture in the bowl, and mix well with your clean hands to ensure that all the pieces are covered with some of the mixture.

Add the chicken pieces, with all the mixture and juices, to a large Ziploc bag. Move the chicken pieces around the bag to make sure everything is well coated. Take any extra air out of the bag. Seal the bag tight, and store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees when you are ready to roast the chicken. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place a metal rack (if you have one) over the baking dish, and arrange the chicken pieces on the rack in a single layer (skin sides up). Scoop some of the mixture and juices on top of the chicken, and discard the rest. [DO NOT REUSE THE MARINADE.] If you don't have a roasting rack, just roast the chicken directly on the aluminum foil.  [I use foil for easy clean-up.]

Roast the chicken in the oven for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Then, turn down the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes (or until the chicken pieces are dark brown and cooked through - no pinks). Baste the chicken a couple of times with the Basting Liquid if they skins are getting dry. Do not turn the chicken over so the skin can get a nice dark brown color and get crispy. The aromas from your kitchen are amazing!

Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let cool for 10 minutes. Enjoy with steamed Jasmine or wild rice. Don't forget a nice glass of a perfectly chilled Chardonnay. Two great options are Chateau St. Jean (http://www.chateaustjean.com/) and Markham http://markhamvineyards.com/joomla/latest-news?view=featured). Both have great Chardonnays and beautiful vineyard settings.

Who says you can't have that mouth-watering, delicious, beautifully dark brown chicken on a cold winter night - without touching your grill? Not me! I hope you try this recipe and make sure to let me know how you enjoy it.

Until next time . . . Cheers!