Monday, August 24, 2009

Swiss Chard: A Must Try

How I have managed to go 21 years without trying Swiss Chard... the world may never know. As I mentioned before this green intrigued me and was on the top of my "must try" list. The leaves are broad and look stunning on their colorful stalks. The striking yellow, orange, pink and red of Rainbow Chard look too beautiful to eat. I found a bunch of Swiss Chard with a red (almost a purple wine color)stem at my local grocery store and decided to give it a try. It was extremely easy to prepare, looked gorgeous on my plate, tasted great and to top it all off, it is good for you! How could you go wrong? It is high in vitamin K (1 cup= 306% of your daily value!) which promotes bone health, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and iron.

How I Prepared:
Wash; Strip leaves away from stems and slice into strips; Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet on a Medium high heat; When pan starts becoming hot, add about a teaspoon of garlic to the oil to infuse; add the Swiss Chard and Saute until wilted (about two minutes).

I used tongs to move the chard around the pan, and as the chard wilted, the garlic took on the bold purple color from the veins of the leaves. The contrast of the dark green with the purple was very eye pleasing. The taste of chard is slightly bitter and salty; a perfect canvas for garlic or crushed red pepper. Sauteing the chard gave it a subtle tenderness but it still maintained it's sturdy composition. It was a substantial side dish and a delight to eat. (I served it with fresh coho salmon, pan-seared and finished with a lemon dill butter and flavored basting oil...I know I felt like a chef when I plated it all...I should have taken a picture it looked very professional.)

Wine Pairing: Riesling. The the bitter/salt complex along with the spicy notes in garlic (or red pepper..whatever you choose to prepare it with) need something fruity and clean to refresh your palate.

Explore Your Produce,


Get Inspired!

Lately I have been grocery shopping with an open mind. Instead of having strategically planned meals in mind, I pick one star item and focus everything else around it. My star items, of course, are things I don't normally cook with and HAVE to try. I have made quinoa with sauteed vegetables and roasted salmon, and crusted tilapia with purple potatoes, using my newly gained pan-searing skills to cook the fish. The class that I took on pan-searing caused me to think outside the box when preparing proteins. I usually just throw some salt, pepper and olive oil (sometimes other herbs and lemon) on them and use grilling or roasting methods for a given amount of time. I never thought to gauge the "done-ness" of an item on temperature rather than time or use things such as finishing butters to deglaze the pan and make a extraordinary flavorful sauce. I think it is important to explore new items and methods of cooking. Not only does it expand your cooking repertoire but it helps avoid dinner time doldrums.

My next venture: Swiss Chard.

Have fun with cooking!


I've Got The Blue(s) Cheese

Ah, blue cheese! Crumbled on a salad, shaved on a sandwich or just a good 'ol hunk by itself, there is nothing better than the succulent taste of blue cheese. To me, the best blue cheese has a strong flavor with a creamy finish that leaves you salivating for more. Because of the strong characteristics, blue cheese is often paired with fruit, sweet peppers and tomatoes and nuts. The sweetness of a Riesling really complements the piquant blue cheese.

This week, as I walked in to the bread department I was greeted by a big voice and...a hunk of blue cheese (YAY!). The cheese of choice: Amablu St. Pete's Select. It is America's first cave-aged blue cheese produced by Faribault Dairy Company in Minnesota. It was outstanding. End of discussion. Many of the American made blues I have tried tend to be creamy with little flavor. When I crave blue cheese, I want the powerful good stuff. The flavor of this cheese is strong but not over bearing. It has a creamy texture and a clean finish. This is the type of cheese that you want to pair with simple things, or eat alone. When I first tried this cheese I just wanted a chunk of hearty bread ( be more specific I really wanted a German-style malted barley bread) and a huge plate of heirloom tomatoes dressed simply with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The demo lady (I think I need to update my terminology...suggestions welcome.) had the cheese paired with a dense multi-grain with currant bread which was a phenomenal combination. The sweetness of the currants complimented the sharp earthy flavors of the cheese, and the texture of the grains was a perfect contrast to the creaminess of the cheese. Needless to say I was making myself little "sandwiches" and munching on them ALL night. It was one of those perfect food pairings where once you've had a taste, a little voice in the back of your head tells you to go back for more.

Get the Amablu(s),


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Absense Makes My Heart Grow Fonder...For a Finger Lakes Red.

I have been away from my blog for a few days, but have not been idle with my time. In my absence, I earned a certification in the art of pan searing, made another trip along the Seneca Wine Trail, and attended a lecture regarding the anti-aging benefits of red wine at the New York Wine and Culinary Center. Speaking of red wine and the Seneca Wine Trail, Hermann J. Wiemer has amazed me once again (be still my heart).

My newest heart throb: Cabernet Franc Reserve 2007. This wine is the definition of elegance. Upon first glance, the deep ruby color borders a shade of black, and is absolutely stunning. It is a wine that looks like it is meant for royalty. The aroma is sweet, and has distinct plum and berry characteristics. You expect a berry flavoring to coat your mouth as you take in the first sip but your taste buds are in for a pleasant surprise. The initial impression is the sweet and slightly tart sensation that you anticipate from the berries but is quickly overpowered by a subtle smokey flavor. Just when you except a dry finish, the berry flavors reemerge, exciting and pleasing your taste buds. It is a well rounded, luxurious wine.

This wine would pair nicely with a rich chocolate dessert, but my dish of choice was dinner: Sliced Grilled Sirloin over (my version of** see below**) Greek Salad. To me, red wine and red meat are a match made in heaven, so a medium rare sirloin steak was my first choice for this meal. I thought the sweetness of the berry characteristic would play nicely with the saltiness of the feta cheese and olives and the acidity of the tomatoes and lemon in the vinaigrette would balance the smokey undertones. The wine complemented the meal (and vice versa) and I have fallen for another Finger Lakes red. Good thing there are health benefits to drinking red wine and having a Mediterranean diet.

Live Well and Enjoy,

**My version of Greek Salad: 2 cups mixed salad greens, sliced cucumber, sliced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, Greek Feta (crumbled), 1/4 cup chick peas, 1 TBS roasted sunflower seeds, grilled and chopped red pepper, and 2 TBS store bought "Greek Feta Yogurt" dressing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

You Deserve The Best. Buy Local.

I am a farmer's market junkie. I know where all of the small markets are during the week and live for waking up at 6am on Saturday morning to battle over fresh produce. I am friendly with the pasta man, dessert lady, fish monger, granola bakers, yogurt cultivators, produce farmers and wine sellers (I should probably learn their REAL names some day). I love having conversations with all of them and learning the stories behind their food. The granola bakers only use locally produced ingredients, the dessert lady comes from Buffalo and hardly sleeps before coming to the market and the yogurt cultivators make small batches of yogurt so each tastes slightly different. I like the idea of supporting local growers, but to me there is NOTHING better than products tended to with love and devotion. I know my granola bakers spent hours in their small production center creating the perfect concoction and that my produce farmers tend to their crops religiously to ensure they are superb and flavorful. Farm-fresh yogurt has a unique flavor that will never be duplicated by mass produced products and my dessert lady makes things that could never be trumped by generic desserts found in grocery stores.

During the summer months, the produce at farmer's markets is unbelievable. I recently have been enjoying blueberries the size of my head (I'm not joking), beautiful and succulent heirloom tomatoes, fresh sweet corn and zucchini that are large enough to feed a small village. Not only are these products superior to those sold in grocery stores, but they are also wallet friendly. Do yourself and community a favor: buy local.

Shop on,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cheers to Microbreweries!

I have admitted that I am a food snob, clearly I have an affection for wine and today I have to confess, I am a bit pretentious about beer. Why would I drink a Bud Light with my meal when I could have a carefully crafted microbrewery beer? I want to enhance the foods that I am eating with my drink not ruin them. Using good ingredients in a meal makes it taste better, and drinking better wine and beer does the same. If you aren’t drinking the good stuff what is the point?

My favorite microbrewery is the Middle Ages Brewery in Syracuse, New York. From the outside you would never guess that this place was a brewery. There are no signs and the parking area (well, it is a side walk really) is non-existent. You walk in to a little room filled with burly men tasting beers and two fat cats basking in the sun. They have clever labels on their brews and even more clever names. My favorite beer they produce is called the “Wailing Wench”. It is a very flavorful hoppy beer that they deem “full bodied and screaming with hops”. The label features a voluptuous “wench” who appears to be screaming (with hops?). Their seasonal Apricot Ale is also surprisingly good. If you typically don’t like fruit flavor beers, neither do I, but this one is worth the try. The apricot flavor pairs nicely with the ale, enhancing the beer without making it too sweet. Next time you go to the grocery store skip over the 30 racks of Coors and Budweiser and make your way over to the 6 packs of microbrewery beer. Your taste buds will thank you.

Drink up,


Monday, August 10, 2009

HOT OUT OF THE OVEN: Italian Bread

mmm...Can you think of anything more comforting than a warm, freshly baked loaf of Italian bread? Me either. It brings me back to my childhood, when I would come home from swim practice with wet hair on dark winter nights. Anticipating my starvation and chill, my mom was armed with mounds of spaghetti and a steaming loaf of this sauce loving bread. Naturally, I could never wait until dinner was served and would tear through the crusty shell, digging out the stretchy warm interior. My family always knew when I would sneak pieces of bread because I would leave it on the counter completely gutted. Working in a bakery, I have been exposed to many different types of artisan breads from different regions of the world. My mature palate prefers French sourdough and German malted barley breads to the traditional Italian bread. Despite this fact, every time the bakers pull the Italian out of the brick oven my mouth waters, my heart melts and I revert back to my 8-year-old self. When in need of comfort at 6am, Italian bread is the preferred snack of the bakery workers (perhaps tied with warm cheese bread...SO GOOD!). And naturally, we eat it child style: dig out the middle, throw the rest away, and then hide so no one will suspect it was you.

Do we ever really grow up?


Visit The Finger Lakes for Riesling...and Merlot?

As an Upstate New Yorker, I am a proud supporter of Finger Lakes Region wines. Some of the best Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer wines that I have enjoyed are produced in the Finger Lakes. If you noticed, I only mentioned white wines. The thought of a Finger Lakes red makes me cringe. Every time I do a tasting, I make sure to avoid any red wine they have listed. I constantly wonder why this region would even attempt a Cabernet Franc or Merlot, as they will NEVER compare to the rich, full-bodied Californian version. That is until I visited the Hermann J. Wiemer winery.
Wiemer is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, Finger Lakes winery. Their Rieslings are award winning legends and nothing short of perfection (I'm craving a nice chilled glass just writing about them!).
I made an exception to my very strict "NO FINGER LAKES RED!!" rule, when the sommelier at Wiemer suggested the 2007 Merlot. He described it as, "The kind of wine you want to curl up and watch a movie with." It happened to be a rainy, cold day, so it was hard to deny a wine that carried such a sentiment. I carefully examined the color, drew in the aroma and was ready to taste. To my shock, my palate was delighted to be experiencing such a treat. It was comforting, smooth, and slightly smokey. I was so enamored with this wine that I completely forgot it was raining. The sommelier was right and I was sold. Before you head out to the liquor store I must be the barer of bad news: this wine is not sold in stores. It can be purchased at the winery or online. So next time you visit the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, be sure to stock up! I promise you won't be disappointed with this purchase.

GO RED! (...and the earth...yadda-yadda)


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Food Sense: A Complete Mind, Body and Soul Experience

"Ben...Jerry...we need to talk. It's not you, it's me." Don't worry, I could never completely end my relationship with my long time boyfriends; ice cream will always and forever be my favorite food. But for now, I think we are better off being "just friends". Recently, I have been seeing another devilish duo: bread and cheese. The more I saw Mr. Bread and Cheese the more I realized that my relationship with Mr. Ben and Jerry was superficial and based on lust. Bread and Cheese, however; enveloped my heart and soul.

On Wednesday I was having one of those "hum-drum"days. You know, the kind where you look up at the clock and only 5 minutes have passed since the last time you checked. Upon arriving at work, A BIG voice greeted me telling me that I HAD to try her bread and cheese pairing. My mentor, the demo lady, was featuring our seven-grain sourdough with Le Pie d'Angloys (a French wash-rind cheese). She immediately handed me a warm piece of bread that was carefully cradling a generous amount of cheese. The bread has a wonderful hard exterior with nutty sunflower seeds and oats baked on top. The interior is incredibly soft with hints of grains inside the dough that give it a subtle crunch. The cheese is similar to a brie: soft, creamy and rich with a mild flavor. With one bite, my taste buds were singing, my heart was smiling and my soul was soothed. The texture of the silky cheese with the light tang and crunch of the bread was heavenly. I had to step away for a moment just so I could enjoy the experience. It was the type of feeling that you get when you come inside on a cold blustery day and curl up in a blanket with a rich hot chocolate. Your whole being just feels spoiled and magnificent. If I had a glass of good wine and sweatpants, my nirvana would have been complete. Unfortunately, I still had 8.5 hours of work so that dream was impossible, but at least now the slow moving clock didn't seem as bad.

Eat Well,

Is your sandwich sad?

I gave breakfast a shout out yesterday so now I think it is time to talk lunch. In an effort to save money, more and more people are now packing lunches in their eco-friendly lunch bags (go green!) instead of ordering out of the office or buying from the cafeteria. I work in a grocery store with many ready made meals available, yet most workers opt to bring lunch. If you aren't nuking leftovers from last nights dinner (ew...leftovers...that's a blog for another time) then chances are your lunch consists of some sort of sandwich. Having the same thing for lunch every day is a bore and as I have said before, what you eat can alter your mood, so why not get creative and mix it up a bit? To beat lunch time blues I always use different flavors and textures. As soon as I run out of one style of bread I buy another that I haven't had before. I use different vegetables and a variety of spreads. Why not use the hummus you bought as a dip as a sandwich spread? Layer some red peppers, spinach, even last night's roasted eggplant and sprinkle with feta cheese. Have a sweet tooth? Buy spreadable cheeses like goat cheese or cream cheese, have different styles of jams and preserves on hand, and layer things like sliced fruits, turkey, ham, spinach and sliced almonds on top.

My Favorite Creation: 2 slices pecan raisin sourdough bread, goat cheese, strawberry/apricot preserves (sliced strawberries also optional), fresh torn basil leaves, cucumber and smoked turkey breast. (I like to toast the bread and spread goat cheese on both slices of bread, top with preserves, basil, cucumber and then turkey breast)

Punch Lifeless Lunch Goodbye,

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Listen to Mom: Don't Pass on Breakfast!

Ah Breakfast! This is my absolute favorite meal of the day! I have a gigantic sweet tooth so breakfast is particularly appealing to me but I think it is essential to get the day started off right. Whether it be classes, sports or meetings, mornings are filled with activities that require you to be focused and moving. Without a good breakfast it is hard to sustain your optimum efforts and you are left feeling drowsy and miserable by mid-morning. A balanced breakfast should contain some sort of protein and fiber. Sources of protein can be found in low-fat dairy, nuts, eggs and low-fat meats. Good sources of fiber can be found in whole grains and fruits. The way you start your day sets the tone for the way the rest of your day will be. So set your alarm a little bit earlier and enjoy the peacefulness of the morning with a good breakfast. You will feel happier and be more focused and productive throughout the day. (Not a morning person? Grab a piece of fruit, granola bar and protein shake! There are many portable breakfast foods for all you snoozers out there!)

My Favorite Breakfast: 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (try low-fat over non-fat yogurts they are more satisfying and have a better texture), 1 large banana halved and sliced (sometimes use a big juicy peach instead!), 1 handful of blueberries, sprinkle of cinnamon and 1/3 cup crunchy nutty granola.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Big news!!! My blog is now mobile! You know what that means, right? All my thoughts will be published for your reading pleasure no matter where life may take me! Try to control your excitement.

Stay Connected,

Perfect Snack for a Foodie

I admit I am a bit of a food snob. I love fresh ingredients and anything that is out of the ordinary. I will never substitute fro-yo for ice cream and refuse to order fast food if I can get the authentic-made-to-order-real-deal. I spend WAY too much of my pay check at the grocery store because I tend to buy what is good, not economical. Eating is an experience, so why would I waste that on sub par foods? I apply this attitude not only to meals, but also snack foods. You have to treat your body right, and lets face it most snack foods are either unhealthy, boring or unsatisfying. I am big on snack bars because I am constantly on the run, but quickly lost interest in unsatisfying granola bars, chalky protein bars and hate the dense texture of the ground up fruit-date-nut bars. After much trial and error I finally stumbled upon the perfect snack: Kind Fruit and Nut Bars. They are gluten-free, all natural and completely satisfying. You feel like you are giving your body a treat as you crunch your way through whole pieces of nuts and sweet dried fruits. My personal favorites are Fruit &Nut Delight and Walnut & Date. I am a nutty girl (possible pun intended?) so Fruit and Nut Delight is my ultimate snacking adventure: whole pieces of Brazil nuts, almonds, peanuts and walnuts fused together by raisins and apricots. How could you go wrong? If you haven't heard of this company I suggest firing up Google and checking them out (as soon as you are up to date on all of my blog entries...naturally).

Snack On,

Monday, August 3, 2009

J'aime Camembert de Normandie

mmm Camembert de Normandie!! Enjoying this cheese makes me feel as if I have France running through my veins. I automatically start believing that French is my first language and have a strong desire for a beret and a glass of wine (how stereotypical of me). Sure, I have had other Camembert type cheeses but real Camembert is a cow's milk cheese that originates from it's birthplace: Normandy, France. Slightly pale yellow in color and soft on the verge of runny, Camembert de Normandie has a pearly appearance that you know upon first glance will coat your mouth with an elegant goodness. It has the luxurious mouth feel that you would expect it to have upon examination: silky, smooth, and soft followed by a rich earthy flavor.The flavor is almost that of a good REAL French Brie. A little bit of Camembert goes a long way. The flavor lingers a bit and makes your heart sing praises to France. I am in awe of this cheese. Grab a good glass of wine, some crusty sourdough baguette and Camembert de Normandie and you will find yourself in the ultimate bliss.

au revoir,

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Kid At Heart: Childhood Favorites All Grown Up

As you grow older your taste buds become more sophisticated, but that does not mean you have to stray from your childhood favorites. For me, nothing screams childhood like the classic PB&J sandwich. I would often alter between strawberry jelly, fluff (remember the fluffernutter?!) and sliced bananas between two slices of white bread smothered in creamy peanut butter. As I got older I traded jelly for preserves, white bread for wheat, creamy peanut butter for crunchy and then eventually upgraded my PB&J sandwiches for turkey and cheese. From time to time I still crave my favorite childhood comfort food, and decided to put a grown up twist on it. I now enjoy a sandwich that consists of an artisan 7-grain sourdough bread, crunchy almond butter and a brandied apricot and strawberry jam. It is a sandwich that is sweet, crunchy and luxurious. There are many nut butters on the market such as cashew butter and macadamia nut butter to give your sandwich a new spin. If you are CRAVING peanut butter, they surly wont compare but they provide a new feel to a classic dish.

Other Childhood Classics With A Twist Advice:

Mac and Cheese--Instead of using all Cheddar add different cheeses. Gruyere melts nicely and adds a nutty verging on sweet flavor to the dish. Herbs, veggies and meats can make this dish into an even more flavorful and hearty meal. Try adding things such as basil, parsley, cherry tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, pancetta or even lobster!

French Fries and Ketchup-- Try baked potato wedges or better yet, use sweet potatoes! You can pump up the flavor by adding different herbs and spices to the traditional salt and pepper mixture. Instead of ketchup create different flavored aiolis. If you are serving sweet potato wedges honey and maple syrup are also wonderful accompaniments.

Spaghetti and Meatballs--Swap ground beef for ground turkey. Try different pastas such as penne. Pump up the Sauce! Add extra veggies like mushrooms, spinach, even zucchini to pre-made sauce to make it more decedent and flavorful. Top the finished dish with herbs like parsley and basil to add a clean and fresh taste.

Stay Forever Young,