Monday, January 25, 2010

Food Epiphany: Meyer Lemons

My favorite citrus of all is the Meyer lemon. A Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and an orange (possibly a mandarin). They are relatively thin-skinned, very fragrant and have a sweetness that almost seems to make the lemon lemonier.

I "discovered" Meyer lemons about eight years ago. The neighbor of one of my friends has a large tree that seems to have a bumper crop year round. My friend started sending a few lemons home with me whenever I would visit. Then I started seeking them out at the grocery store - hint, they are usually in the organic section and always fairly pricey. I even found them at Costco once. Then, I decided to grow them.

I now have two dwarf Meyer lemon trees in the back yard. They are in their third winter. I count the years by winter because my goal is to get them through the winter without frost damage. It's been cold this year so the trees are draped in a double layer of frost cloth. The trees were full of lemons when I put the frost cloth on in late November and I was very happy because it was a good crop. It was not time to harvest yet, so I left the lemons on the trees under the cloth. And there was a freeze. I lost about 60-70% of my crop. Live and learn.

I harvested the rest of the crop - regardless of ripeness. Now, I have Meyer lemon decor with bowls of lemons finishing their ripening process indoors (I don't think they will be as good, but no way was I going to throw them out!). As the lemons ripen I am enjoying Meyer lemon juice in water (as I write this), in salad dressings, on vegetables, etc.

In addition to fresh lemons, I always keep some Meyer olive oil on hand. I really like the one by O Olive Oil which is based in Sonoma County. It's a great addition to your pantry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Midweek Wine Recommendations

Around our house we have something we call the the "midweek wine." It's different from a Friday night wine or a weekend wine. The primary attribute is that it needs to cost less than a weekend wine. BUT, and this is a biggie, it still needs to be a great tasting wine that pairs well with food because weekdays deserve good wine too!

Here are some wine pairings that work well with winter food such as soups, stews, meatloaf, pizza, etc. Most are about $20 - some are less!

Rosso di Montalcino: Rosso comes from the Tuscany region of Italy and is made from the Sangiovese grape. It can vary from being a lighter red to something that is quite dark and heavy. I open a Rosso anytime I am looking for a "rougher" sort of red that will stand up to hearty food. Some labels to look for: La Fortuna and Valdicava (this one may run you more like $30 but it's worth it!).

Barbera: Barbera comes from the Piedmont region of Italy. I had never had one until we went to Piedmont a few years ago. We checked into our hotel (a renovated castle!) and the proprietor gave my husband and me some wine to enjoy outside in their beautiful garden. That wine was a Barbera. I loved it at first sip and have never looked back. Back in the U.S., I was thrilled to discover that Barbera is typically a really good deal. It has good acid, making it a great food/wine pairing candidate. It's not heavy on the tannins so you can drink it young. Barberas pair well with a variety of food, including pizza and any sort of food with a red sauce. Some labels to look for:
- Unti
- Rivetti La Spinetta Barbera d'Asti "Ca di Pian"
- Michele Chiarlo (about $10)
- Ruggeri Corsini Barbera d'Alba (about $15)
- Ruggeri Corsini Barbera d'Alba "Armujan"

Pinot Noir:
Inexpensive Pinot Noir is tough. However, so many foods pair so well with this wine that you need to have a few well-priced Pinots in your mid-week repertoire. Some names to look for:
- Saintsbury Garnet (about $16)
- Keller Estate (our Costco has this for $20)
- Melville Estate Verna's
- I have also found good deals on Pinots from Longboard Vineyards and Hook and Ladder.

A few other mid-week wine ideas:
- Keep a mini barrel of Red Truck wine in your fridge
- Check out my value priced white wines list

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is 2010 the year of the vegetable?

I am wondering if 2010 will be the year of the vegetable. In the past year home gardening has become a hot trend. Even the White House has a garden - as showcased in the recent Food Network Iron Chef competition. Going to farmers' markets and getting CSA shipments has been a trend for awhile. Yep, I am sensing a vegetable revolution.

Well all know we should eat more vegetables. What I think that does NOT mean is more of the same. It means trying new vegetables and coming up with new ways to prepare the same old vegetables. It means taking inspiration from professional chefs for flavors and interesting ways to prep vegetables.

I will be the first to say that I need all the help I can get. Here is where I am starting:
- I got a new vegetable cookbook that, thus far, has promise.
- I am re-creating restaurant dishes that feature vegetable dishes that are either new to me or are prepared in interesting ways. The best restaurant dish, hands down, that I ate in December was a heavenly shaved Brussels sprout salad at Bottega in Yountville. It featured Brussels sprouts, marcona almonds, sieved egg, pecorino and a whole citrus vinaigrette. I am working on re-creating this dish.
- I am focusing on adding more veggies to meals - lunch in particular. I recently made three veggie-heavy soups for the freezer: minestrone, potato leek and split pea.
- My goal is to learn to prepare vegetables without a bunch of extra fat. I'd eat broccoli every day if it was doused in hollandaise sauce. Who wouldn't? On the other hand, I don't want to go too far to the other extreme of dry broccoli with just lemon juice for flavor. That will get old fast. There has to be a balance.

Please share your ideas for eating more veggies in 2010!

(The photo credit for the terrific veggies above goes to my friend and neighbor Terrie. Clearly, I need to accompany her to the farmers' market more often!)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Salt on my counter 2.0

I wrote a few posts ago (and a few months ago - yes, I will try and be better about posts in 2010!) about the bowls of salt on my counter. Wow! That post got a lot of response. Due to the kindness of several readers, I ended up with a lot of great new salts to try. This necessitated the purchase of new, smaller salt bowls so that more will fit on the counter. I visited Calistoga Pottery and got one large bowl for kosher salt and eight small bowls. I actually need more like 10 bowls - believe it or not, all of the new salt is not out yet!

I started with a salt tasting. I got a baguette and some wonderful,unsalted European butter. I cut the bread into rounds, spread on some butter and sprinkled a round with each of the salts. And tasted ... butter. Hmmm, that did not work so well. So, I will be working through the salts with food. Which is how you use them anyway. Stay tuned.

Here is the line-up:
- Kosher salt (big bowl)
The rows of small bowls go from left to right:
- Cyprus flake salt
- Himalayan pink salt
- Pinot noir salt
- Murray River flake salt
- Several salts from France:
- A salt called 'sel fou' which translates to 'crazy salt.' It contains paprika, and some other herbs.
- A fennel salt
- A salt and five pepper combo
- A salt and herb combo