Thursday, August 17, 2006

Domaine des Coccinelles Rosé

mother recently told us about an article that she'd read on the latest wine trend: apparently, wines with "critter" labels are hot sellers. Upon reading the article, my first thought was, "they can't be serious!" Certainly, I am attracted to fun and interesting wine labels, but I wondered: do I fall victim to this too?

The answer came later that night, when I discovered a bottle of wine that had somehow hidden itself in the back corner of our apartment-sized wine shelf. I'd bought this lovely Domaine des Coccinelles (literally "Field of Ladybugs") rosé earlier in the summer at Whole Foods.

Sure, I was attracted to the gorgeous colour, as well as the fact that the grapes are organically farmed (really, who wouldn't want to support an organic vineyard, especially at $9/bottle?). But the driving force behind this purchase was... you guessed it! The ladybugs on the label. I positively couldn't resist! After the first sip, I was glad that I didn't- this wine is light, refreshing, and easy to drink.

The label on the back says that it is "well balanced and fruity," with "a complex, rich bouquet of raspberry, cherry and spring flowers." I agree, though I would also point out that its smooth sweetness is tempered quite nicely by a tart, short-lived after-zing. What is an after-zing, you ask? For lack of a better allusion, I think I would compare it to eating a good grapefruit. You have the natural sweetness, of course, but with each mouthful comes a pleasing acid-tart bite on the tip of your tongue.

The label on each case of Domaine des Coccinelles says us that "Ladybugs (coccinelles, [cox-ee nell]) are a symbol of eco-friendly farming." Just one more reason to succumb to the allure of these tasty summer ladybugs!

*For those who are interested, the varietal composition is as follows: Grenache 40%; Syrah 30%; Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan 30%

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lowbush Blueberries + Blueberry Muffins

In New England, blueberry season typically runs May through October, peaking in July. It wasn't until last week, though, that the best (so far) crop of sweet wild blueberries appeared at my favourite produce market. Blueberries have always been my favourite thing to eat, and since they're full of vitamins and antioxidants, I have one more reason to eat quarts of them during blueberry season!

Large, juicy highbush blueberries are delicious, but everyone I know prefers the small, sweet lowbush blueberries that grow- both wild and farmed- all over New England. These miniscule blue-gray gems begin to appear at the market in July and August, though if we're lucky, we manage to pick them at a local pick-your-own farm before then. Most days, though, I succumb to the allure of particularly fresh-looking berries at the produce market.

How can you tell when blueberries are fresh? Go for dark, plump berries, and avoid containers with juice stains on the underside. A powdery white bloom on the berry skin is a good sign- it's a safe, naturally occuring food starch that protects the blueberry. Don't wash it off until you are ready to use the berries. shiny, dark skins mean the blueberries have been over-handled and probably aren't too fresh.

Strictly speaking, at $5 or more per pint, wild blueberries seem like an expensive indulgence. However, one container can actually go a long way. We've found that one pint yields two to three batches of blueberry muffins, or blueberry pancakes for 8. If you sprinkle them on breakfast foods, two people can eat blueberries every morning for a week. For me, this is heaven!

If you don't want to eat blueberries that often (but how could you not?), you can always freeze them for use all year round. Spread the berries out on a baking pan covered in parchment or waxed paper and place the pan in the freezer. When the berries are frozen, pour them into labeled freezer-safe bags or containers for later use.

If you're like me, however, and you want to eat your blueberries right away, these muffins are a great way to enjoy them.

Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12-16 muffins, depending on the size of your muffin tins.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I like safflower or grapeseed oil)
1 heaping cup blueberries

Do not preheat oven.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg, then beat in the milk and oil. Pour this wet mixture into the dry mixture. Mix batter lightly until moistened but still lumpy. Gently fold in one cup of blueberries. Pour the batter into a lightly greased muffin tin, filling each cup about 2/3 full.

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and place muffin tins on the rack. Turn the oven to 400' F (205' C). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden.

Note: I have found that these muffins turn out best if all the beating is done by hand. Lumpy muffin batter is a good thing!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rialto Restaurant + Bar

Last night, inspired by Boston's twice-yearly Restaurant Week, L and I discovered Rialto Restaurant + Bar. Rumour has it that Restaurant Week started as a way for restaurants to bump up business during the slowest weeks of summer and winter (though I can't seem to find any official information that substantiates this claim). In any case, participating restaurants offer three-course prix fixe menus at $20.06 for lunch and $30.06 for dinner. Considering their regular menu prices, that's a great deal!

If you asked me to decide which dish was the best, I'd have to list two contenders:

1. A garlicky, flavourful mixed heirloom tomato salad served with 3 kinds of ricotta cheese (from soft and mild to firm and tangy) accompanied by a beautifully green basil oil dressing. Each ingredient is arranged on the plate just so, and I found that I could happily build a little cheese and tomato mountain on each of the the crispy bread rounds served on the side.

2. Tender roast duck thigh and leg with a completely black, yet incredibly tasty skin. That crispy skin was so intriguing that when Chef Jody Adams made a quick visit to our table (as she did for many other tables that night), we had to ask how they did it! If I tried to recreate it at home, I am sure that I would end up with a smoky kitchen and charcoal-skinned, overcooked duck. As luck would have it, though, Chef Adams was kind enough to indulge. The secret is as follows: let the whole duck sit overnight in a marinade of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. The next day, roast until the meat is 95% done. Then, cut the duck into pieces, sprinkle more balsamic over the skin, and sear quickly over high heat until the skin is crisped and black-brown.

In the end we both agreed- the food was excellent, the service knowledgeable and kind. If you can't get to Rialto, I'd recommend borrowing Chef Adams' cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef, from your local library for some of her fabulous recipes. Or, check out Epicurious for her juicy brined pork chops. Bon appetit!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Angel-Hair Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

(my very first food photograph!)

A few months ago, I bought subscriptions to Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines as birthday gifts to myself. My goal: to justify further cluttering our already full bookshelves by making at least 5 recipes from each issue. Let's be honest here- I love reading through them again and again (and again... and again...), and there is no way I could force myself to throw old issues out. At least, not for a few decades.

When the July issue of Gourmet arrived, the cover recipe looked too good to pass up. I've made it a few times and, as always, I couldn't resist a bit of tweaking. After all, experimenting in the kitchen can be fun! And for those of us who are avid garlic lovers, the original recipe (which calls for one lonely little garlic clove) begs for a bigger garlicky kick. Here is our version:

Angel-Hair Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Makes 6 first-course servings or 3-4 main course servings.

2-3 large garlic cloves
3 lb mixed variety tomatoes (2 lbs mixed large tomatoes, 1 pound mixed cherry tomatoes)
1/4 cup pitted and chopped olives (Whole Foods sells scrumptious mixed, pitted olives)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb dried capellini (angel-hair pasta)
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into chiffonade*

Mince garlic and mash to a paste with a pinch of salt using a large heavy knife. Core and coarsely chop two thirds of the large tomatoes. Slice small tomatoes in half. Halve remaining large tomatoes crosswise, then rub cut sides of tomatoes against large holes of a box grater or your largest microplane grater set in a large bowl, reserving pulp and discarding skin. Toss pulp with the chopped and sliced tomatoes, olives, garlic paste, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, sugar, pepper, and basil. Let stand until ready to use, at least 10 minutes (if you have time, let the tomato mixture stand at room temperature up to 2 hours). While tomatoes stand, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente (2-3 minutes for fresh pasta, 4-6 minutes for dried pasta). Drain in a colander and immediately add to tomato mixture, tossing to combine. Pass parmesan cheese at the table for sprinkling, if you like.

The sauce goes well with pasta, of course, but if you want a tasty panzanella (Italian bread and tomato salad), you can omit the pasta and toss the sauce with 8-10 cups of cubed, day-old, crusty bread. For those who live in the Boston area, Pain D'Avignon (available at many Whole Foods locations) makes a delicious country bread that holds up beautifully to the wet sauce.

* To cut basil into chiffonade, pile 10-15 leaves on top of each other on a cutting board. Roll them up tightly lengthwise (like a cigar) then cut them on a diagonal into thin strips. I find that the sharper my knife, the thinner my basil strips.