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Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's Tomato Challenge Time: What Do YOU Do with All Those Tomatoes?


Our regular "Anonymous" commenter dropped a challenge on all of us in reacting to the Clean-Out-The-Fridge Slaw post:
How about some tomato recipes? It's not even August and we're almost overdosed! I've been freezing some sauce using a simple and tasty Rick Bayless recipe:
*Half a dozen tomatoes, blackened on both sides under the broiler, then peel and deseed.
*Several cloves garlic, toasted whole on stovetop, then peel & mince
*1 T. chipotle adobe sauce (or to taste)
*Salt & a pinch of sugar

Blend these together, then cook down in a very hot saucepan for 10-15 min.
So, let's hear from you about your favorite tomato recipes. Send them as a comment to this post and we'll repost them, or send them to EatWellEatCheap@me.com, and we'll post them.

We hadn't thought of this yet because here in the Northeast we're suffering from tomato blight and farmers are bulldozing their crop to get rid of the fungus.

But here's our favorite. (No photo because we don't have any tomatoes.)

Macedonia Salad for 4

1. Cut one onion in half and slice both halves as thinly as you can. If the onion is too strong or pungent, soak it in ice water or milk for at least 15 minutes.
2. Slice three or four large tomatoes fairly thinly.
3. Make a mustard vinaigrette dressing with 1 T. dijon-style mustard, 1 T. balsamic vinegar, and 3 T. Olive oil. Mix very well.
4. Place a small bed of lettuce on four salad plates.
5. Divide the tomatoes and lay equal amounts on each bed of lettuce.
6. Separate the onion slices into individual half rings and scatter them on the tomatoes.
7. (Optional) Place four to eight anchovy fillets on the salad in a star pattern.
8. Cover with an appropriate amount of the dressing.
Salt and Pepper to taste.

We discovered this salad in a tiny restaurant in San Francisco 25 years ago. It's delicious.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bargain Red Wine of the Week: 2007 Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir


OK, we'll admit it. Tim bought this wine because of the bicycle on the label. Still nursing the clavicle injury from his last ride, he's missing bicycles, so the romance of the two-wheeled ride has to come from a wine label.

A secondary reason was that on our visit to the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southwestern France in 2000, we discovered that this relatively unknown wine region produced some great wines. You just had to be a bit picky. (The Fat Bastard white we reviewed earlier this summer also came from this land north of the Pyrenees and west of the Mediterranean.)

The third reason is that we've reviewed very few bargain reds this summer.

We found the Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir for about $8, and even though any Pinot Noir under $20 these days is suspect, we were very, very pleasantly surprised.

Although the red wine is light in color, it has dark red tastes of plum and cherry. There's a subtle hint of cinnamon in there too, because the winemaker ages a very small amount of the juice in French oak for a couple of months.

This is not an Oregon-quality Pinot Noir, but it doesn't carry the price tag, either. It's a bargain. And any Pinot Noir that drinks well and has a bargain price these days is a real bargain.

Bargain White Wine of the Week: 2007 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc


Ferrari-Carano is not a name generally associated with bargain wines. We encountered our one and only Ferrari-Carano bargain when the label was just getting started. We lived near F-C's beautiful chateau-style winery, and when we stopped by to taste the wine, we were amazed by the quality and the price. To attract new customers, the winemaker sold its bottles at a low price for the first year. Then it began to charge what these stunning wines were worth.

The recession is hitting everybody, so we weren't totally surprised to see F-C's prices come down a bit from their usual $20 range, even though the quality is still generally very high. But we recently found a bottle of Fumé Blanc marked down to our $10 limit. (When not on sale, it sells for as much as $15.)

Because of the partial aging in French oak barrels, this Sauvignon Blanc tastes more like a Chardonnay (thus the Fumé Blanc name), with a big citrus mouth that includes grapefruit, lemon, and a bit of orange. F-C blends grapes from three nearby appellations — Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, and Russian River — to get the best flavor for this wine.

If you find this Fumé anywhere near the bargain price we found, we recommend giving it a try.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Post No. 100: We're Uncorking a Bottle to Celebrate


On the occasion of post No. 100 on Eat Well, Eat Cheap, we offer you this quote from an English philosopher:

Age appears to be best in four things; old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.
—Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Clean-Out-the-Fridge Slaw


The CSA farm where we get our box of produce each week during the summer, Fort Hill Farm, is very good about including recipes for how to use the bounty. Getting a big box of vegetables sounds great, especially when you eat as many as we do, but it can be intimidating to keep up with two stuffed crisper drawers and loaded refrigerator shelves.

This week the Fort Hill Farm newsletter included instructions for something called "clean-out-the-fridge slaw." We followed the recipe somewhat, but the beauty of it is that you can substitute pretty much anything you've got. We managed to put a slight dent in our surplus.

Here's what we used:

4 small turnips
6 smallish carrots
1 small red onion (or 5 radishes)
1/2 red cabbage
1/2 white cabbage

Coarsely grate all the vegetables, then mix them together in a big bowl.

Dressing:

1. Dissolve 1 T. sugar in 1 T. water, then mix with 1 T. cider vinegar.
2. Add enough mayonnaise (or Vegenaise) to achieve the consistency you want (we used about one cup).
3. Add 2 T. dried dill, or 3 to 4 T. fresh dill; 2 t. celery seed; and salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the dressing with the veggies, cover, and chill for a hour or more.

Serves at least six. We had it with fish, but this slaw works with everything from barbeque to burgers to poultry—or, of course, tofu or veggie dogs.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Good Review for Eat Well, Eat Cheap

A fellow blogger who writes the NYCRecessionDiary came across our blog and liked it so much so gushed about it on her site. She's also joined up as a follower of this blog. See the bottom of the right-hand column for who's signed up to follow us (beyond the hundreds who follow us on Twitter).

She goes by "Ricebird" and her tagline is: Tips, tricks, and helpful how-tos for NYC recession sufferers. She writes about everything from where to buy high-end perfume for bargain prices to the pastry store selling $1 frosting shots.

She asked her readers to "give it a read and tell me what you think."

Eat Well, Eat Cheap is plentiful with DELICIOUS looking recipes (Chickpea and eggplant gratin?! I'm in!) useful links (101 simple salads for the season from the NYT?! omg) and more useful food-related blogroll links than you could shake a chicken-on-a-stick at.
Check out her blog at http://www.nycrecessiondiary.com, especially if you live in or near New York City.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Black-Eyed Pea And Eggplant Gratin


Normally we wouldn't think of summer as casserole weather, but our summer has been wet and cool. Yesterday it barely got to 60 degrees, so we made our favorite all-in-one dish, which has been a huge hit everywhere we've served it.

The recipe comes from the Greens Cook Book (from the celebrated vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco) by Deborah Madison.

The book calls for white beans, but we use black-eyed peas because they cook faster, making this gratin easy to throw together quickly.

3/4 cup black-eyed peas
4 teaspoons fresh sage or 2 teaspoons dried, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves peeled but whole; 3 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
7 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried, chopped
2 large yellow onions sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 can diced plum or regular tomatoes (1 pound, 12 ounces) with juice
1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch squares (skin on)
1 cup bread crumbs

Wash black-eyed peas and cover with at least 2 cups boiling water.
Let stand one hour, rinse and cover in a sauce pan with 4 cups fresh cool water.
Bring to a boil with half the sage, the bay leaves, the 2 whole garlic cloves and a tablespoon of olive oil.
Simmer for 30 minutes, add teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer until tender. Drain the liquid and set aside.
Warm 4 tablespoons of oil in a wide skillet with the rest of the sage and the t
hyme. Then add the onions, chopped garlic, and a teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook until the onions are soft.
Add the eggplant squares, stir well, cover and cook over medium heat for at least 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and their juice, and continue cooking until the eggplant is tender.

Preheat oven to 350.

In an lightly oiled casserole or gratin dish, add the eggplant mixture to the black-eyed peas and add plenty of fresh ground pepper and more salt — to taste. There should be enough liquid to come halfway up the side.

Spread the bread crumbs over the top and drizzle olive oil over the crumbs.

Bake about 30 minutes, until the gratin is hot and bubbling. Serves six.

Serve with a green salad, a piece of meat if you like, and a robut red wine, such as a zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, or merlot.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Box Is Growing Heavier


As we move into the heart of the growing season, our CSA box is getting much weightier, loaded with potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, squash, and more. Salad for dinner tonight, clearly.

Speaking of which, Mark Bittman has a great mega-column in the New York Times Dining section today, listing 101 salads as well as dressing suggestions. When we first saw it, we thought, "Who needs more salad ideas?" Then we took a look at the salad of shredded carrots, blueberries, and sunflower seeds and realized that we hadn't begun to explore this summer standby. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Easy Sauce Recipe for any Stir Fry

Say you've got a few vegetables, some leafy greens, and a little leftover meat in the refrigerator, and you know they all should be eaten soon. A stir fry is the obvious solution, but sauces can be tricky—one wrong move and you end up with a wok full of oversalted or underflavored mush.

We've developed a nearly foolproof stir fry sauce that works well with virtually any combination of ingredients.

If the protein you're using is raw, sauté it first in a tablespoon or two of peanut or vegetable oil over medium-high heat until it's brown. Then add a tablespoon of ginger, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, some scallions if you like. If you're using cooked meat or tofu, toss it in now. 

Last night we used some shamefully neglected broccoli from our CSA box, adding it about two minutes after the ginger, scallions, and garlic, then frying everything for about five minutes. Once the vegetables are nearly cooked, you can throw in greens. Spinach and chard are good; a few weeks ago we tried beet greens, and they were great. 

Here's the liquid for the sauce. Many cookbooks would have you hold the sesame oil until the end because it's somewhat delicate, but you don't have to—in any case, it's nice to add a few drops to the finished dish for extra flavor.

1/2 cup broth (vegetable, chicken, or fish)
1 T.  soy sauce
2 T. oyster sauce
1 T. toasted sesame oil (the brown stuff from the Asian section, not the light, health-food kind)
1 T. mirin (rice cooking wine) or sherry

Mix it all in a small bowl and add to the stir fry after the vegetables are nearly cooked.

Some cookbooks recommend dusting the meat in cornstarch or adding a tablespoon or two of cornstarch to the liquid mixture, but we like our sauces on the less gummy side, so we leave it out. 

Serve with rice.

Bargain Wine of the Week: Powers 2007 Chardonnay


We tried this Washington State Chardonnay once in the midst of a bunch of Chardonnays — a "Chardonnay vertical" our wine store clerk calls it when we buy a handful of Chardonnays — and didn't particularly remember it.

But when we had the chance to try the Powers 2007 Chardonnay again last night, we found this little known gem to be fully worth the 88 points that Wine Spectator magazine gave it.

"Bright and spicy, with a black pepper edge to the green apple and lime flavors," a WS editor wrote.

We could definitely taste the apple and citrusy lime, but were stumped about the smoky, spicy taste until we read the black pepper comment. It doesn't sound like the kind of flavor you'd want to taste in a white wine, but trust us, it adds a wonderful complexity to the multitude of flavors in this remarkable wine.

Even more remarkable, we bought it for $10. But it drinks like a wine costing twice that much.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Two Community Gardens Bills in Congress


We got an email from a friend noting that two community

garden bills had been introduced in Congress. We pass along their plea here:

"One is a bill (HR 3225 - The Community Gardens Act) which creates a grant program to fund community gardens. Another is a resolution praising community gardens. If you want to voice your support for these, shoot your representative an email and either thank them if they are already a co-sponsor (list below) or ask them to co-sponsor HR 3225."

Sponsor: Jay Inslee (D-WA)

Cosponsors: Del. Madeleine Bordallo [D-GU]

Del. Donna Christensen [D-VI]

Del. Eleanor Norton [D-DC]

Rep. Earl Blumenauer [D-OR3]

Rep. André Carson [D-IN7]

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver [D-MO5]

Rep. John Conyers [D-MI14]

Rep. Donna Edwards [D-MD4]

Rep. Eliot Engel [D-NY17]

Rep. Raul Grijalva [D-AZ7]

Rep. Marcy Kaptur [D-OH9]

Rep. Barbara Lee [D-CA9]

Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D-NY14]

Rep. Doris Matsui [D-CA5]

Rep. James McGovern [D-MA3]

Rep. Dennis Moore [D-KS3]

Rep. James Moran [D-VA8]

Rep. Lynn Woolsey [D-CA6]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bargain Wine of the Week: Naia 2007 Rueda


A couple of years ago Tim had to host a business get-together in Chicago for people attending an industry conference and trade show.

A full dinner would have been too much, under the circumstances, so he decided on cocktails and tapas at a Spanish restaurant and asked his friends at Fine Cooking magazine to recommend a red and a white wine to serve with the evening of little bites.

The editor got in touch with a sommelier who knew Spanish wines. His white pick, a 2004 Naia Rueda, was the hit of the night.

We found the 2007 Naia for $10 (it's probably cheaper some places), and it lives up to Tim's recollection of its 2004 predecessor. It has a crisp yet rich flavor that would work well with heavier dishes.

If you see this in your wine store for a decent price, make sure to check it out.

Coffee: A Great Way To Start The Day



If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.
—Abraham Lincoln

This is not a problem at our house. Great coffee to start every day.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Raw Veggie Slaw Is Quick and Easy


We love the idea that when our weekly box of veggies comes home with us from the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, we have to figure out what to do with them, because we never know what we're going to get.

Last week, among the many fresh vegetables, we got beets, carrots, and a kohlrabi. For dinner last night, we thought a slaw would be a good accompaniment to the fish (arctic char and halibut) we grilled.

So, we put the grater blade in the food processor and grated separately three medium-size carrots, the kohlrabi (peeled), and three small beets. With the veggies assembled in a ceramic bowl, we added three-quarters of a cup of mustardy vinaigrette dressing along with a little salt and pepper.

To assemble the dressing in a cup-sized container that we could seal well enough to shake, we mixed 3-1/2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and two Tablespoons of good dijon mustard, and a Tablespoon of olive oil. Cap the container and shake until blended. Then add a half cup of olive oil, and shake again.

Pour the dressing onto the veggies and mix well. You can make this hours ahead or just before you sit down to eat.

The beets give the slaw a solidly red cast, but it adds color to an otherwise white fish plate.

The mustard dressing and the strong veggies make this a slaw that can stand up to anything from beef to barbeque to fish.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bargain Wine of the Week: BV 2007 Coastal Estates Chardonnay


Here's another one of those reliable winery names that when all else is unfamiliar, you can pick and be pretty sure that you and your guests will be pleasantly happy. Maybe even pleasantly surprised, as we were.

After all, few of us expect to go to a gathering and get 95-rated wines costing $60 (except maybe in a restaurant on the $60 score).

But this wine made us go back to the store receipts to make sure that we had indeed spent less than $10. In fact the BV (Beaulieu Vineyards) 2007 Coastal Estates Chardonnay was $9.

Others have commented on its "hints" of toasty vanilla oak. We thought the vanilla was much more than a hint, and in a very good way. The lingering smoky vanilla taste gave the wine a creaminess and fullness that you don't often find in a $10 Chardonnay from California.

This also has nice taste notes of citrus, fruit and apple. It would work with pasta, chicken, seafood, fish, anything grilled.

This is BV's down-market wine, for which they blend grapes from throughout wine country rather than selling it as being a premium wine from one vineyard only. But it's proud of its name, so even this value label is a good wine for everyday, or for large gatherings.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Refreshing Summer Drink: The Liberator


A friend made this drink for us one hot night many Julys ago. He dubbed it the "Liberator," and whenever the humidity and temperature hit the 90/90 mark, we liberate ourselves by mixing up a few. 

It couldn't be much easier. Squeeze half of a juicy lime into the bottom of a large cocktail glass. Add about a teaspoon of sugar, and stir to mix. Fill the glass with ice and add one to one and a half ounces of rum, depending on the degree of liberation you wish to attain.  Top it off with tonic water, and garnish with a wedge of lime.

If you like your drinks a little tart, like Tim does, use a whole lime's worth of juice. If you like your drinks a little sweeter, like Ruth does, put in two teaspoons of sugar.

On that muggy night many years ago, our friend used a couple of tablespoons of frozen lime juice instead of fresh, and that worked fine too. 

Enjoy on the deck with friends, pets, snacks, and bug spray.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Poets Are Like Cheese






















A poet's hope: to be,
like some valley cheese,
local, but prized elsewhere.

—W. H. Auden (1907 - 1973)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Last Week's CSA Box: Reaping the Bounty


Last week's box from our local Community Supported Agriculture farm, Fort Hill Farm, was chock-full of midsummer bounty.

It contained one large tomato, a sizable bag of mixed greens, four cukes, four zucchini, one summer squash, spinach, fennel, a big bunch of carrots, turnips, cilantro, lots of scallions, beets, lettuce, several heads of broccoli, and more garlic scapes. I might have missed something in the list, because there was so much.

We celebrated with a large salad last night, and a stir fry with beet greens and spinach the day before.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Red Pepper Pesto


Basil pesto is one of those flavors that people either love or hate. Most people seem to love it, and in the summer some pesto lovers can't get enough of it.

And there are lots of ways to make green pesto: with arugula instead of basil, for example, or with garlic scapes, as we've written about here in previous posts.

But if you are sick of green pesto and want a change, here's a recipe for red pepper pesto. As we've noted before, roasted red peppers are one of our all-time favorite flavors. This pesto has a bit less bite than the green pestos, because of the creamy sweet taste of the roasted red peppers.

This roasted red pepper pesto, which is adapted from a Food & Wine recipe, can be mixed with any pasta from spaghetti to bowtie to the mini-penne we used. We thought that the Food & Wine recipe needed more of a kick from the garlic, nuts and cheese.

5 large red peppers, roasted and skin removed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3-1/2 cup basil, plus 3 sprig tops for garnish
4 Tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. pasta

Just before you put the pasta in the boiling water to cook,
put the roasted and skinned peppers in a food processor, followed by
the garlic, basil, toasted pine nuts, and parmesan cheese.
Add a few good grinds of pepper and a half teaspoon of salt.
Pulse the processor until it begins to look like a sauce, then add the olive oil and pulse until relatively smooth.
Taste for salt and add more if needed.
When the pasta is done, drain and put in a pasta bowl.
Add the red pepper pesto and mix well.
Garnish with the extra cheese and the basil sprigs.
Serves four.

Serve with a very crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, or if you're craving red, a Pinot Noir.

Another Way to Make Our Favorite Zucchini Salad

When we recently wrote about The Zucchini Salad That Even Zucchini Haters Will Love, we suggested that the mint, lemon juice, and parmesan that gives much of the salad its wonderful summer flavor could be substituted out for different flavors.

We tried our suggestion the other night, and subbed in cilantro, lime juice and feta in the same proportions. It was great. So, depending on what you're serving and what flavors you're trying to match — say Mexican, or Middle Eastern — you might want to try the lime/cilantro/feta approach.

Either way this salad is sure to please even people who say they're sick of the green veggie that many love to hate.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cherries Are in the Stores


Look for the dark red ones. The darker the cherry, the better the flavor.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Simple and Easy Secret to Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies



It always makes us laugh when famous chefs or food magazines make a convoluted and difficult task out of chocolate chip cookies.

When Tim was in the Army and a package of chocolate chip cookies came in the mail, everybody on the squad gathered around and begged to be treated to some of his mother's cookies. Now, we all think our mothers are great cooks (well almost all of us), but when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, Ella's always got rave reviews.

Her secret was so simple, you're gonna laugh and then say, "it can't make that much of a difference." But her secret makes great and perfect chocolate chip cookies, and she passed it on to Tim. We have a neighbor who won't let us come to dinner unless Tim brings his chocolate chip cookies for dessert. We're not kidding, people love these cookies.

Here's the secret: Use the recipe on the Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate chip bag for Toll House Cookies, but make one major ingredient change. Instead of the 1 cup (16 Tbs.) of butter, substitute the same amount of Crisco Butter Flavor All-Vegetable Shortening Sticks (1 stick).


You're probably thinking: Why substitute something not quite natural for something good like butter? Well, first it has a lot less saturated fat — 50% less — and no trans fats. But more importantly, it makes for a more substantial, and better tasting, cookie.

Butter tends to be greasy, and the cookies flatten too much. With the Crisco sticks, the cookies stay puffy and by watching the time in the oven, you can make them ultra-chewy or crisp and very crunchy.
We also don't over chop the nuts. We leave them on the big side, and we make fewer cookies per batch by making them bigger — 2 heaping Tablespoons per cookie. So you get about 20-24 cookies per recipe.

For chewy cookies, take them out of the oven at 12 minutes while they still look just a bit too soft. For crisp, crunchy cookies, leave them in another two or three minutes, but don't let the bottoms burn.

Serve these perfect chocolate chip cookies hot and you'll have friends and family begging you to make more.

Bargain Wine of the Week: Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Chardonnay Columbia Valley


We did sort of an unintentional blind tasting last night and were pleasantly shocked by the lush taste of the wine — and then by its price.

We pulled a bottle of 2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay (Columbia Valley) from our "cellar" not remembering how much we'd paid for it. If it's in our rack, we know we didn't pay much.

But after we tasted the smooth, soft and rich liquid that came out of the bottle, we ran to check our records to see what we'd paid.

The answer: an unbelievable $9.99 — for a wine that tastes better than (we're not kidding) at least one of our recent $25 Chardonnay purchases.

Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator both rated this wine 88. W.E. said it best: "Here is a solid, widely distributed, well-priced, all-purpose Chardonnay. It's got plenty of buttery toast, soft and round fruit—lightly peachy—and unusual richness for a wine in this price range. It's a California style with a Washington twist—real acid."

Chateau Ste. Michelle is another of the few totally reliable wineries that consistently puts out good wines at great prices. It's outdone itself with the 2007 Chard.

Another tip: The 2007 Hogue Chardonnay from this same Columbia Valley is considered a great value at the same price: $10.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Good Wine for the Carbon-Neutral Crowd


We discovered Cono Sur Chardonnay in Cancun, Mexico, where the only accessible wines of any quality were Chilean. It was the highest priced chard in the store we frequented and it had a drawing of a bicycle on the bottle, so we bought some. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least.

Upon returning to the states, it proved difficult to find, especially when some restaurants decided it made a good house chardonnay. But we persevered. This is not an oaky, round California white, but a crisp, fresh, and fruity wine that stands up to oily meats and seafood as well as creamy pasta sauces.

For those of you who are worried about the global warming consequences of drinking wine shipped all the way from Chile, the winery is touting itself as the first to obtain carbon-neutral delivery status.

That means that CO2 emissions from the shipping of Cono Sur wines have been balanced to net zero through high quality greenhouse gas emission reduction projects.

The winery was also a pioneer of organic wine production in Chile and is clearly run by environmentally conscious folks.

The name Cono Sur comes from its location, the Southern Cone of South America, one of the southern-most wine regions in the world and a prime pinot noir region in Chile.
We've also tried the Viognier, and didn't like it nearly as much as the Chardonnay, but all the Cono Sur wines with the bicycle drawing on the label are under $10.

Cono Sur also has one of our favorite winery slogans: "No family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wine."

A Salad Spinner That Takes No Cupboard Space


Our friend Krysta Doerfler sent us an idea for people who either don't have the space to add a salad spinner to their limited cabinet space or else don't want to spend money on yet another kitchen gadget they'll only use occasionally.

She simply uses one of those strong netting bags that oranges come in at the grocery store. She puts the lettuce inside, washes it under running water, and then walks outside and gives it a whirl.

"It takes up less space than those big plastic spinners, and it's durable. It may be tough if you are making a big salad, but it's perfect for dinner for one or two," she says.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wine Bargain of the Week: 2007 Mirassou Chardonnay

On a very early trip to California, long before we moved there, our friends introduced us to our first great wine bargain.

We were young and didn't have a lot of money (there's never enough), so when we tasted a bottle of Mirassou (Pinot Noir, we believe) at Sam's Grill in San Francisco we were delighted by the great taste and low price.

Over the years Mirassou reliability has been up and down. The price was always right; the taste was mostly OK, and sometimes almost great.

Over the holiday weekend we opened a bottle of $9 chardonnay to have a glass with a pre-dinner salad. We were pleasantly surprised by the full mouth, and the great flavors.

There was a little cantalope at the beginning, some vanilla, and lots of fruit (peaches and nectarines) at the end. The wine can definitely be described as creamy. The winery claims there's also a little pineapple in the taste as well.

The wine is inexpensive because Mirassou uses grapes it buys from Monterey County as well as the Central Coast. It spends some time in oak and also stainless steel. The winemaker should be applauded for putting out a really good bargain wine.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Zucchini Salad that Zucchini Haters Will Love

There comes a time every summer when the neighbors with gardens are offering you bags of zucchini. It's a dreaded moment, and you have to make a decision: be honest and turn them down, or accept the cache of zukes and donate half of them to the compost.

Some people have been fed so many zucchini —think muffins, bread, lasagna — in their lives that they won't eat them at all.

We happen to think that they're great as part of a casserole, a cacciatore or stir fried in Asian dishes. We also slice them in half lengthwise and grill them with a generous brushing of balsamic vinaigrette. But even we grow tired of them by summer's end.

Last year, however, Fort Hill Farm, our CSA, gave out a recipe for a zucchini salad that has us once more happily accepting donations. It's a fresh summer salad sparked with mint and lemon, and it's a winner with our friends.

Fresh Zucchini Salad
3 or 4 zucchini, washed and shaved/sliced as thinly as you can (about 1/16 inch)
1/4 cup loosely packed mint, chopped roughly, plus a few sprigs saved for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
2 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
About 10 meaty shavings of Parmesan

Put the zukes in a glass or ceramic bowl. Add olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Stir to mix. Add chopped mint and all but a couple Parmesan shavings, and stir again.
Either garnish the salad in the bowl, or distribute it among four salad plates, then garnish with extra cheese shavings and sprigs of mint.

(We haven't tried this yet because the summer is young, but we imagine this salad would also be good with lime juice and cilantro instead of the lemon and mint, and perhaps with feta instead of Parmesan.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Very Personal CSA (community supported agriculture)


Tim's brother Ron entertains himself in the long, hot South Dakota summers by growing a huge garden in raised beds. Then he cans and freezes whatever he doesn't consume immediately — or give away.

His garden is in the yard of the farm that two brothers own just west of the Missouri River in southern SoDak. Ron is a master gardener and every year he either expands the size of his garden or he experiments with new crops. This year he expanded the size considerably.

We benefit from the bounty when we visit with the rest of the extended family in the fall. Last year our hot green bean salad garnished with crispy leeks from the garden were a big hit.

This year he's growing tomatoes, spinach, leeks, beans, rhubarb, and other crops. Since he can't be at the farm all of the time, he's rigged up a pretty clever automatic watering system among the tomato plants.

On the 4th, the garden is looking pretty good. Here are a few photos:



Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wine Bargain of the Week: 2007 Beringer Founder's Estate Chardonnay


Beringer has always been a reliably good wine from California. With a full range of varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet, etc.) it's an easy pick if you're in a wine shop full of unknowns.

But like many good wines, its price has been creeping up along with inflation—now most of its wines fall in the $30 to $90 range.

There are two exceptions. Beringer's California Collection is in the bargain range under $10 and mostly contains  the wines non-serious wine drinkers love: White Zin, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chenin Blanc.

The other exception is a line called Founder's Estate, which weirdly means that the grapes are grown somewhere other than Beringer. We're not sure who makes the wine, because the line is pretty much hidden on the Beringer Web site.

But a good value is a good value. And these wines are often available in wine stores.

We tried the Chardonnay last night ($6.49 in some stores; $10 in others) and found it exceedingly crisp and pleasant, especially for a value this wallet-worthy.

It is not oaky in the usual California Chardonnay way. But with a hint of sweet orange citrus behind a lingering vanilla taste, this white will work with almost any salad or meal.

We'll look around for the Cabernet and report in as soon as we've uncorked a bottle.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Box, Week 4: The First Tomatoes, and Greens Galore

That's Rebecca from Fort Hill Farm, our local CSA, handing over our box of produce for week 4 of the summer program.

The contents of our weekly box from Fort Hill Farm are starting to move from greens and strawberries to weightier summer fare. As we've said before, what makes this box of local produce so much fun is figuring out what to do with the week's bounty.

Here's what we got today:
1 bag of arugula
1 bag of spinach
8 garlic scapes (last week's pesto was fabulous)
3 bunches of broccoli (2+ lbs.)
3 zucchini (2+ lbs.)
1 summer squash
1 bunch Italian parsley
3 beets with greens
5 small purplette onions
2 hothouse tomatoes
1 pint snap peas
1 head red leaf lettuce

Below are photos of the strawberry and onion fields at Fort Hill Farm. We've had an exceedingly soggy summer so far, but the plants don't seem to mind.