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With every new year comes a resolution or two, so this is the perfect time to make a few changes to your wine-drinking routine. Take the opportunity to uncork (or unscrew) a bottle you’ve seen but haven’t tasted; try a new food pairing; make a detour on your next winery tour. A chat with the owner of your local wine store can get some ideas flowing, and a new cookbook may inspire you in the kitchen. Here are 12 ways to start new gastronomic traditions right now.
1. Drink bubbly with dinner.
Don’t save that bottle of bubbly in the fridge for a special occasion; open it up the next time you order sushi, Thai or even Indian cuisine. Sparkling wine’s naturally high acidity and minerality make it a natural partner with food. And there are so many affordable bubblies now that there’s no reason not to let it perk up a weeknight. Besides Champagne, try a Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant di Limoux from France; Spanish cava or Italian Prosecco; a sparkling wine from California or New Mexico; or even a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.
2. Buy large-format bottles.
It may seem like a luxury, but depending on the occasion, buying a large-format bottle can actually save you money — and make you the life of the party. Here’s some easy math: a magnum (1.5 liters) is equal to two bottles; a double magnum (3 liters) equals four bottles; and a jeroboam (4.5 liters of still wine) holds six standard bottles. (A jeroboam of sparkling wine is 3 liters, equaling four standard bottles of bubbly.) Sommeliers rave about these larger bottles because they often age better than the traditional 750-milliliter bottle; the oxygen-to-wine ratio in them is far lower, which allows for a slower maturation. More wineries are offering large formats, and stores such as Costco often carry them for the holidays.
3. Try a Rhône varietal from California’s Central Coast.
There are some exciting wines coming out of California’s Central Coast. The terroir is similar to the Rhône Valley, and winemakers are producing reds based on Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, as well as whites with Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, that whisk you off to France by way of the West Coast.
4. Order the wine-pairing option.
The next time you’re at a restaurant with a tasting menu, opt for the wine pairings as well (usually available for a supplement). The beverage directors and sommeliers work with the chef to create something out of the box, so why not take advantage of their expertise? It’s a chance to get creative and open your palate to new pairing ideas.
5. Try Italian whites.
Sick of Sauvignon Blanc? Try one of Italy’s white varietals. They may be hard to pronounce, but they’re easy to drink (and generally affordable). Falanghina, for instance, tastes like bananas, apples and pears; look for producers Feudi di San Gregorio and Terredora. Vermentino tastes of crisp apples and citrus; producers include Antinori and Pala. And Piedmontese Arneis offers flavors of lemons and apples; look for Vietti. All three pair beautifully with seafood, chicken, pork and anything fried.
6. Try a new wine-and-food pairing.
Break out of the mind-set that classic pairings (for instance, red meat with red wine, white meat with white wine) are your only options. Here are some creative examples:
- Chicken fajitas and guacamole with still or sparkling dry rosé
- Beef chili and cornbread with Zinfandel
- Grilled swordfish with Beaujolais
- Grilled sardines with Pinot Noir
- Arctic char over tomato-olive tapenade with Sangiovese
- Roasted veal chops with Viognier
- Roasted pork chops and caramelized onions with Chardonnay or Riesling
- Roasted asparagus with Chianti Classico
- Roasted cauliflower with sparkling wine
7. Serve a French dessert wine with chocolate.
While Port is a natural with chocolate, try a glass of Banyuls for a change. Banyuls is a Grenache-based wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, fortified (as it has been since the 13th century) with clear brandy and aged for at least 10 months. With flavors of mocha, coffee and dark plum, it’s the perfect complement to any chocolate dessert. Serve it at around 58 F in small dessert-wine glasses. Ranging from $25 to $60 for a 375-milliliter bottle, Banyuls may not be easy to find, but it’s worth the effort. M. Chapoutier and Domaine La Tour Vielle are two to look for.
8. Drink white wine with cheese.
Many consumers don’t realize that cheeses generally taste better with white wine than red. Here are some starter pairings:
- Goat cheese with Sancerre, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
- Parmigiano-Reggiano with Prosecco or Orvieto
- Brie with Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
- Triple crème with Riesling
- Stilton with Sauternes
9. Try a white wine that you think is sweet.
Many wine lovers stay away from a varietal because they associate it with a characteristic they dislike. Take Rieslings: despite their reputation for sweetness, they’re not all sweet. Rieslings are wonderfully food-friendly whites that deserve a place at the table. Juicy and crisp, dry German Riesling sets the standard, but domestic Rieslings are on the rise, so there are plenty of options at a wide range of prices.
10. Visit off-the-beaten-path wineries.
Do your homework before your next California wine trip. It’s worth seeking out small family-run wineries that may be a bit out of the way. Picturesque Preston Family Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley has a farmstand and bocce ball court in addition to a tasting room. Iron Horse Vineyards boasts an outdoor tasting facility with spectacular views of Sonoma County. Cliff Lede Vineyards may be just minutes from a busy Napa highway, but its sculpture garden, art gallery and specialized wine tastings make it feel like a special getaway. (You can even book at a night at Mr. Lede’s Poetry Inn in the Stags Leap District.)
11. Sign up for wine-and food tours.
You should also check out wineries that do more than just pour a glass of wine. Many in California offer additional activities such as olive-oil tastings or farm tours. Here is a sampling:
- Long Meadow Ranch, St. Helena
- Round Pond Estate, Napa
- DaVero, Healdsburg
- Viansa, Sonoma
- Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen
12. Join a winery-run wine club.
They’re not just for tourists anymore. Wineries have been honing their club memberships in recent years to make them more personalized, and the rewards can be great — particularly the discounts. If you live within a reasonable distance of the winery to take advantage of their special members-only events, do it. But even if you just receive monthly or twice-yearly shipments, you’ll benefit from such programs.
Main photo: A sparkling selection from Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, paired with salmon. Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Carneros
There’s a lot of waiting on Thanksgiving Day. There’s waiting for family and friends to arrive, waiting for the turkey to roast, waiting for the potatoes to cook. All that waiting makes you work up an appetite, especially, and inevitably, when things run late.
Forget the sad bowl of nuts on the coffee table. Something warm and lovely is in order on Thanksgiving Day. Feed your guests a small bite to hold them over until the main event. These savory, autumn-inspired puffs are just the thing. They’re creamy, crunchy, and bite-sized and perfect with a glass of Champagne. They look fussy but are actually a breeze to pull together.
Pre-baked phyllo cups are found in virtually every supermarket and you can make the filling the night before. Now just don’t keep your guests waiting too long.
Pumpkin Sage Puffs
Makes 30 pieces
2 packages miniature pre-baked phyllo cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, minced
1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
3 slices cooked bacon, chopped fine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Place the phyllo cups on two baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Heat the olive oil on medium-high heat and add the onions and a good pinch of salt. Sauté the onions until soft and slightly golden, about 5 minutes.
3. To make the filling, whisk the pumpkin, ricotta, and egg together until smooth. Add the sage and bacon, and season with salt and pepper; stir to combine.
4. Fill each cup just to the top with the filling. (You can make the filling one day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator.)
5. Bake for 15 minutes and serve.
Photo: Pumpkin sage puffs. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad
I’m a fairly tolerant parent when it comes to food. I give in to my daughter Penelope’s chicken finger cravings once in a while, indulge her preference for plain cheese pizza and let her lick the whisk after I’ve whipped heavy cream.
And while you might think kids will eat every sweet placed in front of them, Penelope won’t touch pumpkin pie. Dealing with finicky eaters is not how I want to spend my Thanksgiving holiday, so this year I’m planning ahead and making a separate desert for the kids’ table: pumpkin bars in a gingerbread crust.
These bars are a mom’s dream: a light filling (a fluffy combo of cream cheese and canned pumpkin) is pressed into a gingersnap crust. Make the bars the day before if the oven is occupied with the turkey (and even get the kids to help stir). A dollop of whipped cream on top doesn’t hurt. You might even see some adults ditching the pie and heading for the kids’ table.
For the crust:
8 ounces gingersnap cookies (about 32 cookies), coarsely broken (see note)
¼ cup (½ stick) salted butter, melted
For the filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature (see note)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whipped cream, for serving (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
2. In a food processor, break up the cookies until finely ground and add the butter. Process until moistened. Press the mixture evenly into the baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. For the filling, combine the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, pumpkin purée, spices and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until combined.
4. Remove the crust from the oven and pour the filling into the pan. Smooth it until fairly level.
5. Bake for 25 minutes. (Check the bars around 22 minutes; they should be set and look firm but not brown). Let the bars cool in the pan on wire rack until sliceable, about 15 minutes.
6. You can store the bars in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Just bring them to room temperature before serving.
Note 1: The eggs should be at room temp for at least 30 minutes before baking. Cold eggs will make the cream cheese mixture seize up.
Note 2: Most boxes of gingersnaps are 12 ounces, so use three-quarters of the box.
Photo: Pumpkin bar with gingersnap crust. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad
Writer Joyce Maynard’s philosophy is that pie brings people together.
Pie certainly brought people together Sept. 30 when more than 15 women and a couple of men gathered at Maynard’s Marin County, Calif., home to learn how to make pie and raise money for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
What Maynard dubbed “Dough for Obama” broke down into two groups — pie makers and eaters — and each group donated to the campaign to spend an unusually warm autumn afternoon making pies, eating pies and talking politics.
Gathering around Maynard’s worn wooden table, guests absorbed her step-by-step instructions on how to make her famous apple pie and then tried their hand at it. Women ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s (and who are artists, writers, photographers, health care workers and a police detective) discussed what brought them together: their political passion, Maynard and their love of pie. For some, it was the first pie they had ever made, and the lure of a hands-on instruction was irresistible.
A tradition of pie and politics
This wasn’t Maynard’s first pie party. The parties started in 2000 after Maynard donated a pie-making lesson to her school’s auction. The $2,000 winning bid from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who bought it for his wife, attracted the attention of the local paper. When a journalist asked Maynard whether she was planning any more pie parties, she replied, “I’m baking to defeat Bush.”
She then promptly planned a party to raise money for Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Since that day, she has taught more than 1,000 people how to make pie while raising money for Gore, Sen. John Kerry and Obama. She also has hosted a daylong baking marathon to benefit victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
Sharing pie wisdom
Maynard’s love of pie is bittersweet. Her mother always told her, “If I ever get a brain tumor I won’t count calories.” In 1989, doctors diagnosed Maynard’s mother with a brain tumor and gave her only weeks to live, so Maynard moved in with her and baked for her mom and her friends.
“Making pie was a comfort to me,” she said.
After her mother passed away and Maynard planned her first Thanksgiving without her kids and ex-husband, she invited friends over to learn how to make pie. Her role as pie-making guru had begun.
The pie lesson that September afternoon was sprinkled with stories and reassuring tips. Maynard’s demonstration was straightforward:
- To make the filling, use tart, firm apples like Granny Smith, never red delicious.
- Do not add too much sugar (Maynard uses only a couple of tablespoons).
- Cut the apples into fairly large pieces.
- To make the perfect crust use an even mix of shortening and butter.
Maynard loves talking pie. Ever wonder about those airy pies with huge domed tops that look like applesauce when you cut into them? The apples are cut too small. (“I believe in a nice, high pie,” she says.) Her secret pie ingredient? Tapioca. Sprinkle it on the bottom crust before the apples are added to prevent a soggy crust. And she recommends a glass pie dish because it distributes heat more evenly and you can see when the crust is done.
Her teaching is kind, patient and encouraging to first-time bakers and experienced ones. When transferring the top crust from the parchment paper to the pie Maynard said, “Now is moment that requires dive-in courage.”
Maynard’s philosophy puts less emphasis on looks and more on taste. “Mine is not a pretty pie; you can tell it’s made by hand,” she said.
Singer Linda Ronstadt, an avid baker and friend of Maynard’s, surprised everyone by joining the party. Her advice? “Make a pie every day for a week to practice.”
Joyce Maynard’s Apple Pie
Joyce likes to say, “It’s not about the recipe; it’s how you make the pie.” Although she doesn’t use a set recipe, I used her measurements and my notes from the party to create this recipe. This is an adaptation, but it’s the closest thing to being in the kitchen with her!
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts
For the filling:
5-6 crisp apples, such as Granny Smith or Gravenstein
sugar, to taste
cinnamon, to taste (about ½ teaspoon)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
2-3 tablespoons instant tapioca
For the crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter (plus a little)
½ cup cold shortening (Joyce uses Crisco brand)
1-4 tablespoons ice water
3 tablespoons milk
peeler or paring knife
parchment paper or waxed paper
pie dish (preferably glass)
1. Peel the apples and cut them in medium-sized, fat slices.
2. In a mixing bowl combine the apples with the lemon juice (if using), a handful of sugar (depending on how sweet you like it) and a sprinkling of cinnamon. (If you’re not sure if you have enough apple slices, pour them in the pie dish; add more apples if necessary to make a nice, high pie.) Set aside.
3. Before you make the crust, assemble everything you need because once you start you want to work quickly to keep the dough as cold as possible. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour and salt.
4. Cut the butter and shortening into pieces.
5. Add the butter and shortening and using a pastry blender or two forks cut it into the flour until you see little pellets of butter and shortening.
6. Making a well, add 1 tablespoon of ice water and gently mix it in with half the flour using your fingers. (You will make the top crust first.) If the dough seems dry add 1 more tablespoon ice water. The dough should come together but not be too moist or too ragged.
7. Once it sticks together transfer the dough to a parchment or waxed paper-lined counter-top or table. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the crust into about ¼-inch thick circle. If it sticks, add a light dusting of flour. You want to handle the dough as little as possible and work quickly to prevent the butter and shortening from melting; that makes a tougher dough. Place the pie pan over the crust and gently flip it over into the pie dish.
8. Press the dough into the pan and cut off any overhanging dough.
9. Sprinkle the bottom crust with tapioca. Set aside while you make the top crust. (If it’s a hot day it’s best to stick it in the refrigerator.)
10. Make the second crust: Add a tablespoon of ice water to remaining flour mixture and gently mix it together until a dough forms, adding more ice water as needed, a tablespoon at a time. Transfer the dough to a parchment or waxed paper-lined counter-top or table and repeat the rolling process listed above.
11. To assemble the pie: Add the apple mixture to the pie dish. In one swift motion carefully flip the bottom crust over the top of the apples. If your aim is off, don’t worry; just adjust the crust and patch any tears or holes. Crimp the edges of the two crusts, sealing them. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with a little milk and sprinkle with a little sugar. With a sharp knife cut four slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.
12. Bake the pie at 425 F for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.
Photo: Apple pie from Joyce Maynard’s “Dough for Obama” event. Credit: Laura Holmes-Haddad
I’ll admit it: before kids, the only things in my freezer were ice cubes, vodka and a pint of gelato. Oh how the mighty have fallen. With kids, I use my freezer for everything: homemade baby food, meat, vegetables, ice cream, chicken stock, shrimp shells, fruit and yes, ice cream. Forget making 30-minute meals every night; with two kids, I want to be able to pull a meal out of my freezer.
So I welcomed the addition of “The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook“ to my kitchen. I needed more inspiration (and more instruction) about what is (and isn’t) freezer-friendly. British cookbook author Ghillie James gives recipes and detailed instructions for stocking the freezer with weeknight meals and party food. And parents of young children, take note: There’s an entire chapter devoted to homemade baby and toddler food.
By Ghillie James
Kyle Books, 2012, 176 pp.
What I love most about James’ approach is her no-nonsense tone and factual information. She gives her many “reasons to freeze,” with guidelines on freezing and thawing. You don’t need a microwave to thaw frozen food, by the way. I don’t use one, I just use the refrigerator.
Freezer cookbook has adventurous side
I’m crazy about the idea of freezing as way of preserving the fruit of the season. Who doesn’t love the taste of a juicy summer peach on a cold winter morning? And James tells you how to freeze things you might otherwise have thrown out, such as excess egg yolks and white wine. There are flavorful recipes for everything from the more familiar (gazpacho, beef and spinach lasagna, sausage rolls with mustard and poppyseed, and quick double chocolate sheet cake) to the more adventurous (lamb and prune tagine, smoked fish, crab and watercress tart, and mojito sherbet). There are some decidedly British recipes — mincemeat, and orangy syrup tart that won’t be on the top of my must-try list — but there are plenty of others that are now in permanent rotation.
I was skeptical about losing flavor and any icicle freezer burn, but recipe after recipe thaws perfectly and you would never know it came from the freezer. The gorgeous photos and cheerful design add to the appeal.
Here’s a comforting recipe to transition into fall that the whole family will eat. And it’s the perfect way to try out your new freezer skills because the leftovers freeze beautifully. Note: Flageolet beans are immature kidney beans and can be hard to find in the United States; Great Northern beans are a good substitute. The recipe doesn’t call for a specific cut of meat, but I used pork shoulder, which worked well.
Pork and Flageolet Bean Stew
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, cut into wedges, or 3 good handfuls of frozen chopped onion
1 pound frozen cubes of pork leg, or fresh pork, cut into bite-size pieces
1½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium baking apple, peeled, cored, and sliced, or a handful of frozen apple slices
heaping ⅓ cup white wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1¼ cups vegetable stock
6 mushrooms, sliced, or 2 handfuls frozen mushroom slices
1 (14-ounce) can flageolet beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.
2. In a heavy-bottomed casserole dish, heat the oil and add the onion. Soften over medium heat for 5 minutes.
3. Increase the heat and add the pork. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic, carrot, and apple and cook, stirring, for an additional 5 minutes.
4. Add the wine, Worcestershire sauce, honey, soy sauce, and vegetable stock. Season, stir, bring to a boil, and then cover and cook in the oven for an hour.
5. Remove the casserole from the oven and add the mushrooms, beans, and zucchini. Stir, cover the casserole, and return to the oven for an additional 30 minutes, or until the pork is tender.
6.Taste for seasoning and sweetness, then serve.
Top composite image:
“The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook” cover. Credit: Courtesy of Kyle Books
Author Ghillie James. Credit: Tara Fisher
At my house, cooking for the kids often involves leftovers. Specifically, using up ingredients that they’ve taken a bite of and abandoned on the countertop. This is most often fruit. These banana, apple and more recently, strawberry, peach and nectarine corpses break my heart but have inspired our weekly muffin-making sessions.
My daughter Penelope drags her step-stool to the counter and helps me measure and mix, and about 30 minutes later we’ve got fresh muffins to eat or freeze. The sugar-pecan topping can be included or not, depending on how much sugar your child has already inhaled that day. The muffins are just as tasty without.
This is an indestructible, go-to muffin recipe because you can add any fruit you like and the whole-wheat flour will go unnoticed by the little ones. I love using fresh blackberries or peaches in the summer but if you want to use fresh strawberries, make sure to cut the tops off and cut them in half before using. (This is a great recipe for using up those on-the-brink berries and fruit.)
Cook’s notes: Rinse and thoroughly dry fresh berries before adding them; you don’t want any excess water in the batter. If you’re using frozen berries, don’t defrost them before adding them to the batter. The best tip for fruit muffins: gently toss the fruit in flour before folding them into the batter so they don’t sink to the bottom of the muffin cup. (Use a bit of the flour called for in the recipe rather than adding additional flour, which will throw off the recipe.)
Kid-Friendly Fruit Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
For the topping (optional):
⅓ cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Grated zest of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
⅓ cup pecans, finely chopped
For the muffins:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
grated zest of ½ lemon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh berries, 2½ cups frozen unsweetened berries, unthawed, or 1 leftover banana, mashed; or 3 to 4 fresh peaches or nectarines chopped fine
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease 12 standard muffin cups with butter or nonstick baking spray. (You can also use any leftover muffin tin liners you have lying around.)
2. To make the topping, in a small bowl, stir together the sugar, flour and lemon zest. Stir in the melted butter until the mixture is crumbly. Add the pecans and stir to combine. Set aside.
3. To make the muffins, in a bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, lemon zest and salt. In a small bowl mix together the egg, melted butter, and buttermilk. Make a well in the center and add the egg, melted butter, and buttermilk mixture.
4. Stir just until evenly moistened; don’t overmix. (The batter will be slightly lumpy.) Add the berries or fruit and gently them fold in with a large rubber spatula just until evenly distributed.
5. Try not to break up the fruit. Again, do not overmix.
6. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each to a bit above the rim of the cup. If using the topping, top each muffin with a tablespoon or so, dividing it evenly.
7. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 15 minutes.
8. Unmold the muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature. The muffins will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days; just bring to room temperature or reheat in a 400 F oven for 5 minutes before serving.
Photo: Kid-friendly fruit muffins. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad