Saturday, July 31, 2010

Redcurrant Jelly with Rosé and Piment D'Espelette

Each week brings a new bounty to the farmer's market. Our local market has music, artisans, cheese makers, beekeepers, bakers and more as well as farmer's with their fresh pickings. My friend, Babby sells her redcurrants there every year. We thought last year would have been her final year at the market with her sweet and tart berries, but thankfully she had her table set up again this season. Last year I made Summer Pudding with her redcurrants and thought I'd try a jelly this year. I prefer jams to jellies, but after cooking down, redcurrants have seeds that become too predominant and not appealing. Since I love, love pepper and had some piment d'espelette from a Paris food market, I added that, but you could use your favorite pepper. I like piment d'espette for it's full round flavor and and mild hotness. We are still in rosé wine season, so I substituted rosé for the water that added a certain je ne sais quoi. Removing these small berries from their stems can be tedious, but by placing the stem between the tines of a fork, it goes quickly. It is meditative work that made me reflect upon Babby and her garden as the berries fell from their tiny stems through the fork tines. Her late husband Bill, always played his accordion after our Thanksgiving meal and shot off his miniature handmade canon during the 4th of July. His ancestors go back centuries in my historical town. Knowing where your food comes from and how it's grown connects you to it's essence. It's not just a blind date.
This jelly is a sweet addition to a cheese board or goes well with a grainy bread and creamy butter.

Redcurrant Jelly with Rosé and Piment D'Espelette

1 1/4 redcurrants, rinsed and stems removed
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup rosé wine or water
2 teaspoons piment d'espelette*
*cayenne pepper or another pepper may be substituted, but reduce amounts according to their hotness.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the redcurrants, sugar and rosé (or water). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle boil. Continue cooking for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture starts to set and thicken. Test by putting a spoonful on a chilled plate, it should be slightly thick. The jelly will thicken more as it cools, but will not be firm. Remove from the stove and put the mixture through a food mill or sieve to remove the seeds. Stir the piment d'espelette into the strained mixture.

Pour into 2 sterilized 4 ounce jars or 1-8 ounce jar.

Makes 1 cup.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Rosé Wine Tasting

I admit it, I am a visual person. When I look at all of the shades of the pretty pink colors of rosé wine, I swoon. The flavors aren't generally too complex, and I try to stay with a Bordeaux or Grenache and avoid anything sweet. We're well into rosé season during this hottest summer on record worldwide. I've been collecting rosé wine from my trips to Paris where the choices are many and sometimes confusing. Some of the red Bordeaux I normally buy are translated into a rosé during the summer. My friend and colleague, Lisa Magnuson, of the Boston Wine Examiner explains the basics of rosé in her post, Rosé Wine Simply Defined.

"What is Rosé wine? Simply put, it is a pink wine. However, nothing in the wine world is truly simple. Although rosé literally translates to “pink,” the colors range from off-white to deep strawberry. Often the color depends on the type of grapes that are used as well as the method of production.

Rosé wines can range from very sweet like a white zinfandel to bone dry such as the rosés found in the Cotes-de-Provence. Most wine drinkers agree that the drier rosés exhibit more complexity and structure. Blush wines like white zinfandel and white merlot tend to be sweeter and one-dimensional. However, all the styles fare well with a wide variety of foods and are great with barbeque and Asian-style cuisine.

Although any red skin wine grape can create a pink colored wine, the most common grapes used to produce rosé are:

Pinot Noir

There are three methods of production:

Skin contact is the most common method. Red grapes are crushed with the skins, but the juice only remains in contact with the skins for about 48 hours (more or less). Then the skins are discarded as the juice ferments.

Saignée (bleeding of the vats) is when a winemaker releases juice from the wine vat (tank used after the crush) to give red wine a darker color. The lighter (pinker) juice that is removed is then fermented separately from the darker (redder) juice.

Blending is the method you have seen at a party. It is where white wine and red wine are mixed together. Although it can make for some interesting blends at home, winemakers discourage its use. Professionally, the rare time it is used is to make a sparkling rosé."

I often refer to Lisa with wine questions and I have learned a lot through her articles. So now it was time to try a few of these beautiful pink wines. My next door neighbor came over for a tasting last month on a warm summer evening. The wines looked like pink jewels in the setting sun. The wine accompanied by fresh goat cheese drizzled with basil olive oil, crusty French bread and red, ripe cherries transported us to the South of France where days are hot and slow. We first opened a Bordeaux rosé which was dry and if not complex, it was pleasant and refreshing. I had gotten an organic wine from Spain that was interestingly described as having a hint of strawberry. We agreed that the strawberry flavor was too much in the front and maybe would be good for a dessert wine. The Grenache and the Fronton were very dry with hints of berry. As with any wine tasting, the nuances in flavor are more pronounced when they are tasted side by side. We decided rosé is the perfect summer wine and that we we loved them all ♥ Á santé!

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Not Just Plain Vanilla

My son Zac, loves ice cream. It's nice to have an ice cream aficionado in the house who also likes to experiment. Maybe it's all of those years of college chemistry classes. He is a purist who understands that a few simple quality ingredients can produce the sublime. The whole is the sum of it's parts. Fresh cream, milk, and sugar, mixed with rich egg yolks and vanilla bean make the perfect vanilla ice cream equation. You'd never call it just plain vanilla.Ahhh....simple pleasures! Then in walks artist mom (me), who sees it as a blank canvas for homemade toppings and airy, cloud-like whipped cream. Thank goodness we have David Lebovitz's book, The Perfect Scoop, to do our homework from. Now that's my kind of textbook ;-) After studying the fudge sauces, I made David's Classic Hot Fudge Sauce. Does life get any better than warm chocolate? I think not. Then reading David Lebovitz's blog last week, I saw Cherries in a Red Wine Syrup. Cherries are my second love. I had a large bowlful of ripe organic cherries and needed to make this! It really is so simple to make, as is the fudge sauce. A cherry pitter makes it child's play. The rich cherry flavor shines through and I was surprised that the wine just gives it depth and sits in the background. And it is parfait on homemade vanilla ice cream.
Vanilla Ice Cream
(adapted from, "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz)

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the milk. Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.

To make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart (2l) bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water. Set a strainer over the top of the smaller bowl and pour the cream into the bowl.

In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks. Rewarm the milk then gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir over the ice until cool, add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Preferably overnight.

Remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Note: Used vanilla beans can be rinsed and dried, then stored in a bin of sugar. That sugar can be used for baking and, of course, for future ice cream making.

Classic Hot Fudge Sauce
(Adapted from, "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz)

3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy cream
1/4 cup (60 g) packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (25 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup (125 ml) light corn syrup
6 ounces (170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon (15 g) salted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the cream, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and corn syrup in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 30 seconds.

Remove from heat and add the chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Serve warm.

Storage: This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Rewarm it gently in a microwave or by stirring in a saucepan over very low heat.

Diane's note: I substituted half and half for the heavy cream to reduce the fat content and was very happy with the results.

Cherries in a Red Wine Syrup

(Adapted from David

Makes 2 cups (500g)

1 pound (450g) fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (130g) sugar
1 1/4 cups (310ml) red wine
2 teaspoons corn starch or potato starch
2 tablespoons red wine or 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
optional: 1/2 tablespoon kirsch liqueur

1. Put the cherries and sugar in a large, wide saucepan.

2. Mix one tablespoon of the red wine with the corn or potato starch in a small bowl until it's dissolved and set aside.

3. Add the rest of the wine and the vinegar to the saucepan. Bring the heat up to a boil, then reduce the heat so it's at a low boil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 12 minutes, until the cherries are completely wilted and softened through.

4. During the last moments of cooking, stir in the starch slurry and let the mixture boil the additional minute or so, to thicken the juices.

5. Turn off the heat and stir in the almond extract and kirsch, if using.

Storage: The cherries will keep up to one week in the refrigerator. They can be frozen for up to six months.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

B-z-z-z....Honey Harvesting at Cabot Farm

It was hot. It was the middle of a heatwave kind of hot, when even the beach was too sweltering. My colleague and beekeeper friend, Rich Girard called and invited my son, Zac and I for an afternoon of honey harvesting. We, in spite of the temperature, said the devil with the heat! After a short drive to his home, Cabot Farm, we arrived to a kitchen full of eager honey harvesters. His neighbor and visiting relatives were joining us and I've rarely met a nicer and cuter family. Rich, Zac and I donned our beekeeper's suits and made the short walk out to the hives. In this heat, the suits were either our personal saunas or fainting suits...I wasn't sure which! The others were picking raspberries among the honey colored roses as they watched us in our other-worldly garb. Uncovering a hive, Rich introduced us to his bees, and their origins. Layer by layer, their habitat was unveiled. He warned me they are attracted to dark moving a camera! I expected it to be totally covered with swarming bees as I took photos but, thank goodness, there was just some gentle buzzing. Taking pictures with propolis covered gloves in 100 degree heat was challenging enough! Our interest in the life and habits of the bees as told by Rich, made us soon forget about our drips of perspiration. I've always been fascinated by the Queen Bee, her worker's and the way nature's plan is played out in the hives. In Medieval times the beehive was considered a symbol of industry. Bees instincts are complicated and intelligent. Once you see this balanced life force in action, you want to help ensure their eternal longevity. Their tasty honey is also a pretty good immediate incentive. The magic of the bees was revealed with each frame of the hive we pulled out. Rich pulled them out one by one, explaining the dynamic of how the honeycombs are formed. I wanted to bow before these hardworking creatures :-) Before bringing the frames inside we needed to brush the bees off. Rich doesn't like to use smoke to discourage bees as he feels it gives the honey an unwanted flavor. Since his honey won first place at the Topsfield Fair last year, I'll trust him.He uses a feather which is gentler and doesn't anger them as they are coerced from the frame of honeycomb. Zac helped....I took pictures. We brought the bee-free frames into the basement where extraction of the honey, the next phase of magic, began. Rich brought out a honeycomb he had found earlier that had a free form. I thought it was bee shaped, no? Then we looked and talked about the frames before beginning to remove the top waxy layer to reveal the dripping honey. Zac started and then we were each able to get the feel of how deep and at what angle to take the tool as we scraped. Once the honey was free to flow, the frames were placed vertically into the extractor to spin. After several straining processes, we were ready to turn the tap and fill our jar with the sweet nectar. We filled 6 jars while munching on some waxy honeycomb that Rich pulled out of a bag for us to taste. He said chewing it was a little reminiscent of Nik-L Nips, those little wax filled candy soda bottles we ate as kids. Yes, but better. We each proudly held our reward of the day as we went upstairs and had a mini honey tasting before we left. Some jars of different types of honey were pulled out.We then dipped in a wooden stick and we tasted them side by side. Some were from the Parisian shop, Les Abeilles, a few from other sources and and some were local. Each one was unique. His award winning honey has a delicate floral taste that is delicious. Even Sequoia, the family chocolate lab, likes honey. We said good-bye to Rich and the bees holding our jar of honey with awe. Somehow it will taste just a little sweeter knowing how hard the girls and their gang have worked.

Read about Rich and his bees here.

If you would like a jar of Rich's award winning honey, please email him directly at:
The prices are:
$5 for an 8oz. jar
$10 for a 1 pound jar
$20 for a 2 pound jar

Recipes using honey on 2 Stews:
Baked Brie with Sweetened Almonds and Honey
Lavender Honey Grilled Chicken
Cherry Almond Lowfat Granola

Thanks to the Graphics Fairy for the bee clip art.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ralph, An American in Paris

You could call it the American Invasion in Paris. The brilliant designer and businessman Ralph Lauren recently opened a 13,000 square foot store on Paris' Left Bank. He began his empire selling men's ties in school which evolved into his own tie label, Polo. Then came the Polo shirt in every imaginable color. His award winning menswear line branched into lines for women, children, and the home. It is a style all his own and speaks American. This flagship store on boulevard St. Germain in Paris is housed in a mid 1600's townhouse that was meticulously restored over several years. Ralph Lauren's premier clothing and accessory collection is tantalizingly presented in this grand site. Entering through the Passage-Cochère, or coach gate, is the courtyard for the restaurant, Ralph's. It is, The Hamptons meets Paris. The blue and white cushioned wrought iron furniture mingled well with the limestone courtyard. Inside, a fine hunting lodge decor with a massive fireplace hosts white linen lined tables, dotted with red rose bouquets. The large oak bar was full of activity. My friends, Nancy and Debbie, chose Ralph's for a birthday toast to me. How lucky can a girl get? **Big smiles** We sat and sipped our rosé in this blue and white heaven. It was 5pm and they were setting up for the evening as we took this break from shopping (it's Paris sale season!) before dinner. We looked at the menu for a future visit, since we had other dinner plans. New York's chef, Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Park Tavern) was consulted on the menu to offer all-American fare.Among other things, you can order a €24 hamburger made from Angus beef shipped from Lauren's cattle ranch in Colorado. We thought the Chilled Sweet Pea Soup and Lamb Chops with Potatoes au Gratin would be a definite choice next time. But for now we had finished our wine and headed toward the multilevel store. On every floor of this elegant building are different collections that are the timeless and quintessential Ralph Lauren style. Brooding style. Colorful style. Even the powder room had style! It was time to make our way to dinner for our reservations, so we bade au revoir to this American oasis in the heart of Paris. We can't wait to go back!Later, after dinner, as I blew out my candle I made a wish.....(it may have involved an "R") Don't you just love birthdays??Ralph Lauren
173, boulevard St. Germain, 75006 Paris
01 44 77 76 00

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