Txakoholic (Un)Anonymous

If wines walked the red carpet, the Basque wine known as Txakoli (CHAC-o-lee) would no longer be a blushing ingénue. It’s now a polished starlet, juggling paparazzi without batting an eyelash.  Just a few years ago, Txakoli was an obscure curiosity. The wine is very high in acidity, which accounts for its slight sparkle, and low in alcohol. A simple wine, typically white and slightly fizzy, it was served in low tumblers, often poured from a great height. The wine is customarily poured in
ceremonious fashion with the bottle or a porrón (a traditional wine carafe from Northern Spain) held high above the glass causing something of a waterfall of wine. This fancy effect is said to make the flavors of the wine burst out instantaneously. In any case, it takes a dexterous bartender to pull this off so don’t expect this type of treatment except for in the most traditional of Spanish wine bars.  Txokoli is the perfect fit for Spain’s native foods, often served in tapas bars that fill the streets of Bilbao and San Sebastian in Northern Spain.Andrew Miller takes a turn at the porron

I was first introduced to the wonders of Txakoli whilst living in Spain for two years, before I came to Chicago.  It was two years spent delving into the true history and culture of Spanish cuisine and its wine.  To have Txakoli in its natural habitat is to behold a certain wine nirvana.  You can almost taste the history in every glass.  Upon my return to the U.S.A., I was quite surprised to find Txakoli, albeit in very small doses, in some boutique wine stores.  It is not often one can see examples of Txakoli en masse and in one place, at least in Chicago.  I was however, fortunate enough to find just that.  Chicago has developed into a rather important place in the world of Txakoli, and has begun hosting a Txakoli Fest every year.  Steven Alexander of De Maison Selections, arguably one of the most important importers and distributors of Spanish wine in the U.S. and one of the foremost brains in the Spanish Wine world, has a passion for Txakoli.   It was this love and knowledge that inspired Alexander and De Maison to hold a Spanish Wine tasting and preview this month at one of Chicago’s newest Spanish eateries, Vera.  It was the perfect place to sample some small plates prepared by Chef Mark Mendez and some hard to find tipples.

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Katie’s Krops: A Giant Cabbage Feeds a Dream to End Hunger

IMG_0081I’ve been fortunate to meet some interesting and prominent people in the food world, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as impressive as Katie Stagliano.  Katie is a 13-year-old vegetable gardener who lives near Charleston, South Carolina.  She first shared her story with me during a workshop I held for members of the Three-Dot-Dash Global Teen Leaders Summit in New York.  Katie was one of 30 teen leaders chosen to attend the summit who are actively working on projects that promote a more peaceful society by addressing issues related to basic human needs:  food, water, health, shelter, safety, education and the environment.

When it comes to food, Katie has remarkable intuition and insight.  With nothing more than seeds, water, sunshine and love Katie is nurturing a movement to abolish hunger.  It all began with a giant cabbage.   In 2008 at the age of 9, Katie brought home a cabbage seedling and planted it in her garden.  With constant care, Katie’s cabbage grew until it weighed in at a whopping 40 pounds.

“I didn’t think a tiny seedling would grow into a 40-pound cabbage in a million years,” Katie tells me.  But, when the colossal cabbage needed to be harvested, Katie had a decision to make.

“Obviously, it would feed a lot more people than us,” Katie recalls.  “My Dad always told us there were people who went to bed hungry, and I thought what better thing to do with my cabbage than donate it to those people who don’t have enough food to eat?”

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The Purpose of a Recipe: What History Tells Us

Recipes 1_0What is a recipe exactly?  What purpose does it serve? Is it a scientific formula, an historic record, a set of functional directions, a general guideline for inspiration or something more?

At the International Association of Culinary Professional’s annual conference in New York last week, there was lots of in-the-moment talk of food, trends and fashion.   But, one panel, “Where Do Recipes Come From?” looked back in time to consider the question of what actually is communicated in the form of a recipe.

The panelists included Anne Willan, founder of the prestigious La Varenne culinary school, cookbook author Dorie Greenspan and Chef Daniel Boulud.   Using Willan’s new book, “The Cookbook Library” – which focuses on historic recipes – as the centerpiece of their discussion, these three culinary stalwarts explored a deeply emotional connection to “the recipe” and its power to communicate in a conference that often tended to lean towards interpreting food as a fashion accessory.

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Tour and wine… The Argentine Malbec

You have all heard about the wines of the New World (Australia, Chile, Argentina). Argentinian wine started competing on the red side, trying to replicate French tastes. But after a couple of years, the best of Argentine white vines started to get their own name in the market (Even more in the US). Different Argentine regions started developing their own DOC (names of the terroir where the wines were grown). Cafayate soon started being recognized for its malbecs and the lest known but with a great future, the torrontes.

The last decade has also seen the hotel busines boom inside the wineries. Today one of the main attractions of Argentina is going into a wine tour to the Mendoza, Salta and San Juan provinces and stay at the boutique hotels inside the vines. Luxurious, with great restaurants and in style, they provide a wonderful food and wine experience. Soon to launch, the new museum will tell the story of wine in Argentina, the culture, the Jesuitic (priests) bringing the vines to the region, the pioneer winemakers story and allow for tastings of the torrontes (a white, dry wine not to be missed) the tannats (a red one that has adapted extremely well to the andean soil) , the cabernet sauvignon and the malbec. February and March are great months to visit Cafayate and see the grapes being picked. In Mendoza, you can stay at city 5 stars hotels and even participate for a day in the picking ceremony.

If you are planning a visit, let me know and I will definitively help with arrangements…



Caroline’s Cravings – Rachel Ray’s Burger Bash

This February I’m satisfying my craving for burgers and celebrating Beef Lover’s Month with an insider’s look at Rachel Ray’s famous Burger Bash. Danyelle Freeman of restaurantgirl.com and I chat it up with top NYC chefs and burger aficionados like Bobby Flay (can you spot his quick cameo in the video?) and sample their delish winning creations.

For the sake of full disclosure, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is one of my clients. That said, I have been, am today and always will be a burger lover at heart. Enjoy!

Let’s Go Out for Moroccan Food – to Morocco!

I recently went WAY out for Moroccan food — all the way to Morocco!  I saved almost all my vacation time for a two-week adventure to Morocco – inspired by a fabulous friend who’s now living in Casablanca (hi, Pam!).  After nearly going cross-eyed on Trip Advisor from shopping for riads (a Moroccan version of a Bed-and-Breakfast-style hotel), my friends and I excitedly settled on Riad ZamZam, in part because it offered a cooking class. 

Zam Zam is an utter delight.  Run by Brit expats Marcus and Emma Joyston-Bechal, it’s located in the far north part of Marrakech’s Medina, offering a delightful experience in authentic daily life.  I’m talking local women carrying big, flat baskets of bread dough on their heads to the communal bakery, cute, funny school kids shouting out “Bienvenue a Marrakech” to us American tourists, speeding moto-bikes and quick-moving donkey carts laden with everything from bags of flour to cages of chickens headed for market.  But back to cooking class!  First, I’ll share a few photos of the whole experience.

They set up prep tables in the courtyard of the Riad for the seven of us (two fun Brit couples and us three American girls).

There were little dishes of spices including paprika, ginger, turmeric, pepper, cumin and cinnamon, along with garlic cloves, raw almonds and my obsession – preserved lemon.

The class was really hands-on, with our dada (a Moroccan cook), directing us and owner Emma translating from Arabic when necessary.  Here you see yours truly, with my cooking mate, Tina, chopping tomatoes for a classic salade Marocain – stewed tomatoes to be mixed with roasted, mashed-up eggplant and spices (delish!)

First we prepared a classic Moroccan tagine.  A tagine is the name of the ceramic cooking dish (with the cone-shaped lid) and the meat dish itself.  You can make any kind of tagine you want — chicken with preserved lemon and olives, or lamb with dried apricots, almonds and prunes or beef with dates and figs, for example.  One of the most interesting things about Moroccan cooking to me is the happy meeting of sweet and savory.  The meats with sweet, tangy preserved lemons, and the pastilla (traditionally made with pigeon, which I liked except for the tiny bird bones, but also made with chicken). 

Okay, back to the tagine we made.  We made chicken tagine, and while I am still searching for the actual recipe they gave us, I will share my basic recollection and hope to share the actual recipe soon!  It’s a pretty easy dish to make, if you have good ingredients.

You place two or three clean chicken parts (legs, thighs, breast) into the tagine.  Add a good glug of olive oil (a few tablespoons).  Then add spices — teaspoons of ground, dried ginger, turmeric, salt, pepper, cumin, minced parsley, paprika – a thread or two of saffron if you’re feeling “rich” (it’s a rare, expensive delight) and a few minced garlic cloves.  Add about half a preserved lemon (which are lemons ‘preserved’ or fermented in salt over the course of about a month, in a sealed jar). 

Put the tagine’s ”hat” on.  Place onto a charcoal tagine cooker-thing — or onto a gas stove with a tagine-ring (which you apparently buy when you buy a tagine) and cook, covered, at medium-to-high heat for about an hour or hour and  half.  I think you can also create this in an enameled cast-iron type of pot (think Le Crueset) and cook in the oven, too.  About 10-15 minutes after you start cooking, add maybe 1/2 cup of water.  Then check it 45 minutes in, and add more water if it looks dry – or you like more sauce.  And that’s about it!  The meat and other ingredients cook together into a fabulous, stew-y, braise-y kind of fantastick-ness, until the meat is tender and almost falling off the bone. 

Along with some Moroccan kbread and Moroccan salads (to come in a future post … think cooked carrots with cinnamon, cumin, honey and raisins, cooked zucchini with various spices, eggplant-and-stewed-tomatoes … oh, it makes a vegetable lover so happy!), tagine is a hearty centerpiece to a delicious Moroccan meal!  Here’s a photo of some of the salads we made:

Overall, I highly recommend Zam Zam Riad, for the cooking class experience, and the amazing hospitality and fun!  I’ll be posting more about Moroccan cooking, as I am currently in a Moroccan fad, recalling all the fresh, delicious flavors and experiences that were so new to me and so very enjoyable!  Bon Appetit and Shokran (thank you, in Arabic) for sharing my experience!