Winter, Wine & Warmth

I don’t know about you but I like winter. I know there are haters out there, those who dislike the dark and cold days that come with winter. I see it differently! To me winter means red wine and “brown spirits” to keep me warm along with lots hearty food. I love this time of year!

So as I look out my window onto the newest blanket of white snow, my mind goes to what can I cook and what wine would I want to serve with it — and of course what cocktail I might have while I’m contemplating all of this ha!

It’s ironic that I’ve grown to love not only spirits especially Bourbon and Scotch. My dad being a wine guy, never had any spirits in the house except for high-end cognac, which is grape based so that would have qualified in his drinking repertoire. I had never even tasted Scotch or Bourbon until I was late into my 20’s and working. Now I’m hooked! Bourbon is my true love and with so many styles, I always find one that will match my mood or drinking occasion. My 2 favorite classic cocktails are a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. I still think that there is no better Manhattan cocktail than one made with Makers — sorry Rye purists. I know I will get backlash here but I prefer Bourbon not Rye don’t argue with me that’s my taste! Makers is on the sweeter side so be careful when adding in the sweet vermouth it can make it too sweet if you add too much. And for an Old Fashioned I really prefer Knob Creek, its smooth and elegant texture with honeyed notes make it the perfect base for this classic cocktail. No comments please, I hear some of you groaning already; this is my blog and this is how I like my cocktails!

So as I looked out the window at the blanket of snow falling, I started to make one of my favorite one-pot meals the hearty Ukrainian Borscht. Now my grandmother would not have approved of this version of Borscht, her’s was a rich, sweet soup with flanken (beef). It was the traditional Jewish Polish/Eastern European hearty soup, that was often served with a potato in the center and adorned with lots of dill. As if the beets weren’t sweet enough, she’d add more sugar and a touch of lemon to balance it out. I discovered Ukrainian Borscht which is a meal in itself. The recipe is basically — 2-3 pounds of beets, 1 head of cabbage shredded, 1 large onion, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots (dice the vegetables) then 4-6 cups of beef stock made from 2 pounds of short ribs. Since I eyeball everything and have made this so many times, the recipe is not exact. While roasting the beets and making the beef stock, you wilt cabbage, saute onions, celery and carrots. Once the beets are soft, you carefully peel them — I highly recommend wearing gloves — and dice and julienne. Strain the broth and set aside the meat (dice it in large chunks) from the short ribs. Combine all the vegetables in a large pot, add the meat, beets and diced tomatoes (canned are perfect too), a bit of tomato paste maybe 2 tablespoons and the juice of 1 lemon and cover all with the stock — make sure it’s covered well with liquid so add more beef stock or some water if needed. I cooked this in a slow cooker for 6 hours on low — or you can do this in the oven or on the stove top, your choice, just make sure the meet is tender. The last hour I add a few tablespoons of chopped dill — adding it too early will make the borscht taste too much like dill. Also the last hour, you can add some diced potatoes — don’t add too early or they will be mushy.

Serve the borscht piping hot, with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill. Now for what wine to serve. A meal like this with a mostly savory notes and a touch of sweetness, as well as rich notes from the beef should have a wine that will stand up well to the complex flavors of the borscht. I calls for a wine that is bright and fruity with good acid and velvety tannins — a wine that is too fruit forward without good acid won’t stand up well to such a multi-flavored dish. I chose a wine from my cellar, a Barbera with just a bit of age on it. Barbera is a perfect foil. The Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera Marai 2014 from the famed Barolo producer, has bright, sour cherry notes and undertones of figs with a touch of earthiness and velvety soft tannins. Of course a village level burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir would also be a great choice, and even a Garnacha from Spain.

Food and Wine have a commonality. It takes patience and love to make both. And when you have a great pairing — the right wine with the right food, you have magic. This combination was magic. It was the perfect pairing for a cold winter’s night. I used to make this for my mom and I know my dad would have loved it — grandma not so much.

A Walk, A Roast and A Cocktail, A Perfect Fall Sunday

I’ve been back in the burbs now for about a year and a half and I’m actually, surprisingly loving it. I have lots of space to cook which I do now every day. I have lots of space to entertain, and cook for my friends; though the lack of large kitchen space in the city didn’t ever prevent me from cooking and entertaining. I definitely inherited the love of cooking and sharing the pleasures of food and wine from my parents, no matter how large or small my kitchen was . And I have lots of space to explore outdoors. I grew up here but didn’t really appreciate it until I came back. When you are a kid you don’t think about how lucky you are to live in a particular place. When you get older that’s when you start appreciating your surroundings, truly appreciating your surroundings.

Yes the city had the glorious Central Park, though I admit I didn’t really take advantage of its being just 2 blocks away. Being where I am now I have access to miles of walking trails and an extraordinary park with sweeping views of the Hudson. I now take advantage of the outdoors. When I was a kid the park across the street was where we played or braved the hill and trees in the snow on our flexible flyers. But it was also a place that we also knew you didn’t go into alone. And it wasn’t until some time later that we discovered that our instincts were right and found out that the Son of Sam also played there, though not the games we played sadly. Today this park, Untermeyer Gardens is a breathtaking place with, as I said stunning views of the Hudson River and landscaped gardens which rival any of the world’s great landscaped parks. Restored to its original glory this Persian Roman Garden it is a treasure. Follow the path down the hill and I mean down the hill and you wind up on the Old Croton Aqueduct. Again as a kid you’d never wander down to the OCA, in fact I don’t think I ever went that far. It wasn’t safe to wander into the woods. But today, the path is filled with people walking, riding their bikes, walking their dogs or running.

So what does this all have to do with food? Good question! On a recent walk when I should have been consumed by the beauty around me, all I could think about was what am I going to make for dinner. Yup, I knew that my walk ended in the parking lot of the local supermarket so I had about 2 hours to think about what’s for dinner! Shouldn’t I have been pondering the meaning of life while walking in the woods? Isn’t that what one does? Nope I think about food and what to make for dinner. I finally decided that Sundays are for a good roast and channeling my mom, I bought (as she would say) a cute little pork roast and some root vegetables. An easy, comforting meal to put in the oven while I watched football. No wine today, football watching calls for my favorite other beverage — bourbon. I the studded the roast with a mixture of garlic and fresh sage and rosemary — still had some in the garden, then surrounded the pan with a mixture of beautiful fall root vegetables. I then seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled olive oil over all and gave them a good mix then put it in the oven at 375 F until the juices ran clear. Now that the roast was doing its thing I could concentrate on my reward! I made myself a fall cocktail made of fresh apple cider, spiked with a generous pour of Makers, added a dash of Fernet Branca and dusted with cinnamon. Roast in the oven, I could now concentrate on the cocktail and the game.

Mom would always make some sort of comfort meal on a Sunday, this would have been one of her favorites. She would have approved of my cute little pork roast.