Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Brandy-Laced Chicken Liver Pâté with Balsamicy Onions #FoodieReads

Murder in the South of France by Susan Kiernan-Lewis* was the first in a series about character Maggie Newberry, an American who heads to France to identify the body of her sister who has purported died from a drug overdose. I blazed through this one in a couple of hours and jumped right in to the second book Murder à la Carte, actually preferring the second to the first. However, after reading these two, I think I'm done with the chick-lit mystery genre for awhile.

On the Page
image from amazon.com
As I already mentioned Maggie heads to France to identify the body of her sister only to discover that she also has a niece about whom no one knew. Maggie makes some rather unbelievable choices and decisions, especially regarding Laurent. The Newberrys seems oddly detached from the death of their daughter Elise even though they end up taking custody of the granddaughter. And the authorities were written as uncaring and incompetent. I think the only thing that kept me flipping pages: I wanted to know whodunit!

All in all it wasn't a bad book. It just wasn't a great book. Though this was interesting enough for me to read the second in the series, that'll be all the Maggie Newberry books for me...for now.

On the Plate

Being set in France, there is plenty of food. Maybe that kept me reading, too!

I was initially inspired by this passage: "Tiny sardines fried in batter, miniature onions swimming in a spicy tomato sauce, raw carrots, artichoke hearts, radishes and, of course, the ubiquitous saucers of oil-drenched peppers and bread. And since no snack, let alone a meal, was worth eating without du vin, there was a steadily breathing bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to wash it all down with. Maggie wondered how long it would be before she started craving a cigarette and spending her mornings hanging around cafés, doing nothing but drinking espresso and watching the world go by. She dipped a crust of bread into the trail of olive oil on her plate" (pg. 129).         

And this one: "She stood up and went to the kitchen where Laurent was shaving big curls of Parmesan cheese onto a plated omelet. She set her wine glass down and sat down. The omelets were golden brown speckled with glistening flakes of sea salt. A platter of perfectly steamed asparagus coated in Hollandaise was already on the table as was a baguette of bread" (pp. 144-145).
But pâté got a few mentions and I liked her description of letting "the colorful striped awnings and tents of the city’s marketplace spin by. Her eyes caught a crazy-quilt of color—flowers, asparagus, strawberries, bananas, hanging sausages..." (pg.24). I was inspired to make a crazy-quilt of color with some chicken liver pâté and other topped toasts, including ricotta and radishes and goronzola cream with raspberries.


  • 7 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup organic white onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 12 ounces chicken livers
  • 1 T fresh thyme, destemmed
  • 1 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • freshly ground pepper
Balsamicy Onions
  • 2 organic white onions, peeled  and sliced
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fleur de sel
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil
Garnish (optional)
  • organic calendula petals

Melt 4 Tablespoons butter in a large, flat-bottom pan. When it starts to foam, add in the onions, leeks, and garlic. Cook until the onions soften and are translucent.

Add in the chicken livers, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until the livers are completely cooked. Pour in the brandy and vinegar. Cook for another 2 minutes. Season with freshly ground pepper and remove the bay leaves.

Spoon everything into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Scoop the pâté into ramekins or low mason jars. Melt the remaining 3 Tablespoons butter and pour over the pâté to prevent oxidation.

Balsamicy Onions
Heat olive oil in a large, flat-bottom pan. When hot, add the onions and fleur de sel and stir well to coat completely with oil. Allow the onions to cook slowly, approximately 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the balsamic vinegar and allow to reduce until it's thick and syrupy, approximately another 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

To Serve
Spread pâté on slices of toasted baguette. Top with balsamicy onions and sprinkle with calendula petals, if using. Serve immediately.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more, but it helps support my culinary adventures in a small way. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in June 2020: here.

Butter-Braised Leeks with Parmesan-Sourdough Crumb Topping

This summer, my Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf is working as an apprentice at a local organic farm. He absolutely loves it. And I adore that's he's such a sponge for knowledge. He comes home every day that he works and explains to Jake what kind of flowers they need to plant as pest indicators; he shares with us how to plant multiple crops together to balance the nutrients in the soil. This really is the perfect summer job for him!

One Saturday he invited me to join him and I was put on weeding a row of red cabbage seedlings. Then we pulled up some leeks to take home. I'll be honest: getting paid in vegetables makes me so happy.

This is a really simple preparation that renders the leeks silky smooth.

Ingredients serves 4 to 6

  • 3 to 4 organic leeks, trimmed, cleaned, and halved lengthwise
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used leftover sourdough whirled in a food processor)
  • 2 Tablespoons grated parmesan, divided
  • juice from 1 organic lemon
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper


Melt the butter in olive oil over a medium flame in a large sauté pan; I used my enameled cast iron braiser. Once the butter is melted and the the oil hot, place the leeks cut-side down in the pan.

Let the leeks brown in the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the leeks over and reduce the heat to low. Cover and let the leeks braise for about 25 to 30 minutes, until they are completely softened.

Stir the bread crumbs and 1 Tablespoon grated parmesan together. Set aside.

Remove the cover from the leeks. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the braised leeks. Spoon the bread crumb topping over the leeks. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan, salt, and pepper. Replace the cover and heat until the cheese is melted, approximately 3 to 4 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Za'atar Manakeesh (Made with Sourdough Starter)

I have always called this Man’oushe. The Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf saw this on the table and said, "Oh, Mom! You made Manakeesh. I love Manakeesh." Turns out that some of his classmates had made and brought a za'atar-laden flatbread to a class potluck and called it Manakeesh. Fine. Whatever you want to call it, it's easy to make and delicious.

You can eat this just as is, but you can serve it as an appetizer with olives and feta cheese. Or it can be part of a heavier Middle Eastern meal composed of hummus, baba ganoush, meatballs, and salad. For this lunch, I actually served it with Fattoush, a chopped salad made with veggies and herbs. That recipe will follow!

Ingredients makes 4 large flatbreads

Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that I always have on hand. It's a breeze to make and adds something fabulous to olive oil for dipping and - I've just discovered - as a spice rub on any kind of meat! My za'atar recipe makes about 5 tablespoons. If you have any leftover (you will), keep it in a sealed jar for future use.

Usually I make this flatbread with yeast. But I tried my hand at making it with sourdough starter instead since I always have that in excess these days. It was a breeze.

  • 3-1/2 cups flour plus more for rolling, as needed
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (recently fed)
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt salt
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh herbs, pulled off the stem and minced (I used thyme and oregano)
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (I used black and white sesame seeds)
  • 1 Tablespoon ground sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon flake salt
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • Also needed: baking stone, rolling pin


In batches, blend and crush the spices with a mortar and pestle. Leave some sesame seeds whole, if you wish.

Mix all of the dough ingredients together in a large bowl. The texture will be a wet, sticky dough. Cover and let ferment for as long as you can - between six and twelve hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the dough into quarters. Roll the dough out onto a baking stone or baking sheet, using a bit of flour, if needed, to about 12" x 4". Sprinkle each bread with the za'atar and drizzle with olive oil.

Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 17 minutes until the crust is crisped and golden. Remove the flatbreads from the oven when the crusts are golden brown and serve warm or at room temperature.

Unapologetic About My Food Beliefs + Fresh Picked Cherry Cobbler #FoodieRead #LitHappens

Denise and Angie suggested American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland by Marie Mutsuki Mockett* for our Lit Happens book group. It seemed very timely in this topsy turvey world as Mockett pursues her roots and asks questions about faith, farming, and identity. While this is not a cook-from-the-book group, I am almost always inspired into the kitchen in whatever I'm reading or watching. This was no exception.

On the Page

American Harvest is one of the books that I took out to the back patio one weekend. And between cooking and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner to my hungry family, I dug into this book for several hours at a stretch. By the time the next meal came around, I had more discussion prompts for my teens and my husband. And because I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, writing about, and discussing our food system, my trio didn't even bat an eyelash. They just, gamely, answered my questions.

In American Harvest, Mockett documents her journey with an evangelical crew as they move through America's heartland harvesting wheat from Texas to Idaho. California-born Mockett is the product of a Japanese mother and Midwestern father whose family has owned a Nebraska wheat farm for generations. When her father dies in 2008, she inherits the farm and has a renewed interest in the operation. So, she spends a season with a harvesting crew that is completely white, virtually all male, and almost entirely made up of devout members of the Anabaptist faith. She, as a mix - Japanese and white -, a woman, and a non-Christian, is an obvious outsider.

But she aims to engage the crew in earnest conversations. One of her initial questions exposes that divide. She asked, "Is the farm organic?" That's a fairly innocuous question and a typical one for "city folk" who are interested in their food sources. When she takes Eric and Emily to Whole Foods in New York, "Eric waded through the store with his thumbs tucked into his belt loops. He moved half as fast as everyone else. I watched him examine carrots, pumpkins, and squash with patience and purpose. If a subterranean disaster had befallen us, he could have held up the building on his shoulders. Atlas-like. Together we navigated sunflower oil, bulgur, and dairy products, and he occasionally offered up a comment or asked a question in his low, measured cadence. After twenty minutes, grim determination had taken over Eric's face. 'Marie,' he said, slow and deliberate. 'This thing about organic. I want you to understand. It is marketing. Do not fall for it. You know what farming is and how it works. Do not fall for these labels'" (pg. 23).

As time goes on and her comfort level grows, she begins to ask questions that meld the nuances of farming with Christian belief systems. These were the most intriguing to me: Why are evangelicals who believe in creationism okay with genetically modified crops? Isn't that akin to playing God??

Digging further into belief systems about food, Mockett looks at how people refer to monoculture pejoratively. "The implication is that a farmer in Nebraska grows only wheat because he lacks the creativity of the farmer in California who can grow a dwarf strawberry. The negative implications of monoculture always make me a little bit sad. ...Here and there on the plains, farmers do attempt to grow produce, as I saw in Oklahoma. But in general, the growing season - the weather - is so different in the country's interior that it isn't suited for large-scale production of carrots and lettuce. There is a reason why California became the 'salad bowl' of the United States" (pg 206).

While I enjoyed the book, it didn't resonate with me as much as Dan Barber's The Third Plate or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. With those two books, I bought extra copies because I wanted to make sure that friends read them. I think it's because Mockett is still grappling with her conclusions that I am not compelled to share hers. "It doesn't take too long after I'm home for me to pause in the grocery store. Should I buy organic? Maybe I am completely wrong to defend the modern system of farming in any way. Maybe if I didn't own land, then my own confirmation bias would not seek the science that defends how we warm. Maybe I would become a consumer of organic food only. And this feeling of being split - a feeling I know so well - annoys me" (pg. 368).

It's well-researched, well-written, and reflective. But it's also about a hundred pages too long and Mockett seems oddly apologetic for her own beliefs.

I know - and am friends with -  many small organic farmers here on California's central coast. And I do support them and believe that theirs is the way to farm. My Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf is working on an organic farm this summer; and I visited one Saturday and helped to pull weeds. While I aerated the soil and overturned the weeds around the red cabbage seedlings, I took a deep breath and recognized that my experience as a food consumer in California is different than in other parts of this country. I am lucky and I don't see the need to apologize for that.

On the Plate

Early in the book, Mockett writes,"Dinner is a large affair - so many people at the table. ...There will always be dessert. There is no alcohol and will be no alcohol all summer. The crews often come from families that have Old World habits, which involve saving water and avoiding baths, and so, in addition to the no-alcohol rule, Eric and Emily insist that their crew must shower" (pg. 30).

Always dessert? My boys can get behind that. So when one of my best friends dropped off cherries picked from their trees, I knew I wanted to make a cherry cobbler. "At dinner Eric is restless. By seven the sun is speeding toward the horizon and he wants to go for a drive. Evening light is short and magical and we should see it before it fades. But we don't go out until Eric has had his dessert - cherry cobbler that night. It is a favorite, and so good that Eric has an extra helping" (pg. 43).

Ingredients makes one 9-inch cobbler

  • 4 to 5 cups pitted cherries
  • 3 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons butter

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup organic brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons ground nuts (I used hazelnuts)
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • dash of ground cardamom


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a baking dish. Pit your cherries; if you don't have a pitter, you can pit them easily with a metal straw. Read my HOW-TO: Pit a Cherry Without a Cherry-Pitter.

Toss all of the ingredients together - except for the butter - until the cherries are evenly covered with the flour and sugar. Spoon the filling into the prepared pan and dot with 2 T butter that's been cubed.

Stir until all the ingredients are combined. The consistency will be like a crumble top. Spoon the topping over the fruit and use a spatula to spread it to the edges as much as possible.

Place the cobbler in the oven and bake the cobbler for 40-50 minutes. The topping should be golden brown and the filling bubbly. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Serve hot with ice cream on the side!

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in June 2020: here.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The #FoodNFlix Bloggers Kick Off the Summer With a Virtual Hawaiian Vacation

This month, I hosted the Food'N'Flix group, asking them to watch something that was either set in Hawaii or filmed in Hawaii. You can read my invitation - here - where I offered some suggestions. I also didn't limit the picks to movies. Television shows were fair game, too.

I know that as my household is entering our fifteenth week of being sheltered in place to try and flatten the curve of the coronavirus, and after our family vacation to the Big Island was canceled, I definitely needed a vacation. Even if it were only a virtual escape.

This month, because of the flexible theme, we had inspiration from a short, from an animated film, from a rom-com, from an action movie, and even a television series. I'm grateful to the bloggers who joined in the party! Mahalo plenty!

Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm whipped up Blue Hawaii Cocktails inspired by watching Pearl Harbor. "I decided on the 2001 film Pearl Harbor starring Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding Jr, Kate Beckinsale and Alec Baldwin among others.  It is a fictional love story surrounded by the true life horrific attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

"Our daughter Nicole was in high school when this film came out and we watched it at least 10 times after she got the DVD as a gift.  Nicole left that film behind so it is still in our collection.  I put it back in after all these years and watched it with my foodie glasses on.  Except that there isn't any food or at least not much food.  What there is is lots of bar scenes and cocktails of every sort."

Cheers, Wendy. I know that will be a welcome libation around your pool and new deck.

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor joined in the fun, selecting Kong: Skull Island for her inspiration of Black Bean Gnocchi Soup & Monkey Bread. She admits, "I chose Kong: Skull Island.  Yeah, don't ask me why I thought that was a good idea.  Food references or scenes were basically non existent.   But it was partially filmed in Hawaii. The one food scene I noticed was a soldier eating a can of C-rations. It was either beans or beef stew.  Oh right, there was a scene with a hotdog and a beer later on."

And, then, "Here is a cheeky little nod to the star of the movie - monkey bread.  There was a scene with the helicopters flying deep into the jungle and suddenly a very irritated Kong arises and glares at the copters.  A soldier asked, "Is that a big monkey?!"  So....monkey bread.

Despite the film not being full of food references or scenes, I think her creations look delicious. I wish she could drop that monkey bread in the mail to me!

Heather, our group's founder and blogger at All Roads Lead to the Kitchen, shared Abomination Tuna Sandwich inspired by Lilo & Stitch. She writes, "This was my first time to watch with an eye towards food, and there's actually quite a bit of inspiration throughout. But I kind of knew going in that I'd go with one of the most memorable food dialogue moments; one that happens right in the beginning of the film. We see Lilo swimming under the ocean, giving a fish a sandwich, which causes her to be late to hula class (again)."

When my boys were little, we watched this movie ad nauseum...but I still love it and that is one of my favorite scenes, too. Thanks for joining in the fun, Heather, and for reminding me to dig out that DVD before the month is up. I still have a day.

Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures joined in with Chocolate Lava Cake inspired by the Disney Pixar short: Lava. I have never heard of it, but I'll definitely be looking that one up soon. Detailing her inspiration, Amy shares, "All of the Pixar shorts are fabulous, but Lava is my favorite. Anyway, the problem is, there is no food to speak of in Lava. None. Zilch. It’s a love story about volcanoes. And so we arrive at lava cake!"

I'm glad she shared this re-do, eight years in the making, because I have never made lava cake, but I know three people who will be so excited when I do.

Terri of Our Good Life shared Pineapple Whip Frozen Pops that she made after viewing Just Go With it. I have never heard of this movie, but after reading her synopsis, I think I'll give it a go. About her creation, Terri writes, "There are a number of food scenes but what I kept thinking back on was a pineapple whip (not like Disney World's) that I had when I was in Hawaii years ago.  It was a creamy pineapple frozen concoction that I tried to make. This is my latest version.  I made it into freezer pops for a quick grab and go treat!"

Dole whip is one of our favorites, too. Thanks for the recipe...I've never made it myself, but I definitely will now.

Debra of Eliot's Eats shared Macaroni Salad, Huli-Huli Chicken, and Hawaiian Lemonade that she made after seeing Aloha. She posts, "I had never heard of Aloha and since I have been binging on Alias (another J.J. Abrams fave) and Bradley Cooper plays a prominent role in seasons 1 and 2, I decided to rent this 2015 film.   Besides, Aloha  also stars Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin.  That’s a pretty good list of actors.  Added bonus—Cameron Crowe wrote and directed the film.  (I love Almost Famous.)" This was on my list of movies to try, too, for almost those exact same reasons! Huge J.J. Abrams fans in my household. Huge.

But, after Debra's review, I think I'll avoid Aloha...but I will made some of these recipes she shared. Despite not really liking the film, Debra came up with a fantastic outdoor patio meal. "I decided to grill up some Huli-Huli chicken and serve it with some macaroni salad and a Hawaiian lemonade.  (I tried to find a recipe for Kamehameha lemonade which was specifically ordered in the movie but came up short.)"

Mahlo for joining in the fun, Debra. I wish I were there to partake in your Hawaiian-inspired dinner.

And I ended up blazing through three and a half seasons of the Hawaii Five-O reboot. Well, we just wrapped up the third season and will be making our way through the rest - just not necessarily with our foodie goggles on. It's been a nice way to visit Hawaii. As they go around the island, we are always talking about our experiences in those same spots. Season One had us noshing on Haupia-Filled Malasadas; Season Two put Loco Moco on our table; and after Season Three I served up some Shoyu Ahi Poke. And though June ends tomorrow, I'm pretty sure R has our Season Four dish planned for tonight: Shrimp Dogs à la Kamekona. More on that soon.

Well, folks, that's a wrap on June's edition of Food'N'Flix. Next month Kimberly of Coffee and Casseroles is hosting the group as we watch Coyote Ugly. I'll be honest: I am completely unfamiliar with that film. Can't wait to see what she has in store for us. Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sour Cream Lemon Muffins with a Rosemary Glaze #MuffinMonday

Earlier in the year I saw a post from one of my favorite bloggers - Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm - and I realized that they've been having a muffin party for years without me. LOL. I emailed the host, Stacy of Food Lust People Love and got the scoop: "...last Monday of the month and no themes. We've been baking together since August 2015! Only one rule, you must use the muffin method (folding wet ingredients with dry - no creaming butter and sugar, etc.) to bake muffins."

Oh, my goodness...is that the muffin rule? That makes total sense. But I had no idea. 

In my house we've always said that if it's 'naked' as in frosting-free, it's a muffin; if there's frosting, then it's a cupcake. Turns out there's more to it than that. In any case, I jumped in. This is my fourth month participating with the #MuffinMonday bloggers.

Sour Cream Lemon Muffins 
with a Rosemary Glaze

The sour cream gives these muffins its moist, delicate crumb. And the rosemary in the muffins and the glaze add a delicious savory note.

Ingredients makes one dozen

  • 1-3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons organic lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (you can use pure lemon extract if you wish)
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic rosemary, finely chopped
  • Also needed: muffin pan, paper liners
  • 3 Tablespoons half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons organic rosemary, finely chopped plus a few whole rosemary leaves for garnish
  • 1 cup organic powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon organic lemon zest
  • pinch salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin tin or pan with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add in the sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, egg, extract, and rosemary. Stir until well-blended. The batter will be thick.

Divide batter evenly between the muffin cups, approximately 1/3 cup each. Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, approximately 18 to 20 minutes. 

Remove from oven and set pan on a wire rack. Let cool for five minutes, then remove muffins to the wire rack to cool completely. Set the rack over a baking sheet to catch the glaze. While the muffins cool, make the glaze.

Whisk all of the ingredient together until smooth. With a spoon, drizzle glaze over the top of the cooled muffins. Place a fresh rosemary leaf or two on top of each one as a garnish. The glaze will harden a bit after sitting.

These will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, but they definitely didn't last that long in our household.

That's a wrap for this month's Muffin Monday. Stay tuned for next month's reveal.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Super Tuscans, Take-Out Pizza, and a Spicy Summer Salad #ItalianFWT

For the month of July the Italian Food Wine Travel bloggers are looking at Super Tuscans with Jill of L'Occasion at the lead. You can read her invitation here.

If you are reading this early enough, feel free to join us for a live Twitter chat on Saturday, June 27th. Follow the hashtag #ItalianFWT and be sure to add that to any tweets you post so that we can see it, too.

Because our usual posting date - the first Saturday of the month - would have conflicted with the American Independence Day holiday, we pushed our posting up a week. So, all of these will be live by early morning on Saturday, June 27th.

Super Tuscans

So, 'Super Tuscan' wasn't a term with which I was totally familiar. I mean, I have heard it, in passing. But I had never really delved into what it meant or specifically sought out a bottle...or two. Jill's invitation got me reading.

The most simple explanation of a Super Tuscan is that it's a red wine blend - from Tuscany - that includes non-indigenous grapes. So, most are some portion Sangiovese, the native grape what makes up Chianti wines, plus non-native grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.

Even though we are still on shelter-in-place orders here on California's central coast, I was able to easily locate several Super Tuscans online at wine.com. I opened two bottles for an evening with pizza take-out on the patio.

Petra Zingari Toscana 2017, suggested retail approximately $18 (wine.com)
This wine is comprised of equal parts Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. I love the history of this wine which traces its origins to an ancient spring that was a watering-hole for all of the travelers in the area, specifically the gypsies - zingari in Italian.

The wine poured a brilliant ruby hue and had aromas of red fruits and notes of herbs. On the palate, this had a hefty amount of tannins with a tinge of minerality. Jake preferred this wine over the next.

Brancaia Tre 2016, suggested retail approximately $24 (wine.com)
The significance of the wine's name didn't strike me until I started to write this up. 'Tre' as in three. The wine is a blend of three varietals - 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The percentages of the latter grapes were not called out anywhere that I could find.

La Brancaia, which spans two estates Brancaia and Poppi, has been owned by Brigitte and Bruno Widmer since the early 1980s but is now managed by the Widmer's daughter, Barbara Kronenberg-Widmer and her husband Martin Kronenberg. 

This wine is beefy with notes and aromas of earth, stone, cherry, and coffee. And I liked this wine better than the Zingari.

Take-Out Pizza

This week we are entering our fifteenth week of being sheltered-in-place. And while my family is fairly spoiled as far as me fulfilling food requests, one of the take-out foods they wanted was pizza. "Mom, your pizza is good, but sometimes we just want pizza from somewhere else." Fine. So, we discussed different restaurants that were open for delivery or curbside pick-up.  Jake didn't like the sauce at a place R suggested. R didn't like the crust at the spot D wanted. I still wanted to make the pizzas. Oye. The only place on which everyone agreed was Blaze Pizza! It's kinda like a fast food chain, but it's not bad.

D and I headed over with everyone's favorites and came home with five different pizzas: a combo with a barbeque sauce drizzle, a combo without the barbeque sauce drizzle, a white pizza with pesto stripes, an artichoke pizza with olives with roasted red peppers dollops of fresh red sauce fresh ricotta, and R's favorite - ham and pineapple. Easy dinner!

I will say that everyone - employees and guests - at Blaze Pizza was masked and abided by the six-foot social distancing guidelines. Workers were gloved and changed them out between every customer! Tables were blocked off to allow in-room dining at every other table only, but everyone seemed to be grabbing to go anyway. I was pleased with the experience. I'll be honest: I don't go out often these days, but I am keeping track of businesses that are respecting the guidelines and will continue to support them. Others who are not requiring masks, gloves, and social distancing will not get my business...at least not for a good long while.

Spicy Summer Salad

The same night we got the take-out pizza, friends who homestead asked if I had ever tried wasabi arugula. I hadn't. They dropped some off at my office and I made a simple salad with fresh tomatoes the wasabi arugula, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and a drizzle of nice piquant olive oil.

We were immediately smitten with the flavor of the greens and ordered some seeds for our own garden. I can't wait to have our own harvest later this summer.

Facing the stack of empty pizza boxes and one lonely tomato on a plate, Jake and I talked about the wines. Neither of these Super Tuscan wines were what I would describe as subtle or soft. Big, hefty, and bold are more accurate descriptors. These weren't just food-friendly, they were food-required. I do not think I would open either of these wines to just sip while I relaxed with a book. These were in-your-face pours that needed food alongside.

The third Super Tuscan was more understated and I'll be featuring that pairing soon. Till then, the #ItalianFWT bloggers' exploration of Italian wines will continue in August with an eye on Rosato wines with Lauren of the Swirling Dervish at the head. Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Herbed Sourdough Fougasse #FoodieReads

Murder à la Carte by Susan Kiernan-Lewis* is actually the second book in a series. Though I read the first two in order, I ended up inspired into the kitchen out of order! This book picks up where Murder in the South of France leaves off.

On the Page

Maggie Newberry and her French newly reformed criminal boyfriend, Laurent, leave Atlanta, Georgia (her hometown) to relocate to a mas (traditional French country home) and vineyard that he has just inherited in St-Buvard, a completely fictional village, Provence, France. 

Their plan is to spend a year in France, harvest the grapes, make some wine, then decide what to do with the land and the house. They quickly discover that the property was the scene of a grisly murder of four during WWII. The motley crew of characters include Maggie who almost flat-out refuses to learn the language or the customs of her new country (as someone who has lived in other countries, this grated on my nerves. Just try!); Laurent who, having given up his criminal past, is displaying his prowess in the kitchen and the bedroom (I began to gloss over the whole he-makes-me-weak-in-the-knees scenes. We get the idea, really, we do.); Connor, an American playboy who has just impregnated a local village teen; Maggie's American ex-patriate friends, Grace and Windsor, who are going through fertility treatments and already have a horrifically spoiled daughter; and a host of locals from the village baker, the butcher, other vintners; oh, and the resident gypsy thug. Then there's a present-day murder at their property that needs solving.

I would definitely characterize this as chick-lit with a some mystery and a lot of food and wine thrown in. I preferred this second book to the first, but I doubt I'll continue with the series unless I really can't find anything else to read.

On the Plate

As I mentioned, there's quite a bit of food mentioned in the book. Madame Marceau leaves them a Gâteau de Fruits Battus that Laurent describes as "a traditional cake for a vigneron’s wife to make. It is made from the broken, too-ripe grapes." Maggie whines, "Are you telling me I’m supposed to make this grape-cake too?" (pg. 344).

But she does make Cassoulet au Truffes for Thanksgiving when her parents and niece come for a visit. The out of season truffles cost her about twenty dollars per ramekin!

When Laurent sets a small copper tray of escargots in front of Maggie, she makes a face. "The snails winked out at her like six black erasures embedded in oily pools of parsley butter. 'Laurent, you know I hate snails.' 'These are petits gris,' he said, ignoring the face she was making. 'You see? With fennel and thyme'" (pg. 145). 

My escargot weren't petits gris, but anything with butter and garlic is a hit in my house...even snails!

I had to look up the ingredients for the Omelette au Broccio. That's an omelette made with a Corsican whey cheese, similar to ricotta, and fresh mint. If I can get my hands on that cheese, I am definitely making it along with "pissaladière, a creamy onion tart dotted with anchovies and black olives," mousse d’abricots avec un coulis de framboise, another pot of Bourride à la Sétoise, and "golden-brown mussel fritters and slabs of cinnamon toast topped with hot eggplant slices and goat cheese."

In the end, I was inspired by this exchange when Maggie brings home a fougasse. "'You brought a fougasse?'he asked with surprise, pulling the flaky flat bread from the box Maggie had put on the counter. 'Madame Renoir thought I was upset. Her way of dealing with stress is to give you free buns'" (pg,. 344)

Fougasse is a type of bread typically associated with Provence but found, with minor variations, in other regions of the country. Some versions are sculpted or slashed into a pattern resembling an ear of wheat. I made mine more of a leaf and added in some herbs from the farm on which D is doing his summer internship. Besides I always have sourdough starter on my counter these days.

Ingredients makes 4 to 6, depending on size

  • 250 g sourdough starter
  • 450 g all-purpose flour plus more for rolling
  • 290 g warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (I used a French grey salt) plus more for serving
  • Also needed: approximately 1 Tablespoon fresh herbs, roughly chopped (I used a flowering oregano), parchment paper, rolling pin, olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sourdough starter, flour, warm water, and sea salt. Stir with a fork until everything is moistened and you have a shaggy dough. Add in a glug of olive oil and the fresh herbs. Turn the dough onto itself three or four times until the surface glistens and the bowl is oiled. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for at least ninety minutes. It should be doubled and pillowy.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit

Divide the dough into 4 to 6 pieces. On a well-floured piece of parchment paper, roll out a piece of dough to about 1/8" in the shape of a leaf.

Make a large slit down the middle of the leaf and a few smaller diagonal ones along to sides. Widen the slits with  your fingers and arrange on a baking sheet. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with

Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 14 to 16 minutes. The bread should be nicely browned and puffy. Serve warm with another swabbing of olive oil and sprinkling of salt.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more, but it helps support my culinary adventures in a small way. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Click to see what everyone else read in June 2020: here.