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Butternut Squash White Bean Purée

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Time: After soaking the beans in water overnight, the soup preparation takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes (45 minutes to cook the beans; at the same time you can clean and cut the squash and onions, and sauté the onions; then an additional 45 minutes to cook and purée the soup.)

Serves: 14-16 as a first course.

Inspired by: I saw this recipe in Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food”. It sounded good, hearty and healthy, and although she doesn’t purée the soup, I’ve been curious about how white beans would work as a thickening agent for a soup that was puréed. It worked perfectly! I look forward to trying this concept with other vegetables… carrot and fresh ginger, broccoli, zucchini, mushroom… perhaps roasted red pepper. I like that it adds protein and that it’s creamy without any butter or cream. Potato can be a nice thickener for veggie soups, but the white beans make it much creamer and healthier.  This version is doubled from the original Alice Waters recipe.

Supplies: Large soup pot and a sturdy vegetable peeler.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried white beans (such as cannellini, haricot blanc, or navy beans)
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or try vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian)
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 small onions (sliced thin)
  • 6-8 sage leaves (or 4-6 teaspoons dried sage)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium butternut squash, approximately 3 pounds each (peel with a vegetable peeler, scrape clean of strings and seeds, and dice into ½ inch pieces)
  • Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Preparation:

  • Soak 2 cups of beans overnight in 8 cups of water.
  • Drain and put in large pot with 6 cups chicken broth and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook until beans are tender (about 45 min). Season to taste when cooked.
  • While the beans are cooking, in large heavy bottomed pot combine 4 tablespoons olive oil, 4 onions sliced thin, 3-8 sage leaves and 2 bay leaves. Cook over medium heat until tender (about 15 min).
  • Stir in the cubed butternut squash and some salt to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes, and then drain the beans (keeping the liquid) and add 12 cups of their cooking liquid to the squash and onions. Cook at a simmer until the squash starts to get tender. Add the beans and keep cooking into the squash is very soft.
  • Purée several cups of the mixture at a time – adding salt and pepper to taste in each batch – and then pouring into a large serving bowl. For a slightly thicker soup, remove approximately 2 cups of the liquid before you purée. You can always add it back in if you want to thin it out a bit.

Wine Suggestions: Contrast with a crisp, high-acid white such as Champagne, Chablis or White Burgundy  or compliment with a creamy white such as a barrel fermented (rich, buttery) California Chardonnay.


Artichoke Sourdough Bisque

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Time: approximately 90 minutes (20 minutes to prepare the artichokes, 20 minutes to chop the other vegetables, 20 minutes to saute, 20 minutes to simmer, 10 to simmer with the bread and then puree the mixure).

Serves: 8

Inspired by: I love artichoke soup. One of my favorites is from Duartes Tavern in Pescadero, CA. For years I’ve wanted to learn to make it, but most are full of cream and not very healthy. Then I saw Chef Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro in Monterey, California demonstrate this soup on a cooking show and it has no cream or butter – just a bit of olive oil and sourdough bread to thicken it.

Ingredients:

  • 4 extra large artichokes
  • ½ cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sized yellow onion
  • 1 leek
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups chopped sourdough bread
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 fresh sprig of thyme
  • 6 cups chicken stock (or substitute with vegetable stock) – lower sodium is best so you can season it yourself
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Using a sharp serrated knife, trim the artichoke all the way down to the heart (keep the stem). Use a spoon to scrape away the fuzzy part and discard.  Peel the stem and use that in the soup as well, since the stem is an extension of the heart.  After the artichokes are clean, roughly slice.
  • Wash and roughly chop all of the vegetables and garlic.
  • Heat the oil in a large thick-bottomed pan.
  • Sweat (sauté without color) the artichokes, onion, leek, garlic, celery and thyme, until tender.
  • Add the chicken stock. I used Sheltons all natural chicken broth with salt and spices but if you might prefer low sodium so you can  add your own in at the end.
  • Gently simmer the soup for 20 minutes.
  • Add the roughly chopped sourdough bread and sage and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • In small batches, puree the soup using either a blender, food processor or immersion blender. A conventional blender should produce a nice smooth creamy soup.
  • Place all of the soup into a clean saucepan, reheat, and check the seasoning.
  • Season with salt and pepper. (I added in another 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of both salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper).

Baby Red Potatoes with Caviar

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Baby Red Potatoes with Caviar

Baby Red Potatoes with Caviar

Time: 45 minutes to prep and cook; 15 minutes to assemble after cooled

Serves: 40 “bites”

Inspired by: This recipe is from Hugh Carpenter’s “Fast Appetizers” cookbook. I was looking for a fun finger food with caviar for New Years Eve. I added a tiny bit of sour cream to these, but I think they’d be great either way.

Ingredients:

  • 20 baby red potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons flavorless cooking oil (I used a light olive oil)
  • 2 ounces fresh caviar, good to best quality
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives (no chives at the market today so I am using chopped spring onion)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (optional)

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  • Cut the potatoes in half and slice off a very small sliver on the rounded side so they don’t wobble around on the cookie sheet
  • Rub the potatoes with the oil and place on cookie sheet
  • Roast until they feel tender when prodded with a fork – about 30 minutes.
  • Cool to room temperature.
  • Cut a small scoop/hole in the top of each potato. Fill with caviar and sprinkle with chives. If you are using sour cream, later in just a dab of it before the caviar and chives.
  • Refrigerate.

Notes: This can be completed up to 8 hours before serving if you are not using the sour cream. If you are, it can get a little watery so wait and assemble close to serving. Serve chilled.

Wine Suggestions: Caviar and Champagne are always a fun pairing – their complimentary textures are perfect and the high acidity of the champagne is perfect with the brininess of the caviar. Of course any other dry, crisp high-acid white wine would be excellent as well such as a Chablis or other unoaked White Burgundy.


Greek Salad

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Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 8

Inspired by: I’ve always loved the ingredients in a Greek salad – in any way, shape or form as long as there is not raw onion (which is fairly common). I especially love it with a lot of crunch (romaine, cucumber, bell peppers),  large chunks of tomato, feta. I also often simplify the dressing to just olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Salad Ingredients:

  • Romaine lettuce chopped into easier to eat strips (6-8 large handfuls)
  • 1/2 bunch Italian flat leafed parsley – de-stemmed – just keep the leaves
  • Additional greens (optional – I prefer to add more green)
  • Organic on the vine or cherry tomatoes – chopped into chunks and lightly salted and peppered
  • 1/2 English cucumber, or Persian cucumber, sliced lengthwise and then sliced and lightly salted
  • A few slices of petite bell peppers (optional)
  • 4 oz of feta cheese in 1/2 inch chunks

Dressing Ingredients:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon tarragon (optional)

Preparation:

  • Mix the salad dressing ingredients in a shaker.
  • Toss the romaine and parsley in a large salad bowl with about half of the dressing – enough to coat the leaves well.
  • Add the rest of the salad ingredients and toss lightly/carefully – adding additional dressing if needed.

Notes: I love this with curry chicken kabobs or with grilled or blackened salmonblackened chicken, or spicy grilled shrimp.

Wine Suggestions: the vinegar in the dressing often makes wine pairing difficult for salads. Champagne is a great way to go as a first course with a salad, or go with another high-acid white wine such as a White Burgundy. If you serve this as a side dish with spicy chicken or fish, check out those recipes for additional pairing suggestions.


Asparagus Sautéed with Lemon

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Time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2-4 as a side dish

Inspired by: My love for asparagus, lemon and quick turn cooking when I’m in a hurry but want to eat healthy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch asparagus – ideally thin tender ones
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Begin to heat a sauté pan or cast iron skillet.
  • Wash and drain the asparagus. Snap the tough ends off the bottom.
  • Grate the peel of the lemon with a fine grater (approximately 1 tablespoon of zest).
  • Put the olive oil and the asparagus into the hot pan and toss well.
  • Cook until you begin seeing the outside char but still firm.
  • Squeeze lemon over the asparagus and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cook asparagus just a bit more until it is your desired firmness; toss with lemon zest just before removing from skillet to serve.

Wine Suggestions: You might select a wine that goes best with your main course, however, Asparagus is one of those foods that has certain chemicals in it that can make your wine taste green and vegetal. Charring the asparagus on the grill or as in this recipe can help reduce that effect quite a lot, as can cooking with thin spears (which have less of these chemicals). Cheesy sauces and dressings help too, but I prefer to eat lighter and taste the asparagus! A few rules of thumb are to stay away from wines with lots of tannin and oak and choose crisp aromatic varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, Pinot Gris or Gruner Veltliner and maybe an unoaked Chardonnay. Fruity, spicy and off dry whites such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer are good too, and Champagne is always a great option. With the lemon flavors in this dish I think the best pairing are high acid wines such as Champagne, an unoaked Chablis, White Burgundy or Sancerre.


Pan Seared Robalo (Sea Bass)

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Time:  10 minutes

Serves: 2

Inspired by: I spend a lot of time in Mexico where my cooking is often limited to stove top only, but where I also have access to fresh fish daily. I can easily purchase fish hours after it is caught. I’ve learned that just about any white fish is quick and easy to cook stove top – even without a good hood/fan. This was an experiment with Robalo – a type of sea bass –  it was delicious.

  • 12 ounces of fish (I plan for 6 ounces per person, but on a big surf day perhaps a bit more)
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon or lime, herbs, salt and pepper

Preparation: Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan on medium heat. Once it is hot, add the fish seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs of your choice, and cover with a lid to keep the heat in. Cook for 4-6 minutes (depends how thick it is) and use a spatula to turn it over. Drip some lemon or lime juice over it and cook for another 3-5 minutes. When the fish feels firm to the touch it is done. When it is uber fresh, I tend to cook it a bit less.

Wine Suggestions: I prefer light white fish with Chablis or White burgundy, but any crisp white wine is a nice option, or when in Mexico, a light crisp beer such as Pacifico is often the best choice.