Self-Isolating with The Paring Wines

There’s no better time than now to check out these wines.

The Paring Wine Review

The Paring wines have an extraordinary pedigree at an affordable price. This claim is difficult to challenge considering that The Paring wines are produced from the vineyard blocks that are either too young or don’t fit into the vintage style of the highly acclaimed Jonata and The Hilt wines. And while The Paring wines can be rightly referred to as a “chip off the old block,” they also reflect the untethered philosophy and mindset that comes with the freedom of their own label.

At the core of these wines, you will find a wide-ranging exploration of style, vineyards and blending, all thanks to winemaker Matt Dees, who, when he’s not working with The Paring, can be found making wines for its big sister wineries- Jonata and The Hilt.

The grapes are sourced primarily from three Santa Barbara regions: Ballard Canyon, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley. If you are not familiar with Santa Barbara wines, it’s time to get to know them. The region is renowned for its diverse topography, unique soil types, and mild Mediterranean climate which produce complex, high acid, spicy, powerful wines.

My Favorite: 2016 The Pairing Red Blend ($25)

This Cabernet-inspired blend displays classic notes of cassis, tobacco and chocolate. It fills the palate with bright red fruit and black plum, and is a constant play between sweet and savory. Gentle and dusty tannins lead the way into an incredibly long and precise finish, this wine is a wonderful tension between tannic structure and bright acidity. Varietal Composition: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot.

2017 The Pairing Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills ($25)

This Pinot Noir offers immediate drinking pleasure without sacrificing the complexity and nuance that makes this grape so compelling. It brims with seductive fruit, alluring aromas and supple tannins. Savory notes and mouth-coating tannins round out this harmonious and complete pinot noir.

2017 The Pairing Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County ($25)

The Chardonnay is an invigorating combination of ripe and silky fruit alongside a refreshing backbone of vibrant acidity. It’s inviting and delectable and offers something for everyone. Low yields and cool days created a blend that is both bold and rich as well as chiseled and steely. It finishes off with citrus and green melon and hints of baking spice.

Disclaimer: These wines were provided to me for review. I was not paid for this post.

Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

An all-day cake, because we need this:

Gluten free Lemon, Polenta, Olive Oil Cake

Let’s be honest, we can all do with a little pick-me-up. This lemony olive oil and polenta cake will help. Whether you call it breakfast, snack, or dessert, it’s a guaranteed sweet break that you deserve to take any time of the day. This cake is also gluten-free, thanks to the almond meal and polenta, which give it a nutty and slightly crunchy texture. Drenched in lemon syrup, each bite is a burst of citrusy sunshine.

The only tricky issue with this cake is that it tastes even better the day after baking, once it’s had time to sit and soak with the syrup and develop in flavor. So, the only challenge you may face is waiting, or at least saving some of it for later. To store, wrap it tightly in plastic and let stand at room temperature overnight (perhaps out of sight). Of course, if you can’t wait, that’s entirely understandable. No judging, friends.

Olive Oil Polenta Cake with Almonds and Lemon

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes 1 (8-inch) cake

Cake:
1 1/2 cups almond meal (or almond flour)
1 cup fine or medium-grain polenta or cornmeal – see note below
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon almond extract

Syrup:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch spring-form pan and line with parchment.
2. Combine the almond meal, polenta, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk to blend.
3. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light in color, about 2 minutes. Mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine without over-mixing.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes clean, 45 to 50 minutes. If the cake begins to brown on top before finished baking, loosely cover with foil.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat over medium heat, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
6. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire rack. Brush the top with some of the syrup and cool 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and brush the cake on the sides with the syrup. Cool completely. (You may not use all of the syrup.)
7. Serve as-is or with a dusting of powder sugar and/or candied lemon peel. To store, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze for up to one month.

Note: This recipe specifies polenta, which varies in texture, from fine to coarse. I used Bob’s Red Mill Polenta, which is coarser and gives a slight crunch to the cake. If you prefer a softer texture, use a fine-grained polenta or cornmeal.

Irish Beef Stew

Add a splash of Guinness to your beef stew and call it Irish. Just save some to drink.

Beef Stew with Stout Beer

This no-nonsense, comforting beef stew is guaranteed to warm you, whether you’re Irish or not. As most stews go, it’s a humble and forgiving recipe. Cubes of beef slow-cook and braise to melting tenderness in a meaty broth, brightened by tomato and fortified with a generous glug of stout beer. The stout makes its mark in the stew with its sweet and malty notes of chocolate and coffee, adding depth and richness to the simple beef stock. Stout has a hoppy bitterness, so you need only add 8 ounces to the recipe for effect – which conveniently provides leftovers for drinking while you cook. This stew is also swimming with chunky root vegetables, which add earthy sweetness and round out the beefy component, permitting you to call this a one-dish meal, vegetables and all.

You can make this stew in one day, but if you have time and can plan ahead, I encourage you to make it the day before and chill it overnight. Not only does this allow the flavors to meld and develop, the fat will also have time to rise and solidify on the stew. The next day you can simply lift off and discard the collected fat. Feel free to add your favorite root vegetables to the stew. I always include carrots, and then add a combination of celery root, parsnip, and/or rutabaga.

Irish Beef and Guinness Stew

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 1/2 to 4 hours
Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 pounds beef chuck, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup stout beer, such as Guinness
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 cups beef (or chicken) stock
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 pounds root vegetables, such as rutabaga, parsnip, celery root, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with a lid. Season the beef all over with salt and pepper. In batches, brown the beef on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate and repeat with the remaining beef.

3. Add the onion to the pot and sauté until soft, scraping up any brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beer and bring to a simmer, and then add the tomato paste, sand stir to blend.

4. Return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot, and then add the stock, thyme, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. The meat should be just covered with liquid. If not, add additional stock to cover.

5. Bring the liquid to a boil and then turn off the heat. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook until the meat is tender but not falling apart, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. (The meat will continue to cook once the vegetables have been added.) Remove from the oven.

(At this point, the stock may be refrigerated. Let the stew cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove from the stew from the refrigerator at least 1 1/2 hours before serving and heat the oven to 300°F. Remove and discard any accumulated fat from the surface and gently reheat the stew in the oven before proceeding with the next step.)

6. While the stew is cooking (or reheating) heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and root vegetables and lightly season with salt. Sauté the vegetables until they brighten in color and are crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

7. Add the vegetables to the stew. Return the pot to the oven and cook, partially covered, until the meat is fork-tender and the sauce is slightly reduced, about 1 more hour, stirring occasionally. Remove the stew from the oven and taste for seasoning. Serve hot with mashed potatoes.

Improvised Ma Po Tofu

Feed the craving for homemade Ma Po Tofu with this fast and easy recipe:

Homemade Ma Po Tofu Soup

I call this soup Improvised Ma Po Tofu, because, when the craving strikes, and you have no intention to shop for specialty ingredients on a frigid Sunday night in your PJs, you improvise. For this soup, I used a David Tanis recipe in the New York Times as a template and dabbled with the ingredients I had, while adding extra smidges of this and that to ramp up the flavor and spice to my taste.

With that said – and in the spirit of planning ahead – I recommend preparing yourself for any future nocturnal cravings with two Asian condiments I relied on for this recipe. These ingredients add lip-smacking flavor to a smattering of dishes, Asian or otherwise. They also have a long shelf life and can easily be tucked away in your refrigerator, so they are worth the effort to purchase.

The first condiment I recommend is gojuchang. It’s a Korean fermented hot chili paste, which adds a smoky kick of heat, mild glutinous-rice sweetness, and that elusive umami flavor to sauces, marinades, and soups that makes them positively addicting.

Another useful ingredient is fermented black bean and garlic sauce, which has a murky, almost meaty quality that adds depth and savory flavor to stir-frys and marinades. Both of these staples can be found in most well-stocked supermarkets or in specialty shops, and they can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a year.

And while we’re talking about cravings, I’ll add that once the ingredients for this soup are assembled, you can whip it up in a matter of minutes. This is a close to instant gratification you can find on a PJ-clad wintry Sunday night.  

Ma Po Tofu

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 2 to 4

1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large red jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
2 tablespoons fermented hot chili paste, such as gojuchang
1 tablespoon fermented black bean and garlic sauce
2 tablespoons grated fresh peeled ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons chicken or mushroom stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
15 ounces semi-firm tofu, patted dry, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, optional
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, add the mushrooms, and let steep for 15 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chile, fermented chili paste, and black bean sauce and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and water to the wok. Stir in the 1 cup stock, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Slide the tofu into the soup, reduce the heat to medium.
3. Whisk the 1 tablespoon cornstarch with the remaining 3 tablespoons stock. Stir into the soup and simmer until the soup is hot. Taste for seasoning and add sugar, if desired. Stir in the scallions and serve.

Flourless Double Chocolate Cake

The quintessential little black dress of cakes:

Gluten-free Double Chocolate Cake

A flourless chocolate cake is the “must-have” dessert in your recipe repertoire. Minimal, simple and universally pleasing, it’s a classic for all occasions. And, short of intravenous therapy, it’s one of the most intense forms of chocolate consumption you will experience. A tiny sliver of this luscious, gluten-free cake goes a long way (or maybe not, depending on your will-power).

Since the cake is flourless, it demands a very short list of ingredients, which means that the spotlight is rightly on the chocolate. Don’t skimp in this department. Choose the best quality dark (70-72%) chocolate you can lay your hands on, because it makes all the difference, and you will be rewarded with a stunning cake. Like the go-to black dress, you can keep it simple or accessorize it with extra bling. Serve it “naked” with a dusting of powder sugar, or, for more sparkle, you can wrap it in a shiny sheen of chocolate glaze. Either way, feel free to serve the cake with gently sweetened whipped cream, which adds a cooling ethereal contrast to the inky chocolate wedge. And if fresh strawberries are available, for goodness sake, don’t hold back.

Glazed Flourless Chocolate Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake; serves 8 to 10

Cake:
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
12 ounces high-quality dark chocolate (70-72%), chopped
1 cup / 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze:
4 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dark corn syrup

Whipped cream and fresh strawberries, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch diameter spring-form pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder and tap out the excess.
2. Combine the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and smooth and remove from the heat.
3. Beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a large clean bowl and then stir in the melted chocolate, vanilla, and salt.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With the machine running, add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until medium-firm peaks form. Stir in 1/4 of the egg whites to the chocolate to blend, and then gently fold in the remaining whites, in 2 additions, without over-mixing. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
5. Bake until the top of the cake is slightly puffed and cracked and a knife inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan. (If desired, the cake can be served unglazed at this point. Dust with powder sugar before serving.)
6. To make the glaze, place the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just reaches a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Keep warm.
7. Remove the side of the cake pan, invert the cake onto a plate, and discard the parchment. Pour the glaze over the center of the cake. Spread the glaze over the top and down the sides of the cake, using an off-set spatula to smooth the glaze. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 10 minutes.
8. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

Mortar and Pestle Guacamole

 Tap into your inner caveman with this guacamole recipe:

Homemade Guacamole Recipe

My favorite kitchen tool is my stone mortar and pestle. It sits proudly on my kitchen counter, holding its own in a caveman-esque sort of way, flaunting its primal elegance in between the stove and the espresso machine. It’s smugly confident in its weight and kitchen hierarchy (deemed decorative) while my food processor and standing mixer are banished behind cabinet doors (deemed clutter). New kitchen techniques are awe-inspiring and futuristic, yet my mortar is old and wise with a lineage extending as far back as the Old Testament. Sous-vides, anti-griddles, and smart ovens may be cutting edge, favored by professional chefs and culinary buffs, but my mortar has a stellar history as an essential tool to Native Americans, ancient Romans and Greeks, medieval pharmacists, and home cooks spanning the ages. It is the embodiment of simplicity and timelessness, pleasingly tactile and massively elemental. And it’s affordable.

What can you do with a mortar and pestle? You can grind, pound, and smash to your heart’s content (a useful method of expression these days), making pestos, pastes, sauces, dips, dressings, and marinades. You can grind seeds into powder. (I assure you that the results of lightly toasting cardamom, cumin, or coriander seeds, and then grinding them to a fine powder in a mortar will yield results unparalleled by the pre-ground versions.) The mortar is also the perfect place to smash garlic with sea salt, adding fresh-cut herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and mint. Crush the garlic first with the salt, then add the herbs and bruise them by giving them a few turns with the pestle to release their juices and flavor. You will be left with a powerful, aromatic paste you can smear on meats and poultry before roasting.

You can make guacamole, a perfect crowd pleaser, just in time to make for your Super Bowl party. Serve with chips, and you have one-stop-shopping in a primitive vessel. If you don’t have a mortar, then simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork to achieve a chunky consistency.

Guacamole

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 2 cups

1 small red or green jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 garlic clove,  chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, plus extra chopped leaves for garnish
3 to 4 large ripe Hass avocados
2 tablespoons coarsely grated yellow onion with juice
Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)

1. Combine the jalapeño, garlic, and red onion in a mortar. Press on the ingredients with your pestle, and grind them around the mortar in a circular movement, 3 to 4 times. Add the cilantro and gently bruise the leaves with the pestle.
2. Add the avocados, yellow onion, and lime juice and mash to form a blended but chunky consistency. Mix in the cumin, salt, black pepper, and hot sauce, if using, and taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with additional chopped cilantro.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

The Cold Season’s Answer to Vegetables:

Balsamic Braised Chicories

A spoonful of sugar helps the bitterness go away.

When the weather is frigid, and the garden has hunkered down for the winter, it’s time to turn to chicories. These leafy vegetables are our cold-season friends, packed with vitamins and nutrients, and winter’s replacement for sweet summer greens. While chicories are also referred to as “greens,” whites, reds, and purples may be more accurate descriptions. This broad group of leafy “greens” includes endive, escarole, frisée, Treviso, and radicchio.

Chicory leaves are hardy and often bitter, so it’s best to lean into their robust qualities, rather than pretend they are a substitute for mild-mannered lettuce. Team them up with equally strong flavors: sweet and sharp dressings, astringent citrus, smoky bacon, fruit, and nuts. And don’t be shy about using a little sugar, which will nicely offset their bracing bitterness.

Thanks to chicories’ sturdiness, they are great for braising, which is an appealing (and warm) way to get your veggies in the dead of winter. Braising will tame their strong flavor, and with a little extra sugar, amplify their natural sweetness.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds chicories, such as endive, radicchio, escarole

1/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish

1. Trim the bases of the chicories. Halve the endives lengthwise and cut the radicchio and escarole into wedges.
2. Whisk the chicken stock, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange the chicories, cut-side down in the skillet and cook until they begin to soften and brown, about 5 minutes, turning once.
4. Pour the balsamic mixture over and around the chicories, and scatter the sprigs over. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and simmer until the chicories are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once or twice.
5. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is reduced and the chicories are slightly caramelized.
6. Discard the thyme sprigs. Season the chicories with additional salt to taste and serve warm, garnished with fresh thyme.