Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Beeting Hunger

“Mom! I’m getting a snack!” my son Jeremy’s voice bellowing from the belly of the narrow pantry of our apartment kitchen. I leaned back in my chair to see him, bent over, just butt and legs visible, looking like he was being swallowed by the cabinet. He was home from his school day and ravenous. One eyebrow raised I spied on my wee son, curious what after school delight he would emerge with. Found myself with a giant grin when I saw his small hands clutching the snack he settled on, a can of pickled beets, that he ate directly from the can.

Like most of us into this whole wine thing, food has played and long and varied role in my life. As a tiny girl being raised by a single mother in the 70s there was hunger. The kind of rib cage rattling hunger that had you counting the days until Friday, payday, where oven-cooked chicken, frozen corn and a baked potato, with butter and sour cream, would replace Bisquick pancakes lightly drizzled with Karo syrup, for dinner that night. 

The awkward visits with the “well-to-do” Grandparents that lived off 2nd Street. The house that felt cold, all the time, and in every way imaginable. The slow climb up the stairs, my nose even then working overtime, taking deep, chest-filling sniffs that would determine if I was going to push food around with my fork while holding my breath to avoid the gamey stank of slow roasted mutton shank, or if I would be crunching into chicken parts coated and crusted with Shake-N-Bake and stabbing fiercely at big hunks of crispy iceberg lettuce swimming in my Grandmother’s homemade Roquefort dressing. The one that would turn perfectly pink from the addition of, pickled beets. The Grandmother, icier than that lettuce, would warm just a touch as she watched me run my pudgy five-year-old fingers through the river of garlicky pink dressing ensuring not one drop go to waste. That hunger, the longing for kindness and acceptance, if only for the length of a meal, from the stunningly beautiful but strikingly detached mother of my mother.

I absolutely remember being wickedly envious of the kids that ran home to pop a frozen bean and cheese burrito in the microwave, or devour a mixing bowl sized serving of whatever sugary cereal was popular for their afternoon snack. I would come home to a deli drawer of cut-it-yourself blocks of cheese and long oblong loaves of super sour sourdough bread. No adults in the house, MTV or VH1 on in the distance, me alone with thick slices of bread, mayonnaise and the sound of a knife hitting the cutting board as I sliced off slabs of Monterey Jack or Extra-Sharp Cheddar. That hunger to be like everyone else, playing their video games and grubbing on commercial goodies. 

It wouldn’t be until years later that I realized just how truly lucky I had actually been. My mother, while not a very adventurous cook, (she would become more so later in her life) was always intent on giving us the best, and by best meaning the most pure and fresh, foods as she could possibly afford. At times that meant three squares a day of freshly made Bisquick pancakes in place of fast, or processed foods. When times got better it was homemade sandwiches for camp lunches, and dinners were always a protein, a veggie, most often frozen, fresh and on the rare occasion canned, and a starch, potatoes, rice or buttered noodles. Clean food made at her hand, and when I was old enough to help, from mine. Three generations of women brought a little bit closer together through the sounds, smells, and abundant flavors from the kitchen. Conquering our individual struggle with hunger, physical and emotional, at the kitchen counter, stovetop and dinner table. 

I am forever amazed at the twists and turns my life has taken and with each step in whichever direction there is one calm and steady constant, my absolute and unabashed passion for food and cooking. I thumb through cookbooks and peruse the interwebs in search of new ideas and inspiration, often with a notebook at my side jotting ideas down for later use. I am a full on kitchen nerd, without a doubt.

I recently started sharing pictures, (taken with my phone in my somewhat dingy kitchen, (a food nerd I am, photographer I am NOT) and posting them on Instagram and Facebook, more in an effort to share the wines and beers I am drinking at home with our customers but, well, I noticed that those posts seem to interest our customers in a BIG way. I did a quick post on our Facebook page asking if people would be at all interested in me posting the “recipes” and wines on our blog and the answer was an overwhelming, “Yes” so, here we are. 

So, a very annoying to some, quick note about the way I cook, I don’t use recipes, nor do I really measure anything. This will be very comfortable for some of you, irritating to others. I will apologize upfront if this brings anyone frustration but, it’s a fact of the way I work in my kitchen. I will be as precise as I possibly can and should anyone have questions, please feel free to comment here, on social media or call/come by The Wine Country, my nerd status depends on it!

So here is “recipe” #1


Roasted Beet with Horseradish Cream and Crunch Topping

·       Beets, as many as you wish and whichever you like. I tend to do a combination of both red and golden when there is an option
·       Atomic Horseradish (Only place I’ve seen it is Smart & Final, it’s worth the extra trip. Feisty so tread easy…or not)
·       Olive Oil
·       Sour Cream
·       Panko (If you wanted to avoid this some kind of seed would be good, like sunflower or pumpkin)
·       1 Clove of Garlic Grated
·       Lemon Zest (One lemon should be fine)
·       Salt 


 Beets & Horseradish Cream
To roast the beets,  preheat oven to 425 degrees, trim ends, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap loosely in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. Cooking time will depend on the size of your beets, (I always recommend the ones softball sized or smaller) but start testing them after 40 minutes. To test pierce with a sharp knife, the flesh should give and offer no resistance. This step can be done well in advance as you want the beets to be, at the very least, room temperature for serving.
While your beets are cooling mix the Atomic with sour cream. Start EASY! This horseradish is serious so error on the side of caution. There is no rule as to how strong to make the cream, totally personal but I would say, you want to taste each element so maybe don’t go full Chernobyl. Add salt to taste and let set in the fridge while you continue.

When cool enough to handle remove the skin on the beets. To remove the skin use paper towels. I use a nice sized wad and place a beet inside, rubbing like you would if you were drying a little one’s hair or four-legged loved one. The skin should come off super easy and you can tell because the meat of the beet will be shinny not dull like the skin. I warn you, this maneuver will stain your fingers/hands. This is a good time to slice your beets as your hands are already a mess. You can cut into wedges or thick coin shaped slices. I prefer the latter simply because the coins don’t flip over, thus it looks nicer to me, but it really doesn’t matter. Cover and leave at room temperature or refrigerate, up to you.

+ Quick tip on getting beet stains off your flesh. Just add a hefty pinch of course salt to dish soap and scrub. Seems to get rid of them pretty quickly. 

I find the topping for this to be an essential part of the whole texture equation. Soft beets, creamy but fiery horseradish sauce, the crunch factor is needed for balance here. If you don’t want to consume the carbs, use toasted seeds or nuts. I think slivered almonds, sunflower or pumpkin seeds would be really good too.
Grate the rind of one lemon and either finely chop or grate two small or one large clove of garlic into a small bowl. In a dry nonstick skillet add about a cup, (or more if you like, the topping can last for a couple days) of panko or breadcrumbs and toast over medium heat until browned and you can smell the toastiness.  I add a little drizzle of good olive oil to speed up cooking time and make a bit more of a crumble when I add the warm panko to the bowl with lemon zest and garlic, but it is not needed if you wish to leave it out. Mix warmed and toasted panko with garlic and zest, add a little salt and pepper.

Up to you!

I serve this dish two ways. One, an appetizer in a spoon or tiny dish, or as a big side dish/salad offering. If doing the salad/side thing, I use a shallow pasta bowl or large platter, arrange the beets overlapping a little, drizzle horseradish cream or place a dollop on each making sure every beet gets some, sprinkle the topping generously over the top. That’s it. Super easy and really impactful flavor wise. Keep mains simple when serving this dish, it will be the star so don’t fight it. Grilled pork chops or chicken really are best but like with anything, do whatever creams your Twinkie!

 Wine- 2018 La Rocaliere Le Classique Tavel Rose $18.99
It was actually Kevin that suggested a "Bigger Rose, like that Tavel" and he was dead on. This was a perfectly balanced and nuanced pairing. The fleshy Rose held up beautifully to the assertive flavors in this dish and the sturdy fruit in the Rose framed the dish in the absolute best way.

Samantha Dugan
French and Sparkling Wine Specialist
Impassioned Food Nerd

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

No Bonnet To Pick

“Samantha, I have three times come to see you here in Los Angeles and even though you come to Champagne every year, you’ve yet to come see me”
The taunting but earnest words from Champagne producer Cyril Bonnet of Bonnet-Ponson on his last visit to California a couple of years ago. The smirk on his, extremely handsome face assuring me that he forgave me but the little poke at my side, it let me know that my overlooking had not gone unnoticed.

He was right. I had been to Champagne probably four times since we first met, and not too far from the little village his family domaine is tucked into, Chamery, located in the Marne, district of Reims. There were zero excuses and it was easily, and enjoyably fixable on my part. It was on my last trip to France, that I carved out the time to make an appointment to visit my dear friend Cyril Bonnet. 

Last time I’d seen Cyril was here in Long Beach after he’d lead an amazing Champagne event here at The Wine Country. Well, truth be told, the very last time I’d seen him we had taken him, post Champagne event, to a Long Beach institution, The Interlude. A dive bar that is exactly what it sounds like it would be. Basically, where hope goes to die. We celebrated his graceful and elegant performance by buying him shots of Tequila Blanco and pouring him into an Uber that whisked him off to his hotel near LAX where he was to catch an early flight to the east coast the following morning. Hoping he had somehow found a way to forgive me, I made the call and we piled in the car.

I had to muscle past a whopping 413 people to make my way to Champagne Bonnet-Ponson where I found the final village total, Cyril and his Grandfather, numbers 414 and 415. Four Americans plopped out of the car and there he stood in front of his modern looking, still under some construction family winery, the stunningly handsome, talented and incredibly sweet Cyril Bonnet. I heard my fellow female traveler take in a hard, sharp breath when she saw him, big gorgeous grin, swatch of wavy brown hair, “See. Told you. Wait until you taste his wines!” I whispered in her direction. 

We spent a couple hours there with Cyril and a couple of other drop in visitors. We got the “tour” which is to say we plodded around the tiny winery tasting a few things from tank, a couple more from the bottle, before making our way to the tasting room where we tasted through a dizzying array of bubbles as well as his Coteaux Champenois, the still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay he makes, sadly just for the tasting room, for now anyway. Once again I was floored by the quality being offered, especially when you consider the fact that they are all from 1er, or Premier Cru vineyards, grown and made by the same family that is splashed across the label. Beautifully structured, classic Champagnes made by the most delightful people. Winning all around. 

N.V. Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut $52.99
Made from equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay this perfectly balanced Champagne offers charming roasted stone fruits, pears and cream dunked biscuits all over the palate. Nice and plump in the mouth with nice depth and long creamy finish. 

N.V. Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut Rose $62.99
Made mostly of both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with Chardonnay making up the final 25%. A gorgeous deep pink Rose with powerfully extracted red fruit aromas. The palate offers a evocatively inviting weight with flecks of holiday spicing and warm buttered toast. Super long finish and achingly tiny bubbles. Delightful with cold cuts, dark meat fowl and rich gooey cheeses.