Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fresh Herb Focus - Chives

I thought it would be nice to take a closer look at some fresh herbs this spring and summer. I am going to be focusing on a new herb every week or so. Since I have beautiful purple chive blossoms in the back yard, I thought it would be nice to start with them.

Chives are some of the most under utilized herbs, don't you think? I bet many of you don't consider chives beyond snipping them onto a baked potato, but they are quite versatile. Their flavor is a cross between onion and garlic, without being as assertive as either of their cousins.

Chives are exceptionally easy to grow and they are perennial so they'll keep coming back year after year. You can even grow them on your windowsill. For those of you who've only seen chives in plastic cases at the grocery store, chive blossoms look like delicate lavender pompoms. To keep your chives growing happily, you should divide the bunches every couple of years by digging them up, chopping them in two, and replanting them. (Early spring is best for this.) Harvesting is easy too. Simply snip off as many stems as you need with a sharp pair of scissors.

Even if you don't grow your own chives, there are plenty of reasons to purchase them. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Use the chive blossoms in salads. They are pretty and edible. Or, submerge the blossoms in a jar of vinegar. Store the vinegar in a dark place for two weeks until the flowers have turned white and the vinegar is pink. Use the infused vinegar for homemade vinaigrettes.

  • Tie small bundles of vegetable sticks (carrot, zucchini, yellow squash) together with a long chive and then steam them.

  • Make chive oil by pureeing a large bunch of chives (about 1 oz) in a blender with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Strain through a fine size and season to taste with salt. This bright green oil can be used to garnish appetizers and soups, or as part of a homemade vinaigrette. Store in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

  • Snip chives over buttery corn on the cob.

  • Toss a teaspoon or two of minced chives into beaten eggs. Use them to make an omelet with a cream cheese filling.

  • Make your own chip dip. Simply mix a tablespoon of minced chives and a teaspoon of grated onion into a cup of sour cream, season to taste with salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice for zing. You'll have a delicious dip that's not filled with artificial flavors.

  • Smash yukon gold potatoes with chives and butter for a flavorful alternative to your regular mashed potatoes.

  • No time to bake from scratch? Top refrigerated biscuits with minced chives and shredded cheddar cheese (or roll inside crescent rolls) and bake according to manufacturer's directions. Your family will think you went out of your way for them.

  • Can you think of any creative ways to use chives? What other herbs are you interested in learning more about?

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Winning Combination with Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc

    The week before last, I attended a week-long class at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, CA - Food and Wine Pairing for Chefs. On the final day of the class, we had a "quick fire-style" competition. We were each given a bottle of wine, a protein item, and two hours to create a recipe that married the two. 

    I received a bottle of Whitehall Lane Winery's '08 Sauvignon Blanc and sturgeon.  After tasting the wine and taking a walk through the schools herb garden, I created a recipe for bite-sized Sturgeon Tostadas with Melon Salsa.

    Long story short, I was awarded the best-pairing of the competition!  Quite an accomplishment considering that the Culinary Institute of America is the premier culinary school in the country. I couldn't have been more proud. 

    Whitehall Lane Winery is currently promoting the recipe at the winery and I wanted to share it with you too!  So, without further adieu, here is my award winning wine pairing recipe for

    Sturgeon Tostadas with Melon Salsa 

    Makes 24
    1/2 honeydew melon, peeled and finely diced
    1/2 c minced red onion
    1 c minced red bell pepper
    1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
    3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
    1 Tbsp rice vinegar
    1 tsp kosher salt
    2 Tbsp finely minced lime zest, for garnish

    2 tsp lime-infused olive oil*
    2 sturgeon filets, each 6 to 8 oz., with skin removed**
    salt and pepper, to taste

    4 thin corn tortillas, each 6 inches in diameter
    canola or peanut oil for frying
    sea salt (optional)

    In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the honeydew, red onion, red bell pepper and cilantro. Stir in the lime juice, rice wine vinegar and salt. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving for best flavor.

    To make the tostadas, stack the tortillas in 2 equal piles. Cut each pile into 6 pie-shaped wedges, or small circles. Note: If you decide to cut small circles, you may need additional tortillas to make 24.

    Add oil to a deep fryer or heavy fry pan to a depth of at least 1 inch and heat to 375°F. Add the tortilla pieces a few at a time and fry, tossing them, until golden brown. Be careful not to let them darken or they will taste bitter. Lift out and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt while still hot.

    Preheat an oven to 450°F. Season the sturgeon filets with salt and pepper to taste. Heat lime olive oil in an oven-proof sauté pan over medium-high heat.

    Add the filets and sear until the fish is pale gold, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the filets over and transfer the sauté pan to the oven and bake the filets until the flesh is opaque on the outside but still slightly translucent in the center, about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

    When you are ready to serve, slice the filets cross-wise into thin wedges. Top each tostada with a wedge of sturgeon, top with a small spoonful of melon salsa and sprinkle with lime zest. Pour your guests a glass of Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc and enjoy!

    *Note: Lime-infused olive oil is available in specialty stores. However, you can also make your own by adding lime zest directly to olive oil and heating the oil in a sauce pan on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

    **Note: If sturgeon is not available, swordfish or another firm white fish can be substituted.

    Check out In Good Taste Wine Pairings for
    additional wine-pairing recipes!