If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that my past two posts included recipes for a no-bake lemon cheesecake and lemon ricotta cake. Last week between voluntary lockdown (I live in Florida, the COVID-19 epicenter,) the Hurricane Isaias threat and heat, I just didn’t feel like baking. So, today’s post is about an unexpected surprise and tasty Upside-Down Lemon Cheesecake made by Pots & Co. that has made its Southern U.S. debut.
In Pots We Bake
Pots & Co. bakes their delicious desserts in ceramic pots because it gives them depth and creaminess, plus doubles their fridge life. Once you’ve tasted one though, I doubt that they’ll be in your fridge for long! In addition, the pots are reusable and besides using them to bake something new, try something decorative. For example, check out this nice display of plants using Pots & Co. pots.
Dessert with Conscience
For anyone watching their weight, no dessert is guilt free. However, in times like we’re now living, I am the first person to advocate for indulging your sweet cravings! Rest assured, the portions are small enough to satisfy them without breaking the calorie-counting bank.
Most importantly, the pots and packaging are eco-friendly. Even if you don’t reuse the pots, they are recyclable. Moreover, if you add them to the regular trash by mistake, they are biodegradable and release only the Spanish clay in which they’re made of, back into the earth.
A Full Range of Yumminess
I received a box of four Upside-Down Lemon Cheesecakes, but as you know I love chocolate (check out next week’s blog for a new recipe.) I think I’ll next try either the Chocolate Fudge Lave Cake, Chocolate & Salted Caramel Lava Cake, or 70% Chocolate Ganache. You can find the complete range of flavors and heating instructions (if needed) here.
From London to Your Fridge
Good news! Since June 15th, Pots & Co. desserts can be found in the U.S. They’ll be sold at Costco in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Yes, Florida! 🙋🏻♀️
In Pots We Trust
In 2014, founder Julian Dyer had a dream with determination. Having grown tired of the restaurant world, he wanted to bring proper desserts to people at home. Julian explains, “I was standing in a lemon dessert factory and there wasn’t a fresh lemon in sight. I’m a chef – this didn’t make sense. So I started making potted desserts using top ingredients.”
There’s something very nice about guilt-free consumption. In Pots & Co., we trust that quality with conscience can be a regular, if not a daily addition to our table and home. I hope you can try them and if you do, let me know in a comment below!
I’m so antsy, aren’t you? South Florida summers aren’t pleasant, so since I won’t be hopping on a plane any time soon, I need to find ways to bring travel to the table.
Two Spanish Tapas Recipes and Rioja Wine
Take me back to Spain! It’s time relive vacation memories by making two classic Spanish recipes: Huevos Rotas (Potatoes with Broken Eggs,) Espinacas con Garbanzos (Chickpeas with Spinach,) and drink a Rioja Gran Reserva (Tempranillo.)
I’ll get to the WSET 2 studying part near the bottom of this blog 👇🏼. It’s important too, so keep reading…
Traditionally, this is a Tapas dish and not a side or breakfast!
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes or 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 pounds new potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces if necessary
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Lemon wedges, for serving
Flaky sea salt, for serving
In a measuring cup, combine the olive oil, paprika, red-pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, a generous grind of pepper and 1 cup water. Put the potatoes in a large skillet and pour the olive oil mixture over them. Then, bring the potatoes to a boil, then cover and cook on high until the potatoes are fork-tender, 6 to 9 minutes.
Uncover and turn the heat to low. If the potatoes are sticking or dry, add more olive oil. Next, arrange the potatoes in an even layer, cut side down if halved, then add the onion and garlic surrounding the potatoes. Finally, cover and cook until the potatoes are golden-brown and the onions are softened, 4 to 6 minutes.
Stir the potatoes (if they’re sticking, add more oil). Make 4 nests in the potatoes and crack an egg into each. Season with salt and pepper and then, cover and cook until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny, 4 to 6 minutes.
To serve, break the yolks gently with a serving spoon, then scoop some potatoes and an egg onto plates or into shallow bowls. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and flaky salt.
1/2 cup prosciutto cut into strips (optional) – I skipped this part and substituted baby spinach
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, simmer the onions and garlic in olive oil until they are soft but not browned. Add the chickpeas, crushed tomatoes, parsley, oregano, cumin and prosciutto, if using, and simmer for 30 minutes more.
Taste the mixture and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. If it does not seem moist enough, add a little of the reserved chickpea liquid or some olive oil, or both. Serve lukewarm with a green salad and good bread and butter or garlic oil.
Note: Since I was serving Serrano ham and Manchego cheese on the side, I skipped that part and substituted baby spinach instead. Simply stir in about 2-3 cups into the chickpea mix until the spinach wilts, but still keeps a bright green color.
The Pairing Wine: 2004 Viña Olabarri Gran Reserva
80% Tempranillo, 12% Graciano, 8% Mazuelo
I love Spanish wines, but the majority that I’ve tried are quite powerful. They work well with Spanish and Latin food that’s not spicy, but seldom would I think to drink one without food. However, the 2004 Viña Olabarri Gran Reserva is definitely a Rioja wine that I’d sip while reading a good book. I’ve never had a Gran Reserva wine before, so it was a treat to experience a wine that had been aged for 36 months in French and American oak barrels, plus cellar aged for another 36 months!
Here are the tasting notes provided by Viña Olabarri:
Color: Deep ruby red color with subtle brick red hues on the rim from the ageing process.
Bouquet: Intense aromas of black fruit and spices, with a mineral hint.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, integrating beautifully the rich ripe fruit with the sweet spices provided by the oak.
A pleasant, clean aftertaste of remarkable harmony.
A Little History
Viña Olabarri was founded by Pablo Olabarri Bikandi, who since 1958 spent long periods of time in Haro; due to his love of Rioja wines, in 1985 he decided to buy an old 19th century winery in Calle las Bodegas, in Anguciana.
As a result, the need for bigger, more modern facilities to make the wines took him to build a new winery in the outskirts of Haro in 1989, with capacity to hold 4,000 barrels and up to 800,000 bottles.
His son, Luis Olabarri is currently in charge of the winery.
It’s Test Time!
If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’ve had my nose in a glass and a pile of wine books for some time. I started the Society of Wine Educators Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) course, but was finding it difficult. Although I can master self-study, I really needed to begin my wine journey with some guidance.
One good thing that’s come from the COVID-19 pandemic, is that there has been a plethora of new opportunities to learn online. I’ve wanted to take a Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) course for some time, but found it difficult to find the time. Also, since Florida Wine Academy is located in Downtown Miami, getting there once I finished my workday would have been a challenge. Shortly after participating in a couple Florida Wine Academy’s free Zoom webinars, they announced that the WSET 2 would be offered online. I immediately registered!
Registrants have the option to purchase the wine packs through them, but I found the required wines either near my home or at Wine by the Bay in Miami.
The course is six weeks and I’ve completed that part and now am studying for the exam. It’s been an exciting journey so far and the most important thing I’ve discovered, is that I’m still a Wine Newbie and loving it. This trip will take a lifetime and just when I’ve mastered one part, I realized that there’s so much more to discover.
This education is brain stimulation and tasty and I look forward to many more food and wine pairing weekends!
Wine Newbie Resources
Here are some additional resources that I found useful to enhance the WSET text and workbooks:
“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.”
― Benjamin Franklin
If you have a useful wine education resource to share, feel free to post it in a comment below. Plus, if you have your own Spanish tapas recipes or a Rioja wine to share, tag me in your photos on Instagram! Or, let me know how you bring travel to your table.
Today’s blog pays tribute to my mother and includes two cherished Canadian desserts: Nanaimo Bars and Butter Tarts. My Mom wasn’t a very good cook, but she loved to have people over for dinner and no one ever turned down an invitation. The problem with my mother’s cooking was that she was too limiting, for example: lesser quality ingredients to save money; less salt because sodium isn’t good for you; and she was British. Let’s face it, when it comes to food England isn’t France or Italy. Growing up, I suffered through a fair share of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, Bubble and Squeak, Bangers and Mash, Trifle and Plum Pudding while silently wishing that I was born Italian.
On the other hand, my frugal Mom could bake and she never skimped on butter, sugar, chocolate, or whatever ingredient was needed to make dessert. The best part about mediocre suppers (as a Brit says) was that on special occasions, we could eat at least two kinds of desserts and Christmas was a sugar smorgasbord! It’s these memories that inspire today’s dessert menu — just keep reading a little more…
It’s now Week 10 of the now relaxed, stay-at-home order. Since I’ve always worked remotely and anyone who I deal with is also doing the same, there’s nowhere yet to really go. I’m not so sure either if I’ll be heading out soon for a socially distant lunch, shopping spree, or nail appointment. Will you be?
In May I Mourn
Today, marks nine years since my Mom passed away. As soon as May arrives, it’s like a dark cloud sits over me. No matter how fast I run from this cloud, it follows me. Like so many people in these current circumstances, who are saying their last goodbyes from a distance, I can relate. My Mom lost her battle with cancer one week after Mother’s Day. I sat in my backyard while she was at a hospice center in Canada, when we cried through one of our last conversations – a Happy Mother’s Day wish. It wasn’t happy, but what could I say?
The Reasons Why I Blog
Yes, I won’t deny it – I do blog for SEO. What writer or business owner doesn’t? However, my “call to write” is because of the following:
I write because I can express myself so much better than in spoken words.
I want to be heard because sometimes the people closest to me aren’t listening. I also want to be heard by others and I do appreciate the feedback received on social media.
Expanding on the latter point, I hope that someone else identifies with my subject and is inspired to cook, bake, drink wine, learn more about art, etc.
Finally, I write to leave something behind. When you lose a loved one, you hold tight to memories and material things such as photos, birthday cards, letters, Fine China – anything to keep that person close long after they’re gone. This blog is for my own children. Currently, they are slightly annoyed that they can’t eat before I get the perfect photo. However, maybe one day they’ll treasure these recipes and ramblings.
Unless you’re from Quebec, it’s really hard to define Canadian food. However, I’m delighted to share a couple of my favorite desserts that are apparently indigenous to Canada (not England.) There’s an interesting history to Nanaimo Bars (named after a city in British Colombia) and I suggest you read it here. If you visit B.C., you can follow the Nanaimo Bar Trail! Although there are many versions of this recipe, I’ve adapted the one created by the winner of the 1986 Best Nanaimo Bar Recipe contest held by the then, Mayor of Nanaimo. You can find Joyce Hardcastle’s recipe here.
½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter (preferably European-style cultured butter)
5 Tbsp (75 mL) cocoa powder
¼ cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 ¾ cups (425 mL) graham wafer crumbs
1 cup (250 mL) shredded coconut
½ cup (125 mL) almonds, finely chopped (Note: I didn’t use nuts. See Blog Bloopers below.)
1. Pour 2 cups (500 mL) water into bottom of double boiler. Place on stove over medium heat and bring water to simmer.
2. In top of double boiler; combine butter, cocoa and sugar; place over simmering water. Heat, stirring, until butter has melted and mixture is smooth.
3. Add beaten egg; stir until thick. Remove top of double boiler from heat. Stir in graham wafer crumbs, coconut and almonds.
4. Scrape into parchment paper-lined 8-inch (2 L) square baking dish. Press firmly to create even bottom layer.
5. Tip: If you don’t have a double boiler, half-fill a saucepan with water and heat over medium heat until water begins to simmer. Then, place a metal or glass bowl over the simmering water and proceed as directed.
½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp + 2 tsp (40 mL) whipping or heavy cream
2 Tbsp (30 mL) vanilla custard powder
2 cups (500 mL) icing sugar
With a mixer, cream together butter, cream and custard powder. Gradually add icing sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Scrape over bottom layer, smoothing top with spatula or palette knife.
4 oz (115 g) semi-sweet chocolate
2 Tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter
In clean double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together. Remove from heat; let cool slightly. When cool, but still liquid, pour over custard layer.
Cover and refrigerate until cold. (About six hours.)
Unless I’ve forgotten, my mother never made her own Butter Tarts. It was a dessert staple and a cheap sweet treat. There are versions of this recipe that include raisins, but I never liked them included then so certainly will not add them now.
2 ¼ cups flour, pastry flour is best to use but all-purpose will do
1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening, Very cold and cut in cubes
1/2 cup butter, Very cold and cut in cubes
6 tbsp ice water, approximately, enough to bring the dough together
1. Pulse the cold butter and shortening into the flour sugar and salt using a food processor until the shortening or butter is reduced to pea sized pieces.
2. Sprinkle the water over the surface and toss with a fork until the water is just incorporated into the dough. Do not over work the dough; handle it only enough so that the dough stays together.
3. Form the dough into two rounds about an inch thick.
4. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about a half hour.
5. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Cut into rounds with 4 inch cutter. Fit into muffin cups. Chill in the fridge or freezer while you prepare the filling. Cold pastry heading into a hot oven will always be flakier.
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
(Optional: ½ cup raisins, substituting, pecans, walnuts or chocolate chips.)
1. Combine all filling ingredients except raisins.
2. Mix well.
3. Sprinkle raisins in a single layer in the bottom of the pastry lined muffin cups.
4. Fill 2/3 full with syrup mixture.
5. Bake on bottom shelf of oven at 425 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes.
6. Cool completely on a wire rack and remove tarts from from pans.
Baking is an exact science and if you want to improvise, stick to cooking. A few things went wrong:
(1) For the Nanaimo Bars, I only had a rectangle baking pan and an 8-inch round, springform pan. Because of a nut allergy, I added more graham cracker crumbs to make up the difference. With too much crust crumbs on my hands, I had to decide between discarding some of this mix to fit in the round pan or fill a rectangular pan. I did the latter and what a mistake! There wasn’t enough custard filling and spreading it thinly was a disaster (see below for the lesson learned.) I then made more ganache to cover up the mistake and avoid a sweet tragedy!
(2) For the Butter Tarts, I did not make my own crust, but plan to do so in the future so I left that part in. As you know, some items are hard to come by, so I substituted store-bought pie dough for pastry flour to make a dough from scratch. I then cut the full size pre-cut pie dough into small circles by using a glass. Note: anticipating a gooey baked mess, I also used foil cupcake liners that I later removed once the tarts had cooled.
Wine of the Week: Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Crozes-Hermitage Silene 2017 from Wine by the Bay.
(3) When conceiving a blog post, I usually plan the wine and prepare the meal before I take the photo. Because I had already opened this bottle the night before for dinner, I had just presumed that a Syrah would work with a chocolate dessert. While this pairing wasn’t bad, it wasn’t perfect. The Crozes-Hermitage Silene 2017 is a gentle beauty and a nice expression of this style. It paired well with my French-inspired dinner and I’ll write about it next week!
Can Actions Speak Louder than Words?
My mother never told me that she loved me. It’s strange to grow up never hearing those three words and although I struggle to say it myself, I make sure that the ones I love hear it maybe not every day, but enough. I honestly can’t understand why it was so hard, but as I failed to evenly spread the middle layer of Nanaimo Bars, I thought of my mother’s perfect centers: yellow and creamy and not a crumb from the first layer mixed in. (I guess it may have taken her a few times to get it right.)
It’s at that moment when I realized that maybe what she couldn’t express in words, she was able to say in her dessert making. A way for her to communicate, like writing is to me.
The kitchen is where we deal with the elements of the universe. It is where we come to understand our past and ourselves. ~ Laura Esquivel (Author of Like Water for Chocolate.)
If you are grieving loss or have lost a loved one during the COVID-19 Pandemic, here are a few helpful articles.
Wake me up because I’m tired of dreaming. It’s Week 9 of the stay-at-home order, although some of you may have started quarantine either later or earlier than me. I typically never recall my dreams, but for the past few weeks, I’ve been able to vividly retell what took place during REM before I’ve had my morning espresso. Some nights I’m being screamed at by someone because I forgot my mask, or I’m lost in a supermarket, or living back in Canada (I’ll get to that next week.)
I wondered if I was the only one who was having weird dreams, so after doing some searching, I discovered that scientists have documented why and how the coronavirus is affecting our dreams. There’s even a website called Lockdown Dreams and you can share your experiences with others. I’m sure that’s therapeutic for some people, but frankly, I’m tired of remembering. Why would I want to read about other people’s life-like nightmares?
I began running around five years ago, but really started taking it more seriously and working on a mind-body regimen about a year ago. Where getting in a car to go basically nowhere hardly gives me pleasure, running now gives me a sense of freedom and purpose to weekends with nowhere to go. Running is my superpower. What’s yours?
Daydreams Are Different
For a week I daydreamed about making Risotto with Sausage, drinking Barbaresco (see below,) and most importantly, taking a virtual trip to Italy. Thanks to Wine by the Bay in Miami, a Saturday tour of Pier Paolo Grasso’s Azienda Vitivinicola Pier (located in Treiso, Piemonte) gave me a chance to forget those stressful trips to the supermarket and an inbox filled with work requests mixed with a barrage of breaking news headlines.
The Zoom event was perfectly orchestrated by Wine by the Bay’s owner, Stefano Campanini. After signing up, a small group of “travelers” received a bottle of Barbaresco and video link to a pre-recorded demo by Sara, Pier Paolo Grasso’s wife who explained step-by-step how to prepare the dish. While we had lunch in our kitchens, the Grasso’s enjoyed dinner overlooking their vineyard! The video tour was divided into three parts starting with a 360° look of the estate; followed by the cellars; and concluding with the bottling and packaging areas. In between, we chatted, ate lunch and drank the wine pensively, but filled with excitement because we could hear insights from the winemaker himself!
Possibly it was the 14% ABV, but by glass number two, I felt like I was sitting in the same room with everyone. Imagine, guests from Washington, Texas, Florida, Quebec, and Piemonte enjoying this great experience together!
The Wine: Azienda Pier by Pier Paolo Grasso – Barbaresco Riserva Piccola Emma 2007
The Nebbiolo grapes used for this Riserva come from La Fenice vineyards. After vinification in steel, Piccola Emma 2007 was matured for ten years in 50hl oak barrels. Bottling took place in December 2018.
The wine sports a charming garnet color, a rich and elegant olfactory emerges, initially dominated by notes of red currant and morello cherry jams which, in a short time, reveal hints of dried violet and undergrowth as well as a slight blood tinge; a vertical balsamic vein runs through the bouquet giving it an intriguing olfactory three-dimensionality.
Note: I didn’t write this description. You can read the full review here and run it through Google translator if you don’t speak Italian. You can find some more history of the winery and a nice photo of Pier Paolo and Sara here.
If you hadn’t read this far, you would have missed out on the best part, or maybe the second best part, or equal parts. Alright, the wine and recipe tie for first place!
While it was not the first time that I’ve made risotto, it was the first time that I’ve made it with a newly opened bottle of Riserva red wine. Trust me, those tears shed from losing a half cup of Pier Paolo’s Barbaresco to this dish will quickly dry up when you taste your perfect pairing!
1 c arborio rice
4 – 6 cups of hot chicken stock
1 small onion
1 tsp of Thyme
¾ c of chopped Baby Portobello mushrooms
1/2 c of Piccola Emma (or quality red wine)
4 sausages each cut into thirds (I simmered the sausage in a bit of water until almost cooked and had acquired a little bit of color.)
2 tbsp butter
1 c of grated Parmesan cheese (save some for topping the dish or shred some more and reserve until the end)
1 tbsp chopped Parsley
Using a wooden spoon, gently sauté the onions in olive oil and a dash of salt until translucent.
Add the mushrooms and Thyme and stir until soft adding more olive oil if needed.
Stir in the Arborio rice and coat with oil and lightly toast.
Add the wine, stir and simmer until it evaporates.
Add the first 3 or 4 ladles of stock until the rice is just covered with broth. Let the rice gently simmer, stirring frequently.
Repeat this step a few more times until the rice is “al dente.” When you run your spoon down the bottom of the pot, the rice will separate and you see a clear line.
Remove from heat and stir in first the butter until it is melted and combined, followed by the Parmesan cheese.
Cover for a 5-10 minutes before serving.
Note: Since I had prepared this ahead of time because I had a work commitment before the trip, I left the rice warming over another pot filled with some steamy, hot water. If your rice dries up, you can add a splash of broth (or cream) to make it creamier.
The End Is A Beginning
This pandemic has thwarted our sense of purpose and to work without the reward of time off or a vacation is extremely hard. However, dreams help us prepare for adversity. So when you wake up, keep remembering that where the bad dream ends, there’s still a day filled with possibilities, plus a daydream or two to keep us going — This too shall pass.
“I have had dreams, and I’ve had nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.” – Jonas Salk
Note:Dr. JonasSalk first tested his vaccine against the polio virus in 1952 before announcing to the world in 1955 that a viable vaccine against the feared virus was now a reality. Albert Sabin followed Dr. Salk a few short years later by licensing an oral version of the polio vaccine in 1962.
Resource: Talking about your dreams may be a good idea if you are feeling anxious. Read more here.