Battle of the Roots

It’s that time again! We took a 3 month hiatus from our cooking battles, but it started once again. This time, the theme was Root Vegetables and Tubers. Priti and Chirag chose the theme and hosted this battle. What a versatile secret ingredient!

Manish and I were responsible for the appetizer and cocktail course. Our idea was to arrange a “three course” amuse bouche of sorts… We were going to start with a crudite of radishes and carrots, and place them on our himalayan pink salt brick. A little sweet cream butter was going to accompany these crudites. We were going to halve a cooked purple fingerling potato, hollow out the center, and pipe in a sunchoke puree. We were going to lay a piece of wild boar bacon on top – sort of a play on the double stuffed potato. Then we were going to created a “scalloped scallop.” A seared scallop, topped with tiny little rounds of scalloped potatoes, resembling scales of a fish. Sadly, we were unable to follow through with the prep of this course due to scheduling issues that morning, so we stepped out of the competition. But our kind competitors allowed us to partake in the meal, and judge! So, here are the highlights from the evening…

1st Course Battle RootThe first course, created by Sejal and Rick, showcased the earthy and spicy tones to what some of our favorite root vegetables pair best with! A perfectly pan grilled “Indian spiced” lamb rib chop was accompanied by a sweet potato and rosemary puree as well as a refreshing carrot soup. Such delicate flavors with an incredibly robust appeal! The colors and flavors of the dish were so vibrant and melded so harmoniously.Entree Battle Root

The main entree combined aspects of both comfort and elegance – which resulted in a gorgeous presentation and delicious flavors! A maple glazed pan seared salmon fillet was served over a sunchoke and purple potato puree. Alongside was a savory and rich root vegetable cobbler, and a hearty pasta that had some more roots folded into  it. Every “theme” element was incorporated beautifully in this dish by the hosts, Priti and Chirag.

Finally, dessert (the winning dish!) was brought to the table by Jigna and Piyush. I think that I can speak for everyone at the table when I say that we were all incredibly impressed by the use of the normally “savory” ingredients in this decadent dessert. DSC_0875The gorgeous plating offered a warm sweet potato cake accompanied by a coffee-caramel sauce, a fennel gelato, a chocolate-ginger gelato, a fennel brittle, and a drizzle of raspberry coulis.

The Fennel Brittle
The Fennel Brittle

The flavors went so well together – the earthy and warm spices from the cake and the caramel were such a lovely contrast to the fresh and bold flavors of fennel. I was surprised at how well the chocolate and ginger matched – it was as though all of these components were MEANT to be eaten together. Kudos to to the “Fanwood” Bardolias!!

To my fellow food battlers – as always, it was such an honor and pleasure to dine with all of you – thank you for the amazing meal, and for giving me a reason to smile on a not so bright day. Love you guys!! 🙂

What’s in Store for 2010 – Food, Wine, and Coffee!

So long, 2009… Happy New Year! I know it’s been a while since my last post. The holidays demanded more hours from me – both at the shop and in the kitchen. Amongst these hectic work days, I’ve had the opportunity to experience some incredible meals and of course, some amazing paired wines. I’ll try to recap some of my favorites here…

SANY1619Nantucket Bay Scallops (Sashimi style) with just a drizzle of lime and some snipped chives. This paired magnificently well with the 2007 Gilbert Picq Chablis. The incredibly fresh, sweet scallops offset the zippy acidity and mineral tones of the Chablis. We also had the delicious Pacific Peale Passage oysters along side – creamy and rich with still the briny flavor that you expect with a raw oyster. The brown sauce in the picture is just a little ponzu/soy dipping sauce – but we didn’t need it! (Thanks to Nick at Metropolitan Seafood for your suggestions!)

SANY1590The “Soft Boiled then Breaded then Fried” (Blue Hill style) Egg atop truffled barley risotto with the 2000 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja. The earthy tones of the barley and the wine matched SANY1634perfectly. Here are the before and after pictures of the dish… Once you cut into the egg, the soft yolk blends into the base and creates a velvety sauce-like texture to the risotto.


3060_120307_Another egg favorite… Soft egg Raviolis with Truffle Cream. These little pockets of flavor exploded with savory goodness. We first mixed together fresh ricotta with some Parmiggianno Reggianno, some fresh lemon peel, and a light sprinking of sea salt. Placed that in the middle of a fresh pasta round, and then topped the dollop of ricotta mixture with an egg yolk. Top that with another pasta round (carefully,) seal the edges, and voila. Soft egg ravioli! After a very brief simmer in a shallow pan of water, the raviolis were dressed with the truffle cream. This paired with the 2007 Vajra Langhe Rosso was truly harmonious.

At the 56 Degree Wine Dinner at Culinariane  in Montclair with wines from Francois Thienpoint, I fell in love with Ariane’s version of her team’s winning dish from Top Chef. The Indian spiced Lamb Chops with Carrot Puree and wilted Spinach. Earth and spice tones set the stage for the slightly sweet notes of the carrots to shine as well. The wines were incredible, highlighting all of the flavors of the dish. The 2006 La Gravette de Certan Pomerol and the 2000 Vieux Chateau Certan Pomerol were my favorite wines of the night. SANY1593This menu inspired me to create something similar – Indian spiced Lamb Chops with Carrot-Ginger Puree and Spinach simmered in Yogurt and spices.

As the weather gets cooler outside, the idea of comfort food warms my heart. “Braised” dishes to be even more specific. Some of my favorite creations from the cold months of this season thus far…

Braised Rabbit Ragu over Creamy Polenta. We had this with the Fantabulous (really – there IS no word in the English dictionary that can describe this wine) 2001 Giacosa Barbaresco Asili. (Yum! Thank you, J.B. for bringing the vino!)

I also made Rajat Parr’s Indian Spiced Lamb Shank recipe and paired it with the earthy 2000 Chateau Grand Corbin-Despagne Saint Emilion. Perfectly balanced flavors in both the lamb and the wine – you could really taste the cinnamon and the spices but nothing was overwhelming. I am always tweaking recipes – I never seem to be happy unless I “Nita-fy” it. But this one, was perfect as written, in my opinion. (Click on the link above to get to the recipe.)

Braised Meatballs in Red Wine gravy was another cold weather necessity – and we drank the 2007 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia. After a half hour of decanting, this wine was fabulous. Velvety, berry fruits with a touch of smoke. Delicious!

My favorite braised dish of this season so far though was the Beef braised in Barolo that our friends made on Christmas Eve. It was such a special meal. So tender and so flavorful, this dish could only be paired with a wine as worthy. We had the 2005 Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Casa Mate with its spicy and smoky notes to pair alongside. Delicious! Thanks again, Sej and Rick!

41OajmeA-XL__SL500_AA240_Speaking of Christmas – my girls gave me my very first Macaron cookbook. As many of you know, I’ve blamed bad recipes, my oven, and lack of time to my inability to create those little Parisian masterpieces. I’ve attempted over a dozen times, and a few of those attempts were successes (perfect macaron “feet” and all!) Now I have no excuse! I will most definitely blog my efforts later this month, as Maya has already asked me to bake her a “Macaron cake” for her 11th birthday. It’s a challenge… so I’ll try it!

Back to wining and dining… We experienced our first ethereal wine pairing menu at Elements in Princeton. If you are ever in the central Jersey area, do yourself a favor and check this place out. The chefs here are incredibly talented, and the service stellar. My favorite courses were the Nantucket  Bay Scallop Ceviche (surprise surprise,) the Octopus with smoked Paprika, and believe it or not, the simple Griggstown chicken course – with wild boar sausage. There were many more intricate flavors involved, but that is what I remember most about those plates.

thumb40I can’t forget the adorable and expertly inventive dessert – Bacon and Eggs. Sous Chef Joe Sparatta removes the top of an organic egg, removing its contents and filling it with brioche french toast. Then he tops that layer with a creamy egg and bacon custard, and a creamy maple foan tops off the egg. On the side of the egg is a strip of bacon and a slice of french toast. It’s even better than it looks in the picture!

Before I complete my first post of this new year, I’ll tell you a little about one of my new favorite things to drink. If you know me, you know that in addition to fine food and wine, I loooooove me a good cup of coffee. Well, I recently discovered some truly phenomenal coffees from the company Fresh Coffee Now. My favorites are the Breakfast Blend (which I like to drink all on its own – sans milk or sugar) and the French Roast  (which I like with my accompaniments.) The Mexican Roast and Colombian seem to be the favorites amongst some family and friends that have been the lucky taste testers in my house. Check out the link above for more information (and 56 Degree Wine sells the coffee at the shop as well!)

Til next time – Cheers! And Happy 2010!