Monday, September 28, 2009

Weekly Wine: Spring Seed Wine Co. Four O'Clock Chardonnay

A wise man once told me, when in doubt about which wine to choose, pick the one with the coolest label. I swear that's not what led me to choose an offering from the Spring Seed Wine Company as the first Weekly Wine feature, but I just can't begin this discussion without drawing attention to the absolutely beautiful bottle. Each wine features artwork from vintage seed packets - my 2008 Four O'Clock Chardonnay has a painstakingly detailed illustration of sunflowers doing their worshipful thing. The label indicates an attention to detail and appreciation for the slower way things used to be done, so before I've even taken a sip I'm partial to the drop.

Empty bottle of chardy, keeping company with my leeks.

It's made by the Bosworth family in McLaren Vale, South Australia, from certified organic, estate-grown grapes from low-yield vineyards. They are into traditional, minimalist winemaking, and, according to their website, aim to "ensure the purity, integrity and flavour of our vineyard" in their wines. Purity, integrity, and flavor: what more can one ask for in a wine? The winemaking techniques are pretty cool too: they picked the grapes in six batches over ten days, then fermented each batch separately to create complex flavors. After the ferment they left the wines on solids to protect against oxidation to decrease the amount of preservative needed. Cool fermentation temperature and the avoidance of malolactic fermentation retain the delicate chardonnay flavors and acidity. The results?

I'm not a wine expert, just an enthusiastic punter, so I'll describe what I tasted in my own language. A big, sweet opening - incredibly floral, a touch of stone fruit, a hint of citrus - but pretty short length giving way to a crisp, acidic finish. A strong mineral profile which clearly suggests to me a taste of the soil, a true sense of terroir. It's unoaked, but still maintains a pretty strong structure, with a touch of a vanilla aftertaste.

I knocked back a couple of glasses with my girl Kristina during a collaborate dinner making session. We munched on some crudites with two beautiful dips that I made using a recipe from The Kitchen Dispensary - beetroot and zucchini/avocado. The wine was well suited to the light, bright, clean flavors of Kelly's recipes, and went down pretty easily as we danced about the kitchen creating and nibbling. Suffice it to say Kristina and I finished the bottle.

Kelly's dips:

Zucchini & Avocado Dip

1 Large Zucchini

1 Medium Avocado

1 Tsp Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt

Juice of 1/2 a Lemon

1 Tsp Cumin

1 Tsp Tumeric

1/2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 Large Clove Garlic

Chop up the zucchini, avocado and garlic into smaller pieces.
Add with the remaining ingredients to your food processor or high speed blender and blend until smooth.
You can add a little water if the dip seems too thick.

Beetroot Dip

1 large beetroot

20 soaked brazil nuts

Juice of 1 Lemon

1 Large Clove Garlic

1 Tsp Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt

Chop up the beetroot and garlic into smaller pieces.
Add with the remaining ingredients to your food processor or high speed blender and blend until smooth.
You can add a little water if the dip seems too thick.

Both of these dips should keep for a week in an airtight container in the fridge.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Introducing Weekly Wine @ Raw Gastronomy

I've been harboring a dilemma for a while now. Here it goes:

I love a good drop.

But I hate a hangover.

Obviously not drinking in excess is one key factor that leaves no room for debate. But what about the comforting embrace of a glass of merlot on a Friday evening, the first sip instantly melting the tedium of the (office) work week through its magical spell of round, robust fruity goodness. Or an evening shared with friends, sipping cabernet and swapping life stories over a meal made with love. Or a lazy warm afternoon, passing the hours between beach frolicking and a late summer supper with a glass of mineraly riesling and a plate of juicy summer tomatoes. As a gastronome, these are intense pleasures for me.

On the other hand, I am deeply concerned about health on every level - my body's health, my mental health, and the health of the environment in which I live (which are all, ultimately, the same thing). Over the past few years as I've journied down the path of nutritious eating, I've become increasingly convinced that everything that I put into my body has a profound impact on the way I feel. And I want to feel great, all the time! If I'm going to enjoy a drink or two tonight, I still want to wake up feeling great and energetic tomorrow morning. So therein lies the great question: is it possible to enjoy alcohol (responsibly) without detriment to my overall well-being?

I've spent a bit of time researching this question, and the best solution I have so far is to keep my wine, like my food, as natural and local as possible. It seems kind of obvious: I wouldn't buy Woolworth's apples, tainted with unknown pesticides and preservatives and possibly sitting in cold storage for a year, no matter how cheap they were. So why would I buy an $8 bottle of Jacob's Creek made from high-yield, heavily sprayed, machine harvested, lesser quality grapes that have been pumped full or preservatives? But it's not obvious, because many people who eat really healthy food don't apply the same principles to their plonk. They think, "It's just alcohol, it's not good for me anyway, so I might as well buy the cheaper stuff, right?"


The truth is, a good organic/biodynamic/natural (and I'll get into the distinction soon) wine is good for you. First of all, it's raw, which is something that few other alcohols can claim. Beer is usually made from roasted malt, and spirits require heat for distillation. But wine, in its pure form, is a really natural product. Grapes, left to their own devices, will ferment into wine, provided some yeast is present (and it will be in a vineyard that isn't sprayed with chemicals that kill the majority of living things that cross its path). Which means that the resulting beverage is not only potentially tasty and pleasantly inebriating, but also full of beneficial bacteria, as well as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from the grapes themselves. Look, I'm not arguing that you should drink wine to get your vitamins. I'm just pointing out that like any food product, wine can be as good for you as the ingredients from which it is made - even more so than many products because heat hasn't been introduced to degrade the nutrients.

Which is why if you're like me and get massive enjoyment out of a bottle, I seriously recommend you spend a bit more and go for the good stuff. There are a few options here, all of which I have been, um, researching with amazing results. First off, there's organic. In Australia, as in most countries today, "organic" means certified, which basically means no chemicals. Of course the fact that a wine is certified organic doesn't mean it's going to be any good (in fact, until a few years ago, it almost guaranteed that it wouldn't be, but that's changing). But it does mean that no chemicals have been used in the vineyard, though it doesn't guarantee a lack of preservatives or non-vegan fining agents (such as egg whites or isinglass). Most organic wines tend to use a far smaller quantity of preservatives, because they are using a higher quality fruit harvested and fermented with more care, so less spoilage is likely to occur. So going organic with you wine is a really good bet.

Then there's biodynamic, which again in Australia is a certificiation issue. This simply means that the grapes have been grown according to the principles of biodynamics, which encompasses organics but also includes a close attention paid to the rhythms of the planet, the seasons and the cosmos. In terms of the winemaking, there's not a huge distinction here from organic. But through conversations with both organic and biodynamic certified winemakers, I've found that most people who have taken the time to grow their grapes with these labor-intensive methods are also making the effort to mirror such natural practices in the winery in order to produce the most authentic wine possible.

Finally there's natural wine. This has nothing to do with certification and everything to do with integrity. And if you're read any of my previous posts, you'll know that I'm all about integrity when it comes to what I eat and drink. Drinking natural wine is sort of like buying your produce from the farmer's market. They may not be certified, but you've gotten to know them and you know that they are growing good quality food without chemicals and with the utmost respect for the land. Like organic and biodynamic, these grapes tend to be grown in a chemical-free environment and are always hand-harvested. Where natural wine most differs is in the winery. Strict adherents to the concept of natural wine shun preservatives, fining agents and pretty much any other intervention while the grapes are doing their fermentation thing. In terms of flavor, this is it - rustic, alive. Not all natural wines are great, but the great natural wines are the best wines. They are deep expressions of terroir, with nothing but the flavor of excellent fruit grown in healthy soil coming through - or so I'm told. I have yet to find an Australian natural wine, but I'm on the lookout, and when I do I promise to deliver a full report. (For a more in-depth exploration of natural wines, check out Pameladevi Govinda's fantastic article in Imbibe.)

There are lots of really, really good organic, biodynamic and natural wines out there these days. Unlike the early days of the recent re-birth of organic winemaking, many of the people making these drops today know a thing or two about winemaking. They are passionate about the land and organics, sure, but they are also trained winemakers who know how to gently coax the grape on its journey from fruit to wine like a concerned, responsible and loving parent. Its an idea a bit late in coming to Australia, but in France the most revered wines have been the biodynamics for years now, and natural wines are now considered by many to be where it's at.

It's also worth mentioning that many organic and biodynamic winemakers are following the natural wine ethos. But it's not a certification, not something you're going to find stamped on the bottle, at least not in Australia. If you want to find the best wines out there, both in terms of flavor and natural methods, you're going to have to get out there and talk to winemakers - which is exactly what I intend to do here in this space. If you're lucky enough to have a boutique wine shop near you, start by talking to the staff, and they should be able to point you in the right direction.

For my Aussie readers out there who enjoy a good, natural drop, I'm starting a new segment on this blog called "Weekly Wine." Each week I'll introduce you to a different organic, biodynamic or natural wine, and tell you a bit about its story as well as how it tastes and what sort of raw dishes would complement it. Look out for the first post in the next few days. Please feel free to leave suggestions for wines you'd like to hear more about in the comments.

Cheers! To your health.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

De-stressing with Dessert

When I feel emotionally drained, stressed or otherwise out of sorts, I find the most soothing thing to do is to get into the kitchen. As I begin chopping, mixing, molding and, yes, tasting, I feel myself relaxing, my posture softening, my breath slowing, my mind quieting. I work on instinct, sometimes referring to various recipe books or websites, but always tweaking things as I go based on my personal culinary sensibilities and the ingredients that I happen to have on hand.

These truffles are something that just sort of happened during one of my evening de-stressing sessions. I really liked the idea of a maca-cacao truffle, something that I'd seen in Matthew Kenney's book Everyday Raw, and I also had some juicy prunes sitting around. I thought their richness would be wonderful with cacao, but wanted to sweeten the mixture a bit more so brought in the dates, honey and a splash of orange juice. The almond-brazil nut combo came about because of their different flavors and fat contents; they balance each other perfectly here. Cinnamon came in at the last second and I really like the subtle spice it adds to the maca coating (after all, I'm still an American girl at heart, and as obsessed with cinnamon as the rest of my compatriots).

Not every kitchen experiment is blog-worthy, but I was really pleased with how these turned out. Give them a try, or use them as a jumping off point for some inspiration of your own. Please share your creative results in the comments section!

Rich Cacao Maca Truffles
Makes about 20 truffles

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup brazil nuts
1/2 tasp Himalayan salt
1/4 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup pitted dates
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/3 cup + 1 heaped Tbsp cacao powder
juice of 1/2 an orange
a few drops vanilla extract
2 heaped Tbsp maca powder
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine almonds, brazil nuts and salt in food processor and grind to a powder. Add prunes, dates, hon ey, coconut oil, cacao powder, orange juice, vanilla and 1 heaped Tbsp maca powder. Whir until a sticky dough comes together. Place in the freezer for 1/2 hour.

Put the remaining 1 heaped Tbsp maca in a shallow bowl and mix in the cinnamon. Roll truffle dough between your hands into small balls, then roll in maca cinnamon powder to coat.

Another recipe I came up with recently on a rainy Sunday (gotta love rainy Sundays, I feel entirely justified spending the entire day in the kitchen and not out frolicking in the sunshine) is a new twist on oatmeal raisin cookies. You may have also noticed that I love oatmeal raisin cookies. I've tried a few recipes, and the truth is, they're all good. This time around I subbed soaked buckwheat for oats, which worked a treat. I like using buckwheat in raw versions of baked goods because they create a really satisfying doughy texture. These cookies are sweet, soft and slightly spicy - everything you want a oatmeal (or buckwheat) raisin cookie to be.

I use honey here - beautiful, raw, local honey - because it really deepens the flavor. There are differing opinions out there on the use of honey, as some people prefer to avoid all animal-related products, but I personally find it to be health-giving and utterly delicious. I've heard that eating local honey is a good remedy for hay fever, too. Personally it makes more sense to me than using agave imported from the other side of the globe, but there are times when I prefer the runnier texture and more subtle flavor of this sweetener in more delicate recipes. Follow your own instincts.

Buckwheat Raisin Spice Cookies
Makes 9-12 cookies

1 1/2 cups almonds, divided
1 cup buckwheat, soaked overnight and drained
1/2 cup pitted medjool dates
1/3 cup raw honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

Grind 1 cup almonds to a fine powder in a powerful blender, food processor or spice grinder. Remove and set aside.

Place the remaining 1/2 cup almonds in a food processor and pulse a few times until the almonds are chopped into small pieces. Remove and set aside.

Combine buckwheat, dates, honey, vanilla, salt, cinnamon and cardomom in food processor. Whir until the mixture comes together. Slowly add in the 1 cup of almond powder and continue whirring until you have a solid dough. Add a little bit of water if necessary. Remove to a large mixing bowl.

Stir almond pieces and raisins into the dough. Scoop out heaped tablespoons of dough and arrange on dehydrator sheets. Dip the spoon in water and press down the tops of the cookies with the back of the spoon to create even circles. Dehydrate for 2-3 hours on one side, until firm on the outside, then flip onto dehydrator screens and dehydrate another 4-5 hours for a soft cookie, longer for a firmer cookie.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Salad a la Japonaise

I love the great tradition of the French composed salad. The composed salad is about compartmentalization, about showing off the gorgeous simplicity of good quality ingredients without a lot of fussy tossing. Think the classic nicoise: lettuce, boiled potatoes, hard boiled egg, black olives, tuna and green beans, everything in its right place. The composed salad is to the tossed salad what Vermeer is to Jackson Pollock. It's a detail thing: one about order and exactness, the other about explosive bursts of creativity.

As a lover of Japanese food, it occurred to me that the clean, sexy and somewhat restrained flavors of this cuisine lend themselves incredibly well to the composed salad form. What I'm talking about is more or less a nori roll, deconstructed. A gorgeous bed of greens, slightly wilted and lightly dressed in sesame oil, tamari and a touch of chilli, supporting an artful array of vegetables, finished with a mound of spicy ginger pate.

Don't be alarmed by the seeming complexity of this recipe. It's simple, really. Dress the greens, make the pate, and arrange. Done.

Just resist the urge to toss.

Salad a la Japonaise
Serves 2


6-8 large chard or spinach leaves, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 bunch bok choy, finely chopped
1/2 tsp himalayan salt
1/3 cup wakame (dry), soaked in water to cover for 10 minutes and drained
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp tamari
pinch of red pepper flakes

Ginger Pate

1/2 cup brazil nuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cm square piece of fresh ginger
1 small clove of garlic
1/2 tsp himalayan salt
juice of 1 lemon
1/4-1/3 cup water


2 medium swiss brown or white mushrooms
1 Tbsp tamari
1/2 Lebanese cucumber, julienned
1/2 carrot, shredded
1 medium tomato, cut into small wedges
2 small handfuls sprouts, any kind
4 radishes, thinly sliced

For mushrooms:
Slice each mushroom in half, then into 1cm slices. Place in a shallow bowl and toss with 1 Tbsp tamari. Set aside to marinate for 10 minutes.

For salad:
Combine chopped chard or spinach and bok choy in a large bowl. Add a pinch of himalayan salt and massage for about 30 seconds, until the greens just begin to wilt. Add rehydrated wakame, sesame oil, tamari and red pepper flakes, and toss to coat. Set aside while you make the pate.

For pate:
Combine brazil nuts, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and salt in food processor and pulse until grainy. Add lemon juice and water as needed, and process until fairly smooth (similar to hummus texture).

For assembly:
Divide salad into 2 large shallow bowls. On top of the greens, place a large scoop of the ginger pate in the center. Surround with individual piles of carrots, cucumber, tomato, sprouts and marinated mushrooms. Serve immediately.

*Use any vegetables you have on hand for the toppings. Thinly sliced red capsicum, snow peas, broccoli, daikon, gobo, or many other vegetables would go just as well here.
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