Homemade Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate truffles and real truffles are both thought of as romantic and luxurious.  Although real black and white truffles are quite expensive and rare, chocolate truffles are very easy to make and are sure to impress your special Valentine.  Be sure to purchase the finest chocolate you can find – chocolate chips or baking chocolate will not do!  Brands to seek out include Valrhona, Scharffen-Berger and Callebaut.

1 1/2 cups cream

1/4 cup honey

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons brandy or rum

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup each cocoa powder, shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped hazelnuts (or pistachio nuts)

Place the cream and honey in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is melted.  Whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Stir in the brandy and vanilla and allow to cool for 45 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Use a small scoop and your hands to form 1” diameter balls and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. They will actually more like real truffles if they are not perfectly round. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, and then roll some of the truffles in the cocoa powder, some in the nuts and some in the shredded coconut.  The truffles will keep for a couple of weeks if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or the freezer.

Yield – approximately 36 truffles.

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STOP! DON’T TOSS THAT WINE

If you have ever poured out the last few ounces of a wine that was just a little too old to drink, this article is for you.

Sometimes a bottle of wine is opened and not finished.  Either it’s forgotten for a few days or for some other reason it becomes a little to old to drink.  Usually what happens to it is it becomes oxidized – giving it off flavors. These flavors disappear when the wine is simmered for a while.

If this is the case with a white wine, you can still put it to good use.  A splash of white wine in the pan after sautéing chicken or fish will help deglaze the pan and add a nice bit of acidity to a pan sauce – just make sure that the alcohol is evaporated before you drizzle it over the finished product.  If you are not going to be cooking for a while I would recommend putting the left over wine in a plastic container and freezing it until needed.

Small amounts of red wine can be frozen and added to until you have about a bottles worth or more.  At that point I like to prepare a sort of red wine essence which can be used to provide great color and flavor in stews, braises and also to deglaze sautéed pork and beef preparations.

I’m not talking about wine that is flawed from the start by being “corked” or from other obvious maladies.  Wines that fit that description should be discarded.

RED WINE ESSENCE

Place at least a 4 cups  of red wine into a non-reactive pot with 1 large peeled, finely chopped carrot,  1 stalk of finely chopped celery, 1 medium, peeled & chopped onion and a couple sprigs of thyme.  Slowly bring to a boil, turn down the heat &  simmer until it is reduced by half.  Strain off the wine and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

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Liquid Gold – Chicken Stock

Making your own stock really pays off when it comes time to prepare soups, sauces and grains.  Nothing can compare with homemade stocks.  A large batch of stock can be frozen in small containers and be ready at a moments notice.  Chicken stock is a great soup base and a wonderful substitute for water when making rice, or for braising poultry or beef.  I like to add a chicken parts to the bones to give a little extra flavor.  You can use the cooked meat for chicken salad if you like.  Please note that I do not add salt to the stock.  This is especially important if you use the stock in reduction sauces.

It is important to skim the stock as it cooks in order to produce a clear stock.  Also, do not let the stock boil too vigorously or it will become cloudy.

Once you have tried making your own stock, you will never go back to the canned variety.

3 pounds chicken parts, including backs, necks, wings and carcasses

2 pounds chicken legs and thighs

1 large onion – chopped

2 medium carrots – peeled coarsely chopped

2 celery stalks – coarsely chopped

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

8 black peppercorns

5 parsley stems

2 cloves of garlic – peeled

Rinse the chicken bones and pieces in cold water and place in a large pot or stockpot.  .  Fill the pot with enough water to cover the chicken.  Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that forms. Add the remaining ingredients and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 3 hours, skimming as necessary.  Strain the stock through a mesh strainer into a clean container and set it in ice water to cool.  Cover the container and place in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove the congealed layer of fat and store the stock in the refrigerator up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Makes approximately 4 quarts.

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New Years is the Perfect time to Clean Out Your Spice Rack

If you are like most people, your spice rack or cabinet probably contains dried herbs and spices that have long since lost their freshness.  It can be a painful process to toss out almost full containers of costly spices, but the flavor of your culinary creations will really suffer if you do not.   Look at your herbs and spices and notice if the color has faded, or if the aroma has diminished after crushing a little in your hand.  These are signs that it is time to replace them.

The best way that I have found to maintain freshness is to follow a schedule of replacement.  Since most products do not have clearly marked expiration dates on them, I write the month and year of purchase on the container.  Herbs should be discarded and replaced after one year. Ground spices within two years, and whole spices within 3 years.

Herbs & spices should be stored away from heat, light and moisture.  I know it is convenient to have your rack next to, or over, the stove but that is about the worst place for it. Other poor choices are near the sink or dishwasher.  A nice cool, dark cabinet is ideal.

You can really improve the flavor of your dishes by taking a few minutes once a year to go through your spice rack and throw out the old herbs and spices.

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Roasted Mushroom, Leek & Black Truffle Tart

Pair with Benziger Pinot Noir

Tossing the mushrooms with black truffle oil and roasting them really intensifies the earthy mushroom flavors. Make your own savory tart dough from your favorite recipe if you prefer.

1 -12” pre-made frozen tart dough round – thawed

1 pound assorted mushrooms – cut into 1/4”slices

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon black truffle oil

1 -1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1- 1/2 cup leeks – white part only – thinly sliced

2 large garlic cloves – peeled and chopped

4 ounces Gruyere cheese – grated

1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme – finely chopped

1 cup half & half

3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place dough into a 9” round tart pan, pressing dough into the corners.  Line the pastry with parchment and fill half way with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for 15 minutes, take the pan from the oven and remove the parchment and weights.  Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or until the dough is lightly browned.

Place the sliced mushrooms in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the truffle oil and the salt.  Spread the mushrooms on a baking pan and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender. Sauté the leeks, garlic & thyme in the remaining olive oil until soft then combine with the roasted mushrooms.

Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and sprinkle the bottom with half the grated Gruyere cheese. Spread the mushroom/leek mixture evenly over the tart pan and top with the remaining cheese.  In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and half & half and season with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the tart and bake until set in the center – about 40 minutes.  Cool slightly before serving.

Serves 6 – 8

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Benziger Family Winery

http://www.benziger.com

FAMILY PASSION
To craft wines of uncommon character with a distinct sense of place commands the enthusiasm of an entire team devoted to a singular passion. At Benziger that team is a family, and our passion is Sonoma Mountain winegrowing.

HISTORY
It’s been more than two decades since Mike and Mary Benziger first drove up Sonoma Mountain and saw the overgrown ranch that would become Benziger Family Winery. They purchased the land with the help of Mike’s father, Bruno Benziger, a wine and spirits importer from New York.

A year later, Bruno and his wife Helen, along with their two youngest children, moved west to help start the winery. Mike’s younger brothers, Bob, Joe and Jerry Benziger, would soon follow. Today, more than two-dozen Benzigers live on and around the estate winery in Sonoma County.

The first Benziger Family wines were produced to critical acclaim in 1981. In 1982, the family introduced the Glen Ellen brand and with it a new category of good wines at affordable prices, dubbed “the fighting varietal.” In 1993, the Benzigers sold their popular Glen Ellen brand to pursue the family’s common goal: To craft wines that authentically express the individual vineyards from which they are made, with integrity and an enduring respect for the land.

family
“Benziger is a winery defined by family, passion and enthusiasm,” says National Sales Manager Chris Benziger. “We’re committed to winemaking that exceeds expectations on every level. We do this, not from a boardroom thousands of miles away, but here at the winery and out in the vineyards-connected to the land, to the wine and to the consumer.” The Benzigers live and breathe Sonoma County winegrowing. The result is Sonoma wine with a strong sense of place that satisfies the palate and nourishes the soul. “There’s an incredible moment when people get the idea of how grapes and wine are connected to a local area,” says Mike Benziger. “It’s really a wow experience. If we can be the ones who usher in that experience for them, then we’re successful.”

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The World is Your Oyster


Pair with Champagne,  Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Muscadet

Oysters have been enjoyed by people for centuries. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans served them with wine and praised them for their aphrodisiac powers and they have often been associated with love.  They were so valued by Roman emperors that they paid for them by their weight in gold.

Make sure that the oysters you buy are very fresh and discard any that are open.  Store oysters, in an open container, in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days maximum.  Discard any that have cracked shells or do not close.  I like the smaller varieties like Kumamoto or Malpeque to serve raw.

My favorite way to serve oysters is au natural (the oysters, not me).  Wash the oysters well and insert an oyster knife at the hinge.  Apply a little pressure and pop the shell open.  Serve with one of the sauce recipes below or just a squeeze of lemon. Barbequed oysters are also delicious.  Just toss them on a heated BBQ grill with the flat side up.  In about 5 minutes they will pop open.  Using an oven mitt or a towel you can pry the shell open the rest of the way and top with your favorite BBQ sauce, Tabasco or lemon juice.

Classic Mignonette Sauce

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 cup white or red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients and chill.

Oysters with Cucumber & Pickled Ginger Salsa

1 cup English cucumber – peeled and finely diced

5 tablespoons pickled ginger – finely chopped

¼ cup red onion – finely chopped

¼ cup cilantro leaves – finely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar

Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for at least one hour.

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