two from the sidelines

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Veggies and Sides, Sauces and Such, Dinner Party, Fête Fact, Posted on November 11, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

It’s that time of year. People you love gather. And whether you are hosting a turkey dinner for twenty or a more intimate affair here are a couple tried and true sides guaranteed to add holiday sparkle to any table. No one needs to know you can make these both weeks ahead of time then strategically pull them out of your freezer on the big day. 

Cranberry chutney, an iconic accompaniment to a roasted bird. This bejeweled homemade version is a showstopper. Just make sure you make it at least one day in advance otherwise it will look like cranberry soup. Trust me something magical occurs to this tart-sweet concoction overnight. And an extra bonus it freezes wonderfully.

Mushroom wellington cups. Serve these beauties alongside your bird, beef tenderloin or grilled fillets. Envision deconstructed beef wellington. Once again they freeze perfectly. Just pop them into the oven while your roast rests or your cuts sear over hot coals.

For the cranberry chutney peel two oranges taking care to remove all of the white pith and seeds. Coarsely chop the segments.

In a large saucepan combine the orange, cranberries, sugar, chopped apple, raisins, orange juice, vinegar, ginger and cinnamon. 

Heat until boiling then simmer uncovered until the cranberries just pop.

Remove from the heat. Allow to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The chutney will thicken in 12-24 hours (I promise).

If desired, portion out and freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight to serve.

For the mushroom wellington cups slice the cremini mushrooms.

Over medium-high heat sauté the mushrooms in the butter until they throw off their water and continue cooking until they turn golden brown, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon for about six minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

Add the wine. Stir and scrape the browned bits off from the bottom of the pan until the wine evaporates, about three minutes.

Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir to combine, cook for one minute more stirring. Add the cream. Cook until slightly thickened, about one minute. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Lay 1 phyllo sheet on a large cutting board or cookie sheet (keep remaining phyllo covered with a damp towel). Lightly brush sheet with melted butter. 

Top with 1 sheet; brush with butter. Repeat with remaining 3 sheets, top with last sheet and leave unbuttered. Cut phyllo stack into six 5 1/2-by-6-inch pieces. 

Nestle each into a cup of a standard muffin tin. 

Spoon two heaping tablespoons mushroom mixture into each phyllo cup. Continue baking...

or cover filled cups and freeze until solid about three hours. Rewrap in plastic wrap and carefully place in plastic container and freeze for up to one month. To bake preheat oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap mushroom cups and place in muffin tins bake until golden 15-20 minutes. 

Remove and top with a heaping teaspoon of pate.

Be forwarned, your guests might rush the field for seconds.

get cracking

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Sauces and Such, Dinner for Two, Dinner Party, Sources, Fête Fact, Posted on October 28, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (3)

Each October I travel to Florida to help my dad get settled back into his house after his summer up north. It’s truly a labor of love, filled with a myriad of to-do lists and even more laughs.

Don’t get me started on our perennial wrangle over the open condiments he always seems to leave in his refrigerator for five months. That said, I keep my fingers crossed that the start of stone crab season coincides with my annual trek. While spending precious time with my dad is payment enough, a morning catch from Merrick Seafood in Cape Coral is like winning the lottery.

If you’ve never had stone crabs steamed right off the boat, you haven’t had them. And while you pay dearly for this precious cargo it’s worth every penny. I adore a big plate simply served with a side of coleslaw and my mom’s curry sauce.

My dad has the craziest contraption for cracking his claws. It’s called the “Florida Cracker”. It’s an anodized aluminum vice that perfectly splits the hard shells while preserving the sweet flesh inside.

My mom always called this the dinner of a thousand plates. My eyes tear up each year as my dad brings out the 3 ½ x 5 photos of the table setting my mom always used as a guide. Perle Mesta had nothing on my mom.

She was truly an entertainer extraordinaire. She always knew how to welcome people into her home in a way that made it all look effortless and made her guests always feel at ease. At her side I learned that it was all of her planning and effort beforehand that made her evenings look effortless.

And my mom’s curry sauce couldn’t be a simpler accompaniment. Just combine one cup mayonnaise with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, another of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a half teaspoon of curry powder. Whisk until combined. Cover and refrigerate.

Place a generous spoonful into a decorative dish.

Surround with cracked claws.

And never feel like you have to do it all. I always pick up a quart of jicama coleslaw form the Palm Grill. And while cocktail sauce is easy to make- Merrick’s rocks the boat. 

Fun fact about stone crabs is that the fishermen are only allowed to harvest one claw at a time. They return the one-armed bandit back to the sea, so it can grow another one for the following year. Good thing- because next year you know I will be throwing out another open jar of Durkees and laughing it up with this character!

breakfast with a view

food detective

Categories: Breads, Pizza, Tarts, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Breakfast/Brunch, Eating Out, Posted on October 15, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

Best thing about Brooklyn? Hands down our grandson, and his equally amazing parents. Next, the views from the Brooklyn Bridge. Close third, 1 Hotel’s avocado toast.

What tops a great dinner? A surprisingly delicious breakfast.

1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is an incredible waterfront oasis.

The nighttime panorama from their rooftop bar is worth the stay, as is the morning fare at the Osprey.

After one bite and I knew had to recreate their avocado toast with smoked salmon and roe. Honestly, I could eat this all day. The fresh tastes and textures are perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper.  And it all comes together in a New York Minute!

The ingredients are key.

Start with two thick slices of good crusty bread.

A perfectly ripe avocado. 

Quality smoked salmon, thinly sliced. 

Trout or salmon roe from the fishmonger’s refrigerator case, never from the shelf. 

Pickled red onions that are a cinch to make.

And sprigs of fresh dill.

Cut the bread in half and toast. 

Meanwhile mash the avocado with a pinch of kosher salt. 

Spoon a generous amount of avocado onto the toast. 

Drape with pieces of smoked salmon. 

Scatter a bit of pickled onion. 

Top with a dollop of roe. 

Finish with a few small sprigs of dill.

You can see why I packed this one in my bag and brought it home!

fifteen minutes or bust

making it for two

Categories: Grains and Pasta, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Posted on October 1, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

When summer seems to be drawing to a close, one of the best things about this time of year is that the farmer’s market still has an abundance of fresh fare. Right now, the tomatoes are amazing. And with a slight chill in the air what could be better for a quick weeknight supper than a simple cherry tomato pasta brimming with flavor.

No matter how crazy your week, you’ll be able to make this in less than 15 minutes. Promise!

For this burst cherry tomato pasta start with one pound of cherry tomatoes. If you can’t find good cherry tomatoes, don’t use grape tomatoes as they will not burst and break down properly.  Use large tomatoes cut into one-two inch squares instead.

For the pasta choose a fun shaped tube pasta such as campanelle. I love maccheroni al torchio, which looks like little trumpets. All the ridges and nooks do a wonderful job of grabbing onto the sauce.

To begin, coarsely chop three clothes of garlic.

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large heavy pot over very low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant but not browned, for about two minutes. 

Increase the heat to medium and add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, basil sprig, and ¾ teaspoon salt. 

Cook, stirring to coat, until the tomatoes begin to burst, about 4 minutes. Smash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to help create a sauce.

Then continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until a chunky, thickened sauce comes together and about half the tomatoes are completely broken down, 10–12 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a pinch of sugar if sauce seems tart. Pluck out and discard basil sprig.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package directions in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the pasta, and add to the pot with sauce.

Cook over medium heat, stirring, until coated, for two to three minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in one-half ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Divide the pasta among bowls. Top with more Parmesan and one-half cup torn basil leaves. Drizzle with oil and serve.

You’ll find this pasta is as easy and comfy as throwing on a sweater!

amuse bouche

making it for two

Categories: Appetizers, Dinner for Two, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Fête Fact, Posted on September 17, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (2)

Let’s be honest- after a long day who doesn’t want to come home to a little canapé? Please don’t roll your eyes because I make my spouse a small hors d'oeuvre to accompany his Makers Mark. And before you groan, let me show you how something that takes almost no effort can have a huge impact on those you love- be it your husband, wife, significant other, even yourself.

When you go to a fancy restaurant and the waitstaff surprises you with a little bite before you order, doesn’t it instantly set the stage that you are going to adore your entire meal? The reason restaurants do it is simple. It’s an easy way to show off their chef’s skills, in a way that doesn’t tax the kitchen and often increases the tip.

When my hubby comes home he’s usually greeted with a pretty little dish of radishes and sugar snap peas. Every once in a while, I cut off a small wedge of bloomy brie. If I’m feeling festive, I’ll reach into my freezer and pull out one of my ready-to-heat hot hors d’ouerves that I’ve stashed away.

But my recent trip to Portugal got me thinking of ways I could liven up our little pre-dinner routine. At almost every meal you’re brought a little plate to accompany your aperitif. In fact, they call them exactly that- appertifs. This customary starter usually consists of local olives, a little wheel of double creme cheese, fish pate, and perhaps a few pork croquets.

While pork croquets are above my pay grade, I thought a little pot of smoked fish would be delightful. The question was how to make one simply, and ahead of time so all I would need to do was unwrap and scatter a few crackers.

Then as I was trying to clear out my inbox of emails I got distracted by one from Martha Stewart for a simple salmon mousse. Martha’s recipes rarely work for me the first time I follow them verbatim. So, I took a quick glance at all of the reader’s comments and realized if I increased the ratio of salmon to sour cream I might just have a winner. To give it Portuguese flair I poured the mousse into small ramekins. That way I could conveniently bring one out as a little bite to “please the mouth” whenever the urge occurred.

For the salmon mousse place 3 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan, and sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften, 5 minutes. Gently heat over low, stirring, just until the gelatin dissolves and set aside. 

Coarsely chop four ounces of smoked salmon.

Measure out three-quarters of a cup sour cream and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the salmon, sour cream, and lemon juice. Puree until smooth, then season with salt.

With the motor running, add the slightly cooled gelatin mixture.

Blend until combined. 

Pour the mousse into decorative ramekins or bowls that hold between four to eight ounces each.

Without touching the surface, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm but spreadable, about 2 hours or up to several days. 

Before serving garnish the mousse with a sprig of fresh dill and serve with crackers or baguette slices.

One bite and your mouth will let you know how amused it is!

you had me at hola

food detective

Categories: Wine Line, Eating Out, Posted on September 1, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Here's the second post on my sensational trip to Portugal with my daughter. Previously I touched on the wineries we toured in the Bairrada, Douro Valley, and Alentejo wine regions. This time I’ll write of our incredible meals. Not only is the wine world on an exciting trajectory, the food scene is literally on fire.

While many flock to Portugal because of its perceived travel value. My youngest daughter and I apparently veered in another direction. Almost every day we laughed that we were on our honeymoon, which was fitting given my oldest daughter had just returned from her own. As MOH and MOB, we certainly traveled in style, from the exquisite lodgings to the sumptuous feasts. Everywhere we laid our head, picked up a fork, and raised a glass was truly something to behold. 

Obrigada! I must have said that word thirty times a day. And thankful we were. Each new venture began with hola and quickly morphed into obrigada. Turned out to be the only two Portuguese words I mastered and the only two I really needed.

After landing in Lisbon, we checked into the beautiful Ritz Four Seasons Hotel across from the Parque da Liberdade. Our room and terrace had such incredible views. Before setting out we had a light lunch in the Four Season’s Piano Bar, which would fast become one of our favorite destinations of the trip.

That evening we thought it would be fun to walk the streets and get a glass of rosé before our dinner reservation. Turned out to be a difficult task as it was Sunday and most every bar and café was closed. The one open place we found served only full bottles of wine. As we set off for another place we overheard the owner exclaim to his waiter that “we must get glasses of rosé!” As luck would have it we found an open sports bar and raised a pedestrian glass to the picturesque streets of Lisbon.

Soon we had an outstanding dinner at Tasca da Esquina. We were served aperitifs (a customary starter) of olives, a little wheel of double creme cheese, fish pate and pork croquets. Followed by an incredible cod fish carpaccio with potatoes and egg, cockles in the pan, and octopus with sweet potato and peppermint. We drank a glass of Lybra rosé and then a Curral Atlantis Preco, a dry white with high minerality.

Afterwards we went back to the four seasons and sat on the patio of the Piano Bar with fur throws and were treated with a little Patron signature cocktail and glasses of a full-bodied red under the stars. After being surprised with a plate of chocolate truffles and macaroons we went to bed to start our Portuguese adventure. Our dream had obviously already begun!

We started our second day with the fabulous breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons. Then met our driver and headed north toward the Douro Valley. Again, we are indebted to Nuno. I cannot imagine my daughter and I navigating the winding rural roads of Portugal alone.

We stopped for lunch at Pedro dos Leitoes, a restaurant famous for its Leitao Assad’s a Bairrada. 

There we dined on suckling pig, served with salad, potato chips and sparkling wine. As we found out -it’s tradition!

After lunch we had an amazing visit at the Quinta Luis Pato winery. (Please visit my previous post for the full lineup of all the wineries.) 

Satiated, we set off for the Six Senses Spa in the Douro Valley. The hotel is a renovated 19th-century manor house set high on a hill overlooking the vine covered rolling hills of the Douro Valley and the river below. The hotel is renowned for its spa, selection of rooms, suites and villas, restaurant, wine library, swimming pool and organic garden. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed.

That night we had dinner at the famed D.O.C. on the Douro riverfront. The restaurant is named for the exclusive wines of this demarcated wine region and is literally a window over the Douro. The chef, Rui Paula, is a creative master. His dishes focus on the use of genuine regional produce. It’s a kitchen that absorbs inspiration not only from the Northeast-Douro region but the nearby sea.

We dined on a trio of aperitif- shrimp mousse on a wonton, a petite pork “burger”, and carrot purée. Then salmon carpaccio, scarlet shrimp and beetroot scallop’s carbonara. The grilled octopus with infusion of extra virgin olive oil and garlic was sensational, as was the scarlet shrimp on rice with aioli sauce. We finished our meal with a selection of Portuguese cheeses served with grapes, pumpkin jam and nuts.

On our third morning, my daughter set off for a sunrise yoga class and I did laps in the infinity pool looking over the Douro Valley.

Later we met at the Six Senses’ sumptuous breakfast buffet. Afterward we traveled the most beautiful road in Portugal to Quinta Nova. After a fabulous tour of their vineyard and winery we dined on their terrace and enjoyed their degustive tasting menu. 

We began with an aperitif of suckling pig (it’s tradition) and shrimp mouse. Followed by octopus carpaccio, braised sea bream with beetroot puree and a selection of Portuguese cheeses. We had a bottle of their renowned Mirabilis Grande Reserva White. 

Afterwards we made our way down the steep hillside toward Quinta do Vallado for yet another inspirational tour of one of the region’s wineries. We returned late afternoon for saunas and steams at Six Senses.

That evening we had drinks on their terrace. Then dinner at the restaurant where all of the vegetables and herbs are grown on the resort’s estate, assuring ultimate freshness and flavor. Al fresco we dined on salmon crudo, mushroom tagliatelle, salt cod with grilled vegetables and frittes, and finished dinner with a rich chocolate mousse.

On our fourth day we fully embraced all that the Six Senses had to offer. Honestly, we could have stayed a full week there with its beauty and myriad of activities.

To begin the day, we had morning massages overlooking the picturesque gardens. Then a late breakfast on the terrace.

We spent the day lounging at the pool with stunning views.

Before departing, we had flatbread pizza and glasses of rosé as an afternoon snack. We blissfully traveled to Porto, on the north bank of the Douro River.

In Porto we checked into the Intercontinental Hotel. Our room had a direct view of Aliados Square with its stature of Pedro IV, considered the great liberator who became the first ruler of the empire of Brazil.

Later that afternoon we took an Uber to the other bank of the Douro River, home to all of the Port Houses. We had dinner at the Restaurant Barão Fladgate on the roof of the Taylor Port House.  We dined on a typical Portuguese meal of shrimp bisque, tempura fried octopus, and monkfish with shrimp risotto. After dinner we walked up the hill to have drinks at the legendary Yeatman Hotel

The Yeatman is located in the historic heart of Vila Nova de Gaia next to the ancient “lodges” where Port houses have aged their wines for over three centuries. The views were breathtaking and the piano enchanting.

Day five was filled with Porto sightseeing. We began at Livraria Lello, considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world and featured in several Harry Potter movies. The Igreja do Carmo, a baroque church, is well-known for its tiled facade. And the Clérigos Tower sits on top of a Baroque church, its 75-meter bell tower a symbol of Porto.

We walked toward the river down the fragrant R das Floras to the Palácio da Bolsa. The Stock Exchange Palace was built in the 19th century in Neoclassical style. The Estatua Infante D. Henrique commemorates the prince of Portugal who used Lagos as a launching pad for his many commissioned expeditions. The Church of São Francisco, was built in the 12th century. Famous for its baroque main chapel, cloisters with 18th-century blue and white tiles, and Bones Chapel.

We walked through the 19th-century Sao. Bento Train Station noted for its atrium, covered with over 20,000 blue and white tiles and scenes depicting Portuguese life.

Around the corner we had lunch at Tapabento, a tapas bar and where we enjoyed a mixed salad, mushroom tapas, a plate of fresh mussels, and glasses of rosé- of course.

Before dinner we walked along the Douro River and had drinks at a cafe and watched the boats go by.

We had a fabulous dinner at Cantinho do Avillez, an urban bistro known for its seafood. The chef José Avillez is considered a northern innovative culinary force. We started with sautéed shrimp in a white wine sauce. Then had the king prawns with jasmine rice and the sautéed scallops with mushroom risotto.

The next morning from Porto we drove back to Lisbon to the Four Seasons Hotel. There we had a wonderful lunch of prawn Caesar and caprese salads and a delightful dry rosé on our favorite Portuguese terrace.

After lunch we met our guide for a four-hour private walking tour of Lisbon. We learned much about the city’s rich history, including how an earthquake and tsunami in 1755 completely destroyed Lisbon. We walked through Eduardo VII Park down Liberty Boulevard to Restoration Square. Old funiculars still carry people up the hills near the Avenida hotel, the oldest hotel in the city.

Old Town fascinated with King Philip IV Square, also known as Inquisition Square, the Igreja de Sao Domingos which almost burnt to the ground in 1959, and the Castle of São Jorge sitting high above the city and ever-present from almost any vantage point.

Passing through the magnificent white arch into the trade square we stood on the edge of the ocean along with the stature of King Joseph the First, who ruled during the earthquake.

We visited the new Time Out Market featuring culinary treasures from around the city, afterwards we stopped into an old-world cod market. On our way back up we passed the Pink Street, Literary Square, and visited Saint Rock Church with its opulent Chapel for Saint John the Baptist.

That night we dined at Restaurant Quorum, Michelin star Chef Rui Silvestre’s contemporary restaurant with vertical gardens on its walls. We had a delicious Encruzado white wine from Quinta dos Carvalhais. 

For our meal we began with cod “acordia”, a codfish broth with cod cheek, fried bread, egg yolk and coriander. Followed by ravioli filled with squid carbonara and mushrooms and a parmesan emulsion. Then their unique creamy fish rice. The roasted octopus with white beans, chorizo and smoked paprika was superb. 

After a delicious Quinta Carvalhaaia Encruzado, we finished the meal with a glass of Alambre Moscatel de Setubal and an unusual but intriguing talassa, a red wine vinegar sorbet with sheep’s milk cottage cheese and pumpkin jam.

The next morning, we set off toward Cuba to tour Herdade do Rocim and have lunch at their winery. Our visit there was unbelievable. Their wines were simply the best of our trip. And our traditional Alentejo meal in their winery was beyond incredible. It certainly was worth the trip from Lisbon.

We started with plates of local sausages and cheeses. Then a delicious bean and pork stew. Braised oxtail and risotto cake with a watercress salad. We finished the meal with a marmalade of oranges.

Their wines produced in a sustainable manner, with minimal intervention, and an emphasis on the local terroir make you feel as though you are drinking the essence of the Alentejo. Satiated and floating on a cloud, we traveled to the nearby ancient city of Évora, the capital of Portugal's south-central region. 

In the city's historic center stands the ancient Roman Temple of Diana, regarded as the best-preserved Roman structure on the Iberian Peninsula.

Whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of Évora, a massive Gothic structure begun in the 12th century.

The Igreja de São Francisco features Gothic and baroque architecture along with the skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones. 

Back at the Four Seasons we washed off the ancient dust.

Then had an outstanding dinner at the Restaurant Iiimpar, a new concept kitchen in the Rato area of Lisbon. A modern take on classic Portuguese dishes.

We began with the Portuguese cheese and charcuterie selection, followed by their crunchy shrimp dumplings, bulhão style croaker, and a delicious bottle of Antão Vaz from Rocim.

On our last full day in Portugal we set out for Sintra, a resort town and longtime sanctuary for royalty in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains.

The Moorish- and Manueline-style Sintra National Palace is distinguished by dramatic twin chimneys and elaborate tile work. 

The 19th-century Pena National Palace perched on a hilltop is known for a whimsical design and sweeping views. It’s the most amazing combination of architectural styles, colors and shapes one will find in Portugal.

We walked through the old city center, many of its old houses now converted into shops and traditional pastry shops. The Portuguese adore their custardy pastéis de nata.

We ventured to Cabo da Roca, the most western point of mainland Portugal with its beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and cape and waved to our love ones back in the States.

Afterward we had an outstanding lunch at Restaurant Furnas do Guincho. Their amazing Mediterranean cuisine rivaling the views of the Atlantic Ocean

We were greeted with a plate of boiled shrimp and local cheese with olives. We toasted the beautiful coastline with a bottle of vinho verde, the legendary summer green wine. 

Our freshly caught golden bream (literally just caught on the rocky shore) was baked in salt in their oven and served tableside.  It truly was a spectacular feast, and a dish that shouldn’t be missed.

After lunch we set off to Cascais and Estoril, the royal resort towns along the shore of the Atlantic.

We walked the streets of Cascais, King’s and Queen’s Beach and drove along the Estoril coast with its famous casino that many will remember from the first James Bond film.

We took the scenic Marginal Road back toward Lisbon, passing the Geronimos Monastery and Belem Tower.

For our last night in Portugal we had dinner under the stars, wrapped in blankets on the terrace of the Four Seasons Piano Bar. We toasted our incredible mother-daughter trip with a special bottle of clay-aged Rocim wine that we had brought back from the winery.

Before heading back to the states, we had one last breakfast on the scenic terrace of the Four Seasons.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have experienced this treasured corner of the world. And what a gift to do so with my daughter… sharing beds, meals, and endless glasses of wine. It is something I will forever cherish.

This trip illuminated the importance of seizing the day and taking every opportunity to adventure with those we love. These special moments are truly the ones that become the memories of a lifetime.

A very special thanks to Huffman Travel and Tours for You for making this trip a reality. And to my sweet daughter- thank you for the nudge. Down deep you knew I really wanted to go on a journey with just my baby girl. How silly to think we are too busy to take a beat to spend precious time with those we love most.  Perhaps these one-on-one trips should become tradition. Let’s raise a glass to that!

a new tradition

food detective

Categories: Wine Line, Posted on August 20, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

This summer while my youngest was hiking through Norway she face-timed me to say, “Mom, why don’t you come over to Europe so the two of us can do a trip together.” I thought- how can I drop everything to fly over to Europe to be with her. Then I thought- how can I not drop everything to go on a one-on-one adventure with my little girl.

In the coming weeks we plotted and pondered destinations. One quickly rose to the top- Portugal. We refined it further and decided to visit the country’s wine regions. 

While Portugal has been growing grapes and producing fortified wines for centuries, their production of table wines is relatively new. Over the past two decades the number of varietals, styles, and vintners have grown and evolved exponentially. Think of Napa Valley eighty years ago.

Another exciting aspect, Portuguese wine is defined by its regions and the uniqueness of their local grapes. Our familiarity with French and American wine wasn’t going to give us an advantage in understanding the magic that was being produced in this historic costal country. It truly would be a new adventure. One that my daughter and I looked forward to drinking in fully.

Once we both landed in Lisbon, our adventure began in the Bairrada region. On our way to the Quinta Luis Pato winery we stopped for a customary lunch of suckling pig. As we discovered- it’s tradition!

The Bairrada wine region, nestled between the ocean and the mountains, is known for its hot days and cool nights. The region’s Atlantic influence preserves both acidity and fruit character in its red and white wines. The area is considered the sparkling wine center of Portugal.

The Pato family has been producing wine at Quinto do Riberinho since the 18th century.  The current owner, Luis Pato, is widely regarded as the “rebel”. His wines fully embrace the terroir and its native Baga grape, a finicky variety typically compared to Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.

In touring his winery and tasting his wines it became clear that he enjoys bucking convention to create natural wines that embody each aspect of this region, and always on his own terms.

They have an extensive wine library and laboratory to analyze each step of the aging process. In the library, we got to see the first bottle of their vinho tinto, a dusty magnum tucked away in a corner.

The spirit of the Pato family is evident throughout the winery. The name “Pato” literally means duck in Portuguese. After her first sip of Bairrada wine my daughter was transformed!

We were so fortunate to be able meet Luis Pato, aka Mr. Baga. His brusque passion was immediately evident. We delighted in hearing his stories as he opened each and every bottle. 

We delved into the wines of this region and the Baga grape. Pato uses only Portuguese grapes. The red varieties include Baga and Touriga Nacional. The white varieties are comprised of Maria Gomes, Bical, Cercial and Sercialinho. After this incredible tasting we said our goodbyes and set north for our next wine region.

The Douro Valley is one of the most picturesque places in the world. It is famous for vinho verde, the green white wine which is a summer staple, and dry Douro reds, made with the distinctive Touriga Nacional grape.

On our way to Quinta Nova, we traveled the road along the Douro river. We discovered why this stretch between Peso da Regua to Pinhão is considered one of the most beautiful in Portugal. It is spectacular, nestled between the hills and river bank with views of the terraced vineyards above. The trip to the winery on top of the steep hills the Douro Valley did not disappoint with its breathtaking views, albeit nauseating turns.

Quinta Nova has 125 hectares of vines. Because it is very hot, the winery grows only red grapes on the property. The Toiega Nacial grape dominates their land. For their white wines they bring in grapes from neighboring vineyards.

In 1758, Quinta Nova received its granite landmark and was recognized as a prime Douro wine production area. In 1999 the Amorim family acquired the vineyard and took over production.

Their old vines are over 50 years old. Currently they produce 90% dry table wine and only 10% port. They hand pick all of their grapes and use a mechanical fermentation process. Their Mirabilis is considered one of the best white wines in Portugal. My daughter and I concurred, as we enjoyed a bottle to accompany our incredible lunch on the vineyard’s terrace. 

We then made our way down the steep hillside toward the Pihno bridge, and once again traveled along the “most beautiful road” in Portugal.

Later that afternoon we arrived at Quinta do Vallado, which was founded in 1716. The winery grew in acclaim under Antonia Adelaide Ferreira, considered the Queen of the Douro. This winery has been in her family for six centuries. In 1993 the winery started producing more red table wine than port.

As is typical in the region, their old vines consist of mixed grapes. All of their wines are made by hand. They still foot stomp one vintage port and one old vine red by foot each year. Their lighter wines are aged in stainless. My daughter and I received a stomping tutorial on site.

Their more emblematic wines are aged in oak. They age their wine in French barrels, which is the Portuguese custom. The port barrels in their old cellar are hundreds of years old.

As our full day commenced, we headed back to our hotel oasis at the Six Senses. The next day we departed for the city of Porto for two nights.

Once we returned to Lisbon, we set off for the Alentejo wine region. The warm southern climate is similar to that of Tuscany. With an emphasis on regionality, Alentejano winemakers distinctively make their wines using the local Trincadeira and Antão Vaz grapes.

On our way inland toward Cuba we passed orchards of cork trees. Portugal is one of the world’s largest producers of cork. The cork is harvested by carefully peeling away the thick bark from the trunk. Unharmed, the cork bark grows back in nine years’ time and the process can begin anew.

We arrived at Herdade do Rocim, an impressive estate located between Vidigueira and Cuba, in the Lower Alentejo wine region along the Vidigueira fault. 

The winery has 120 hectares. Seventy consist of vineyards and ten of olive trees for their olive oil. Rocim’s mission is to produce wines in a sustainable manner, respecting the social, cultural and natural matrix of the region.

Their wines are fresh and elegant with high minerality. They exclusively use wild yeasts when making their monovarietal and field-blend wines.

With minimal intervention, and always respecting the principles of sustainability, their oenology aspires to reflect the essential terroir in each bottle they produce. A goal they meet and surpass.

All of the grapes are inspected by hand. During the aging stage, they place their wines in either oak barrels, terracotta vats or cement amphorae.

The tour of their vineyards and winery was impressive. But nothing prepared us for the incredible Alentejan meal that was to come. I will touch on this in my next post but suffice it to say that Rocim’s wines and meal were some of the best of our trip!

It was fascinating to learn of Portugal’s vast history and its impact on the wine industry. Most notable was how the Salazar dictatorship, which came to power after WWI, was responsible for quashing Portugal’s international wine market and stunting its global presence. For 40 years, the regime forced isolationism and encouraged large bureaucratic cooperatives over small producers, precluding Portugal from entering the global market. It wasn’t until 1986, when Portugal entered the European Union that what we now know as modern Portuguese winemaking began. The reorganization of vineyards was evident in each region we visited.

Our trip melded traditions, old and new. We acquired a taste for tawny ports and the sweet custard pastéis de nata. We delighted in a new corner of the wine world. And were impressed with the dedication and commitment of the Portuguese winemakers’ ability to produce wines that embody the essence of the land and accentuate their local grapes.  It also hit home how we should all seize the moment and take full advantage of opportunities to be together whenever they arise. 

We are eternally grateful to Huffman Travel and Tours for You for helping us to personalize a trip of a lifetime. A huge shout out to Gabrielle, who fielded all of our last-minute questions and emails to make this trip a reality. And to our driver, Nuno, we literally would not have made it out of Lisbon without you. Pedro- obrigada, your restaurant and winery recommendations made our trip!

Stay tuned for my next post where I will delve into the incredible meals we had along the way. The food scene, just like the wine one, is on an exciting trajectory. One that my daughter and I will never forget. 

ear today…

food detective

Categories: Veggies and Sides, Supper, Dinner Party, Sources, Posted on August 5, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Summertime in southern Ohio it’s easy to believe that sweet corn will always be around. But as the dog days of summer come to a close, so will corn’s window. It’s always a sad moment when I drive by the farm stand on Stroop Road and their wooden cart is bare. Because once the corn is gone, it’s gone for good.

But while it’s still here, I am going to take full advantage of the local crop. One of my favorite ways to prepare freshly picked corn is a recipe by Thomas Keller. The secret to his creamed corn is freshly grated lime zest and big spritz of lime juice. 

If you’ve never cooked out of one of Thomas Keller’s tabletop cookbooks you’re missing out. This famed chef from Napa Valley’s French Laundry and New York’s Per Se has hit a homerun with Ad Hoc at Home.

With a sharp knife, holding the cob of corn vertically, slice off the kernels.

Place the kernels into a large bowl. Here’s a Keller tip. Dip your hand in a small bowl of water then run your hand through the cut kernels. Rinse your hand in the bowl of water to get rid of any loose silks from the corn. Repeat as needed.

Hold each cob over the bowl and with a large spoon scrape any remaining corn and milk from the cob into the bowl.

Grate the zest of the lime with a microplane grater, set aside. Cut the lime in half.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the corn and squeeze about one tablespoon of lime juice over the corn and season with salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the corn begins to sizzle, about 15-17 minutes.

Stir in ¾ cup cream, the cayenne and the lime zest. 

Continue to cook for 6-8 minutes until the cream is absorbed by the corn. 

Add salt to taste and stir in the freshly chopped chives.

Once you give this recipe a try I’m sure you too will find it is truly the cream of the crop.

good evening vietnam

making it for two

Categories: Grains and Pasta, Dinner for Two, Supper, Posted on July 20, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Forget the take-out. Here’s an off the chart Vietnamese noodle dish that is incredibly bright and fresh. The best part, it’s a cinch to make in-home. And with a few tweaks to the ingredients it’s as easy to shop for as it is to prepare.

If you live in LA or NYC fabulous ethnic food is within reach. But for the majority of us take-out often means a soggy container of beige MSG-laden fare. Reading recipes about food that I can’t find where I live tends to heighten my cravings and sets me on a search to see if I can recreate them in my own kitchen.

Many authentic ethnic dishes often call for just a teaspoon or pinch of some obscure ingredient. When you go to google the item, you discover it’s only available in some ridiculously large quantity. The days of me filling my cupboards with one-time use ingredients is over. Now I find myself going back to google and searching for adequate substitutes instead. 

The following recipe originally called for black vinegar. I searched the Asian shelves of several local markets in vain. Then I found a suitable swap using balsamic and rice vinegar with a pinch of sugar. The same was true when I looked for Sichuan preserved vegetables. Instead I whipped together some quick pickles. They are the perfect accompaniment to this Asian bowl. 

You’ll be impressed at how quick and easy these quick pickles are to make.

Thinly slice two persian cucumbers, preferably with a mandolin slicer.

Be sure to always use a guard so you don’t slice your fingers. One of my favorite kitchen tools is my iron mesh glove.

Toss with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, gently massage the cucumber slices with your hands and place in a colander to dispel their liquid. Let drain for at least 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, thinly slice the whites and light green parts of two scallions.

Transfer the cucumbers to a bowl and toss with the scallions, two teaspoons of rice vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of sesame oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Set aside until ready to use or place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days.

For the vietnamese rice noodles with spicy pork and herbs start with one-third pound thin, round rice noodles. They look like translucent spaghetti. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package, taking care to not overcook or they will turn gummy. Immediately drain the noodles and run them under cold water until they are cool to the touch. Drain well and set aside.

For the dressing whisk together one tablespoon rice vinegar, two teaspoons soy sauce, one teaspoon balsamic vinegar, one teaspoon chile oil and one teaspoon sugar until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

For the pork topping heat one tablespoon vegetable or canola oil over medium heat then add the half-pound ground pork and teaspoon of salt. Pan-fry, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink and there is no liquid remaining in the pan, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger and scallion whites, and stir occasionally until the raw vegetable smell disappears and the meat starts to brown in places, about 5 minutes.

Add a tablespoon or two of water and cook for another two minutes until the mixture darkens and becomes thick. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Toss together a handful of washed and dried fresh mint, basil and cilantro leaves.

Coarsely chop and set aside.

Chop two tablespoons of salted, roasted peanuts and set aside.

Thinly slice two radishes and set aside. Note that all of these components can be prepped in advance. 

When you’re ready to serve, divide the cool, drained noodles into two individual bowls. 

Top each with a tablespoon of vinegar dressing.

follow with a pile of ground pork.

Then the chopped herbs, chopped peanuts and sliced radishes, to taste. Spoon quick pickles along one third of the edge of each bowl. Scatter the sliced green scallions on top. Serve with any remaining garnishes and additional dressing on the side.

Try making this “in” for your next dinner for two. Your chopsticks will thank you!

a fool for you

making it for two

Categories: Desserts, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Posted on July 9, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

How often do you find a great recipe only to discover it’s scaled for a crowd? In this next series entitled “making it for two” I am going to pare down not only the ingredients but also the prep time so that cooking for two won’t take an eternity. Leaving you more time to spend time with the one you love.

My sweet husband has an incredible sweet tooth. Personally, I don’t. Dessert is rarely on the menu, simply because it’s not on my radar screen. When I do provide him with a post-dinner treat he coos with delight. It can be a simple as a bakery bought frosted brownie cut into four triangles with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. But with all the fresh fruit at the farm stands right now I would be a fool not to try to incorporate more of it into our dining repertoire. 

I was just reading an article on an Eton Mess. It appeared to be a fresh strawberry parfait that they must have served at the British college. As I scrolled through the recipe I realized that my hubby would swoon over this one, so I set out to surprise him for tonight’s quiet dinner at home. Turns out an Eton Mess is a breeze to make.

All you need is a basket of fresh strawberries, a few store-bought meringue cookies, a cup of heavy cream, and a spoonful of sugar.

Hull and quarter a half pound of strawberries.

Toss the hulled and quartered berries with one tablespoon of sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and toss again. 

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to macerate, at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours.

Meanwhile whip the heavy cream with one tablespoon sugar and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate.

This desert is a cinch when you pick up store bought meringues. I found these at Trader Joe’s.

Coarsely chop the meringue cookies. Set aside.

When ready to serve- place a large spoonful of whipped cream in the bottom of two 8-ounce glasses. 

Top with a spoonful of chopped meringue.

Then a spoonful of macerated strawberries. Repeat with smaller spoonfuls of whipped cream, meringue and berries. Drizzle with the top with berry juice and garnish with a mint sprig.

This one will have your significant other drooling like pavlova’s dog- tally ho!

post a comment