Good Morning. It has been several week since we last posted our Monday Q & A segment. Let's admit, perhaps it was because of the holidays from late November on, there was a drought on the submitted questions front. It has been decided that instead of trying to maintain a Q & A Monday every week, we'll just post it during times that enough questions have been submitted. It hasn't been decided yet, but we may just post it on the right side column instead of the main body of the blog. But I digress, I received questions the past week and so our Monday Q & A is off and running again. Here are this week's questions posted:

Nick, can you tell me what "compound" butter is? (Jean C., Tampa,Fl.) Jean, compound butter is simply mixing butter with various ingredients and spices to create mixture that can be used to either top various meats, vegetables, and dishes, as a spread for bread, or for adding to sauces. A basic example of compound butter is the "garlic butter" you spread on bread to make garlic bread. You use butter, parsley, and garlic salt, and mix it until well blended. The variations you can come up with to make compound butter are endless. Experiment with your favorite ingredients.

What is the difference between  Pinot, Merlot, and Cabernet wine? (Bob W., Boise, ID) Without going into the technicals of the grapes that are used in each, thus avoiding a long dissertation, Merlots and Cabs are probably the more popular varietals drunk in the U.S. while the Pinots are a bit less popular but have a following no less devoted to them than Merlots and Cabs. Cabernet has a tendency to be more robust than the Merlot. The Cabernets are usually more tannic and spicier as well. Without confusing you, there are exceptions to this general rule. Pinots are milder in the tannins and tend to be a more delicate wine to the Cabernets. Pinots also have a reputation for producing great vintages and thus commanding higher prices. In defense of Merlot and Cab drinkers, I have found some wonderful Merlots and Cabernets as well as Pinots. It comes down to personal taste. There have been volumes written about the 8 major types of red wines over the centuries and to get detailed on this site would be an endless process. For a more indepth view of these three and more importantly, the explanation of the grapes, I urge you to visit, which will provide you with an abundance of info on  a number of topics regarding wines and grapes.

Nonchefnick, when buying seafood, particularly fish, is it a real issue when you can't find the fresh kind? (Beverly E., Reno, NV)To be honest with you, most "frozen" fish are flash frozen, meaning that they are frozen very quickly to help lock in the freshness, so buying frozen is really not a problem anymore. If you do buy frozen, I would suggest that you intend on cooking it within a week or so. The sooner frozen is consumed, the fresher it will taste. Don't be fooled by choosing "fresh" over "frozen" and be aware of what to look for. You could be purchasing a fresh fish and it not being as "fresh" as its frozen counterpart. Sight and smell are the two ways of telling how fresh fresh is. When buying whole fish, look for shiny scales and clear eyes. Look for fresh cuts that are not dull in color or that look dry. As far as smell is concerned, fresh should not smell like anything other than the ocean, period. If it smells fishy, it's not that fresh. I recently went shopping at the supermarket to purchase some fresh fish. As I got to the fish department, I could smell fish, you know , that fishy smell? Well, I kept walking and didn't buy any. As far as frozen is concerned, look for discoloration and indication of freezer burn, which tell you the fish wasn't flash frozen as soon as caught. Also, pick up the pack and put it to your nose and if you can smell that fishy smell, ever so slightly, don't buy it. Basically, just remember what to look for and you should have no problems fresh or frozen.

Prime Rib of Beef makes a perfect last meal of 2009

There isn't much that can top a wonderful Prime Rib of Beef for the holidays. On that same note, not much can top its price these days either; however, if you shop around, you can find a nice cut, not too large, and boneless for a reasonable price. As an example, I recently found a boneless four pound roast for about $25 that served six and nobody went home hungry. That comes to just over $4 per person and not bad for a special dinner party.

There are a number of ways to cook a nice Prime Rib roast. I recently read a recipe that called for baking 30 minutes at 500 and then shutting the oven off and leaving the door closed, not removing the roast for several hours. Another calls for a slow cooking at 300. I've not tried either method. I like a nice rare cut of meat and so I have found that if you high heat it for a shorter period of time, you'll get that nice charred, caramelized exterior with a crispy fat tissue and wonderful pink interior that oozes out succulent juices for your sauce. Once you've found your method that works, it's hard to try something new. Afterall, why would you fix something that's not broke? Realizing this, I'm sure most of you have your own cooking that works; however, I still feel compelled to share mine with you and you can do what you want with it.

I decided to marinade this roast for a few hours this time around. I normally just rub it with olive oil, pepper and salt it well, sear it, and then in the oven it goes. Here is what I used for marinading:

approximately 4 lb boneless Prime Rib Roast
1/2 cup of olive oil
4 tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons of coarse ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of sea salt
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of Cajun spice rub
4 cloves of garlic crushed to a paste

Take all ingredients and mix very well. Transfer to a large sealable plastic freezer type bag. One side of your rib roast will usually have a layer of fat. With a sharp knife, make a series of slits deep enough to cut through the fat but not into the meat. Place the roast into the plastic bag, seal tightly and roll the roast so that  it is coated with the marinade and place it in your refridgerator for about 2 to 3 hours.

In the meantime, have these ingredients ready:

1/4 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of coarsely cracked pepper
1 cup of red Burgundy wine
1/2 lb of baby button mushrooms (white or brown), stems removed
1/2 cup of beef stock
20 cloves of garlic, whole
1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of butter

Preheat your oven to 450. While oven is preheating, remove roast from marinade bag. Heat half of your oil over medium high heat and sear your roast on all sides to lock flavors. Make sure you  sear approximately 2 minutes on each side. I should take a moment to request that you do not throw out the remaining marinade in the bag. You will want some of that for later. I'll explain when the time comes. Save the pan and drippings that the roast was seared in.

Now that you've seared your roast, transfer it into a baking dish. If your dish or pan has a rack, place the roast on top of that. Do not add any liquid what so ever to the bottom of the pan. Bake at 450 for about 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 400 and continue baking for 14 minutes per pound for rare, 16 minutes per pound for medium rare and if you want it medium or well done, buy a chicken instead. This four pound roast is being baked at 14 minutes per pound. Bake with the fat side up so that any fat drippings will drip down the sides of the roast. Furthermore, the fat will be nice and charred and crispy when done. When cooking is complete, remove the roast from the oven and let it set for 15 minutes UNCOVERED, so that the juices will set in. Since the roast will continue to cook a bit while resting, covering it will not only cook it more, but it will also cause the steam from the moisture to soften the crispy surface and you don't want that.

In the meantime, while the roast is in the oven, you can begin your sauce preparation. You can wait until 30 minutes before your roast is finished baking if you want. It's not that important. Take the frying pan that the drippings are in and reheat over medium high heat. Once hot, add the wine and beef stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and scrape the bottom of the pan carefully with a wooden spatula. Remember that marinade I asked you to save? Well, now take two tablespoons of it and stir it into your sauce. Continue to stir so that drippings are well blended. Allow to slow cook so that liquid reduces by half.

While sauce is cooking, in another saute pan, heat the rest of the olive oil over medium high heat, then add your mushrooms, sauteeing them until they are a light golden color. Do not add any seasonings, especially salt, as salt will cause the mushrooms to sweat and you won't get that golden brown color you're looking for. Once mushrooms are nicely browned, add the garlic and saute for an additional 2 minutes. When complete, add the mushrooms and garlic to your sauce and stir well. Reduce heat to simmer or warm and cover.

When the roast is out of the oven and has rested for 15 minutes, it's time to finish your sauce. Add your butter and stir until it is melted and has blended well. If the roast has given you drippings while resting, add that to the sauce. Add your pepper and parsley and stir well. Set your roast on a serving platter and pour a few tablespoons of the sauce over the top. Take the rest of the sauce and serve it separately in a saucier or small bowl.

Your rib roast should be a beautiful pink rare when sliced and be very moist. You can serve a baked potato and steamed baby green beans as side dishes, or buttered linguine and peas. Either works wonderful with this meat. Enjoy this dish on New Year's Eve with close friends and it will be an evening you will remember. Bon Appetit!

A Christmas poem from me to you

As the night before Christmas

Draws near to a close

All the children are tucked in

For their eight hour doze

It is then that the magic

Begins to unfold

Gifts come out of hiding

Wrapped in silver and gold

The eggnog gets liquored

For that last minute nightcap

A bite of some cookies

Proves where Santa was at

And it's off to bed

For the Mr and Mrs

As the clock striking midnight

Sounds the coming of Christmas

Poem by D Roche

Baked Belgian Endive highlights French cooking made easy

You may have seen these strange vegetables while shopping at your neighborhood supermarket and never given a thought to buying some. Perhaps you didn't know what to do with them or what they tasted like. For whatever reason, it is now time you purchase some on your next visit. We are talking about Belgian Endives.

Those of you who are familiar with endives most likely have enjoyed them in salads; however, did you know that they are very good cooked? The traditional French method of preparing Belgian Endives is to bake them with Gruyere. If you haven't tried them this way, you are missing out. They are first sauteed to a golden color, then white wine or chicken broth is added, along with garlic and parsley. Finally, a generous amount of grated Gruyere is added and the whole pan is then transferred to a 400 preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. And the best part of it is that it's in keeping with our theme of keeping things simple. This makes a great side dish or as an entree at lunch time. Here's what we need:

2 large Belgian Endives (1 per person)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup of white wine or chicken stock
1 cup of Grated Gruyere or sharp Swiss
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of fresh chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Start by preheating your oven to 400. Gently wash the endive whole and them slice them in halves lengthwise. In a large frying that you can fit in your oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat on your stove top. Sautee the endives cut side down and turn over after about 3 minutes. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes or until they become a light golden color.

Now you may add the garlic and sautee an additional minute or so. Add the wine or chicken stock, gently stir, and add some salt and pepper. Careful with the salt because Gruyere has a rich flavor and you may not need much salt. Right before you transfer the pan to the oven, add the parsley and the Gruyere over the endives.

Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 25 minutes or so, until the cheese has melted and has browned nicely and there is caramelizing. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes uncovered. Serve nice and warm as a side dish or an entree of its own. Enjoy these! They are really good. Everyone who has had them this way love them.

Parsnips bring velvety alternative to traditional mash potatoes

Parsnips are a root vegetable that are more versatile than they lead us to believe. You can boil them, roast them, even sliced thin and sauteed. There is another way to prepare them however, and it may just be the best way. Have you tried them pureed? You are certainly missing out if you haven't and once tried, you may never have them any other way again. Rich and velvety, pureed parsnips are a great alternative to potatoes and at least as healthy. You need only a small portion to satisfy the palate and with a small spoonful served over a tenderloin cut of beef, it's like buttah! Follow this extremely easy recipe that I created and you will understand what this is all about. And for you veggies out there, this is number 1.

2 large Parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cube of butter, room temperature
1/2 cup of grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
A couple pinches of salt

Bring a large pot filled half with water to a boil and add the parsnips. Boil parsnips for about 15 to 20 minutes or until you can pierce it with a fork without resistance. Remove parsnips and transfer to a food processor.

Process parsnips until it is creamy with no lumps, then add Gruyere, salt, pepper, and butter. Continue to process for another 15 seconds but no more. Serve as a side dish or over your favorite cut of meat and sprinkle with a little nutmeg. Enjoy.

Lamb Shank Bourguignon

Anyone who has not become familiar with Boeuf Bourguignon or at least heard of it has probably been hiding under a rock for the last 40 years. Originally made famous in the U.S. by the legend, Julia Child, who learned to make it to perfection in France,  and more recently featured in the movie Julie and Julia, Boeuf Bourguignon is known the world over. What you may not have heard however, is that lessor known bourguignon, Lamb Shank Bourguignon, perhaps because I have just recently added it to my portfolio. This is a very simple yet delicious dish that marries the flavors of lamb and Burgundy wine every bit as proud as the original Boeuf Bourguignon, but with a lighter jus as opposed to a heavier sauce. If you are a lover of lamb, it would be worth your while to try this recipe. This dish is perfect served over a bed of steamed rice and mushroom caps. The list of ingredients is as follows:

Serves a party of 2

2 medium sized lamb shanks
20 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
8 to 10 white mushroom caps, stems removed
1 teaspoon of coarse ground pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 bouquet of thyme, basil, and rosemary
1 1/2 cup of Burgundy wine
1 1/2 cup of beef stock
2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley

Preheat your oven to 400. In a dutch oven or deep pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Rub the lamb shanks with some of the salt and pepper and saute so that all sides are well seared, which will usually take about 8 minutes total. Add the garlic and saute for about a minute.

Once shanks are seared, pour the wine in and the rest of the herbs and spices. Allow wine to cook at medium low for a few minutes so alcohol is evaporated and then add the beef stock and stir. Continue to cook for about 6 to 8 more minutes. Cover and transfer pot to oven and reduce heat to 325. Bake for  90 minutes, then add the mushrooms, turn lamb shanks over and continue to bake for another 60 minutes.

Remove from oven and set the lamb shanks aside, cover  with foil to keep warm. Lamb shanks contain a lot of fat and therefore the sauce will most likely be fattier than some other sauces. If you can, skim a bit of the fat off the top layer of the sauce. One very easy way to skim the fat off the top is to cool the sauce in the refrigerator until fat solidifies, then just skim the fat off and return the pan to the stove top and reheat in which case you would also add back the lamb shanks to rewarm. Either way works ok.

Take the sauce and pour it through a stainer. Remove the mushrooms, set aside, and discard the rest of the solids in the sauce. Return sauce to the stove top and heat over low heat. Add the tomato paste and stir well. Next, add back the mushroom caps and taste sauce for proper seasoning.

Slice the meat of the lamb shanks into 1/4 inch thickness and plate a portion either directly on the plate or over a small bed of steamed rice. Pour some of the sauce over the meat and add a  few mushrooms around the sides and sprinkle with parsley. This can be served with steamed whole baby carrots. You will find the sauce light but wonderfully flavored with the aroma of the lamb, not to mention that you will have another hit on your hands!

Pork cuts costs while maintaining elegance for the holidays

The holidays can be very stressful these days with the economy still badly injured and financial institutions  in a very wobbly state. Jobs are scarce and those still employed wonder if they'll be next on the chopping block. Families continue striving to stretch their dollars while maintaing their quality of life as best they can. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the food budget. The shopper continues to walk a tight rope in making sure that the holiday dinner will be as bountiful and special as in years past.

Prime Rib is too expensive, goose is out of the question, and turkey was too recent. What is the cook to do? How about distancing yourself from tradition and trying the other white meat? Pork can make an impressive centerpiece as an entree with a cut of Roast of Pork Rib Loin, inexpensive and yet so elegant as to make Prime Rib of Beef a bit jealous. The rib roast can be prepared as a "rack" roast or kicking it up a notch, combining two racks and creating a Crown Roast of Pork that will wow even your most discerning of guests. With a Crown Roast, one can fill the center with a melange of sauteed peas, pearl onions, and bacon (or lardon).

So as in keeing with the goal of maintaining simplicity in the kitchen, today you will learn to prepare the rack version of the Roast of Pork Rib Loin. When deciding how large a roast to purchase, count on one rib for the ladies and children, and two ribs for the men and hungrier guests. If you need to purchase two racks but don't want to do a crown, when ready to present, you can stand each rack on its "bottom" and have each rack lean on one another with the ribs crisscrossing each other.

First, start by preheating the oven at 400. You are going to want to sear your roast on all sides so as to lock in moisture and flavor; however, first prepare a rub that you will use before baking, with the following ingredients:

1/3 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
1 soup spoon of coarsely cracked ground pepper
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce

Mix 1/4 cup of the olive oil and all other ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Take the remainder of the olive oil and heat it in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, begin to sear the roast, reducing heat to medium. Sear on each side and ends about 2 minutes each. Once seared, remove roast and set in baking pan.  Do not discard the pan drippings as you will use that for your sauce. While it is cooling a bit, mixt the ingredients together very well. With a brush, coast the entire roast thoroughly. Transfer roast to oven, reduce heat to 350 and bake for 70 minutes for a 3 pound roast. If you are baking 2 racks side by side, you don't really need to increase the time too much because the thickness and size of each doesn't change; however, with that said, you may want to increase the time by 2 minutes per total weight to compensate for the volume. Play it by ear and 10 minutes before finished, using your fingers, push into the meat. If it doesn't sink in, it's done. Remember, pork has to be cooked closer to well done than to rare or medium rare. Medium well will usually be fine. If your oven heats hot, then decrease the times by 2 minutes per pound.

Once the roast is finished, remove and set aside so that juices set in. While roast is resting, return the frying pan with the drippings to the stove top over medium high heat. Add any juices that may remain from the baking pan to the frying pan. Deglaze the frying pan with 1 cup of dry white wine or non alcoholic apple cider, carefully scraping the bottom with a spatula. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to reduce about 1/3. Next, add the following ingredients,

1 tablespoon of butter,
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of heavy cream

Stir all ingredients very well and allow butter to completely melt. Taste for flavor. If you would like to add a little tanginess to your sauce, stir in a small teaspoon of Dijon mustard at the last minute and shut off heat. You may pour this sauce directly over the roast or ladle a couple of tablespoons over each serving. Just be sure to keep the sauce very hot.

There you have it, an alternative to tradition. It is a safe bet that your dinner guests will love this roast and will not miss the Prime Rib or the turkey at all. A baked potato or shoe string frites(fries) would work very well with this cut of meat, as would French cut green beans, steamed brussel sprouts, or sauteed peas and bacon in the vegetable side dish category. A chilled Riesling will pair very nicely. Have a wonderful holiday dinner party and remember, keep it simple in the kitchen and elegant in the dining room.

English Trifle deserves an encore performance in time for the holidays

With the holiday season upon us, it is fitting to give English Trifle a second appearance on this blog. It is certainly a tradition in many parts of the world during December and is like a crown jewel of desserts that will surely exude the WOW factor. It is so simple to put together that no one will believe you when you tell them.

Let's start with the main item. The trifle dish is a deep glass bowl that sits on a single leg much like a brandy glass. It's about 9 inches in diameter and about 6 to 8 inches deep. Although you can find these dishes with a curved bottom, you need to get the flat bottom type for trifle. These dishes are very affordable at less than $12 in most discount stores and  can be used in a variety of ways, so they're versatile. This is the first thing you must purchase.

Now that you have the trifle dish it's time for the fun. First, let me explain what English Trifle is. You take some of your favorite fruit, some jam or preserves, custard, lady fingers or pound cake, and a bit of sherry, rum, grand marnier, or brandy, and you just start layering it all together and there you have it. I usually pick out 2 types of fruit. In my case, I love strawberries and bananas. The two go together so well; however, I've also made raspberry and blackberry trifle as well as blueberry and marion berry. All are wonderful, but try my favorite first before you begin experimenting.

English Trifle dates back to at least the 18th century but some even go back as far as the 15th and 16th centuries depending on who you ask. In any case, it was usually made of whatever was left over i.e. old sponge cake, fruit, custard (left over from baby's feeding), and if there was cream around it was used to top the dish. The fruit was sometimes cooked, if harder raw fruit was used. As the 19th and 20th century rolled around, fresh colorful fruit became more and more popular and the only thing cooked now is the custard.

Alexander Valley sneaks out a winner with Laurier's 2007 Merlot

Could it be possible for back to back winners with the Laurier 2007 Merlot from Alexander Valley? After all, the 2006 Merlot was a big winner garnering the Gold Medal and Chairman's Award at the Riverside International Wine Competition in 2008 and Gold at the Taster's Guild International Wine Judging that same year. Perhaps too soon to tell, indications are this Merlot is following the same blood line as its older sibling. Laurier Vineyard is not new to producing winning vintages. The Merlots, Cabs, and Chardonnays have been previous winners of Silver Medals in 2003 and 2004.

Is it a Merlot or Cabernet?

With its deep ruby color, tannins that complete a nice lasting finish to the palate, and  hints of herbs, plums, vanilla, and raspberry, this Merlot is certainly not lacking complexity and could be mistaken for a Cabernet. The nice aroma of cherries is definitely not forgotten either. With that said, it is certainly permissible to consume it now; however, given a couple more years, this Merlot may approach its full potential. This wine will stand proud alongside its comparable Cabernet cousins and with a price range of $14 to $16, one should consider it as a nice addition to their wine collection.

Food pairing brings out full flavor

The Laurier 2007 Merlot has no problem standing on its own; however, when paired with food, it truly partners well. Suggestions may include Prime Rib of Beef, Boeuf Bourguignon, smoked ham, and Coq au Vin. It will also stand up well to a rich sauce such as Bolognese. The best has been saved for last however, with its pairing of dark chocolate truffles. If you have a sweet tooth and enjoy a good wine, this is certainly a match made in heaven.

Roasted Green Beans and Bacon

Even though I am not a vegetarian, I must admit that I love almost every vegetable out there. I guess it stems from being raised to eating vegetables with all my dinners at home. As a child, some of my favorite vegetables were those that most kids absolutely hated, i.e. brussel sprouts, spinach, and broccoli. Well, those were amongst my favorites, along with green beans. Today, I haven't changed. I still love all of them not just because I think they taste great, but because there's so much you can do with them. Boil them, steam them, sauce them, or mix them with other foods. I love it all, especially when I roast them. OMG, you've got to try these roasted green beans. I was just messing around the other day and decided to make green beans and bacon by roasting and I've got to tell you, they came out great. Now it's your turn to try. Here's what we need:

2 lbs of fresh green beans, cut in halves
1 medium yellow onion, diced
18 garlic cloves, whole and peeled
12 large shallots, peeled and cut in halves
1/4 lb bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1/4 cup of dry white wine or water

This is very easy to prepare and the flavors really come out from the roasting process. It gives a whole new twist to green beans without cooking off the texture and flavors that boiling or steaming tends to do. Start by preheating your oven to 425.

Place the shallots and garlic on a large baking sheet and pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, half the salt and pepper and with your hands, mix the ingredients together so that everything is well coated with the olive oil. Set on middle rack of oven and bake for 20 minutes.

While the shallots and garlic are roasting, take a frying pan and heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat and saute the bacon until it is golden brown. Remove and set on paper towel to drain. Remove excess oil from pan and over medium high heat, add the diced onions and saute for about 2 minutes and remove from heat. Over medium high heat, add the butter to the pan, allow to melt and then deglaze with the wine or water. Once deglazed, shut heat off and set pan aside.

Now take the shallots and garlic out of the oven and add the green beans along with the rest of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Mix well so beans are coated. Return to oven and bake for an additional 40 minutes at 400. About half way through, check and toss the beans and return to oven.

Once beans are roasted, remove from the oven and add to the frying pan with the deglazed sauce. Add the onions and the bacon and toss so that everything is well coated with the sauce. Transfer to a serving platter and serve hot. I tell you, this is delicious. You know how roasting brings out the flavors of vegetables and this does the trick with the beans along with the shallots and garlic. If it were me, I'd serve this with a nice sauteed beef steak or broiled lamb. Now I'm hungry again !