Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Belle Isle Cookery School: Northern Ireland

Belle Isle Castle
 A cookery school at a castle?  Sounds to me like the most idyllic place to whip up your culinary skills. 

Belle Isle Estate sits on 470-acres in County Fermangh in Northern Ireland. The lakeside hamlet of rolling hills, dense woodland and lowland fields functions with a busy working farm, manor house, self-catering cottages and cookery school. 

In 2003, the Duke of Abercorn, owner of the property, agreed to reconfigure an existing building with the latest stainless steel and enamel appliances. A functional floor-plan, ample uncluttered workstations, and bountiful natural light make the cheerful interior an ideal classroom for up to fourteen students. Belle Isle Cookery School classes offered range from an evening demonstration to a full day or weekend hands-on lesson, each culminating in a sit-down meal. Students may choose to stay in the self-catering cottages-- in my mind, an ultimate girlfriend getaway.
Liz Moore in the Cookery School Kitchen

For those interested in pursing a culinary career, a demanding four-week diploma course will hone necessary skills and techniques.

Liz Moore, the warm and passionate director, leads the school based on with her extensive  background as a chef and her modern attitude toward cooking.  She is known for promoting and incorporating seasonal, local ingredients, some of which are grown on the premises. "Ireland has moved beyond meat and potatoes," she said and indeed the innovative class schedule provides a grand example. Choose from Thai, Italian, Indian or Chinese courses, hot and cold starters from around the world or the art of the sauce. I'd love to take the 'complete tapas party' class. 

While I had the pleasure of visiting and spending a night at Belle Isle Castle,  Liz prepared a lovely assortment of appetizers for my group. I can assure you, they were even more delicious than they looked.

Read this and other food blog articles posted on Wanderfood Wednesdays.

Here is a Cookery School recipe that's ripe for late summertime preparation. Enjoy.

Nectarines with Parma Ham and Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 6
3 ripe nectarines, halved

Shavings of Parmesan cheese
6 slices of Parma ham
Olive oil
Fresh rocket to garnish
For the dressing:
50g/2oz sugar
4 peppercorns
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 glass white wine
Sprig rosemary
3 to 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

To make the dressing, put the wine, sugar, vinegar, peppercorns, cloves, and rosemary in a large pan. Stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and reduce by half. Cool.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My, My - Chattanooga Moon Pies

Moon Pies, those yummy yet inexpensive graham cracker and marshmallow sandwiches covered in chocolate, shine from Chattanooga, Tennessee. They are as much as Southern staple a RC Cola, grits, and fried chicken. According to Tory Johnson, VP of Marketing, the factory produces a million a day!

Tory shared the story of how these treats came to be:  In 1917 a salesman for the Chattanooga Bakery visited a company store catering to coal miners.  He asked the workers what type of snacks they might enjoy. The miners said they wanted something filling and good tasting.  When asked about a size for the snack, a miner held up his hands to frame the moon and said, "About that big!" So, the salesman kept that in mind. Later, he noticed some folks dipping big graham cookies into marshmallow fluff.  He liked the combination but thought the sandwich needed to be enclosed with chocolate. Thus the birth of the Moon Pie.

Today, the 5th generation family owned business distributes nationally with Virginia, Florida and Texas accounting for 70 percent of sales. Wal-Mart, Dollar General and Cracker Barrel carry Moon Pies. The all-American treats have been served in the White House and on the PGA Masters Tour. 

Over the year many flavors and varieties evolved. The 1960's saw vanilla and banana flavors, and then came strawberry. Later orange and lemon appeared on shelves. In 1998, the company listened to moms who asked for smaller kid-size portions. Now, the mini size pies eclipse 40 percent of the business.
Mini Moon Pies

 In 2008, a crunchy cookie was developed for mint and peanut butter offerings. Sales figures pushed high in the sky.

Many folks prefer to eat the mint flavored pies right from the freezer. If you micro-wave a room temperature moon pie for 8-10 seconds, you achieve a finger licking, gooey campfire s'mores taste. Try it. Mine was good enough to make me howl-- at the moon, of course.

The one and only factory in Chattanooga does not give tours but suggests stopping in to the Moon Pie General Store downtown. In case you're wondering what happens to Moon Pies that don't pass quality control--they are sold to pig farmers. Must be some pretty loony pigs running around. 

For further information:


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nancy Biehn: Artisan Chocolatier

Nancy Biehn
 Watching Nancy Biehn make chocolates is a divine way to spend an hour. Tasting her candy is double divine.  I had the great pleasure to do both while visiting Ann Arbor, Michigan, a city renown to foodies. Sweet Gem Confections, Nancy's company, makes its home within Morgan and York, a fine wine and specialty foods store.

Nancy developed a passion for chocolate while living in Spain. When she came home, she started making treats as gifts while perfecting her skills. Her friends convinced her to open a business and Ann Arbor tastes far richer for that. She's a warm and engaging instructor, just naturally sweet you might say. Ms. Beihn's demonstration made the craft look easy, alas, I know the technique requires precise temperatures and timing.
Her artisan chocolate company uses only pure cacao liqueur, sugar, milk and real vanilla. The dark chocolate contains between 64% - 99% pure cocoa liqueur, and the milk between 38 - 45%. Her select staff of chocolatiers add fresh fruits (many of which they gather themselves), nuts, spices, herbs, espresso, and top-shelf liqueurs from around the world. Sweet Gem Confections are 100% preservative free and always made in small batches. 

I watched Nancy dip strawberries into melted chocolate that finished with a gloss as shiny as patent leather shoes. The deepness of the dark chocolatey brown complimented the freshness of a seasonally ripe berry. She also made more complicated truffles with a green tea infusion. Such indulgence!

You can order Nancy's extraordinary truffles, caramels and chocolate barks online. If you are lucky enough to get to Ann Arbor, sign-up for one of her chocolate-making classes.

Sweet Gem Confections
Morgan and York

1928 Packard Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Click to order Sweet Gem Confections online

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wine Seeker's Guide to Livermore Valley

A Book Review

The Wine Seekers' Guide to Livermore Valley, by my friend Tom Wilmer, was not written for the wine snob. The book is aimed at those of us who don't understand the intricacies of the grape. He says the wine tasting experience has more to do with the social interactions and having a fun time, rather than the subjective, critical tasting experience. Therefore, this is truly my kind of guide-- one with clear and helpful information in an easy to read format.

The book serves as the first exclusive guide to this little-known wine region located in northern California about a half-hour from San Francisco in the East Bay. Tom introduces more than forty wineries, the owners and winemakers, and their superb wines. The paperback makes it easy to plan a tour as it provides a map of the region, directions, operating hours, and contact information for each winery. As a seasoned travel writer (travel editor of Las Vegas Magazine from 1998 through 2003 and Central Coast Magazine from 2003 through 2008) Tom has also included recommendations on where to stay and a detailed restaurant guide plus bookstores, theater, festivals and parks. Now, all I need is time to visit each one.

Greenville Road in the Livermore Valley
For those with a curiosity about wine and the wine making world, you'll find his tales fascinating. He focuses on the winemakers' passions, backgrounds and nuances of particular styles of winemaking, rather than criticizing and rating the wines. That's not surprising as the author has been interviewing folks for his radio show "Audiolog - The Travel Show'' on NPR public radio affiliates KCBX, KSBX and KNBX for 21 years. I felt I was being taken on a personal tour and gaining secret insider information.

Tom is a true storyteller so this book reads like a series of vignettes rather than facts and figures. I also love guide books with photos and this book contains a plethora of excellent color prints which truly add to the enjoyment. 

Now, don't just take my word for it.  President Emeritus of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, Don Jackson said, “Highly regarded author Tom Wilmer’s most recent book on the Livermore Valley Appellation gives this important-but long overlooked- vintners region an informative showcase. Emphatic accolades for his concise and informative descriptions of the regions best wineries which will surely be helpful and inviting for the true wine connoisseur AND the novice oenophile. Tom’s inclusion of the best hotels and restaurants in the area are wonderful additions to the book and help capture the essence of the good life in this delightful destination.”
Steven Kent Winery

Renowned travel author, Christopher Baker writes, "This fantastic book is a total winner. Tom Wilmer has done a superb job profiling this unsung wine district a short distance east of San Francisco. Wilmer has a fine way with words - the book is a joy to read, with the author's richly engaging text leavened with warm and gracious comments and a discerning eye for intriguing historical, cultural, and other detail. Highly recommended. "

Steve Ferree, of Examiner.com said," While Napa is proud of winning the judgment of Paris in 1976 (and the basis of the movie “Bottle Shock”); Livermore Valley was winning awards at the Paris Exposition almost 100 years earlier in 1889!  Many of the earliest wineries in California were in Livermore and still exist today, including Wente and Concannon.  The Wente Chardonnay clone is the foundation for Chardonnay throughout California."

Georgia Hesse, local authority and Founding Travel Editor, San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle said, "Mon Dieu! Does the world need another wine book?  Believe it or not, it needs this one... Wind with Wilmer along tranquil trails or sit in the sun sipping a little something at a sidewalk cafĂ©. Whatever delights are available throughout Livermore Valley, you’ll find your way to them in these pages."

So follow a historical trail and let your nose lead the way. Pick up a copy of the award winning Wine Seeker's Guide to Livermore Valley, plan a trip and get tasting.

2011 Best Guide Book-3rd place" Outdoor Writers Association of California

Photos compliments of Tom Wilmer and The Wine Seeker's Guide to Livermore Valley.   

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