About Lindsey McClave
Lindsey McClave has a deep love for food, wine and travel. While she has no intentions of becoming a chef or a sommelier and doesn't consider herself an expert in any culinary area, she is obsessed with learning.
She says, "the one thing I've taken away from my wine travels is that wine is meant for everyone - rich, poor, and everywhere in-between.” Whatever cooking becomes to you, she encourages you to find that foodie place, embrace it and run with it.
Latest Posts by Lindsey McClave
I could try to make this cocktail overdrawn and complicated. I could manifest a story of it’s origin, some elaborate tale of how it was conceived. In truth, the somewhat cheesily named ‘Pink Paradise’ cocktail was a thrown together concoction of what we had on hand both sitting out on our bar and the sole juice in the fridge. After a final dash of classic bitters and a solid shake on ice, the palest of pretty pinks poured from our cocktail shaker into the glass. I fell in love with the hue the campari lent to the drink as well as the complexity it brought to my tongue as I took my first sip. The tang of the pineapple juice is the perfect match for the sharpness of the vodka, the tartness of this fruit counterbalancing the bitterness of the campari, an Italian apertif that has always been a favorite stand-by in our house. It is the ideal drink for simple sipping and relaxation, by the pool or otherwise. Our teaser clip is a testament to just how simple this cocktail is to create. A toast to pink and a toast to paradise – both meet here, in perfect harmony. Cheers!
- two shots vodka (three ounces)
- one shot cointreau
- one shot pineapple juice
- one quarter shot campari
- one dash bitters
- sliced lime for garnish
Klyde Warren Park
I take a bite and am instantly transported to a campfire, deep in the woods. We are dining on gently roasted potatoes and hen of the woods mushrooms, both of which have been soaking up the essence of a wood-fire for what must have been hours. I am entranced by the texture, flavor and simple complexity of this food. So much so that it takes a few moments for me to realize that I am not surrounded by thick, lush woods and a crackling fire, but rather sleek, straight-lined wooden tables and chairs, heat radiating from the open-air kitchen. FT33 is buzzing. A steady stream of conversation sails through the air, uninterrupted and smooth.
A Chef stands at marked attention at the pass, inspecting every plate before it is released to it’s new owner, using needle-like tweezers to place delicate herbs and final garnishes atop the artful dishes. FT33 is a new restaurant in Dallas’s up-and-coming Design District and from the moment my brother Willie and I walked in the door I knew that this was a far cry from the Dallas that made up a great part of my childhood. Willie has lived in Dallas for ten years now, settling into the Uptown district after graduating from SMU. I hadn’t been to Dallas in nearly three years and decided that a spontaneous venture to the lone-star state was long overdue.
The trip proved to be a whirlwind as Willie took me on an invigorating tour of all things both classic and new in this famously ‘big’ city. Throughout his ten years of residence, Willie has often commented that, while Dallas had everything, it lacked it’s own identity. It had seemingly defined itself by borrowing from cities throughout the US, bringing in a concept and blowing it up to ten-times the size, often with highly successful results. The adage that ‘everything is bigger in Texas’ was beginning to take a different form, however, as Willie had begun to notice a sudden blossoming of Dallas-centric venues and destinations, places he couldn’t find anywhere else. Thus we set out to discover the ‘new’ Dallas: an artful, though-provoking and down-right delicious great American city.
Before I jump into Dallas’s latest and greatest, I feel I need to provide a little history, some context of sort, to my connection to this city. My Grandparents, Mimi and Punchy, along with my Aunt and Uncle, moved to Dallas one month before I was due to be born. They were transitioning from a life dedicated to the sport of football and collegiate teachings to an entirely new world and career, one that would take them to nearly every corner of the globe. Growing up we would visit them in Dallas at least once a year, sometimes staying for entire summers at their home, Circle T Ranch. Our days in Dallas were always blazing hot and blissfully endless, filled with wide, flat open spaces, horses, llamas, cattle and fireants. We loved, loved, loved going to the ranch. Growing up we honestly believed that Jesse James roamed the vast land of Circle T. Punchy said so, after all. It was, and will always remain, an exceedingly special part of my childhood.
|The Perot Museum of Nature & Science|
The next morning came early and we got right to it with a trip to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Opened just this past December, the Perot Museum added a striking element to the Dallas skyline. What appears to be a large grey block from afar develops small details as the eye draws near. Smooth lines begin to protrude from the otherwise flat surface of the building, catching the rays from the sun at different angles as it moves throughout the day. The main building is anchored by a living roof, native Texas grasses and foliage blanketing a sweeping slope, solar panels lifting their face toward the Dallas sun. Inside was like a trip back through every science, math and history class I had ever taken. Massive dinosaurs greet you as you enter the Life Then and Now Hall, their vertebrae alone three-times the size of my head. Wish you had wings so you could fly through the sky?
Check out the flight simulator in the Hall of Birds – you will be soaring over mountains in no time, understanding along the way how and why a bird’s body opperates in the way it does. The solarsystem blankets above, vast and entrancing, as soon as you set foot in the Expanding Universe Hall. Want to build a robot? You can do that in the Engineering and Innovation Hall. I greatly enjoyed the Energy Wing. Being in the energy business, Willie volunteers here often and he showed off his endless knowledge as we learned about the science behind every type of energy source used in our world to date.
|Life Then & Now Hall – The Perot Museum of Nature & Science|
Z and I love museums but it hadn’t occurred to me how long it had been since I had visited one that is rooted in education through science. And I am certain I have never been to a Museum as hands-on as The Perot. Far gone are the days of simple placards and signs. Now, if you’d like to find out more as you read about an exhibit, simply touch the screen. A thousand options will appear before you, directing you simply and making sure you take away a little knowledge before you leave. It is as good a place for kids as it is for adults and it was the ideal way to spend our Saturday morning in Dallas.
|The Klyde Warren Park – aka The Deck Park|
|Libations at the Katy Trail Ice House|
Mimi and Punchy treated us to dinner that evening and I was thrilled to catch up with my Aunt Pam. Dinner was topped off with one of my all-time favorite desserts, strawberry shortcake. Classic and comforting, Mimi keeps things the way they should be with a biscuit base, macerated, ripe strawberries and freshly whipped, lighter than air cream. Fortified, we headed to our next scheduled stop: an 8pm reservation at the mysterious Smyth. Cocktails. That’s all they do here, no menu required. It takes a little time for us to find the unmarked door and locate the buzzer as Smyth operates speakeasy style. No sign, no overtly warm welcome when we buzz the intercom. Our reservation identified, we are allowed entry into this dark space, a golden glow emanating from the bar. We are seated at one of six curved banquettes, just enough light to see one another comfortably, just too little light to take a decent photo. The server approaches and we engage in a dialogue about our general preferences and taste. What sort of liquor do we prefer? Sweet or bitter? Still or effervescent? I elect to live on the edge a bit and only note that I tend to prefer light liquors over dark and that I love just about any cocktail that involves champagne. Being a good Kentucky boy at heart, Willie simply requests something with bourbon. We are presented with two glasses, both beautiful in their deceiving simplicity. Mine is a riff on a French 75, a splash of gin the base for a bright and bubbly champagne float anchored with citrus. Willie samples an old fashioned, a nearly perfect pick for him and smoother than just about any he’s had in the past. My second cocktail is all about grapefruit – bitter, bright and perfectly pink grapefruit. There are several – several! – other elements to this drink but the overall impression is everything that is perfect about a grapefruit, a mini explosion of sparkling wine rounding out the edges. Moving away from bourbon, Willie has a tequila manhattan – a play on the bourbon classic, with clear liquors making up each flavor element. It is dangerously smooth. I am already thinking up what I will order next at Smyth and can’t wait to return. But be warned – you’d better have a reservation. They don’t kid around about that and seat only what they have on the books for any given night. It’s well worth planning ahead.
|Walter Van Beirendonck’s Lust Never Sleeps – Silent Secrets on display at Dallas Contemporary|
I got ample Mimi and Punchy time Sunday morning when we visited one of their favorite brunch spots La Duni. Latin American flavors take classic breakfast fare in a uniquely delicious direction, with house-made bakeries and artistic, eye-catching cakes the backbone of La Duni’s local popularity. I selected the breakfast tacos, fluffy eggs and bacon enveloped by warm corn tortillas and served alongside spicy salsa, freshly smashed avocado and pickled jalapeños. My take-home inspiration came from Mimi and Punchy’s order of the Huevos Finos. A toasty popover is sliced vertically, poached eggs, ham and gruyere nestled in the airy nooks of the bakery, hollandaise sauce a blanket overtop. Popovers are now at the top of my list for recreation. Post brunch, Willie and I set out to visit Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting Museum focusing on exhibiting the works of contemporary artists – local and international alike. Unassuming and deceivingly small from the outside, Dallas Contemporary fills a vast warehouse. Open and expansive wings lead to smaller rooms, each area home to a different exhibition. Willie and I found Walter Van Beirendonck’s Lust Never Sleeps – Silent Secrets most intriguing and spent some time walking around the brightly clothed mannequins, each one turning slowly on his pedestal. While not new (Dallas Contemporary has been supporting the work of today’s artists since 1978), Dallas Contemporary is a bit off the beaten path, outside of the heart of the city but still within a ten minute’s drive from downtown. It is free and a great place to get lost on a warm Dallas Day.
|Public graffiti courtesy of local graffiti artist Soner – Dallas Contemporary|
Post Dallas Contemporary we made our way to The Bishop Arts District. Located in the North Oak Cliff neighborhood, Bishop Arts is home to an eclectic assortment of local shops, restaurants and bars, all unique to Dallas. A nice mix of clothing, nick-nacks and home goods, Willie and I wandered from store to store, finally settling down on a patio for a mid-afternoon cocktail. As with many other cities throughout the US, the Bishop Arts District is an old neighborhood finding new footing and in the process of reestablishing itself. It is becoming a major draw for city-dwellers and families are flocking to the area for both it’s local charm and more affordable housing. I could certainly see the appeal.
|Bishops Arts District, Dallas|
The hour was drawing near and my plane back to Louisville was soon to depart. I simply couldn’t leave Dallas without a meal at one of Willie’s favorite restaurants: Javier’s. Known for their Continental Mexico City Cuisine, Javier’s is unlike the American-style Mexican food we’ve become accustomed to. Some similar elements alight, however a new depth of flavor presents itself in the most basic of items, such as the salsa which is rich in it’s tomato base, more akin to marinara sauce than the jarred pace picante I grew up eating. I select the fajitas de cabrito, goat sautéed with onions and peppers. It is rich, tender and filled with flavor. Javier’s is a well known Dallas institution and it pointedly strays from the Tex-Mex cuisine with which we may all be more familiar. Javier’s goal is to take you to Mexico City through food. He shares these authentic flavors with Dallas and you will be hard pressed to find Continental Mexico City Cuisine outside of this region of the US.
And then, almost as soon as I had arrived, I was back at the airport, making my way through security and heading east toward home. Willie had shown me a beautiful mix of what is both new and renewed in Dallas, resulting in 48 hours of unique cultural experiences. I was also walking away absolutely and unabashedly filled with pride for my little brother. He is the kindest, smartest and most passionate person I know. I miss him everyday. There is no one else like him. Dallas is one lucky city and I am one very blessed girl.
Being entirely new to both the world of hiking and the world of ramps, I wasn’t sure what to expect when Z, Benton, Maggie and I set out on our mission to forage this fleeting wild onion. We packed a picnic of fresh veggies and farmers-market bread, grabbed a chilled bottle of white and set out to find the ramps that grow at their own will throughout the fertile land of Foxhollow Farm. When we made these plans I had envisioned wandering through the woods and turning a corner, a valley of onions appearing before us in neat little rows, smiling toward the sky. As we made our way down the trail Maggie pointed out several signs confirming that spring was finally – finally! – here. Miniature white flowers blooming, their petals no larger than a beetle, small wild greens set apart by varied shades of green. “There’s a ramp!” she said, gesturing toward a sprouting of kelly-green leaves, bunched in a way that reminded me of the base of a tulip. It sat alone and bright, looking quite happy with it’s independence and freedom. The ramps began to pop up more frequently as we walked deeper into the woods, truly wild and of their own will. We came upon a steep slope adjacent to a beautiful babbling creek and were presented with the valley I had dreamed of however completely without uniform. We sat down amongst the ramps, the official first sign of spring, and popped the cork from our wine to drink and toast the new season amongst a field of one of it’s most wonderful and delicious gifts. We cleaned wild ramps and pilled them raw onto our bread. A smear of goat cheese, some peppers and some pea greens made up one of the simplest and most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever experienced. I knew ramps were of onion descent but there is a decidedly garlic undertone to their leaves. They left my mind spinning, visions of recipes and potential pairings flying through my head. Ramp pesto over pasta; ramp chimichurri ladled on a char-grilled skirt steak; ramps folded in with gently scrambled eggs. Whatever the application, ramps lend a distinctive and refreshing quality to their fellow ingredients and we should take note and appreciate their power as they will not be with us for long. Their life span is but a few short weeks and local restaurants covet them, the first jewels of spring.
We watched the dogs fly through the woods, bounding over the ramps and finally coming to a crashing rest amongst the leafy greens. We dug up a lions-share and set back toward home. This was my first ‘harvest’ experience and I wasn’t anticipating it to be so invigorating, so rewarding and refreshing. I spent the following week sampling the ramps in the aforementioned applications, happy with the depth of flavor this garlicky onion gave to each dish. It was my second go round with ramps with carrot purée and pasta that sealed the deal. Farm fresh carrots are brightening every farmer’s market booth right now, ramps sitting alongside. I hope you’ll take advantage of this wild treasure. It is as farm-fresh as it gets.
|Nick relaxing in a sea of ramps|
Scenes from our ramp hike follow along with my recipe for pasta with ramps and carrot purée.
|Pickles helping me collect the carrots for my purée|
|Ramps blanketing the woods|
|Wild ramps from Foxhollow Farm|
For this recipe, as with most all, I highly recommend prepping and chopping all items before you begin cooking. It makes for a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience! That said…
Clean and peel two bunches of carrots, chopping into one-inch rounds, yielding approximately two cups. Clean and chop seven to ten ramps, white and green parts, yielding one half cup.
Set a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil.
Set the carrots in a pan with high-sides and fill with water, until just covered, about one inch deep. Boil the carrots for 12 to 15 minutes until they are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork. Drain the carrots well and add them to the bowl of a food processor. Purée the carrots with one half tsp salt, one quarter tsp freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Set aside.
At this point your pasta water should be at a rolling boil. Add a palm-full of salt and three-quarters of a pound fusilli pasta. I like this particular pasta in this case because the ridges give the carrots and ramps wonderful little hiding spots, resulting in generously coated pasta noodles. Penne pasta will work as well. Cook for 8-10 minutes or as instructed on the box, until al dente. Make sure to reserve one cup of the pasta water before draining.
Wipe out the pan used to cook the carrots and set it over medium-low heat. Add one tbs unsalted butter and one tbs olive oil and warm for one minute. Add the ramps (reserving one tbs of the leafy-green part) to the pan and sauté with the butter and olive oil until fragrant, about one minute. Sprinkle one quarter tsp red pepper flakes over the ramps and toss to combine, allowing the dried spice to sweat and melt into the ramps just slightly. Transfer the carrot purée back to the pot and stir to blend with the ramps and red pepper flakes. Once warm, pour in one half cup heavy cream and one quarter tsp salt and whisk gently until well combined.
You want a thick but slightly thin purée, something that will act as a hearty but silky sauce for the pasta. The water from the pasta is a wonderful and surprisingly flavorful ingredient, filled with starch collected from the noodles. Begin by adding one half cup of the pasta water to the purée. This was enough of a thinning agent for me but feel free to add an additional quarter cup if you feel the sauce needs to be thinned out even more. Taste for seasoning and keep over medium-low heat, stirring often.
Pour the drained pasta over the puree. Before mixing, shave parmesan cheese directly onto the noodles, approximately one half cup. The cheese will begin to melt on the warm pasta – a very wonderful thing! Toss with the sauce and add two tbs freshly chopped parsley for freshness. Plate the pasta, garnish with the reserved ramp greens and serve.
Makes four entree portions, eight to ten as a side dish
- two cups carrots peeled and in one-inch chop
- seven to ten ramps, both white and green parts cleaned and chopped, yielding one half cup
- one half tsp kosher salt
- one quarter tsp freshly ground black pepper
- pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- one tbs unsalted butter
- one tbs olive oil
- one quarter tsp red pepper flakes
- one half cup heavy whipping cream
- one quarter tsp kosher salt
- one half cup parmesan cheese
- two tbs chopped parsley
- three-quarters of a pound fusilli pasta
- one cup reserved pasta water
- reserved leafy greens from ramps for garnish
Whenever I am experiencing ‘recipe block’ Z always comes up with the same suggestion: ‘make your tuna sandwich – it’s the best!’ As adorable as I find this sentiment (and as delicious as I find my tuna sandwich to be) it really is simply a tuna sandwich – a balanced blend of tuna, mayonnaise, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper… and then a bit more mayonnaise… ummmm and maybe just a dollop more… it isn’t culinary magic but it is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods and has been since I was little.
While I could happily wax poetic about the merits of the simple tuna sandwich for hours, I found this lightly spiced variation studded with sweetly tart apples and topped with creamy avocado to be worthy of a foodie-girl post. Inspired by a lunch we enjoyed in Exuma, I took a deep breath and dipped my toe in the wide and varied curry-universe. It is a pronounced yet subdued flavor in these small bites, lending something special to the otherwise ordinary tuna and blossoming with each burst of juice from the apple. Ideal for a spring get together yet easy enough for an afternoon snack, these canapés were the antidote to my ‘recipe block.’ Thankfully, with warmer days upon us, post-worthy inspiration is in ample supply!
You are welcome to use your favorite bread varietal for the base of your canapé but I recommend a baguette. I picked up a whole grain version and cut it into half-inch thick slices. Drizzle with olive oil and toast on 425 for three to five minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Moving to the tuna, you will need a five ounce can packed in water. Higher end versions are packed in olive oil but we don’t need the additional fat in this case. We’ll get plenty of that from the mayonnaise! Speaking of mayonnaise… mix together one and one half tbs mayonnaise, one quarter tsp curry powder, one quarter tsp kosher salt, the juice from half of a lemon and one eighth tsp freshly ground black pepper. Drain the tuna very well and place in a bowl. Add the curry-mayonnaise to the tuna and toss together until well combined, ensuring that the large pieces of tuna broken up and well mixed.
Right now the tuna-curry mix is flavorful but one-note. Apples will not only add a bright sweetness but they will also lend great texture to each bite with their crisp crunch. You want a red apple as opposed to green apple as they tend toward the sweeter side while the green varieties are more tart. Leaving the skin on, dice the apple into quarter inch cubes. You will need one quarter cup for this recipe. Gently toss the apple with the tuna. The lemon juice in the mayonnaise will help keep the apple from browning.
Spoon the tuna and apples onto each slice of bread. Top with avocado and give a light squeeze of a lemon overtop, making sure the avocado won’t brown. A liberal shower of minced chives adds a final touch to these spring-time canapés. Pair with a crisp pinot grigio and raise a toast to spring – it has finally arrived! Enjoy!
- one baguette, sliced into 12 quarter-inch pieces
- one tbs olive oil
- one and one half tbs mayonnaise
- one quarter tsp curry powder
- one quarter tsp kosher salt
- one eighth tsp freshly ground black pepper
- one half lemon, juiced
- one quarter cup apple, quarter-inch dice
- one half avocado, quarter-inch dice
- two tbs chives, minced
- one tbs lemon juice
Simon’s Point is a ten minute cab ride from the airport, a local grocery store and liquor stop conveniently located at the base of the entrance to the drive. The ride is beautiful, views of the ocean peeking out at us through the thick island vegetation. A small house will appear every mile or so but for the most part it is remote. Maggie comments that things have really developed since her childhood. The long drive leading from the entrance of Simon’s Point to the two homes gracing this peninsula is a bit rugged and our taxi driver has to negotiate several breaks in the concrete, leisurely making her way to our final destination. Suddenly, a pale pink house emerges in the landscape. Our vacation has begun.
|Marjorie making bread|
|Morning tea and tarot cards|
And so begins a series of days that run in to one another. Mornings are for drinking coffee and tea on the porch, watching the sailboats cross through the sun as it continues to climb high into the clouds. We have a tarot card reading every morning as well, asking quiet questions to ourselves and seeing what sort of feedback the cards will present us with. It proves to be a fun and insightful activity and a fantastic way to start the day.
|The scenic stroll to the beach|
|Our private oasis|
|The makings for conch salad at Stocking Island’s Chat and Chill|
I have been hearing, and subsequently dreaming, about the fresh conch salad made to order at the Chat and Chill. We approach Stocking Island and hop into the water, wading our way to shore. We drop our towels and make a beeline for the brightly hued shack where ruby-red tomatoes and kelly-green bell peppers are being diced quickly and deftly by a local who has been harvesting fresh conch since he was a young child.
|Harvesting Fresh Conch|
When an order for a salad is called up he will stroll into the water where he retrieves a pole with live conchs looped around the base. With decided and skilled hands he pops the conch out of the shell, the large and tough mussel of this mollusk the meat that puts his salads in such high demand. I watched him slip a few choice pieces of the conch into his mouth as he worked and, when I inquired what they were, he smiled and responded “an aphrodisiac.” He offered up this special item to me with the next conch and I ate it quickly, before my mind got the best of me. I will let you use your imagination to determine exactly what part of the conch we dined on but I will mention that it is only found on male conchs and I was the only non-local who chose to give it a taste!
|The Conch Burger at the Chat and Chill|
Our beach-side Chef squeezes copious amounts of fresh lime juice onto the conch meat and tosses it with the onion, tomatoes and bell peppers, adding spicy jalapenos upon request. If ceviche-style conch doesn’t get your taste buds going, I highly suggest you give their conch burger a try. Tucked between a soft, kissed-by-the-grill sesame bun, the conch meat is blended with lively spices, the smoke from the grill coming through softly with each bite. I had been hearing as much about the conch as I had about the signature libation of Exuma, the Goombay Smash. A mix of several different spiced rums, pineapple juice and orange, the Chat and Chill poured them liberally out of recycled gallon jugs. Ordered with a rum floater, the goombay smash rounded out our day in the Chat and Chill sun. After naps on the beach we headed back to Simon’s Point, counting the cays we passed along the way.
|The Market in downtown Exuma|
|The sun setting over downtown Exuma|
|Jonathan celebrating our fire|
|Our cottage at Casa Glebinias|
Our time in Mendoza would not have been the same without the hospitality and warm embrace of Alberto and Maria, the owners of a small collection of cottages set upon beautiful and lush grounds, a canopy of trees offering welcome shade from the summer sun. Casa Glebinias was outstanding. It is the one place in the world where I most wish to return.
Maria and Alberto offer peace and tranquility in a variety of forms. The fruit studded trees throughout the property made for delicious homemade jams, delivered to our room every morning, quietly and discreetly, with a mug of hot coffee, fresh breads and tea. Lounging by the pool was the perfect activity after a day of wine touring and tasting and we met our few fellow guests (it houses, at the most, 20 lucky visitors) two couples from New York and a small group of friends from Denmark.
We divided our time in Chacras de Coria and Mendoza between two full days of wine tours and leisurely walks through the city streets, easily settling into the relaxing pace of life. Mendoza is medium in size and bustling. A large park sits in the center of the town, the perimeter dotted with locals selling their wares.
Like Buenos Aires, there are trees everywhere – tall, lush and gracious trees which thrive due to the extensive irrigation system winding through the city. We would find these canals running the length of the main street in Chacras as well and we learned they were constructed to ensure the trees would flourish and that the grapes for their beloved wine would be treated to the optimum conditions. It left me a bit unsure of my footing from time to time and there may or may not have been an incident where Z fell into a four-foot deep canal… needless to say, we quickly learned to keep alert.
|Irrigation canals in Mendoza’s city center|
As a preview of what was to come during our wine excursions, we stopped off at the Vines of Mendoza tasting room, located in Mendoza’s city center. We sampled a flight of Malbecs and a flight of other varietals. I adore tasting wines side by side and I find there is no better way to detect distinct flavors and qualities than when contrasting one wine against another. Their tasting room was absolutely idyllic and I highly recommend a stop when you plan your Mendoza adventure.
|The Vines of Mendoza tasting room|
With Mendoza a twenty minute drive from our home at Casa Glebinias, we spent the majority of our time exploring the tiny village of Chacras, a quiet community known as a foodie-haven and an ideal base for wine country adventures. A short, irrigation-canal-lined stroll from Casa Glebinias would bring us to a lightly populated center of town, restaurants and bars humming, drawing you in with the promise of beautifully prepared local food served with elegant wine from the town’s own vines. A far cry from the big-city nightlife of Buenos Aires, Chacras allowed us to take our relaxed, peaceful mentality built by the calm days, into the night. As quiet as it was however they didn’t stray from the tradition of eating late and you would be hard pressed to find anyone, local at least, beginning dinner before 10pm. For us that translated to more exploring, starting off around seven or eight with cocktails and small bites at one restaurant and then moving on to dinner at the local’s hour.
|Curried Apple Soup with Carrot Foam – Nadia O.F., Chacras de Coria|
Our most memorable dinner in Chacras de Coria was courtesy of Nadia O.F. Affiliated with the O.Fournier Winery (you may be familiar with their line of Urban Uco wines), Nadia’s menu changes with the season and we were treated to a five course meal with wine pairings under a canopy of Mendoza stars (make sure you ask to sit on the back patio – it is a beautiful experience). We began with a curried apple soup topped with carrot foam, complex yet light, a delightful way to kick our tastebuds into gear. It was followed by a powerfully delicate beef tartar, mustard seeds bringing punch to the silky beef. This was one of my favorite bites of our entire Argentina adventure. A delight.
|Beef Tartar – Nadia O.F., Chacras de Coria|
Braised oxtail ravioli in a malbec reduction made up my entree course and I couldn’t have been happier with the selection, the concentrated flavors of the malbec sauce pairing perfectly with the tender, rich oxtail meat. Nadia’s was fantastic from start to finish and an incredible value at only $35 USD/each TOTAL, including our wine pairings. I almost felt guilty paying so little for such an experience. I can’t wait to dine on Nadia’s patio again someday.
|Braised Oxtail Ravioli in a Malbec Reduction – Nadia O.F.. Chacras de Coria|
Mendoza the city is beautiful and full of life. Chacras de Coria is quaint and straight from a storybook. You never want to leave. But what had truly called us to this very specific corner of the world was WINE. Do you need a better reason? Malbec is the grape most associated with Argentina and rightfully so… it flourishes here, all of the stars aligning to transform this fruit into Malbec at it’s very, very best. But do not make the mistake of assuming that Malbec is born of Argentina. It is actually one of the five primary grapes of Bordeaux, France. These antique vines were brought to Mendoza by the French and took quick root. You have a sense that, as long as they have been making wine here, the process of refining it is still a relatively new concept in comparison to the ancient viniculture of the French, Italians and Spaniards. The people of Argentina, Mendoza specifically, have embraced their land and the grapes they are growing with a strong, lasting grasp. This passion and excitement has resulted in world-class wine and we couldn’t wait to get lost in it all.
|Tasting wine at Mendel|
We had arranged for two full days of wine tours and had signed on with Trout and Wine, a local tour company specializing in vineyard experiences, to make sure we had a varied and well-rounded itinerary. Both days spent with Trout and Wine and our fellow travelers were more than we could have hoped. Our guides were both born and raised in Mendoza and knew their culture and wine through and through.
|Every bottle at Mendel is labeled by hand|
Our very first stop was at Mendel, the morning sun just hitting it’s resting point, a low breeze whisking through the vines. Our tour guide from Mendel kicked things off with a walk through the grapes, painting us a picture in terms so eloquent, so beautiful, that I wish I had them on record. She told us about their belief that the vines are mothers, the large and expansive leaves embracing and protecting the baby grapes. Our guide plucked a plum red grape from the vine and gently squeezed it between her fingers, a clear and glistening juice running down her hand. ”All wine is clear, it is the contact with the skin of the grape that gives it the color.” I know this may seem like an entirely obvious item of note but, for me, it was eye opening. It was here that I understood what ‘Blanc de Noir’ meant – white from black… a term associated with Champagne. We all have ‘aha’ moments and this was one of mine. Mendel’s methods proved to be highly traditional and on a small scale, every grape hand picked from the vine, each bottle labeled with care. It was the perfect introduction to wine country.
|Tasting the wine of Bodega Terrazas|
The day moved right along from there with stops at Terrazas and Benegas. Terrazas sat in stark contrast to Mendel, dwarfing their small-scale production with a large distribution facility filled with the latest and greatest in viniculture equipment. Terrazas can be found in many large liquor stores as well as on restaurant menus throughout the US, a solid ‘go-to’ option for me in many instances. Benegas is known not for their Malbec but for their Cabernet Franc, the grapes for this wine growing on 80 year old vines. The family of Benegas is credited with bringing the first French grapes to Argentina and their collection of Argentinian wine artifacts was beautiful.
|Seviche at Club Tapiz|
The highlight of the day – and one of the highlights of my trip – came at lunch. We pulled up to Club Tapiz and were allowed a chance to wander their grounds before we were treated to a tasting of their olive oil and a tour of their olive house. Our hunger sparked, we moved to a second level terrace, a long feasting table awaiting our arrival. Four courses with wine pairings followed, every single bite and sip pure bliss. The seviche course was gentle but acidic, the crunch of the peppers adding just the right kick of texture. It was the porterhouse steak that stole my heart however, leading me to proclaim without any hesitation that this was THE BEST steak I had EVER had… Z had met his in Buenos Aires and mine had been waiting for me in Mendoza. It was rich, tender and cooked exactly to my liking. A dream.
|The BEST STEAK EVER at Club Tapiz|
We began the day at Pulenta, an elegant and relatively modern winery, where they treated us to a tasting that explored all of our senses. Upon seating we were quickly blindfolded, small glasses of unknown objects placed in our hands. We were instructed to identify the items by smell alone, a warm up for our palates and a great exercise in defining specific scents and fragrances generally associated with wine. Pulenta’s Malbec was among my favorite sips of our trip and our walk through their open-air production line was beautiful.
|La Azul, a garagista winery in Mendoza’s Uco Valley|
Twenty minutes later we would find ourselves that much closer to the mountains, a small box of a building set against the sky. Bodega Azul falls into the category of ‘garagista winery’, literally translating to ‘garage winery.’ It looked like little else than that until you walked in this humble but great abode, a very limited number of oak barrels lining the walls. From the sorting of the grapes to the sealing of the cork, every step of making Azul’s wine takes place under this small roof. The wine, particularly their Malbec, was thoughtful and rich. Our guide from Bodega Azul was shy, a blush splashing over his face as he talked about the traditional French techniques they use when making their wine (like adding egg whites during the aging process to remove impurities). He watched us with a quiet intensity as we tasted his wine, highly interested in our thoughts on his creation. ”He cares only for what the every-day person thinks of his wine” said our friend from Trout and Wine ”He is making wine for us to love, not to win awards.” His intentions and his show of love were evident with every sip.
|A bunch of grapes at Bodega Salentein|
As we drove away from Bodega Salentein I gazed out of the window, watching the rays of the sun slice through the sky, cutting into the earth with the precision of a knife. Our time in Mendoza left me feeling deeply connected to the land, the bounty it offered us over this five day span a treasure I will never, ever forget. I left Mendoza energized, thrilled, and bursting with fulfillment and gratitude for it’s people and for this country.
Nothing in my travels has effected me as intensely and I am hard pressed to imagine ever feeling this strongly connected to any other place. The drive and love for travel that Argentina instilled in Z and I will continue to propel us forward, living life to what we believe to be the fullest. The next stop? Croatia and Slovenia! I can hardly wait.
This weekend we are ‘springing forward’ (don’t forget!), an annual signal that the end of winter is near and the luxury of spring and the blossoming of farm-fresh vegetables will soon be our reality. This promise of brighter, warmer days comes at a cost however, and we still have a few remaining dreary nights ahead of us. I find my recipe for macaroni and cheese to be an immediate cure for the winter blues.
Warm, soothing and perfectly decadent, this macaroni and cheese is as simple as it is impressive. Mushrooms and leeks partner to add an elegant touch to a dish that has been warming our hearts for as long as we can remember. A combination of cheddar and havarti cheese brings sharpness and depth to the sauce, bathing the noodles as they bake until browned and bubbly under a crunchy coating of breadcrumbs and parmesan. I think we will all agree that macaroni and cheese is a perfect meal for any season of the year. This recipe offers a bridge, taking us from winter into spring. Watch the video and see for yourself…
- one half pound baby portabella mushrooms
- one half pound shitake mushrooms
- two large leeks, approximately three cups sliced
- two tbs unsalted butter
- two tbs olive oil
- one quarter tsp kosher salt
- one eighth tsp freshly ground black pepper
- two and one half cups whole milk
- one bay leaf
- four sprigs fresh thyme
- three cloves garlic, sliced in half
- pinch nutmeg
- four tbs unsalted butter
- four tbs all purpose flour
- one pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- one half pound havarti cheese, grated
- pinch kosher salt
- pinch freshly ground black pepper
- one pound cavatapi pasta
- one half cup panko breadcrumbs
- one quarter tsp dried red pepper flakes
- one quarter cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 and set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Using a clean, dry dishtowel, gently wipe off the tops of the mushrooms and remove the stems. Slice long into quarter-inch pieces. Moving to the leeks, chop off the root end of both leeks as well as the dark green ends. These are too woody to use. Slice the leek in half, lengthwise, and rinse under cold water thoroughly, ensuring that all of the sand in between the folds is removed. Chop the leeks into thin slices and set aside.
Pour the milk into a small sauce pan and set over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, nutmeg, thyme and bay leaf and stir. Allow to steep slowly, stirring occasionally to make sure the milk doesn’t burn.
Warm your largest sauté pan over medium heat and add two tbs of unsalted butter and two tbs of olive oil. Once the butter has melted add the leeks and mushrooms along with a quarter tsp kosher salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Allow the vegetables to sweat and cook down, lowering the heat to ensure they do not burn, for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
At this point your pot of water should be boiling vigorously. Add a palmful of salt to the water and then pour in the pasta. Stir and let boil for five to six minutes, just short of the total cook time noted on the packaging. The pasta will continue to cook in the stove so you want to leave the texture just shy of al dente. When the pasta is ready, drain and set aside in a large bowl. Cover with a clean dish towel.
While the pasta is cooking we will make the roux, the base of just about every classic macaroni and cheese. Melt four tbs of unsalted butter in a medium pot. Once melted, add four tbs all-purpose flour and whisk together quickly for two minutes, blending so that there aren’t any lumps and allowing the raw flour taste to cook off. Once the mixture is silky and golden, slowly whisk in the warm milk, making sure to discard the herbs and garlic first. I generally add my milk in two additions. Stir the milk constantly over medium-low heat for six to eight minutes, scrapping the bottom of the pot to make sure clumps don’t form and that the sauce remains smooth. Once the milk has thickened (test it using a wooden spoon – if it coats the back then it is ready) add the cheese – one and one half pounds grated sharp cheddar and one half pound grated havarti. Havarti is a very creamy cheese and can be a challenge to grate.
I let my havarti (or any creamy cheese for that matter) chill in the freezer for five to ten minutes prior to grating. It will harden up just enough and will be much easier to slice and grate. Whisk the cheese into the thickened milk, keeping the heat low. Once melted (it will not be completely smooth), turn off the heat and set aside. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper.
Add the mushrooms and leeks to the bowl with the pasta. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and mix well until all of the pasta is coated with the sauce. Transfer the pasta into a buttered baking dish and top with the breadcrumbs, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until browned and bubbly. Allow to sit for five minutes before serving.
We toured a variety of wineries during our time in Mendoza, slowly making our way toward the Andes, the flavors of the grapes evolving as we steadily climbed to higher altitudes. I will be delving into our love-affair with Mendoza in a soon-to-be-published post, one that is taking me some time to write. My nostalgia continually distracts me, my senses so overwhelmed with memories of our days sipping, smelling and swirling the delicate, dynamic and simply delicious fruit.
Pulenta kicked off our second day of touring in Mendoza, a day that just happened to belong to St. Valentine, and we were treated to a sensory test in honor of the holiday. We were blindfolded and passed a series of glasses, each one containing some sort of food or product from nature with a scent and flavor profile often associated with wine.
Our entire experience at Pulenta was inspired and I was delighted to find their La Flor Malbec at several local wine shops upon our return home. Between $13 and $15 per bottle, this wine is an incredible value. It is deep ruby in tone, smooth with a slight edge at first sip, notes of raspberries and milk chocolate playing along the palate. I’ve been sipping it as I write about Mendoza, remembering the personality and vibrancy of this wine community. I look forward to sharing this experience with you and hope you will pick up a bottle of La Flor at your next opportunity. A mini escape to Argentina is just a glass of Malbec away!