Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

garden1 garden2 garden3 garden4

It worked. Seeds were planted. They sprouted. And today, the novice gardener ate her first pick of the season.

OK, for many of you out there, this is far less than a miracle. After all, humans have been growing food for around 12,000 years. But remember, I’m a child of the iceberg-in-plastic generation. For me, this is thrilling.

So far, the garden has been much easier than we thought it would be: plant seeds; give them water; watch them grow. However, my husband and I have made our share of mistakes. We accidentally ordered bright red—I’m talking screaming-scarlet—mulch for the aisles. Therefore, instead of the organic-hued rows we envisioned, we’re left with racing stripes. Worse, however, is that the spot we chose for the plot—right next to the house—doesn’t receive nearly as much full sunlight as we had thought (we fear the spinach might never make it past infancy). Oops.

Today, however, I’m feeling optimistic (and who doesn’t love baby spinach, anyway?). I just ate an unforgettable salad of freshly snipped arugula leaves tossed with a buttermilk and herb dressing. Delicate and sweet, peppery yet cool—nothing could taste finer.

I suspect that the salad would taste good even with grocery store or farmer’s market arugula. But, if you haven’t ever done so, try growing your own. You’ll see what I mean.

Arugula Salad with Buttermilk & Herb Dressing

This makes plenty of dressing, which can be used throughout the week if kept in a jar in the fridge (it also makes for a great marinade for poultry). For a smaller serving, cut the recipe in half.

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspooons honey
  • 2 garlic clove, smashed to a paste (or passed through garlic press)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh marjoram or basil
  • 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch arugula
  1. Whisk together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and let sit or 10 minutes at room temperature, or for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
  2. Drizzle the dressing (you won’t need it all) over the arugula and serve immediately.

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The “Grey House” Garden

On the very same historic day that the White House planted its first vegetable garden, I received my first organic seeds in the mail. It was a day that was a long time coming. Finally (!) our government appears to be recognizing the irrefutable link between food and our environment, our health and our community systems. Finally (!) I get to plant my first garden, something that I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a kid and later became a chef (now finally a possibility since I’ve moved out of the city). Oregon Trail Shell Peas, Dinosaur Kale, Palermo Bush Bean, Zefa Fino Florence Fennel, Cocozelle Bush Zucchini… just typing these words sends my heart racing and mouth watering!

But wait.

Will the First Lady’s symbolic message really be absorbed by a nation that has long supported (and literally been consumed by) cheap, industrialized foods? Will my beloved vegetables ever even reach my mouth? (I should admit that I have never grown anything from seed before and can hardly keep the poor plant in my office alive.)

I will remain hopeful. Spring is here, after all, and this is the perfect time to believe in renewal, both for our nation and for the bare 14×14-foot plot of dirt outside my kitchen window. I’m perfectly aware that I probably have wispy fennel fronds clouding my vision, but I feel invigorated, like a taking gulp of fresh stream water after a winter of drinking sludge.

Our garden might be a puny postage stamp by White House standards, but the vegetables will be just as delicious. That is, if they grow. (If you have any advice, Michelle, I’m all ears.) Only time will tell if this little plot of dirt will lead to the luscious bounty I’ve been fantasizing about, or if our nation’s policies will start to reflect the symbolic spirit of the first White House Garden.

I’ll keep you posted.



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As March makes her entrance, I crave neither the heavy fare of winter nor the light dishes of spring, but something in between. This dish wins the goldilocks challenge, marrying the warm and comforting flavors of the months behind with the light and vibrant flavors of the season ahead. A glass of not-too light, but not-too heavy Chianti, and well, it’s just right.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus 6-24 hours of marinating time
Cooking time: 10-12 minutes, plus 1 hour for the polenta

  • 1 ¼-pound skirt steak
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary, divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced thyme, divided
  • ¼ cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe, ends trimmed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small chunk Parmigiano Reggiano for grating
  • Creamy polenta (see below)
  • Salsa verde (see below)
  • Marinated slow roasted or sun-dried tomatoes from a jar for serving (optional)
  1. Trim the steak of any excess fat and cut it in half horizontally (or in thirds) for easier grilling. Put the steaks into a large re-sealable plastic bag and add half of the garlic, half of the rosemary, half of the thyme and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Mix the marinade around to evenly coat the steak, and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the broccoli rabe. Prepare an ice bath. Add the broccoli rabe to the boiling water and cook 2-4 minutes, or until bright green and crisp tender. Using tongs, transfer the broccoli rabe to the ice bath to cool. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. (If not using immediately, wrap the blanched broccoli rabe in paper towels and store in a large re-sealable plastic bag for up to 24 hours.)
  3. 30-45 minutes before cooking, take the meat out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. In a shallow dish, combine the blanched broccoli rabe with the remaining garlic, rosemary, thyme and 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, along with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  4. Heat a grill-pan to medium-high heat. Brush the marinade off of the steaks and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill the steaks for 3-4 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil.
  5. Grill the broccoli rabe on both sides until lightly charred in places. Transfer to a platter; season with a bit of salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and grate Parmigiano Reggiano over the top.
  6. Slice the steak thinly against the grain and serve over creamy polenta. Drizzle the salsa verde over the steak and sprinkle some of the marinated tomatoes alongside. Serve with the grilled broccoli rabe.

Creamy Polenta
The ratio for polenta is 4 parts of water to 1 part of stone-ground cornmeal. The trick to a luscious texture is to cook it low and slow. You don’t have to be anchored to the stovetop while it cooks, but you will need to pop into the kitchen every now and again to give it a stir. Nothing will compare to the resulting bright corn flavor and creamy texture.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stone-ground polenta (or cornmeal)
  • 1-1 ½ cups milk
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter (to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Bring the water back to a boil, whisking constantly, and cook until the polenta starts to thicken, 2-4 minutes. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and stir with a wooden spoon. Simmer the polenta gently (there should soft bubbles with an intermittent plop), stirring occasionally and adding a splash of milk every now and then to moisten. Cook for 45 minutes.
  2. After 45 minutes, taste the polenta to see if it’s done (be careful—it’ll be hot!). It should be creamy without a grainy texture. Continue cooking for 10-15 minutes if it’s still grainy.
  3. Add butter to taste, along with a bit more milk if needed until you reach the consistency you want. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you’re not serving it right away, drizzle a bit more milk over the top (this will prevent a crust from forming) and cover the polenta to keep warm (it can sit for up to an hour; stir before serving).

Salsa Verde

  • 1/2 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1 anchovy filet, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallots (about ½ small shallot)
  • 1 scant teaspoon each minced rosemary, thyme and oregano
  • 1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
  • 2 walnuts
  • ¼ teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • Pinch salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

In a mortar and pestle or mini food processor, combine all of the ingredients except for the olive oil and process to a thick paste. Slowly add the olive oil and process until incorporated. Let the sauce sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving to let the flavors meld. Do Ahead: The salsa verde can be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for a week.

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This vibrant and light winter salad provides a welcome contrast to the rich fare of the season. Thinly shaved fennel and glistening orange segments are tangled together with winter greens, toasted hazelnuts and crumbled feta for a crunchy and refreshing beginning to any holiday meal. Serve it with a glass of Prosecco and let the party begin.

Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 15 minutes

  • 2 navel or blood oranges
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium fennel bulbs
  • 2 cups mizuna, arugula or tatsoi leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces if large
  • 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
  • 2-4-ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Cut off the stem and bottom end off each orange. Stand one orange on a flat end and cut away the peel, moving your knife from the top to the bottom. Holding the peeled orange over a bowl, cut in between the membranes to remove the segments (drop them directly into the bowl). Squeeze out any remaining juice into a separate bowl. Repeat with the second orange.
  2. In the bowl with the juice, add honey and balsamic vinegar to taste (until you find a balance you like—this will depend on the sweetness of the oranges), along with the rosemary, crushed garlic clove, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk until the honey is dissolved. Let sit while you prep the vegetables to let the flavors infuse.
  3. Cut off the fennel stems and discard, reserving 2 tablespoons of fronds. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut the fennel into paper-thin slices and transfer to a large bowl. Add the winter greens.
  4. Remove the garlic clove from the vinegar mixture and discard. Whisk in 1/4-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil to taste.
  5. Toss the salad with vinaigrette (you will not need it all). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with the hazelnuts, feta and reserved fennel fronds.

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This warming jumble of onions, apples and Weisswurst (German white sausages scented with cardamom, lemon peel, parsley and ginger) is taken to new heights with the addition of crème fraiche and apple cider. Sweet and sultry, yet earthy and satisfying, it’s like slipping into your favorite wool sweater. For a simple and nourishing dinner, serve it over pureed buttercup or butternut squash with a glass of dry Riesling or a stein of ale.
Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25-35 minutes

  • 4 Weisswurst (white pork sausages), 12-ounces
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 crisp, sweet apples (such as Fuji, Gala or Jonagold), cored and cut into 16 wedges
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup crème fraiche
  1. Cut the sausages on the bias into 1/4-inch slices.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high and coat with olive oil. Add the sausages and cook until lightly browned on each side, about 3-5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the sliced onions with a pinch of salt and pepper; if the pan looks dry add a bit more oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the apples, rosemary and sage and cook, covered, 3-5 minutes, or until the apples are softened. Transfer to the plate with the sausages.
  3. Put the pan back over the heat and add the apple cider. Boil until reduced by three quarters, about 8-10 minutes. Whisk in the crème fraiche and simmer 2-3 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Add the sausage, onions and apples back into the pan and cook until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Cooper Mountain Vineyards has released a hand-crafted 6-year-old balsamic vinegar made from certified organic and biodynamic grapes grown on their estate in the Willamette Valley. The Vecchio Tradizionale Apicio Aceto Balsamico was produced from 27-year-old chardonnay and pinot noir vines following the 2000 harvest and was aged in a succession of wood barrels (oak, chestnut, mulberry, cherry and robina) from Modena, Italy.

Cooper Mountain hopes to bring the concept and the standards of Aceto Balsamico Tranditionale from Modena to the US.

Although the current release is young for a traditional balsamic (Aceto Balsamico is aged a minimum of 12 years), Apicio has a texture and flavor that is surprisingly mature. It is thick and rich with aromas of port, caramel and wood, showing none of the sharpness or fruitiness typical of a young balsamic. It’s not a vinegar to be splashed recklessly about; it’s best drizzled over a platter of ripe pairs and salty cheese or as a final flourish on cooked meats and vegetables. With only 150 3.5-ounce bottles available at $60 apiece, careful consumption is a wise idea, assuming you can get your hands on a bottle.

Luckily there are also 12- and 15-month-old selections in the works.

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Pesto for Winter

Pesto was splattered across my kitchen counter (and my left cheek) like emerald war paint. Last weekend I harvested the basil from my first real garden—this was no small trimming of potted plants but a veritable felling of bushes. Within an hour I had transformed my once white kitchen into a speckled green pesto plant, buzzing out batches of the green stuff to freeze for winter.

Having been a city girl up until this summer, last weekend was my first real foray into home preserving (where preparing for winter was actually the intention, as opposed to simply putting up leftovers), and it was surprisingly satisfying. There’s comfort in producing food for the future (even if it’s just a couple of quarts of pesto), perhaps hardwired into our DNA from centuries when preservation was no mere hobby, but a critical means of survival. Come to think of it, as we currently face an economy gone haywire along with skyrocketing food costs, reconnecting with the pleasures of preserving might not be such a bad idea.

I made two different styles of pesto—a Classic Pesto and a Thai Basil & Pistachio Pesto (below)—which I portioned into recycled sandwich bags then froze flat so that they wouldn’t take up too much space in my already busy freezer. In the doldrums of winter, when fresh herbs are as scarce as warm sunshine, the bags will be a more than welcome addition to everything from fresh linguini to pressed paninis, fluffy frittatas, seared shrimp and stuffed chicken… without costing me a dime. What a delicious comfort.

Next weekend I’m going to tackle a roasted heirloom tomato sauce made with produce from our local farm stand. And next year… it’s onto canning.

Classic Pesto
Nothing brightens a dish easier than a dollop of pesto; its uses are endless (paninis, pasta, frittatas, pizza, chicken, seafood…).

2 garlic cloves, peeled
5 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or walnut pieces
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor with the motor running, drop the garlic cloves in through the feed tube and finely chop. Turn off the motor, scrap down the sides, and add the basil, pine nuts, lemon juice, Parmigiano and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process until finely chopped. Add the water and process until smooth. With the motor running, slowly pour the extra virgin olive oil in through the feed tube. Taste and season the pesto with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Thai Basil & Pistachio Pesto
Try this vibrant Asian inspired pesto spooned over seafood and chicken, stirred into soups and coconut-based curries, tossed with pasta, or used as a dip for veggies.

2 garlic cloves, peeled
1-in by 1/2-in piece of ginger, peeled
3/4 cup shelled pistachios
5 cups packed Thai basil leaves
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon Indonesian palm sugar, or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup water
1 cup peanut oil

In a food processor with the motor running, drop the garlic cloves and ginger in through the feed tube and finely chop. Turn off the motor, scrap down the sides, and add the pistachios. Pulse until the pistachios are coarsely chopped. Add the basil, lime juice, fish sauce, coconut, palm or brown sugar, siracha and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process until finely ground. Add the water and process until smooth. With the motor running, slowly pour the peanut oil in through the feed tube. (This recipe produces a fairly thick pesto; add additional oil if a thinner consistency is desired). Taste and season the pesto with additional salt and pepper if desired.

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As fall starts nibbling away at summer with its crisp and colorful display, I naturally start craving warmer flavors and heartier fare. This quick and easy pan-seared ribeye steak, finished with Cabernet glazed mushrooms, is the perfect way to ease into the cold-weather flavors ahead. While the steak makes a sumptuous meal for one, it becomes an elegant (and economical) meal for two when thinly sliced and served with seasonal sides such as roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed broccoli. With a few glasses of the leftover Cab, fall has never tasted so good.

With its lower fat content, grass fed beef requires gentler cooking than “conventional” grain fed beef (why is it that we call beef that is fed an untraditional diet of grain, which it is not designed to digest, “conventional?”). It will take less heat and less time than a grain fed steak.

Serves: 1-2
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

  • 1 boneless grass fed ribeye steak, 1 inch thick
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms, such as shitake and cremini
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon or other full-bodied red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon truffle oil (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Let the steak sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking. Meanwhile, chop and measure the remaining ingredients.
  2. Brush the steak with olive oil and sprinkle generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Cook the steak on both sides until browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Put the pan in the oven and cook 4-6 minutes for medium rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board to rest.
  3. While the steak rests, make the pan sauce. Place the cast iron pan with its drippings over medium heat and add 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and toss. Let the mushrooms cook, without stirring, until they begin to brown 2-3 minutes. Add the sprig of thyme, minced shallots and garlic, and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Pour in the wine and stir, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter and the truffle oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Carve the steak against the grain into thin slices and serve with the mushrooms.

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