Basic Hummus

Why buy hummus at the grocery store when it is easy to make at home?  A staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, hummus is a great dip or hors d’oeuvre.  Made with chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), it’s packed with protein and fiber.  Serve it with bread and it’s a complete protein.

hummusHere’s what you’ll need:

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 2 cups)
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp sea salt
paprika for garnish

Combine all ingredients (except for paprika) into a food processor.  Blend until smooth.  Put hummus into a bowl and sprinkle paprika on top.  Serve with pita, carrots or similar foods.

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds.  You can find it at most grocery stores in the Middle Eastern foods section or near the peanut butter.

Many hummus recipes call for a clove of garlic.  I usually don’t use garlic because my husband does not like the taste.

Once you’ve made this basic hummus, it’s easy to make it your own.  Add extra lemon juice, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, or anything else you think would taste good!

Total time: less than 10 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6 people as an appetizer, 8 to 10 as an hors d’oeuvre or dip

A Brief History of Triple Sec

From Margaritas to Mai Tais, Cosmopolitans to Kamikazes, Triple Sec is an important ingredient in many cocktails.

While you may not think much of this spirit, you may be surprised to learn it has quite the history.

Combier Liqueur d'OrangeTriple Sec was created in 1834 by Jean-Baptiste Combier in France’s Loire Valley.  It’s a mix of Haitian orange peels, Normandy sugar beets, secret family ingredients and pure alcohol.  He called it “Combier Liqueur d’Orange.”  The liqueur is triple-distilled in copper stills to enhance its flavors and quality.  This process gives the spirit its more common name, Triple Sec.  Today Combier Liqueur d’Orange is distilled in the same copper stills first used by the Combier family.

Here’s something else you may find surprising: the original Triple Sec hasn’t been available in the United states until fairly recently.

You can now find this sip of history at bars and liquor stores.  A 750ml bottle of Combier Liqueur d’Orange is $40.

Try Combier Liqueur d’Orange in a Margarita or Cosmo.  For the Margarita, combine 1 ounce of Combier Liqueur d’Orange, ¾ ounce lime juice and 1½ ounces tequila.  Shake with ice and strain over rocks.  Garnish with lime.  For the Cosmo, combine ½ ounce Combier, 1½ ounces Absolut Citron, ¼ ounce lime juice and 1 ounce cranberry juice.  Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange peel.

Even if you prefer to stick with a newer and less expensive brand, knowing a little about the origins of Triple Sec will give you a new appreciation for this common cocktail ingredient.

For more information on Combier Liqueur d’Orange visit combierusa.com.

Dining Deals at Flavor Palm Beach

You’ve been enjoying Miami Spice, now check out Flavor Palm Beach!

The great dining deals are coming to Palm Beach County for the month of September.

City PlaceNow in its second year, Flavor Palm Beach is a great way to discover new restaurants or enjoy your favorites at a discounted price.

From September 1st through 30th, many of Palm Beach County’s restaurants will feature three-course prix fixe lunches and dinners.  Each lunch menu is priced at $19.09 per person, to celebrate the centennial of Palm Beach County’s foundation in 1909.  Each dinner menu is $30 per person.

Celebrate Flavor Palm Beach at a kick-off party benefiting the American Red Cross of the Greater Palm Beaches.  The event will take place on August 28th from 5:30 to 8:30pm by the fountains at the east end of Clematis Street in West Palm Beach.  You’ll be able to sample flavor menu items from Pistache, Top of the Point, Grease Burger Bar, Rocco’s Tacos, The Melting Pot, III Forks, Spoto’s Oyster Bar and more.  There will also be free drinks, live music and gift bags for the first 300 guests.  Tickets are $15 in advance (click here to purchase) or $20 at the door.  Last year’s kick-off party was sold out so be sure to get there early!

For more information on Flavor Palm Beach visit flavorpalmbeach.com.

AG Pick Under $15: Brooklyn Oenology 2007 Social Club Red

A vineyard grows in Brooklyn . . . or at least a winery does.

Brooklyn Oenology was one of my most exciting finds during a recent trip to Long Island’s wine country.  My first taste was the 2007 Chardonnay, a Burgundian style fruit-focused white with tropical fruit flavors and a hint of walnut and vanilla.  I enjoyed it so much that I bought a few bottles of Brooklyn Oenology’s red wines without tasting them.

BOE Social Club RedBrooklyn Oenology is based in Brooklyn, on the edge of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods.  Winemaker and owner Alie Shaper’s philosophy is to bring together Brooklyn’s heritage with the celebration of its evolution and its continued influence as a cultural and economic force.

Brooklyn Oenology buys its grapes from Long Island growers, and makes the wine at a shared facility on the North Fork.

Of their red wine, I really like the 2007 Social Club Red.  It’s a Bordeaux-style blend of 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, with Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah making up the last 7 percent.  It’s aged in two and three year-old French oak barrels.

The wine certainly lives up to its name — it’s an easy to drink wine that’s great for sharing with friends.  Aromas of red fruit and earth introduce flavors of plum, dried cherry, date, chocolate and clove.  Subtle tannins give the wine a smooth mouthfeel.

If you like the Social Club Red try Brooklyn Oenology’s 2006 Motley Cru ($17.99), a blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

BOE whitesBrooklyn Oenology has some of the coolest labels I’ve seen on wine bottles.  Each varietal or blend features the work of a different local artist.  The 2007 Social Club Red features a relief by Peter Barrett entitled “Pane.”

Currently Brooklyn Oenology can only ship to addresses in New York State, Washington D.C. and California.  If you’re in New York, you’ll find Brooklyn Oenology at wine shops and restaurants.  Or you can visit the North Fork of Long Island and taste Brooklyn Oenology’s wines at The Tasting Room in Peconic.

The 2007 Social Club Red costs $14.99.

For more on Brooklyn Oenology visit brooklynoenology.com.

Celebrity Chef Series at the Adrienne Arsht Center

The Celebrity Chef Series is returning to Miami this fall with a BAM!

Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain and other celebrity chefs will be taking the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center for season two of the delicious series.

Celebrity Chef SeriesEach program features intimate interviews with the chefs about their culinary journeys, live cooking demonstrations and a question and answer session with audience members.

On October 16th Ingrid Hoffmann and Daisy Martinez will be sharing their food and lifestyle secrets to sucess.

On November 13th Anthony Bourdain hosts Jacques Pepin and Eric Ripert in a cook off competition.

On January 9th Emeril Lagasse will bring his larger than life flavors and personality to the stage.

Tickets for the entire series are on sale now, starting at $69.  Individual tickets go on sale on September 12th and start at $25.  There are also VIP tickets available — these get you into a post-show cocktail party where you will get to meet the chefs and take a photo with them.

My advice: make sure you go on a full stomach!

To purchase tickets visit arshtcenter.org.

Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup

Chilled avocado and cucumber soup is a great dish for the summertime.  No stove required — all you need is a blender.  Cold with a kick of spice from the jalapeño, this soup makes a great appetizer or main course.

chilled avocado and cucumber soupHere’s what you’ll need:

2 avocados
2 seedless cucumbers, peeled
1 jalapeño, seeds removed
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small bunch of cilantro (approximately ¼ cup)

Cut up the avocados, cucumbers and jalapeño.  Put them in a blender with the remaining ingredients and puree until smooth.  Serve chilled and garnish with a sprig of cilantro.

If you prefer a thinner consistency, add 1 cup of plain nonfat yogurt or 1 cup of cold water.

Prep time: 15 minutes.  Total time: 20 minutes

Serves 4 to 6 people.

RA Sushi in South Miami Celebrates First Anniversary

Bring your appetite and your craziest hat to RA Sushi in South Miami this Thursday evening — the hip sushi lounge and restaurant will be celebrating its first anniversary with an Alice in Wonderland-themed party!

RA sushiThe “Mad Hatter’s Sake-Tea-Ni Party” will feature themed food and cocktails, flavored hookahs, dance beats by DJ Johnny The Boy and drag queen Daisy Deadpetals reigning as the Queen of Hearts.  There will also be a crazy hat contest with the winner taking home a $100 RA Sushi gift certificate.

RA sushiHead sushi chef Kenny Li and RA mixologists worked together to create a menu fit for the wacky celebration.  The “Eat Me” list includes the Wonderland Roll (crab mix, shrimp and cucumber topped with colorful crunchy tempura bits and sweet eel sauce; $7), Smokin’ Caterpillar Roll (freshwater eel, kani kama and cucumber topped with avocado and sweet eel sauce; $10), and the Cheshire Roll (crab mix, cucumber and shrimp tempura topped with seared tuna and avocado; $11).

The “Drink Me” list includes The White Rabbit (Ketel One Vodka, Hakutsuru Sake and Nigori Sake), Mad Hatter’s Long Island Iced Tea (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, Blue Curacao and sour mix), Blushing Alice (lemonade, Skyy Raspberry, raspberry liqueur and a splash of lemon-lime soda), Queen of Hearts Punch (cold sake, flavored liqueurs and tropical juices), and the Wonderland Mojito (white rum, blueberry puree, triple sec, lemon-lime soda and fresh blueberries), all available for $6.  There will also be complimentary iced tea.

Two dollars from the purchase of each roll or drink will be donated to The Wellness Community of Greater Miami.

The Mad Hatter’s Sake-Tea-Ni Party is Thursday, August 20th from 7pm to close at RA Sushi in South Miami.

Mia at Biscayne Grand Opening

After months of anticipation, downtown Miami’s new restaurant, lounge and nightclub is finally open!

Mia at BiscayneMia at Biscayne was filled Friday night with diners and downtowners getting their first taste of what’s sure to become a hot spot.

Located at the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and Flagler Street, Mia will breathe new life into downtown, especially at night and on the weekends.

Whether it’s lunch, dinner, drinks or dancing, Mia at Biscayne has it all.

MiaMiaThe space boasts four main areas: a main dining room that can be transformed into a dance floor, a second dining room with a sushi bar, an upstairs lounge area that overlooks the main room with private tables for food and bottle service, and an outdoor area with couches.  Inside on both floors, large flat screen TVs show music videos.

MiaMiaAt the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef Gerdy Rodriguez.  No stranger to the South Florida food scene, Chef Rodriguez was formerly the executive chef at The Regent Bal Harbour and chef de cuisine at Café Sambal at the Mandarin Oriental.  His menu is a mix of Spain, Latin America and Japan.  There is everything from sushi and cebiche to tapas and parrillada (a mixed grill of skirt steak, quail, chorizo, chicken, lamb and chimichurri).

The extensive cocktail menu is creative as well.  I tried the Thaibasil, a refreshing and slightly sweet mix of vodka, sake, sour mix, basil syrup and Thai basil leaves.  It’s a drink I will definitely be ordering again.  Though there aren’t many wines by the glass, there is a pretty good selection of wines by the bottle, all reasonably priced.  Bottles of Champagne and liquor are also fairly priced.

Mia at Biscayne opens at 11am every day and closes at 2am Sunday through Wednesday and 5am Thursday through Saturday.  With hours like these, Mia is a great place to begin or end a night out.

Click here for my more recent article on Mia at Biscayne’s VIP Grand Opening

More Highlights from the North Fork Wine Trail

If you’re planning a visit to the North Fork of Long Island, here are some more wineries I recommend visiting:

I found several nice white wines at Paumanok Vineyards.  It’s one of the first wineries you will encounter on Route 25 if you’re driving from western Long Island.

Paumanok is the only winery in the region to produce Chenin Blanc and they do it very well.  The 2007 Chenin Blanc ($28) has fresh notes of grapefruit, pineapple and melon with racy acidity and a clean finish.  It’s a great match for shellfish.

Paumanok’s 2007 Dry Riesling ($22) is another refreshing sip.  Bone dry, this wine has delicate aromas of green apple and white flowers.  Flavors of green apple, lime and a hint of white apricot are enhanced by a firm acidity.  I also enjoyed the 2007 Semi Dry Riesling ($22).  Semi-sweet notes of peach, apricot and honeysuckle culminate in a crisp and dry finish.  If you normally don’t drink sweet wines, try this wine as an aperitif or with fruit and light cheeses.

If you visit you may want to bring your lunch — Paumanok has a great outdoor deck overlooking the vineyards.

Macari Vineyards is one of the larger wineries on the North Fork with a variety of wines and two tasting rooms.  I visited the newer tasting room on Route 25 in Cutchogue.  It’s a bright and open space and also has an outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards.

Macari makes all the usual varietals but I really like their early and late wines.  The 2008 Early Wine ($17) is 100% Chardonnay that is harvested early, bottled just over a month later, and released a few days after that.  Picking the grapes early makes for a crisp and tart wine that’s tingling with acidity.  Flavors of lime, green apple and honeydew lead to clean finish that has just a hint of sweetness.

At the other end is the 2005 Block E Viognier ($55).  It’s a late harvest dessert wine that is sweet without being syrupy.  Deep gold in color, the wine has notes of orange blossom, sweet citrus and spice which end in a satisfying finish.

For a less expensive dessert wine try the 2005 Block E Chardonnay, which is $40 a bottle.

A huge disappointment was Bedell Cellars.  It was recommended by the staff at several other wineries, so I was looking forward to it.  The indoor and outdoor tasting rooms are certainly very nice, but the experience was ruined by the people who worked there.  The staff were unfriendly to the point of being rude.  I almost left before the end of the tasting, it was so unpleasant.  Their wines are expensive (mostly $25 and up), and none was particularly memorable.

If you’re visiting Long Island wine country on a warm and sunny day, head all the way east on Route 25 to The Old Field Vineyards.  This winery is a nice change of pace from the other sleek and modern tasting rooms.  At The Old Field Vineyards you taste wines in a covered area between two small barns and a chicken coop.  You can enjoy the wines on the small patio, or take a bottle and sit at a table closer to the vineyards.

The miles-from-the-city atmosphere is complete with a pair of best friends who roam the tasting area — a goose and a duck.  The goose is especially adventurous and will come right up to you.

The 2006 Blush de Noir ($14) is the perfect pairing for this outdoor setting.  It’s peach colored with notes of lemon and apricot, with a refreshing minerality on the finish.  Also enjoyable is the 2006 Mostly Steel Chardonnay ($17).  Ten percent of this wine is barrel fermented.  It has crisp notes of lemon, grapefruit, green apple and a dry finish.

The Old Field Vineyard’s red wines are made with Cabernet Franc or Merlot, or a mix of the two.  The Rooster Tail ($14) is easy to drink.  It’s a medium bodied blend of 91% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc with notes of black cherry, plum and spice.  My favorite of their reds is the 2005 Cabernet Franc ($30).  Flavors of blackberries and black plum mix with fig, cinnamon and a hint of black pepper.

If you like the laid back atmosphere at The Old Field Vineyard, be sure to visit Sherwood House Vineyards in Mattituck.  The tasting room (which is more like a tasting space), is only open during warm months because it is entirely outdoors.

On the hot afternoon when I visited, you couldn’t beat the 2004 Blanc de Blanc ($37).  This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay, made in the traditional method like Champagne.  It has toasty notes of citrus and white pear, with fine bubbles.

My favorite of Sherwood’s wines is the 2003 Merlot ($25).  It has lush flavors of plum, red currant and raspberry with subtle notes of cedar and earth.  Well structured with good tannins, this will make you a fan of Long Island wines.

No visit to the North Fork is complete without stopping by The Tasting Room in Peconic.  It hosts wines from several wineries that are too small to have their own tasting rooms.  It’s a great way to sample a variety of artisanal, limited production wines.

Go for the tasting and stay to talk wines with manager Charles Lazarou.  Architecture is his career but wine is his passion.  It was almost as fun chatting about the wines as it was to drink them.

At The Tasting Room I tried the really tasty 2007 Chardonnay from Brooklyn Oenology ($17).  It’s Burgundian in style, leaner and more fruit focused.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged for a short time in French oak.  Flavors of pineapple, peach and orange are enhanced by gentle notes of walnut and vanilla.

On the red side, I was impressed by the Comtesse Thérèse Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2003 ($25).  Deep red in color, the wine has ripe flavors of blackberries, plum, tobacco and leather.  Well balanced with velvety tannins, this Cab has a long finish.

I was also a fan of Schneider Vineyards Hermitage Clones Syrah 2005 ($25).  It has refined flavors of ripe blackberries, spice and a hint of white pepper.  Fruit and acidity are nicely balanced for a sip that is both light in the mouth and rich on the palate.

The Tasting Room is open Friday through Sunday, with a tasting menu that changes weekly.

Be sure to check out my earlier articles on Shinn Estate Vineyards and Lenz Winery.

Click here for a map of Long Island wine country.

Long Island Wine Country: Lenz Winery

After a great visit to Shinn Estate Vineyards, I was really looking forward to exploring other wineries on the North Fork of Long Island.

Next up: Lenz.  Founded in 1978, the winery has some of the oldest vines in the region.

Lenz’s tasting room is located along Route 25 in Peconic.  It resembles Shinn’s cozy barn, but on a larger scale.

The first wine I tried was the 2005 Gewürztraminer ($20).  Made in the Alsatian style, it’s nice and dry with flavors of pineapple, ginger and clove.

My favorite of their whites (and one of my favorite white wines of the day), was the 2005 White Label Chardonnay ($12).  Brilliant golden yellow in color, this wine has subtle floral aromas that are reminiscent of a Burgundian Chardonnay rather than a California Chardonnay. On the palate is a lively mix of citrus and tropical flavors.  Lemon, pineapple, banana and a hint of orange blossom are enhanced by a good acidity.  The finish is clean and refreshing.  I actually preferred this Chardonnay over the oaked Gold Label Chardonnay, which happens to cost more.  Read my full review of the 2005 White Label Chardonnay.

Lenz’s red wines are a nice introduction to Long Island reds.  More nuanced in flavor than their western counterparts, Long Island red wines display more feminine characteristics.  These wines tend to be delicate, round and smooth, rather than strong and powerful.  As a West Coast comparison, think Columbia Valley, not the Napa Valley.

The 2001 Estate Selection Merlot ($23) displays these feminine characteristics with its silky flavors of black cherry and plum.  For a less expensive version try the 2004 Merlot ($15).  It’s slightly less complex but still has warm flavors of plum, cranberry and cherry.  The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) is on the lighter side but quite nice, with notes of strawberry, cranberry and rose.

Lenz has several “old vines” wines (including the well-structured plummy 2001 Merlot), that are only available to members of their subscriber program.  Another bonus of joining the program: you can spend a weekend at the cottage on the vineyard each year for free.  I’m still mulling over the offer.

For more information about Lenz Winery visit lenzwine.com.