Friday, February 26, 2010

Nigella...In Wonderland

Nigella Lawson

In the latest film version of Alice in Wonderland, actress Anne Hathaway glides across the screen as the White Queen with a pearly grin that becomes a bit unsettling -- because it really appears to be somewhere between Glinda the Good Witch and The Stepford Wives, and according some folks...well-known British culinary queen, Nigella Lawson (pictured above).

At one point Alice's White Queen cheerily cooks up a magic potion that includes plenty of nasty ingredients (including some putrid-looking amputated fingers), and it turns out that was a hint to the real-life inspiration for the character, according to director Tim Burton. "There's this very beautiful cooking show host in England named Nigella Lawson and I quietly had her as my image for this character," Burton said, referring to the famous cookbook author and television personality sometimes referred to as the "queen of food porn." (, okay, Tim.)

In any case, Burton, who previously said that the Red Queen has a bit of Leona Helmsley in her, said Lawson's domestic goddess routine has an eerie edge to it at times. "She's really beautiful and she does all this cooking," he goes on, to say "but then there's this glint in her eye and when you see it you go, 'Oh, whoa, she's like really ... nuts.' I mean in a good way. Well, maybe. I don't know."

Anyway, take a look for yourself at the video clip comparison below, and you be the judge.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The James Beard Awards Semifinalists

Well, it's that time again. And the James Beard Foundation, the nation's most prestigious recognition program honoring professionals in the food and beverage industries, has once again announced its list of restaurant and chef semifinalists for the 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards. The foundation's Restaurant and Chef Committee selected the nominees from 21,000 online entries.

According to the press release, an independent volunteer panel of more than 400 judges from across the country will vote on specific award categories to determine the final five nominees in each category. Those nominees will be announced on March 22, following which the same panel of judges will pick the winners, announced at the foundation's annual gala on Monday, May 3, 2010 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

And I'd just like to say that this year my personal good luck wishes go out to the Locanda Verde Restaurant down in Tribeca here in NYC, and Chef Andrew Carmellini, in the "Best New Restaurant" category. There's some great atmosphere and food happening down there (especially those beyond awesome brunch pastries) and guys totally rock!

Catch a glimpse of the full list of regional award nominees here

Friday, February 05, 2010

Valentine Wines (and Chocolate)

As the big V-Day approaches, if you're a wine and chronically chocky "chocoholic" chocolate lover like me, here are just a few suggestions for the awesome pairing of wine and chocolate -- for just about any occassion:

Milk Chocolate Wine Suggestions Photobucket

Pinot Noir (you might consider Mark West Pinot Noir $10) or a lighter-bodied Merlot (try Hogue or Columbia Crest) will complement a bar of milk chocolate, a creamy chocolate mousse or chocolate accented cheesecake. Rieslings, Muscats (try Bonny Doon's Muscat Vin de Glaciere or the Bonny Doon "Vin de Glaciere" Muscat for $15) or dessert wines tend to hold up well to mild milk chocolates. Also consider a sparkling wine or Champagne for pairing with milk chocolate dipped strawberries. Last, but not least a classic milk chocolate pairing to consider is a nice Ruby Port - a very safe bet when looking for a perfect wine to accent milk chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Wine Suggestions Photobucket

Dark or bittersweet chocolates need a wine that offers a roasted, slightly robust flavor itself, with perhaps a hint of its own chocolate notes. Cabs and Zinfandels have a history of perfecting the dark chocolate match, resulting in an unparalleled tasting combination. A Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel (try Ancient Peaks Zinfandel), Rancho Zabaco or Ridge) will more than fill your chocolate pairing expectations. Also consider a Pinot Noir or a Merlot to handle dark chocolate around the 55% cocoa mark. Finally, give a Tawny or Vintage Port a go to offer a very well balanced pairing approach to a dark chocolate dessert or truffle.

White Chocolate Wine Suggestions Photobucket
White chocolate tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavor, making it an ideal candidate for a Sherry (consider the Osborne Pedro Ximénez Sherry $20), for a Moscato d'Asti (try Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2006, $13), from Italy’s Piedmont region offers subtle, sweet bubbles, or an Orange Muscat (try Ventana Vineyard's Muscat d'Orange for $18). The Sherry and Moscato d’Asti will pick up the creaminess of the chocolates and the Orange Muscat will pick up any fruit tones on the scene. Another route, for pairing wine with white chocolate is going for the contrast pairing approach, this is a little riskier, but when you find a match it can be exceptional. For example, taking a wine like a Zinfandel which tends to have a heavier tannic content and often a higher alcohol level and partnering it with a creamy, buttered white chocolate can have an unusual "melding" affect. It's like the tannins get softened out by the fat content and make for a remarkable potential for pairing.