Let the Summer Festivals Begin!

The summer brings one of my favorite string of events – the cultural festivals. Here in Wilmington, DE, the season kicks off today with The Greek Festival – OPA! The Greek Festival is my absolute favorite of them all. Not only because I love Greece and have fond childhood memories of visiting as a teenager, I LOVE Greek food and The Greek Festival has it in abundance.

For whatever reason, Wilmington, DE, does not have many Greek or Middle Eastern restaurants. Some have come and gone but by and large, there is no place to go on a regular basis and get a Gyro. Enter the Greek Festival! Although all of my favorite Greek foods are available at the Greek Festival from Spanakopita, Souvlaki, and Pastitsio, the item I look most forward to is the Gyro. And I think most of Wilmington agrees with me because the line for the Gyro stand is always the longest. They are that good! From the salty, juicy lamb and beef, the freshness that the tomato and onion adds, to the tangy Tzatziki sauce, it is a taste sensation I look forward to all year!

Me diving into a Gyro at the 2011 Greek Festival

My friends and I get there as early as we can to beat the line – if possible. We get our food and beverages, then we gather on the steps of the church to eat our fantastic treats. The other thing I love about this festival is that you see people there you haven’t seen in forever. Sitting on those church steps, right near the entrance of the festival, the whole world passes you by. You see people reconnecting and catching up, eating, drinking, and dancing together. It is another great example of how food brings people together.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pastries! All the favorites, including baklava, are there and they even sell them in bulk so you can take them home and enjoy them for as long as they’ll last.

I find endless inspiration in the food that I experience at these cultural festivals. I grew up overseas and was exposed to many different national dishes in my formative years. These festivals bring back wonderful childhood memories and also inspire me to add different flavors to my cooking. Fusion of cultural dishes has become more and more popular over the last decade as chefs travel to different countries and bring flavors back to their regional dishes. I love the opportunity these summer festivals provide to do the same thing without having to travel too far.

Next festival on the heels of the Greek Festival – The Italian Festival – bellissimo!

Enjoy your local summer festivals!

Cooking with Champagne – you’re gonna love it!

The word champagne makes most people think FUN, party, celebration, romance, giggle, kiss, Woo Hoo!! Just the sound of the cork popping makes your eyes open wide and your heart fill with happiness. Cooking with champagne is even more exciting!

One of the classes I attended this past week was for food of the Champagne region of France. The only place from which sparkling wine can legally be called Champagne according to the French. Every dish in the menu has champagne in it and let me tell you – each is absolutely FABULOUS!

Leek and Chaource Cheese Tart

The starter is a Leek and Chaource Cheese Tart. Chaource cheese is also from the Champagne region and looks like a thick brie cheese. It has a stronger flavor than brie but not quite as strong as camembert cheese. The tart is made with a short crust pastry which is pre-baked slightly. Leeks are diced and softened in champagne and butter then they line the bottom of the tart shell. The cheese is sliced and fanned out over the top of the leeks beautifully leaving gaps for the filling. The filling is made with eggs and heavy cream and poured over the top just to come to the top of the cheese. Once baked it is creamy, yummy, delish! – and when you eat it the cheese oozes out to add to the creamy texture of the filling. When I tasted it in class I made the “mmmmmmm” sound much to my embarrassment as I saw the other students look my way with amusement.

Sole Fillet and Whiting Mousseline with Champagne Beurre Blanc

The main course is Fillet of Sole stuffed with a Whiting mousseline. It is rolled into a pipe shape and poached in stock or in water then served with a Champagne Beurre Blanc sauce. Beurre blanc is a heavenly white butter sauce usually made with butter, shallots, white wine and vinegar. In this case, it’s made with champagne. The milk solids from the butter get suspended with the acids from the champagne and vinegar which creates a thick and creamy texture. A little fresh champagne is added to the sauce just before serving so there is fresh flavor and some effervescence. Let me just tell you, I am not usually a fan of fish. I could eat this dish EVERY day!! It’s that good. The sweetness from the butter and the cream balanced by the acidity of the shallots and the champagne along with the slight effervescence and the saltiness from the fish stock creates a taste sensation in your mouth that is transformational. OOOOO la la la la la la as they say in Paris!

Champagne Sorbet

For dessert we have Champagne sorbet scented with lemon and orange accompanied by orange scented Madeleines – VERY French and VERY tasty. A light, tasty perfect ending to a fabulous meal. And yes, there is some champagne in the Madeleine batter.

I often use champagne when I’m cooking at home. Sometimes I open the fridge to grab some white wine to add to a sauce or roasting dish; even to vegetables I’m sautéing. Many a time I have grabbed an open bottle of champagne instead of the white wine and I have always been please with the result. Now I know at least ONE of my friends is saying, “leftover champagne?! Quell dommage! Who would have leftover champagne!!” It does happen from time to time… Try it – you’ll love it!

Happy cooking my friends!!