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Cornalin, a Swiss Grape With Big Ambitions

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Which Swiss wines do you love? Hands? Anybody? Nobody? Know why? Only 2% of Switzerland’s wine production is exported. All the rest, 98%, is consumed domestically. The best way -- actually, the only way -- to sample Swiss wines is to visit Switzerland. That’s what I did.
The Valais’ Microclimate
Having grown up with images of Switzerland as a land of snow-covered mountains, when I visited the Valais, a wine-growing, French-speaking canton east of Geneva, I expected cold weather. But the climate was better suited to shorts and T-shirts than to parkas. Neatly trellised vineyards climb up steep hills taking advantage of a hot, dry microclimate. With 300 days of sun a year, the Valais feels like Napa and Sonoma except for the Matterhorn looming in the distance.
In Switzerland, family-owned vineyards and wineries (calledvignerons-encaveurs) are the rule. Even if unprofitable, they stay in the family. During a hosted trip we met one wine maker whose family was regarded as a newcomer. They…

Holiday Baking - Sfogliatella - the Best Italian Pastry You Can’t Pronounce

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Growing up in Los Angeles, and this was many years ago, the closest I got to an Italian meal was opening a can of Chef Boyardee SpaghettiOs. Only when I moved to Providence to teach at Rhode Island College did I experience authentic Italian cuisine. Living close to Federal Hill, the historic center of the city’s Italian community, I had easy access to Italian delis that imported cheeses, pastas and charcuterie directly from Italy. Every block had a small bakery making cakes, pies, cookies, breads and pastries according to recipes handed down for generations.
I discovered cannoli filled with ricotta cheese studded with flakes of bittersweet chocolate. Twice baked biscotti with almonds. Pastry cream filled zeppole, a fat doughnut of sugared dough, baked or deep fried. I loved them all, but my favorite was a seashell shaped pastry, the deliciously crisp sfogliatella. What makes this Tuscan pastry so famous is a crunchy flakiness outside and a sturdy, sweet ricotta cheese filling inside.…

Easy-to-Make Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving or Anytime

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Prepping for Thanksgiving reminded me of my mother's kitchen. Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday when my sister and I would join her in the kitchen and friends and family gathered around the table to share a meal.
She grew up in a household with her mom, dad, brother and four step-brothers from her dad's first marriage. Hers was a blended home in New York city with a lot of advantages and many disagreements. I think that's why she enjoyed Thanksgiving in her own home. No sibling rivalries, no mother looking over her shoulder to tell her how to make the turkey.

Brussels sprouts were always on the table for Thanksgiving. She was of the boiling-vegetables-school. She did that with beets, broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts. My wife and I are of the roasting-is-better method of cooking vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts.

Shopping for Brussels sprouts this week at the farmers market, I noticed that they were difficult to locate and they were priced at $4.50-5.50 a po…

Pickles, Pickles, Pickles for Thanksgiving, the Holidays and Anytime

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No doubt the people who made the first pickles thought they had made a mistake. Somebody accidentally forgot about some raw vegetables in a pot with an acid and salt. Surprise, surprise. A week later, the vegetables weren’t moldy, no bugs had eaten them and, deliciously, they had a nice crunch and tang. Thus was born, the pickle! In the 1920s, my great-grandfather made pickles on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Grandmother Caroline used to tell stories about working in their little grocery store as a child. When customers would want pickles, she would hop off the counter and go out front to the pickle barrels and fish out the ones they wanted. I never knew her parents. I never ate their pickles, but I must have brine in my veins because wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for pickles. Moroccan pickled veggies In Morocco at a cooking class in Marrakech at La Maison Arabe, Amaggie Wafa and Ayada Benijei taught us to make Berber bread, couscous with chicken and vegetables, …