By Karin Glendenning
Community News Writer
Brian Leutwiler is passionate about both his job and his avocation. The wine manager at Riverside Wine and Spirits, he considers himself a wine educator. At home, he’s the cook.
“Cooking is my creative outlet. I just feel it. I don’t have to think about it. I thoroughly enjoy watching things cook,” he said.
Mr. Leutwiler called his mother an “unbelievable cook.”
“When I was growing up, dinner was never boring. We were always sitting down to eat great food,” he said.
When he left home, he realized he wanted to cook. “I would call my mother and get recipes from her, and she’d work me through things,” he said. He also learned from a friend who was an organist at an Episcopal church and whose family owned a restaurant. “He could cook with his eyes closed, and I started cooking with him. He had a huge influence on me.”
Mr. Leutwiler admits that cooking came easy for him. “I just sense cooking,” he said. “It’s something that’s intuitive to me.” He said when he reads a recipe, he always knows how things are going to taste before he cooks them and that he invariably improvises.
His favorite methods of cooking are sauteing or grilling, “because you’re seeing the food cook and go through the changes.”
Mr. Leutwiler said he does all the cooking at home. His wife, Lauren, teaches art at Chattanooga Christian School, and the couple has two children, who are both in college. Instead of picking out a recipe and then going to the store to buy ingredients for it, he goes to the grocery and chooses what looks good and then goes home and figures out what to do with it. “My menu comes together at the check out counter. That’s the fun way,” he explained.
When his son is home, the two men often cook together. “He’s an incredibly gifted cook,” Mr. Leutwiler said. His daughter and wife are vegetarians, who also eat fish, so they frequently have seafood, as well as dishes with cheese, said Mr. Leutwiler, who calls himself a “cheese nut.”
Mr. Leutwiler said he is “crazy about international cuisines.” He doesn’t have a favorite, but instead enjoys cooking and eating Italian, French, Middle Eastern/Lebanese, Greek, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Japanese food. “I really like everything.”
The one food he hasn’t prepared, but wants to try, is calves brains, which he said used to be a staple for brunch at restaurants along the East Coast at the turn of the century. He also favors sushi: “It’s the only food I can honestly say I have an addiction to.”
In addition to his work at Riverside, Mr. Leutwiler teaches classes on wine at Chattanooga State. He learned to appreciate wine as a teenager when he spent summers in Switzerland with uncles who have wineries there. “I had started reading about wine, and when I came home from Switzerland, my mother let me pick out the wine for dinner,” he said.
Mr. Leutwiler said he has “a natural affinity for wine. I could always identify the different aromas and pick out the nuances of the flavors,” he said.
He said he tells his students, “You have to become like a dog, which lives by his sense of smell.” By smashing and warming herbs and fruits in his hands and then smelling them, he learned to identify essential aromas. He advises his classes to “spend more time in your spice cabinet. Ask yourself, what does this really smell like? You have to focus on the wine. I get quiet and concentrate on my nose and then on my taste to really get the essence of what the wine is all about,” he said.
Admitting to a special talent, he said, “I kind of have a photographic palate. If I taste a wine one time, I can remember what it tastes like.”
In his job at Riverside, Mr. Leutwiler advises customers about which wines go with specific foods. “I try to present what I think are some of the best pairings and let people decide,” he said.
Pinot grigio is tied with chardonnay as the most popular white wine sold at Riverside, said Mr. Leutwiler. As for red wines, pinot noir is the hottest seller, and he attributes its popularity to the movie “Sideways,” which introduced many to its heady bouquet.
Mr. Leutwiler said that two recipes that his family particularly likes are Eggs Benedict, which he prepares every Christmas morning, and fried spinach, which he said is his son’s favorite dish. Another of his specialties is sangria, which he presents in a pitcher with floating citrus slices and pours over glasses filled with frozen berries.
The recipes he shares with readers today are part of his staple repertoire.
SWEET POTATO SKILLET CAKE
2 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 medium sweet potato (12 to 14 ounces), peeled, sliced very thin on a mandoline
4 ounce aged Gouda cheese, grated
3 scallions, finely minced
Preheat oven to 350. Combine egg, cream and spices. Whisk until well blended. Grease an 8 1/2-inch skillet. Pour 2 tablespoons of egg mixture to cover bottom of pan. Lay several slices of sweet potato over egg layer. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the cheese and 2 teaspoons of scallions over sweet potatoes. Top with another 2 tablespoons of egg mixture. Continue layering the ingredients in this manner, pressing them down occasionally to make sure all layers are covered with the egg mixture.
Bake until golden brown and firm to touch, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
BLEU CHEESE SAUCE
1 pound bleu cheese
8-ounce block of cream cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Dash Tabasco sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
In double boiler, melt cream cheese into heavy cream. Continue to cook and reduce by one-fourth. Crumble bleu cheese and add it and all remaining ingredients to cream mixture. Whisk and taste to adjust seasoning.
Serve over steak, grilled lamb, chicken, salmon or toss with pasta and artichokes, mushrooms, etc.
1/2 box penne pasta (1/2 pound)
2 cans whole stewed tomatoes, drained and smashed
1/2 jar Kalamata pitted olives
1/2 bag fresh spinach
4 ounces feta cheese
Cook penne and drain. Saute shallot in olive oil. Add tomatoes and simmer. Mix all ingredients in serving bowl and add salt and pepper to taste.
CHILES RELLENOS CASSEROLE
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup flour
3 4-ounce cans whole green chiles
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Beat half and half with eggs and flour until smooth. Split open chiles, rinse out seeds and drain on paper towels. Mix cheeses and reserve 1/2 cup for topping. Make alternate layers of remaining cheese, chiles and egg mixture in deep 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Pour tomato sauce over top and sprinkle with reserved cheese. Bake in 350 oven for 1 1/4 hours or until cooked in center. Makes 4 servings.
(“This sauce becomes tastier with time. Make up a large quantity and keep it on hand. Use vegetable stock to thin it to desired consistency for spaghetti, or use it as is for dishes like pizza,” said Mr. Leutwiler.)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons oil
1 small carrot, grated
2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon basil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Saute onion and garlic clove in oil until onion is soft. Discard garlic. Add carrot, green pepper, bay leaf and herbs. Stir well. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and seasoning. Simmer for half an hour.
LASAGNA AL FORNO
3 cups tomato sauce (recipe above)
3/4 pound whole wheat-soy lasagna noodles or any whole grain lasagna noodles
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, almonds or sunflowers seeds
1 medium bunch spinach
12 thin slices mozzarella or Swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cottage cheese or 3/4 cup ricotta cheese, softened with 1/2 cup skim milk
Cook noodles in boiling, salted water until tender and drain.
Preheat oven to 350. Toast nuts or seeds in oven, stirring frequently. Wash and dry spinach and chop into bite-sized pieces.
Spread 3/4 cup sauce in bottom of an 8- by 8-inch baking dish. Place 1/3 of the noodles on top of sauce. Cover with 1/3 of the spinach, 1/4 of the nuts, 1/4 cup cottage cheese, 1 tablespoon Parmesan and a layer of mozzarella slices. Repeat layers twice. Spread the last cup of sauce and the remaining nuts and cheese on top. Bake 40 minutes and let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
BALLOTINE OF CHICKEN CHASSEUR
4 chicken legs with thighs
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms, divided
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 tablespoons butter, divided
Fresh, dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup peeled and sliced tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons shallots
1 cup chicken bouillon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons butter
Bone thighs and season chicken with salt and pepper. Make stuffing by sauteing onion, 1 cup of mushrooms and celery in 2 tablespoons butter until vegetables are tender. Add enough bread crumbs to bind mixture together. Fill cavities in boned thighs with stuffing mixture and truss.
Butter baking dish and sprinkle it with shallots, remaining 1 cup mushrooms and tomatoes. Place chicken on this bed. Moisten with white wine and bake at 350 for 25 to 35 minutes or until browned. Remove chicken. Boil down reserved juices and add remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Pour over chicken and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with potatoes and a vegetable.
E-mail Karin Glendenning at email@example.com