Saturday, November 18, 2017

Privé Vineyard Le Nord (2013)

I am always amazed at what people can do with what they have.  This is especially true when it comes to wine.  Some of the best wines come from the smallest producers. And, in my humble opinion, the best wines that I have ever tasted come from the smallest vineyard that I know ...  Privé Vineyard.

Privé is a vineyard consisting of two acres located in the Chehalem Mountains, which is part of Oregon's Willamette Valley.  The owners -- Mark and Tina Hammond -- purchased the property, consisting of a run-down  house and those two acres,  which grew Muller Thurgau grapes.  The Hammonds grafted those vines over to Pommard clones, and built up a beautiful vineyard.  The two acres of grapes now produce three Pinot Noir wines, appropriately named "Le Nord" (produced from the grapes grown on the Le Nord acre), "Le Sud" (produced from the grapes grown on the Le Sud acre), and Joie de Vivre, which is a reserve wine.  (The Hammonds also produce a dessert wine ... a Port made with Pinot Noir grapes.)

I have reviewed a few of those Pinot Noir wines in the past, such as the 2006 and 2008 vintages of the Le Nord, as well as the 2008 vintage of the Le Sud and the 2008 vintage of the Mélange.  We enjoy Privé wines so much that we have  a standing order.  We purchase a few bottles each year and cellar those bottles.  The bottles await a special occasion or a moment when we want one of the best Pinot Noirs out there.  

My beautiful Angel and I recently opened a bottle of the Le Nord (2013).  The Le Nord pours a deep garnet or burgundy red.  The burgundy is suggestive of the fruit elements in both the aroma and the taste.  The elements suggest cherries, raspberries and even some cranberries.  Other elements are a little earthier in nature, such as what  the winemakers suggest, "clean earth."  

The taste of the Le Nord reminds me of what makes Oregon Pinot Noir one of my favorite styles of wine.  The Le Nord carries forward the berries in the aroma, with a nice combination of ripe raspberries and cranberries. The berries are balanced with the notes of ground dried mushrooms.  

Because there is only 1 acre of vines used to produce the Le Nord, the wine is available only on futures.  More information can be found at Prive Vineyard.  The wine is definitely worth the effort, especially if you are looking for a great Pinot Noir for a holiday or special occasion, such as Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mussels, Barnacles, and More

In recent weeks and months, I have gotten back into the routine of not only cooking, but also blogging.  I am averaging about a post a week, and, I have a healthy number of posts in the works.  I hope to be cooking even more and posting even more, even though I probably will never return to the number of posts that I was doing back in 2011 or 2012.  

But, I am taking this brief break to blog about another interest of mine ... photography.  It may not show in the pictures of the various dishes that I make, but I like to take pictures.  Setting aside my family, who are the subject of a majority of my pictures, the rest are generally of food, animals or landscapes. 

Recently, I was working on a wine review.  For that review, I went back to find some pictures of the vineyard. The pictures were from my honeymoon with my beautiful Angel.  We spent a little more than a week in Oregon.  The trip started in Portland, worked its way through Willamette Valley and ended on the coastline in Pacific City. 

While we were in Pacific City, we walked the coastline.  I was amazed by the wildlife that was exposed by the low tide.  Mussels, barnacles, starfish, crabs, and so much more. I took a lot of pictures during those couple of days.  Lots and lots of pictures.  

So, as a break from what I have been working on and posting on this blog, I have decided to post a few pictures of the wildlife that lives around the coastline near Pacific City, Oregon.  As I write this post, I have been thinking about how this wildlife could be harvested and find its way onto a plate.

Picturing a dish of mussels is fairly easy. I have made quite a few of them. Some of those dishes have made it to this blog, such as Malabar Mussels, Curried Haddock and Mussels, and Green Mussel Soup.  The great thing about museels is that the dish does not even have to be fancy or complicated.  Just put handfuls of mussels in a steam pot along with a heaping helping of minced garlic.   Wait a couple of minutes and you have a very basic and very delicious meal of steamed mussels. 

Picturing a dish of barnacles is far more difficult. Barnacles don't line the shelves of the grocery stores around where I live.  They also don't grace the menus of the restaurants of where I eat.  (If either was the case, I would have probably tried to cook them and eat them by now.)  However, I do know that barnacles -- or at least gooseneck barnacles -- are edible.  I know that because I watched an episode of Bizarre Foods, in which Andrew Zimmern went foraging for gooseneck barnacles in Oregon.  

A quick Google search also produces some recipes for gooseneck barnacles.  Another google search provides results for places where you can purchase the barnacles online, such as La Tienda, a store that I trust that sells the barnacles by their Spanish name, percebes.  Unfortunately, I am not willing to wait two weeks for a delivery of percebes; and, moreover, I am not willing to part with over $100 for the ingredient.  While I am sure I could find barnacles cheaper elsewhere online, I don't want to think about where those barnacles may have been.  

While I can almost guarantee that there will be more mussel recipes on Chef Bolek in the future, I hope that maybe someday there will be a barnacle recipe too.  Only time will tell.  Until then...


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Mexican Oyster Cocktail

Oysters have a special place in Maryland and Virginia, one that goes back hundreds of years.  When John Smith navigated the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, he wrote down his observations of everything he saw, including the wildlife.  Smith made two trips in 1608 from Jamestown, Virginia into the Bay.   His notes documented the tremendous diversity of life in the bay: including "sturgeon, grampus, porpoise, seals, stingrays, ... brits, mullets, white salmon (rockfish), trouts, soles, and perch of three sorts ...."  When it came to the Chesapeake Bay oysters, Smith remarked that they "lay as thick as stones." 

A lot has happened over the following four centuries, but it is safe to say that the oysters do not "lay as thick as stones" today in the Bay.  Overfishing, disease, pollution and, yes, maybe even climate change, have contributed to the downfall of oyster stocks in the Bay. According to Sea Grant Maryland, a study by the University of Maryland found that the oyster population is just 0.3% of what it was in the 1800s.  Yet, there are rays of hope in the Delmarva.  Those oyster stocks have stabilized and have even shown the promise of increasing, especially in Maryland.

One of the factors behind the success has been the increase in aquaculture of oysters.  Virginia took the lead in this effort, but Maryland is catching up when it comes to promoting the farming of these important bivalves.  One example of the effort in Maryland is Harris Seafood Company, which is the last packinghouse in Kent Narrows and the last shucking house in the State of Maryland.  Harris has an aquaculture program that enables the grower to plant millions of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay on ground that it leases.  This video provides a very brief explanation of the oyster aquaculture process:

That is just one example.  When it is multiplied by the growing number of aquaculture farms in Maryland and Virginia, the product is the promise that the Chesapeake oyster population can continue to rebound.  And, to state the obvious, that means more oysters for people like me, who love to eat them.

Usually, I buy oysters and shuck them, using skills I learned as a cook in a seafood restaurant while I was in college.  Shucking oysters takes time, because, despite my cooking experience, I lack the true expert skills of a shucker in a shucking house.  When pressed for time, I will purchase a pint of pre-shucked oysters.  Given I have had little time in recent days and weeks, I recently purchased a pint of pre-shucked Maryland oysters from Harris Seafood Company.

When I bought those oysters, I already had a recipe in mind ... a Mexican Oyster Cocktail.  The recipe comes from one of Mario Batali's cookbooks, America Farm To Table, which has a whole chapter dedicated to oysters.  I love all of the recipes, but this cocktail recipe caught my attention.  The reason is that I found it while I was writing the blog post for Oyster Shooters with Tomatoes, Lime and Chiles.  The oyster shooter recipe still stands as the best recipe ever invented, but, l was looking for challengers.

This recipe brings together a lot of ingredients -- tomatoes, scallions, celery, shallots, and chiles -- that provide a good base for an oyster shooter.  All of those ingredients work well together, especially when the lime juice and zest are added.  If there was any issue, it was the relative lack of liquid in the cocktail.  The lime juice does not provide enough liquid for the cocktail.  I strained the oyster liqueur from the pre-shucked oysters and added it to the cocktail, but it was still not enough.  Maybe the next time I make this recipe, I will add some water or, maybe because it is a Mexican oyster cocktail, I will add some tequila.  

Recipe from Permaquid Oyster Company
Printed in Mario Batali, America Farm to Table, page 61
Serves 4 to 6

4 ripe plum tomatoes
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 ribs celery, sliced paper thin
2 shallots, finely minced
Zest and juice of 3 limes
2 serrano chiles, finely chopped
24 fresh oysters, scrubbed
Kosher salt

1.  Prepare the cocktail.  Halve the tomatoes and squeeze the seeds into a bowl..  Chop the tomatoes into 1/4 inch dice and toss them into a bowl.  Add the scallions, cilantro, olive oil, cumin, celery, shallots, lime zest, lime juice, and chiles and mix well, then cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2.  Finish the dish.  Shuck the oysters over a strainer set over a small bowl to collect their liquid.  Toss the oysters with their liquor into the mixture and stir gently.  Check for seasoning, it may or may not need salt.  Serve in clear glasses or seafood cocktail servers.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Lost Rhino's Alphabrett

When it comes to beer, few would approach a beer that is described with terms such as "green apple," "sour cherry" or even, in a rare case, "horse blanket." I am one of those few.  The reason is that I recognize those descriptors.  They are words being used to describe a beer brewed with Brettanomyces or "Brett."  It is a wild yeast (or actually, a few different strains of wild yeast) that produces rather unique flavors that require an open mind and a palette that can embrace some really acidic and sour flavors. 

The use of Brett has been in vogue for quite a while.  Over the past few years, I have reviewed several beers brewed with the wild yeast.   Of those beers, the one that I like the most is the Orval, the Trappist beer brewed in Belgium.  The tart tones of the beer set it apart from its Trappist brethren.  A close second would be the Le Fleur, Misseur from New Belgium.  It is hard to believe that I reviewed those beers back in 2011, nearly six years ago.

A few months ago, my beautiful Angel took me on a tour through Virginia craft beer.  The last stop on the tour was Lost Rhino Brewing.   After trying a couple of the beers, I bought two beers from the brewer's Genius Loci series.  This series of beers display the brewer's creativity and experimentation.  The results are beers that differ greatly from the standards that grace the taps at the tasting room or local restaurants.

One beer in the series is the Alphabrett, a brown ale brewed with Brett and aged for two years in barrels.  The beer is brewed with pilsner, crystal and chocolate malts, Saaz hops and a combination of St. Bernardus yeast, along with Vlo yeast in the barrel.  

The Alphabrett pours an earth brown color, with some rust hues, which one would expect with a barrel-aged brown ale brewed with Brett. The brewers describe the beer as "prevalent green apple notes that go hand in hand with a pleasant sourness."  I think that description is largely accurate.  The aroma was difficult to ascertain, but I could get some faint hints of green apple and other Brett aspects.   That faint aroma is belied by a very strong flavor.  Prevalent means widespread, and there is a lot of green apple in the taste.  The sourness hits the tongue with the first sip, and never lets up.  With each additional taste, the sourness transforms from green apple to sour apple candy, with some pepper notes along the edges.

In the end, this is a very good beer.  I wish I had bought a second bottle of it.  (I actually bought two bottles, but the second one is a different Genuis Loci beer - that will be a review for a different time.)  This beer is not for the faint of heart or taste, but, if you like something different and something sour, the Alphabrett is worth a try.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Pinchos Morunos (Moorish Kebabs)

Anthony Bourdain once said, "street food, I believe, is the salvation of the human race."  That is quite the statement.   And it made me wonder, how could street food deliver the human race from harm, loss or ruin?  Street food is defined as "ready-to-eat" food sold by a vendor in a market or along the side of the street.  The term encompasses the wide range of food prepared, served and sold from booths, carts, and/or food trucks.  

Take, for example, pinchos morunos  or Moorish kebabs.  Small cubes of meat, threaded onto skewers and grilled over a charcoal brazier.  Also known as pinchitos, it is commonly sold by street vendors in Andalucia and Extramadura to hungry customers.  This food may provide some insight into Bourdain's statement.  The name itself reveals its origins: these threaded skewers originated with the Moors who occupied southern Spain during the Middle Ages.  The Moors marinated meat, most often lamb, with olive oil and spices (like garlic, cumin, thyme, oregano and turmeric).  Long after the Moors were defeated with the fall of Granada, these meat skewers continued to be served to hungry people at street corners and in markets.  To be sure, the skewers have evolved over time, with lamb being replaced by pork and chicken.  But, its history ties present day Spaniards with the peoples of the region's past.  

A street food like pinchitos can also tie Spaniards with other peoples.  One need only cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Morocco and northern Africa to find vendors serving a very similar kebab, made with lamb at local markets.  A common dish that can be enjoyed together, with friends or strangers.  As people enjoy the skewers, they can start to talk to each other.  They can talk about the food, the area, or a local sporting event.  As they talk, people can realize that -- despite their nationality, religion, etc, -- they actually have a lot in common.  And, that is how street food can start us on the road toward the salvation of the human race.  

There are a variety of pinchito recipes on the Internet, but I decided to use a recipe from one from my cookbooks, Culinaria Spain.  This recipe is also very simple and very cheap to make, which is the key to street food.   It calls for the use of lamb (a nod to tradition) or pork (a nod to current street food). This recipe does not include expensive ingredients, like saffron, which is found in the ingredient list of other recipes.  (I saved the saffron for the rice that accompanied the kebabs.) Finally, and most important, this recipe can be made using the broiler of an oven, which opens it up to those who may not have a charcoal brazier or grill.  

One last note: even if you make this dish at home, you can still fulfill the fundamental potential of street food.   Invite some friends over for a meal, or better yet, invite some acquaintances over for a meal and get to know them better.  Every little step counts.

Recipe from Culinaria Spain, pg. 432
Serves 4

1 1/4 pound of pork or lamb fillet
1/2 cup of olive oil
3 1/2 tablespoons of dry sherry
1 teaspoon of mild paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin

1.  Prepare the kebabs.  Cut the fillet into 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch chunks.  Make a marinade with the olive oil, sherry, spices and marinate the meat chunks for at least 2 hours.

2.  Broil the kebabs.  Thread the meat chunks onto 4 kebab skewers.  Broil under medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning several times.  Serve immediately with bread, lemon or, in my case, some saffron rice.  


Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Bodhi

So what does it take to become a "cult beer"? That is, a beer with a following that is so passionate that they will do just about anything -- drive distances, stand in line, pay extra -- just to have a pint or buy a bottle of a beer?  I began thinking about this issue after trying a bottle of Columbus Brewing Company's Bodhi Double IPA.  My dad described this beer as a cult beer.  So, what does it take to achieve that status?

I did some searching, but I was unable to find anything that would set forth criteria for what constitutes a cult beer.  Instead, most articles simply tell you which beers are "cult beers."  And, I found an article that describes the Bodhi as having achieved "cult" status.  Marc Bona, a writer with, described the Bodhi as having a "strong, fresh citrus aroma that hits you immediately [that] is followed quickly by wonderful tropical flavors, and, then, seconds later on each sip, a big hop smack."  That's some description, and, it provides a little insight into what it takes become a cult beer.

Simply put, it is the beer itself.  The Bodhi pours a golden color, which one would expect with a double India Pale Ale.  Depending upon the light, there was an orange hue that shined through.  As I stared at the beer, the thin foam gracing the surface of the beer began to recede.

As that foam retreated to the edges of the glass, the aromatic elements of the hops began to shine through.  Notes of citrus fruit, with a little pine greet the nose, but are balanced by the softer tones of the malts.  The taste of the Bodhi, at least for me, began with the pine, with grass, floral and herb tones.  However, with each sip, the flavor transitioned to citrus fruit, such as grapefruit, and tangerines.  The bitter finish lingers on the tongue and the back of the mouth long after the beer is gone.  Perhaps that is the "big hop smack."

The Bodhi is definitely a great example of a double IPA (or, as it is also known, an Imperial IPA). It follows the style well, pushing the envelope in getting big hop aromas and flavors.  While I can't say that the Bodhi is a "cult beer," I can say that if I saw it on tap or in bottle, I'd have another one.


Friday, October 20, 2017

Chef Bolek's Italian Beef Sandwiches

The Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwich has been on Chef Bolek's "Bucket List" for a very long time.  It all began with a trip to Chicagoland.  I was visiting my sister and her family, and, we went to a place called Portillo's.  I had my first Chicago-Style Italian Beef sandwich there.  It was amazing.  

Fast forward several years later, and, my beautiful Angel bought me a roast from a local store.  My mind immediately turned to making Italian Beef Sandwiches out of that roast.  So, I did what I always do, and that is to set out and learn about what I am going to make.

The origin of the Chicago-style Italian Beef Sandwich appears to be somewhat lost to history, although there are some who claim to know how the sandwich came to be.  Generally speaking, the sandwich was created by Italian immigrants who came to Chicago to work in the stockyards.  They were only able to afford the tougher cuts of beef, which they would roast in a pan with beef stock.  Once the roast was cooked, they would slice it thinly, dip the meat back in the juices, and then pile it onto bread with some giardiniera (which is a relish of carrots, cauliflower, olives, and peppers in vinegar.  Once the sandwich was prepared, it would also be dipped into the juices).  If you want to learn more about the history of this sandwich, you can cheek out Thrillist or Amazing Ribs

I wanted to get to making this sandwich.  The recipe is relatively easy to make.  I created my own Italian style rub -- basil, oregano, garlic, onion, salt and pepper -- and then marinated the meat overnight.  The next day, I roasted the meat until it was medium rare and then set it aside as I strained the jus from the bottom of the roasting pan for the dipping.  After the beef rested, I sliced it thinly, piled it high on a bun and added some hand-chopped giardiniera.  The end result was as delicious as the sandwiches I had in Chicago.  

Recipe Inspired by Many Others
Serves a lot

1 (4 to 5 pound) top sirloin roast, sirloin tip roast or other roast
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon basil
1/3 tablespoon oregano
1/2 cup beef broth or stock, plus more for jus
1 bottle of giardiniera, drained
Sub rolls

1.  Prepare the roast.  Mix the garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper, rosemary, basil and oregano.   Spread the rub over the roasts, making sure that all sides of the roast are covered.  Wrap the roast and refrigerate overnight. 

2.  Roast the beef.  Place the beef in a roasting pan.  Add 1/2 cup of beef broth or beef stock.   Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the roasting pan in the oven and roast the beef until it is medium rare, about 145 degrees.  This will take about one and one-half hours.  Remove the roast from the oven and the pan.  Tent with foil and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes.  

3.  Toast the rolls.  While the meat is resting, brush olive oil on the sub rolls and toast them for about one to two minutes under the broiler. 

4.  Prepare the giardiniera.  Chop the various vegetables in the giardiniera, until they are small pieces.  Place in a bowl and set aside.   

3.  Finish the dish.  Strain the juices from the roasting pan and set aside.  If you need more as an au jus, stir in some warm beef stock or broth.  Slice the beef into thin slices.  Dip the slices into the au jus and place on the bun.  Spoon over the chopped giardiniera over the beef and serve with a small dipping container of au jus.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Black Flag Flying Over Columbia

The Black Flag stands in direct opposition to the established norms.  That is a statement tat, as a fan of punk music, I would expect from Henry Rollins, the singer for the hardcore punk band that goes by that name.  However, the italicized sentence sums up Black Flag Brewing Company, a relatively new brewery in Columbia, Maryland.  

I have to admit that the name is catchy, because I am a big fan of the punk rock band, Black Flag.  When I saw the signs for the brewery, Black Flag, thoughts emerged In My Head about how I'm the One who would drive From Hell and Back to grab a Six Pack for a TV Party in a Padded Cell known as Room 13.  6 song titles and 1 album title in one sentence about getting beer.  Not to shabby.

With that out of the way, we visited Black Flag Brewing to check out the taproom and the beers.  The brewery is trying to keep from being type-cast in the craft beer world.  Its owner does not want to be known for a specific style of beer (for example, Sierra Nevada and its IPAs).  Thus, the ten taps that lie behind the bar have a range of styles including a blonde, Belgian saison, sour, breakfast stout, pale ale and a Double IPA, as well as seasonals like an Octoberfest and a pumpkin beer. 

The first beer I tried was the Mambo Sauce (which itself is a reference to the condiment found in Washington, D.C. area restaurants that is akin to a barbecue sauce.   Black Flag's Mambo Sauce is nothing like the bottles that might grace a restaurant table.  The brewery describes its beer as a "big tropical monster," with "huge juicy hop additions hidden behind smooth bitterness."  

The Mambo Sauce DIPA is pictured to the right.  The beer pours a golden-orange color, with a little haziness; but, it comes as advertised.  The aromatic elements are full of ripe citrus fruit, such as grapefruit, tangerine and lemons.   Those aromatic elements carry through to the taste of the beer, although they are couched in the malt tones, which add a little sweetness to the flavor profile of the beer.  The latter are the result of the brewers' efforts to smooth out the bitterness of the hops.  The effort to round out the bitterness represents, to a certain degree, the efforts to be non-conformist.  After all, most DIPAs push the bold hop aromas and flavors, not thinking too much about the malts.  

In the end, Black Flag Brewery illustrates the promise of the craft beer movement in Maryland: new  breweries open, creating beers that stand out on their own.  We will definitely be stopping in again ... very soon.  

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