Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sake + Beer = Extra High

I can still remember the night.  I was sitting at the bar at Sens, a Japanese restaurant in downtown Phoenix.  While I was looking at the beer menu, my attention focused on the array of Hitachino Nest beers from Kiuchi Brewery ... White Ale, Weizen, Sweet Stout, Red Rice Ale, and the XH.  It was this last beer that really grabbed my attention ... the XH.

The reason is that I had not heard of, let alone seen, a beer like the XH.  The XH,which stands for "Extra High," is a beer aged in oak casks used to mature Sake.  Not just any Sake, but Shocyu, which is a distilled Sake.  Shocyu can be made from several ingredients, including, sweet potatoes, rice, barley and soba (buckwheat).  Shocyu is also high in alcohol content, with an ABV that is usually around 25% but can be as high as 42%.  The XH spends three months in Shocyu casks before being bottled.  It is the first beer that I have encountered that has been aged in something other than wine, bourbon, or port barrels.

Kiuchi Brewery brews the XH in the style of Belgian Brown Ale. The brewer uses Marris Otter, Munich, Crystal and Chocolate malts, along with Chinook and Styrian Golding hops.  The beer has an ABV far less than Shocyu, at about 7% to 8%, and an IBU of 44.

The XH pours a copper or rust brown, with a lot of carbonation and a thick foam.  The aromatic elements of this beer clearly suggest Sake or Shocyu.  Just as a beer aged in bourbon barrels suggest the bourbon in the aroma, the XH clearly foreshadows the taste of the beer.  Many reviewers equate the smell or taste to brettanomyces, but, for me, the beer does suggest the flavors of sake.  A little bitterness, a little rice wine, and the yeast are also present in the taste of the wine. 

When it comes to pairing this beer, the obvious choice is Japanese cuisine.  I paired this beer with the Novice's Catfish Stir Fry, because I thought the sesame flavor would go well this the bitterness of the beer.   I think the XH will also go well with teppanyaki or yakitori, both of which feature griddled or grilled meats and vegetables.

This beer is available at beer stores that have a large import or craft beer selection.  It sells for about $5 to $6 a bottle.

ENJOY!

For more about Shocyu, check out Sake World.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Novice's Catfish Stir Fry (新手的鯰魚翻炒)

This recipe represents what one can make with the ingredients in the pantry.  Rice noodles, rice wine, sesame oil, and dried chiles (given to Clare and my as a gift from two good friends).  I also had some mushrooms and half an onion left over from another recipe.  The only thing that I purchased was some catfish.

With all of these ingredients, the question is how to prepare the dish.  I decided to make a stir fry.  The term "stir fry" describes two Chinese cooking techniques for preparing food in a wok.  The two techniques are  chǎo (炒) and bào (爆).  Chǎo refers to the method of heating a wok, adding a little oil, searing the meat and then adding the vegetables and liquid.  Bào refers to heating the wok to a dull red, adding the oil, spices, and meats followed by broth and/or vegetables. 

I don't have a lot of experience making a stir fry, so I just "winged" this recipe.  And, quite frankly, I did neither chǎo nor bào, although the method I used is closer to the former than the latter.  The method I used is perhaps best described as 初學者 or "novice."  But, I have to start somewhere ...


NOVICE'S CATFISH STIR FRY
(新手的鯰魚翻炒)
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

Ingredients:
1 catfish fillet (about 3/4 pound), cut into even sized pieces
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
4 ounces of button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2-3 tables of rice wine
1 teaspoon of seasame oil
1/3 package of rice noodles
2-3 dried chiles

Directions:
1.  Hydrate the rice noodles.  Place the noodles in a small pot with very warm water for five to eight minutes.  After the time has elapsed, turn the pot on high.

2.  Begin the stirfry.  Heat the canola oil in the wok.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions and stir continuously to keep the onions from burning.  After about two or three minutes, add the mushrooms and garlic.  Continue to cook for about two or three more minutes.

3.  Add the rice wine.  Once the onions and garlic are translusent and the mushrooms are cooked, add the rice wine.  Also add the dried chiles.  Stir to mix the ingredients together.

4.  Add the catfish.  Add the catfish and cook until the catfish is opaque, about three to five minutes.

5.  Add the noodles.  Drain the noodles and add them to the wok.  Stir until the noodles are coated with the rice wine liquid.  Continue to cook for about a minute or two longer.

6.  Plate the dish.  Divide the noodles between the plates.  Spoon the catfish pieces, mushrooms and onions over the noodles.

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

For this recipe, I think beer provides the best pairing.  A Japanese beer, such as Kirin or Sapporo, or a Chinese beer, like Tsingtao, would work well, helping the cleanse the palate of the sesame flavor for the next bite.  Another possible pairing is 

Kiuchi Brewery -- Hitachino Nest XH
Belgian Brown Ale aged in Shocyu Casks
Ibaraki, Japan
Flavors of Sake, Shocyu, with a little bitterness

ENJOY!

 For some basic information about the stir fry method, check out Wikipedia.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thorn Clark Milton Park Shiraz (2009)

I can still remember the first time I saw a bottle of the Milton Park Shiraz.  Clare and I were selecting wines for our wine club dinner.  It was the first time that we were responsible for bringing the wine.  To make matters more difficult, we had to pair wines with South Indian dishes.  I knew that we would have a problem when, during my research, the first thing I read stated that South Indian food is best paired with ... beer. Nevertheless we persevered and found a couple of white wines that would work well with the dishes.  However, I also wanted to pair one of the dishes with a red wine.  The question turned to which red wine.

This question was difficult to answer, because tannins in red wines can heighten the heat and spice of dishes.  And, South Indian dishes can be both hot and spicy.  Nevertheless, there was one red that grabbed by my attention ... Australian Shiraz.  The Shiraz is same as the French Syrah grape.  The grape was introduced into Australia by James Busby back in 1832.  Over time, there developed four styles of Australian Shiraz: (1) wines that resemble the Syrahs of the Rhône valley, which are grown in Central and South Victoria (north of Melbourne); (2) more dense Shiraz wines grown in the Barossa Valley (northwest of Adelaide); (3) smooth Shiraz produced in the Coonawarra and Clare Valley (near Adelaide); and (4) velvety Shiraz of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.  

We purchased a bottle of Thorn Clarke's Milton Park Shiraz (2009).  This Shiraz is made with grapes grown in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, placing the wine within the third style of Australian Shiraz.  The Thorn Clarke vineyard is a family-owned estate, which grows some of the grapes used for this wine.  I think that the winemaker also sources grapes from other vineyards, presumably in the same area, to produce this wine.  the wine is aged in American oak barrels for 12 months. 

The Milton Park Shiraz pours a cranberry red.  The cranberry foreshadows the aromas and tastes to come.  The aromatic elements feature those cranberries and blackberries, as well as raspberries.  These fruit carry over to the taste, which also features a hint of strawberry.  Other reviews find plums, blackberries and sweet spice from the oak.  For a Shiraz/Syrah, this wine has a light body and is somewhat refreshing, with a little spice on the finish. 

Some reviewers have suggested that this wine can be paired with a range of dishes, especially red meats and game.  This suggested pairing seems sensible.  Clare and I paired this wine with Vada Pav with Coriander and Tamarind Chutneys.  The wine worked very well with this dish, helping to round out the "spice" in the coriander and tamarind. 

This wine can be found at most wine stores and Whole Foods Markets.   It sells for about $9.99 a bottle. 

ENJOY!

For more about Australian Shiraz, check out Sally's Place.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Very Belated Gift from Three Wise Brewers

I am often intrigued by collaboration beers; and, recently, brewers have been banding together in threes to produce some rather interesting collaboration beers.  I've reviewed a couple of those beers.  There is the Saison du Buff (Dogfish Head, Stone and Victory), which was brewed with rosemary, sage and thyme.  There is also the El Camino (Un)Real Ale (Stone, 21st Amendment and Firestone Walker), which is brewed with fennel seeds, chia seeds and pink peppercorns, along with mission figs.  Both were very interesting and very good.

When I was in Chicago, I came across another one of these collaboration beers.  The beer is the Special Holiday Ale and it is a collaboration between Stone Brewing Company, Nøgne-Ø and Jolly Pumpkin.  The beer is a holiday ale brewed with certain spices and other ingredients including chestnuts, juniper berries, white sage and caraway seeds.  Although it is a holiday ale, it sat in our basement through the holidays until, recently, when I decided that I would try the beer. 

The Special Holiday Ale pours a brownish color, that somewhat resembles cola. The ingredients contribute to the aroma, because I could smell the juniper berries and the white sage.  These aromas are accompanied by scents of the malts and a little roasted aroma (most likely contributed by the chestnuts).  I had a harder time sensing the caraway seeds, which is a little unexpected because caraway has a strong aroma. 

The flavor of this beer is very good.  Despite the unusual ingredients, the Special Holiday Ale has the flavors of a traditional holiday or Christmas Ale.  The taste elements clearly focus on the chestnuts (which had to have been roasted, given the attendant roast and coffee flavors), white sage and juniper berries.  Unlike the aroma, I could sense some of the caraway in the taste of the beer, especially on the finish and on the tongue. The finish was a little dry, but that did not really detract from the overall experience of drinking the beer. 

I found this beer at a Binny's outside of Chicago.  Although I don't recall the price, the other collaborations usually sold for about $3.00 to $4.00 a bottle.  

ENJOY!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Stoller Vineyards Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (2006)

There are certain wineries that have special meaning for my beautiful wife, Clare, and myself.  Bergström, Dobbes, Domaine Drouhin, Erath, Lemelson, Panther Creek, Privé, Sokol Blosser and Stoller.  All of these wineries are all in Oregon's Willamette Valley and their special meaning comes from the fact that they were all part of our honeymoon.

I can still remember our visit to the tasting room of Stoller Vineyards in Dayton, Oregon.  It was a bright, sunny day as we walked up to the tasting room. We sat at a long table, sampling Stoller's wines.  We liked all of them ... a lot.  We ended leaving with a couple bottles, including the Pinot Noir Rose (2008) and the Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (2006).

The Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (2006) is produced from the winemaker's selection of the favorite blocks and barrels.  The selection ultimately came from the original plantings in the vineyard.  The grapes were destemmed into stainless steel tanks for seven to ten days of cold soak.  After pressing, the wine was aged for ten months in barrels, consisting of sixty percent new oak and forty percent neutral oak.  The wine was bottled in September 2007. 

The winemaker describes the Dundee Hills Pinot Noir as having "violets, earth, mineral and red berry aromatics lead to a palate of spice and ripe berries, coupled with bright acidity and smooth texture."  The wine pours a dark purplish color, which is to me a sign of good aging.  This Pinot Noir shares the aromas and tastes that make Oregon Pinot Noirs so great.  As the wine begins to open, aromas of very ripe, large cherries greet the nose.  Those cherries carry through to the taste of the wine.  The cherries are also complemented with a hint of minerality or spice in the taste.

At least for me, Oregon Pinot Noirs are a little bolder and stronger than other Pinot Noirs, such as those from California.  A wine like the Dundee Hills Pinot Noir could easily be paired with pasta dishes (red sauces or olive oil-based), chicken, pork and salmon dishes.  The wine also goes well with roast vegetables and hard cheeses.

We purchased this wine at the tasting room.  I have to say that I have not seen Stoller wines in many wine stores, but it may be available at larger stores. It is definitely worth purchasing if you find it.

ENJOY!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Baharat Turkey

I am a big fan of spice mixes and have dabbled a little with Middle Eastern spice mixes, such as the Bzaar and Hararat mixes used in Libyan cooking.  Now, I cross the border, so to speak, to dabble with an spice mix called Baharat, which is used in Arab cuisine.  Baharat may have anywhere from four to nine ingredients, including any of the following: allspice, black pepper, black cardamom, cassia, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg and chiles (or paprika).  Some countries, like Turkey and Tunisia, have their own, patricular type of Baharat. Turkish Baharat includes mint, while Tunisian Baharat includes dried rosebuds and ground cinnamon.

For this recipe, I am using an Egyptian version of Baharat.  The spice mix uses paprika, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cardamom, ginger, allspice and chiles. I chose the Egyptian version of Baharat for a reason, viz., I was trying to pair a dish with a beer.  A little reverse pairing.  I bought a beer brewed based upon an ancient Egyptian recipe -- look for the beer below and the review to come -- and I needed a dish.  I chose the Baharat rub because I wanted to create a more modern dish to pair with that beer.  

With the rub in hand, I had to decide what protein to use.  The easy choice would have been lamb or maybe chicken.  But I wanted to try something different, so I went with turkey.  That's right, turkey.  I thought the texture of the turkey would provide a different contrast for the spices.  I choose a turkey thigh, headed home and began to create a Chef Bolek Original.


BAHARAT TURKEY
Baharat recipe adapted from JaimeOliver.com
Serves 2-3

Ingredients (for the Baharat Spice Mix):
2 teaspoons of paprika
2 teaspoons of ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardammom
1/2 teaspoon of ground cummin
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinammon
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice
1 teaspoon of ground dried chilli (optional, I used Aleppo pepper)

Ingredients (for the Turkey):
1 boneless turkey thigh, about 1 pound
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
1.  Prepare the baharat mix.  Combine all of the spice mix ingredients together.  

2.  Prepare the turkey.  Rub the mix all over the turkey thigh.  Using some kitchen twine, tie together the thigh like you would a leg of lamb.  This will help keep parts of the turkey from cooking faster than other parts. 

3.  Cook the turkey thigh.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cook the thigh for 30 to 35 minutes.  Cooking times will vary depending upon the size of the thigh. 

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

As I noted above, I made this recipe because I needed a dish to pair with a specific beer.  The beer was based upon, and drew inspiration from, an ancient Egyptian recipe for making beer.  

Dogfish Head Brewing -- Ta Henket
Ancient Ale
Milton, Delaware, USA
Flavors of za'atar, doum fruit and chamomile

If you cannot find Ta Henket, there are other beers or wines that could work this this recipe, like the following.

Bergström Winery -- Dr. Bergström Riesling (2007)
100% Riesling
Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
Flavors of apples, pears and melon

Baying Hound Aleworks -- Lord Whimsey's Mild Pale Ale
Mild Pale Ale
Rockville, Maryland, USA
Flavors of bread and malt

ENJOY!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dogfish Head Brewery Ta Henket

Ancient Egyptian lore speaks of the god Hathor descending to the earth to kill men.  One day, the King of Upper Egypt and the King of Lower Egypt, Re, came to inspect the beer but, as the day dawned, he saw that Hathor had slaughtered the the men.  King Re spoke, "How good that is, I will protect mankind from her."  He then stated, "Bring hither the beer to the place where she is slaying mankind."  When the beer was brought in the twilight, it was poured out so that it overflowed the fields.  When Hathor returned, she saw the inundated fields and her face was beautifully reflected in the beer.  Hathor drank from the beer and was satisfied; and, drunk with beer, she left man alone.  (Adolf Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt at 268-69).  

Beer saved ancient Egyptians not only in lore, but also in life.   It was a fundamental part of the Egyptians' diet and has been described as the "national drink" of the time.  Drawing inspiration from ancient recipes, Dogfish Head has sought to recreate that drink for people today.  The brewers used ingredients from Egyptian hieroglyphics, brewing the beer using an ancient form of wheat (Emmer Farro) and loaves of hearth baked bread.  The brewers also used a Middle Eastern spice mix, Za'atar, along with Doum fruit and Chamomile to flavor this beer.  They then went to Egypt with petri dishes to collect native yeast strains, capturing a native Egyptian saccharomyces strain.  The result is:


Bread Loaf Arm

Twisted Flax Wick Vulture Water Basket Vulture Bread Loaf

Roughly translated: Ta Henket.

The Ta Hanket has a somewhat deep orange color, with a nice level of foam that gives way fairly quickly to the beer itself.  The aromatic elements highlight some interesting bready, malty and yeasty aromas.  There are also hints of the za'atar spice mix, which is usually made with, among other things, thyme, sumac and sesame.  I could definitely catch the sumac and a little of the sesame aroma in the beer. 

The interesting nature of this beer carries over to the flavors.  This beer does not taste like any other beer that I've had, which is a good thing.  The za'atar is clearly present in the taste, both up front and continuing into the finish.  As for the other flavorings, doum fruit and chamomile, they are a little harder to detect.  One reason may be that I've never had doum fruit before, so I am unsure what I am looking for and whether I've found it. 

According to the brewers, the Ta Henket can be paired with a range of foods, including grilled fish, pork chops, feta cheese and roasted vegetables.  This beer inspired me to make my Baharat Turkey, pairing a turkey rubbed with a modern version of the Egyptian spice mix with a beer inspired by an ancient Egyptian recipe.  A connection between today and yesterday, culinarily speaking.

The Ta Henket has an ABV of 4.5% and IBUs of 7, which clearly underscores the fact that this is more driven by malt flavors than hop flavors.  The beer is a limited release that sells for about $12.99 a bottle.  I found this beer at a local Whole Foods Market.



Vulture Water Cobra Quail Chick Double Reed Leaf



ENJOY!

(The translation of English to Egyptian hieroglyphics was done using Online Hieroglyphics Translator.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Andorra

After a break from eating Chivitos al Pan, which was necessary to clear the added cholesterol from my arteries, my culinary adventures take me across the Atlantic Ocean to the little country of Andorra.  I did not select this challenge at random; instead, this is a planned challenge.  I chose Andorra for two reasons. The first reason lies with the cuisine of the country.   Andorra or Principat d' Andorra is a small country nestled in the Pyrennes Mountains between Spain and France.  Despite its location, Andorra is neither Spanish nor French.  Instead, Andorra is Catalan.   The Catalan people have a long history, artistic tradition and cuisine; however, today, the people are split between Catalunya in Spain and Rousillon in France, with the independent country of Andorra in the middle.

Catalan cuisine draws from ingredients found along the Mediterranean coast.  These ingredients include tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, chiles, chickpeas and artichokes, along with poultry, pork, lamb and seafood.  The dishes created by Catalan cooks vary from the seafood-based dishes along the Mediterranean to the heavier, pork dishes found inland.  The inland Catalan cuisine includes, and is sometimes referred to as, "Catalan mountain cuisine."  The cooking in Andorra is a good reflection of the Catalan mountain cuisine.

The second reason for selecting Andorra as my next challenge is the date.  The day, January 17, is St. Anthony's day is Andorra.  Back in the 1970s, some friends got together to prepare the national dish, Escudella, for their neighbors and shopkeepers.  This celebration is a revival of the much older tradition of distributing food amongst the poorest residents.  With every year, more and more Andorrans gathered together to cook and share their national dish.  The celebration was eventually moved to the Village Square in the capital, Andorra La Vella.  And, over time, the Brotherhood of the Escullaires were formed to prepare the stew for each celebration. 

THE MAIN COURSE

This challenge presents me with the opportunity to "join" the Germandat de Escullaires for a day.  I decided to prepare the national dish for Andorra as part of the Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge.  The first reference to escudella was made by a Franciscan writer, Francesc Eiximenis, who was Catalan, in the fourteenth century.  Brother Eiximenis wrote that the Catalan people eat escudella every day.  After having made this dish, I can see why.  Generally speaking, escudella is a Catalan soup with two primary components: (1) the broth and (2) the meats and vegetables used in making the broth.  The broth is basically a stock, flavored by bones, meats and vegetables.

In making this dish, I had to make a couple of substitutions.  The first substitution involves the bones used for the broth.  The recipe calls for both marrow bones and ham bones.  I could easily find the marrow bones, but not the ham bones.  So, I substituted an additional marrow bone or two for the ham bone.  The second substitution relates to the sausage.  The recipe does not specify the particular type of sausage to be used.  After a little research, I decided to use butifarra (or botifarra), which is a traditional Catalan mild pork sausage.  Butifarra can be difficult to find; however, I did find a recipe for making butifarra sausage.  I got all of the ingredients, except for the cure.  I did not need the cure because I was not curing the sausage.  The raw sausage would be browned and go straight into the escudella.  If you plan to make butifarra sausage, check out Len Poli's website, which has general instructions for making the sausage.  


ESCUDELLA
Adapted from My Hungry Tum
Serves 8

Ingredients (for the Escudella):
2 cups of dry cannellini beans
1 marrow bone
1 ham bone
2 chicken breasts or 3 chicken thighs
8-12 cups of cold water
1/2 head green cabbage
1 large potato, cut into eighths
1/4 cup of rice
1 cup chick peas
1 cup of pasta (such as shells)
6 sausages, removed from casings and rolled into balls
2 slices of prosciutto
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste

Ingredients (for the Butifarra Sausage):
1 pound of ground pork
1 teaspoon of salt
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/8 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 very small pinch (1/16 teaspoon) of nutmeg
1/4 tablespoon of wine vinegar

Directions:
1.  Make and brown the sausage.  Mix the ground pork with all of the ingredients (salt, garlic, cumin, ground black pepper, nutmeg and wine vinegar.  Form small balls or links. Gently brown sausage in cast iron Dutch Oven or pot/casserole w/vegetable oil over medium heat.

2.  Begin the stew.  Rinse the beans in cold water and tie the bones in cheesecloth.  Put both with the chicken, cooked sausage and ham in the pot or casserole with at least 8 cups of cold water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce flame, and cook gently, covered, about 2 hours or until beans are cooked and chicken very tender.

3.  Remove the meats.  Remove ham and marrow bones and discard them. (I have seen recipes that call to extract and use the marrow, which I did.)  Put chicken aside.

4.  Return the soup to a boil.  If there is only a little liquid left, add a bit of water for the cooking of the remaining ingredients and bring soup to a rapid boil.

5.  Add the remaining ingredients.  When it is boiling, put in cabbage, potatoes, rice, pasta, chick-peas, and pepper to taste.  Continue cooking over medium flame for 30 minutes (or until newly added ingredients are cooked through).

6.  Return the meat to the stew.  A few minutes before serving, put chicken meat, removed from bones and shredded, in the pot to heat.  Season to taste.

7.  Plate the dish.  There are two ways to serve escudella.  One way is to serve the components separately: a bowl of the broth and a plate of the meats and vegetables.  This is known as Escudella i carn d'olla.  The other way is to serve the components together, like a soup or stew.  I chose this second presentation, which is sometimes referred to as Escudella Barrejada.  For this challenge, I plated the escudella using this second presentation. 

*     *     *

Although I was not standing side by side with the actual Brotherhood of Escullaires, this challenge nevertheless offered me the opportunity to cook this amazing Catalan and Andorran stew.  The escudella was great ... the broth was very flavorful, with the beef bones, chicken, ham and sausages making their contributions to the earthy and hearty soup.  The cabbage, potatoes, rice and pasta all added textures that underscored the earthiness of this dish.  Once again, I finish a challenge stuffed, not only with great food, but also with the desire to move on to the next challenge.  Until then, I would like to wish all of the Andorrans out there a very happy St. Anthony's Day, and ...

ENJOY!

For more information about Escudella, check out Slavic Nerd's Travel Blog. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Frattaglie di Maiale Polpette (Chitarra Pasta with Pork Offal Meatballs)

One weekend morning, I work up with one idea in my mind ... I wanted to cook with pig's feet.  I had already planned to make handmade chitarra pasta and a homemade sauce, so it only seemed natural to make pig feet meatballs.  Generally, meatballs are made with a combination of beef, veal and pork; or, in some cases, with one type of meat, such as lamb.  I have made classic meatballs.  For this recipe, I wanted to try something completely different.  I decided that I would buy some pig feet, boil them to separate the meat and collagen from the bones and then make meatballs.

However, the recipe took on a life of its own once I got to the supermarket.  As I perused the pig's feet, I noticed that the store also had pig necks and pig's tails.  I began to think to myself ... could I use pig necks?  I looked over the necks to see how much meat was on the bones and decided that I could.  Could I use pig tails? There was a lot more fat in tails, but I thought, "what the heck, I'm already using pig feet and pig necks.  Why not throw in a couple of tails as well."  I left the store with a pound of pig feet (basically one foot), a pound of pig necks (about six to eight neck pieces) and a pound of pig tails (about five or six tails).  

When I got back to my kitchen, I thoroughly washed all of the pig parts and placed them in a large stock pot.   I added the standard aromatics -- carrots, celery, and onion -- along with garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and a little salt.  After boiling the pig parts for about three hours, I cleaned the bones of their meat, along with some fat and some collagen.  I chopped the pig meat thoroughly with a meat cleaver.  I then had to consider what to use as binding.  I ultimately decided to make bread crumbs out of some leftover crostini.  I had about 3/4 cup of bread crumbs and I used one egg for the binding.  The binding worked fairly well, but I decided to brown the meatballs to help keep them together while they cooked in the homemade sauce.

The sauce is a basic tomato sauce.  I did not include measurements with respect to the spices, although I do give some guidance in the directions.  The reason is that, for me, this sauce is like a canvas, and the spices are the paints.  There is only one hard and fast rule that I use: two parts basil to one part oregano (for example, 1 tablespoon of basil to 1/2 tablespoon of oregano).  However, the best way to make sauce is to add spices, a little at a time, until the desired taste is achieved. It is also important to keep in mind that the meatballs will be cooking for about fifteen to thirty minutes in the sauce.  This will add flavor, both pork and spice, to the sauce.

Overall, for my first time making this recipe, it worked out surprisingly well.  I definitely intend to make this dish again; and, with each subsequent attempt, I will revise this recipe based upon what I learn. 


MACCHERONI ALLA CHITARRA WITH
PORK OFFAL MEATBALLS
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the meatballs):
1 pound of pig's feet (1 foot), broken down into six pieces
1 pound of pig's necks
1 pound of pig's tails
2 onions, quartered
4 carrots, quartered
6 celery stalks, quartered
3 cloves of garlic smashed and roughly chopped
1 handful of flat leaf parsley
3-4 bay leaves
1 bottle of white wine
14 cups of water
 1 cup of bread crumbs
1 tablespoon of dried basil
1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of dried garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1 egg
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients (for the pasta and sauce): 
1 can of tomato paste
2 cans of tomato puree  
3 cans of water
Dried basil 
Dried oregano
Garlic powder
Crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
4 eggs
8 cups of flour

Directions:
1.  Prepare a pork stock.  Rinse the feet, necks and tails thoroughly. Place all of them in a large stock pot.  Add the carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaves, parsley and the bottle of wine.  Add water to cover all of the pig parts and vegetables.  Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook the stock for about three hours or until the meat begins to separate from the bones easily.

2.  Make the sauce.  Add the puree and water to a deep pot.  Stir to make sure it is incorporated.  Add the paste a little at a time to incorporate it into the puree and water.  Add the basil, oregano, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, generally as follows: 2 parts of basil, one part of oregano, one part garlic powder, 1/2 part crushed red pepper, 1 part salt and one part pepper.  Also add 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar (this will help cut the acidity of the tomatoes).  Stir to incorporate the spices into the sauce.  Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce to a simmer. 

3.  Make the pasta.  Create a volcano with half of the flour.  Break two eggs in the well and begin to beat the yolks gently. As you are beating the eggs, begin to incorporate the flour from the sides of the mountain, starting at the top. Continue to add flour until you have a consistent paste. As the mixture comes together, form it into a ball.   Clean the workspace and then sprinkle flour over the working surface. Gently knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Make sure that there are no sticky spots in the dough (as a sticky dough will simply clog the pasta machine). Once the dough has been kneaded, begin to run it through a handcrank pasta machine at the widest setting. Repeat this five or six times. Then run the pasta through each of the other settings on the pasta machine, except for the last setting. Once you have finished with the second-to-last setting, lightly sprinkle it with flour and set aside for a couple of minutes. Then cut the pasta into segments.  If you have a chitarra, place the pasta on top of the strings. Using a small rolling pin, gently run the pin up and down the pasta until it falls through the strings. Repeat for each segment.  (As an alternative, you can make fettuccine using the appropriate extensions on your hand crank pasta maker.)

4.  Separate the meat, fat and collagen.  Remove the pig feet, pig necks and pig tails from the stock.  After they cool down, remove the meat, fat and collagen and make three separate piles.  Be very careful to catch all of the bones and inedible parts, you can discard those.  You can also set aside the stock and the skin for other uses. (The stock is great for soups.)  Once everything has been removed, add some of the fat and collagen to the the meat.  Chop everything until it is finely minced.  

5.  Create the meatballs.  Place the meat mixture into a bowl.  Add the bread crumbs, basil, oregano, garlic powder, crushed red pepper and egg.  Mix the ingredients thoroughly with your hands.  Make meatballs of the meat in the palms of your hands and work to compact the meatballs as much as possible.  Set aside. 

6.  Brown the meatballs.  Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a pan and bring to high heat.  Add the meatballs to the pan but make sure that there is enough space to move the meatballs around.  Brown the meatballs in batches.  

7.  Add the meatballs to the sauce.  Add the meatballs to the sauce and cover the meatballs with the sauce.  Cook the meatballs in the sauce for about one-half hour at most.

8.  Cook the pasta.  While the meatballs are in the sauce, heat a pot of water on high until it starts boiling.  Add the pasta to the water and cook for about one to two minutes.

9.  Plate the pasta.  Heat a pan on very low heat.  Add a spoonful of sauce.  Add a serving of pasta and more sauce.  Stir until the pasta is covered with the pasta and then plate in a bowl.  Add additional sauce and a couple of meatballs.

PAIRING THIS RECIPE

Generally, pasta recipes that include a red tomato sauce seem to call for a pairing with red wine.  This suggested pairing may be a product of association.  Most people associate pasta with tomato sauce with Italy and everyone knows something about Italian wine.  Nevertheless, this association does work well in this case to a certain degree.  The various regions of Italy produce a wide range of red wines -- from the Barolos of the Piedmont to the Aglianicos of Campania.  These wines have widely differing flavor profiles.  

Personally, I would pair this dish with a red wine from Tuscany or Abruzzo.  The Tuscan wines would include a Chianti (either a Chianti Classico or a Chianti Rufina), an IGT Toscano, or a Super Tuscan.  The Abruzzese wine is a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  These wines generally provide a nice, full fruit flavor of cherries or dark cherries, without a lot of tannins.  You definitely want a red wine with less tannins, because those wines will be less astringent, which is a good quality when the pairing involves ingredients, such as tomato sauce that can be very acidic. Here are a couple of examples:

100% Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Abruzzo, Italy
Flavors of blackberries, plums and dark cherries

La Mozza -- Aragone (2006).
40% Sangiovese, 25% Alicante, 25% Syrah and 10% Carignan
Tuscany, Italy
Flavors of cherries and raspberries

ENJOY!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Curried Haddock and Mussels

Alain Ducasse has been described (by others and, perhaps, by himself) as a man obsessed ... with perfection, taste and more.  This obsession has produced remarkable results.  Chef Ducasse is the first chef to own restaurants with three Michelin stars in three different cities, and holds a total of nineteen Michelin stars. So, when I came across his recipe for Curried Haddock and Mussels, I decided that I would give it a try.

I found the recipe on Food & Wine's website, which was entitled Curried Cod and Mussels.  This title presented a dilemma.  Cod has been overfished to the point that stocks, especially those in the Atlantic Ocean, are endangered. (By contrast, cod fished near Iceland and near Maine have been better managed.)  Staring at the little red fish sticker on the price tag, which indicated that these particular cod fillets were not fished in a sustainable way, I decided that I needed to go with another fish.

Fortunately, Food & Wine mentioned that when Chef Ducasse makes this dish, he uses haddock rather than cod.  This was the one bit of information that I needed.  Like cod, haddock had been overfished for years. However, the federal government began to regulate haddock fishing and, over time, the stocks had completely replenished themselves.  This makes haddock a sustainable choice.  So, I bought a couple of haddock fillets and proceeded to make this dish.

One last note about this recipe.  It calls for the use of curry powder.  I used Maharajah Curry Powder from Penzey's Spices.  I like this powder because, for every one hundred pounds of curry powder made, Penzey's uses one pound of saffron.  As a result, this powder costs a little more than the ordinary curry powder, but I think it is worth it. 



CURRIED HADDOCK AND MUSSELS
Adapted from a recipe by Alain Ducasse, available at Food & Wine
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 Granny Smith apple, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 thyme sprigs
2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound of skinless haddock fillets, bones removed,
     cut into 2 inch chunks
Crusty bread for serving

Directions:
1.  Rehydrate the porcini mushrooms.  Soak the porcini in the boiling water until softened, 10 minutes.  Strain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid and rinse to remove any grit.  Finely chop the mushrooms.

2.  Prepare the curry sauce.  In a large pot, heat the oil.  Add the shallots, apple, garlic, curry powder, thyme sprigs, and porcini.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the shallots are softened, about five minutes.

3.  Steam the mussels.  Add the mussels and toss.  Add the wine.  Bring to a boil, cover and cook over high heat until the mussels have opened, about three minutes.  

4.  Cook the Haddock.  Add the cream and 1/2 cup of the porcini soaking liquid, stopping before you reach the grit.  Bring to a simmer.  Nestle the haddock in the broth, cover and cook until the fish lightly flakes, about four minutes.  Discard the thyme.  

5.  Plate the dish.  Transfer the cod and mussels to large bowls and spoon the broth over top.  Serve with crusty bread.

PAIRING THIS DISH

The magazine Food & Wine suggests that the Curried Haddock and Mussels dish is best paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.  One such wine, which is produced in the Loire Valley, is the following: 

Domaine de Chevilly -- Quincy (2009).
100% Chenin Blanc
Le Centre Loire, Loire Valley, France
Grapefruit and other citrus fruitiness. 

ENJOY!


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Famille Bougrier Rosé D'Anjou (2010)

When it comes to rosé wines, it is all a matter of time.  The pinkish hue of these wines depends upon a certain number of days.  After the grapes have been picked and sorted, winemakers crush the grapes, separating the juice from the skin.  However, to make a rosé wine, winemakers let the skin remain in contact with the juice.  Allow the skin to remain in contact with the juice for two or three days, a winemaker is on his or her way to making rosé wine.  Allow the contact to continue, the winemaker is on his or her way to making a red wine.

One of the principal wine regions that produces rosé wines is Provence, France; however, it is not the only region.  Vineyards and winemakers in the Loire Valley also produce this style of wine.  They have their own AOC, known as Rosé d'Anjou.  In this appellation, vineyards grow Grolleau grapes, which serve as the principal grape used to produce the wine.  Winemakers use the Grolleau grapes, along with small percentages of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Malbec, and Pineau d'Aunis.

Both Clare and I first encountered Rosé d'Anjou at a local wine store.  We sampled a wine was produced by Famille Bougrier.  The family started producing wines in 1885 and, for more than 100 years and five generations, they continue to produce a wide range of wines, including the rosé.  They produce the rosé wine using Grolleau, Cabernet Franc and Gamay grapes.  After trying a sample of the wine, we decided to buy a bottle.

The Rosé d'Anjou pours a light hue of farmed Atlantic Salmon.  As for the aromatic elements, the Rosé d'Anjou has some floral scents in the aroma, but the principal elements suggest fresh strawberries and raspberries.  These fruit also predominate in the taste of the wine.  The body of the rosé is light and crisp, with a little sweetness that hangs on the edges of the tongue through the finish. 

As for pairing this wine, it could be paired with a range of dishes.  The Rosé d'Anjou could be paired with small plates or appetizers.  It could also be paired with lighter seafood and chicken dishes.  And, perhaps most suprisingly, it can be paired with somewhat spicy dishes.  I paired this wine with my Gumbo aux Poissons, Huitres et Chevrettes and the pairing worked very well.  The light, fruity nature of this wine served as a good contrast to the darker, somewhat spicy flavors fo the gumbo.

We found this wine at Corridor Wine & Spirits in Laurel, Maryland.  It sells for about $9 to $10 a bottle.

ENJOY!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gumbo aux Poissons, Huitres et Chevrettes

I asked my beautiful Angel, Clare, "what would you like for dinner on New Year's Eve?"  Her answer, "seafood gumbo."  So, I decided that I would try to make the best damn gumbo ever.  I did my research, reviewing not only modern day gumbo recipes, but also historic gumbo recipes, including a couple of recipes that date back to the late nineteenth century. I studied the difference between Cajun gumbo and Creole gumbo. I contemplated the ingredients, particularly the seafood, that I would use in the gumbo.  And, after all this research, I felt ready to cook.

However, I planned on making my own gumbo. I was not going to simply follow a recipe ... or any recipe.  I decided that for this "Gombo" (the name that I saw used to describe the dish in some old Cajun recipes), it would be a Chef Bolek Original, inspired by the gumbos of the Cajun bayous.  There was one twist ... Clare is a pescatarian, who does not eat meat but does eat seafood.  So, with andouille sausage, chicken and other meats off the menu, I still endeavored to be as Cajun as someone from the Midwest could try to be, choosing to make my Gombo with what the Cajun would call "poissons" (fish), "huitres" (oysters) and "chevrettes" (shrimp). 

With the selection of seafood, I turned my attention to the roux.  Perhaps the most important aspect of this dish is the roux.  My prior experience with roux has generally been successful; however, I always left thinking that I could have gotten the roux darker.  This time I worked to get the roux as dark as I thought I could get it ... or at least as dark as I could before I began to worry about burning it.  I saw the color go from light brown, to brown, to chocolate brown, to dark chocolate.  Although I did not reach mahogany, which was my goal, I did manage to get the darkest roux that I have ever achieved.

After getting the roux to the desired color, the key to cooking the rest of the gumbo is timing.  I tried to cut the fish pieces in even sized pieces that would cook in a few minutes.  I also made a change that is usually not done in cooking seafood.  Generally speaking, one almost always puts in shrimp last, because they cook fast and can overcook fast.  So, typically, one would follow the fish with the oysters and finish with the shrimp.  I bucked convention by putting the shrimp in next and then turning off the heat after the shrimp cooked for a couple of minutes on each side.  I then placed the oysters in the gumbo.  The residual heat would finish cooking the shrimp and cook the oysters just enough so that they were cooked on the outside and a little soft on the inside.  This resulted in the perfect oysters. 

In the end, I have to say that I surprised myself.  I think I made a pretty good gumbo, especially considering that there is not a drop of Cajun blood in me.  Clare also loved the gumbo so I can say that I made the best damn gumbo that I could for my beautiful Angel! 


GUMBO AUX POISSONS, HUITRES ET CHEVRETTES
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

Ingredients:
1 whole fish (catfish, snapper, bass), scaled, filleted,
     and reserving the head and backbone
1/2 pint of oysters, liqueur reserved
1/2 pound of 26-30 count shrimp, shells reserved 
     and deveined
1/4 cup of canola oil
1/4 cup of flour
4 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1 1/2 onions
1/2 green pepper
4 bay leaves
Several dashes of Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon of ground red chile peppers
1 teaspoon of dried thyme or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 cups of fish stock
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Directions:
1.  Make the fish stock.  Place the head and backbone of the fish, along with the shrimp shells into a small stock pot.  Cut 1 onion into quarters and add it to the pot.  Cut two carrots and three celery stalks into quarters and add them to the pot.  Add 3 bay leaves, the dashes of Tabasco sauce, thyme and 10 cups of water.  Bring the pot to a boil and reduce to a strong simmer.  Let the stock cook for 1 hour.  

2.  Strain and reduce the fish stock.  Strain the fish stock.  Carefully pick through the backbone and the head for all the little pieces of fish meat.  After you have picked the bones and head, discard the parts and the vegetables.  You could get as much as a quarter of a cup of additional fish meat. Return the stock to a clean pot, add the oyster liqueur, and bring it back to a boil.  Reduce down until you have two cups of liquid.

3.  Make the roux.  Heat the canola oil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the flour slowly, whisking the flour with the oil.  Continue to whisk the flour into the oil until completely incorporated.  Continue to cook the flour and oil until it reaches a dark chocolate to mahogany brown.

4.  Add the vegetables.  Add the onions, celery, bell pepper and okra, stirring continuously.  Cook the vegetables for about ten minutes or until tender.  

5.  Add the fish stock.  Add 2 cups of fish stock in a steady stream or slowly to the roux over medium heat, stirring constantly to make sure the roux does not break up.  Once all of the fish stock has been added, add the ground chile pepper.  Reduce the heat to low and let the gumbo simmer for one hour. Stir occasionally.

6.  Prepare the rice.  Prepare 1 cup of rice according to the instructions on the package or box.

7.  Add the seafood.  Cut the fish fillet into even bite size pieces.  Add the fish to the gumbo first and cook for about three minutes or until the fish is opaque.  Add the shrimp and cook for another three minutes until they are opaque.  Turn off the heat  Finally, add the oysters and cook until they just become opaque, which should take a couple of minutes.  If the oysters do not seem like they are cooking, turn the heat back on low for a couple of minutes.

8.  Plate the Gumbo.  Spoon the gumbo into a bowl.  Spoon a cup of rice in the middle of the bowl or serve it on the side.

PAIRING THIS DISH

When it comes to pairing, gumbo has a surprising flexibility that makes it possible to pair both beers and wines with this dish.  When it comes to a beer, a pilsner or lager beer would work best, particularly if the gumbo is really spicy.  One such beer that would pair well with this dish is the following:

Abita Brewery -- S.O.S.
Weizen Pils
Louisiana, USA
Malt and slight hop flavors

When it comes to pairing this dish with a wine, red wines can be ruled out.  Red wines would only underscore the heavy nature of the gumbo.  A white wine or, even better, a rosé would be a better pairing for a gumbo.  One such wine is the following:

Famille Bougrier -- Rosé d'Anjou (2010).
100% Cabernet Franc
D'Anjou AOC, Loire Valley, France
Strawberry and raspberry flavors, with a little sweetness.

ENJOY!


Monday, January 9, 2012

Dobbes Family Estate Pinot Noir (2007)

"Of the earth comes the fruit of the vine and from the artistry of hour hands and nature comes gratification, libation and our reward."  Those words grace the label of the Dobbes Family Estate Pinot Noir, Grande Assemblage Cuvee (2007). Although I looked for information about the 2007 vintage, I was not very successful.  However, I did find some info about the 2009 vintage, which provides some insight into this wine.

The 2009 vintage of this Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown on nine different vineyards.  The vineyards and their American Viticultural Area designations are the following: Momtazi Vineyard (McMinnville); Willakia Vineyard (Eola-Amity Hills); Symonette Vineyard (Eola-Amity Hills); Quailhurst Vineyard (Chehalem Mountains); Youngberg Hill Vineyard (McMinnville); Barron-Wahl Vineyard (Chehalem Mountains); Ana's Vineyard (Dundee Hills); Yamhill Springs Vineyard (Yamhill-Carlton); and Beacon Hill Vineyard (Yamhill-Carlton).  Although I could not if the 2007 vintage drew from the same vineyards, I would assume that to be the case.  In any event, the wide range of vineyards from which the grapes are grown allows this wine to provide a macro perspective of what an Oregon Pinot Noir can achieve.  

The winemaker describes the wine as pouring a pure garnet color.  I could see that, although I think the wine poured a little more like a cranberry red.  The winemaker describes the aromas as dark cherry and a hint of the forest floor.  Although I cannot say with certainty what the forest floor may smell like, there are definitely aromatic elements of cherry, with a hint of minerality or spice on the edges.  

The taste of Dobbes Family Estate Pinot Noir is definitely fruit-forward, with cherries being the principal taste in the wine.  The body of the wine is definitely lighter than other Oregon Pinot Noirs.  As one drinks this wine, there is a noticeable spice in the finish, as well as some tannins and astringency, which add to the character of this wine.  

Like most Pinot Noir wines, the Dobbes Family Estate Pinot Noir can be paired with any dish that prominently features leaner meats, such as chicken or pork.  Given it is an Oregon wine, the Pinot Noir can obviously be paired with foods that are well associated with the State, such as mushrooms (and truffles) and salmon.  

Dobbes has a decent sized distribution network, and, I have seen its wines in stores in Illinois and in the Mid-Atlantic.  This wine sells for about $23.00 a bottle.

ENJOY!


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Warm Mushroom Salad with Parmesan and Mixed Greens

This dish is another recipe by Pierre Gagnaire; however, for this recipe, I made some of my own tweaks.  These were not tweaks of creativity so much as they were changes based upon necessity.  The original recipe is Warm Mushroom Salad with Parmesan and Arugula.  I did not have any arugula and, because both Clare and I would be traveling, it did not make sense to buy arugula and then have to throw away some because it went bad while we were gone.  However, we did have some mixed greens or herb salad, so I decided to use those greens in place of the arugula.

This is a very good dish, because of the difference textures provided by the cooked mushrooms, the cheese shavings and the crisp greens.  It is also a very easy recipe to make.  The only cooking involved is the sauteing of the mushrooms.  So, this is a great recipe to make on the fly or at the last minute (so long as you have all of the ingredients).

The only other change I made was that I plated the mushrooms, cheese and lettuce side-by-side, rather than with the mushrooms on the bottom and then topped with the cheese and lettuce.  This was more for the pictures that I am posting on this blog than anything else.  Chef Gagnaire plates the dish with the mushrooms on bottom, topped with the cheese and greens because he wants the heat fro the mushrooms to begin to melt the cheese and wilt the greens.  I will do that the next time I make this dish, because I will not need to take any pictures.



WARM MUSHROOM SALAD WITH PARMESAN AND MIXED GREENS
Adapted from a recipe by Pierre Gagnaire, available at Food and Wine
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of mixed mushrooms, cut into large pieces
1/4 cup vegetable stock (or veal/chicken demiglace)
Sea salt
2 ounces of Parmigiano Reggiano, thinly shaved
6 ounces of mixed greens (or arugula)

Directions:
1.  Saute the Mushrooms.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring until tender and lightly browned, about five minutes. Add the vegetable stock and cook over moderate heat for three minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt.

2.  Plate the Dish.  Mound the mushrooms on warmed plates and top with Parmigiano Reggiano shavings.  In a bowl, toss the mixed greens with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Pile the greens on top of the mushrooms and serve.

PAIRING THIS DISH

For this dish, the key ingredients are mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano and greens, all of which would seem to call for a white wine.  Indeed, you could serve this with just about any white wine.  However, for me, the mushrooms and Parmigiano Reggiano seem to call for a Lambrusco.  Winemakers in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna produce the best Lambrusco wines in the world, including this one:

Cleto Chiarli -- Vecchia Modena Premium.
100% Lambrusco di Sorbara
Reggio-Emilia, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Sour cherry tastes, with lightness and carbonation

If you are looking for a beer to pair with this dish, you could go with any pilsner or pale ale.  The light hop taste of these beers would go well with the mushrooms and the greens.  However, if you want to be a little more adventurous or experimental, then you might want to try a saison, such as this one:

Birrificio del Ducato -- Nuova Mattina.
Italian-style Saison
Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Flavors of chamomile, green peppers, ginger, and coriander. 

ENJOY!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sauteed Shrimp with Shrimp Hummus

"Tourné vers demain mais soucieux d'hier" or "facing tomorrow but respectful of yesterday." This is the mission statement of Pierre Gagnaire, a well established French chef who owns restaurants around the world.  Gagnaire is described, at least by some as an "iconoclastic," who challenges French cuisine through his experiments with flavors and textures.

I recently came across several recipes from Chef Gagnaire that Food & Wine Magazine had published on its website.  One recipe that caught my attention was the Sauteed Shrimp and Shrimp Hummus.  The combination of shrimp and hummus -- in the hummus -- was very intriguing.  So, I decided to take a stab at making the hummus for my beautiful Angel, Clare, who loves hummus.  

The Shrimp Hummus basically comes from the use of a shrimp stock to make the hummus.  The recipe includes a homemade shrimp stock, which I made.  The recipe also includes the directions to make chickpea crackers.  I did not make the crackers because I made this dish as part of a three course meal for Clare.  I substituted some crostini for the crackers, although, the next time I make this dish I will definitely try to make the crackers.

I followed the recipe to the letter, and, it produced a very delicious hummus.  I expected a little more of a shrimp taste, but both Clare and I were surprised by the nuttiness of the hummus.  Clare even asked if I had used tahini, but the recipe did not call for it.  I think the shrimp stock, together with the chickpeas, helped to create the flavor of sesame or nuts in the hummus. 


SAUTEED SHRIMP WITH SHRIMP HUMMUS
Adapted from a recipe by Pierre Gagnaire, available at Food & Wine
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1/2 pound of U-15 shrimp (commonly referred to as "jumbo")
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of cognac or brandy
Water
Freshly ground black pepper
1 15 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt
3 tablespoons of olive oil

Directions:
1.  Make the Shrimp Stock.  Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells. In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering.  Add the shrimp shells and cook over high heat, stirring until starting to brown, about 1 minute.  Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until shiny, about 1 minute.  Add the cognac and boil for a minute.  Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer for 12 minutes.  Transfer the contents of the saucepan to a food process and process until the shells are finely ground.  Pass the jus through a fine strainer into the saucepan.  Boil the jus over high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 7 minutes. 

2.  Make the Hummus.  In a blender, puree the chickpeas with three tablespoons of water until smooth.  Whisk the puree into the reduced shrimp jus and season with salt.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring until heated through.

3.  Saute the Shrimp.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the shelled shrimp and cook over moderate heat, turning a few times until just white throughout, about three minutes.  Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. 

4.  Plate the Dish.  To serve, ladle the shrimp hummus into shallow bowls.  Place the shrimp in the bowls, drizzling the peppery oil from the skillet around the shrimp.  Arrange crackers or crostini alongside the shrimp and serve.

PAIRING THIS DISH

The magazine Food & Wine suggests that the Sauteed Shrimp with Shrimp Hummus is best paired with a Chenin Blanc wine, like a Vouvray, from the Loire Valley in France.  If you cannot find a Vouvray wine, there are alternatives, such as a Viognier.  Such a wine would provide floral and honey aromas and tastes, which contrast with the nuttiness of the hummus.  I also think that a wine with citrus flavors could also work well.  Here are some possible suggestions:

Victor Hugo Vineyards -- Viognier (2009).
100% Viognier
Paso Robles AVA, California, USA
Melon and honey tastes, crisp with lighter body. 

Domaine de Chevilly -- Quincy (2009).
100% Chenin Blanc
Le Centre Loire, Loire Valley, France
Grapfruit and other citrus fruitiness. 

ENJOY!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Victor Hugo Vineyards Viognier (2009)

"God made only water, but man made wine."  Those words were written by Victor Hugo, a famous French poet, playwright, and human rights activist.  Little did Hugo know that, nearly one hundred years after his death, that man would be making wine in his name.  The man -- actually a husband and wife, Leslie and Vic Roberts -- began the Victor Hugo Winery in the Paso Robles region of California.  The winery grows its grapes in the Templeton Hills Vineyard, which is the estate vineyard.  Victor Hugo Winery grows a wide range of grapes, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Viognier grapes.

The Viognier grape is a white wine grape.  The origin of the grape is unknown; however, legend says that the grape dates back to the Roman Empire.  More specifically, they say that, in 281 A.D., the Roman Emperor, Probus, brought the grape to what would eventually become France.   Farmers planted the vines and cultivated the grapes for centuries and, for a good part of that time, the grape was fairly common.  In more recent times, the cultivation of Viognier has decreased.  In fact, the grape is cultivated today primarily in the Northern Rhône region in the Condrieu appellation.  While cultivation of the grape decreased in France, it has increased around the world, including about one dozen states in the United States.   

Viognier has definitely taken root in the Paso Robles AVA in California, where Victor Hugo produces its own Viognier wine.  The label states that the 2009 Paso Robles Vigonier is an estate wine.  The grapes were hand harvested, whole clusters were pressed and then barrel-fermented and aged in Hungarian oak for 5 months.  Aromas of honeysuckle and ripe apricot with hings of almond blossom.  Goes with soft ripe cheeses,  spicy Asian dishes, scallops, oysters and lobsters.

The Victor Hugo Viognier pours a yellowish, goldish color.  The wine has aromas of flowers, honey and melon.  This wine has a lighter body, reminscent more of a Pinot Grigio than a Chardonnay.  The melon and honey flavors carry through to the taste of the wine, providing an interesting parallel to wines such as Vouvray.

Wines such as this Viognier are best paired with lighter dishes, as well as seafood dishes.  I paired this wine with the Sauteed Sheephead, Savage Boleks Style, because I thought the wine would complement the oysters and fish used in that dish.

We found this wine in Orange Beach, Alabama during our vacation. It sold for $21.99 a bottle. I am not sure about the distribution of this wine, because I have not seen it around where I live.

ENJOY!
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