Monday, November 27, 2017

Old Westminter Winery's Nouveau (2017)

We are only members of two wine clubs (plus we have a standing order with a third one).  If you were to check the wine reviews on Chef Bolek, you could probably figure out one of the vineyards.  (It's Black Ankle Vineyards.)  The other vineyard is Old Westminster Vineyard, which is located in Westminster, Maryland.

The winemakers at Old Westminster have taken some bold steps when it comes to wine.   The most recent step is to produce their take on the Beaujolais Nouveau.  Of course, the Beaujolais Nouveau -- which I reviewed back in 2012 -- comes from the Beaujolais region of France.  That is nearly four thousand miles away from Westminster.  And, the Beaujolais Nouveau is made with Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc grapes (or Gamay grapes).  The closest region to Westminster where one could find these grapes is the Niagara region (southern Ontario, Canada) or the Willamette Valley in Oregon. 

So, Old Westminster produced the Nouveau.  The boldness of this step is that the winemakers produced a wine in the Beaujolais Nouveau style but a wine that is not a Beaujolais Nouveau.  The style is to produce a young wine.  One that spends weeks, not months, aging in a stainless steel tank or an oak barrel.  The wine then goes straight into the bottle.  

The Old Westminster Nouveau is produced with Cabernet Franc grapes with, according to the wine maker, "a splash of Petit Verdot."  The grapes were grown in northern Maryland, harvested from mid-September through early October, and then fermented in stainless steel.  The wine was then bottled on October 26th. Just 300 cases.  My beautiful Angel and I got to taste it roughly one week later.  This is just another slight departure from the Beaujolais Nouveau, which is not released until 12:01 a.m. on the third Tuesday in November.  Nevertheless, we still bought two bottles, one to enjoy that night and another to put in the wine cage.

The winemakers describe the Nouveau as having an "inky color, tons of red fruit on the nose, bright acidity and grippy, young tannins."  The wine pours a crimson red, much lighter than the typical red wine.  There is a lot of red fruit on the nose.  The typical fruit, like cherries, raspberries and even some strawberry notes.  All of those berries carry themselves into the taste of the wine, although the strawberries lose themselves a little in the tannins of the wine.  The tannins are as advertised, they do not provide much astringency or bitterness to the wine.  That opens the way for the fruit-forwardness of this wine.

The Nouveau is a very good wine, and, like any Nouveau wine, it is meant to be enjoyed sooner rather than later.  A bottle runs for about $30 dollars.  


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Smoked Turkey Breast

Sometimes simplicity is the recipe for perfection.  That was definitely the case recently when my beautiful Angel and I invited some friends over for a meal.  I billed it as "Giving Thanks for Friendship."  I prepared a whole turkey, but, expecting a larger crowd, I asked my Angel to buy a turkey breast.  She bought two 1/2 turkey breasts.  Given I did not have enough room in my oven for 1 turkey and a 2 half turkey breasts, I decided that I would cook those 1/2 turkey breasts in my smoker. 

So, I went through my cookbooks looking for a recipe for smoked turkey breasts.  I checked my Big Bob Gibson books, but the recipe called for a honey-maple glaze.  That glaze just did not interest either my Angel or myself.  I then checked some Myron Mixon cookbooks (which were graciously given to me by my neighbor ... and I am extremely thankful for the gifts).  I found a recipe that was closer to what I wanted to do.  But, I decided to also check my Aaron Franklin cookbook, Franklin Barbecue: a Meat-Smoking Manifesto.  Franklin is known for his brisket - and a trip to Austin is on my bucket list, solely to try that brisket - but he had a recipe for smoked turkey breast.  The one thing that caught my eye is that it embodied the simple style of Texas barbecue ... a rub of salt and pepper smoked slow and low over the wood of your choice.

I decided to go with Aaron Franklin's recipe, which applies the central Texas barbecue style to the turkey breast.  Although I am far from someone who could opine with any authority about the style, from what I have read, the hallmarks of central Texas barbecue are (1) beef; (2) a salt and pepper rub; and (3) slow smoking using oak wood.   The first hallmark is already thrown out the window,  because we are talking about a turkey breast, not a beef brisket.  The second hallmark stands.  I made a simple rub of freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt according to Franklin's specifications (2 parts pepper to 1 part salt).  The final hallmark had to fall as well, only because I did not have any oak wood for the smoker.  I could have used pecan, which finds its way into some central Texas barbecue.  However, I thought that a more appropriate wood would be apple.  The reason is simple.  Apples work very well with turkey, as shown by their use in stuffing recipes.  Apple wood also tends to provide a milder smoked flavor, which is good for the generally milder flavor of turkey.   

The last change I made was to the cooking times.  Given I was working with two half breasts, instead of one whole one, I relied upon the low end of the cooking times.  Where Aaron Franklin talks about 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours for the initial part of the cook, I went with 2 hours.  When he talked about 45 minutes for the finishing of the cook, I went with 40 minutes.  The reason is that 2 half breasts will cook in a slightly shorter timeframe than one whole one.  If you are using a whole breast, you should follow his timelines.  If you do what I do, round down when it comes to the time limits. 

In the end, Aaron Franklin's smoked turkey breast was the hit of the gathering.  Everyone liked it and consumed far more of it than the whole turkey. This is definitely on my short list of Thanksgiving recipes for the future and it should be on your list as well.  Who knows, I may even try to smoke a whole turkey using this recipe.  That will be the subject of a future blog post. 


Recipe from Franklin Barbecue, pages 173-74
Serves many

1 skin-on, non-solution turkey breast
1 cup butter
Heavy duty aluminum foil
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Seasoned firewood (oak, apple)

1.  Start the fire.  Prepare the fire and get the temperature to 265 degrees at grate level. 

2.  Prepare the breast.  If the skin is on the breast, remove it. We just tear off the skin and throw it away.  Mix the pepper and salt and rub it on the turkey breast.  

3.  Smoke the breast.  Place the turkey skin side up (meaning the side that formerly had the skin) in the smoker and cook until golden brown (typically 2 12/ to 3 hours.  Remove the turkey from the smoker, place the butter on top of the turkey and wrap tightly in aluminum foil, dull side out.  The turkey breast ends up braising quite a lot in the melted butter and its own juices and double layer of foil ensures against leakage.  Return the turkey to the cooker, this time flipping it so that its skin side is down. 

4.  Finish the cook.  Cook the turkey breast until the internal temperature registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  This should take about 1 additional hour. 

5.  Rest the turkey breast.  Let the turkey rest until the internal temperature drops to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, then slice thinly against the grain and enjoy.


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.  

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