Monday, October 31, 2011

Great Lakes Brewing Company Nosferatu

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (or Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror) is a German expressionist horror film that, as most say, was an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker's Dracula.  While Nosferatu and Dracula are classic horror movies that can still scare audiences, the main characters stand at two opposite poles.  At one end, there is the charming gentleman, Dracula, played by Bela Lugosi.  And, at the other end, there was the rat-like corpse, Count Orlok, in Nosferatu, played by Max Schreck.  And, while Great Lakes Brewing Company pays a nod to Nosferatu in the brewery's Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale, the craft brewer ends up producing a beer that is much more like Dracula.

Great Lakes has some amazing seasonal beers.  The Nosferatu is one of them, a "deep red stock ale" -- i.e., an Imperial American Red Ale -- that the brewer produces with a lot of hops that are balanced with the right amount of hops.  The hops used in this beer include both Simcoe and Cascade hops.  Each hop serves a function.  The Simcoe hops provide the bitterness while the Cascade hops provide some citrus flavors and aromas.  To balance the hops, Great Lakes use Harrington 2-Row malts, Crystal 77 and Special Roast Malts.  The end product is a beer with an ABV of 8.0% and an IBU of 70.

The Nosferatu pours a rather copperish-red color, something reminiscent of a particular day in late October.  The aromas of the beer seem to feature more of the malts than the hops, although the Cascade hops can be detected around the edges.  Those hops then emerge in the flavor, taking a prominent role in the taste of the beer.  This is where the beer takes on the character of Bela Lugosi.  The taste of the beer is very refined, beautifully portraying the piney flavors of the Simcoe hops against a backdrop of slightly sweet malt flavors, which give hints of caramel and a nice toasty, bread like finish from the yeasts. All of these aromas and flavors give rise to a beer that is more more noble, charming and entrancing ... qualities more found in Dracula than Nosferatu.

Great Lakes Brewing Company suggests that this beer is best paired with red meats, root vegetables and cheeses.  Personally, I think that this beer is best enjoyed as a digestif one Fright Night or one Black Sunday, when, as The Last Man on Earth, you succumb to The Addiction and The Hunger to go out in the Near Dark with a Blade to search From Dusk to Dawn for The Forsaken, Frostbitten, Rabid, Vampire in Brooklyn who goes by the name of Dracula, Blacula, or some other Vamp name like Martin, and who, according to The Queen of the Damned, the Son of Dracula and Dracula's Daughter, was last seen laying low at Salem's Lot in the Underworld with John Carpenter's Vampires, The Lost Boys, and the rest of The Monster Squad, after his attempts to steal the Lifeforce and drain the Innocent Blood from Van Helsing at the Bordello of Blood were thwarted by the The Fearless Vampire Hunters known as Vampire Hunter D and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Well, until that happens ...


For more about Nosferatu and Dracula, check out Moviediva.  Also, for a post of the 70 best vampire movies of all time (according to someone other than me), check out Snarkerati.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bodegas y Vinedos Maurodos Prima Toro (2008)

Toro, the "Bull." The word conjures images of a large steer adorned with horns, huffing as it stares you down.  For history buffs, the word evokes images of a medieval Castillian landscape with stately churches, ruined castles and aging vineyards.  For wine connoisseurs, those vineyards have a history unto themselves.  Wine production in and around the town of Toro, located in the Spanish region of Zamorra, dates back to approximately the first century B.C.  Greeks who traveled to this region brought the grapes and vines with them, teaching the indigenous Celtic tribesmen how to cultivate the viones and produce the wines. 

Fast forward a couple of centuries, Toro has established itself a prominent wine producing region in Spain.  Toro has its own Denominación de Origen (DO).  The DO extends over both Zamorra and Valladolid.  The primary grape grown in Toro is Tinta de Toro, which is a variant of the Tempranillo grape.  The rules of the DO also allow for the production of Garnacha grapes, along with two white grapes: Verdejo and Malvasia. 

The Prima Toro pours a very dark purple, which lightens to a cherry red along the edges of the wine. The aromatic elements of this wine feature red fruit, such as cherries, blackberries and strawberries, which become more developed as the wine decants.  The taste of this wine mirrors the aromas, with cherries being the primary taste.  There are supporting flavors, which are found along the edges.  These flavors include a little spice.  The spice is mostly black pepper, but there is a little hint of vanilla that complements the spice flavors.  These flavors are most likely the result of the aging of the wine in oak barrels.

The Prima Toro is a very bold assertive wine, kind of the "bull" of Spanish wine.  It is a powerful wine and, consequently, the Prima should be decanted for at least a half hour to at most an hour.  The air lets the wine breathe, which helps to bring out the aromas and tastes of the wine, as well as tamp down the tannins.


For more about the Toro DO, check out Wikipedia

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Arroz Mexicano (Mexican Rice)

It seems almost natural.  Order any dish at a Mexican restaurant and a little bowl or side of Mexican rice (Arroz Mexicano) magically appears.  It is as if there is some unseen and unspoken bond between the dish and the rice.  Whether it is fajitas, tacos or enchiladas, those dishes are accompanied by this seemingly omnipresent rice. 

Interestingly, rice is not native to Mexico and this common side dish represents an interesting example of fusion cuisine.  The Spanish conquistadors and colonists brought rice with them during the 1500s.   Although rice is definitely Spanish in origin, grown in Valencia for centuries, this dish is Mexican in preparation.  The rice is sauteed first, before the addition of chicken broth and tomatoes.  The use of tomatoes actually are a cheaper, New World substitute for saffron, which is what the Spanish would have used in the Old World when making a rice dish. 

I recently made Arroz Mexicano as a side for the Mole Verde Zacatecano. There are many recipes for Mexican Rice, but I wanted a recipe that would be quick and easy.  This would allow me to focus on making the mole.  I found a recipe from the Food Network that was fairly easy to make and, as it turns out, very delicious. The rice took on that nice red-orange color that is characteristic of Mexican rice.

One note, instead of using chicken broth, I used chicken stock.  I thought the use of stock would give more flavor to the rice.  

This recipe is so easy that it will most likely surface again whenever I make a Mexican dish.  This is how it must have started ...

Recipe from
Serves 6 to 8

3 tomatoes
2 cups of chicken broth or chicken stock, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 cups of medium grain rice
2 teaspoons of salt
1 bay leaf
1 whole serrano chile
1/4 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed

1.  Prepare the cooking liquid. Cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the seeds. Add the tomatoes and two cups of broth to a blender and puree. Strain into a bowl and reserve the liquid. Add enough extra broth to make four cups of liquid.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute for four minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and saute for one minute.

3.  Toast the rice.  Stir the rice in with the onions and garlic.  Cook teh rice until slightly toasted, about three minutes. 

4.  Boil the rice.  Add the tomato broth mixture, stir and bring to boil. Add the salt, bay leaf, and the serrano chile. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. 

5.  Finish the dish.  Remove the pan from heat. Scatter the peas over the top of the rice, cover, and let the rice stand for five minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, transfer to a serving bowl and serve. 


For more about the history of Arroz Mexicano, check out and Mexconnect.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mole Verde Zacatecano

I have reminisced in the past about moles, those wonderful sauces that are most commonly associated with Mexican cuisine.  Three Mexican States lay claim to the origin of the mole ... Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala.  However, moles have come an integral part of not just the cuisine of these three states, but also other Mexican states, including the central Mexican State of Zacatecas.

Zacatecas lacks many of the resources of other Mexican states, which is reflected in Zacatecan cuisine.  For example, the moles of Oaxaca or Puebla may have more than a dozen, wideranging ingredients.  By contrast, the moles of Zacatecas are far more minimalist.  These moles use only a handful of ingredients, most of which are relatively common, such as cilantro, tomatillos, onions, and jalapenos.

For these reasons, a Zacatecan mole provides a good starting point for a cook like myself.  My goal, at some point in the future, is to make the seven moles of Oaxaca.  However, before undertaking such a challenge, I need some practice.  There is no better way to practice than with a simplified version of the mole.  Not only did this dish teach me about the ingredients and processes used to make a mole, but it reminded me that oftentimes, something simple can be just as delicious, if not more, than a complicated dish. 

Adapted from
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the Chicken):
3–4-lb. whole chicken, cut into 4-8 pieces
1/2 cup chopped cilantro stems
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 bay leaf

Ingredients (for the Mole):
8 oz. tomatillos, peeled and chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 8″ flour tortillas, toasted
3 tbsp. canola oil

1. Cook the chicken.   Place the chicken, along with the cilantro, salt, peppercorns, garlic, onion, bay leaf, and twelve cups water, in a 6-qt. saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender, about thirty minutes.

2.  Reserve the cooking liquid.  Remove chicken from saucepan and strain liquid through a fine strainer; reserve 4 cups, and save remaining liquid for another use. Set chicken and liquid aside.

3.  Begin the mole.  Heat tomatillos and jalapeños in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until darkened and thick, about ten minutes. Transfer to a blender with cilantro, salt, garlic, tortillas, and one cup reserved cooking liquid; puree.

4. Continue to make the mole.  Heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; add tomatillo sauce and fry, stirring constantly, until it thickens into a paste, about five minutes. Whisk in remaining cooking liquid and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until reduced and thickened, about thirty minutes.

5.  Finish the dish and plate.  Add chicken pieces and cook until heated through, about ten minutes. Serve with Mexican rice and tortillas.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Elysian Brewing Company Bête Blanche Tripel

Bête Blanche ... or "White Animal" ... is often the name that seemingly should be given to some mythical creature.  Or perhaps an albino animal.  Elysian Brewing Company gave that name to its Belgian Tripel.  The Washington-State craft brewer produces this beer as its spring seasonal, giving the impression of a beer used to awaken a beast long lulled into slumber by the winter ales and strong ales that are so prevalent during the cold, winter months. 

I have previously reviewed another one of Elysian Brewing's seasonal beers, its Night Owl Pumpkin Ale.  While perusing the craft beer selection at a local store with my dad, we decided to buy a bottle of the Bête Blanche to give it a try.  Given we both like Belgian tripel beers, and have tried many a tripel, we had some high expectations for this beer. 

Elysian Brewering Company uses pale malts, along with German Northern Brewer hops for bittering and Styrgian hops for aroma.  As with any tripel, the brewer uses Belgian candy sugar in the boil and Belgian ale yeast.

The Bête Blanche pours a hazy, cloudy yellowish-gold color, clearly what one expects with a tripel.  The aromatic elements include a little banana, candy sugar, and a hint of sweetness on the nose.  There is some spice, like coriander, also in the aroma.  As for taste, this beer follows the traditional Belgian tripel mold ... banana and clove. The finish is a bit dry, with a bitterness from the hops and a little pepper.

The ABV for the Bête Blanche is 7.5% and the IBU is 41.  As a seasonal, this beer is available only in the spring.  The beer is available at beer stores with large craft beer selections.  


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Heredad Vina Carles Priorat (2005)

As I have previously noted, Clare and I are part of a wine club where couples meet once a month.  One couple hosts and cooks a four course meal, while another couple brings the wine to pair with each course.  All of the other couples enjoy both the food and wine.  Recently, the host couple cooked a four course Spanish dinner.  And we had the duty to pair these dishes with Spanish wines.  

Of course, as part of our duty, I had to sample some Spanish wines.  There is no better way to learn about wine than to drink a glass or two.  During my research,  I had the opportunity to learn about the Spanish -- or, more accurately Catalan -- wine region of Priorat. The Priorat is a Denominacio d'Origin Qualificada  (DOQ) located in the Spanish region of Tarragona.  Priorat wines are traditionally made from Garnacha Tinta grapes grown within the designated geographical region.  However, the rules of of the DOQ allow vineyards in this region to grow other red grapes, such as Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. 

The Carles Priorat is not a traditional Priorat made entirely from Garnacha grapes.  Instead, it is a blend of grapes.  The blend for the 2005 vintage consists of 60% Cariñena (or Carignan, if you are in France), 30% Garnacha (or, once again, Grenache if you are in France), and 10% Syrah.  For me, this is an interesting blend because of the prominence of the Cariñena grape. 

The Carles Priorat pours a rather bright crimson red in color. The aromatic elements of this wine include ripe red fruit, like cherries, dark cherries or plums.  The body of the wine is full and jammy.  The flavor of the wine includes ripe cherries, as well as a little raspberry.  There is a little earthiness on the finish, with a hint of spice.  The earthiness and spice led to a dry finish. 

For me, the Carles Priorat is a bold wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon, and, as such, this Priorat is paired best with roasted red meats, some stews and other earthy dishes.  The wine also pairs well with hard cheeses, such as cow and goat cheeses like Garrotxa and Urgélia.

This wine is available at some wine stores and grocery stores.  I found a bottle for $17.99, and on sale for $14.99.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Tour Through Spanish Wine-Pairing

I have mentioned in the past that both Clare and I are part of a monthly wine club.  One couple cooks a four course meal, another couple pairs wines for each course, and everyone gets to enjoy the food and wine.  For October 2011, we were responsible for choosing the wines.  The couple who were cooking the meal planned to make a four course, Spanish meal.  They really wanted to prepare a dinner using the cuisine of a country with an established wine culture.  So, I undertook the challenge to  pair Spanish wines with the Spanish courses.  

Although it may seem easy to pair Spanish wines with Spanish cooking, I wanted to see if I could tap into the various styles and grapes grown throughout Spain.  This is a challenge because Spain has more than sixty-five DOs (Denominación de Origen) and DOCa's (Denominación de Origen Calificada).  These DOs and DOCa's cover the gamut, from white wines, to rose wines to red wines.  I decided to pick a different wine style for each course, and, in addition, to pick a wine from different regions of Spain.  No two wines could be the same style or from the same DO or DOCa, even if the wines were made from different grapes.  

So, here are my wine choices, along with the pairing.  A brief description of the winemaker (where available) and the wine is provided.  

Muga Rioja Rose (2010)
Paired with Pan con Tomate y Jamon de Serrano (Tomato-Rubbed Bread with Serrano Ham)

Bodegas Muga is located in the Barrio de La Estación, which is the historic railway district of Haro, a small town in the northwest part of La Rioja.  Muga's vineyards are located at the foot of the Montes Obarenses within an area called Rioja Alta.  The soil is mostly clay and limestone, although there are some variations that help provide character to the grapes and, ultimately the wines.  Muga has 620 acres of vineyards that it owns and the winery also gets grapes from an additional 370 acres of vineyards.  The primary grapes grown for red wines in these vineyards are Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano.  When it comes to white wines, the primary grapes grown in the vineyards are Viura and Malvasia.

The Bodegas Muga Rose is a blend of both red and white grapes.  The blend is 60% Garnacha, 30% Viura and 10% Tempranillo.  The wine is salmon pink in color.  The aromatic elements of this wine are said to include a lot of different fruits: pears, peaches, passion fruit, pink grapefruit.  One review even noted a little rhubarb. The tastes are said to be red berry fruit, with a little citrus zest and white pepper.  A "mineral streak" is also noted by some reviewers.  The body of this wine is light, and a little syrupy without being sweet.  

I chose this wine to pair head to head with the Jamon de Serrano, kind of how Lambrusco is paired with Proscuitto in Emilia-Romagna.  The light fruity flavors will also pair well with the use of fresh tomatoes, which are, after all, a fruit in and of themselves. 

Gran Vinum Albariño Nessa (2009)
Paired with Hot Pepper and Garlic Shrimp

When one thinks of seafood, the thought in Spain first focuses on the region of Galicia.  This region is renown for its seafood, so much so that the words "seafood" and "Galicia" could be synonyms. The second course features shrimp, along with crushed red pepper and garlic.  These ingredients call for a white wine, but I wanted to pair this course with a wine from Galicia, which proved a little difficult.

Ultimately I chose an Albariño.  The Albariño grape is grown in the Rias Biaxas D.O., which is found in southern Galicia, near the northern border of Portugal.  The grape has a thick skin and produces less juice than other grapes, which may be due in part to the cool and rainy environment in Galicia.  Yet, the Albariño wine is said to be very similar to Vigonier and Gewurztraminer, which are not grown in such wet conditions. 

The grapes for the Gran Vinum Albariño Nessa are grown on a hillside near the Atlantic ocean by a winery that has been owned by the same family for three generations.  The family, headed by Enrique Pineiro, also purchases grapes from other local vineyards to make this Albariño wine.  Most of these growers are located in a sub-region of the Rias Biaxas D.O. called Val do Salnes.  The wines are then picked and sorted by hand, pressed using a pneumatic press and fermented in stainless steel tanks.

The Albariño Nessa is gold in color.  According to the reviewers, the aromatic elements of this wine are supposed to include peaches, flowers, jasmine and honeysuckle. The flavors are said to include oranges and limes, along with pit fruits.  The medium body wine finishes with some more citrus and a "floral quality" in the finish. 

Albariño wines are known for being dry to bone-dry.  This feature of the wine highlights the spice and garlic without amplifying either flavor.  However, this Albariño wine differs from other such wines in that it is not as dry, thereby rounding out the spice and garlic flavors of this shrimp dish.  

Bodegas Bleda Castillo de Jumilla (2010)
Paired with Cocido Lebaniego (Cantabrian Meat Stew with Chickpeas)

The third course is a stew with pork (ham hocks, slab bacon, salt pork) and beef (veal shanks, dried beef).  Initially, my thoughts turned to a full-bodied red wine, such as a Priorat or a Toro.  However, Priorats and Toros are very full bodied, tannic wines that would be a little too "heavy" for this stew.  After thinking about it a little longer, I decided to go with a medium bodied red, such as a Rioja.  However, I already had a Rioja Rose.  Moreover, Rioja is probably the most well-known Spanish wine.  I wanted to find a different wine, one that may not be as well known.  

So I chose the Bodegas Bleda Castillo de Jumilla.  This wine comes from the Jumilla DO, which is an arid region located in the southern Spanish region of Murcia.  This DO is most known for the indigenous grape Monastrell.  This is a thick skinned, black grape that is high in tannin.  It is reportedly difficult to grow, with inconsistent results from year to year.  

The Castillo de Jumilla is a blend of 50% Monastrell and 50% Tempranillo.  Each grape contributes to the overall wine.  The wine is a bright violet in color.  The Tempranillo provides a lot of fruit to the aroma and the taste.  This fruit includes strawberries.  However, the Monastrell deepens the fruit aromas and flavors, most notably with dark berry flavors.  The layering of fruit flavors should produce an interesting wine.  The winemaker adds that the aromas include, not just berries, but also licorice

This wine is a "joven," which is a term for a DO or DOCa wine that sees little to no time in an oak barrel.  Instead, the wine is sold as "fresh" and/or "fruity."  

I ultimately decided on this wine to provide a contrast to the Cocido Lebaniego, pairing a fresh and fruity wine with a stew of meats and chickpeas.  This wine was the biggest wild card because it was a last minute substitution for what I had been planning to buy for this particular pairing.  

Mont Marcal Brut Cava Riserva (2008)
Paired with Tarta de Santiago (Almond Tart)

Tarta de Santiago is a Galician Almond Tart.  First thought would be to pair a Galician wine; however, I paired an Albariño with the Hot and Garlic Shrimp dish.  So, I needed to look for a white wine for a different region.  Not just any white wine.  I ultimately chose a Cava, Spain's answer to France's Champagne or Italy's Prosecco. 

Cava is typically associated with the Catalunya region in Southeastern Spain.  That is where most Cava is produced, although Spanish law provides that the sparkling wine may be made in other regions, such as Aragon, Extramadura and Navarra.  Sticking true to my challenge, the Mont Marcal Bruit Cava is produced in Castellví de la Marca, a small town outside of Barcelona, Spain.    

Cava is typically produced with a blend of grapes, typically Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo.  Other grapes used to produce Cava include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat.   The Mont Marcal is a blend of 40% Xarel-Lo, 30% Macabeo, 20% Parellada and 10% Chardonnay.  Each grape is picked and fermented separately.  The grapes are blended and go through a second fermentation in the bottle for at least fifteen months.

The winemaker describes this wine as having a pale yellow color, with good carbonation and "a perfect mousse."  The aromatic elements and taste include apples, banana and pineapple.  The body of this wine is slightly sweet and crisp. Although Cava is typically an aperitif, I decided to go with this wine because the lightness of this wine will help with digestion, particularly after three course and three different wines.  In addition, the carbonation of the wine will help to cleanse the palate, allowing the guests to enjoy the almond tart. 

There you have it -- a sparkling wine from Catalunya, a white wine from Galicia, a rose wine from La Rioja, and a red wine from Jumilla.  Four different styles of wines from four different regions of Spain paired with four different courses.  All of these wines are available at Calvert Woodley in Washington, D.C.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kebab-e Chenjeh (Lamb Kebab)

I can recall, during my college days, making trips to a local Persian restaurant called Moby Dick to order a big plate of kabobs and rice, along with the homemade bread.  The kabobs changed from visit to visit ... Kebab-e Kubideh, Kebab-e Jojeh, Kebab-e Chenjeh, or a combination of those kabobs. I would stuff myself with meat and rice, dispensing with the need for dinner that day.

The word "Kebab" is Persian in origin.  As the story goes, Persian soldiers used to skewer pieces of meat on their swords and "grill" them over a fire.  Although the dish may have originated with the Persian empire, it spread throughout the Arab world and its influence has even reached to countries with longstanding and varied cuisines such as Greece, India, Malaysia and, of course, the United States.

I still go to Moby Dick, although with far less frequency.  Instead, I have decided to start making kabobs myself.  The purchase of a gas grill added to the desire to make my own kabobs.  I started with Kabob-e Jojeh, which also served as one of my culinary challenges for the Around the World in Eighty Dishes. The dish, Kabob-e Jojeh or Chicken Kabobs, turned out very well.  After that success, I told myself I would move on to different kabobs.

Recently, I decided to make Kabob-e Chenjeh, which is a lamb kabob.  This is an easy recipe to make.  Good size chunks of lamb marinated in olive oil and lemon juice and grilled over a hot grill.  This dish turned out just as well as the Kabob-e Jojeh. 

Adapted from Persian Mirror
Serves 4-6

2 pounds of lamb (such as boneless leg of lamb),
     cut into even sized pieces.
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1.  Marinate the meat.  Mix olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and add to meat cubes. Keep meat cubes for 4 to 5 hours in refrigerator. Marinate the meat in the marinade for at least one hour, preferably four to five hours.  

2.  Prepare the skewers.  Thread meat and tomatoes on skewers. Brush with marinade. 

3.  Grill the kabobs.  Heat the grill on medium high heat.  Grill the skewers on each side for three to five minutes.   

4.  Plate the dish.  Remove the meat from the skewers.  Serve with rice or Persian bread.


For more about kebabs, check out Wikipedia.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Michael David Winery Earthquake Petite Sirah (2008)

Michael David Winery is a Californian winery that produces some very good wines, with names like the 7 Deadly Zins, 7 Heavenly Chards, and 6th Sense Syrah.  Michael David also produces a label of wines known as "Earthquake."  I have tried the Earthquake Zinfandel at a local restaurant.  And, when I saw the Earthquake Petite Sirah at a local wine store, I decided to buy a bottle and spend sometime learning more about the wine and winemaker. 

The magazine Wine Enthusiast dubbed this wine as the "Petite Sirah Quentin Tarantino."  In other words, "big, in your face, and ultimately a fine bold wine..."  This bold wine is 100% Petite Sirah, with an ABV of 15.5% and was bottled on July 28, 2010. With a review like that, I looked forward to trying this wine.

The Earthquake Petite Sirah pours a dark, cranberry red.  The deep redness extends across the entire glass, with only a small light ring at the very edges of the glass.  The aromatic elements of the wine are fruit forward, with raspberries and strawberries.  A little spice follows the fruit. 

The taste of the wine is very interesting, with a contrast of flavors.  The Earthquake Petite Sirah has flavors of both vanilla and chocolate, along with the standard berry flavors, such as blackberry and raspberry. 

The 2008 vintage of the Earthquake Petite Sirah scored a 92 rating from Wine Enthusiast, which is a pretty impressive showing.  This is especially the case given the wine sells for between $24.99 to $26.99 a bottle.  This wine is available at many wine stores.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Full Sail Brewing Company 2010 Reserve Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale

I have previously posted about Full Sail Brewing Company and its Bump in the Night Cascadian Dark Ale. Full Sail is an employee owned brewery located near the Hood River.  The brewery is probably best known for its Session beers; however, I have found its unique offerings, such as the Cascadian Dark Ale, to be rather interesting.  Recently, I purchased the 2010 Reserve Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale.

I have previously opined at length about barleywine ales.  The style is rather interesting.  There are two polar opposites ... English Barleywine and American Barleywine.  These opposites are also malt (English Barleywine) and hops (American Barleywine).

Full Sail describes its Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale as a "deliciously rich barleywine ale with spectacular depth & delicacy of flavor that is deep and robust."  The brewer adds, "it's full, sweet body is balanced with Centennial and Crystal hops for a pleasant hoppiness & finish."  This description is largely accurate.  The barleywine pours a rather dark amber in color, with a lot of carbonation for a barleywine.  The foam does recede and the beer does settle down.  

As for the aromatic and taste elements, the Old Boardhead Barleywine combines elements of both American and English Barleywines, although it leans a little more toward the former rather than the latter.  There is definitely a citrusy, pine aroma from the beer, which is much more prominent than the malt or bread aromas that characterize English barleywines.  There is a sweetness to the aroma and the taste, which is most likely contributed by the malts.  However, that sweetness is still overpowered by the piney flavors of the hops.  

If the beer was cellared for a year or two, I would probably have to write a whole different review.  The passage of time would probably mellow the hops and allow the sweetness and malts to shine through.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Roasted Barramundi with Fennel and Orange

When Clare and I recently visited my parents, we decided to prepare a meal for them.  We went to a local grocery store, which had a wide selection of seafood, including one fish that I had never seen in a store before ... Barramundi.  I have ordered barrimundi at restaurants; but, until recently, I have never cooked with this fish.  So, I bought some to use for a main course.

Barramundi -- which means "large scaled river fish" in the language of the Australian Aborigines --  is one of several fish that are part of the growing aquaculture industry.  Aquaculture refers to the farming of fish, either in tanks or enclosures. We all have had farmed fish for dinner at some point, because most Atlantic Salmon that you can find in grocery stores is farmed, as is most Tilapia.  There is a lot of debate over the pros and cons of aquaculture, especially with respect to the impact of fish farming on the environment and the potential health risks of eating fish farmed in certain ways.  This debate is probably best left for another day ... and another post.

My focus was taking the opportunity to cook with a new fish and prepare a great main course for everyone one.  Barramundi is a white, flaky fish with a texture that most resembles pollock or cod (at least in my opinion).  This type of fish presents a very good "canvas" for different flavors.  After quickly scrolling through some recipes, I decided upon a recipe that called for roasting the fish with fennel and orange.    Overall, this dish turned out very well and I think my parents were pleased with it.  

Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 2-4

1 1/2 pounds of barramundi
2 teaspoons of fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
5 Valencia oranges
4 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 medium fennel fronds, trimmed, halved through core,
     sliced, plus a few fronds for garnish
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup of dry white wine

1.  Prepare the spices.  Toast fennel seeds in a heavy small skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant and the seeds begin to brown. Using a spice grinder, coarsely grind  the fennel seeds with one and one-half teaspoons of coarse salt.

2.  Zest, cut and juice the oranges.  Finely grate or zest enough orange peel from one orange to measure one and one-half teaspoons.  Set aside the grated peel. Using a small sharp knife, cut off the peel and white pith from three oranges. Working over a bowl, cut between the membranes to release orange segments into bowl. Squeeze enough juice from remaining two oranges to measure one-half cup.

3.  Roast the fennel.  Position one of the oven racks in the top third and another rack in the bottom third of oven.  Preheat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush a large rimmed baking sheet with oil. Toss the sliced fennel with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil, one teaspoon of the fennel salt, and a half teaspoon of the orange peel in large bowl. Transfer  the fennel to the prepared sheet, spreading evenly. Roast the fennel on bottom rack until beginning to soften, about 8 minutes.

4.  Marinate the fish.  Meanwhile, brush large a shallow oven-safe pan with oil. Mix two tablespoons of oil, one teaspoon of orange peel, and the garlic in small bowl.   If you are using a barramundi fillet with skin, place skin side down in pan and brush the top with orange-peel mixture. Sprinkle the fish with one teaspoon of  fennel salt.

5.  Roast the fish.  Stir fennel; arrange orange sections around. Transfer fennel to top rack of oven and place fish on bottom rack. Roast until fish is just opaque in center and fennel is tender, about thirteen minutes longer.

6.  Make the sauce.  Transfer fish to platter; tent with foil. Place a pan over two burners; heat over medium-high heat. Add shallot; stir until tender, about two minutes. Add wine and orange juice and boil until reduced to one-half cup, about 4 minutes. Whisk in remaining one tablespoon oil. Season sauce with one-half teaspoon fennel salt, adding more to taste if desired.

7.  Plate the dish.  Arrange fennel and oranges around fish on platter. Pour sauce over the fish and serve.


Friday, October 14, 2011

San Simeon Petite Sirah (2006)

Outside of Oregon's Willamette Valley, the wine region in the United States that captures my interest the most is the Paso Robles region in California.  Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles is home to dozens of vineyards and wineries who grow more than forty different grape varietals.  The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Petite Sirah, in that order. Paso Robles also has its own AVA (American Viticultural Area), which is the American equivalent of a DOC in France or Italy. 

While perusing the aisles of a local wine store, I came across a Petit Sirah from Paso Robles.   A common mistake is to assume, as I did for a while, that a Petit Sirah and a Syrah are wines made from the same grape.  However, a Petit Sirah wine is produced with the Durif grape, which is a cross between the Syrah grape and the Pelousin grape. Although first discovered by Dr. Francois Durif, a botanist at a university in Southern France, few, if any, French vineyards and wineries do not grow the Durif grape or produce the Petit Sirah wines.  Instead, the largest producers of these wines are found in Australia and California, such as in the Paso Robles AVA. 

One producer of Petit Sirah wines is the San Antonio Winery.  This winery has been in operation since 1917, and, over time, it has expanded to produce wines under several labels.  One such label is San Simeon.  The San Simeon Petit Sirah is produced from Durif grapes grown at the Steinbeck Vineyard that were harvested on September 21, 2006.  The wine is aged in barrels (consisting of 70% French oak and 30% American oak) for twenty-four months.

The San Simeon Petite Sirah pours a red velvet color, with purplish hues.  The aromatic elements of the wine are full of dark red fruit, like raspberries, blackberries and plums.  The taste of the wine reinforces the aromas. One can taste blackberries and plums both up front and through the wine, is full bodied and "jammy."  This wine has tannins, which particularly show themselves in the finish.

The one thing that a Petite Sirah and a Syrah share in common is that they are best paired with roasted or grilled meat dishes.  This includes beef and lamb, as well as some other meats that one may not ordinarily think of, such as duck or rabbit. 

Overall, this wine has some of the best characteristics of a Petit Sirah.  I found this wine at a local wine store for about $19.99 a bottle. 


For more information about the Durif grape, check out Wikipedia.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Green Hatch Chile Rubbed Bison Cowboy Steak

Recently, while I was on vacation, I decided to visit the bison ranch at Gunpowder Bison and Trading.  I wanted to see bison and, while I was there, buy a cut of bison meat that I usually do not have access to at my local grocery stores. I have previously posted about watching the bison, so now it is time to blog about the cut of meat I decided to buy.

Bison meat stands apart from cattle or beef.  Unlike most cattle, who may be penned for much of their lives, bison are allowed to roam fields.  The bison graze on grasses and hay for most of their lives, only feeding on grains for a brief period before they are slaughtered.  The fact that bison eat grass is often reflected in their fat, which has a more yellowish color than the white beef fat.  This yellow color is due to the beta-carotene found in the fat.  

The presence of beta-carotene is not the only thing that sets apart bison meat from regular beef.  Bison meat has two times as much protein as regular beef, primarily due to the lower fat content of the meat.  In addition, bison meat has less calories, fat and cholesterol than, not just beef, but also pork and chicken.  The lower amounts of fat in bison meat does present a drawback ... namely, there is a greater chance of overcooking the meat.  Therefore, whenever one is cooking bison, it is important to keep an eye on the meat to ensure that it does not overcook and dry out.  

As I stood before a wall of freezers containing over a dozen types of cuts, I wanted to buy a cut that I had never cooked with before and that would be good for grilling.  I ultimately decided on the "cowboy steak."  This cut of beef arose in the 1960s or 1970s, and, it is nothing more than a ribeye still attached to the rib.  Unlike a bone-in ribeye, where the bone is cut just below the ribeye, a cowboy steak retains much more of the bone, which is frenched to leave the bone exposed.  This cowboy steak is probably the most expensive piece of meat that I have ever bought, but it cooked very well and, with this simple Green Hatch Chile rub, it was very delicious. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

1 bison cowboy steak (about two pounds)
1 teaspoon of ground green hatch chile
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1.  Prepare the rub and marinate the steak.  Mix all of the ingredients for the rub together, with the exception of the olive oil.  Add the olive oil and stir until it becomes a loose paste.  Drizzle the rub over each side of the cowboy steak and rub the paste into the meat.  Let the steak marinate at room temperature while the grill heats up to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Grill the steak.  Cook the steak for about five minutes, turn it ninety degrees and cook for five minutes more. Flip the steak and cook for five minutes.  Rotate the steak and cook for five minutes more.  At this point, check the steak for doneness by pressing with your finger in the center of the steak.  If the steak gives a lot, let it cook for a few more minutes.  If the steak seems to give a little, remove it and wrap it in foil for five minutes.  Slice the steak and serve immediately.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tyranena Brewing Company Bitter Woman IPA

One of my favorite beer styles is the India Pale Ale or IPA.  Since I started this blog, I have reviewed a few India Pale Ales, such as Fat Head's Head Hunter IPA and Stone Brewing's Ruination IPA.  My father recommended that I try Tyranena Brewing Company's Bitter Woman IPA and even bought me a bottle.

According to the bottle, the "bitter woman" is based upon Aunt Cal, an early resident of Lake Mills, where the craft brewer is located.  "Local history remembers her for blindly running into a hitching post and saying, 'Excuse me, Mr. Dodge.'"  The brewer continues by adding that it was said that Aunt Cal was "an old sweetheart" of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Unfortunately, she never wed, with only the love letters to remind her of lost possibilities.  Tyranena Brewing says that it brewed the Bitter Woman IPA "the way we imagine Aunt Cal may have been, very fruity and intensely bitter."   

The beer pours the color of amber and copper, with a thin foam and good carbonation.  The aromatic elements of the Bitter Woman IPA are focused on the hops and are rounded out with the aromas from the malts.  This is a good thing for an IPA.  What makes the beer even better is that the hops do not overwhelm the drinker.  There is a bitterness along the edges.  

As for the taste, there is a bitterness up front, which diminishes at the end, giving way to a little sweetness.  The beer is not very heavy or obnoxious.  Instead, it is a drinkable IPA that should appeal to hopheads like myself.  To be sure, I have tasted much hoppier IPAs, such as the Head Hunter, but this beer provides a little complexity that fits in well with the name and the story behind the beer.  

This beer is available in Wisconsin and surrounding states.  I believe my father picked up the beer at a Binny's in the Chicago area.  


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ziti with Saffron, Crab and Mozzarella di Bufala

There are few things that I love more when it comes to cooking than a recipe that incorporates many of my favorite flavors.  Saffron.  Blue crab meat.  Mozarella di Bufala mozzarella. San Marzano tomatoes.  Combine all of these flavors together and the result is on one amazing pasta dish.

The great thing about this recipe is that any pasta could be used.  I used ziti, which originates from a word for "bride."  In fact, ziti was the type of pasta traditionally served at weddings in Naples, as well as throughout Campania and Sicily, hence the name of the pasta.  Other types of pasta,  such as fettuccine, linguine, orecchiette and penne, could also work well this this dish.  

One other alternative to this recipe is that it could be baked in an oven for a few minutes.  If one decides to do this, the ziti should be taken out of the water a couple minutes early and then added to an oven set at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I would only bake it for a few minutes, just long enough for the cheese to melt. 

However, I think that this dish is great without baking it.  Clare loved this dish so much that she wants to have it on special occasions, such as Thanksgiving.  I think I can accommodate that request, although it will most likely create a conflict in me pitting this pasta dish against the turkey. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

3 cups of dried ziti pasta
3/4 pound of jumbo lump blue crab
1/2 teaspoon of saffron, rehydrated in warm water
1/2 onion, diced finely
2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
2 teaspoons of dried basil
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1/2 cup of white wine
1 can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
Ground pepper, to taste
1/2 pound of Mozzarella di Bufala, diced
     (substitute regular Mozzarella)
Salt, to taste
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

1.  Saute the onions and garlic.  In a deep pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add the onions and saute for about five minutes.  Add the garlic and saute for a minute or two more.

The saffron sauce before the addition of the blue crab meat.
2.  Add the other ingredients for the sauce.  Add the white wine and cook until the wine cooks down, which should take about two or three minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, saffron with water and the herbs (basil, oregano and crushed red pepper).  Stir well and cook for about ten minutes.

3.  Blend the sauce.  Remove the sauce from the heat and spoon into a blender.  Blend until the sauce is smooth and return the sauce to a clean pan.

4.  Cook the pasta. Bring a pot of water to boiling over high heat.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, which should take about ten minutes.

5.  Finish the dish.  Once the pasta is finished, drain the pasta and add the pasta to the pan with the saffron sauce.  Mix gently until the sauce covers the pasta.  Then add the crab and cheese, continuing to mix until the crab and cheese are distributed throughout the pasta.  Cook on medium heat until the crab is warmed through and the cheese begins to melt, which should take anywhere from three to five minutes. Serve immediately.

And, finally, a good friend of mine recently tried this recipe and offered some great suggestions.  She increased the amount of mozzarella to one pound, shredding half to mix wtih the pasta and using the remaining half to put on top with some parmesan cheese.  She then baked the ziti for fifteen minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  I definitely intend to try these suggestions when I make this recipe again.  Until next time, ...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Southern Tier Brewing Company Imperial Pumking

Every fall, the pumpkin ales emerge.  According to the Oxford Companion to Beer (at pages 680-681), which was edited by Brooklyn Brewing's Garrett Oliver, the pumpkin ale is "an American original" that English colonists invented in the 18th century.  The Oxford Companion to Beer also notes that "[t]he brewing methods for pumpkin ale are about as varied as the breweries that are making it."  I've learned this first hand after having recently tried and reviewed a couple of pumpkin beers, namely Uinta Brewing's Punk'n Ale and Elysian Brewing's Night Owl

Perhaps the "king" of the pumpkin beers would be an "imperial" pumpkin ale, such as Southern Tier's Pumking.  The brewer says that the beer is an "ode" to Púca (which is Irish for "goblin"), a feared creature of Celtic folklore.  According to legends in Ireland, Western Scotland and Wales, the púca could take the form of any animal, including a horse, mule, or even a rabbit.  The púca would entice travelers to get on its back.  This was a trick, for the púca would take the travelers off-course by giving them with rides that they would never forget.  The journey was said to change the lives of the hijacked travelers. 

Southern Tier's Pumking is perhaps the craft beer movement's version of a púca.  When reading the list of ingredients, one expects a typical pumpkin ale.  The beer is brewed with 2 row pale malt, caramel malt, and pureed pumpkin.   The brewer also uses magnum hops in the kettle and sterling hops for aroma.  All of these ingredients are fairly typical for a pumpkin ale. 

However, both the aromatic and taste elements of the beer take the drinker for an unexpected ride.  The beer pours a bright orange color, which is more vibrant than other pumpkin beers.  The vibrant color is complemented by the vivid aromas of this ale.  The principal elements are the range of pumpkin pie spices.  In fact, the beer smells like a piece of pumpkin pie, with allspice, cloves and cinnamon.  As for the taste of the beer, it actually tastes like pumpkin cheesecake up front, with some of the caramel and 2-row malts, along with the magnum and sterling hops becoming more apparent in the finish of the beer.

The Imperial Pumking has an ABV of 8.6%, which is not as high as imperial versions of other beers, such as an India pale ale or a stout.  This beer is available at beer stores with a wide selection of craft beers, like Gilly's in Rockville, MD.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Chef Bolek's Catfish Stew

Recently, I had the urge to make a Creole dish.  I ran through the options in my head ... étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo.  I stood in front of the seafood counter, phone in hand and googling creole recipes.  Ultimately, I decided to do a catfish stew.  The other recipes remained in the back of the mind.  I decided that I would borrow from recipes like étouffée and gumbo by starting the stew with a roux. 

The catfish stew incorporates vegetables such as onions, okra, corn, bell peppers, and celery.  The spices include mustard, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper.  After all is mixed well, I added some crushed tomatoes and vegetable stock.  The combination of the roux, crushed tomatoes and vegetable stock gave this dish a deep, earthy color that actually looks really good.  Although I consulted a recipe before designing this dish, the end product departed substantially from the recipe.

Overall, I think this recipe worked out very well.  The texture of the catfish worked well in the thick, herb-spiked tomato sauce.  The recipe still needs a little refinement and tweaking, but it is definitely a good start at a catfish stew.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup flour
1 pound of catfish, cut into even sized pieces
1 stalk of celery, sliced
1/2 onion
1 cup okra, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 teaspoon of ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoons of dried thyme
1 teaspoons of Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup of wine
1 and 1/2 cups of vegetable broth
1/2 can of crushed tomatoes

1.  Make the roux.  Make a roux by heating the canola oil in a large cast iron or heavy bottomed pot over high heat.  Whisk the flour into the hot oil.  It will immediately begin to sizzle.  Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux takes on a deep brown color, about five to seven minutes. 

2.  Saute the onions.  Add the onions and continue to stir with a wooden spoon, incorporating the onions into the roux.  Reduce the heat and continue to stir for another five to seven minutes, until the roux is a rich dark brown.

3.  Add the vegetables.  Add the celery, bell peppers, garlic, and okra.  Increase the heat to moderate and continue to cook and stir for a couple of minutes.

4.  Add spices, tomatoes and liquid.  Add the mustard, thyme and oregano.  Add the white wine and continue to cook until the wine is mostly evaporated.  At that point, add the stock and the tomatoes.  Simmer for a few minutes and add the corn.  Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper. 

5.  Add the fish.  Add the catfish and continue to simmer, which should take no more than five minutes.

6.  Plate the dish.  Spoon some of the catfish, vegetables and broth over rice.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Marchesi Antinori Villa Antinori (2007)

Twenty six generations stand behind Marchesi Antinori, a well established winemaker in Italy.  The family has lived in Florence, Tuscany since the 13th century and has been producing wine in Tuscany since the 16th century.  For more than five hundred years, the Antinori family has grown to a winery that has six estates throughout Tuscany and produces a wide range of red and white wines.

One of those wines is the Villa Antinori.  According to the winemaker, the Villa Antinori was first produced in 1928, when Marquis Niccolo Antinori sought to produce a Chianti wine that could age well over time.  The Villa Antinori was produced originally as a Chianti Classico, which meant that all of the grapes had to come from a specifically delinated region of the Chianti valley.  The winemaker eventually transformed the Villa Antinori into an IGT, which permits Antinori to use grapes from any of its estates in Tuscany.
Walking toward Badia a Passignano
The Villa Antinori has a special meaning for me.  A little more than five years ago, I was walking toward Badia a Passignano, a small abbey in the Chianti region.  Badia a Passignano is an abbey that dates back to 890 A.D.  For centuries, it was the residence of Benedictine monks.  I can still picture myself, standing outside a large door of the abbey, waiting to walk into the cellars where, today, Antinori houses its wines for aging.  As we walked through rather dark rooms, with barrels stacked on top of each other, I was amazed by the fact that I was walking in a building that had been around for more than 1,200 years.

Can you find the "Pope chute"?
Every aspect of Badia a Passignano was amazing.  The lighting for the cellars consisted of lights placed in what are commonly referred to as "Pope chutes."  These were concealed holes in the upper floor where the monks would drop down into the cellar and blockade themselves when the abbey was attacked.

Today, the only thing barricaded in the cellar are the barrels of wine.  Lots of barrels.  Filled with some amazing wine.  After a tour of the abbey, we went to the estate where Antinori hosts groups for wine dinners.  We had an amazing dinner paired with four different Antinori wines, including the Villa Antinori.

As an IGT, the Villa Antinori is a blend.  The approximate percentages are 55% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah.  Winemakers have worked blends like the Villa Antinori well, labeling them as "Super Tuscans."  This label refers to any red wine that does not adhere to the requirements of a DOC or DOCG, such as Chianti Classico or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. 

The Villa Antinori pours a dark crimson or ruby red in color. For a 2007 vintage, the wine has a nice ring along the edges that properly shows its age.  The aromatic elements of this wine are mix of dark cherry and blueberry, with a little earth and spice.  For me, Sangiovese wines showcase the dark cherry aromas extremely well.  Indeed, Sangiovese wines, like true Chianti wines, are the perfect expression of dark cherry.  The flavors of this wine are definitely dark cherry, with blueberry in the background and earth on the finish.

I have seen the Villa Antinori at a lot of wine stores and grocery stores.  It sells for about $20 to $22 a bottle.