Friday, November 30, 2012

Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad

According to one source, carrots originated in Afghanistan or Iran, where there is still a wide variety of wild carrots growing today.  Initially, people cultivated carrots for their leaves and seeds, not their taproots.  Eventually, people realized that those roots are edible and, as with many things, the planting and cultivation of carrots spread around the world.  The references to carrots in Europe can be found as early as the 11th and 12th centuries, when people like Ibn al'Awwam, an Arab Andalusian agriculturist, wrote about red and yellow carrots in his treatise, Kitab al-Filaha, which is considered to be an important medieval work in the field of agriculture.

This raw carrot salad recipe is inspired by the cuisine of peoples who reside just south of Andalusia ... in Morocco. I made this recipe as part of a dinner that I prepared for Clare's parents during a recent visit. The main dish was Djej Mechoui, a whole grilled chicken marinated in a Moroccan spice rub.  I also needed a side dish or sald.  I perused several cooking websites looking for Moroccan side dishes.  I came across a recipe for a raw carrot salad, which is kind of like a combination of a side dish and a salad. 

This use of raw carrots intrigued me.  Personally, I am not a big fan of the taste of a raw carrot and, if I can avoid eating them, then I do.  However, the use of spices (cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, pepper and allspice), along with the citrus juice, transformed the raw carrots in this dish.  They provided a range of flavors that mask the flavor of the raw carrot, making the root vegetable more palatable.   In the end, I really liked this salad.

Recipe from Bon Appetit
Serves 6 to 8

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped 
1 pound of carrots, peeled, coarsely grated
4 cups mixed baby greens
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced

1.  Make the dressing.  Combine the first seven ingredients (cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, allspice and cloves) in a non-reactive bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice and mint.

2.  Add the carrots and greens.   Add the carrots and greens.  Toss the ingredients.

3.  Plate the dish.  Plate the carrots and greens.  Garnish with the onions.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

George Dubouef's Beaujolais Nouveau (2012)

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!   Actually, it arrived a week ago.  (There is a little lag time when it comes to posts.)  The date and time were 12:01 a.m. on the third Tuesday of November.  At that precise moment, thousands upon thousands of Beaujolais Nouveau bottles were released to the public.  This release has followed a tradition that dates back to 1951.  Today, people come together to celebrate the release of each new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau.  And the 2012 vintage was just released ....

Winemakers, like George Dubouef, produce Beaujolais Nouveau using the Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc grapes, which are also known as "Gamay" grapes.  These grapes are purplish in color, and are primarily grown in the Beaujolais region of France.  By law, the grapes must be picked by hand.  The winemaker then uses the process of carbonic maceration to ferment the grapes.  Whole grapes are fermented in a carbon-dioxide rich environment, which results in the juice fermenting inside the grapes.  (By contrast, traditional winemaking processes involving crushing the grapes to separate the juice and pulp from the skin, as well as using yeast to ferment the wine.)  The resulting wine is then "aged" for only a short period of time.  It is then bottled six to eight weeks after the harvest.  The result is a very young wine, that is said to be full of fruit.

This was the first time that I have tried Beaujolais Nouveau.  When I poured the wine, it was a purplish-pink in color.  The aroma and flavor of the wine seemed to exude citrus -- like grapefruit and melon -- as well as sour cherries.  This was a little unexpected, and, I just wrote it off to the youth of the wine.

However, that wine transformed before my eyes.  As it rested and got some air, the Beaujolais Nouveau began to transform itself.  The tart citrus and sour cherries that first greeted the drinker transformed themselves into full, ripe, red cherries.  As subsequent glasses of wine were poured and the bottle sat empty on the table, each new glass seemed as if it came from a different wine.  The young and edgy newcomer -- that 2012 vintage -- seemed to have aged, taking on the characteristics of a slightly older, but mellower vintage.

Once the wine has mellowed, it can be paired with a wide range of dishes.  The full berry flavor goes well with earthy and spicy flavors.  This wine may have actually paired well with a Thanksgiving dinner, complementing not only the turkey but all of the traditional sides, such as mashed potatoes and cranberries.  (Mere coincidence when it comes to the timing of the release ... or is it?)  I would think this wine could go well with roasted or grilled meats (which seem to grace the table of every party), as well as a host of French cheese, including brie.  

The Beaujolais Nouveau seems like it is available everywhere, both in wine stores and grocery stores.  A bottle sells for about $9.99.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Spinach, Pear and Kerrygold Salad with Sweet Dressing

Recently, I made Carrot Soup with Coriander, Curry, Ginger and Chives for my Angel and I needed something else to make it a meal.  Clare has been craving salads, so I decided to prepare a salad for her.  I looked through the three pregnancy books that I have but there were no salads that captured my attention at that time.  So, I turned to the Internet, surfing pregnancy websites for a good, healthy salad. 

I came across a recipe for Spinach, Pear and Gruyere Salad with Sweet Dressing.  The recipe appeared on several pregnancy websites and it caught my attention because of the accompanying description.  "This recipe is especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women...."  I thought I could not go wrong with this recipe.  

It is a good thing, however, that I do not simply place blind trust in things I find on the Internet.  I check the labels of everything that goes into a dish for my beautiful Angel.  And, when I checked the label for Gruyere cheese, I discovered that it is unpasteurized.  It appears that much of Gruyere cheese is unpasteurized. One of the most fundamental dietary principles is that pregnant women should not eat unpasteurized cheese, because of the dangers of listeriosis.  I quickly "86'd" the Gruyere cheese and substituted it with a pasteurized cheese, namely Kerrygold Irish Cheddar.  That worked out well, because Clare really likes Kerrygold.  

Recipe adapted from Kid's Health
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the salad):
8 cups of raw spinach
2 medium pears, sliced thin and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 ounces of Kerrygold Irish Cheddar
4 tablespoons of walnuts
Freshly ground pepper

Ingredients (for the dressing):
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons of maple syrup

1.  Prepare the salad.  Wash and dry the spinach, tear into smaller pieces if necessary, and place in a large bowl.  Add the sliced pear.  

2.  Prepare the dressing.  Whisk the canola oil, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup.  Heat in a microwave safe container for 30 seconds.

3.  Finish the salad.  Toss the spinach and pears with the warm dressing.  Garnish with the sliced Kerrygold cheese, walnuts and freshly ground pepper.  


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Inferno

Corruption, greed and lust.  They're all represented on the hooks today.  Tomorrow, they'll be stringing Gluttony, Desire and Sloth.  Go ahead.  Tell yourself you're better then all of them.  But you can't.  Hell can be funny like that.  Down here it's all just sin.  Everyone here is screwed just like you.  They don't care who you sliced, diced or cheated.  No one is escaping this heinous place.

Those are the words on the label.  Well, most of the words.  The label continues:

Your roommate is an ax murderer.  Eerily, he's not threatening. How can he be? Here, the Fallen Angel owns your body, mind and soul.  As such, no one can take your life.  It's already been taken.  Or was it given?  Neither matters.  Did you seriously think you were living a virtuous life.  At least, Satan serves beer in Hell.  He brews it himself right there in that flame stoked cauldron.  Rumor has it the beer is straw yellow, bone dry and simply labeled Inferno. 

That is the introduction to the Inferno Ale, a beer that is brewed and bottled by Port Brewing Company in San Marcos, California.  The brewers produced this beer in the style of a Belgian Strong Ale, with an ABV of 8.5%. This is one of their year-round beers, and, it has the distinction of being the most carbonated of the beers, which becomes very apparent one you begin to pour it into a glass. 

The beer pours a cloudy, straw yellow in color, with a very large, puffy foam that takes a very long time to recede.  The aromatic elements of this beer draw present the picture of a field, with hints of straw, grass, and floral tones, tied together with scents of the yeast used in the brewing of the beer. 

As for the taste of the beer, it is truly bone dry, one of the driest beers that I have tasted in a long time.  The aromas of grass and flowers are present in the flavor of the beer, as well as a little .  There is a little of muskiness in the beer, but it is not overwhelming or off-putting.  In fact, I sort of expected it from having tasting a wide range of Belgian beers. 

The brewers at Lost Abbey suggest that this is a stand-alone beer.  In other words, it is meant to be enjoyed by itself, without food.  This beer was given to me as a gift, so I don't know how much it costs.  I also have to say that I have not seen Lost Abbey beers in the Mid-Atlantic region, although I have seen them at beer stores in Chicago. 


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Henry David Thoreau said it best, "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual… O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment."  

For me, my thanksgiving is also perpetual because, like Thoreau, I have been blessed with indefinite riches.  Those riches come principally in the form of my family and friends (you know who you are).  They have supported me not only with my blog but with everything that I have done.  I am also thankful for my beautiful wife, Clare, who is the inspiration for much of what I cook.  And, as I write this, I know that there will be much more to be thankful for as Baby Bolek is on his or her way.

Finally, I wanted to say that I am thankful for all of you who visiting my blog and reading my posts.  Although I set up this blog up for my family and friends to follow my cooking, a lot of people have joined in my culinary adventures. I am thankful for your interest and input.

So, I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!  And, of course ...


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Carrot Soup with Coriander, Curry, Ginger and Chives

With the cooler days of autumn now upon us, my focus has turned to heartier fare.  Still, every once in a while, I come across a recipe that is not just hearty, but also healthy.  I came across a recipe for Carrot Soup with Coriander, Curry, Ginger and Chives in one of the pregnancy cookbooks that I recently bought.  Although I am not the biggest fan of carrots, I nevertheless decided to make the recipe because I was not cooking just for myself.  I was also cooking for my beautiful wife and our child on the way. 

This soup did a lot to improve my view of carrots.  (I have to admit that it was probably the use of the coriander, curry, and ginger that helped in this regard.)  This soup is very easy to make and it can be enjoyed both as a warm soup or a cold soup.  Moreover, this soup could also double as baby food.  The only change to the recipe is that the salt and pepper should be omitted, as well as the garnish of chives. I can't wait to start preparing baby food dinners for the little Baby Bolek!  Until that time, I will continue to focus on my presentation.  I think it still needs a little work.

Recipe from The Well Rounded Pregnancy Cookbook at 48
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh chives, chopped

1.  Saute the vegetables.  Heat the olive oil  in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion, potato, garlic, ginger, coriander, and curry powder and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes.  

2.  Simmer the soup.  Add the carrots and stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

3.  Puree the soup.  Puree in a blender and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Swirl in the cream and garnish with the chives before serving.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Swine & Wine 2

There is something about Black Ankle Vineyards that captures my interest.  Maybe it is their dedication to making Bordeaux-style wines in the State of Maryland.  Or it could be the fact that they have a working farm, with Piedmontese cows, heritage pigs and chickens.  Maybe, it is both.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience the work that goes into the wines and into the farm.  This work is showcased in a multi-course dinner where each course features a dish prepared with the meat from the heritage pigs raised on the farm and a pairing with one of Black Ankle's wines. The owners have dubbed the event "Swine & Wine." I missed the first  dinner (which took place last year), but I was very fortunate to have a seat at the second dinner, "Swine & Wine 2." 

Reception: First impressions are important, especially during a multi-course dinner.  It sets the expectations for the entire evening.  For this dinner, the first impression came in the form of Glouchester Old Spot Prosciutto.  According to the Glouchester Old Spots of America, Inc., the this heritage breed has the oldest pedigree of any spotted pig. It also has a high body fat ratio, which is said to produce more flavorful meat and lardon.  This particular Glouchester Old Spot was raised by Black Ankle on its farm and it was slaughtered for the first Swine & Wine.  However, they kept one of the haunches, which the caterer cured and aged the meat for several months.  Although sliced a little too thick, the prosciutto was nevertheless excellent and the perfect way to start the meal.

As for the pairing, the winemakers selected  Black Ankle's Viognier.  The light fruit flavors of the wine -- peaches and apricots (as well as maybe a little pear) -- and its smoothness worked very well with the prosciutto.  In all, a great start to the meal.

First Course: The first course was a Miolea Red Russian Kale & Mustard Green Salad served with a Confit of Pork Shoulder and a Verjus Vinaigrette.  This course embodied one of the sub-themes for this event ... buying local.  The greens were purchased from the Miolea Organic Farm in Adamstown Maryland, and, were "paired" with a nice sized helping of the pulled pork shoulder along with goat cheese and nuts.

This course was paired with Black Ankle's 2011 Passeggiata.  This wine is the lightest red wine offered by the vineyard, and, it was a great match for this dish.  Obviously, a light red wine can pair well with salads and lighter fair.  The Passeggiata's lighter body, as well as its full fruit flavor, worked well to round out the bitterness of the greens and the creaminess of the goat cheese. Both the dish and the wine were very good.

Second Course: The second course was a Grilled Pork Loin served with Pork Belly Lardon and Roasted Summer Creek Acorn Squash, which came from the Summer Creek Farm in Thurmont, Maryland.  This course compensated for its small size by providing a surprising amount of flavor.  The rub used on the pork loin, as well as the sauces on the plate provided a lot of character to the dish. 

This course was paired with the 2011 Bedlam, which is a white blend.  Although I do not have the percentages or grapes for this particular vintage, Black Ankle has produced this wine in the past using Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, Viognier, Chardonnay and Muscat grapes.  The wine complemented the dish well, adding a little apple to the flavors of the dish, as well as smoothing out some of the black pepper used in the rub and cutting through the sauce served with the loin.  As far as this course went, it was another very delicious dish and pairing.

Third Course: The third course was a Porchetta Roast, served with Candied England Acres Sweet Potatoes and Sea Salt Smoked England Acres Rainbow Swiss Chard.  (The sweet potatoes and chard came from England Acres Farm in Mt. Airy, Maryland).  For me, this dish was the most decadent of the night, with the slightly fatty pork shoulder having been cooked perfectly over top of the sweet potatoes and the Swiss Chard.  The sea-salt smoked chard was interesting, and it had much of its original bitterness.  That bitterness was cut down with the reduction, which was made from Black Ankle's Terra Dulce II.

This course was paired with Black Ankle's 2008 Leaf Stone Syrah.  The Syrah is a blend of 81% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Viognier, 1% Malbec, 1% Merlot.  This is one of Black Ankle's bolder red wines.  The pairing worked very well because the Syrah could stand up to the fatty nature of the porchetta roast.  

Fourth Course: The fourth course consisted of Smoked Pork Ribs, with Rosemary and Chilled Poached Catoctin Mountain Sekel Pear.  (The pear was from the Cactoctin Mountain Orchard in Thurmont, Maryland.)  Two ribs were served with this course.  The ribs had just the right amount of smoke flavor, along with a sweetness in the sauce or rub.  The sweetness was a subject of debate amongst the people at my table. One guest suggested that the sweetness was due to the use of an Asian-inspired rub or sauce.  The rest of us were a little skeptical.  To be sure, there was some form of sugar (perhaps brown sugar) and, if I focused enough on it, I could detect the flavors of soy sauce.  But I sided with the skeptics.    (Quite frankly, I was enjoying the ribs too much and tasting the ribs with the wine to get entangled in the argument.)  

Speaking of the wine, the fourth course was paired with the Black Ankle's 2010 Rolling Hills.  Personally, I thought the pairing was perfect.  The Rolling Hills is a Bordeaux-style blend that has flavors of black raspberry and cherries with just a little spice. The wine is just mellow enough to complement the smoke flavors of the pork, without compounding or clashing with such strong flavors. 

Fifth Course: The final course was an Autumn Spice Cake with Cranberry Terra Dulce Compote and Cinnamon Anglaise.  The spice cake was delicious, especially with the cinnamon anglaise.  

This dessert was paired with the Terra Dulce II, Black Ankle's dessert wine.  Produced in the style of a port, the Terra Dulce is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Chardonnay, Albariño, Grüner Veltliner and Muscat. 

Serving the Terra Dulce as the final pairing allows all of the grapes to take the stage for a bow.  The sweetness of the port, along with its boozy character, provided a nice complement to the spices in the cake.   It was a good way to end a great meal.

As the evening drew to a close, I felt compelled to thank the owners personally.  I felt that need because, even though I paid for the dinner, it was still a great opportunity to have a meal prepared with humanely raised pork, local produce and some amazing wines.  The only thing I can say is that I hope that I am lucky enough to go to Swine & Wine 3.  Until that time, 


Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Autumnal Wine Pairing

Recently, Clare and I had the challenge to pair wines with a four course dinner.  We have previously undertaken such challenges, pairing wine with dinners that featured Spanish cuisine and Mexican cuisine.   This dinner did not focus upon a particular country's cuisine; instead, it focused upon a particular season.  This was an Autumnal dinner.  Each course featured ingredients typically associated with the fall season, like cranberries, butternut squash, and pumpkin.  While the menu sounded delicious, the ingredients presented quite the challenge when it came to the wine pairing.

Not only did I accept the challenge, but I also upped the ante.  Rather than going with safe bets (like Prosecco, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Port), I decided that I would look for possible pairings from some less well known wines. This process began by finding what were the common pairings.  I then consulted Joshua Wesson's Wine & Food to find some other varietals that fall within the style of wine.  I also consulted The Flavor Bible, looking for the flavors that best matched the ingredients in each dish.  I then cross referenced those flavors with wine reviews to find a wine that would match each course.  Unlike the prior wine pairings, this one involved a lot of gut checking and risk taking. 

Deinhard Lila Riesling Sekt Trocken
Paired with Toasted Hazelnut Salad with Dried Cranberries and Hazelnut Vinaigrette

The first course was a Toasted Hazelnut Salad with Dried Cranberries and Hazelnut Vinaigrette.  Obviously, the two principal ingredients to focus upon for purposes of wine pairing are the dried cranberries and hazelnuts.  These ingredients paired well with any wine that has aromas or flavors of apples, apricots, hazelnuts, lemons, oranges and/or pears. 

The conventional pairings for this dish focused upon a Riesling or a sparkling wine, such as Champagne or Prosecco.  I went with a Riesling ... but not just not any ordinary Riesling.  Instead, I chose the Deinhard Lula Riesling Sekt Trocken.  A Sekt is a sparkling wine produced in Germany and Austria.  Many winemakers use the Method Champenoise to make Sekt, while others use the Method Charmat.  The principal difference between the two methods is that the Method Champenoise requires the secondary fermentation to take place in the bottles while the Method Charmat provides for that fermentation to take place in stainless steel tanks.  (The Method Charmat is most commonly used to make Prosecco.)

The Deinhard Lila -- which comes from Mosel, Germany -- is produced with Riesling grapes using the Method Charmat.  The winemakers describe the resulting wine as having a pale yellow color with green inflections.  They also describe the Lila as having an aroma of peaches and apricots, with a light lilac presence.  Those elements -- peaches and apricots -- are two ingredients that can be matched to both dried cranberries and hazelnuts.  The effervescence of the wine should also work well with the hazelnut vinaigrette, helping to bring some lightness to the salad. 

Cave de Tain Marsanne (2011)
Paired with Butternut Squash Soup

The next course was a traditional butternut squash soup.  The principal ingredients in this dish are the butternut squash (obviously), as well as the carrots and Granny Smith apple.  These were the ingredients that I primarily focused upon when researching a wine pairing.  I also had to keep in mind that this dish also included garlic, carrots, thyme, and caraway seeds.  

The traditional pairing for a butternut squash soup may be a Viognier or Gewurztraminer wine.  According to Joshua Wesson, these types of wines tend to be soft wines (dry or off-dry with a low alcohol content and from a recent vintage), and the Viognier could be a rich white, which could be a smoother, more complex wine.  The idea of a smooth wine intrigued me with this soup, because I think that the smoothness of the wine could highlight the fundamental character of a butternut squash soup, without going overboard when it comes to the texture.  

With this in mind, my challenge forced me to look for another varietal or style of wine that could accomplish the same objective.  One type of rich wine wines discussed by Wesson in his book are Marsanne.  This is a white varietal found mostly in the Northern Rhône region.  Ordinarily, it is blended with another grape, Roussanne; so, this provided a first opportunity to try a wine that focuses only on this particular grape.  

Marsanne wines generally have nutty flavors, with some pear and spice.  The winemakers at Cave de Tain describe this wine as having a pale yellow color with green hints (seemingly just like the Sekt).  The aroma of the wine features citrus, as well as white daisy flowers.  They describe the flavors of the wine as having that citrus, as well as some vanilla tones.  With respect to this particular pairing, I was focused on the citrus -- lemons, limes and orange -- and the vanilla. The citrus and vanilla are both flavors that The Flavor Bible matches with the butternut squash. 

Kaila Grillo Inzolia Sicilia (2011)
Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Ginger Beer and Caramelized Onions, as well as Farro with Wild Mushrooms and Herbs and Carrots and Brussels Sprouts

The main course was a Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Ginger Beer and Caramelized Onions, with sides of Farro with Wild Mushrooms and Herbs and Carrots and Brussels Sprouts.  This was the hardest dish to pair.  The pork shoulder would be easy to pair in and of itself, but the addition of the 12 garlic cloves, onions, unfiltered apple cider, and strong ginger beer make the decisions much more complex.  The suggested pairings are very safe ones, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although the Pinot Noir is not a very good match for the Brussels Sprouts. 

This challenge was almost too much.  I spent a lot of time perusing the wine collection of a local wine store, looking for red wines or white wines that could pair well with this dish.  I tried very hard to find a red wine, given that I have already paired two white wines.  Ultimately I relented and decided on a white wine, and, it is truly an unusual one.

I decided on a Sicilian white blend that features 50% Grillo and 50% Inzolia grapes.  The Grillo varietal was once used to make Marsala wine and the Inzolia (or Ansonica) grape is still used to make Marsala wines.  This fact led me to this wine, because I thought that grape that were or are used to produce Marsala wines would be a good match for a braised pork dish. 

The Kaila Grillo & Inzolia is produced by Fatascia.  The reviews that I fond for this wine describe it as offering notes of lemon rind, orange skin, and apples, all of which in the form of a crisp, medium bodied and fruity wine.  Given its Marsala heritage, the wine also offers some earthiness that I thought would go well with this earthy main course of pork, farro and brussels sprouts.

Sobon Estate White Port (2010)
Pumpkin-Maple Bread Pudding

The last course was a Pumpkin-Maple Bread Pudding.  Apart from the use of pumpkin puree, this dish also includes a range of spices like nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cinnamon and cloves.  These ingredients obviously scream for a dessert wine.  The most commonly suggested pairings were sweet wines, as well as Port, Valipocella, and Pedro Ximinez.  

I decided to approach this from a completely different angle.  I had decided to pair the dessert with a Tokaji, which is a dessert wine from Hungary.  I had the particular Tokaji selected and all I had to do was get two bottles from a local store.  Then the curveball came.  The store had only one bottle.  So, I had to think quickly on my feet and come up with an alternative.  After spending at least fifteen minutes looking at my rather limited set of options, I decided that I would go with a port.  But, just as I started the pairing with a wine that was completely different than the common suggestion, I decided that I would end the pairing in the same fashion.

I chose a Sobon Estate White Port.  Personally, I never had heard of a "white port" before.  Rather than making the fortified wine with the grapes that typically grow in the Douro Valley of Portugal, the wine makers at Sobon Estate in Amador County, California produce this port with a blend of grapes.  The exact blend is 50%Viognier, 22% Roussanne, 25% Orange Muscat and 3% Marsanne. 

From all of the descriptions, the White Port is described as a lighter dessert wine than the traditional port.  This "lightness" is somewhat belied by the 18% alcohol by volume for this wine.  With a wine pairing that is like holding a hand full of wildcards, this one is the most uncertain pairing of them all.  One of necessity rather than deliberation. 

In the end, I think that the pairings worked well.  The best part of this effort was the challenge to find new and different wine styles and grapes.  Until next time ...


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hearty Tomato Soup (Like Campbell's Never Dreamed of)

In 1971, Francis Moore Lappé wrote a book, Diet for a Small Planet.  This book was one of the first critiques of grain fed meat production, arguing that it is wasteful and it contributes to global food scarcity.  (Although an avowed carnivore, I actually agree with the arguments relating to grain fed meat production and I try my best to buy only grass-fed beef.)  Lappé asked her readers to develop a new way of eating, focusing on what is best for both the Earth and one's body.  (I have to do a better job of working toward that goal.)

I have to be honest and say that I only recently became aware of Diet for a Small Planet.  Clare's parents were visiting us for a week.  They are both great cooks, and, one evening, they prepared a meal for Clare and myself.  The first course was a recipe from Diet for a Small Planet ... Hearty Tomato Soup (Like Campbell's Never Dreamed of).

Having never been a fan of Campbell's Soup, I can see why Lappé would add the parenthetical "like Campbell's never dreamed of."  This soup was very delicious and it was much better than anything that I have ever had from Campbell's Soup.  As for its preparation, Clare's parents said that they always use cooked rice rather than raw rice. On this occasion, they actually used some brown rice that we had in our pantry.  They also used whole tomatoes; however, they noted that, on some occasions, they add a little tomato paste.  The paste provides the soup with a deeper red color.  Finally, the garnish is their own creative contribution to the dish ... a couple of steamed asparagus spears and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  The garnish was the perfect way to finish this dish.

Frances Moore Lappé, Diet for a Small Planet at p.240
Serves 6

Oil, as needed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, choped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot chopped
1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes, chopped and smashed
2 teaspoons of of salt
4 white peppercorns or lots of reshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of basil
1 teaspoon of oregano
2 tablespoons of wheat flour
1 1/2 cups of cooked rice (or 3/4 cup of raw rice)
3 cups of milk, hot
1 tablespoon of butter
Parmesan cheese, grated, as a garnish
Asparagus spears, steamed

1.  Saute the onions.  Heat some oil in a heavy pot over medium high heat, saute the onion, garlic, celery and carrot until the onion is golden.  Add flour and stir until toasty.

2.  Add the rice.  Add the rice, stir and saute until the rice is a little toasty.

3.  Add the tomatoes and spices.  Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, oregano and basil. If you added raw rice, cook until the rice is done, about 45 minutes.  If you are using precooked rice, cook until all of the flavbors mingle, at least fifteen minutes.  Remove from heat.

4.  Blend the ingredients.  Puree all of the ingredients in a blender or you can run the ingredients through a sieve. 

5.  Add the milk and butter.  Add the milk and butter, along with more salt and pepper if need.  Warm the soup, but do not let it boil. Serve warm, garnished with the grated Parmesan cheese and asparagus spears.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Black Ankle Vineyards Crumbling Rock (2009)

According to the winemakers at Black Ankle Vineyards, the 2009 season was a difficult one.  Budbreak did not occur until April 25, which was the latest in the short history of the vineyards.  The first weeks and months of the growing season were cool and rainy, with the good weather really not emerging until the end of June and the beginning of July.  That good weather did not last long, with the cooler-than-normal temperatures and rain returning toward the end of July and August.  After the harvest, the effect of the weather was evident ... the red grape production was down by 40%.

While adversity may lead to fewer grapes, it can also produce better wines.  Take, for example, Black Ankle's Crumbling Rock (2009).  The Crumbling Rock is a blend of the four grapes -- Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot -- that are commonly used to make Bordeaux wine.  The exact blend is 30% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot.  All of the grapes were harvested between October 5 and October 25, 2009.  After the grapes are picked, sorted and have undergone their primary fermentation, the wine is then aged for sixteen months in 100% new French oak barrels.

According to the winemakers, the 2009 vintage of Crumbling Rock has "a gorgeous ruby red color" and "offers up lush, ripe red fruit on the nose, with smoky undertones and whiffs of baking spice and pencil shavings."  As for the taste of the wine, the winemakers not that "[t]he medium-bodied palate reveals more red fruit, including dark cherries, cedar box sweetness and cocoa."

The winemaker's description of the Crumbling Rock provides an accurate description of the wine.  The wine pours a beautiful, dark, ruby red color.  For my rather amateur olfactory senses (at least when compared to winemakers and sommeliers), I could sense some of that baking spice and a little smoke or leather tucked into the abundance of cherries.  (I did not smell any pencil shavings, but that may be due to the fact that I rarely use any pencils anymore.)

As for the taste, a glass of the Crumbling Rock was like a small basket of dark ripe cherries.  The fruit was the centerpiece of the taste profile, providing the Crumbling Rock with what one would expect from a Bordeaux Blend.  Other elements, such as a little of that baking spice and cocoa, hung around the edges of the wine. (I have to say that I did not sense any "cedar box sweetness.)

The 2009 vintage of the Crumbling Rock can be paired with a variety of different foods or dishes.  Personally, I think that this wine is best paired with red meat dishes, but, it can also be paired well with certain pork and chicken dishes.  This particular bottle was paired with Pork Medallions in a Red Wine Sauce. 

This wine is available from the winemaker, Black Ankle Vineyards.  It sells for $48.00 a bottle.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Stewed Tomato and White Bean Bruschetta

Bruschetta is quintessentially Tuscan and it is not.  According to Culture Discovery, the name "Bruschetta" (broo-SKET-ta) is a word of Tuscan origin.  However, the concept of putting ingredients upon slices of toasted, rustic bread is a concept universal to all Italian regions.  People would toast the bread over hot coals, sprinkle olive oil on the bread and season it with some garlic and salt.  According to Culture Discovery, that is what led to the garlic bread that has become ubiquitous in Italian restaurants in the United States. 

While mainstream American restaurants continue to butcher a basic recipe (and I am thinking of one in particular, which offers endless garlic bread and salad), the Italians refined the bruschetta.  I like to think that, deep down, they view the bruschetta as a canvas.  They then "paint" that "canvas" with different ingredients.  Red color from tomatoes, green color from fresh basil, and white color from cheese. 

Recently, I found a recipe for such a "painting" in one of the pregnancy cookbooks that I bought so that I could cook for my beautiful, pregnant Angel.  The recipe brings stewed tomatoes, cannellini (white beans), fresh basil and feta cheese.  According to the authors of Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, the secret to the "full, rustic deliciousness of this Italian-style appetizer" is in the "sauce."  They recommend the use of vine-ripened tomatoes for the best flavor.  Ripe tomatoes obviously work well, but the best ones are usually found only in the summer.  I think that the recipe would be just as good with any ripe tomato that you can find.

Recipe from Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, at pg. 69
Serves 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, cut into 
     6 pieces and seeded
Generous pinch red peppers flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Generous pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped basil
3/4 cup cooked white beans, drained and rinsed
4 thin slices of crusty Italian bread or 
    8 thin baguette slices
1/4 cup pasteurized feta, crumbled

1.  Stew the tomatoes.  In a wide pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Crush 1 clove of garlic and add to the pan.  Add the remainder of the garlic, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper.  Cook for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes start to soften.  Using a potato masher, smash the tomatoes.  Continue cooking until the tomatoes become a thick sauce and there is very little liquid remaining, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in the basil and white beans.

2.  Prepare the bruschetta.  Preheat the broiler.  Rub one side of each slice of bread with the remaining garlic clove.  Transfer to a broiler safe pan, garlic-side up and toast the bread until golden.  Top with the bean and tomato mixture and the crumbled feta and broil until hot, about 5 minutes, watching to make sure it does not burn. 


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Stonecutter

One of the things about the craft beer movement is its ability to thrive in areas that are more known for their wine than their beer.  Italy is a prime example, with craft brewers like Birrificio del Ducato and Birra Baladin producing great beers in a country known for its Chianti, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino wines.  Italy is not the only example of this phenomenon.  On the other side of the planet, New Zealand is known for its wines, especially the Sauvignon Blanc wines produced in and around Marlborough.  However, Marlborough is also home to Renaissance Brewing Company.

I first encountered Renaissance's beers at the National Geographic Live's beer tasting hosted by Garrett Oliver back in 2011.  Garrett was introducing the audience to "Mini-Micros," small craft brewers who were producing some great beers, but at 1,000 barrels or less.  One of the beers at that tasting was Renaissance's  Marlborough Pale Ale or "MPA."  The beer was produced in the style of an India Pale Ale and, more interestingly, it was brewed with native Rakau hops.  Ever since that beer tasting, I have kept an eye out for any beers from Renaissance.

Fortunately, a local beer store carried a couple of those beers.  I bought a bottle of the Stonecutter, Renaissance's nod to a "wee heavy" or scotch ale. The brewers use a whopping nine malts to produce this beer.  While the brewers do not identify the malts, their descriptions of the aromas and flavors provide some guidance as to their choices. Words like "caramel," "toffee," "chocolate" and "coffee" all suggest the use of dark and/or roasted malts.

The beer definitely looks like it has been brewed with those malts.  The beer pours a solid brown color, with a milky foam that covers the entire surface of the beer.  There is a caramel or toffee element to the aroma, which is clearly the result of the malts.  There is no hop presence at all, a clear contrast to the MPA that I tried at the National Geographic Live beer tasting.

As for the taste, this beer has an interesting range of flavors.  I can definitely sense the caramel and chocolate flavors, and even a little coffee.  However, this beer also had a hint of smokiness.  I was not expecting any smoked flavor.  It was not as strong as the smoked flavors in the Nøgne-Ø Sunturnbrew or the L'Abri de la Tempete Corps Mort.  It is subtle, wrapped within the more conventional flavors that the brewers describe.  After trying this beer, I looked at other reviews.  Some of those reviewers also found that hint of smoke in the beer, so I do not feel that I am really out in left field with regard to this beer.   Finally, the brewers said that the earthier flavors of caramel, chocolate, coffee and smoke, would be balanced by a tart, raisiny finish that gives way to a dry finish.  I had a little difficulty finding the raisins or tartness.  Instead, there was a little sweetness in the beer, which definitely gave way to a dry finish.

The brewers suggest that the Stonecutter Scotch Ale pairs with venison, roast beef or lamb, creme brulee, and Scottish shortbread.  I think roasted or grilled meats -- like beef or lamb -- and stews would work well with this beer.

I found this beer at a local beer and wine store.  However, I cannot remember how much I spent for a bottle.  Still, it is definitely worth a try, especially as an introduction into the craft beer movement of New Zealand.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Eggplant Caprese Napoleons

There is something about a recipe whose introductory remarks begin "[s]o simple, so fresh and so good for you."  This is a dish that I made for my beautiful Angel, Clare, as part of my effort to make nutritious dishes from the pregnancy books that I found.  The name -- Eggplant Caprese Napoleon -- caught my attention primarily because of the interesting combination of recipes that are brought together in this one little dish ... Caprese salads in the form of a Napoleon.

This recipe is more "Caprese" than Napoleon.  It draws from all of the ingredients in a classic, Neapolitan Caprese salad:  vine ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.  It even includes a touch that I often add to my own Caprese salads ... balsamic vinegar.  The salad ingredients are stacked as layers, which draws its inspiration from the classic French Napoleon, a dessert featuring layers of puff pastry and filling.

The Caprese salad is actually "sandwiched" between two slices of eggplant.  The recipe calls for the eggplant to be grilled.  However, it does offer the option of broiling the eggplant slices, which is the option that I chose on this particular occasion.  Broiling the slices worked well, but it does not leave the classic grill marks on the slices that would have definitely added to the presentation.  Next time, I'll grill the eggplant.

Recipe from Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, at pg. 68
Serves 4

1 large eggplant
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a little more to finish
1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large heirloom or other flavorful, ripe tomato, 
     cut into 4 slices
4 ounces pasteurized buffalo mozzarella cheese, 
     cut into 4 slices
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
Freshly cracked black pepper

1.  Prepare the eggplant.   Preheat the grill or the broiler.  Slice off and discard the top and bottom of the eggplant and slice the remainder into 8 slices.  Season with the salt and let sit for 10 minutes.  Mix the olive oil and garlic in a small bowl.  Using a basting brush or spoon, brush the eggplant with garlic oil.  Grill or broil the eggplant until golden on both sides, about 8 minutes total.  If you broil the eggplant, make sure that it is not too close to the flame and watch it carefully to make sure it does not burn.

2.  Make the Napoleons.  On a serving platter, arrange 4 grilled or broiled eggplant discs. Top with a layer of tomato, a layer of mozzarella, and a final layer of eggplant.  Set aside.

3.  Make the sauce.  In a small saucepan over medium high heat, bring the vinegar to a boil and reduce to a syrup, watching carefully to make sure that it does not burn, about 4 minutes.  Carefully drizzle the syrup over the 4 napoleons, adding extra drops on the platter for decoration.  Sprinkle the basil atop the stacks and around the platter and sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper.  Serve immediately.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Chicago Style Ribeye with Potatoes Sotoccenere

It has been a while since I have had a Steak Night.  Those nights usually take place when my vegetarian wife is not around for dinner.  On those occasions, I usually buy a larger than average size cut of beef -- New York Strip, ribeye, cowboy steak, or sirloin steak -- and then begin the long thought process of how to cook or grill it.  Much of that process involves the rub or marinade.

Recently, I got to thinking about a Chicago-style rub.  A few years ago, my sister and brother-in-law bought me a jar of Chicago Style rub from Penzey's spices.  I no longer had any of the spice, because I used it all.  So, I decided that I would try to make my own Chicago-style rub for a ribeye.  

The Penzey's Chicago Steak rub uses salt, hickory flavoring, Tellicherry black peppercorns, sugar, lemon zest, and citric acid.  I also looked at a couple of other "Chicago-style" steak rubs, which used other ingredients, such as dried mustard.  Ultimately, I decided to create a rub that featured black peppercorns, Kosher salt, garlic, toasted onion and a little dried mustard.  I also decided to give a smoke flavor, not from hickory flavoring, but from smoked paprika. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2 or 1 Chef Bolek

Ingredients (for the ribeye):
1 grass-fed ribeye (about one pound)
1 teaspoon of dried mustard
1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
2 teaspoons of black peppercorns (freshly ground)
1 teaspoon of toasted onion flakes
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
3 tablespoons of canola oil

Ingredients (for the potatoes):
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 
1/4 cup of Sotoccenere with Truffles, shredded
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup milk

1.  Prepare the steak.  Combine the rub ingredients (mustard, salt, black pepper, onion flakes, garlic powder, and smoked paprika).  Rub the ribeye with the canola to all sides of the ribeye.  Apply the rub to all sides of the ribeye.

2.  Prepare the potatoes.  Boil the potatoes until they are fork tender, about fifteen minutes.  Drain the potatoes, add the butter, milk and cheese.  Using a masher, begin mashing the potatoes until they are the desired consistency.  Cover and set aside.

3.  Grill the steak.  Heat a grill to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Oil the grates.  Place the ribeye on the grill.  Cook for four minutes and turn ninety degrees.  Cook for four more minutes and flip.  Cook for four minutes and turn ninety degrees.  Finish the steak by allowing it to cook for about four minutes more for medium rare.  Let the steak cook a little longer if you would like the steak to be medium or medium well. 


For this recipe, a bold red wine would be best.  Think Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel.  If you want to be more adventurous, try a Mourvedre (or Monastrell) blend or even a Ribero del Duero.   You could also pair this steak with a moderately hopped pale ale, like an American Pale Ale.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Faithfull Ale

I just need to say ... once upon a time, I could lose myself ... thoughts arrive like butterflies ... take a good look ... the pictures have all been washed in black ... yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah ... release me.

Okay, that's enough.  I tried to write a review about the Faithfull Ale -- Dogfish Head's tribute to the twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam's debut album Ten -- using lyrics from the songs on that album.  Seriously, I did.  I pulled the lyrics from every song and tried to cobble together a review. What I failed to appreciate, however, is that using the lyrics of songs like Once, Even Flow, Alive, Jeremy and Black led to the post reading more like code rather than a beer review.  And, rather than having you decipher what I am trying to say, I decided to return to the original format.

I can still remember listing to the Ten album for the first time back in 1992.  The guitar and bass in Even Flow are unforgettable, the lyrics of Jeremy and Alive are haunting, and Black is just ... well, just plain black.  This album played an important role in a personal, musical migration.  In high school, I listened to an odd mix of rap and crap.  However, in college, I heard Pearl Jam's Ten and it really captured my attention.  I began listening to other "grunge" bands, and, the migration continued.  Not to long thereafter, I began listening to punk music.  That led to ska and reggae, which, in turn, led to a renewal of my interest in jazz and blues.  I do not give all of the credit to Ten, but, I cannot deny its role in my musical transformation.

With the Faithfull Ale, Dogfish Head seeks to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Ten album.  The brewers chose the Belgian Golden Ale style for this beer, but, the homage is truly displayed in the brewing process.  During that process, the brewers added 10 increments of black currants.  Those little berries, which are native to central and northern Europe, bring with them a strong aroma and flavor.

The Faithfull Ale pours a yellowish color, reminiscent of an abbey ale or a pale ale.  The beer is well carbonated, leaving a persistent foam that remains for quite a while.  The currants dominate both the aroma and flavor of the beer.  Beginning with the aroma, there is definitely a fruit character, reminiscent of raspberries or blackberries.  There is also some floral notes, provided by the hops, as well as some biscuit or bread, provided by the malts.  The berries carry through to the taste, although they are joined by the currants.  The flavors are light, matching the body of this beer, with a little sweetness that caught me off guard.  

My beautiful wife bought this beer for me, so I cannot give any notes about where to find it or how much it costs. I am not sure that Dogfish Head is still producing this beer, although it should be.  Until next time ...


Friday, November 2, 2012

Agnello alle Olive

Sheep and lamb have historically held an important place in the cuisine of Abruzzo.  The rugged land of mountains and hills served as the backdrop for herds of sheep.  Herders would drive the sheep to pastures at higher elevations during the spring and summer and, when the temperatures began to cool in the fall, they would return to lower elevations.  The abundance of sheep meant that there was an abundance of mutton and lamb for use in Abruzzese cooking.  This lamb is generally considered to have a better quality than lamb from other regions, primarily due to those grazing lands.  

This recipe features that lamb (although I did not buy it from a herder in Abruzzo).  It is reflective of Abruzese cuisine: simple and frugal.  The recipe calls for a handful of some basic ingredients, like lamb, olives, lemons, flour and chile peppers.  When these ingredients are combined together, however, the produce a wholesome lamb dish with a rich sauce that has a lot of depth to its flavor. 

Finally, the authors suggest a variation of this dish that incorporates mushrooms.  They suggest adding some wild mushrooms during the last half-hour of cooking the lamb.  I did not do that for this recipe, but, when I make it again, I will add those mushrooms.

Recipe adapted from  Hess & Silver, Regional Italian Cuisine, at 226
Serves 6

2 pounds boneless leg of lamb
5 ounces of pitted black olives (about 30-40 olives)
Juice from 1 to 2 lemons
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 cup of beef stock
1 dried chile pepper
1 tablespoon of flour
6 tablespoons of olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

1.  Brown the lamb.  Dust the meat with the flour.  In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil, add the meat, and brown evenly on all sides.  Season with salt and pepper and moisten with the juice of 1 lemon and 1/2 cup of stock.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.  

2.  Continue cooking the lamb.  Remove the pits from the olives (if necessary) and seed the chile pepper.  Mince the 20-30 of the olives and the pepper. After 30 minutes of cooking time (step 1), add the olives and pepper to the lamb.  Sprinkle half of the oregano over the lamb, then moisten with the remaining 1/2 cup of beef stock.  Cover and finish cooking for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is soft and flaky.  Add the remaining whole olives. 

3.  Finish the dish. Season the gravy with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Thinly slice the meat and place on a preheated platter.  Pour the gravy over the meat and sprinkle it with oregano.  Serve hot.


Of course, a lamb dish from Abruzzo calls out to be paired with wine, especially a wine from the region.  Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is one of my favorite Italian wines because the wines are very good and much cheaper than other wines like Chianti.  I have reviewed a couple of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines, including the Castellana and the San Lorenzo.  Both would work perfectly with this dish.