Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Belleruche

I always say that I never buy a wine based upon the label.  Well, I recently made a sort-of an exception.  I was looking for a French Côtes du Rhône but I was torn between a couple different wines.  Until I saw a label.  There were no bright colors, provocative names, eye-catching images.  Indeed, what caught my attention is something that ordinarily would not be seen by those for whom it was intended.  That something was the use of Braille.  After all, people who are visually impaired drink wine and why should they not be guided to a very delicious Rhone blend.

After remaking about the use of Braille, I was quickly informed by a friend that the winemaker's daughter is blind and, for that reason, Braille is used on the labels.  This tidbit led me to the winemaker's website to learn a little more about the winery and the vineyards.  The winemaker is Michel Chapoutier, who produces wines in France, Portugal, and Australia.  The wine that I enjoyed was one from the Côtes du Rhône region called Belleruche (2010).

The Belleruche is a Rhône blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.  The grapes are cultivated in vineyards that cover four different departments (Drôme, Vaucluse, Gard and Ardèche) on different soils (such as clay and calcareous alluvial deposit terraces).  The winemaker believes that this variety gives the wine "an extraordinary richness and complexity."

Such a description is accurate.  The Belleruche pours a garnet red, almost burgundy in color.  The winemaker suggests aromatic elements of ripe fruit (such as morello cherries) and spice (like liquorice and grey pepper). There was definitely fruit and spice in the aroma of the wine, but I also got an earthiness in the aroma.  Many of the aromatic elements also carry over to the flavor of the wine.  There are a lot of ripe, red cherries in the flavor, along with other red fruits, like plums and currants.  There was also a little earth in the background.  There are also some tannins in the wine, but they hang around the edges of the wine, along with a little dryness in the finish. 

This is a great wine for any protein, whether beef, pork, lamb, chicken or fish.  One website suggested roast chicken or grilled lamb, although it would also complement grilled beef or steak, and even grilled fish.  It is also a great wine for any grilled or roasted vegetable dish.  Really, I think this is a wine that could be paired with just about anything.

I found this wine at a local grocery store.  A bottle sold for less than $15.00 per bottle.  This easy-drinking wine is definitely worth the price.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lahore-Style Lamb Curry

One of the things that I love most about cooking is the ability to transport someone to places that he or she has not been and may not visit.  It starts with a recipe for a dish from a particular country, region, city or even neighborhood.  After gathering all of the ingredients, the prep work gives hints of far away places.  The smells and tastes begin to carry you to the place.  As the ingredients cook, those smells and tastes intensify, and the travels begin to pick up pace.  Finally, as the food is served and enjoyed, the person can find himself or herself at that place.

Maybe I have watched one too many episodes of No Reservations or Bizarre Foods.  Perhaps it is also my love of food-based tours, such as the one I took in Italy.  The one thing that I am certain of is that there is a level of creativity and imagination with cooking that goes far beyond the plating of a dish. 

For this recipe, I find myself in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, Lahore.  The recipe is for a Lahore-style lamb curry.  The ingredients that go into this curry are fairly familiar to someone who loves and strives to make curries ... turmeric, coriander, chilies, cloves.  The one thing that I did not expect was the rather thin consistency of the curry.  This was due to the large amount of water used in the recipe.   At least for me, it seems that curries from the subcontinent -- whether Pakistani or Indian (including regional dishes) -- seem to be a little thicker, like a sauce.  The liquid from this lamb curry was more soup-like than sauce-like.  

In the end, I liked this recipe and I would make it again.  I will experiment with this dish to see what I can do to thicken the sauce.  There are a couple of options, such as letting the sauce cook down after the allotted time for cooking the lamb.  Another option may be to cut the amount of diced tomatoes in half and use tomato puree or tomato paste, both of which would thicken the resulting sauce.  I will definitely provide an update to this post (or perhaps write an entirely new post) with the result. 

Recipe from Fearless Kitchen
Serves 4

1 tablespoons of olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 onion sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, sliced
5 green chiles, sliced
1 pound of boneless leg of lamb, cubed
1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1/ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
6 1/4 cups of water
2 ounces of red lentils
14 ounces diced San Marzano tomatoes
Chopped fresh cilantro to taste

1.  Prepare the lentils.  Combine the lentils with 2 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Boil 12-15 minutes or until the water is evaporated.  The lentils should just fall apart for the most part.  Set aside.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Heat the oil in a medium saute pan.  Add the onion, bay leaf, cloves and pepper, saute until the onion is golden.  Add the garlic and chiles.  Saute for about a minute. 

3.  Saute the lamb.  Add the lamb, turmeric, cayenne pepper, ground coriander, chipotle powder, ground coriander, cinnamon and salt.  Saute for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

4.  Add the water and simmer.  Add 3 3/4 cups of water to the pan.  Cover with a lid, reduce heat adn simmer until the lamb is tender, about 35-40 minutes. 

5.  Finish the dish.    Add the lentils and tomatoes.  Stir well and make sure the curry is warm throughout.  Transfer to a serving vessel and garnish with cilantro.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Tiny Beer

Back in the late eighteenth century, Thrale's Anchor Brewery was hard at work brewing beer.  They had to meet royal demand.  But the Anchor brewers were not brewing for King Phillip II, the sovereign of their native England.  Instead, they were brewing beer for a Queen or, more appropriately, a Czar ... Catherine the Great. 

The Anchor Brewery was not the first to produce beer for the Russian Imperial Court.  The Barclay brewery had produced beer for Peter the Great.  The beer was a porter, which was beloved by the Czar.  However, their beer spoiled during the long journey from London to St. Petersburg.  The embarrassment was too much.  The brewers at Barclay amped the alcohol in their beer, as well as the hops, so that the beer could survive the long and tumultuous journey across the Baltic Sea.

The brewers at the Anchor Brewery followed the path blazed by Barclays, brewing a beer that they boldly proclaimed would keep for seven years.  Anchor Brewery was able to supply the Russian Czars with this bold, imperial stout ... until the French blockades during the Napoleonic wars.  The markets figuratively -- and perhaps literally -- dried up.  Brewers eventually produced less of these imperial stouts and they receded to the distant memories of history.

Within the past twenty years, however, craft brewers like Weyerbacher Brewing Company have resuscitated the Imperial Stout style.  Unlike the brewers of the past, who directed their goods to European royalty, the modern craft brewers produce these hefty beers for consumption by the masses.  Recently, I purchased one of these modern versions of the Imperial Stout ... a bottle of Weyerbacher's Tiny.

The name Tiny seems rather ironic for an Imperial Stout that packs an 11.8% ABV.  This is not a tiny beer; instead, it is a bold beer in every respect -- appearance, aroma and taste.  The beer pours pitch black, with the color of tar or old, used oil.  A thin level of foam appears when poured, but it quickly recedes, leaving just the beer.  The aroma of the Tiny has its boozy notes, which compete with the Belgian yeast, roasted malts, with their chocolate and cocoa notes, and the hints of oak from the barrel aging.   As for the taste, the Tiny tastes like dark chocolate infused with alcohol, with a somewhat dry finish that seems to alternate between cocoa and coffee. All of those flavors -- dark chocolate, cocoa, and coffee -- come from the roasted malts.  There are hints of other flavors, such as a little earthiness and perhaps a little fruit, like plums or figs, but they are relegated to the edges of the palate.  

When it comes to pairing this beer, I suppose you could enjoy it with a dessert.  The question is why would you do that?  This beer is best enjoyed as a digestive, something that you can sip and enjoy after a delicious dinner.  

I found Weyerbacher's Tiny at a local grocery store.  It sold for $8.99 a bottle, which is actually a good price for such a high-powered beer. 


For more about the history of imperial stouts, and the Anchor Brewery, check out the Alexander Place Time Machine and Anchor Brewery

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ancho-Cumin Rubbed Ribeye with Roasted Pepper and Potato Salad

Kurt Vonnegut once remarked, "being American is to eat a lot of steak, and boy, we've got a lot more beef steak than any other country."  He added, "and people have started looking at these big hunks of bloody meat on their plates, you know, and wondering what on earth they think they're doing.  Well, every week I have a big hunk of meat and I know exactly what I am doing.  I am having Steak Night.

For this particular occasion, I decided to make a dish with a focus on Mexican flavors.  I focused my attention upon two such flavors ... ancho chile and cumin.  The ancho chile is basically a dried version of the poblano pepper.  The ancho chile (or poblano peppers) were first cultivated in the Puebla state of Mexico.  It is a relatively mild chile, with only about 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville Heat Units.  As for cumin, it is a relative of the parsley family, with its seeds being dried and used to provide a spicy, tangy flavor to dishes.  Whereas the ancho chile is native to the Americas, cumin is definitely an old world spice, dating back to Ancient Egypt and Syria.  The spice made its way to the New World aboard the vessels of Spanish and Portuguese explorers.  It took firm root in the cuisine of Central America, especially in Mexico.

The rub combines the slight heat of the ancho with the spice of cumin, both of which work very well together.  To complement the ribeye, I made an impromptu roasted potato and pepper salad, using some of the same Mexican flavors.  Not only did I use some ancho chile powder, but I also added some oregano, which is used often in Mexican cuisine. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the Ribeyes):
2 grass-fed ribeye steaks
1 teaspoon of ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme

Ingredients (for the Salad):
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1 red bell pepper
1/2 red onion, diced
1 orange bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/8 cup of vegetable or canola oil

1.  Prepare the peppers and potatoes.  If you have a gas stove, turn two elements on high and roast one pepper on each element until the skin turns black.  Rotate the pepper until all sides are black.  Turn off elements and allow the peppers to cool.  While peppers are roasting, cube the potatoes.  In a bowl, combine the vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon of ancho chile powder and dried oregano.  Stir the ingredients.  Add the potatoes and onions.  Toss the ingredients until the potatoes and onions are covered by the oil.

2.  Prepare the steak.  Combine the powders and dried thyme and mix well.  Rub the spice mixture on all sides of the steaks.  Preheat the broiler.

3.  Broil the steak and the potato/onion mixture.  Place the steak on one shelf and the potatoes/onions on another shelf in the oven.  The cooking times will vary depending upon the thickness of the steak, but the potato/onions will cook in about 1/2 hour.  About half way through the cooking of the potatoes, add the roasted bell peppers and mix them with the potatoes.  The steak should finish before the potatoes (about eight to ten minutes for each side).  


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Terminus of Bock Beers

Bayerischer Bahnhof -- or the Bavarian Station -- is the oldest railway station in Leipzig.  The station was built by the Saxon-Bavarian Railway Line and it opened in 1842.  Shortly thereafter, the station was taken over by the Royal Saxon State Railways, which used it as the "gateway" to the south.  At the height of the station, nearly a million people a year would board trains for destinations in Bavaria, Austria or Italy.  The station continued to operate until the Second World War when it, like most of Leipzig was damaged or reduced to rubble by Allied bombers.  

The station did arise again out of the ruin, but a lack of funding prevented the station from fully achieving its old glory.  It was not until the end of the twentieth century when efforts were undertaken to fully restore the old railway station.  The rejuvenation of the station also led to new things, including beer.

The new station included a new restaurant and brewery, Bayerischer Bahnhof.  The brewer specializes in Gose beer, which is a beer style that is brewed in Saxony.  However, it also produces other styles of beer, such as the Holzbock.   The name "Holzbock" is German for "Wood Bock," and it is also the German word for "tick."  Setting aside that last bit of information, the beer is brewed with 80% Vienna Malt, 20% Melanoidin and Carotid malts, along with hops from the Czech Republic and Pilsner yeast.  The beer has a 2 week fermentation, followed by a 6 week lagering. The last two weeks of the lagering are done with strong toast oak chips.

The Holzbock pours an orange color, with a large foam resulting from the substantial carbonation of the beer.  The beer has an interesting flavor, suggestive of grass, and hay.  These elements are a little interesting and, quite frankly, odd for an oak-aged or "oak-storaged" beer.  Some of these flavors, also carry over to the taste of the beer, along with flavors that suggest a little Brettanomyces or wild yeast.  Brettanomyces does not necessarily bother me (or most Belgians, for that matter).  It is just not what I would have expected in the beer.  Nevertheless, I also was able to detect what I did expect from the use of the oak chips, and that is a certain oakiness in the beer.  Overall, I think that the beer was good, but that it probably should have been aged in oak barrels, rather than adding oak chips.  The aging in the barrels would have allowed for a more refined oak flavor and also allowed for perhaps better control with respect to wild yeast.  Still, the fact that this review is being posted means that I liked the beer enough to share my thoughts.  

I found this beer at a store in Elkton, Maryland, which is the only place where I have seen it.  It had been sitting in our basement for a few months and I don't remember how much the beer cost.  Most likely, the beer was probably between $12.99 and $16.99.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Mary Randolph's Curry

The scene ... Philadelphia, late eighteenth century.   As recounted by Dave DeWitt in The Founding Foodies, Philadelphia was the second largest city in the British Empire, only after London.  Approximately three times each week, ships entered the harbor.  These ships brought goods from around the world ... citrus, coconuts, bananas, plantains, guavas, oranges, dried plums, dried cherries, and, of course, spices and powders, like curry powder.  The goods were auctioned off at dockside, with taverns and caterers buying them for their use in their businesses.  The size of the port in Philadelphia ensured a wide diversity of foods, including curry dishes. 

I can just picture the cooks in local taverns, seeing and smelling the strange spice mixtures that had just arrived in the city.  The unique smells and tastes were sure to pique the interest of the guests and set the dishes apart from the typical fare.  The only question was how to incorporate the spice mix into the dishes.  Few, if any, recipes have survived from the late 1700s, making it very difficult to surmise what those cooks made with the new-found spices. 

One of the first recipes for a curry is found in The Virginian Housewife, written by Mary Randolph in 1824One of the most influential books on housekeeping and cooking in the nineteenth century.  The recipe was entitled "To Make a Dish of Curry After the East Indian Manner."  Mary Randolph does not explain how she developed the recipe or what sources upon which she relied.  Nevertheless, as DeWitt explained, spices were brought to the colonies -- through Philadelphia -- and it is reasonable to assume that the fascination with those spices led cooks in the taverns and in homes to try to recreate those East Indian dishes.

This recipe is particularly difficult, mostly due to Mary Randolph's failure to include cooking times.  Therefore, I had to rely a lot upon my eyes, nose and gut to determine when a step was completed and it was time to move to the next step.   To make things more difficult, boiling pieces of chicken does not take as long as boiling a whole chicken.  So, the recipe requires a lot of attention during the cooking process to ensure that everything is cooked well and not overcooked.  And, after a lot of thought, I decided that I would follow Mary Randolph's lead and not include cooking times.  It was just two difficult to do, particularly since I spent more time looking at the chicken cook than I did at the clock. 

Finally, Mary Randolph suggests that this dish could be served with rice.  While Randolph provided a recipe for making rice, I just followed the directions on the package.  I realize that I lose some of the authenticity, but, white rice cooked using the methods of the late 18th and early 19th century looks a lot like white rice cooked using the methods of the 21st century. 

Recipe by Mary Randolph, The Virginian Housewife (1824) at 80
and reprinted in Dave DeWitt, The Founding Foodies at pgs.47-48
Serves 4-6

2 whole chickens, organic and cage free
1 tablespoon of salt
1/2 pound of butter
2 cloves of garlic
1 large onion sliced
2-3 tablespoons of curry powder
Juice from a lemon or orange, optional

1.  Prepare the chicken.   Cut the chicken into pieces as for a fricassee (basically, remove the backbone, remove the breastbone, and cut the chicken into eight to twelve pieces).  Wash all of the chicken pieces and put them into a stew pan with as much water as will cover them.  Sprinkle them with a large spoonful of salt.

2.  Boil the chicken.  Boil the chickens until tender, covered closed all the time, and skim them well.  When boiled enough, take up the chickens, and put the liquor of them into a pan.

3.  Saute the vegetables and chicken.  Then put have a pound of fresh butter in the pan, and brown it a little.  Put into it two cloves of garlic and a large onion slice, and let all fry brown, often shaking the pan.  Then put in the chickens and sprinkle over them two or three spoonsful of curry powder; then cover the pan close and let the chickens do till brown, often shaking the pan.  Then put in the liquor the chickens were boiled in, and let all stew till tender.  If acid is agreeable, squeeze the juice of a lemon or orange into it.

In the end, the effort was worth it.  The chicken was cooked well and the curry powder provided a wonderful taste.  (I am a big fan of curry powder, and, curries in general.)  The only drawback that is not addressed by Mary Randolph is the thickness of the "liquor" (that is, the liquid used to boil the chicken).  I added the liquor back into the pot with the chicken, onions and curry powder, but, even after letting the ingredients "stew" for a while, the liquid still remained very thin.  I tried to boil it down a little, hoping that the butter would help to thicken it, but, after several minutes, I realized that it may take took long.  The effort was worth it and it was a great introduction into cooking a historical recipe as close as possible to how people would have prepared the dish back during the Colonial era. 


Friday, January 11, 2013

The Rye Guyz Collaboration

There they stood ... the fat man and the gargoyle.  At first sight, the two seem completely at odds, as if they should not be standing anywhere close to each other.  First impressions can often be deceiving.  As one watches the fat man and the gargoyle, it becomes clear that the two are perfect  together.

The fat man is Fat Head's Brewery & Saloon, where the Head Brewmaster -- Matt Cole -- has been hard at work producing some amazing beers.  I have previously reviewed two of those beers: Headhunter India Pale Ale and the Hop Juju Imperial Pale Ale.  Both the Headhunter and the Hop Juju are perfect hophead beers, exploding with the citrus and pine flavors.  

Those hoppy beers are what makes it clear that Fat Head's works very well with the gargoyle, Stone Brewing, and its head brewmaster, Mitch Steele.  I have reviewed many of Stone's beers, including, by way of example, the Double Bastard Ale.  That beer, like Matt Cole's Hop Juju, explodes with hops in both the aroma and taste. 

(t) Fat Head's Brewery & Saloon
So, when I heard that there is a collaboration between Matt Cole and Mitch Steele, I knew that I would have to try that beer. The collaboration was called Rye Guyz.  The "Rye" comes from the use of 22% rye malt in the brewing of this beer. Now, when I think of a rye beer, I think of an ale or Roggenbier (a German rye beer -- a variant of a dunkelweizen -- first brewed in Regensburg, Bavaria using at least 50% rye malt instead of wheat malt). However, Matt and Mitch throw a curve ball, using the rye in the making of a saison.

This is where the Rye Guyz is unique.  I had never seen rye used in the making of a saison.  To me, it seemed different, because I would not normally associate the flavors from rye malts with the flavors that are present in a typical saison.  The beer pleasantly surprised me. The rye does not really contribute a "rye" flavor; instead, it is used to provide spice to the aroma and taste of the beer.  There was a little tartness in the aroma of the beer, which was complemented by the traditional aromas one would expect from a Belgian beer.  The Rye Guyz also provided some of the traditional flavor elements from a Belgian ale.  However, the most prominent flavor of the beer was bubblegum, which I would have never expected from a beer made with rye malt. Needless to say, the spice from the rye malt was also present in the beer.  Overall, the Rye Guyz provided an interesting, and tasty, introduction to new ways to use a familiar ingredient.  (It is also why Matt and Mitch are the professionals, and, I am just a novice who enjoys their beers.)

To my knowledge, the Rye Guyz was available only on draft at Fat Head's.  By the time I post this review, it will have most likely been sold out.  I hope that Matt and Mitch will make this beer again.  If they do, then it is just another in a long list of reasons why you should visit Fat Head's and Stone Brewing.  


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Southwestern Bean Burgers with Jalapeno Guacamole and Chipotle Fries

Recently, I wanted to make black bean burgers for my beautiful Angel.  I soon learned that there are a seemingly endless number of black bean burger recipes on the Internet.  I reviewed several of those recipes, but none of them really stood out to me.  As I began to wonder what to do, I came across a recipe for Southwestern Black Bean Burgers for Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries, which was provided by Katherine Martinelli on her website.  The recipe incorporated chipotle peppers and adobo into the burgers.  I have previously professed my love for chipotle peppers in connection with The Inferno Steak recipe.  So, with the opportunity to use chipotle chiles, I chose Martinelli's black bean burger recipe.  

As I got ready to make the dish, I made a couple of changes to the recipe.  The biggest change was the substitution of sweet potatoes with regular potatoes.  I am not a big fan of sweet potatoes and so I decided that I would use Russet potatoes in their place.  The other major change is that I decided that I would make a guacamole to serve with the bean burgers.  I found a fairly basic recipe for guacamole on the Internet, which was posted by Bargain Briana, and I was ready to make the meal.

There was one curveball.  I bought all of the ingredients that I needed for the black bean burgers, fries and guacamole, except one ... the buns.   Unwilling to head back out to the grocery store, I decided to improvise and used slices of a beefsteak tomato for the "buns."  The tomato slices actually were much better than a bun, the substitution reduced the amount of carbohydrates and lightened the dish. 

Recipe for the burgers and fries adapted from Katherine Martelli
Recipe for the guacamole adapted from Bargain Briana
Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients (for the burgers):
1 (14 ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of corn kernels (defrosted, if frozen)
1 chipotle in adobo (from can, reserve the rest for later)
1/2 teaspoon adobo liquid
1/4 cup of cilantro, chopped
1 egg
1 cup of bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 very large beefs steak tomato
Ground pepper

Ingredients (for the Chipotle Fries):
2 Russet potatoes, cut into thick matchsticks
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of chipotle powder

Ingredients (for the Jalapeno Guacamole):
2 avocados, ripe
1 red onion, diced
1 lime
1/2 bunch of cilantro

1.  Prepare the chipotle fries. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Toss the fries with the olive oil, chipotle powder and salt.  Lay the fries on a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and starting to get crispy.   Shake the fries halfway through the baking.  

2.  Prepare the bean burgers.  Put the black beans, corn, chipotle, adobo liquid and cilantro in a food processor.  Transfer to a bowl, add the egg, bread crumbs and garlic powder.  Mix all of the ingredients together.  Season with salt and pepper.  Form into two large or four small even patties.  Place the patties on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.  

3.  Prepare the jalapeno guacamole.  Add the avocados, red onion, lime juice, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Mash the avocados and all of the other ingredients until the desired consistency is reached.  

4.  Cook the burgers.  Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the black bean burgers and cook until browned on both sides, flipping once, about 8 minutes total. 

Overall, this dish impressed me.  I am not a big fan of black bean burgers, but the use of chipotle peppers in the mix really provided the burger with a spicy, smoky kick.  Clare really liked this dish as well, which means that I'll be making it again. 


Monday, January 7, 2013

Clos La Coutale Cahors (2010)

The city was known Divona Cadurcorum.  Or, at least that is the name given to the city by the Roman conquerors when they brought Gaul into the empire.  The Romans brought viticulture to the city and its surroundings, giving birth to some of the oldest vineyards and wines in France.  The city and its vineyards outlasted the Roman Empire.  They grew and flourished into the Middle Ages.  At that time, the city became known as Cahors, and winemakers continued to work those surrounding vineyards, cultivating grapes to produce wines that eventually became known as the "black wine."   

The term "black wine" is a descriptive one, used in place of the wine's more well known name, Cahors. The description was fairly apt, because the wine is a dark red, tannic wine, that was rough when young but that mellowed with age.  Although first produced by the Romans, the "black wine" or Cahors grew in popularity during in the Middle Ages.  Bottles graced the tables of royalty, and filled the glasses of the King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, as well as King Francis I of France.  The "black wine" was not only popular in royal courts, but also in the church.  Pope John XXII declared in the fourteenth century that Cahors was the sacramental wine and table wine of the Papacy.  The wine even made its way to Russia, where it was known as Kaorskoy and used as the sacramental wine of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Recently, a bottle of Cahors wine produced by Clos La Coutale also graced my table.  The Clos La Coutale is a 60 hectare vineyard located on the alluvial floor of a valley in Southwestern France through which the the River Lot meanders. The winemakers follow the rules of the Appellation d'Origine Protégée, producing their wine using 80% Malbec grapes, also known locally as Côt or Côt Noir.  (The rules of the appellation require at least 70% Malbec grapes).  And, while the rules allow for the use of Merlot or Tannat grapes to complete the wine, the winemakers chose Merlot grapes for this particular wine.

The Clos La Coutale pours a dark, inky burgundy red, which harkens back to the "black wine" of the Middle Ages.  As a 2010 vintage, this wine is still relatively young, which means it is rough and tannic.  It should be decanted before enjoying it at this time.  After being exposed to a little air, the Cahors opens to reveal a bouquet of very ripe dark cherries, blackberries and plums, along with some earth, slate or minerals. 

The Cahors is a very bold wine, young and brash.  The tannins are still very strong, but, the fruit does emerge as the wine sits in the glass.  The dark cherries are the first to emerge, filling the body of the wine, as the plums appear in the finish.  There are also elements of earth, tobacco and spice that appear in the taste of the wine.  The tannins nevertheless are present throughout the wine at this age, resulting in a very dry wine.  

Given its popularity during the Middle Ages, this wine may be paired with medieval dishes, such as Conyenges en Gravey (Rabbits in Gravey), Chaudyns for Swann (Swan with Entrails Sauce), or Monnchelet (Veal or Mutton Stew). For those of us who live in the twenty-first century, this wine is best paired with grilled or roast meats, such as grilled ribeyes or strip steaks, as well as a pork roast. 

While Cahors may have graced the tables of Kings and Popes, it now sits on the shelves of grocery stores.  No ducats required.  It sells for about $16.99 a bottle.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Keralan Duck Curry

According to Food & Wine, duck is a staple in the backwaters of Kerala.  Those backwaters are a region of the Indian State that are cut by intricate canals and dotted by lakes, which draw the attention of ducks.  I found a recipe for Keralan Duck Curry at Food & Wine, which was contributed by Aniamma Phillip, who uses a whole duck for the dish.  The recipe was modified for the use of duck breasts and it just so happens that the local grocery store has been carrying duck breasts lately.  So, it seemed natural that I should make this dish.

The recipe also calls for the use of fresh or frozen curry leaves, which the grocery store did not carry.  I was only making 1/3 of the recipe, which would require two curry leaves.  While I could have made a second stop to pick up two leaves, I was very hungry and decided that I would make the recipe without the leaves.  However, I did include the leaves in the recipe and when I make this dish for guests, I will use curry leaves.

And, I know that I will make this dish for guests because I really like this recipe.  It provides just the right amount of spice and heat in a curry sauce that coats and clings to the duck breasts.  This is important because it ensures that practically every bite of the duck includes the delicious flavors of turmeric, cardamom, chiles and ginger.   

Recipe by Aniamma Philip and 
available at Food & Wine
Serves 6

6 skinless boneless Peking Duck breast halves
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 medium red potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
6 fresh curry leaves 
6 garlic cloves, smashed
4 long, hot green chiles, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
One 1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 14 ounce can of unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup water

1.  Prepare the duck breasts.   In a small bowl, mix 1/2 teaspoon of the turmeric with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and rub over the duck breasts.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2.  Prepare the spice mix.  Meanwhile, in a spice grinder, grind the cardamom seeds, cloves and peppercorns to a powder.  Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.

3.  Begin preparing the curry.   In a large, deep skillet, heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil.  Add the duck breasts and cook over high heat until browned, about 2 minutes per side.  Transfer the breasts to a large plate.  In the same skillet, cook the curry leaves over moderate heat for 2 minutes.  Add the garlic, chiles and ginger.  Cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the spice powder and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Return the duck to the skillet along with any accumulated juices, cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, turning the breasts a few times.  Return the duck breasts to the plate. 

4.  Continue cooking the curry. Open the coconut milk and spoon 1/4 cup of the thickened milk from the top and set aside.  Put the remaining coconut milk in a bowl and stir in the water.  Add the thinned coconut coconut milk to the skillet and simmer over moderately high heat for 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to moderate.  Add the fried potato slices and simmer for 1 minute.  Add the duck breasts and simmer for 8 minutes, turning once.  Stir in the thickened coconut milk and simmer over low heat for 3 minutes.  Season with salt. Transfer the duck breasts to plates and spoon the potatoes and sauce around the duck and serve.

Just a note about the coconut milk.  Do not shake the can of coconut milk before opening to make sure that the thickened milk stays on top.  If cooking with homogenized coconut milk, add the entire can plus 1/2 cup of water.


Food & Wine suggests that an oaky red would overpower the complex flavors of the dish.  For that reason, the suggestion is a light bodied, berry-rich wine such as a California or Oregon Pinot Noir.  I decided upon a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, which is very berry-rich with smooth tannins, making it a good wine to go with this dish.  


Friday, January 4, 2013

The Double Bastard

The bottle begins with the definition of "diatribe."  A prolonged discourse; bitter and abusive speech or writing; ironical or satirical criticism.  Then comes the warning: Double Bastard Ale is not to be wasted on the tentative or weak.  Only the Worthy are invited, and then only at your own risk.  If you have even a modicum of hesitation, DO NOT buy this bottle.  Instead, leave it for a Worthy soul, who has already matriculated to the sublime ecstasy if what those in the know refer to as "Liquid Arrogance."  Given that I did not hesitate when I bought the bottle, I guess that I am "Worthy."

Then there is the diatribe.  I was not going to include it, but I can't stop laughing after having read it.  It begins: This is one lacerative muther of an ale.  It is unequivocally certain that your feeble palate is grossly inadequate and thus undeserving of this liquid glory ... and those around you would have little desire to listen to your resultant whimpering.  Feeble palate?  Resulting whimpering?  The diatribe continues: Instead, you slackjawed gaping gobemouche, slink away to that pedestrian product that lures agog the great unwashed with the shiny happy imagery of its silly broadcast propaganda.  Okay, that hurt.  I may be a slack-jawed gaping gobemouche (n. a fly swallower, boor, silly or credulous person [thank you Google and Free]), but I certainly do not slink away to any pedestrian product. I have the Beer Reviews to prove it.

The diatribe goes on but I am more interested in the beer itself.  The Double Bastard pours a caramel brown in color, with an off-white foam that persistently clings to the beer. The aroma has some malt and caramel; however, the primary element is the hops.  The exact identity of the hops is unknown, because Stone does not reveal the hops that it uses to brew the Double Bastard Ale.  In the end, it does not matter what type of hops were used, because the piney, citrusy aromas dominate and provide a very nice aroma for the beer. 

As for the taste, each sip is akin to someone stuffing your mouth with malts and hops.  That is not a bad thing, because the particular combination of malt and hop flavors work very well together.  There is the smooth caramel flavors of the roasted malts, that grip the tongue, as a fistful of hop flavors hit the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat.  In the past, I have had beers that have been maltier -- like the Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg's Samiclaus Classic -- or hoppier -- like Fat Head's Hop Juju.  The Stone Double Bastard Ale is probably the one beer that I have tried that combines both, resulting in one of the maltiest and hoppiest (if those are words) beers that I have tried. 

And, finally, that is a pint glass.  No small rotund glass with curved edges so that the aromas of the beer could caress my nostrils.  Instead, I wanted a big glass with a wide straight opening so that all of the malt and hops could smack me in the face. That is just how I roll.

I found this beer at a local grocery store, but I cannot remember how much I paid for a bottle.  I did a little research and, from what I could find, the Double Bastard Ale sells for about $7.99 to $8.99 a bottle.  Regardless of the cost, it is worth the price.   Only if you are "Worthy."


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Inferno Steak

This recipe is a story about how a Chef Bolek Original recipe is created.  In advance of an upcoming steak night, I decided to see if I could find an interesting steak recipe to make.  I start by looking at those chefs and cooks who I admire and trust, like Michael Symon, Bobby Flay and Steven Raichlen.  On this particular occasion, I was looking at Steve Raichlen's recipes when I came across two recipes, one for Hellfire Steaks and another for Steak from Hell.  I am someone who loves spicy food, so these recipes caught my attention.  Both recipes looked great, but, for me, they did not conjure the "fire" that I wanted.

I decided to create my own hellish steak recipe.  I immediately drew inspiration from outside of the culinary world: the first part of the 14th century poem, Divine Comedy.  Also known as Inferno, this part was written by Dante Alighieri to document the descent into hell.  That descent began at the gates of hell, which bore an inscription that ended with the words: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."  That sounded like a fitting beginning for a hellish steak recipe.  After passing through the gates, Dante made his way through nine circles of suffering -- Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery -- with each circle representing a gradual increase in wickedness.

The nine circles got me to thinking.  Many people think of eating chiles as a kind of suffering ... with the heat and piquancy causing sweating and discomfort.  I decided to use nine different chiles to represent the nine circles of suffering, with each subsequent chile being more "wicked" (or spicier) than the last.   After a lot of thought, I selected the following chiles or peppers:

1.  Limbo: Paprika.  In Dante's Inferno, the first circle was "Limbo," which had been populated by people who, although not sinful, had not accepted God. This got me to thinking, although paprika is made from ground bell peppers or chiles, it is not "hot" or "spicy."  Indeed, paprika -- a ground spice used in many cuisines around the world -- seems to be the best spice to represent limbo.  There are two versions of paprika: hot and sweet.  I decided to use the sweet version of paprika, because this would serve as one of the bases for the rub.

2.  Lust: Hatch Chile.  The second circle was "Lust," populated by those who had been overcome by lust.  Followers of this blog know that I have often been overcome by my love of the Hatch chile. For that reason, it seemed appropriate to select that chile to for the "Lust" circle.  Hatch chiles are grown in New Mexico and are a key component to Southwestern cuisine.  They are also relatively modest when it comes to heat or spice, with only 3,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units.  (Scoville Heat Units measure the capsaicin, which is the chemical compound in chiles and peppers that provides the heat or spiciness.)   In addition to the heat, the Hatch chile also provides a little earthiness to the spice mix.

3.  Gluttony: Chipotle Chile. The third circle was "Gluttony," populated by individuals who overindulged in food and drink.  For me, the one chile that I would often overindulge in is the chipotle pepper.  Derived from the Nahuatl word, chilpoctli, which means smoked chili pepper, the chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeno chile principally grown in the northern Mexican State of Chihuahua.  The chipotle chile is similar to the Hatch Chile in that it has anywhere from 3,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units.  Also, like the Hatch Chile, the chipotle pepper serves two purposes in the rub:  to provide some heat and some smoke flavor. 

4.  Greed: Aleppo Pepper.  The fourth circle was "Greed," which is where people would find themselves if their greed for material things that deviated from the norm.  When it came to selecting the fourth pepper, I chose the Aleppo pepper.  The reason is simple: whenever I use Aleppo Pepper, in cooking, I always want more. Also known as the Halaby pepper, the Aleppo pepper is primarily cultivated in Turkey.  The pepper adds a little more smokiness, like an ancho or chipotle pepper, to the rub.  The Aleppo pepper also contributes a certain tartness, which adds a little complexity to the rub.  Finally, this pepper represents a slight increase in heat from the prior chiles, with about 10,000 Scoville Heat Units. 

5.  Anger: Sanaam Chile.  The fifth circle is "Anger."  This is where the rationale for choices become a little more pragmatic.  I chose the Sanaam chile, which is cultivated in India and used in Indian cuisine, for "Anger."  The reason is simple: its piquancy represents a four-fold increase in Scoville Heat Units over the Aleppo pepper.  The Sanaam chiles pack a weighty 40,000 Scoville Heat Units, as compared to the 10,000 units of the Aleppo Pepper.  This increase is also felt in the heat of the rub.

6.  Heresy: Aji Limo Rojo. The sixth circle is "Heresy."  This is one of the most difficult choices for chiles.  I selected the Aji Limo Rojo for this circle, although there is nothing heretical about the chile at all.  The Aji Limo is a chile grown throughout Central and South America, and it figures into cuisines from Panama to Peru.  These chiles come from the same family as the habanero, although they lack the intense heat of a habanero (or a scotch bonnet pepper).  The Aji Limo pepper can have anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 Scoville Heat Units.

7.  Violence: Dundicut Pepper.  The seventh circle is "Violence."  Once again, I had some difficulty in selecting the pepper.  Many peppers do "violence" to the stomachs of some people.  I ultimately chose the Dundicut chile, which is grown in Pakistan and widely used in Pakistani dishes.  This chile is very similar to a scotch bonnet pepper, but with a little less heat.  Nevertheless, the Dundicut represents a slight increase in Scoville Heat Units over the Aji Limo Rojo chile.  A Dundicut can have anywhere between 55,000 to 65,000 Scoville Heat Units. However, at least for me, both the look and taste of the Dundicut seem hotter and spicier than the Aji Limo Rojo.

8.   Fraud: Chile Pequin.  The eighth circle is "Fraud," where people who engage in conscious treachery or deception are punished.  The selection of the pepper was a little easier this time.  I chose the Chile Pequin.  This chile is very small, which deceptively suggests that it is not very hot or spicy.  However, the Chile Pequin can be anywhere from thirteen to forty times hotter than a jalapeno, with 70,000 Scoville Heat Units.   At this level, the primary purpose of the Chile Pequin is to provide heat to the spice rub. 

9.  Treachery: Piri-Piri.  The ninth and final circle is "Treachery."  As with the sixth and seventh circles, it was hard to rationalize a choice for this chile.  I ultimately decided to use the chile that was the most potent of all the chiles and peppers in our kitchen ... the Piri-Piri pepper.  Also known as the African bird's eye pepper, the Piri Piri pepper is grown and cultivated in many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. The Piri-Piri pepper can have as much as 100,000 Scoville Heat Units, providing the highest amount of heat and spice of any of the peppers in the mix. 

While I am using nine different peppers and chiles, I still wanted to make a rub that is edible for many people.  For that reason, I steered clear of the extremely hot chiles, like Trinity Moruga Scorpion, Naga Viper and Bhut Jolokia peppers.  I also added some other spices to complement the heat of the peppers.  These spices include allspice, clove, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, and kosher salt.  Finally, I added a teaspoon of sugar.  The sweetness of the sugar helps to tamper the spice of the chiles.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

The Inferno Rub
2 marrow bones
2 bone-in ribeyes, cowboy style
1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of onion powder
1/2 tablespoon of paprika powder
1/2 teaspoon of Hatch chile powder
1/2 teaspoon of chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon of Aleppo powder
1 dried Sanaam chile, ground
1 dried Dundicut chile, ground
1 dried Aji Limo Rojo, ground
1 dried Chile Pequin, ground
1/4 teaspoon of Piri Piri powder
1/4 teaspoon of allspice
1/4 teaspoon of cloves
1/4 teaspoon of ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of sugar

1.  Roast the marrow bones.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cover one end of the marrow bones with foil and stand them up foil side down.  Roast the marrow bones for forty-five minutes.  Remove the marrow and the oils into a small bowl.

2.  Prepare the steaks.  Combine all of the chile and peppers in a bowl, along with the allspice, cloves, coriander, turmeric, salt and sugar.  Mix well. Using a brush, baste the steaks with the oil and marrow from the bones.  Season the steaks with the rub, applying the rub to all sides of the steaks.  Set aside for a few minutes.

3.  Grill the steaks.  Heat a grill on medium high heat.  Place the steaks on the grill.  Grill for five minutes and rotate ninety degrees.  Grill for five more minutes.  Flip the steaks and grill for five minutes.  Rotate the steak ninety degrees.  Grill for five minutes more and remove the steak.  Let the steak rest for a few minutes.  Slice the steak and serve immediately. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

English Poet, Edith Lovejoy Pierce, once said, "[w]e will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  we are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."  I really like that quote.  It expresses the thought that the upcoming year is a story that has to be written, and, we are the authors, with pens in hands, who will supply the setting, characters, plot, climax and, eventually, the epilogue for the year.  

As for Chef Bolek's "book," it will be a mixture of unfinished work and new experiences. For example, I have completed twenty of the eighty challenges that comprise my Around the World in Eighty Dishes (plus a special challenge).  I hope to complete at least twenty more this year, along with another special challenge.  I already have the next three challenges in the works.  In addition, I would also like to do one or two more Iron Chef Nights.  It is hard to believe that the last one was back in June 2011.  Finally, there are a lot of single dishes that I have been meaning or wanting to make for some time.  My hope is that, by the end of the year, I will have made many of them at least once. 

There will also be a lot of new work that will go into that figurative "book."  My beautiful Angel, Clare, and I are expecting our first baby in 2013.  My plan is to make our own baby food and to provide the recipes on this blog.  (Many thanks to my sister and brother-in-law for the baby food cookbooks to help me get started with that goal.)

I hope that you have enjoyed my posts over the past couple of years.  I am very grateful to you for your interest in what I post and for your feedback.  I hope that you will continue to follow me on my culinary journeys in 2013.  Until then ...