Sunday, September 22, 2013

Josh Cabernet Sauvignon (2011)

This wine -- a Cabernet Sauvignon from Josh Cellars, introduced a new term for me ... "vin de garage."  Those words represent a wine that winemakers make for themselves.  Put another way, it is a fancy, French-way to say "a winemaker's wine."

The wine, which is eponymously named "Josh," is described as a vin de garage.  This got me to thinking about what makes a "winemaker's wine."  The Josh is produced exclusively with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown and cultivated in the North Coast of California.  The grapes are punched down three times a day.  According to Josh Cellars, this helps to maximize flavor extraction.  The grapes are then subjected to a 10-15 day extended maceration until the juice is fermented and aged in a combination of new American oak and French oak for sixteen months. 

The Josh pours a dark, burgundy red, which signifies a more earthy Cabernet Sauvignon, at least in my opinion.  And, in this case, my opinion was confirmed by the wine.   The aromatic elements of this wine are very full and somewhat dark ... currants, black cherries or plums.  The taste of this wine is also substantial.  The winemaker describes the flavor as having black currants and deep dark fruits (those plums and dark cherries), along with smoke and spice.  I clearly sensed the dark fruit and the spice.  The smoke was a little more elusive. 

A full bodied, dark Cabernet Sauvignon like this one calls for a substantial pairing.  Beef, pork or lamb, either grilled or roasted would be a perfect pairing.  As I write this post, my thoughts turned to a nice grilled ribeye steak or New York strip steak, seasoned with just salt and pepper.  A simple steak would be a very masterful complement to this wine.

A simple pairing like this suggests something about the wine.  The winemakers describe the Josh as a wine that is bold and expressive, but unassuming, and approachable. I would agree with that characterization.  I found this wine at a local grocery store. It costs about $15.99 a bottle. 


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Savage Boleks' Smoked Turkey

When people think of barbecue, thoughts turn to pork shoulders, ribs and beef brisket.  My thoughts turn to a wide range of meats when it comes to smoking.  Many of the more interesting barbecue projects have been done in collaboration with my father-in-law, Frank.  These projects include our smoked salmon fillets and smoked mullet spread.  

Recently, I collaborated with Frank on another BBQ project: smoked turkey.  My beautiful Angel eats turkey at Thanksgiving, and, more recently, has eaten some of my turkey dishes.  So, we decided to smoke a turkey so that everyone -- Clare's parents, Clare and myself -- could have something to eat.  

The meat was chosen, which then raised several questions.  First, do we smoke a whole turkey or just parts of a turkey (like a turkey breast, or turkey thighs)?  We seriously considered smoking an entire turkey.  This posed some serious issues, given the white meat and dark meat cook at different speeds and need to reach different temperatures.  There is also the secondary question of whether to cook the bird as is, or spatchcock the bird (that is, remove the backbone so the entire bird lays flat).  If we spatchcocked the turkey, we would have to cut it into two halves in order to fit into the smoker. All of these questions became moot, however, because I could not find a good sized, fresh turkey.  The best turkey was a whopping 21 pounds, which was way to big for our endeavor.

A couple of the smoked turkey thighs.
Thus, we decided to smoke a turkey breast and turkey thighs. The use of cut turkey parts would definitely shorten the cooking time, which would allow us to speed up the cooking time and allow us to enjoy the meat sooner rather than later.

Second, there is the question of using a brine.  A brine is a solution of water and salt.  Placing meat into this solution for a period of time helps to add moisture to the meat.  This added moisture is particularly helpful when it comes to cooking or smoking meats that have a low fat content, like turkey.  We decided to use a brine and, because we were using cut turkey parts, we decided to brine the turkey for about an hour.

The smoked turkey breast.
Third, there was the question of the rub and/or sauce.  We decided to do just a rub.  Frank searched for various turkey rubs, and, then he came across one that had a list of rather unusual ingredients ... at least for turkey.  Cardamom, ginger, turmeric, allspice, cloves, coriander and fenugreek.  All of those ingredients sounded like the perfect components of a rub.  After all, I have previously experimented with spices and turkey, making turkey thighs rubbed with an Egyptian Baharat spice mixture.  So, we decided to use the rather unusual combination of spices as the rub for the turkey.  This was perhaps the best decision we made in our preparations, because that spice mixture produced an amazingly, flavorful meat.

Finally, there was the question of the two additional flavor elements.  There are three elements to consider: wood, liquid and basting sauce.   When it comes to wood, the general rule calls for fruit woods, like apple or cherry.  So, we chose apple wood. When it came to the liquid bowl (that is, the bowl that is between the meat and the coals), we used a combination of apple juice and water, along with some keffir lime leaves.  The leaves were inspired by the ingredients in the rub.   The basting sauce also was very simple: just some apple juice.  We began the basting after the meat had been in the smoker for two hours.

In the end, the turkey turned out perfect.  The turkey thighs were delicious, with the rub providing an interesting array of flavors.  As for the turkey breast, the use of the brine ensured that the breast meat did not dry out during the cooking process and remained juicy with a lot of moisture notwithstanding the hours of smoking.   This barbecue project worked out so well that I have since smoked some more turkey thighs using the same brine and rub process.  The results were the same: delicious, flavorful and juicy turkey, which did not need any sauce.

A Chef Bolek Collaboration
Serves Many

Ingredients (for the Brine):
16 cups of water
1/2 cup of salt

Ingredients (for the Spice Rub):
3 tablespoons of ground cardamom
3 tablespoons of ground ginger
2 tablespoons of ground turmeric
2 tablespoons of ground coriander
1 tablespoon of ground allspice
3 tablespoons of ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
3 tablespoons of ground fenugreek

Ingredients (for the turkey):
8 pounds of turkey (1 four pound breast and 4 pounds of thighs)
Kaffir lime leaves
2 cups of apple juice
Chunks of apple wood

1.  Brine the turkey.  Add the water to a large pot.  Add the salt and stir until it dissolves.  Add the turkey breast and thighs.  Allow the meat to brine for one hour.  After an hour has passed, remove the meat, rinse well, and dry thoroughly.

2.  Prepare the rub for the turkey.   Add all of the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl.  Apply the rub to all surfaces of the turkey. 

3.  Prepare the smoker.  Get a fire going for the smoker.  Once the coals are ready, add the liquid bowl, which should be filled with water and kaffir lime leaves.  Add the grates.

4.  Smoke the turkey.  If you have two levels, place the breast on the lower level with the skin side up.  Place the thighs on the higher level with the skin side up.  Smoke until the white meat reaches 160 degrees Fahreneheit and the dark meat reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  It will take approximately one half hour for every pound of meat.  After about two hours, baste the turkey with some apple juice.  Once the meat reaches the desired temperature, wrap the meat in foil and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes but preferably 30 minutes.  During that time, the meat should cook another 5 to 10 degrees and be ready for slicing or pulling.  Serve immediately.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tablas Creek Vineyards Patelin de Tablas Blanc (2001)

Paso Robles is one of our most favorite American Viticultural Areas ("AVAs") outside of Willamette Valley (which, as a whole, is our favorite AVA ... we just love those Pinot Noir wines).  I have previously noted our love for Paso Robles red wines, when I reviewed wines like the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon and San Simeon Petit Sirah.  So, when I saw a white wine from Paso Robles, the Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Blanc (2011), I bought a bottle to try a white wine from an AVA that is more known for its red wines.

The Patelin de Tablas Blanc is produced in a Rhône style, a blend of four grapes that are well established through much of that valley: Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne. The exact breakdown of the grapes in this wine is as follows: 45% Grenache Blanc, 34% Viognier, 18% Roussane and 3% Marsanne.

The more interesting breakdown is the source of the grapes used to produce this wine.  The grapes are sourced from nearly a dozen vineyards throughout Paso Robles.  The grapes came from the following vineyards: 22% of the grapes (Grenache Blanc) come from Catherine's vineyard; 17% of the grapes (Viognier) come from the Chequera vineyard;  14% of the grapes (Viognier and Roussane) come from the Paso Ridge vineyard; 11% of the grapes (Viognier) come from the Hidden Valley vineyard; 8% of the grapes (Grenache Blanc, Roussane and Marsanne) come from the Edward Sellers vineyard; 6% of the grapes (Viognier) come from the Paso Uno vineyard; 5% of the grapes (Grenache Blanc) come from the Las Vista vineyard; 5% of the grapes (Roussane) come from the Tablas Creek vineyard; 4% of the grapes (Grenache Blanc) come from the Dawson Creek vineyard; 4% of the grapes (Grenache Blanc) come from the Burbank Ranch vineyard; and 4% of the grapes (Grenache Blanc) come from the Briarwood vineyard.   That is a lot of grapes from a lot of vineyards.

The Patelin de Tablis Blanc pours a light straw or hay color.  The winemakers describe the aroma as having "fruity, floral aromas of honeysuckle, apricot and candied grapefruit."  I could get a sense of honeysuckle, or perhaps just honey, along with some nice fruit.  As for the taste, the winemakers describe the wine has being full of peach and lemon zest, with a creamy texture and vibrant acids.  There was some peach, but maybe my taste buds were a little off that evening, as I sensed more apple and pear than peach or apricot.  Regardless, both the aroma and taste of the wine was very good, and the texture was just as described ... creamy with a nice finish.

The winemakers suggest two pairings for this wine: mussels mariniere and fish with fennel.  Both of those suggestions are good, but I would also add any grilled seafood, as well as grilled poultry, like chicken.

I found this wine at a local grocery store.  A bottle sells for about $15.99.  


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thai-Style Catfish

This recipe raises an interesting question: when is a dish truly representative of a particular cuisine.  The question is raised by website, One Perfect Bite, where I found an interesting "Thai-Style Catfish" recipe.  The website notes that people say that "Plah Toht Kamin" is a native Thai dish, but every time the author had the dish it was made by a French chef who was working in Southeast Asia.  While there is no rule that says dishes made by French chefs cannot be truly Thai dishes (or Laotian dishes, or Vietnamese dishes, etc.), a reasonable question is raised if only French chefs are making the dish.

Nevertheless, the combination of catfish, fish sauce and turmeric can be found in various Thai-inspired recipes.  Just "Google" Thai turmeric catfish and you will find a seemingly endless number of recipes with an apparently infinite different ways of using those ingredients.

Yet, it was the dish from One Perfect Bite that initially caught my attention ... and for good reason.  It is easy to make and very tasty to eat.  The combination of fish sauce and turmeric provides for interesting flavors that are both earthy and fermented, only occasionally interrupted by the garlic and shallots used in the marinade.  The chili-lime sauce adds that fresh citrus and heat zing that helps to freshen the flavors of marinated fish.  That is quite the accomplishment given the use of a quarter-cup of fish sauce in the chili-lime sauce.

I did make one modification to the recipe.  Catfish fillets (like most fish fillets) have their thick parts and thin parts.  Rather than use whole fillets, I cut them into evenly-sized nuggets.  This added step helps the fish cook faster and, if the nuggets are cut right, it helps the catfish cook more evenly.

Recipe adapted from One Perfect Bite
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the Catfish):
2 tablespoons of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon of shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 pounds of catfish fillets (optional - cut into equal size pieces)

Ingredients (for the Chili Lime Sauce):
1/4 cup of fish sauce
3 tablespoons of lime juice
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of green chiles, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of cilantro, finely chopped

1.  Marinate the fish.  Place the garlic, shallots, turmeric, sugar, pepper, salt, fish sauce and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in the bowl of a small food processor. Process to a fairly smooth paste, using a small amount of water if necessary. Combine fish fillets (or fish pieces) and turmeric paste in medium bowl or baking dish, turning fillets to coat evenly with marinade. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature. The fillets can be marinated for up to 24 hours if covered and refrigerated.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  Combine fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and garlic in a small bowl.  Stir until sugar dissolves. Sprinkle the sauce with chilies and cilantro. Set aside, but leave the sauce out.  It is best served at room temperature.

3.  Cook the fish. Place about 1 cup of flour in a pan. Dredge fillets in flour, shaking off excess. Heat reserved 2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. When a drop of water sizzles in pan, add fillets (or fish pieces) and cook, turning once, for 5 to 7 minutes depending on thickness of fillets.  (If you are cut the fish into bite-sized pieces, you should cook them for about 3 to 4 minutes before turning them.)  Be careful when turning to avoid breaking the catfish pieces. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with the dipping sauce.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Wine Club ... The F Word

Someone once said, "[f]rom an early age, I understood that cooking was not a job, it is a passion."  Those are the words of Gordon Ramsay, the Scottish chef known for his tongue as much as his cuisine.  I've watched many an episode of Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen.   He has certainly has the right to say anything he wants; after all, he has earned his share of Michelin stars.  However, if you watch enough of those shows, it seems the "F word" is more about profanity than it is about food. 

Rest assured, we do not plan on turning the Savage Boleks' kitchen into some cooking competition or a restaurant hell.  Instead, we will be drawing upon some of Chef Ramsay's other programs, such as The F Word and Gordan Ramsay's Great Escapes, as well as his cookbooks.  These shows and books illustrate that, when it comes to Chef Gordon Ramsay, the "F-word" really does mean "food."

We have previously hosted wine club dinners whose theme centered upon a particular chef's recipes, such as  Frank Stitt  and Mario Batali.  Indeed, the Frank Stitt dinner was probably our best dinner.   Both of those dinners featured recipes from a particular cookbook authored by the Chef.  For this wine club, we will be making from Gordon Ramsey's Ultimate Cookery Course.  We selected recipes that reflect Gordon Ramsay's interests and inspirations, which are drawn from around the world.  Whether it is the Spanish flavors of a romesco sauce or the Thai flavors of a pork curry, we hope that you will enjoy this meal as much as we will preparing it.

Grilled Seafood with Romesco Sauce

A wine club dinner during these warm months is not a wine club dinner unless there is something grilled.   For our first course, we will be grilling some shrimp and squid, which we will serve with a romesco sauce.  The sweetness of the fresh seafood combined with the sauce -- in all of its glory of roasted peppers, tomatoes, nuts, vinegar and olive oil -- should make for a very nice start to the wine dinner.

Meatballs with Orecchiette, Kale and Pine Nuts

Orecchiette is the traditional, ear-shaped pasta of Puglia or Apulia.  The word "orecchiette" means "little ears."  Those little ears are often served with broccoli, anchovies and chiles.  Chef Ramsey does his own twist on the dish by serving the pasta with meatballs, kale and pine nuts. 

Pork Neck Curry with Mango Salsa

To some extent, a wine club dinner has to be about experimentation ... the willingness to try something different.  With certain exceptions (such as food allergies or an intolerance to certain ingredients), anything should be possible. Chef Ramsay says this dish -- Pork Neck Curry with Mango Salsa -- is one of his most favorite curry dishes.  It is a combination of "zingy Thai flavours with one of the most overlooked cuts of pork, and topped off with a really light mango salsa." I have been waiting to make this recipe for a very long time. (For those who may not be interested in pork necks, like my beautiful Angel, there will be a fish dish... but, you may have to endure some Chef Ramsay-like ribbing as you eat that fish.)

 Apple Crumble

For the final course, we will be serving an apple crumble.  This recipe combines both fruit puree and chunks, along with dried cranberries to create layers of texture and interest beneath the crunchy topping.

That is the menu.  As always, it is subject to change, due to the availability of ingredients.  Any changes or updates will be added to this post.  Looking forward to seeing everyone soon!


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Turkey Paella

A few years ago, we got a paella pan as a wedding gift.  Making paella has been on my short list of things to do, but, I have had a hard time deciding on which recipe to make.  Basically, there are three types of paella: (1) Paella Valenciana; (2) Paella de Marisco; and (3) Paella Mixta.  There are, however, many more paella recipes that use a wide range of ingredients, including some that I have been wanting to cook with for a long time, such as rabbit.  That variety left me thinking and overthinking my first foray into paella.

It took a very stressful period at work to finally push me into making a paella.  Clare's parents were visiting and, given everyone eats turkey, I decided to make a paella.  Although I spent a lot of time thinking about making a true Spanish paella (focusing particularly upon a Paella Valenciana), I did something very un-Spanish.  I made a turkey paella.

The turkey is the centerpiece of this paella.  I used turkey thighs, because I think the darker meat has more flavor than turkey breast.  I also used a turkey sausage, which was made in a mild Italian style, in the place of chorizo.  Finally, I decided to use turkey stock rather than chicken or seafood stock.  The 1-2-3 combination of turkey thighs, sausage and stock guaranteed that the paella would have a good solid turkey flavor.  To round out the dish, I decided to use some traditional paella ingredients, such as roasted peppers, artichokes, and peas.

One last note: Paella is traditionally made with a particular type of rice, like Valencia or bomba rice.  However, if you are like me, you might not have that rice in your pantry.  A good substitute is arborio rice, which is the same type of rice you would use to make risotto.  Although you would normally stir arborio rice a lot when making risotto, the rice does not have to be stirred when making paella.   

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 6-8

1 to 2  pounds boneless skinless turkey thighs, cut into 2" pieces
12 ounces of turkey sausage, cut into 1/3 inch slices
3 medium tomatoes, minced
1 small onion, minced
1 box of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
8 ounces of fresh or frozen peas
3 jarred roasted red peppers, torn into ½"-thick strips
30 threads saffron, crushed (a scant ½ tsp.)
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
3 dried bay leaves
7 cups of turkey broth
2½ cups short-grain rice, preferably Valencia or bomba
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the base of the rice.  Put the saffron and ¼ cup hot water in a small bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Season turkey thighs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 16"–18" paella pan over medium-high heat. Add the turkey thighs and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes.  Remove the thighs and add the turkey sausage.  Cook the sausage, turning occasionally, until browned for about another five minutes.  Add the turkey thighs back to the pan and then add the paprika, garlic, bay leaves, tomatoes, and onions.  Cook all of the ingredients, stirring often, until onions soften, about 6 minutes. Add reserved saffron mixture and broth.  Season with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.

2.  Cook the rice and remaining ingredients.  Sprinkle in rice, distribute evenly with a spoon, and add artichokes, peas, and peppers. Cook, without stirring, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid, which should take about 15–20 minutes, although it may take longer.   Also, if you pan is like mine, which is larger than the burner, rotate the pan every few minutes to make sure that different parts of the paella are over the heat and the rice cooks evenly.)  Cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is al dente. Remove pan from heat, cover with aluminum foil, and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Overall, this paella was very delicious, and it paired very well with a good white wine, such as the Las Colinas del Ebro Garnatxa Blanca from Catalonia.  The use of turkey made for an interesting twist on a traditional Valencian dish.  It also provides an interesting inspiration for what to do with leftovers from Thanksgiving.  But, that will be left for another post.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Las Colinas del Ebro Garnatxa Blanca (2012)

The year was 1938. The situation was dire.  For years, the Republican Army battled the Nationalist Army for control of Spain.  However, the tide had turned against the Republicans.  The Republican Army had suffered substantial losses during the winter of 1937-1938 during the battle at Teruel.  The Nationalist Army, led by General Franco, pressed the Republicans during an offensive in Aragon and Catalonia.  That offensive led to the Nationalists gaining control of the hydroelectric dams at Lleida, which powered much of the industrial sector in one of the last Republican strongholds, Catalonia.  Morale amongst Republican leaders was low.  The international community seemed resigned to General Franco's eventual victory. 

Nevertheless, the Republican Army engaged in one last offensive, which led to the Battle of Ebro.  The fighting was mainly concentrated in two areas along the lower course of the Ebro River.  The battle was the longest of the Spanish Civil War, taking place between July and November 1938.  It was also one of the bloodiest, with estimates ranging between 55,000 to 110,000 soldiers dying in the conflict.

Nearly 75 years later, if one were to retrace the footsteps of the Republican soldiers and volunteers, he or she would be walking through vineyards.  Terra Alta is now an established Denominación de Origen or Denominació d’Origen in Catalan).  A wide range of grapes are grown in this DO, including but not limited to the Garnatxa Blanca, which is the Catalonian name for a grape that is also known as Garnacha blanca, Grenache blanc or white Grenache. 

The Garnatxa Blanca varietal generally produces substantial wines, with high alcohol contents and low acidity.  The winemakers at Bodega Abanico have produced a Garnatxa Blanca from 20 to 40 year old vines.  The grapes were lightly crushed before pressing.  The must was cold-settled and a portion of the must, which the winemakers allowed to be macerated with the skins for 12 hours, was added prior to fermentation to provide for more complexity in the wine.  

When it comes to the appearance, aroma and taste, the winemakers describe the Las Colinas del Ebro as being medium, straw colored, with an "attractive perfume" of "minerals, spring flowers, white peach and melon."  They also describe the taste as having "vibrant and spicy fruit."

The Las Colinas del Ebro Garnatxa Blanca did pour a pale, light straw color.  As the winemakers note, there is a lot of white peach and melon in the aroma.  There was also a slight earthiness, a kind of a slate or chalk in the nose.  As for the taste of the wine, the elements reminded me very much of a Vouvray ... a lot of melon and honey, with some peach and pear notes.  Any earthiness in the aroma was not present in the wine, which provided a dry, yet subtly sweet taste that was very good.

With respect to pairing, this Garnatxa Blanca would probably follow the rules of a more substantial (as opposed to fruity) wine.  This wine would pair well with fish and vegetable dishes, and, as we discovered, it is a good pairing with paella.  On this occasion, I paired the Las Colinas del Ebro with Turkey Paella.

I found this bottle of wine at a local grocery store.  It sells for about $12.99 a bottle.