Saturday, September 30, 2017

Old Westminster Alius (2015)

When my beautiful Angel, Clare, and I visited Old Westminster Winery a couple of years ago, we heard people talking about an orange wine named Alius.  We asked about that wine.  Everyone said, "you have to try the Alius, but, it is so popular that you have to wait for it to come and even then it is only available to wine club members."  Well, needless to say, we became wine club members (not because of the orange wine, but because Old Westminster's other wines are very good).

Eventually, we were able to get a bottle of Alius and we recently opened it.  According to the winemakers, Alius is named after the Latin word meaning "something different."

The name fits the wine.  The Alius has been described as an "orange wine."  The color, texture and tannins come from the maceration process.  This is the process where the skin of the grapes comes in contact with the juice.   In the case of the Alius, the grapes are Pinot Gris and were grown on a rocky hillside in northern Maryland.  After the maceration, the wine was fermented with native yeast in stainless steel.  At the end of the process, the winemakers at Old Westminster Winery bottled 63 cases on April 25, 2016. 

The Alius pours an orangish hue as advertised.  The pictures really do not portray the wine's color very well.  The orangish hues had some amber and tangerine notes, depending upon the light. 

As the wine sits in the glass, there are notes of peach, pear and white nectarine in the area of the Alius.  Some of these notes carry through to the taste of the wine.  There is some tartness at the beginning, but as the wine opens and warms, the tartness recedes and the fruit flavors -- especially the white nectarine -- open up more.  The fruit becomes more mellow, with melon and honey notes becoming more present. 

The Alius is definitely an interesting wine, and, as it opened, it was a very enjoyable wine as well. This wine is available only to wine club members of Old Westminster Winery.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Broiled Lamb Hearts with Salsa Verde and Fresh Chickpea Salad

If you are looking for an economical cut of meat that is still very tasty, then you have to look no further than lamb heart.  At about $4.99 a pound (give or take a few cents or a dollar),  as compared to $9.99 or even $19.99 for other more popular cuts of lamb or beef, it is definitely worth a try.  The only thing is that you have to look very hard to find lamb hearts.  The average grocery store does not stock them.

Fortunately, I have found lamb hearts on occasion at a certain large grocery store that just happened to merge with an online behemoth.  I have cooked with this ingredient twice before.  My first dish was Khalyat Alkadba Wal Galoob (Fried Heart and Liver), which is a Libyan dish I prepared in connection with my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge.  The second dish was Cuore di Agnello Brasata al Chianti (Lamb Hearts Braised in Chianti).  Both dishes were very good and have always left me wanting more.  

During a recent trip to said large grocery store soon to be owned by even larger online behemoth, I saw that it had lamb hearts.  I decided to buy them and try a more simpler preparation.  I was not going to prepare them in an ethnic style (although I did give that a thought for a moment).  I was not going to do anything fancy with a bottle of wine.  Instead, I decided that I would broil the hearts and try to find different ways to add contrasting and complementing flavors.  

I found a recipe for broiling lamb hearts on LiveStrong, which had a preparatory step that I did not know.  The recipe called for placing the lamb hearts in a bowl of salted water.  In other words, to do a brine.  The recipe did not provide any time limits for the brining of the lamb hearts.  I was also working only with slightly over a half of a pound of meat, as opposed to a twelve pound turkey.  So, I decided that, at most, a half an hour in the brine.  That half of an hour made an incredible difference.  Once cooked the meat was far more tender than my previous attempts and a little more flavorful.  After trying this preparation, I would strongly recommend a brief brine for lamb hearts because it will pay off in the end. 

Still, I only had lamb heart.  I needed something to go with that meat.  I pulled out my cookbooks and surfed the Internet until I came across two recipes from Michael Symon, the well-known chef who hails from Cleveland (which is also my hometown).  One recipe was for a salsa verde, which I thought would go well over the broiled lamb heart.  The recipe was for a Fresh Chick Pea Salad, which made a great side dish.  Both sides are very easy to make and helped to round out a complete meal. 

Now, I know most people are already turned off by the lamb hearts.  Unfortunately, we have been raised to only think about steak, like ribeyes, strip steaks, or burgers.  The supposedly more adventurous think about lamb shanks and rack of lamb.  But, it is in these often overlooked cuts of meat where one can find some true culinary joy. 

Lamb heart recipe adapted from Live Strong
Salsa Verde and Fresh Chick Pea Salad from Cooking Channel

Ingredients (for the lamb):
1/2 pound of lamb heart
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of sherry vinegar
Ground pepper

Ingredients (for the salsa verde):
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 shallot, minced
1 salt packed anchovy (or a teaspoon anchovy paste)
2 tablespoon salt-packed capers
Pinch red chile flakes
1/2 Fresno chile (or a Cubanelle or Anaheim chile)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup chiffonade fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chiffonade
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Freshly cracked black pepper
Kosher salt

Ingredients (for the chick pea salad):
3 cups fresh chickpeas, shelled
1/2 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 Fresno chile (or a Cubanelle or Anaheim chile)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly picked flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly picked mint leaves

1.  Prepare the lamb hearts.  Use kitchen scissors or a sharp knife to remove as much fat and connective tissue from the surface of the lamb heart as possible.  Rinse the heart and place it in a bowl of cold water mixed with a pinch of salt.  Preheat the broiler.  Combine the oil and vinegar and whisk together.

2.  Prepare the salsa verde.  In a medium bowl, add the garlic, shallot, anchovy, capers, red chile flakes, chile, lemon zest (save juice for later), mint and parsley.  Save the lemon juice just until serving  - this will help prevent the herbs from turning a dark unappealing color.  Add the extra virgin olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.  Set aside.  Do not salt now.  Allow the flavors to come together.  

3.  Prepare the chickpea salad.  Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, season with salt and add the chickpeas.  Allow to blanch for about 10 to 15 seconds.  Add the shallots and chile to a medium bowl.  Drain the chickpeas and add to the shallots and chile.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Toss in the parsley and mint leave.  Taste and season if needed.

4.  Broil the lamb hearts.  Remove the heart and pat dry with towels.  Put on a broiler pan.  Brush with the olive oil/vinegar mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place under the broiler for about 3 minutes.  Flip the hearts and brush the other side with the olive oil/vinegar mixture.  Continue to cook for 3 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove from the broiler and let rest for 3 minutes.  


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Black Ankle Vineyards Slate 3

Wine blends are very intriguing. I have spent a lot of time learning about different varietals, especially ones that people don't usually see.  However, while I work to get an understanding of different grapes, there are people out there who are blending different varietals together.  The learning process almost has to start over again.

Yet, I am willing to continue learning, especially when it comes to the blends such as Black Ankle Vineyard's Slate 3.  This is the third iteration of this blend.  I have previously reviewed the original Slate.  I have tasted the Slate 2, and, there is a bottle in our wine cage.  (That means a wine review may be in the offing.)  But, my beautiful Angel pulled out a Slate 3 from that cage and opened it recently.  So, the wine reviews of the Slate iterations are going to be out of order.  

The Slate 3 is a blend of Bordeaux grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot.  This blend already marks a departure from the original Slate, which had a substantial amount of Syrah and a little Malbec blended into it.  The breakdown for the Slate 3 is 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot.  The grapes come from vines that grow on decomposing slate laced with veins of quartzite, with the slopes facing predominantly to the west and the south.  The wine was aged 18 to 30 months in French oak barrels, with 31% of those barrels being new.   It was bottled in April 2017 and 725 cases were produced. 

The wine pours a crimson red with burgundy tones, suggesting a robust red wine.  The winemakers describe the wine with aromatic elements of dried plums, blackberries and currants, with additional taste elements of orange peel and cracked pepper.  

The fruit elements are clearly present in the aroma of the wine.  In addition to blackberries and currants, I thought I sensed some raspberries.  The body of the wine is firm, with a soft middle gently introducing the fruit elements of the wine, while the edges are a little tighter, with some tannins.  The edges also give those pepper notes and even, appropriately enough, some mineral or slate tones.  There is a dry finish that one would expect from a bold red.  

Overall, the Slate 3 is very good and probably will be even better with age.  That is why we still have a couple additional bottles still sitting in the wine cage.  The wine sells for $45 a bottle. 


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chicken Saltimbocca

As the story goes, the dish known as Saltimbocca originated in Rome.   The story seems kind of sketchy, because one of the featured ingredients - Prosciutto - does not hail from Rome or the province of Lazio, where the capital is located.  Prosciutto comes from two places.  First, there is Prosciutto di Parma, which comes from the region of Emilia Romagna.  Second, there is Prosciutto di San Daniele, which comes from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.  Given that prosciutto comes from places other than Rome, it made me a little skeptical of the story. 

So, I did my research.  According to one source, the dish of Saltimbocca came from Brescia, which is in Lombardy.  That source also traced the recipe to its first written origin, which was an "influential book" published toward the end of the 19th century by Pellegrino Artusi, an Italian chef.  Chef Artusi included a recipe for "Saltimbocca alla Romana" as Recipe No. 222 in his book.  He also claimed to have the dish at a trattoria named "La Venete" in Rome. 

On additional note about the history of Saltimbocca.  In Rome, Saltimbocca is most commonly prepared with veal.  The recipe adapted as it made its way to America with Italian immigrants, who prepared it with chicken instead of veal.  Chicken is far more commonplace in the United States and is far cheaper than veal. 

I found a recipe for Chicken Saltimbocca in a cookbook by Mario Batali, America Farm to Table.  The recipe looked simple enough to prepare on a busy weekday night, and it included a pan sauce with mushrooms that looked delicious.   

As I made this recipe, I would note a couple of observations.  First, the marsala wine.  One could buy a nice bottle of Marsala wine, which I am sure would make a difference in the final product.  I did not want to spend a lot of money on a wine that I don't drink and, to be honest, don' t cook with very often.  So, I got a store-bought version that probably barely resembles marsala wine.  The cheaper version worked just fine.  Second, the recipe calls for cremini and oyster mushrooms.  That is definitely a good pairing of mushrooms, but I could not find any oyster mushrooms when I went shopping.   The thing about fungi is that they are, for the most part, fungible.  I bought some shiitake mushrooms and they worked just as well as the oyster mushrooms.  

In the end, I can see why Chicken Saltimbocca is a very popular dish.  The flavors from the chicken, sage and prosciutto, enhanced by the sauce and, in this preparation, the tender mushrooms, made for a very enjoyable dinner.   

Recipe from Wedge Oak Farm
Printed in Mario Batali, America Farm to Table, pg. 176
Serves 4

1 cup all purpose flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs,
8 large fresh sage leaves
8 large slices prosciutto
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound of a mix of cremini and oyster or shiitake mushrooms, 
     cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup sweet marsala wine
1/2 cup of chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bunch fresh, flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (1/4 cup)

1.  Prepare the chicken. Place the flour in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Lightly pound the chicken thighs to 1/4 inch thickness.  Season with salt and pepper and lay a sage leaf on each thigh.  lay 1 slice of prosciutto over each thigh and fold in half like a book.  Secure the two sides with a toothpick and dredge the whole piece in the seasoned flour. 

2.  Saute the chicken.  In a 12 to 14 inch saute pan, heat the oil until just smoking.  Add the chicken and saute until golden brown on both sides, then transfer to a plate.  Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until the mushrooms have sweated out their liquid, 5 to 6 minutes.  Add the marsala and chicken stock and cook over high heat until reduced by half.  Return the chicken thighs to the an with the sauce and simmer for 3 minutes.  Swirl in the butter, add the parsley and serve. 


Friday, September 1, 2017

Massaya Le Colombier (2014)

When one thinks of wine, he or she probably thinks of France or Italy.  Australia or Chile.  Argentina or California  Very few people would think of Lebanon.  Yet, the land of the Cedars happens to be one of the oldest wine producing areas in the world. The history of wine-making can be traced back as far as 2686 BC, when wines of Byblos were sent to the Old Kingdom of Egypt.  Wines of other cities in what is now Lebanon -- such as Tyre and Sidon -- were reknown throughout the Mediterranean, spreading along with the Phoenicians as they traveled across the sea.

Wine continued to be produced over the years, decades and centuries.  As the region came under control of a caliphate, wine production decreased.  It was prohibited outright by the Ottoman Empire, although exceptions were made for Christians in the region (as consumption of wine by Muslims is prohibited).  Wine experienced a resurgence when the region came under the control of the French in the 1920s.  After Lebanon gained its independence, wine production continued, although it suffered during the long civil war.  Once the war ended and peace was restored, the wine production experienced another boom. 

The boom has taken place principally in the southern portion of the Bekaa Valley (or Bequaa Valley). The grapes grown in this region include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. The largest producers are Chateau Ksara, which produces about 70% of the wine in the region.  The next largest producers are Chateau Kefraya and Massaya.

I recently purchased a bottle of Massaya's Le Colombier (2014).  The wine is described as a "vin plaisir" or "pleasure wine" that resembles a blend inspired by French wine.  The blend for Le Colombier is 35% Cinsault, 35% Grenache Noir, 15% Syrah, and 15% Tempranillo.  All of the grapes were grown on the hillsides of the Beqaa Valley.  The wine was aged in Faqra cellars, which were dug into the mountainside.  

The Le Colombier pours a deep crimson red, symbolic of a very hearty wine, well beyond any French blend.  The wine looks more like an old vine wine (the vines are old, some as old as 40 years).  As one breathes in the wine, there is some hint of fruit, but also earth, slate, and minerals. The fruit shows through more in the taste, There is some strawberry, but raspberry and blackberry notes quickly overtake the milder fruit.  There is a well developed tannin presence, which grips the sides of the tongue and never lets go.   The strength of the tannins is symbolic of the strength of the Lebanese people, who have endured so much over the course of history (especially between 1975 and 1992) yet their grip over their lives and their futures remained strong despite those odds. 

This wine is a great example of why one should venture beyond the standards.  Beyond a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon.  Beyond a French Pinot Noir.  Beyond a Tuscan Chianti.  Beyond an Argentinian Malbec. The Le Colombier is a great example of why people should search out wines from regions that one would not think of when one thinks of wines.  This wine sells for about $12.99 per bottle.