Monday, November 29, 2004
For those who enjoy Kermit Lynch's wines and writings, he will be signing his new book at the 4th St. Cody's Books. Here's the announcement: SATURDAY, DECEMBER 4 KERMIT LYNCH writes of INSPIRING THIRST: VINTAGE SELECTIONS FOR THE KERMIT LYNCH WINE BROCHURE. One of the world?s most revered wine merchants and importers, Kermit Lynch changed the way Americans drink wine and the way the French make it. His retail shop in Berkeley is a legendary mecca for people who enjoy good wine. Lynch is also an admired writer on the subject. His monthly brochure has been the medium for expressing his philosophy since the early seventies, offering readers not only a wine education, but also entry into moldy old cellars and glittering three-star restaurants. It?s full of passion, principle, and humor, and peopled by a cast of characters like Patricia Wells, Richard Olney, Lulu Peyraud, Jim Harrison, and many others. In INSPIRING THIRST, Lynch presents the best of his engaging, highly personal (sometimes cantankerous) accounts of winemakers and their rare potions. Kermit Lynch has been named Wine Professional of the year by the James Beard Foundation and has won the French Chevalier de l?Ordre de Merite Agricole award; he is the author of Adventures on the Wine Route. His new book is a thirst-inspiring treat for wine lovers everywhere. 6 PM at Fourth Street, with tastes.
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Damn Good Duck Confit|
I recently bought Bouchon, the cookbook from Thomas Keller's bistro of the same name. Flipping through it, I was drawn to the recipe for duck confit. Duck confit, made from meat that has been salted and then cooked and preserved in fat, is one of my favorite foods, and I was curious to see how Thomas Keller's rendition compared to other versions I had tasted and made. If you liked his French Laundry Cookbook, you'll almost certainly enjoy Bouchon. The new book has the same style and the same level of detail, even though the food is ostensibly more rustic and casual. I didn't make Keller's recipe exactly. His recipe, like many, uses duck legs, but I substituted some magret de moulard I had in my freezer. Magret is the breast of a bird that has been force-fed for foie gras, and Moulards are the dominant breed of duck in foie gras production. This particular breast was from the Artisan Foie Gras label of Sonoma Foie Gras. The Artisan ducks get cooked corn instead of raw and they are "cold eviscerated", or slaughtered, then cooled overnight, and then processed. Most birds at Sonoma Foie Gras are processed immediately after slaughter. These differences have a bigger impact on the liver than the breast meat.
Other than this change, I followed his recipe closely. First you vigorously salt the meat. This draws out moisture and oseasons the confit. Keller enhances this by making a "green salt", a flavorful mixture of salt ground with parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns. This rub is so good that I used it for one of my Thanksgiving turkeys. Once the salt is applied (1 tablespoon per pound), you let the meat cure overnight in the refrigerator.
You know how everyone advises you to read a recipe thoroughly before starting? That way you're not caught by any surprises. Of course, I've made duck confit before, so I didn't think I'd need to read ahead. Imagine my shock when I discovered you needed to cook the confit for 10 hours at a very low temperature. I discovered this in the evening. I left the oven on all night and woke up early to test the meat. The meat was tender and the whole apartment smelled of warm duck fat and meat. It beat waking up to a gas explosion because my burner went out, which was my fear as we went to sleep.
Somewhere in that fat are two big duck breasts.
Once the meat is cooked, you let it cool in the fat, and then pack the meat into a container. Strain the leftover fat (it's Thomas Keller, so you always strain) and pour over the meat in its container. You want the fat to completely cover the duck, with a good half-inch or so of fat on top. Put in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. By separating out the juices from the fat, you can keep it even longer, but I didn't bother.
Not my prettiest plating ever
The result of all this was one of the most heavenly duck confits I've ever tasted. Once I heated up the confit, the skin was nice and crisp and the meat was falling apart. The confit was undescribably good, meaty and seasoned just to the edge of being too much. I served it with rice and green beans, and we drank the 2001 Huber Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills. The wine had cherry flavors framed by lemon Pledge and Jolly Rancher. It was overpowered by the flavorful duck, so next time I might go for a more rustic wine.
If this dish is any indication of the recipes in Bouchon, I'll be making lots more dishes from it.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Riesling Goes Well With Turkey|
Just a reminder, everyone: Wine Blogging Wednesday is December 1, just one week from today. The theme is New World Riesling. Find yourself a bottle before then and post your thoughts about it on December 1 (or email them to me on that date or sooner, if you don't have a blog). For all my American readers, remember that lots of people (including me when Josh at The Food Section asked wine and wine-heavy bloggers their opinions) recommend Riesling for your Thanksgiving feast. Imagine all the tasting notes you could get from a dozen friends and family around the table! If you're celebrating America's Celebration of Gluttony, have a good holiday! If you're not, keep an eye out for food bloggers (including this one) posting about their feasts in days to come.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
IMBB 10: Cookie Swap|
- 1/2 cup whole hazelnuts toasted and peeled
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus some for baking sheets
- 1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 8 Tb unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out with a knife or 1 tsp vanilla extract
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Art of Eating 67|
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Inspiration strikes in funny ways. Maybe you see something and it triggers a new thought in a different direction. Or maybe it just comes out of the blue. No matter where it comes from, it's usually worth pursuing. At the very least, it will force you to explore a new path, and sometimes you produce something marvelous. Take the other night. I thought I'd make hamburgers for Melissa and me. To my mind, you start making burgers by grinding the meat. There are lots of reasons I do this, but that's not the point of the story, so I won't digress. I made a little mental checklist by remembering other meat-grinding episodes in the kitchen: chill the grinder, season, etc. Often, I have to add my own fat to the meat I'm grinding, though chuck comes in the right proportion for burgers. That's when inspiration struck: I could still swap in new fat for the fat in the chuck. I could use the fat I scraped off the foie gras terrine I made two months ago. Yes, you heard me right: I saved the fat I used to seal the terrine. Foie gras is pretty pricey, and I share Thomas Keller's philosophy that you have a sort of karmic reponsibility to any animal you eat, especially a foie gras duck, to not waste any part. It didn't make any sense to toss the fat when I could just melt it, strain it, and keep it in the refrigerator.
It's easy to make these burgers, assuming you have the right ingredients and equipment. Most recipes I saw for burgers suggested a ratio of 80% to 20% fat. Chuck roast has nice big sheets of fat that you can trim off with some patient knife work. Weigh your de-fatted chuck, and then add in 1/4 of that weight in foie gras fat. If your scale can give you readings in grams, the math is easier.
Cut the meat into cubes of a size you might put in a stew. Set up the chilled meat grinder, and grind the meat and fat together by putting in some meat, then some fat, and then continuing to alternate. Run that mixture through again to make sure the fat and lean are thoroughly integrated and that you have a consistent texture.
Season as you like. I used leftover "green salt" a flavorful mixture of salt and fresh herbsfrom the duck confit recipe I'm making from Thomas Keller's new cookbook, Bouchon. More on that in a month or so.
Chill the meat and form into patties. Cook as you would a normal burger, but keep in mind the foie gras fat will render out sooner than beef fat would, so you really want to serve these seared and rare if possible. Serve with home made fries. I topped the patties with caramelized onions and spinach leaves. Melissa and I drank Moinette, a saison style beer from Brasserie Dupont in Belgium. The hamburger meat was delicious, with a rich, succulent taste and a smooth feel. Inspiration wins.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Jojo Wine Tasting - The Rhône|
One of our favorite Oakland restaurants is Jojo on Piedmont Avenue. Curt and Mary Jo, the chefs and owners, have impressive pedigrees. Mary Jo was pastry chef at Chez Panisse for many years, Curt worked at Zuni for a time, and on and on. When they opened their own place, they wanted to make a comfortable neighborhood restaurant. Melissa and I had our rehearsal dinner there, and we try to eat there every couple months. Our most recent dinner was a bit unusual, though. The restaurant has introduced wine tasting nights led by their wine buyer Vito Passero, not coincidentally the head of our Slow Food convivium. Vito has crafted a great wine list for Curt and Mary Jo. It's not a big list, but it's focused and well thought out. Vito is passionate about French and Italian wines, and these wine tastings give him a chance to educate people a bit about the French wine they might find at the restaurant and at their local shops. This event (their second) focused on Rhône wines, and Vito talked about five different wines as Curt and Mary Jo cooked four small courses. The staff kept things casual and the courses and the wine moved independently, not in some rigid and arbitrary lockstep. It was a perfect night for warm food and robust reds; mist that flirted with being rain dampened the cold night air as we arrived, and the warmth and friendliness of the restaurant were even more welcome than normal. Before any food arrived, Vito told us about the region and offered up general thoughts about wine. I found his opinions refreshing and dead on, even his comment that while certain foods go really well with certain wines (he offered oysters and Muscadet as an example), in general food and wine make such a complicated mesh that if you like the food and you like the wine, you can manage to make most pairings work for yourself. Many food snobs will no doubt find this sacrilege, but let them fret about such things while the rest of us just enjoy our meals. He's amused when he sees recipes or menus that say "with this dish, serve a 1998 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel" or something to that effect. What mood are you in? What's the weather like? What do you like in a wine? These should factor more than some food writer's view of the perfect wine with a dish. But. Off my soapbox and onto the wines (the menu is down below). Prices are Vito's estimates based on standard retail markups of the price he buys them at.
I didn't write notes about the food. I don't have to; Mary Jo and Curt are great chefs and everything was delicious.
- Côtes du Rhône, Chateau du Trignon 2002 - $12 - Mostly grenache. Warm aromas of berries, strawberry preserves and pears with notes of soap and mint. Modest acidity and tastes of berries and apples lingered for a long, warm finish that revealed a nice dustiness at the end. Vito says this reliable producer uses carbonic maceration in these wines, a practice I thought only occurred in Beaujolais. Basically, you ferment the juice inside the grape skin, which brings out a lot of the fruit character.
- Côteaux du Tricastin, Domaine de Grangeneuve "Cuvée de la Truffière" 2000 - $20 - Mostly syrah with the rest being grenache. Rosemary and thyme and black pepper aromas are complemented by yeasty smells of bread and cheese, with subtle notes of rubber and smoke and mushrooms. A nice acidity, modest tannins and a medium long finish give you lots of chances to appreciate flavors that combine rosemary, cream, vanilla, and pie crust and perhaps just a hint of smoke on the finish. This wine, from an artisanal producer in a relatively young appellation, was one of my favorites from the set.
- Gigondas Domaine Palliè 2001 - $25-$30 - 80% grenache. Strong smells of leather, spice and minerals nonetheless allow strawberry notes to come through as you concentrate. Taste is like black pepper sprinkled on flowers, with hints of nutmeg on the medium long finish. A really nice acidity and medium tannins suggest that this wine would work well with a wide variety of hearty foods.
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine des Sénéchaux 2000 - no price or grape noted. Aromas of green leaves with spices and deep red cherries. A nice acidity and modest tannins showcase a swirl of flavors, from black pepper and cherries to cream and vanilla. A nice long finish. This wine worked really well with the braised beef we had (see below).
- Côte Rôtie, Domaine Duclaux, 2000 - $35 - 100% syrah. All the things you want in a wine. My notes taper off here, but I can still imagine this rich meaty wine, and a big star sits next to it on the list. A wine with a lot of balance. This wine reminds me why I prefer Northern Rhône syrahs to the California and Australia renditions.
I didn't write notes about the food. I don't have to; Mary Jo and Curt are great chefs and everything was delicious.
- Potato and blue cheese croquettes
- Endive salad with Chicken Livers, Chestnuts, and Apple
- Braised beef short ribs with butternut squash (and, I'll add, a heavenly sauce)
- Roasted Winter Pears with Black Currant Tea poached prunes (Mary Jo specifies the type of pear, but I can't quite read it)
Sunday, November 07, 2004
WBW 4: New World Riesling|
In the previous three Wine Blogging Wednesdaysthe monthly wine blogging event concocted by Lennthe hosts selected themes of New World Merlot from outside the U.S., Spanish Reds, and most recently Australian Shiraz. Enough with the reds already! On the heels of IMBB 9, I find I am the host of Wine Blogging Wednesday 4, and I brazenly offer a white wine theme: New World Riesling. Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible says of Riesling, "[it] is considered by many wine experts to be the most noble and unique white grape variety in the world." But Ed Behr gave the flip side of this in The Art of Eating (issue 64) by pointing out that "the classic wine grape that is the most adaptable with food, Riesling, isn't popular outside the areas that specialize in growing it." Those areas are Alsace, Germany, and Austria, but my question to you, the Internet's wine lovers, is whether anyone in the New World (i.e., outside of Europe) makes great Riesling. The grape, which sometimes goes by the names Johannisberg Riesling or Rhine Riesling, is grown throughout the world. Karen MacNeil lists these New World regions as significant producers: Australia, California, New York State (WBW's founder Lenn should have an easy time with this theme), New Zealand, South Africa, Virginia, and Washington State. She leaves out Canada, which also produces some, most of it as that most delectable of dessert wines, ice wine. In fact, many of the regions that produce dry rieslings also produce dessert versions, for those who like them (I certainly do). The rules are simple: between now and December 1, find a bottle of New World Riesling (or one of its synonyms) and taste the wine, and then write about it on December 1. Spend as much or as little as you'd like. We'd love a picture of the label, and your thoughts about the wine, and even some information about what you ate with it. Think you're a wine novice? Nonsense. I don't care what Robert Parker thinks of these wines, I want to know what you think. Don't be shy. Send me a link to your write-up by e-mail or by leaving a comment in this entry or mine for that day. The day after, I'll do a synopsis of all the wines you've found. You certainly don't have to be a food or wine blogger, and you don't even have to have a blog: if you send me email with your description, I'll host it here.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
Pacific Farms is now selling wasabi seeds. I've written before that virtually all sushi places don't give you real wasabi; it's usually just dyed horseradish. Real wasabi is markedly different than its commercial imitator. It's not as blatantly hot and it has a cleaner vegetable taste. It's subtle and smooth where "normal" wasabi is blunt and harsh. Personally I prefer it. And now, I could just grow my own (if I didn't live in an apartment). It's a neat idea, though I simply don't eat that much wasabi. I'm annoyed enough that Pacific Farms makes me buy their tubes of wasabi paste in 6-packs. I wonder who they think the market is for this. Other would-be wasabi growers? That model, self-defeating as it might seem, works well for Tablas Creek, which sells its vines (cloned from those in the Domaine de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape) to other vineyards. Maybe they envision selling seeds to restaurant owners? I can just see a sous chef at The Herb Farm running out to the garden to pull a wasabi plant out of the ground for that night's dinner. Maybe I shouldn't poke fun; I'd love to see more restaurants using the real deal. The seeds cost $16.55 for two grams but it sounds like they only expect 30-40% to come to fruition. I also can't help but notice that the seeds need to be planted within 48 hours, but the little baby plants they sell need to go into the ground in 30 days. Weird.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
WBW 3: Australian Shiraz|
Price: somewhere between $25 and $30 (I lost the price tag) at Paul Marcus Wines in Oakland
Tasting note: Violet-pink edges darken to an opaque deep-red center. This wine smells of plum reduction and has the notable meatiness Syrah sometimes gives you, with hints of dustiness, rosemary, and nutmeg. Plum dominates the taste as well until soft leather takes over, with a mintiness eventually appearing at the end of the long finish. The solid acidity and soft tannins are well-balanced and enjoyable. General thoughts: This wine was more complex than we imagined it would be. Its soft tannins suggest you should drink it sooner rather than later (and I'm not sure I agree with the website's assertion that you should decant this for an hour; our bottle was fine without it). It lacked what I consider typical Syrah character (Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape), though Melissa smelled the telltale pepper notes more than I. This is a wine we'd buy again.
Monday, November 01, 2004
Some Reasons to Try Barney's|
Melissa and I went to Barney's last night. For those outside the Bay Area, Barney's is a local chain of gourmet hamburger restaurants. I find their burgers decent, especially now that I've learned to avoid the specialty burgers with their overflowing and unsubtle ingredients. But sometimes we get a craving for them. I called in advance and asked if we could bring some wine. The person's response ("sure") made me wonder if she'd heard the question. Well, the worst that could happen was they'd freak out when we got there, bottle in hand. They didn't freak out. It turns out Barney's doesn't charge a corkage fee, the fee that restaurants charge you when you bring your wine, to punish you for not buying the overpriced wine from their uninteresting lists. Of course, Barney's doesn't really have a wine service to compete with your choice. I imagine their "Chablis" and "Burgundy" come from boxes. And it's not like they trotted out their hidden stash of Riedel crystal. We drank our wine trattoria-style out of simple glass tumblers. Still, I was pleasantly surprised at this casual response, and I could imagine going to Barney's more often just to support this attitude. Here's another surprise. Barney's says on their menu that they won't cook a burger rare. I told the server that I understood that, but I wanted it as rare as they could possibly make it. The burgers weren't exactly rare to my taste, but they were certainly more rare than their menu implied. Begging has its place, I guess. What wine do you bring to a burger joint? I looked through our rack, and it struck me as soon as I saw the bottle: Big Moose Red. It even has a screw cap so we didn't need to smuggle in a corkscrew. It was the perfect wine for the occasion.