29 June 2011

Cherry Smoked Pork Shoulder

The terms "grilling" and "barbecue" get bandied about a lot with much argument over the terms. Some people assume that anytime you're cooking outdoors, it's a BBQ. I'm not pedantic about the issue, but in general, grilling means you're cooking food directly over a fire, and barbecue means that the food is cooked indirectly and flavored with smoke.

And oh, what a difference wood makes. I love smoking meat with fruit woods. Apple is easy to find and delivers a subtle flavor to chicken, but in this case I used cherry with a four pound pork shoulder. For various applications in the past I've used alder, oak, hickory, and some other odds and ends. Mesquite is great for the quick cooking, but tends to get bitter and nasty for the long haul. If you use pine or scraps of industrial lumber from building sites, please close this window and don't darken my virtual doorstep again. In this case, I smoked the pork shoulder with cherry for four hours, and then let it continue to soften in a warm oven for an additional hour and a half.

Cherry gives a beautiful red color, but there's also a slight sweetness and fruity depth that you don't get from the usual hickory smoked pork. After a half hour of resting, I shredded up part of it for use in pulled pork sandwiches.

Now, any Memphis boy that's grown up around barbecue culture and assisted at the World Championship down at Memphis in May should make his own sauce. And I've made BBQ sauce from scratch before, but sometimes it's just easier to buy some pre-made. In this case, I tried one I'd never seen before: McClard's BBQ Sauce from Hot Springs, Arkansas. It looked interesting, wasn't expensive, and was the only one on the shelf at Kroger that didn't include high fructose corn syrup. I'm not militant about HFCS, but it's also worth noting that this had the shortest list of ingredients: tomato puree, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice concentrate, salt, onion, pepper, xanthan gum, caramel color.

It's definitely spicy but not hot, and chunks of onion are present in the sauce. It's thinner than Memphis-style sauces (which are about the consistency of ketchup). It's got a great mouth presence because of the high acidity, which balances out the sweetness nicely. I'm impressed and it represents a good balance between the thick sweet sauces of Memphis and the thin vinegar sauces of some other regions. Check it out if you get a chance.

27 June 2011

2007 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound

A curious thing happened in my home state, and I was completely oblivious about it. Tennessee decided to finally catch up to the practice of Greek wine merchants 3,000 years ago and allow customers to sample a bit of wine inside the shop. Previously stores had to set up a special tasting with a restaurant that had a liquor license, but no more. Where did I first hear about this? From wineblogger and all-around cool dude The Wine Commonsewer, who operates out of California but spent some of his military younger days in my fair town. And because I pour more free samples of wine down the drain than most people purchase, I don't spend a lot of time in my local retail shops, for which I deeply apologize.

A week after the new freedom, I popped into Kirby Wines & Liquors as I do when I'm in the neighborhood. Angela Moon spotted me from the upper level, and we tried an Argentine Malbec at one of the brand new tables. I always love tasting wines with Angela, because on the few occasions in which we've participated in blind tastings, our scores have been pretty close. It's always good to find a wine retailer whose palate matches your own.

She directed me toward a wine that hit all my buttons: a Bordeaux blend from South Africa that features a dog on the label. And not just any dog, but the abandoned yet loyal mongrel of a farmhand that stood guard for his master three years after his death. Read the story, finish crying like I did, and come back to the tasting notes. If you buy this wine, please toast the memory of faithful Boes with each glass.

2007 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound
$21, 13.5% abv.
62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 10% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc

Classic Bordeaux blend that is much more old world than you'd think. Lots of green bell pepper, tobacco, tomato leaf, very Médoc nose. Mild cherry flavor with medium tannins. As it breathe you get deeper elements like beef broth and cigars. Lots of complexity here, and as I've always said, a wine with a story goes a long way during a dinner. You can say, "Here's some purple grape juice that was pumped out of a factory in Los Angeles." Or you can say, "I can show you a photo of the oak tree under which this remarkable dog was buried, for he had such devotion to his owner."

Enjoyed with a thick porterhouse steak, served with fire-roasted onions, peppers, and mushrooms. The earthy elements of the veggies combined with the vegetal profile of the wine was a winning combination, and of course the resident dogs were happy about the occasional drops of beef fat that hit the ground. Normally they'd be shooed from the kitchen, but with this wine... we're gonna let it slide.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.

24 June 2011

2009 Big House Cardinal Zin

I've actually been waiting a long time to try this--oddly because it was included as a label design in a collection of Ralph Steadman's artwork. This would have been sometime in the late 90s, and Steadman had done a few whiskey and wine labels by that point. (Later he would do designs for the Colorado based Flying Dog Brewery.) I thought the pun was funny, but couldn't find the wine in my area.

The original design was back in the Bonny Doon days, and was even banned in Ohio. The new design fits in well with the other Big House brands, but I'll always miss the splattered ink of Steadman. I didn't think about Cardinal Zin for a long time, but lo, after trying several of the wines in a blogger capacity and contact with the winemaker, it just happened to show up on my doorstep one humid June afternoon.

2009 Big House Cardinal Zin
$10, 13% abv.
80% Zinfandel, 10% Mourvedre, 8% Carignane, 2% Petite Sirah
From "Beastly Old Vines"
Prune and dried cherry aromas with a bit of cassis. Let it breathe for a while and the tannins disappear, leaving behind a great dark fruit profile with a smooth finish. It's enclosed with a convenient screwcap and is also available in the 3 litre Octavin box.

Served with a couple of lamb chops that were dry-rubbed, allowed to rest for a few hours, and then thrown on the hot side of the grill for a few minutes before being allowed to slow cook on the cool side. A few local tomatoes and some Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon rounded out the meal.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

22 June 2011

Twenty 2 Vodka

After the recent review of Tito's Handmade Vodka from Texas, a friend gave me a chance to try another small batch vodka from another part of the country you don't readily associate with that spirit: Maine. Twenty 2 Vodka is distilled from grain in northern Maine (where the rain falls mainly on the plain). It's part of the microdistillery movement, a new interest in making small batches of high quality spirits. It grew out of the microbrewing explosion of the 80s and 90s, though stricter laws on producing high alcohol beverages mean that you won't see this in every state.

If you enjoyed chemistry class or are interested in the specific details of distillation (and why certain choices like 50 gallon pot stills were made), I would encourage you to read about the process of making this vodka. I was familiar with the broad idea, but found a lot of interesting information in their description.

Twenty 2 Vodka
$28/750mL bottle, 40% abv.

Smooth and clear with a clean finish and no aftertaste. Perfectly dry without a hint of sweetness or other flavors. It is, in other words, a well-filtered neutral spirit. Although I certainly prefer martinis made with gin (as was written on stone tablets handed down from the mountain), this would certainly make a pleasant vodka martini if you're serving someone who prefers those. But I think a high quality vodka should be enjoyed just on its own without anything else in it.

Big thanks to Dave Rickert for sending the vodka down with Paul.

20 June 2011

Xavier Flouret Trio

Here's a few of the latest releases from Xavier Flouret, a company that sources wines from around the world and markets them under a unified brand. This isn't unusual, but I do like the fact that they include the information about the vineyard and the winemaker on the back label. If you like the general style of wines that they're selecting, the distinctive label makes it easy to find others on the shelf--though they'll probably be spread out due to the wide range of regions and grapes.

WIth these three I've now made my way through half of the portfolio, and look forward to trying more in the future.

2007 Xavier Flouret La Pilar Malbec
Finca la Celia
Uco Valley, Mendoza
$15, 13.5% abv.
Aromas of dark plum, leather, and deep black fruit. It has a round body with a full fruit flavor, but an overall good balance. There are firm tannins with a long finish, and I'd suggest letting this breathe for a bit before serving. As with many Malbecs in this range, it's going to work great with all sorts of meat dishes. I went for a hot roast beef sandwich, and late at night it was a homey and tasty dinner.

2009 Xavier Flouret Flaca Torrontés
Bodegas El Porvenir de los Andes
Valle de Cafayate
$18, 13.5% abv.
Flaca is a Spanish adjective meaning thin, but it's also a common nickname for a skinny woman. While I might personally be on the side of an hourglass figure with an extra ten minutes in all the right places, let's be generous and use the word lithe to describe this wine. It has a delicate perfume aroma with tropical fruits like papaya and mango, and the kind of flowers you only see in National Geographic. Those tropical fruits follow on the tongue, and there's just a small burst of acidity before a short finish disappears. It honestly makes me think of the Caribbean more than the mountains of South America. Really quite surprising, and I'd love to see this with some local shellfish roasted right on the beach.

2010 Xavlier Flouret Nationale 7
Domaine de Rimauresq - Cru Classé
Côtes de Provence
45% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 15% Tibouren
$20, 13% abv.
I wrote extensively about this wine last year, and this new release is wonderful as well. Like last time, this one has a light nose of yellow cherries and violets, with flavors of wild strawberries and a tiny bit of acidity. I had it cold, cool, and at room temperature, and it's enjoyable at all three. I still maintain that it's really the most beautiful rosé I've ever had in my possession, and it seems a shame to actually consume it. But when you do, do something a little salty and savory. I made a white clam pizza last time, but I think it would be wonderful with raw oysters.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

17 June 2011

The Animal Farm Burger

After the success of the Achewood Flavor Burger, the old grey matter churned for a while and I thought about a gourmet version using some different ingredients, but the same general proportions and techniques. I wanted to draw upon the European tradition of combining different meats for sausage and patés and other things. While they may not have thrown on a bunch of ketchup and called it the McGoat Royale, there's a lot of creative mixes that long predate the Americanized hamburger.

In honor of Napoleon and the sheep, I christened this...

The Animal Farm Burger
250g/8 oz. Ground Lamb
250g/8 oz. Ground Pork
85g/3 oz. Crumbled or Diced Feta Cheese
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
A few healthy shakes of Cavender's Greek Seasoning*

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until just incorporated. Split into 8 balls and reserve until the griddle or pan is hot. A nonstick pan will work well here, but there's another method (see below). Smash the meatballs on the hot pan and cook for about three minutes on each side.

I chose to use dinner rolls that were toasted with butter, mesclun greens, remoulade, and my beloved red onion marmalade. The combination was an instant hit, and afterwards resulted in a thousand yard stare of sheer contentment.

Paul, hungry for seconds, decided to fry a couple in lard in a cast iron skillet. Thicker, juicer, and certainly easier to get out of the pan.

*Note on Cavender's: I had this for the first time sometime in the 80s, and it was just a general all-purpose seasoning in the house for a while. There's a mix of salt, herbs and spices, MSG, and some other magic that's all ground into a fine powder. It's not like putting a delicate chiffonade of basil on top of something, but there are times when you just want to toss a little flavor on something that's hitting a hot skillet. Visit Tie Dye Travels for a tour of the factory in Arkansas.


Finding myself with assorted leftovers, I decided to recombine them in a different manner. Here I made a free-form meatloaf (i.e., sitting on a sheet pan in a mound rather than in a pan) of half lamb and half pork, bound with an egg, some breadcrumbs, and Weber's hamburger spice, along with a few other odds and ends. Roast at 175°C/350°F until done, and allow to rest before slicing. I made a quick sauce out of tomato sauce, Dijon mustard, and brown sugar--a proto BBQ sauce. On the side, slices of broiled feta cheese topped with a little oregano and then drizzled with olive oil. Same ingredients, but different mouthfeel and dining experience. There are some amazing gourmet meatloaf recipes out there, incorporating things like dried mushrooms and chunks of salt pork. Don't let it get as complicated as a terrine, but have fun. I think you'll enjoy it.

15 June 2011

VeeV Açaí Spirit

The açaí palm is a tree native to Central and South America that's cultivated for edible hearts of palm and for the fruit that has exploded in popularity over the past few years. It's not quite the health food miracle that many proclaim it to be, but it is tasty and adds an interesting element to fruit juices and related products.

The name is Portuguese, and pronunciation of such words is tricky for people that are used to the more familiar French, Spanish, and Italian. The phonetic version is often spelled ah-sigh-EE, though you'll probably hear ACK-eye in grocery stores and other casual American conversation.

Açaí is made into wine, but I have not tried that yet... Instead, let's take a look at a flavored spirit:

VeeV Açaí Spirit
$30/750mL, 30% abv.

While Açaí is the main flavoring agent, this drink also includes things like acerola cherry and prickly pear cactus fruit. On its own the spirit has a nice cherry pie aroma with a touch of pomegranate. It's lightly sweet, so be careful when adding other ingredients that you don't throw things out of balance. The aromas are fresh and pure, and lack that chemical tang you get from artificial flavorings. It's not really something that I would drink straight, but it tastes delightful and should make for some interesting cocktails.

The fruit comes from Brazil, but the product is actually distilled in Idaho from wheat, flavored with the berries, and then blended using Rocky Mountain spring water. The company runs a carbon-neutral operation (including a wind-powered distillery), and $1 per bottle is donated toward initiatives like The Sustainable Açaí Project. The palm tree is actually a very sustainable crop and doesn't cause the problems that sugarcane does. Additionally, most of the tree is useful in some fashion, see the above wiki link to see how many things can be made from one tree.

I decided to build on the berry elements with the following original cocktail:

Benito's Açaí Smash
100mL VeeV Açaí Spirit
Fresh blackberries
Peychaud's Bitters
Orange Wedge

Muddle six blackberries with the liqueur and add to a shaker full of ice. Shake and strain through a fine mesh. Add two dashes of Peychaud's and garnish with an orange wedge.

Folks, it's hot out there, and it's easy to get your hands on fresh fruit. This is a tasty and refreshing beverage for this weather, and don't be afraid to serve it on the rocks.

Note: This bottle was received as a sample.

13 June 2011

Seven Concannon Wines

"Seven Concannon Wines" sounds like an old Irish folk song. My grandmother has dabbled in this music on the hammered dulcimer and a few other traditional instruments. When I first encountered Concannon in the form of a Petite Sirah at a tasting, I was struck by the Irish name. Despite the long Catholic history of the island, the massive imports of wine from France during eras when England was sticking to Ports and Sherries from Spain, and a small indigenous industry, you just don't normally see Irish names associated with wine. But Concannon was founded by an Irish immigrant in the Livermore Valley back in 1883 and the family tradition continues today.

I'm not entirely Irish--my family comes from throughout the British Isles--but with the red beard and freckles and a tendency to sunburn anywhere outside of Seattle, I've got plenty of the blood of Éire running through my veins. When I was in Boston everyone thought I was a local. I don't get obnoxious during St. Patrick's Day (I'm a Protestant, which would complicate matters), but during that high school "wanting an identity" phase I got pretty heavy into the Scots-Irish part of the family tree. Songs were sung, kilts were worn, but I learned a lot of interesting history and developed a general wariness toward England.

Without further blathering and perhaps a teary rendition of "Danny Boy", I present a slate of Concannon wines that I've tried over the past few months:

2008 Concannon Conservancy Chardonnay
Livermore Valley
$15, 13.5% abv.
Apricot nose with a touch of butter and vanilla. A good example of California Chardonnay, and something that needs to be paired up with a strongly flavored poultry dish.

2007 Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah
Livermore Valley
$15, 13.5% abv.
Dominant aromas of cassis and blackberry. Medium tannins, restrained fruit. Always one of my favorite bargain Petite Sirahs, and I'm glad to revisit it from time to time. Open this up some afternoon with leftover roast beef and horseradish sauce and enjoy a perfect wine/sandwich combination.

2009 Concannon Selected Vineyards Riesling
Central Coast
$10, 13.5% abv.
Light and crisp with a hint of lemony acidity. West coast Riesling can show up in a lot of different styles, but this is one that would be great with simple summer salads like the classic strawberry and spinach.

2007 Concannon Selected Vineyards Shiraz
Central Coast
$10, 13.5% abv.
This one isn't listed on the company website, and past reviews show both the Syrah and Shiraz spelling on labels along with mixed reviews. The sample I received was not the best example of Syrah I've tasted, and was too heavy on the tart side.

2009 Concannon Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir
Central Coast
$10, 13.5% abv.
Initially tart and strong, but it quickly softens in the glass. Boysenberry and a touch of bacon fat, a little bitter tannic finish, and a lighter red appearance. A basic introductory Pinot Noir, and not a bad deal for the price.

2009 Concannon Selected Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Central Coast
$10, 13.5% abv.
Bright raspberry aroma, touch of seeds, firm tannins and a long cherry finish. Man, I love that raspberry seed flavor in wine when it's just right. Not going to give a food pairing here, just saying this one should be enjoyed on its own for a nightcap.

2008 Concannon Selected Vineyards Merlot
Central Coast
$10, 13.5% abv.
Green bell peppers, tobacco, tart red cherry flavors. Mild tannins, a round body, and a short finish, where a little chocolate shows up. Halfway between Bordeaux and California. Excellent structure for such an inexpensive wine, and recommended for grilled steak or lamb.

Note: These wines were received as samples.

10 June 2011

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Vodka is a complicated subject for me. I've had good and bad vodka. I've had it from a half dozen different countries and in many different preparations. Ideally a great vodka has little flavor or aroma. When doing a comparative tasting of different spirits, the idea is to evaluate smoothness and ease of consumption. Yes folks, it is possible to discern separate vodkas in a blind tasting, and using a Brita water filter to smooth out a cheap one doesn't quite work. I am not a vodka expert--when it comes to the clear spirits I prefer rum or gin. But I was highly impressed with this offering from the traditional vodka producing region of... Austin, Texas?

Tito's Handmade Vodka
$20/750mL bottle, 40% abv.

This corn-based spirit is made by Bert Butler "Tito" Beveridge II, whose nickname Tito is shortened from the diminutive "Bertito". Hmmm... Benito, Bertito, Beartato. Beveridge studied the methods and equipment of artisan moonshine producers, and developed his own spirit that performed well against existing vodkas. He established the first and oldest legal distillery in Texas.

It does in fact go down smooth and slightly sweet (although there's no additional sugar involved here). While certainly enjoyable at room temperature, at freezer level it is even better and glides down with a cool tang. The shoulder tag proclaims that it is gluten free, and while technically all pure spirits are gluten free, flavored ones are not and aren't typically labeled as such. The back label informs us that this is distilled a whopping six times. Cognac is smoother than Armagnac because of the simple act of double distillation versus single distillation. Like Cognac or good Scotch, Tito's is produced in small batches in traditional copper stills.

While I think this is quite pleasant by itself, I did have to try it with something where it wouldn't get overwhelmed...

The Screwdriver Cocktail
1 part Vodka
2 parts Orange Juice

Dead simple, and good on its own or over ice. I've garnished this one with two personal favorite screwdrivers: a recent 3mm flathead jeweler's screwdriver and a vintage Craftsman Phillips head (made in the USA) that's probably older than I am. I know that I've been carrying it around in my bag of tools since I was old enough to start taking things apart.

Folks, don't really garnish your drinks with screwdrivers. The acid isn't good for the metal and if you've actually been using them for real work on motors and carburetors and electronics you don't want those industrial solvents and lubricants in your beverage. But if you want to serve whimsical cocktails at a hipster party, get a few plastic toy screwdrivers.

Note: This bottle was received as a sample.

08 June 2011

My Secret Identity

On Facebook I love to post screencaps of old TV shows and movies that feature wine scenes, particularly with comedies. For so long, wine was merely a prop to signify an expensive restaurant, a special occasion, a rich person, or to engage in satire about those targets. While I agree with the idea that sacred cows make the best hamburgers, I do think this attitude stunted American attitudes towards wine for a long time. Ask most people to describe the working life of a vineyard and they'll imagine scenic vistas with people lounging around with lutes, reciting poetry. Occasionally there's a quick burst of energy where they pick all the grapes in one day so that the rest of the year can be spent in leisure. In reality it involves tractors and hoses and tanks and spreading manure and chasing wild pigs out of the vines. If anything it's closer to the solid American tradition of small farms and backbreaking labor rather than the vast mechanized grain farms of the midwest, yet is still perceived as some elitist pursuit.

Here's a detailed examination of a single half hour episode of a mostly forgotten show that illustrates my point.

Back in the 80s, there were a few syndicated TV shows that would air at odd times on those UHF channels. Quick vote: raise your hand if you ever circled through all the UHF stations over and over again hoping to extend your viewing beyond the regular four or five standard broadcast stations. Raise your other hand if you ever employed a younger sibling to adjust the antenna for you. One of these series was "My Secret Identity" starring Jerry O'Connell. The Canadian-produced series started right at the end of his short and pudgy Stand By Me phase and in season 2 he was tall and handsome, an early indicator that he'd star in Jerry Maguire and later steal Rebecca Romijn away from John Stamos. It went from a show about a kid with super powers to more of a teen drama that taught lessons each week. Explanation for those who haven't watched the link I posted: this was still during the Back to the Future era when it was considered OK for teenage boys to hang out with mad scientists and even go to French wine competitions for the sake of contrived plots.

I point out the Season 3, Episode 4 "Sour Grapes" because I think it's indicative of how wine tasting was perceived back in my childhood, and such perceptions demonstrate why a wine culture has struggled to take root here in North America. In the south of France, Dr. Benjamin Jeffcoat (a sort of nerdy Doc Brown who dabbles in multiple scientific disciplines out of his Ontario house) is demonstrating his synthetic wine powder that, when combined with water, can simulate any vintage of any wine. Even enough to fool those snooty French wine snobs. I'm curious as to how this went over in Québec.

Meanwhile, Jerry O'Connell and his friend try to impress the ladies of the Côte d'Azur with their awesome late 80s fashion. At one point around this time I owned a neon pink t-shirt, and while wearing it on a hike it was the first time I got hit by bird poop. I've mostly avoided the color since.

Since the show is kind of an action-adventure thing when it's not promoting lessons about teenage homelessness or whether it's OK to use your super powers to be a track star, Jerry gets into a bar fight with a guy wearing a beret and a striped shirt. It's a stereotype that was old even by the standards of the day. Also, the French wine mafia are trying to kill Dr. Jeffcoat with a tarantula that shows up various times and could be defeated with a shoe. Ahem, la chaussure, because a lot of the episode also involves Dr. Jeffcoat's computer translator device. Tarantulas aren't that dangerous and they're fun to hold. I've had several crawling over me at once and it was as much fun as a pile of kittens, except that tarantulas don't have claws and don't nibble on things like buttons or earlobes.

There is a pointless fight with paintbrushes with the two French chicks picked up by Jerry and friend. This doesn't have anything to do with wine, but does exhibit the general attitude of TV shows at the time that a trip to a French beach meant automatic PG-rated shenanigans from a variety of character actresses with bad accents.

I have to point out that aside from some exterior shots that were likely from stock footage, this entire series was filmed in Toronto. Yet they decided to include a lot of surfing, windsurfing, and other happy beach activities as the show went on. Let's call this the Baywatch Effect, Great Lakes Edition.

During beach fun time with fluorescent colors, Dr. Jeffcoat in pastels is being seduced by Genevieve, a representative of Chateau Blah Blah Blah. She presents a glass of the Chateau Blah Blah Blah 1929 in the cave. She chains him up in a Marquis de Sade contraption because, of course, that's what the French do.

Part of the plot by this point is that Dr. Jeffcoat can empty a packet of powder into a glass, add water, and have it taste like a 60 year old fine wine that can fool the experts. Because we all know that all them wine tasters is just deluded idiots like them fellers what was fooled by buying chimp paintings for millions of dollars. Happens ever day, I tell ya what.

Jerry shows up to save the day in the neon pink tank top. For anyone that's still reading, Jerry's powers are as follows: after being hit by a photon beam after walking in on one of Dr. Jeffcoat's experiments, he can fly (more like float using aerosol cans for propulsion), he has super speed, and is sometimes invulnerable. Nobody knows his secret... identity... except for Dr. Jeffcoat, and most of the time the only power he uses is to clean up the house really fast when he's accidentally burned the kitchen cabinets or gotten a car dirty. For a guy that uses his abilities to pass out flyers really quickly or play the drums really fast, he sort of uses the name Ultraman. (Again, the series dropped a lot of the comic book geek stuff as the lead actor had a growth spurt.)

Spoiler for anyone that hasn't watched the link but is still reading and still doesn't want to know how it ends... Turns out that the main bad guy is the snooty maître d'hôtel. Not only does he have the worst stereotypical French accent, but he's also a suicide bomber, because it's important to prevent a Canadian scientist from destroying the French wine market with dehydrated grape powder. (Note that people who like and enjoy real wine are almost always villains or buffoons, again, a common theme in 80s TV.)

Jerry uses his super speed to defuse the bomb, it turns out that Genevieve is not so bad after all, and they all regroup to the coast for the big wine tasting. Dr. Jeffcoat's synthetic wine is blind tasted by a panel of experts, and... well, I'm not going to spoil it for you. Take a half hour of Canadian kids' programming and enjoy it for yourself.

All photos are ©1990 Scholastic Productions.

06 June 2011

Achewood Flavor Burgers

This recipe comes from Chris Onstad's The Achewood Cookbook, a companion piece to his webcomic Achewood which is about a series of cats and stuffed animals having weird adventures in the suburbs. It's not meant for children, as the comic strip involves Adult Language, Adult Situations, Violence, Brief Nudity, and other things warned about during the openings to R-rated movies on cable. This particular recipe is attributed to the stuffed bear Téodor, who... Well, I don't feel like explaining the whole thing. Normally I'd link to somewhere to buy the cookbook or see a preview, but it's out of print, the artist has stopped doing the strip, and his online store is now offline and not expected to return.

Onstad enjoys cooking and loves to experiment in the kitchen with gourmet food and in the bar with inventions like the Neapolitan Cocktail. These culinary notes were slipped into the strip in various ways, though he'd sometimes poke fun at his hobby like when the character Ray suggested pairing a Fennel Ale with a Cilantro-Ape Ceviche.

I've adjusted this recipe (the burgers, not ape ceviche) to work with a half kilo or pound of ground beef, which will produce eight small burgers. The original is just for making a single 3 oz. burger, which is hardly enough to hold heart and soul together.

Flavor Burgers
500g/16 oz. Ground Beef
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons Yellow Mustard
85g/3 oz. Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Dash of Salt

Combine ingredients completely but without overworking the meat. Divide into eight small patties and set up a hot pan (I used a griddle). Drop the patties on the cooking surface and smash down with a spatula. Cook for three minutes, turn, and cook for another two. They will be thin, well-caramelized, and a little loose. But unlike some of the smashed burgers you get in diners, these are incredibly juicy from the cheese and bursting with savory flavor from the mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Serve on toasted buns. Onstad recommends a full set of toppings, but I added just dill pickles and some Dijon mustard. Let the burger deliver most of the flavor here and let those juices seep into the bun.

(Full details of the standard Midwestern smash technique via The Paupered Chef if you're a burger aficionado. My own experience is that this method works best with small burgers, and they need to be served right away. I've had versions that were awful because of overcooking and lack of seasoning.)

Negra Modelo ($8/6-pack, 5.4% abv.) is probably my favorite Mexican beer, and it's a traditional south-of-the-border style called... Munich Dunkel Lager. In the 19th century, a lot of Czechs and Germans moved into Texas and Mexico (and Mexican-owned Tejas and the Republic of Texas and Confederate Texas) and brought their beer recipes with them. Major brands from such immigrants of the period include the popular Dos Equis and Bohemia, not to mention my beloved Shiner.

I tend to pick Negra Modelo out of a general favoritism for darker beers, but also because I think it stands up well to the hearty flavors of mole sauces and roasted goat and other good stuff. Your mileage with a Taco Bell chicken taco may vary. It's lightly sweet from all the dark malts involved, and has a deep, rich, and almost chocolate flavor (again, there's that mole connection). And importantly, it goes pretty damn well with a slider like this.

03 June 2011

flipflop wines

flipflop wines is based out of California with a range of seven popular grapes. In addition to the Cab Sav and Chard below, they also offer a Moscato, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling. The packaging and the marketing reminds me a bit of Twin Fins from a few years ago, but it turns out that there's some more going on with this brand. But first, let's take a sip from the convenient screwcap bottles:

2009 flipflop Cabernet Sauvignon
$7, 13.5% abv.
A little strawberry jam with a black cherry aftertaste. Big fruit flavors, a bit of acidity, and firm tannins. Somewhat smoother after at least an hour of breathing. This is a fun one to throw in the cooler for a BBQ. Sometimes you want a red wine ice cold, and it can be a good way to introduce people who might otherwise fear big tannins.

2009 flipflop Chardonnay
$7, 13.5% abv.
Musky aroma with hints of peaches and jasmine underneath. Darker flavor with a touch of sweetness and a little acidity. Bit of oaky vanilla. Again, I'm going to recommend serving this one cold with a BBQ, though this will be a good match for grilled chicken and vegetables, or if you're working your mojo and doing some flame-kissed quesadillas on the side.

Now, I've personally never worn flip flops. Frankly if it were up to me, I'd go barefoot all the time, though I've found snow starts to get a little uncomfortable after fifteen minutes or so. But lots of people don't go shoeless by choice and have to walk through environments much harsher than the American suburbs. Which is why this winery has partnered with a charity that provides shoes to people in developing nations, and is donating a pair of flip flops for every bottle purchased. From the press release:
Soles4Souls collects, recycles and reuses shoes from warehouses of footwear companies and closets from individuals. It distributes usable shoes to people in need around the world (recycling comprises less than 2% of donated footwear). Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away over 13 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes (currently distributing one pair every seven seconds). The shoes have been distributed in 125 countries, including Haiti, Kenya, Nepal and the United States. For more information, www.Soles4Souls.org.

And of course the perfect pairing for these wines? A tasty sandwich courtesy of Dark Roasted Blend (original artist unknown):

Note: These wines were received as samples.

01 June 2011

2009 d'Alessandro Inzolia

Island wines have always fascinated me. Tasmania and New Zealand come to mind, and then there's limited production in places like Hawaii and Cuba. Madeira from Madeira. Long Island and Martha's Vineyard? Too close to the mainland to count. If you really want island wines, there's one place to go: the Mediterranean. Not only are there lots of options, but the sea has ben the site of flourishing wine production and trade for thousands of years. Corsica, Sardinia, Mallorca, Minorca, Malta, Cyprus, the Aegean and Ionian islands of Greece, and of course, the biggest island of them all: Sicily.

Sicily is currently producing a lot of better-known grapes from Europe like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but for the real island character and terroir I prefer the tried and true grapes that are grown primarily on the triangular island, like Nero d'Avola, Grillo, and others. Many of the white ones have been used to make the fortified wine Marsala for centuries. You may not recognize a grape called Catarratto, but if you've ever sipped Marsala or had a dish made with the wine, you've consumed it. Regular wine production was mostly for short-lived, local consumption, but more and better Sicilian wine is making its way across the world.

2009 d'Alessandro Inzolia
100% Inzolia
$15, 12% abv.
As soon as you open this you know that you're not dealing with your run of the mill white. It has a dark and yeasty aroma, very earthy, with medium acidity, light white peach flavor with a strong citric finish. I'd serve this with strongly flavored poultry or even veal with a darker sauce, though most island wines are natural mates for all sorts of seafood. To go a little crazy, I once had skate wings in a brown butter sauce, and looking back on it this would have been a fun companion.

The Inzolia grape most likely came from Tuscany, where it's known as Ansonica. Even in Sicily, it is also spelled Insolia, or called by a number of other names. Part of the weirdness of tracking down obscure grapes is that you'll get to try something with an odd name like Weißer Clevner and when you go to do to the research you find out that's it's just regular old Chardonnay.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.