30 January 2007

Benito vs. the Meat Counter: Veal Chops

Based off a pleasant impression at a wine tasting, I sauntered next door and purchased a bottle of the 2004 Maison Rivière Menuts from Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux. 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. A really great wine that doesn't taste like it's mostly Merlot--in fact, I picked up on the Cabernet Franc right away, so if you like those herbal tones you'll love this. Some notes of leather and cherry on the nose, with a firm structure, medium tannins, and a short finish. Around $15, and it's a decent Bordeaux for the price. (I photographed a Bordeaux against my burgundy curtains. Ho ho, what japery!)

I had it with some veal chops, which I picked up on sale. One of those we're-about-to-throw-this-away-so-how-about-five-bucks kind of things, so I thought, why not? I don't normally eat veal, not out of ethical concerns but simply out of the price/taste ratio. In the past, when I've had veal (with the exception of osso buco), I just haven't found the flavor worth the price or the occasional condemnations from fellow diners. It's also not something I've ever cooked before, mostly for the reasons stated above. Veal was never a part of my family cooking tradition, nor do I think it's that popular here in the Memphis area. But with my current commitments to classic Italian and bistro French cooking, I'm going to have to get used to preparing vitello and veau.

I was housesitting over the weekend, and in such instances you need to pick up some food for yourself, but if you're only there a couple of days it tends to force odd choices. Such is how I came to have a dinner of braised veal chops with sides of broccoli, a rye roll, and sliced bosc pears.

While I have no pictures, the veal was incredible. (Each loin chop was half a pound, and I had two of them.) I marinated them for about half an hour in Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, a little fresh lime juice, olive oil, and a splash of the Bordeaux. Then they were browned in butter and sage in a hot skillet (five minutes each side), followed by a deglazing with more red wine and then covered and simmered for ten minutes. Plate the chops, reduce the sauce, cover, and enjoy.

Surprisingly, the flavor and texture are a good substitute for what I've been looking for in pork chops for so long. Pork chops these days are so lean and flavorless that I stopped cooking them years ago. I've tried various brining and stuffing and smoking and grilling and braising methods with little success. And when I go to a decent restaurant and order the $25 pork chop in hopes that it will capture that elusive joy, I'm often disappointed (tough, burned, or raw). But here I found success on a first try, and while veal is distinct from pork in flavor, it's still close enough to make a good substitute when I get that particular craving. My next batch will be grilled with a slight glaze and a side of applesauce.

28 January 2007

Tasting Notes for January 20 & January 27, 2007

This was a two-part wine tasting spread out over two weeks. Great Wines & Spirits likes to do an Affordable French tasting, and this season they had two dozen. I'm just going to keep the whites together and the reds together rather than separate them by date. As usual with French wines, there's not always a website for the producer. So I try to link to a distributor, retailer, or blog, something that has any useful information. Sometimes the only information isn't available in English.

I should note yet again for the record that I do not speak French beyond basic conversation/pleasantries, nor do I have any formal training in that language, but I've picked up a lot over the years. Malheureusement, je parle le français comme une vache espagnole. I try hard to use the proper spellings for all of these different châteaux et vins. (If any other bloggers want help with displaying custom European characters, drop a note in the comments and I'll do a tutorial post later. Those are easy; the Greek and Eastern European/Russian characters generally require the person on the viewing end to have their browser configured properly.) Since most of my French vocabulary revolves around food and wine, I can usually muddle through websites or recipes without too much trouble, though browsing for 24 French wines in a row wore me out. In Italian, the longer I go the more comfortable I get, but with German and French I start getting a headache after a while. C'est la vie.

By the way, if you're looking for something pricier, Slate has a good story on a writer's quest for a certain $700 White Burgundy.

Wine 1: 2005 La Vieille Ferme Blanc. Côtes du Luberon, France. An organic wine made of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Ugni Blanc. The name means "The Old Farm". Fruity nose of nectarines. Bright and crisp flavor yet pleasantly dry. Great bargain at $9, also available in a magnum for around $15.

Wine 2: 2005 Château Trocard Sauvignon Blanc. Bordeaux, France. 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. Fairly closed on the nose. A fruity flavor, yet slightly bitter. I had mixed reactions to this wine, would prefer to have it with food. $12.

Wine 3: 2004 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc. Alsace, France. Very light nose, almost bubbly crispness. Tart and acidic. $16.

Wine 4: 2001 Lycée Viticole Blanc. Beaune, Burgundy, France. A fun white Burgundy with popcorn and cotton candy nose, very smooth and easy drinking. A short finish. This wine and the Lycée Viticole Rouge below are both produced at a French wine school there in Burgundy. The site linked is in French; there's not much English language information about these wines. $30.

Wine 5: 2002 Jean Thevenet Domaine de la Bongran. Mâconnais, Burgundy, France. Solid flavors, with some green apple present. Medium tartness with good balance. Might benefit from a little time to open up, but I enjoyed it as is. $35.

Wine 6: 2004 Félines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet. Coteaux du Languedoc, France. Made of 100% Picpoul de Pinet. Lemon and peach aroma, more peach flavor. Smooth, not tart with a short finish. Very pleasant. $14.

Wine 7: 2005 Château Graville-Lacoste. Graves, Bordeaux, France. 80% Semillon, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, and 5% Muscadelle. Harsh aroma, but with a creamy mouth feel and mild flavors. Unusual wine. $18.

Wine 8: 2005 Earl Delaille Domaine Salvard Cheverny. Loire, France. Citric, grapefruit aroma with matching flavors. Medium tartness, a little thin. $15.

Wine 9: 2005 2005 "Les Charmes" Macon-Lugny. Mâconnais, Burgundy, France. A lovely unoaked Chardonnay, a little creamy a little ash, well balanced. Excellent bargain White Burgundy. $13.

Wine 10: 2004 Red Bicyclette Chardonnay. Limoux, France. Round and creamy with decent oak notes, some pear flavors on the finish. Good everyday white. $11.

Wine 11: 2004 Domaine Canto Perdrix Tavel Rosé. Provence, France. I am a lover of dry rosés but I wasn't impressed with this one. There are some very mild berry flavors, but it's ultimately watery and thin. Needs a lot more body, and I'm not talking about a fruit bomb. $20.

Wine 12: NV Verget "Au Fil du Temps" Vin de Table Francais. Burgundy, France. Jammy, Port-style nose. Overripe strawberry flavors dominate. Surprisingly smooth, though. $11.

Wine 13: 2000 Cote de Beaune Domaine du Lycée Viticole. Beaune, Burgundy, France. Another entry from the French winemaking school. Mild cherry aromas with a hint of meat. Light and delicate, through a few tannins remain. Melts in your mouth. I picked up a bottle of this, more detailed notes will follow in a future post. $23.

Wine 14: 2004 Clos La Coutale. Cahors, France. 70% Malbec, 15% Merlot, and 15% Tannat. The third Cahors wine that I've had, that oddball region of France that's the last bastion of majority Malbec production. This one has a mild nose, with medium tannins and no big surprises on the palate. I'd be willing to give it a chance with another year or two of aging. $15.

Wine 15: 2003 Château Trocard Bordeaux Superieur. Bordeaux, France. Roast beef aroma, melting tannins. Mild and easy drinking. Good claret-style bargain. $12.

Wine 16: 2004 Château Filet Rouge. Fronsac, Bordeaux, France. Right bank Merlot with a mild nose, medium tannins. Long finish where the plum skin flavors come through. $20.

Wine 17: 2003 Château Moulin de Lavaud. Lalande de Pomerol, Bordeaux, France. Slightly hot on the nose, but with a wonderful black pepper aroma and black cherry flavors. $33.

Wine 18: NV Roncier Rouge. Burgundy, France. Meat and strawberries on the nose, very peppery, a little tangy. I try a bottle or two of this every year, and it's always a little different. $10.

Wine 19: 2005 La Vieille Ferme Rouge. Côtes du Ventoux, France. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault. Really enjoyable--black cherry aromas, flavors continue on the palate but are not jammy. Delicate and incredible for the price. $9.

Wine 20: 2003 Domaine de Gournier Merlot. Vin de Pays Cevennes, France. Not much on the nose, slightly hot aroma with some plum flavors. $13.

Wine 21: 2004 Maison Rivière Menuts. Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux. 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Some notes of leather and cherry on the nose, with a firm structure, medium tannins, and a short finish. I picked up a bottle, so more details will follow in a later post. $15.

Wine 22: 2000 Château de Francs. Côtes de Francs, Bordeaux, France. Very earthy aroma, tangy flavor. Difficult to pin down characteristics. Needs breathing time. $25.

Wine 23: NV Vin de Pays de la Petite Crau. Bouches-du-Rhone, France. A French table wine with mild cherry flavor, firm tannins, and a bright fruit mouthfeel. $13.

Wine 24: 2005 Cuvée Richette. Côtes du Rhône, France. Couldn't find any information on this wine. It's a decent CDR with a mild fruit flavor, medium tannins, and a good overall balance. $15.

26 January 2007

Ragù Bolognese

This ragù isn't something that came from a jar. It was born out of several hours of careful cooking, simmering and reducing ingredients until they fell apart and combined in a glorious sauce. In the mood for some comfort food, I used a recipe from Marcella Hazan, the one from her indispensable Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and I chose to use the variation made with half beef and half pork. While on first glance it may appear like the kind of spaghetti sauce you might see at a potluck dinner, this sauce has layers of velvety flavor that are incredible. (And that's freshly grated freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of the rotini, not something out of a green can.) I doubled the recipe for the sake of leftovers, but the whole thing had a pint of milk, a pint of white wine, the juice from two cans of tomatoes, and the residual juices from the vegetables and meat, and yet the finished product is barely wet. The whole process is closer to making chili than what you normally think of as an Italian pasta sauce.

I've been to Bologna, and when I started writing this post, I decided to consult my journal from my trip to Italy ten years ago and see what I ate there. Turns out I didn't have anything with a bolognese sauce while in the native city, but I had a delicious application of it in Milan. Nor did I eat any bologna or mortadella in Bologna. I appear to have been easily swayed by hand-made tortellini.

The sauce required some white wine, and I used the only bottle on hand: the 2003 Redbank "The Long Paddock" Chardonnay from Victoria, Australia. Crisp, fruity, and unoaked. Medium acid, not tart. Citrus flavors dominate.

But before dinner, how about a little antipasto? This isn't regionally authentic, but still fun for the palate. The light yellow cheese is the Coastal Rugged Mature Cheddar. This is a traditional white English cheddar, aged 15 months, and there are little crunchy calcium crystals in it. Full, savory flavor. The wedge is a sample of Carr Valley Mobay from Wisconsin: a layer of sheep's milk cheese and a layer of goat's milk cheese separated by a thin strip of grape vine ash*. Both varieties were delicious, and the ash imparted a unique flavor on the edge. (And there's that unique aftertaste of hay and alfalfa that rips you out of the urban setting.) Finally, the sausage is just a domestic sopressata, a dry cured Italian sausage somewhere between salami and pepperoni.

Side dishes in Italy are called contorni, and this was a slightly Italian theme on my mother's dish of boiled asparagus on toast with white sauce. Instead of toast, I used bruschetta. The asparagus tips were blanched and then grilled on the stove. The sauce is a béchamel enriched with some white wine and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

(Now I know asparagus isn't in season right now. But it looked good and I had a craving for it. And this whole meal was all about comfort food, so why not? It's cold and rainy here in Memphis, and this was a great staying-in and relaxing sort of dinner.)

For the wine, we drank the 2000 Bottega Vinaia Trentino Lagrein from the Trentino-Alto Adige region in northeast Italy. This region rests beside Austria, and German and Italian are both spoken (in fact, it also goes by the name Südtirol). Hence the notably un-Italian name of the grape, Lagrein. It has a sort of smoky barnyard aroma with a hint of pine sap, but below that you get deep stewed prune flavors, a touch of fig, and a nice light mouthfeel. At six years of age, I decided to decant it for an hour beforehand in order to leave the sediments in the bottle and let it breathe. It doesn't taste like an Italian wine, but was a great match nonetheless.

*Whenever I look at this cheese, all I can think about is Cake's song "Sheep Go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell", and I ponder over the theological implications of the ash layer.

24 January 2007

Garlic-Tabasco Savory Waffles

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned Garlic-Tabasco Savory Waffles (photo at right from December '05 from my old personal site), and figured I ought to explain what I was talking about. Fredric showed some interest, and by the way you ought to check out his latest article on his more formal website, involving a scrumptious Alice Waters recipe.

For the base, I use this recipe, which yields a good bit of yeast batter that has to rest overnight. Boxed waffle mixes (such as Krusteaz) will work OK, but generally a yeast batter tastes better and the waffle has a structure closer to bread, with good gluten and large bubbles. Mixes tend to be sort of granular, more of a shortbread consistency.

Once you've got the batter, you can do a lot of different things. Many people like chocolate chips or blueberries or other sweet items, but I like to make them savory. For instance, finely dice a few cloves of garlic, add in a few dashes of Tabasco sauce, and then make your waffles. Or perhaps some basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and sharp cheddar. Or tiny bits of cooked or cured sausage with green onions. The main thing is to make little pieces of whatever you're going to use, and you don't have to use all of your batter for one style: split it up in separate bowls and experiment.

Savory waffles taste great on their own, and might benefit from just a bit of butter. Don't go slopping syrup on them, save that for the regular or sweet waffles. When I get in a waffle mood, I usually make a dozen or two, and freeze the majority of them for use later. Though they look strange on the plate, they make a good substitute for the dinner roll or sliced baguette. Imagine a grilled chicken breast or medallions of pork tenderloin with any of the above suggestions.

P.S. One night after making a bunch of waffles, I got curious and scrambled two eggs and then dumped them on the waffle iron. I was rewarded with a perfect, fluffy waffle made entirely of eggs. It was an impressive sight for about fifteen seconds until it wilted and shriveled into a pathetic shadow of its former glory. Yet I remain confident that a fast food chain will someday find a way to make this work and earn millions off it.

22 January 2007

Followup on Mempho Wino

Just a heads up to readers local and afar: Skeeter has started up his wine reviews on his blog. Give it a look--this guy gets to try the kind of wines that I only dream about. For example:
1983 Latour a Pomerol
Welcome to the real world of Merlot! Nose of leather, cigar, tobacco, and yes even a little fruit but almost a black fruit. In the mouth, sweetness and balance, still having acid to clean up the palate. I am a Bordeaux lover and I love this one. The thought that a wine 24 years old leaves this kind of impression is awesome.
(As a side note, a couple of years ago he brought a magnum of the '83 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon to a dinner party I hosted. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and I've still got the pine box it came in.)

He's using a five-glass rating system for the wines, along with an explanation of his dislike of the common 100-point scale. Personally, I don't really rate wines on this blog--I'm not experienced or influential enough to do so--but at tastings I use a simple scale when taking notes:

- = didn't like or wouldn't buy
+/- = neutral, not exciting or boring (probably better with food)
+ = enjoyed, would buy
++ = really spectacular wine

Beyond that my notes and reviews mostly focus on things that will be important to me later when matching with food or choosing between two wines: varietal, acidity, tannins, specific aromas or flavors, whether or not there's a good story behind the wine, etc.

Combinations #9: Paprika and Chorizo Baked Eggs

Andrew wrote to remind me of the latest Combinations challenge: Paprika and Chorizo Baked Eggs. For newer readers, this is a game in which one person posts a recipe, and the participants have to cook it and choose a wine to pair with the dish. Andrew makes mention of sparkling wines as a traditional accompaniment for breakfast-style egg dishes, but as I enjoy a good omelet as a quick and tasty dinner, I've got a little experience here.

As for the recipe, I made a few changes and substitutions. I don't have any small ovenproof containers similar to what was described, nor was I feeding many people, so I simply cut everything in half, made conversions from metric, and cooked the whole thing in my smallest Pyrex dish. I felt some canned chipotles in adobo would go better with the chorizo than fresh red pepper, and made some additional seasoning changes to pump up the heat. ½ teaspoon of Tabasco for four people? I've splashed more than that in my eye while punching up a bowl of soup.

And the wine? My first impulse was to go with a Spanish white, like an Albariño. But while at the wine shop I noted the 2003 Serengeti Pinotage from the Swartzland region of South Africa, about $11. Curiously, the Serengeti is located much father north in Tanzania, though the crash of rhinoceroses pictured on the label are native to parts of South Africa. Pinotage is that odd South African grape that was crossed from Cinsault and Pinot Noir. Some people love it, some hate it. The argument has gone on for a while. I fall into the first category, and felt that it would be a more acceptable match for the strong flavors involved. Some vegetal aromas and flavors, just a touch of that characteristic Pinotage wood ash. Medium tannins, long finish where bright cherry flavors can be appreciated, particularly after some breathing. There's a few bitter notes along the way, but those are quickly subdued by a pairing with food.

When looking at this, I was aiming primarily at the chorizo as the major flavor component of the dish (and Lord knows, I love chorizo--fresh, cooked, smoked). By that yardstick, the Pinotage and sausage matched exceptionally well. Everything together is perhaps better suited to late-night bachelor cravings, but the dish on its own would be ideal for breakfast or brunch. Just a word of caution: if you make it like I did, it will be quite hot.

20 January 2007

The Grove Grill

This is an old post that I neglected to submit back in November. Sometimes I'll write a few articles and hold on to them for use later. Rather than submit a half dozen posts in one weekend, I try to space things out a bit. Figured I might as well get this one published.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I had the pleasure of dining with a couple of friends from high school. We had dinner at The Grove Grill in East Memphis, in the same shopping center as the Davis-Kidd bookstore. I had the barbecued duck, and ordered a bottle of the 2002 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot for the table. I don't normally order full bottles of wine in restaurants, but there were two other red wine drinkers present and I really wanted to try this wine. I got to taste it in 2004 at a blind tasting and again in 2005. In both cases it was the most full-bodied and hearty Merlot I'd ever tasted. (I've referred to it as the Merlot that will make you forget Sideways.) Deep purple color, dark and inky, with complex blackberry aromas and spice flavors. I wasn't disappointed with this tertiary tasting, which showed that this plucky little wine still has a long way to go before it softens.

After dinner, I declined dessert, instead comforting myself with the final glass of wine, riddled with flecks of sediment and tartrate crystals. I did accept a sip of Nocello from the lady to my left; it's a walnut and hazelnut liqueur similar to Frangelico but not syrupy sweet.

19 January 2007

Tasting Notes for January 6, 2007

Ah, the first tasting of 2007 at Great Wines. The theme was decent bargain wines under $15 (with two higher end wines thrown in).

Wine 1: Voga Pinot Grigio. Veneto/Trentino, Italy. Fairly sure this is non-vintage. The packaging tends to suggest a shampoo, premium olive oil, or a prop in a science-fiction film. Yet even though I'm not a big fan of Pinot Grigio, I found this one interesting. It's crisp, ever-so-slightly sweet, with a lemony flavor to it. $13.

Wine 2: Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. Le Marche, Italy. Another unusual bottle shape, imagine a classic glass Coke bottle stretched out to the height of a standard wine bottle. This has that sort of "wet rocks" minerality that one writer described as petrichor. Mild with a tart finish, light and refreshing. Good bargain, and definitely something to talk about. $12.

Wine 3: 2003 Cucao Chardonnay. Casablanca Valley, Chile. (Incidentally, that link comes via Andrew. He and I worked together on the Combinations challenges, and he's up for various blog awards. His photography is stunning.) This has a big, fruity nose, with flavors of pear nectar but not sweet. Unusual for a Chardonnay, but enjoyable. $11.

Wine 4: 2006 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough, New Zealand. If you ever wanted a fantastic textbook example of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, look no further. Full of rich grapefruit aroma and flavor. Dry and well balanced. Screams out for shellfish or grilled fish or a salad. $12.

Wine 5: Liberty School Chardonnay. Monterey County, California. Little floral notes one the nose. Peachy. Unusual flavor for a Chardonnay with a slight, Muscat-like musk. $14.

Wine 6: 2005 Mirassou Pinot Noir. California. Strawberry jam aroma, soft and balanced. Surprisingly good, and I wasn't impressed with some recent vintages. It's still damned hard to find a decent Pinot Noir under $20, but this can be a starting point if you're new to the grape. $10.

Wine 7: 2003 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. Columbia Valley, Washington. Bold flavor for a Merlot, with stewed fruits and plums dominating, with just a mild ashy feeling on the tongue. Excellent and a good bargain. $13.

Wine 8: 2004 Concannon Petite Sirah. Livermore Valley, California. I love this grape, and these are the folks responsible for making it popular. Dark cherry and plum flavors, medium tannins, with a nice long finish. If you want a hearty, fruit-forward red to go with a steak or grilled burgers, try this out. $12.

Wine 9: 2005 Henry's Drive "Pillar Box" Red. Padthaway, Australia. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot, imported by the folks at Grateful Palate. Creamy mouth feel, a little spice, and with some dark fruit. An excellent table red. $12.

Wine 10: 2004 The Wishing Tree Shiraz. Western Australia/South Australia. Part of The Australian Premium Wine Collection. Woody, vegetal aroma, mild flavor. Interesting nontraditional Shiraz. $13.

Wine 11: 2004 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet. Barossa/McLaren/Coonawarra, Australia. Bright cherry flavor, and Penfolds is often a crowd pleaser at all of its product levels. $11.

Wine 12: 2001 White Oak Syrah. Alexander Valley, California. Well aged and balanced. Plum flavors with properly mellowed tannins. $25.

Wine 13: 2003 Pine Ridge Crimson Creek Merlot. Napa Valley, California. Ripe strawberry aromas and flavors, good balance, soft but still holding on to mouth-drying tannins. $30.

17 January 2007

Contact E-mail Address Change

E-mail addresses... In some respects, the bane of my existence. I've got four that I use for personal communication and five that are required for my day job. One of them, the solid reliable address supplied by my ISP, is going to be changing soon thanks to a weird transfer of ownership. So if you need to get in touch with me, write to benjamin.a.carter@gmail.com

I've already changed the link on the left, and I'll try to contact those of you I know personally over the next week or so.

NV Jacob's Creek Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Brut Cuvée

Last Friday Paul and I were hanging out with the girlfriends. I had to work late and thus abdicated the usual role of cook, but suggested that we grab some Chinese takeout. And what better to go with Chinese food than a sparkling wine? If I haven't said it enough, sparkling wines were meant to be consumed with food, just like every other wine. En route I procured a bottle of the Jacob's Creek Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Brut Cuvée. I've had a few Aussie sparklers, and find them to be enjoyable for casual consumption. I'm also impressed that they list the grapes prominently on the front, and even state the percentages on the back: 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, bottle fermented, from the Barossa Valley. Yeasty aroma and nicely dry with a tangy bite to it, and excellent balance all around. It matched wonderfully with the food, particularly my choice: a hot Szechuan seafood dish.

At around $11, this is a great little sparkler, and should be applicable to a wide range of foods and occasions.

Photo courtesy of Paul's girlfriend Grace, who snapped the above in near dark conditions.

14 January 2007

Vertex Just Red: Blend Nº 609

Here's Sunday night dinner, an effort at cleaning out the fridge: fettuccine with red peppers, cremini mushrooms, green peas, sweet Italian sausage, and a cream sauce. More on that later. The wine is the Vertex Just Red: Blend Nº 609, a $15 non-vintage blend that, according to the site, is comprised of secret proportions of "Cabernet Sauvignon (Lake County), Syrah, Petite Syrah (Lodi), Cabernet Franc (Napa Valley), Merlot, Malbec (Sonoma County)". While I enjoy these creative California blends, it's pretty difficult to pick out individual grapes by taste or aroma. I tasted this before dinner, during the meal, and finally afterwards when writing up these notes. It's a little rough when first opened, and definitely needs some breathing time. As should be obvious from looking at the grapes, it is powerful enough to stand up to a pretty strong meal. In fact, this would have been a better pairing with a reduced tomato/meat bolognese sauce, but the sausage helped boost an otherwise mild dish.

Blackberry aromas and flavors are present, with hints of chocolate behind that. The tannins are fairly heavy, and softened to an agreeable level after a couple of hours. It's a good table wine, and I think it goes better with food than on its own. Which I think is appropriate: while there's a food out there for every wine, some have subtleties that can be lost or ignored in the presence of good food, and likewise there are some cases where modest fare and an everyday wine can help each other out.

Back to the pasta: it's got a cream sauce, but you can barely see it in the photo. Trust me, the full power of the flavor is there. Just a bit of cream and some good Romano cheese are what's needed... plus some butter and all the other flavors from the other ingredients. It's possible to get full creamy flavor without a thick, gloopy sauce. And I actually thinned it out at the last minute with a half cup or so of the leftover starchy pasta water, which just changed the texture but didn't mellow out the flavor. The sausage was incredible, made fresh at the local grocery store. I simmered it in a little water, covered for about 45 minutes before slicing it into rounds and adding to the sauce. All ingredients were combined at the end in the same big skillet, and the pasta was grabbed straight from the boiling water and mixed in with everything else before serving. I had a lot of herbs in the homemade salad dressing, so I held back on finishing the dish with some fresh basil or oregano.

I think I need to cook more Italian in 2007... A resolution that's easy to live with.

10 January 2007

Twelfth Night Gathering

On Saturday, The Girlfriend and I were honored to attend a Twelfth Night party hosted by local professional wine critic and fellow wine blogger Fredric Koeppel. A good time was had by all, and due to the size of the crowd and for ease of mingling, I stuck to the sparkling wine on offer: the 2004 Bailly-Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne. A delicious wine with mild aromas, proper bubbly structure and a touch of lemony tartness on the palate. Perfect for a big party, not to mention its pairing with the wonderful cheeses and other hors d'oeuvres.

I have to confess that this was the first time I'd met Fredric in person, despite having read his columns in the paper for most of my life and having a few mutual friends in the city. He's an excellent host and it was pleasant to chat about wine and food in person for a change. I consider myself a self-educated amateur and heavily experimental wine enthusiast, and enjoy those conversations with someone where we can say things like... "Kéfrankos?" "Ah yes, known as Blaufränkisch in Germany." "Deep and structured flavor." "Indeed." ...without chuckling derision from the peanut gallery.

And he's got an incredible collection of cookbooks that is bigger than the equivalent sections in many libraries and bookstores. (I'm terribly nosy when it comes to bookshelves: I grinned at the books we had in common, like those by Marcella Hazan and Jacques Pépin, and had to restrain myself from sitting down and reading what appeared to be a couple of first edition Alice Waters books.)

Once again, I had a blast, and to anyone from the party who has found their way to this site, welcome, and enjoy nosing through the archives!

07 January 2007

More Food Books

Here's another handful of food and beverage-related books I've read recently. All of these are available at the various Memphis Public Libraries. Support your local library!

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. Steingarten was the food critic for the magazine Vogue, and this book is a compilation of many of his articles. I can safely say that I've never even touched an issue of Vogue, though if I knew they had good food articles I'd hide it in a copy of Newsweek or something at the dentist's office. In particular, I enjoyed his piece about forcing himself to try foods he hates (apparently if you try anything eight times you'll eventually like it). He also served as a rib judge for the Memphis in May Barbecue Contest, which is a pretty big deal around here. Dad participated in the competition a couple of times, and I know several people who compete every year.

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is revered as one of the first great food writers of the 20th century. She had a sense of humor, a sense of adventure, a love of life, and a love of great food. This book combines five of her most famous works, including the wartime How to Cook a Wolf, which includes no roast lupine recipes but rather refers to strategies for not starving during periods of scarcity, when the "wolf is at the door". Though mainly enjoyed by the upper classes, there was a great love and appreciation of gourmet cooking in this country between the 1890s and the 1920s. Unfortunately, we had the decades of Prohibition, the Depression, WWII, followed by the 50s-80s fascination with fast food, canned vegetables, frozen dinners, and a bizarre proclivity to cook any meat until it was limp, gray, and flavorless. Now we're blessed with a society in which even Wal-Mart carries organic produce and gas stations serve sushi.

A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain. I've read the book and seen the TV series, and while the show goes into more depth, I think that the book is more honest and open. The TV version tended to be a little more happy and goofy and played for the cameras, while in the book he talked about his arguments with the producers and the stomach distress from eating some really bizarre foods. I don't know if Tony and I would ever get along well on a personal basis, but I still admire him as a chef, and will continue my project of cooking my way through his Les Halles Cookbook.

Never Eat Your Heart Out by Judith Moore. Depressing in many parts, but I respect her devotion to growing her own vegetables even during hard times. As with James Beard, there's a big focus here on taste memory. Also, if you're interested in the culinary and child-rearing history of suburban housewives in 1950s-1970s America, knock yourself out.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. This is a fairly dry (no pun intended) review of six beverages that were important to human history: beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. Very interesting, though I'd read most of it before. For the first two subjects, beer and wine, the focus is entirely on ancient history, whereas I think that some interesting things have happened with these beverages in the past 2000 years. (For instance, the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer.) The coffee and tea sections are probably the best, and the Coke chapters are pretty well-known to anyone who has visited World of Coke in Atlanta. Still, well worth reading if you haven't read a ton of food history books.

Travels with Barley by Ken Wells of The Wall Street Journal. If you care at all about beer, go out and read this book right now. Wells traveled all over the country, writing about the history of beer, the biggest producers, the homebrewers, the creative microbreweries, and about the quest for the Perfect Beer Joint. Warm and funny, this is an enjoyable read. I give him much credit for his chapter on Dogfish Head in Delaware. I've had some amazing brews from that company, and look forward to their future innovations. He spent a chapter talking about Memphis, although it was almost entirely about Elvis and the debate over whether or not Elvis (a good Baptist boy) drank beer or not, and if so, what was his beverage of choice. He is redeemed for mentioning the local brewpub Bosco's. I still mourn the closing of their Germantown location, and find excuses to be in Midtown around lunch so I can visit their Overton Square establishment.

03 January 2007

New Memphis Blog: Mempho Wino

It's been a pleasure over the past two years to connect with writers and wine producers all over the globe, but there's also a joy in promoting those bloggers here in Memphis who like to write about wine and food. I'd like to think that in our region, we're able to straddle the menus of downhome cooking and haute cuisine. And for those who think that this little river town is all about barbecue, I can safely state that in my corner of the suburbs, I have Russian, Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Chinese grocery stores within a five minute drive, not to mention the traditional French bakery or the Turkish kebab shop. I may not live in New York City, but even I know enough to wish the Ukrainian guy at the grocery store a hearty Христос Раждаеться during the Christmas season.

By the same token, I love cornbread, garden fresh green beans cooked with a ham hock, and will happily spend hours beside a smoker tossing back a few cold beers while a pork shoulder slowly smokes its way into tenderness. All that having been said...

A longtime friend of mine is starting up two blogs, one based around food and the other around wine. The wine one isn't quite ready yet, but I'm proud to link to Skeeter's Mempho Wino. Thus far there's a half dozen reviews of local Memphis restaurants, with an emphasis on lunch. Skeeter is a damned good cook, and I'm sure we'll see some homemade dishes at some point in the future.

I'm really looking forward to the wine blog--this guy has taught me loads about the appreciation of fine wine and continues to be a source of good advice, and I'm anxious to see his tasting notes made available to the world.

02 January 2007

New Year's Eve Dinner

First off, a quick roundup. In 2005, I reviewed around 450 wines. In 2006, I reviewed 320 wines, 24 beers, and 14 spirits. I'm not slacking off, I just started getting a little more selective in the tastings I attended. Basically, for the life of this blog there's roughly 800 unique beverage reviews, not to mention all of the food articles I've written.

Last Friday, I was walking through the grocery store and noticed a sale on Porterhouses for $5.39 per lb. Now, for New Year's Eve, Paul and I were planning on roasting a whole beef tenderloin like I did for my birthday. After all, we had 6-8 people attending the gathering. But I looked at that price and hatched a new plan. When doing a dinner party, I rarely get my heart set on any particular ingredient; I prefer to look for what's in season, then what looks good, and if possible, what's on sale. And this was a price I couldn't pass up. So I had the butcher cut me two three-inch thick steaks. And I had to repeat my order, and explain what I was going to do with them. Shortly thereafter I walked out the door with eight pounds of beef and an approving nod from the butcher. That's two 64 oz. steaks for those keeping score. Generally you only see steaks that large in places where there's some sort of challenge about eating the whole thing in under an hour without getting sick.

There were many delicious appetizers provided by the ladies (spinach-artichoke dip, mozzarella sticks, seven-layer dip, etc.), and these were consumed with a few glasses of the 2005 Tittarelli Torrontés Reserva from Argentina. It's bright and fruity, with a brash flavor of grapefruit peel that can be a little aggressive on its own, but pairs nicely with appetizers that include sweet and savory elements.

Torrontés isn't the most popular white grape in the world, and mainly seems to flourish in Argentina. I enjoy most of the wines I taste from this grape, and think that with some work and good marketing it can stand on its own against similarly priced Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand. I'm continually fascinated by the European grapes that flourish in South America.

Since a few weeks ago when we talked about the big Porterhouse or T-Bone roasts, I decided I had to cook one or two of them. Here's the final plate, the beef with some fried fingerling potato chunks, a selection of fancy baby lettuces, and a homemade balsamic vinaigrette (honey really helps out). So how did I cook the steaks? I grilled them for about five minutes on each side over a really hot fire, and then transferred them to the oven into a roasting pan with a rack. I inserted digital thermometers into each and roasted the steaks at around 400°F until approximately 130°F internal temperature. This proved a little difficult, as the interior of a 3" thick Porterhouse seems to vary quite a bit in its substance (I measured from the thickest central portion of the strip). While the roast as a whole was a little more on the medium side than I would have liked, there was plenty of lush, juicy rare steak to be had, with nicely caramelized edges on the top and bottom. Throughout the roasting I basted the steaks with olive oil using a heavy stalk of homegrown rosemary.

To serve it, I simply carved off the filets and strips, and then sliced up the meat with the grain. The idea here is long slices, and then when you cut up the slices on your plate, you're slicing against the grain and thus tenderness and chewing aren't negatively impacted. I basically laid out the slices on a big platter and served the guests in the following manner: "Point to the color you like, and tell me when to stop loading your plate."

The red wine for the evening was the 2003 Bogle Phantom, made of 59% Petite Sirah, 39% Zinfandel, and 2% Mourvèdre. It's an odd California blend: ignoring grapes, is the inspiration Rhone or Bordeaux? I tasted it a few months ago, and still love this wine. Full of dark berry flavors, firm tannins, and utterly delicious. We tasted this wine when it was first opened, and then drank it after two hours in the decanter. The decanter definitely helped with some of the youthful rough edges, yet the wine didn't taste stale or oxidized--my biggest fear with letting wine sit around and breathe for so long. It also didn't seem to pick up any of the food aromas from the cooking process.

Not a bad way to celebrate the New Year.

01 January 2007

1998 Domaine Ste. Michelle Luxe

Happy New Year! This is a post dedicated to the sparkling wine served at midnight; details on the dinner will be provided in the following post... maybe in a day or so.

It's not often that I purchase vintage sparkling wine. There are many reasonable and delicious non-vintage bottles that work perfectly well--I'm one of those folks who likes a bubbly that pairs nicely with food, and sparkling wine (like Riesling) tends to fit into categories that don't pair well with traditional still red and white wines, like Asian cuisine, spicy food, and oddballs like fried chicken and barbecue. I'd never order a bottle of Champagne in a BBQ joint, but at home with a shoulder I've smoked myself, a chilled Spanish Cava does the trick nicely.

My favorite line in the bargain fizz category comes from Domaine Ste. Michelle of Washington state (in particularly voluptuous bottles, I might add). They make a Blanc de Blancs, an Extra Dry, a Brut, a Frizzante I've never tasted, and my pick of the litter, the lovely salmon-tinted Blanc de Noirs. Thus it was with great curiosity that I stumbled upon the 1998 Domaine Ste. Michelle Luxe. This is a fine little sparkler, with full aromas of buttered toast and popcorn. Very dry, balanced acidity, and a short aftertaste. Not a big hit at the gathering, but I was happy to take the remaining half-bottle home. This is like no other sparkler I've had from Ste. Michelle, yet I still loved it.

Incidentally, 1998 was the year I picked up my dog Wolfgang from the pound. He was a puppy at the time, so it's his birth year. Wolfie is what some might call a mutt, mongrel or Heinz 57, but I prefer the term "American Brown Dog". About 45 pounds, a Chow's speckled tongue, a Husky's curly tail, some German Shepherd markings, one ear up and one ear down, and a general coyote countenance. I've seen him catch and eat field mice, force a pit bull into submission, hike with me for 10 miles and beg for more, and then cower under the kitchen table in the presence of a nine year old girl. He can also take a single grain of rice offered from a pair of chopsticks with dainty precision, leaving nary a tooth mark on the bamboo.

I've always loved this photo, even if it shows my poorly made bed. He'll take this stance on a regular basis: front legs crossed, spine contorted in ways that are only comfortable for dogs, and this utterly intelligent and bemused expression on his face like he knows much more than he lets on.

Hard to believe that the little fella is eight now. Here's to you, Wolfie.