28 November 2007

Fun with Leftovers, plus Wine

A friend of mine had jokingly said that after Thanksgiving I would make a gourmet dish out of leftover turkey, pumpkin, and potato peels. I took that as a challenge.

I formed the cold turkey and some leftover homemade cranberry sauce in alternating layers into a ring mold and set it atop a pool of roast pumpkin puree (enhanced with chicken stock and various spices). I flash fried a few long strips of potato peel for some quick pommes frites, and the little black dots are a reduction of balsamic vinegar with honey and apple cider. Green onions provided a fun garnish.

I had two different wines with Thanksgiving dinner and its various leftover incarnations. First off was a white from a great producer of Petite Sirah. The pleasantly unoaked 2005 Concannon Chardonnay from the Central Coast of California has a sweet apple aroma with a touch of honeysuckle. It has a tart beginning with a short finish. Which makes it a really nice Thanksgiving wine.

For a red, I selected the 2005 Hedges CMS Red from Washington State. It's a blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 4% Syrah. Raisin and eucalyptus nose. The flavor profile is a little bitter with elements of green bell pepper and grass.

26 November 2007

Extra Thanksgiving

For several years now, I've picked up a turkey for the purposes of cooking it on the Friday after Thanksgiving. While others are out fighting over Cabbage Patch Dolls at the stores, I'm hanging around the house, listening to classic jazz and cooking a 12-15 lb bird. Not only do I get the joy of leftovers (something you miss out on with big family gatherings), but I can also experiment and try new things.

This year I didn't do anything fancy, just put two lemons and a tangerine inside the cavity of the turkey, and poured apple cider over the whole mess every once in a while. It turned out juicy and flavorful, and several days later I'm still enjoying the leftovers.

The Girlfriend is on a big no-carbs kick, so I had to come up with a Thanksgiving side dish that didn't involve starch or bread. Luckily, while at Schnuck's in Cordova I spied a bunch of cardoons. I was surprised and excited: I'd eaten them in Italy but had never seen the stalks in the U.S. For the uninitiated, they look like big, two foot long celery but taste like artichokes. I trimmed them and sliced them into four inch segments, then boiled them in salted water with lemon for 45 minutes. That's the standard way to prepare them before further cooking. Afterwards, traditional preparations include baking them with a white sauce and cheese or battering and deep frying slices.

In the spirit of healthy eating, I elected to wilt a bunch of rapini and a red bell pepper, and then included the cardoons towards the end. If I had prepared hot olive oil and butter with anchovies to pour over all of it, then I would have had a semi-authentic bagna càuda. I also made some homemade cranberry sauce (using 2/3 cup of organic Florida cane sugar rather than the typical full cup of sugar). Why would you ever use the canned stuff when the real thing is so easy and delicious?

22 November 2007

2006 Mollydooker Shiraz

I'm finally getting around to trying the juggernaut that is Mollydooker. The name means "left hander" in the often bizarre Australian patois. (Though honestly, is it any stranger than southpaw?) It's also the first wine I've ever purchased that has a weird aeration technique suggested as part of the serving recommendation. You can't see the full label here, but it's a 1930s cartoon boxer with two left gloves. The other wines of this line have equally interesting designs. There's also a stamp that tears off the back label.

2006 Mollydooker Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Southern Australia. $20. Big, fruity nose, rather hot because of the 16% alcohol. Once you let the alcohol fumes blow off, you get a nice hint of cracked black pepper. The flavor is mild, with a cherry and pastry flavor that later includes prunes and stewed fruit. Medium tannins and a decent finish. Because of the alcohol, this wine has big ol' glycerol legs that hang on the side of the glass.

The Girlfriend was craving pork loin, so I roasted one with a little twist of orange. After an application of Dijon mustard and black pepper, I ran a navel orange through the mandoline and got a lot of delicate slices. Things shifted a bit in cooking, but overall the slices provided a pleasant hint of flavor to the pork loin. And damn, there's something to be said for a presentation like that.

I started at 350°F, and over the course of two hours backed the temperature down to 200°F until the meat reached an internal temperature of 150°F. It then rested under a foil tent for about twenty minutes as I readied the sides... some simple green beans, and a more complicated soup.

I reconstituted some dried cherries in the Shiraz as a simple topping for the pork. The ramekin contains a portion of sopa de plátanos verdes, or green plantain soup, which is either Puerto Rican or Venezuelan in origin depending on who you ask. Slice up some green plantains, pan-fry in butter, add to some simmering beef stock (homemade in this case), add a sofrito of garlic and shallots, then blend with an immersion mixer to the desired consistency. If it's too thick (and the starch in the plantains will make it set up like cold gravy), add water or more stock. I threw in a bunch of hot sauce, cinnamon, and Old Bay Seasoning to enhance the flavor. It's thick and rich yet slightly refreshing. It's also a lighter use for plantains than tostones or mofongo.

20 November 2007


Ratatouille is one of the best movies about cooking ever made. Not only is there amazing animation, not only did Brad Bird (of The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) create it, but Pixar worked with Thomas Keller as a consultant. I'd say that it easily tops Big Night as my previous favorite movie about cooking. I was getting hungry while watching it and returned to the kitchen the next day with renewed enthusiasm.

I wanted to focus on an interesting point with the above photo and the detail to the right. It's a movie that talks about food in a deeply passionate way (even it is through the mind of a rat), but it is also ostensibly a children's movie without child characters and the adults act like adults. Including enjoying wine with dinner or after work. In this shot, the head chef is pouring a glass of Chateau Latour. That's some impressive product placement--no bottles of Coke or Nike shoes here.

This, in an era when the first seasons of Sesame Street are being released on DVD with a parental advisory due to things like Cookie Monster smoking a pipe. It is rare in programming geared towards kids that you ever see responsible (let alone discriminating) consumption of wine. Typically it's an afterschool special about a drunk uncle or some bad kid at school sneaking a bottle of Goldschlager and getting sick. In Ratatouille, no one gets drunk or violent due to a lovingly rendered glass of wine.

The computer animation on the kitchen, the ingredients, and the final dishes is amazing. There were no children present when The Girlfriend and I watched it (the DVD was a gift from her), so I didn't get in trouble when I blurted an expletive as leeks were chopped. It was textbook perfect--the suspension of disbelief was complete. It was obvious that the artists and animators had actually studied the behavior of leeks and how they look when sliced. It's a very minor point, but if you love food you'll find yourself marveling at the crumb structure on bread and many other little details.

19 November 2007

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

Hey kids, it's that time of year again. Though I'm closing in on my exploration of each of the cru Beaujolais regions, there's still a soft spot in my heart for the simple delight of Beaujolais Nouveau. I didn't get around to it on Thursday, but I figured a Saturday afternoon was as good a time as any.

The banana custard aroma is there, with a bit of strawberry. I didn't like my first sample of this, but after some breathing, the second glass was much more palatable and followed the expectation. I think I'll enjoy it more amidst the backdrop of a big Thanksgiving gathering. In the presence of comfort foods and without other wine geeks around, its profile tends to brighten. Should anyone be interested, here are my notes on the 2006 and 2005 releases.

One weird complaint: the synthetic cork proved almost impossible to get back into the bottle. It's not that big of a deal, as I have several stoppers and a ton of old corks, but it's generally easier to use the same cork when you're throwing it back in the fridge for later use.

14 November 2007

2004 Bell Petite Verdot

For dessert, Grace made a batch of her famous crème brûlée. At right you can see Paul using the butane torch to caramelize the turbinado sugar. Nice crunchy caramel crust to break through before hitting the eggy custard below. It was served with raspberries on top and some good Dominican 65% chocolate on the side.

The wine saved for the dessert was a real treat. John over at Wolfchase took me into the back office and showed me a bottle of the 2004 Bell Petite Verdot. It's not listed on the website, and not easily available. My bottle that I picked up ($36) was #575 out of 1199, so there's not a lot of it out there. You don't often see a pure Petite Verdot (even if this had two or three percent cab sav), and I was excited to try it with some friends. It had dark violet and blackberry aromas, though the flavor was much lighter than expected. Blackberry and plum flavors with a hint of coffee and an inky color. John suggested that it was dark enough to write notes with, though the lavender stain on my tasting sheet shows that it's not that concentrated.

This demonstrates that not only is it good to make friends with your local wine merchant, but it never hurts to ask if there's anything interesting lurking in the back.

12 November 2007

Roast Chicken with a Glass of Pure Evil

Some people say that hunger is the best sauce. For me, it's when someone else cooks. Don't get me wrong, I love cooking, and as has been demonstrated numerous times on this blog, the harsher the circumstances, the more interested I am. Hell, I'm marginally famous for going to bizarre lengths to make a salade niçoise in a hotel that had that very dish on the room service menu. However, I'm always delighted when other people cook and I'm the guest.

On a recent occasion Paul and Grace and The Girlfriend and I were able to get together for an evening. I had to work and show up right before the invite time, preventing me from my usual two or three hours of prep and slow roasting and sauce-making.

Grace prepared a huge lemon-roasted chicken, complete with roast squash and zucchini on the side as well as some mashed red potatoes. By choice, the ladies took the white meat and the gents feasted on the dark meat. The bird was succulent and delicious, with crispy brown skin and a deep, savory flavor. Two whole lemons shoved up the caboose were a fun addition. I usually use wedges of apple and orange, but the lemon was great.

For the wine, I brought along a bottle of the 2005 Pure Evil, a South Australia Chardonnay from the Grateful Palate that can be found for under $10. It had—zut alors!—a nice lemon aroma along wiht a bright, fruity citrus flavor. It's a simple wine yet entirely quaffable. It went along well with the poultry and the veggies.

After this we were all pretty full, but a sumptuous dessert was to follow... and follow it shall in the next post! Along with a review of a rare and delicious red wine. Stay tuned!

08 November 2007

2005 Crane Lake Malbec

Much has been written here and elsewhere about the Crane Lake wines: those bargain basement bottles that go for as low as $4 but are surprisingly drinkable. Not complex, not fancy, not meant for aging or impressing company, but definitely acceptable for a casual lunch or when serving a large group of non-wine drinkers. They keep adding different grapes, and I suppose the growing Malbec planting in California (spurred no doubt by the success of Argentina) meant that sooner or later this had to hit the shelves: the 2005 Crane Lake Malbec.

It's got a plum jam aroma, very tart with mild tannins and some sour cherry flavors. Nothing to write home to mama about, but a good pizza and burger wine. The Girlfriend requested trout as a spur-of-the-moment dinner, but as it was Sunday I didn't have access to a white wine. The Malbec worked well as a pleasant if somewhat odd choice for the meal: grilled trout fillets with brown butter and a topping of broccoli sprouts, accompanied by a roast acorn squash with brown sugar that we split. The broccoli sprouts, sort of the veal of the broccoli world, were a bit of a disappointment. Raw they tasted like a handful of grass clippings; steamed with a bit of lemon they were only slightly more palatable, and atop the fish with a bit of brown butter they were quickly pushed aside. Perhaps there are better uses for these, but as a lover of alfalfa and bean sprouts, I was sorely disappointed. I will admit they're pretty in a microgreen way. The fish was incredible, though, and I'm convinced that brown butter is a gift from God.

06 November 2007

2004 Becker "les trois dames" Claret

Several months ago, business took me to Dallas where I picked up a bottle of wine from Becker Vineyards. Since I was back in the area for recreational purposes, I decided to try another one of their wines, the 2004 Becker "les trois dames" Claret. Contrary to the notes on the 2005 in the link, the 2004 is made up of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. The name comes from three female viticulturists who collaborated on this wine: Eunice Hunter contributed Merlot, Laverne Newsom provided the Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dorothy Cooper grew the Cabernet Franc.

A nose of blackberry jam. Firm tannins, with a cherry cola flavor and a tart but not acidic mouth feel. In a nod to Texas I tried it with a BBQ brisket sandwich.

In the words of standup comedian Ron White, "I told you that story to tell you this story." I didn't purchase the wine at the vineyard. I didn't get it as a gift from the Chamber of Commerce. I didn't even find it at a liquor store. I bought it at a gas station on the west side of Dallas, in a town called Grapevine (ha ha) just north of the DFW airport.

We had stopped for gas and I ran in to grab a bottle of water. On the door I saw a handwritten sign that said "Wine tasteing next Wednesday" (sic). I chuckled to myself and imagined some promotional event for Boone's Farm and Wild Irish Rose. Once I stepped inside I discovered that half of the Shell station was devoted to wine (and decent wine at that), and to make the experience even more odd for this Tennessee boy, I was able to purchase the bottle on a Sunday.

On one half of the store: Slim Jims and Funyuns. On the other half, a surprisingly electic mix of wines from around the world, with shelf tags and the whole nine yards. I grabbed a Texas wine mainly because they're not carried in Memphis and I felt I owed it to the Lone Star State.

02 November 2007

Deep in the Heart of Texas

The Girlfriend and I went on a road trip to Texas last weekend. We drove ten straight hours from Memphis to Houston. The following morning, we went to The Houston Museum of Natural Science in order to see the 3.2 million year old bones of the Australopithecus afarensis Lucy. While the majority of the exhibit focused on Ethiopian history and culture, the last portion was dedicated to Lucy. In a small glass case you get to see a partial skeleton the size of a seven year old child. It's a humbling experience.

Ed. note: in reference to the first comment on this post, I picked up a couple of awesome "I Love Lucy" refrigerator magnets in the gift shop. A perfect mix of history and kitsch, which is what fun weekend getaways are all about.

Then it was off to Dallas. The hotel offered a complimentary glass of wine to be delivered later, and I just checked off the box for the sparkler. I wasn't expecting much, maybe a dull Korbel that flattened en route from the bar. Much to my surprise, I received two 187 mL bottles of NV Chandon Brut Classic in an ice bucket. A bit of toast on the nose, with crisp Chardonnay flavors and just a touch of lemon.

No hotel cooking on this trip... Instead we had a lovely dinner at The Oceanaire. The lady enjoyed the pan-fried trout in brown butter, while I had goat cheese crusted corvina with beet risotto. Simply amazing. I enjoyed mine with a glass of a Sancerre from Mollet: nice hints of apple and pear, solid structure and balanced acidity.

At right, the Old Red Museum of Texas history in downtown Dallas.

The most interesting part of the meal had to be the oysters. Out of the dozen varieties on the menu I told the waiter to pick six for me. I had Beau Soleil, Blue Point, Hurricane, Indian Point, Malpaque, and Tatamagouche. I really loved the smaller ones, some of which had a buttery flavor (such as the Indian Point). The Beau Soleil had an incredible, fresh from the ocean saltiness. The largest was the Blue Point, though even it was dainty compared to the big mud rocks we get in Memphis.

The next morning we were off to Dealy Plaza to visit the site of the JFK assassination. The photo at left was taken looking across the road where the event occurred. (If you click for the larger version, you might get to see little white crosses painted in the road to denote where the shots impacted.) It was surprising to see how small the entire area was; the plaza is split by a pair of roads that lead to and from the interstate, and the infamous Book Depository is a rather nondescript seven-story building on the corner. All of this is on the west side of Downtown Dallas.

I can highly recommend the museum in the Book Depository building. The displays and artifacts are tasteful and comprehensive, filling up the sixth floor where Oswald was perched. For instance, one display includes a sample of every kind of camera that was present at the event, and a future exhibit about photography is planned for the top floor.

Afterwards we made an appearance at a wedding reception then it was back home. A short but fun-filled trip: 1200 miles, two major historical exhibits, one fabulous seafood dinner, and gorgeous weather all the way.