Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My friend's blog

I just found out that two friends of mine have started a wine and food blog and wanted to share it with ya'll. The marred couple lives in Seattle and he is a chef at a local cooking school and she's clerking for a judge before she reaches lawyerdom. It's a fun site, and has some great shots of my friend with a goofy grin on his face while he's making sausage. And then there's the shot of he and his fiends breaking down an entire pig. Good stuff.

My friend's blog:

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

BBQ Potato Chips and Chateau D'Oupia: A Pleasant Party Pairing

Today's writing will divulge one of my most riveting and haute wine-food pairings experiences, ever. Consider yourselves very lucky, for this is a high level secret that will likely never be explored in the wine press. It's only discussed among professionals. That’s what I overhead, anyway.
First, a little background: my husband and I moved to a new apartment recently. As I'm sure many of you have discovered, moving, unpacking, and the process of trying to find where the only sharp knife was packed does not inspire culinary production. In fact, it quickly instigates mass consumption of fast and/or convenience food. I don’t want to cook when I’ve been packing boxes all day, and my husband doesn’t want to cook after watching my unpack boxes all day. Its so tiring. We can’t find the fridge.
Now, fast or convenience food (otherwise known as “junk”) is the type of food that I try not to introduce too often into my diet. Sadly, the reasons for this choice have less to do with health and more to do with my addictive eating habits. I'll just come out and say it: I am a chip junkie. And a cheeto junkie. And a cheese puff addict. In short, if a huge bag of leftover chips are sitting in the kitchen cabinet from our first meal in the house, they're going down. I just don't stop. I try to keep them out of the house.
Yet sometimes their addictive delicious, salty crunch gets through the door, and my will power goes out. The result of such a time is this fantastic pairing:
KFC BBQ chips and Chateau d'Oupia wine
KFC BBQ chips, are well, very salty and sweet and habit forming, and Chateau d'Oupia is one of my favorite under $15 bottle of wines composed of Syrah, Carignon and Grenache (typical Rhone Valley inspired blend). Note to readers: the Minervois, Langedoc region produces some of the best reds sold for the least money in your local wine shop. They’re often, as is the Oupia, smoky, brooding, peppery, and stock full of dark lush berry fruit.
Now, I had the chips with a deli sandwich. But the magic was really the Oupia and the chips together. I like to think its because, like the chips, the Oupia is smokey, a touch sweet, and spicy. True, the Oupia’s flavors come from oak and the grape, and not chemical enhancers like the BBQ chips, but that’s not stopping the match made in America. Superb. Dangerous. The perfect excuse to crash a frat party with fine wine.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

The following is my latest contribution to newsletter at the wine shop/bar where I work, entirely focused on wines for the upcoming holiday, and mostly kind-of autobiographical.

On the last Thursday of November (this year I’ve chosen to mark the event a week earlier), I like to take a little time to express gratitude for the things around me that I love. Wine, cheese, certain foods, friends, my parent’s small white dog, and various members of my family, for example. My mother has endearingly named this event “Thanksgiving,” and to express reverence for my thoughtfulness, she invites the family over to enjoy a lovely late-fall inspired dinner while listening to my speech of gratitude.

At these dinners my mother roasts a stuffed turkey and makes a beautiful gravy. My Aunt Edna makes a spiced sweet potato dish with large doses of nutmeg, ginger and marshmallows. My father makes seasoned cream and butter, into which he stirs a cooked potato or two. I make green beans with almonds and garlic, and my cousins make cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for dessert.

My tribute meal is always superb, and every year, I have the honor of matching the wines to this spice-laden, butter-adorned seasonal dinner. I would highly recommend such a dinner event to anyone. It’s a wonderful excuse to eat turkey, eat spiced sweet potatoes, share time with your family, and of course, sip some of the loveliest wines, the types of which I’ll divulge below.

For whites, the lush consistency, spices, and sometimes even tartness of the meal calls for aromatic, spicy, sultry, full-bodied wines, or even whites with a little residual sugar to soothe the big flavors. A Gewürztraminer would certainly hit the spot, as would a Riesling or dry Muscat. Oaky whites are also welcome at this table, because, after all, what goes better with creamy, buttery food than creamy, nutty, or (dare I say) buttery wine? In general, I stay away from leaner, acidity-driven wines, since foods of gratitude really just want a little full-bodied loving to cushion their tart, spicy, or creamy character.

Of course you’ll also need some reds. Luckily, turkey is a generous, accommodating bird that is often happy with whatever red you offer. A key guideline for determining what varietal(s) to serve with your turkey is to consider the stuffing that you will pair with the meal. If you’ll be serving a heavier stuffing, say with garlic and sausage, chose a darker wine that’s heavy on the fruit and spicy, like a Zinfandel or Rhône blend (Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre based). On the other hand, an apple and sage or classic bread stuffing might pair better with a lighter red, a Pinot Noir for example.

Below is a list of a few of the wines that I will be eyeing for my Thanksgiving table. I hope that you find some of them to your liking, and if you do, certainly give me a shout out when making your speech in front of your family.

Aromatic Whites:
06 Elena Walsh Kastelaz Gewürztraminer, Alto Adige, Italy: lychee, rose, ginger, dry.
06 Diel de Diel, Nahe, Germany: pear-like, gingery Pinot Blanc and Gris with a touch of flowery Riesling.
06 Ca’ del Solo Dry Muscat, Monterey, CA : heady, spicy, scents. Full-bodied.
05 Movia Ribolla Gialla, Brda, Slovenia : peach, mint thick, rounded.

Nutty, Toasty, Full-Bodied Whites:
05 Gainey Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, CA : like a caramel apple sprinkled with nuts
04 Domaine Bernard Millot “La Goutte D’Or” Meursault 1er Cru, Burgundy, France: creamy, minerally poached pear.

Lighter Reds:
06 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR : earthy, bright cherry

Darker Reds:
05 Eric Texier Brézème, Côtes du Rhône, France : all syrah, all blueberry and bacon
05 Lamborn Family Zinfandel, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain, CA : plush, dark fruit with a touch of spice.
05 Noceto “Original Grandpere Vineyard” Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, CA : deep, soulful, old-vine berries

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Oaky Chardonnays: A Wonderful Excuse to Eat Cream or Butter

I used to have a wine prejudice.

When I say “used to,” I mean that I’m reaching the eleventh step of my program; I have cooked food and paired it with an oaked Chardonnay.

Oak has always been somewhat an issue for me with wine. In general I like oak. It does the things with wines that most of us favor- it adds a touch of vanilla, spice, nuttiness or even chocolate. But if overused, it can nearly ruin a wine. In short, it can provoke a wine to start smelling like a wood chip, or in the case of the extremely oak-sensitive Chardonnay, the original flavor of Cornuts. Perhaps needless to say, this can make for a difficult wine and food pairing.

Because such a wine can be so hard to pair with food, in the past, I have avoided answering questions about what to eat with an oaky Chardonnay. Or rather, I told people that such a Chardonnay was best paired with a sunset and a deck chair. In fact, while co-teaching a recent wine class at work I quoted the old standby pairings spouted by Chardonnay geeks- corn soup, scallops with cream sauce, ya da ya da- but then finished my round-up by referring to one particularly oaky Chardonnay as “an after-work, before or after dinner wine- not good with food.”

Then, a couple weeks later, I paired a dinner to an oaky Chardonnay left over from the wine bar, and I loved it.

Winos often say that oak loves fat. I do too, so you’d think that I would have opened up my heart earlier to an oaky Chardonnay (and by oaky, I don’t mean super oaky to the point of smelling like a cedar chip). But before my turning point meal, I had never really tasted such a wine with a good, lush (aka, fatty) meal. I had always tried it as cocktail wine, which I still dislike.

But my heard turned when a couple nights ago when I paired the remnants of a bottle of Chardonnay with a whole lot of butter.

In honor of Halloween, I cooked a squash and fall inspired meal. Frisee and persimmon salad for the first course and butternut squash and leek ravioli with a browned butter and sage sauce to follow.

The browned butter was what convinced me that the Chardonnay heads were right about the grape liking fat. Case in point: I have to had browned at least half a cube of butter for the sauce, and the caramel, nutty notes imparted to the wine by oak mimicked the same flavors in the butter, and dare I be so staright-forward, tasted awesome with the butter fat. Furthermore, I learned that Chardonnay loves foods that even sound like fat, or butter, like butternut squash. The oak just gave the buttery goods a big hug.

Lastly, a cooking hint- making ravioli at home so you can have something to put tons of butter on is super easy to do. Just buy the won-ton wrappers in the refrigerated section marked “Asian foods” in your grocery store instead of buying or making pasta sheets. Then, make a simple filling, and plop about a half-teaspoon to a teaspoon of it in the center of a won-ton square. Dab the square lightly with water from the filling to the edge of the sheet, lay another wrapper over the filling, and press the new square into the old one until all air bubbles have been released and the two wrappers are stuck to each other. To cook, place in lightly boiling water in a shallow pan for about five minutes. Then drain, and pour browned butter all over it. Or maybe a creamy, garlicky sauce instead. Because Chardonnay likes cream too.

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