Monday, December 29, 2008

Bi-Coastal Chinese Food & Wine Pairing II: Red-Cooked Lamb

Finally, the meat. For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the joint wine and Chinese food pairing between RedCook and myself, I'm not saying you should be ashamed of yourself, or make yourself go a day without carbs for punishment, I'm just saying, read here.

Last time, RedCook, the magical Chinese food blogger based in NYC, and I paired daikon and chive blossom salad and steamed tofu and mushrooms to two white wines. This time, to even the palate, give honor to the circle of life, and to soothe the protesters out my window holding signs reading "Where's the Lamb" and "Gimme Meat," we decided to prepare a classic Chinese meat dish paired with red wine. That crowning glory of a meat dish is called Red Cooked Lamb, and the recipe can be found on RedCook's part of the joint post.

Slowly cooked with star anise, cinnamon, tangerine peel, Sichaun peppercorns, fennel, dried chilis , ginger, soy, Shaoxiing cooking wine, sugar, daikons and carrots, the lamb takes on a reddish brown color and absorbs the warm to hot aromatic spices that make your mouth tingle and your tummy warm.

How to Pair?

If one was consulting the Chinese food-focused Vin de la Table guide featured in Bi-Coastal Chinese Food and Wine Pairing I when considering what wine to pour, they might look at the sections talking about how to pair wine with prominent sweet and spicy flavors. When choosing a red, I suggested going with a Zinfandel or Grenache because they have an especially fruity, friendly nature that highlights any sweetness in a dish, and because their peppery and spicy qualities strike an especially harmonious cord with high aromatics and picante heat. The sweetness in this dish comes from the tablespoon of sugar, Shaoxing cooking wine, and touch of soy sauce added to the braising liquid. The heat comes from the chiles and fresh ginger. Keep in mind, as noted in the spicy section of the guide, to stay away from the high-alcohol wines because high-alcohol + spices = amplified pain on tongue and throat. To be avoided.

When my guests and I enjoyed the red cooked lamb over rice, we drank a 2006 Vina Valoria Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain. I choose this wine because although it wasn't Grenache or Zin based, I remembered that it had a dark berry spicy taste, and was low-alcohol with unusually low oak for a modern Rioja. For RedCook, I suggested he find a Grenache based Rhone blend and a Zinfandel that I found at a wine store near his place by looking on their website. Did I pick three different wines for us to prove my point that as long as one considers how the components of a dish will react with the general characteristics of a wine, that nothing is set in stone and they should have fun playing around? No. We couldn't find the Vina Valoria in Oakland and Manhattan. But gosh darn it, it was fun to play around.

For those of us on the west coast, the Vina Valoria was a great match. It was a pure fruit and spice festival. For RedCook's pals on the East Coast, the Rhone/Grenache-blend worked very well, but the Zin I suggested, which I coincedentally didn't taste before recommending, was almost too sweet for the lamb. Ahh.....maybe I should have done what I swear by and asked the knowledgable clerk at the wine shop to describe the wine to me to see if it fit the bill, or (I know, I know) asked how she thought it might pair with a spicy lamb dish. To hear what RedCook had to say about his pairings, see here.

Well, dear readers, this post marks the end of the Bi-Coastal Chinese Food and Wine Pairing with Vin de la Table and Red Cook, but only marks the beginning of a beautiful food and wine pairing friendship between you, RedCook and VindelaTable. I urge all of you to check out his site as often as possible. He's got more Chinese food cooking knowledge in his little pinky finger than many of us have in our whole bodies, and he likes to share. Thank you RedCook!

Have any of you had any amazingly good or horrible Chinese food and wine pairing experiences, maybe with wines I didn't mention?

P.S. The beautiful lychee fruits that we had for dessert.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Five Wine Gifts: For The Juice Lovers

Before Red Cook and I bestow our final post next week, I thought it fitting to share some of my gift ideas for the wine lovers in your life. This way, there's still enough time to shop and enjoy Redcook's recipe for red cooked lamb with Vin de la Table wine recommendations before Christmas.

The list is packed full of wine related things that I either own and love or items that I covet. If you haven't done your Christmas shopping this year and still have plans to do so, here are ten things I would bet a true vinophile wouldn't mind getting in their stocking. Most products can be found on my amazon store.

The Home Creamery Book, so they could join the Vin de la Table Home Creamery event that will officially begin in January, make cheese at home, and then pair their creations to wine.

The World Atlas of Wine, Sixth Edition by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. The holy duo just released this edition, and I couldn't think of another book that better explains who does what where.

Riedel Wine Decanter
Good for separating sediment from juice in an old bottle of wine and highlighting the flavors in an ordinary bottle, a Riedel decanter is a gem to have around. Especially when your other one breaks.

Wine Books by Jay McInerney
He's decadent, he's got high standards and old-fashioned tastes, and he could very well be the funniest wine writer typing keys on the keyboard to date.

Solano Cellar'sWine Club Membership
Okay, this may seem a little self-serving, since I'm kinda affiliated with this place, but let me tell you, these wine clubs rock. There are two ways to go (on the right hand side of the linked page). Make someone a sampler case member, and they'll receive 12 bottles of fun, hand-picked (yes, I'm involved) everyday table wines monthly, or make them a pick a two-bottle club member, and they'll receive two of our favorite wines that month from the choosen category (Zin, Pinot, Red, White, Red & White or Fringe Drinking).

What will you be giving to good little wine lovers this year? Corkscrew reindeer heads? A vineyard? Nothing (naughty wine drinker!)? A glass or two of wine and some good converstaion?

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bi-Coastal Chinese Food & Wine Pairing

All it took was one link, a picture or two of pork belly, and I was hooked.

I found RedCook blog's through Matt Bites' blogroll. As if it wasn't cool enough to just be included on Matt Bites Matt Bite's blogroll (Matt Bites as in the Matt Bites that is on Martha Stewart's blogroll), RedCook's blog delivers a whole lot of cooking love, beautiful photos, and provides insights into a Chinese kitchen and home.

The focus of RedCook is Chinese home cooking, or Chinese cuisine versus the food dished up in most Chinese-American restaurants. Kian, the blog's author, focuses on the traditional cuisine he ate while growing up in Singapore and China, and tells the stories behind the recipes he posts and the ingredients within them in fantastic detail, which befits many a average cook in the United States unfamiliar with Chinese produce, sauces, and fish and meat cuts and preparations. While most posts introduce recipes, when Kian focuses entirely on cooking methods, or shares his amazing experiences cooking for New York chefs in his own home, or his recent role as translator and cook at the Dumplings & Dynasties James Beard dinner, the results are just as educational and inviting.

Why the name Red Cook, instead of Kian Cooks, or Cooking Chinese not in China but Instead from Kian's Harlem Apartment, you ask? The "red" part of the name is used to describe a cooking method common to Chinese home cuisine that utilizes warm spices like star anise, clove, and peppercorns to impart rich red and brown hues to the tender meat that's sitting simmering in the braising liquid. This cooking method in particular expresses what is so compelling about Kian's blog. Through showing us what was on his parent's stove and what's on his own stove now, like red cooked meats, he's gently and passionately educating those of us who didn't grow up cooking with five-spice blends who may be more familiar with chow mein than silken-mushroom tofu or mooncakes- about the true and wide realm of Chinese cuisine.

Why Red Cook and Vin de la Table?

Well, I'm an excited food and wine dork who gets amazing thrills just thinking about pairing awesome food like RedCook's to wine. So, after oogling the dishes on his website for months, I finally struck up the nerve to ask if he'd let me play wine pairing with him after school one day. And he said yes!

The pairings

Focusing on three dishes, our joint post turned out to be a true wine pairing blogging adventure. The deal was this: RedCook would send me recipes, I would head to my local Chinese market, rustle up the ingredients, choose wines to match the dishes, try them both at home, and give him the names of the wine I tried so he could do his own wine pairing tasting in New York City.

Simple, yes?

No...... Did you know that it can be an extreme pain in the booty to find a wine on both coasts if you're not going with Gallo or Kendalll Jackson? I'm of the small-production wine persuasion and believe that wine tastes better when produced in small batches -the key word here being "small," which in the wine world translates to limited. The wines I was accustomed to swilling here were somewhere in New York I was sure, for if one can buy a roast chicken at three in the morning, they could certainly find a small-production French wine, right? Ah....well, let's just say that dear RedCook ended up having to make two dinners to test through suggested wines, and I decided to suggest some higher-production wine than I normally would. And then there was that hurricane. So expect to see more wine notes on RedCook. Note to self- just because a wine is listed on a shop's website does not mean that they haven't sold out. RedCook, you are a trooper.

Anyhow, we found wines to sample and we had some profitable hits and misses with what we poured (and aren't misses the most educational!). Here goes.

Pairing Wine to Chinese Cuisine: A General Guide

Chinese cuisine tends to have three characteristics in particular that demand attention when pairing wine to a meal. Separately, the characteristics aren't too daunting, but when they are combined in one dish, as they very often are, it's good to have a general idea of how to charm the flavors into getting along with wine. They're proud flavors and have become accustomed to owning the show. However, as the ideals behind Chinese cuisine are achieving harmony on the palate and health, a happy wine pairing with this cuisine can feel especially poetic once achieved.The main attributes to keep in mind that can puzzle when pairing wine to Chinese cuisine are sour, sweet, and spicy.


Just as pairing wine to salads with vinaigrettes has caused futile alarm to wine fans for centuries, pairing wine to sour elements in Chinese food can provoke raised eyebrows.People fear that the acidity in the food will throw the acidity in the wine off balance. As the dishes with the most sour elements seem to be salads and lighter, cold dishes, we'll focus on white wine. The key to having an enjoyable white wine experience with the sour, or higher acidity flavors in Chinese food is to pick a wine that still has remaining residual sugar left in the bottle after fermentation (i.e.,that is lightly sweet). Or, one can go with a super fresh (not tropical), yet fruity aromatic, unoaked white like a Godello or Gruner Vetliner. The sugar in the slightly sweet wine will be a study in contrasts with the vinegar in many Chinese dishes, make the sauce or dressing appear even more vibrant, and even highlight the sugar that (see below) will inevitably also be included in the recipe. On the other hand, a fresh, fruity, unoaked, not sweet wine will play on the acidity in the dish and highlight the feisty, punchy sours flavors in, say, rice vinegar or Shaoxing cooking wine. If you appreciate bright vinegar notes, go with a fruity, fresh wine like Godello or Gruner Vetliner. If you're not afraid of a little bit of sweetness in your glass, pour a Riesling or friend to celebrate the harmony on your plate.


As mentioned earlier, Chinese food is much about balance (and deliciousness, yes). If there's vinegar or higher-acidity cooking wine included in a recipe, there's most likely going to be sugar or fruit too, so the dish will have the tools necessary to reach an tasty internal equilibrium. This is similar to how the best, sweet-as-perfectly-ripe-fruit Rieslings will have lip smacking acidity. And just as sweeter wines paired and contrasted expertly with the sour flavors in the cuisine, they will match well with dishes that have a touch of sugar too. The sweetness in the wines will match with the sweetness and highlight any high acidity notes in the food, and the food will return the favor in full for the wine. The fruity wines mentioned in the above sour section will, as Kian demonstrates with his own pairings, also be successful here. Note to readers: If you want a straight wine winner every time with a lighter Chinese dish, a good Gruner Vetliner is a sure bet. Gruner Vetlinr, is simply put, a magical wine, and can be found on the wine lists of the best Asian Restaurants accross the country because it pairs to spicy, sweet, and sour notes like no other wine does. And it loves cilantro and green onions, and even the asparagus dishes that make other whites crinkle their nose. But don't go with a Gruner Vetliner every time just because it's easy. Play around. To match dishes with sweet characteristics with a red wine, think of Zinfandel or Grenache, both of which are sweeter grapes even on the vine.


Food spiked with those spices that demand complete and upright attention of your senses- like Chinese 5-spice mixes, star anise, ginger and Sichuan chiles, for example- favor spicy, peppery, and and often fruitier and sweeter wines that dually highlight and calm the spices at the same time. For whites, Gruner Vetliner wins again (like Governor Arnie at the Olympia contest), as do wines with just a hint or a whole lot of sweetness, like Riesling, Sylvanner, white Rhone blends (Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne), and sometimes Chenin Blanc or Pinot Gris. For reds, Zinfandel, Grenache and Grenache-blends are go-to wines, as they naturally show a fruitier sweetness, and tons of spice and peppery. But, watch the alcohol level. High alcohol + spices = horrible burning sensations in mouth, throat, and nose areas. High alcohol wines can be just as detrimental to sweetness in dishes, amplifying any sugar notes until all you can think of are Pixie sticks. Note this for white wines as well. In particular, Rhone whites can be very high in alcohol and set your tounge ablaze just as easily. It would be preferable to drink a white 13.5% alcohol, and a red no higher than 14.5% alcohol (and much lower if possible) if you're having a hosting a spice fest.

Lastly, with Chinese cooking, a dish's prominent flavors are generally in the sauce or dressing. So focus on that rather than the protein or vegetable being served.

Time to pair

Just in case your boss enters the room and you've already spent a good ten to forty minutes reading my prologue, we'll focus on two pairings today, and address the meat dish in part two of the post later this week or early next. All recipes can be found on Redcook's blog on this post here

Part of the fun of wine is that it provides a different experience to everyone, and Kian and I hope that you enjoy, as RedCook and I did, that our and our guests's wine pairings preferences differed. In the same vein, I hope that my descriptions of pairing wine to Chinese food flow well with Kian, and that the photos I took of his recipes, made Vin de la Tble style, resemble the actual dishes, and that he doesn't laugh so hard that he has to lie down for the rest of the day. By the way, I'm pretty sure that I cooked chive blossoms where I shouldn't have.
Let's start with the courses that we poured with white wines.


The wine I picked for this lively salad was the Val de Sil Montenovo Godello, Valdellorras, Spain (whichever vintage). Godello is grape native to the Galacian area of Spain whose scent is a cross between a Riesling and an Albarino. Apples, peaches, lime, floral, crisp and dry, I could drink a lot of this. However, it proved to be a controversial (yeah, stay away if you can't handle the heat) pairing among the guests. I liked the way it rocked the bitter flavors of the daikon and contrasted with the sugar in the dressing. But, it seemed that just my husband and I like this wine with the the daikon salad's sweet and high-acidity vinaigrette. To be fair, I'm not sure that my husband's vote counts because he told me that he liked my recent peanut-butter bacon cookie experiment before I admitted that they were a bad idea. But I still think you should try the wine here if you like the bitter daikon bite amplified like we (I) did. We also tried the white Rhone listed below, which matched the sweetness in the dressing and let the daikon rest. Kian, unfortunately wasn't able to sample the Godello because it had sold out when he reached the shop. So I suggested a Chenin Blanc which appears to have struck him on similar notes as the Godello did with my guests.


Let me start by saying that I was a vegetarian for seven years who ate bacon from time to time, and I have never eaten tofu that tasted this good. Furthermore, the night we served this, my meatlover husband almost left me for soybean curd. Maybe you shouldn't cook this. The recipe made for earthy, succulent, tofu garnished with bok choy and mushrooms in a slightly sweet sauce. For this dish, I decided to go with 05 Guigal Cote du Rhone White, from the Rhone Valley, France. Made from Marsanne and Roussane, this wine was slighty spicy, was warm with apple and vanilla scents, and earthy enough that I immediately wanted to serve it with mushrooms. There was a little sugar in wine too that snuggled up to the flavors in the slightly sweet sauce. For me this was a winning combo.

Part two in progress.

The discerning guests: Miz Joo of the post "Korean BBQ and Beer: Drinking Against the Wine Pairing Grain", and my husband.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fontodi Winery: Drinking in Chianti

A couple months before leaving for Italy, the owner of Fontodi winery visited our wine shop. After learning that my mother and I would very soon be in his neck of the wine world, he invited us to visit his Chianti hills haven.

I knew that, similar to how French cheese exhibits more flair when consumed in the motherland, and how Kettle Korn tastes better at the California State Fair than when popped at a mall, that his wines would be even more enchanting when poured on Fontodi grounds. I also thought that my mother, always appreciative of a fine dresser, might enjoy seeing the owner in his immaculate Italian three piece suit among his vineyards. So I said yes.

Pictures of the winery follow. Unfortunately for those readers hoping to spot an Italian suit among the collection, we missed the owner on our tour. But I have included a picture of our kind and dapper tour provider, who closely resembles an unnamed Italian-American actor. All in all, the grounds were gorgeous, our tour guide was incredibly nice and informative, and the wines were fantastic. We had a great time.

The winery office and tasting room.

Carts used to pick grapes next to the crushing facilities.

Fontodi buys their oak barrels from several French barrel makers in order to evenly distribute the differing flavors and attributes characteristic of each barrel maker's oak.

Our lovely tour guide, who my mother and I refrained from telling looks like one of our favorite actors so we wouldn't sound like all the other silly American tourists. Because we're not silly.

Interested in learning more about Fontodi? Check out some of the links here, here, and, a video of harvest here . If you plan to be in their area, tastings are limited, by appointment only, and worth every twist and turn to reach the property.

The view from the winery office.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Driving, Getting Lost, and Then Drinking in Italy

I, um... left the cord that transfers my photos from my camera to my computer in Italy. Inside the house whose balcony was the staging grounds for the above photo. Don't tell my husband- I'm hoping he won't notice that the temporary cord I just ordered is small and grey and the old one is long and black. Anyhow, the people whose apartment we stayed in will be returning to their lovely home in a couple weeks and might be inspired to ship me the one that's resting on their computer desk. Or in the kitchen. Or under their bed? So, although I was hoping share oodles of pictures and Italy stories with you, I won't be doing so for a while. Until then, I'll distract you with a wine pairing story relating to cars in Italy.

We drove in Italy. Well, my mom drove in Italy. I was useless because I can't drive stick. And the "automatic" cars in Italy, they aren't really automatic like we have the states. While they don't have clutches, they still shift sticks that need to be vigorously jiggled when driving.

After driving for hours in Italy, we got lost in Florence. In the future, when I learn how to drive stick, I'd happily drive in the Italian countryside. It's gorgeous (see below) and serene. But I will never drive in an Italian city. Nor would I sit in the passenger seat of a car steered by a foreigner who is simultaneously trying to navigate the city's signs, one way streets, blockades, and considering whether the many honking cars around her mean anything besides, "i have a horn!"

The driving situation in Florence was intense. So was asking directions in extremely limited Italian in the very outskirts of Florence at night while wearing a skirt and looking lost. The medieval town of Siena, on the other hand, was relatively calm and compact and there weren't as many bridges to cross. This made for easier navigation once you got outside the city walls, as cars aren't allowed inside the huge, bricked walled of the inner Siena fortress.

Anyhow, if one ever gets lost while trying to drive in Florence then waits for a taxi for an hour that doesn't come and then has to park in an underground station because they can't find the rental car return garage, they should have a wine and food pairing experience to help them through the rest of the night.

I suggest salami, prosciutto, crostini with pate or liver, olives, and wine. At this point, any type of wine will do, but one should go in either of two directions when pairing on this night. First, if you want to gently relax, choose a regional red of the area that you are visiting, such as a Chianti, and enjoy a glass with your charcuterie. Or, if one would rather drink with the aim of forgetting the entire night, and quickly, choose a high alcohol Zinfandel that you packed in your suitcase just for this occasion, pour the wine in plastic cups provided by your hotel, and consume. Then turn down your bed, because after quaffing two glasses or three glasses of the high-octane jammy juice, you'll sleep like a baby. Then return your car in the morning.

More photos to come.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Florentine Sweets

White chocolate-coated torrone

Pistachio gelato topped with a waffle piece, and held by mia mamma

Vivoli Gelateria, the best in Florence

Oh, pan forte and marzipan, I love you

Food prep

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Yogurt Adventures in Italy

Bunnies in Oakland, California, reindeers in Reykjavik, Iceland, and yogurt in Florence. A major source of protein in different culture's diets? No. Graffiti and stencils across the globe. For the first of my Italy series, meet Yogurt graffiti. It's Florentine.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gingersnap Bacon Fat Cookies: What to do with those velvety drippings

If after reading my coq au vin post, you decided to multiply the recipe by six to feed a party of twenty-five for a Burgundy dinner at the wine bar you manage, you might have extra bacon fat left over. That is, if you stayed true to the roots of coq au vin and used the bacon and its fat as a flavoring agent rather than as a deep-frying vehicle. Not that I wouldn't try chicken deep-fried in bacon fat, I would, but within a mile's proximity from a doctor's office.

Let me tell you, with fat from five pounds of bacon, one can cook and bake a lot of things. One thing that one should not do, by the way, is make peanut butter bacon-fat cookies. They taste like peanut butter and ham sandwiches. Not that I would know from experience. One thing one should do is bake the best gingersnap cookies that you'll ever eat in your life. Sorry grandma.

The following cookie recipe is an adaption of NY Times Fashion Critic Cathy Horyn's family recipe. She adapted the recipe from Nelle Branson's Trinity Episcopal Church Recipe Book, whose author orginally got the recipe from Kevin Bacon's mother's cousin.

The bacon adds a smoky character to the cookies unattainable by using butter that touches your heart in that special way. Good lord they were good. I didn't change very much in the recipe, but the photo accompanying her recipe shows her cookies as thin and crisp when mine were thicker and crunchy. Should we play a riveting game of guess which cookies were made by the fashion critic? The difference in texture could be ascribed to me toning down the sugar in the recipe because, wow, they used a lot of sugar. I also mixed the ingredients in bowls rather than using a food processor.

And I'll admit, I ate these cookies with milk, no wine, and it was all that I hoped for. But if I were to serve these cookies, say as the bread part of a cinnamon ice cream sandwich, I just might serve these babies with an Auslese Riesling, a sparkling moscato, or nearly any late harvest white dessert wine.

Cheers, happy baconing, and please, tell me about your bacon fat delights in the comment section. Kitchen experiences only, please. Oh, and I'm leaving for Florence next week and am requesting your input in the next post down! Have any insights? Include them here.

Bacon-Fat Gingersnaps

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup bacon fat, cooled (from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds bacon)
3/4 cup sugar, plus more later for rolling cookies
4 tablespoons dark molasses
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl, combine, and set mixture aside.

Put the cooled bacon fat, molasses, and sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Add the egg and beat all until well-blended. Taste. Because you can. But don't sue me if you get sick and ate this raw egg yolk.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Form the dough into tablespoon and a half sized balls, roll in sugar, then place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Press the balls flat with your fingers, then use the back side of a fork to indent.

Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until dark brown. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to finish cooling.

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I'm Going to Italy: What Do I Bring Back and What Should I Not Miss?

As of next Tuesday, I will be in Florence, Italy. I will be jet lagged and incomprehensible, but gosh darn it, I'll be there. It's my first time in this land of pecorino, prosciutto, and gelato, and I'm more excited than vampire in a blood bank. I've also heard thatthe people and art are nice too. After a four night stay in Florence, my mother and I (my traveling partner) will drive to Siena, where we will stay in a friend's apartment and take a cooking class with our friends mother. Then we'll return to Florence and see all the sights we haven't seen for four or five more days.

I've never been to Tuscany, or Italy at all for that matter, and would like to ask you, dear readers, what foods, candies, packaged goodies, should I bring back? And if you've been to this region and know of a place you swear I can't miss (i.e. a gelato shop that trumps all others), I'd love to hear about it in the comments! Along the same lines, if there is something that you saw or did in Italy that translated horribly across cultural lines, tell me!

I'll be blogging about our experiences either while I'm there, or shortly after my return, so keep tuned for photos, pictures of cheese, and winery visit discussions.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Last Watermelon Pomegranate Salad

Solemn in their infrequently visited cardboard bins, the remaining watermelons of the season watch the steady procession of the crimson fall persimmon and pomegranate beauties with wistful eyes. They know that their time has come, that the market owners will pray for the last dog days of summer to inspire grocery store visitors to pluck them from their dark fruit bins so that they can make room for the many incoming apples varieties that seem to multiply themselves by the dozen every year.

A customer claims her watermelon when the thermometer hits 85 degrees and has a slice or two then puts the fruit in the fridge and forgets about it for a couple days. It isn't until she places a half-eaten pomegranate next to the melon that she remembers last year she ate a lot more melon salads. She tells herself tonight she'll revisit the seasonal dish.

A stony Chablis, a Chardonnay grown in the shell-ridden soils of Chablis, France, which in former land times used to be underwater, gets placed in the fridge. Un-oaked, clean, and steely, the chardonnay was grown in a cooler region and although it develops tart apple and lemon flavors, the grapes that form the wine never get so ripe that their flavors would compete with the sweet and savory nature of the salad. Instead, the clean flavors will settle nicely with the sweet watermelon and pomegranate, salty ricotta salata, and herbs. She has a glass of the almost chilled wine while considering future flavors.

The Last Watermelon Salad

yellow seedless watermelon, cubed
ricotta salata
pomegranate seeds
basil or tarragon leaves
olive oil
salt and pepper

Chop watermelon into smaller cubes and place in medium sized bowl. Crumble some ricotta salata over the fruit. Tear enough tarragon or basil leaves so that the salad will be lightly flavored with the herb's fragrance. Add enough pomegranate sees to please your crunch factor. Drizzle salad with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Eat within a couple hours to preserve the watermelon's texture.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Foodbuzz Publisher Community Launches

Some of you might be interested to learn about a foodie community that I belong to called Foodbuzz. It just formally launched it's publisher community program that unites over a thousand foodies, winos, and just pure drinkers from around the world on the interweb. Foodbuzz is a website where bloggers can check out other blogs, where foodies can drool over the latest featured boiled peanut or s'mores post, where cooks can find recipes, and where, if you have a free minute or two, you can go and just hang out online. There's a lot of cool stuff there, and a lot of my favorite bloggers are members of the community. My Foodbuzz profile is here . Browsing my friend list will give you a good idea of how the website connects people from Oakland to bloggers in Singapore and Germany. Thought you might like the website, and I'll be posting more soon!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Coq au Vin and Burgundy

Oh... coq au vin.

Immediately before cooking off four pounds of bacon for a private Burgundy dinner featuring coq au vin as the main star, I remembered that one of my favorite readers had requested that I post more about chicken and wine pairing. The timing was impeccable. I pulled the out camera that I just happened to have in my pocket, took a couple supple shots the bacon strips used for the coq, wiped the water smears from the recipe paper, and starting composing the post in my head while searing off chicken thighs. This and one or two additional future posts will focus on two of my favorite chicken and wine pairings. Today, it's coq au vin and Burgundy.

What to drink with chicken?

Chicken is like the tofu of the animal world. Unlike stronger meats like lamb or buffalo, it tastes like whatever you cook it with. So whenever anyone asks me what wine to pair with chicken, I ask how they're cooking it to get a better idea of what wine to set next to the juicy bird. Essentially, chicken can be consumed with any wine out there. Light wines, light chicken preparation. Dark wines, braise the chicken and throw in some bacon or cream to cushion the tannins. Sweet wines? Spicy chicken.

You all know how I feel about regional food and wine pairings, right? Very warmly. When we decided to have a wine dinner focusing on the Burgundian reds- Pinot Noir- I knew right away that I wanted to cook like the locals in the Burgundy region. They have, after all, been cooking and drinking their region's food and wine together for years. No wait, centuries. They just might have the pairing down by now.

Why Pinot Noir and coq au vin? Pinot Noir from Burgundy is quite the force. While Pinot Noirs from varying Burgundian appellations will vary in taste and are marked by different characteristics like excessive meatiness or delicate floral notes, all Burgundy will taste different from our Pinot here. The weather is cooler in this area in France than any area that the Pinot grape is grown in California, thereby the fruit doesn't have the chance to get as ripe (i.e. sweet) as they can and do here, and it maintains much more of its natural acidity that the fruit sugar would otherwise soothe.

A general rule is that Burgundies have enough acidity to scare the pants off our cute little Pinots in California. Being that acidity is one of the characteristics in wine that allows it to age well, Burgundies last a hell of a lot longer than our sweeter Pinots. They're actually meant to. Furthermore, it is this acidity that makes a Burgundy a better pairing with coq au vin than a California Pinot Noir.

The acidity in the Burgundy cuts the bacon and dark meat fat fat in the braised coq au vin dish. It's not that a Cali Pinot wouldn't taste good with coq (because it would), it's just that a Burgundy could highlight the dish's nuances better. But then, I'd really drink anything with coq au vin. I mean, you're eating coq au vin.

The Burgundies we were pouring at work with the coq where marked by meaty, dark fruit and orange zest characteristics. So when I was looking up recipes for coq au vin, one that caught my eye was one that was published on the Saveur website (sorry guys, I'm hooked). Well, two recipes on the website did. So I slightly adapted my favorite parts of the two to come up the recipe included below. The main differences were that I added orange zest to the coq to highlight the orange flavors in the wine. I also made sure to add a touch of cocoa powder, like some Burgundians do, toward the end of cooking, as it makes the sauce richer, thicker, and a better match for the meaty wine. Also, I used chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken because dark meat rocks and braises better than white. And it's easier to serve everybody at a catering gig the same thing so they don't ask you for a breast when you just promised the last one to their neighbor.

The wine we drank was fabulous. Imported by Joli Vin, the Burgundies that we poured with the coq was 2006 Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure 1er Cru "Santenots", from Volnay, Burgundy, and the 2006 Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure, 1er Cru "Les Vignes Franches" from Beaune, Burgundy.

Serves 4-6 people (1 or 2 chicken thighs each)
Note- chicken needs at least 4 hours to overnight to marinate

1.5 cups Burgundy or Cru Beajoulais (much more reasonably priced)
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced

3 lbs chicken thighs (approx. 6-7 chicken thighs)
3 tbsp. canola oil

4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley plus 1 tbsp. chopped leaves
1 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 lb. slab bacon, cut width-wise into 1/2 an inch
1 1/2 tbsp. flour
1 cup Chicken Stock
2 shallots, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
zest of one orange

1/3 lb. button mushrooms, quartered

1. Bring the wine, peppercorns, garlic, celery, carrots, and onion to a boil in a medium-sized sauce pan. Then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, marinate chicken in liquid overnight or for at least four hours.

2. Heat oven to 325°. Tie parsley sprigs, bay leaves, and thyme together with butcher string and set aside. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Strain marinade and reserve liquid and solids separately.

3. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a wide pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a bowl. Pour off some of the fat. On medium high heat, brown chicken on each side ( 6–8 minutes) in the same pot and transfer to a plate once browned.

4. Now add the reserved vegetable marinade to the pan where you just finished browning the chicken and cook until soft, 10–12 minutes. Next, sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook while stirring, for 1 minute. Now add reserved marinade liquid, bring to boil, and simmer for 1 minute. Add remaining stock, shallots, and bring to boil once more. Add bacon to pot, stir, add salt and pepper to taste and nestle chicken and herbs over veggies. Bake, covered, until tender, about 1.25-2 hours.

5. When chicken is almost finished cooking, heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the button mushrooms until soft and golden, around 5 minutes. Set aside.

6. After cooked, transfer chicken to a plate and cover with foil. Strain sauce. At this point you can choose to continue reducing the sauce on a low simmer for 10-30 minutes to thicken or just keep the sauce warm. I've done both.

7. Before serving, arrange chicken on platter; top with sauce, mushrooms, and some chopped parsley.

Do you have a favorite coq au vin recipe? What do you drink with it? Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Martinis? Bourbon?

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Rivoli's and Corso's Roscoe Skipper: Professional Pairings

While my Coq au vin post is cooking, which, by the way, takes as long to write up as it does to make, I thought I'd introduce you to a wine friend of mine. Meet Roscoe Skipper, the wine director/owner of a top 100 San Francisco Chronicle Bay Area restaurant, Rivoli, and the new Tuscan style trattoria, Corso -both in Berkeley, California. Roscoe's been drinking and pouring wine at top restaurants around the country for years and if anyone has a mind prime to pick for food and wine pairing inspiration, it's Roscoe. I'm much obliged to include him in the Professional Pairings series, and am certain you'll take as much any from this interview as I have. Thank you Roscoe!

You've worked at some highly reputable restaurants in San Francisco, like Square One, Masa's, and other celebrated places around the country. Could you trace your path in food and wine for Vin de la Table readers, and briefly describe how your professional life led you to where you are now, a wine director and owner of two restaurants?

Well, I started as a bus boy for Shoney's Big Boy restaurants in 1971. I was a cook for years, but wanted to attend college, so I started
waiting tables. This is when I started getting into wine. In '86, I
started at Square One and Even Goldstein was the sommelier. We had
daily wine tastings and were the guinea pigs for the course he was to
teach for Seagrams about wine, so I learned a ton there. After that,
Masa's with Mike Bonnacorsi, Chaya Venice in LA with Greg Louie, with
a great eclectic wine list, another year at Masa's with sommelier
Burke Owens (where I had the greatest wine I ever had, '66 La Tache!),
then I opened Bizou with Joseph Graham. In each restaurant I got to
taste a lot of wine and learn. Also, I went to France and Italy a few
times, where wine is a part of life, not just a part of restaurants.
When we got the opportunity to open Rivoli, the wine list was the fun
part. But I learned the most about wine after my motorcycle accident
in 2001. Because I couldn't be at the restaurant for a couple of
years, I started intensively reading and writing about wine in order
to better educate myself and my staff; the whole Oxford Companion to
Wine, the Wine Atlas of the World, all of Clive Coates, Bastianich,
Belfrage. And then writing: I've got tasting notes and background
descriptions of wine regions and producers for probably 1000 different

If you could pinpoint a moment when you decided to be a sommelier, what would that be?

It had to be when we opened Rivoli. As much as I loved wine, I kind of didn't want to make it into "work." I didn't really like a lot of the seriousness around it so I never thought about working as a sommelier. But the wine list was the fun part of starting Rivoli, so that's when I started taking it seriously.

Many people are curious about how wine lists are constructed and wonder why certain genres of wines are particular to certain styles of restaurants. You have two restaurants, Rivoli's and Corso, in Berkeley. Could you explain how the wine lists differ and your process in selecting wines for each place? How does the food, service, and atmosphere in the restaurants affect the wine list, for example?

The wine list at Rivoli is meant to complement Wendy's food. I know everyone says that, but I had no space for a big wine list, so I really had to throw out everything that wasn't necessary. Rivoli was based on seasonal, local ingredients with French and Italian techniques. So, duh, California, French and Italian wines made sense. I've dabbled in other areas, Australia, Argentina and even Croatia, but I always end up with just the three areas. However, I feel that Germany and Austria make the finest white wines in the world so I represent them too. Rivoli is more of a special occasion place, so it makes sense to have special occasion wines, so I concentrate on bio-dynamic and organically raised wines from specific vineyards, though I do offer less expensive wines that show me something, a varietal flare, a sense of place or typicity for a good price. The wines should say they're from somewhere, just like our food does. And for the style of wines, I tend to offer more whites that are crisp and fruity, like Veltliners and Soaves and reds that are not overdone, too much oak, too extracted, too high in alcohol. Wines that are on the extremes aren't very friendly to Wendy's food.

With Corso, Wendy wanted to do a Florentine trattoria, and in Italy,
you just don't see wines from anywhere else, in fact you rarely see
wines from outside the region. My favorite trattoria in Florence
doesn't even offer Brunello for Christ's sake. So I thought it would
be fun to do an all Italian list, with an emphasis on Tuscany, though
all regions of Italy are represented. Here, the emphasis is on
different styles of Chianti Classico, modern vs. traditional, and I
usually use the lesser bottlings from good producers, as seems fitting
for a casual trattoria. For example, Lonardo is one of my favorite
producers in the Taurasi region of Campania, so for Rivoli I offer his
finest wine, the 2000 Taurasi. For Corso, I offer his 'second' wine,
made from the same vineyard, just the less good areas, the less good
barrels, less oak treatment, lower price, simply labeled Aglianico.

What have been the most surprising food and wine pairings you've encountered? Feel free to explore the good, bad, and the weird.

The good: California chardonnay and corn soup. The bad: foie gras and
Sauternes; really, you need a Loire Valley Chenin with some residual
sugar. The weird: Duckhorn sauvignon blanc and tomato soup. Don't
know why it works but it does.

What do you eat and drink together when not at work, or at the end of a long shift?

I'm comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit I drink rose. All
summer. And not just a little bit. In the winter, I tend to drink
Loire cabernet francs and nebbiolos. And Burgundy when I can afford

Do you have other favorite pairings?

Where do I start? Of course the classics, goat cheese and Sancerre, oysters and muscadet, prime rib and Bordeaux, grilled chicken with lemon, thyme and garlic with chardonnay, charred rare rib eye with Barbaresco.

Lastly, now that you have the chance to speak to Vin de la Table readers interested in the holy combination of food and wine, would you care to share any parting pairing guidelines, wisdom, or suggest any experiments in the world of food and wine?

Wine is a part of our shared cultural heritage. As such, its history needs to be understood, so I urge everyone to read about wine. Some of what's written is pretty dry, but Matt Kramer, Clive Coates and the greatest of them all, Andrew Jefford are simply great writers and very engaging even when they get detailed. It's probably geeky, but everyone should own the World Atlas of Wine. I mean, who doesn't like maps? Oh, right, just me. And as I just put together a wine list for an Italian place, don't get too concerned about food and wine pairing: the Florentines drink everything with Chianti. Am I going to tell them they're wrong? And now I'll leave you with my favorite quote about wine:

―"A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine, except that on a
day without sunshine you can still get drunk"- Lee Entrekin

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Wine Writing of Lawrence Osborne and Jay McInerney

Readers may have noticed my affection for wine writers Lawrence Osborne or Jay McInerney by glancing at the "my favorite wine and food books" bar on my blog, or through browsing the selection at the Visit Kirstin's Amazon Store link.

Although the number of fine writers writing about wine is very high, these two have something special. Their writing always strays from the norm in its engaging, approachable style and comedic flair. Sure, there's a little wine snobbery and namedropping here and there in their books, but unlike many other wine writers who can't seem to complete a paragraph without mentioning (gasp!) Petrus or the Rothschilds, McInerney has made it though an entire essay with the names he's dropped being Roger Dangerfield and Baywatch. Which brings our attention to comedy in wine. There's not enough of it. In general, wine isn't intended to be scary or overly exclusive, but bad writers can make it seem so. McInerney and Osborne's charm is often found in their acknowledgment of elitism in wine and in their exploration of the exclusive wine bottles and the craze behind them.

Here's an example of some of McInerney's work from "Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar," where he considers the allure of the word Champagne.

"When was the last time you said to your loved one, "Honey, I want to lick sparkling wine off your naked body" or, "Let's break out the Iron Horse?" Sometimes the substitution of the words Champagne or Cristal makes the declarations more plausible."

And when Osborne first meets Robert Mondavi in "The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World."

"Robert Mondavi came in as if propelled on wheels, soundless but swift. Cocooned in a dapper multicolored knit waistcoat, he cuts an elfin but worldly figure in his corporate HW office on Route 29. I thought him rather elegant in his suede-lined sports jacket and frosted pink shirt."

If you don't have books written by Osborne or McInerney, I would highly suggest buying them. Although no wine writer's essays should be used as bibles dictating what one should and shouldn't buy or taste, they can certainly be read for entertainment, general wine education and wine and writing inspiration. These guys are good.

The work of the aforementioned writers can also be found on the Men's Vogue website, gratis. Mens Vogue has for years been hiring some of the best writers to cover wine and food. Check them out. There are some great wineries that are featured via Vogue.

Lastly, within a month I will be doing a joint post with the awesome Chinese-home-cuisine focused Red Cook. Using his recipes, I'll be pairing wine to three courses of home-style Chinese food. Although interested in sampling some of the wines recently made in China for the event, I've been having a hard time finding good Chinese wine by my house so I went entirely Euro and South American with the wine, but in honor of the wine industry in China, here's a link to an article on Mens Vogue about the. nascent Chinese wine industry.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Coffee Break: A Brief Intermission

Sometimes, before noon, I drink coffee instead of wine. Such a day was yesterday.

My husband was out of town, and I found myself batting my lashes at our Italian stovetop coffee maker. Shh..... When he's here, we normally use the big American coffee maker (well, he does, because I am physically incapable of making coffee in this contraption), because he wants at least 2 cups to boost his morning properly, and our size of Italian coffee maker only makes 2 cups at once. I know, the horror. Using the American ensures that he and I can enjoy more than one cup of coffee, each, without having to clean the Italian maker. Who can clean before their second cup of coffee?

So I decided to embrace the morning as my own, make coffee in my favorite coffee maker, and cook my first batch of steel-cut oatmeal. Damn that oatmeal is good. While I waited for the nutty, rich, grains to cook, which generally takes 30 minutes, I read Saveur magazine's latest issue, devoted entirely to breakfast. Get this issue. It's awesome.

In honor of my breakfast and a discussion shared among friends recently at Bay Wolf's 33rd Anniversary Double Duck Dinner regarding the proper way to make Italian maker coffee, I'm sharing my coffee and oatmeal methods. Feel free to share your methods too.

Italian stovetop coffee for one: Using the circular air vent within the coffee maker base as a marking point for a full base of water, fill the base halfway. Put the maker's coffee strainer on top. Fill the coffee strainer insert halfway to the lip loosely with medium to finely ground coffee.

I like fair-trade and Peet's blends myself. Screw on the top portion of the maker, put on flame or burner and bring to a boil so water will start begin percolating. Let bubble and percolate until all no water is remaining in lower part. Drink with half-and-half or milk.

Steel-cut oatmeal for one: Bring 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup milk to boiling in a small saucepan. Add 1/4 cup oatmeal (I swear that this is all you need). Add a pinch of salt. Lower heat to simmer and cook oats for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Oats will should firm once finished. Top with a touch o' milk and fresh fruit. In winter, cook the oats with dried fruits such as dates, apricots and raisins. Eat while reading Saveur's breakfast issue.

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