Thursday, January 24, 2008

You Say Party, I Say Chenin Blanc

The following videos are devoted to things of the miraculous Chenin Blanc grape. The first gives a glimpse into the lives of the winemakers at Domaine du Closel- a female-owned and run domaine that produces some of the most celebrated Chenin Blanc in France. The second explores the 2007 harvest of Chenin Blanc in South Africa through the eyes of the Rudera winemaker.

Then, I've included a version of something I wrote for our shop's newsletter, called "You Say Party, I Say Chenin Blanc."

Wine Spectator: Five Generations of Women- Chenin Blanc from Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, Loire Valley, France

Chenin Blanc in South Africa
Episode 17 - the 2007 South African Harvest- Rudera label

Most grapes ask for details before saying yes to an invite. They like to know the party specifics- the who, the where. Barbera D’Alba inquires whether tomatoes will be among the guests. Hipper chardonnays like to know if the event’s being thrown in an oak barrel or stainless steel tank, and Petite Sirah just generally refuses to come if a wine bigger than itself was invited. On the contrary, Chenin Blanc rarely cares when, where, with whom and certainly never asks why when invited to a bash. It simply arrives.

This little grape that originated from the French Loire Valley is an unquenchable party wine for one main reason. It does whatever it takes to make the party flourish. Chenin Blancs come in an amazing range of flavors, from honeyed and floral to lime and mineral and from quince to pineapple. And more. If a guest doesn’t like off-dry wines, a bracing, high-acidity New Zealand or South African Chenin Blanc should quiet their complaints. Or, if still wines aren’t their thing, a sparkling from Loire Valley’s Vouvray region could shake up their night.

Beyond the broad range of grape, the most glorious thing about Chenin Blancs and bashes is how amazingly they pair with popular party foods. You say party, I say food. Their honeyed, floral, quince, melon and lime scents (whether sweet or dry) and fierce acidity and mineral grip can hold up to foods that are thought of as wine-picky.

For example, take Superbowl party foods. If someone mistakenly sets down their beer while dipping a chip in guacamole, replace it with a mineral-flecked, lime centered Chenin Blanc from New Zealand or South Africa. It’s okay if you want to hide until the grape reveals its glory. The wine’s big acidity, mineral and lime characteristics shine when matched with the creamy avocado, zesty onions and garlic. Mango salsas? Also yes. Serving chicken wings or jerk? Toss either with a dry Chenin Blanc from Saumur or Savennières, or if super spicy, with an off-dry Chenin from Anjou (all Loire Valley).

Perhaps you are serving Asian cuisine inspired dishes at a different party. Fresh Vietnamese spring rolls dipped in spicy chili-lime sauce can’t be beat with the slightly tropical and mineral 06 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc ($17) from the Dry Creek Valley. Have you heard about the glories of sushi and sparkling wines? At your next sushi bash, pop the cork on a sparkling Vouvray such as the Vincent Carème Ancestrale ($27) and savor with a slice of Hamachi or California roll. Likewise, if you’re inspired by Thai chicken satay or Chinese shrimp dumplings, so is nearly any Chenin Blanc.

Or say you want to have just a few friends over for wine or cheese, or someone you are making eyes at over for dessert. Prepare a cheese plate with fresh or aged goat cheeses, stinky blues, gooey washed rinds and pour a dry or off-dry Chenin Blanc. Superb. Cheeses love the grape’s minerality and the quiet fruit won’t try to steal the cheese’s glory. For that special someone, I strongly believe that a sweet 05 Baumard Quarts de Chaume ($42/half bottle) will lead to great things. If its floral, pear, pineapple and honeyed flavors can seduce fruit tarts, flavored dark chocolates, crème-brulée and apple pies, why not your guest too?

The next time you’re checking your invite list, remember to invite Chenin Blanc. It likes to party as much as you do.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gnocchi Recipe- Part II

The Recipe:

Serves 5-6 people
Preheat oven 350 degrees


4 medium to large russet potatoes
2 egg yolks
AP flour (around a cup)
salt and pepper

Food Mill
Pastry Scraper
Sur la Table Pastry Scraper
Large slotted spoon or Chinese bamboo strainer
Bamboo Skimmer

A Pot of salted, boiling water (use this for your fist time making this gnocchi)

1. Prick potatoes with a fork to release steam. Place directly on oven rack and bake for around 45 minutes, or until cooked so that a fork pricked into the potato comes out quickly.
Always bake, never boil potatoes for gnocchi.

2. After potatoes are cooked, peel as quickly as your tender human fingers will allow. They will be very hot, but the hotter the potato, the better the gnocchi.

3. Once peeled, slice hot potatoes into sixths and puree through a food mill (on the medium to fine grater disk) directly onto a large, clean countertop surface covered lightly with sprinkled flower. I mill directly onto my kitchen island. Let cool.

4. Make a well in the center of the potatoes. Lightly sprinkle flour over the bottom of the well and over the layer of milled potatoes. Then, generously sprinkle salt and grind fresh pepper over the potatoes. Place the egg yolks into the well and stir with a fork or your fingers until yolks are broken.

5. Gradually mix the floured potato mixture into the egg yolks. Use your fingers and the pastry scraper to combine all ingredients on the counter surface.

6. Continue mixing ingredients together for two to three more minutes, until a uniform, fluff potato mass develops. As potato dough becomes too sticky to mix successfully, sprinkle more flour over mixture to loosen from your fingers. Note: use the pastry scraper to help mix together from the counter surface in order to utilize as little flour as possible. If too much flour is used- aim for 1/2 to 3/4 a cup, total- the gnochhi will be too firm. After your uniform mass develops, knead lightly for one more minute.

76. Cut the potato mass into quarters. Roll one quarter into a long, snakelike tube. Then, use the pastry scraper as a knife and slice a piece off from the end of the tube.

8. Stop. Test run. Drop the end piece into your medium boiling, salted test water. It's ready when it floats to the top- in about a minute. If it falls apart, its too mushy and needs (just) a touch +more flour. Go back to the mix, unite the quarters, add little flour and knead lightly for around 30 seconds more or until flour is fully incorporated in each section. Most times you will have added sufficient flour already by the test run, but if you didn't by the first time, your second flour run will be fine with a small flour addition.

9. Then cut again into quarters and roll each section into a long, snakelike tube. Then, use the pastry scraper as a knife and slice the tube into 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside the bits on a floured sheet pan and continue until all tubes are portioned into gnocchi.

7. Next, press the back of your fork lightly into each potato piece to make an indentation for sauce to nestle in later.

8. After finished with indenting the last pillow, refrigerate the gnocchi. When ready to eat, drop in salted, boiling water in three batches. Once a batch of gnocchi rise to the top of the pot, remove from boiling water with a small strainer or slotted spoon and place in large colander so water can be used for all gnocchi batches. Drizzle with olive oil. Repeat until finished.

9. Saucinate.

P.S: Here are some links to articles on Chef Dante Boccuzzi's, whose gnocchi recipe inspired this one, and one to his website. Pretty cool guy.

Dante Restaurant

Dante's Website

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Gnocchi: Chef Dante Boccuzzi's Fluffy Potato Pillows

About seven years ago, Chef Dante Boccuzzi (of Silk’s, Nobu, Aureole) taught me how to make gnocchi. My potato world was changed forever.

Dante’s gnocchi were simply the lightest, the most supple and flavorful potato pillows that I’ve ever tried. More than just being pure deliciousness, they epitomized the savory, earthy essence of a potato, but with fluff.

Due to this elated potato experience, I have been ruined for most other gnocchi- mostly finding them too hard, too gummy, too heavy, too floury, or frankly, just too boring. No gnocchi have ever treated me as well or made me blush with culinary remembrance like those created in the Silk’s restaurant kitchen that day.

Of course Dante would have never announced that something of his doing was that grandiose. He’s not that type. He insisted that we call him by his first name rather than Chef and would carry conversations will us lowly beginning cooks as if we were equals and not inexperienced fledglings hoping to absorb some of his skill. Instead, he walked me over to a prep table, and asked me quietly if I would like to learn how to make the gnocchi that his grandmother taught him how to make as a young boy in Parma. This question, coming from the mouth of one of the nicest and talented chefs (with pretty, smiling eyes) that I ever had the opportunity to work with was enough to render me smitten with gnocchi forever. With his potato pillows, that is.

A couple weeks ago I decided to make that same gnocchi.

This was not a decision I took lightly. Before deciding to have a go at it, I recalled how I have routinely ruined perfectly easy and simple squash or ricotta-spinach gnocchi recipes from other sources. Butternut goo or cheese and spinach soup anyone? I wasn’t just nervous that I would be completely inept at making potato pillows, I was scared of killing my perfect Boccuzzi gnocchi memory. After debating whether it was better to keep a memory holy or attempt to bring it into fruition, into the living day, I made my decision. I headed to my recipe files. I was sure I wrote it down, and two of our favorite dinner guests were arriving at 6:30pm.

I didn’t write it down.

But I still made gnocchi. The mark of a great teacher, his pupil remembered the steps that he taught seven years later, without notes. I think… anyhow, the gnocchi were super and Dante inspired. And I'm still smitten with his potato touch.

In my next post I will include a recipe of of that memory. However, before giving the recipe, I’d just like to apologize to our guests that night, and my co-workers, and the wine bar customers. I was very excited and let’s all pray together that in a month or so, I’ll stop talking about the fluttering feeling I got in my tummy when lightly kneading the potato pillows on our kitchen prep table. I'm sorry.

In addition, because this is a wine and food pairing blog, I’ll reveal that the accompanying sauce served with the fluffy guys was mushroomey- Santa Cruz grown shitakes, dried porcinis, enoki’s, garlic, thyme, butter, and a squeeze of lemon. Simple. We drank this will an Andrew Rich Pinot Noir that my cousins (our dinner guests) brought over from their trip to Oregon. It was a fantastic match. Oregon Pinot Noirs are often celebrated for their light mushroom aroma, and the earthy streak running through the wine matched similar qualities in the sauce.

Recipe to come soon.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Brown Sugar Kitchen Photos

As I promised, here are some photos of BSK. It's not yet open, but here are some early glances to get those BBQ juices running.

Chef Brandy, whose three year-old daughter is currently learning kitchen knife skills, was prepping for a holiday catering party at Brown Sugar Kitchen. Included in some of the goodies she was preparing was a spice marinade for slow-cooked pork butt, crispy and lush cornbread, and black-eyed pea chowder.
For the record, I perfected my knife skills when I was eight weeks old, and earned my first nunchuck competition on my one and a half year birthday (we celebrate half birthdays in my family). Just seemed appropriate to mention this here.

A long view of Brown Sugar Kitchen. It a week or two the walls will be painted a light brown and a beautiful olive green.

Chef/owner Tanya Holland and I, enjoying a glass of wine. We were actually just thirsty. We never drink water when we work.

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