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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