Saturday, May 29, 2010

Best Ever Pizza

I am happy to introduce Margot as new contributor to the Ancient Fire Wine Blog. She has been a regular character in the adventures, but generally just a hungry and thirsty participant and a silent editing partner. Silence no more! Take it away Margot.

There are times in your life that you know you have just experienced “The Best”. We do not know when they are coming most of the time but when those moments happen it is like fireworks and neon signs blinking to alert us to them. Heck, Food TV has even built a show around this called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”. Prior to our trip to the Pacific Northwest Jay and I saw the episode about pizza. At the time I was firmly on the side of those “celebrity” chefs that chose the traditional style pizza: thin crust, good tomato sauce and mozzarella. I was a pizza purest. Sure I had my fair share of fancy toppings and sauces but in the end I thought that the title of “The Best” should go to the Old School style….. Then, on our trip….

We were in Woodinville, a Washington town known for the huge amount of wineries and wine tasting rooms that lined the streets. After touring and doing a private tasting at Chateau St. Michelle and then hitting the Columbia Winery tasting room, we were hungry. Not knowing where to head I asked the woman doing our tasting where she would go for a snack. She immediately said “The Purple Café”. Taking her suggestion we headed out to get a quick bite, nothing fancy, just something to get us through till dinner.

Pulling into the strip mall the outside of this place is much understated. The interior was quaint with three of walls consisting of shelves filled with wine bottles (much to Jay’s delight). Our food order consisted of the following: scallops wrapped in bacon and the Parma Prosciutto Pizza. Hoping to pair a wine that went well with both selections Jay suggested I order a gewürztraminer, named Sleight of Hand “The Magician” from the Columbia Valley in Washington. His intuition was accurate as the wine paired well with both menu items we ordered.

The scallops wrapped in bacon came first and they were cooked perfectly. The scallops were juicy and soft, the bacon crisp, thick and salty.

Then, the pizza arrived, it looked unassuming; thin crust, piled with arugula with glimpses of the gorgonzola cheese and prosciutto peaking through. When I bit into it, ahhhhh heaven, the fireworks went off and the sign starting blinking “BEST EVER, BEST EVER”. The balance of the ingredients was perfect. I am a huge fan of mixing sweet with salty, when it is done right, and in this case it was. The crust was crispy and really allowed the toppings to play center stage. The sauce in this case was a red onion jam which was sweet and savory at the same time lending itself to pair nicely with the creamy saltiness of the gorgonzola cheese. The prosciutto was found throughout each slice, but used sparingly as to not overwhelm the rest of the flavors. Topping it with the arugula was genius, as the crisp, fresh flavor helped to enhance your experience of the rest of the flavors.

So there it is, the best pizza I ever ate, in a strip mall in Woodinville, Washington. Though I will most likely never get back there again I am thankful for being able to have that “Best Ever” moment. Never found when you are looking, but there for you to stumble upon…until the next one, memories will have to do.



Washington Wine Reviews

While on the trip for the WineMaker Magazine Conference Margot and I picked up some Washington wines to bring to meals and share with our new winemaking friends. Based on the responses we got everyone sure liked meeting us with wine in hand!

White Salmon – San Crispin Field (Rhone Style Blend)
Underwood, Washington

This was the most balanced and food-worthy red wine I had on the whole trip. With aromas of red fruits and peppery/spicy flavors it wasn’t overpowering nor was it too subtle to be taken seriously. I had it with dinner which consisted of rare prime rib, steamed salmon, steamed vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes. The wine went well with everything and especially the prime rib for me because I don’t like it rare. Wine saves the day!

Coyote Canyon – Viognier 2008
Prosser, Washington

This was a truly delightful wine shared over lunch at the conference. The aromas from this wine were exceptional with abundant flowers and fruit. The wine was medium dry with that very slight hint of sweetness that made it versatile with a variety of food flavors. I love Viognier and have made it every year I have been making wine. I now have a new target to shoot for with my newest batch I am starting this week.

Brehm Vineyards – Riesling 2008
Underwood, Washington

Peter Brehm was a presenter at the conference so I was excited to meet him and of course wanted to try some of his wines. He is also involved in the White Salmon winery from which the first selection came. This Riesling is what I would call a classic and “true” representation of the origins of Riesling. Tight and focused with moderate aromas of stone fruits this wine is dry and reminded me of an Alsatian style Riesling. We included this in our farewell wine & cheese tasting. It paired well with apple slices and the Willapa White sheep’s milk cheese. Peter’s claim to fame at the conference is his frozen grape business of which I have yet to take advantage. Based on my tastings of his wines I just might have to get some grapes and try my luck!

Overall our experience with wines from Oregon and Washington was excellent, and we only scratched the surface. I don’t have any words of wisdom on how to select which vineyards to visit or what wine bars to drink at, but I can tell you that trying a broad range of selections from the region will turn up many winners.



Oregon Wine Reviews

Last week while out in Oregon and Washington Margot and I picked up, or were served, a number of different wines from the area. We have written up reviews of three notable wines that would be worth looking for and adding to your entertaining menu.

Phelps Creek Vineyards – Celilo Rose 2007
Hood River, Oregon

The Phelps Creek Rose is made from Merlot and has a deep red color. Slightly sweet and with nice aromas of berries this wine was a lively talking point over lunch at the WineMaker conference. At first when I offered some wines to share there was some reluctance, maybe courtesy amongst strangers, but once this bottle started around the table there was no stopping it. I did get a second glass and smiled at the empty bottle when it was time to go back to class. I enjoyed it with some tossed salad, tossed marinated artichokes, tomatoes, Italian meats/cheeses and some bread. With a smooth finish it complimented all of that very well. We didn’t make it out to Phelps Creek but we ran into several folks who did and said it was worth the trip.

King Estate – Signature Pinot Gris 2008
Eugene, Oregon

Working from a recommendation from Pam at the Sticks Forks Fingers blog ( we quested for some King Estate Pinot Gris from the moment we started wine shopping after landing. We didn’t end up finding it until five days later at the Pike & Western wine shop at Pike’s Place market in Seattle. It was the last bottle. Surely a sign from the wine gods that I was to have it after all. The wine has wonderful aromas of pear, peach and flowers. It reminded me of a Vigonier, which is probably why PG is my new favorite white wine. The flavors were more citrus and tropical with a backbone of mineral and steely flavors. The finish was long and smooth. We enjoyed this wine with some Willapa White Sheep’s Milk cheese. The cheese has a soft texture and mild flavors, like a very light goat cheese. The wine wasn’t as dry as I had expected, though this is good for me, and the cheese made the wine taste a bit sweeter. We also tried it with some smoked salmon, which turned out to be a neutral pairing; something I could offer in the future and be sure it wouldn’t come off wrong.

Walnut City Wineworks – 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir
Mcminnville, Oregon

While surfing the food shops at Pike’s Place Market we were looking for items to include in our farewell wine and cheese tasting back at the hotel. We had some open wine already, and the King Estate bottle from above, so I was hoping for a half bottle of a good red wine to round out the party. I was in luck. This wine has a nice earthy nose with flavors of tobacco, leather and mushrooms. The wine was very drinkable with a smooth finish. At more than five years old the color had a slight brown tinge to it, something I was not surprised about at all. I enjoyed this wine with smoked salmon, Kalamata olives and the Willapa White cheese described above. All of those pairings were fantastic and I savored every bit. This was by far the best Pinot Noir I had on the trip.

All three wineries have online storefronts and wineries in Washington state do have direct shipping access to New Hampshire where I live so I am sure if I am jonesing for some anytime soon I can click away and wait a few days.



Friday, May 28, 2010

WineMaker Magazine Conference Recap

(Skamania Lodge, Stevenon Washington)

The third annual WineMaker Magazine Conference was held in Stevenson Washington from May 20th to the 22nd, 2010. Over 400 amateur and small winery winemakers assembled at the Skamania Lodge in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge area for 3 days of education, networking, wine tasting and fun.

The format of the conference contains seminars and panels during the day including topics such as Testing for pH, Country (Fruit) Winemaking, Vineyard Management and Award Winning Tips from Past Winners. Two full days for sure. Each day there were keynote addresses over lunch and a wine evaluation seminar in the mid-afternoon. Attendees were obliged to bring wine to share at meals and of course to meet your fellow attendees, swap tips and have fun.

I chose a program focused on lab testing including for SO2 (Sulfite), pH, Total Acidity and Malolactic Fermentation. These measurements will all be a key part of the new batch of wines I will start this month.

In addition I sat in on seminars for Adjusting Wine Must Before Fermentation, Award Winning Tips, Yeast Nutrition and Improving Wine During Aging. After two days my head was spinning from all of the information I was soaking in, but with some good notes taken down I will be prepared to leverage what I have learned immediately,

One of the most interesting seminars was on entitled Same Grape, Different Yeast hosted by Sigrid Gertsen-Briand from Lallemand, a maker of wine yeasts, enzymes and yeast nutrients. During the seminar we were introduced to four white wines and two red wines, each from the same starting batch of wine infused with different strains of yeast. The goal of the seminar was to see firsthand through an evaluation of these wines how the yeast selection affected the end result. We were encouraged to evaluate the wines for color, clarity, aroma and taste as well as blend them to better understand how the individual components might be better together. The white wines where from the Chardonnay grape and at the table I was sitting the highlight was the blend of sample #2 with sample #4. The result was a well balanced smooth Chardonnay with pleasurable aromas, good flavors and a medium finish. How cool!

The first night was the swap meet. Right off I am going to be clear that I saw more open bottles of wine at the swap meet than I had anywhere else before. Risking damage during transit, Margot and I brought three bottles of our wine to share, a 2009 Strawberry, 2009 Chateau du Roi (CDP from a kit) and the 2010 Symphony. We dropped the CDP on the swap table and plucked a Cab Franc up to open. I have to admit that I don’t recall (and didn’t capture) the maker of the wine or my impressions. I was having too much fun. We opened our Strawberry at the table and then shared it around with some of the folks we met earlier in the day. The feedback was a great honor. Those of you who have had it know it well and the reaction here was much the same. The bottle was empty not long after it was opened. I went on that night to try upwards of 20 wines from all over the country made from a range of grapes and fruits. Some Merlot from PA, Zinfandel from CA, Cab Franc from WA and the list goes on. Not everything I had was to my liking, but when considering the enthusiasm with which they were poured and the camaraderie this event offered my detailed evaluation is not important. I had the very last sip of a 1982 homemade Merlot. It was showing some age but was drinkable and a treat to try. We were having fun and everyone I met, like myself, acknowledged that they were there to learn how to do it better. Some of the local commercial wineries and amateur winemaking clubs were also pouring their wines.

(Margot and Kelly & Robbie Rogers from NC)

The second night was the closing of the conference which was capped off by the competition awards dinner. Between Margot and I we had entered fifteen wines and hoped for some luck again this year with the judging. Boy did we end up surprised! We sat at a table with folks from NY, NJ, NC and a local winemaker from MA, Noel Powell, who I had corresponded with via the web prior to the conference. In all our table took home 12 medals , a nice concentration that got us some attention for sure. The big joke was the fact that my name got called nine times! “And once again from Londonderry New Hampshire, Jason Phelps” was how it went for the last two. The recognition was amazing and fellow attendees stopped by as we were packing up from dinner to congratulate me. So many people offered their kind words of support, and thanks for tips and encouragement I had offered to them over the two days. I felt like a rock star. Rex & Barbara from CA were the big winners taking the winemaker of the year award for the third time, something I was surely a runner up for. A true honor indeed. I personally congratulated both of them and let them know we hoped to see them again next year. With some of his tips in hand, he presented on the awards winning tips panel, we plan on giving them a serious run for the top award the next time around.

(Heading to the Podium!)

(Noel & Jason Representing for New England!)

On Sunday morning we enjoyed the deluxe Champagne Brunch at Skamania and headed off to Portland and ultimately Seattle. The next few blog postings will contain wine reviews for Washington, Oregon, winery visits to Chateau Ste Michelle & Columbia Winery and dining and drinking reviews for Seattle. Don’t touch that dial!



Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chocolate and Raspberry Wine

Chocolate and berries show up pretty much everywhere, since everybody knows they are good together, so nothing I am about to say is terribly original. That doesn't mean that through careful work and selection you couldn't create a memorable experience for yourself.

I came across a Raspberry wine from Pasek Cellers from Washington State. Find out more about them at
The wine is tart and somewhat sweet so it paired well with both cheese and chocolate. They have a dessert variety as well which would be more suited to very sweet desserts. The wine is a deep red color with a fantastic raspberry aroma. The flavor is spot on with enough tart and sweet in balance with each other. The finish is not very long, but long enough to please. Having made berry wines in the past I know how much product goes into a batch. I can only imagine the quantity of berries required for this wine.

I paired the wine with a Patric Chocolate from the Sambirano Valley in Madagascar, a 67% cacao small batch offering. The chocolate itself has nice fruit flavors including dark fruits and red berries. The bit of chocolate and sip of wine were excellent together. The fruit in each found and connected with the other. The chocolate has the familiar bitterness of a darker style but doesn't come off as harsh.

Just for fun I found a chewy brownie recipe from Laura at the Cooking Photographer blog that would be worth a try with the wine. The recipe even mentions backing off on the sugar which would be beneficial with a wine that is not super sweet.



Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Great Wine & Cheese Pairings

Mardi at the Eat. Live. Travel. Write. blog posted about her experiences with a tasting of cheeses and wines. It made me think of the many times we have done this and how wonderful it always turns out to be. Check it out at:

In particular we have a favorite lunch when we are in VT. A cheese plate with crusty bread, fruit, multiple cheeses and some of our homemade wine. Whether it is after snowshoeing, yard cleanup or hanging out with friends, nothing is as much fun OR as tasty.

We often try to have a hard cheese like Parmesan, softer cheeses like aged cheddars and smooth cheeses like goat or brie. For fruit we have found berries and multiple kinds of apples are great matches. Bread can span a wide range from plain French bread to multi-grain with lots of tasty seeds and grains.

One of the best pairings we have discovered this way is Chavrie plain goat cheese and golden apples. When we pair with wines we often go with white and pink wines to try to pair well with the cheese and the fruit.

Wow, now I am hungry.



The WineMaker Magazine Competition Results Are In!

Once again this year the WineMaker Magazine International Amateur Competition was the largest competition of its type, drawing over 4500 entries!

Ancient Fire submitted 15 entries in multiple categories and was honored with 9 medals, including 4 gold. Representing a broad spectrum of styles our awards included:

2009 Moscato - Gold
2008 Viognier - Gold
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon - Bronze
2008 Amarone #2 - Gold
2008 Amarone #1 - Bronze
2009 Riesling Ice Wine - Silver
2009 Plum Riesling - Gold
2009 Strawberry #1 - Gold
2009 Strawberry #2 - Bronze

Check out the competition wrap-up at

Congratulations go out to everyone who entered for once again making this competition a significant force in the home and amateur winemaking landscape. Commercial wineries should take notice!

UPDATE - I got a mention from a fellow competitor on their blog about their winemaking in CA. Check it out. Some of the pictures of their vines will make you want to move!



Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Ultimate Food & Wine Experiences

Catchy title, huh? I am not running a list of things that I think are the ultimate experiences, nor do I think I have had enough exposure to draw such a list from. What I am going to do is offer the one thing I have learned that will help raise each food & beverage experience you have to its maximum potential.

Express your sensations and emotions about your experiences with the people you share them with.

When you enjoy a dish or a wine and you express the feelings and the sensations you have you give it more life. If you research the place where a dish comes from or walk the vineyards where a wine is grown the sense of place becomes part of your experience. Discussing everyone's distinct and unique perspectives from an experience fills in details and makes it bigger than one person could have felt alone. Even when something doesn't strike your fancy or isn't representative of the expectations, getting at the heart of the experience with your companions will complete the occasion.

Lisa and Charles at the Authentic Suburban Gourmet blog have been running a series on a class they are taking that is articulating and expressing this idea for the participants. Check out this week's post at and be sure to go back and read the first four weeks. The reviews of the food, wine, conversation and reflection will help you adopt this principle in your own life.



Saturday, May 22, 2010

Viognier with Mustard, Herb & Cheese Crusted Pork

I saw this recipe for Mustard, Herb & Cheese Crusted Pork in today's Foodbuzz Top 9. It comes from the Joelen at the What's Cooking Chicago? blog.

For several years I have made a Viognier, but only one year (the first) was very good in my opinion. Since then whenever I can find a Viognier I haven't had I will grab it and give it a whirl. I love the powerful nose of flowers and the fact that it often has a full body and is lush with a long finish. It is a very food friendly wine. And since I LOVE wine and food it is a hit for me.

I had a 2007 Viognier yesterday from Coyote Canyon Winery. The nose was very floral and enticing. With just a hint of residual sweetness the wine oozed with apricot and had nice full body. I checked the winemaking notes at the web site and found that they uses sur-lee aging on this wine to increase the body and mouthfeel, definition a good choice.

For those not familiar with this technique a quick explanation will be useful. When wines have ceased fermentation and begin to settle the sediment creates an obvious (in a glass vessel is where it is most obvious) layer at the bottom of the container. These are the lees. Around the world there are many strategies for using the lees or not, and for how long. Sur-lee aging is the process of retaining the lees and periodically mixing the wine to re-distribute the lees and the wonderful flavor and aroma compounds present in them. This can be tricky because other stuff can be hiding there, so you have to know your fermentation to make this choice successfully. When this does happen properly the wine is enhanced with aromas and flavors that make it even more pleasurable to drink.

I make this wine and food pairing recommendation based on the wine's ability to balance the bite from the mustard and for it's body to hold up to the cheese and crust on the pork. The pairing will the pork will, aside from the seasoning, will also be quite nice, something my wife and I have tried several times.



Friday, May 21, 2010

Mixology & Getting Your Guests Involved

This week there has been a lively discussion on a post from the Merry Gourmet about crafting cocktails for a hosted party. Being wine drinkers, we very much are too, she and her husband wanted to find a cocktail they could unveil at an upcoming party that would be easy to make, AND crowd pleasing.

Check out the post and the comments at The buzz around the post got it into the Foodbuzz Top 9 today.

When my wife and I first started hosting parties at our house we often had beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks available. This satisfied most guests, but we did notice a few guests preferred spirits or a cocktail. If we were lucky we had something around and I could whip a drink up. That didn't satisfy me at the host.

As my winemaking got going I started seeing lots of shows about mixology and realized some of the spirits being used are really wines, fortified and not. Vermouth and Lillet Blanc are two that immediately come to mind. I started experimenting using my wines with other spirits in martini style drinks. I have included a recipe below from one of our Friday night happy hours that my wife and I (just us!) often do to bring the week to a close.

This experimentation required a more complete bar, bar tools and some knowhow. I have to say it was fun to bring my knowledge to a functional level and now I experiment all the time. These days when we host parties we typically have a list of commonly requested drinks available, some left field selections we have come up with or like and of course enough range in the bar for me to pick up the bartenders bible in response to a request I am not familiar with.

The final dimension that has really made this a wonderful journey to be on is getting our guests involved. Not long after the first party where the "bar was open" our friends starting asking how I learned how to make the drinks and often professed fear at trying it at home. I love to share and I had to answer this call. At the holidays in 2009 we held mixology lessons to demonstrate how to approach making drinks, how several were made and then asked guests if they would like to give it a try. I had good expectations, but the response was overwhelming. Several friends have said since that they have gotten positive feedback from their own bar skills when hosting at home. I couldn't be happier.

Nothing in this was all that surprising once I stepped back and considered that our friends have always been interested in the the dishes we make, how I make our wines and now how we tend bar. Margot has even gotten into challenging me to come up with new drinks. That is never a bad thing!

Here are some recipes for drinks that you can make at home or have your guests make to add some fun to an upcoming party.

Old Fashioned

2 oz bourbon whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 splash water
1 tsp sugar syrup (make ahead, more if sweeter is desired)
1 maraschino cherry
1 orange wedge

Mix first four ingredients in a rocks glass. Add ice. Squeeze the orange slightly to add some juice to the drink. Place orange and cherry in glass and serve.

Devils Kiss (this is an original martini with homemade wine)

2oz Strawberry Wine (a berry liqueur will work in place)
2oz Pomegranate Vodka
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Grenadine
1 twist of lemon
1 maraschino cherry

Mix with ice in a shaker for 20-30 seconds. Strain into martini glass. Serve with a lemon twist and cherry.
On a recent visit to Jamaica I experimented with a few combinations requested from the very willing bartenders.
White Jamaican (White Russian, Caribbean style)

2 oz Appleton 12 year old rum
2 oz Rum Cream
1 oz Tia Maria

Mix and serve over ice.

Street Pharmacist

2 oz Appleton 12 year old rum
2 oz Rum Cream
1 oz Amaretto

Mix and serve over ice.



Thursday, May 20, 2010

Food & Beverage Pairing: Art, Science and Passion!

Early morning today. Pounded more coffee than usual so my mind was primed for some reflection. As luck would have it I ended up having a spiritual experience that oddly represented the topic at hand, creating successful pairing experiences.

Pairing the mellow groove of the Cosmic Game by Thievery Corporation (arguably the best world-inspired independent record of all time) with the book “Lessons in Wine Service from Charlie Trotter” was accidental. What happened was magical. The music is uplifting and melodic, soulful and exploratory and provides a foundation for the listener to go in their own direction. The book is focused, direct and full of information. The game, excellence in food and wine service. The stage, Charlie Trotter’s world renowned restaurant in Chicago and its remarkable staff.

The philosophy that launched and has nurtured Trotter's restaurant is incredible and offers insights that should be considered by anyone striving to create an organization of excellence in any trade.

Almost since I became aware of the role I have been pondering and refining a definition of what I think it is to be a sommelier. What I have explained to those that have asked is that I feel a sommelier is someone who is skilled in the application of art, science and their senses to the challenge of creating memorable food with beverage experiences. That definition goes well beyond just the food and drink; the actors, location, conversation and occasion all play a role in success.

Already halfway through the book I have considered the following elements of the Trotter philosophy to be guiding principles of my own journey:

1. Be flexible. Food is a moving target and both it, and beverages, need to be molded to maximize experiences.

2. Listen with the whole of your being for all the information you can glean from an opportunity to apply your skills. Share this knowledge with everyone involved in the event.

3. Know your environment and the assets of your peers, food and beverages to a depth that you can convey any of their facets needed to succeed.

4. Continually seek out new experiences and new education to enhance your skills. See the journey as the reason, not the destination.

5. Push yourself to be better each time you try and learn from things you don’t feel were done well.

With these principles in hand I feel an energy building that I can tap into to carry me as I continue on my own interesting and exciting journey.



Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Food Photography & Pairing with Coq au Vin

The number one item in today's Foodbuzz Top 9 is a stunning photo taken at just the right moment of Coq au Vin cooking with a flambé clearly underway. The photo was posted by Laura Laurentiu at the My Home Kitchenette blog. Awesome!

Check it out at

I have been amazed at some of the photos I have seen in the last few weeks and definitely am challenging myself to get better with my own camera while I am in the kitchen. On to the food and wine.

In May 1995 Julia Child appeared on Good Morning America and cooked Coq au Vin. The background and of course the recipe for the dish can be found at Similar to Beef Bourgogne (see my post on it at the dish is meat, in this case chicken, onions and mushrooms braised in red wine. The key is the ragout of salt pork that sets up flavors for the finished product.

The recipe provides three possible wines for the braising, Zinfandel, Macon or Chianti. Macon caught my eye based on a recent tasting of a white from the same area. Macon is an area within the Burgundy region in France. Historically it had been known for its red wine, but is known much for the white wines made from Chardonnay produced there today. Red wine is still produced from the Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes and is typically dry, light, fruity and is considered an everyday drinking wine. Hailing from Burgundy and being an everyday style of wine I can understand the recommendation to use it in the dish. I did a couple of quick searches and couldn't turn up any that I could buy and I suspect since it is not a wine superstar it might not make it to the states.

Using this wine as a guide however, you could substitute a young Pinot Noir from Burgundy or even a Beaujolais (Nouveau from the current year if it is around November, or Beaujolais-Villages at other times) which might offer some of the same light, fruity and subtle flavors intended here.

For pairing I would suggest staying in the same realm of how the dish is made. Chianti, also recommended for cooking, has in my experience been a light and fruity wine that would do well here. The last Chianti I recall having (I believe something unremarkable was more recent) was from DaVinci and I do remember it being light in both nose and flavors, but smooth and an easy drinker. The Vinthropolgie blog has a nice write-up on Chianti at



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hard Cider & Rhubarb Pie

I found a recipe for an all rhubarb pie in my Foodbuzz feed this week. It comes to us from the Foy Update blog. I have never made a 100% rhubarb pie before and the one time I have used it in pie I cut it with strawberry. Check it out at Family recipes (from the post if you didn't read it) are real gems because they have likely been tried so many times and if ever there was a fix needed it has surely been done. These recipes work! I am going to have to seek out some local rhubarb and make a tasty pie that will of course have the homemade crust everyone is always fighting over...

I was thinking about what to pair the pie with. Foy mentions coffee, which definitely work. The strong flavors in the coffee will match well with a pie that has some characters as well. In a similar vein I am going to recommend hard cider and the still (no bubbles) type specifically. I make one like this with some residual sweetness that should match well with both the sweet and sour from this pie. The apple flavor will settle in nicely with the rhubarb as well. The most recent batches of cider were made from several styles of yeast and the Sweet Mead yeast in particular imparted a nice nutty background to the beverage. I think that would work nicely here as well.

Good cider might be hard to find in many places and there are several suggestions I have for that. First off, if do you live near an apple growing region there will most definitely be cider makers around. Seek them out and try their products. I live in NH and our best cider makers are the folks at Farnum Hill Ciders which you can check out at

If you have to go to the grocery store look for some of the ciders imported from Europe as I believe their flavors are cleaner and less adulterated. Cider Jack and the generic styles from Woodchuck are not what I am recommending, they are too far from the apple through the large volume commercial process. Woodchuck does have pear and green apple styles that are worth a try.



Monday, May 17, 2010

Arugula & Parmesan Pizza

Inspiration for this pizza came from Ted Allen's bit on The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Pizza. He professed a love for the Arugula & Parmesan pizza from Graziella's in Brooklyn. I had never had such a pizza and wanted to adapt a recipe and make it home.

1 multi-grain pre-baked pizza crust (from the grocery bakery)
1 medium onion, sliced
3/4 cup cleaned and chopped arugala
1/2 cup onion, garlic & basil pasta sauce
6 oz finely sliced parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp butter

six dried basil leaves, torn

Sauté the sliced onions with the butter until golden. Set aside. Place pizza crust on a baking sheet and place in 400 degree oven for 5 minutes. Remove crust and top with sauce, spreading evenly. Add arugula, onions and basil distributing over the crust. Lay slices of parmesan across the crust leaving some room between them. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Cool slight, cut and serve.

I have to say that this pizza tasted incredibly clean and fresh. I went light on the sauce and the cheese wasn't dripping everywhere so it was easy to eat. The salt from the cheese helped balance the sweetness in the sauce.

My wife and I agreed we are going to experiment with pizza once a month and try to focus on using fruits and vegetables that we haven't had yet on a pie. We'll be sure to bring the recipes here so all of our epicurean adventurers can tag along for the ride.



Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pulled Pork with Carmelized Onions, Cole Slaw and Grilled Romaine

(This sign hangs over the island in the kitchen in Vermont. You have to visit to know the truth...)

In April when my parents, Margot and I were at our place in Vermont we were talking about the menu for Vermont house cleanup and summer kick-off weekend, from which we just returned. My mother mentioned she had a pork roast she wanted to use and Margot reminded me of the Food TV show on which we saw a recipe for slow cooked pork with Coca-Cola mentioned. My mother and I collaborated on the plan where she would bring the roast and side dishes and I would bring a dry rub to prep the roast with, the complete recipe and a willingness to pull it off.

When we arrived on Friday night I defrosted the pork and applied the rub. The recipe for the rub was posted on Foodbuzz earlier in the week. You can pick it up at

At about 8:30 the next morning we sliced two onions, placed them in the slow cooker and put the roast on top. Any of the rub was scraped off the plate and dumped in the cooker. More flavor, more better! We then added one 12 oz can of original Coca-Cola, 1 cup of chicken broth and 1 tsp of liquid smoke and turned the cooker on to high.

After two hours we flipped the roast and turned the cooker down to low. For five hours we could smell the roast cooking and were sure we were on to something. In the early afternoon the roase was flipped again. After the five hours we turned the cooker back up to high with the expectation of serving dinner three hours later.

At 5:30 PM I took the roast out and placed it in a roasting pan covered with foil and set it in a 250 degree oven. I removed the onions from the cooker and placed them in a sauté pan with 2 Tbsp of melted butter over medium heat. The onions slowly cooked for 45 minutes and were perfectly caramelized.

The cooking juices from the slow cooker were added to a stock pot and set on medium-high heat. I added
  • 1 cup of ketchup
  • 1/2 cup of VT maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp of bourbon
  • flour to thicken
  • salt & pepper to taste
We also grilled some split heads of romaine lettuce drizzled with olive oil and a vegetable seasoning blend. When everything was ready we cut the pork down, it didn't need much, and served it with the onions, BBQ sauce, grilled romaine, cole slaw and potato salad. The picture you have all been waiting for is below.

This recipe came out better than I had expected. We paired it with a 2005 Merlot from our Ancient Fire homemade wines, a wine that was purposely left to age this long to see whether it would last. And it did. It was showing some age, but was still very drinkable. The pairing with the sweet & smoky pork was right on. I also tried it with a 2008 Shiraz, also homemade, and although the wine was fruit-forward and spicy I felt it overwhelmed the dish.

As we at the comments about the meal we were flying fast & furious. Here are a couple to give you an idea of the enthusiasm.

Mom - "That dinner would rival any BBQ dinner you would get in the Big Easy!"

Dad - "When you do pulled pork dinner, make sure you aren't a beginner."

Margot - "I love you, I love you. I feel sad for women whose husbands like sports."

I didn't really know what to say other than it was damn good and I would make it again any day.



For The Love of Dandelion Wine

The way I heard it I might be channeling the passion for dandelion wine of an ancestor. At a family reunion a few years back I was telling a great uncle about my winemaking exploits. He recalled a memory of seeing jugs of dandelion wine fermenting in the basement of the home and family member that I can’t recall my relation to. This practice was lost in the generations since and has only been rekindled recently, and largely due to the availability of free dandelions at the family vacation place in Vermont.

An untreated lawn full of dandelions is the bane of many homeowners. Dandelions are a weed and propagate vigorously so if you have them, you have them! To a home winemaker it is quite the opposite. Cheap wine!

I made dandelion wine for the first time in 2009. With five years of winemaking experience to my credit I was hoping for a successful go, but I was still unsure if making wines from grapes and fruit would translate to flowers.

Around mid-day on a cool, partly cloudy day in May of 2009 I picked two one gallon zip seal bags of dandelion flowers. This ultimately netted me six bottles of citrus-infused sweet wine with strong aromas of grass and flowers. The result was much more than I had expected. Reviews of the wine from tastings we have had exceeded any expectations I had, and have been a great honor.

I used a recipe published by Jack Keller, a VERY well known winemaker and winemaking educator on the web, which you can find at his web site at I opted for the first recipe which uses golden raisins to increase the body. This year I will be using some white grape juice in place of the raisins for the same effect.

This weekend, at the house in Vermont once again, I picked four full bags of dandelion flowers. Obviously this quantity will greatly increase the resulting amount much to the chagrin of my family. Oh the hardship of using free produce to make 20-30 bottles of wine!

I haven’t considered the pairing opportunities with such a wine but I surely will in the coming months. I do still have a few bottles of the batch from 2009 which I can enjoy while I wait for the newest vintage to be ready.



Friday, May 14, 2010

Pairings with Smothered Pork Chops

This recipe AND blog caught my attention this morning in the Foodbuzz Top 9. Any blogger than calls themself The Manly Housewife has got to be pretty cool! And then Smothered Pork Chops with Deep Fried Green Beans and Garlic Toast? That is pretty sick, but a damn good plate of food I am sure! Check it out at

Pork is a white meat but depending on how you cook it and what you cook it with red wines can be the better match. With a spice rub, bacon, onions and mushrooms I am going to go red this time. I'll keep an eye out for a pork recipe to pair with white wine for some contrast.

Because of the earthy flavors alongside the pork I am going to first suggest a Pinot Noir and specifically the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection. The last time I had this wine was during a sensory evaluation course. It was paired with slices of deli roast beef. The mouthful was magical. This is a fruit-forward Pinot Noir with oak and a nice complexity, but I think this dish is bold and can handle it.

As I was thinking about this pairing Grenache also came to mind. I could imagine another bold pairing and the warmth from the wine in good balance with the food. While definitely a budget wine, the Shiraz-Grenache from Yellow Tail is bold and fruity with some spice and a drinkable profile. Some folks debate the quality of high volume production wines like Yellow Tail and I don't ever disagree. If you like them you should be able to have them around as often as you need solely because of price. I think they are a good value, but I definitely upgrade for specific pairings and experiences.



Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lunch at Gourmet Dumpling House, Boston

I had lunch in Chinatown with a former colleague today. It turns out that Richard and I have more in common than we had found out when working together for a few years in our past lives at Fidelity. Richard likes good food and is very willing to share his finds and favorites with others. What more could someone ask for in a foodie friend?

I will quickly dispense with the Chinese food stereotypes. My wife and I eat the typical American style Chinese food from the local places in NH every few months. We both like both rice and noodle dishes and of course the typical fried selections. We have been to a few authentic Asian restaurants including for Dim Sum, but our experience is pretty limited. This is going to change, I can tell.

We headed over to Gourmet Dumpling House, my pick of 4 choices from Richard’s recommendations, which turns out to be his favorite. A lucky pick for sure. After being seated he shared a funny anecdote about how one of his past teams had asked him to assume the dinner outing organizer role, down to picking the dishes. Since I wasn’t familiar with the menu and was very interested in trying new things this also worked out well for me.

Our order consisted of the Mini Juicy Dumplings with Pork, Twice Cooked Pork and Sautéed Julienne Beef with Long Horn Peppers. The pork and beef dishes also come with white rice and the soup of the day, a seaweed soup with a pork broth.

The soup had an interesting flavor that was certainly new to me, much like briny spinach. The seaweed had a bit more structure to it, like sliced pea pods or slivered green beans. I didn’t finish it only because everything else started arriving and smelled so good.

The juicy dumplings also seem to be called soup dumplings in a series of Yelp reviews. I add that for those that might have seen the reviews and would want to know if these are the same. Richard explained a useful procedure for eating the dumplings, because as the name infers, they do have broth inside and it will be messy if you are not careful. Thank you much for the advice. I had one misstep, but the broth hit the napkin and not my pants so I was all set. Essentially you use the special spoon provided in coordination with your chopsticks to secure a dumpling such that you can puncture the top or side, make sure you orient the puncture area upwards; and suck the broth out before biting into the dumpling. That is fun food! The broth was very flavorful and the pork inside was moist, seasoned well but not spicy. I will definitely be back for this dish and some of variations I see on their menu as I write this.

The Twice Cooked Pork came next. As best as I could tell the dish contained green chilies, cabbage or Asian lettuce in addition to the pork. Richard asserted the pork looked like bacon which I had to agree with. If so, the second cooking was most likely the preparation in this dish. The texture of the meat was not as juicy as bacon might infer, more like crispy skin perhaps. The sauce was spicy but easily manageable. Good combo with the rice.

The Sautéed Julienne Beef with Long Horn Peppers arrived and from the moment I saw it I knew I was going to enjoy it. There was almost as much pepper as there was beef! Richard clearly stated that the restaurant typically uses very fresh peppers and they would likely be hot. No problem I thought. This dish was indeed spicy, the kind that builds and then just lingers. Luckily it didn’t keep building but it didn’t go away for about 30 minutes either. It was so good I couldn’t stop eating it. The beef was well cooked, lean and not fatty. The brown sauce was light and the pepper seeds were everywhere. The visual gives away its truth!

In discussing the dishes Richard explained that the selections were more representative of northern Chinese cuisine and that the dumplings are normally associated with Shanghai.

The restaurant is small and will be quite busy during the lunch and dinner rush. We went at 1:30 and were seated about a minute later. It would be worth a wait if you have it. The food was hot, quickly prepared and of excellent quality. The service was prompt and excellent. You can also buy canned beer, what looked like small bottles of wine and sodas. I stuck with the tea.

Our conversation over lunch was interesting as we agreed that our mutual love of food was something we had never really talked about before and now need to catch up on. We also shared an appreciation for the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In Outliers Gladwell lays down a good argument that success is a combination of luck, location, openness, desire, skill and isn’t easily created. I offered up a sense of the serendipity that that book has helped me be more open too, the basis of my goal of becoming a sommelier and exploring food and wine. Good times.



Pairing with Brie & Strawberry Salad

I saw a recipe in the Foodbuzz Top 9 today for Eggs Muerette published in the From Argentina to Paris blog. Not being fan of poached eggs I decided not to attempt a pairing. I would need to eat this dish to do it justice. I did take the opportunity to take a look at recent postings by Cristina in her blog, and found a recipe for a Brie Cheese & Strawberry Salad. That sounds delightful!

Check it out at

We have paired Brie with our homemade Strawberry wine several times and found the creamy cheese and the sweet and fruity wine just melted together in your mouth. I can see this salad with ripe berries and a zesty dressing could do the same. If you can't find Strawberry wine, and I can't sell you the homebrew, you could also try a couple of other things for a range of effects.

Rose Regale, a sweet proseco from Italy, will invoke some of the same aromas and flavors as the Strawberry wine, and the bubbles will add some zip as well. A dry white wine that came to mind was Gruner Veltliner from Austria. A a great match with the flavors in herbs, greens, and stinky cheese this wine will meld well with the flavors in this recipe for a more subtle pairing (on the wine side) than the other two. The Weingut Hirsch Veltliner #1 would be a good and reasonably priced selection to try.



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Easy Meatless Tacos

Some nights cooking a good meal just can't take a long time. When you get home from the city at 7 and back from a walk with the dog at 7:45 getting food on the table before 9 can be a challenge.

Tonight we combined a Zattarain's Low Sodium Dirty Rice Mix kit with other simple ingredients to make tasty no meat tacos.

1 box Zatarain's Low Sodium Dirty Rice Mix
1 onion
1 red sweet pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp dried mexican oregano
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 cup shredded cheddar or mexican cheese blend
4 soft tortillas or wraps
salt & pepper
salsa, sour cream
diced green chilies

Prepare the rice according to the instructions with the following exception. When using no meat we have found reducing the water in the rice mix by 1/4 cup will ensure it isn't sticky. Slice the onion and pepper, and keep them separate. Over medium heat sauté the pepper with olive oil until just starting to brown, remove from pan. Add butter and sauté onions until well wilted and beginning to brown. Add peppers back to pan. Add chili powder, cumin and oregano and mix well. Add lime juice and mix again. Sauté for a five to 10 more minutes and season with salt and pepper before removing from the heat. Assembling the tacos is more a matter of preference. In the picture above you will see that I first placed rice on the wrap, then onion & peppers and covered that with cheese. I used a medium salsa, sour cream and some green chilies for a bit of zip. You could choose to use lettuce and tomato or a whole range of other toppings to accent the core ingredients.

I attempted a wine pairing with this dish using a 2008 off-dry Gewurztraminer/Riesling blend from my own home-made collection. The wine has definitely improved since I last sat down to evaluate it. The aromas are more pungent and some tropical flavors have come through that weren't noticeable before. The wine definitely is a little hot, something I knew from a super speedy fermentation that took me by surprise at the time, a facet that was magnified with the tacos. While the pairing wasn't a huge success it was tasty and is something I will attempt again with another wine with similar flavors and sweetness.



Late Harvest Wine with Lavender Sugar Cookies

I caught this recipe for Lavender Lemon Sugar cookies in the Foodbuzz Top 9 today. It is brought to us by the 52 Kitchen Adventures blog.

I immediately thought of a late harvest wine that is sweet, but not too sweet, with enough acidity to work well with food. I realized I hadn't had one that I could recomend first hand.

I have experimented with lavender from my own garden and with some more on the way this year I plan to try some additional preparations. Not only does it smell great during the growing season, think about a strategically placed flower box where the breeze blows into the house; it smells great during cooking and makes a wonderful compliment to both sweet and savory dishes.

After a bit of research I found a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc made by Errazuriz from the Casablanca Valley in Chile. From the description seems like it would do the trick. The description includes mild aromas and flavors of melon and pineapple and is summarized as being a more intense version of its traditional dry sibling. I can imagine some amped up grassy and herbal notes as well that present as fresh fruity in nature. I read the review at as the basis for my conclusion. Both the healthy, but not super-high, sweetness and crisp acidity are mentioned which I think are requirements for these delicate cookies.

This is truly a fanciful pairing that is imaginative and inspiring. Hopefully it forms as wonderful of a mental picture for you as the experience should prove to be.



Monday, May 10, 2010


I had heard of fiddleheads, seen recipes for them on the web and even seen the growing wild but I had never had them until tonight. They showed up in my local Shaws and I grabbed 3/4 of a pound intending to see what they tasted like. The recipe I pulled together below was paired alongside some simple broiled shrimp scampi. I actually paired a new beverage for me with the whole meal, Ti Quan Yin Oolong Tea. The tea went very well with the shrimp. The fiddleheads were just awesome on their own. I didn't have a chance to take a picture since I was in a rush to get dinner on the table in the 8 PM hour!

We found the flavors and textures of the fiddleheads included things we had experienced in Brussels sprouts, celery and fresh greens.

Here is some information from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension on fiddleheads.

Sautéed Fiddleheads with Garlic, Green Onions and Thyme

3/4 lb fresh fiddleheads
6 green onions
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp butter
salt & pepper

Snip the browned ends off of the fiddleheads, set to soak in cold water for 5 minutes
Rinse thoroughly
Blanch fiddleheads (boil for 1-2 minutes, sink in ice water)
Thinly slice white part of green onions and mince the garlic
Over medium heat melt the butter in a saucepan, add garlic and thyme leaves
Sauté until aromas from garlic and thyme are easily detected
Add the onions and fiddleheads and sauté until cooked, approx 10 minutes
Season with salt & pepper



Pairings with Grilled Chicken Quesadillas

I found the recipe (linked below) for Grilled Chicken Quesadillas in the Daily Foodbuzz Top 9. It is brought to us by the Sea Salt With Food blog.

This is definitely a dish that will make one happy after the onset of the warm weather in New England.

My first pairing suggestion will be beer, and Hefewiezen specifically; served with a lemon wedge. Widmer Brothers in Portland, Oregon makes what they call America's Original Hefeweizen. This is the signature beer for Widmer Brothers a brewery with a great story hailing from a city teeming with craft brewing lovers. Wheat beers like Hefeweizen are generally light and gentle which results in the ability to pair with a range of flavors including citrus, spices, greens and lighter meats. This recipe includes all of those things and I think this pairing is not to be missed.

For the wine drinkers I am going to come closer to home and recomend a dry Seyval Blanc. Another subtle beverage with light flavors, the wine should allow to food to be easily found and in good balance. The acidity in the wine can stand up to a bit of citrus and a slight hint of sweetness can fend off any spice or heat in a dish like this. LaBelle Winery in Amherst, NH makes a dry style Seyval that would be a good fit.



Mother's Day at Dalice Elizabeth Winery

For Mother's Day my family (wife, me, sister-in-law, father, mother, brother) converged on the Dalice Elizabeth Winery in Preston, CT. They are open daily for wine tastings, but check their web site at for specifics before you go.

I was fortunate enough to talk with several of the winery's staff and get some history on the winery that will help explain my impressions of their wines. The wine-making operation has been ongoing for 11 years, but up until October of 2009 it was exclusively a wine-making school, aka ferment-on-premises operation, where groups of people contracted to make wine by the barrel on site and then take it home when it was complete. Last October they officially opened for retail sale, on-site tastings and private wine dinners.

While they train their adolescent Chardonnay vines all grapes for their wines are sourced from California and Washington. They expect to have site grown wines in 3-5 years. Anyone who has ever ventured into wine grape growing knows how much patience is required here.

They offer a range of wines including Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel and a Chardonnay Ice Wine. They also make a Cabernet Franc, but it has sold completely out and won't be available again until next year.

We tasted all of the available wines. A big thank you to Blaze Faillaci for finding an open bottle of the ice wine for us to try some of. It was indeed excellent. John Wilcox got us going with the Chardonnay and explained that they make both an oaked and a stainless steel style. He indicated that we were tasting the oaked version which was aged for six months in American oak. The aroma of this wine was very subtle and I couldn't really define it. The flavors spoke of melon and grapefruit for me, which Margot agreed with. The oak was very slight resulting in a refreshing taste and a smooth, medium finish. We ended up buying a bottle of this to share at the end of our tasting.

Having arrived on Mother's Day I think we might have been interested in more than the winery might have been planning to do for guests, but upon asking if we could get a cheese plate for six it was promptly served and was of excellent quality. The service gets high marks and for a young operation that is a wonderful thing to be able to do. The cheese plate included Parmigianino/Reggiano, blue, goat and cheddar cheeses accompanied by black and green olives, hot peppers, marinated tomatoes, a fresh tomato & green onion salsa and of course crackers. The cheddar cheese intrigued me right off the bat. I knew I had had the specific variety before, but couldn't remember where. As I write this I think it is a Beemster which hails from Holland. I never did ask.

The next wine John served us was the Sangiovese. Fans of Italian wines will know this is a the grape in Chianti as well as one part of the "Super-Tuscan" style wines. The wine was dry and had wood on the nose. I didn't ponder the flavors as I was busy talking and enjoying time with Mom. We were also celebrating my birthday (from the end of April) and my mother had purchased me a Harney's tea sampler containing four Oolong teas and a beautiful white tea pot. I was explaining how I came to know of Oolong tea and how I was going to explore it as part of my sommelier training. Back to the wines.

Blaze took over from here and served us the Syrah next. This wine was lighter than some Syrah's I have had and definitely was not the spicy, super-fruity Shiraz typical of Australia. That should not be taken as anything bad at all. For the sake of an analogy lets take Pinot Noir. Classic French Burgundy is made from this grape and is often a focused and refined example of what you can do with the grape. On the other hand you can get Pinot Noir from California and Washington states that is fruit-fotward, super earthy and full bodied. These are two different wines each with their own merits. I was recovering from eating a hot pepper so I can't say anything about the flavors of this wine. The lightness of it was echoed from around the table so I knew that much was true.

I did find that the Sangiovese and Chardonnay both went well with the cheese and olive selections. I don't think anyone else was specifically considering the pairings so I didn't talk about it much. The goat cheese was very creamy and smooth which was very nice indeed.

The next wine was the Old Vine Zinfandel from grapes sourced from Mendcino, California. From the very first sip I found this wine to have some perceptible sweetness, it made me think of my own Cabernet blend from 2008, an asset for sure. The wine was oaky with dark cherry and plum flavors. Margot also suggested blackberries. The tannins were well balanced and clean, and the finish was smooth. There were hints of hotness, but it didn't linger. This was my favorite wine of the day.

Blaze appeared with a partial bottle of the Chardonnay Ice Wine and all six of us got a small taste. I had never had one of these from the Chardonnay grape and had asserted the flavors might not be bent toward the apricot, peach and honey flavors of the Vidal ice wines I have enjoyed. There were aromas of honey and peach, but the flavors were more of orange and flowers with the honey behind them. With plenty of sweetness this wine could be savored by itself or with a flaky pie or tart containing apples and spice.

Taking the optimistic side of the local wine business I would expect that in the coming years the Dalice Elizabeth Winery will continue to find success. Once the vines on-site start producing they might be able to infuse a sense of place into their wines. Preston, despite being up the road from Foxwoods, is a rural area with farms and lot of trees. With ponds and lakes on, and adjacent to, the property the place is charming. As it is for the other New England wineries I have visited what you can grow locally offers some constraints, but with a sense of place, good service and pride in the craft the results can be very enjoyable.

All the wines are available for retail sale. The Chardonnay goes for $29, the ice wine for $55 for a split. The other wines are similar in price to the Chard.

We also got started on the 2010 Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries program. I was familiar with this program from 2009. If you visit and get your passport stamped at 16 or more of the 30 participating wineries by November 7th you can be entered to win one of several resort trips to Spain. More information can be found at and



Saturday, May 8, 2010

Pairing with Lobster Mac & Cheese

Zenchef over at the Zen Can Cook blog brings us a recipe for Lobster Mac & Cheese. This was featured in today's Foodbuzz Top 9. Make sure you check out the rest of the recipes for some incredible eating ideas for any occasion.

First off, the concept of using as much of the lobster as possible in the recipe is magnificent and refreshing. You will want to click the link above and spend the time to read about this evil creation. This recipe looks like you could die from happiness just looking at it let alone eating it. Bravo!

Back here, I am going to try to offer some wine pairing suggestions ,but I am not sure if I can offer anything that will truly make the dish "better", it is pretty damn good looking as it is. I'll try.

When I first read the recipe oaky, buttery Chardonnay was screaming at me. I think this will be an obvious pairing for many and despite it being mundane perhaps, it will work and I do recommend it. In particular the Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay comes to mind as one that should offer the right balance of fruit, butter and oak flavors for this dish. I used this wine in my Sensory Evaluation course back in 2008 and was very sad when the bottle was gone. With all the great bottles of wine to try in the world I just haven't gone and picked up any more.

An alternative pairing recommendation is a Pinot Noir. I think Pinot Noir has enough nuances to play together with this dish without overpowering the elegant texture common to lobster. I think the tomato and spices in the sauce will play especially well with a balanced and subtle Pinot Noir. I'd go with the Lange Three Hills Cuvee from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I haven't had this wine, although the regular estate Pinot Noir from Lange is excellent, but the winemaker's description leads me to believe it will be better with this dish than an alternative choice form their winery.

Now that I am sufficiently hungry and not making this dish for dinner I will go and wallow in my sadness.



Friday, May 7, 2010

What to Drink with Steak au Poivre

I grabbed a recipe from the Foodbuzz Flavor of the Month section where they are featuring steak in May. This month's flavor is being sponsored by Beringer Wines as they announce their Great Steak Challenge. I have entered recipe contests in the past but I am going to pass on this one in favor of some other ideas we are brewing up. If you are interested in this contest check it out at

The Joseph Erdos from the Gastronomer's Guide blog posted a recipe in 2009 for Steak au Poivre with Shallot Pan Sauce. Check it out at

I am going to recomend the Thomas Hyland Shiraz from Penfolds. My friend Wayne brought this to dinner a couple of years ago and although I had fouled up my own steak recipe the wine was fantastic and gave us something else to talk about. It even paired well with the insane chocolate cake Wayne is famous for. The wine is a deep red color with full aromas of dark berries and spice. The flavors were again the dark berries, pepper, spice and even some mocha that was best expressed with the cake. The finish was nice and smooth and the bottle was empty way too soon. I think the peppered steak and the zip from the shallots in the sauce of the featured recipe will go quite well with this wine. In my area I believe this wine can be found for around $15.



Thursday, May 6, 2010

Food Porn?

OK, I have to admit I can't be much of a foodie if I was just introduced to the term food porn this week. I'm a wine guy so I guess can stop beating myself up about it.

Wikipedia has a nice article that describes food porn as "a provocative term variously applied to a spectacular visual presentation of cooking or eating in advertisements, infomercials, cooking shows or other visual media, foods boasting a high fat and calorie content, exotic dishes that arouse a desire to eat or the glorification of food as a substitute for sex." Check out the entire entry for more information.

Good looking photos of food can make you hungry and the elation at eating a good meal is pretty high up there. I guees I thought we already had other words and phrases to describe these things.

There is an active community of folks who try to capture their own spin on food porn. Check out these links for a little taste...

Hopefully I have shared a bit of my education with you and you are now wiser to one of the counter culture trends just below the surface in the food world.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Julia Child's Beef Bourgogne

This post describes my experience of making Beef Bourgogne from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1.

One point of clarification. I did see the movie Julie & Julia and thought it was pretty good, although the story about Julia Child's life is what I liked most. I am certainly not embarking on a quest to make all the recipes in her first book.

I made this specific recipe because I wanted to make a dish that I could pair with a good bottle of Burgundy. I needed the savory flavors and the earthiness from something like mushrooms and since this dish hails from the region, and can be made with the regions's wine, I figured it would be just what I was looking for.

Julia Child is someone I recall seeing on TV when I was a child. Her shows aired on WGBH out of Boston and I lived in northern CT which picked up the station. I have always known of her and thought she was an interesting character from 20th century America. For a brief time when I was a kid I thought of being a chef when I grew up and I am sure I would have mentioned her as a reason why. My mother and grandmother were the primary reasons and though I did not become a chef I did learn to cook well enough for it to be a passionate hobby.

This recipe has a lot of seperate steps and takes a while to make. You might not be sure it is worth it up front, but trust me it was worth every minute!

The recipe calls for a bottle of wine to simmer the beef with. I used the Louis Jadot Savigny-Les-Beaune from 2007. I tasted a bit of this wine, not one I had had previously, and found it to be focused and reserved with a good balance. The wine was a deep red color but allowed light through, almost to showcase the color and clarity. The finish was long and smooth and the teeth drying effect from the tannins was there but not real strong. Because I was cooking with it I didn't let it breathe so my evaluation may have been arbitrarily short. I didn't feel I got a good read on the aromas and flavors during this brief tasting.

I am not a big fan of mushrooms and the more reading I do the more I think I am going to have to get over this. Mushrooms are found in many dishes and the wine pairing reccomendations involve integrating with the flavors mushrooms are known for. With a pound of crimini mushrooms in this dish I wasn't going to be able to avoid them. I was hoping the wine was going to help me here.

Oprah's web site has a reprint of the recipe from the book for those who want to see what is involved.

The most intense part of the effort was browning the beef, everything else was pretty easy. A friend of mine did confirm that following the recipe as closely as possible would increase chances of happiness. Once the beef and liquid made it to the oven I was able to switch gears to something else. As the recipe suggests I prepared the onions and mushrooms while the beef was cooking.

The aroma from the oven once the beef got to a constant simmer was incredible. I was pretty sure I was in for a treat. I chose to serve it over boiled potatoes rather than egg noodles, which I hoped would be a nice twist. I also made some crusty white bread topped with a little butter which worked well to soak up the sauce.
I paired the Domaine Pierre Gelin Gevrey-Chambertin 2006 with the meal. This is another wine I had not had previously and was eagerly anticipating. I did decant this wine one hour ahead of time to give it some breathing time and ensure that the temperature was right. The wine struck me as more subtle than the American wines I am used to. I am finishing it as I write this. The color is ruby-red but also allows light through to accent the clarity. The aromas hint at black cherry and wood. The flavors are again restrained and balanced and while they don't overwhelm they come off as a bit spicy. The tannins are mild which speaks of a good balance. The finish on this wine is also long and smooth like the earlier selection. I selected this wine based on availability and had not checked the winery web site before hand. I looked at it while I wrote this post and in a true twist of fate the winery suggests that this particular vintage would be a good match with Burgundy Beef. I got lucky on that and it worked!
The wine played off of all the key ingredients including the mushrooms. I ate all of them in my dish. I tried them in combinations with the beef, the onions and all together with and without the wine. While I still think the flavors inherent in mushrooms are what I don't like, I can see how they bring some dishes together.

From the first bite to the last I savored all of my planning and hard work. Cooking can take many forms and I won't be spending this much time (or money!) on dinner every night. I have a much keener appreciation for anyone who spends their days in a kitchen at home or for work. Hopefully they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor as I have.

Exploring Dal

Toor Dal (split yellow pigeon peas)

The Indian word Dal (also spelled Daal and Dhal) describes the preparation of beans, lentils or peas that are dried, removed of their husks and split. From there the type of bean/lentil/pea and the method of preparation branches out in many directions. Those familiar with Indian cuisine will know that there are many regional distinctions beyond a general difference in ingredients and methods between the north and south of India.

A few years back I took a job where I met many wonderful people from India. I was under-exposed to Indian food but being food curious this didn't last long. A willingness to share their homeland's food wonders was a great privilege for me, one that I worked hard to answer with things I had learned growing up the American food culture, like Apple Pie. Back to the Dal.

I love to cook what I call Dal stews, essentially lentils cooked with aromatics and other simple ingredients like onions and tomatoes. I generally serve this dish with store-bought appetizers like Pakora or Samosa and Naan bread.

Recipes for dishes like this abound and preparing the dishes is straightforward. Trying to match the flavors to what you might find in a local Indian restaurant will be a challenge due there not being a "master" recipe, and individual cook's decisions about how much of various spices to use. I say don't both bother. Make versions at home you like and happiness will follow.

A recipe for Lentil Dal from Itsy Bitsy Foodies was featured in the FoodBuzz Top 9 today. This recipe is a very straightforward preparation and a great framework and starting point to experiment if you choose. Check it out at

I have tried several enhancements to recipes similar to the feature including adding onions sautéed in butter with turmeric and cumin seeds after the lentils are finished cooking. I have also added cilantro paste, bought in a container in the grocery store, a few minutes before the end of the cooking to add some flavor without having to find or use fresh cilantro leaves.

In a recurring column named The Minimalist in the New York Times Mark Bittman writes on food and beverage topics. In an article from January 2010 he wrote about this same topic with good background and lots of ideas for the curious home cook to tackle. Check the article out at

In particular I found the definition of the enhancement I described above, called a tarka, a nice validation of the things I had learned first hand as I have come to know how these dishes are made.

If you are lucky enough to have an Indian market nearby you can find all of the ingredients you might use in a dish like this as well as sides, appetizers and chutneys to serve along with it. In the same store bread is also worth exploring. Naan is the most well known type where I live. There are other styles, several of which are layers of bread with seasoned vegetables and onions in between, that are definitely worth a look.

Wikipedia has a nice article on Dal and lists some of the names of the other commonly found legumes that form the basis of this type of dish.

The picture above is my version made today. I used the FoodBuzz recipe as a guide and experimented with some changes. I used vegetable stock instead of water, substituted diced tomatoes for the tomato paste and added green chilies and cilantro paste with the tomatoes. For the cumin and coriander I used seeds and gently crushed them together with my mortar & pestle to ensure good aroma and flavor extraction. I finished it with a tarka of green onions, butter, lemon zest and curry powder.

A note on curry powder. This is strictly a facet of the western world. It was created for the British who got used to Indian flavors and then moved elsewhere. It is not something a native Indian will use. The blends of spices used in Indian food may be similar to this but are more often totally different, and that is what makes Indian cuisine so interesting. Using curry powder from the grocery store is a good way to harness flavors you are used to and I still use it from time to time. More often I used the base spices in different combinations depending on what ingredients are in a dish.

With food and beverage pairing constantly on my mind here are my ideas of how to pair with a dish like this. The dish is not overly spicy, although you can make it this way if you like, so the standard off-dry wine may not be necessary here. I am actually going to suggest a medium-dry rosé served cold. If rosé is not your thing or not to be found then a Riesling or Gewurztraminer will pair nicely with this dish and anything served alongside. If spicy sides accompany this dish then definitely go for something with a little sweetness to balance the heat. A hibiscus tea with a touch of sugar will also pair well. If you have time make and chill the tea ahead.

My wife and I love Indian food and continue to experiment with different dishes and methods and enjoying many dinners along the way.