Sunday, February 27, 2011

Harvest Apple Pancakes

Ahhhh, Sunday morning pancakes. I have become known for this occasion over time. Whether they are at home for just the two of us, served to overnight guests or with family and friends up in VT you can usually expect me to make pancakes on Sunday morning. And they are never just plain old pancakes!

A few weeks back a posted the recipe for Candied Bacon Mancakes and got a lot of humorous and curious feedback. This morning as I kicked around recipe ideas I went back to using beer in the pancakes, but what kind, and what other flavors should I add to them? I came up with Harvest Apple pancakes.

Harvest Apple Pancakes

2 cups Bisquick Lite
2 eggs
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp dark maple syrup
1 bottle Sam Adams Oktoberfest
1 large apple

Mix all ingredients except the apple, and only as much of the beer to get the right texture, together and set aside for 10 minutes. Peel and chop the apple into small bites. Incorporate into the batter.

Portion the pancakes on to a hot greased griddle in 1/3 cup-fulls. Cook on both sides until golden brown. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

( Look at the piece of apple snugly nestled in there! )

The hints of spice and maple flavors with the slightly crunchy apple reminded me of pie in the autumn in New England. The malty, harvest essences to the beer provided just enough of a foundation, but didn’t make them taste of beer.



Macarons, My Mystery Solved

( Finally, macarons! One got damaged in transport. It didn't alter the enjoyment though. )

Not long after I changed my blog format last April (to food, beverages & pairing from winemaking) I noticed a lot of posts in blogs I was new about macarons. What are these things? Why does everyone care about them?

I kept reading and couldn’t make much sense of it. I asked around to my friends and nobody had ever heard of them or had had them. Stumped. I finally asked a fellow food blogger (thanks Mardi!) and was told that if I had never had one I couldn’t appreciate the wonderful textures and flavors. Oh, and they were really hard to make.

I tucked all of this in the back of my brain and figured I would come across them someday and could try them to see what all the fuss was about. You won’t catch me making them as I don’t really get into desserts and confections.

On the way back from L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue last week we had to make a quick stop at a boulangerie to pick up some bread for our next meal. I wandered into the shop with my friends just to see what they might have. And there in the case was the glow of yellow, pink and green macarons. My opportunity had come. When it was my turn to order I stepped up and uttered “vente macarons s’il vous plait”. A question was returned and the only thing I got (I don’t speak French well) was the word mélange. Oui, une mélange s’il vous plait. I definitely wanted a mix of all the flavors.

Back at the house I took some pictures of my treat and set them aside for dessert. With the meal finished Francoise brought them to the table and we all dug in.

( They really were pretty to look at, and oh so flavorful. )

The lemon, berry and pistachio (we think) treats with thin hard shells and a soft interiors delighted us all. I now understand what Mardi was getting at. They were damn good and clearly require experience to make well. I guess the smile from the bakery owner was for me as an expression of happiness that I was so interested in a treats they had made.

So with that mystery solved I will now move on to something else…



Friday, February 25, 2011

A Love Story, and How We Found Ourselves in Provence

In the late 1990’s I met a friend of Margot’s uncle Gerry named Eloy. Gerry and Eloy both live in the Montreal area and have been friends for over 40 years. Gerry is a priest and Eloy met him as young teacher at the school where Gerry also taught. Eloy escaped Cuba at the age of 18 finding refuge in Canada with help from the order of priests Gerry belongs to. The rest is indeed history, but we have to take a walk through some of that history so you can understand the greatest love story I have ever been witness to.

In the mid-1980’s Gerry and Eloy took a trip to the Holy Land. On that trip Eloy met a woman named Francoise. They came to be fond of each other, but chose a friendship and long distance correspondence instead of something more. Francoise lived in Paris, France and Eloy in Broussard, Quebec. They met several more times on various trips and maintained a long distance friendship all the while. During that same time Eloy became an adopted member of Margot’s family and formed a strong bond with Helene, Margot’s mother. Eloy has always been treated as a family member and is often spoken of as another uncle by Margot and her siblings. I’ve come to know him as a friend in 20+ years, and more recently as a stalwart caregiver to Gerry as he continues to battle aggressive cancer. It is Eloy that drives Gerry back and forth to family holidays in the States, often staying at our home for the celebrations. Not long after Margot’s father passed away Gerry took Helene on her dream of a lifetime trip to France, and ultimately to stay with Francoise who had since moved to Provence. She raved about the place and often told Margot she should plan to get there one day.

In 2010 Eloy and Francoise met up once again, but something was different this time. Both found themselves securely retired, having large extended families, no children and a vibrant zest for life. When I got an e-mail from Gerry stating quite plainly that Eloy and Francoise (who I did not know or know of at the time) were going to be married in 2011, I certainly was surprised. With the back story in hand I reflected on it as one of the greatest stories and definitely the greatest love story I had ever heard. I couldn’t have been happier for a man who I have watched do so much for others with the kind of selflessness and grace I am immensely envious of. But I would be happier in the details of this story as it unfolded.

About a month after the announcement was made we received an e-mail from Eloy that opened the invitation to attend the wedding to all of his family members, including us. Margot called to relate the news and in a surprise move my response was, “so we are going to go, right? At first all she said was “What!” She was shocked at the ease with I was making such a grand commitment. I am not generally that way. But I had my motivations. Eloy has been a great friend to Margot’s family and was at the center of a story that is likely to become a legend for them. The wedding was also in France, a place neither of us had yet travelled to and very much wanted to. And despite some of the stereotypes about weddings, they generally are an example of the best things this life has to offer. I knew I had to be in on this!

We responded to Eloy that we would indeed be attending and to keep us apprised of the details as they evolved. We soon found that we would be the only family representatives at the wedding. Unfortunately Gerry’s health would not permit the trip and others were not able for various and well understood reasons. Functioning as the family ambassadors made the trip a great honor for us. Joining two families is a big deal, and we would be projecting an image of new family to two others (remember the non-familial relation) at the same time being recipients of the same from both. I was actually nervous.

As the plans evolved the holidays rolled around and once again Gerry and Eloy came to visit for Christmas. But this visit was much more exciting. Francoise would be joining us and would be meeting Margot’s family for the first time! Our visit with them was fantastic. Margot and I got to play hosts in advance of them doing the same for us. We discussed the arrangements for the trip and were overjoyed when a place to stay at Francoise’s home was offered. We set about scheduling flights between Boston and Paris and the train between Paris and Avignon. About two weeks before the trip we confirmed our arrival details and waited with intense anticipation.

As you read in the first post, our trip was smooth but tiring. We arrived on Thursday, with a day and a half to go before the big day. We joined many other family and friends who were staying and/or bustling around making ready for the wedding. We offered to help in any way we could and ultimately helped clean the home for the after wedding social and helped setup the reception hall for the wedding celebration.

Before we left my mother had shipped us a gift to take Eloy and Francoise. My mother has also found enjoyment spending time with Eloy during many combined family holidays we have had. She knits and made a beautiful white shawl as part of a project with the ladies of her church. The prayer shawls are an example of the love of their church community and have been made for all manner of occasions where the love and support of a friends can feed the human spirit. We presented Francoise and Eloy with the shawl right before the wedding and found timing to be everything. Despite it being a warm, sunny Provencal winter day, Francoise had been concerned that she might get a chill outside but hadn’t determined a remedy. Her words were, “this is just what I needed”, and promptly donned it over her dress and went on about her final preparations. I called my mother a few minutes before the wedding began and I could tell that she was touched by this outcome. Her gift became part of the celebration. What an unexpected twist!

The hour came and we jumped in the car with friends of Francoise’s who shuttled us to the city center of Le Thor where both the civil confirmation and wedding mass would be held.

Up to this point I haven’t mentioned a key detail that provided both a source of frustration (for Margot and I) and a lot of laughs for everyone during our stay. We don’t speak French or Spanish, and both of which were being uttered in considerable quantities during our stay! In an upcoming post about the friends we made during our stay I’ll elaborate on this story a bit more and give a shout out to a few folks who were essential in helping us both learn, but also to communicate efficiently with the dozens of people we ultimately interacted with.

So we drove along with people we had met 3 minutes previously, all mutually unable to efficiently communicate with other. Awesome! It worked out great though. They were even looking for us after the mass to ensure we wouldn’t be left behind.

( The laughing hadn't quite kicked in. )

The civil confirmation of the wedding by the Mayor of Le Thor was both serious and light. There were documents to be signed in between friendly jokes and the compulsory verbal declaration of intentions to be married and uphold that choice for as long as they should be living. Laughter permeated the entire assembly when the customary consideration of providing a loving and safe home for children was reached. Neither the bride nor groom had made that choice when it was most likely, and they with their assembled friends and family couldn’t help but make light of that ship having sailed off long ago. Something tells me this is real living, and only further confirms that the people in this story have remarkable joie de vivre.

The wedding mass was held in a 13th century cathedral with an assemblage of 7 priests comprised of both parish clergy and friends from France and abroad. It was a beautiful ceremony with joyful singing and recitation of readings and wedding prayers in multiple languages. Later we received an e-mail from Gerry indicating he celebrated mass at his parish back in Montreal at 9:30 AM so he could be joined in mass with his family 6 hours ahead in France.

( That is a quite group to officiate a wedding! )

( How could we have missed this? )

( The kids peppered the happy couple with rice with joyful adandon! )

A contingent of nearly 200 people returned to Francoise’s home for a celebratory social with champagne, wine, food and lots of laughter. Two of Gerry’s friends got together with us for a picture to send along so Gerry could enjoy the event through us.

( Marc, Yvon, Margot, Me )

The wedding reception was held at a hall a few towns over and was quite similar to many we have been to before. Francoise and Eloy thanked their family and friends for making the trip including special thanks to those who had travelled quite a distance to enjoy their special day. We felt so special.

( To Eloy & Francoise! )

The food was excellent, the people were fun and when we got to the skits and singing we were once again able to see how the family was celebrating this wonderful event. There was dancing to a wide array of French and American music (50/60’s classics are big there) and lots of toasting. When Tom Jones Sex Bomb came on Margot and I had to laugh. The mix of folks grooving on the dance floor to this particular song is a vision that will make us laugh for years to come!
( You can just feel the happiness and joy. )
( Fireworks are a great touch at a wedding reception. )
This story is early in its telling and I for one can’t wait to see more of it unfold.



Thursday, February 24, 2011

Our Family Meals in Provence

This past week has been filled with new and exciting experiences for Margot and me. Late last year we accepted an invitation to a wedding that would be held in Le Thor, France. It was with great affection and honor that we made our plans to travel to Europe for the very first time. The love story behind the people and the wedding will be featured in my next post.

We arrived in France early Thursday morning after what was briefly our longest direct flight ever (the flight home is longer), weary from our travels. The flight on Air France was most certainly a much improved air travel experience than our domestic carriers offer. With good-tasting hot food, wine and free entertainment on-board our flight was that much less uncomfortable. But I digress.

Our hosts live in Le Thor which is east of Avignon where we would travel to next by train. The TGV (high-speed train) is most certainly an excitement in itself. You have no idea just how fast you are going as you zip through the French countryside. The view is best from the upper cabin and alternates between farmland, vineyards, small towns, cities and the mountains in the distance.

Arriving just before noon we were promptly greeted by Eloy and Francoise, who were so happy to see us after their short visit with us at Christmas. We were whisked off to our vacation home for the week and to the very beginnings of the large group of family and friends we would be sharing our meals and social time with during our stay.

A couple notes for those that might be confused as they read my trip posts. We didn’t eat any restaurant meals and had limited involvement in preparing what we did eat. I also didn’t take a lot of food pictures. Both the size of and our unfamiliarity with the group of people just didn’t support it. The hospitality provided to us was beyond our expectations and with nearly 40 people to feed on one of the nights, preparations were going on behind the scenes, at other locations and while we were out of the house. I could say I was disappointed, but then again I did get to be on vacation! What I have to share are my impressions of what we ate, but more importantly of the community at the center of these family meals in Provence. I am going to break out a separate post on the wines I tasted while I was there.

Arriving just in time for lunch we made quick work of introductions while we set the table for our group of 11. Francoise had spent the morning preparing roast pork covered in an earthy mushroom sauce. And green beans. A couple things that you must quickly acclimate to in Provence (and I would imagine more broadly in France as well) are that bread is on the table at every meal and wine is available at both lunch and dinner. I would imagine folks that have to go back to work don’t over indulge, but when on vacation there is room for enjoyment! While there were plenty of remarks made about the food from those who were experiencing the local cuisine for the first time, the conversation centered around the occasion, where folks were from and the plans we would make to visit local sights.

If you have never experienced the famous cheese course after typical French meal you would have been in luck this past week. A tray full of cheese appeared after each lunch and all but the largest dinner gatherings. The eighty guests at the wedding were also lucky enough to indulge in their love of cheese! Goat cheese, blue cheese, Brie, Camembert, many different unnamed hard cheese and several styles of young soft cow’s milk cheeses all made appearances in different combinations. Oh, and more bread with the cheese course! I am a sucker for cheese so this ritual went a long way in securing plans to be back real soon.

Breakfast was the same each day, and at least in Provence is without much fanfare. That really isn’t a problem based on the other stuff we ended up eating the rest of day. Bread, butter, homemade jams and cereal were all available with milk, juice and coffee. A jar of Nutella appeared on the second morning and when paired with a hearty slice of Brioche, Margot found a winning breakfast.

For our first dinner we enjoyed Raclette, a Swiss tradition of melted cheese, potatoes, pickles and cured meats. We did use a modern Racelette grill (several actually) with individual melting dishes for each person. God, I love European sensibilities!

I was lucky enough to catch Francoise making Aioli that was to be paired up with steamed fish and veggies for lunch on the second day. She used the word reporter when I started taking pictures. That is pretty accurate in the broad sense I guess.

( Mashing up the garlic. )

( Adding the olive oil to the garlic and dijon mustard. )

( Looking for just the right balance. The hard part! )

( So simple, but so delicious! )

The food on Saturday (the day of the wedding) came in waves. Lunch, the wedding social and finally the wedding reception. Margot and I were looking forward to tapenade and weren’t at all disappointed when it appeared during the wedding social. There was also a savory cake that contained cheese, olives and ham that disappeared in record time. There were all sorts of appetizers, rice and pasta salads, zucchini tarts and probably some things we enjoyed but have already forgotten.

( When feeding 40+ people paper & plastic is universal! )

( Marie-Claude was not really moving that fast, but she sure looked like it all week! )

( People everywhere! )

( Smiles say it all! )

The wedding reception offered up a wonderful mix of foods. The first course included foie gras, an eggplant tourine and a fish tourine, the latter not being something I could eat more than one bite of.

The second course included a wonderfully marinated and gently cooked duck breast with an eggplant salad that contained onions, olives and capers; a Provencal classic. There was of course cheese and bread to follow the main course. There was wedding cake for dessert, but no ordinary wedding cake, rather a croquembouche! A croquembouche is a cone of caramelized sugar decorated with cream puffs. It was amazingly beautiful and so delicious.

( Was your wedding cake that cool? Mine wasn't! )

The remainder of the weekend’s meals were based around eating different combinations of leftovers from the days before with, wait for it, bread, cheese and wine. It never got tired and I am not quite sure where all the food was hiding!

And with all of those meals was the communion of a cast of characters that were coming together as family. You might have heard Annabella (Jose & Carla’s daughter) playing to the audience with here cute quips or Margot telling a family story or Marc talking about an adventure somewhere in the world, but one thing was quite obvious. The food brought the people together and gave us the time to get to know each other. As a food blogger I found this story to be a true joy to be part of.



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Do We Need an Excuse To Drink Red Wine?

The easy answer is no. As long as it is good, of course.
Last weekend I tried a couple of reds I hadn’t had before that were worthy of reviews. The Chianti was specifically selected to test the go-to pizza pairing for many sommeliers. We also paired the pizza up with our 2008 Montelpulciano. That particular wine ended up being very understated and simple, but not totally off the mark for the table versions of it that are commonly found in abundance in the central and southern Italy.

Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico 2007

I haven’t had many Chianti’s that wowed me. Most people I know would believe that to be a fool’s quest. I don’t buy it. I am sure that there are finer versions of Chianti to be had, and that they are produced with the kind of care that so many other revered styles are. The Antinori Peppoli was definitely one of the best ones I have had, but I still feel there is room to grow from here. I found the aroma to be pretty even between red fruits and oak/earth. The flavors of ripe red raspberries, vanilla and bitter dark chocolate were carried along a moderate to long finish. The tannins were pronounced but soft in nature, not creating a significant teeth cleansing sensation. The wine paired well with both a supreme pizza that contained several meats and vegetables, and a mushroom and onion version. The mushrooms were specifically accentuated up against the earthy, oak flavors in the wine. I’d drink this wine again, but I do consider it as a place to continue to search from.

Ancient Fire 2008 Montelpulciano

I have struggled to find a consistency in the fruit flavors in this wine. The nose is very light and while the color is good, taken together it is a pretty unremarkable wine. My lack of knowledge (of the grape and the typically outcome) at the time I made it prevented me from taking the choice to blend a little bit of Sangiovese and Merlot into it to add complexity. It is drinkable, but not exciting. It did do an admirable job with the pizza however. It handled both pizzas well, but didn’t work any magic on either; something appropriate when the folks eating and drinking weren’t really interested in being mindful of the pairings. I won’t ever make this exact wine to be sure, and when I want to make something Italian again, experimentation with Sangiovese and a Super-Tuscan style is most likely.

Chamard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

In 2010 Margot and some of her girlfriends visited Chamard Vineyards in Clinton, CT for a tasting of their wines. Having experienced CT wines previously Margot was prepared for their generous acidity and their distinctions from wines made elsewhere from the same grapes. Of all of the wines tasted Margot decided the Cabernet was the best. Her friend Julie agreed and I got the prize of a whole bottle to enjoy. I picked up aromas of raspberries and leafy greens in the nose. The flavors of plum and blackberry came with the expected dose of acidity and subtle wood influence. This was a very pleasing wine and raised my curiosity to try their other wines despite Margot insisting this was the very best one they tried.



Meyer Lemon Curd Cream & Strawberry Trifle

I hadn’t yet used my Meyer Lemon Curd I made earlier in the month. With friends coming over and needing to make a dessert Margot suggested we find something to make with it. I added that it should be easy to make and something we could do ahead of time. The winner? A Lemon Curd Cream & Strawberry Trifle.

We used the recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Café as a guide, which by the way was publishedoin my birthday last year. That’s always a good sign!!

Our twist consisted of using 100% local strawberries we picked and froze last June, store-bought pound cake and making them in individual servings using clear cocktail glasses.

Strawberry Sauce

3 cups thawed berries, leave behind free running juice
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Lemon Curd Cream
2 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 - 8 oz jar of homemade Meyer Lemon Curd

Both of the components above were prepared according to the original recipe. The pound cake was cut into cubes. The assembly was done using two rounds of a layer each of cream, cake and berry sauce, finally topped with cream.

When dessert came around these made for a great presentation and garnered rave reviews from our friends. Margot and I had tasted the lemon curd cream when we prepared them so we had some of idea of what to expect. A huge slam dunk!



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Poutine Is For Lovers

Valentine’s Day has always been about simple pleasures for Margot and I. We met as college kids with very little money and had to be creative to celebrate. After we got married, although we found increasing success in our jobs, we still retained simplicity for Valentine’s Day. No big trips away, no crazy-expensive restaurants. Simple gifts, flowers and often homemade food.

This year we did go out, but we did so in search of a classic only locally available on the West Side of Manchester, NH. Poutine. For those that don’t know of it, and you are excused as it a French-Canadian creation, it is composed of French fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Chez Vachon is situated on Kelley Street on Manchester’s west side. This is a neighborhood that has been called “Little Canada.” The neighborhood was established by immigrants from Quebec that were recruited to work in the mills along the Merrimack River that bisects the city. Margot comes from French-Canadian heritage and her family were long time residents of Manchester, although on east of the river. Margot’s uncle lives on Montreal, whom we visit on our annual (or more) trips to the city. Poutine is familiar to us as you can imagine.

Chez Vachon is a small place styled like a typical diner that is only open for breakfast and lunch. The service was quick and attentive and the restaurant was clean. They offer a dense menu of breakfast and lunch foods, all of which are available throughout their open hours. We told our server that “we came for one thing”, to which we got a knowing smile in response.

We asked our server what people considered traditional or classic Poutine, something we were especially interested in because of our past musings about the type of gravy used. A peppery chicken gravy is considered the classic topper for the fries and cheese curds. This makes sense because the best examples of this dish we have had, in Montreal of course, had a gravy that we didn’t think was beef when considering the milder flavor. The dark color of those gravies left us puzzled though. We ordered a classic and also one made with bacon and beef gravy. You can also order it with vegetables and all manner of meats on it and you have a third option for sauce, spaghetti sauce. Neither Margot or I understand that option but our waitress indicated the shop owner likes it that way. We’ll trust that judgment, but we passed on the taste just the same!

While we waited we noticed the wall of fame (or shame I guess for the losers) for the Grand Poutine Challenge. This challenge was debuted in October of 2010 and has seen a handful of entrants. The challenge is to eat 5 pounds of classic Poutine in 1 hour with no bathroom breaks. There are two photos hanging for folks that have finished it successfully and quite a few more who have raised the white flag short of 5 pound goal. I am not a competitive eater so you won’t see a blog entry from me taking on this challenge! Our server was gracious enough to let us take a photo of the back of her t-shirt that advertises the challenge. Thanks Christine!

Both of our plates of Poutine arrived with steam coming off of them. Margot bristled at the idea I was going to make her wait even 1 second to snap a few photos. Patience, grasshopper!

The classic had light to medium brown colored gravy poured over top a generous helping of cheese curds and crispy French fries. The aromas emanating from the dish reminded us of what we came for.

The cheese curds were soft and chewy, and the gravy is peppery but not spicy. The gravy has a hearty chicken flavor, well now that we know it’s chicken, that would work well in a lot of ways. The gravy wasn’t overly salty which we found to be a delightful surprise. The fries were cooked very well retaining a nice crispy outside with soft potato inside, and no grease. We were offered some white vinegar that is used by many people as a garnish. We both tried it and found the acidity from vinegar amped up the flavors in the whole dish. Pretty smart!

The bacon & beef gravy version was something we wanted to try to cement the difference in the gravy but also to add meat to mix. We found the gravy only slightly saltier, thumbs up, and having a much richer flavor as we would have expected. The fries and cheese curds were as we found them in classic. The bacon pulled this dish together. The bacon they serve at Chez Vachon is meaty with a huge smoky flavor that really mixed well with the cheese, fries and gravy. That said, the classic is still what you crave when you crave Poutine and will always be my favorite.

Margot had a great quote to sum up our Chez Vachon Poutine experience. “It is a perfect example of taking something simple and doing it really well.”

We finished up our Valentine’s Day celebration with a trip to the Currier Art Museum, also located in Manchester. Margot and I had been their together quite a number of years ago, but not since they had re-opened after a major renovation. Margot visited in 2010 as part of leadership program and raved about how much nicer it was and how much larger their collection could be. I’ll leave you with a favorite work from each of us.

( Allen B. Hall, Remember When , 2011 )

The piece above was part of the New Hampshire Art Association’s 62nd Currier Exhibition, the current special collection on display at the Currier.

( Claude Monet, The Seine at Bougival, 1869 )

I have always been a fan on Monet and outdoor scenes. Thinking about my upcoming trip to France was easy looking at this.

Margot and I hope you enjoy your Valentine’s Day in your own special way this year.



Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wine Region Project – Rieslings from Mosel & Rheingau

A lot of people have stories about Riesling being the first wine they enjoyed. It isn’t any wonder. The availability of off-dry, fruity versions that are both food friendly and quaffable sets this type of wine up for lots of first dates! Margot and I both have fond memories of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling being a go-to wine early in our exploration of food and beverages. We have broadened our wine tastes considerably since, but still very much enjoy well made Rieslings and believe everyone should understand and celebrate the style.

Germany is well known for its Rieslings, from the very dry and steely to the intensely sweet late harvest versions. What is hasn’t always been, and what was isn’t assured to continue.

Large volumes of basic sweet wines tarnished the reputation of German wines for a time, but more recently are in better balance with dry style production. Late harvest versions are still highly sought after, but that is more for their relative scarcity, risks involved and the back-breaking labor required to produce them. Rieslings made in many German locales do require considerable labor in the vineyard with most of the best plots located on steep hillsides where limited or no mechanization can be used. With competition from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest in the US, German producers don’t necessarily have the esteemed status that they enjoyed in the latter part of the 20th century. But don’t count them out just yet. Riesling originated in Germany and with centuries of expertise in coaxing a sense of place out of this noble grape, there is plenty they can teach us.

( typical Mosel vineyards. )

The Mosel region is widely known as a source for excellent Rieslings, with the grape grown on over half of the total vineyard acreage in the region. The region’s wine history goes back to the Romans who cultivated the area to produce wines to support their local troops during their empire’s expansion. The region is the third largest in Germany but leads the country’s regions in international recognition. With total acreage in decline in the last decade there are concerns about the future. Unfortunately the pace of globalization and technology is drawing many young people away from the wine business and the long days of difficult labor required in the uniquely situated vineyards in the region. Established producers have had to resort to importing laborers who are willing to do this type of work, but it is unlikely this is sustainable.

The profile of Rieslings from the Mosel is of wines that are light in body, lower in alcohol, crisp and dry with considerable acidity. Our tasting of the 2007 Weingut Altenhofen Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett is consistent with this profile. Kabinett is quality designation from the frequently confusing German wine classification scale. In the semi-sweet and off-dry categories Kabinett is in the 3rd tier of quality, medium-high, with only one higher category. To see how this interesting matrix looks check out the Wikipedia version.
We found this wine to be the color of dry straw and brilliantly clear. We both detected some oil or petrol aromas and something I would call wet rocks. The flavors were of unripe peach and grapefruit. This is a pleasant wine with a good deal of acidity and low residual sugar. It would make for a great pairing with a wide range of main dishes or a transitional wine between course of very different weights or flavors.

Riesling plantings in the Rheingau region are nearly at 80% of total vineyard acreage, making it the largest percentage in any of the 13 wine regions in the country. The Rheingau boasts historical importance with legends that say Charlemagne granted permission for the first vineyards to be planted in the region. The producer Schloss Johannisberg claims to have over 900 years of winemaking history and to be the place where the late harvest style was discovered.

The wines with the biggest interest from the region are some of the country’s sweetest and the very highest quality in the classification, Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen. While there was an explosion of sweet styles in this region as well, that has been dialed back to where more than 75% of the region’s wines are now dry.

( Schloss Vollrads )

Schloss Vollrads is another historically significant (800+ years) property in the region and the source of our second wine. We tasted the Schloss Vollrads 2008 QbA after the Mosel selection which turned out to be a good choice as it is sweeter and more nuanced. The dry and crisp wine beforehand certainly helped cleanse our palate in preparation. Qba is a second tier classification in the off-dry and semi-sweet categories of the scale we introduced above.

We found this wine to have the color of fresh straw, slightly green, with aromas of white flowers, peach and spices. We found the sweetness easily, and a great accent to the tropical fruit flavors we tasted. There is citrus on the finish which lingers quite long. Margot says “This rocks, buy it!” This is definitely a great wine for all sorts of pairings like spicy Asian food, stinky cheeses and light desserts. It is also a great all around drinker.

I hope you enjoyed another one of our virtual visits. Do you have Riesling stories? Share in the comments. We haven't been to Germany yet, but a trip in 2012 might be in the works.

This is also our 300th post. Fitting is should be about another wine adventure!

Picture Citations
2- Our Own
4- Our Own

Both The World Atals of Wine and Wikipedia were great sources of information for this and our other wine region posts.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Discovery Channel Loves Beer!

What do Ben Franklin, pyramid building, duck ponds, disease prevention and the Discovery Channel have in common? Beer!

On January 30th, the Discovery Channel aired the show “How Beer Saved the World”. It is a an entertaining and educational look at how beer has been with us since we settled down and began organizing communities, and how if it wasn’t for beer our history would be something entirely different. Add the series BrewMasters to the mix and one conclusion is clear, the Discovery Channel loves beer!

In two previous posts I have shared my review of episodes 1, 2 and 3 of the series BrewMasters that provides an inside look of the Dogfish Head brewery. I have watched episodes 4 and 5 as well, with episode 6 still yet to air.

Episode 4 takes us to a location close to home for Sam, York Beach, Maine. We also find out where the name for the brewery comes from. Dogfish Head is the name of a street in Southport, Maine where Sam grew up. Sam tells us a story about being out on a walk with his dad, during a break from college, and having to answer a questions about how classes were going. They were going good, but he dropped the bomb that he wanted to be a commercial brewer. Looking up and reading a street sign in front of him, his dad proclaimed “Dogfish Head would be a good name for a brewery”, and the rest is history. Most good things start with a good story.

The main story in episode 4 is how Sam planned and successfully used scrap cedar wood from the Grain surfboard company, located in York Beach, to brew and age a beer. Using woods other than oak has been flirted with by some brewers, but even oak aging of beer is a niche product in our current craft beer revolution.

The more interesting story in episode 4 is what happens when the sensory panel dings a beer and that beer happens to be the DFH 120 minute IPA, the strongest and potentially the most expensive IPA in the world. The fermentation became stuck and couldn’t be restarted. The brewery staff, Sam included, decided to dump the unfinished beer; a very costly decision.

As Margot and I learned more about Dogfish Head we were curious about some of their beers we had never had before. We were lucky enough that our local craft beer shop, The Drinkery, carries DFH beers and had a number of them we had yet to enjoy.

Indian Brown Ale

The Indian Brown Ale is a dry hopped brown ale that combines characteristics of both traditional American brown ales and India Pale Ales. At 7.2% alcohol, it is potent but not extreme. We found it to have a dark brown color with a light brown head that lingered for a moderate amount of time. We detected hints of chocolate, nuts and dark malt. It has a medium body with perceptible bitterness and no noticable sweet character. I’d definitely drink this again, and likely in quantity!

I found the show “How Beer Saved the World” to be a great affirmation of my taste for good beer and unquenched curiosity about its history, styles and the locales where people worship it. Did you know that the pyramid builders were paid in beer? How about the fact that New World settlers wouldn’t drink the amazingly clean water in North America because they thought water made people sick? At home the water was contaminated and made people sick unless it was made into beer. Louis Pasteur wasn’t studying milk when he had the idea for pasteurization. Yup, beer. School kids in old Europe drank beer for breakfast. It was low alcohol so drunkenness wasn’t an issue. The nutrition they received from it was what was being sought after. And. mechanized assembly lines? Henry Ford is typically given credit, but he was ten years behind the glass bottle (for beer!) industry. The American Revolution? You guessed it, fueled by and in defense of the freedom to consume beer.

So the next time you sit down to drink a beer take a moment to celebrate the thousands of years of human history you hold in your hand. We all owe beer quite a bit!

Episode 5 of BrewMasters centers on a trip to Egypt in search of the history of beer and a recipe for a 4000 year old ancient ale. Some of the earliest visuals of beer making can be found in Egyptian hieroglyphs. What is interesting is the proximity of these images to those of bread making. It isn’t completely clear exactly what the relationship between the two products was during the times the symbols were created. In the same way “How Beer Saved the World” explained that wages for pyramid builders were paid in beer, BrewMasters suggests that minimum wage (daily) was about a 12 pack of beer. This beer would have been quite low in alcohol, but was packed with nutrients and vitamins.

In episode the beer idea Sam has kicking around is something he calls Ta Henkent brewed with Emmer wheat, palm fruit, chamomile and an Egyptian spice blend Za’atar containing oregano, thyme and marjoram. The key to the brew was wild yeast that Floris and Sam capture on the trip. Floris had the yeast sent back to a special lab in Europe to identify brew-worthy yeasts that could be cultured for their ancient brew.

Midas Touch

In honor of episode 5 we picked up a bottle of Midas Touch. This is one of DFH’s Ancient Ale series, brewed with barley, honey, white muscat grapes and saffron. Made from what is suspected to be the oldest fermented beverage, based on 2700 year old drinking vessels found in the tomb of King Midas, in the world it channels both wine and mead while drinking like an ale. This brew has wonderful floral and honey aromas and the sweetness is easily accessed. You can’t help but note the balance between the spices, fruit and grain flavors in each sip. At 9% alcohol it reminds me of a dessert style beverage.

Do you love beer? Have you ever wondered how much you didn’t know about its history? Hit up the Discovery Channel, they seem to love beer right now and are happy to share some knowledge about the noble beverage.



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

More Flavors of Meyer Lemons

Two weeks ago I shared the first part of my adventure with a box of ripe and fresh Meyer Lemons that I received from Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro. In that post I shared six of a promised ten ways to use Meyer Lemons. Ten is pretty arbitrary. As you can see from the many bloggers using them this time of year, the possibilities are pretty broad.
Here are the final four usages.

Lemon Tincture

The steps to make a Meyer Lemon tincture come from the same Imbibe Magazine article on Meyer Lemon cocktails as the Aged Rum Sour in my first post. In the article they use it to infuse concentrated lemon flavor into a cocktail named the Haberdasher. Here is the Wikipedia definition for tinctures.

I used eight ounces of 100-proof vodka and placed it in a small canning jar. To that I added the finely grated zest of one small Meyer Lemon. After capping the jar I shook it vigorously, repeating the shaking every day for 3 weeks. It needs to be filtered before usage. With the amount of time allowed for steeping the outcome will be much like bitters, as opposed to an infusion where you wouldn’t desire the same level of concentration.

The usage is most certainly slanted toward cocktails, but I’ve chosen to use it to flavor club soda. This creates a simple refreshing beverage with lots of applications. The result is kissed ever so slightly with citrus flavors and has just enough bitterness to cause some mouth watering, which always makes for a great way to prep for an upcoming meal.

I can’t finish this adventure up without another cocktail. It’s just what I do!

Meyer Lemon Martini

1 oz vodka
1 oz dry white wine
1 oz Meyer lemon juice
¾ oz lavender syrup
1/2 oz gin

Orange twist

Pour all the ingredients into an ice filled shaker. Shake, strain and serve in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the orange twist. The dry wine and sour from the juice are balanced nicely with the lavender syrup. Using vodka and gin you get both a hardy drink and some herbal influence that the Meyer Lemon choice works so well with.

I got to thinking about using Meyer Lemons after seeing all the posts for lemon curd. It seems either curd or cookies are the most popular way to use them during their season in North America.

Meyer Lemon Curd

I used the recipe for Meyer Lemon Curd from the Merry Gourmet. I had never made curd before and hadn’t used a double boiler for anything other than chocolate, so I knew I was going to learn something new for sure. The taste of the curd is definitely unique in comparison to lemon and lime curds I have enjoyed before. Meyer Lemons are wonderful that way. We haven’t used the curd yet, but I did process the jars so we have lots of time to decide how to enjoy it.

Lemony Green Beans

For my tenth flavor of Meyer Lemons I took the butter I shared in the first post and used it to sauté green beans.

2 shallots, minced
1 large box of frozen plain green beans
2 Tbsp Meyer Lemon butter
Salt & pepper

Melt the lemon butter in a sauté pan. Add the shallots and sauté until tender. Add the green beans and sauté until cooked to the desired consistency. Season with salt & pepper.

So that is Meyer Lemons ten ways. This is definitely one of the most fun projects I have done since I got going with food blogging. Since I still have lemon butter, lemon sugar, curd and tincture left I suspect you will see more influences from this adventures in future posts.



The Story Behind Ancient Fire Wines

In the last few months quite a few people have asked how I got started and how I picked the name I use for my personal brand.

Earlier in the week I sent around a link to a local news story about Ancient Fire Wines and how I got into making beer and wine at home. That is indeed how my hobby began. I frequently thank my wife for asking me at the right time to consider a hobby, and indulging what has turned into a bit of an obsession. I have grown as a person through that decision and I can’t imagine being here any other way.

I haven’t kept track of how many batches of wine, cider, beer and mead I have made, but I’d guess it tops 100 going back to November of 2003. I have used all sorts of ingredients both commercial and local. So many different experiments have been done using juices, purees, grains, honey, packaged kits, imported grapes, extracts, spices, locally picked fruits, grapes grown by friends, oak chips & cubes, and maple syrup. I have created all sorts of blends, had my share of failures and never miss learning something new, from even something thing I have done dozens of times. I love it!

The name Ancient Fire Wines has it own story. About the same time I got going with my home brewing my family purchased a vacation house in southern Vermont. Once I started going there for weekends and vacations I was hooked. We have no broadcast or cable TV up there and really who wants to watch TV when you can sit outside and watch nature and all of its glory?

( pretty sweet, huh? )

We do have a DVD player and a healthy collection of DVDs that are best used to pass time on rainy days and at night after we’ve come in from around the fire pit. My mother and I both have a fascination with nature documentaries. As such my mother had purchased a few and left them on a shelf up there. One in particular has connected with something in me that is hard to explain. Originally shown in IMAX, the movie The Seasons, narrated by William Shatner, has got to be one of the most wonderful expressions of the cycle of the seasons that we know so well here in New England. Filmed in Minnesota, the visuals are spitting images of where I live, our vacation place and all the outdoor haunts I know around New England. It was released in 1987 so it isn’t modern effects-wise now, and the translation from IMAX to DVD isn’t spectacular. That can easily be overlooked after you see it.

In one scene during the segment on the summer where a carnival and its lights are shown Shatner explains that this is a modern incarnation of how our ancestors “danced around the ancient fire”. Bingo! That is a great name for a brand of wine & beer. Neither would be possible without the sun its forces on our natural world. And thus, the name Ancient Fire Wines was taken.

I watch this movie all time, to the point that Margot rolls her eyes and walks into the other room. I have “subjected” friends to it whilst enjoying the VT place with us. I am connected to it. I can’t really explain why. I have always been fascinated by the seasons and have always felt that their changing was something I was tuned into unlike most people I know.

So many trips to VT have been made much sweeter with enjoyment of Ancient Fire beers, wines and ciders. Nothing is better than stitting on the deck swing in the sun kicking back with a glass of hard cider or strawberry wine.

Here is what the seasons look like when we get away to our lovely house in the woods in VT.

( Cold Winters. Time for snowshoeing, winter walks, and snuggling by the fire. )

( Spring time on the pond. Dad's boat ready for fishing. )

( Summer storms on the horizon. )

( The colors of Fall. My favorite of the seasons. )

That’s my story of how Ancient Fire Wines came to be. I hope you enjoyed it!