Friday, April 29, 2011

Celebrating One Year with Two Wine Reviews

One year ago this week I kicked off the new format for my blog and set about writing about food, beverages, pairing and all sorts of other adventures. I picked this week because it includes my birthday and I felt it would be good luck for my new blog to be born in the same week.

To celebrate my birthday (today) and the first birthday of my blog I went to the store and picked two bottles of wine I had never had to enjoy and review. Happy Birthday to me!

Cinquante-Cinq Chardonnay 2009
A French Chardonnay seemed like a classy pick for a celebratory review. This wine hails from the Languedoc region in Southeastern France. I detected flavors of white peach, a strong punch of acidity and some citrus on the finish. I also found some minerality, something like sandy or salty dry soil. I didn’t pick up any oak influence at any point. This is a simple presentation of Chardonnay and with the punch of acidity one you need to be prepared to drink. I found it paired really well with my sautéed green beans and curried asparagus for dinner last night.
Cigar Box Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
I am familiar with the Cigar Box label from their Malbec which I have enjoyed several times. I was expecting intense concentration, bold flavors and smooth drinking texture based on my experience. I wasn’t expecting complexity based on the value price point and youth. And I got what I was looking for. With a deep ruby color, lots of red and only a little blue, and powerful red fruit aromas I was sure I was going to enjoy my first sip. I picked up plum, raspberries, vanilla, and spice flavors. I also found some additional wood notes, maybe even cedar. The tannins are present and a little bit coarse. The finish is considerable and extends the enjoyment. I paired it with smoked dark meat turkey and found it to be one of those surprise pairings. I was sad when the turkey was gone!

Ignite Bar & Grill – Manchester, NH

Margot is back working in Manchester. This is a joyous thing for several reasons. This time I work from home a couple days a week so meeting up for lunch in the city once a month is a snap.

For our first outing we picked Ignite Bar & Grill on Hanover street. We have read several reviews of this place, seen their ads in the local papers but hadn’t stopped in yet. They have a great location right near the Palace Theater. I could see this place getting busy before and after shows. The bar has seating for a decent sixed crowd. There are also two open rooms with seating sporting modern décor and at least when we were there some groovy music playing.

We started with the fried pickles. Seriously, when you see something like that on a new menu can you really refuse? The best asset of these is that they are salty, and that saltiness prohibits eating them by the container-full! They were fantastic. A light breading covers your typical pickle chip. Perfectly fried and not greasy. There was a Jamaican Ranch dipping sauce provided, and it only added character to this already winner of a starter.

Margot went with the ostrich burger (Big Bird) and I had the fish & chips. Both were again excellent, although I think Margot liked the fish better. The ostrich burger is what you would expect a lean white meat burger to be. It has more structure (think less fat) than a beef burger and isn’t quite as soft. I thought the flavor was great and the sweet potato fries were surprisingly good.

The fish and chips were cooked extremely well. This is an easy dish to screw up and clearly the folks at Ignite know that and came through. The batter on the fish was light and just this side of cooked so it was crispy, but not hard. The fish was flaky and clean tasting. The standard fries were great and since they show up on quite a few of the plates, getting them right is pretty important. I had a Long Hammer IPA with my fish & chips and found it to be a worthy partner with the meal.

I would definitely recommend Ignite as a new place to try in Manchester. With so many places to try I’m not sure how soon we will get back there to try more selections from the menu. If you go be sure and let us know what you had and what your experience was like.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sterling Vineyards Vintner’s Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - #winechat

This month’s topic for #winechat is red wine. To get everyone’s thirst up I thought I would post a new review right before the event.

I picked the Sterling Vineyards Vintner’s Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. This is the value line from Sterling and is a collection of wines that are generally easy to find in our area. I have enjoyed it before, but never sat down to do a formal review.

Tasting Notes

Purplish red color with no obvious brown shift. Blackberry and wood notes come out in the nose. Greens and blackberry show up in the taste. I also picked up vanilla and a little bit of smoke. I found it to be dry with average tannins and smooth with a medium length finish.

Overall I wasn’t blown away, but there is nothing at all wrong with this wine. I saw a lot of reviews that noted dark chocolate powder and smoke meat flavors. I didn’t pick those out in my tastes. I also saw that many folks allowed the wine to breathe a bit and found it to improve. I look forward to the opportunity to try it again in an hour and see what happens.

#winechat is held on the last Tuesday of each month from 8PM EST to 10 PM EST. We have difference topics each month and questions prepared in advance to get the conversation going. Join us for TONIGHT for the April 2011 #winechat!



Monday, April 25, 2011

Can We Really Love Red Wine Too Much? - #winechat

#winechat is on for this month again, and it's tomorrow night!

This month we are going to talk about red wine. We're really going to get in there with discussions about the flavors, aromas, body, oak, how you enjoy it, what you enjoy it with and why you can't live without it!

Here are some of the questions that will be asked to get conversation going:

What are your optimal attributes for a really great red wine?
What is the least "classy" food you enjoy red wine with?
What is your favorite style (not label) of red wine?
When you think of red wine, what non-food ideas come to mine?

Last month at our inaugural chat we had hundreds of tweets contributed by several dozen participants. We had great stories, lots of questions and information sharing, and many new tweeps connected.

If you love wine you need to check out #winechat! 8PM - 10PM EST the last Tuesday of every month. Use the hashtag #winechat to participate.



Sunday, April 24, 2011

Recipe Only Sunday – Smoked Turkey

I don’t have the chops to go Silent Sunday, but my friend Brian at A Thought For Food does. Check out A Cape Code Morning in the early Spring.

Here's a twist from my kitchen.

Smoked Turkey Brine

2 cups orange juice
1 cup kosher salt
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger
½ cup of honey
10 - 3 inch sprigs of fresh thyme
spent citrus rinds (for smoking)
Water to cover turkey in a large bucket


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tasting De Loach Pinot Noirs

On Thursday night I participated in the #earthdaywine Live Tasting Event with De Loach Vineyards, Bottle Notes and the KloutPerks team.

I hadn’t gotten my wine sampler kit (shown in the picture above) yet, but I watched live as Jean-Charles Boisset described the approach De Loach has taken, their success with organic and sustainable practices and his vision of where Pinot from vineyards in Sonoma county can become.

Alyssa Rapp from Bottle Notes hosted the tasting and had questions for Jean-Charles. They both otherwise helped folks taste through the 6 bottle sampler kit available for the event. During the live tasting folks were tweeting away about their wines and impressions of the tasting. I noted several things that if you watch the taped #earthdaywine video from the session you might also pickup. Here are some of my tweets and related story:

I saw confidence and passion on the part of Jean-Charles.

"he (Jean-Charles) is clearly passionate in his pursuits. never a bad thing. #earthdaywine (live at"

Jean-Charles was talking about bring wine to market in small barrel like dispensing systems for the home and restaurants. I immediately thought of our recent trip to France.

"we saw 10L boxes in France. idea++! RT @mwangbickler: Love the idea of selling wines in barrel. #earthdaywine (live at"

During the chat Jean-Charles mentioned “Little Burgundy”. He was referring to the sampler and how it allowed a taster to survey what Pinot from Sonoma can be. The term “Little Burgundy” is one he uses to describe it. I think this notion is a powerful one to consider. The wine can take you to a place, and not the one it is from, but one it evokes. Pretty heavy stuff!

Bottles Notes used their Daily Sip e-mail newsletter yesterday to recap the event. Check that out at

With my wines coming in after the event, they arrived the next day, I was able to live taste several of them for myself. I have been playing with video blogs a bit. What I came up with is linked below. I am still working out the video production bit. I had a couple of stutters in there with pronunciation or at one point the tannins of one of the wines had my tongue twisting. I need better lighting, but I need a lot of other things too! Otherwise it was a fun way to recap the event and try some of the wines.

Here are my detailed tasting notes from all six of the wines. It really is a great example of breadth from one wine portfolio!

Le Roi

This wine definitely had the most tweets about it amongst all the wines. I found it dry and sleek with wonderful grilled fruit flavors. I picked up cherries easily and a hint of gameyness, something like the aromas of goat cheese perhaps. I could easily recommend this wine to folks of all stripes, including those who don’t drink a lot of red wine. The balance and middling tannins make it a great occasion wine and a food pairing wine with braises and meats cooked in wine!

Masut Valley

There is diversity in this flight and this wine is the proof. Much more spice and earth is found in this one from some of the others. I picked up some root essence within those spices, much like the skin of fresh peeled ginger. The mouth on this wine is full of dark cherries with a dried fruit twist. The tannins are also a little wilder in this wine. I also felt this was the darkest of the six wines.

Van Der Kamp

This is the one I found the wildest aromas and flavors in. It is balanced, a tad high in alcohol, but has fruit, earth, herbs, and some natural funk that is the foundation of many great wines. The tannins in this wine are a little bolder, but don’t overwhelm. Margot tasted this one and remarked at how smooth it was. It reminded both of us of some of the Pinots in Washington/Oregon last year.

The wood aromas come through on this one. I got more tannins, and both wood and grape types during my first sip. It is dry and much more austere than the Van Der Kamp, but not as focused as the Le Roi. I picked up cherries again and something floral, although this time it smells more like wild flowers or greens. There is some pepper and just a hint of pine on the finish.

Sonoma Stage

This wine is one of the lighter ones with light red berries, some cherry and some earthiness expressed in leather. The tannins are again restrained, but present. The fruits also seem slightly cooked, rather than ripe and fresh. Excellent dinner wine and another one for those notorious non-red drinkers!

Green Valley

This is another selection I saw a lot folks talking about. I smelled raspberries and what came across like flowers, maybe rose. This wine has restrained tannins and would be a pairing partner with a wide range of dishes from lightly season steaks, to salmon and some game meats. The acidity in this wine does a good job of cleaning up. With the alcohol at the high end (14-15.5) all of these Pinots leave a little heat on the finish. I actually enjoyed it, much like a fine cognac or bourbon leaves the smolder behind as it exits.

The price point on these wines range from $40-60 per bottle. The performance (taste/price ratio) on these wines is only OK when you factor in the price. Getting the tasting kit gave me many ideas that I would specifically pick up a single bottle to pair with a meal made for it. It isn’t an everyday for me, with the winery in my basement!

I really enjoyed this opportunity and would recommend others check out the sample packs from and the events sponsored by Travel the world, one bottle at a time!



{ I was given a free product or sample because I'm a Klout influencer. I was under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about this company. I get no additional benefits for talking about the product or company. }

Friday, April 22, 2011

Flavor Immersion - A Wine Tasting Secret

Everyone wants to be a better wine taster.

Swirl some wine around a bit. Look at it. What is the color and clarity of the wine? Smell it. Really smell it. Get your nose into that glass! What aromas do you detect? Taste it. What are the flavors? Does it coat your tongue? How much acidity is there and how sweet (or not) is it. Does it feel furry (tannins) on your tongue? How long do the flavors last, e.g. how long is the finish? And then share your thoughts with your friends across the table. That is all there is to wine tasting. Anybody can do this for fun or professionally. Practice and experience is the key to getting better at it.

Once you get past the basic process above you inevitably run into the issue of trying to name the aromas and flavors. This is truly where it gets hard for two reasons. First, the aromas and flavors are jumbled together and secondly, some are very similar. The more specific you get with picking them apart and identifying them, the more adept you can be at determining the type of wine and origin when tasting it blind. While most people don’t do this, professional wine tasters, sommeliers, reviewers and hard core wine aficionados do. It is fun to do without a specific reason and when you consider the increase in power of your senses it brings, you are getting something for it beyond the tasty wine. I am studying to become a sommelier (wine service professional) and wine educator so I have to learn how to get good at this. How’s it going you ask? Well, good but frustrating. It is fun but some attempts are more fun and rewarding than others!

How do you get better with recalling and identifying aromas and flavors? You immerse yourself in them. Look at the source, smell it, rub it between your fingers, taste it, let it linger on your tongue so you can pick up the subtleties. I will close with two examples that you can use as a guide.

Cut Grass

The aroma of cut grass is described as found several styles of white wine, Sauvignon Blanc being the common one. Most likely we all remember what this smells like because we have either cut our own lawns or walked by a freshly cut one and got a strong whiff of it. Fresh cut grass has a strong and interesting aroma, similar to that of field greens you might find in a salad or fresh herbs.

Different grasses will have varying aromas all of which hover around the central pungent moist sweetness for the lack of a better description. When summer comes and you are out cutting the grass, grab a pile of it and sit down in front of it. Try not to get the stuff you just fertilized yesterday though. Take deep breaths through your nose. Roll some of between your fingers. Take a strong smell of it. Do you get more specific aromas? You are now ready to recall those aromas in wines that have them as part of their bouquet.


Lemon serves three purposes in sensory evaluation for me. It has strong aromas, specific flavors and acidity, all of which can be found in different combinations in some white wines. That grassy Sauvignon Blanc might have some of this as well, or a nice Chenin Blanc will have the lemon and none or only a little of the grass. With lemon you should do a couple different things to experience it. I am going to do this right now and write my feedback down live. I am using Meyer lemons which are slightly different than your regular lemons, which is more typical in wine. Take the whole clean lemon and smell it. Because lemon is used in many household cleaners you might immediately think of clean aromas. Sensible, but remember the lemon is the source.

For more intense aromas, zest some of the rind. Ahhh, that is the lemon we all know and love. Roll some between your fingers and draw in a good sniff. More intense, it fills the space around your nose. The aroma of lemon is like a primary color, there is no mistaking it and it can be used so many ways. Now for the taste. Take a small slice of lemon and compress it between your tongue and front teeth. Suck on it a little. What do you get? You get sour, acid and just a hint of sweet. That acidity is going to do something else, clean your palate. I just took a swig of coffee after the lemon, and wow my coffee taste more intense! That is because the lemon tweaked your taste buds to be on alert. I hit the lemon again and voila, the coffee flavors are gone. Do you think after doing this you will recognize the aroma and flavor of lemon in wine? I bet you will.

You can apply this concept to fruit, vegetables, chocolate, dried fruits, meats, cheese, tobacco, leather and earth; all of which show up as aromas and/or flavors in different styles of wine. All you are doing getting better and recalling them with limited hints of their essence in your glass of wine. Who knows how good you could get at doing this. Deciding what wine, or beer, you like afterward might get even more interesting!



Thursday, April 21, 2011

#malbecworldday extras

I revisited several of the Malbecs from Sunday last night. Here are my micro-reviews from that session.

Alamos Malbec 2009 for #WW #WineWednesday - Great utility with bold flavors, acidity and obvious tannins. Need age perhaps.

More Malbec for #WW #WineWednesday Gato Negro 2010. I can see what others were saying from Sunday. Pours light, acidic no fruit. #wine

Y+B 2008 Malbec TetraPak. Slight brown shift, not a good sign. Eco pack no good, or something ? Need to try a fresh one. @ybwines #wine #WW

That last Tweet got an early AM response from the company, and just the kind you like to see. I clearly want to enjoy a fresh pak of their wine to prove what I have already said about their wines, which is when I have had it, it was very good. I didn’t want to miss that just because of one bad one. I’d likely buy it like I have others, but in this case I will be getting a complimentary replacement for my bad pak. Par excellence!

I thoroughly enjoyed Malbec World Day. All of the wine lovers we hosted did as well and comments on the Meetup site went up within hours. Gotta love wine peeps!



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Malbec World Day Ancient Fire Wine Style

( Our final lineup, 15 in total! )

When I saw that Wines of Argentina had organized a Malbec World Day to celebrate Malbec and its world-wide history I was overjoyed. Last year at this time a group of us with April birthdays got together with our wives and enjoyed a flight of Malbecs with a meal. The wine was my muse for my upcoming project to make a Malbec, which is coming along well, but the quality is yet to be determined. This time around would be a celebration taking into account multiple locations where Malbec-based wines are made.

The Manchester Area Wine Lovers Group is a fantastic bunch of wine loving, interesting, knowledgeable and enjoyable people who live near us. We invited them to our place last July to meet some of our winemaking friends. We had a blast then and this newest occasion proved to be even better.

We had eleven Malbecs on hand by the time everyone arrived. There were two duplicate bottles, a fact I found refreshing in an area that doesn’t always have the best regional wine selections! We enjoyed a range of vintages from 2007 to 2010 and producers in Argentina (9), California (1) and France (1) were represented. There was a range of styles from very dry and austere to juicier and fruiter, something that makes you think of more casual appreciation.

Margot and shared selections from Argentina, France and California, including one in a Tetra-Pak. I also included a bottle of my own Chilean Malbec from 2010. I found it to be too dry, but others disagreed. Deli sliced London Broil, Cajun Crab Dip and cheese & crackers rounded out our starting spread. Guests also provided some of our amazing food items to pair with the wines. We had risotto, curried lamb empanadas, quesadillas, deviled eggs, cured meats, kabobs, and multiple cheese spreads. People know how to party in this group! Margot and I went heavy on the meat in consideration of the classic Malbec pairings, and others seemed to do the same. Bravo!

( I think these had curried lamb in them! )

( Margot headed for this as soon as she saw it. Gabriel knows his stuff to be sure! )

( The marinade with citrusy and sweet. I ate the leftovers for lunch yesterday! )

Here are the Malbecs we enjoyed:

Clos La Coutale Cahors 2008 (FR)
El Malbec 2008 Richard Santos
Trapiche Oak Cask
Vintners Cellar Malbec (2009?)
Alamos Malbec 2008
Graffigna Centenario 2007
Gato Negro 2010
Ruta 22 2009
Red Rock 2009 (CA)
Y+B 2008 Malbec
Ancient Fire Chilean Malbec 2010

My absolute favorite was the Ruta 22. It had depth, powerful aromas and flavors that made me take notice of it. I found berries, earth, and a great balance of wood. It paired wonderfully with both the London Broil and the steak tips.

I think the Y+B might have been past its prime and my own Chilean version was underdeveloped, and maybe permanently so. The Gato Negro seemed young, and a bit acidic, to me as well. The feedback from the others on the Y+B and Gate Negro was similar.

The Clos Las Coutale from France was very interesting, one that Chris and I talked some about. I had heard the term rustic used to describe it and it made me think less about quality and more about the tradeoff between polish and power in the greatest artisanal products. This proved to be profoundly true. It was clean, great tasting and rich enough to appreciate, but not elegant in the wrong ways.

The Graffigna was polished and hefty, but it seemed to drift away too soon. Hints of charcoal made me think of exotic circumstances. The Trapiche and Alamos are familiar and performed as they typically do. Both are good values and great cooking wines too. I would drink them so I would cook with them as well. The Richard Santos Malbec was a good central spot with fruit and earth in a good balance, very dry and with a lengthy finish. The Vintners Cellar wine was an interesting one to review. It was quite good and actually contained the fruit that I felt mine lacked. It was equally earthy and woody, but it had just a little something more. Something to consider I guess.

One of the other notable pairings was the Red Rock with the dark chocolate fudge. The fruitiness in the wine was the asset with tart raspberries mixing with the chocolate.

I had some Malbec facts and trivia on hand which made for great fun at several points during the afternoon. I have often thought it would be fun to train to be a wine educator and I realized this week that I already am doing it. Here’s a link to a PDF, Malbec Facts, with the information I compiled. There was a lot learned and the conversations about wines found in travels near and far are always welcome. Everyone enjoyed themselves and I am sure more good times are in store for this group. I can’t wait to talk wine with them again soon.

A few hours into the party we took a tour of the “wine cellar” or our wine in the cellar as we say it. I asked if anyone wanted to try some more homemade wine and I got the expected answer, “hell yeah!”
I opened up Strawberry, Plum Riesling, Jalapeno and Dandelion. These are our signature dessert wines from the last couple of years and really reflect the area where we live. Gabriel had the most humbling words, and I knew this from a past conversation, that for someone who isn’t fond of dessert wines, that all of them reminded him of what he was told they were, they all tasted good; to the point of making him change his mind about the potential for these types of wines. I can’t be anything but so pleased to hear something like that.

We signed off with a group shot. What a great day!



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sam Adams Stony Brook Red

The Boston Beer Company (brewer of Samuel Adams) is small by commercial beer standards. If you look just at craft, artisanal and other small batch brewers they aren’t as small in comparison, but their total output is still just a small amount of the total volume of beer brewed in the US each year. Somewhere along the way I have found that the beers in their regular collection don’t have the same pop for me as they used to. I’ll chock it up to expanded tastes as I taste more and more beers. That said, when I see something from the company that is new or limited production I often stop to take a look.

Enter the Barrel Room Collection. As the story is told on the bottle tag that hangs on each of the 3 Barrel Room Collection beers, the barrel room at the brewer is a place where special projects where oak aging play a part are done. Up until recently these beers were generally only enjoyed by lucky brewery visitors and didn’t last long. With the introduction of the oak aged Kriek, Stony Brook Red and the Tripel the Boston Beer Company is demonstrating awareness of the shifting tastes in beer by at least some oftheir customer base. All three of these beers are old world styles with considerable character and unique attributes in comparison to the normal Sam Adams lineup.

I took a Stony Brook Red with me on our last trip up to the VT house. The description of the beer is pretty straightforward, “Belgian Style with Tart Fruit and Toasted Oak Character.” An apt description, and easily surveyed with a sip.

It poured with a thick light brown head that stuck around. The color was red/brown and was bottle conditioned so some haze was visible. The aromas were big, with dried fruit, malt and wood all together. The tart fruit notes were easily detected, and reminded me of sour cherries. It is medium-body and seems sweet, but it isn’t. The finish is tart with citrus and a nice length that lets the flavors slowly melt away. At 9% alcohol it isn’t the kind of thing you would want sit around and drink several of (oh I am sure I could) but I could see this making for a great aperitif amongst friend and definitely a strong pairing tool with stews, braises and BBQ.

The beer has a story that comes with it, but the story of when I drank it will complete your appreciation of a well timed drink.

Spring comes to VT slowly, and often in fits and starts. A step forward one week can be made many steps back by a freak snow the next week. Catching a warm sunny day in April is luck, and being able to sit on the deck for a few hours and enjoy a really tasty beer is a joy. There is still considerable snowpack and the breeze still brings a coolness from time to time. This beer paired with both worlds, having the strength and flavors to provide winter warming but also the tartness and fruit to evoke thoughts of warm weather and backyard parties. I killed the whole bottle sitting in the sun and I couldn’t have been happier!



Friday, April 15, 2011

Making the Original Southern Comfort

The history of liquor is fascinating. I heard the legend of where Southern Comfort came from and it turned out to be an old time infusion by a tavern owner. Something you could so very much do at home! The story, including exactly from where I heard the legend, can be found in the history section of the Wikipedia entry on Southern Comfort.

I first tried it within a week of seeing a TV show about it in 2010 and it came out mighty fine. It took about 3-4 weeks total and it sipped great on the rocks for the short time it lasted.

Since then I have infused a bunch of other flavors in vodka and infused the itch to try it for herself into our friend Amy. She came back with a tray of different flavors for us to try. Nearly two dozen in all! This year is cooking up some kind of madness with gin and the party to celebrate it all is in June.

As a gift to thank her for all of the good drinks I created from her last share, I decided to make her a quart of homemade Ancient Fire Bourbon Comfort. And I couldn’t overlook sharing this recipe with you all, it is just too good!

Ancient Fire Bourbon Comfort

1.75 L Jim Beam White
Peel of 1 orange
Peel of 1 lemon
1 & ½ vanilla beans, sliced lengthwise
1 & ½ inches of cinnamon, broken into 3 pieces
5 whole cloves
8 cherries, canned in heavy syrup, sliced in half
Simple syrup to taste

Remove 3-4 ounces of the bourbon from the bottle. Add everything but the simple syrup. Top off with the reserved bourbon as needed. Drink the rest! Recap the bottle.

Shake the bottle once per day for 2-3 weeks. Flavors and aromas will develop and you should test it to see if you like the flavors along the way. When you do, use a sieve to filter out the solids. Combine the bourbon with sugar syrup, mixing well, to taste. Store in mason jars, wine bottles, etc in a cool dry place. Serve on the rocks.



p.s. I apologize for the picture. I made the limoncello and the comfort on the same night and the pictures came during the drinking phase. How delightfully trashy. That’s all for you Janis!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Photos from A Night of Learning and Eating In Rockport

Brian aptly captured the evening in words and pictures in his post A Night of Learning and Eating in Rockport. His kind words about my libations are a great honor. Knowing he enjoyed them by having been there is made better when you get share what other people bring! (in the street sense, “totally bringing it”)

Here are some food shots from the evening. I didn’t get everything and I hope nobody feels left out. We had fun!

( Peppe cutting his own handmade sausage! )

( I think this is the organ bits version. So good with some Italian red wine! )

( There's Brian's cheese. That's right, it's his I didn't have any. BS flag anyone? )

( Gotta have some good crusty bread! )

( I know we have bread, but this on top? Oh my! )

( We started with these, and the grenadine was truly optional. )

( Peppe made risotto look easy, as you would think he would! )

( Lindsay & Michael brough a calamri spring salad. Innovative! )

( Brian's beef cheek taco assembly line! )

( My beer soup sorbet being served by Heather. )

Much thanks to Heather for hosting. I suspect this group has some more events in store...



Spring Comes Alive at Dutton’s

Luck smiled on us last weekend while we were at the house in VT. Early spring weather can be iffy up there, but not on this visit! Saturday brought a warm sunny day, good enough for a leisurely walk and a visit to the local farmstand.

We’ve written about Dutton’s several times before. It is the go to place for fresh produce and fresh baked snacks on the way up or way home from VT. Once you get hooked on stopping at Dutton’s you find yourself planning to be there every time you are in the area.

This time of year is sugaring (maple syrup) season in northern New England. They were between batches at the Dutton’s sugar house, and with the cleaning going on I tried to stay out of the way. I did snap a few pictures that get you thinking in the right direction.

( Grade examples. I am a dark amber guy. )

( Read and waiting! )

( This is the tail end of the last batch, it gets filtered to remove the crystals before bottling. )

All the animals were showing the humans how smart they are by getting out and enjoying the sun. The geese were doing quite a bit of posturing since they had recently hatched goslings. They weren’t too jazzed about the tall guy with the camera. The goats on the other hand couldn’t have cared less that we were lurking about. They were sitting in the sun, cleaning and chewing their cuds. Nice life! The donkey was the star of the show for us though. She was reported to be very shy and didn’t typically let people pet her. I guess she sensed we were good, loving, animal people. She came right up the fence and loved it when Margot scratched her neck. She was so cute!

( Geese can be nasty so I didn't push it. There is a fence in front of me that was cropped out! )

( We all want this life! )

( I wish she could talk. I'm sure the conversation would have been fun! )

Inside we found legions of maple syrup jugs filled and ready to take home. We are almost out of real syrup so we picked up a quart. We also noticed something that we thought for sure was new, but we found out we just hadn’t ever paid close enough attention for. Imported olive oil and 12 year aged balsamic vinegar! The bottles available are refillable and after a taste of the vinegar we were sure we were going to take some of that home. It reminded me of the balsamic vinegars I tasted at Salumeria Italiana in Boston. So rich and thick! They were out of oil but told us to call ahead when we were in the area next and if they have some they will set it aside for us. Will do.

( Ariston's Refill & Save Program for small retailers. Pretty cool! )

One of the things I was on the hunt for was honey. I made mead one time back in 2008 and have been itching to try it again. Using a local honey makes sense for me for a couple of reasons. Generally the local small producers make a pure natural honey with minimal processing and filtering. That purity comes through in the artisanal products I make. Secondly the price is based on limited transportation and that limited transport lowers the environmental footprint. I was in luck to come across three 3 lb containers of pure honey from Young’s Bee Farm in Wardsboro, VT, only about 10-15 minutes from our house. That will be enough honey for me to make a 3 gallon batch of mead, which will be flavored with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla beans and orange extract, a creamsicle of sorts.

( You will soon be mead for later summer drinking! )

Margot picked a blueberry muffin for a snack and we were on our way. I left with such happiness about spring having finally arrived. When we arrived back at the house we went for a walk and then sat out on the deck in the sun for a couple of hours!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Making Limoncello

( I took the picture at an angle because that is how things look if you drink too much of it! )

Limoncello was my first ever infusion. I only made it once back in 2009. In the two years since I have infused vodka with all sorts of things, made my own spin on Southern Comfort using the original recipe and inspired friends try it all themselves. It is fun, and if you haven’t tried it, you should.

Making Limoncello is really simple. The waiting in the hard part!

Ancient Fire Limoncello

16 lemons, carefully peeled to get mostly yellow skin and minimal white pith
2 – 1.75 liter containers of 100 proof vodka
1 gallon empty jug with a re-sealable top

Wash & peel the lemons. Put the peels in your empty container. Cover with the vodka. Shake every day for 2-3 weeks. The yellow color will develop within a few days and the depth of the flavor and aroma will continue to grow as you shake it.

After 2-3 weeks strain the vodka to remove the peels and any sediment. Sweeten the nearly finished Limoncello with simple syrup to taste. Just how much sweetness is really is a matter of taste. Because I have lots of empty wine bottles laying around, corks and a corker I fill bottles and seal them for safe storage. Because of the sugar in the drink you really don’t want to store your creation in a container that isn’t airtight. If you have to store it in one container, the refrigerator is a good bet to keep it from getting funky. I normally put a bottle in the freezer a few hours ahead of when I want to serve it, typically in the summer. It comes out super cold and makes for a great way to cap off a meal in the backyard.



Breakfast for Dinner

I love having what would normally be considered breakfast foods for dinner. I love how much easier those meals can be in comparison.

Last week I made a vegetable frittata that came out perfect. All the vegetables were cooked just right and the eggs for nice and puffy, but not to crispy on top.

Veggie Frittata

1 broccoli crown, cut down into half florets
½ bunch of asparagus, top 2/3 of each stalk cut into 2 pieces
½ large red pepper, sliced thin
½ large red onion, sliced thin
1 cup egg whites/egg substitute from a carton
½ cup shredded low fat cheddar cheese
1 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Steam the broccoli and asparagus just until they were fork tender. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Set your broiler on high. Sauté the pepper & onion until tender in the hot oil. Add the garlic to an open spot in the center of the pan and quickly mix into the cooking vegetables. Add the asparagus and broccoli. Sprinkle the cheese over the vegetables and toss to mix. Add egg white to cover the vegetables evenly. Add salt & pepper if you like. Allow the eggs to cook just until they begin to bubble and you can see them have set underneath the liquid top layer. Move the pan to the broiler. Watch it carefully under the broiler until the eggs complete cook and puff up. It should be golden brown on top, but not too brown.

Allow it to cool for just a minute, cut and serve. One quarter of the dish clocked in at just about 3 Weight Watcher points for anyone who is considering how the dish fits into an active diet regimen.

And there you have breakfast for dinner!


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Alley Cat Pizzeria - Manchester, NH

There are those places in every town that you always here buzz about. “Oh, you have to go.” or “I cannot believe you have never eaten at.” Alley Cat Pizzeria in Manchester NH is one of those places. This is the pizza place that many in the area say is a must go to. They have won Best of the Best in the local HippoPress for years. So, as someone who is searching out great pizza places to blog about in New England this one in my hometown seemed like a no brainer.

We purchased to large pizzas, one mushroom and one Stray Cat. I always like to try a simple topping along with a specialty when trying a new place in order to get a real feel for what they have to offer. We picked up the pizzas and headed home on our 15 minute drive. The Jeep smelled wonderful and Jay and I had a hard time waiting until we got it home to dig in.

Alley Cat is known for its super thin crust that is perfect for the NY fold in half technique. Our crust lived up to that super thin reputation. The crusts ends were nice and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and though thin it was not soggy. Both pizzas were light on the sauce, which for me is preferable when dealing with a thinner crust, less messy and not overpowering. The flavor of the sauce was somewhat unremarkable, beyond tomato there was not a lot of discernable flavors.

The cheese was the right amount, not skimpy, but not so thick that you could not bit through it. The Stray Cat specialty pizza had both mozzarella and ricotta. It was impressive that while the mozz was well cooked and slightly brown, the ricotta was not a dried out mess as can sometimes happen. The Stray Cat also included breaded eggplant, which was well cooked with perfectly toasted breading. The mushrooms on the other pizza were fresh and were a nice size. As for seasoning on either, Jay and I did something we have never done, we used salt to kick up the flavor a bit.

As we ate our pizza there was a bit of silence, though not the normal silence that accompanies the devouring of pizza. I think that Jay and I were both trying to find the words to describe our experience. The build up to the pizza at Alley Cat had been so strong and so big. Best pizza in the area, the pizza you would travel for, you have to try it! I am not sure if any pizza could have lived up to the hype, but was the hype causing our reaction? Maybe. When we finally spoke our conclusions were in agreement. Alley Cat Pizza is very good, unsophisticated, pizza. It is the pizza that you remember from those late nights in college. It is the pizza that you may have eaten on your first date in High School. I guess one could call it nostalgic pizza. If you are in the neighborhood looking for a quick slice I would definitely recommend it, as it will not be dissatisfying. My goal now is to find a place in Manchester, which may not be getting the hype but leaves a stronger impression.