Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Merry Christmas To All

I managed to miss Chanukah, so apologies to my Jewish friends and readers. For the rest of you who aren't Muslim, Hindu or Shinto, please accept my best wishes for a very merry Christmas - and a happy and healthy New Year to everyone. 

Let us know what you ate!


Monday, December 21, 2009

A Family Tradition for the Holidays - Baklava

I'm not making any this year so there are no pictures, but it's always been a tradition in my Greek family (Iatropoulos) to make baklava and various other Greek pastries for the holidays. I've never managed to master the cookies, but the baklava is much simpler than you'd think. It's like building lasagne, just more tedious.

You'll need a package of phyllo dough, thawed according to the package directions. Melt 3/4 pound of unsalted butter and make a simple syrup by boiling 1 cup of sugar with one cup of water and the juice of half a lemon. Boil the rind from the half lemon in the syrup, stir in 1 cup of honey and allow to cool completely. Finely chop 1 pound of walnuts and mix with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.

Unwrap the phyllo and spread it out, covered with a lightly damp kitchen towel. This is critical to keep the phyllo from drying out and becoming brittle.

Using a pastry brush or small paintbrush (preferred), butter the bottom and sides of a roasting pan or pyrex dish. The size isn't critical but your job will be easier if you choose a pan approximately the size of the sheets of phyllo. Layer 6 sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter and re-covering the remaining phyllo as you work. From there, sprinkle a good handful of the nut mixture on the phyllo and cover with another sheet, butter and repeat until all the nuts are gone. If your sheets of phyllo are a little larger than your pan, just tuck the ends under.

When you're done, cut on the diagonal in one direction and bake in a 350-degree oven until golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately pour the cooled syrup (remove the lemon rind, silly!) over the hot baklava. Stop pouring when it becomes saturated to the point where you have a little extra syrup in the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool completely and then cut on the other diagonal to form diamon-shaped pieces.

The baklava will keep nicely for several days at room temperature, covered loosely with plastic wrap. If you're going to give it away, putting each piece in a paper muffin cup works nicely.


One of the Austalian "stickies" (dessert wines, muscat or tawny "port) works really well with this - Buller is a good brand, as is the Yalumba Museum Muscat. If you don't want wine just serve coffee - or maybe a second piece of baklava.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holiday "Prime" Rib Roast

Thinking of a big slab o' beef for Christmas? Want to do a rib roast, but you're afraid to for fear you'll screw it up? Don't feel like you're alone. It's actually quite simple - a matter of putting the roast in the oven and taking it out when it's done, but somehow that intimidates people, probably because they're concerned that they'll spend a big chunk of dough on a roast and that something will somehow go wrong. Fear not.Your first step is to get the right roast. Rib roasts are generally sold as "prime rib", but finding USDA Prime beef is gonna be difficult and you'll probably have to settle for USDA Choice. No worries, it's still going to be good. Get one rib for every two people unless you want lots of sandwiches - in which case you'll want a larger roast.

After that, it's a simple matter of following the instructions on the accompanying videos from Alton Brown. I'm shamelessly stealing from him because he's already done all my work for me and gone into his typical excruciating detail in the process. Yes, I know the instructions are bass-ackward from every recipe you've ever seen except perhaps in Cook's Illustrated. They're also foolproof. Just ignore all your cookbooks and you'll have a roast that looks like this one I cooked at my daughter's last Christmas. Beautifully rare to medium rare all the way through, with no well-done parts on the outside of the roast. WooHOO!

Just a few caveats. If you're fortunate enough to find dry-aged beef you can eliminate Alton's aging step. Here's a shameless plug for Wegmans if you have one near you - I've never seen so many dry-aged roasts in one place. This is also where I plug the finest beef you'll buy, which is expensive and more challenging to get than running down to the supermarket but worth every penny. Just call Bryan Flannery and order one. If you do it by Tuesday you can have it for Christmas because he'll overnight it to you and you'll still have a day for it to thaw. Tell him you read about him here. His phone number is on his website.

A second caveat is that you can eliminate the terra cotta pot. Its purpose is to stablize the heat in your oven but it's not really necessary. There will be some fluctuations as the oven cycles on and off, but I've done about a dozen rib roasts without the pot and they've all been perfect. Oh - - - one more piece of information. Your roast will take about 4 to 4 1/2 hours to cook no matter how large it is, because the diameter remains constant and it's just the length that changes. Add the resting time and the blasting time and you're up to somewhere around 5 hours. No matter what, though, get yourself a probe thermometer. There's a link under my favorites on the right-hand side of the page so you can get a Polder from Amazon and I'll make a few pennies.

If you're worried that dinner might get delayed, give yourself 6 hours start to finish and you should be fine. It takes a long time for a roast to cool down after cooking, so you can always hold it for a bit. Oh, and one more thing. There's no way a roast that weighs more than a couple of pounds will warm to room temperature in an hour, so pay no attention to that little instruction from Alton. Take it out of the fridge AT LEAST 3 hours before you plan to cook it.

Here are the two videos that make up the show Alton did on rib roasts. Make notes if you must, but watch them and follow the directions. You won't be sorry. Serve with a nice cabernet or, better yet, a Bordeaux with a few years of age on it. Or something with a lot of syrah in it, as I did last year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Editorial On The Abuse of Money and Power

I don't normally get very serious in my posts. I try to be informative and inject a little humor, but I'm moved to go on a little rant.

In September, it was reported that Tony Rynders, the former winemaker at Domaine Serene, was being sued by his former employer. Why? Well, in addition to a bunch of extraneous and ridiculous "filler" claims, the bottom line was that Domaine Serene accused him of stealing "trade secrets", specifically their method for producing a white wine from pinot noir, a black grape that makes red wine under normal circumstances. 

Now, before I go too much farther, let me say that Domaine Serene doesn't rate highly on my dance card. Ken and Grace Evenstad, the owners, are the antithesis of everything that makes the Willamette Valley wine scene so appealing - at least to me. Their story is fairly well-chronicled, but the essence is that they bought a family pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Minnesota for the outrageous sum of $1,500 in the late sixties and built it into a major player in the generic drug market - allegedly grossing $250 million per year. They then used that money to fulfill a dream of owning a winery. So far so good, right? It's the American dream.

Well, what they built is not just a winery, it's a showplace and a monument to their own egos. It's a 50,000 square foot yellow Italianate villa on a hilltop, filled with art and statuary and floored in terrazo; a study in excess surrounded by part of the 300+ acres of vineyard land they own. It's even gotten its own nickname: "Domaine Obscene".

While it's said that Grace worked her tail off to build the winery business and even pruned the vineyards, they remain aloof and disconnected from the wine community and are viewed as arrogant outsiders who are the ultimate in "hobbyist" winery owners. After all, they don't even live here full time, dividing time among their residences in Minnesota, Florida and Oregon.

They like to give the impression that everyone in Oregon learned to grow quality fruit and make quality wine from them, conveniently ignoring those who came before them, from David Lett, David Adelsheim and Dick Ponzi to their first consulting winemaker, Ken Wright and their long-time vineyard manager, Joel Myers. By doing that they alienate most everyone else in what's a fairly closely-knit industry, but they don't seem to care. What's worse is that their wines are over-done, over-oaked and over-priced for my palate and pocketbook, reaching almost-unprecedented levels. But enough of that.

I'm not going to defend Tony here. I don't know Tony and I don't know his motives, but he's involved in a venture with Laurent Montalieu called Grand Cru Estates where interested individuals can pay some outrageous sum ($25,000 if memory serves) to have one barrel of wine made for them every year and access to a swank party facility. Especially in this economic environment, that speaks to his ego (and Laurent's) almost as much as the villa does to the Evenstads'.

Nonetheless, Tony wanted to do something on his own (understandable) and - according the the complaint, which I've read - planned it while working for the Evenstads. They evidently viewed this as disloyalty and a violation of their trust, if not his employment contract which doesn't seem to exist. Okay, I get it in part, but here's what I don't get. After what was apparently an acrimonious parting of the ways, they sued him several months later. In Federal Court. In Minnesota, not Oregon. For the grand sum of $75,000. WHAT?

Their big "secret" - how to make white wine from black grapes, which the Champenoise have been doing for centuries and which I could do in my sleep because the methods are common knowledge - is worth $75,000? Is that all? When the winery is grossing somewhere well north of $20 million per year (and reportedly just showed its first profit after 20 years - a clear indicator of just how much money the Evenstads have thrown at it)? When there are at least 4 other wineries in Oregon who have made the same thing? That's the sum total of how much Lord and Lady Evenstad feel they were damaged? Please.

To make matters worse, they allegedly scheduled depositions with people who allegedly had knowledge of Tony's "indiscretions" (I'm doing my Tiger Woods imitation here) during harvest when their attentions were justifiably on anything but a spiteful lawsuit, just to be . . . well . . . spiteful.

Well, here's the good news. The case has been settled. I don't know if any money changed hands and no one is talking, but the legal fees had to have been substantial and the gist of the settlement is that they all agree to disagree about whether white pinot noir is made through the use of trade secrets that are exclusive to Domaine Serene - the Champenoise be damned. Oh, and Tony can't make any white pinot for three years. Big deal. The stuff sells about as fast as sea water or ham-flavored Gatorade. It's an oddity . . . a curiosity.

What we have is a case where Ken and Grace Evenstad sued Tony Rynders, who served them admirably for more than ten years and helped multiply their business more than tenfold, for the same reason a male dog licks himself. Because they could. To be a nuisance and annoying. It's an abuse of all good reason and a clear case of using their considerable resources in an attempt to intimidate someone for whom $75,000 is a much more princely sum than it is to them.

They'll never see a nickel of my money and I hope they'll never see any of yours.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake!

I love this because after more years than I'd like to count, regular pumpkin pie is boring. Recipe here.

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

My turkey, for reasons that are way too convoluted to explain, will be delayed by a day, but here's wishing everyone a very happy Thanksgiving, no matter what you're eating!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The "Weekend Before" in the Willamette Valley - Westrey

We actually went to Westrey last and, though I was supposed to report on Ayres next, there are no photos from there, so I thought I'd post about another "anti-showplace" since there are nice pics to demonstrate that a multi-million dollar facility isn't a requirement for making good wine.

Sometimes my mouth gets me in trouble. I had stopped by this palatial facility in the McMinnville "wine ghetto" (note the cell tower in the background) back in September in the hopes they'd be there so I could pick up a couple of bottles and, in the midst of the day's chaos of bottling I opened my mouth and the wrong thing came out. Nothing new there, but this one's gonna hurt me in the wallet.

What did I say? After David had dipped a glass into the tank of 2008 Justice vineyard pinot noir they were bottling and offered it to me, I told him that he needed to charge more for that wine and the Oracle bottling as well. What was I thinking? I must have figured the words would go in one ear and out the other in the confusion, especially since he and Amy have always felt very strongly about pricing their wines fairly.

I was wrong. He listened and the prices on those two wines are up, though they still fall into the "more than reasonable" category and the rest of the lineup is unchanged. Well, the prices are unchanged. The quality of the wines continues on its steady upward spiral.

The wines?

2008 WV pinot gris - This wine just gets better every year. At one point it tended to have a bit of an aldehyde problem and be a little too nervy. These days it's loaded with peach fruit and it's round and delicious.

2008 WV chardonnay - A worthy follow-up to the 2007, which I loved. Resembles a junior Puligny in flavor profile with apple-pear fruit balanced by subtle oaky/doughy notes. Rounder than the 2007 yet it has the bracing acidity the 2006 was lacking.

2007 chardonnay reserve - Though it saw less new oak than the 2008 WV, the oak stands out more. I suspect I'll like this wine in a couple of years but right now it doesn't float my boat.

2008 WV pinot noir - Too delicious for words. Lots of bing cherry fruit and some spice from the oak, which was about 25% new.

2008 Justice pinot noir - I can't decide which I like better, this or the Oracle. Eenie, meenie . . . just pick one. The Justice is a bit more black-fruited than its sibling, owing in part to the clones in the vineyard and part to its location in the Eola-Amity AVA, adjacent to (and managed by) Bethel Heights.

2008 Oracle pinot noir - As before, this is simply quintessential Dundee Hills pinot noir. Lots of red fruit, though it doesn't show the strawberry that many wines from that area show. More like raspberries and perhaps red currants. Lots of floral notes on the nose. The best news is that there are almost 600 cases of it!

2007 Reserve pinot noir - For whatever reason, this wine - though excellent - just kind of escapes me. It always has. It's a blend of four vineyards and its personality seems muddled to me. If I had to guess I'd say it's the Abbey Ridge fruit which, being very distinctive, sort of fights with the rest of the components.

2007 Abbey Ridge pinot noir - I love this vineyard and what it produces. Strawberry-raspberry fruit with violets and lavender on the nose. A hint of earth/forest floor and pepper. I can't wait to try the 2008, but this is nothing to turn your nose up over.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The "Weekend Before" in the Willamette Valley - Brick House

Last Saturday, Tracey and I ventured out to visit some of my favorite wineries. I won't be giving detailed notes, just basic impressions, but her pictures are really good, so please enjoy them. The notes from Brick House are especially brief because, for whatever reason, Doug hadn't turned on the heat save for the stove adjacent to the office, and the temperature in large areas of the winery was about the same as it was outside - mid-40s. All the volunteers who were pouring looked like they were headed for Mt. Hood Meadows for a woosh and schuss.

Brick House is, interestingly enough, named after the brick house on the property. Clever, huh? Doug Tunnell, former international correspondent and war reporter for CBS (he downplays his experience amidst the flying lead in such garden spots as Beirut and Kosovo) has been farming his plot of land and his 36,000 grape vines organically since they were first planted almost 20 years ago. It's his desire to do his part to reduce the agricultural pollutants that are fouling the Willamette river - the same river he swam in as a child.

Doug's is a true low-key operation. As you can tell, there's nothing fancy going on here. The old barn (with some additions) acts as the winery building and contains the crush pad, barrel room storage, Doug's office and his lab, which is an alcove near the front door. There's no tasting room, no staff, no tchotchkes for sale . . . he might have t-shirts, though . . . just fine wine. 

There's even a cool old red pickup truck that's housed along with the farm machinery. I'm guessing it runs, but I don't know for certain.

Doug makes wine from three grapes; pinot noir, chardonnay and gamay noir. The gamay in particular is in great demand because of its scarcity, being produced in the vast quantity of somewhere around 400 cases per year. The only disappointing part of our visit was that he wasn't pouring gamay. Why should he? He sells it all anyway and there's no mystery as to why. Doug's gamay can rival the finest gamays from Beaujulais' villages of Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent, Morgon and the rest. Why? Because he works at keeping the yields down and treats it with care in the cellar to keep it from being an insipid, diluted wine.

The first wine we tasted was the 2007 chardonnay. This is not for those who think chardonnay should taste like Carmen Miranda's hat. It's loaded with minerals and subdued apple/pear/hazelnut fruit. Right now it comes across as a little oaky but I have no doubt the oak will integrate nicely with a year or two in the bottle. This is a wine meant to cellar.

Next up was the 2008 "Select", or Doug's entry level pinot noir. It shows all the beautiful things about the 2008 vintage, with intense aromatics, lovely color and a great balance of juicy fruit, ripe tannins and acids. That's it in the picture, though I think Tracey intended (as is her wont) for the pic to be of the floral/vegetable/fruit/nut arrangement. It's a steal at $25.

Last but not least was the 2007 "Les Dijonnais" pinot noir. Firmer. slightly leaner and a bit more structured than the 2008 Select, this is nonetheless a lovely, seductive bottle of wine. Give it a couple of years in the bottle and I predict it will blossom into something very, very pretty - but that's not to say you couldn't just drink it right now. You could. 

We bid adieu to Doug, rubbed our hands together rapidly to warm them and headed for our next stop right down the road - Ayres, where we were to visit with the ever-excited Brad McLeroy. 

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

Okay, okay. I'm reaching and I don't know if this guy was white, black or pink, but I know what I like this time of year and it's braised lamb shanks. If you've never tried making them, they're simple. You're essentially making a stew. Let's get cooking.

First, you have to brown your shanks. You can do it on top of the stove, but their awkward shape makes it tough, so do it in the oven. Just grab a dutch oven or other deep pot, rub the shanks a little olive oil, season them with salt and pepper and put them in a 425 degree oven. Turn them every 15 minutes or so and remove them when they're brown, which will take 30 to 45 minutes.

While they're browning, make a mirepoix. Remove the browned shanks from your pot and saute the mirepoix - which you've seasoned lightly with salt and pepper - on top of the stove over medium heat. When the vegetables have softened, add two or three cloves of minced garlic and let it become aromatic. Add a cup or two of red wine and scrape up the browned bits (the fond) in the bottom of the pot as you boil the alcohol off the wine.

Add enough good beef stock (or canned broth if you must - wink) to mostly cover the shanks, toss in a couple of parsley sprigs, about a half can of diced tomatoes for two shanks and a big pinch of dried thyme. Set the pot in the middle of a 325-degree oven and braise the lamb for at least 2 hours or until it's very tender but not quite falling off the bone. Check every half hour or so to make sure you're not losing too much liquid through evaporation. If you are, just add some water.

Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate the shanks in it overnight. The next day, scrape the congealed fat off the surface and reheat the dish gently. Just prior to serving, wrap the shanks in foil while you either reduce the sauce by half or make a beurre manie - which is a paste of equal parts of flour and softened butter. Maybe a couple of tablespoons of each, but start with a tablespoon. You can always add more. Stir it into the sauce and bring to a boil. Simmer for ten minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste, return the shanks to the sauce for a couple of minutes and serve.

I like to make a bed of mashed Yukon gold potatoes and stand the shanks up for a nice vertical presentation and drizzle the sauce on the shanks and over the potatoes, but use your own imagination. Serve with your favorite green vegetable. I like green beans or asparagus, but this goes with almost anything. Serve with a bold, young red wine of your choosing, maybe a syrah or a zinfandel.

The Divine Secrets of the Gumbo Brotherhood - Apologies to Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, et al.

Gumbo! I wrote a post previously about jambalaya, but this time we're going to tackle gumbo - just in time for the annual chant of, "What the hell do I do with this turkey carcass?"

So, what IS gumbo? Well, it's soup, basically. Or is it stew? Or is it chowder? Or is it all of the above? The answer? Yes.

What it is not is that crap you get in a can from Campbell's, with the rice swimming in the broth, which is loaded with tomatoes.

The three keys to gumbo, as with almost all Cajun/Creole dishes, are the Trinity (equal parts of onion, bell pepper and celery - the Cajun version of mirepoix), the stock and roux. The Trinity is a simple matter of chopping the vegetables and the stock I've discussed elsewhere, so let's tackle the roux.

Heat a cup of vegetable oil over medium heat until it's shimmering, preferably in a cast-iron pan as I've done here, but almost any skillet will do as long as it's not thin, stamped steel. Sprinkle a cup of flour into it, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk continuously, and if you're using a non-stick skillet (not really recommended because of the heat and the potential for not only damaging the pan but leaching the chemicals into the roux) use a silicone spatula or whisk instead - as long as it's one that's approved for 600 degrees or above. The roux will change color gradually and you need to pay attention or you'll burn it.

Don't rush, though. This whole process will take 20 to 30 minutes or even longer, so be patient. Sure, the real experts can whip up a good roux in a few minutes (I once did it in 5 minutes as a class demo) but there's no point in pushing your luck, and I don't. You'll also want to be very careful about splattering as you whisk or stir. The stuff isn't called Cajun napalm for nothing. If you get it on your skin it will stick and you'll have a second or third degree burn. OUCH!

The first color change will turn the roux from white to a sort of beige color. Next will be something that resembles peanut butter. The picture doesn't really do justice to the color because the light is too intense, but I hope you'll get the idea. After that, the roux will darken and eventually you'll get to the stage where it resembles mahogany - a sort of deep, reddish brown. This is where you really need to pay attention.

This is the mahogany stage. Unfortunately I didn't frame this picture too well. Oops.

The next stage is a deep chocolate color, slightly darker than milk chocolate. When you get close to this stage, IMMEDIATELY turn off the heat, remove the pan from the burner if you're one of the unfortunate souls who's cooking with electricity and dump the Trinity into the pan. The roux will continue to cook and turn darker from the retained heat in the skillet and, if you're using cast iron which retains heat longer, you'll have to add some stock, preferably chilled, otherwise it will burn for certain and you'll have to throw it out and start over. When the mixture has cooled a bit, toss in a couple of cloves of minced garlic and let the whole thing cook for a couple of minutes.

This picture doesn't really show the color, partly because of the lighting and partly because I'd added some stock and diluted the roux. What it does show is the Trinity in the roux.

The next step is to put this mixture into a stock pot or a Dutch oven and add some stock. In this case, I used about a quart of stock with a half recipe of roux and a Trinity made from half a cup each of onion, celery and bell pepper, but only because I didn't want to make a whole batch. Simmer the mixture for two hours, partially covered. It won't be as thick as you might imagine because the dark roux loses its thickening power, but it's not supposed to be thick like library paste, anyway. Many recipes call for okra to be cooked with the stock, roux and Trinity, but I can't stand the stuff, so I don't use it.

After two hours, brown some chicken pieces (I used thighs) that have been seasoned with salt, pepper and cayenne and some andouille (I used about 6 or 8 ounces sliced into 1/2-inch pieces on the bias), then add them to the pot with some dried thyme and a bay leaf or two, and simmer for another hour or more. If you're using leftover turkey (and brown turkey stock you've made from the carcass, remember), just cut it into bite-sized pieces and simmer them. This is a great way to use all those little bits next to the bone that are hard to carve at the Thanksgiving table.

You'll want to be pretty aggressive in skimming the fat off the surface because the chicken (if you're using it) and the andouille will render quite a bit. Refrigerating helps, but the chicken fat won't really congeal like beef or pork fat will, so just work at it a bit. This is what the dish will look like when it's getting close to serving.

At this point, all that's left to do is to remove the chicken from the bone and either cut it into bite-sized pieces or shred it. Of course, if you're using leftover turkey you won't need to do this. Now, if you like, and it depends on my mood, you can add some shelled and de-veined shrimp, cooked crawfish tails or crab meat. Or, if you're fortunate enough to find them, raw crawfish tails. A really rustic gumbo can have blue crabs broken in half, but whatever you do, only add the seafood long enough before serving to either cook it through or heat it if it's already cooked.

Taste the gumbo and adjust the seasoning if necessary, then ladle it into bowls over a mound of cooked, long-grain rice and sprinkle with sliced scallion tops. If you'd like, you can stir in a little file powder to thicken the broth, but I reserve this for gumbo made strictly from seafood - and that's another recipe and another post.

Tonight I'm going to put shrimp in my gumbo, so I'll take a picture when I serve it and post it right here. In the meantime, think about gumbo for Saturday or Sunday this week. You'll be happy.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

PS - Thanks to Chuck Taggart's The Gumbo Pages, a website that's been a valuable resource for me for several years.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Let's Talk Turkey!

There are so many resources for cooking turkey I'm not going to get into the subject except for one thing: temperature!

Simply put, turkeys get dried out because they're overcooked. Brining helps and you have to be careful with the drippings because they'll be salty, but the biggest thing is temperature. The FDA guideline for when a turkey is done is 165 degrees, but a turkey will keep cooking after it's taken out of the oven just like any other roast, so I suggest you think about removing the bird when the temperature in the thigh is 155-160.

Whatever you do, if you've bought one of those birds with the little pop-up plastic timer thingy, ignore it. Paying attention to that will result in a dried-out bird every time.

Let's Talk Stock!

I'm not going to belabor this point because I've already made it, but with Thanksgiving approaching you're going to have a need for some stock for your stuffing/dressing and gravy. I urge you to make your own. It's easy and there are recipes all over the Interwebz, though I'm particularly fond of the ones on Emeril Lagasse's website.

If you choose to make some, get yourself some turkey parts, not just the neck and giblets that come with the turkey itself, though you can use those (minus the liver). I've been fortunate that one of our local supermarket chains has been carrying frozen necks for the last couple of years, but you can use necks, backs or whatever is cheap. Just follow this recipe for brown chicken stock and you're all set.

If you can't find cheap turkey parts, just use chicken. If you still don't want to make stock, Swanson's chicken broth - which a lot of people use - is an acceptable substitute, but I'd caution that it's very salty. Ditto Campbell's. Pacific makes and organic chicken broth that I've always thought tasted like the box it comes in, but your experience might be different. I also haven't tried the boxed version from Trader Joe's, but most of their products are pretty good, so I'd be interested in the experience of others.

If you're still not up to making your own stock you can use this product, which is a home version of the stock bases that some restaurants use. It's not bad. The chicken is widely available and it also comes in turkey, but I've never seen it except on their website. Ditto the low-sodium and Kosher chicken varieties, but whatever you do, please don't use bouillon cubes. They're nasty. Really nasty.

Just say no to bouillon cubes!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Carnitas Update

Okay, folks. Here you go. This is a picture of the carnitas simmering. It's about 2 1/2 pounds of pork shoulder (Boston butt) cut into large chunks and simmering in water to which I've added two limes, half an orange, half an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, cumin seed, coriander seed, some fresh cilantro and some salt and pepper. The true Mexican way to do this is to simmer the pork in lard, not water but . . . well . . . I love lard but it just seems so excessive.

Once the pork is tender, remove it from the water and put it in a shallow pan and roast it at 325 degrees, uncovered, until it's browned and very tender. It helps if you cool the cooking liquid and scrape off the accumulated lard to spread over the pork. Alternately, you can add some of your own, but it's best to get it from someplace like a Mexican market where they have the bulk stuff they've rendered themselves. It's not hydrogenated, but no worries. If you don't have access to bulk lard just use the packaged stuff from Swift, Armour or Morrell.

Once your pork is done, just shred it and serve on fresh corn tortillas with lime wedges, chopped white onion, cilantro and your favorite salsa. I had an avocado, so I added a slice or two.

I made a simple salsa verde out of four tomatillos, one serrano chile, some onion, garlic, salt, pepper and cilantro. Just remove the husks from the tomatillos and the stem from the serrano and chop everything up. Simmer the whole thing with a little water (check evaporation from time to time) until everything is tender, then puree in a blender or food processor.

¡Muy Sabroso!

Sometimes you get sidetracked

Sorry for the absence. I've been dealing with a recurrence of atrial fibrillation. It's such a pain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Which Stemware Should I Use For My Pinot Noir?

For many of you, especially my wine geek pals, this going to be laughing-out-loud basic, but I was reminded today that there are a lot of people who don't know how much the proper size and shape of stemware are critical to the enjoyment of pinot noir and all wines. Since this is a blog about Oregon wine and especially pinot noir, I'm going to address that issue.

Georg Riedel (REE-dle) of Riedel Glas Austria was the man who, along with support from wine critic Robert Parker and the recently deceased Robert Mondavi, popularized stemware designed specifically for each type of wine. Previous to his efforts that started in the mid-'80s, stems came in essentially three shapes - red wine (larger), white wine (smaller) and Champagne. The Champagne glasses were those little flat things that dissipated the bubbles and are rumored to have been modeled after Marie Antoinette's breasts, but I digress.

Georg designed stems for Bordeaux (cabernet), Burgundy (pinot noir), riesling, sangiovese, syrah and a host of others. He's even designed a stem specifically for Oregon pinot noir (as opposed to Burgundy or California pinot noir) that's very pretty and some people swear by it. Riedel's stemware is excellent, but they're expensive ($20-25 each for the machine-made stems and up to $90 for the handblown models) and they're really easy to break.

I used to buy Spiegelau stems because they were much more reasonable, but that company has been bought by Riedel and the quality has slipped a bit while the price has crept up. About a year ago I discovered the stems from Schott Zwiesel. They're made with lead-free crystal and, with an addition of titanium, they're much more difficult to break. I haven't broken one in a year and believe me, that's some sort of record. They're not UNbreakable, but they will stand quite a bit more abuse than Riedels. Just remember that the easiest way to break a glass (other than dropping it or smashing it on the kitchen faucet) is to twist the stem off while drying it by hand. The Schotts aren't immune to that, which is why I use the dishwasher, but if you live where the water is hard they're gonna spot, so just be careful.

This is the shape you need for pinot noir. Notice the shape of the bowl. It's much more rounded than what you might expect and it's much larger, too. They hold almost 25 ounces, so you can get almost a whole bottle in one which, of course, you don't want to do. Just pour 4-6 ounces in the bottom and give yourself room to swirl and sniff.

You're probably thinking I'm out of my mind; that it doesn't really make any difference. Well, I'll tell you, I've performed an experiment many times with people who thought I was nuts and it's worked every single time. Pour some pinot noir into a smaller glass - your grandmother's crystal will work fine, as will any small wine glass or even a jelly jar - and some into a glass like the one above. Smell both. You won't believe the difference, and it even carries over into the flavors.

Put your old stems in the next garage sale and get some of these. They're available from Amazon, and they're a bargain at $12 each.

A Steak Post

Why is this here? No particular reason. I just thought it looked good and wanted to share. I'm going to have to work on my presentations, though. That plate's a little sloppy-looking.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Slow-cooked pork with fennel and olives

Sorry, no pictures this time, but this is an easy and different recipe for this time of year and will always get raves from the assembled multitudes.  Just the thing for a chilly evening.

4 tablespoons olive oil 
3-4 pounds boneless Boston butt or pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 large onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted & crushed
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered.  

1 cup Mediterranean olives (I like mixed green and black). Buy them pitted or pit them yourself
2 large fennel bulbs, fronds & cores removed, cut into pieces 
Balsamic vinegar 
Salt & freshly ground pepper 
1⁄4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy Dutch oven over medium- high heat. Season pork with salt and pepper. Add it to the pot in batches so as not to crowd it and cook until brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the pork to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and turn the heat down to low. Add the onions and sauté until very tender, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 3 minutes until it's fragrant.

Turn the heat back up to medium-high and add the wine to deglaze, boiling off the alcohol and scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Return the pork to the pot and add the tomatoes with their juices, chicken broth, thyme and the toasted fennel seeds. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until pork is almost tender, about 1 hour. Add the potatoes, olives and fresh fennel bulb and continue cooking until the pork is very tender and juices are slightly thickened, about 45 minutes.

Season to taste with salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar and serve garnished with Italian parsley and fennel fronds, if you have them.

EDIT: I've received some questions about fresh fennel and where to buy it. I've lifted a picture off the Interwebz so those of you who don't know what to look for will have a reference. It will usually come with the fronds trimmed off as you see, and it should be available in most any supermarket, though it's sometimes incorrectly labeled as "anise". Use only the white part and cut out the core in a fashion similar to cutting out the core of a cabbage.

Friday, November 6, 2009


I'll finish posting the recipe and pictures later, but the aromas in the kitchen are seductive beyond belief! Swine, citrus, cilantro, onion, garlic, cumin . . . YUM!

Portland Locals Jump On This Deal On Pinot Gris/Pinot Noir!

The Rascal pinot gris and pinot noir I reviewed earlier are on sale this week at some Fred Meyer stores for $5.99. This is legalized theft, so get on it!

New Mexico player's rough tactics lead to ban

I'm really struggling with the fact that UNM didn't do a thing until ESPN ran this story all day long.

New Mexico player's rough tactics lead to ban

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh. Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou. My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh. Son of a gun, we'll have good fun on the bayou!

Do you like Cajun food? Hank Williams did and I do, too. Everyone does, I think. I remember promising I'd eat my way through New Orleans if I ever got there and sure enough, I did. Four days of non-stop gluttony.

Do you worry about making gumbo because of the roux? I don't, but it's only because I've done it a few dozen times. Ditto crawfish étoufée, especially when you consider the difficulty most of us have in obtaining decent crawfish tails except in huge, frozen lumps. Do you want to have something Cajun without contracting the heebie-jeebies over the roux, and using the skills you already have? Great, me too. Let's have some Jambalaya!

Jambalaya is, according to legend, a real melting pot - and that's just the name. Supposedly it's a contraction of the French word for ham, jambón (or the Spanish word, jamón), the French term for "in the style of", á la, and an African name for rice, "ya". Hence, jambalaya, or "ham in the style of rice".

There are other stories and I don't know which to believe, but the major point is this. Jambalaya, like many other dishes, is related to something else in technique. Just as a stew is a stew in construction whether it's made from beef, lamb, chicken or pork (cog au vin and boeuf bourguignon are essentially the same thing with different meats), a meat/poultry and rice dish is the same in terms of technique whether it's called jambalaya, paella or arroz con pollo - cousins all.

Jambalaya can be made from most anything including chicken, shrimp, ham, crawfish, alligator and duck, but we'll skip the more exotic ingredients here and concentrate on what's easily found. The one constant is sausage and I recommend you find a good brand of andouille, the highly-seasoned and smoked Cajun sausage (Bruce Aidell's is readily available), though any good smoked pork sausage such as Hillshire Farms' Polska Kielbasa is a reasonable substitute.

The base for jambalaya is, like many Cajun and Creole dishes, the "holy trinity" - equal parts of diced onion, celery and green bell pepper. This is the Louisiana version of the French mirepoix, which is onion, celery and carrot. The other critical item is good stock. Canned or boxed stock is okay, but it's so much better made fresh. I make stock all the time, freezing it in Best Foods (Hellman's) mayonnaise jars, and it's easy.

I won't go into detail on how to make stock when there are so many good sources on the Interwebz, but I'm partial to (gasp) Emeril Lagasse's recipes on his website. Chicken stock, which you're going to need for jambalaya, is especially simple to make and you'll be shocked how easy it is if you've never done it before. I do have a personal quirk. I like to poach a whole chicken as though making stock, then remove the meat from the bones to use later for chicken salad or enchiladas and return the bones to the pot to concentrate the flavors. That said, if you want to resort to Swanson's I won't turn you in to the food police, but it's a little salty, so be careful with your seasonings.

You're going to need a large dutch oven, preferably enameled cast iron. I'm using a 7-quart Martha Stewart (gasp again!) version here, mostly because it was about 1/3 the price of an equivalent Le Creuset, a fine if expensive product.

The first step is to brown some chicken pieces. I'm partial to thighs for this, but use what you like. Many recipes call for boneless breasts cut into bite-sized chunks, but aside from the fact that boneless and skinless breasts are boring, I'm not convinced the old-timers who concocted this dish knew a boneless-skinless breast of
chicken from a personal computer. Season them on both sides with salt and pepper and brown them over medium to medium-high heat in a little vegetable oil then set them aside.

This separate cooking is actually critical. You'd be surprised how much difference it makes.

The next step is to brown (lightly) the andouille and the ham, about a half pound each. Ham can be most anything. Tradition calls for Tasso, which is a highly-seasoned Cajun hame, but Hormel Cure 81 works really well.  Or, if you like, you can eliminate the ham altogether.

Remove the sausage and/or ham from the pot and add the trinity over low heat and sweat (cook over very low heat) it until the vegetables are tender.  Add 2-3 minced cloves of garlic and sweat that until it's fragrant, then add 1 cup of long-grain rice. Saute the rice over medium heat with the vegetables until it turns opaque, then add one 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes (this technically makes the dish Creole instead of Cajun but I like it this way), 2 1/2 cups of homemade chicken stock, a bay leaf, about a teaspoon of dried thyme, some salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper and about a 1/2 teaspoon each of white pepper and cayenne.

Bring this concoction to a boil, stir, and turn the heat down to very low and simmer for about 25 minutes, covered. For an even better flavor, add 1/2 pound of shelled, raw shrimp just before you cover the pot. Uncover, toss the jambalaya with a fork (it should be a little moist) and re-cover off the heat for another 10 minutes or so, then plate with a garnish of sliced green onion tops and enjoy. BTW, a great resource on Cajun and Creole cooking is here, at Chuck Taggart's Gumbo Pages.

Wine match: Something Rhone-ish.  Syrah, grenache, mourvedre or, if you prefer, zinfandel. Or beer.

Oh, Dear! There's Another "Bobaganoush"!

Apparently this guy writes erotic literature. It's not me!

I was just having a little fun with my name. Maybe I'd best go back to my real one.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's A Novel!

I've been working on a novel. Naturally enough, it revolves around the wine business to some exent. I'm posting the introduction here for your dining and dancing pleasure. If you like it, let me know and I'll send you a couple of chapters for your comments.


I’m growing older but not up - Jimmy Buffett

My name is Jack Warner – like Jack Warner from the Warner Brothers movie studio of old.  My parents had, in their own twisted way, given me a conversation piece for a name.  They thought it was cute, but growing up the San Fernando Valley in the sixties had not been a real blast with that moniker and, from the time I was old enough to form cogent thoughts about it, I envisioned getting out. Actually, I couldn’t wait to do it.  Of course, I had no idea I’d end up in Portland, Oregon but here I am.

I’d once been an attorney.  I’d had a ‘real’ job - one with a boss - for a little over four years when I’d worked in two different prosecutor’s offices, but for most of my life I’ve been pretty carefree.  I was self-employed from 1983 until I chucked the law biz a couple of years ago and I did okay for myself financially.  Better than okay, truth be told.

After the ‘real’ job, I defended criminals for a while until I started taking on personal injury cases.  I was an ambulance chaser - though of the fairly high-end variety.  I certainly wasn’t in the same league with The King of Torts, Melvin Belli, or even John Edwards, but I was an ambulance chaser all the same. Proponents of tort reform despise people like me, which is okay.  My clients, who have collected millions of dollars because of preventable mistakes and negligence despise them right back.

I’d been married briefly to a woman I still love deeply in those moments when I allow myself to think about it.  We got divorced after a little more than three years.  Joanne was trying to get me to jump in the ocean of life and set a course for our lives’ destination while I did the hokey-pokey at the water’s edge and tried to simply let life come to me.  She wanted me to grow up as I got older and, though I did to some extent, it wasn’t fast enough for her and I’m not so sure I’ve fully grown up yet.

I have a best friend who is a retired cop.  He introduced me to Oregon wine, and his parents in New Jersey gave him the truly unfortunate name of Guido Anthony Pastorelli.  When he was still hanging out with the wannabe wise guys, eating meatball subs and cannolis on the sidewalk and grabbing their crotches while making kissy-kissy noises at the girls who walked by, he got the nickname of Smooch, which is what everyone calls him.  Most people don’t even know he has another name.  I don’t want to know how he got this one, but I can guess.

When nothing else moves him, which is most of the time, and the weather cooperates, which is some of the time, Smooch plays golf.  Sometimes he plays six days a week.  Some of those days he plays 36 holes.  Most of those days I’m right there playing alongside him.

I have a blonde Jewish girlfriend with a killer ass and piercing blue eyes named Katy Lewis.  She’s from Dallas and recites the Haggadah in an exaggerated, unnatural heavy drawl at the Passover Seder.  She almost always serves ham after the matzoh and parsley as a sort of cruel joke aimed at her ancestors and her parents - Orthodox Jews and nice folks who maintain a kosher household and would faint if they knew. 

I own a vineyard and a winery, which means I get to drive around on a cute little Kubota tractor and pretend I’m a farmer which, after a fashion, I am.  Once a year I play with squished fruit and perform a month-long, large-scale version of a high school science project that involves turning sugar into alcohol. Believe it or not, once I’m done people actually buy the stuff I’ve made so I can afford to do it all over again. 

How grown up could I possibly be? 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tired of Turkey? Try a Rib Roast - It's Easy!

How good does that look?

If you're like many people, you swear you'd rather do away with holiday meals altogether if you have to choke down another bite of turkey. At the same time, you're intimidated by the idea of a rib roast, fearful that your big, expensive hunk of beef will turn into a big, expensive and embarrassing lump of FAIL. Fear not, loyal reader. I've got you covered, and your roast will be perfect every time.

Your first requirement will be to buy a high-quality roast, USDA Choice or Prime. One of these bad boys is almost always called "Prime Rib" regardless of grade, so don't be fooled by the label. If you don't know the grade of what you're looking at, and there will be a lot of choices this time of year, ask. Prime is going to be hard to find and expensive, so you'll probably end up with Choice. But also be aware that there are variances in the quality level of Choice, so choose one with lots of "marbling" - little flecks of fat in the meat.

If you're a Costco member, they generally have lots of roasts and the quality for the money can't be surpassed. Some Costco stores are carrying Prime steaks, so it's possible they'll have Prime rib roasts this year. Take a look. And if you want the finest possible experience, order a roast from Bryan's Fine Foods in Corte Madera, CA. Bryan's quality is unsurpassed, but quality comes at a price and you'll have to pay for shipping, so be forewarned.

You want a roast from either the loin end (commonly referred to as the "small" end) or from the center of the roast. The "eye" of the roast is largest here, whereas the "lifter" or "cap" - the part on the outside of the roast that's separated by a seam of fat - is smaller. In this photo, the cap is on the right, running in a crescent from about 12:00 to 4:00. Look at the marbling, it's about perfect.

Some people like the "large" or shoulder end where the eye is smaller and there's more cap, and the flavor of the cap is more intense, but it's nowhere near as nice to look at. Figure about 2 to 2.5 servings per bone, so if you have 10 people you'll need a 4 or 5 bone roast, depending upon whether you have big or small eaters and whether you want leftovers for sandwiches. In any event, don't try this with a roast that has fewer than 2 bones. Ask your butcher, unless you're really comfortable with your beef anatomy, to cut the bones off and tie them back on. That way, when you're ready to carve, you just lift the meat off the bones, slice and serve. The roast will cook exactly the same as if you had left the bones on, so don't concern yourself with that.

Next, and everything from here on has been shamelessly borrowed from Alton Brown on the Food Network, unless you've been lucky enough to find dry-aged beef (Bryan's will be dry-aged) is to age it yourself for a few days. Put it on a sheet pan, rib bones down, cover it loosely with paper towels and plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for up to 4 days. Your fridge needs to be cold - 38 degrees or under - and you need to put the roast on the lowest shelf. Change the towels every day or two. If you end up with any really leathery portions, just trim them off before you cook. Alternately, you can do what Alton does, and invert a really large plastic tub, like Rubbermaid or Tupperware, poke holes in it for air circulation and age your roast in that.

When the day comes to cook your roast, take it out of the refrigerator at least two hours before you plan to begin cooking so it will come up to room temperature, or at least get warmer than it was when it was in the fridge. I've discovered that after two hours the center will be somewhere around 50 degrees, but that's better than 36. Leaving it out longer won't hurt it.

Now comes the part where we're going to violate every "rule" you've ever learned about roasting meat. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. That's right, 250. Not 350 and certainly not 425. Season your roast all over with salt and pepper and put the probe on your Polder thermometer right in the middle of the eye. Turn the oven down to 200 degrees (really, 200!) and put the roast in the oven, bones down, in a roasting pan or the sheet pan you've aged it in. The bones will form their very own rack.

Set your Polder alarm to 120 degrees and go away. The roast, whether it has 2 bones or 5, will cook in somewhere around 3.5-4.5 hours. The diameter is the same no matter the length of the roast, so the cooking time is the same. When your alarm goes off, remove the roast from the oven and tent it with heavy duty aluminum foil. Just cut a slit in the foil so you can slip it around the probe from your thermometer, which you do NOT want to remove. You'll notice the thing doesn't look very brown and appetizing, but not to worry. We'll take care of that shortly.

The temperature will continue to rise for at least half an hour, and that's fine. It will probably top out between 125 and 130, which is perfect. If you see the temperature falling because you're not ready to serve yet, just stick the roast back in the oven on your oven's lowest setting with the door ajar. You can hold it for quite some time this way if you have to. Just keep an eye on the temp, and if it starts rising again, take the roast out as before.

About 20 minutes before you're going to serve, crank the oven up to 500 degrees, open a window and turn the fan on high. When the oven is fully heated, put the roast in for 10 minutes or so, or until it's a nice, appetizing brown color like the picture at the top. Remove the strings, lift the meat off the bone and slice into nice, thick slices.

You've probably been wondering why we're roasting at such a low temperature and searing the roast after cooking rather than the other way around as cookbooks normally tell you do to. There are several reasons, all of which have to do with a better end product. Alton Brown even goes to the extreme of roasting inside an inverted terra cotta flower pot, which reduces temperature fluctuations as the oven cycles on and off. I don't think this is necessary, but if you want to do it, by all means don't worry about what I think. You'll just have to preheat longer before putting the roast in to make sure the terra cotta is up to temperature.

First, doing it this way results in a roast that's pretty much the same degree of doneness all the way through, rather than almost well done on the outside and pink in the middle. You can see this in the photo to the left, though the plate looks a bit bare because my daughter made a salad and we served it on a separate plate. This was last Christmas, by the way, and the meat came from Wegmans. If you have one near you you're blessed at holiday time. Their selection of roasts is the best I've ever seen.

Second, there's much less carry-over cooking, so determining when to take it out of the oven is a more exact science. A roast cooked at 350 and removed from the oven at 120 degrees internal temperature can get to almost 140 by the time it's done carrying over. Lastly, and this can be a drawback if you're planning on making a pan sauce, the roast will exude fewer juices as it cooks, making the meat more moist.

So there you have it. You can't miss with this method. Pick your sides, drag out a nice bottle of cabernet or Bordeaux and have at it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Brisket - Real Texas Style In A Weber Kettle.

Susan from Texas inspired this post.

Do you like brisket? I don't mean your Bubbie Irma's brisket with gravy, braised with onions and served on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, I mean the Texas-styled stuff, smoked for hours until it's falling-apart tender and has a nice, borderline-burned "bark" or crust? Ever wanted to smoke your own but didn't know how to go about it? Don't want to buy a smoker? Worried that it will fail? You've read all the BBQ sites on the Interwebs and you're paralyzed with fear? Fear not, my peeps. I'm gonna make it simple for you. The Interwebs sites dedicated to BBQ are detailed - too detailed, but you can always consult them if you feel like you need more information.

But it's November, right? If you live in a relatively mild part of the country you can still do brisket, even here in Oregon. It might be a problem some place in the Rockies where it's already snowing, but it can still be done. Or you can wait for next spring. Your call.

A lot of what I'm going to say mirrors what you can learn elsewhere, especially at the website that Weber hosts. There's nothing especially inventive about my method for smoking a brisket except that it involves not only smoke, but an oven. That's the part that makes it practically foolproof, so let's get started. It takes close to an hour and a half for every pound to cook a brisket, and I assure you there will be no sleep lost. That's where the oven comes in, but you're still going to need to plan ahead.

What will you need? Well, you'll need a Weber kettle, preferably the 22 1/2 inch model. You could buy a Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, but that will set you back about $350 and it comes with its own directions, so you wouldn't need me. People swear by them, but they're not necessary. Ditto a thing called the Big Green Egg, but that will set you back the better part of a thousand bucks - money you could spend on wine -  so we'll ignore it. I've heard of people smoking on gas grills and that worked for me once, too, but it's a bit trickier. Let's stick with the Weber, which many people have.

In the way of equipment, you'll need a cheap oven thermometer. I say cheap because it's going to get filthy in the smoke, so there's no reason to buy one that costs more than about $4. You'll also want a remote thermometer you can program to sound an alarm when the desired temperature is reached within the meat. I think one of these is a kitchen requirement, but you might have to buy one and there's conveniently one listed in the "my favorites" banner from Amazon.  It's a Polder.

Beyond that, you'll need salt, pepper, granulated garlic or garlic powder and onion powder. Perhaps some paprika. And you'll need a brisket. This is where it gets a little tricky. You need a WHOLE brisket, with the point cut and the flat cut intact. They're called packer cuts, they generally come shrink-wrapped in cryovac (a heavy plastic) and they're becoming easier to find. If what you're thinking of buying doesn't weight at least ten pounds, it's not a packer cut.

This is one I bought last spring. You'll note how thick it is and how heavy the fat covering is. I tried to find a better pic on the Web but couldn't find a good example that shows the point (or "deckle") and the flat. Many "experts" will tell you to buy only USDA Choice or Prime briskets, but I have it on good authority that the big time BBQ folks in Texas don't bother. It's a fatty cut anyway, so I'm not sure it makes any difference what grade it is.

I get mine at a place called "Cash and Carry", which supplies foodstuffs to restaurants - 50-pound bags of rice and 5-pound blocks of cream cheese, for example - and I've never paid more than $1.79 per pound, which makes this a very economical meal. C&C is located in several Western states, but there's likely a similar store near you. Otherwise, ask your butcher or supermarket meat manager if he can order a packer for you.

First you have to trim your beast. Make sure your knife is sharp, but this is about the most difficult part of the process, so everything from here is downhill. You'll want to take off all but about 1/4" of the fat and some of the extra fat in the seam between the two parts of the meat.

This is what mine looked like (note the big pile of trimmings) after it was trimmed and seasoned. I wish I'd gotten a shot of its underside, but I didn't. Sorry.

Season liberally with salt (use Kosher salt - I don't even have table salt except for baking), pepper, granulated garlic and onion powder. You can add some paprika and/or cayenne if you like, but I don't bother on the theory that simpler is better. Rub the seasonings into the meat aggressively and let the beast sit for a while and build a fire.

Use about 12-15 charcoal briquets or an equal amount of lump charcoal. It's surprising how little charcoal it takes to maintain the low temperature you're looking for. Build your fire against one side of the kettle so you can put the meat away from it on the other side and add a disposable aluminum pan of hot water on the fire grate below where the meat is going to go. When the charcoal is ashed-over, add the cooking grate (which you've cleaned, right?) and put your oven thermometer on the grate as far from the fire as you can get it. Add the lid, leaving the lower vents fully open and the top vents about half way closed.  Go away for about 10 minutes while the fire stabilizes itself.

Go back and check the temperature on your thermometer. It should be between 200 and 250 degrees. If it's higher than that, close the top vents a bit and check again in 10 minutes. When the fire is the right temperature, add a big handful hickory/alder/apple/cherry/oak chips you've soaked in water for at least an hour, and replace the lid. Don't use mesquite for either the smoking chips or the charcoal. It's too strong. When the chips begin to smoke, add the brisket fat side up as far away from the fire as you can, and go away for about a half hour.

When your half hour is up, add about six more pieces of charcoal and another handful of soaked chips. Repeat this every thirty minutes (or more frequently with the chips if the fires stops smoking) for four hours. Check the temperature every time you do this, and either add more or less charcoal or fiddle with the top vents accordingly, but this formula works pretty well. You might have to stir your little fire now and then. If you are about to add chips and see that the previous charcoal addition is still not ashed over, forget adding more.

After four hours, take your beast off the grill and put it on a rack over a roasting or jelly roll pan. It will look like about like this. Having pre-heated your oven to 225 degrees, just stick the remote thermometer probe into the middle of the flat, connect the thermometer, set the alarm for 195 degrees, put the whole enchilada in the oven and forget it.

So, why are we taking our brisket off the smoke after four hours? There's a theory that the meat will absorb about all the smoke flavor it's going to absorb in the first four hours so that's part of it, but the other part is that this whole thing is going to take the better part of 15-18 hours and we're trying to avoid stoking the fire for that long and missing sleep as a result.

I like to put mine in the smoke around 6PM and leave it until 10PM or so, then put it in the oven and go to bed. That keeps me from staying up all night and it also keeps the neighbors from calling the fire department because they think someone's house is burning down at 3AM.  When you get up in the morning the house will smell delicious, but your brisket won't be done yet.

You're going to notice that the temperature will appear to "plateau" if you're checking it, and you won't be able to resist checking. It will hit something around 175 and just not move for a long time. Don't worry, this is normal. When your alarm finally goes off, probably around noon, remove the brisket from the oven and stick a fork into the side of the flat. Twist the fork. You should have very little resistance. Another test is to stick a toothpick in it and see if there's any resistance. If it still seems a bit stiff - and what you're trying to do is go from "done" to "tender" - reset your alarm for another 5 degrees higher and wait.

When you're satisified it's tender, remove it from the oven and wrap it in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, then a bath towel or two, and put it in a big cooler for at least two hours. No, it's not burned if it looks like this, it's perfect. Open a beer and congratulate yourself on a job well done!

When your two hours is up, or longer if dinner isn't planned yet, put the brisket on a cutting board and separate the point from the flat by cutting through the fat seam. remove as much of the fat seam as you can from both pieces and set the point aside. It's difficult to slice because it cooks faster, so I like to save it for sandwiches. Slice the flat across the grain (it may take a couple of cuts to get it right but you can usually see the grain fairly easily) and serve with your BBQ sauce of choice (I make my own, of course - partly so I can control the salt content) and sides.

Here is mine, with a corn and zucchini dish called colache and pinto beans. Cornbread or biscuits are also somewhat traditional, but the real deal is cole slaw, beans and sliced, cheap white bread and pickled jalapeños.

Wine match? Syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah, grenache, something from the Rhone or a good rosé!  Or beer.

Give a brisket a shot. The worst that will happen is you'll have something that tastes great and is a little chewy, and it cost you a whole $20 or so for enough meat to fee the neighborhood.

Hate marshmallows? A cure for the Thanksgiving side dish blues!

There are some things about Thanksgiving I just dread. The vile green bean casserole with the canned mushroom soup and canned fried onions is bad enough. So is the ubiquitous lime Jell-O mold. But one thing I just can't abide is marshmallows on the sweet potatoes, so I'm going to offer up an alternative. Chipotle sweet potatoes.

I know, the dish you're used to is generally referred to as candied yams, but I'm assured that yams and sweet potatoes are related to each other in much the same way that an armadillo is related to a giraffe. What you get in the can from the supermarket, though it may be labeled as yams, is actually sweet potatoes. Since I have an aversion to almost all canned food with the exception of tomatoes and tuna, I'm going to suggest you use fresh ones.

Basically, you have two choices. You can make a "mashed" dish or something similar to a gratin. Either dish starts with the same thing, canned chipotles en adobo pureed with milk, half and half or cream. It's your call depending upon your waistline's tolerance level for butterfat.

The key here is to truly puree them, not chop them. A blender (either the upright type or an immersion blender) or a small food processor is a must here. I'm pretty good with a knife, but the one time I tried mincing them very fine I almost killed someone who didn't have much of a tolerance for heat when she got a small chunk of chipotle stuck in her throat for a bit - until she could wash it down with some water. Trust me and use a blender. If you don't have one, Amazon (shameless plug, here) is running a special on the Cuisinart immersion blender and the ad is in the "Deals" section in the sidebar of this blog. It's a great tool, especially if you like to make soup. Okay, the blatant attempt at generating ad revenue from Amazon is over. Back to the recipe.

How many chipotles? I can't tell you. They're all a bit different in heat like all chiles, and it depends on the tolerance levels of your guests and how many people you're serving (and, naturally, how many sweet potatoes you're cooking as a result). Start with one or two along with some of the sauce from the can to a cup or so of dairy product and taste the result. You can always add more. And don't forget - wash your hands after you've handled any chile, preferably 2 or 3 times.

If you're making the "gratin", peel and slice raw sweet potatoes and layer them in a baking dish, salting and peppering as you go along. Add some of some of the chipotle mixture - to which you've added some honey (not much - maybe a tablespoon for every sweet potato, but trust your personal taste) which cuts the slight bitterness of the chipotles - after every layer. Dot the top with butter and bake, covered with foil, at 350 until the potatoes are tender.

If you're making the "mash", poke a few holes in the sweet potatoes as you would if you were baking a russet and bake in a shallow pan (they tend to ooze all over the oven floor if you put them directly on the rack) at 350 until they're soft, then scoop the flesh from the skin. Season with salt and pepper, add a big lump of butter and some chipotle/milk/honey mixture and stir. There's no mashing involved.

If you don't have any honey you can use brown sugar or maple syrup (the real kind, not something with butter flavor in it), but the whole point of the honey is to get away from the cloying, brown sugar-laden and overly sweet traditional dish. Along with the cranberries, this is one of the reasons it's so difficult to match wines to the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Enjoy, don't over-eat, and may your bird be nicely browned.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

So You Think You Hate Lamb?

I confess, I've never "gotten" why some people claim they don't like lamb. "It's 'gamey'", people say. "I've always heard it's strong and smelly," say others. Well, it's not and I have, once again, Tracey to act as my witness.

Having subjected her to roasted brussels sprouts and having her ask for them again, I figured it was time to force her to choke down some lamb. I had a small piece of a butterflied leg, so I treated it like a thick steak as I usually do, but indoors rather than on the grill, which would have been better. Alas, she managed to leave her grill behind in Reno when she moved, so the grill wasn't an option.

I seasoned it with salt and pepper and a bit of garlic, seared it in a cast-iron skillet and finished it in a 375 degree oven, removing it at 125 degrees. It was about 140 by the time the carryover cooking stopped, which was a bit more done than I'd like, but it was still tasty.  Here it is with Mom's green beans simmered forever in onions, garlic, tomatoes and oregano and some orzo "alfredo" - orzo with a sauce of butter, garlic and parmesan cheese. The picture isn't the best because the light was a bit off, but it was a yummy dish. And Tracey went back for seconds. I'm two for two with new foods!

Wine match: Lamb goes with almost any red wine and I'm often moved to choose a syrah or something from the rhone. This I matched with a 2008 single-vineyard pinot noir from the Willamette Valley that I can't name. It's not that I don't know, it's that I promised I wouldn't make public reference to it.

I had stopped by the winery for a bottle of the 2007 from the same vineyard and, despite the fact that they were in the middle of bottling their 2008s, they obliged me. It wasn't until after I'd gotten home that I realized they'd given me a just-bottled 2008 and, after telling them, they just asked me to keep quiet about it because it won't be released until next spring.

So, I won't tell you the wine, but I WILL tell you that it's up to the same standard shared by every 2008 Oregon pinot noir I've tasted from barrel and bottle. The aromatics are incredible and this, being from the Dundee Hills, was all red fruit - strawberries, raspberries, cherries and a little pomegranate with a bit of dustiness thrown in for good measure. It was perhaps a little overpowered by the tomatoes in the beans, but with the lamb it was perfect.

I'll do a more in-depth review of 2008 pinots later, but this one's worth saving up for when it's released, just like all of its cousins are.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Step-by-Step: Chicken Cacciatore "Modernized"

I love chicken. I love vegetables. I love them together, but I never loved chicken cacciatore. For that matter, I never loved coq au vin, either. Why? The disgusting, rubbery mess that chicken skin turns into when you braise the pieces in liquid. Further, though I like white meat chicken, boneless-skinless breasts (which are one solution) are often like eating cotton. What to do?

I was vexed and set out some time ago to solve this problem.  Surprisingly, it wasn't all that difficult and it makes for a nice presentation to boot. I just had to think outside the envelope a little and get away from the "traditional" recipes you can find all over the Interwebs.

First, I borrowed some techniques from other dishes, the first being the ratatouille I posted about a while ago. Here's a shot of the vegetables all prepped and yes, that's a carrot you see. It adds a nice, earthy component to the dish. Bear in mind that  what you see is for one serving, so don't fret that there don't appear to be many vegetables.

Once you have your vegetables prepped, the first step to get the chicken started. Choose nicely-sized bone-in, skin-on breast haves and season them with salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil over medium heat in an oven-proof skillet until shimmering, and brown the breasts skin side down until nicely colored. Turn them skin side up and put the skillet in the oven at 375 degrees until they're cooked through -  about 25-30 minutes.

The second step is exactly like the ratatouille, and that's to separately lightly brown the zucchini, mushrooms and carrot and set them aside, then sweat the onions and peppers until soft and then stir in the garlic and allow it to become aromatic. If you don't like zucchini you can substitute (or add) yellow summer squash, and you can leave out the carrots, but the mushrooms have to stay or it's not "hunter's style". Add some diced canned tomatoes (about half a 14.5-ounce can for this one serving), return the other vegetables to the pan and cover. Simmer over low heat about 15 minutes. If you like, you can add a little white wine before adding the tomatoes and boil off the alcohol, but this isn't necessary.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it liberally. It should almost taste like sea water. Cook a pasta shape of your choice (I like thin spaghetti or angel hair, but penne rigate or ziti would work) until done al dente, or "to the tooth". With all the other things in this dish, about 2 ounces per serving should be about right - half what you'd normally consider a serving of pasta. A note on pasta: I'm a huge fan of Barilla pasta. It's inexpensive and almost impossible to overcook. I used to like DiCecco, but I've graduated to Barilla. Also, this dish is not the place for fresh pasta, which would be overpowered by the strong flavors.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven and allow to cool just a bit so you can handle it, and carefully remove the meat from the bones.  Cut the breast into fat diagonal slices and serve it over the vegetables, which you've tossed with the cooked pasta. Shave some parmigiano reggiano over the top and you'll have something that looks like this.

Wine match: As with any dish with tomatoes, you want something relatively high in acid. It's easy to pick something from Italy, but this is a blog dedicated to food and wine of the Northwest, so try a barbera from Oregon or Washington. Mystic Wines in Salem makes an excellent one, and there are several I've seen but haven't tried from the Columbia Gorge. Lower-alcohol zinfandel would be good, too, but they're harder to find these days. And, in the summer, the Shy Chenin syrah rose would be just the ticket.

Buon appetito!