Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2009 Weather Update

Cool and showery today with "sun breaks" in the afternoon.  Same for the next few days and it wasn't looking good, but the weather gods must be in a kind mood because the forecast for next week has changed.  Sunny with temps in the 60s and maybe 70s all week.  That's perfect!

I think I'll celebrate with some Willamette Valley pinot noir.  Maybe the 2007 Arterberry Maresh Red Hills, a wine that proves once and for all what Jacques Seysses of Domain Dujac and John Thomas already know - there is no correlation between color and quality when it comes to pinot noir.  Maybe I'll crank up my famous seared ahi with wild mushroom/ginger/garlic butter.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Autumn Meals - Coffee-Ancho Short Ribs

With today really feeling like fall, temperature barely creeping into the 60s and rain showers with some wind, it was time to drag out this recipe that I kind of stole from Gourmet Magazine.  Which is fine, since they stole the idea from Robert del Grande of Houston's Cafe Annie.  He rubs steaks with coffee and ancho.

This is best done a day ahead of time as you'll see below.  It's excellent served on creamy polenta with cheddar cheese and roasted Brussels sprouts, but you could substitute whatever you like.  I might consider a cheddar cheese potato gratin and green beans or broccoli - or instead of a cooked vegetable, a simple green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.  For wine, something from the Southern Rhone would match well, as would your favorite domestic wine made from grenache, syrah or mourvedre - or all three.

Season four pounds of short ribs and brown on all sides in a Dutch oven.  Set them aside.

Saute one half a large onion, a carrot a rib of celery, all roughly chopped and 3 cloves of garlic, crushed lightly with the side of a knife.

In the meantime, soak four dried ancho chiles in boiling or near-boiling water until they soften, then remove the stems and seeds, saving the water.  Don't get too worked up if there are a few seeds left behind.  We're going to strain the sauce later.

Add the short ribs back to the pan along with the anchos, two chipotles en adobo, a couple teaspoons of the adobo sauce, the juice of a half lime, 1/2 cup of brewed coffee, about 3 tablespoons (or more if you like) of real maple syrup and enough of the water to cover the ribs a little more than halfway.

Cover the dutch oven as tightly as possible with aluminum foil, add the lid and put into a 350-degree oven for approximately 3 1/2 hours, or until the short ribs are very tender.  Mine are in the oven right now, so I'll post the rest of the pictures later.

Skip Bayless Is An Idiot

There, I've said it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Willamette Valley Vintage - 2009, Part Two

Well, the weather is cooperating.  Sort of.  We truly don't know what we're going to get.

I know of one winery that began picking pinot noir last Thursday, September 24 from a warm site, and I know of a couple others who began over the weekend.  There are probably more but I'm not in touch with them.  Some folks are picking grapes for white wine.  One of my friends will have brought in around 35 tons by the end of today, but he had a short picking crew this morning.

The weather has been wonderful and warm for the past few days, with highs around 80 over the weekend, but potential disaster looms.  Autumn arrived quite suddenly this morning.  It's 65 or so right now and the forecast is for showers and steady rain on and off for the next ten days beginning tonight.  A little rain shouldn't be too bad because it's been so dry and the grapes in some vineyards have shriveled and dehydrated a bit, but a lot could be a problem.  During the spring and fall, ten-day forecasts are pretty fluid, so everything could change by tomorrow.

If we don't get too much rain, and what we do get is followed by a period of dry weather with relatively warm days - mid-to-high 60s are fine - everything should come together.  Depending on where sugar levels are, some folks will probably pick on the dry days between the rainy ones, but that's dicey because the grapes soak up water when it rains, diluting the sugars and the flavors.  There's also the specter of splitting and rot from the moisture.

Stay tuned, cross your fingers and pray to the weather gods.  There's a lot of fruit still out there.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Music WOW!

This is a cut from the newly re-formed Little Feat in 1988 at the Fillmore in San Francisco.  With the addition of Fred Tackett and vocals from Craig Fuller that eerily mimic Lowell George, the band was smokin'.  Enjoy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pacific City, a gem on the Oregon coast

Situated in an awkward spot roughly halfway between Lincoln City and Tillamook, Pacific city is a bit of a hidden gem and it contains several really interesting places to go.  First of all, if you want to stay there, you'll find a wonderful little Bed and Breakfast, the Craftsman Bed and Breakfast, but here's a warning for some of you.  If you like frills, cabbage rose draperies and lace doilies, this isn't the place for you.

If, on the other hand, you like clean lines, vintage Stickley-esque furniture (or maybe it's real Stickley, I've never asked), innkeepers who cater to your every whim and produce the best coffee cake I've ever had, then this is your place.  Fair warning, though.  There is no view unless you like looking at a pink bicycle (more about this later) and a kick-boxing bag.

Your hosts, Mike and Laura Rech are among the nicest people you'll ever meet and one of the reasons I decided to write this piece today is that Mike became the first follower of my little blog yesterday.  Thanks, Mike.  Unfortunately, their treasured and badly spoiled Weimaraner, Oscar Meier, went to doggie heaven not long ago so he won't be there to greet you, but I suspect he'll have a replacement before too long.  This is THE place to stay in Pacific City despite the glitzy look of the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, where you'll have to listen to the traffic out front all night and pay extra for the privilege.

Once you've decided where to stay you'll need to eat and drink, so let's get the drinking out of the way.  Take yourself a couple of blocks over to Twist Wine Co., a full service wine bar and memorial to those crazy days of beanbag chairs, beehive hairdos and vinyl records.  Pick a record from their giant collection and ask to have it played.  They'll accommodate you.

Twist is owned by two more friends, Sean and Chenin Carlton - she of the pink bicycle that she uses to get around town.  Chenin and I first met when she was about 8 years old (she doesn't remember, of course) and I used to visit her parents' winery in Temecula, CA, where her job was to buss the tables in the tasting room, picking up the empty wine glasses.  Her parents had planted the first wine grapevines in Temecula while her mother was pregnant with her, and she was named after one of the varieties, chenin blanc.

Chenin and I serendipitously re-connected after she had moved to Oregon and was working in the tasting room at the Cristom winery in the Eola-Amity Hills northwest of Salem.  I had just walked in, having no idea who she was, and she was telling someone else about having grown up in the wine business because her parents had planted the first vines in Temecula when I blurted out, "You're Chenin Cilurzo!"  She picked her chin off the floor, we had a laugh and we've been buddies ever since.

Chenin and Sean launched their winery, Basket Case, with the 2004 vintage and opened Twist a couple of years later so they'd have a retail outlet in addition to the farmers' markets where they sell their wine every week.  It's a fun place where you can not only taste (or drink) their fun and reasonably-priced wines but also some select beers, including the award-winning Double IPA Pliny the Elder, produced by Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, CA.  RRB just happens to be owned by her brother Vinnie and his wife Natalie.  Danger Will Robinson!  This stuff clocks in at a whopping 10% alcohol, so don't plan on driving anywhere if you've had more than one.

While we're on the subject of beer, down the road a piece, and overlooking Cape Kiwanda, is the Pelican Pub & Brewery.  They produce a full line of about a half dozen beers, all of which you can have in the pub, which offers a fairly ambitious menu of what I can only describe as upscale pub food.  This is not the food of Charlie Trotter, Jacque Pepin or Wolfgang Puck, but it's reliable and tasty if a little expensive.  After all, there's the view you're paying for.  Be prepared to wait.  The place is crowded, especially in the summertime.

Back in "uptown" Pacific City, and within walking distance of both the Craftsman and Twist, is the Delicate Palate Bistro. They offer upscale dining and an extremely well-chosen and extensive wine list.  You'll spend a little more money than if they were in downtown Portland because of the beach town location, but doesn't that always happen?  Be sure to ask for Geoff Williams and tell him where you heard about his restaurant.  He's good folks who likes to describe Pacific City as "a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem".

There you go.  There are other places to eat around town and it's not horribly far to Lincoln City if you want to broaden your horizons or have an insatiable urge to gamble.  Just ask Mike, Laura, Chenin, Sean or Geoff.  They'll give you the scoop.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Winery Finds - Seven of Hearts

Byron Dooley and his wife Dana chucked their high-tech careers several years ago to do more rewarding things - making wine for him and making chocolates for her.  After a short stay in the Napa Valley where he studied winemaking and interned at the fabled pinot noir producer, Williams-Selyem, Byron and Dana moved to Oregon in 2004 and purchased a vineyard property in the Coast Range foothills northwest of McMinnville.  He makes his wines under the Seven of Hearts label at Dundee's 12th and Maple Wine Co.

They planted the vineyard to five clones of pinot noir in 2006, and 2008 was the first crop.  It's called Luminous Hills Vineyard and I'm anxious to get out there to see it.  In the meantime, while they waited for their baby to produce and to give himself the ability to bottle AVA and vineyard designate wines from a variety of locations, Byron arranged to purchase fruit from some vineyards in both the Dundee Hills and the Eola-Amity hills for 2006, 2007 and 2008.

I'm not going to post detailed tasting notes on the wines, party because I don't want to be like every other self-appointed "expert" on the web and partly because I harbor a huge fear that most normal people find that kind of stuff mind-numbingly dull.  Instead, I'll tell you that, IMNSHO, Byron "gets it".  I mean, the guy really gets it.  Instead of pandering to critics he's making wine for purists.

I've already ranted a bit about the "more" wine style that gets high scores from the critics.  There's no shortage of that kind of wine around, but it's not for me and especially not when it's applied to pinot noir, a grape that reflects where it is grown perhaps more than any other.  When that place shows through it's called transparency; picking the grapes extra ripe so the alcohol is elevated, giving it extra time on the skins and whacking the hell out of it with new oak tends to obscure the view into the wine's place of birth.  It makes the wine more opaque in not only a philosophical sense, but in a visual sense as well.  And, since depth of color doesn't necessarily correlate to quality in the world of pinot noir, the result isn't necessarily better.

Byron has a deft touch with the finicky pinot noir grape.  His wines show their roots (pun intended) and are a delight to drink.  They're light on their feet instead of ponderous and boring, almost begging you to come back for another sip, and they're the kinds of pinot noirs that match up well with food, especially salmon.  His chardonnay is one of the few I'll drink because it resembles its lovely ancestors in Burgundy more than it resembles the more homely of its cousins in California.  Be sure to try it.

Be sure to stop by Byron's tasting room in Carlton.  He's open Fri-Sun afternoons and is an engaging host.  Dana makes her chocolates there so be sure to try some along with the wine.  They're wonderful.

Next up in the wine world, the crazy crowd at Stone Wolf in McMinnville.

And how can we leave this one off?

Then there's this one.

I just can't resist this one.

This pic, which I harvested off the Internets someplace, just cracks me up.  Only in California.

A cookbook! Get yours while they're hot!

A couple of years ago I wrote a basic cookbook for the four college-aged sons of a friend.  It's sort of a basic survival guide for young men (or women for that matter) who are inexperienced in the kitchen but want to learn.

Included are two pages of basic tips about things like what kind of salt to use, how to cook pasta properly and how to choose ingredients, along with some tried and true recipes I've either gathered over the years or had passed down to me by my mother, and it makes a great Christmas gift.  If you'd like a copy, please send me an email and we'll arrange to get it to you since I don't have a PayPal account or other online payment method established yet.

$15 in electronic format, $25 printed and spiral bound including delivery.

Willamette Valley Vintage - 2009, Part One

Making wine begins in the vineyard as we all know, and whenever you’re dealing with mother nature life is always, pardon the lame joke, a bit like Mama Gump’s box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.  That applies in Oregon’s Willamette Valley perhaps more than any other major winegrowing region in the country.

As you might imagine, the biggest weather hazard in Oregon is rain, that’s no surprise given the state’s reputation.  But what isn’t widely known is that it basically doesn’t rain during the summer.  Average total rainfall for the months of July-September is around 2 1/4  inches.  The problem is with the months of June and October.

June rains or, worse, the occasional hail storm, can interfere with flowering and the setting of a crop of grapes, and rain early in October can cause rot, uneven ripening and splitting of the fruit, which only further encourages rot.  In 2004 and 2005, rain during the flowering period caused the vines to set ridiculously small crops and, in some isolated instances, almost no crop at all.  I remember visiting some of my friends’ wineries in the fall of 2005 and being astounded.  Most of them had two years’ worth of wine in barrels and the barrel rooms were half full at best.  It was a tough couple of years for Oregon wineries.  They had practically no wine to sell and several didn’t open for their normal holiday open houses, though most of them made it through relatively unscathed.

2006 was a savior financially, if not a success artistically – depending upon who you talk to.  The vines flowered on schedule or a little early, and the summer was warmer than normal.  What that led to was a large crop that had to be aggressively thinned and wines that were generally low in acid and high in alcohol after a harvest that was essentially devoid of rain.  After a two-year “drought”, everyone had plenty of wine to sell, but they received mixed reviews.  Most of the major professional critics loved the wines.  Most of the really geeky followers of Oregon pinot noir hated them. 

Oregon’s 2006 pinot noirs were reminiscent of everything that had become disliked in some circles about California pinot noir, “cult” pinot noir in particular, but they played right into the hands of the critics and the wineries who adhere to the “more of everything is better” theory of pinot noir.  More oak, more alcohol, more extract and more color make for better wines in that school, and the thing is, wine like that sells.

People read the reviews in the Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate and, when the “more” wines get the high scores, that style of wine is what they expect from a qualitative standpoint.  Since there are so many wine buyers who are understandably influenced by these reviews, it’s only smart business to make wines that will score well and, consequently, sell well.  The fact is that fans of a more restrained winemaking style, and I am admittedly one of them, are but a blip on the radar next to the general market for wine.  We’re a fairly substantial blip, but a blip nonetheless, and wineries could go broke fairly quickly if too many of them tried to pander to our tastes.

2007 brought about another weather change.  A cool spring set things back a couple of weeks or so, and it began to rain right about the time the fruit was hitting optimal ripeness.  Some people blinked and pulled the trigger, bringing in their fruit before the rains or between storms.  These people ended up with wines that were generally a little green and thin, though time has been kind to them.  Others waited out the rain and were rewarded when the weather cleared and the valley was bathed in sunshine and pleasant temperatures.  The last pinot noir to be picked that I know of came into the winery facilities on October 30. 

The results of a somewhat cool and wet year were predictable.  The critics, while trying to be kind, essentially damned the vintage with faint praise.  Some of us rejoiced as the wines generally show finesse and elegance with the kind of higher acidity and ripe but somewhat obvious tannins that bode well for extended cellaring, though I’ve had some wine that was delicious right now.

What about 2008, you ask?  Without going into detail, it was perfect.  I’ve tasted a few finished wines and a bunch of barrels, and what I’ve had has been really exciting and appealing to the “more” drinkers and the “finesse” drinkers at the same time.  Stay tuned for more as the wines hit the market.

And now, finally, we’ve made it to 2009.  It’s early yet.  The weather over the next 2 or 3 weeks will make or break the year, but right now it’s looking like it could be an almost-instant replay of 2006.  It’s been warm with a few days above 100 degrees and we’ve had less rain than normal.  I’ll be checking the vineyards and talking to my sources and will have a better feeling for what’s going on soon.  Until then, drink pinot noir, eat great food and be happy.

The Last of Summer's Bounty - Ratatouille

I have a friend who once told me I was the "King of Comfort Food".  At first I was insulted, but when I realized he was right I embraced the moniker.  I can't think of anything that offers me much more comfort than this wonderful dish from Provence.

Many years ago, my ex and I did a sort of "Julie Powell Light" and cooked our way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes I and II.  Unlike Julie, we didn't make all the recipes, just the ones that looked most appealing. I specifically remember an aspic recipe we skipped because it looked vile, but we definitely made ratatouille and I've been making it ever since.

This is probably going to be your last chance to make this classic using local ingredients from your farmer's market if you have one.  I've successfully made ratatouille in the dead of winter from vegetables that are grown in Mexico or in some artificial environment and it's good, but it's just not the same.

The first step is to prep all the vegetables.  Peel a globe eggplant (a serrated peeler from Oxxo works really well here) and cut it into bite-sized chunks between an inch and an inch and a half on a side.  If they look big, don't worry, the eggplant will shrink as it cooks, but the idea is to have the eggplant pieces roughly the same size as the squash slices.  Slice a couple of medium-sized summer squash in fairly thick slices and slice a medium onion and a medium bell pepper.  If you like you can use a mix of red, yellow, orange and green peppers.  It's up to you.  I used only a green one here just because it was what I had.  Finally, mince a couple cloves of garlic and peel and seed about 5 Roma tomatoes.

Note about tomatoes: 
To peel, either cut a shallow cross in the stem end and submerge them in boiling water for 15-20 seconds, or peel them with the serrated Oxxo peeler I mentioned above.  No, it really works!  Cut them in half crosswise and squeeze out the seeds, then roughly chop them.  You can make successful ratatouille with canned tomatoes but it's better with fresh, even in January when the Romas have wax on them.

Note about slicing onions:  This may seem elementary to some, but the best way to slice onions for a dish like this is to cut off the stem and root ends and cut the onion in half vertically. Then, with the flat side on your cutting board, simply cut from the outside of the onion to the center, going around in a semi-circle - sort of like spokes on a wheel.  You'll end up with slices that are mostly all the same size.

Put the eggplant and squash in separate colanders and salt them lightly. This will draw some of the water out of them and help them brown better.  After about 20 minutes, dry them off with paper towels and you're ready to go.

Preheat a skillet (I'm using a 12-inch Name Your Link from Calphalon here - it's their Tri-Ply Stainless line, which is a stainless/aluminum sandwich like All-Clad, but much less expensive).  When it comes to pans, pots and bowls, bigger is better to a point, so don't try to squeeze this dish into something that's too small, a mistake many home cooks make.  Then they wonder why they can't stir the pancake batter without getting flour all over the counter and the floor.

When the pan is hot, add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and, when it's shimmering and almost smoking, add the eggplant.  Please resist the temptation to stir it immediately.  Give it a minute or so to brown a little, then toss it to brown on all sides.

Remove the eggplant from the pan when it's undercooked, and repeat the process with the squash.  If you need to do it in two batches, so be it, but don't pile it in the pan.  One note here.  Many people believe in simply putting all the ingredients in a pan together and simmering or baking the dish.  I firmly believe in this "layered" approach, where everything retains its identity for the most part.

Next, over lower heat, add the onions and peppers to the pan, season them with salt and pepper (watch the salt if you're using canned tomatoes which are loaded with salt) and "sweat" them until they begin to soften and the peppers have turned from bright green to a sort of dusky green.  At that point, add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.  If your onions and peppers look like this they need to cook longer.

Finally, add the eggplant and squash and stir to combine.  Layer the tomatoes on top and add a few grinds of pepper and some fresh basil if you like.  I have more basil than I know what to do with, so I liked.

Cover the dish and simmer on top of the stove or in the oven for 15-20 minutes, basting it occasionally with the juices in the pan, until the vegetables are tender but not mushy.  Sprinkle it with a little minced parsley and correct the seasoning if necessary.  It will look like this.

The ratatouille can be served hot or at room temperature.  I kind of like it at room temperature or lukewarm.  It can be a dish unto itself with some good bread and as a side dish it's unparalleled with lamb - especially butterflied and grilled leg of lamb.


We Never Have Any Fun!

Welcome to my wacky little world.  You're probably wondering why I gave my initial post the title I did.  Well, years ago I hung out (read: drank beer) with some of the guys from the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club in San Diego.   Their motto was, "We never have any fun!"  Of course, having fun was mostly what they did, and that's what we're going to do here.

We're going to explore, in a somewhat random and irreverent fashion, the bounty of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest and beyond.  There will be some wine and winery reviews, focusing primarily on the wines of Oregon (duck juice).  There will be some recipes and "how-to's", and the first ones may actually revolve around duck.  We'll talk beer, shopping and foraging for food, and there will be the occasional non-sequiter subject and maybe a joke or three.  There will be opinions, mostly because I never met an opinion I couldn't have and I like sharing them, but I assure you they won't be political.

This project has been incubating in my brain for quite some time and I was sort of stuck in neutral trying to create it.  Inertia had set in and trying to get it going became a bit like trying to push-start a D9 Cat.  Imagine trying to push one of these babies down the street while yelling, "Drop the clutch!"

I'd become sort of paralyzed in my efforts to fulfill a decades-old desire to write and a short term need to produce revenue (hence the AdSense presence in the sidebar) without prostituting myself to an employer - an ugly prospect given that I'm a reluctant follower.  I needed something to get me off my ass and get moving, but I didn't know what it was and I had no clue where it was going to come from.

Ten days ago exactly, I received an unexpected package of sorts.  It came in the form of my new and dear friend and fellow blogger Tracey Buxton. The little push I needed to actually begin this journey came from her, and I thank her from the innermost of my being for serendipitously entering my life and providing some ideas and inspiration I was so sorely lacking.  Tracey, you're the best, and if this flies it will all be because of you.