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.