July 30, 2003

well, we're off

Dear Readers:

Well, we're off. This is my last night in San Francisco. We're moving to Irvine tomorrow. We'll be there for a week, then we're off to Australia for a month, whereupon we'll return and get ready for school.

I won't be blogging from Australia, as my server will be offline until I return. I've rendered Confabulist.com statically, however, and sometime tonight I'll give it to a friend of mine to host, so after a few days -- he is moving, too -- it will continue to be available until I get back.

When I return, I'll have a lot of culinary stories to tell, I'm sure, so I'll pick up where I left off, and I have a few innovations planned to boot. So stay tuned. It was nice having you. Have a good month and I'll see you soon.

-- Orion

July 30, 2003 in old_site | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 22, 2003

cauliflower and stilton soup recipe

Saturday, Rebecca and I had the pleasure of having lunch at Jeanty at Jack's, a great French Bistro in downtown San Francisco. One of the highlights of our visit was the Soupe du Jour, a Cauliflower and Bleu Cheese Soup. Bone-white, rich, and mild, it was an elegant, filling soup. Since cauliflower season is just coming on, I decided to take on the challenge of making such a soup the very next day. Here's the result of my first attempt.

Cauliflower and Stilton Soup

Ingredients

for the soup:

2 slices of thick cut bacon (or 3-4 thin)
5-6 cups cauliflower florets (1 to 1 1/2 large heads?)
1 large Yukon Gold potato, diced
1/4 cup flour
3 cloves of roasted garlic
nutmeg
cayenne pepper
6 oz stilton
milk

for the dumplings:

3/4 cup breadcrumbs
3/4 cup panko
1 egg
1/2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 to 3/4 cup cooked fish or shellfish meat, shredded 

Directions

In a deep pan suitable for cooking soup, render the fat from the bacon slices. Remove the bacon from the pan, leaving the fat. Saute the diced potato and the cauliflower florets (as well as the garlic if you're using raw garlic) for five minutes, then add the flour and cook a bit longer. Add the stock, crumbled bacon pieces, 1 cup of milk, 1/4 tsp each of nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Cook for twenty-five minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure that it's not burning on the bottom.

While the mixture is cooking, prepare the fish dumplings. Feel free to use almost any kind of fish or shellfish you have around -- salmon, scallops, crab, lobster, should all work fine. I had a single Steelhead Trout filet in the freezer, so that's what I chose, and it worked fine. Mix all of the listed ingredients together. Don't be afraid if there's some clumping due to the small quantity of wet ingredents. Add milk in 1/8 cup batches, stirring through, until the mixture coheres enough to form small balls. Roll into 1/2 inch balls.

Once the cauliflower mixture is finished cooking, blend in batches and put back into the original pan. Add milk to thin to desired consistency. (After blending, the mixture may be like a thick porridge. Add a little milk until it's more pudding-like, then add a bit more.) Add the fish dumplings, submerging them completely. Crumble the stilton and stir through. Cook on low heat for ten more minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Thoughts

There are many differences between my soup and the Jeanty at Jack's version. Some were intentional. The dumplings, for instance, were my addition, inspired by some research I did into similar soups. Other differences were not by choice. The Jeanty soup is completely white. All of their ingredients are probably white or clear. This made for a very elegant soup, but one which was beyond my humble kitchen. They must have used a consomme or a white chicken stock, I imagine. (Actually, it could have been a clear vegetable stock, I suppose.) I had none of these things, so I used regular chicken stock, and the brand that I use is quite yellow. As a result, my soup was light tan in color, rather than white. Similarly, they probably used white pepper. I thought I had some, but I could not find it. (I need a better system for spice organization!) My soup, therefore, had little black specks sprinked throughout.

Both in taste and texture, too, I thought my soup was a bit heavier, perhaps betraying the bacon fat and potato, neither of which, I suspect, were present in the Jeanty version. I also think that my soup has more bleu cheese than theirs, and is spiced more heavily. But I am satisfied with my choices in all of these cases. Heavier though it is, I think my soup is fairly well balanced. And it is not overwhelmed by the Stilton or the spices. (In fact, we both thought that the Jeanty version could use a little more bleu cheese.)

Finally, the restaurant soup likely benefited from the inclusion of onions or shallots, both of which are verboten in my kitchen due to Rebecca's strong feelings about them. If you're following this recipe, feel free to add an onion -- chop it and saute it in the bacon fat before you add the other ingredients.

This is a good soup. It's cheap, hearty, and flavorful. Check it out.

June 22, 2003 in old_site, recipes, soups_stews | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 20, 2003

some places you never thought you'd be

I haven't been talking much about graduate school applications since I took the GRE and started applying in earnest. I'm not the superstitious type, but maybe somewhere inside I didn't want to jinx anything. Now that everything's completely decided, though, I can discuss what's happening without fear of recrimination from whichever twisted pixies are charged with yanking the rug out from under you just when you think you've got everything worked out. I hope.

Rebecca and I will be attending the University of California at Irvine this fall. It's a great compromise for our chosen majors (Computer Science for me, Urban Planning for her), so we're happy about it academically. But I must say that we had our doubts about its location. You have to admit, Orange County isn't on a lot of people's List of Favorite Places in the Universe. (This is a personal belief which I maintain despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.) And, having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and being a current resident and fan of said Area, I must admit to my own set of prejudices to overcome related to Southern California.

Last month, we took a road trip down to Irvine to see if it would be a livable situation for us. We visited the school and investigated our housing options.

Irvine's history -- what there is of it -- is pretty interesting. In the late 1900's, a rancher named James Irvine acquired 110,000 acres in the area that is now Irvine. He incorporated this land into the Irvine Company. In the 1940's and 1950's the Irvine Company began offering some of this land for urban development. But it wasn't until 1959, when the government of California asked for 1,000 acres of the land to build a new university, that full-scale urban development began. That development was masterminded by the Irvine Company.

As a result, Irvine is a vast, neatly planned, suburban sprawl. This goes against the grain of a San Franciscan such as myself. Even Irvine's poorer areas have a cartoony feel to them -- Compton cum Walt Disney -- that creeps me out a little bit.

(You can read more about the history of Irvine here.)

But any negative feelings about the area were forgotten when we visited the school. The UCI campus is beautiful. (Click on the pictures on the right for examples.) The people were friendly, and the facilities ample.

We're planning to stay right off campus so we can continue to avoid driving. This seems quite possible, as there are a number of apartment complexes right at the edge of campus that seem nice. (Never mind the fact that they were all built an are all owned by the Irvine Company, so there's no real competition between them; let the price gouging begin!) There are decent grocery stores in walking distance -- it'll be a leg up on where we are now in that regard.

As far as the surrounding areas: fortunately, the University is on the southern edge of Irvine, and it's isolated from the rest of the city by the San Joaquin Freshwater Marsh Reserve. The marsh is not only an important stopping point for many species of birds during migration, but it serves an important buffer zone that insulates the school from contamination from the rest of Orange County. And on the south side, the only thing that separates UCI from the coastline is a few miles' worth of Newport Beach, which is not such a bad place, if a little yuppity.

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I'm beginning a whole new chapter in my life. I've been spending a lot of time hammering out the details, but hopefully I'll be posting more and more as I make accomplishments and as interesting things happen.

Oh -- and I have some particularly interesting plans for this website. Stay tuned.

May 20, 2003 in old_site | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 14, 2003

rabbit stew recipe (aka rabbit bourguignon)

The two words came to me in a dream: "Rabbit Bourguignon". I'd never heard of such a thing, but it wasn't too hard to imagine: Rabbit chunks braised in a golden elixir, the essence of a fine white Burgundy, accompanied by cubes of potatoes, hordes of mushrooms, and scattered bits of bacon. Just a bit of everything that is Right and Good in the world.

Calling this "Rabbit Bourguignon" could be considered controversial. After all, a quick Google search for the term turns up exactly zero hits for recipes for a rabbit braised in white wine. Typical stews a la Bourguignonne are made with red Burgundy. I briefly considered changing the name to something generic, such as "Rabbit braised in white wine" or just plain "Rabbit Stew". But then I had an insight. In my rabbit stew fever dream, the golden liquid made my mouth feel exactly the same way it does after drinking a great white Burgundy. I decided to keep the name. (Some further investigation showed that I wasn't far off base.)

And that's also why I specify a "white Burgundy" in the recipe below, as opposed to just "white wine". I don't know about you, but when I cook with white wine, it's usually Sauvignon Blanc. And I just don't think that's right for this recipe. I know, I know, the Burgundy will be more expensive. But I really do think the soul of this dish is better expressed with that wine. I haven't tried it with both; this could all be foolishness. Yet I am convinced. Such is the power of dreams.

I'd like to make another plug for The Cook's Thesaurus, which I've found to be an very useful reference. In this case, I used it to figure out which potatoes are best for soups and stews.

Rabbit Bourguignon

Marinade:

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp. herbs de provence
1/2 cup Cognac 
1/4 cup Madiera
white wine to cover, about 2 cups
First Batch:
3 lb rabbit thighs
12 oz thick-sliced bacon
4 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes
  (or some other low-starch variety; see here)
1 large rutabaga
1 large turnip
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle white Burgundy
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup Cognac
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
Second Batch:
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 medium-sized carrots, sliced
1 1/2 stalks celery, sliced
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or to taste)
1 tbsp brown sugar
Other Ingredients:

Place the rabbit and the marinade ingredients in a one gallon resealable plastic bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for two hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cook the bacon in a large dutch oven. Cook in batches as necessary, draining the fat from each batch. Meanwhile, peel and chop the potato, rutabaga, and turnip, and onion into bite-sized pieces. Remove the rabbit from the marinade, reserving the liquid. Flour each piece and brown in a bit of bacon fat. Set aside and let them cool. Next, saute the chopped root vegetables and the garlic in bacon fat.

Cut the rabbit into bite-sized pieces. Put the rabbit, the root vegetable mixture, and the bacon back into the dutch oven. Add the wine, stock, Cognac, bay leaves, and pepper. Bring to a boil on the stovetop, then put into the oven for 45 minutes.

Peel and chop the carrots into bite-sized pieces. Chop the mushroom and the celery. Saute all of the vegetables in bacon fat until the mushrooms lose their water. Remove the stew from the oven. Add the vinegar and the sugar. Taste for salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar content (be careful!). Add the vegetables to the stew and return to the oven for 30 more minutes.

Pour stew into heated bowls. Just before serving, swirl in 1-2 tbsp. of heavy cream.

--//--

I'm definitely on to something here. The flavor wasn't quite as intense as I'd wanted, but otherwise, it was exactly as I'd imagined it. Got rave reviews at dinner.

In the future, I might try:

  • Using 1.5 times as much stock and wine and reducing it together before adding it to the solids

  • Using half veal stock and half chicken stock

  • Making rabbit stock

  • Adding homemade half-dried tomatoes

  • Using fresh herbs -- I didn't have any on hand

  • Adding peas

  • Adding walnuts

April 14, 2003 in main_dishes, old_site, recipes | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 22, 2003

boulevard restaurant review

Rebecca and I managed to get a last-minute, late-night reservation last night at Boulevard.

I went to Boulevard when I first moved (back) to California three years ago. I had a pork chop, I remember, and a glass of some Napa Syrah or another. And it was so good that for the next four months, whenever I went out to eat, if the restaurant had a pork chop (or loin or tenderloin) offering and a Syrah by the glass, I'd get it. I tried hard to repeat the experience, but nothing quite measured up.

Since then, I've often referred to Boulevard as my favorite restaurant. Yet until last night, I hadn't been back. Perhaps to shield myself against disappointment?

--//--

Dungeness Crabcake
with Lemongrass, Coconut, & Sesame Crust,
Asian Citrus & Green Papaya Salad with Basil, Mint & Cilantro
Served with 2000 Patz & Hall Napa Valley Chardonnay

Speaking of experiences that can't be reproduced, my crab cake/Chardonnay obsession, though waning, was still strong enough to distract me from the Oxtail Tart I was eyeing. (No, I don't mean our waitress.)

I've been trying to have this experience again, with little success. Sometimes the wine isn't up to snuff; other times it's the food.

The Patz & Hall Chardonnay was smooth, spice-laden, and rich. The crab cake, while it had all of the flavors I was looking for, still didn't have enough oomph for me. Better than the Paul K entry, but still not the crab cake of my dreams. Especially at the price.

--//--

Wood Oven Roasted Angus Beef Filet Mignon
Roasted Portobella Mushroom & Roma Tomatoes
French Fingerling Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Beurre Fondu
Served with 1997 Hess Collection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

I know, I know, I told you to Never Order The Steak. (See here, toward the bottom of the page.) But this is what the waiter recommended based on my preferences. Which were admittedly slated heavily toward the red meat end of the spectrum, I'll admit. I probably should have been more open to poultry, but you know, sometimes...

But I don't regret my choice. The filet was fantastic -- spiced just right, cooked just right, and in great company. The roasted tomatoes were some of the best I've had, and I loved the potatoes, though Rebecca found them a little firm. If I'd had this when I first moved out here, it would have meant four months of filet mignon instead of pork chops.

--//--

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pie
Banana-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Banana Caramel Sauce
Served with a Banyuls from an unknown producer

"What kind of wine would you recommend with the Peanut Butter Pie?" I asked the waiter. It's a bit of a challenge. Chocolate isn't the easiest food to match with wine. Then there's the general problem of matching wines to desserts -- you need a wine that's a bit sweeter than the dessert, which means you must be pretty familiar with how sweet your wine offerings are and exactly how sweet the desserts are. Finally -- though this is a far lesser issue -- there's the peanut and banana flavors to be concerned about.

"Well, let me see. There's the Banyuls...and, um...the Banyuls. Yeah, that's about it."

I sat there for a moment, trying to figure out what he'd said. I was sure I'd misheard.

"Ban-yuls," he said. "It's a fortified wine from southwestern France. It's main claim to fame is that it goes well with chocolate. I assumed it was a bunch of PR hype. I'm being convinced otherwise."

If I'd have tasted the Banyuls blind, I'd have picked it as a Port, albeit a strangely flavored Port. I did seem to go unusually well with the dessert.

Which dessert, by the way, was fantastic. Pure chocolatey, peanut- buttery goodness.

--//--

Service was excellent. I've always liked the ambience. And the food, while not the revelatory experience I'd had the first time, still held an epiphany or two.

Rating: **** 1/2

March 22, 2003 in old_site, restaurants | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 11, 2003

chicken crepes florentine

Chicken Crepes Florentine

OK, I don't know how florentine these crepes are per se, but, uh, they do involve spinach.

Ingredients

Frozen spinach
Chicken thighs

Cognac
White wine 
Tomato sauce 
Chicken stock (low salt)
Fresh herbs (thyme and sage recommended)

Fresh garlic, diced
Crimini mushrooms, chopped 
Dried chantrelle mushrooms
Ham, proscuitto, or pancetta, diced

Premade crepes (or make your own!)

Directions

Soak the chantrelles in 1 1/2 cups of warm water for a half an hour or so. Meanwhile, put the chicken stock and herbs in a pan and reduce by half. Remove the herbs and set the reduced stock aside. Remove the chantrelles. Strain the soaking water through cheesecloth. Reduce it by half and set it aside. Heat the frozen spinach through.

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and cook them in a saute pan. Shred the thighs and set aside the meat.

Chop the chantrelles. Saute them along with the diced ham and the garlic in the saute pan used for the chicken. Add them to the same container as the spinach and mix them together.

Deglaze the pan with white wine and cognac. Let the alcohol burn off. Add the mushroom water and the chicken stock. Add just a touch of tomato sauce. Don't overreduce; instead, thicken lightly with cornstarch. Whisk in some butter at the end -- however much your inner dietician will permit.

Wrap the filling in the crepes. (Microwave for one minute if using the premade variety.) Spoon the sauce on top, and serve.

--//--

This is my attempt at a "weeknight" crepe recipe -- hence the use of convenience foods such as frozen spinach and premade crepes. It turned out quite elegant, but it wasn't nearly as quick as I thought it would be -- it still took me an hour or so to prepare.

The sauce was promising, but there is still room for improvement. Next time, I may omit the tomato sauce and go for a pure chantrelle/chicken/white wine flavor. The consistency was acceptable, but I wish it was creamier. Ideally, I'd just use heavy cream instead of cornstarch to thicken it, but frankly I can't afford to buy a whole new wardrobe, so I'd just as soon not jump up two pant sizes. Fat free sour cream might take the sauce in a different -- but good? -- direction. I'll have to mull it over.

March 11, 2003 in main_dishes, old_site, recipes | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 06, 2003

restaurant review: paul k

Rebecca's father was in town this week. Last night we found our way to Paul K, a much-discussed new restaurant in the Hayes Valley area.

Dungeness Crabcake
with charred treviso,
aged sherry vinaigrette, and melted lemons

Passable. A bit sparse. The crab cake was a bit small to be a centerpiece, and the accoutrements, while pungent, lacked volume. I was hoping for something a bit more luxurious and substantial.

--//--

Bay Scented Duck Breast
with pomegranate molasses, ragu of duck confit,
portabella mushrooms, and fingerling potatoes
served with 2000 Reserve Heron Lake Pinot Noir

I found the ragu and the mushrooms to be rather bland. The potatoes were fine, but unremarkable. I want to get that out of the way, because I will spend most of the rest of this section lauding the duck.

This is the best duck I've had in recent memory. Quite possibly in contention for the best duck breast I've ever had. Supple, tender, and flavorful -- this is what duck should be like. The last few duck breast entrees I've had just haven't been up to this standard. Preparing a duck breast is ostensibly simple, but can easily go awry. It can be too chewy, too cold, too cooked, too bland. What I had last night was none of these. This, my friend, was one kick-ass duck.

The sauce was admirable, if not stellar; it provided a fruity acidic bite and sweetness that complemented the duck nicely.

The Heron Lake was recommended to us by our server, and it proved to be quite up to snuff. A bright, vibrant Pinot Noir, but instead of the tartness and astringency that often accompanies such a wine in this price range, the Heron Lane was soft and approachable. Make no mistake, this is not the most subtle or complicated wine. But it is food friendly and drank very well with our duck as well as Rebecca's father's roast chicken.

--//--

Steamed Fig and Almond Pudding
with blood orange rum sauce
served with 2001 Truchard botrytis Chardonnay

Sumptuous.

--//--

The service was friendly and prompt and the ambience enjoyable. I felt that the food was uneven. Even so, the peaks manage to justify the plateaus. There's a lot of promise in Paul K.

Rating: 4 of 5

March 6, 2003 in old_site, restaurants | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 31, 2003

ZAP 2003

I attended the annual Zinfandel Festival held by ZAP last weekend, and I'm just now sobering up enough to write about it.

It wasn't that long ago that I thought the world of Zinfandel. When I was first acquiring a taste for wine, Zins were definitely my favorite. Huge, highly extracted ink-black wines with an aroma you could smell from the next table.

I don't drink much Zin anymore. There are many reasons for this. My tastes have since diversified quite a bit, for one. Further, I usually drink wine with food these days, so I prefer wines that pair better with the food I eat. And ultimately, I think I burned out a bit on the big, oaky, jammy Zins of my youth.

Nevertheless, I'm not completely beyond the charms of a rich, viscous Zin, so I never pass the opportunity to go to Zap. Fifty bucks, all you can drink from hundreds of different Zinfandel producers. That's right, hundreds. This year there were over three hundred different wineries represented.

No wonder, then, that so many people show up for it. The picture you see above is only a third of one of the lines (there are two).

Last year I tried to make a brief note for every wine that I tasted. This is an exersize in folly at an event like ZAP. For one thing, it's a real pain to try to juggle your wine glass, your baguette (they give you one at the door), any cheese or other snacks you might have picked up, your digital camera (if you have to take pictures for your website), and a tablet and pen. As a result, you'll want to context switch as little as possible. Second, ZAP is mostly about fun. After a few tastes, you'll find it difficult to care whether or not the Zin you're tasting merits 2 1/2 stars or three full stars, or whether those are raspberries or loganberries you're tasting, or whether the finish is "moderate" or "full". Finally, after about an hour or two of tasting, your palate will be so numb that your glass could be half full of tar and it wouldn't stop you from having a good time.

So I adopted a different strategy this time:

  1. Only take notes on the wines that really knock your socks off, or are unique in some way. Otherwise, just drink and enjoy.

  2. Stop and talk to people. Talk to the pourers, especially at smaller wineries, where the person pouring your wine is likely to be the winery's owner or winemaker or both. Talk to other visitors. Exchange notes. This is very important, because you don't want to go to the same places year after year, but at the same time, there's too much cruft just to spend the whole day visiting wineries at random. Just a few conversations with right strangers, though, will net you enough suggestions to fill up the rest of your day.

  3. Don't be afraid to spit. There, I said it. Now generally, in wine drinking as in life, I fall on the swallow side of the spit-or-swallow controversy. But if you're going to be on the make for a full three and a half hours, as I was, you need to preserve some of your faculties. And quite frankly, half of the stuff you'll be drinking won't be that interesting. Save the brain cells for the wines that really turn you on.

  4. Give up on making it to all your favorite places. When confronted with the bustling crowds and the bewildering number of wineries, the temptation is to say "Oh -- Foofoo Vineyards. I like their stuff," and head over and taste a wine that you just had a whole bottle of two weeks ago. The best ZAP experiences are the new ones, where you taste something completely unexpected and new. Like I said in point #2, ask around. Ask the people pouring what they like. Ask the people around you. Chances are, you'll run across some great stuff -- maybe even a new favorite!


Spelletich

I had the opportunity to ask Timothy Spelletich how he got into the business. His reply:

I met this chick. [He gestured toward his wife.] I was managing Tra Vigne in St. Helena at the time. She was an assistant winemaker at St. Clement. We discovered that we shared a dream. After a few years and a lot of talk, the winemaker at St. Clement told us, 'You're ready'. 'No, no way,' we said. 'We have no money!' 'Don't worry about it,' he told us. Famous last words...we're still trying to pay the bills. And we don't have our own vineyards yet. And we use other people's facilities to process the wine. These things save us money in the short run, but over the long haul it's less efficient.

Still, Timothy remains optimistic. Things seem to be going well for them, and, as he says, "There's nothing else I'd rather do."

Timothy also had some interesting things to say about making wine in California:

In Northern California, it's easy to make good wine. Mother Nature makes it easy. As a wine producer, you just try not to mess it up. In France, you've got torrential rains. Here, if it sprinkles in September, everyone goes bonkers. In France, you've got hail to worry about. Here, it hails in May, where the primary effect is to lower yeilds -- exactly what growers and winemakers want! In France, you have seasonal flooding which threatens production. Here, it floods in January -- when no one cares. Now how hard is that?

You can read more about the Spelletichs here.


Tres Sabores

Julie Johnson Williams of Tres Sabores must definitely take the Purple Ribbon for Best Concept this year. Ms. Williams owns Johnson Ranch Vineyard in Napa Valley. The fruit from this vineyard used to go into Frog's Leap Zinfandels, which winery she co-owned. Recently Julie, as she puts it, "decided to downsize." She instead gave the fruit to three different winemakers to make three different Zins from. Hence, "tres sabores", or "three tastes".

What a concept! Drinking the three side by side allows one to sample the power that a winemaker's decisions have over the final product. And the wines themselves are great. The only downside is that there are only 700 cases en toto. So seek it out while you can, and buy one of each!



[A view of Alcatraz from Upper Fort Mason.]

Fun was had by all, or at least by me. Too bad ZAP is only once a year. But if you need your mass-tasting fix sooner, there's always Rhone Rangers, which tastes California wines using Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Grenache, and Viogner. It's somewhat smaller and more varied than ZAP. Don't miss it! Your tongue will thank you, even if your liver won't.


Some excerpts from my tasting notes:

2000 Titus Mendocino Redwood Valley Red fruit, softer than the Titus Napa Valley of the same vintage. "There's almost a grenadine flavor", says Phillip Titus, who poured my wine. "We added 15% Petite Sirah to darken the fruit a little bit." Only 600 cases of this available (as opposed to 2000 cases of the Napa Valley). They are, remarkably, the same price. $24 ****
2000 Renwood Grandpere Red fruit -- raspberries. Higher in pitch and thinner in tone than most of the wines you'll find at ZAP, Renwood's wines (and the Grandpere in particular) offer an interesting alternative. The Grandpere is in this case softer and more approachable than the Fiddletown, which Renwood is also serving up here. The Grandpere doesn't have the same rough kick on the finish that the Fiddletown does; instead it lingers softly on the tongue. $32 ****
2001 Truchard Zinfandel The 2000 was not quite as concentrated as I'd hoped for, but I liked the flavor a lot. The 2001 may improve upon it in both categories. Strong cigarbox and spice flavors and smells. This is a cigar-smoking wine if there ever was one. (Note that the price below is an approximation; this wine was not yet released at the time of tasting.) $30 *** 1/2
2001 Spelletich Alviso Vineyard Zinfandel (Note that this could have also been the Tim & Edie's Vineyard Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel. My notes are unclear on this point.) Huge and weirdly attractive. Spicy -- like a pepper -- as well as sweet, with a strong aroma of nutmeg & other earthy spices. Like having General Tsao's Chicken atop a slice of pumpkin pie. I feel strangely compelled to seek it out. $25 ****

January 31, 2003 in events, old_site, wine | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 21, 2003

malaysian lamb stew

I am a cooking machine. Who darest challenge me? Menu for tonight:

Predator and Prey Salad
Shredded Rabbit on Wild Greens and Red Bell Peppers
with Persimmon Vinaigrette

Okay, so it wasn't a "vinaigrette" -- it the persimmon chutney I made on Sunday, slightly thinned. It made a satisfactory dressing on the salad. Not spectacular, but it got the job done. Which job, in this case, is encouraging the consumption of actual vegetables, which are normally missing from our diet.

--//--

Malaysian Lamb Stew
with Lentils and Eggplant

This stew is based on a fascinating recipe of James Peterson's; his version of a traditional Malaysian dish. I've never made any Malaysian-influenced food before; this was a gentle and interesting introduction, however authentic or inauthentic it may be. I enjoy it when a dish that I make is both well-received and unlike anything I've ever made before.

Ordinarily would take a bit too long to be weeknight fare, but I was home just early enough to start the lamb braising and still have everything done by 8:00.

Ingredients

3 small lamb shanks, or 1 lb lamb shoulder
5 cloves of garlic
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed 
1 14 oz. can tomatoes
1 onion
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 cup lentils
1 cup coconut milk
1/8 cup white wine vinegar

Curry spices
1 tsp. Cumin
1 tsp. Coriander
1/2 tsp. Cardamom
1/2 tsp. Allspice
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon

Preparation

Brown the lamb in olive oil. Add three garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of wine, and two cups of stock. Braise the lamb in a covered pot on the stovetop for two hours, skimming occasionally. Turn the shanks halfway through braising.

Saute two chopped cloves of garlic and the onion in butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the curry spices and the ginger and saute for 5 more minutes.

Pull the lamb out of the braising liquid and set aside. Pour the braising liquid into the pot with the garlic and onions. Add the lentils, tomatoes, and eggplant. Simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull the meat off of the shank and shred it. Throw away the bones and fat.

Puree the stew in a blender and, if you like, strain it through a medium-mesh strainer. Stir in the coconut milk, the lamb, and the vinegar. Season to taste (it will likely need salt). Let sit for 10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.

--//--

Take my advice: buy (or make!) some naan before you make this dish. Nothing else will do. Well, except maybe some Roti Canai.

(Just for good measure, click here for an interesting article on Indian breads of all kinds.)

January 21, 2003 in old_site, recipes, soups_stews | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 19, 2003

rabbit redux

Farmer's Market

I spent $200 at the grocery store on Saturday. This is unsurprising, considering that I haven't made a real shopping trip since before I left town for the holidays. What is surprising is that I felt the need to go to the Farmer's Market yesterday. I spent maybe $35, but at the Farmer's Market, $35 goes a long way. For instance:

Ten ripe persimmons: $1.00
Enough wild greens for 7 salads: $2.50
Two largish Dungeness crabs: $6.00

While I was buying the crab, I noticed a bin of mackerel nearby. Ever since acquiring Peterson's Fish & Shellfish I've wanted to mess around with mackerel. I looked at the sign: $1.00/lb. They looked to be about a pound each, so I asked for three pounds. After a moment, I was handed a bag with at least 10 mackerel. (Apparently I am a very bad judge of weight.)

Every time I go to the Farmer's Market, I think: why do I ever buy produce at the grocery store? Convenience is the answer, but the premium paid is quite extravagant considering that I have a Farmer's Market within walking distance that, with a little foresight and a willingness to contribute an hour and a half on Sunday mornings, can serve to satisfy all of my produce needs.

--//--

When I got home, I cooked and froze the crabs and made persimmon chutney. Then Rebecca and I had sex and played videogames until it was time to start thinking about what to make for dinner.

This is the life, I tell you.

Grilled Mackerel Salad
Wild Greens and Red Grapefruit Salad
with Grilled Mackerel and a Balsamic Vinaigrette

I rarely make salads. The salads I grew up with were mostly banal constructions -- vegetable barriers which had to be surmounted before one could get at the main course.

As an adult and a foodophile, I now know that building a truly successful salad requires sensibilities that I do not posess in large amounts: economy, balance, style. Salad-making, I've always thought, is very Japanese; food reduced to its barest essentials. Breathtaking when successful, but the slightest misstep is glaringly obvious.

Nevertheless, I've come full circle to the situation I faced in my youth. I need more vegetables in my diet, and salads are one of the easiest ways to do that. So I must resist my own laziness. With you as my witness, I pledge that if I ever catch myself throwing random greens and chopped vegetables into a bowl, dousing it with Ranch, and serving it up to someone, then ... I'll cut off my own hand. Er, a finger. No, that would make it too hard to cook. How about a toe? Maybe the little one.

Though this salad needs work, I think I'm on the right track. The sweetness of the grapefruit contrasts nicely with the strong, salty mackerel flavor.

--//--

Rabbit Ragout with Figs
Rabbit Ragout with Tomatoes and Dried Figs
Atop Parmesan Polenta
2000 MacRostie Carneros Chardonnay

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a rabbit dish to follow up the Rabbit Pie. I tried to think of what I wanted out of a rabbit dish. I kept coming around to rabbit and mushroom ragouts in creamy, roux-thickened, brandy- and madiera- laden sauces. Throw a crust on that and what do you have? Rabbit Pie. I was stuck in a rut.

I still think that ragout is the best way to present rabbit. That way you get the subtle gamy flavor and pleasant texture distributed through as much food as possible.

The other major direction for rabbit dishes is with a tomato-based sauce. I'd been resisting this, thinking that tomatoes would overwhelm the taste of the rabbit. If your game meat is too gamy, I suspect that a tomato sauce is a good idea. Otherwise, I'd say to avoid it.

But I couldn't think of anything else. Then I remembered a wierd recipe I'd run across a few months ago involving rabbit, tomatoes, and figs. Sure, why not?

Here's what I improvised:

Ingredients

1 large rabbit or 2 lb rabbit meat
1 rib of celery
1/2 c diced ham
6 dried figs
1 14 oz can tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato sauce
8 oz chopped fresh mushrooms
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
fresh basil, chopped 

Preparation

Chop rabbit into bite-sized pieces. Mix a cup of flour with salt, pepper, and sugar and coat the rabbit pieces with it.

Saute celery, diced ham, and garlic in olive oil. Add the mushrooms and dried figs. Once the mushrooms have lost their water, remove all ingredients from the pan.

Add more olive oil and a third of the rabbit. Saute until browned, making sure to keep the bottom of the pan reasonably clear of accumulation from the flour. Repeat for the other two portions of the rabbit.

Deglaze the pan with wine. Return the vegetables to the pan. Add the tomatoes and the basil and stir. Add half of the stock. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. Add the other half of the stock and stir.

Serve over polenta.

--//--

This dish was fairly successful. Sufficiently different from the pot pie so as not to attract unwarranted comparison, and moderately healthier, response was positive enough that I may experiment with it further. In the future, I think I'll focus on freshness and discreteness of the flavors rather than trying to cook them together. I'll still use dried figs, but I will parboil, peel, and chop fresh tomatoes instead of using canned. I won't saute them with everything else, but sprinkle the over the dish afterward. I won't flour the rabbit. I'll nix the tomato sauce and opt for something thinner but with more bite.

The Macrostie Chardonnay was excellent. At $15, it's a revelation. It's got all the earmarks of an over-the-top California Chard: 100% Malo, 1/4 new oak, Hungarian wood -- but in the end, what you taste is lush tropical fruit and spices, with just enough oak and butter to fill it out.

January 19, 2003 in main_dishes, menus, old_site, recipes, salads | Permalink | Comments (0)