This big, tasty, and complex red wine is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, and 10% Merlot. Deep ruby color. Strong legs in the glass. Cherries, cassis, spice, mocha java flavor and aroma associations. Enjoyable now, but has the structure to support at least a decade of aging. Grade: A-/A
I served it with Filet Mignon with Truffled Mushroom Ragoût. Unusually, I almost exactly tracked the recipe. The only major change was replacing the cream with crème fraîche. Roasted fingerling potatoes and sauteed spinach (with garlic) rounded out the meal. Highly recommended.
For dinner tonight I made a version of Ina Garten's Lobster Macaroni and Cheese. as is my wont, of course, I made some tweaks. To start with, I cut the recipe in half, which gave Helen and I good servings and leftovers for tomorrow. I used an Australian lobster tail as the source of the meat. Inspired by Giada de Laurentis' recipe for Penne with Lobster and Bacon, I made the cheese sauce by frying 4 rashers of thick bacon slices. When the bacon was done, I drained the slices on paper towels. Meanwhile, in the same All-Clad Stainless 3-Quart saucier I combined three tablespoons of the bacon fat with ¼ cup all-purpose flour to make a roux, which I cooked to a very light brown stage. For cheese, I used 6 ounces of imported Italian fontina and 4 ounces of imported Gruyere. As the sauce began to come together, I chopped the bacon fine and added it to the sauce, followed by the cooked lobster meat and macaroni. Lastly, I used Panko bread crumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings and 2 tablespoons very finely grated Parmesan as the topping. Otherwise, I stuck to Ina's directions. A side salad completed the yummy meal (if I do say so myself).
What to serve with this meal? An old saying holds that a wine's first duty is to be red, which is a proposition with which I am in complete agreement. I probably drink 20 red wines for every white. But this was not a meal for a red. Tannins and lobster make a bad match. Plus, you want high acidity to cut the richness of the mac & cheese. Scrubbing bubbles to refresh the palate might help too.
Aha! A brut rosé methode champenoise sparkling wine from Schramsberg fit the bill ideally. Crisp acidity. Scrubbing bubbles aplenty. Plus, it's at least pink, if not actually red.
A lovely pinkish-salmon color, with many very fine bubbles. Light cherry and strawberry notes, plus something floral (rose petals?) on the nose. The palate is much the same, while adding some yeasty bread flavor associations. It was a perfect match for the meal. Complementary. Refreshing. Great value (at $35). In context, I'd give it a grade of A. Standing alone, out of context, probably B+/A-
Ridge reports that:
The vineyard was originally planted by Pierre Klein, an Alsatian who came to California in 1875. In 1888, he purchased 160 acres on Monte Bello Ridge; a property now known as the Jimsomare Ranch. Initially, he planted Bordeaux varieties on their own roots. But when phylloxera attacked his vines after the turn of the century, he did not replant. Retiring in 1910, he sold the property in 1913. In 1936, it was purchased by the Schwabacher family of San Francisco, who renamed the property “Jimsomare” from their names: Jim, Sophie, Marie. Although Klein’s Bordeaux varietals had died out, a small nineteenth-century zinfandel vineyard survived. Ridge bought those grapes, and made its first Jimsomare Zinfandel in 1968. Ridge then convinced the family to replant the Bordeaux varietals, plus a small amount of chardonnay. In exchange, Ridge provided rootstock, and a promise to purchase the grapes. The first cabernet bottling was in 1978. By the late 1990s, Ridge acquired the long-term least to the property, and took over all aspects of day-to-day farming. Today, Ridge farms this original Klein property as part of its Monte Bello Estate.
Although the wine made from the Jimsomare Cabernet grapes normally goes into either the Monte Bello or the Santa Cruz Mts. bottlings, Ridge occasionally makes a single vineyard wine exclusively from the Jimsomare Ranch Cabernet grapes. 1997 was such a year.
At age 15, this was still a vibrant and youthful wine. Lots of dark cherry and berry fruit, as well as plum and prune associations. Strong oak influences. Despite the dominant youthful fruit flavor associations, the smooth tannins suggested that this wine was definitely mature, but even so I'd guess it probably would have lasted another 5 years at the very least. Improved with air. Grade: B++
I served this with Flatiron Steak with Herbed Red Bliss Potatoes, Red Onion Marmalade and Red Wine Demi-Glace, for which it made a great match.
For dinner tonight, I started with an Emeril recipe, Roasted Pumpkins Stuffed with Roast Duck and Wild Mushroom Risotto, and then modified it. Instead of roasting a whole duck, I shredded the meat from 2 duck leg confit I had ordered from Dartagnan, leaving fairly big pieces. Instead of pie pumpkins, I used baked mini pumpkins as serving dishes. Instead of making risotto from scratch, I used Alessi Funghi Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms. I soaked 1 package of Mycological Dried Oregon Porcini Mushrooms in hot water until softened, strained the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquor, and chopped the mushrooms very fine. Ran the soaking liquor through an unbleached coffee filter. Used 1 cup red wine and 1-¼ cup of the mushroom soaking liquid to cook the risotto. I added the duck meat and chopped mushrooms when the risotto had about 5 minutes left to cook. I also tossed in the green parts of 3 green onions, some baby basil leaves, and some baby arugula leaves; all being chopped fine before adding them. Despite (because of?) my shortcuts, it turned out great.
The Pian Delle Vigne was an exceptional match for this meal. At ~15 years of age, it was smooth and fully mature. Rich berry and cherry fruit mingled with tobacco, leather, and fall leaves. I have just one bottle left in my cellar. Given how evolved this bottle was, I'm planning to drink that last bottle by the end of 2013. Grade: A-
For various reasons, Helen and I delayed celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary from last week to this weekend. To celebrate, I made Roasted Duck With Cherries, Spinach, Duck Confit and Chocolate from the October 15th issue of the Wine Spectator. As is my wont, of course, I tweaked the recipe a fair bit. I omitted the confit. I added some garlic and worcestershire sauce to the sauteed spinach, which I cooked in some of the the duck fat left over from pan searing the duck breasts instead of butter. I made some roasted new potatoes as a side dish. Mainly, however, I altered the sauce quite a lot. In fact, I basically tossed their recipe and made up my own. So here's the one I used:
I combined the Port, demi-glace, and stock in my trusty All-Clad stainless 2-quart saucier pan, brought the mixture to the boil, reduced the heat to a low simmer and added all the other ingredients except for the reserved cherries and the chocolate. I let the sauce reduce until it coated the back of a wooden spoon, periodically mashing the cherries with the same spoon. I then strained the sauce through my finest meshed chinois strainer into a small glass measuring cup, pressing on the solids with the back of that same wooden spoon to extract all the goodness. I set it in the refrigerator until a few minutes before service, at which point I zapped it for a minute in the microwave, added the reserved cherries and chocolate, and zapped it for another minute. Stirred and served. The reserved cherries soaked up the chocolate and were yummy. Helen says it's the best sauce I ever made and who am I to disagree?
The sauce also proved to be great over vanilla ice cream, by the way!
Over the years, I've built up a fair number of 1986 vintage wines in my cellar so that we'll have anniversary wines for the foreseeable future. Mostly cru classes from Bordeaux, of course, but also a few Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. So tonight I poured the 1986 Dominus Estate.
It was in fine fettle. The cork was slightly depressed (which is always a better sign than slightly extruding). The fill was mid-neck. Upon removal the cork was stained about 2/3 of the way up the sides. Very promising.
I had decanted it off the moderate sediment about 45 minutes before serving it. It was still a deep ruby in color. Good bouquet, suggesting black currant, leather, cedar, and tobacco. On the palate, it was surprisingly youthful. Still has a lot of tannin to resolve, although it was definitely drinkable. Still, it must have been a tannic monster in its youth. Currants, leather, earth, tea, and stewed plums were some fo the flavor associations that popped to mind.
Admittedly, it was not a perfect match for the meal, which probably would have shown better with something younger, less tannic, and fruitier. All in all, a great meal and a spectacular wine, but not an inspired match.
Doug Mataconis points out that California restaurants are evading the new foie gras ban and argues that:
This should be entirely familiar to anyone who understands the history of Prohibition or the War On Drugs. Any time you try to ban something that people desire, they’ll find ways around the law. In this case, you have restaurant owners who are finding ways to get around the law by offering the foie gras for free (although that’s hardly a sustainable strategy given its cost) or, in one case, arguing that the California law does not apply to them because they are located on Federal land on the grounds of the Presidio in San Francisco. And you have these “Duckeasys,” an obvious refernece to the Speakeasies that were common in pretty much every American city during the era when alcohol was illegal. I’m sure that if this ban stays in force, you’ll see other creative methods used by customers and restauranteurs to either get around or just outright ignore the law. In the end, of course, Californians can just travel to Nevada, Oregon, or one of the other states that borders California to get their foie gras fix. The ban will become largely meaningless.
Precisely. Not to mention that we can easily get around the ban by ordering foie gras from an out of state vendor and serving it at home.
Back when smoking bans were first getting real traction, some of us warned that society was starting down a slippery slope, in which the health and safety Puritans would take a victory over tobacco as an excuse to move on to things like alcohol, sugar, red meat, and so on. But who's laughing now? When the paternalistic left's campaign to limit us all to tofu has reached the sports pages, as in this Peter King column, you know we are sliding down the slope at full speed:
The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, is under attack because he wants to eliminate the ability of fast food places to sell super-sized sugary drinks. Under attack is putting it nicely. The papers are killing him. I think Bloomberg's doing the right thing. You can't fight the obesity epidemic in this country by suggesting mild solutions. You've got to fight it. And Bloomberg's trying. Good for him. And if people don't like it, then tax soda. Tax the daylights out of it, the way we tax cigarettes.
In the WaPo, my cousin-in-law Hannah Wallace reviews Tyler Cowen's An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies. Sadly, it's pretty negative:
Written in an informal, almost flippant tone, it reads like a culinary guide for amateurs crossed with a contrarian, anti-environmentalist, pro-genetic-modied-organism rant.
Personally, I found Tyler's book a refreshing change of pace from the liberal, holier than thou, ecomentalist world view that dominates so much of foodie literature.
I was in the mood for a sauce that was more meaty than tomato-ish, so I started with a couple of trusted bolognese sauce recipes and modified like crazy.
Pour 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juices into the ceramic insert of your slow cooker (I like Muir's Organic tomatoes). Drain 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes and add them to the cooker. Set cooker on high heat.
Pour one cup of not very oaky white wine (e.g., Pinot Grigio) into a pyrex measuring cup. (I put a chop stick in the cup to give bubbles something against which to form.) Microwave on high until boiling. Add 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms. Steep 30 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid. Finely chop mushrooms and add to cooker. Pass reserved liquid through a coffee filter (use a funnel). Add strained liquid to cooker.
Meanwhile, add 1 tsp dried italian herb seasoning, 1 tsp dried oregano, and 1 tsp dried basil to cooker. Stir. Add 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (trust me, it really ramps up the meat flavor) to cooker. (I told you it was non-traditional).
In a large skillet over medium heat, brown 1 pound lean ground beef. Transfer beef to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Add 1 pound ground lamb to skillet. Brown. Transfer lamb to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Add 1 pound ground pork to skillet. Brown. Transfer pork to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Add meats to cooker. (BTW, on all three meats, I had my butcher grind them very coarse. Large pieces do better in the slow cooker. Also, I debated adding a pound of ground veal, but decided against it. I wanted several days worth of leftovers ... not a month!)
Prepare a mise en place of 2 oz finely diced pancetta, 1 medium yellow onion diced, 1 rib celery diced, 1 medium carrot diced. Slice 1 to 4 cloves garlic (depending on your taste, I like a lot) very, very thin. (If you know the famous dinner scene in Goodfellas, that's what you're trying to emulate when you slice the garlic. And, of course, that scene has good advice when it comes to adding onions to the sauce.)
Blot skillet dry with paper towels. Pour 1 tsp olive oil (not extra virgin) into skillet and heat on medium setting. Saute pancetta until it begins to crisp. Add onions, celery, and carrot. Saute until softened and just starting to turn golden. Add garlic to skillet. Stir. Add 4 tbsp tomato paste (again, I like Muir). Saute 1 minute. Add 1 cup white wine. Raise heat to high. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Transfer all to cooker.
Add enough low sodium organic beef broth to cover solids in cooker. Stir to combine. Cover. Walk away and clean up kitchen.
After 2 hours, reduce heat to low. Add 1 cup milk. After 2-4 hours more on the low setting, taste. Adjust seasonings with salt, freshly ground black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, nutmerg, and/or allspice to your taste. How long you cook it really depends on how much integrity you want the pieces of diced tomato to retain. I like them to remain fairly intact, so I err on the short end but YMMV.
Serve over fresh fettucine or papardelle (I prefer the latter). I like to top it with freshly grated Parmesan and a dash of very good extra virgin olive oil. Pour something red from Tuscany.
The kitchen at Hatfield's:
Amazing beignets with molten chocolate for dipping and a shot of a date milkshake capped off a delicious dinner:
The kitchen in action:
There's a restaurant near my house in LA called Native Foods. It's busy every time I walk by. While other places struggle to bring in customers, this one is exploding, and not just in my neighborhood. In the past year, Native Foods has gone national. And guess what: It's completely vegan. No meat, no dairy, no animal products whatsoever. And it's not the only example of the vegan takeover.
Meat- and dairy-free restaurants are all the rage these days, and a lot of carnivores are devoted customers. That's all fine with me. The only problem is, many people add vegan food to their weekly routine because they assume it's healthier. Those people are wrong and I'm sick of people thinking that all vegan food is healthy.
Go read the whole thing.
Regular readers know that come the weekend I like to enjoy a post-dinner Dunhill Peravia cigar with a relaxing adult beverage. In the winter months, the tipple of choice is Dow Tawny Port. Ten year old most nights, but I'll spring for 20 year old when I feel like pushing the boat right out. Forty year old for my birthday. When it gets hot out, however, port no longer refreshes. Instead, it cloys and tastes mainly of alcohol.
So I switch gears. Oddly enough, to a higher alcohol tipple. Since my college days, the summer month post-dinner drink of choice was Wild Turkey Liqueur on ice. (Lots of ice.) A few years ago they changed the name to American Honey, reflecting the fact that it is a blend of bourbon whiskey and honey liqueur. A bit hard to find, but well worth it.
Today, however, there is a new competitor(s). The resurgence of interest in brown liquors and, especially, whiskey has been accompanied by new whiskey-based liqueurs. (The less said about Jim Beam's Red Stag cherry flavored bourbon, the better IMHO.)
Lately I've been seeing Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey liqueur practically everywhere. Because it's now easier to find than American Honey, I've been trying it.
As a preliminary matter, I must confess that straight whiskey is not my tipple of choice in this setting. As suggested by my love of Port, when it comes to a post-dinner drink with a smoke, my sweet tooth demands satisfaction. Hence, my preference for whiskey-honey blends.
Tasting the two side-by-side tonight as I enjoyed a Peravia after watching the first round of the NFL draft, I concluded that I still prefer Wild Turkey's American Honey. The Wild Turkey liqueur is a bit more syrupy. The honey elements are less assertive, but the finish is still softer and sweeter.
The Tennessee Honey is thinner. It has a much longer finish, but a much less pleasant one. There is a mixture of nutty, vegetal, and smoky flavors on the finish that isn't very pleasant (to my palate).
The nutty/vegetal elements of the Tennessee Honey also don't mesh as well with the creamy vanilla, buttered toast, cedar flavors of the Peravia as do the citrus and sweet flavors of the American Honey.
In sum, American Honey is harder to find (at least in LA) than its new competitor, but I still prefer it.