Thursday, April 24, 2008

White Burgundy (The Red Wine of White Wine)

The Chardonnay grape is arguably the widest planted vinifera grape varietal in the world. This grape is grown world-wide and the wines produced from it can often be called: "winemakers wine" due to its ability to reflect what the winemaker does in the cellar.
The physical and spiritual home of Chardonnay though is the Burgundy region of France. The true origin of this grape is somewhat suspect, but it appears that it dates back to Roman times and that the grape is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Whatever the origin, this grape is being grown around the world. Chardonnay has the reputation of being hardy, adaptable and it grows with relative ease in a wide variety of climates. The "new world" style Chardonnay wines have a very ripe, almost tropical fruit component. Australia and California wines often show this trait. They also tend to have a buttery, oaky (vanilla) edge. The "buttery" component is due to malolactic fermentation which converts malic acid into the softer tasting lactic acid. The use of new oak barrels contributes a vanilla component to the wine, but it can also add hints of baking spices or even a toasted bread quality.

This past Saturday I had a chance to sample 11 Chardonnay wines from Burgundy. The wines were good examples of terrior driven wines. The winemakers used a minimal intervention approach (i.e. , the wine is made in the vineyard). Below is the line-up and my tasting notes.
While the above description and the attached tasting notes may seem a bit pretentious, the reality of these tasting are they are much less formal than it would appear and there is substantially much more "drinking" vs. "tasting" going on. As one of my friends says: "Wine, it's not brain surgery"

The "starter" wines of the afternoon were two Chablis wines.

Simonnet Febvre Chablis Millesime-2004: Mineral nose, tart citrus fruit with a nice minerality on the palate.

Simonnet Febvre Chablis Millesime-2005: Toasty nose, softer citrus fruit. I much preferred the 2004 vintage.

The first flight were three Bourgogne's. These wines are basic "table wines" by their designation, though they cost around $30.00/bottle.

Etienne Sauzet-Bourgogne 2005: Mineral nose, citrus fruit and honey on the palate. Nice clean finish.

Henri Boillot 2005: Smoke and oak on the nose, crisp fruit, dry finish.

D. Denis Mortet 2005: Mineral nose, minerally palate with crisp lemon/citrus fruit.

The second flight were three wines from Meursault. The Wikipedia entry says about Meursault:
Meursault is an Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) situated in the Côte de Beaune subregion of the Burgundy wine region. It lies along the foot of the Cote-d'Or escarpment, around Beaune and with the broad Saône valley plain to its east. Meursault produces mainly white wines from Chardonnay grapes, primarily in a style with a clear oak influence, which have led to descriptions such as "buttery" to be applied to powerful examples of Meursault wines. Within the Meursault AOC there are some Premier Cru vineyards, but no Grand Cru. This has however not stopped the wines from Meursault from competing with the white burgundies from the villages Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, where several Grands Crus are situated.
The three wines in this flight were:
Guy Bocard - Meursault-Charmes 2004: Citrus on the nose with a hint of toast.

Guy Bocard - Meursault/ Le Narvaux 2004: Herbaceous nose, creamy mid-palate and a soft finish.

Guy Bocard - Meursault-Vielle Vignes (old vine) 2004: Complex honey/perfume nose, bright, crisp fruit with a creamy finish.

The last flight of the night was two wines from Puligny-Montrachet. The wines from Puligny-Montrachet have a complex minerality. The two wines in the flight were:

Louis Carillon - Puligny-Montrachet 2005: Savory nose and palate, bright lemony fruit, long finish.

Louis Latour - Puligny-Montrachet-"Sous Le Puits" 1st Cru 2005: A lively, with pleasant freshness, slight woody notes on the nose, more mineral. Citrus aromas of lemon, are first noticed, leading into more vegetable ones, fresh cut grass and menthol.

The last wine I tasted (since I was sitting next to Sam Sundeleaf who brought this wine to share after the "real" tasting) was:
Sam Sundeleaf
Michel Colin-Deleger & Fils - Saint-Aubin- 1st Cru "Les Combes" 2003: Big, powerful, toasty new-oak nose. Lots of nuttiness . The palate is very cool and classy. There is lovely clear orchard fruit and a definite mineral acidity. Juicy fruit, and really quite long and fine finish.

All of these wines were nice and these are definitely "big boy" Chardonnay wines with the prices to go with them. The wines in the 2nd and 3rd flight would retail between $40-70/btl. These are wines that you want to share with people who would appreciate them. If you are roasting a pig in the backyard, stick with something a more affordable. Nothing is wrong with macro-brew or even a Two Buck Chuck. While I keep hearing the story about how the Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay won a gold medal at the California State Fair, all of these above wines would beat it like a rented mule in a head to head competition.
Jay Fewel & Guest-Photo-Courtesy of John Montague

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Firestarter

Just to clarify before anyone is gets confused, this isn't a review of the Stephan King novel by the same title.
I am not a material person per se. I am not a car guy. I don't have a big horsepower hobby like 4-wheeling ,snowmobiling, boating or flying.
So what do I like to spend my disposable income on? Why of course food and wine. An innocent hobby turned into an raging obsession. Why spend $36.00 for a case of "Two buck Chuck" (I live in Oregon and here it is $3.00/btl) when you can spend that much on single bottle of decent Chateauneuf du Pape? Frozen turkey from Safeway's for Thanksgiving, naw, I need to research for two weeks to find free range, heirloom turkeys that are butchered to order (except I had to drive 3 hours round trip to get them).
Yesterday I did something that I had been needing to do for quite some time, I went out and purchased a new BBQ grill.

Obviously from the above you can see that I will spare almost no expense to procure the best when it comes to food and wine related items. I have to have great knives (Heinkel), great pans (LeCreuset, All-Clad,Calphalon).
As much as I would like to have built the above fire pit, I think my neighbors in my condominium complex might have complained.
That is why yesterday's purchase I went all out and got what I consider to be the BMW of BBQ equipment.

Naw, this is too Big.....(kinda like the Hummer of BBQ's)

Nope, too small.........(the VW Beetle of BBQ's)

Just Right!
(Yeah, baby! Sleek, well engineered and built for performance)

I went out and bought a brand spanking new 22 1/2" Black/Silver Weber Kettle Grill.
To me this "Old school" piece of equipment is as good as it gets with a reasonably small, highly portable, piece of cooking equipment. As far as I am concerned the "only way" (nose in the air for emphasis) to grill or bbq is with charcoal or hardwood. Using a gas grill is like microwaving a steak, sure, you can do it, but why ruin a great piece of meat?
I was packing up the box (assembly required) of this new grill and a neighbor said: "Oh, you got a new barbeque", I beamed and said "yes", them she said: "That looks like your old barbeque" and again I said, "yeah, I wore the other one out". My neighbor laughed and said: "You are serious about barbequing". I would say I am "serious" about Barbequing. Even with this new grill I went so far as to keep my "old" grill grate just because it had been perfectly seasoned (a brand new stainless steel grill grate is like the back-up quarterback on a football team-you can tell he hasn't been in the game because his uniform is so clean). To me cooking isn't about providing fuel to my body, it is about the thought, preparation and execution that go into cooking. Searching for raw ingredients, working on kitchen techniques and preparation all reflect in a finished dish or meal. For me it is the Zen-like quest for perfection and it is all about the journey vs. the end.....not to say that I don't enjoy a great meal with friends and family. I hope you get to taste the fruit that this new grill will bear.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Should I be honored to have been tagged for a MEME? Well, so as not to look a gift horse in the mouth lets first give credit where credit is due. Toontz over at Okara Mountain gets the nod for tagging me and the rest of you on the list are people who either I know or whose blogs I adore.

Here are the rules:
Write your own six-word memoir. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like. Link to the person who tagged you in your post. Tag five or six more blogs with links. Remember to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.
Zap-2007 with Larry Turley

My six word memoir is: "Life happens when your having wine"

Now go visit my wonderful foodie blog friends

Heather from Gild the Voodoolily Heather is hands down my favorite blogger. Funny, irreverent, and a hellava cook!
Bruce at Eat. Drink. Think. Bruce also has a wonderful wine shop in Portland, Oregon called "Vino" where his motto is: "Making the world a better place, one bottle at a time." "Wine, not brain surgery." Bruce is definitely my favorite enabler.
Alejandra Ramos at Always Order Dessert This woman can cook.....and write.
Heather at Bacon Unwrapped This is easily the best Bacon blog on earth.
Drew at Cook Like Your Grandmother

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Royal Foodie Joust

One of the food blogs that I frequently read hosts a monthly cooking competition called: "The Royal Foodie Joust" Every month three theme ingredients are chosen by the previous months contest winner. Voting takes place by the contestants themselves and the group seems to be more supportive vs. competitive.
This month the three theme ingredients are Mango, Brown sugar and Cardamom. While these seem to be obvious baking or pastry ingredients I immediately took the savory approach to these three ingredients.

I remembered a Cardamom & Coffee rub I had used several years ago and I also have used Mango for drinks, desserts and salsa.

For May's Royal Foodie Joust my entry is:



Grilled Double-cut Pork Chops with a Cardamom & Coffee Dry Rub served with Mango Salsa.

The chop is brined with Brown Sugar and Kosher Salt then dry rubbed with Cardamom, Coffee and spices. Flame Grilled to medium rare.

served with
Sesame Asian Rainbow Cole Slaw
Red and green cabbage, scallions, carrots, bean sprouts and cilantro are dressed with a sesame/soy/peanut dressing
Cheddar, Jalepeno Corn Muffins with Honey Butter


Chocolate Mousse


2005 Sineann Old Vine Zinfandel
Wehlener Sonnenuhr
2001 Riesling Auslese
S.A. Prum

The menu is definitely influenced by the more traditional Southern meal of pan fried Pork Chops, Cole Slaw and Cornbread.
I had fun tweaking the three menu items to compliment each other and I would definitely use the Cardamom & Coffee rub again.

Cardamom & Coffee Spice Rub

1/4 cup finely ground Italian Roast Coffee Beans

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

4 teaspoons ground cardamom (an coffee grinder works great)

8 garlic cloves, minced

3 teaspoons very finely chopped fresh ginger

Start with the dry ingredients and mix together in a small bowl. Add the garlic and fresh ginger and stir well. The rub will still be fairly dry after you incorporate the two "wet ingredients".
Rub the meat 4 hours before you are going to start to cook.

Mango Salsa in its native state.

Mango Salsa

1 large fresh mango

1 cup of chopped frozen mango chunks (for a creamy texture)

1/2 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 small jalapeno chile, cored, seeded and minced

1/4 cup minced red onion

2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Chop, mince, juice and and combine the above ingredients (So easy, even a caveman could do disrespect to cavemen/women intended)

Asian Rainbow Cole Slaw

1/2 head green cabbage, sliced razor thin
1/2 head red cabbage, sliced razor thin
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon chile paste
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 carrots, shredded
1 cup bean sprouts
6 scallions, julienned on the bias
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, for garnish
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, for garnish

Toss the cabbage together in a salad spinner. Sprinkle the cabbage with salt and let stand for 15 minutes. The salt draws out some of its moisture so that the slaw remains crunchy. After 15 minutes go ahead and spin the spinner to draw out the excess moisture and add the rest of the ingredients to a large bowl. You can have this salad ready to go and then dress just before eating.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, oil, chile paste, peanut butter, and ginger. Toss together with the cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts and scallions; season with salt and pepper. Garnish with sesame seeds before serving.

Brown Sugar Brine
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 garlic cloves (smashed)
1/2 lemon, cut into wedges
1 quart water

Boil the water with the salt and sugar mixture for 10 minutes and then turn off the heat and add the lemon and garlic. Let cool to room temperature and add the chops. I brined the meat overnight.

These Pork Chops were 2" center cut chops.

You can see the relative scale of these "Fred Flinstone" Pork Chops. While I was happy with the results, when I do this again I will probably order 1 1/2" thick chops. Even chops this thick cook quickly and the total cook time was about 4 minutes per side on a hot grill and then another 8 minutes cook time with the chops cooking over indirect heat (not over the coals).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"I wish I had an Italian Grandmother"

This Le Creuset piece isn't a family heirloom , though it is probably old enough that my Grandmother could have cooked with it. I am sure it has a rich history and it would be great if you could hit a "play" button and the pot could tell the stories of all the wonderful things it had cooked. My mind wanders thinking about all the risotto, ragu, braised osso bucco and the like this pot has seen.
I believe this color is called "Italian Red" and that is about as close as my family comes to having any Italian heritage.
From about 1990-1999 my cooking style was firmly rooted in Italian cooking. I explored American-Italian cooking, Northern Italian, Southern Italian, Regional Cooking (Emila-Romana is a favorite).
I used to lament that I didn't have a more ethnic family with great cooking traditions. My ancestors came from Germany in the late 1800's and made there way to the mid-west- Illinois, Nebraska and finally Kansas. The first and second generation kept their mother tongue alive, but after World War I my grandfather said his parents rarely spoke German in front of the children. The pressure to assimilate and to become "patriotic Americans" snuffed out whatever ethnic roots my family tree had.
Growing up in Idaho in the 1960's I was weaned on bologna sandwiches (with Miracle Whip..yum), crispy shell tacos (it took moving to Los Angeles to find out they came another way), lasagna (with cheddar cheese?) and a host of packaged, processed and frozen delights that I am sure most of the baby boom generation can identify with.
A few years back a woman friend said to me after she heard my lament about the lack of an "ethnic grandmother"; she suggested this: "It is up to you to become your family's ethnic grandmother".
Maybe today with it becoming more the norm for guys to cook it is okay to be the ethnic grandfather. I want my son to understand food and its origin. I want him to understand the seasonality of produce, game, fish and wine. I want him to know why Oregon has spectacular Pinot Noir, but the Cabernet grown in the Willamette Valley is going to taste like a green bell pepper (and not in a good way).

I was making a Ragu the other day and it made me wonder what the roots were. Was it "purebred" Bolognese or Neopolitan sauce or was it like much of us a "mutt" that had parts and pieces from all over Italy or even the world?
As I suspected my recipe would probably fall into the Italian/American category. So to connect with the Italian Grandfather that I never had, here is my recipe:

Il Nonno's Ragu

1 Onion- course dice
5-6 Garlic Cloves-finely dice
Olive Oil
1 Carrot-finely diced
1 Tbsp Dried Basil
1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
2 tsp Fennel Seeds
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes
1/2 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage-casing removed
1/2 lb. Ground Beef
2 Bay Leaves
2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
(2) 28oz. Canned Plum Tomatoes
6oz. Red wine (+8oz. more for the cook)


Put a large pot (like the one shown above) on the burner on medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the Italian sausage. Cook until browned, then remove the sausage from the pan and add the ground beef, cook until browned then add to the sausage mixture.
Add your onion and carrot (the carrot adds some sweetness and cuts the acid of the tomatoes) and turn the heat down to low to sweat the vegetables. At about 15 minutes in add the garlic. After the onions are translucent add the tomato paste and turn up the heat a bit to cook, you want to cook this raw tomato paste a bit. Now add the red wine, the basil, oregano, pepper flakes, fennel seeds and bay leaves plus the tomatoes (crush them before they go in the pot). Finally add your reserved meats and let this sauce simmer on low for at least an hour.
I love to let this go for a couple of hours and sometimes I will even add a pork chop or beef rib (sear the meat first) into the pot and let it cook (braise) until the meat falls off the bone.
This sauce is great for pasta, a pizza sauce base or even for lasagna.


Oh, about the pot, I snagged it (and two companion pieces) at a garage sale for $20 bucks-I almost felt guilty knowing what these sell for new. Lets just say that this pot found a great new home and the food memories it is creating are priceless.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Brick Oven Pizza at Domaine Deux Zero Trois

A few years ago I made a Syrah wine from grapes grown in the Columbia Gorge. I believe the grapes were from the Seven Hills Vineyard if I remember correctly. In Bordeaux there is a group of small, no actually more like micro wine producers that buy fruit from top vineyards and then make wine in less than "Chateau like" there garden shed or garage. These producers today are referred to as Garagistes. Many of these producers are now considered to be making "cult" wines that some critics and collectors are falling all over to get. While my wine my not get a Robert Parker rating of 97 pts or sell for $230.00 per bottle, it did turn out to be a nice effort and since I made the wine in my garage I joined the brotherhood of small production winemakers world wide. The label I gave that wine was "Domaine Deux Zero Trois". It seemed to make perfect sense, as that is the number of my urban condo unit. So, today anything that is artisan (Wine, vinegar,etc.) that comes from my house gets the "Deux Zero Trois" label.
Last night my son and I decided to have pizza for dinner. I love cooking at home and I am always trying to match or better yet, improve on what I can get in a restaurant. So, last night it was pizza at home.

I love a pizza cooked in a wood fired oven, so for the past year I have been experimenting on how I can get that done at home. Naturally a brick oven and hard wood fire would explain most of this process.

I discovered that while dough is important, the critical factor for wood oven pizza is temperature. Since we don't have a $5,000.00 brick oven in my kitchen the above comment applies.....though through much experimentation and much SWAG applied theory my results are about as close as you can get to a wood burning oven at home.

You need to get a pizza stone and then crank your oven as hot as it will get (500 degrees should work....hey, where is my arm hair?).

You can either make your own pizza dough or your can buy fresh dough at better stores. A one pound package of dough will yield two artisan pizzas. We went to our local deli and got a 1/4 pound each of artisan pepperoni and hot soprosata. Since you are using such a small amount of meat go after the best stuff you can find (quality in, quality out...yada, yada, yada)
Roll out the dough slowly, or.....

if you have the game, go ahead and hand toss the dough to get a 12" diameter shape. (Note: If you really think this is me tossing this dough, I have some land for sale in Florida we need to talk about).

When your oven has been up to temperature for 20 minutes or so it is time to begin. Throw a scant amount of coarse cornmeal onto the pizza stone and then place the dough on the hot stone. Shut the oven door and then check on the dough in a minute or so.

You will see the dough forming the crust and starting to bubble. Take a fork and puncture these bubbles-otherwise you are going to have a dough balloon in your oven.
Shut the door and let the crust go for 4-6 minutes-basically until the crust is firm, but flexible.
Pull out the crust and place it on a cooling rack.

Top with a Tomato marinara, a bit of mozzarella and a tiny amount of Parmesan. Top with your meat and you are ready to go.

Place the pizza back in the oven for 4 minutes, pull and cool on the rack for a couple of minutes, cut and serve. This is about as close as you can get to a brick oven pizza at home. The crust is almost cracker thin and the edges nicely brown and crisp and this kicks the crap out of DiGiorno's any day!