Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bold Commentaries Thanksgiving, 2010

Jane Butel and I were all set to crank out another Bold Food with Bold Wines show when disaster struck. We had been on the air for one minute when our audio was looped back into the show. We were hearing what we were saying overlaid with what we said a minute before. I was much more confusing than I usually am.

The aborted program is now scheduled at 5:30pm November 30. Since we’ve already had the Thanksgiving dinner for which Jane was to discuss recipes, I’ll cover that event here.

Jane Butel provided the menu and the recipes that we and our friends would prepare. My wife, Barbara and I had the turkey, cranberry sauce and relish, and the stuffing. We began Wednesday evening, but would have been better served starting a day earlier.

As our friends arrived, each one had the same caveat statement we did; “Gee, I hope this tastes OK, I followed the recipe.” We knew not following the recipe would earn us Jane Butel’s disapproving stare. As it happened, everything turned out great.

The appetizers arrived with Martha Burke’s herbed Chicken Liver and Pork Pate en gelee and Carolyn Flynn’s Gravlax with Sweet Honey Mustard and Pumpernickel rounds. The gravlax, a prepared salmon and dill dish went perfectly with the Gruet NV Sauvage Blanc de Blanc, a bone dry but lemon meringue pie rich sparkling wine. That was followed by a Gruet NV Blanc de Blanc extra dry sparkler that also paired extremely well. Its margarita lime flavors provided a different enhancement to the salmon and pate.

My task was the Slow Roasted Turkey with herbs and Sherry Baste, which I started late Wednesday night. After the initial high heat start, the bird is roasted at 200 degrees all night and into Thanksgiving morning. I used an Amontillado sherry which has a wonderful nut-like flavor and good body to drench our 24 pounder.

Barbara made the Blue Corn Bread first and used it as the base for two stuffings; one with Italian sausage and another with fiery green chile. Simultaneously she made the Cinnamon Scented Cranberry Sauce with Orange and the Cranberry Relish.

Jane brought the Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and the Parsnip-Potatoes Smashed with Roasted Garlic and Chipotle and made the Red Chile Gravy from the turkey drippings. Martha also brought the Tequila Teased Sweet Potatoes, and haven’t we all been teased by tequila at some point?

I chose two wines to go with the dinner, a 2002 Frattoria Scopone Brunello de Montalcino and a Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Harvest Select Riesling. Brunello is one of Italy’s great wines using a special clone of the Sangiovese grape and grown in selected portions of the town of Montalcino. It is aged and not released until five years of the vintage date.

Riesling is an excellent food pairing grape and is lightly or never oaked, providing a mouthful of ripe fruit flavors. This wine is slightly sweet or off-dry, but works wonders with food. It sidled up to the pate like country cousins and held its own against the rich flavors of the turkey. The Brunello has an appealing nose of red cherry, Italian herbs and flowers and luscious red cherry and mocha on the palate. It went faster than the Riesling; no surprise there.

The dessert of Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie with Whipped Cream would have worked with Cognac or Armagnac. No way can a wine safely handle that combo of squash, cheesecake and cream unless it has a palate-busting alcoholic haze surrounding it. Cognac will do that. I did find that the Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry married with the pie better than I’d expected. The sherry was less sweet than a port and a better pairing.

Other white wine choices that work with turkey or chicken fryers include Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontés. The Murphy-Goode Fume is a dependable Sauvignon Blanc that has the right smoky minerality to go with bird. Trapiche 2008 Torrontés at $6.50-7 is a steal. This Argentina grape is amazingly good even in inexpensive versions. I hope your Thanksgiving was just as joyous. Salud!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bold Commentaries: Cancun, Mexico, November 2010

This time I’m way south of the border, down Mexico way, Aye, aye, aye aye . . . as the song goes. We’re staying at the Grand Mayan in Riviera Maya, which is midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, a lovely town that my wife and I visit several times each trip to this area. The town boasts several good restaurants, including one in a complex of caves that must be seen to be believed, with alcoves hosting small bars, and stalagmites illuminated with a myriad of colored lights.

My wine recommendations here are from Chile and Argentina, which are well represented in the local supermarkets. The prices are very good and offer good value, whereas the U.S. wines come at a premium. What better time to learn more about the wines of Chile and Argentina?

Jane Butel once again is focused on eating healthy over the holidays, which is a challenge for most of us. All the recipes she shared during this program are from her Quick and Easy Cookbook, which I highly recommend. Wine does add to your calorie-count, but is non-fat unless you serve it with a dollop of cream. When I count calories – OK, if I did count calories, I wouldn’t add in the wine, because it might limit my intake, and I don’t want that!

Jane’s first recipe is Chicken Tortilla Chowder, a good nourishing soup that is also easy on the calories and very tasty the way Jane prepares it. This hearty, filling soup is only 326 calories for a ½ recipe and is low in cholesterol and sodium.

As it happens, Tortilla soup is a staple in Mexico. An Argentinean Torronteś would be a good choice. Argentina’s most popular white wine is gaining a following in the U.S. It is medium-bodied with good fruit and a range of flavors from citrus to melon with good complexity. The nose is often flowery and redolent with tropical flavors and good acidity. It also pairs with a very broad range of foods making it quite versatile.

Other options would be Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Unlike California, many Chilean Chards embrace the concept of food-friendly, and pack good fruit, good acidity, and don’t bludgeon the grape with too much oak. I just tried, a 2010 Concha y Toro Sauvignon Blanc Reservado from the Valle Central, or Central Valley. One would hardly consider this wine too old, huh? To paraphrase Paul Masson: “We will sell no wine before its time. OK, it’s ready.”

Concha y Toro was established in 1883, if I corrected deciphered the script on the bottle, and has a good reputation for value and quality. This wine has good tropical fruit, Granny Smith apple, crisp acidity on top of a very inviting nose. At under $7 I rate this one a best buy, and will be back for more.

Next up, Jane went with a Chicken and rice dish featuring a Jalapeno Lime Crème Dressing and Romaine lettuce leaves and chiles, cumin and garlic spices. Chicken and rice always seem to go well together, and with green chile and lime the whites should still prevail.

Many Chilean wine regions focus on the best grapes for that region, which is why the Casablanca region is famous for their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The local Wal-Mart was not too helpful there, but I should have known that. Later I picked up a Torronteś at the local Mega store, which trumps Wal-Mart for food and wine.

Next Jane discussed Guaymas Shrimp, which in Mexico are called camarones. I’ve had them many ways here, but chile and garlic should always be included in my estimation. I could go either way as far as wine, but how about Rosé for a change of pace? You’ll want to insure it is a dry Rosé rather than a sweet blush wine. Both Chile and Argentina offer a variety of dry versions using different grapes. As in Europe, they know the value of dry rose and serve them as aperitif or just for easy drinking throughout the evening. They go with many types of food, or standalone, making them very versatile.

Pork, as Jane often mentions is a good nutritional and economical choice. It also is a chameleon in that it adapts to the cooking method, sauces and spices with which it is prepared. Her Chile Sage Pork Chops are a case in point, and she serves it with Black-eyed Pea Salsa and Chipotle Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Her last dish is Flank Steak Soft Tacos, which is flank steak marinated in red wine vinegar with fresh garlic and caribe chile. This dish packs more calories but works as a casual meal or as a tapas entrée.

Both these dishes call for a number of red wines choices. The flank steak can take a heavier-bodied wine than the pork, but a good spicy Merlot would work with either. The lower tannin hit and more approachable flavors of this grape make it very popular, in spite of the rude hit the grape took after the movie Sideways. Remember folks, Paul Giamatti is a beer drinker; don’t let him dictate your wine palate. Besides one of the most costly and highly-regarded red wines in the world is Chateau Petrus, and its 100% Merlot.

Merlot can go from a very soft, almost innocuous wine to a red powerhouse with tons of flavor, silky tannins, spicy red berry flavors, and a complex finish. This is also a popular grape in Chile/Argentina, as is Carmenere, which at one time was mistaken for the Merlot grape, and it also has wonderful spice.

If you prefer a Cab, the Chilean versions are closer to their European cousins than North American varieties. I grabbed a Santa Rita 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva from the Maipo Valley, which is a great wine region for this grape. Clocking in at the typical 13.5 % of a French Cab, it will go nicely with that flank steak and even better with prime rib. Salud!

Bold Commentaries: Memories of San Francisco in September 2010

This show was one I did remotely from San Francisco. That spurred Jane Butel to come up with some menu ideas inspired by the city and its romance. As it happens, her ideas dovetailed with what I experienced in San Francisco that week. Like minds, perhaps?

My wife and I were celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary, which was part of our reason for coming here. Little did we know it would be in the middle of a heat wave. We experienced record temperatures in a city known more for its fog and chilly all-seasons weather. Our suite is in an older Victorian on Nob Hill that doesn’t have A/C. I was almost tempted to put our mattress out of the fire escape, except I’m sure the cable cars that pass by on Powell below us would have gotten a regrettable eyeful.

Since we were in one of the fine culinary capitals of our country, Jane wanted to feature some of the famous recipes of San Francisco. She discussed a special Cioppino recipe that had its origins in Italy, but was honed and adapted to San Francisco seafood—Dungeness crab or King Crab legs, clams, lobster, mussels and shrimp in a hearty red wine sauce flavored with tomato, garlic, onion, lemon and lots of Mediterranean herbs. She adapted it for her Hotter Than Hell cookbook which I highly recommend.

Cioppino is certainly a popular SF treat. I almost selected it for our anniversary dinner. Obviously a number of Italian reds come to mind. The seafood takes on much of the flavors of the sauce so a red is best here. Sangiovese, Barbera and Dolcetto all work well. Even a well-aged Nebbiolo will sing with the fishes. Much better than swimming with them, I suppose.

New Mexico wineries excel at Dolcetto, and one of my favorites is the Vivac 2008 Dolcetto which display black fruit and tobacco on the nose, and blueberries and chocolate on the palate with good acidity. Dolcetto is generally light- to medium-bodied with bright fruit-forward flavors that harmonize with Cioppino. It originates in Piedmont, Italy, which is also famous for its Barbera and Nebbiolo wines.

To accompany this dish, Jane suggested a simple green salad with a creamy dressing, lots of crispy crusted Italian bread and a simple fruit dessert. If you can’t get crusty Italian bread in SF, you’re not looking very hard. For the dessert and an alternative for the entrée, I’d also recommend another Vivac favorite; the 2008 Barbera. This popular Piedmont grape is known for its mellow tannins and black cherry flavors to which the Vivac adds hints of orange and cranberry on the nose and a citrusy finish.

Next on Jane’s list was another Italian and personal favorite; Shrimp Scampi, an easy to prepare dish of juicy shrimp with lots of olive oil and garlic. I suggested the Graffigna Centenario 2009 Pinot Grigio Reserve which I’m enjoying as I write this. It provides inspiration, without too much inebriation. At $8.99, the same price as their reserve Malbec, these are Argentinean wines to seek out. Mind you I got mine at La Beau Nob Hill Market, albeit, one that has good wine prices. This is my go-to place for food and wine in the city. They never disappoint.

Next Jane went with a German favorite; Sauerbraten in a red wine with a mireproix –then sautéed in bacon fat and finished with a long simmer in consommé with mushrooms. The last time I had Sauerbraten I was nearly stabbed with a fork over the last piece. I always found it interesting that this is one meat dish that also works with German Gewürztraminer, but I’d go with a lighter red that had a touch of sweetness. A very dry red, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon is not at home here, but the Vivac Dolcetto or Barbera would do well.

Next Jane talked about San Francisco sourdough and seafood, two food groups that have gone together for me since my first experience when I was in the Navy and my Dad came to town on business and we dined at Fisherman’s Grotto #9. Jane mentioned that the water has a great deal to do with the flavor of the sourdough.

I think it’s the sea air and the fact it is San Francisco. The Pinot Grigio I mentioned above went great with the local seafood. However, when the seafood is Sushi, and I have a passion for SF Sushi, I usually go with cold sake. Sake is rather unique in that it is brewed and fermented. The Koji and yeast starter are part of what makes it special. Sake is very labor-intensive, which is one of the reasons premium sake is so expensive. However, for the traditionalist, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc will probably work better.

Finally Jane recalled romantic desserts in San Francisco, such as flambe’s of cherries and other fruits, and wondered if they were still around. As it happens, our anniversary dinner at Sinbad in the Embarcadero district is a somewhat retro restaurant that time warped us back to the sixties. And what did we have for dessert; Cherries Jubilee. The remains of our Pinot Noir handled it as well as any wine can handle ice cream, and with black cherry on the palate, it married with the black cherries flambé? Seriously, did Jane and I Vulcan mind-meld here?