"LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death"
attributed to Mame Dennis

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Shack, Colonial Heights, TN

After a long drive through Virginia today, Patrick and I checked into a motel and went in search of dinner. We were almost ready to settle for Perkins or Arby's when we spotted The Shack BBQ & Grill tucked in the back of a shopping center.

How could we miss it with a sign like this?

We decided to give it a shot. Somewhere between seeing the "Biker Night, Every Thursday" sign in the window and smelling the intoxicating aroma when we walked into the door, we knew we had made the right choice. After all, we should take a refresher course in American BBQ before our master class in asado.

We grabbed a couple seats at the bar and ordered two drafts while we looked at the menu. Everything sounded good, but we ended up agreeing to split a rack of ribs.

The service was friendly, and the room was fairly small but had plenty of character. You could imagine many a wild night being had here. Too bad it was a Tuesday.

The barbeque feast for two arrived: the ribs came with fries, coleslaw, baked beans and garlic toast. As you can see from the photo, the ribs had less barbeque sauce than I am used to. It didn't take me long to realize why. These ribs were the real deal. They didn't need the sauce. They had been cooked low and slow, exactly how they should be, the meat literally falling of the bone and absolutely delicious. Pat proclaimed them the best ribs he's had in a very long time.

This was more than either of us were planning on eating, but we couldn't resist. The fries were crisp, the coleslaw was creamy and the beans were deliciously rich and molasses-y. A beer was just the thing to wash it down. Another great find!

Nam Viet, Arlington, VA

Vietnamese food is one of my favorites, and I wanted to get my fix before heading down to Argentina. After some research online, my brother found a great restaurant near him, Nam Viet in Arlington, VA. He and I had a wonderful meal there with Pat and my dad. We started the evening with a round of Vietnamese beer, 33.

I ordered Canh Chua Ca, Spicy Sweet and Sour Salmon Soup, a big bowl full of bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, grape tomatoes, mushrooms and pineapples topped with several chunks of very nice salmon in a tangy tamarind broth. This light, fresh meal was the perfect antidote to heavy holiday eating.

Pat chose one of the specials, a Spicy Lemongrass Shrimp, which was very good. He says, "the sauce made it."
My brother and dad ordered orange beef and chicken (Bo Cam and Ga Cam), respectively. Each was lightly floured and sauteed, not greasy at all, with a delightful citrus sauce.

Nam Viet was exactly what I was hoping for, at a very reasonable price, and my brother was glad to discover such a gem nearby.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Flight of Rieslings Around The World: Tasting Notes & Reflection

The idea started when Kathy and I were wondering how Finger Lakes Rieslings compare with the traditional German ones. We should taste them and find out! Of course, it snowballed from there, and food pairings and Rieslings from other regions in the New World. We finally got together and had the event. We went a little overboard with both food and wine ("Doesn't make you a bad girl," as Pat would say), so it was a little overwhelming. Not only did we learn about the different Rieslings, but we enjoyed them.

We found the German Rieslings overall had a rich texture and relatively full body. Kathy did a great job picking out three bottles with different levels of sweetness. Honey was the flavor that stood out, to varying degrees in each. There were also the classic apple and pear flavors, more in baked or dried forms than fresh. However, all three German wines were well balanced.

The 2005 Peter Mertes Privatkelleri Spätlese (sweet, late harvest) was the prime example of this: very golden in color, creamy in texture and sweet honey and fruit on the tongue, but with a comparably clean finish. It paired surprisingly well with many of the foods, particularly the apple and onion sausages.

The 2008 Pölka Dot Riesling (semi-dry/semi-sweet) was a lighter, more lively (if less complex) take on these flavors. Honey and baked apple were still prominent. It reminded us a bit of Lamoreaux's Semi-Dry Riesling. It is clear from the flashy, contemporary look of the bottle that this wine is designed to be a crowd pleaser, and it was exactly that. It turned out to be one of the favorites of the evening. This wine is ideal for quaffing, but also paired nicely with the foods we sampled it with.

The 2007 Franz Wilh. Langguth Erben Kabinett (dry) was a delicate, "calm" wine. The dry, freshness worked with the cheeses, particularly the brie, and was a pleasant palate cleanser between tastes.  However, it's mild flavors were easily overpowered by most of the food pairings.

The 2007 Snap Dragon Riesling (semi-dry/semi-sweet) from California fell somewhere between the Old and New World wines, and shared many qualities with the Pölka Dot (comparable sweetness.) This must be the type of Rieslings being made for the American market. There were strong honey notes on the nose, though less on the palate with a slight spiciness on the finish. It paired well with foods as diverse as wasabi peas to sweet potato gratinée.

2008 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling (dry) from Washington's Columbia Valley had a delightful effervescence and crisp notes of citrus and perhaps honeydew. This dry Riesling was also great with the cheeses. I especially liked it with the Raclette.

While I lived in London, I developed a strong affinity for the wine from New Zealand, so I really wanted to include one in this tasting. I searched high and low, and was thrilled to find the 2007 Kim Crawford Dry Riesling. It was quite bracing and austere, with a crisp minerality (almost a bit briny) and flavors of lime and all things green, but little of the fruit we noticed in the other Rieslings. The best pairing was with the (green) wasabi peas, and I bet it would be a great wine with sushi (or oysters!)

Of course we were already familiar with the Finger Lakes Rieslings, but it was interesting to have them as a basis for comparison. Standing Stone's 2008 Riesling was awarded 89 points in Wine Spectators, and I had a bottle leftover from Thanksgiving (when everyone decided to drink red.) It was most similar to the Washington and New Zealand wines, light and crisp. It was slightly effervescent and had notably more fruit flavors (apple, pear, citrus.)

The Pear & Fennel Flatbread was designed by Red Newt's Deb Whiting to pair the 2008 Lamoreaux Landing Red Oak Vineyard Riesling. It was a good pairing, but the peppery arugula overpowered the wine a bit. I think I just put too much on. Next time, I'll use milder, baby arugula. After tasting Rieslings from around the world and coming back home to the Finger Lakes, I tasted this wine with a new palate and persepctive. This wine, made from the first harvest from these particular vines, is light and friendly. Lush flavors of apple and pear stand out, with notes of honey, as a nod to the grape's German roots.

The evening was rounded out with a special treat: apple turnovers with 2007 Lamoreaux Landing Riesling Ice, perhaps the best pairing of all-- but how could you go wrong?

We look forward to doing tasting evenings like this again, exploring other regions and varietals. I learned a lot from putting together this evening. In future, we will stick to fewer wines (3-5). This will make it easier to keep track of each one, and to keep them colder (if necessary). Having a dedicated glass for each wine will also help with this, as will place mats giving the particulars of each wine. To better evaluate the wines and their food pairings, we have to give the evening more structure. (Not arriving hungry and thirsty is a good start!) First, all the wines should be tasted on their own. Then the food is introduced slowly, allowing for each wine to be sampled with each dish. This will also keep us from predetermining which wine we think should go with the food, and allow for those wonderfully delicious surprises. What fun!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Flight of Rieslings Around The World: Menu

2007 Franz Wilh. Langguth Erben Kabinett (Germany)
2008 Pölka Dot Riesling (Riesling, Pfalz)
2005 Spätlese (Germany, Rheinhessen)
2007 Kim Crawford Dry Riesling (New Zealand, Marlborough)
2007 Snap Dragon Riesling (USA, California)
2008 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling (USA, Washington, Columbia Valley)
2008 Lamoreaux Landing Red Oak Vineyard Riesling
(USA, New York, Finger Lakes)
2008 Standing Stone Riesling (USA, New York, Finger Lakes)
2007 Lamoreaux Landing Riesling Ice (USA, New York, Finger Lakes)

Wasabi Peas
Wine crackers

Pear, Fennel & Arugula Flatbread

Triple Crême Goat Brie (Canada)
Uniekaas Reserve Gouda (Holland)
Emmi Raclette (Switzerland)
Manchego (Spain)
Apple Slices
Almonds & Walnuts
Stoneground Wheat & Water Crackers
Crusty Bread

Apple & Onion Sausages with Riesling Mustard

Seared Scallops

Sweet Potato Gratinee

Thai Pumpkin Curry

Apple Turnovers

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Harvest 2009

Autumn on Seneca Lake.
Cabernet Franc Grapes 

 Hard at work in the cellar.

Pinot Noir grapes sit on their skins.

 Halloween antics in the cellar.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Soup of the Week: Mushroom Barley

In honor of the first morning of the year that I woke up to snow, I'm digging out my notes on a wonderfully warming soup: Mushroom Barley. Earlier this season, I came down with a nasty cold. The worst part was that I could barely taste anything for over a week. I can't tell you how devastated I was. Part of this hearty soup's appeal is the variety of texture. You won't be surprise to learn that the recipe I used as a guide was from Barbara Kafka's Soup, a way of life. The first step is to pour boiling water over 3-4 dried porcini mushrooms (dried shitakes would also work) in a small bowl, cover and set aside to soak for about 20 minutes. The porcini, with their soaking liquid, a cup of pearl barley and a couple ribs of chopped celery were covered with water (about 8 cups), brought to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes.

Soup is a great way to clear out your crisper drawer. You could add bits of any vegetable that needs to be used up to this soup, and I bet it would just add to its wholesome, comforting deliciousness. I've discovered some great combinations this way. The "No Shopping Challenge" has made me more conscious of not wasting food, and I have been enjoying the creativity and efficiency it inspires. I was sorry that I didn't have a carrot to include in this soup, though. It would have added a nice sweetness.
While the barley was simmering, I chopped the whites of two leeks in place of onions, sauteeing them in butter until soft. Next I sliced up an entire 24 ounce package of mushrooms, stems and all. Presliced mushrooms are widely available, but I prefer to buy them whole. This gives me a chance to practice my knife skills. I also love the purple-y, brownish grey color just above the mushroom's gills that is revealed with each slice. The mushrooms, once sliced, were added to the leeks and cooking continued another 5 minutes.

Another great thing about this particular soup is that you don't need stock. I used water, or Kafka has a recipe for a Mushroom Broth you can make for a richer soup. Once the barley is cooked, combine the two mixtures and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and season as desired. A splash of soy sauce added to your bowl just before eating is a nice addition.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A week with no shopping: Inspiration & Innovation

I have extended this challenge for myself beyond the initial week. I did shop for Thanksgiving, and was successful sticking to a specific list. We have also bought necessary perishables (ie milk), but the bulk of our meals have been clearing out the fridge, freezer and pantry. What a lot of food I have accumulated since we moved in June! This challenge has put me in a frugal, efficient mindset, and the limitations have inspired me.

Last week, we were eating Thanksgiving leftovers like everyone else, but our surplus was pork. On Wednesday, I made an abundant batch of silky pork stock. For dinner, I turned it into Hot & Sour soup accompanied by pork, scallion & ginger potstickers. We do have frozen potstickers from Trader Joe's in the freezer, but I made the filling for these myself, wrapping them wonton wrappers that I've had in the freezer for ages.
I used Barbara Kafka's recipe for Hot & Sour soup, and the first night I was disappointed with the result. I was surprised about this because her book Soup, a way of life is one of my favorites. I was relieved the next day when the leftovers were wonderful. Now I know to make this soup a day ahead.

Thursday, I warmed some shredded pork in a saute pan and added a small tin of green hatch chiles (Trader Joe's). Then I stirred in a tablespoon or two of flour and some milk to make a white sauce, not forgetting plenty of shredded cheese. We had this in corn tortillas as a lovely, light dinner. The next morning, I fried two eggs and ate them with this pork and green chile mixture and a warmed tortilla. Wonderful as well. Sorry, no photos. It's not the most picturesque meal, but it doesn't make it any less tasty.

The success of Thursday's meal and an open package of tortillas unfinished led me to create a variation on Friday. No more green chiles, so I used chipotles in adobo. I always have a couple cans of these smoked jalapeños in my pantry. I love the concentrated flavor kick they give this sort of dish, or to a vegetable soup. Only one pepper is necessary with a spoonful or two of adobo sauce. I chopped up the pepper (maybe I should have deseeded it) and mixed it in with the pork. At this point, I felt the mixture needed more moisture, as well as something to dilute the spice a bit. I wanted to do something different from the previous day's white sauce. The pork was also starting to stick to the pan a bit. When Pat does the dishes, he often teases that I should be a chemist at a glue factory because he doesn't know how I make everything stick so well to the pan. Wanting to avoid further taunting, I searched for something to deglaze the pan. This is when I saw the magnum of Malbec (Marcus James) amongst our stock of everyday wines. This wine is bold enough to stand up to the spicy pepper, and has an earthy character that will complement the smokiness. I couldn't believe how well this combination worked, though the mixture was still too spicy when served in a corn tortilla. Adding sour cream and shredded cheese helped some, as did heating up a can of refried beans to serve plain on the side, but I think it would be best served it over rice.
I want to explore the connection of Malbec and chipotle though. There's something good here. Hooray!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I present you an account of our decadent Thanksgiving feast.

For those of you brave and/or curious enough to see how the suckling pig was prepared, scroll down to the post after this one. For those of you who don't care to see those photos, you have been warned!

The first course, cream of chestnut soup, was a big hit. Chestnuts have a sweet, intoxicating (and very seasonal) flavor that was unfamiliar to most of my guests. I actually ended up using very little cream to finish this dish, since the chestnuts bring a richness all of their own. My inspiration for this course came from a  sketch of a recipe Lynne Rossetto Kasper shared on The Splendid Table
podcast. The soup is a lovely light brown color, served with crumbled roasted chestnuts and a squeeze of lemon.
Here's a plateful of the main course with all the accompaniments: (clockwise from the left) slices of pork, red onion and kidney stuffing, salad, walnut bread with butter and mashed squash bake.
This has been my favorite salad this autumn. It's just delightful. The baby spinach and arugula are fresh and green and the pears, which are right in season, are extra sweet once they've been roasted.
The walnuts are spiced with the flavors we love at this time of year: cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice. They have a great tannic quality that picks up on the bitterness in the greens. Sherry vinaigrette is usually my favorite, but balsamic works really well with this combination of flavors.
I made a single portion of maple glazed salmon (Gourmet, November 1997) for a friend who joined us, though she doesn't eat pork.
The maple glaze, which featured ginger, lemon and soy flavors, could luckily be made ahead, so I prepared it on Wednesday. I thought the maple flavor would help it tie in with the seasonal sides. On Thursday, after the soup course, all I had to do was brush the salmon with it, put it on the cedar plank (which I've had in my pantry and been looking for an excuse to use) along with a bunch of scallion greens. and stick the whole thing in the (already hot) oven. I think Pat was disappointed he didn't get any, but I will definitely hold on to this recipe to make for dinner someday.
I wanted to serve something green in addition to the salad, and this recipe in November's bon appetit caught my eye. I substituted broccoli for the broccolini, out of necessity. It's fresh flavors with a Spanish influence contrasted beautifully with the traditional, autumnal flavors in the other dishes: intoxicating, brassy garlic, smoky pimenton and the brightness of sherry vinegar. (You should have known that I would get it in there somewhere!)

Unfortunately, no photos of the desserts, but they were delicious: pumpkin cheesecake, gingerbread pear cobbler and Pat's famous brownies.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Farm to Table: Suckling Pig

Wednesday morning we went to Autumn's Harvest Farm to pick up the suckling pig for our Thanksgiving feast. I had ordered it a month or so prior, and Tim from Autumn's Harvest was very helpful guiding me in what size pig I needed for our group, etc. It was so nice to finally meet him in person. He explained that the pig had grown a winter coat which was more difficult to take off, but for the most part the skin was hairless and the stray hairs didn't cause any problem in the eating.
We brought Pat's jumbo beer cooler (holds 72 cans) with a bag of ice to transport it, but we didn't really need it. The animal, weighing in at an estimated 13 lbs., was slightly frozen from hanging in the cooler overnight, and wrapped in several large plastic bags. Upon getting it home, I let it sit out to thaw before rubbing the whole thing down with generous amounts of olive oil, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. I was relieved to see that it was going to fit (just fit) into the aluminum roasting pan I bought for the purpose, although we had to tie the legs together with hemp cord to get them to stay in the pan.
Into the downstairs fridge he went for the night. Before going to bed, I made the stuffing so it would be ready and cooled for the next day. I was following Fergus Henderson's guidelines for roasting the suckling pig, as well as the advice of this excellent blog, so I made the stuffing Henderson suggested. I sliced two huge red onions that I got from the Amish and softened them in some olive oil (This was supposed to be duck fat, but...don't make me go in to it.) Next I added a healthy amount of red wine and allowed this all to cook down. Then I chopped and added the pig's kidneys to the mixture, as well as chunks of day old bread. This was an ideal use for the leftover crostini I had in the freezer. At the last minute, I added some chopped fresh sage and garlic. This stuffing was tasty, but came out a bit soggy when cooked inside the animal. It definitely benefited from all those delicious, piggy cooking juices though. Maybe stuffing is just one of those things that is always better the next day.

There turned out to be just the right amount of stuffing. My costuming experience came in handy here (and no, I didn't use a glue gun.) On Thanksgiving morn, I filled the cavity and sewed it up with some hemp cord and a needle meant for repairing sails. The needle was straight, but the point was shaped like a talon and sharp, which made it perfect for getting through the flesh.

The recipe recommended covering the trotters and the ears with foil to prevent burning. I was planning on sticking an apple in his mouth, but it wouldn't budge. Then the pig went into the oven set to to 320°F.
He still had trouble sitting up and preferred lying on his side, so after two hours (pictured at right) I had to flip him. At this point, I noticed his snout was getting brown, so I covered it with some foil as well. I also turned the oven down to 300°F, which is where I suspect it should have been all along. The house sure smelled good!

The pig ended up cooking for just under five hours. It was hard to find a place that was not near a bone to take the internal temperature. When I did, it was higher than the desired 160°F, but the meat was still very moist, tender and flavorful.
Carving it proved to be a unique challenge, especially since the usual cuts were so small and close together. Also, Pat said that the bones were so soft that his electric carving knife went right through them, but the skin was a bit tough and crunchy (yum!) We end up with plenty of nice bits to go around.
Yes, I would do it again!