Sunday, June 27, 2004

Moving Day

Melissa and I recently decided to do something about our wine collection. It was not ideal, probably like the wine collections of most relatively new wine enthusiasts (odd as it sounds, I've only been into wine for about two years; it has been said that I never do anything halfway). Our wine was in our closet, away from direct light but the ambient temperature varies quite a bit and I worry about the longevity of some of the wines we want to drink over time. Also, we've upgraded wine rack sizes a couple of times, but we long ago overflowed our biggest one, and we had boxes sitting outside of the closet. Not something Martha Stewart would approve of for interior decorating, I suppose.

In order to get our wines into good conditions for long-term storage and out of our apartment, all with a reasonable budget, we decided to rent space in a wine storage facility. I looked at a couple, but in reality the choice was easy. Subterraneum is a ten-minute drive from us and has very reasonable rates—$14/month for a 20-case space.

You've got to admire the business sense of the owner. He bought space in a rundown part of Oakland, built it out with simple (but very sturdy) plywood storage spaces, and now just has to keep the conditions ideal for wine storage. Meanwhile, he has a host of monthly renters who are probably guaranteed to be there a long time.

Saturday we moved the first portion (about six cases). There's more to this process than just plunking some bottles in a box and heading out. If your wine is going to be somewhere else, you need some sort of inventory. So I spent the morning cataloging the wines that were going to the storage space, noting down the wine, the year, when one should drink it, how many bottles were in each location (there or here), and what was in each box. Given all the prep work, the move itself was anticlimactic, and took fifteen minutes or so. There's still probably another three or four cases to move, but I want to keep a good balance of wine here, and then replenish our supply as we need.

It's a bit odd, having a fair amount of one's wine somewhere else. But at least now they're in a good place: "as ruined as they're going to be" was Melissa's upbeat comment.

Friday, June 25, 2004


You all know how much I love to cook, but sometimes Zachary's pizza is the best idea for dinner. Lots of people in the Bay Area know Zachary's. They win the local papers' "Best of " awards so often I'm waiting for the various publications to have a "Best Pizza That Isn't Zachary's" category. (The SF Weekly, I think, once had a category that was "Best Video Store That Isn't Le Video", so there's precedent.) Certainly they're the best place around here to get a stuffed pizza.

What's a stuffed pizza? Take your pizza crust, line a deep-dish pan with it (I guess a cake pan would work). Put in your filling (plain cheese works well, but so do lots of things). Put another crust on top, like a double-crust pie, press it down, and ladle your sauce (and extra garlic) over the top. Bake. It's like a pizza sitting on top of a molten lake of cheese. It's like a slice of heaven.

Oh, sure, thin-crust pizzas (and the thick thin crusts like the slices at Blondie's in Berkeley) have their place. But give me a hunka chunka Zachary's love any day. And then give it to me again the day after, because Zachary's pizza even works well when cold.

And what would a food post from me be without mentioning wine? I don't remember what we drank with our most recent order, but a good Merlot always has promise as a wine often paired with tomato sauces. You could go towards a Grenache as well, especially if you've got more than just cheese and extra garlic. I could imagine a Zinfandel. Or you could go forego wine altogether and have a good solid beer with it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

IMBB 5: One Fish Two Fish Bread(ed) Fish Goo Fish

with apologies to Dr. Seuss and any readers who didn't grow up with him.

So sleek, so fair!
What a joy to meet!
We only wish
to catch a fish,
so juicy-sweet
-Gollum, from... oh, you know the rest

Wena proposed a theme of fish for the most recent "Is My Blog Burning?". There were two dishes I wanted to try and I thought, well, why not make both? And for once, I included recipes, if you can call them that (see below). Melissa and I had both for a nice mid-week dinner, though I made many of the components the night before.

We started with fried anchovies, a dish I first had at Bizou in San Francisco. Melissa was dubious about this dish; she's not a big anchovy fan. Still, she ate two to my three, so they couldn't have been too bad. Because they were salt-packed, though, they were very salty, despite the fact that I rinsed them and soaked them all day. Next time I'll fillet them to get more of the salt out. A pungent garlic mayonnaise and lemon wedges accompanied the dish.

For our main course, I decided to make salmon rillettes. What are rillettes? Finding the answer to that question took some research. Lots of my cookbooks have recipes for pork or duck rillettes, but not even the rillettes article in an old issue of Art Culinaire has an abstract description I could use as a starting point for concocting a salmon version. So here is my answer, distilled from looking at various rillette dishes: rillettes are made by taking meat, cooking slowly in a lot of fat until very tender (for salmon this is on the order of 10 minutes, for pork shoulder, several hours), removing the meat and shredding it, and mixing back in enough of the cooking fat to form a paste. The result is a spread, which in my case had a pronounced but still delicate salmon taste. Typically, it's a way to use up excess meat from a carcass, but I bought a salmon steak just for the purpose.

Of course, I wanted our entrée to be more than just some goo. So I used Culinary Artistry to remind myself of flavors that work well with salmon. Horseradish, dill and cream were all mentioned, so I came up with the idea of making horseradish tuiles (thin cookies) as well as a dill-almond pesto. Finally a cream bechamel, made with a roux and some whipping cream. 'Cause you can never have too much fat on a plate.

To assemble, I piped some rillettes onto a warm plate, put a dollop of pesto on top, then put some rillettes and pesto on a tuile and laid that on top of the plated mound. I repeated the process with a second, smaller tuile. And on top of the topmost mound, I placed a piece of "salmon cracklings": salmon skin baked until it was crisp. Finally, a small dollop of cream sauce, with some more pesto swirled into it. It was surprisingly light texturally, but was nonetheless quite filling. It's definitely an ensemble I'd do again, but in the future I might do it as an amuse-bouche with the rillettes and pesto in a tuile cup.

My original thought on the wine had been a Pinot Noir. Its acidity does a nice job of balancing the fish's fat. If I had only served the entrée, I probably would have stuck with that idea. But the garlic mayonnaise was so strong that I worried it would overwhelm a delicate wine. I thought a rosé Champagne would work nicely, but Melissa pointed out that I should use one of the many bottles cluttering our apartment instead of buying a new one. The rosé idea stuck, and I decided to pour the 2003 Tablas Creek Rosé (which I used with the cherry-goat cheese beignets). A strong acidity for cutting through the fat and the hefty flavors of Rhone grapes worked nicely with both dishes. You may wonder why I wasn't worried about the delicate flavors of this wine being overwhelmed by the food. In low light, this rosé could easily be mistaken for a light red wine; it's that dark. There's plenty of flavor to go along with the deep, deep color.

Oh, right. The two non-fish courses. Melissa and I finished the meal with a simple cheese course with slices of goat gouda, and then we had a dessert of home made banana bread with whipped cream. I'll be curious to see if anyone managed a fish dessert for this edition of IMBB.

Fried Anchovies
Take some number of salt-packed anchovies, rinse, fillet, dry, and soak in olive oil for several hours. Meanwhile, make mayonnaise and add lots of garlic.

When you're ready to cook the anchovies, take them out of the oil, dry them off, and heat some vegetable oil to 350°. While the oil is heating, dredge the anchovies in flour, then buttermilk, then flour again, and place on a plate. When the oil is at temperature, drop the battered anchovies into the oil. Remove when golden-brown (about 5 minutes) and put on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb the oil. Serve on a plate with lemon wedges and garlic mayonnaise.

Salmon Rillettes
A salmon steak (cross-section of the fish) netted me about 1 1/2 cups of rillettes, which was enough for dinner that night, lunch the next day, and a light addition to a salad a couple days later. Remove any bones you can from the fish, using either pliers or tongs to pull them out.

Melt two sticks of butter and an equivalent amount of duck fat in a medium pot over a modest flame. You want the fat to cover the salmon, so add more or less depending on the size of your fish. Place the salmon in the fat, and reduce the flame to low. You want to essentially poach the fish in the fat. Remove fish when tender and flaky (about 10 minutes) and let cool. Keep the fat.

Place the cooled fish into a bowl and shred it with a fork. You'll probably find some more bones in the process, so take them out as you find them. Start mixing in the reserved butter and duck fat, adding a little at a time. Mix until you have formed a coarse paste. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. Rillettes will keep for a few days if you press cling wrap to the surface and wrap it around the container. You will need to bring it to room temp before spreading/piping. Actually, it's a good idea to cool warm rillettes to room temp before serving. I didn't, and the warm fat was still liquid enough to "break" from the rillettes when I served it.

Dill-Almond Pesto
Put some dill, chopped toasted almonds, a couple cloves raw garlic, and just a bit of extra-virgin olive oil into a mortar and pestle. Smush carefully, scraping down the pestle (or is it the mortar?) frequently. Adjust the balance of ingredients. You want it to be overly flavorful because the final additions of oil and cheese will dilute the flavor. When the pesto is coarse but well-integrated (or your wrists need a break), add in more olive oil to make it more of a paste, as well as some finely grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese. Stir/pestle until you have a nice paste with a consistent texture. Adjust seasoning.

Salmon Cracklings
Remove the skin from the salmon steak by using a boning knife to scrape it off. If you hold the knife at a 15° angle or so, you should get a nice clean piece of skin. Bake on an oiled sheet pan in a 375-400° oven until crisp, about 10 minutes. Can be made several hours in advance.

Horseradish Tuiles
adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook (pg. 56 - garlic tuiles)
Soften 2 ounces of butter until it's still cool to the touch. Combine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 Tb sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt in a bowl. Beat one egg white into the dry ingredients until it's completely incorporated. Whisk the softened butter in a separate bowl until it has the consistency of mayonnaise. Whisk butter into dough in thirds. You want a batter that's creamy and smooth. Mine came out somewhat thick. Start adding in horseradish by the half-tablespoon until the batter is very flavorful. Now add in more, since the horseradish will mellow in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 325° and put a silicone sheet onto a baking sheet. Put a little dollop of the batter on the silicone, and use a small icing spatula to spread the batter into a thin circle (I actually made larger ovals and circles so that the bottom tuile would jut out more). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the tuiles are browned and crisp. Let cool, and remove from pan. They can be kept in an airtight container overnight. Oh, and don't believe his recipe's yield of 2-3 dozen. I barely got 16 tuiles out of it. If you're Thomas Keller, you can make perfectly shaped, perfectly thin wafers. Mortals like you and me will end up with thinner, bigger cookies.

Simple Sunday Sausage Supper

Melissa and I were exhausted after her first Open Studios weekend. Neither of us are sure why; she mostly talked to visitors, and I just smoked sausage for her food table and worked on writing. But for some reason we were beat.

We decided to do a simple dinner, taking advantage of the excess smoked sausage. We stopped by the produce market and bought red onions and spinach. I caramelized the onions and wilted the spinach. Simple, effective, and good, and it required little of my actual time.

Our wine was the 2001 Best's Shiraz from Victoria, Australia. Neither Melissa nor I can remember where we got this bottle: from one of our wine clubs, but which one? Anyway, it was a light version of syrah, with lots of fruity, jammy aromas. My notes say bubble gum, cherry, jam. There were slight floral notes with some smoke on the finish, and the alcohol was way out of balance. I considered it good, but fairly one-dimensional. The fruit was overwhelmed by our dinner, but the spice in the sausage and and the acid in the wine sort of kicked themselves into an upward spiral, so that the sausage became really spicy with the wine.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Something Looks Different. Maybe your hair?

Well, it looks like Blogger's been hard at work making new templates. So as part of my efforts to make the site look halfway decent despite my poor design skills, I chose a new template. Let me know what you think, things that are missing now, and all of that.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Guest contributor Derrick Schneider...

The current issue of The Wine News features an article by me about old vine wine (primarily Zinfandel).

Longtime readers will note the irony of me writing about California wines. I tend to agree with the sentiment that California wine is more about the wine maker than what's in the bottle. But, hey, no one's yet offering to ship me off to France or Germany to write about my favorite wines, so I work with what I can.

There is a deeper irony, however. Part of why I got this assignment is that I've written for the well-regarded The Art of Eating. But my first article for that magazine (on the terroir of Western Paso Robles) hasn't appeared yet, while this one is on news stands now. The vagaries of publishing schedules, I guess.

While my Art of Eating work got me the nod for this assignment, The Wine News liked my work on this piece. It's probable that we'll be working together again; I'm already talking to them about some other story ideas.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

A Meal Observed

Many consider Paris's Taillevent to be the premier example of classic French cuisine. It is more than a restaurant; it is an institution. It's the kind of place Thomas Keller dreams of building: he told Anthony Bourdain in A Cook's Tour , "You don't know the chef's name at Taillevent, do you? No. It's the restaurant you remember--the institution. The tradition."

But dinner at Taillevent isn't cheap, even if you're already in Paris. Andrew Todhunter's A Meal Observed offers a chance to eat there vicariously. The book describes a single meal Todhunter and his wife enjoyed at the restaurant, after he apprenticed there for three months.

By itself, the meal takes up a small amount of the book's text. Todhunter describes the dishes and the drinks, the interactions with the service staff, and his reactions to the flavors and the ambience. But Todhunter uses the meal as a structure for discussing the workings of the restaurant, based on his interviews with the staff and his own apprenticeship. You learn about the cooks, their attitudes and training, and the exacting techniques they have to learn. Todhunter goes farther as well, and portions of the book are almost memoirs of his life as he remembers key incidents involving food.

Todhunter's vantage point is unusual. His apprenticeship allows him to give perspective on what went into the dishes, and what is probably transpiring in the kitchen as he eats. He is also, by his own admission, not a foodie. He enjoys food, but this is, it seems, his first elegant meal. This makes his impressions more visceral, more awe-tinged. He is still disappointed in some of the dishes, and it's interesting to see how even a "non-foodie" can perceive things that aren't quite right.

If you are looking for an exposé on the goings-on at Taillevent, a la Kitchen Confidential, you will be disappointed. Instead, A Meal Observed reminds me of Ruined by Reading, a book-length essay about how reading became a part of the author's life. Todhunter's book is a meditation on food and how it forms a relationship between cook and eater, how our own lives shape our reactions to what we will and will not eat, and how people communicate about food.

Oh, I Wish...

Want to ride in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile? Here's your chance: you can bid for a Wiener adventure at eBay. Here's the link. $5000 seems a bit steep for two days of Wienermobile use, but proceeds go to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization (I wonder if that means it's tax-deductible?).

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Random News Bits

A couple of food-related news items I've noticed in the last couple days.

  • Labels on commercial olive oil may exploit the lack of regulations about the various olive oil terms: from the Santa Cruz Sentinel. As always, knowing who's producing your food is a good idea.
  • Wine in, um, unconvential packages: from the Monterey Herald. I've heard some argue that a plastic bag in a box might be a better storage medium for wine meant to be drunk young, since the bag collapses as the wine is emptied, leaving little to no air to oxidize the wine and allowing it to stay fresh longer. I'd worry about the plastic taste making its way into the wine, but if we're talking quaffing wine anyway...