Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Beer to Enjoy While Impressing Your Beer Snob Friends

Ifflogo The first ever Independent Food Festival is Hillel Cooperman's idea. Many of you know him from his blog tastingmenu.com, but the Independent Food Festival is a collaborative effort among invited bloggers. Each of us acts as judge and jury for a single prize that we create and award to whomever we like. The categories will seem random, but each blogger created that category to honor a single producer who s/he feels is doing something special. Imagine the Saveur 100 created by the blogger community. Good food can be traced back to individuals, the farmer who takes a little extra care with his or her livestock or an artisan who doesn't cut corners. We need to honor and recognize these producers in this age of mass-produced factory food.

Moinette My award for the inaugural Food Festival is Beer to Enjoy While Impressing Your Beer Snob Friends, and I grant it to Olivier Dedeycker of Brasserie Dupont. Dedeycker is the latest of his family to brew beer at Dupont; his grandfather's uncle Louis Dupont started the brewery 150 years ago. We like all the beers we've tried from this brewery, and I waver on my favorite. Sometimes it's Saison Dupont, but currently it's Moinette, which has only recently become available in my part of the U.S..

Melissa and I can't drink Moinette without yelling, "Moinette! It's a good beer!" A farmer yelled this at me as I left his property after I asked him for directions to the brewery. I speak French, so I turned back and waved politely as he kept shouting encouraging words. Melissa stood on the roadside, seeing an old Belgian yelling at me after I wandered far up his driveway to talk to him. Melissa doesn't speak French, and we live in Oakland. She was convinced the guy was threatening to shoot me.

We made it to the tiny town of Tourpes a little later. We walked from a train station seven kilometers away. Don't do this. Rent a car. Especially if Belgium's in the middle of a heat wave. When we got to the brewery Dedeycker himself, a young man with close-cropped dark who seems a little shy, greeted us in the yard of his farm and gave us a tour of the small operation. It doesn't take long; a single farmhouse contains the whole operation.

The tour ends with a video of the beermaking process and samples of Moinette Blond and Moinette Brun, a darker version of this hoppy beer that I've never seen here in the U.S.. The beer Dedeycker produces has a fine balance and a solid integrity even as it remains approachable to anyone who likes good beer. Garrett Oliver bests my tasting notes for Moinette with terms like "coriander, passion fruit, damp earth, dried orange peel, lemon curd, and peaches" and he suggests pairing it with "salmon steaks, grilled sardines, spicy Thai snapper, coconut curries, gamy sausages, steaks and barbecue."

Moinette. It's a good beer!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Roving SFistian

Neat. How this happened is somewhat convoluted, but I will now be writing a weekly "what's up at the farmer's markets" post for SFist, the ultimate guide to all things Bay Area. The entries will focus on seasonal ingredients and what to do with them, single producers, or even reviews of farmer's markets throughout the Bay Area. I'm open to hearing everyone's ideas about what you'd like to see. It's the kind of feature I've thought of doing here at OWF, but this gives me focus and a schedule to ensure it will happen.

My first post is up now, but I'll probably be posting on Tuesdays in the future.

Wary readers might wonder how I will juggle this along with my full-time job, my professional freelance writing, and my own blog. Well, that's a good question, and I don't know the answer. Hopefully none will suffer. The style of my SFist entries and my OWF entries are fairly different, so I'm not worried about competing with this blog in terms of content.

I'm also adding a link to the sidebar that will always point to my latest SFist piece. That way you can navigate to it quickly.

Let me hear your thoughts, either here or at SFist!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

WBW 6: South African Reds

When I saw the theme of "South African Reds" for this round of Wine Blogging Wednesday, I immediately knew who the host was. Jeanne, a South African expat in Britain, often educates us about food and wine from that country. Maybe I should offer to host a theme with wines from the region where I grew up. Mmmm, the bulk wines of California's Central Valley. Then again, maybe not.

I went to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and asked about their inventory of South African reds. They don't carry much, and it was all Shiraz/Syrah, despite the fact that most people think of Pinotage when they think of this country. The salesperson couldn't tell me much about the estate-bottled 2001 Mooiplaas Shiraz from South Africa's Stellenbosch region, but wine maker Louis Roos was kind enough to respond to my questions.

"Mooiplaas is a family business. I am the winemaker and my brother Tielman is responsible for the vineyards," said Roos by email. The 120-hectare site is in the hills of the Bottelary Ward region of the appellation, "about 35km from Cape Town". "The farm has been in the hands of the Roos family since 1963," he told me, though until economic sanctions were lifted in the early 90's, all the grapes were sold off to the country's equivalent of negociants, brokers who make wines from a variety of sources. The brothers still sell off about 80% of their grapes, reserving the best 20% for their estate-bottled wines.

Roos informed me that South African law defines "Estate Wine" precisely—all the grapes in these wines must come from the family's vineyard. The family does much of the work on the farm, occasionally "popping in for a chat" with visitors to the renovated farmhouse on the property (the tasting room is in the former stable).

After he educated me about the property—"mooiplaas" means "beautiful place"—Roos told me about the wine I bought and his wine making practices (Note that I mistakenly asked him for information on the 2002). The brothers planted Syrah in the early 1990's, but they've only bottled those grapes since 2000 when "the vineyards produced excellent quality grapes." The yield for these vines is a scant "3 tonnes/ha" (about 1.2/acre). As a general rule, he tries "to be in barrel before the onset of malo-lactic fermentation" and the wine stayed in the mixed new and old French barrels for 16 months. The winery produced approximately 6500 bottles of the 2002 Shiraz, presumably similar numbers for the 2001.

Tasting Note - 2001 Mooiplaas Shiraz Estate Wine, Stellenbosch, South Africa, approximately $25 at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
Thin lipstick-pink edges surround a deep red, almost black, opaque core. A bit of alcohol on the nose doesn't interfere with the ample smells of black cherries with a dollop of bacon fat and hints of coffee. This wine has robust but well-integrated tannins, relatively low acidity, and a pleasant mix of cherry and vanilla flavors. A somewhat hot medium-long finish.

We drank this wine with chicken legs braised in an over-the-hill bottle of Gruner Veltliner, served on a bed of root vegetables and spinach and sauced with the reduced and thickened braising liquid. It went reasonably well, but the ample tannins of this wine suggest a heartier meat of some form.
General Thoughts
Melissa and I both liked this wine quite a bit and we'd buy it again. While this wine is intense, I don't know that I would yet say it's complex. However, Roos has demonstrated the potential of these vines, and I'm sure as they mature a bit the complexity will appear.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tag! I'm It

Carolyn at 18thC Cuisine tagged me (among others) to participate in a diversion that's percolating throughout the food blogosphere. I don't know if it technically qualifies as a meme, though that's how we've been describing it. It seems like more of a chain letter with neither the attendant blessings nor any curses. But, whatever. I decided to play along since it is a good idea; you all get to know a little bit more about this mysterious Derrick person. And everyone likes music, right?

Well, yes and no. I do like music, but I'm fairly blasé about it. So some of these questions were tough.

What is the total number of music files on your computer?
641 songs that require 2.78 gigs of hard drive space and would take me 1.9 days to listen to.

What is the last CD you bought?
Hmm. I don't remember. What about an album from the iTunes Music Store? In that case, it would be Euphorica's Dance Abba.

What is the last song you last listened to before reading this message?
Well, I have an "upbeat music" playlist in iTunes that's set to random shuffle. I closed up my laptop, came home, and read Carolyn's message. So I don't remember precisely. I think it was Cyndi Lauper's cover of "On the Sunny Side of the Street".

Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

  • Susanna's Garden Aria, from Le Nozze di Figaro - I don't know if that's the real name of the song, but it's when Susanna sings a song to an absent lover. Her fiancé Figaro is hiding nearby and assumes she means the Count, but Susanna knows he's there and it's clear to the audience, if not to poor Figaro, that she is singing about him. When Anna Netrebko sang this at the San Francisco Opera, everything came together and I became a steadfast opera devotee. Pity those moments are so rare.
  • I rarely tire of hearing the duet between Rigoletto and Gilda near the end of Act II of Rigoletto
  • Or the part at the beginning of Act III where Rigoletto confronts the courtiers who abducted his daughter. A good Rigoletto can use this piece to go from emotion to emotion. Sorrow, anger, defiance, pleading, playing it cool and begging for help. All in just a couple minutes of music.
  • Beethoven's 9th never fails to make me pause and listen carefully
  • .
  • Annie Lennox's Love Song for a Vampire from Francis Coppola's Dracula is just a beautiful song and Annie Lennox puts so much emotion into it.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Tom at Butter Pig 'cause he's a good friend and I'm curious to see his answers.
Winnie at Hodge Podge Kitchen - she's jumped into all the other food blog community events; why not this one?
Meriko at Gastronome - because I'm sure she has opinions on the subject

Friday, February 11, 2005

Random Thought

Someone recently reminded me of the saying, "if people had to kill their own food, there'd be a lot more vegetarians." I wonder if there would actually just be more sausage makers.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Teaching Wine

A while back, a co-worker suggested I teach a wine class at work. She knows that I'm just the teensiest bit obsessed with wine and food (see the title of this blog), and she thought people would have fun learning how to be wine snobs. That, and there'd be wine to drink. We got approval for the class, which I'll probably hold quarterly for different groups of people.

I've taken a lot of wine classes, but this was my first time teaching one. I'd love to do a ten-week course focusing on different regions and helping people understand their palates, but I had one night and a modest budget. I went to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, told them what I was doing and asked for their advice about particular bottles. I knew I wanted an Old World and a New World Chardonnay to illustrate how wines from outside of Europe tend to be fruitier. I also asked for a German Riesling because, hey, it's me; I'd never miss a chance to turn people on to German Riesling. Finally, I requested red wines that represented common grapes a wine buyer in California might see: a Pinot Noir, a Zinfandel, and a Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted them all blind so that no one would be enthralled by a pretty label.

I started the class with a quick lesson on how to taste wine. It's really not hard. You look at the wine in the glass, tilting it against a good light source or at least a white piece of paper. You're looking for the intensity of color, hints about the age of the wine (as a rule, whites darken as they age, reds get lighter), whether the wine is opaque or clear. "Legs" or "tears" of wine dripping down the glass aren't that useful: they can give you some clues about the wine, but the glass introduces so much variance that they're not worth considering except in extreme cases. You give the wine a swirl and take a sniff. You swirl the wine to aerate it, aging it to a certain extent: a wine glass is a miniature decanter. You also swirl the glass to release the volatile compounds bound up in the liquid; these are what produce the scents. You come up with terms to describe this aroma. Is it fruity? What kind of fruit? Is it earthy? Do you smell the oaky smells of caramel or butterscotch or vanilla or baking spices? Are the different scents intense or weak? For the first glass, I made my students wait before saying anything. Then I called on them randomly, and I let them know that I wouldn't say they were wrong. How do I know what the wine smells like to them? My first wine teacher is Brazilian, and he often uses tropical fruit flavors to describe wine. Another wine teacher I had is a chef, so her tasting comments would be descriptions of dishes: "blueberry creme brulée," "roast chicken with an herb rub." Your background affects your mental map of what things smell like. After you smell, you take a taste. You take a small amount in your mouth and swish it about. You draw in air over the wine and breathe it out through your nose. You're trying to release more of those volatile chemicals into your nasal passage to get a flavor, and the swishing gets the wine all over your mouth so that all your taste buds have a chance to chime in about it. You think about the flavors, the body of the wine, how much acidity or sweetness or tannins. Then, in my case, you spit the wine into a spit cup. You evaluate the finish. How long does it last? What flavors linger? And finally, did you like the wine?

After they knew the basic technique, we tasted our way through the wines and people offered their thoughts and asked questions. I brought in ten or so books for people to look through and to answer questions I couldn't. I offered some general advice about wine and food towards the end (I had provided some bread and cheese and olives for people). I made handouts that included Ann Noble's Aroma Wheel, space for tasting notes, plus some good resources for people to take advantage of after the class (Vinography, good local wine stores, my favorite books, and so forth).

Everyone seemed to have a good time, and I found it eye-opening to be the teacher. I made myself an outline, but I still forgot some points I wanted to make. There's so much information, and so little time. I'm looking forward to the next class, especially now that I've worked out some of the kinks with my first class as guinea pigs.

I'll share some of the points from my handout with you. My favorite all-purpose wine book? Most of you already know the answer: Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible.

My thoughts on wine and food? Here's what I handed out:

  • You want to match weights between wine and food, as well as styles (casual wines go with casual meals and so on).
  • A common technique is to "bridge" a flavor between a wine and a food, so serve Chablis with a lemony fish because there's citrus in both of them. This works to some extent but can be overdone. Harmony is nice, but you don't need to be bludgeoned with it. That tactic applied heavy-handedly can begin to make the meal seem monotonous.
  • Wines need to be sweeter than the food they're served with
  • Wines need to be more acidic than the food they're served with
  • Acidic wines and tannic wines work well with fatty foods
  • Sparkling wines are food friendly (and they delight and make everything seem like a celebration). So is European Riesling. So is Pinot Noir (which includes Burgundy, but knowing Burgundies is a fetish in its own right). So is Beaujolais. These are good standbys if you like these wines.
  • Certain pairings are classic, but most pairings are personal in nature
  • Regional pairings often work well with European food. A California Cabernet Sauvignon won't complement Sicilian food nearly as well as a good Sicilian wine.
  • In general wines should go from lighter to heavier and drier to sweeter in a meal
  • Many soft to semi-firm cheeses actually go better with white wine, while red wines work better with firmer cheeses

Friday, February 04, 2005

Rosengarten and Foie Gras

I recently bought a copy of The Rosengarten Report. I heard that it had a write-up on the foie gras debate (FOIEGRACALYPSE NOW! the cover screams), and I wanted to see what it said. I kept thinking of Troy McClure as I read the text, but I'll give David Rosengarten credit: I didn't find any factual errors, which I often do in other stories on the subject. I'm sure he appreciates my blessing.

He repeated the Paula Wolfert quote that skittered about the Internet a while back: "I'd rather be a force-fed duck than a Tyson chicken." It strikes many as hypocritical to oppose foie gras while blithely eating pork, eggs, chicken, and beef. Unless we are very careful (and even then it's difficult), many of our animal products come from animals who were treated much more horribly than our domestic foie gras ducks. On the other hand, if you don't want to eat foie gras, it's easier to avoid than, say, eggs. It may be hypocritical to avoid foie gras, but it's also less work.

The "chickens have it worse" argument from foie gras's defenders deflects the discussion. We produce most eggs in horrible conditions, but that doesn't make foie gras more or less ethical. After all, I imagine Wolfert would rather be a goat at Redwood Hill Farms than a force-fed duck. I often feel like I'm the only foodie who believes that animal rights activists can have a legitimate role in the foie gras debate, though I disagree with the extremist tactics they often use.

"Why pick on foie gras?" asks Rosengarten. I posed the same question to Lauren Ornelas at Viva! USA when I did my inital research for my Art of Eating piece. But a quick look at the organization's site reminds us that animal rights groups don't just focus on foie gras. They run campaigns about inhumane conditions in normal duck farming, the pork industry and others. Diane Halverson from the Animal Welfare Institute argued that it's the press that devotes so much time to foie gras. Why, she asked me, aren't papers running daily stories about horrible conditions at pig farms? Instead, at the time they were frantic "about Janet Jackson's breast," last year's Superbowl "scandal." Foie gras is an easy target for the media, since it's a somewhat exotic ingredient with a lot of luxury connotations; they don't have to worry about pissing off their entire readership and the well-heeled agribusiness advertisers.

Is California's ban on foie gras an omen of Rosengarten's "Foiegracalypse"? It's worth remembering that Guillermo Gonzalez from Sonoma Foie Gras supported the bill in its final stage, and some animal rights groups opposed it. It provides him legal protection from lawsuits for the next seven years. It also gives him a monopoly in the state, since no other producers are allowed to start, though there's not a rush of people trying to break into the business. But what happens in 2012? My guess is the ban will still be in effect, and no one in California will be able to sell or produce foie gras. To be honest, I tend to think that foie gras is in its sunset years, though it may still have several decades left. But is this because we humans are wiser now than we were in the past, or are we more foolish? That, I can't answer.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Menu for Hope: Khari Poori with Cilantro-Mint Chutney

Click here to donate!Click to see wine infoClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see wine infoClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see wine infoClick to see recipeClick to see recipeClick to see recipeSpanish MenuGerman MenuFrench Menu On December 26, 2004, the earth shifted a tiny bit. That slight shift created a tsunami that devastated Thailand, Indonesia and India, among others. The immediate devastation took just moments, but the suffering continues even though it's no longer front-page news.

Pim contacted a number of food bloggers and asked for our help with a charity drive. We composed a menu, wine bloggers contributed wine pairings, and bloggers from around the world translated our text. The result is the menu you see above. Links in the menu will take you to other food bloggers or to translations of the recipes.

We're asking for your help. If you have the ability to give, even a little, we'd like to ask you to contribute to UNICEF through the link above. If you enjoy reading any of our blogs, or if anything about the menu inspires you in your own kitchen, we hope you'll take a moment to help people who can't even focus on reassembling their lives because they need food, medical supplies and even potable water. They now face disease and famine on a cataclysmic scale.

When such a disaster strikes, we are not American or Thai or Swedish. We are simply people.


Khari Poori with Cilantro-Mint Chutney
from Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking
Pim suggested that contributing bloggers make dishes from the regions affected by the tsunami. Most of my cuisine comes from Europe, but I do have some cookbooks that touch on Indian and Southeast Asian food. My contribution to the menu is an Indian appetizer called Khari Poori, a savory deep-fried cookie. By itself, the cookie is dry. But it makes a great base for chutneys. The cookies are easy to make and they keep well at room temperature, so you can pack them and your chutney in a picnic basket or a travel bag.

For the Khari Poori:
1 cup finely ground whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose white flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tb coarsely crushed black pepper
3 1/2 Tb fruity olive oi plus canola oil for deep-frying.

Sift the whole wheat flour, white flour, and salt into a bowl. Add the black pepper as well as the olive oil. Rub the oil into the flour with your fingers until the flour resembles coarse oatmeal. Slowly add very hot water--about 1/2 cup plus 3 Tb--and begin to gather the flour together. Squeeze the dough into a ball. It should just about hold. Do not knead.

Break the dough into 50 balls. Keep them covered with plastic wrap or a lightly dampened towel while you work.

Heat canola oil to 350° Fahrenheit. Begin to roll out the pooris. Take each dough ball and flatten to a disk about 2 inches across. Place pooris in frying oil, and fry for approximately 2-3 minutes per side. Pooris should be a nutty brown color on each side. Remove pooris from oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Allow to cool and then serve. Pooris may be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for several weeks.

For the Cilantro and Mint Chutney
Note: Use chiles to increase the heat of this chutney to suit your tastes.
3/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
1/2 cup tightly packed spearmint leaves
1 Tb lemon juice
3/4 cup yogurt
salt to taste

Place cilantro, mint, lemon juice, and 3 Tb water into a blender. Pulse the blender until the herbs are pureed. They will be dark,dark green. Beat yogurt in a bowl until it's creamy. Add the herb puree and fold into the yogurt. Add salt to taste, probably 1/4 to 1/2 tsp.

To Complete: Pour some chutney onto a plate, and tilt the plate to spread the chutney in an even layer. Place a stack of pooris onto the chutney. Diners should use the pooris to pick up some of the chutney.