Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wine Gadgets The World Needs

Lore Sjöberg, who often writes humorous pieces for Wired, has put his satirical pen to paper and pondered the wine gadgets missing from the world. An automatic wine twirler? A tooth-mounted flavor sensor? A temporal acceleration device to age your wine? (He’s obviously unaware of the devices that purport to do this.)

How about his idea for a first-person Champagne shooter? I could combine my love of video games with my love of wine, though I’m not a big FPS fan.

I can’t help but point out that his use of the word “varietal” — to my mind, a misuse — illustrates my belief that we shouldn’t use the word except in its very specific meaning of a bottle marketed as being made from a single grape variety. Why use jargon incorrectly when there’s a perfectly good non-jargon term? That’s part of why culture views wine geeks as objects of derision.

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Want: Dough-Nu-Matic Doughnut Maker

I like Krispy Kreme’s glazed doughnuts, but mostly because I like watching the massive machine that makes them. Shaped dough moves along a conveyor belt through a proofing chamber, an oven and then a seemingly solid sheet of white glaze. Eaten right off The Machine, Krispy Kremes are at their apex. The fat hasn’t quite congealed, the glaze hasn’t quite hardened, and the entire pastry has an almost liquid feel.

Our new house isn’t big enough for a Krispy Kreme machine — too bad, we could sell them out of our garage or something — but maybe I can find room for the Dough-Nu-Matic, a $130 device that churns out piping hot doughnuts.

via boing boing Gadgets


New, Out-There Cooking Tip

I’ve written about some bold cooking experiments here on OWF, but the other night I struck into new territory, even for me. As I thought about the cooking times and techniques for my fresh cranberry beans, diced ham, diced butternut squash and chopped escarole, I realized that I could toss them into one pot and cook them all together.

Crazy, I know. I’m sure that you assume, as I do, that even simple dishes require two pots. And the more the better, right?

But bear with me, because it worked. Simmered for about half an hour in just enough water to cover the ingredients, the fresh beans had a creamy texture and a beany taste; the firm squash had softened into tender, nutty cubes; the salty ham had rendered a bit of fat into the liquid, retaining a meaty texture; the fluffy escarole had wilted into gentle streamers of greenery.

I think I’ve created a new genre of cooking — certainly I’ve never encountered such a practice before — but I’m struggling to name it. Given that I used just one pot, I’m thinking of calling it “one stop” cooking. Catchy, eh? Go forth and spread the word about this revolutionary new idea.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The French Laundry's Mediocre Coffee?

I know nothing about coffee except that I don’t like it. But my friend Tim does: He owns a popular coffeehouse in San Leandro that does its own roasting and blending. He forwarded an amusing post arguing that The French Laundry is trying to cover for mediocre coffee by impressing guests with its price. Or as the author writes:

Yes, the man behind America’s most esteemed of restaurants … has proudly announced to his customers that they[sic] will now offer Panama Esmeralda Geisha coffee roasted by the consistently underwhelming Equator Estate Coffees. … rather than get educated, train staff, and elevate the craft (if not also chuck their superautomatic Schaerer espresso machine for something less suited for an assembly line), they take the lazy short cut of espousing the merits of “the most expensive coffee in the world” on their menus

Any thoughts on this from you all? (Other than the misuse of the word “compliment” in the original press release?)


Wine's Carbon Footprint

I make some effort to source local ingredients for my cooking, but I gloss over the fact that my favorite wines come from Europe. Tyler, of Dr. Vino, is less willing to brush dust under his carpet. He puts thought into the environmental aspects of wine production, and he’s recently published a paper about calculating the carbon footprint of wine. Pour yourself a glass from a local winery and give it a read.

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Chicken Cycle

One of the easiest of my “cycles,” the cascades of dinners I make from leftovers, is the one I do with chicken. Roast a chicken at the beginning of the week, or take a raw one apart, and you've got a few meals for two at the ready.

I started on Monday with a roast chicken, purchased at Berkeley’s farmers’ market. I rubbed it down on Sunday night with salt and dried oregano so that it would be flavorful when I cooked it. I pulled the chicken out of the oven and chopped off the rear legs to serve with steamed carrots, mashed potatoes that I had speckled with carrot greens, and a gravy made from chicken broth and beer, the leftover cooking liquid from a nettle soup I had made the night before. I wrapped the rest of the bird and left it in the refrigerator.

Tuesday I carved off one of the breasts, chopped it into pieces, reheated those in a sauté pan, and served them on top of a salad of mixed greens, persimmon slices, carrots, and dried figs. Wednesday I carved the other breast away from the skeleton and added it to pasta with braised kale. Friday — I teach on Thursday nights — I made chicken pot pie with the wing meat and other scraps still on the carcass, store-bought puff pastry (even I use it when I don’t have time to make my own), peas, carrots, corn, and bacon; I served the pie with broccoli and garnished Melissa’s pot pie with a little puff pastry heart that I cut from the leftover dough. Everyone together: Awwww. (If you find yourself with leftover puff pastry dough in general, keep the scraps in the freezer and use them to make palmiers at some later date.)

We’re getting used to eating less meat now that we’re “house poor.” We’re not going vegetarian, but the kind of meat we support tends to be more expensive: We can’t afford a $12 roast chicken every night.

But a thrifty cook can use meat as an accent to add texture and flavor to a dish without using a big blob of protein as a crutch for delivering good food. Add a bit of meat at a time, and you can stretch expensive ingredients longer. That $12 chicken cost us, on average, $3 a night. And I haven’t even made stock with it yet. Some meats work better than others for this — you don’t need much ham or bacon to flavor a dish — but I think a little thought can stretch just about anything.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Around The Web

My bacon and egg risotto caused a little ripple in the food blogosphere. Check out elkit’s Flickr photo and Jen’s write-up to read about their versions. In a sort of culinary feedback loop, their versions may inspire me to make it again soon.

Tom Wark, whose wine blog Fermentations is a popular destination, has helped start a new blog named Wine Without Borders that aims to spread the word about American legislation that prevents a retailer in one state from shipping to a customer in another. Those laws give the consumer fewer choices and the retailer less opportunity to make money.

You can follow boring Twitter feeds like mine, but the 140-character recipes in cookbook’s feed are much more interesting. Here’s just one of her tasty tweets: “Jam: boil 3c berries, 2t grated ginger, 1/4c lemon juice. Blend 1pkg pectin, 1c sugar. Heat all to rolling boil. Fill clean jars & boil 15m.” I’ve done this from time to time with wine reviews, but maybe her stream will inspire me to do it more. (via Jason Kottke)


Barrel Alternatives In Today's Chronicle

Last week, one of my students asked me about a practice he had heard of where winemakers add chips to wine instead of putting it in barrel. I replied, “I’m pretty sure that the Chronicle will run a lead story about that topic next week.” How did I know? I’m the author. (My original title was “Staving Off Critics And Chipping Away At Costs,” but the silly puns didn’t make it all the way through.) Be sure to check out the photos.

Also, thanks to a tip from Jack, I submitted my first Sipping News piece about an oddly shaped wineglass. It’s not a big deal, but it was fun to do.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Epicurious Brings Rebecca Chapa On Board

One of my favorite wine teachers is Rebecca Chapa. I had her a couple of times as I studied wine, and I try to emulate her in my own teaching, especially since one of the classes I teach used to be hers.

So I was thrilled when I saw that she’s doing wine education for Epicurious. Her first topic: How to store wine, before you open it and after.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Belgian-Style Beers In America

Remember my not-very-subtle comment about a recent tasting of Russian River Brewing’s beers? Read all about them in this week’s Chronicle, where I write about American brewers who are pursuing complex Belgian-style beers.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bacon And Egg Risotto

Two years ago, Melissa and I attended “The Second Most Momentous Meeting of Food Bloggers EVER.” We had dinner with the Amateur Gourmet himself, Adam Roberts. You can read the details on his blog, and that dinner makes a cameo in his book.

Two dishes stood out among the many we tried at New York’s Craft restaurant: crunchy, sweet caramel corn and creamy, rich bacon and egg risotto. Melissa told me to take note and make them at home.

But for whatever reason, neither found their way to my stove. Craft even sent us a Christmas card with the caramel corn recipe, and I have yet to make it. But that risotto popped into our heads this weekend, and I gave it a go last night.

Risotto is a snap to make — you can read my technique on SFist — but I thought over this version as I looked at Adam’s picture. How should I incorporate the bacon? How would I get an intact egg yolk onto the rice?

The bacon was easy: I cooked four chopped slices in the bottom of a pot and used the rendered fat to sautée one cup of carnaroli rice. After that, I followed my normal technique, moistening the rice with white wine and broth and finishing the dish with half-and-half and a pat of butter. The chunks of bacon softened without breaking down as they cooked with the rice.

The Egg
For the golden garnish, I decided to separate the yolk and poach it on its own, without the protective sheath of egg whites that I normally rely on to keep the egg together. As the risotto cooked, I filled a large saucepan with water and brought it to poaching temperature: to the point when visible puffs of steam escape from the pot but well before it boils. I chose a large saucepan so that the egg yolk would have time to cook on its way down. I worried about it breaking as it hit bottom.

I didn’t bother swirling the water or adding vinegar as I normally do for poached eggs. These techniques help the ghost-like billow of egg whites condense into a pretty envelope around the yolk. No egg whites? No need for tricks to make them look nice.

I held my breath as I dropped my two egg yolks, each from its own bowl, into the water. The yolks morphed into spheres and settled onto the bottom of the pot without breaking. I let out my breath.

Then I realized I had a problem. I cook poached eggs based on sight. When the whites look a certain way, the egg’s ready to come out. Oops.

In the end, I just took a guess about when to scoop out the yolks. I gently slid a slotted spoon into the water and under the yolk, slowly lifting it out. The yellow sphere flattened into a golden dome as buoyancy no longer held out against gravity, at first making me think that the entire yolk was about to whoosh through the slots. I wiggled the spoon to dislodge any water, and tipped the yolk onto a waiting bowl of piping hot risotto.

At the table, Melissa and I touched our forks to the yolks and watched them break open, sending yellow-orange liquid all through the bowl. She mixed hers in; I let mine pool and flow over the rice. It was a hearty, rich dish, but we each slurped down our portions. (I saved a little for mini risotto cakes.)

Maybe I should make that caramel corn soon.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Rice And Beans Cycle

It’s been a while since I’ve had to think about a tight cooking budget. Five years ago, my company shut down and I hadn’t yet been hired by another one. I saved up money as I saw the gleaming axe hanging over my old company, but I didn’t know how long my savings would need to last (only two months in the collapsed economy of the time, it turned out). As the family cook, I spent my days figuring out ways to cut culinary costs.

I had whole systems that I called “cycles,” though “waterfalls” might be a better term. I wouldn’t just pop leftovers into a microwave; I’d use them as ingredients for new dishes. A chicken cycle might start with a roast chicken. I’d shred the meat we didn’t eat and put it in pasta or in a pot pie. Then the bones would become stock. I’d use the stock for risotto. If we had leftover risotto, I’d shape it into cakes and pan fry those. And on and on.

Last week, I tried to step back into that mindset. What better place to start, I thought, then the dish we’ll come to know and love so well: rice and beans. Boo hoo for us, right? Don’t worry: the beans were from Rancho Gordo and the rice was from Massa. We’re not so impoverished that I can’t afford good ingredients.

The Dishes
On Tuesday, I cooked the rice and beans separately and combined a portion of each for dinner, adding in rehydrated dried cherry tomatoes to make a single, colorful dish but keeping the leftovers separate. When I tried this cycle before, I spent a long time picking beans out of the rice; I’ll pass on that task, thank you.

The next night I made rice cakes. I’ve perfected this dish with risotto, where the starch that leaches into the cooking liquid glues the grains together. With less starchy rice, I had to find an alternate method. I puréed about a cup of leftover rice with 1/3 cup half-and-half — breaking up the whole grains and releasing the starch within — and shaped the mix into patties. (If you use a cookie cutter to shape them, you can pack in the rice and it will stick better.) I left them in the refrigerator for two hours and then fried them in a stick of butter, flipping them to crisp each side. To go with these healthy snacks, I tossed mixed greens with a red wine vinaigrette and added chopped dried figs and a poached egg. Never underestimate the value of a poached egg in a salad.

On the third day, I transformed the leftover beans into a cold salad by adding feta, red onion, and lime juice.

If I were all the way back in my cheap eating game, I’d have saved the bean cooking liquid and the hot water I used to rehydrate the tomatoes. Both are flavorful broths that I could add to braising liquid or a pan sauce. But the rice and bean cycle was a good step back into that old life. With leftovers like this, who needs new food?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Mr. Manners On Dinner Parties

Many of you know that I’m a devoted listener of the Grammar Girl podcast. In today’s episode, she mentioned that Mr. Manners, one of the other podcasts in the same network, recently talked about dinner parties. There are transcripts for part 1 and part 2 if you don’t want to download the mp3s.

His points mirror ones I made in my SFist piece about hosting dinner parties, but he also covers polite ways to invite guests and get rid of ones that won’t leave. Some of his food suggestions wouldn’t fly in our house — I don’t put cheese on the appetizer platter and Melissa prefers to serve French press coffee — but his two posts have good, solid information.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Me at LitCrawl

Just a reminder to any Bay Areans out there: I’ll be one of the readers at Lit Crawl, this weekend in the Mission. I’ll be at the Laszlo Bar at the front of Foreign Cinema, 2526 Mission Street, somewhere between 8:00 and 8:45 pm. I’m one of a few food writers who will be there, so come out and say hi.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tomorrow's Cooking Tricks Today

Popular Science has a fascinating slideshow of high-tech kitchen gadgets. From sous vide cooking to instant smoke flavoring, this gallery made me want to fill out my Christmas list early.

via Boing Boing Gadgets

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Recent Drinks Of Note

Based on feedback from my survey — I will write about that soon — I’ve decided to change my “Weekly Wine Wrap-up” into a more irregular “Recent Drinks Of Note” with fewer items. The items left won’t all be good: If I’ve tasted a particularly unpleasant wine, I may mention it to steer you away.

As always, samples are marked with a *

I didn’t write tasting notes for the most memorable wine I drank in the last couple of weeks, the Roederer Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine ($25) from Anderson Valley. It’s a good sparkler, but what made this bottle so special was the setting: the empty dining room of the new house. We finally found a moment’s pause to celebrate this big, giant step we’ve taken. (But will we merge our libraries? That remains to be seen.)

Melissa and I had a string of corked white wines in the last couple of weeks. It got so bad that she called me on her way home one night and asked if I had put a corked wine in the refrigerator. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue with the 2005 Les Jardins du Bouscassé “Le Jardin Philosophique” from the little-known Pacheran du Vic-Bilh Sec region in southwestern France. Too bad the name is so long that we’ll have paid the check by the time we finish ordering it in a restaurant, because this is the kind of white I like: searing acidity with a whoosh of rain-covered pavement. The “Philosophique” part of the name will hint to some that this wine was made biodynamically, a holistic attitude about growing vines that includes not only obvious agricultural cues such as phases of the moon but also more fringe beliefs such as magic potions buried in cow horns. (And speaking of our corked wines, one of them was from Clark Smith of wine technology company Vinovation, so I asked him why he doesn’t use screw caps. He answered.)

Melissa and I love Vintage Berkeley. The owner, Peter, has a great palate — which is to say it lines up with mine — and he finds interesting and inexpensive bottles. The 2004 Mount St. Helena Charbono from Napa is a good, solid, food-friendly red wine: musty berries, pepper, mouthwatering acidity, and a nice body. I haven’t tried a lot of Charbono, which is the same as the all-but-extinct Savoie grape Corbeau, but it’s enjoyed a minor vogue at California wineries. I can’t remember the price, but it must have been under $15.

* I’ve been impressed by the (oops) wines. We tried their Cabernet Sauvignon with Carmenere (many “Merlot” vines in Argentina turned out to be Carmenere — oops), and it was a nice, relatively complex wine. Good blackberry aromas with just whiffs of smoke and mint expanded into a similar range of flavors. And its $12 price tag makes it affordable even to new homeowners.

* Do you remember when the Matrix II came out, and it got panned? Melissa and I went into it with such low expectations that we ended up not minding it. That’s how I felt when I found myself drinking a second glass of the Gallo Hearty Burgundy. This wine has nothing in common with real Burgundy, but it wasn’t horrible. I won’t say it was good, but there are worse wines to drink in this world.

* And you’ll see a piece from me about this in a couple of weeks, but I’m a big fan of the Russian River Brewing beers, particularly Sanctification and Temptation. These are tart beers, which some people don’t like, but if you can handle it, seek them out.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Not About Food: Rent To Own

Melissa and I have bought our first house.

It’s a simple sentence — compound subject, transitive verb and direct object — but I still have a hard time writing it. I'm not sure I fully believe it. Those of you who have heard the saga of this Berkeley house know how stressful it’s been. For the rest of you, I’ll just say that they accepted our offer three and a half months ago, we closed escrow today, and you don’t want to hear the rest.

Despite the public nature of this site, our private lives stay off of it. But a first house, particularly one in the Bay Area, requires some statement, some demarcation between there and here, then and now.

For one thing, the new house comes with a new budget that will force some changes: Forget restaurant reviews and foie gras for a while. On the other hand, I will focus on my beloved “thrift cooking,” the kind of cuisine that peasants have practiced for millennia: stretching ingredients and preserving food. I’m trying to view our new financial situation as a challenge, not a limit.

Oh, and did I mention gardening? Our house — what an odd phrase — has a yard. Throughout most of this adventure, whenever Melissa or I felt overwhelmed by the tidal wave coming at us, the other would paint a picture of our future garden. Window boxes and pots filled with herbs. Tomato plants. Legumes swirling and twirling around poles and nets. Squashes and corn. If you recommend any organic food gardening books, by the way, please let us know in the comments.

The kitchen — I’m sure you all want to know — is functional but run-down. We’re hoping to renovate in a couple of years, once our budget has returned to normal and other, graver problems have been fixed. I have been saving clippings of kitchen articles for years in anticipation of that day.

We’ll be sharing the food parts of this process with you, of course, and we welcome any advice from other housedwellers about gardening, budget eating, and kitchen thoughts. Because we can do anything we want to the house. It’s ours.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Sim McDonalds

I’ve been super busy of late, but I hope that posts will soon resume with their normal vigor. In the meantime, check out this satirical Flash game about running a McDonald’s. Go the ethical route, and you piss off upper management. Start making compromises, and you win loads of cash you can use to bribe Third World leaders.

via Play This Thing