Monday, December 31, 2007

Smoked Pork Shoulder

We realized a small dream the other day.

Longtime readers may remember that I own a smoker, which I dubbed the Battle Droid for its black, tall, cylindrical body and its three squat legs. It was a wedding present from our friends Tom and Carol, but our friends Tim and Mitch have baby-sat it for the 4 ½ years since then. We lack any sort of outdoor area where we can set up a device that streams out clouds of smoke.

At least we did.

A few weeks back, we moved the smoker to the house. The other day, I practically skipped home with a pork shoulder. I cured it overnight with a dry rub of salt, dried oregano, pepper, and caraway, and smoked it the next day on our back deck. As we stripped bright blue paint from our kitchen walls, the Battle Droid puffed away, slow-cooking the meat in a cloud of light gray applewood smoke.

That night, I carved slices from the tender shoulder. Each had a deep pork flavor infused with a hearty smokiness. I served it simply, placing braised Brussels sprouts and carrots to the side. With a glass of wine in my hand (Dover Canyon’s “Alto Pomar,” a Rhône blend), I daydreamed about all the food our smoker will produce. (This week, I’ll be putting the shoulder on sandwiches with a persillade spread: parsley, lemon, and garlic.)

“No pictures?” you ask. My photographer is currently the general contractor on a major house renovation, so we’ll have to make do with me flying solo for a bit.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

UPS Ruined My Christmas Eve Dinner

“The rabbit died,” wrote my mom’s husband. So much for that last hope, I thought. Three days of miscommunication and stress, and one rabbit’s life, all for naught.

A month ago, my mom and I brainstormed ideas for Christmas Eve dinner. I suggested rabbit — the soon-to-arrive issue of The Art of Eating has my article on the subject — and my mom lit up. It was something new, and it was a dish that her husband ate as a child: He loves rabbit. In fact, his memories of eating it prompted me to pitch my article.

I told my mom that I would hunt down Devil’s Gulch rabbit. Mark Pasternak breeds the bunnies you find on just about every Bay Area menu, and he raises them with care and atttention. But he also seems to turn the supply spigot on and off at whim. Taylor, at Fatted Calf, couldn’t get them. Bi-Rite Market, the upscale grocer in San Francisco, couldn’t get them. Even Berkeley’s Cafe Rouge, which uses a different, high-quality source, couldn’t get me rabbit for Christmas. Industrially-raised rabbits are available, but, as the meat buyer at Bi-Rite said, “Once you’ve had Mark’s, there’s no substitute.”

We decided to call D’Artagnan, the famous specialty-meat provider. The rabbit wouldn’t be local, but it would be delicious.

The calamity began on Friday, when my mom looked up the tracking number. Because of volume overflow, UPS had delayed the package. Don’t ask me why an item that requires refrigeration was held back, but that was the source of every subsequent problem. I called D’Artagnan and asked them to re-route the box to my mom’s loft because no one would be at the original shipping address on Saturday. The rabbit arrived in Oakland on Friday afternoon but sat at the warehouse until the next day, when UPS tried to deliver it to the old address. Had it arrived at my mom’s on Saturday, it might have been okay. But UPS held it through the weekend, and delivered it on Monday, three full days after it was supposed to arrive. The ice packs had thawed, and the rabbit’s internal temperature was 54°: well above the safety limit. My mom’s husband, who received the box, sent out the email we had all feared. I called D’Artagnan, and they resignedly reversed the charges: UPS messed up many of their orders this holiday season.

Of course, my mom put together a delicious dinner, but there was still a melancholy moment when her husband described the bunny as, “the prettiest rabbit I’ve ever seen.”


Monday, December 17, 2007

Sens And Super Natural Cooking

I don’t like to review anything whose creators are my good acquaintances or friends, though you could find counterexamples. If I don’t like something, I have to choose between damaging a friendship or being dishonest with you. If I like something too much, you may think I’m being overzealous to support a friend. So consider these next paragraphs idle thoughts instead of reviews.

I have a stack of books I use for meal planning for the week. Some of the books come and go depending on my mood, while some have taken up permanent residence. One of those is Heidi’s Super Natural Cooking. I’ve yet to explicitly follow one of her recipes, but her ideas inspire my creations. I don’t know how easy it is to find the less common ingredients in her book, but the closest good grocery store to my work is the same one she alludes to in her introduction.

Melissa and I can’t go out to fancy restaurants on our own, thanks to being house poor, but my mom took us to a knockout meal at Sens for my birthday. Shuna is the executive pastry chef, and her desserts were stellar, as was the rest of the food. And mad props to their wine director for his wine list, which features a tantalizing diversity of wines at reasonable prices.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

2004 Parducci "True Grit" Petite Sirah, Mendocino, California

If you don’t read many other food and wine blogs, you may have forgotten about Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly, Internet-wide tasting event. I typically forget about the event until I see everyone else’s posts, at which point it’s too late for me to join in.

But this month, one of the wines I drank lined up with Sonadora’s “Que Sirah Sirah” theme, an homage to Petite Sirah; I’d have no excuse for not posting.

Parducci’s “True Grit” Petite Sirah from Mendocino ($25) has the intense black color and blueberry aromas I associate with this grape, but the strong whiff of star anise and toast smells more like the wine’s barrel. That star anise flavor continues on the palate, with a deep black cherry taste that finishes with a hint of cough syrup on the medium finish, perhaps a by-product of the 14.5 percent alcohol. Since I normally think of Petite Sirah as a tannic, robust grape — small grapes give a higher skin-to-juice ratio — I was surprised to find a lightweight wine with subtle, fine-grained tannins and a mouth-gripping acidity. This is a wine I’d serve with grilled magret de canard, the fatty breast of a foie gras duck, especially if I had garnished it with a dark-fruit sauce.

This wine was sent to me as a sample.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Next Berkeley Extension Class: Fundamentals Of Wine Studies II

I finished teaching my Fundamentals of Wine Studies I class just last night, but the new Berkeley Extension catalogs are out, which means you can sign up for my Fundamentals Of Wine Studies II class. You don’t need Fundamentals I to take Fundamentals II: In fact, there’s often debate about which should come first.

While Fundamentals I focuses on regions, so that students know what to expect from an Austrian white or a Southern Rhône red, Fundamentals II focuses on describing wine. The first of the six classes talks about acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol; the second helps you articulate the smells in a wine; and so forth. Here’s the syllabus I made for the last time I taught the class. Class starts in San Francisco on January 30 and meets six times, with no class on February 20.

On a related note, Dr. Vino’s Tyler Colman will teach a one-day seminar on organic and “natural” wines.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Recent Drinks Of Note

Martini & Rossi Prosecco IGT, Italy
When I covered Champagne in my wine class, one of my students asked why you don’t see crown caps — the toothed metal hats you see on beer bottles — on sparkling wine. (You do, incidentally, if you visit a Champagne cellar. The bubble-causing secondary fermentation happens in bottle, and Champagne producers put crown caps on the bottles during the riddling process that collects the spent yeast cells in the neck.) Another student theorized that the pressure in a sealed Champagne bottle — 88 pounds per square inch, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine — might make crown caps a risky venture. A slight flick of your bottle opener, he suggested, and the vented pressure might send the sharp metal disc flying through the air like a tiny throwing star.

I didn’t have a better answer, so when Martini & Rossi offered to send me a bottle of their Prosecco, sealed with a crown cap, a week before my class on Italy, I jumped at the chance to pour it for my students. How dangerous was popping the top? Not very: The wine lacked the voluptuous foam of a sparkling wine, showing instead a light fizz and leaving the class’s larger question unanswered. My students described the simple taste as “Martinell’s apple cider,” and we agreed that it would be a pleasant enough picnic wine. This is not a Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, the ne plus ultra of this simple sparkler, but a Prosecco IGT, which means — as I hope my students can now explain — that either it’s made from grapes from a wider area, or the winemaking varied from what the Valdobbiadene rules require. ($11, I think)

2007 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, France
Similarly, I couldn’t resist getting a press sample of Beaujolais Nouveau to pour in class on the day it released. We had covered the Beaujolais region, at the southern end of Burgundy, two weeks earlier, but I had focused on Cru Beaujolais, wine from the villages that act as subregions within Beaujolais: Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-le-Vent, and so forth. Georges DuBoeuf singlehandedly transformed Nouveau from a quaffing wine meant to celebrate a successful harvest into a media event that dominates wine stores in the third week of November. He has given publicity to the region, but at the cost of associating it with a mediocre, industrial wine made from high-yield vines. My students quickly picked up the telltale aromas of fried banana that dominate DuBoeuf’s Nouveau, and some tried to figure out why anyone cares anything about this wine. (They enjoyed the better Beaujolais I poured earlier.) ($8-$10)

2004 Lassègue, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France
This is a surprisingly floral and light Bordeaux, but it packs a lot of complexity into the glass. I picked up barbecued beef and bread aromas alongside the bell pepper I get off of most Bordeaux, and I kept writing down new flavors as I continued to taste the wine: mushrooms, plums, dark berry, smoke, and a splash of milk chocolate on the finish. Light tannins and mild acidity make this a wine to serve with light, lean meat dishes: The tongue and tail terrine from The River Cottage Meat Book comes to mind, as do brisket, beef sausage, and rabbit stew. ($50, sent to me as a sample)

2006 Pattiana Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, California
This wine divides my loyalties: I want to encourage you to support biodynamic wineries, where the grapes are raised in a holistic fashion. But biodynamic farming is more laborious than industrial farming, thus adding expense to the wine. Can I encourage you to pay $18 for this wine, which is at heart a straightforward Sauvignon Blanc, when it probably costs more because the winery isn’t relying on industrial cost-cutting techniques? The wine is delicious — refreshing grassy aromas and searing acidity mixed with light peach and guava aromas — but not very complex. I would encourage you to buy more expensive grass-fed beef and produce from careful growers, but there you’re getting extra flavor for your extra money. I love this wine for what it is, but I wish it were a little cheaper. ($18, sent to me as a sample)

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