Sunday, April 27, 2008

Novella Synergy blend, Paso Robles

This guy is a fresh addition to the Trader Joe's wine collection as of Wednesday 4/23. The label initially drew me to it (well, that and it's "hey, I've never seen you on my shelf before" quality) and its price (a delightful $6.99) and blend convinced me to buy it: Petite sirah, cab, sangovese, and petite verdot. My instincts proved correct; this is an excellent bottle. It describes it self as "plum and berry... with a long elegant finish of currant, mocha and spice." I feel thats fairly accurate, however, I get a distinct earthiness towards the finish that works just delightfully with the dark fruit flavors. I don't really find anything I'd categorize as mocha (I imagine this means chocolate and coffee, appealing to the Starbucks crowd are we?) however,
I could easily see how the dark earthy flavors I'm picking up could be interpreted in to a dark earthy chocolate and dark earthy coffee (time for a definition: when I say earthy, I mean things like dirt, wood, and the general feeling of being in an old forest.)

The sheer loveliness of this wine isn't even the best part: The price is.

For reasons that won't mean anything to you unless you work at Trader Joe's or with wine distributors, I assumed that this was a Trader Joe's private label bottle. However, just to see what happened, I googled it. I came up with this. if you're too lazy to click that, what I discovered that is that this wine is not a private label, and is in fact produced by ESO vineyards and commercially available. That's not real exciting in and of it self, but the fact that their website is charging $14 plus shipping for a wine I brought home for $6.99 certainly is.
I haven't been able to determine if this is a one time buy, or if Trader Joe's really will be carrying this for half the recommended cost, but either way, you should run out and get some.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Henry the eighth has sung.

It's over. Finals are done, I'm mostly free, and waiting on my final grades to go on and get posted. I'm hoping for another 4.0 this semester, but only time will tell.

I've been on a mildly
Mediterranean kick lately,which has produced two notable mentions.

Roasted Beet Salad

First, I LOVE beets. Like, a whole lot. This is something my mother has been making for a long time, and is so simple that it barely counts as a recipe.

what you need:

A bunch or two fresh beets. Six medium sized beet will, when diced, yield medium sized bowl full. They look small when you buy them, but when cut up i ended up with a lot more that I expected. Unless you're entertaining, i would stick with about three good sized ones, otherwise you'll end up eating beets with every meal for a week.

Rubber gloves
Beets WILL stain everything they touch. Rubber gloves really really are necessary. A passable alternative is cling wrap and tape, but you're going to need a good friend who's willing to tape up your dominate hand for you... and be sure to provide context before just asking folks if they'd be willing to ceranwrap your hands.
olive oil

For the dressing:
olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & pepper
Dijon Mustard

Goat cheese and walnut pieces to top.

Step One is to roast the beets. Preheat the oven to about 400 degrees ( 350 if you've got an oven that likes to burn everything)
Cut the greens and and any rat-tail like roots off the beet so all you have a a round thing. Then, coat each beet in olive oil so its covered but not dripping, and wrap each individually in tinfoil. This results in quicker roasting and flavor retention. Do not half wrap the beet in foil and then pour olive oil in. It sounds like a good idea (trust, me i did it) but then you have too much oil in the little packets, and it seeps out and first will burn up on the bottom of your oven, which will cause your smoke alarm to go off each time you open the oven until you figure it out. Then, when you get smart and put them on a baking sheet, the oil will still seep, and then pool and then start to pop, causing more smoke and disconcerting sounds to come from the oven. SO, oil lightly but throughly first, then wrap.
Then put them on the oven rack, and bake until they're done: should be about 45 minutes, you'll be able to easily get a knife in ( don't bother to unwrap them, just poke through the thinnest spot in the tinfoil.) when the knife goes in easily (think about how you would know a potato is done,it'll feel like that) take them out and unwrap them CAREFULLY so you don't burn/stain/steam yourself or others.
Let them cool enough that you can handle them comfortably.

Step two is where the rubber gloves come in. You gotta peel 'em. Which, really, is super easy. Get suited up in your beet gear (gloves, ceranwrap, apron, very old tee shirt... what ever it takes. I ceranwraped my creme colored counter top too) Do this on a plate or a cutting board or something.
Once your prepped, pick up a beet and.... peel it. It skin will come right off. You can rub it a little bit to get it started, and once you get a bit up it'll peel right off. I promise. If you are wary of my instructions, just rub 'em a little. you'll see.

Step three is the salad making stage. Discard the skins (ie, get them off the cutting board.) and start dicing. It doesn't matter what shape or size pieces you end up with so long as they're comfortably bite size. put them in a glass bowl that they won't be able to stain. Then in a jar, make up your vinaigrette: equal parts oil and vinegar, with a good squirt Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Give it a good shake, pour it on the beets and toss.

Top with (or toss in, if you're not "presenting" it and just want to eat it) crumbled goat cheese and walnuts. A note here: make sure your goat cheese is good and cold: warm goat cheese does not crumble very well. In fact, though i have yet to try it, i think feta may just be a better choice all around. Crumbles well, still tasty. I think its a win-win. If you're going to feta, i suggest Pastures of Eden, made from goats milk in Israel. its by far the best feta I've ever had ever. I mean it. (you can, of course, get it at Trader Joe's)

Chick Peas and Swiss Chard

one smallish onion,thinly slice
clove or two of garlic, thinly sliced
one can chick peas, drained and rinsed
about half a bag of chard
(Trader Joe's Chard of many colors)
one small tomato, diced (or a handful of canned diced tomatoes, drained... which, given that tomatoes are still out of season, I would recommend)
half a lemon or so to juice.

You're going to sautée everything, so i would suggest using a wide-bottomed semi-deep pan.
start with the onions. when they're about half done, add your drained chickpeas (and garlic), and sautée them so they start to get a little crusty.
once the garbanzos have a bit of a crust, add your tomato and use the drippings as an opportunity to scrape up brown bits. Then, add the swiss chard as much as you can at at time, and sir/turn (bring the bottom to the top) constantly, until all the the Chard is wilted nicely.
Then, juice the lemon on top (and salt and pepper of course) and serve warm.

Simple, delicious, and springy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

To do list, effective post tidal wave crashing.

Thursday, I have a 10 page Chaucer paper due.
I really don't even have the time to post this note, but, as my resume will tell you, I excel in procrastinating.

Things I need to blog about starting Friday, April 25 (aka the day after finals)
•Gnarly Head Zin
•Avocado and shrimp salad
•see, I can't even remember what the other thing was. Dammit, Chaucer.
•Vinology, aka my first legal drinking experience with dad
•Cyrus Cab blend

EDIT: I remembered, I remembered! unconventional Fajitas, or, my experiences with the electric skillet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

pre-gaming for finals week.

Currently, school is a cartoon tidal wave frozen in time waiting to come crashing down.
Which means that I've been cooking my ass off, because its the only thing i will allow myself to do guilt-free: No matter how busy, I still have to eat. Which means I still have to cook. Which makes cooking my only waking escape (sleeps a pretty ok escape too). I have of course, made fairly elaborate dinners the past three nights, two of which worth mentioning.

Monday: Chicken in White Wine Tomato sauce
I had chicken and prosciutto in the fridge, so I searched the two ingredients at epicurious. This was the first hit i got. I kinda botched it up from the original recipe; i really only used the " flavor profile" of the dish and not the actual recipe. (yea, thats right, I said flavor profile.) Regardless, it was completely delicious.

1 lb or so of chicken ( used pre-cut breast tenders)
4 slices or so of prosciutto, diced. (how do you dice paper thin meat? I dunno either... don't think, just do it. and watch your fingers.)
3-6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced * I accidentally chopped it. sliced sounds nice tho.
1 tbs of fresh rosemary (I think you're catching on that I don't measure anything and don't think you should either)
1 cup ish dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup crushed tomatoes with puree
(artists note: if you have whole tomatoes, crush them in your hand (like one of those stress balls) for some cheap, edible therapy)

In a large frying pan or shallow pot, brown the chicken. ( I rubbed in some Tj's lemon pepper first).
Remove the chicken from the pot.
Add the the prosciutto, garlic and rosemary over medium low heat (especially important if you have an electric stove- make sure the heat is low enough that you don't burn the garlic- remove the pan from the heat when you add the garlic if necessary. burned garlic is foul.) Sautee, stirring, about a minute.
Then add your liquids: wine, then chicken broth, then tomatoes. Scrape up any stuck brown bits. Bring to boil. Let thicken considerably. (5-10 minutes).
Then, add the chicken back in to the pot: nestle it back in to the liquid. Turn down to a simmer.
Some where in the middle of that process, Start some simple polenta (or, as Alex says, here in 'merrica, we call it grits)
Boil 3/4 cup skim milk with 3/4 cup water.
Once it comes to a boil, add one cup cornmeal-- SLOWLY, stirring constantly so it doesn't lump. If you want add some dried herbs to combat blandness: basil, oregano, etc.
continue to boil/simmer until it thickens enough to stick/stay on a fork. (you do want to eat it don't you?)

Serve a nice glop of polenta with a few chicken tenders and a heaping spoonful of sauce.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Latest Zingerman's Adventure

Due to my school-stir-crazy-ness, Cj and I went to Zingerman's Roadhouse for dinner last night. In case you missed it, it's Zingerman's sit-down "really good American food" restaurant. No sandwiches, lots of American classics made with the best ingredients they can find (lotta Niman Ranch meat). Menu items include six different kinds of macaroni and cheese, Chicken Fried steak, fresh seafood, and grits to name a few.
I promised Cj i would take him there so he could sample $20 chicken fried steak, in comparison to the $5 version he loves all over the south. (and yes, he's been to every state in the south but one, but can't figure out which.)

He had, of course, The Chicken Fried Steak, and Dead Guy Ale to drink, due to his love of beer and lack of love for adventure.

I had Georges Bay sea Scallops, sauteed, and a glass of Adelsheim Pinot Gris.

So, how did the $20 version of CFS hold up? average score of 7 out of 10 (assuming 10 is the "real thing") According to Cj:
The meat was the best he's ever had in chicken fried steak, earning an easy 10. The breading and gravy were of a high quality, and done well, but lacking the the southern touch: as he put it, "Its missing that old black dude with one gold tooth who's only purpose in life is to make chicken fried steak" flavor. Delicious, but not the real thing.
If you're interested in getting the best chicken fried steak, he suggests Mom's Place in Stillwater OK, where a chicken fried steak, salad, roll, fried okra and another side of your choice is $6.

And my scallops, you ask? Delicious. Firm, not chewy, nice subtle flavors, everything a scallop should be. The drawback? $27. Normally, I don't balk about restaurant pricing, I understand thats how the game works. However, I had exactly 6 scallops. Which, was more than enough to fill me, but something about the countablilty of them combined with knowing the price felt exorbitant. This doesn't really reflect on the meal so much as my own personal psychology, however, as I realize I wouldn't have minded a slab of fish at that price.

On to the wine. First, the service I received in ordering a glass of wine was excellent, if misguided. I asked for a recommendation in ordering a glass of white to go with my scallops; I explained that the qualities I appreciate in a white included butter, oak and vanilla, and I tended to shy away form wines that were particularly fruity or that read as sweet. It was rather noisy when I expressed this to the server, and I think (hope) that what he herd was the opposite of what I said. Regardless, he recommended two glasses and brought me a generous taste of each in order for me to make my mind up. unfortunately, both the wines he chose were rather fruit forward (and what i mean by this is that the first thing you taste, ie, the front of the palate, is all fruit) and one of them was aged in steel, which is a guarantee that there will be no oak-y ness. However, it turned out that the one aged in steel also had a bit of a spicy finish, which i appreciated, and went with that one. In the end, it was an excellent pairing with the scallops and impressive service that got me it, even if it wasn't the exact glass I was looking for. As a shocking side note, the guy didn't even card me.

Oh yes, I'm still not done. Thats right, we did it up right and even got dessert. (I was wearing heels for god's sake.)

Cj has an affinity for pecan pie, and the Zingerman's bakehouse version definitely towed the line. It was rich and caramel-y, with a delightfully airy filling,and a sturdy crust. (He may have chipped a tooth on it, but that sounds like a personal problem...mmhmm...)

My affinity for caramel (and dislike of chocolate) lead me to the Doughnut sundae, which is every bit as decadent and ludicrous as it sounds: house-made doughnut, topped with a scoop of vanilla, a scoop of whipped cream,(what appeared to be) homemade caramel sauce, AND garnished with Virginia peanuts and maraschino cherry. It was incredulous, and perfect and delicious and the best doughnut i have ever had in my life.
I absolutely could not finish it.

all in all, our meal was about $84, which, according to my internal dinner out price-o-meter-estimator, is slightly high (we had two drinks, not a bottle of wine) but certainly not unreasonable.

And of course, escaping from the mind-crushing expectations of academia? priceless.

(The author would like to note here that she rounded out they evening by watching The Matrix: Reloaded and ignoring all relevant homework for the night, instead basking in the glory of Keanu Reeves, home-brewed beer and tummy fulla doughnut satisfaction)