Saturday, April 29, 2006

I just invented tacos!

Ironically, given that I spent all afternoon cooking, there wasn't much to eat, since it's all destined for Christine's birthday on Monday. But I found more chicken thighs, and cooked them in a faux mole of ramp pesto, onion, and tomato paste, plus some water, tequila, and the usual seasonings, covered until all tender. Then I pulled the meat apart and cooked some more while I made a quick salsa of grape tomatoes and jalapeño with lemon and olive oil. Toasted up some flour tortillas and thus were born some pretty damn good soft tacos; the sauce was thick and deep from the chicken bones and various yummy pastes, and the salsa was nice and bright on top. Together with a 2005 Domaine Gour de Chaule Gigondas rosé (it's officially rosé season now) it spanned winter comfort food and spring optimism.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Barolo tasting

Tonight Pasanella & Son had their inaugural tasting dinner in the new back room featuring the wines of Franco Martinetti. Dinner was a decent buffet, but as usual the focus was on the wine:

Flight 1:
2004 Sine Cura (Barbera/Cab Sauvignon) light, pleasant, well made- a good picnic wine
2004 Barbera "Bric Dei Banditi" nice toasty almond nose, fresh

Flight 2:
Montruc Barbera:
1998 well made, a bit austere, but elegant
2003 beautiful nose, much riper and rounder- almost southern Rhône with roses and truffles

Flight 3:
Sul Bric Barbera/Cab Sauvignon
1996 wet earth nose, bell pepper, then sour cherries with chocolate and coffee
1998 peaking- floral and herbal nose, then truffles and cherries- the 2 grapes fused nicely
2003 riper, fruit and flowers, black cherries, sweeter

Flight 4:
Barolo "Marasco"
1998 licorice, coconut, violets and black cherries with velvety soft tannins
1999 leather and licorice- classic and mighty, yet elegant. Very complex.
2001 young and tannic, but strawberries and cherries emerge. Needs time

These guys are making Barolo which straddles the old and new styles, getting structure and character from the old but with some of the color and power from the new. Everything they do is well-made, and the better wines are something special.

Cucino per il cugino

My cousin David was in town so we had him over and threw some lovely organic ribeyes on the grill, after giving them the customary espresso rub, along with some ramp bulbs on skewers. Meanwhile, I steamed parsnips and puréed them with truffle salt, olive oil, chives from the deck, and yogurt, and made ramp pesto with the ramp greens plus truffle oil, salt, pepper and then cooked it briefly in melted butter since the raw pesto was wickedly strong and hot. So sliced steak went on parsnips, with grilled ramps finished in wine and the pesto on the side plus steamed kale tossed in oil and balsamic.

We began with a Pleiades XIV and ended with another super 1992 Beringer Private Reserve; this strong-flavored plate could have handled a huge Aussie Cab or Shiraz but went just fine with these two.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

All up in my grill

Smothered chicken thighs in yogurt/pesto marinade and let sit while fennel and sweet potato, sliced, got soaked in garlic-parsley infused olive oil. All went on the grill, along with a sliced lemon, and the remaining yogurt went into a pan full of ramps (surprise!) and white wine and reduced to a sauce. Garnished with a lemon slice and fennel frond, it tasted pretty damn good with yet another Siduri 2003 Pinot Noir. Not as deep or elegant as their single vineyards, and a long way from Burgundy, but an excellent barbecue wine which also handles the tang of yogurt and lemon with equal aplomb.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ramping up some fish

The first ramps of the season have arrived at the coop, so I bought a ton of them and yet went easy with them tonight; we started with Nobu-style sashimi of yellowfin tuna in a sesame-olive oil and ponzu sauce, then followed it with monkfish dusted with chardonnay smoked salt, pepper, and sesame seeds crusted up in a pan then finished in some leftover red wine with the lid on to steam through (monkfish is really meaty in its slow cooking time.) Then I threw chopped ramps in the pan, then a pat of butter, then more wine to finish and deglaze. Poured over the fish, and then onion and grape tomatoes, then the brown rice from the other day, and onto the plate, and last a bunch of watercress with lemon and garlic cleaned the pan back to gleaming and rounded it all out.

All this went swimmingly with another Pleiades XIV from Sean Thackrey- especially the sashimi. The rich olive oil and deep sesame oil and tangy, earthy ponzu hit every damn bass note in this wine and let the fruit sing above it all. Even though the XIV has darker, rounder fruit than its two predecessors, it's the grace and funk of the pinot which still defines it for me.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another curry

Having made a roasted acorn squash-carrot-ginger soup yesterday for lunch, I soaked some chick peas and cooked them for a couple hours with onion, fenugreek, mustard, cumin, the remaining soup, and some water to thin it out. As the peas softened, I added cubes of sweet potato, and once it was soft some chopped broccolini. Some of this mixture was Milo's dinner, and once I removed his portion I added hot vindaloo paste, black pepper, and hot curry powder. Christine had hers over rice, while I wrapped mine in a tortilla. The Leitz 2003 Spätlese Reisling is really sweet, and pretty one-dimensional, but with some hot-ass curry it worked pretty well. I really have to buy some beer for meals like this.

Earth Day Coturri Dinner

Slope Cellars, our local wine store, put on a "Black Market Bistro" in a neighbor's house featuring Coturri wine. Tony Coturri was there, and introduced all the wines as well as explaining his big-picture approach to organic growing and producing. I agree completely with his position that local trumps organic in terms of supporting viable agriculture. His wines are funky, idiosyncratic, and have a unique combination of earthy and sweet.

The food and wine pairings were as follows:

Cheese course
2004 Albarello

Spiced tomato aspic with baby greens tossed in walnut oil and white balsamic
2004 Grenache

Marinated grilled squid with parsley and lemon confit
2004 Charbono

Pork butt with orange, cinnamon, and star anise served with caramelized fennel on fregula
2004 Carignane

Lemon cakes with basil
2003 Zinfandel Freiberg Vineyards

I thought the Carignane was particularly good, as was the pork, although I wished there was more fennel. The aspic had a nice summer-by-way-of-winter feel, with a nice deep tomato flavor presented in a preserved form. The lemon confit and parsley in the squid dish were strong and beat up a bit on the light charbono, and the zin had an interesting dry/sweet thing going on which went pretty well with the lemon and basil. The meal featured some nice use of citrus, and suited the rainy weather well.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pasta con tutto

The family returned today, and I went to the coop this morning in anticipation, where I found lovely fresh fava beans. Shelled, and slow-cooked with shallot, garlic, lots of fresh oregano, grape tomatoes, diced celery root and a quarter lemon, after two hours they were like butter. Milo loved them. Then I cooked up a bag of penne, and once al dente tossed with the fava beans, plus green and black olives, parsley, more garlic, pepperoncino, leftover asparagus and carrot and leftover potatoes from rib night (all chopped) plus a big glug of the good olive oil, celtic salt, and pepper. Tossed together it went really well with a 2001 Kristial Châteauneuf-de-Pâpe which is nimble enough for the brighter flavors but has enough depth for the earthy beans.

Kind of a warm pasta salad, this dish is a variation on something I invented out of desperation during grad school; I called it "puttanesca bianca" and it was usually penne tossed with olives, capers, pepperoncino, parsley, dried tomatoes, soaked dried porcini and lots of salt and oil. A damn fine plate of pasta, and even better the next day- all without having to remember the can of tomatoes. Almost anything works, including most leftovers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Solo act

With the family out of town, and not having eaten meat in days, I took some pork ribs and after browning them added carrot, celery root, onion, fingerling potatoes, wine, herbs, and a few kumquats. Turned down low and covered, it cooked for about an hour. Once the meat was done, I added some ume and balsamic vinegar, plus the alder smoked salt and parsley. Pulled the meat out and threw in a bit of broccoli and let the juice reduce.

Served with a shake of sesame seeds on top, with a 1997 Perrot-Minot Morey-St-Denis "En la rue de Vergy" which started off a bit sour but opened up over time; initially the celery root went well with the more metallic flavors, but eventually the citrus and fat kind of meshed with the deepened fruit of the wine. Not a perfect match, since the wine is a bit thin and the food a tad rich for it, but each revealed something about the other which is all one can ask from a simple dinner.

Debi's birthday

Another epic meal upstate, this time all made by John: canapés of maki, roasted peppers on toast, and beets and goat cheese, then fried polenta with rosemary, burdock-porcini purée, greens, radicchio, and incredible seitan in mole. Lots of wine, too, including Thackrey's 2003 Andromeda and 2002 Sirius, an amazing Magnum of 1993 Au Bon Climat pinot which honestly tasted like a Burgundy, then a couple of real Burgundies which I can't remember the names of, both really good, and for dessert my pear tart, plus a vegan strawberry pie and 1990 Rust Ridge late-harvest riesling, a mag of Veuve Cliquot, and lastly a 2002 Iniskillin ice wine.

Breakfast the next morning, outside in the sun, was all the leftovers plus a salad and frittata. Perfect. Can't wait to go back in two weeks for Christine's birthday party.


Our friends Patrick and Kathleen threw an Easter brunch with tons of food and good people. The weather was perfect, so we spent most of the time on the deck and ate ourselves silly. Kathleen made incredible bread pudding, and lots of other good food, and I brought a braised lamb shoulder with pesto.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Venison loin

Normally I think venison is better marinated, since it has so little fat and can dry out. But I didn't get to it, so I did a rub of salt, pepper, oregano and garlic on a venison tenderloin and seared it up in a super-hot cast iron pan. Once it was seared on all sides, I covered it and lowered the heat. Meanwhile, I lightly steamed some asparagus and made some crispy croquettes out of the rice and bean mixture from before. The meat came out of the pan and rested in foil while I put some wine, balsamic vinegar, ponzu, and a knob of butter in the pan to deglaze. Strained over the meat, it gave it some richness but let the simple flavor come through. We ate it with the 2001 T-Vine blend (mostly cab, I think, which had good fruit and enough earth to bring out the gamy flavors in the meat.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fish Curry

I took the trimmings (skin, bones. etc.) from yeterday's sashimi and threw them in the rice cooker with brown rice and soaked adzuki beans plus ginger, garlic, shredded kale, and some salt and pepper.

The remaining good pieces of fish went in the pan with shallot, lima beans, carrot, coconut milk, curry powder and paste, a little water and the Balinese salt. Served over the rice mixture, and garnished with gomasio, scallion, and cilantro:

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bento plate

This certainly would have been nicer in a Bento Box, but lacking same I went with a plate. Simple sashimi of yellowfin tuna and beautiful kampachi plus a jicama and daikon salad with scallion and cilantro tossed with sesame/olive oil and ume/rice vinegars. I steamed sliced sweet potato and then, briefly, kale in the same pot and dressed them with a tahini/miso/lemon sauce. Drizzled a ponzu-sesame oil mix on the sashimi, shook some gomasio on the spuds, and done.

It might not be an intuitive match, but a 2000 Guigal white Hermitage did some fancy dancing with this meal; the honey and hazelnuts kind of hovered above the fray like an ethereal baklava, accenting the sweetness of the fish, jicama, sweet potato and miso, while the chalky-rocky part buttressed the delicate ocean flavors in a strange yet wonderful way.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Miso soup

It's amazing how deep a simple broth of kombu, dashi, and miso can be. With some tofu cubes, and over soba, with seaweed gomasio and a pinch of the Balinese salt on top (I undersalt my broth so I can finish with such things) it hit the spot on a clammy spring evening.

The remaining paella rice was my dinner the following night; Christine went out so I made paella avocado maki with a shoyu/miso/hot sauce dipping sauce. Simple, but rich, and looked pretty too.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Sadly, we don't have my Mom's big paella pan any more, but this evening, after a much needed trip to the Coop and nearby fish market I shelled some nice big shrimp and cooked their shells and some shallots in oil until the shells were pink. Then white wine, carrot, parsley, and broccoli stalk simmered to make a broth. More shallot and some andouille browned in a big sautée pan, then more wine, shrimp, diced red pepper, saffron and arborio rice stirred and doused in the strained broth which had been going for an hour or so. After the rice was getting close, I added the broccoli florets and caramelized the scallops, rolled in pepper and a smidge of cinnamon and salt. Scallops went on top, plus some chopped parsley and the sauce from deglazing the scallop pan with some red wine. I think the red pepper is integral to the basic paella flavor along with the saffron. Most of the rest is variable, which is why this dish is so mutable and so good.

Particularly good with a 2001 Guigal Chateâuneuf-du-Pape, which I had the opportunity to taste against the last of the Wooodcutter's shiraz. As funky as the Woodcutter's is, it's got nothing on the underlying earthy/tobacco/leather funk which instantly identifies the Old World. Like the Marcassin chard from Friday night, in my opinion there's no point for the New World to try to imitate the old; our terroir, land, and climate are different. We can just try to get our own maximum expression of these qualities and be happy.

Wine dinner

Last Friday I went to a BYOB dinner thrown by Executive Wine Seminars at Tribeca Grill. The food was a buffet of duck, steak, salmon, and a whole roast pig. There was a mountain of cheese, and a bit of pasta and salad seemingly as an afterthought. The wine was the attraction; the list that follows is far from complete (and not in order) but represents some of what I was able to get a glass of. Needless to say my notes are incomplete and decreasingly legible for some reason.

2002 Serene Chardonnay
Peter Michael Chardonnay (vintage?)
1992 Marcassin Chardonnay (huge and yummy- very California)
2000 Baumard Savennières

1997 Voerzio Brunate
2000 Lamborghini (young, but great)
2001 Serpico (young, but great)
2000 Dal Forno Valpolicella (Mary's offering- very good)

1998 Vega Sicilia Valbuena (my offering, and awesome)

1975 Phelps Insignia
1985 Phelps Insignia

1989 Beaucastel Hommage à J. Perrin (fabulous)

1994 Clos Martinet
1990 Rousseau Chambertin (!)
1985 Prieur Musigny (really good)
1996 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne
Chassagne Montrachet Gagnard (vintage?)

1995 Ducru Beaucaillou
1988 Latour
1982 Lynch Bages (a revelation)
1989 Haut Brion
1982 Pichon Baron
1986 Leoville las Cases
1982 Mouton Rothschild
1979 Palmer in Jeroboam (still young, funky, but by this point my taster was impaired)

I MISSED THE KRUG CLOS DU MESNIL 81! We were told that it was for a toast, and then noticed that it was gone. Oh well.

After we had a glass of Springbank Longrow which was totally unnecessary but did taste like a roaring fire.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Fridge Stroganoff

Another leftover festival tonight, into which went:

-The chickpeas and kale from last night
-The last of the lima beans, fennel and sunchokes from a while back
-The half can of tomatoes from pasta night
-A half block of tofu left over from Milo's lunch, cubed
-A small can of coconut milk
-The remaining cooked lasagna noodles, cut into fettucine maltagliate

Plus some vindaloo paste, pepper, and finished on the plate with chopped scallion and the kaffir lime/coconut smoked salt. Somehow it managed to perfectly straddle India and Italy; the heat of the curry and rich coconut melded with the sweet tomato and pasta texture. Sort of a pasta e fagioli by way of Calcutta. Having no beer, I opened a Casa Julia sauvignon blanc from Chile, which for eight bucks worked pretty well.

For dessert, 2 containers of semi-fossilized white rice from the takeout Thai last week simmered down with rice milk, almond milk, organic sugar, Vietnamese five spice, and organic fair-trade cocoa powder plus half a banana and a handful of raisins to make a vegan rice pudding which will be even better tomorrow.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Spring is here

So last night half the liquid from the ribs went into a pasta sauce with tomatoes and a little milk plus tons of garlic and herbs. Simple, but pretty fantastic penne, especially with A Sine Qua Non Albino which started out great and was downright operatic by the end. A white wine well worth decanting.

The other half of said yummy pork sauce went into a pot with mirepoix and soaked chick peas plus some herbs and a bay leaf, plus water to cover. The peas were done just as the liquid was almost gone, leaving just enough unctuous juice to pool on the plate. A lovely rack of organic lamb got the usual espresso rub and went on a fire outside (we cleaned the deck yesterday and the weather is even more gorgeous today.) I didn't french the rack because it's more fun to gnaw the bones when there's crispy, fatty, garlicky stuff on them. Chops cut apart and served on the chick peas and steamed kale tossed with a bit of cider vinegar and our favorite organic unfiltered olive oil, and finished with the first chives of the season from the planter on the deck. To welcome in the season we cracked a 1992 Beringer Private Reserve, which has an incredible leathery nose but is smooth and supple in the mouth with fruit and earth elegantly fused together. The leather is turning to licorice in my glass as I write. It is hard to imagine a better first meal outside for 2006.