Wednesday, July 25, 2007
This week is Ben et Nate's favorite meal: Steak and Mashed Sweet Potatoes (or Yams if that's your preferred nomenclature).
The first step in making this awesome meal is to find yourself a reputable source for good meat. I happen to luckily live mere blocks from a butcher called "Ready Meats", or as I like to call it, "The happiest place on Earth." I might have spent too much time and money there since they all know my name and recent events of my life, but the key is to find a butcher you can trust as a source for high quality products and maintain a healthy relationship with them.
Once you've acquired your steak(s) there are only a couple steps to perfection:
1) heat up a cast iron pan in a 500° oven
2) heavily salt and pepper both sides and rub with oil
3) cook 30-45 seconds on each side over high heat on your stove
4) finish with two minutes on each side in the oven
5) let it rest for five minutes.
This is the Alton Brown/Good Eats method which I use for every steak in the 1/2" to 1" thick range - sirloin, ribeye, strip. With those instructions you should be able to turn out steak house quality steaks for a fraction of the price.
Of course a "meat and potatoes" meal needs some kind of potato, once again I turned to Alton Brown (one of my food heroes) for inspiration. In the yam episode of Good Eats ("Potato, My Sweet") he prepares a wonderful sweet potato mash spiced up with some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. It dawned on me after I'd thrown away my third can of half-used chipotles in adobo sauce that there had to be a better answer - Chili Garlic Sauce! Steam some cubed sweet potatoes, mash them, add salt, pepper, butter and some Chili Garlic Sauce and you're in business. Extremely delicious business.
I don't steal all my tricks from Alton Brown, I swear.. just most of them.
[Nate sez]: Of course there needs to be a solid beverage to accompany this perfect meal. Beer immediately comes to mind because of the quintessential American nature of the meat and potatoes paradigm. However, our ill-mannered, cigarette smoking, coffee swilling, art snobbing friends in France have a much better match for steak et yam: Bordeaux. It can be strong, smoky, and tannic, or silky, smooth and succulent. With meat and taters, you couldn't ask for a better match either way.
What the hell is Bordeaux anyways? Why do most all French wines have silly names like Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (which means New Countryhouse/Castle/Residence of the Pope)? A brief answer:
French wine is classified not by varietal (like Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah), but by region (Like Napa, CA or Williamette, OR). Each region has specific wines that thrive in that environment; Napa grows mostly Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot, and Williamette grows mostly Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. And even when we buy a Napa Cabernet, other wines (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, etc) are blended in to balance out the flavor of the main variety - so in essence, almost all wines are blends.
Bordeaux is a region, like Napa. The main grapes grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon. When you pick up a bottle of Bordeaux at your vinomart, its color will give you the first level of insight into what the bottle contains - red is Cab or Merlot dominant, and white is Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc dominant. Most likely. With French wine, the varietal note is not necessarily as important as the overall quality of the wine. To put it lightly, it takes a retarded amount of "education" (read drinking) to remember which of subregions correspond to which dominant flavors (like St. Emillion is Merlot dominant, whereas Margaux is Cab dominant, but not as Cab dominant as Pauillac...).
The point here people: find yourself a wine merchant who you trust and gives you good, low price recommendations. I know I mentioned Solo Vino last week, but I'll mention it again. Ben and I learned gobs about wine from talking to the employees (who all have Sommelier licenses BTW), and they consistently sell us low price bottles that shock and amaze. We're talking $11-16 for bomb-ass Bordeaux k?
Bordeaux is beautiful, and though some of the most expensive bottles of wine in existence come from there, here are a few bottles that run the range of what is affordable, can be drank now, and can be cellared down for years to come:
Ch. (that means Chateau) Cluzan Bordeaux, 2003 - Smells like cherries, rasberries, and other misc. red fruit, and tastes the same. The fruit is balanced out by a nice smoky oak, medium body and overall acidity. This is a drinker for right now - it feels soft, and easy to drink by itself, but pairs beautifully with just about anything that can take red wine.
Ch. Haut Lucas Côtes de Castillon, 2003 - at $16, it's a freaking steal - and I rarely want to spend more than $12. This wine is soft but structured, med-light bodied, not too dry, black-fruity, and just simply impossible to argue with. It's also 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. I know it sounds wussy (I'm not drinking fucking Merlot!), but Haut Lucas has a very mature and artful presence - this is not like crappy, overripe, 18% alcohol, hangover-inducing CA Merlot we've all burnt out on. It's definitely Merlot based, and there's nothing wrong with that. Did you hear me? - (french) MERLOT ROCKS MY WORLD!!!
Ch. Les Eyraux, 2005 - This Cabernet forward wine will need a few years to iron out it's bitterness and astringency (from tannins), but is fantastic with a fatty piece of meat right now. The aroma is definitively Cab - a bit vegetal and a bit dark fruit, countered with a great campfire smell coming up from your glass. Light bodied and neither sweet nor dry, the main flavor is of simple red fruit. It's not the kind of thing you would sit around and drink right now - it's too rough. Make sure you serve it with food - and buy a few extras to put in your cellar to drink in 2010.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Last summer Ben and I were incredibly lucky to be in the company of people who wanted to tell the world about the wonders of pink wine. No, it's not sweet. And it isn't just a bucket of kool-aid strawberries in your face either. Rosés run a refreshing balance of fruitiness, minerality, acidity, texture. It also happens to be in the $7-12 range at your local vinomart. As far as wine is concerned, it's probably the most versatile style out there. Serve it well chilled with grilled anything, roasted veg, burgers, pastas, pizzas, and even a bunch of Asian food - Sushi, Thai Curry, Fried Rice, Dumples, and it'll probably even go with Jung's Chow Mein if you absolutely insist.
Since you're probably thinking "Well Nate, this Rosé thing sounds fascinating, and I'd like to know more about the fine differences between Old World and New World style sensory descriptors, and what labels can I find at my vinomart?"
I'm glad you asked.
le Original: The French School
The French are stereotypically synonymous with good wine, and Rosé is absolutely no exception. Almost every French Rosé I've had has delightful fruity flavors like rasberry, strawberry, and plum - however unlike our friends in White Zinville, these wines are balanced by being very dry, very crisp, and often posses a structuring minerality that frankly drives me wild. Minerality is kind of a "stony" flavor, like limestone or slate. Not that I've spent a lot time licking rocks, but minerality tastes like what you'd imagine rocks to taste like. They're also often high alcohol, and can be made from a very wide variety of grapes from Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache to Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. Or whatever the hell else is laying around your grape press.
Personally, I happen to love the Southern French varieties that come from the Rhone Valley, Provence, and Costieres de Nimes. They're cheap and they freaking rule. Here's a couple of noteworthy labels.
Routas Rosé 2006, Provence: At $11, it's a steal, and I can practically guarantee that you can find this wine no matter where you live. Crisp, dry, and medium bodied with a beautiful mix of reddish berry flavors. There is a "spice" note that I identify as Grapefruit, but I don't know what you're mouth tastes like so go out and taste for yourself.
Domaine de la Petite Cassagne Rosé 2006, Costières de Nimes: This is much harder to find, and ironically cheaper ($9 to 10). I've heard a ton of Rosé geeks go on and on about this particular wine, and even though I'd never heard of it when I tried it last year, it blew my mind. It's got this really attractive rocky-mineral flavor that is just as strong as the fruit. It's really crisp, dry, and light bodied. This is a real food wine - I personally like it with fatty fish like Salmon or Trout. Maybe with some kind of herb sauce. You should really try this wine.
Bottom line. if you see a French Rosé and it's a recent vintage (no more than two years old), and it's under $12, just go for it. It's probably pretty damn good.
La Escuela Nueva: Things get interesting
Since I'm doing my best not to write an epic tome on the pink stuff, I'll try to keep this under 750 words. Outside of France, people can and do make French Style Rosé. It's just not quite the same. Out here in the US, non-Zin pink wine is being made, but the difference lies in the complexity of flavor. You may have had other Rosés from Spain, the US, even Australia, and found that they are round, really fruity, sometimes off-dry, sometimes dry, but there is a startling lack of mineral in the flavor to balance out the heavy fruitiness. Some people totally dig the super-easy drinking, mess-you-up grapey-berry juice that sometimes gets passed off as fine wine. I just can't stand it.
HOWEVER, there is a man, and his name is Carl Sutton. He happened to make what I feel to be one of the greatest wines I've ever had. It's a Rosé, and you better believe it doesn't taste one bit French.
Sutton Cellars Rattlesnake Rosé 2005, Sonoma County: Our Friend Chuck at Solo Vino turned us on to this impossible wine. It's a Syrah, Carignane, and Merolt blend barrel fermented with wild yeast, aged 10 months on the lees (that means on the dead yeast) and put through a malolactic fermentation.
It's kind of a mouthful. It tastes like a toasted fresh white English muffin, slathered with European butter, and topped off with a not-so-sweet homemade raspberry jam. It smells like Buttah - quite literally. Look, he only released 243 cases and he kegged some of this crap to go on tap in god-knows-where, and if you can find it you won't regret it, and if not, than you'll need to make me an offer I can't refuse to part with some of my stash.
The Rattlesnake embodies everything I would like out of a new world Rosé: it's rich, fruity, buttery, juicy, off-dry, and deeply satisfying. A comparable stylistic analog would be akin to French vs California Chardonnay.
Today is a perfect summer day, so get to the vinomart and buy some freaking pink stuff, make sure it's cold before you open it, and pour a big mouthful of summer down your throat. Did I mention that this goes great with smoked pork?
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
But that doesn't mean that he isn't going to put Babe on a spit and roast him till he falls off the bone in a blaze of tender, juicy, porky glory.
So here's the deal: Ben figured out that smoked meat was one of the finest things on sliced bread, and he made this absolutely amazing pork shoulder last year. So when we'd had way too many helpings of sweet sticky rice, and were sick of eating all that perfect, delicious, I'll never-ever get sick of that Thai food, we talked about smoking the eating hell out of a massive piece of pork, and stuffing our faces with it.
So we did. And it was delicious.
Here's what's necessary to experience the quintessential American barbecue:
- A massive Pork Butt (that's shoulder you perverts)
- Seven Hours of your life
- A grill, and some appropriate smoking hardwood.
- The desire to eat till your sinuses fill up, and your BPFL (Blood Pork Fat Level) exceeds the legal limit of .1 or .08 percent (depends on your local lipid regulations).
This is yet another food (like Ramen Jiro) that elicits the famed heroin reaction. We believe this is caused by a full body pork contact - at the ramen shop, you have to wait for 45 minutes, then slip around a floor covered in grease, and then wipe up your greasy splash with a towel when you're finished. Similarly, you have to lovingly tend to this massive hunk of Babe for 7 freaking hours, and then let it rest for 15 minutes, and then take 30 minutes pulling the bloody thing apart with a couple of forks, and then dressing it, and getting it to the table - all without devouring the entire thing in the process.
It's harder than you think.
So grab a toasted bun, your favorite barbecue sauce, a couple of fresh brews, and splooge yourself sideways. If there's one thing you do this summer, smoke your meat.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
For a taste of the fancy side of Portland I found "Le Pigeon" (American pronunciation of pigeon on that) where a culinary school drop-out is using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients to make amazing French-influenced food that is to die for (possibly from a pork fat or duck fat overdose). With a reservation, an empty stomach, and a goal of indulgence I sat down for dinner with Jenny, my guide to all things Portland food and wine.
Foie Gras PB&J
I had checked the menu online before arriving and couldn't decide on an appetizer. This was cured when the menu was placed on our table and I saw "Foie Gras PB&J" at the bottom of the list. I wasn't sure what it meant, but I was pretty sure we had to order it. What came out was two pieces of white bread filled with a foie gras paté, heavily buttered and tossed on a griddle. Lightly browned, this sandwich was placed a top a layer of strawberry-thyme jam and surrounded by crushed peanuts. The creamy pate definitely elevated this above the pb&j that mom used to make (no offense mom), and while the thyme-infusion of the jam was sadly imperceptible to me, I was deeply sad that this sandwich was gone so quickly.
Quail and Foie Gras Ravioli
For my entreé I ordered Quail with Foie Gras Ravioli. These two cute little birds came out stuffed with creamy spinach and currants atop a pair of ravioli filled with more foie gras paté. This dish featured a "deconstructed sauce," oil on the plate mixing with the fat from the foie gras and the cream portion of the spinach, combining their forces to create an excellent sauce for the lightly flavored quail meat.
Swine and Scallops
My partner in culinary crime ordered the "Swine and Scallops," pork jowl and scallops with pearl onions and asparagus in a smoked pork fat hollandaise. I'd never had jowl before, which I now think is a horrible oversight in my life to this point, it was like a cross between thick cut bacon and pork belly. The scallops were great, I'm normally not a huge fan of this particular item, but compared to the saltiness of the pork the scallops tasted sweet, lightening up this otherwise salty, smoky, porky dish. The real magic here however was the hollandaise sauce made with smoked pork fat - oh the glory! In every bite the smokiness and delicious pork fat flavor came through, it might sound excessive, and maybe it is, but a little excess never hurt anybody, right?
Profiteroles with Foie Gras Ice Cream
After having foie gras in the first two courses it seemed like it would be negligent of us to not order it for dessert when presented with the option. Glorious paté a choux puffs sliced open, filled with foie gras ice cream and drizzled with a rich caramel sauce. I don't know how to describe this besides rich, decadent, and delicious. Upon taking the first bite I think my friend temporarily transcended this plane of existence, living for a short while in a dimension of pure, foie gras-induced bliss.
[Nate sez]: Ben told me about this brilliant abomination over the phone. I kicked myself thrice for not having thought of it myself. Not that foie would have made it into a damned ice cream machine if it anywhere near my greedy hands...Speaking of which, I'm going to be late for my cardiology appointment.
Bacon and Apricot Cornbread with Homemade Maple Ice Cream
My dessert of choice combined two of my favorite flavors - bacon and maple. A thick piece of bacon, apricot cornbread topped with a big scoop of homemade maple ice cream with little chunks of bacon scattered around it, all in a pool of maple syrup and bacon fat. The sweet cornbread was balanced by the salty bacon, with an occasional burst of flavor from the chunks of apricot suspended within. It was so amazing that once we had consumed every morsel of cornbread and every drop of ice cream I couldn't keep from licking the plate. As I was dragging my tongue across the bacon-maple residue on the plate the chef stepped over to our table to thank me for my actions, apparently licking the plate is the biggest compliment there is. I don't know why he was thanking me though, I just showed up and ate the amazing food.