Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Is That Salmon Ella?

Nate et Cheap-as-fuck Salmon[Nate sez]: I've encountered scores of the scarred and traumatized who flee at the sight of fish. I'll grin and inform my guests that they will be dining on an array of formerly finned creatures and I all I get in return are gasps of horror, uneasy looks, and drops of sweat dripping down foreheads.

Why does everyone seem to have an uncle that loved forcing twice-killed fish down their nieces' and nephews' throats? Am I responsible for showing people that fish is, like, really fucking good?

Now I'm sure a great deal of you who would bother to read this unpredictable mess Ben and I call a blog are already hip to the fact that fish, whether fatty or slim, small or large, fresh or frozen, DOA or canned is a beautiful thing. you can grill it, steam it, poach it, bake it, broil it, look at it, play with it, make funny faces at, or even just shove it in your gaping maw raw...or at least I know I like to do that.

But really, the most well-liked and easy to procure and prepare fish is Salmon. If you follow these five steps, I can almost guarantee that you will be shocked and awed by the sheer pleasure of it's juicy, fatty, delicious, healthy, salty, nutritiousliciousness.

Cheap Salmon#1. Don't spend a lot. I buy farmed, not that red, raised in squalid conditions Salmon that costs somewhere in the 'hood of 5-7 bucks a pound. What you want is marbled fish - look at that picture - all that white stuff is fish fat, that great shit your doctor's been trying to get you to eat. It also keeps the muscle fibers separate and lubed up so it turns out juicy and delicious. Make sure you buy your fish with skin on too.

#2. Crank your oven. Turn your oven onto 500 degrees F. And preheat it so you're fish hits the heat hard.

#3. Smell that Salmon! If your fish smells (and sometimes it does, though if you bought it the day you're cooking it, it probably won't) rinse it in the sink. "What!" you exclaim, "You want me to touch that thing, and like, get my hands on it?" Yeah, I do. And you're going to be rubbing stuff all over it soon so get over it already!

Polenta#4. Seasoning. Take a cookie sheet, lay some foil down and cover it up. Throw a bit of oil on there and rub with your dirty hand. Now take the Salmon and slap it down on the sheet. Put a bit of oil on the flesh and a lot of Kosher salt and pepper on there (NO IODIZED SALT) - just like a steak. Now rub it gently and whisper sweet nothings to your meat.

#5. Whacking. Put the freaking thing in the hot as hell oven. AND READ CAREFULLY...There is no such thing as an exact time your Salmon will take. Depending on the size, anywhere from 8 to 20 minutes. The thicker and bigger, the longer. You should poke your salmon to see if it's done. It is getting near done when the thick area of the flesh feels firmer than it did before you put it in - it should have a little give, but not too much. An over done piece feels like a clenched muscle. Even if you think it's a little underdone, take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes with some foil gently placed over it.

NOTE: You will not die from undercooked salmon. In fact, you might even like it. As time goes on, you will learn how to judge the done-ness by experience. This is how good cooks are made.

[Ben sez]: The great thing about Salmon is that it goes well with so many wines, red or white. One thing remains constant: you want a wine that is fruity and juicy, most certainly not that dry, and is probably closer to a "drinking" wine than a "food" wine (meaning something that sucks unless you eat something with it). I suggest a light, cheap Pays d'Oc Pinot Noir like French Rabbit (in a box!?), or a Vouvray.

Vouvray is one of my favorite wines - it comes from the Loire Valley of France and is made from mostly Chenin Blanc. If you've had POS, way too dry, 16% Chenin Blancs from VouvrayAussieland and South Africa, you wouldn't even recognize Vouvray. The type I like is off-dry, which means it's not dry, but it isn't perceptibly sweet either. Ask your wine merchant for an inexpensive, off-dry Vouvray. It has strong notes of pears and apples, an understated minerality to provide structure, and is arguably one of the most agreeable wines around.

I haven't had any this year yet, so I can't really tell you what's good right now. Just ask your damn wine people. It is their job to know after all...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Magical Fruit.

[Ben sez]: We've always focused on the food that was awesome. Transcendental experiences of taste, things that make you go blind with the pleasure of the moment, or make you question if life is worth living as few moments seem like they could possibly top the bite of food you just took.

OfBlack Beans and Brown Rice course every day can't be like this, and if it were we probably wouldn't find the truly amazing meals as noteworthy. Most days you just want something good. It doesn't have to be mom's homemade comfort food, but I've found my own easy, filling (and fulfilling) meal which has changed the way I eat and I would choose over Mac'n'Cheese or a frozen pizza any day. Thinking about it might not make me salivate, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't eat foie gras numerous times a week and still feel good about myself (or my waistline).

In my case the staple of choice that I would, could, and do eat a bare minimum of three times a week is brown rice and black beans. It's tasty, it's filling, it's remarkably healthy, and as if that weren't enough ridiculously cheap. Everything I want from my everyday meal.

As you may or may notBrown Rice know brown rice is way healthier than white rice - containing all sorts of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. Oh yeah, black beans are also wicked good for you. Between the two you get more nutrition than you know what to do with, and as an added bonus all that fiber will keep things more regular than Mussolini's trains.

I really can't sing the praises of this wonder-combo enough: fast, easy, and just damn good. If you're penny-pinching your way through college/unemployment/saving for something, maybe you should track down a 20 pound bag of brown rice and a pallet of black beans, it's responsible for getting me through pretty much every week (and maintaining my girlish figure).Black Bean and Corn Soup The lazy man in me just boils up some rice, opens a can of beans (with the addition of spices) and through the wonders of modern microwave technology dinner is ready in no time. If you're feeling a little fancier there's always the black bean soup/stew/chili route which requires the addition preparation of vegetables and having cans of corn and tomatoes on hand, but is a good way to change things up if you've had three meals of simple black beans with brown rice this week and it's only Tuesday.

Oh, and if you have some brown rice left over you can always make fried rice with it. But that's another blog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Meat and Potatoes.

Steaky Goodness[Ben sez]: Now that our Asian adventure is quickly fading into the past we're not really eating out for three meals a day (plus four snacks and two desserts), and being the currently unemployed college graduates we are, we don't make it out to eat multiple times a week to find something to write about. As an alternative we've decided to treat you to some of our favorite home cooking (as with the smoked pork two weeks ago).

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 Ribeyebutcher 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.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with ShallotsOf 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.

All Thriller, All the Time[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. Bordeaux 1998And 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?

The Evening's SelectionsBordeaux 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!!!

VinoCh. 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

Stop and Smell the Rosé

nateRoseRock[Nate sez]: Maybe I'm just tickled pink. Perhaps it's just my feminine side showing through. Or maybe I'm really just a closet White Zin drinker (::shivers violently::). No, Rosé is much more than meets your mouth, or your expectations.

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

leFranceThe 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.

petiteCassagneDomaine 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

SonomaSince 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.

rattlesnakeRoseSutton 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?