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When in Spain…

December 1, 2022 3 comments

My last trip to Europe was in September 2019. Next were the 3 strange years (you know what I’m talking about). And then suddenly I had to come to Europe for work meetings for 2 straight weeks – first week in Spain, then in France. It honestly felt very strange, visiting Europe after such a long break, but I’m afraid I will start sounding very stupid if I will continue complaining…

Before we talk about Spain – I love sunsets and sunrises around the planes – I’m sure you know that there will be quite a few pictures in this post, so here you go…

So what one does do upon arrival to Spain? Okay, I have no idea what people actually do when they come to Spain. And my course of action is largely independent of the destination – I need to find sparkling water for my hotel room, as this is the form of water I always prefer. And of course, being in Europe, I need to check the prices of wine and probably get a bottle or two for the room.

Arriving in Malaga on Sunday didn’t really help with things. Why? I don’t know if this is very typical of Spain (I suspect so) or just for Malaga, but no matter what Google says the absolute majority of the supermarkets are closed (as well as most of the regular stores). I made 2-3 attempts to rely on Google’s recommendations only to find places closed. I almost gave up but decided to give it one more try. This walk was successful, and I ended up with 3 bottles of wine, 3 bottles of seltzer, and some other provisions to make hotel room life more fun (glad I had a little fridge in the room).

Of course, the point of the excursion was not just to get the wine, but also to see the prices and selection. A good number of wines were priced in the range which doesn’t exist in the USA, no matter what and where you are buying – from €2.50 to €4. You can also see a variety of “Tetrapak” wine options, priced extremely reasonably, barely a €1 for a liter and similar prices for the six-packs. Definitely beats “wine-in-the-can” prices in the US which can easily exceed an obnoxious $10 for a can and more.

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Later in the week I managed to get to a supermarket, so you can see the price observation in the pictures below. It is interesting the Albariño wines were priced almost at the level of the prices in the US – while many of the wines were available for a “buck fifty” or so. Go figure…

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Anyway, I settled for two bottles of red and one white, each under €4.

After getting back to my room, I happily enjoyed both of the reds, which both happened to be Tempranillo wines. I did like 2017 Félix Solís Winery Viña Albali Reserva Valdepeñas DO (13% ABV) a bit more as it was perfectly approachable from the get-go, with elegant dark fruit and spices. The 2019 Bodegas Los Llamos Señorio de Los Llamos Tempranillo Valdepeñas DO (12.5% ABV) was a bit more restrained and needed more time to open. Both wines lasted pretty much through the entire week by just putting the cork back. The 2021 Sitial Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV) was opened a few days later, and it was a perfectly happy Verdejo rendition with a touch of freshly cut grass and lemon, fully matching the expectations.

After my colleagues arrived in the evening, we took a little stroll to the historical town, where in addition to the very enjoyable walk and pleasant sightseeing I came across one of the tastiest discoveries of the entire trip – roasted chestnuts.

Before you say “duh”, let me explain. Of course, I read many times that roasted chestnuts are “the thing”. I tried to roast them at home in the oven – never happy with the result. Yes, it might be me, might be the chestnuts we get in the US, might be the method. Nevertheless, the chestnuts were in my “I don’t get it” book.

Walking in Malaga, first I noticed the smell. The delightful smell of food and smoke. And then we saw the street vendors, roasting chestnuts in the little stands, looking similar to the hot dog stands in Manhattan. That aroma in the air… absolutely dreamy…

But what’s more important is that the taste was sublime. You take this warm chestnut in your hands, break the thin shell and enjoy the crumbly, slightly sweet and barely starchy “nut” which falls apart in your mouth. I’m salivating as I’m writing this – that food experience pretty much beats Jamon in my book.

This was my first time visiting Spain, so of course, it was nice to see the words of others materialize in the Jamon abundance everywhere – little stores, restaurants, everywhere. I love how those sandwiches are presented – it is really hard to walk by and not get one.

Speaking of food, I found an unexpected dish to be interestingly widespread – Russian Salad. We had it with the catering during lunches and I saw it on the menu of a number of restaurants and even in the eateries at the airport.

I don’t know if this dish is popular only in Malaga or in Spain overall – Malaga used to be very popular among Russian tourists, and this might have something to do with this dish. Anyway, if I was able to dissect correctly, the salad consists of boiled potatoes, eggs, salmon, and mayo. It was quite tasty on a few occasions I had it.

Now, let’s talk more about wines. We had an event dinner at the restaurant in the old town. The wine was simply offered by the color – white or red – with a sheepish comment by the waiter “ohh, the red is local”. I decided to start with the white and to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my choice would be an understatement. This 2021 Bodegas Barbadillo Castillo de San Diego Palomino Fino (13% ABV) had a deep inviting nose of whitestone fruit with minerally undertones, and the palate had a great depth of white plums and sage with the roundness and plumpness which I typically observe on the best renditions of the Roussanne. Outstanding.

Then, of course, I asked to try the red, not having much of an expectation remembering the shy enforcement.

 

 

Wow! I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was supposedly drinking local Malaga wine which I know nothing about, but we are in Spain – how come this wine tastes like a perfectly round, exuberant, in-your-face Bordeaux at its peak? What is this all-around beautiful cassis doing in the local Malaga wine? Something happened to my palate? When I got a chance to look at the back label of this 2012 Bodegas Excelencia Los Frontones Crianza Sierras de Málaga DO (13.5% ABV), things got back to normal – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, and Syrah. I did a bit of the reading afterward and it appears that the Malaga area had a lot of French winemaking influence, hence the use of Bordeaux varieties. For the 10 years old, this wine was absolutely in its prime and absolutely enjoyable.

Later during the week, I had another enjoyable encounter with local Malaga wine – 2018 Bodegas Pérez Hidalgo Vega del Geva Sierras de Málaga DO (14% ABV), a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A bit tighter than the previous wine, but still very much cassis and eucalyptus forward, round, layered, and delicious.

My last evening in Malaga was full of pure, hedonistic pleasure – but this deserves a post on its own.

Here you are, my friends. I have to declare my first visit to Spain a success, and I truly hope to be back in the near future.

A Few Days In Seattle

May 23, 2022 5 comments

You know how you can look at something but not see it? Or think that you know something but really not knowing it at all?

I’m sure I don’t make much sense, but let me try explaining it better. I had been visiting Seattle for many years now, considering that Seattle had been a high-tech hub for ages. Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, space needle, Pike’s Place. So in my mind, I was sure that I was well familiar with Seattle and all it has to offer to the visitors. I knew that in Pike’s Place there is a famous Russian-style eatery, Piroshky Piroshky, and that Pike’s Place Chowder, the winner of all of the New England Chowdafest competitions is also coming from Seattle. But turns out that lots of it was the knowledge, but not the experience. I knew that these places exist, but I actually never experienced them firsthand.

Until now.

I visited Seattle to attend a conference. That conference was actually supposed to take place 2 years ago, but as you are all acutely aware that happened to be the time that never was… The event was hosted by Amazon at their downtown offices, thus I guess for the first time I actually stayed in downtown Seattle and had a little bit of time to explore the city – and gain firsthand experience.

A picture worth a thousand words. So below you will see many, many thousands of words – in the form of the pictures of downtown, Pike’s Place, and the seaside.


















The original Starbucks at Pike’s Place

 

Now, a few more words about the food experiences.

Piroshky Piroshky had been around for 30 years, and it is definitely one of the staples of the Pike’s Place market, always adorned with a line of hungry guests. I was lucky as I walked up to the door because for some reason there was literally no line – or I simply was a jerk and cut people off without knowing. Either way, I tried two Piroshky, one with salmon, and one with beef and onion (the selection there is quite substantial, including sweets and vegan concoctions, but all the Piroshky are rather large, so there is a limit to how many you can have). Both were tasty, but I wouldn’t say that I was blown away. I would be happy to try them again but it is not something I would crave.

After trying to walk off all some of the calories of Piroshky I came across the Pike’s Place Chowder. I had an image of a nice-looking restaurant in my head, as Pike’s Place Chowder always competed in Chowdafest against actual restaurants – but the place was rather a “hole in the wall” style. Well, “hole in the wall” is synonymous with tasty food more often than not.

I never thought of it, but walking around Pike’s Place and looking at what is offered in all of the numerous eateries I was surprised by the similarities of the food offerings with what I would find on a typical visit to Newport or on Cape Cod, the quintessential New England – fried seafood of all sorts, fried oysters, clams, shrimp, scallops, fish, and yada yada yada. So the coast is a coast, whether the east or the west. Taking this revelation into account, it is not surprising that New England clam chowder was offered pretty much everywhere – and of course, it shouldn’t be surprising that Pike’s Place Chowder can successfully compete at the Chowdafest in New England.

 

Let’s go back to the Pike’s Place Chowder. The eatery also offers a full variety of seafood, fried and not. But as their menu boasts 8 or so different types of chowders, that is what I was interested in trying. Luckily, the restaurant offers sample packs, so I went for the 4 samples pack, as I was by myself and there is a limit to the amount of New England clam chowder one can consume (especially when two Pirozhki are still occupying the majority of the available stomach space). Another option was 8 samples pack, but that would be a waste of money and food. I decided to get New England clam chowder, Smoked Salmon chowder, Seared Clams chowder, and Market chowder (whatever the chef feels like on a given day). I got the sample pack to go for two reasons – there was absolutely no space to sit, and I still needed to lose at least 5–10 calories, so a walk to the hotel, albeit short, seemed like a good idea.

Remembering my Chowdafest experiences, Pike’s Place Chowder was never my top favorite, and nevertheless, for many years that I attended the Chowdafest, they have always won the New England Clam Chowder category. I only have two explanations for that phenomenon. Factor 1 – intimidation. They always bring a full display of medals to the competition, and when people see it, they are instantly inclined not to argue with success. I’m absolutely positive that same as with the wine if the tasting would be done blind, the results would be totally different. Factor 2 – customer service. At the Chowdafest, there is always a long line to each vendor’s stand. Pike’s Place always brings enough people to be able to carry their chowders around so the people wouldn’t have to wait in line.

See, I got really on a tangent here. As I got to my hotel room and took a first sip of the classic New England clam chowder, my first thought was “it’s okay, but this is not great” – hence the reminiscence on the subject of the Chowdafest. I can name a bunch of clam chowders (including the one which I make – yep, I have the nerve, I know) which I would unquestionably prefer – Grand Central Oyster’s Bar, Rory’s (a local restaurant in Darien, CT, always serving chowder with a tiny bottle of Sherry), and I’m sure many others. All four chowders were fun to try, with Seared Scallop chowder being my favorite. However same as with Piroshky Piroshky, I can eat it again, but that wouldn’t be something I would crave.

Now, to complete my culinary escapades in Seattle, here is one more, now truly unique experience.

I love the concept of “food in season”. Don’t get me wrong – I need my blueberries 365 days a year, whether they are grown locally in Maine or in Chile or Peru. But if you ever being to the “foodie heavens” in Europe – France, Switzerland, and the likes – there are always products which are only available for a short time – as, for example, white asparagus in Geneva which you can find on the restaurants’ menu only for about 3 weeks in the spring.

I never heard of Copper River Salmon before. Copper River is located in Alaska, and the salmon which is caught there is usually available in its fresh form only for a very short time in the spring, from mid-May through June. Copper River salmon is usually equated to the best Japanese marbled beef in its exquisite, luxurious flavor profile. Pier 66 Anthony’s seafood restaurant had just received their shipment of the Copper River Salmon two days prior to our visit, and it was on the dinner menu. We happened to dine at that restaurant on the last night in Seattle, so it was impossible to avoid such a rare treat.

Was that the best piece of salmon I ever had? Probably. It was soft, fluffy, airy, and full of flavor. This is probably something I would crave, and this is definitely the experience to remember. If anything, you should remember the name – Copper River Salmon – just in case the opportunity would present itself.

That’s my account of the few days in Seattle – well worth a visit even without taking the wine into account. But if you like wine like me, the visit to Seattle might be something you should simply crave. Why? I will tell you all about it in the next post…

Wine Lover Geeking Out: Pairing Soup and Wine

January 7, 2022 Leave a comment

Finally, the snow was coming. Cold weather can be perfectly paired with the soup. So this was an easy equation to solve – snow means soup.

New England Clam Chowder is one of my all-time favorite soups. I’m generally happy with restaurant versions, but I have a recipe that is much lighter than a typical restaurant version, as it uses half and half instead of heavy cream. One day I might be able to share that recipe, but as this is not my recipe, I would need first to get permission. I can tell you that the main ingredients there are bacon, potatoes, celery, and good quality clams (so far I find that ocean clams are the best). And half and half as I mentioned before.

In the morning, I realized that I’m not sure what wine I should pair with this soup, and I decided to ask the wine folks on the twitter for a recommendation. This turned out into a fun conversation. Here are the recommendations I received (I will try not to miss any, but I can’t guarantee):

  • lightly oaked, moderate-climate Chardonnay
  • Austrian Gruner
  • Siegerrebe, Pinot Blanc, and Chenin Blanc (from South Africa or Loire)
  • Riesling or Pinot Blanc / Gris from Alsace
  • Brut Sparkling
  • Viognier (I missed this recommendation when it was originally sent)
  • Ribolla Gialla, perhaps even a skin-contact (e.g. Gravner)
  • Godello
  • Manzanilla

Not a bad list, isn’t it?

My goal was to use what I have on hand and not to go to the store. This eliminated Austrian Gruner, Siegerrebe (had to use Google to learn about this obscure grape), Pinot Blanc, anything from Alsace, Ribolla Gialla, and especially Ribolla Gialla with skin contact (I wish I had a bottle of Gravner), Viognier, Godello, and Manzanilla. So the only 2 options I had from this list were lightly oaked Chardonnay and sparkling Brut. After careful consideration, I realized that I probably don’t have lightly oaked Chardonnay on hand either. And I didn’t feel like opening Champagne – besides, Champagne perfectly pairs with everything anyway, so this would not be a fun exercise anyway.

Then I realized that I have a few samples of Portuguese wines, as well as a few Sherries – this was enough to experiment, which is exactly what I did.

These are the wines I tried with the soup:

2020 Esporão Branco Colheita Alentejo (Antão Vaz, Viosinho, Alvarinho, 4 months on the lees) – didn’t work. Creamy and round wine clashed with the soup.
2020 Esporão Branco Reserva Alentejo (Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro, six months in stainless steel tanks and in new American and French oak barrels) – it worked! The pairing was complementary, probably because the wine had a good amount of clean acidity, and so it was the most food-friendly by definition.
2018 Esporão Tinto Colheita Alentejo (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Franca, 6 months in concrete tanks) -trying this wine with the soup was a mistake – can I leave it at that?
Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso – I had big expectations for this pairing, and it didn’t work. The combination was not bad – the wine and the soup simply stayed in their own worlds without impacting each other.
González Byass Solera 1847 Cream Dulce – big mistake. That sweetness of the wine just didn’t go well with the soup.

Here is my report on this simple experiment. I might try a few more combinations tomorrow and will update the post if I will encounter something exciting.

What would you pair a clam chowder with? What do you think of pairing soup and wine in general – does that even makes sense?

Thanksgiving 2021

November 29, 2021 Leave a comment

My love for Thanksgiving is a bit bittersweet – while this is one of the most favorite holidays of the year, its arrival also means that the year entered the finishing stretch and the four weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year will disappear literally with a blink of an eye. Is the ending of 2021 something to regret? Not really, not compared with any other year except its predecessor, 2020 – but so far we have not much hope for 2022 to be any better, so let’s count our blessings.

This year, Thanksgiving had a glimpse of normal. We managed to celebrate with the family in person at our house (yay!), and then we went to Boston to celebrate with our close friends, again in person (double yay!). So with the exception of the need to wear a mask here and there, and not materialized fears of celebrating with chicken instead of a turkey, this was a pretty standard Thanksgiving holiday.

As far as food goes, we managed to experience turkey 2 ways. First, at our house, we did a simple roasted turkey in the bag. I got the pre-brined turkey from Trader Joe’s, and it perfectly cooked in less than 4 hours, using the bag and convection bake in the oven. Then in Boston, we had a Turducken (turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with chicken), but instead of making it ourselves, it was prepared at the butchery with the exception of roasting the final product. With perfect seasoning, this was definitely a standout. Of course, we had a bunch of appetizers, sides, and desserts, most of which simply was a repeat from the past years – roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes, green beans sauteed with onions, acorn squash roasted with hazelnut butter, homemade cranberry sauce (using the recipe from Bobby Flay), Nantucket cranberry pie.

And then, of course, there were wines. A few weeks before Thanksgiving I got a note from Field Recordings offering two of the Nouveau wines, Rosé and Pinot Noir – as it is Nouveau wines, both were from the 2021 vintage. That gave me an idea to pair the whole Thanksgiving dinner with Field Recordings wines. I really wanted to have a Chardonnay at the dinner, but I had none from the Field Recordings, so I had to settle for their Chenin Blanc wine, from Jurassic Park vineyard. For the red, I decided to open one of my most favorite Field Recordings wines – actually, the wine which made me fall in love with Field Recordings – Fiction, with some nice age on it.

Let’s talk about these wine choices.

2021 Field Recordings Rosé Nouveau Edna Valley (10.9% ABV, blend of Grenache and Cinsaut from Morro View Vineyard in Edna Valley in California). The wine was a bit temperature-sensitive but overall outstanding. I served it slightly chilled, and the wine was tart with the strawberries profile, maybe ever slightly unbalanced. Chilling it another 4-5 degrees down magically transformed the experience into the fresh crunchy cranberries territory, with lots of cranberries in every sip – a pure delight.

2021 Field Recordings Pinot Noir Nouveau Edna Valley (12.9% ABV, Greengate Vineyard in Edna Valley in California) was quite similar to the classic French Beaujolais Nouveau, offering nicely restrained notes of fresh, young, just-crushed berries. This wine was also showing better with a higher degree of chill, being more composed with a more present body.

2018 Field Recordings Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (11.3% ABV, 6 months in the hosch fuder 1000L) offered a glimpse of fresh apples and a hint of honey on the palate, all with crispy acidity. While this was not Chardonnay, the wine offered quite a bit of similarity and fit very nicely into my craving for Chardonnay, while being well reminiscent of a nice classic dry Vouvray.

The last bottle was unquestionably a bold move on my part.

2012 Field Recordings Fiction Paso Robles (14.9% ABV, 40% Zinfandel, 13% Tempranillo, 12% Petite Sirah, 11% Touriga Nacional, 10% Mourvedre, 8% Grenache, 6% Cinsault). This wine was the one that connected me with Field Recordings more than 10 years ago – I wrote a post about 2010 Fiction, and it was my 2011 Top wine of the year as well. I love those original labels a lot more than clean and rather boring labels currently in use at Field Recordings – and not only the label itself but also the text on the back label, talking about the early days of Andrew Jones, who was first and foremost grape grower before he started Field Recordings – you can read it for yourself.

9 years old wine under the screwtop and stored at room temperature – what would you expect? The wine was definitely showing the age, with an abundance of tertiary and dried fruit aromas (figs, cherries), but it still had some fresh fruit left together with the zipping acidity. I think if anything, this would be the wine that would actually turn into vinegar, give it another 4-5 years. But – it was still perfectly enjoyable now, and it was my second favorite of the evening together with the Nouveau Rosé.

There you go, my friends – my Thanksgiving 2021 escapades.

Oh, and before I forget – the last day of Thanksgiving weekend was also the first day of Hanukkah, so I simply had to make potato pancakes – thus this is the image I want to leave you with.

Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate!

 

A Weekend With Friends

September 27, 2021 2 comments

Here I am, going over the options in my head. I can just start this post like everything is cool. Or I can start it with a little whining about the past. Like the life as we knew it before 2020. The year which didn’t exist. Which continues “not existing” well into this very 2021. Anyone has a time machine to go and fix it all? We don’t need to go far…

Yes, I strive normal. The life as it was. And this past weekend, this is exactly what I had.

For the past 10 years, we have had a tradition with friends – adults’ getaway. It was born out of the need to get away from the kids, to feel ourselves the adults without the need to constantly taking care of someone. Visit a winery, have a great dinner, play some games until everyone is really tired, have more fun the next day, come home recharged. Simple.

Last year was the first time in 10 years when we felt that adults’ getaway was not in the cards. But this year, the spontaneous decision was made not to lose another year to the stupid crap, and the getaway was planned.

We always go to the small towns around the east coast, trying to stay within 3 hours of driving distance from Stamford, CT. As I started writing this post, I decided to check what places we visited over this years. It turns out that this was our 10th trip, skipping 2011 (if 2011 was not skipped, I have zero records of that), and 2020. In 2010, this all started in Milford, Pennsylvania. In 2012, we continued to Grafton, Vermont. In 2013, we stayed in Palenville, New York, with the visit to Hudson Distillery being an absolute highlight. In 2014, it was Norfolk, Connecticut, and then we continued on to Cooperstown, New York in 2015, Greenville, New York in 2016, Lenox, Massachusetts in 2017, then Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania in 2018, and West Yarmouth on Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 2019 (as you can tell by the absence of the links, I failed to properly document some of our adventures).

That brings us to the year 2021, where our spontaneously decided destination was once again the Berkshire mountains region of Massachusetts, and our home base for the weekend been at Harbour House Inn and B&B in Cheshire, Massachusetts. But our first stop on the way was at the Balderdash Cellars winery in Richmond, Massachusetts. It was a random pick – the winery was conveniently located along the way, about 30 minutes away from our final destination, but then it was definitely a lucky strike.

The note on Balderdash Cellars website said that reservations are unnecessary and not taken – this sounded really good especially with the latest trend where you can’t just walk into the winery for a tasting (I get the business side of it, but I’m not a fan). Another interesting thing about the winery is that Balderdash Cellars brings the grapes from California (grapes, not juice), and then they make their wines right on premises, including all of the aging (some of the reds age for 2 years).

We arrived pretty much by the time the winery just opened its tasting room (at noon), and we were the first there. You can get a tasting flight of 5 wines, a glass of wine, or a bottle, all from the current selection. The tasting flight is prepared for you in the neat tiny vessels, and then you can seat anywhere you like and taste at your own speed.

All the wines we tasted greatly exceeded my expectations. 2020 Balderdash Cellars Bao Bao Sauvignon Blanc (13.6% ABV, $29, 100% Stainless steel for 5 months, Napa Valley fruit) was perfectly on point – a touch of freshly cut grass, bright acidity, lemon notes, perfectly refreshing and delicious. 2017 Balderdash Cellars Til Death Do Us Part Viognier (14.3% ABV, $29, 75% French Oak, 25% stainless steel for 8 months, Paso Robles fruit) was possibly even more surprising. Viognier is a very tricky grape, you really need to do it right, especially when it comes from the warm climates. This wine was outstanding – beautiful perfume on the nose, tropical fruit, nicely plump and balanced palate.

2017 Balderdash Cellars Joyride Pinot Noir (14.4% ABV, $39, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Edna Valley fruit) was good, maybe a bit too sweet for my palate. However, 2019 Balderdash Cellars Invincible Cabernet Sauvignon (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 2 years, Napa Valley fruit) was simply outstanding – cassis and bell peppers on the nose, classic, unmistakable Cab with a lot of restraint, continuing with the same finesse on the palate – more cassis and bell peppers, all well balanced and harmonious. I would be happy to drink this wine at any time. Last but not least in the flight was 2019 Balderdash Cellars Brakelight Syrah (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Sonoma fruit), which was also perfectly classic – beautiful black pepper all around, on the nose and on the palate, the nice core of the black and red fruit, delicious.

We also had a bonus taste of the 2020 Balderdash Cellars Kill Joy Late Harvest Viognier (12% ABV, $27, 100% neutral French oak, Edna Valley fruit) which was just outstanding – fresh ripe tropical fruit supported by clean lemon acidity, the element which makes or breaks any dessert wine, and this one was definitely made right.

I really wanted to try Truth Serum Petite Sirah as just the name sounds soooo intriguing, but the wine was sold out, unfortunately.

After tasting we moved from inside of the tasting room to find a nice sitting outside. The winery has stacks and stacks of red Adirondack chairs, my favorite type of chair, and we had no problems assembling a very comfortable sitting. We got a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon to continue, while we were waiting for the food truck to arrive at 1 pm (the winery offers different food options on the weekends). I also want to mention how professional the staff was at the winery – water was added to the ice in the bucket to chill our Sauvignon Blanc better. The foil was cut completely from the bottle before pulling out the cork – these are the little things that make your wine experience simply more enjoyable.

While the winery doesn’t offer vineyard views, they have rows of flowers instead. I love seeing all of the pictures of sunflowers from all the people around, but never really had an opportunity to take sunflower pictures before – until now. This flower field was boasting the sunflowers of more colors ever thought are possible in the sunflowers. Hence let me inundate you a bit here with these beauties:

Three hours later, we left now a very crowded winery to get to our destination – Harbour House Inn B&B. If I would have to describe Harbour House Inn in a few words, that would be “clean, large, spacious, and hospitable”. Hospitable is truly a keyword here – let me explain.

Saturday night dinner is the major attraction for our adults’ getaways, pièce de résistance if you will. We always put a lot of care into finding a restaurant that would be willing to accommodate our group and create a special tasting menu which we would pair with our own wines. On most of the trips we were able to create the arrangements like this, and a few times we were unable to bring our own wines and had the tasting dinner fully arranged by the restaurant. This time around, we couldn’t find a restaurant that would be willing to work with us in creating a tasting menu, and not everybody was even willing to accommodate our whole group for dinner. This is where our hosts, Brandi, Darrell, and Billie came to the rescue, allowing us to get the take-out from the restaurant, set up the dinner table with all the plates and glasses, and thus still have an experience of our traditional wine dinner.

When we arrived, the table was already set with the wines glasses and plates, and there was a fridge where we could stuff all of our white wines.

And here is the same table all set to start the dinner:

Those popocers… Yummmm!

We brought our dinner from the Mario’s Restaurant in New Lebanon, New York (about 30 minutes drive) which also exceeded our expectations. We arrived at 5 PM to pick up all the food. Everything was ready to go, no waiting at all, and all the food was piping hot, just made. The restaurant even included lots of delicious bread and top it all off, popovers, which were simply spectacular – I’m not a big fan of the popovers in general, but this was just something else – I would eat 5 of those by myself and have no regrets.

Now, let’s talk about wine and food. Our first dish was Prince Edward Isle Mussels (Pancetta, leek, roasted garlic, white wine, EVOO, crostini) which we paired with 2020 Bisol Jeio Millesimato Prosecco Rosé DOC. Prosecco Rosé is a hot category right now. As I’m mostly ambivalent to the Prosecco, this new category is also lost on me. However, when I was looking for the wines to pair with the dinner, and I wanted to start our dinner with bubbles, that bottle of Jeio Rosé looked very good – an opportunity to try a new (hot!) type of wine made by the reputable producer (I’m not ambivalent to Bisol wines – these are Prosecco wines in its own category). The Rosé didn’t disappoint – crisp, clean, tart, fresh – anything else you want from the sparkling wine? Yep, I thought so. It paired very well with the mussels which were a riot – lots and lots of flavor, delicious broth – I lost count to the amount of bread I consumed with the mussels.

Next, we had Rustic Beef and  Veal Grande Meatballs (San Marzano sauce, pesto, crostini) and Mushroom Beignet (Caps stuffed with garlic butter, dipped in a beignet batter, baked and topped with hollandaise sauce) which we paired with 2020 Notorious Pink Grenache Rosé Vin de France (100% Grenache). The meatballs were absolutely delicious, as well as the mushroom beignet. As far as the wine is concerned, we already had this Rosé at one of the previous dinners, and looking into my past notes I was equally unimpressed.

Next, we had Baby Arugula Salad (Farm fresh peaches, garden tomatoes, burrata, toasted pistachios, white balsamic vinaigrette) paired with 2019 Ninety Plus Cellars Aligoté Bourgogne AOC. Aligoté is yet another rave of the moment, gaining in popularity as an affordable white Burgundy. The wine was round and creamy and worked quite well with the salad.

For our “intermezzo” we decided to try something new and different – a “pasta” of zucchini – Zucchini “Noodles” (Roasted wild mushrooms and tomatoes, sweet corn, burrata, cheese, white wine, and garlic) paired with 2019 Thevenet & fils Les Clos Bourgogne AOC. The zucchini “noodles” were an absolute standout – amazing flavor and texture, delicious. The red Burgundy was very tart and light – while it was kind of okay with the dish, the pairing was not anything to write home about.

Then there were the entrées. First, we paired Pan Seared Sea Scallops (Risotto alla Milanese, sweet corn, chive beurre blanc) and Grilled Faroe Island Salmon (Maple and mustard glaze, hash of roasted potatoes, English peas, carrots, and scallions, fresh horseradish) with 2013 Montecillo Rioja Reserva DOC. Scallops and salmon were delicious in their own right, each dish being succulent and flavorful. The Rioja was simply superb – dark fruit, cedar box, herbs, perfectly balanced, round and velvety in the mouth – this was another most favorite wine of the dinner (the first one was Prosecco Rosé).

Last we had Pan Seared Duck Breast and Leg Confit (Chive mashed, cherry & port wine reduction, grilled asparagus) – melt in your mouth delicious, and succulent, generous, flavorful Red Wine Braised Short Rib (Roasted summer vegetables, chive mashed, red wine jus). These two dishes were paired with 2015 d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier McLaren Vale, which didn’t meet my expectations. Maybe the wine needed some time, but it really didn’t do anything for me.

The dessert was good, but after all of the food, nobody really cared about the dessert…

My next day started from the quiet early walk in the fog. Fog has a special ability to underscore the silence. And there is no better time of the day than a cool and quiet morning with a cup of hot coffee in your hand and the knowledge that the whole day is fully ahead of you.

Our breakfast (it is a B&B, remember?) consisted of freshly baked blueberry muffin, fresh fruit, and eggs Benedict casserole – an unusually creative dish, resembling the eggs Benedict without the need to properly poach the eggs for the large group of hungry guests.

We always like to include at least a bit of the hiking into our trips, so our first stop after we left the Inn was at the old marble quarry repurposed into the nature park. Lots of steps and some beautiful views:

We then went to the cheese shop along Berkshire cheese trail where we were hoping to taste some cheese – unfortunately, this was a cheese shop at the functional dairy farm, but no cheese to taste, only to buy.

We ended our day with a late lunch at Pera Mediterranean Bistro in Williamstown before starting the drive home.

Here we are – another adults’ getaway became history, but I’m already craving the next one.

 

Pairing Lobster and Wine: What Works Well?

December 3, 2020 Leave a comment

Do you like lobster? Do you know what wine would work best with it? In case you are here to learn, I want to offer you a guest post by Kevin Fagan, who is Content Manager at Lobster Anywhere. Kevin is a bit of a ‘lobster geek’ and likes nothing more than fishing for lobster and (trying to) cook gourmet food at home!

Lobster and wine: this is a food and wine pairing that deserves some serious consideration. Lobster is a delicacy that can be cooked in many different ways and is a popular choice for a special occasion, such as a wedding, anniversary, or a birthday treat. Grilled lobster, lobster mac n’ cheese, Lobster Thermidor, lobster ravioli, lobster salad: there is a food and wine pairing for each recipe. Chardonnay is the obvious choice to serve with lobster, but there are many other wines out there that have plenty to add to your enjoyment of the tasty crustacean.

What is lobster?

Lobster isn’t an everyday dish for many people, so you may be forgiven for wondering exactly what it is and how it is served.

Lobster is a large crustacean famed for its two large pincers and extremely delicate flavored flesh. It is really a type of large prawn; in fact, langoustines and prawns are very similar. The taste of lobster varies according to the cooking method, so you need to think about how the lobster is going to be served before selecting the vintage. Boiled lobster, for example, leads to soft flesh that works well in many dishes. Grilled lobster, on the other hand, has a slightly chewier texture and a more robust flavor. Baking a lobster leads to a meatier consistency. And the accompaniment to the lobster dish also has a part to play in the dish’s overall flavor profile. The seasoning and marinades used to accompany a grilled lobster tail can be paired with a vibrant wine compared to a milder dish such as Lobster Thermidor, where the citrus notes of a Chardonnay are ideally placed to accentuate the delicate flavors.

Champagne, Prosecco, and other sparkling wines

Apart from Chardonnay, Champagne is a good option for serving with lobster; it is a classic choice that works really well, thanks to its buttery and citrus notes. Served chilled, it is perfect for serving with boiled or steamed lobsters with lightly flavored sauces or dips accompanied by flavored butter and dips. Blanc de Blancs champagne is usually recommended, such as the 2006 Pierre Moncuit, which is unsurprising when you consider it is made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes. You might feel adventurous and try a light Rose wine, ideal for serving with a lobster clam bake. Cava and Prosecco are similarly acidic and bubbly, enabling them to complement all types of seafood.

Other Whites to Try

If you plan to serve your lobsters with a rich or spicy sauce, why not consider a Riesling? Riesling is a highly acidic and often misunderstood and overlooked grape that can range from very sweet to very dry. As well as the high acidity, which is desirable when serving with lobster, the sweet and fruity flavors work exceptionally well with seafood. Choose a dry Riesling, such as a Viognier and Gewurztraminer have a rich ginger flavor that works well with lobsters.

A Château Yquem and some lobster, is it possible? The answer is yes, but only in certain circumstances. You can drink Sauterne with lobster as long as it is served as a salad with exotic notes (with mango, for example) or at least sweet notes. So a sauterne with a vanilla lobster is possible. You can also choose a late harvest of Pinot Gris.

Surprise your guests with an unconventional choice

 If you want to surprise your guests, turn to more complex white wines. That being said, be sure to keep an acidic base in the white wine you choose. Patinated wines will be particularly interesting with lobster. Thus, white Rhône wines such as a Châteauneuf du Pape or a Hermitage could be very interesting tests for pairing them. A Bordeaux white wine will be a daring choice but could prove to be very fruitful by turning to a Pessac Léognan, for example. Finally, a white wine from Languedoc Roussillon has every chance to enhance your plate.

Lobster and red wine

 Drinking red wine with lobster is very risky. The saltiness of seafood highlights the bitterness of reds; also, the iodine in lobster doesn’t react well with the tannins in red wine. If you don’t like white wine at all, you can still go for a red wine with lobster. However, care must be taken to choose a red wine with as few tannins as possible. Choose a wine already well-aged from Jura or Burgundy (between 6 and 12 years of aging). Finally, you can choose red wines from other regions as long as these wines are aged and have melted tannins.

Light, sparkling wines are best to serve with lobster and all seafood. Lobster is an expensive delicacy that deserves to be enjoyed with a good wine, but it can also stand up to a little bold experimentation if the mood takes your fancy. Just remember to ensure that the wine is highly acidic.

Simple Recipes: Roasted Garlic Hummus

April 7, 2020 6 comments

Do you like hummus? Well, I can tell you about myself – yes and no.

No questions that everyone’s palate is different, so I can only speak for my perception. I absolutely LOVE well-made hummus – I can eat it by the bowlful. The problem is that it is almost impossible to find well-made hummus here in the US (if you are in Israel, it is an entirely different story). You can occasionally find something decent at an appropriate restaurant (typically Mediterranean or Middle Eastern), but it is practically impossible to find anything decent in the store – I encountered some exceptions, but they are really, really rare (for about 3 months, Costco was offering a hummus brand called Shamir – it was delicious. Then it disappeared, and I simply stopped buying any hummus from Costco).

It is hard to describe “well-made” hummus – it is a combination of taste and texture, and it shouldn’t have the annoying flattening acidity which makes everything taste so dull. So if you like hummus as much as I do, I have a recipe for you which I’m happy to share.

All you need to make a tasty hummus

Making a great hummus is simple – basically, you only need three ingredients to start – chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, salt, and olive oil. I’m sure you can make a nice hummus with only these three ingredients, but I like a bit more flavor in mine, so I add another 3 ingredients – garlic, tahini, and lemon. Here is the full list:

Ingredients:

  • Dry chickpeas – 1 lb
  • Olive oil – 2.5 cups (approx)
  • Kosher salt – 2 tablespoons
  • Tahini – 1 cup
  • Garlic – 1 head plus 3-4 cloves
  • Lemon – 1 large or 2 small

There are a few steps involved here. First, you will need roasted garlic-infused olive oil – you can prepare that in advance at any time (store it in a tight container and enjoy for weeks with a slice of bread or use in any cooking which might benefit from the garlic flavor). Roasted garlic-infused oil is very easy to make. Peel and clean a whole head of garlic, then mince it all finely (don’t use a garlic press, I don’t believe it will work well). Pour two cups of the olive oil in a large skillet, and put it on the lowest heat possible. Add minced garlic and let it slowly simmer until garlic will become lightly golden. It is important that you will use the lowest heat setting – even on the medium heat, minced garlic will roast in no time, and oil will not absorb the delicious sweet flavor of roasted garlic. Ideally, it will take you about 15 minutes to get to the lightly golden roasted garlic (don’t let it become dark/brown – at this point, it might become bitter) – you need to lightly stir it occasionally. Once you are done, remove from heat and let it cool off before pouring it off to a container with a tight lid (I use a large glass jar for this purpose).

Minced garlic

Roasted garlic in progress

Now, let’s start with chickpeas. We are using dry chickpeas here. Yes, you can use the chickpeas from the can, but I don’t believe you will end up with the quality hummus, so it is up to you if you want to cut the corners here. When using dry chickpeas, first you need to soak them. Take large (8 qt) pot, put in dry chickpeas, add about 6 qt of cold (!) water, cover, and let stand overnight. Try not to exceed 12 hours of soaking time – I happened to do so once, and when I opened the pot I found that the water was not clear with some foam on top as some process started with chickpeas – had to throw out the whole batch as I was afraid to cook with them. In the morning, put the pot on the high heat, wait until the water will start boiling. While the pot is starting to boil, you will see foam forming, same as with any broth – I prefer to remove that foam – it might boil over it, true – but again, I prefer to remove it. Once the water is boiling, add 2 tablespoons of the kosher salt, reduce heat and let it simmer until chickpeas are cooked through – will take you about two hours. Once chickpeas are ready, just remove the pot from the hit and put aside – don’t discard water as you will need it later.

Chickpeas before soaking

Chickpeas after soaking

Now, for a difficult part. To make hummus smooth and creamy, you need to remove the outer shell from the chickpeas, usually called the skin. This is not a simple task, as you mainly have to do it by hand, once chickpeas are cooked through and cooled off enough that you can handle them. What I’m trying to do it to remove the skins which will float in the pot while chickpeas are cooking, and then I work them one by one for as long as I have enough patience. I read about different methods such as using baking soda to help with the removal of the skin but it doesn’t sound appealing to me, so I never tried that. At the end of the day, if you will not remove all the skins, you will end up with a bit grainier hummus than you might want it to be, but it will be unquestionably tasty.

Chickpeas cooking is done

Now, your prep is done, and it is the time to make hummus. You will need a blender at this step. I’m sure you can use an immersion blender, but I’m using the standalone pitcher canister, so all the instructions and illustrations are for this method.

One quick word on tahini before we continue. Tahini is a sesame seed paste, which was always used in Mediterranean/Middle East cooking, and now it became popular in the USA. You can get it online, at many higher-end supermarkets (Whole Foods, Fairway) and even at Trader Joe’s. Once you open a jar, make sure to spend a few minutes to mix it well, as it usually clumps together – use the spoon or a fork to make sure the content of the jar is smooth and well mixed from the bottom to the top.

I prefer to process the chickpeas in two batches. For each batch, I do the following. First, peel 1-2 cloves of garlic and put it in the blender. Add 3-4 of tablespoons of water from the chickpeas pot with some occasional chickpeas. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon (or half of large one). Add two tablespoons of olive oil (garlic-infused or not, makes no difference at this point). Cover and blend until smooth -this will be our base to proceed with the chickpeas. Next, use a colander spoon to add half of the cooked chickpeas into the blender. Add half a cup of tahini and a cup of roasted garlic oil with garlic pieces. Cover and blend until smooth. Once done, move it from the blender to the container. I suggest you will taste it at this point for all the components – do you like what you taste? Need more lemon? Need more salt? Need more tahini? Is that smooth and creamy enough or is it a little tight? The reason you need to do it now because you can fix all the shortcomings with the second batch. Not enough lemon? Add extra. Not enough tahini? Add extra. Too dense? Add more chickpeas liquid or oil. With all the corrections in mind, make the second batch, then combine the two and mix them together. Voilà – your hummus is ready to be enjoyed. Well, make sure it is well chilled, and enjoy. When serving, you can smooth it out and put a drizzle of olive oil on top.

This recipe should give you a basic idea – from here on, you can make it yours by adding and removing any elements. But I would still suggest trying this recipe first and see how you want to change it. Also, keep in mind that the ingredients matter. At this point, I used chickpeas from three different sources – Goya (prepackaged), Fairway organic, and prepackaged ones from Lior (used it for the first time), and all three yielded different results. Fairway organic is my favorite. I’m okay with Goya, and I’m not buying Lior again (not very happy with the result). If you plan on making your own hummus all the time, find what works for you.

Hummus is served

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Not a word about wine in this post – but I promise to rectify it next time. Cheers!

 

 

Big Game and Numbers

January 30, 2020 Leave a comment

As someone who was not born in the USA, it took me a while to warm to the idea of the Super Bowl. One of the “warming” factors was the need to be aware of the super bowl ads, as critical business communication element (of course it is easy now – you can educate yourself quickly and easily online, often even before the event itself) – the Super Bowl ads were easy conversation starter for good 2–3 weeks after the event. Another factor was … come on, you can easily guess it … yes, food. I realized that Super Bowl is simply another opportunity to express your love to your family and friends via cooking, and therefore, it is definitely my type of fun day.

Contrary to what you might expect, I don’t see alcohol as an essential Super Bowl experience element. So much is happening on the screen, between the game itself, the ads, the half-time show that serving a serious, thought-provoking wine would rather become a detractor. I guess this is why beer or a mixed drink makes a better accompaniment for the big game – take a bit of food, often spicy, wash it down with whatever in your glass, preferably something neutral-tasting (don’t think serious craft beers would rate too highly either).

So what are the most popular drinks during Super Bowl? It really depends on where do you live. The folks at Postmates, the largest on-demand delivery network for food, drinks, and groceries, processed some interesting stats which you can find below:

Source: Postmates.com

In this post, you can find a lot more numbers. For example, you can learn that an estimated $14 billion are spent on the Super Bowl celebration every year (no, this is not just food). Or you can find out that Shake Shack was the most popular chain in New York, with 400 orders placed for ShackBurger during Super Bowl night in 2019, and cheese fries were the most popular item in Chicago, with over 2,660 orders placed. Anyway, I will leave to ponder at the numbers on your own. Enjoy!

For The Love Of Chowder – 2019 Edition

October 15, 2019 2 comments

Last Sunday, purveyors of the humble soup, also known as Chowder, assembled at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, for the 12th annual festival, the Chowdafest. 29 restaurants, mostly from New England, with a notable exception of Pike’s Place restaurant out of Seattle, Washington, competed in 4 categories (New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian) – and a few thousand (“a few” here might be 2, 3, 5 – the last number I heard was 12) of people came to have a good time, and to help to identify the best chowders.

My empty ballot held in place by muffin pans – an essential tool of chowder lover at Chowdafest

Before I will inundate you with pictures, as usual, let me give you my brief personal take on the event.

For the good part, there were plenty of tasty soups to go around, and an absolute majority of the soups I tasted were quite good. There were also lots of tasty giveaways, with Natalie’s All Natural Juices as my personal favorite.

For the not so good part, the event felt really, really crowded. This was my 5th Chowdafest, and all previous years I was able to visit the absolute majority of the stands within about 2 hours. This time around, I simply gave up at some point, as the lines were just unsurmountable. I believe there were two reasons for that – first, the weather was so-so, and people didn’t have much else to do on that Sunday. Second, and more important – there was lesser number of participants in the competition, thus even the same amount of people as usual had to line up to the fewer number of stands – this year, there were 29 restaurants competing versus 37 last year, and 40 in the two years prior. My last gripe would be with scarcely decorated stands – in the prior years, there were a lot more seasonal decorations seen everywhere – this year, the decorations were quite limited.

There was a good number of vegetarian soups presented, such as Gazpacho from Rory’s in Darien. Cast Iron Soup from the Cast Iron House in New Haven rightfully won this category as it was one of the very best soups in the competition.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder from the Ribbon Cafe was one of the most creative at the Chowdafest 2019, served with a cheese wonton:

As always, the Chowdafest went way beyond just the soup – Michelle’s Pies were an excellent addition, and as I mentioned, Natalie’s Natural Juices (Beet Orange was my personal favorite) were an excellent thirst quencher.

There were also some very creative tasting approaches at the Chowdafest, such as this one:

Here you can see a glimpse of the prizes, all made by the local artist, Wendy Marciano:

Let’s talk about the winners. For the 5th year in the row, Pike’s Place out of Seattle took the 1st place in the New England Clam Chowder category. Also for the 5th year in the row, Our House Bistro from Winooski, VT took the Creative Chowder category with its Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder. Gates from New Cannan, CT won Soup/Bisque category with its Crab & Roasted Corn Bisque, and Old Post Tavern/Cast Iron Chop House from New Haven, CT won Vegetarian category with its Cast Iron Soup. You can find all the results here.

I have to say that I’m convinced that Pike’s Place wins the competition not just because they make the best soup (in my opinion, they are not), but because they also provide the best service. While this was one of the most coveted participants, Pike’s Place stand was practically the only one without a line – they were very efficient in pouring out and simply carrying around their chowder on the large trays, so it was easy for everyone to try it without the need to stand in the long line.

I guess that’s all I wanted to share with you. Before we part, I will show you my ballot which is shamefully incomplete, but this is the best I could do:

I’m already looking forward to the Chowdafest 2020 – I hope it will be the best and the tastiest and maybe not as crowded as the one this year.

Why You Don’t Want To Miss Chowdafest 2019

September 25, 2019 Leave a comment

Really, why would you want to miss the Chowdafest 2019? If you like chowder or any form of nice, hearty soup – and note, it can be vegetarian soup as well – you can’t have an excuse good enough to miss the 12th annual Chowdafest festivities on October 6, 2019, taking place at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, from 11 AM until 3 PM.

I attended Chowdafest for the past 5 years, and when I’m suggesting that attending the event is well worth the effort of rearranging your Sunday around it, I’m simply speaking from experience (take a look my reports from past Chowdafests here). Chowdafest is a lot of fun – it is not only soups and chowders but lots of samples of cheese, bread, sauces, juices, tea, coffee, ice cream, and more. It is literally fun for all ages (yes, you want to teach your kids what tasty food is from an early age).

Chowdafest 2017

One of my very favorite creative chowders – and a winning one!

At the Chowdafest 2019, 30 restaurants will be competing for the titles in the 4 categories – New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. Half of the 30 competing restaurants will be participating for the first time, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying new soups such as Mexican style Shrimp Posole Soup, or Buffalo Chicken Noodle Soup. But probably the main question is – will Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington, win the classic New England Clam Chowder category for the 5th year in the row? Well, you will need to be there to see it and be a part of it.

I hope I solved for you the problem “What to do on Sunday, October 6th”. See you at the Chowdafest!

 

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