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Perfection, or When Everything Works Together…

October 1, 2018 11 comments

Il Poggione Rosso and EVOOIf you are into the wine and food (or food and wine, whatever your preferences are), I can safely bet you were looking for that climactic moment of combining the food and wine to reach the new, higher level of pleasure. Yes, I’m talking about that “oh my God” moment when your taste buds experienced that already exceptional bite of food becoming something beyond exceptional in combination with the sip of the wine. By the same token, if you were looking for that moment, I’m sure that more often than not (actually, a lot more often than not) you couldn’t find it – those beautiful pairings are often equally evasive.

Here I want to share with you my account of recent encounter with perfection, that climatic experience if you will.

A few months ago I got a box in the mail (one of the little perks of the wine blogger). Inside, there were a bottle of wine, a bottle of olive oil, a jar of sea salt and a recipe – for Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Bistecca all Fiorentina is a dish coming from the Tuscany (Florence) and depending on the historical account, it traces its origins either to the 16th or the 19th century – well, the history of Bistecca all Fiorentina is definitely not something we will be talking about here, so let’s move on. I’m sure you understand that “Bistecca” simply stands for the “beef steak”. However, the recipe calls not for any steak, but specifically for the porterhouse or T-bone steak, which should be simply prepared rare or medium-rare over the charcoal. As the recipe is very simple, here it is in its entirety:

Ingredients (serves 4):
2 (1.5″ thick) bone-in porterhouse steaks (3.5 lb)
1/4 cup Il Poggione EVOO
Tuscan sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs rosemary

Get the charcoal ready. The distance between the hot charcoal and steak should be about 4 inches (10 cm). The steak should be at the room temperature before you start grilling (it should be out of the fridge for about 10 hours to get to the room temperature). Grill steak on one side for 5-8 minutes, flip it with tongs (no forks of any kind!), salt the top surface with Tuscan sea salt and pour some olive oil. Cook for another 5-8 minutes, then stand the steaks on the bone and cook for another 5 minutes. Take it off the heat, put it down to rest, salt the other side and put some olive oil on it. After 5 minutes of rest, you can slice and serve your steak. See, can it get any simpler?

Now, it is time to talk about the perfection.

First, the perfection started from the exceptional meat. In addition to what I already described, the box contained a gift card for Pat LaFrieda. The story of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors started at the beginning of the 20th century when Anthony LaFrieda arrived at the USA and opened his first butchery – you can read the rest of the story on Pat LaFrieda website. Whatever the story is, the proof is always in the pudding – or on the fork in this case. I have to honestly tell you that I never had a better a steak than this – the meat was sublime and was simply melting in the mouth – a good start for the perfect experience.

The second element of the perfection was, of course, the wine – 2016 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino (14% ABV, $27, 12 month in large oak barrels). Tenuta Il Poggione is one of the oldest producers in the Montalcino area, started to make Sangiovese wines – now known as Brunello – at the beginning of the 1900s. Today, it is one of the largest wineries in Montalcino, with 1500 acres, out of which more than 300 acres are under vines and 170 acres planted with olive trees (that Il Poggione EVOO in the package was superb).

The wine actually happened to be one of the best Rosso di Montalcino wines I tasted in a long time. The key word to describe this wine is finesse – it had a welcoming nose of the tart cherries, medium intensity, and a hint of the herbs. That profile perfectly continued on the palate, where delicate fresh cherries were joined by sage and rosemary, with clean acidity and excellent balance. Definitely one lip-smacking, delicious wine (8+).

Let’s not miss any details – we are talking about perfect pairing here. As the devil is in the detail, there was one more element  – little, but essential – to this amazing pairing, besides superb meat and outstanding wine. The last element? Tuscan sea salt. This was not some random sea salt – this one was Tuscan Sea Salt from AG Ferrari, listing the following ingredients: “Italian sea salt, fresh rosemary, fresh garlic, sugar, fresh sage, ground black pepper” – this Tuscan Sea Salt became the bridge which connected the flavor of the seasoned meat with the perfectly aligned flavor profile of the Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino, delivering the genius pairing and an amazing experience.

I have to honestly tell you – I tried to replicate this experience two days ago – and failed. I used the same Tuscan Sea Salt, but I had a steak from the local supermarket butcher shop (1/3 of a price compare to Pat LaFrieda), and the wine was 2015 Collosorbo Rosso di Montalcino. The steak was simply not good (happy to be blamed for it as a cook – but I cooked the one from Pat LaFrieda too). The wine was okay, but a lot fruitier than Il Poggione, thus the pairing simply didn’t work. Which once again proves my point about the evasive nature of a great wine pairing.

Did you have any climactic food and wine pairing experiences you care to share with the world? Or maybe you want to recount the worst moments? Will be happy to hear about it either way. Cheers!

Flavor, Next Level – Beyond Salt And Pepper

April 17, 2018 11 comments

I love cooking. Cooking allows you to be creative, and you are only limited by your own imagination in what will show up on the table in the end. That and maybe some skill – but skill, of course, can be learned and mastered.

While creativity, imagination, and skill are important, one quality will separate success and failure in the final dish – flavor. Of course, the situation is not that dramatic in real life – this is what “not too bad” and “interesting” descriptors are for, but the flavor rules. This for sure is true in the home cooking. If dish on the table looks great – excellent, definitely a bonus. The texture typically is important too – if the rice more resembles mashed potatoes, that is not really cool. But flavor rules – once we take the first bite, the presentation becomes secondary and the flavor is what we are looking for to either jump of joy and pleasure or make face and say “ouch” (don’t strangle that inner kid in you, let the reaction come out).

One of my favorite shows on the TV is “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network. Bobby Flay, who is an Iron Chef and a well-known restaurateur, is challenged by some other, also well established and well-regarded chefs, to cook the dish of their choice, their own “signature dish”. The panel of three judges decides on who made a better dish in a blind taste test. Quite often, Bobby Flay wins even when he has to cook the dish he only tried once in his life and never cooked before – and sometimes even those which he never tried. What makes him the winner? When you listen to the judges explaining their decision, there is one most important word which you hear over and over again – flavor. The dish might not look anything like the classic version, and sometimes even not taste anything like the classic version, and nevertheless, the Flavor is the word you hear the most often, explaining the vote of A versus B.

If you see home cooking as a chore, this is probably not the post you want to continue reading. If, however, you are after the pleasure of both cooking and then eating the tasty food, let’s talk more about flavor. As a home cook, you have an arsenal of tools available to you to achieve the flavor – you start simply with herbs and spices, and then enlist the help of various techniques and methods – marinating, basting, slow cooking, pressure cooking and on, and on, and on. I personally like cooking with open fire, and thus grilling is definitely one of my preferred methods, especially when the weather is cooperating.

One of the things I like using to enhance the flavor of the food on the grill is a cedar plank. I would typically make salmon on the cedar plank so the salmon would have that delicious sweet smokey flavor. There is only one problem with this – I typically forget to pre-soak the plank at least for an hour – and unless the wood is soaked, it will burn in no time on its encounter with open flames.

It appears, that my problem (don’t tell me it is only my problem, and looking on a gorgeous piece of salmon you never had to hit yourself on a forehead saying “why I didn’t prepare the plank before”) had been solved! Here comes Beyond Salt and Pepper – a company which was founded (I’m very happy to give you full disclosure here) by my close friend Henry. We always shared our love for cooking with Henry, but Beyond Salt and Pepper takes that passion to the next level.

Pre-soaking of the plank is required before using it for cooking. I’m sure that when you think about soaking of the wood, you think water. But why only water? Wine is a liquid too, and wine is used in cooking, so maybe…? That’s right – we can use the wine, but not only the wine, also beer, rum, bourbon and any other type of alcohol – each one bringing its own unique flavor profile to the table – your table.

I visited my friend – and essentially, the headquarters of Beyond Salt and Pepper, located in the garage, as any self-respecting startup should – and we had a blast (a feast would be a better word).

First, I saw the process – the pre-cut planks of cedar – but not only cedar, Henry uses white oak too and says that imparts particularly nice flavor on the steaks – are soaked in the liquid of choice for days. Then the planks are getting into the machine where they are vacuum-sealed. Put on the label, pack, and voilà, ready for shipping.

And then there was cooking, lots of cooking. If you are still thinking planks are only for salmon, forget this notion as soon as possible. Unleash your imagination – you can make anything you want on the planks – and you can see the proof here in the pictures.

When cooking with the planks, there is a bit of technique which goes into the process – all explained in the recipes available on the Beyond Salt and Pepper web site. In most of the cases, you need to pre-heat the plank by putting in on a hot grill for 1 – 2 minutes on each side. And then you slightly pre-cook the food – for instance, sear steak on one side, and then flip it over on the plank and let it continue cooking as usual – that’s about all the special technique you need.

We had asparagus, artichokes and snap peas cooked on the Chardonnay-soaked planks – we couldn’t keep the snap peas on the table, everyone loved them. How about some little red wine infused smoke on the mushrooms and potatoes? Salmon and tiger shrimp on the Bourbon soaked planks? Yes, please! Chicken with some Merlot smoke on it – yum! Then the steak on the white oak and rum planks – superb. And then some cheese for dessert – but of course, made on the Chardonnay infused plank. Flavor, flavor, flavor – there are no limits to one’s creativity.

 

Here you are, my friends – a simple tool to add to your cooking tools arsenal, to get the flavor to the next level. If you are interested in trying these planks for yourself (and you should, seriously), you can get them directly from the website, or on Amazon (the website offers a bit wider selection). If you need some inspiration and cooking ideas, follow Beyond Salt and Pepper on Instagram. And by the way, while on the website, look for their selection of gourmet peanut butter… Mmmmm… Happy cooking!

[Not So] Simple Recipe: Stuffed Chicken Roll

January 17, 2014 11 comments

I do like simplicity in making of the food – easy to make, reasonable prep time, limited number of ingredients – definitely all my preferences when it comes to cooking. But the interesting thing is that in any craft, cooking included, once you master a skill, it becomes simple (you can argue if you feel like it). Of course it becomes your personal simplicity – for the people who don’t practice the same art, your personal simplicity looks quite complicated.

The recipe I would like to share today falls in this exact category – it is essentially very simple – once you master the first step. I call this dish Chicken Roll – and roll it is, made from the whole chicken. The difficult first step is deboning of the chicken. I will not inundate you with the whole procedure of deboning – there are plenty of videos on internet where you will see all the step by step instructions. The key to make it simple? Practice, of course. Do it a few times, and the idea of deboning of the chicken becomes much less intimidating. And you can do quite a few different dishes once you will master that skill.

I’m not sure how this technique is taught in the culinary school – and if any professional is reading this blog (that is a scary thought!), feel free to ridicule my approach. The way I learned to debone the chicken (or any bird for that matter) is by putting the bird breast side down and first making the cut along the spine, so it looks like this:

DSC_0164

Deboning of the chicken – first step

Once you made that first cut, you start slowly cut along the bones, using boning knife, separating the meat and pulling it back, so it looks something like this:

DSC_0165

Cut and pull back

The reason I suggest doing it slowly is that you want to  avoid cutting through the skin. There will be few challenging moments, where you will need to get through the joints, the one by the leg and the one by the wing – you just need to cut around them and then you will be able to cut through. Also, I suggest simply cutting off first two parts of the wings – there is not enough meat inside to try to debone those. In the end (takes me about 15-20 minutes to complete the process), you will end up with deboned chicken, which will look like this:

Deboned Chicken

Deboned Chicken

From this moment on, your cooking becomes very simple! You need to decide on your stuffing – anything goes! You can use other meat as a stuffing, whether raw or cooked. You can use mushrooms. You can use broccoli. You can use couscous. You can use rice. You can use quinoa. You can use any combination of the ingredients. The keys is to use a limited amount, as you still need to make the dish into a roll. You season the chicken inside, put your stuffing in, roll is lengthwise, tie it up with the butcher’s string and … voilà! Roast and enjoy! See, I told you it is simple : )

For this particular chicken roll I used carrots and chicken sausages. Here is the recipe:

Chicken Roll, stuffed with carrots and chicken sausages

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: about 1 hour (20 minutes per pound)

1 large whole chicken, deboned

3 large carrots

1 lb chicken sausages or chicken sausage meat

Salt, pepper

Seasoning herbs

1 tbsp olive oil

cotton Butcher’s string

Serve: cold or warm, both should taste good.

Debone the chicken using the suggestions above and internet video as a guidance. Slice carrots lengthwise:

Carrots

Carrots

Season the chicken inside using salt, pepper and any seasoning herbs your heart desires. I also used truffle salt, which imparts a bit of a mushroom flavor (it smells mostly by itself, you get very little aroma in the food):

salt, pepper, herbs

salt, pepper, herbs

Ahh, most important part – have a glass of wine – cooking is a lot more enjoyable when the wine is involved!

 

Hooker Chardonnay

Hooker Chardonnay

I had some leftovers of Hooker Chardonnay form the previous day – it was delicious – just a touch of butter, vanilla, nice acidity – a perfect complement for any cooking.

You can now preheat the oven for 375F. Place carrots inside of the deboned chicken, then take chicken sausages, take them out of the casings and place on top of carrots. Yes, sausage meat would be easier to use in this case, but we have only one store in the town which sells sausage meat, and I didn’t feel like going.

The only steps left are to make a roll – lengthwise!, as you don’t want any skin inside – tie it up with butcher’s string, rub with olive oil, add salt, pepper and herbs on top and roast! Roast in the oven at 375F, uncovered, for about an hour ( estimate a 20 minutes per pound of meat without bones).

The result should look like this:

Roasted Chicken Roll

Roasted Chicken Roll

And this is how the roll looks inside:

Chicken Roll cut

Chicken Roll cut

That’s all I have for you for today. Let me know what do you think about this recipe. Would you make something like this? Have fun and cheers!

 

 

 

Recreating Classic Recipes: Beef Bourguignon

December 26, 2013 23 comments

I know, I know – this is the wine blog, and I’m sure you are surprised with the number of food posts lately. I guess this is all because of the holidays? Well, but then this blog is all about “wine, food and life”, so I guess talking about the food is quite appropriate. Anyway, we will be talking about food today – but this food is made with wine, so we will technically cover both subjects.

When it comes to the French cooking, there are a few dishes which squarely belong to the so called “classic category”. Beef Bourguignon is definitely one of them, fighting for supremacy with Coq au Vin. Today we will be talking about Beef Bourguignon, a.k.a. Boeuf Bourguignon, a.k.a. Beef Burgundy, a stew-like dish, generally attributed to the Burgundy area in France. I personally like all of the stew style dishes, as they generally are easy to make and very rustic and comforting as food, which to me is a very important characteristic.

Main components of Beef Bourguignon are beef, wine, few of the vegetables and aromatic herbs. For a while, I had being making Beef Bourguignon using the recipe from the book called “France: A Culinary Journey”, which is quite simple. In a nutshell, you quickly fry beef, onion carrots and celery together on the high heat, then add the wine and aromatic herbs, close the cover, and let the magic happen over the next few hours. Then I came across some recipes on internet which were a lot more complex, with marinating the meat, boiling the wine before cooking, adding bacon and mushrooms, and so on. After reading through probably 5 or 6 different recipes, all claiming originality and “classicism”, I decided that I have to come up with my own, as none of the recipes  really spoke to me. Before I will talk about the recipe itself, let me give you couple of the points I find important.

Wine: The source of this recipe is Burgundy, so stick with the classics on this – Pinot Noir is your ideal case, but I also have done it a few times with Gamay wines (Beaujolais), and it worked quite well. In the wine, you are looking for acidity and light fruity profile. In general, avoid high alcohol, aggressively fruity wines – they will impart an unpleasant flavor. The wine doesn’t have to be expensive, but general rule is very simple – cook with the wine you want to drink.

Marinating the meat: based on my reading and conversations, marinating the meat in the wine is an essential step. It seems to be highly recommended for both Beef Bourguignon and Coq au Vin, so I’m going with this. I usually marinate the meat in the wine for the kabobs, which tenderizes the meat and makes it to absorb the flavor, so this definitely makes sense to use the same approach here.

Bacon: My general notion is that bacon makes everything better. However, in the case of Beef Bourguignon, the recipes usually call for making of the lardons (fried square pieces of bacon), which are then added to the meat during the last 15 minutes of cooking. As you are not cooking with an actual pork fat, I see such an addition only as textural, and I don’t believe it adds anything to the dish which is already quite rich, so here I’m saying no to bacon.

Okay, enough of the introductions, let’s proceed with the recipe.

Beef Bourguignon:

Prep time: about 1 hour. Cooking time: About 3 hours.

6 lb beef for stew – use  stew-cut meat from the good store, or take chuck or roast cuts and cut them into 1″ – 1.5″ cubes)

1 bottle of red wine – Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

5 large onions (one for marinade, 4 for cooking)

10 sticks of celery (2 for marinade, 8 for cooking)

4 large carrots (I really mean large, thick carrots – if they are thin, double the amount)

1.5 lb of whole mushrooms

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

4 cups beef broth

2 sprigs of thyme

6 fresh bay leaves

1 tsp allspice

1 tbsp peppercorn

Olive oil for frying

Salt and pepper

Serve with: boiled potatoes (classic!), egg noodles, pasta

As a first step, you need to marinate the meat, preferably overnight, so you should start cooking in the evening of the day before. Take two stalks of celery, cut in half. Peel one onion, cat in four pieces. If you are using the whole piece of meat, cut it up into 1″ – 1.5″ chunks. Put celery and onion into the large bowl, put all the chunks of meat on top, pour in a bottle of wine. The wine should fully cover the meat – if it is not – sorry, get another bottle. Take cheese cloth, put in 3 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme and allspice. Tie cheesecloth together and put it into the same bowl with meat. Cover, and put in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, get the bowl out of the fridge, strain and reserve all the liquid (you will use it for cooking). Discard celery, onion and herbs, let the meat to drain completely and warm up to the room temperature.

meat after marinating

Meat after marinating

Now, you can start with vegetables. Dice all of the the onions and start sauteing it in the skillet with the small amount of oil – use medium heat. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the vegetables. Dice the celery, put aside. Cut up the carrots in the big chunks – round slices of about 3/4″ in size. If the carrot is too thick, you can first  cut it in half lengthwise. Put aside together with celery.

Carrots and Celery

Carrots and Celery

Wash and cut up mushrooms into the half or quarters, depending on the size of mushrooms.  Start sauteing the mushrooms in the separate pan with small amount of olive oil and medium to high heat.

Sauteing the mushrooms

Sauteing the mushrooms

Cover the pan initially, as you want mushrooms to release the water, stir a few times. After 3-4 minutes, remover the cover and let the liquid to evaporate. Continue cooking for another 5-6 minutes, or until the liquid will completely evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly fried. Add celery and carrots to the same pan, mix and continue sauteing for about another 10 minutes, stirring periodically.Turn off the heat, put aside.

Roasting all vegetables together

Roasting all vegetables together

After about 10 -15 minutes of sauteing the onions (they should gain color and become translucent at this point), turn off the heat and set aside.

Time to start working with the meat. First, we need to sear it. Put the cast iron casserole on the high heat (definition of the high heat depends on your stove – mine is electric, and if I use the highest dial setting of 10, everything burns before it sears, so my high heat setting for the cast iron vessel is 8). Add couple of tablespoons of the olive oil, and let it heat up. Put the flour on the plate, add salt and pepper, and drench the first batch of meat in the flour.

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Beef in flour, ready to be seared

Once casserole is heated up sufficiently, put the meat inside in the single layer, and don’t touch it for about 3 minutes. Turn around, and let it sear for another 3 minutes – you want to get a nice color on the meat.

Prepare the next batch of meat (drench in the flour). Remote the seared meat to another plate, and repeat the process until all the meat is seared. Once the last batch is seared enough, splash some of the reserved wine into the casserole and use your spatula to deglaze it. Reduce heat to medium-low, put back all the meat, add sauteed mushrooms and vegetables. Pour back the rest of the reserved wine, add four cups or beef broth. Prepare the bouquet garni: take cheese cloth, put in thyme sprig, 3 bay leaves and peppercorns. Tie together and put in the casserole (immerse in liquid). Give the content of the casserole a good steer. Cover with the lid, pour yourself a glass of wine and relax, your work is mostly done.

Check the casserole periodically and give the content a good stir every time. Make sure the liquid is slowly simmering and not rapidly boiling – reduce heat further if it is. Also, check the sauce for salt – adjust the amount to your liking. The cooking process should take about 3 hours from the moment you combined all the ingredients – check the meat periodically to see if it is done to your liking. Tougher cuts of meat might take a little longer.

When done, remove the bouquet garni. Prepare your favorite starch and … voilà! You are ready to serve Beef Bourguignon and accept complements from your guests. Of yes, and I hope you didn’t use all the wine – you might enjoy some with your dinner.

Beef Bourgoignon

Beef Bourguignon

So, what do you think? Do you have your own twist for Beef Bourguignon? What do you think of this recipe? Cheers!