Archive for March, 2008

Daring Bakers March Challenge

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This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was to make Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake. I had missed last month’s french bread challenge, so I was super excited to get back in the kitchen and bake.

Overall, the cake itself was very easy to make, and I almost couldn’t keep myself from just eating the cake before making the icing and whipped cream to accompany it. I remember thinking, all this other stuff is going to make the cake so heavy, but really, even with the icing and whipped cream, the cake itself was light as air.

We were allowed to make some changes to the original recipe. Rather than fill each layer with buttercream, I decided to make sweep whipped cream flavored with Gran Marnier. I have made this kind of whipped cream before, and the GM adds a really nice, unexpected flavor. I also layered the whipped cream with thin slices of strawberry, and the jam I used was champagne-strawberry. Finally, I covered the top of the cake with blueberries and lined the bottom of the cake with strawberries.

The most labor-intensive part of this cake was cleaning out my Kitchenaid mixer bowl three times for three different mixes. That and stirring sugar and egg whites over a small bowl. Other than that, this cake was super easy and a real joy to make. I loved how we could be personal with the recipe. And I almost left off the buttercream icing because I thought the cake looked so gorgeous just bare. Next time I think I might skip icing the sides of the cake. Who am I kidding, I can’t ice a cake worth a damn!

This cake is definitely a keeper and would be great for 4th of July, especially with the blueberries and strawberries. Thank you Morven for hosting this month’s challenge!

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Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
1 container strawberries
1 1/2 small containers blueberries

For the whipped cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Gran Marnier

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To make the whipped cream
With a whisk attachment, whisk the heavy whipping cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until peaks begin to form. Add the sugar, vanilla, and GM, and beat until stiff peaks form.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one third of the whipped cream.
Top the whipped cream with thin slices of strawberries.
Top with another cake layer, spread with preserves and whipped cream and layer with strawberries, and then do the same with a third layer.
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Toss the blueberries in some sugar and cover the top of the cake with the blueberries. Line the bottom of the cake with strawberries, tops cut off and then cut in half.

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Birthday Cinnamon Rolls

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Cinnamon rolls have got to be my all-time favorite baked good. Even better than chocolate cake with chocolate icing, and if you know me, you know I love my chocolate cake. I would eat cinnamon rolls every day if I could, but after discovering Cinnabon’s had something like 800 plus calories a roll, I decided to cut back. I cut back so much, in fact, that I stopped eating them.

It’s not like I can’t find them in town, but the ones available from our local bakery just don’t do it for me. They’re flatter, the icing is MUCH heavier, and it’s like royal icing. WHAT??? That’s just not right!

Jay and I were watching Good Eats one night, and lo and behold Alton cranked out some cinnamon rolls that looked pretty fab. On going to commercial break, we made a very important discovery: my birthday is the same day as national sweetroll day!

Coincidence? Well, you can say yes or no, but it just seemed right that my birthday would be the same day as cinnamon roll day. So, when my birthday finally rolled around, Jay made me the best birthday cake ever: a whole pan of fresh, from-scratch cinnamon rolls.

These are the kinds of cinnamon rolls that all other cinnamon rolls hope they can be when they grow up. The icing was perfect, and the flavor of the rolls was absolutely rockin. Even the day after the rolls were made, they were still soft and moist and delicious. It will probably be another year before I allow one of these sweet delicacies to cross my lips, but with these kinds of rolls, it’s well, well worth the wait.

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Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
(original recipe Alton Brown)

Ingredients:
Dough:
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Vegetable oil

Filling:
8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4 ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons

Icing:
2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened, approximately 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons milk
5 1/2 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

Method:
For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30 minutes.

While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.
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Too-Turkey Chili

During the warmer months, I often hear people say things like, “It’s too hot for chili” or “It’s too hot for soup.” Personally, I think that kind of talk is just garbage. I’ve never really understood why it might be “too hot” for something. Do people not like to eat hot things when it’s hot outside? It’s not like you’re sitting outside eating all the time. Maybe the “too hot” idea comes from the fact that the oven makes your kitchen too hot. I can sympathize with this a little more, but regardless of what the temperature is outside, I feel like my kitchen is always on.

Although the temperature is definitely picking up ’round these parts, the nights are still a bit cool. Therefore, I didn’t feel out of place for cooking chili, even if it might be “too hot” outside.

Another reason for me wanting to cook this chili–cook anything really–is that I had had a pretty crappy day. Jay was out of town, I had a cavity filled, and despite it being my spring break my boss was wanting me to come in (how can I call a client if I can’t talk?). I wanted to cook something hearty, yet healthy. I’m still reeling from lots of celebration weekends, and I would like to be able to wear shorts when it really does get too hot to cook with the oven on all day. Thanks to epicurious.com, this turkey chili was a hearty, yet healthy choice.

The reason I’ve titled this “Too-Turkey Chili” is because, well, I bought too much ground turkey. The original recipe called for 1.5 pounds, and I could only buy the ground turkey in 1.2 pound packages. So what did I do? Buy 2 1.2 pound packages! I realized this towards the end of my shopping and I didn’t feel like going back and doubling everything, so I tried to improvise with what I had at home. Luckily, the beef broth I had was too much for the original recipe, so none of that had to go to waste. We also had a few small onions lying around the house and another can of white beans, so I threw in an extra onion and the extra beans. Finally, even though we didn’t have any extra canned tomatoes or tomato juice, we did have some tomato paste hanging out in the cupboard, so that joined the party as well. Other than those additions, I increased the amount of spices, etc. that the original recipe called for.

The result? It was pretty tasty and I could barely stop eating it, but given the fact that it had cinnamon and cocoa powder in the ingredients, it didn’t really have the depth of flavor that I thought it was. A day after I made the chili, after it had been sitting in the fridge for a while, the cinnamon flavor (and fragrance) really came through after we reheated the chili for dinner. It also made A LOT of chili, so we ate on it for a while …. truth be told, we still have some!

I’ve included the original recipe because my additions were kind whatever I felt like. One thing that I would have included more of in my version would be more tomatoes; the chili was just a little thick.

One of the best things about this recipe is that it’s a one-pot meal and pretty easy, once you cut up all those onions.

Turkey Chili with White Beans
(original recipe Bon Appetit February 1997)

Ingredients
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1/4 cup chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
3 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
3 15-ounce cans small white beans, rinsed, drained

Method
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions; sauté until light brown and tender, about 10 minutes. Add oregano and cumin; stir 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high. Add turkey; stir until no longer pink, breaking up with back of spoon. Stir in chili powder, bay leaves, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon. Add tomatoes with their juices, breaking up with back of spoon. Mix in stock and tomato sauce. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add beans to chili and simmer until flavors blend, about 10 minutes longer. Discard bay leaves. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium-low heat before continuing.)

Guinness Ice Cream

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When I first saw this recipe, I thought, You’ve got to be kidding me. I like Guinness and all, but ice cream? Even though I’ve used Guinness in chocolate cake, I was a little apprehensive about how it would turn out, pretty naked in ice cream. This kind of recipe, however, is not the kind that you can easily pass up.

Jay ended up making the ice cream, so I have no idea about the level of difficulty as far as procedure goes, I can only speak about result. The recipe recommends that you pair the ice cream with chocolate-covered pretzels, and this is a recmmendation that I readily affirm. The ice cream is fine by itself, but without the added sweet and saltiness from the pretzels, the ice cream is a little too yeasty and the flavor is a little too strong. One good thing about this ice cream, however, is that you can’t eat a lot of it all at one time.

Next time we make this ice cream, we plan on adding little bits of chocolate-covered pretzels to the ice cream itself.

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Guinness Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels
(original recipe Food & Wine)

Ingredients
2 cups Guinness (16 ounces)
2 cups heavy cream
1 3/4 cups whole milk
15 large egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
Chocolate-Covered Pretzels, for serving

Method
In a large saucepan, combine the Guinness with the cream and milk and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar. Gradually add the hot Guinness cream to the yolks, whisking constantly until well blended.

Pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until it coats the back of a spoon, about 6 minutes; do not let it boil. Pour the custard into a medium bowl set in a large bowl filled with ice water. Let stand until the custard is cold, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Pour the custard into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions (this may have to be done in 2 batches). Pack the ice cream into an airtight container and freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

Spoon the ice cream into bowls and top with some Chocolate-Covered Pretzels. Serve at once.

Chocolate-Covered Pretzels

Ingredients
6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
2 cups thin pretzel sticks

Method
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pretzels and stir gently until coated. Using a fork, transfer the pretzels to the wax paper, letting the excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Refrigerate the pretzels until the chocolate is set, about 20 minutes.

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Steak and potatoes, upgrade

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I’ve never really been one to sit down and watch the Oscars. Yeah I love criticizing everyone’s outfits, jewelry, and hair, but sometimes the whole show is just a bit much. On that particular Sunday, however, I felt like cooking a good meal, so instead of bothering with the gym or anything else pressing, I decided to take a night off and spend it watching the Oscars with my husband.

We bought the flank steak early in the day and marinated it in some also recently-bought marinade sauce. We cooked it by starting it off on a really hot grill pan, then finished it off in the oven. (We’ve used this technique before and it always works well.) Recently we’ve been strapped for cash, which is why we bought flank steak rather than, say, filets or prime rib, but the marinade was really, really good, even if the meat wasn’t the most tender thing ever.

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The gnocchi were very fun to make, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to try for a very long time. I didn’t have a gnocchi board, so I had to attempt to shape them on the back of a fork. It didn’t work as well as I would have like–partially I think the potatoes were a little too chunky because I also did not have a potato ricer and had to just mash them–but in the end the shape wasn’t that important. The lemon in the gnocchi was delicate yet noticeable and was a fun difference.

Personally, I really liked the eggplant, but I think we timed the cooking wrong, so the eggplant sat around for a little too long and wasn’t really hot enough by the time we sat down to eat. Nevertheless, they were flavored with a good combination of spices and I would be willing to make the recipe again.

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Meyer Lemon Gnocchi
(original recipe March 2008 Food & Wine)
Note: I only used regular lemons and the gnocchi still tasted great. I also did not have a ricer, nor a gnocchi board, so the texture in mine might have been a little off, but again, the taste was great.

Ingredients
1 pound baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
3 large egg yolks
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, preferably Meyer lemons
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt
Snipped chives, for garnish

Method
1. In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately high heat until the potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pan; shake over moderately high heat until dry.

2. Working over a large rimmed baking sheet, rice the hot potatoes in an even layer. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of olive oil and the salt and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and stir gently just until a dough forms.

3. Gently roll the dough into four 1/2-inch-thick ropes. Using a sharp knife, cut each rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make ridges. Transfer the gnocchi to the baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

4. In a small saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Remove from the heat and whisk in the 1 stick of butter, a few pieces at a time, until the sauce is creamy. Warm the sauce on low heat if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt.

5. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the gnocchi until they rise to the surface, then cook them for 1 minute longer. Gently drain the gnocchi, toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and transfer to a baking sheet until cool.

6. In a large nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add half of the gnocchi and cook in a single layer over high heat until browned on the bottom, 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and gnocchi.

7. Reheat the sauce; pour it over the gnocchi and fold gently with a rubber spatula until they are evenly coated. Transfer to a platter and garnish with the chives. Serve.

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Sauteed Eggplant with Cumin and Garlic
(original recipe The New Best Recipe)

Ingredients
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), ends trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves

Method
Place the eggplant cubes on a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle the cubes with the salt, tossing to coat them evenly. Let the eggplant stand for at least 30 minutes. Using additional paper towels, gently press any excess moisture from the eggplant. [Note: we didn’t have time for this step so we skipped it. I think the eggplant might have been less watery if we did this step.]

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium high-heat until shimmering. Add the cumin and chili powder and cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the eggplant cubes and cook until they begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is fully tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sugar. Cook to blend the flavors, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the parsely. Serve immediately. [Note: it’s important to serve this hot, or else the texture gets a little off]

Challah Back Girl

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Well this is the first post of my own after a long absence, and even though I have records of some pretty decadent meals, I thought one of the best ways of welcoming my return was giving a recipe for this humble yet absolutely delicious challah bread. My mom used to buy us challah bread when I was a kid, and something about it only being available on Friday made it extra special. Some people might claim that bread is bread is bread, but challah’s sweet simplicity really takes it beyond your normal bread.

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I’m still not super experienced with bread baking, so this recipe made me a little nervous (especially since our house is so cold and drafty, I didn’t think it would rise well), and I think I used a little too much yeast, but it turned our phenomenally. The smell of the bread baking is enough to drive you crazy, and one of my favorite things has got to be slowly tearing apart the bread’s woven strands. It’s perfect by itself or with some butter and jam.

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Want to use your challah like sliced bread? It also makes a gosh-dern good grilled cheese sandwich.

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Challah Bread
(original recipe Neiman Marcus Taste)

Ingredients
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (1 1/2 packages)
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional) [but awesome!]

Method
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the water, 1 1/4 cups of the flour, the salt, and the oil. Mix on low speed for 1 minute. (Alternatively, the dough can be mixed by hand in a large bowl.) Add 2 of the eggs, the remaining 4 tablespoons sguar, and half of the remaining flour and mix until incorporated. Add the rest of the flour and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes; if the dough is too wet, add a little more flour until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and place in a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a slightly damp towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter a 12-inch baking sheet.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and roll them into strips about 8 inches long. Press the 3 strips together at one end and then braid the dough strips, crossing the strop on the left under the middle strip, then the right strip under the middle, and so on 6 or 7 times, until you complete the braid. Pinch the ends together and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Let rise for another 10 minutes. Whisk the remaining egg in a cup or bowl and brush the load with the egg wash; sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Note: Feel free to add a little more sugar if you like a sweeter challah. Also, you can make unbraided mini-loaves for sandwiches.

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Carry on My Wayward Son (or Daughter)

I don’t know how it happened.

One moment, I’m posting almost every day and keeping up wtih all of the food events, cranking out different dishes every night. Then the next moment, it just stopped.

Stopped.

I can’t say that I don’t know what happened. Lots of different things have happened since the last time I’ve posted: major sickness, getting accepted to Georgetown for my Tax LLM, Valentine’s Day, Birthday, taking part of the bar exam, lots of work…. In the end, lots and lots of stuff. Unfortunately, some of these events were major food events, and their reporting just slipped by. Even though I documented the food with pictures and still have vivid memory of some of the meals, the newness and shinyness of the meals have slipped by, and so posting on them will be less glitzy and less emotional than if I had posted about them shortly after.

A big part of me was just tired, and maybe a little burned out. Not tired of cooking, just tired of writing, tired of being so pressed for time, and tired because of work and school. Attention can only be directly to so many places at once, and the thought of sitting down at the computer and posting was just too much to ask after editing hundreds of pages of law review notes or reading hundreds of pages of trust law.

Although I still don’t have as much time as I would like, I’m going to try to be a little better about posting. Unlike last month, I won’t let this month’s Daring Bakers challenge slip by without even thinking about it (thank goodness for spring break!). Even though I don’t anticipate in participating in a lot of food events or challenges, I will make a reasonable attempt to write about things soon after I cook them. And even though I don’t anticipate a lot of food events within the next month or so, at least I have a lot of backed-up postings that I can use in the soon-coming skant times.

As for the first post back, I’m embarassed to say that I still don’t have the time or energy to make my own post, so I am guest-posting a wine review from my father in law, Jim Robertson. Enjoy!
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Though Nancy and I (Jim) have long appreciated wine, neither of us know
much about it, so when Jenny and Jay gave me (Jim) a book on wines, we
had hoped it would help us select wines worth tasting and help us know
what to look for.  Unfortunately, we live in an area that has few
options for wine other than a couple of cut-rate liquor stores (at the
largest one in town, over the past few years, we have learned despite
their large inventory that the wines sit on the shelf for years and a
1.5 liter bottle of Dewars is $6 or $7 more than at the grocery store –
I guess cut-rate is a euphemism for screw the customer), a combination
butcher/fine food/wine shop that lost its liquor license a few years
ago, and grocery stores, one of which has a pretty good wine section,
but they only stock wines that their wholesalers supply.  However, we do
have one wine store (Cork and Cap – but it is on the other side of town
we don’t always get there) that carries wines of quality and interest
from around the world that the owners choose themselves.  Unfortunately,
they are not big enough to carry a really large selection, but that
makes it easier in a way.  We also buy wines at Chicago area liquor
stores, when we visit family there, which gives us more variety.
We evaluate wines quite simply.  Rather than trying to discern spices,
fruits, and other flavors, which to us, after trying to do so, seems so
subjective that it’s a fantasy, it all boils down to whether we truly
enjoy the wine, think it’s a bargain, or just don’t like it, based on
price and taste.  We also ask each other, do we want more than a half a
bottle (two small glasses each) or do we cork it for another meal and/or
use it for cooking wine?  Guess it’s “wine tasting for dummies” but
let’s not dwell on the details.  Our 20 tastings, of which several we
tasted twice to find out if we had the same opinion, follow below.   We
will keep comments to a minimum, but the reader must realize that, unless otherwise stated, the wine in Michigan dollars was between $10
and $14 retail.  For wines more costly than this, the bar of quality and
drinkability is higher  We have 9 winners, 9 losers, and two fence-sitters.

WINNERS

Maculan Pino & Toi 2006 Italy (white) – the wine book does not discuss
Italian white wines more than to say they don’t measure up  …. but
this particular wine said to us “drink the whole bottle and then
more”…. unfortunately, we did not have a second bottle.  The second
time we liked this as much as the first.  If you find something older by
this winery (in the mid- to late 90s) that is equivalent in taste and
quality it will be labeled Maculan Briganze di Briganze.

Vega Sindoa Chardonnay Navarra, Spain – first try we thought it was good
but not great.  On the second try changed our opinion as we thought it
was excellent.  A great value at $11.99 if you can find it….tho with
dollar crashing we may be relegated to Gallo, Glen Ellen, and Mondavi in
the future.

Geyser Peak Alexander Valley Chardonnay 2005 – had this with a Moroccan
lamb tangine so it’s clearly robust for a white to stand up to this type
of food.  Some folks might find it too robust but we really liked it.

Sockeye 2006 Pinot Noir, Central Valley, Chile – good and quite
drinkable but not as good as the wine that follows.   At $12.99, this is
a superior wine and a much better value than the Beringer, below.
Terrazas de los Andes, Malbec 2006, Argentina (red) – compared to the
Beringer and the Sockeye reds, this one knocked our socks off.  At
$11.99 this was a steal as most Malbecs are stronger reds than we care
for….this one was much more like a Pinot Noir, but richer.  Maybe
we’re nuts, but this was one of our favorites, though we’ll qualify this
by saying we only tasted it once.

Beni di Batasiolo Gavi 2005 (white) – another wine the experts might say
lacks character.   We thought with its low acidity and alcohol content
(12%), we could drink it all night, given it’s wonderful flavors.  Alas,
we only had one bottle.  We’ve concluded both of us like light, dry,
somewhat fruity Italian whites…a far cry from commercial wines such as
Soave Bolla, etc.

Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva DOC, Taurino 2003, Italy (red) – this is
a complex refreshing change from Chianti that blends really well with
heavy pasta dishes but that is also very drinkable.  From the “heel of
the boot” part of Italy, it is an excellent value at $11.99.

Alomos, Malbec 2006, Argentina (red) – a full-bodied red without being
heavy and overbearing like the LaPosta.  Went well with the Lebanese
food we had.  Another good value at $11.99.

La Crema Chardonnay, Sonoma 2005, California – this is a good
smooth-tasting chardonnay that goes down easy and leaves no question
about the “two glass” rule.  We have ordered it out at a couple of
restaurants that had it when we wanted to splurge in the past but not
totally break the bank.  For home consumption, it’s a bit on the pricey
side at $19.99 but it does go on sale for $16.99 on occasion so it makes
the winners list on sale.

Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva, 2004, Italy – this Chianti yelled
drink me with the first few sips.  Went beautifully with the pork ragu I
made (recipe from Incanto in San Francisco and published recently in the
NY Times).  We were both sorry not to have room for more ragu and more
wine at the end of the meal.  Even at $19.99 we both agreed this was
worth the steeper than preferred price.

ON THE FENCE

Beringer Pinto Noir 2006, Napa California – after the Beringer
Chardonnay (see below) we were surprised that this was actually quite
good (see below), though at $21.99 it is not a great value and is not as
good as the much cheaper red wines listed above.

Chianti Riserva 2004 Renzo Masi & C. Rufina – good, esp. for the price,
but it is not a true D.O.C.G. (did not specify D.O.C.G. on the label) so
it may not be true Riserva (this is what happens when you start reading
wine books).  Tried twice and couldn’t pass the “drink more than two
glasses test,” but good with food and better than many similarly priced
and most cheaper red wines.

LOSERS

Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2004 ($15.99) – this is a typical high
end grocery store wine (which is where we bought it)  given the
proclivities of commodity distribution.  This was dull and pedestrian.

Grayson 2006 California Chardonnay – no way … I’d rather have any
other wide distribution mid-priced wine (e.g. Gallo Sonoma Chardonnay
[$13.99 often $8.99 on sale]).

Parducci 2005 Mendocino County, California., Chardonnay – better than
the Grayson, but don’t bother.

Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2005 Reserve Vielles Vignes Pierre Andre, France –
$15.99 with a weird metallic taste…yuck.

Morande Terrarum Riserva, Casablanca Valley, Chile 2006 (white) – Tried
twice.  This had quite a sour taste to it that we did not like.

La Posta 2006 Malbec, Angel Paulucci, Argentina (red) – big, heavy
overbearing Malbec and at $16.99, we wouldn’t think of buying this again.

Orvieto Classico Amabile Bigi (white) – this is a lesson on why not to
try what you don’t know anything about even if its mixed amidst the
display racks with Pinot Grigios and Chardonnays.  This is a sweet wine,
and not a very good one at that, and is one reason why the wine book
disses Italian whites.  Not exactly what I wanted after preparing veal medallions with wild mushrooms and mustard tarragon sauce.  We poured
the second half of the bottle down the drain.

Wild Horse Pinot Noir, Central Coast 2004, California – acceptable but
it took us two meals to get through the entire bottle.  Why pay $19 (on
sale, regularly $23) for something that can be had for half the price
that is just as good?


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