Wine O’Clock: Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay 2008

28 Jul

Another pick from my Wine Insiders haul, this Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay hails from my old stomping grounds just outside of the Monterey Bay area of California’s Central Coast.   Central Californian Chardonnay has quickly become one of my favorite wines of Summer with plenty of bright tropical fruit and crisp acidity to cut through the humidity and pair with a wide variety of summer foods.

I may not have stepped foot on Cannery Row since I was wearing Ninja Turtle underwear, but at least now I can drink wine vinted in the foothills of one of this country’s truly spectacularly scenic places.

Cannery Row Cellars Chardonnay 2008

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Vitals: 12.6% abv

Company Line: “Fresh fruit aromas herald delicious flavors of apple, nectarine and ripe melon.  Oak aging adds depth and complexity with hints of toasty oak and vanilla.  Balanced acidity makes this wine particularly refreshing.”

My take: pale straw yellow in the glass.  Nose opens with sharp apple and tropical fruit flourishes ensconced in a veil of soft vanilla.  Apple and citrus blanket the palate with a satisfying acidity.  Body is emboldened with rich oakiness which also serves to taper the acid in the finish.

This sits right in the middle of the California Chardonnay spectrum between intense tropical fruits and buttery oakiness.  While I certainly wouldn’t call this example buttery, it’s oaky and vanilla softness acts as a nice counterbalance to the fresh fruit that dominates the front of this wine.  A nice summer drinker with the versatility to pair with poultry, fish, cheese or fruit and pastry-based desserts.

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Curry Favor and Bury Flavor with Brine

26 Jul

I never liked pork chops much growing up. All-too-often overcooked to within an inch of their lives, I couldn’t understand why my parents loved them so much. But flash forward to present day and you’ll know that I adore all things pig, including the humble chop. Why the change of heart? What if I told you a simple bath in salty water and a gentle hand with a hot pan was all that stood between you and the juiciest pork chop you ever ate? Would that be something you might be interested in?

Brining, or the simple process of marinating a food in a salty liquid solution, is perhaps the simplest, most fool-proof means of keeping even the leanest cuts of meat flavorful and juicy, provided you don’t overcook them. The science is a little dense, but the gist is that the high salt content of the brine serves to alter the chemistry of the cells in the meat to the point where they want to hold onto as much moisture as possible. This makes for good eating.

The brine can also act, as any marinade does, to saturate the target with intense flavors impossible by simple surface seasoning. Toss in any spices you would normally use as a rub and watch those flavors penetrate every corner of your meat.

The second key to succulent swine is to take it easy with the heat.  The practice of using uncooked scrap meat as animal feed, coupled with lax meat-handling conditions from farm to table in years past lead to outbreaks of trichinosis, a pig parasite that causes intestinal maladies in most and severe reactions and even death in an unlucky few. While undercooked meat is nothing to joke around about, pork can take on a sear just like a quality steak and a little pink in the middle isn’t a bad thing. Buy fresh or keep frozen and out of the Danger Zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit and most meat should be safe to sear. (Editor’s Note: Buying from a farm you trust can also help alleviate concerns.)

Brined pork chops have become one of my favorite cool-weather comfort foods, paired with braised root vegetables or earthy risottos, they make for comfort food of epic proportions.  A recent curry craving had me wondering how the bright flavors of the East might make for a more season-appropriate application of a Fall/Winter stand-by. A quick couscous salad later and I had my answer: great success!

Curry-Brined Pork Chop with Couscous Salad

Ingredient Rundown:

  • bone-in pork chops

Brine

  • water
  • ice
  • kosher salt
  • brown sugar
  • sweet curry powder
  • garam masala
  • cracked black pepper

Couscous Salad

  • Cooked couscous
  • finely chopped vegetables (I used red and green bell pepper, onion, carrot, tomato, garlic and cilantro)
  • lime juice
  • olive oil
  • white vinegar
  • curry powder
  • garam masala
  • powdered ginger
  • Sriracha or other hot chili sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

How I do it:

Add about 2 cups to a quart of water (depending on how many chops you’re brining) to small pot and heat until nearly boiling. Add a few teaspoons of salt until the water takes on a seawater-like salinity. Add sugar and remaining spices and stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Add ice until brine is cooled to room temperature.

Place pork chops in brine in a sealed storage container or zip-top bag and marinate in refrigerator for 8-24 hours. Obviously, they will take on more salt and curry flavor with longer brining. I have found that 12 hours is a safe bet for a flavorful, yet not over-salted chop.

Prepare couscous salad by cooking couscous as directed (usually by bringing twice as much water as couscous to a boil with a pinch of salt and splash of olive oil, adding couscous and removing from heat to steam for about 5 minutes, fluffing with a fork).  I added a generous dash of maharaja curry powder with the water as to permeate the couscous as it cooked.

In a mixing bowl, prepare dressing by whisking together lime juice, splash of vinegar, Sriracha, spices, salt, cilantro and olive oil. Add vegetables, stir to combine, cover, and place in refrigerator to chill. Flavor will intensify the longer it chills.

When ready to cook, remove pork chops from brine and pat off excess liquid.  Season with a rub of cracked pepper, curry and garam masala. I sprayed each side of the chops with olive oil and added them to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Depending on thickness of chops, 3-5 minutes per side should do the trick.  Don’t be afraid of a little pink in the middle.

Plate with couscous salad and serve.

Irreconcilable Differences: Huevos Divorciados

26 Jul
They remain good friends

My Summer of Spice continues with its Latin bent and a simple, savory and piquant way to start your day. Or end it (breakfast-for-dinner is always a welcome change of pace for me).

Huevos Divorciados (“divorced eggs”) is a close cousin of the familiar huevos rancheros available at most breakfast joints across North America. I stumbled upon the dish as I looked for a way to use up some of the extra salsas that take up half of my fridge at any given time. Inspired by other Mexican dishes that feature bright-colored red and green sauces, huevos divorciados pits one egg, smothered in salsa roja (Team Red) against its embattled mate, doused in salsa verde (Team Green). The tangy bite of the salsa verde serves as a nice counterpoint to the savory roja. While they might not appear to be on speaking terms, they reunite in your mouth to remake the magic that put them on the same plate in the first place.

Huevos Divorciados

Ingredient Rundown (per serving):

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium potato, thinly sliced
  • 1 half small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • chorizo, either one small link or 1/2 cup of ground and browned
  • spices (Penzey’s Northwoods Fire or other spicy blend, garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper)
  • salsa roja
  • salsa verde
  • tortilla
  • olive oil/bacon drippings for frying
  • cilantro, chopped
  • guacamole (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • refried beans (optional)
  • shredded cheese (optional)

How I do it:

  1. Season and fry sliced potatoes until mostly cooked, 10-15 minutes on medium.  Add chorizo, onion and red bell pepper, continue to cook for 5-10 minutes until tender.
  2. Fry 2 eggs, leaving the yolk runny. Over-easy works for me.
  3. Briefly warm tortilla in skillet until lightly crisped.
  4. Place tortilla on serving plate and top with fried potatoes, vegetables, chorizo and optional beans and cheese.  Top with fried eggs, side-by-side and garnish one egg with salsa roja (red), the other with salsa verde (green) and plenty of cilantro.  Seperate with optional guacamole and sour cream.  Buenos dias!

This is a great excuse to use up leftover salsa or a reason in itself to whip some up.  Fresh homemade salsa is one of summer’s simple pleasures and you should always have some on hand.  Say no to that jarred spaghetti sauce stuff!  This dish works great as intended — a simple, bold, and hearty breakfast — and as an admitted lover of breakfast-for-dinner, I have been known to eat this meal at all hours.  It’s never not a good time for anything with a fried egg on it.

No Heat Required: Summer Ceviche

26 Jul

Does any dish embody refreshing, tropical, and summer-friendly much more than ceviche? If you’re a follower of Bravo’s Top Chef (and what self-respecting foodie/TV-addict isn’t?), you know how trendy ceviche has become of late.  Just try and make it through a Quickfire challenge without some variation on the simple citrus-marinated raw seafood dish.

Despite its simplicity (no stove required – a knife and a pair of hands will do), I had never attempted a ceviche at home until this week.  Color me a convert after my rookie effort.  While I chose shrimp and tuna as my frutti de mare, just about anything that calls the sea home will do (calamari, octopus, clams, scallops to name a few).  Toss with any vegetation you might also put in a salsa (tomato, onion, hot peppers, cilantro, corn, jicama, tomatillo, avocado) and douse with plenty of fresh citrus juice (lemon and lime are traditional, orange and grapefruit will obviously add some nice sweetness).

That’s it.  No cooking necessary.  Thanks to the extreme acidity of the citrus, the seafood takes on a “cooked” texture and appearance as its proteins are denatured similarly to when they are cooked with heat.  Make no mistake, however – the seafood will, in fact, remain “raw”, so you want to obtain your protein fresh from a trusted source.

A recent late-night trip to the grocery netted me a wealth of summertime fruit, namely watermelon and pineapple (other tropical fruits like mango or papaya would be easy substitutions).  Both seemed like fun and utterly appropriate additions that would bring a touch of seasonal character and a welcomed sweetness to the dish.

Summer Ceviche

Ingredient Rollcall:

  • Raw shrimp, peeled
  • Raw tuna steak, cut to 1/2 inch cube
  • Roma tomato, small dice
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Poblano pepper, thinly sliced
  • Watermelon, small dice
  • Pineapple, small dice
  • Fresh squeezed lime, lemon, orange juice
  • Fresh cilantro and mint, minced
  • Shot of tequila (optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt to taste

How I did it:

  1. Place shrimp and tuna in a bowl and and enough of the citrus juice to cover.  Add a pinch of salt, stir, and place in fridge, covered, for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Seafood should be taking on a whitish, cooked appearance.
  3. Uncover and add tomato, onion, poblano, cilantro, mint, tequila and olive oil.  Re-cover and place back in fridge for another 15-30 minutes.
  4. To serve, place some of the diced watermelon and pineapple in the bottom of small bowls.  Top with the marinated seafood and vegetables and a few teaspoons of the marinade.
  5. Save a shot of the remaining marinade for the morning after.  Referred to as leche de tigre (‘tiger’s milk’) by Peruvians and Ecuadorians, this intensely flavorful liquid is rumored to be the best hangover cure around.  You were enjoying this ceviche with a delicious beverage or three, weren’t you?

Wine O’Clock: Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005

26 Jul

Yes, I’m still alive and YES, I’m still drinking wine.  Here’s proof – an empty bottle of Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005.  A recent local Groupon deal netted me $75 at Wine Insiders, an online wine-monger with a similar price-vs.-quality philosophy as Barriques, for only $25.  I ended up with 6 bottles in the $10-$12 range for only $30, including shipping.  While I wasn’t familiar with any of the wines I ended up with, at $5 a bottle, I wasn’t out much either way.  After Sumptuary opened my eyes to the raw power of the California Zinfandel, I had to delve deeper into the grape.

Fair Oaks Ranch Zinfandel Reserve 2005

Varietal: 100% Zinfandel

Vitals: 12.5% abv

Company Line: *crickets*

My take: deep ruby in the glass.  Jammy blackberry and black cherry play off spice and cedar in the nose.  Wild berries and bramble dominate the fore-palate with leathery tannins and a hint of pepper bringing home a long, dry finish.

This Zin is a lot tighter and dryer than I tend to prefer, but it nonetheless hits the standard notes of the varietal.  Probably not an example that I’d revisit, but more accessible for those who prefer a more straightforward, mellowed-out red.

New Brew: Capital Weizen Doppelbock

7 Jul

Today’s New Brew isn’t exactly a first-time entry into the market.  Last brewed in 2002, Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson has resurrected his Weizen Doppelbock as the latest entry in the Capital Square Series of high-octane special-release beers.  Kirby has proven himself to be the Da Vinci of Doppelbocks, with his Blonde Doppelbock, Autumnal Fire, Imperial Doppelbock, and EisPhyre all among the best bockbiers made in America today.

The weizenbock is the platypus of the beer world.  Blending the bright fruity esters and spicy yeastiness of Bavarian weissbier with the rich caramel maltiness and high proof of the venerable doppelbock, weizenbocks are banana bread in a glass, but retain good drinkability, even in warm summer months.

Capital Weizen Doppelbock

Style: Weizenbock

Vitals: 8.0% abv; courtesy of The Isthmus’ Robin Shepard: Liberty hops; Bavarian hefeweiss yeast; wheat and Munich malts

Company line: “A boosted version of all the personality quirks that make the Bavarian Weizen style unique and beloved.”

My take: pours a dark, murky amber with ample white, soapy head that fades quickly.  Aroma exudes clove and banana schnapps.  Liquid banana bread in the mouth with complex notes of chocolate-covered peanuts, soft caramels, and spice.  Finish is mostly dry with a lingering spice note.  Mouthfeel is dense, yet smooth.

Kirby said his inspiration for this beer was Schneider Aventinus, the first weizenbock I ever had, and arguably the benchmark for the style.  He’s reaching in the right direction and his doppelbock chops definitely shine through.  Ultimately, this one lacks the depth and harmony of flavor of the German classic, but it remains a supremely drinkable, highly interesting beer that combines the richness of a winter brew, with the thirst-quenching character of a summer brew.

Check out this post and other great beer-related news at Madison Beer Review.

New Brew: Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA

2 Jul

Another IPA from Stone Brewing? Not exactly Breaking News.  Long-standing standard-bearers of the West Coast-style pale ale, the thought of another amped-up IPA as a special release doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re great at what they do and their IPA and Ruination are textbook examples of their styles, but when you see a special anniversary release, you expect something a little unique.  Stone’s 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA takes a page out of the Redcoats’ playbook and puts a decidedly British spin on a Stone classic.  The results?  A supremely big, exquisitely balanced beer that celebrates with style, 14 years of boundary-pushing, palate-crushing, quintessentially American brewing.

Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA

Style: British-style Imperial/Double IPA

Vitals: 8.9% abv; Brewed with all British ingredients including white malt and Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops; ~$6.99 at Barriques Wine and Spirits

Company line:

We went to England this past spring as self-styled “IPA Hunters” on a mission to learn more about the confusing and often contradictory history of India Pale Ale – to look for some certainty where those before us have found mostly mystery and mercantilism. While our success in this pursuit is open to debate, there can be no question that we returned home inspired by the ghosts of Burton and by the experience of poring over 150-year old brewer’s logs handwritten in (India?) ink. Stone Brewing Co., after all, traces its lineage back to the British Empire’s brewing history: we make ales, and all of our original offerings used traditional British styles as a jumping-off point. If this seems a roundabout way of letting you know that, yes, we are in fact brewing another IPA to mark our Anniversary, well, so be it.

This one however, promises to be different! From the imported white malt to the “Burtonised” water to the rare yeast strain to the most pungent hops Kent has to offer, we used all British ingredients to brew our “Emperial” IPA.* While we may have brewed Stone 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA with our own distinctively modern, San Diego-style touch, what good is history if you can’t rewrite it to suit your tastes?

In this case, our tastes called for highly intemperate quantities of Target, East Kent Goldings, and Boadicea hops, bestowing upon this dry-bodied ale a powerfully spicy, earthy aroma. On the palate, peppery hops assert themselves early and often, with malt sweetness making a brief appearance before being beaten back by a long, complex, and decisively bitter finish. What better way to contemplate the fate of empires past, present, and future?

My take: pours a striking goldenrod in the glass under ample white foam.  Aroma is intensely herbal with notes of bitter lemon, pepper, and sweet malt.  Cracked pepper and herbal, resinous hops slam the forepalate, with lightly sweet, slightly biscuity malt carrying through to grassy, bitter citrus peel finish.  Body is light and drinkability high for the strength.

This is certainly a different take on an imperial IPA for Stone.  Torch-bearers for the Southern California School of juicy, dank, super-hopped pale ales with amped up, sticky sweet malt backbones.  While no-less Super-sized on the hops front, the Emperial retains the grassy, herbal bitterness and dry, biscuity malt profile of more traditional British IPAs and the result is intriguing.  Much like our representatives on the football pitch, Stone has managed to play the strengths of the English and American camps to a perfect draw.  Extreme-minded American palates might be yearning for more punishment, but a little bit of balance goes a long way with this commemorative brew.

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