30 December 2008

Caffé e Lambrusco!

Coffee is the perfect Democrat.

Wine is bottled Poetry.
-Robert Louis Stevenson

I was pleased to find in the recent edition of La Cucina Italiana January/February, a rather large segment dedicated to the art of coffee, as I am a bit of a coffee fanatic.  I'm not an expert on the subject like my friend James, who has devoted much of his time and talents to the science of coffee, but as an  art, I too consider myself a connoisseur. Or at least, a grand admirer.

A bit of a purist, I prefer simple and exacting coffee. At home, I use a French Press and enjoy a Macchiato in the afternoon from the neighborhood coffee shop, Ristretto Roasters (my personal favourite espresso in Portland).  I also often look for ways in which I can subsume coffee in food, such as Hungarian Lamb Stew, the subject of the posting that precedes this one.

There are some great looking recipes that embody coffee and food in this issue, and with Lamb on my mind, I promptly prepared the recipe for Spiedini di Agnello Lamb Skewers. 

I'm not going to repeat the recipe here, but it is readily available on their website, which I have linked to this post.

I will note that I substituted baby red potatoes for the larger ones and left them whole.  I also par brewed freshly ground espresso in place of instant espresso powder, which I then let dry slightly before tossing with the Lamb and Pepper. I served the Lamb rare.  This was a delicious, quick meal, perfect for a weeknight dinner with a beautiful presentation.

I enthusiastically recommend a Lambrusco (highly underrated).  I like San Giacomo Maggiore 2007.  The way this dry red effervescent  plays with the coffee notes in this dish is nothing less than exquisite. 

This wine is available at Cork, which has two locations in Portland; 2901 NE Alberta and 1715 NW Lovejoy. Be sure to ask Darryl about his Olive Oil selection as well. It's the best in town.

If Lambrusco is not your thing, try with a Barbera d'Alba.  

Buon Appetito!

La Cucina Italiana link HERE

Living On The Lamb

In celebration of a new shipment of Malbecs at my local wine shop, The Blackbird, I chose to concoct a Goulash that would compliment best, the Argentine variety of the grape.  I chose a bottle of Carlos Pulenta's VISTALBA CORTE C MALBEC 2005.  

This Mendozan vineyard is located at the foot of the Cordon del Plata in the center of the Lujande Cuyo region within the Andes Mountains.  

It is a beautiful place, and I have fond memories of riding my 1973 MotoGuzzi Eldorado through there years ago.  It was my favourite part of a journey that ended appropriately with my leaving my broken down, road killed motorbike in Qaxaca, and hitchhiking back to the Northwest, living on Tasajo and stolen Oranges along the way. 

The following recipe is perfect for serving a large family or guests during all this Holiday fanfare.  It is affordable, and showcases the wine's intense aroma of red and dried fruit with an exceptional transformation in the glass, not unlike peppered eucalyptus bark with an incredibly upholding, long finish.

Hungarian Lamb Stew  (Goulash)

3 slices thick Bacon, chopped roughly
2.5 lbs. Lamb Stew Meat
1 cup good strong coffee, room temperature
Sea Salt
1 t. White Pepper
2 medium Yellow Onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves Garlic, smashed and chopped
2 T. Hot Smoked Hungarian Paprika (not Sweet)
1 t. Caraway Seeds
1 Green Pepper, sliced in 1/4" strips
1 Red Pepper, sliced in 1/4" strips
1 lb. small white potatoes, peeled if desired (I don't)
1 large Beefsteak or other large Tomato
1 cup, plus additional Water

Soak the Lamb meat in coffee for a minimum of 4 and up to 8 hours in refrigerator.  Drain meat in a colander, gently squeezing out excess coffee and pat dry. 
Lightly dust with flour and season with Sea Salt and White Pepper.  Allow to rest at room temperature, covering with a kitchen towel.
Cook Bacon in a Large Dutch Oven until beginning to crisp. Remove to a towel lined plate, reserving drippings in pan.
Add onions and sauté until tender and beginning to caramelize. Remove to a plate.
In the same pan, add Lamb in small batches, and brown on all sides, removing as necessary until all meat is done.
Return all the Lamb, the Bacon, the Onions, and add Paprika, some more Sea Salt, Caraway, Garlic, and 1/2 of each pepper.
Add 1 cup of Water and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until all is tender and happy inside, adding additional Water 1/4 cup at a time if needed.
Stir in remaining Peppers and Potatoes and continue to simmer 20 minutes longer.
Add Tomatoes and cook 10 to 20 minutes longer, or until incorporated.
Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve.

Serves 6 to 8.

¡Disfrute de usted mismo!

Érezd jól magad!

29 December 2008


The History of Pork and Beans is a convoluted series of American plume waving that gets mixed up into the very colonization of North America. Van Camp's began commercializing Pork and Beans in the 1880s in response to having received a contract with the U.S. Army during The American Civil War. Frank Van Camp, the son who went on to found Van Camp's Seafood, then added his own creation, Catsup, (about 100 years after the Chinese began trading it). The recipe, which was very popular, came from traditional European cuisine. It was even the main dish served at the first Thanksgiving feast that Native Americans in Florida shared with the Spanish Moors, who landed there in 1513. That's 108 years before the feast of Wampanoag in 1621, where The Pilgrims mythically held the original Thanksgiving feast, celebrating their first successful crops. Incidentally, these same black Spanish Moors went on to visit the Mississippi River, travel on foot from Florida to The Gulf Of California, and sail up the coast of Oregon some 267 years prior to the escapades of everyone's favourite Fourth Grade History topic, Lewis and Clark. 

But I digress...

The ingredients? Garbanzo Beans, Pork, and Black Pepper.

It's difficult to place the exact origin of Pork and Beans, as its timeline of introduction to diet ranges from around 6500 B.C. to 7000 B.C.  It is found throughout Europe in many variations. Today, I present to you one of my favorites, a rather Scandinavian influenced Northern Italian dish called,

"Jota."  - Friulian bean and sauerkraut soup.

Sauerkraut originated in China circa 200 B.C.  It was used to supplement the diets of workers who built The Great Wall and who subsisted mainly on rice.  It was also originally made with rice wine.  The introduction of sauerkraut to Europe is accredited to Genghis Kahn when he used it to nourish his troops on his raids into Eastern Europe during the 13th century.

The play of flavours in this dish are amazing.  Warm and comforting while at the same time lively and rhythmic.  


1 Lb. Barlotti Beans dried, rinsed soaked and drained
1 Lb. Pork Shoulder, cubed
1 small Onion, minced
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 cups Italian Parsley, chopped
Sage Leaves to taste, about 3 or 4
1 T. Olive Oil
1 T. flour
1 T. Butter 
2-3 Tbsps. course Polenta (Corn Grits)
4 oz. Pancetta, sliced 1/4 " strips
2 cups quality Sauerkraut (I highly recommend Pickled Planet) 
Sea Salt, to taste
Fresh Ground Pepper, to taste

Place beans and pork in a large saucepan with 2 quarts of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, skimming any foam until beans are just tender, about an hour.  Add water if necessary during this to keep the beans immersed. Cover and set aside.

In a small skillet, heat olive oil and butter. Add flour, stirring for a few seconds. Add onion, garlic, parsley and sage and cook until beginning to soften. Add polenta and combine for a couple of minutes. Stir mixture into beans.

Return pan to heat and cook pancetta until just beginning to crisp.  Add to beans.

Stir sauerkraut into beans and return to heat.  Season with sea salt and pepper and simmer 30 minutes or until beans are tender.  

I recommend a good Alsace with this.  Specifically, Domaine du Barmés Buecher Muscat Ottonel 2004. This wine is intensely floral (jasmine, honeysuckle) in the nose with a good mineral mouth and a complex finish of sweet and dry. A very contemplative wine that plays beautifully with this dish of similarly contrasting character.

This soup makes for a lovely 1st course for 12 in an unconventional feast, in honour of the real 1st Thanksgiving.  Or serves 6 generously as a main course anytime you want a delicious soup that will not bore you. 

15 December 2008

The Lighter Side Of Winter

It's nearly Christmas, which in my house means 3 very anxious children and an even more anxious partner, whom is in her 1st year of Law School.  Cramming for finals seems to lead to a near complete lack of a real appetite, coupled with frantic snacking, and joined by the occasional emotional outburst.

Since the kids are with their Mom tonight, I'm thinking that I get to make whatever I want.

"Hmm.  I loved that Boeuf Vingeronne I made last week," I said.  "How does a Brasato Bianchi sound?  Or maybe a Wild Mushroom Ragú with some Bucatini?  Mmmm.  And Steak."

"No.  I'm really not feeling that heavy.  I need something lighter,"   came the distant and scared reply.  

All right.  The last four hours of my pondering, meaty obsession has just been completely subjugated by the words "something lighter." 

And so it is.  

Summer at my house means mostly eating outside meals that consist of uncooked greens and various other raw foods, along with light pastas, and fire grilled meats and vegetables.  And although I grill year round, Autumn and Winter are my "soup" times.  I love soup.  In fact, my next entries are to be filled with soups, stews, and yes, I'll say it, even casseroles.  

However, there is always room to compromise.

So today, we're talking about Salads.  

And it's currently 22 Degrees F at this very moment.  

Sometimes, especially in the winter, we tend to eat much more heavily than we should. Often, we forgo greens altogether, with perhaps the exception of over cooked, vitamin drained stovetop concoctions.  

Personally, I find this an affront to the vegetable. It is disrespectful and diminutive of its vitality and character to steam it. There are rare and few gentle exceptions.  For example, blanching does not offend me. Crisp tender, along with al denté is simply a rule of my kitchen. 

So, it's way below freezing outside.  Feel free to mix in a salad.  

The bonus to this notion is that winter salads can satisfy the deepest of comfort food, meat centered cravings, while helping you balance your diet and still eat in a seasonal fashion which, truth be told, is the healthiest approach to diet that I can think of.

Let's begin with Pig.

Pork has an amazing way of satisfying my heathen urges while contributing a minimal amount of fat (relatively) to a meal.  I'm talking about bacon.  As an accent.

Now, we add an egg.  Warm, gooey, and a near perfect protein.

Combine these two ingredients and turn the most chilly salad into a warm, inviting, Lazy Sunday feast of pure indulgence, satisfaction, and intelligent eating.

This is something the French do very well, so we're going to base our salad on the concept of the French Bistro.

If you can get it, buy some side pork from your local butcher and cure it yourself. Otherwise, pick a good quality thick sliced bacon and proceed. The truth is, the higher in quality the bacon, the less you need.

Next, procure the freshest eggs you can.

And then...  Begin.

This recipe is for two.  Adjust quantities as necessary, or desired.

3  1/4" thick slices of Bacon sliced crosswise at 1/4" again
2  Eggs
8 oz Frisée or Mâche, Radicchio and/et Frisée
Red Onion, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T. fresh Lemon Juice
2 t. White Wine Vinegar 
1 t. Mustard (Dijon or Stone Ground)
1 thinly sliced Calabrian Hot Pepper, seeded (or 1 tsp red pepper flakes)
Sea Salt

Cook bacon in a cast iron skillet (or non stick), until beginning to crisp (about 5 minutes). Drain on a plate reserving 1 Tbsp of fat.

Whisk lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and bacon fat until smooth, and then whisk in olive oil. Stir in the hot pepper and a pinch of good sea salt.

Toss greens with onion and dressing and put onto plates.  Sprinkle with bacon.

Poach eggs and place on salads.

Pinch some more sea salt and fresh ground pepper over eggs.


10 December 2008

Just Mull It Over

It happens.  

You've purchased a wine you have never tried before.  

You open it and pour.  As you lift the glass to your lips a slight shiver of anticipation, hope, and even fear crawls up the back of your neck and into your throat.  After all, it was pretty inexpensive. You lose all confidence. You look at your spouse to view their reaction as the tannins hit your tongue, which recoils to the roof of your mouth; wounded, indignant at your ignorance. 

You should have listened to your nose.  

It will be days before your palette will consider anything less than the best of the familiar wines in your mental repertoire. 

You hate throwing things away,  although dignity begs it of you. Hmm...  

You could make a sauce. 

Please, don't do that.  The sauce is only as good as the wine you use, I don't care how many days you cook it.  


No, no, no.  Even more true with this sacred, often misunderstood, and refreshing libation.

It's time you go Medieval.

Back in the Dark Ages of no refrigeration, salt cured meats, and fermented vegetables buried in the ground next to your front door; wine didn't always age well.  Lo, what a few scoops of sugar, some water, and spices can do.  You can use citrus, honey, clove, nutmeg, and any number of ingredients to mull a wine.  It's even become a Holiday tradition.  

On top of that, you gain the self gratification of being a slightly less conspicuous consumer, recycling both the bottle and its contents.  Good one, you.  You remind me of my Great Grandmother.

Try this:

1 bottle of oops wine
1/2 Cup Brandy
1/4 cup raw sugar, Xylitol, or Agave Nectar 
(adjust quantities of alternative sweeteners)
1 T.  Raw Honey
Zest of a small orange, sans pith, smashed
Small chunk of fresh Ginger root (1" by 1" or so)
2-3 Cinnamon sticks
3-5 Whole Cloves
1-2 Whole Nutmegs
Pinch of Whole Cardamon Pods

Adjust, tweak, omit, and add ingredients as you like.

Bring all ingredients to a steaming hot pre-simmer over moderate heat. The slower, the better the Mull. Do not allow wine to boil, as you'll lose the alcohol. Strain into a warm beverage pitcher or punch bowl. Reserve spice mixture for up to a week for your next mistake or even intentional Mull. It's quite good.  

So, get into the Holiday Spirit.


09 December 2008

Wines of The Times

Everywhere I look, it seems blatantly obvious that everyone wants to capitalize on our Nation's economic recession.  It's all "comfort" this and "for less" that.  

Personally, I haven't needed an economic down turn to enjoy reasonably priced wines for daily and group purposes. Much like many restaurants, I feel it is important to have a "house" wine.  This is perfect for a daily glass with dinner or for round three at a dinner party. 

Wines that qualify become even cheaper with case price discounts and can save you from that embarrassing and frustrating trip to the local market where you have your selection of $3.00 wines priced at $20.00 and none that you've EVER heard of.  Or, wish you hadn't. Recently, I was leafing through the latest edition of Bon Appétit Magazine (The Value Issue) January, when I came across 20 favourite wines for under $10.00.  If a recession gets you discovering affordable wines, then you have made the best of the situation as can be expected. 

Most of the wines I drink are under $20.00, and I would say many come close to the $10.00 mark.  Anytime I drop under that low of a price, it becomes very difficult to find wine that's interesting.  Some things to look for in an inexpensive wine are:

If imported, was it shipped under refrigerated conditions?  (This is crucial, and a non-refrigerated wine is a deal breaker for me).

Is it Biodynamic?  (You would be amazed at how many inexpensive wines are).  Biodynamic wines, for so many reasons, are always preferable, though not a prerequisite.  (More on Biodynamics later).

Don't worry about D.O.C.G. on Italian bottles.  There are many innovative wines coming out of Italy, some that are Biodynamic and some that are experimenting with newer vinting methods, new blends, etc.  These do not get the certification.  Be brave.

And of course, decant.  Always.  No exceptions.  Ever.

Some to look for that you haven't found in any article yet:

Domaine De La Mavette  Cotes Du Rhone  2006 France.
This wine is very broad in character.  It's scope is unmatched from pizza or burgers to Boeuf Vineronne.

Reverdito Barbera d'Alba 2005  Italy. 
Smooth, fruit forward with a peppery finish.  Nice balance.  Excellent for sipping by the fire.

Orenia  Rouge 2006 France.
Hint of pine, immediate balance.  The most delicious of this list.  I had it for the first time today.  I am enamored.

Terra Andina Carmenere 2006 Chile.
My current "House" Wine.  It is served with dinner daily.  My favourite find in the last month.

If you happen to live in Portland Oregon, Call Andy Diaz at The Blackbird Wine Shop.  He can hook you up.  He is located in the NE Alameda District.  Or visit Blackbirdwine.com

Until next time,