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Wine of the Week: Charbay Pomegranate Dessert Wine

Fri Apr 3 2009

I love tradition. Not the staid, dogmatic kind, but tradition that bubbles up through generations,  crafts  passed from grandfather to son to grandson. These traditions hold the secrets of the land, of the sun and, in Marko Karakasevic’s case, the still. Marko is a 13th generation winemaker and distiller at Charbay, a winery and distillery perched atop Napa’s Spring Mountain. He works with his father, Master Distiller Miles Karakasevic,  mother Susan,  sister Lara and  wife-to-be Jenni, to create and promote some of the most adventurous spirits on today’s market.

I first learned of the Karakasevic clan from the folks at Martini House in St. Helena while working on an article about pomegranate cocktails for the San Francisco Chroncile. I’m a big fan of their clean-drinking, natural tasting pomegrante vodka, along with a number of their other products, particularly their Ruby Port. So I was duly excited when I recieved a sample of their newest product, a Pomegranate Dessert Wine, in the mail. Made using organically grown, tree-ripened, California pomegranates, this digestivo combines the tart-sweet flavors of full-flavored pomegranates with the earthy undercurrents of barrel-aged Pinot Noir brandy.

I have to admit, I wasn’t immediately a fan of this, like I was of their vodkas. I served the bottle with a sweet fruit dessert, which just amplified the port-style wine’s sweetness. I also served it room temperature, which made the wine’s 18.7% alcohol seem overwhelming. I tried it again though, about a week later, at cellar temperature and on its own, and was swept away by the tangy, deep pomegranate flavor. It had the vibrancy and fruitiness of ruby port with high tones of orange zest and cherry to counter the spice-spiked chocolaty richness in the mouth. But what really wowed me was the prominent acidity, which lingers with a faint pomegranate flavor on the palate long after your last sip. At cellar temperature, the alcoholic heat faded and the sticky sweetness was tamed by the juicy acidity. I recommened trying this with a triple-creme brie and Marcona almonds or poured over vanilla ice cream. It would also make a delicious Kir or a possible substitute in brandy-based cocktails (Pomegrante Sidecar?). I’m thinking I might pair it with strawberries for an upcoming sorbet experiment. So many options!

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Leftovers: Duck, Murcott and Arugula Salad

Thu Apr 2 2009

Duck, Murcott and Arugula Salad

I hate dry meat. Most of the time reheated chicken, pork chops and even steak make we want to gag; it’s like chewing on wet cottonballs. So when it comes to leftovers, I prefer to eat things cold. Sometimes I may take this too far (fried rice?), but other times it yields something as delicious as the original dish. On Tuesday, I posted a recipe for Duck with Murcott Tangerines and Beluga Lentils. Since it’s just Neal and I, a dish like this (which serves four) yields a couple of days of leftovers, I decided to cut the duck into bite-sized pieces, toss it all in a bowl, including the lentils, with some baby arugula, fresh Murcott segments, a drizzle of olive oil and the leftover balsamic reduction. It was so good the first time I had it, I packed the leftover leftovers to bring up to San Luis Obispo for a pincic lunch!

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Duck with Murcotts & Beluga Lentils

Mon Mar 30 2009

Duck with Murcott Tangerines and Beluga Lentils

I’ve been sitting here all afternoon trying to come up with a story you’d want to read, some literary sustenance about today’s recipe. I’ve been inspired by the recent emotional and personal outpouring of my friends and fellow bloggers White on Rice Couple and Foodwoolf, but the honest truth is this: There is no story; the duck was on sale.

I don’t buy duck often, though not because I don’t like it. I find it challenging to cook, a pile of inedible fat and oily meat if prepared improperly, and too expensive to screw up. So with duck on sale at Whole Foods, and the vision of the Murcott tangerines* from Burkart Farms littering my countertops like freckled orange golf balls, I headed home—a cook on a mission.
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Teaser: Duck, duck, goose

Thu Mar 26 2009

It’s been a stressful week, and the words are just not coming. So here’s a quick teaser for next week’s recipe…

Looks good, right?

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Wine of the Week: 2007 Côtes du Rhône, St-Cosme

Tue Mar 24 2009

CdR Saint CosmeThe economy looks like it’s been tied up in a plastic bag and dragged through the sewers of Wall Street Shawshank-style. When we finally emerge on the other side, things are going to look a lot different. It can be unnerving, to say the least, and downright frightening for many. I count my blessings every day that I work in the wine business. I feel like there’s some semblance of job security where I am, since when things are good people drink, but when things are bad they drink more.

It’s what people drink that seems to be changing. Wines with a high value ratio are the hot ticket item, while expensive cult bottlings are languishing on the shelves. It doesn’t phase me much, since my wine budget’s always been pretty low and one of my favorite regions, France’s Rhône Valley, is always a source for high quality wines at the lower end of the price spectrum. Even more exciting is this: the 2007 Rhônes are among the best wines the region has produced in a a generation, collector’s items. Like 2005 in Bordeaux, these are wines that you won’t want to miss and, fortunately, the wines are stellar across the spectrum.

One wine that really has me skipping like a school girl is the 2007 Côtes du Rhône, Ch. Saint Cosme, made by Louis Barruol, who makes one of my other favorite value buys, the non-vintage Little James’ Basket Press, which is predominantly Grenache. While this wine is labeled as a Côtes du Rhône because it comes from the Southern Rhône – Barruol’s St-Cosme is best known for their Gigondas – it is made entirely from Syrah, in the style of the Northern Rhône. So think of this like a baby Saint-Joseph for at least one-third the price!

The 2007 Côtes du Rhône, Ch. St-Cosme is approachable for an everyday drinker, but it’s got the structure to age a few years, too, which I like, since it’s priced for me to put some in my wine fridge to enjoy through wedding chaos (or at the wedding, hmmmm). The fruit on the nose and palate reminds me of  the wild blackberries that grow everywhere is Oregon, from well-hiked hillsides to overgrown, abandoned parking lots where the bushes are at least a foot taller than me. There’s a hint of campfire-cooked bacon and tangy red fruit that glide across your mid-palate with a wave of juicy acidity that bursts across your palate like the center of Chewels gum.The tannins are ripe, refined and well-integrated, not like the many grippy, overoaked domestic versions at this price that I avoid like the plague. While I could imagine this poured over pancakes (it’s 7 a.m. as I write, after all), this makes me think of a good cassoulet or maybe the Braised Beef I recently whipped up from A Platter of Figs.

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Pulled Pork Sugo, Winter Greens & Chestnut Polenta Cakes

Fri Mar 20 2009

Pulled Pork Sugo with Chestnut Polenta

Let me start first by saying, no, we haven’t set a date yet. Neal and I might be getting married this fall, or we might be getting married next spring. Or maybe we’ll get married fall 2010—though I think I might lose my mind if I’m in planning stages for another year-plus. We figured we’d pick a date once we found a venue we liked. But that’s just it, trying to find a venue has been like Amazing Race meets Survivor. I’ve gotten lost behind the Orange curtain, hit by a cyclist who ran a red light, seen a wedding venue come menagerie and driven all around Sonoma County with Slingblade barking at me from my father’s GPS, “Bear left, cow right.” All this running around is exhausting. And when I get home from a weekend’s worth of talking about tables and chairs and luxury Porta Potties, cranky for having missed my Sunday morning at the farmers’ market, the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time cooking.

Which brings me to reason number 2,356 that I love my Le Creuset Dutch Oven: No-fuss cooking. Continue reading

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Instant Message: Alice Waters on 60 Minutes

Tue Mar 17 2009

leah 10:31
did you watch the 60 minutes interview with Alice?

brooke burton 10:33
finally, yes. I think I fell asleep in the last 5 but yes

leah 10:34
What did you think?

brooke burton 10:34
she is so like nancy it isn’t even funny

leah 10:34
lol, that’s true

brooke burton 10:34
i thought Stahl did a good job bringing up the bigger points and letting Alice fight them…”I think good food should be a right for everyone”

leah 10:34
interesting…

brooke burton 10:34
was a great quote. what did you think?

leah 10:35
I thought Stahl came off very condescending and the way they edited it made Alice look flighty and “dreamer like” rather than focused and intentional

brooke burton 10:36
well, alice does come across to MANY MANY people as a flighty dreamer

leah 10:36
and that Stahl seemed to try to undermine alice’s message…

totally, but if the intention was to call her a steamroller, they didn’t do a very good job showing that

brooke burton 10:37
based on the biography I read, she really is a dreamer with determination and good luck

leah 10:37
I just thought the questions weren’t that interesting…for such a mass audience…they were very cursory

lol

I believe that

I dunno…I just was bothered by it

brooke burton 10:37
i thought stahl was trying to cover up for the fact that she was IN LOVE with alice

leah 10:37
lol

where were the questions about WHY people should think about eating differently and HOW they could eat differently and HOW what alice does makes that more possible

brooke burton 10:38
good point

leah 10:38
it just seemed shallow

brooke burton 10:38
ok, you’re right

leah 10:38
lol

brooke burton 10:38
and you should write an angry post about it, too

leah 10:38
i don’t need to be right

brooke burton 10:38
i know

leah 10:38
I was just pissed

lol

brooke burton 10:38
i think it’s interesting how alice comes across–much like nancy–people don’t understand them

leah 10:38
I should write a short one…

yeah, i agree

brooke burton 10:39
i saw a video clip of Alice at the farmer’s market (the amateur gourmet was following her with his camera crew)

leah 10:39
yeah?

brooke burton 10:39
and AG was asking all these questions about what she was buying, why she was buying what…and she picks up some eggs and tells him how to make the perfect omelette and that’s kind of the end of the clip…

and then all the comments from viewers were seriously mean

leah 10:41
wow

brooke burton 10:41
people just don’t get Alice

leah 10:41
Here’s my question

brooke burton 10:41
they said she seemed like she didn’t know what she was doing

leah 10:41
is it important to get “alice” or is it important to get her message

(I’m constructing my post here)

brooke burton 10:41
(here’s where I love the journo in you)

leah 10:41
there are plenty of spokespeople

brooke burton 10:41
TOTALLY

you’re absolutely right

leah 10:42
for important things that I don’t get

Angelina Jolie?

brooke burton 10:42
right

leah 10:42
but that doesn’t make what she’s doing any less powerful

we’re obsessed by individuals as a culture and we expect them to be perfect

brooke burton 10:42
(copy and paste this im and you’ve got yourself a blog post!)

leah 10:42
and we focus on their flaws instead of their intention

42:55
LOL

that’s a great idea

brooke burton 10:43
you are absolutely right, btw

go get ’em tiger!

Author’s Note: This was an instant message conversation between fellow blogger Brooke Burton, aka Foodwoolf, and myself this morning about the Alice Waters’ interview on 60 Minutes.

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Wine of the Week: Pinot Meunier Champagne!

Mon Mar 16 2009

Pascal Cuvee Emeric

It’s almost impossible to write about Champagne without the excessive use of exclamation points. It’s like the bubbles themselves invade your speech, making each word sparkle with lyrical effervescence. And yet, until I started working for K&L, I didn’t really like Champagne. I found the mousse distracting, the bread-dough yeastiness uninteresting and the hangovers unbearable. But then our Champagne buyer, Gary Westby, introduced me to small, grower-producer Champagnes, like the Franck Pascal Cuvee Emeric, and my opinion of the bubbly stuff changed completely.

The Cuvee Emeric is one of K&L’s direct imports, a wine we get straight from the producer, which means that it’s an incredibly good value ($54.99), something that those of us on a limited budget or feeling the crunch of today’s economy can surely appreciate.  It may not be inexpensive, but it’s worth every penny for a special occasion. Moreover, this beautiful sparkler is made from Pinot Meunier, a grape I knew nothing about before I started at K&L. Most Champagnes are made from Pinot Noir (Blanc de Noir), Chardonnay (Blanc de Blanc) or a combination of the two. You’ll occasionally see cuvees where Meunier is a significant part of the blend, but 100% Pinot Meuneir Champagnes are rare, which is another factor that really sets this wine apart. The Meunier gives the Champagne a distinctive mushroomy-earthy quality that I love, and it has more pronounced acidity, which makes it a great companion to a meal and more age-worthy.

The wine, though it’s not labeled vintage, comes entirely from the 2003 vintage, and all of the fruit comes from just one vineyard, planted to uncloned vines (yet another rarity!). Like I said before, it’s aromas tend to the Chanterelle end of the spectrum with hazelnut undertones, pain grille and a hint of fresh sea air. On the palate, the wine has yuzu, apple and Camembert flavors with a creamy, soft mousse that fills your mouth.The wine builds in complexity with air, which always makes it quite moreish, as Gary would say.

The only problem with the Cuvee Emeric, frankly, is that I want to keep drinking it. And I have a one-glass-of-Champagne rule, no matter how good it is. Oh well, it means I’ll have to share it with friends. Time to toast the launch of the pet website my fiance has been working diligently on for the past six months. Welcome Cute as Hell and bon chance!

Cin Cin!

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J&J Grassfed Beef

Thu Mar 12 2009

J&J Grassfed Beef Tacos

Sometimes money is just not enough. For one of their final projects at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, Jay Shipman and his business partner, Jack Rice, drew up the plans for a sustainable beef business and wrote a grant to get the project funded. They thought it made financial sense, that it was something that would fill a market niche, and the grant organization, SARS, agreed. But life took hold, and the two graduates never put their plan into play. It wasn’t until a few years later, when Jay’s young wife was suffering from the debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis, that the plan took flight. By then it was personal.
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Winter Braised Beef

Fri Mar 6 2009

Braised Beef

We all have bad habits. I’m a piler and a procrastinator. I have trouble recognizing when I’m supposed to give the “short” answer to a question. And I tend to buy the ingredients for a recipe without actually reading the directions.

This final habit has caught me more than I’d like to admit staring at a recipe an hour before dinner that tells me I should have started it the night before. Or worse, I’ve gotten half way through preparing something only to discover that I am then supposed to let it sit for three hours to set or that I should refrigerate it overnight. Mishaps like these leave me scrambling and, while they can inspire creative solutions (like packing custards on ice to set them faster), the results are usually less tasty, texturally challenged or complete failures. Those are the nights we eat frozen Trader Joe’s spinach pizza.
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