Tag Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

Summer Tour, Part III: Bologna, by way Caroliina.

18 Aug

What could be more a more retro-fab American way to make Monday night dinner than by playing sous-chef (or “pinche,” as my Oklahoman grandfather would call it, partially in mocking deference to his partially-Chilean wife) for your Irish/Hungarian mom while she makes her family’s favorite Italian recipe? Nothing I can think of, except maybe doing it barefoot in a bathing suit while sipping a Red Hook nestle-chilled in a personalized wedding beer koozie. In the South. Also, just owning and using several beer koozies.

Recognize that koozie, Lynne? Tim + Vanessa 2009. That one's for you!

Although my personal kitchen hero Marcella Hazan would no doubt turn up her discerning nose at the thought of serving her famed five-hour Bolognese to a soundtrack of pre-season football (sorry, ‘Cell, but the fam loves the G-Men and I had given Mark Sanchez my heart even before my roomie and I managed to use his unparalleled visage to stop a lady-cop from impounding her car), I think she’d have to approve of the spirit behind the afternoon of prep for the feast.

There is no better vacation to me than the one my family takes every year to Oak Island, North Carolina, precisely because there’s literally nothing to do but nothing. With no museums to feel guilty about not visiting because you’re secretly uninterested in “learning about local culture,” nor any social scene to feel the need to put on heels for, these precious days on the bath-water warm Atlantic are reserved for sunning, swimming and reading crappy Jane Green novels. Evenings, meanwhile, follow one mandate alone, and needless to say it’s one of my favorites: eat, drink and be merry. So, after a morning of soaking up plenty of sunburn and several men’s magazines pilfered from the office (PR: it’s good for subscriptions), Mom and I retired to the rental house kitchen together to kick off the meal that will always make me think of the seemingly effortless love and care she devotes to feeding her family.

One of my earliest, and most visceral, food memories is the familiar grumble of thrilled hunger I’d feel when I’d come into our kitchen on Wedgewood Road and peer over the red and black granite countertop of the island to find on the stovetop a pot of stewing tomato sauce. Not plain red but flecked with the tiniest curls of almost grey-bluish beef simmering amidst barely detectable slivers of onion, carrot and celery. Fascinated, I would stand on tiptoes to reach for the wooden spoon resting next to the burner to skim the layer of thick orange fat layer that gathered sedentarily between the slow, frothing bubbles.

Marcella describes it better than I can, as just reading one of her recipes paints a picture of the domineering, bourbon-swilling dame responsible for teaching American there’s more to red sauce than Ragu brand long before Mario Batali did: “the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.” Hers was the first (new) cookbook my mom ever gave me for Christmas, and I vividly remember sitting in the backyard of my apartment in San Francisco in a stolen patch of January sunlight tuning out Jean-Claude, our French super who wears a beret and drives his three ancient whippet dogs everywhere in a van adorned on each side (roof included) with a perfectly replicated Pink Floyd album cover, while I pored over each of her directions. I could hear each one as sternly resolute as if they came straight from the mouth of the Italian grandmother I’ve never had. It’s pronouncements like these I love – Marcella, on Pasta:

“There is not the slightest justification for preferring homemade pasta to factory-made. Those who do deprive themselves of some of the most flavorful dishes in the Italian reperatory… They are seldom interchangeable, but in terms of absolute quality, they are fully equal.”

One more favorite before I tell you how to make the damn dinner. On tomatoes:

“The flavor of fresh tomatoes is livelier, less cloying than that of the canned, but fully ripened fresh tomatoes for cooking are still not a common feature of North American markets, except for the six or eight weeks during the summer when they are brought in from nearby farms. When you are unable to get good fresh tomatoes, rather than cook with watery, tasteless ones, it’s best to turn to the dependable canned variety.”

I’ll spare you her thoughts on the acceptable canned varieties. Obviously, they’re Italian.

No doubt she’ll recount the entire recipe for the Bolognese I’ve been eating my entire life far better than I can, so I’ll direct you to it: Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce, from The Essentials of Italian Cooking. But, to paraphrase, you first make a soffrito (dice about a handful of onions, celery and carrots, and heat, in that order, in oil and butter until soft).

The best way to get your veggies? Bathed in oil AND butter, clearly.

Sounds simple, right? It is. Although, not so much with Marcella over your shoulder:

“An imperfectly executed soffrito will impair the flavor of a dish no matter how carefully all of the succeeding steps are carried out. If the onion is merely stewed or incompletely sauteed, the taste of the sauce, or the risotto, or the vegetable never takes off and will remain feeble.”

So don’t eff it up.

Add ground beef and cook “until it loses its raw, red color,” S&P it, then add the two secret ingredients – milk (for which Mom took a measuring cup to the neighbors to fill because we only had skim – Americana at its best, my friends) and nutmeg (adding “warm” seasonings like allspice and cinnamon to sauces is a favorite tasty trick I got from Mom which I now suspect she plucked from Marcella herself). When the milk has evaporated, you add the same amount of white wine you added milk until that has evaporated too.

Here, Marcella left me to panic, because by this time in the recipe you have a yellow mass of liquid and it’s almost impossible to tell when exactly that magic moment is. I realized, though, that besides using the residue on the side of the pot to judge when the chalky white line has diminished to more or less where it was was before you added the wine, you can actually smell the sharpness of the alcohol until it has burned away. After that, you add the canned tomatoes, and then you wait. For hours. And hours. And more hours.

In the meantime, go finish off that sunburn. Return to the house to stir the pot every so often – like when the tingling on that awkward spot on your arm you didn’t reach makes you realize you need more SPF 30, when you feel the need to compulsively check your Blackberry despite the fact they’re certainly not paying you to do so, or if you have to use the bathroom in a manner not appropriate for the ocean. (Not that girls poo. Everybody knows we don’t. Ew.)

When it becomes four o’clock somewhere, a perfectly appropriate location being your own mind, I suggest you fix yourself a While You Wait Whiskey, my debut cocktail creation, inspired by a delicious visit to the Whiskey Kitchen in Nashville, Tennessee (thanks for gradumacating, brosef!).

Look, fruits too!! This day has ALL the food groups.

Cut up two or three strawberries into small pieces. Do what mixologists call “muddling” – mash them up how you see fit. I used the detachment from an electric mixer. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the mix. Put ice in a glass, pour a shot of bourbon over it (if I had my way I’d of course use Bulleit), add the muddled mix, top with club soda, and stir it all up. Adjust all ingredients to taste. Garnish with a sprig of basil, if you’ve got it, and you’re fancy.

The fam unanimously approved ( After “Stawberries? And whiskey? Katie, you’re so crazy, San Francisco blah blah blah.” Sip. “Oh… that works!” Another sip). Point one, pretension.

Even Brosef, the taste purist (complicating the childhood of yours truly the budding foodie by refusing to go to any restaurants where he'd be forced to eat "fancy pizza"), went for sip 2. Admittedly, the basil was a bit much for him.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When it has, add spaghetti.

Note: I actually think that even if it weren’t a sensible choice by virtue of its being healthier, the nutty taste and grainier texture of whole wheat spaghetti actually makes a nicer compliment to the sauce than traditional white pasta. Sorry, ‘Cell. I will, however, concede the milk battle. Whole – which is four percent fat – just works better than two percent here. It’s vacation.

Sit while the storm clouds you desperately miss on the East Coast roll in.

Meanwhile, open a bottle of wine. It should be full enough to stand up to the meat, but light enough not to overpower the delicate nature of the sauce. We had a Benziger Signaterra “Three Blocks” Red (2006), a Sonoma Cab Sauv (68%)/Merlot blend that is structured but very smooth, with more cocoa than fruit notes. (The bottle was sent to my Mom as part of the wine membership I got her for Christmas, and on a side note for all you wine country visitors, Benziger, a family-owned and run biodynamic winery is one of the best places to to go. I’ll expound later I’m sure.)

This is a completely extraneous shot I'm including only so I can look at it whistfully whilst stranded once again in cubeland braindead zone tomorrow. Sometimes I don't think the gold diggers have it so wrong.

When the pasta is done al dente, strain, “correct the salt” in the sauce, and serve all mixed up topped with parm cheese. After you’ve worked this hard, keep it classy. Make it fresh grated. Do it for Marcella.

Sit down to enjoy it with your adorable family.

But seriously, could they BE any cuter?

And now suspended 10,000 miles in the bumpy air above the Rockies, remembering the vivid sights, smells and tastes that bring me home no matter how far away that may be, I feel incredibly lucky.  Even if it’s precisely the frustratingly fleeting nature of these moments that make them so powerful.

welcome to the good life. catch ya on the flip side.

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Boy-Crazy Lushes Brave the Fog(gy Bridge Cabernet)

30 Jun

Considering I spend far more time exercising my tastebuds than I do muscles besides my tongue, and let’s be honest, consume far more wine than any beverage that doesn’t flow for free from the tap (and some that do), it seems only right to devote some serious attention to this teeth/reputation-staining elixir. And so, it’s with pleasure that I introduce Wino Wednesday, a small space to celebrate the wonderful possibilities opened with the popping – or sometimes when we’re not so sauve, the mangling – of a cork.

It seems to me most writers share a soft spot for the literary lubrication alcohol can provide. Not only does a general booziness tend to slightly dull that little voice constantly droning its nasal drumbeat in our heads (who would ever want to read this crap, you dumb sack? etc.), it also tends to make meeting the wide range characters that drive a narrative that much easier. I’d like to make this proclivity more than just a byproduct but a subject – and do it in a way that doesn’t make the term “vintage” bring to mind a flabby prematurely aged man who smells like mothballs and spends more each month than my entire year’s salary on the wine cellar he definitely spends more time in than he does his wife. We’ll revisit him. From now on, he shall be dubbed Mothball Man.

The good people at Spencer & Daniel’s (Polk between California and Sacramento) do more than their fair share to aid this quest, which is why I love them. (Partly. Also because a couple of those good people happen to be cute. I’m talking to you, scruffy beard. I’ll refrain from hiding behind a display case to steal a creepy grainy blackberry photo only because getting a restraining order from here would truly hurt the caliber of Wino Wednesday.)

I'm using this bberry pic instead of pilfering one off Yelp because I think the ray of light shining like a beacon of alcoholic glory really casts this place in an appropriate light.

As a girl who hasn’t bought a full-price dress since she opened a Loehmann’s Gold Card, I love a good designer discount – and just like my favorite thrift store one block further south down Polk, S&D’s offers fabulous wares at more fabulous prices. All the tags at said thrift store, apparently called Fashion Exchange, read “Something Special” and it’s no misnomer – you’ll find Betsey Johnson dresses, Prada purses and Rock & Republic jeans alongside threads most popular with the local tranny hooker population. It’s a sight.  As seems to be the Polk Street shopping theme, S&D’s is not going for ambience – metal racks and cardboard signs equate decor.  The staffmember who rang me up told me the current owner has been there 15 years, having taken over when it was just a discount food, etc., bargain bank until some years back he decided to focus on wine.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to find a current favorite – like the DeLoach Pinot Noir I love for $9. Apparently, Food & Wine named it a top affordable wine pick (thanks EShea!) and I usually see it retail in the high teens – though their flacks quoted F&W $13. But what I really love about S&D’s, moreso even than the discounts, are the hand-written staff pick tags pointing to their favorites by employee name, like you see in great bookstores. This is even better, because you can always read a page of a book and see if it suits you, but you can’t just pop off the cork, take a sip and decide you’ll pass.

So here’s who sold me this time:

I bet the cute one picked this. So cultural.

Cute, right? Here’s some more on Foggy Bridge, which is hoping to open the first visitor-focused urban winery in San Francisco this year, from their site:

There has been a trend towards overpowering wines that are made to satisfy wine critics, or simplistic wines designed to appeal to the mass market. Our wines are crafted from a different point of view — with our own sense of quality, finesse and taste — to be enjoyed alone or with a meal, with fine cuisine or with a pizza.

This was pretty much exactly our  impression of the 2005 “Tradewinds” Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend (69% Cab Sauv, 27% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot; I paid $13 at S&D, listed for $26 on Snooth) before I ever read this. It was a hit.

The phallus. I mean bottle.

Look: I love the label itself – the image of the bridge is beautiful, and the overall look of the packaging is clean and sophisticated. A dark ruby color, the wine looks much darker than it tastes or feels. It’s a gorgeous shade that matches the label, and just to please my English major sensibilities, there’s even a fogginess to do the name justice.

Smell: Peppery, black currant. SECRET B.S. TRUTH: I don’t know what currant smells like. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what it is. Appears to be some kinda foreign raisin, but fancy. But there’s a fruity smell that’s much darker, heavier than a raspberry or even a jam. There’s also a nice woodsy aroma to it that reminds me of that cool, dank you smell you get at wineries themselves. Lightbulb moment! Oak.

Taste: “A high, solid note” – EShea. “More like a Pinot than a Cab” – Unsinkable M. Much less bold than a typical California Cab or any of the few Bordeaux-style blends I’ve had, this wine doesn’t hit you over the head. It’s extremely light, almost thin but not in a “flabby” way, as Mothball Man would say. It’s spare and clean but still full, with a brightness unmuddied by the heaviness or dullness I often taste in Cabs. There aren’t really any detectable tannins, leaving no aftertaste, but it does have a nice finish, kind of like the warm coating after you eat good chocolate. It gets more peppery as it goes, which I love (The Kousman has dubbed me his little peppermonkey, after all). Maybe the smoothness comes from the petit verdot – I think I’ve read this grape described as “velvety.”

Impressions: EShea pointed out this wine is like San Francisco itself in its light approachability – you expect it to be more intimidating as a city than it is, actually warm and welcoming once you give it a chance. To me, San Francisco is much more ostentatious than this wine – but it does remind me of a lazy, foggy afternoon by the Bay, not devoid of depth but certainly with no pressing concerns. I think it would be great with salmon or a light meat, but I think the thing I really loved about it is that it’s a Cab you don’t need food with to drink easily and enjoyably.

Does it make the grade? We all really enjoyed it. Definitely worth the $13 – probably wouldn’t pay the full $26 (though at this point in my life, there are very few bottles for which I would.) B.

NOTE: Eventually I’ll work out a signature Wino Wednesday rating. Systems are not exactly my strong point. If you have thoughts or suggestions, please share – I’d love to hear them! What do you look for in a wine? What do you wish you knew about one before you buy?