Monday, September 23, 2013

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Zinfandel Wine Tasting - Houston, TX

On September 13th I had the privilege to attend a wine tasting at the famous Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, TX.  The event was well organized and enjoyable- akin to being invited into a neighbor's living room for a drink.  It was held in a private room right off the dining room. There were five tables set up inside  the room, each with four tastings of a Zinfandel wine.  A sommelier walked guests through each tasting at their respective tables.  A lovely presentation of charcuterie, cheeses, fresh honeycomb, and crusty bread was prepared to enjoy with premier bottles of Zinfandel chosen for the evening.  Servers, dressed crisply in white shirts and long black waiter aprons, were also walking around, offering guests nibblies like seared duck and sweet potato, quail wrapped in bacon, and fried chicken on a stick.  The fine, hot hors d'ouevers definitely helped to accent the elegant wine that we were sipping.

Some highlights and tasting comments from the evening are as follows.  I found the A. Rafanelli 2011 Dry Creek Valley to be a watered down, but smooth tasting wine.  I greatly enjoyed the Mounts "Old Vines" 2009 Dry Creek Valley Wine which tasted of very dark, black fruit and was very robust.  Other highlights include a Robert Biale "Monte Rosso" 2009 Sonoma Valley which was spicy yet smooth, and tasted aromatic and fresh.  The most elegant wine I tasted was a Hartford "Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard" 2011 Russian River Valley which had the dual benefit of having the aroma and flavor of oak and wood.  If you are looking for a wine which literally feels like drinking silk then the Chase "Hayne Vineyard" 2009 Napa Valley is the choice for you!.  Or if you prefer a wine that is as soft as velvet on the palate try the Elyse "Black-Sears" 2009 Napa Valley.  For a fully luxurious experience bring home a bottle of the Turley "Dusi Vineyard" 2011 Paso Robles.  This beautiful wine will be sure to take your next evening to great heights.

The Pappas chain is known for their sommeliers, elegant atmosphere and diverse wine menu.  If you are looking to experience many new wines in one night then I suggest you attend the next tasting event!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Four Roses Distillery-Kentucky

Another trip down the bourbon trail and I can't say that I mind.  The latest visit was to Four Roses Distillery which resides in Lawrenceburg, KY.  Their product has a unique taste and flavor although they, of course, adhere to the normal laws for creating bourbon.  All bourbon must be distilled in new, charred, oak barrels and be distilled from a mash which is at least 51 % corn.  When bourbon leaves the still it must be no more than 160 proof and when it enters the barrel it cannot be higher than 125 proof.  All bourbons must be at least 80 proof in the bottle.

Four Roses has their own twist on this traditional process.  They have 10 distinct bourbon recipes and 5 proprietary strains of yeast which they use to create their signature flavors.  All of their bourbon ages for at least 5 years. The other key difference at Four Roses is in how they age their barrels. While most distilleries age their barrels in tall warehouses, Four Roses uses only single level warehouses.  In multilevel warehouses the barrels must be rotated since the temperature at the top and bottom of the warehouses creates different flavors of bourbon.  Four Roses prides itself on having barrels that do not need to be rotated, thus ensuring a greater consistency of flavor.

The tour at Four Roses was one of the best I have completed by far, as guests actually get to ascend the warehouse floor and look right down into the stills of bourbon as well as the tanks of mash.  It really feels like you are part of the process.  Additionally, both the tour and the tasting at this distillery are free!  And although, Four Roses does not have the innate Kentucky beauty that is found when visiting Woodford Reserve, it does have a lot of charm, since the buildings were designed with Spanish architecture and are immaculate.

In the tasting session, guests have the opportunity to taste Four Roses Yellow Label, Four Roses Small Batch, and Four Roses Single Barrel.  The nose of the Yellow label is fruity and spicy and the taste has mellow notes of apple.  The Small Batch bourbon also smells spicy and fruity but has a much creamier and smoother taste than the Yellow Label.  

The Single Barrel is the finest bourbon with a nose smelling fruity and earthy and a taste of caramel and mahogany wood.  This bourbon is exceptionally smooth.  The Single Barrel comes only from one recipe of bourbon and as the name implies, comes out of one barrel.  The Small Batch bourbon is created from 5 distinct recipes while the Yellow Label is a blend of 10.  Like with any bourbon, the flavors from barrel to barrel vary greatly even within one distillery.  So a Single Barrel recipe always has a unique and pronounced flavor with its own character.
Bourbon mash with yeast added

Four Roses is a thriving distillery in Kentucky today and they welcome visitors.  The drive is about 40-50 minutes from Louisville and definitely worth the trip.  (The bourbon is worth the trip too) Bottoms up!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

White Oak Kitchen- Houston, Texas

Hummus Plate
A friend and I visited White Oak Kitchen in order to participate in Restaurant Week in Houston and try out a new place to eat. Its hard to know where to start when talking about the many disappointments I experienced at this restaurant.  First, the parking is nearly impossible since the restaurant is in the Galleria.  So the first decision any guest must make is whether to succumb to expensive Galleria valet parking or park at Dillards and make the hike across the street to the restaurant. It's definitely not a relaxing start to a night out.

Fried Calamari Appetizer
When we finally arrived at White Oak (where we did indeed have reservations) it took twenty minutes for a server to even arrive to take our drink order.  Fifteen minutes later our drinks finally arrived and we hadn't even ordered our food.  When our server finally appeared my friend and I practically had to pounce on him to get our food order in.  Suffice to say the food was slow to arrive as well.  Additionally, the restaurant was already out of their shrimp appetizer and I was forced to order the hummus instead.  Didn't the restaurant think to plan ahead for restaurant week?  Strike one.

Wok-seared Beef and Shrimp
When the hummus did arrive it tasted worse than a hummus I could buy from Kroger and the pita bread it was served with was dry and had quite obviously been sitting out.  When I noticed my friend demolishing her calamari appetizer I assumed she was enjoying it but she confessed that she was just so hungry from waiting that she would have eaten about anything.  Strike Two.

Luckily when the entrees arrived, wok-seared beef shrimp for me and spicy clam linguine for her, they were hot, tasty, and surprisingly, served in a timely fashion.  I absolutely loved the sesame sauce served with my shrimp and the tangy beef and succulent shrimp were a great combination.

Chocolate Brownie and Ice Cream
However, just as I assumed things were starting to look up for White Oak, it was dessert time.  Naturally, the restaurant was out of the bread pudding I wanted to order so I was forced to order a chocolate brownie instead.  It was, at best, average, but at the very least it was world's better than the chocolate cake my friend ordered.  Since we are both pastry chefs my friend and I are hardened dessert criticss.  We both decided the desserts looked as though they had been frozen at some point and we also felt that they were incredibly bland.  Strike Three.  You're out White Oak Kitchen.  After enduring the poor food and service here once, I will never eat here again.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sable Kitchen and Bar- River North Chicago

Shrimp and Grits
Sable Kitchen and Bar is situated in the new, modern Palomar Hotel in the affluent River North area of Chicago.  The restaurant's proximity to Michigan Avenue, downtown Chicago, and the financial district make it the perfect place to stop and have a bite.  Sable has a comprehensive menu for lunch, dinner, and brunch.  And the best part is that the menu is designed for sharing so a guest can choose to order either a half or whole portion of any one item to share with the table.  I would definitely rate the food as excellent.  For brunch I enjoyed the shrimp and grits made with laughing bird shrimp, white cheddar grits, and ham.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly and was tender and juicy.  The grits are soaked full of shrimp flavor and served in a spicy, tomato sauce which perfectly complement the shrimp.  The half sized portion was hearty and was just the right size for your average eater.  For lunch I tried the proscuitto pizza with Fontina cheese, arugula, and balsamic reduction.  This pizza is a flatbread so don't expect your traditional deep dish.  The peppery arugula contrasts with the salty proscuitto quite well.  If you stop by the hotel lobby at 5:00 they serve this flatbread as well as other varieties with a complimentary glass of wine orjuice.  

Prosciutto flatbread
Although the food items were good I would rate this restaurant poorly in regards to service.  The staff was very inattentive and kept forgetting drink orders.  They also neglected to refill water glasses without constant prodding.  Additionally, although we ordered our cappucinos almost upon arrival they took about 20 minutes to actually serve them and the waiter did not accompany the beverage with sugar.  By the time we received the sugar for our coffee it was already getting cold.  So overall, this restaurant has great ambiance, cuisine and the addition of a beautiful bar but it lacks a sense of urgency and hospitality on the service side.  Definitely, do not eat here if you are in a hurry.  The servers take their time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mojitos or Margaritas?

Yes, that is the question.  Maybe not a question you have not asked before but definitely a question you will

ask yourself if you ever visit or reside in Texas.  Because margaritas and mojitos are actually good in the great state of Texas.  Unlike in most places where they are just super sweet, sticky concoctions served in an over sized glass with some tequila or rum thrown in.

But questioning readers may be asking themselves- "What  is the difference is between these two well know cocktails?"  Let me break it down for you.  Margaritas are a mixture of tequila, orange flavored liqueur (such as Cointreau and lime and lemon juices.  Mojitos are made with simple syrup, rum, lots of mint, and rum.

Both drinks are fresh and wonderful in their own way.  However, I don't recommend ordering one of these drinks unless you are in a high quality establishment, south of the border, Texas.  Having a bad one of these cocktails can turn you off them forever.  But having a great mojito or margarita? Sounds like a great start to a night!
Who says a mojito needs to be served in a glass?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Emporium Pies- Dallas, TX

Pie used to be a pretty simple thing right?  That simple baked goodness that you would make just to get rid of all the summer berries in your fridge or bring to a pot luck.  Not so anymore...Emporium Pies in Dallas, TX has taken pies to a whole other level.  With pies named thinks like "Cherry Bomb" and "Mellow Yellow" it's almost hard to know you are in a bakery.

The pies themselves are good but I caution the careful spender.  They are expensive and are likely to stress your wallet more than you would like for an afternoon pick-me-up.  One slice of pie is $5 or $6 a slice and a whole pie is between $30-$40.

My friends and I tried 3 pies: the Drunken Nut, Ebony and Ivory, and Smooth Operator.  Smooth Operator is a rich chocolate concoction with a pretzel crust.  I loved the crust but found the filling to be a bit too heavy to finish the slice in one sitting.  Ebony and Ivory is a chocolate and buttermilk chess pie which tastes every bit as smooth as the name of it sounds but the taste of it fell a bit flat for me.  My absolute favorite was the Drunken Nut.  With a light shortbread crust and a hearty, caramelized, nut filling, this pie was perfection.

The shop itself is situated in the trendy Bishop's Arts District which is an up and coming area near downtown Dallas.  If one has been to Dallas, you can imagine it is a more artistic and relaxed version of the well known, trendy Uptown area.  The pie shop is right in the middle of the action and at 7 pm on a Saturday night the line was already out the door so you may want to get there early.
Dunken Nut
Ebony and Ivory
Smooth Operator

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Brioche Doughnuts

There is nothing quite like a fluffy, hot, doughnut straight out of the frying pan and into your mouth.  The sweet yeast and butter smell fills your nose as you bite into the cloud-like sensation that is a homemade doughnut.

I ventured into making brioche doughnuts just this morning.  Make sure you start a day ahead as this dough needs about 24 hours to retard (rest) in the fridge overnight.

Brioche Dough

Eggs             300 g
Milk             212 g      
Bread flour   751 g
Instant yeast     9 g
Salt                20 g
Butter           373 g
Sugar            112 g

Mine are filled with apricot jam!
Combine first five ingredients and 1/3 butter in a mixer with dough hook attachment.  Mix on low for about 2 minutes until ingredients come together.  Mix on high for 4 minutes.  Then, while dough is mixing add all the sugar and butter (roughly chopped) to the dough.  Mix on high until the butter and sugar is fully incorporated into the dough.  Don't worry! This may take 10-15 minutes and your mixer may get fairly warm.  Keep going until you have a very sticky but smooth dough and no butter pieces are visible.  Stop the mixer to scrape down dough periodically to ensure an even mix.  Lightly oil and butter a large bowl.  Ball up dough and place into bowl.  Wrap very well with plastic and place into fridge for about 24 hours but at least 12 hours.  I left my dough in the fridge for about 36 hours and did not find my product to be damaged at all.

Take dough out of fridge the next day.  It should have risen up a fair amount while in the fridge. Dust your hands with bread flour and dust the work surface you are using with bread flour so the dough does not stick.  Weigh out 2 oz pieces.  Using your hands form the pieces into balls and flatten the balls with your palms so they look like rounded discs.  Allow doughnuts to rest at room temperature for about an hour to an hour and a half.  The doughnuts should look puffy and the dough should definitely have risen noticeably.  

When you notice the dough is almost ready start heating up canola oil in a pan with high sides.  You will need to fill the pan so that it is about 2-3 inches deep with oil.  Also prepare a plate with sugar mixed with cinnamon to taste.  You will need enough cinnamon sugar to coat all the doughnuts.  Heat up the oil to 350 degrees F.  This is the optimal frying temperature for doughnuts so keep an eye on it as you start frying.  Prepare a metal rack for the hot doughnuts or if you don't have one line plates with paper towels to absorb extra oil.

Add the doughnuts to the pan but do not crowd them.  Using wooden sticks (or two forks) turn them when they are golden brown on one side.  Place them on the paper towels and allow the towels to soak up the extra oil.  When the doughnuts have cooled slightly but are still warm roll them in the cinnamon sugar.  When they are completely cool fill a piping bag fitted with a number 2 tip with your favorite jam and pipe it into the doughnuts from the side.   Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vánočka- European Yeast Raised Bread

Pastries and cakes don't just have to be full of butter cream, chocolate and sugar although that's what most people think.  Some cakes are delicious without all these extra flavors- and calories! One of my favorites is Vánočka which is  Czech bread made with sugar, butter,eggs, yeast, flour, walnuts and raisins.  And that's it! The bread gets its beautiful flavor and color from the prevalence of egg yolks in the formula.  And the light fluffy texture comes from developing the gluten properly in the dough before baking it off.  This cake is best the day it is made- literally hot out of the oven.  It goes very well with apricot jam and a hot cup of tea or coffee.  A good variation of this recipe can be found here. Yum!

Vánočka I made recently
Light and fluffy crumb structure of Vánočka

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's Pizza Time!

Nothing is tastier (and cheaper) than a homemade pizza.  Assuming you already have some olive oil and flour at home you can make your own pizza for about $10.  Of course your cost will depend on how many ingredients you use, where you buy them, and their quality.

Overall, pizza is amazingly easy to make.  Just mix up a quick dough, let it proof for about 45 minutes and then roll out the dough and throw on some toppings.  I like to crank up the oven to about 450 for the first 10 minutes so the crust gets the lift and color it needs before lowering it to around 375 for the remaining 5-7 minutes.  Also, preheating a pizza stone is key to a great, golden crust.

For my pizza I chose simple toppings of mozzarella, mushrooms, onions, and pepperoni but again, the sky is the limit.  Happy pizza eating! Don't be afraid to get creative.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Perfect Summer Wine- Vinho Verde

A hot Texas night lends itself well to a crisp, refreshing wine. So when trolling the wine shelves of Spec's this past weekend I was drawn to the Portuguese Vinho Verde. The one I chose to drink was Arca Nova, Vinho Verde 2012 whose price hovers right around $9 retail value. But not to fret, a Vinho Verde lover can find one that is priced even cheaper! This wine is one of those glorious buys which can be found for as low as $5 or $6 and still taste delicious.

This wine was a beautiful pale daffodil color in the glass and smelled of summer melons and green apples.  The taste was refreshingly acidic and the wine stayed on the palate for a medium to long finish.  This pleasing wine finishes with a slight effervescence on the palate.  The effervescence is added to prolong shelf life but is also just a pleasant surprise in a wine that appears to be still.  Great for enjoying on a hot summer day!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Crooked Tree Coffeehouse - Dallas, TX

Anyone looking for a great cup of coffee in the Dallas Metro area should look no further than Crooked Tree Coffeehouse.   The Coffeehouse is situated right near uptown in a remodeled house.  It is unassuming and quaint but the inside truly has a welcoming quality.   The coffee and pastry selection is small but the quality is great.  They make a champion cappuccino that is strong, bold, and smooth.  No lingering, bitter after-coffee taste here. 

The coffee is rich and luxurious and packs a powerful boost.  It is served on simple china and comes complete with beautiful latte art.  It has always been my firm opinion that a coffee shop that takes the time to make latte art will take the time to make a good cup of coffee as well.  This certainly holds true at Crooked Tree.  The coffee is almost too beautiful to drink, but drink it you will, and you will probably go back for another cup too!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

2011 Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons, France

Chablis is locater in a Burgundy, France and has a cool climate and soil rich in minerals such as chalk and limestone.  The chalk and the limestone in the soil help to promote the intense acidity often found in a Chablis.  For those who enjoy a good Chardonnay, a Chablis is a fine choice.  And for the more discerning taste, one from the Premier Cru Vaillons region is particularly enjoyable.

I tasted a 2011 Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru from Vaillons.  The wine was a vibrant yellow-gold color and translucent.  In the nose I could smell honeysuckle, honey, nectar, grass, and just a touch of apricots.  The wine had a medium acidity, a light to medium body and was incredibly well balanced.  It also had a long finish with a taste of oak at the end.  The oak taste was not overpowering but added a noteworthy nuance to the wine.

This is a wine that is so pleasant for sipping it makes one thirsty for more.  Such a wine is perfect with oysters on the half shell or a poached fish.  A summertime delight indeed!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

El Tiempo Cantina - Houston, TX

Pork fajitas
Mexican cuisine is my food of choice whenever I visit Texas because is excellent, fresh and relatively inexpensive fare.  I would say that El Tiempo is on the pricier end with most entrees hovering between $12 - $30.  I felt that I got a great deal by ordering fajitas which I split with a friend.  For $24 you receive a half pound of the meat of your choice cooked to order. I opted for the pork option but guests can also order chicken or beef for the same price.  The half pound of beef tenderloin is slightly more expensive at $32.

The fajitas came out sizzling hot on a steaming, elevated skillet.  I ordered mine with the fajita topping, "Barry" which is an assortment of mushrooms, jalapenos, tomatoes, and onions with a white wine butter sauce.  The fajitas also come with rice, beans, pico de gallo, and cheddar cheese.  This smorgasbord of food is more than enough for two.  The meat was tender and moist and the vegetables that came with the fajitas were browned and sauteed to perfection.  The meal tasted fresh and was filling and satisfying.  The fajitas arrived within 10 minutes of ordering and our server was very attentive and efficient.  While you are waiting for your food you can enjoy snacking on the hot, toasty chips that are brought out and your choice of either a spicy salsa or a mild creamy cilantro dip.

Overall, a great dinner out in a casual, clean atmosphere.  The warm booth that we were seated in for our meal just added to the pleasant and cozy ambiance of the restaurant.  I would definitely recommend El Tiempo for any Tex-Mex lover.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Haselnusstorte (Hazelnut Cake) - Delicious and Gluten Free!

Celiac's disease and gluten intolerance is now affecting thousands of people around the world.  But having Celiac's, which makes one intolerant to wheat, barley, and rye should not inhibit a person from enjoying a great dessert.  Last week I made a hazelnut cake which is great for the gluten intolerant individual.  It is rich and tasty and has the toasty taste and aroma of hazelnuts.  But happily, it is gluten free! Below is the recipe for the cake, the hazelnut filling and the chocolate buttercream I used for decoration.  Bon appetit!

Hazelnut Cake (adapted from Viennese Desserts Made Easy by Georgina Gronner)

1 1/3 cup peeled hazelnuts, ground
3/4 cup sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.
2. Toast peeled hazelnuts in 350 degree oven until they are a light golden color. (About 7-10 minutes).
3. Whisk egg yolks, egg, and sugar together on high in a mixer until they are pale yellow and fluffy.  (about 5-6 minutes).
4. Fold in ground hazelnuts with rubber spatula.
5. In a separate bowl whik egg whites until they make a soft peak.  Be careful not to overwhip.
6. Stir 1/3 of egg whites into egg yolks to lighten the batter.  Gently fold in remaining egg whites and pour into prepared pan. Bake immediately.
7. Bake about 30 minutes until cake is golden brown and springs back.

Chocolate Hazelnut Filling (adapted from Viennese Desserts Made Easy by Georgina Gronner)
Filling before butter is added
Caramelizing nuts and sugar

2/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons rum

1. Cook hazelnuts and sugar over medium heat until hazelnuts and sugar are a light caramel color.  On low heat add egg yolks, milk and chocolate and cook until mixture thickens.  Cool hazelnut mixture.
2.  Whip butter until light and fluffy in a mixer with the paddle attachment. Add hazelnut mixture and whip until filling is light and fluffy.

Finished hazelnut filling

Chocolate buttercream (adapted from Culinary Institute of America Italian Buttercream recipe)

4 oz egg whites
8 oz sugar
12 oz cold butter, cubed into 1 inch pieces
4 oz chocolate
3 tablespoons rum

1. Prepare egg whites in mixing bowl with whisk attachment
2.  Measure sugar into heavy bottomed pot.  Add water to sugar until sugar is consistency of wet sand.  Wash down sides of pot with water so that NO SUGAR is on sides of pot.  Cook sugar until it reaches 240 degrees F.  When sugar is at 235 F start whipping egg whites.
3. Egg whites should be opaque and mixer should be on medium low speed.  Start streaming in hot sugar slowly.  After all sugar is incorporated turn mixer to high and whisk until the bowl feels body temperature.
4. Add butter slowly and whisk until the mixture emulsifies.  It should look satiny and taste smooth and creamy.
5. Melt chocolate and stream into buttercream when the chocolate is body temperature.  Add rum.

Cake Assembly
1. To assemble cake, slice cake into three layers.  Use hazelnut filling between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and third layer.  Use chocolate buttercream to ice and finish cake.  If desired caramelized hazelnuts can be used for decoration. Enjoy a slice of this cake with Frangelico liqueur.  This hazelnut liqueur will pick up the hazelnut flavors in the cake quite nicely.

Finished and decorated hazelnut cake

A Complex White Burgundy - 2010 Xavier Monnot Meursault Les Chevalières

The 2010 Mersault has a pale yellow-gold color and is translucent in the glass.  The nose has the spicy aroma of American oak but also smells of grass, oil, and honey.  The aroma has great complexity and adds to the enjoyment of the wine's taste.  The wine has an excellent mid-palate and tastes acidic, making your mouth water for more.  The finish of the wine is long and gives one pause.  It is definitely a wine that encourages one to sip again and again to discern all the flavors that lie within.  Pair this wine with salmon, lobster, or lasagna.  It will also lend itself to a more tender cut of beef such as filet mignon.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bastille Day - Celebrate with Craquelin!

Homemade craquelin
Bastille Day is celebrated on July 14th to commemorate the storming of the Bastille and the resurrection of a constitutional monarchy after the French Revolution.  It is a national French holiday celebrated all over the globe now with food and good fun. Paris also marks the occasion with an annual military parade.

Today I am celebrating Bastille Day by giving a nod to the famous bread, brioche, which is said to have originated in France.  It is an egg and butter rich dough which can be baked as a traditional Brioche à tête or made into a number of other delicious baked items.  One of my favorite desserts made with brioche is craquelin.  For this yeast product, the brioche is filled with sugar infused with flavorings- often orange or lemon zest.  There is nothing quite like biting into a fluffy brioche to get to the delicious, crunchy sugar center.

Enjoy a great craquelin recipe found here and happy Bastille Day!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Beet Salad and Wine?

Beet salad is a great summertime treat.  The beautiful red/pink hue of beets lend themselves to a stunning table display and the delicious sweet crunch of the vegetable itself  is light and heavenly on a hot day.  However, beets are tricky to pair with wine because they are quite sweet and usually adorned with vinegar.  Although not a food that is commonly paired with wine I might suggest a fruitier Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé to pick up the beet's sweeter undertones.  Thoughts?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Kentucky is an often forgotten state that most individuals forget about except, maybe, once a year when people flock there to participate in the Kentucky Derby, the renowned horse race.  But Kentucky is no longer just famous for its horses.  In fact, Kentucky has received rising recognition for its bourbon which is a drink that, according to an Act of Congress in 1964, is an American Native Spirit.  This means that it can ONLY be produced in the 50 states of the union.  However, true bourbon connoisseurs agree that Kentucky bourbon is the best and in fact most of the spirit's production takes place in this state.

 Sour mash and yeast is fermented in the early states of production
When I visited Woodford Reserve this week I was awed by the sheer beauty of the drive into Versailles, KY, where this famous distillery is located.  The distillery is nestled among the lush green pastures of KY between acres of horse farms and charming vineyards.  After embarking on the tour of the distillery I learned what makes Woodford Reserve so special apart from its exterior beauty.  First, the distillery uses the traditional process of  making bourbon meaning that they only use Kentucky water (packed full of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium).  They also use a special sour mash comprised of 72 % corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley.  And in keeping with the traditional bourbon process, they age their bourbon in new, charred oak barrels.  Most of a bourbon's distinct taste comes from this very special barrel which can only be used once for the production of bourbon.  Woodford Reserve imparts additional flavor into its bourbon by placing the bourbon into the barrel at 110 proof instead of the standard 125 proof.  They believe that this help the bourbon to acquire its unique "Woodford" flavor.

Woodford is placed into the barrel at 110 proof
Woodford bourbon is aged at least six years to give it a strong flavor and its unique caramel color.  Woodford is classified as a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey which, by the way, is a classification that can only be achieved if the bourbon is made in Kentucky and distilled according to the laws for distilling bourbon spirits.  Additionally, if the bourbon is aged for less than 4 years the manufacturer must disclose the age on the bottle otherwise they are not required by law to do so.

Woodford smells deeply of caramel and vanilla flavors and tastes of  oak, spices, and toasted nuts.  It has a long finish.  It is a pleasant bourbon for drinking neat or with a touch of ice.  Or to feel like a true Kentuckian, try a mint julep, which is the classic drink for the Kentucky Derby horse race.  A traditional recipe can be found here. Overall, I raise my glass (of bourbon) to Woodford Reserve and congratulate them on making a product which has achieved international fame despite being relatively new to the market.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bourgogne Pinot Noir

On the search for a lighter red to drink during summer, I managed to score success with a French Pinot Noir I recently discovered. The wine is a 2010 Josephine Dubois - Bourgogne Pinot Noir and it is the color of dark Bing cherries.  Not only does it look beautiful in the glass with its rich, almost burgundy color, but it also smells delightful.  The nose of the wine has plenty of red fruits including strawberries and raspberries and it also has just a hint of chocolate.  This low tannin wine has an excellent mid-palate and is incredibly smooth.  The chocolate taste of the wine will pair beautifully with chocolate covered strawberries.  The medium body of the wine will pair with a medium bodied cheese like Gruyere or Camembert.  I would dub this Pinot Noir as slightly richer and fuller than other Pinots but it is still enjoyable on its own without food. It is a real bargain at about $9 a bottle.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Clinton Vineyards- Clinton Corners, NY

An afternoon jaunt to Clinton Corners was the perfect addition to my weekend not too long ago.  Driving to Clinton Corners is quite beautiful as the road to this vineyard meanders through the countryside, taking the happy traveler through many quaint towns and small farms.  The vineyard and tasting room itself are quite small but the staff is incredibly hospitable.

The vineyard offers a tasting of 5-6 wines for the price of $10.  Mostly this vineyard offers sweeter wines and champagnes made in the traditional methode champenoise fashion.  I was not particularly enamored with any of the champagnes as they were all incredibly sweet for my taste and lacked complexity and nuance.

The one wine I really enjoyed was the Seyval Blanc 2010.  It had a lot of fruit notes in the body, especially green apple.  It is defnitely a delicious sipping wine for a hot summer afternoon.  If you find yourself in the Clinton Corners area, pick yourself up a bottle and go enjoy on your porch!

Clifton Corners vineyard

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Brasserie 292- Poughkeepsie, NY

Some may say it is hard to find a good spot to dine in the Poughkeepsie area without traversing to Rhinebeck or heading to the outskirts of the city.  However, Brasserie 292 is one restaurant which is right on the main strip.  This little gem is tucked into a narrow building in the center of it all.  Upon entering the restaurant one feels that the old world charm of France is incredibly prominent.  The restaurant contains small, intimate tables with dainty chairs upholstered in leather.  The bar rises up formidably on the right and is a sight to behold as it scales all the way up to the ceiling.  A patron can choose to sit at the few seats at the bar or can grab one of the small tables or intimate booths scattered through the restaurant.  The atmosphere of the eatery is definitely lush as the entire space is done up in splashes of black and deep, mahogany red.  It is definitely a great environment for a quiet dinner or a romantic night out.

I journeyed here with a friend to share some good drinks and interesting food.  Each of us started with a cocktail.  I had the Hemingway No.2 which was comprised of grapefruit juice, campari, cinnamon simple syrup, and rum.  It arrived in a martini glass and was a beautiful orange hue, the color of a pink grapefruit.  The drink was well mixed, smooth and also quite strong but it was a crisp, refreshing way to start a summer dinner.  After enjoying my cocktail I progressed onto dinner.  My friend and I decided to share the pork belly and scallop entree as well as the baked Camembert plate.  When the entree arrived, it looked mouthwatering.  The two large scallops on the plate were tender and cooked perfectly.  The pork belly practically melted in my mouth and the risotto that accompied the two meats was cooked to perfection and simmering in a foie gras bordelaise.  Although rich, I felt the dish was pleasantly so, and it was delicious accompanied by the fresh bread and butter.

With my second course of Camembert cheese I drank a Niepoort Ruby Tawny Port which was divine.  It was the color of dark eggplant and smelled of rich black fruits.  The taste was sweet, pleasant and not overpowering and it had a smooth even body.  The wine had a great mid-palate and was an excellent accompaniment to the Camembert which was baked in phyllo and served with rhubarb compote.  The sweetness of the port definitely complemented the sweetness of the compote and contrasted nicely with the smooth, creamy, slightly tangy cheese.

All in all, the dinner was delicious and the entire experience was incredibly relaxing.  The fact that my friend and I lingered there for over three hours enjoying food, wine and conversation just proves this restaurant is a great spot for a relaxing dinner.  A quaint European find for sure.  And it's just around the corner for the locals!

Pork belly scallop, risotto, foie gras bordelaise
Camembert, fresh greens, rhubarb compote

Monday, June 3, 2013

Marvelous Millbrook

A relaxing day at a winery. As it turns out this is not just an activity for those lucky enough to tour the reputed valleys of California or the infamous vineyards of France, Italy, and Spain.  Oh no, happily enough, one can have their own marvelous winery experience right here in upstate New York.

To my utmost pleasure and delight I found myself at Millbrook Vineyards and Winery in Millbrook, NY this past weekend.  My friends and I decided to take a little journey into the beauty of upstate NY and tour one of the most reputable vineyards in the region.  We started our trip with a little tour of our destination.  Our tour started outside in the fields where we learned a little about how the grapes were grown, when they were harvested, and what types of grapes were local to the region.  Here, our guide imparted little notes of wisdom such as the fact that you have to trim back vines frequently to harvest plump, healthy grapes.  According to our guide, if the vines are never trimmed, all the energy of the plant goes into the leaves and roots and none into the fruit, leaving the plant barren.

From here, we journeyed into the wine cellars and were taught about everything from barrel making to battonage (the stirring of the "lees" or yeast cells in the wine).  We learned the difference between American and French oak barrels and we also learned how wine is harvested on a larger scale.  Our tour guide, who seemed altogether in his own fantasy land was prone to making jokes like "What does a Culinary student or English major learn at school?" The answer, he delivered with hysterics, was "Do you want fries with that?"  Seeing as one of my friends is an English major and I am a culinary student we both took this to be amusing and insulting simultaneously.  Later when I saw the tour guide sipping a glass of wine while pouring our tasting I somehow wasn't surprised.  He seemed happy in his own little world of wine and laughter.  I couldn't help but smile watching someone who clearly enjoyed every day at their job.

During the tasting we tried two particularly good wines.  One was the 2012 Tocai Frulano Proprietor's Special Reserve.  At $20 a bottle, this wine has aromas of grapefruit and tropical fruits and is pleasingly acidic.  The wine is definitely a palate cleanser but is crisp and inviting and definitely meant to be served with food.  The other wine was the Hunt Country white.  This blended wine smelled of honeysuckle, apricot and peach and had a fruit forward flavor with a long finish.  The tasting was accompanied by local hard crackers and some of the best olive oil I have ever tried.  The olive oil was called Villa Pillo and was an extra virgin olive oil from Tuscany, Italy.

We rounded out the day by walking sedately around the grounds, viewing some artwork in the upstairs room of the tasting center (which just happened to also be a converted barn), and watching a brilliant thunderstorm roll in.  All in all- a brilliant afternoon at a local spot.  This leads me to believe that there is one question that every resident of New York should learn to ask.  "Do you want a Millbrook wine with that?"

Villa Pillo Olive Oil and Rustic Crackers
A thunderstorm rolls in at Millbrook

The vineyard

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A very special Italian red

Last night my friends and I went out to enjoy a glass of wine and some good conversation.  We fancied upon a beautiful drinking wine called Antinori Chianti Superiore Santa Cristina 2010.  This wine is a Sangiovese blend and has a nose smelling of dark fruits including blackberries and plums.  The color is rich garnet and it looks opaque in the glass.  The wine is well balanced and light with a medium acidity and a long finish.  It definitely is a palate stimulant and it went beautiful with the French fries and garlic aioli I was enjoying with my friends.  The wine did not come on too strong but it was incredibly pleasant.  This wine sparked comments from both me and my friends that this wine created a somewhat special atmosphere.  I would equate this wine to a "romantic dinner" while my friend equated it to "fireworks".  Whichever way you view it the subtle magic in this wine is sure to be a crowd pleaser.  Below, the Santa Cristina wine with the two Christinas.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Great Crossover Wine

During a normal afternoon of perusing the local wine shelves in upstate New York, I happened upon a wine by Louis Jadot.  The wine is Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2010 and is a light, pleasant, red for almost any occasion.  The Beaujolais Villages are known for the Gamay grape which is a lighter, fruiter grape from France.  To me, Gamay is even smoother and more pleasing to the palate than other crossover red grapes such as Pinot Noir.  The Louis Jadot wine is a dark red-purple and has a wonderful aroma of red fruits, especially strawberries.  It has a very low level of tannins so it is a great beginner wine for anyone trying reds for the first time.  It has a long full taste but is much lighter than a Bordeaux style wine.  Serve it with filet mignon, mushroom risotto, or a fattier grilled fish.  This wine would be great for a summertime meal or lighter winter fare.  It is also just a pleasant drinking wine.  It is medium bodied and has a distinct, long finish.  A real beauty and a steal for just around $12 at most retail locations.  I was lucky enough to find it on sale under $10 at the establishment near me.

A Great Little Sauvignon Blanc

Two weeks ago, upon the suggestion of a respected colleague, I tried a Sauvignon Blanc from Matua Valley. Specifically, the name of this great little buy is Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012. As we gradually transition from the harsh, dreary days of winter and enter light, spring coat weather, this white wine becomes a good accompaniment to any light meal. Serve it with fish, chicken in a light sauce, or a fruity ceviche. This wine is pale gold with a hint of green. The nose is so floral and fruity it is a pleasure just to breathe in its aroma deeply before taking the first sip. The taste of this fruity forward wine is crisp, clean, and slightly floral. It is definitely a distinct palate cleanser and will keep you hungering for more food. A great wine for a spring or summer day when served chilled, I recommend this wine to anyone looking for a great tasting white wine under $10.