Sunday, September 19, 2010

"What to Drink with What you Eat" or Becoming my own Sommelier

There are lots of things I like about living in a small college town, but the dining options are not one of them.  It seems that most restaurants in Bowling Green cater to the beer-drinking, fried-food and pizza loving undergrad, frat boy.  Not that there is any thing wrong with any of those things, especially when the pizza front is highly competitive in this town.   However, when Kent and I want to celebrate with a SERIOUS dinner, say for our 5th wedding anniversary, our choices are restricted.

Luckily for us, there is Revolver.  Revolver is 25 miles down the interstate, but worth the 50 mile drive round trip for sure.  Locally owned by Chef Michael Bulkowski, Revolver is the closest restaurant I know that takes culinary skill seriously.  You won't find anything that comes premade and frozen in a box, for instance.  What you will find is local, seasonal, freshly prepared food--from the inventive-- squash blossoms stuffed with zucchini bread --to the comfortable--a grass-fed strip steak with a big bowl of creamy, cheesy polenta.

We made our rezzy and were looking forward to dinner at Revolver all week.  When I got home after class, I found that a copy of What to Drink with What you Eat arrived in the mail.*  I was thrilled.  What to Drink with What you Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page is the 2006 prequel to The Flavor Bible, which as you know I love.  Like The Flavor Bible, What to Drink with What you Eat, is a reference book.  The first four chapters of the book introduce the concept of pairing food and wine (or other beverages). I particularly liked the how Dornenburg and Page emphasize that "enjoying good food and drink goes hand in hand with living a pleasant life." They also encourage readers to think of the beverage as the final seasoning or condiment that elevates the dish to something magical.

So, I showed up to dinner with the hardcover book under my arm, and Kent humored me.  (Although I agreed not to take pictures of each course--as it is his pet peeve--and I tried to be on my best behavior for our anniversary.)  While I don't recommend making a habit of bringing reference books to dinner, I felt okay about it for a couple of reasons.  Revolver's waitstaff is familiar with us.  Plus, even though it's the closest thing you can get to fine dining around here, it's still a small, laid-back restaurant.  I referenced WtDwWyE as I perused the menu and the wine list.  I wanted to see if the book could replace a sommelier, and it did.  Revolver does not have a sommelier on staff, although their waitstaff is generally knowledgeable about wine recommendations, and its wine list is small but serviceable.

Usually, my pairing method is brash--even after the years of wine seminars I had when I was a server working in fine dining--I stuck to the basic conventions of red wine with red meat and white wine with chicken and fish.  When I created pairings for myself, that's what I would follow.  I also knew what MY palate liked, and usually didn't deviate from it.  I was in a bit of a rut, or as Donrenburg and Page would say I've been a "comfort seeker" rather than an "adventure seeker" with my wine choices.

I've put a lot of faith in The Flavor Bible in the past, so I had no trouble giving WtDwWyE my trust.  Rather than order a large entree, I created my own tasting menu by only ordering first course dishes.  I began with the Sweet Corn Bisque topped with crispy, fried pancetta, ricotta, and drizzled with white truffle oil.  I knew the bisque would be rich and a bit sweet.  I looked up both CORN and CREAM and cross referenced.  Champagne and sparkling wine both came up--so I started with a glass of Cristalino, Brut Cava from Spain.  The Cava was dry with a yeasty, fresh bread bouquet.  This pairing worked because the soup was so rich it was like velvet, so the dryness and bubbles from the Cava refreshed the palate after every bite of soup without fighting with it.

My second course was the most difficult to pair.  I ordered the Pickled Cow's Tongue served with a soft boiled egg, arugula, and roasted beets.  In the past, I would have rashly ordered a softer, lighter red to go with it, but I was worried about pairing a red wine with egg.  When I cross referenced EGGS and BEETS, I found a Riesling would work with both.  I was convinced because in hierarchy of references (determined by bold fonts and capital letters, under beets the listing said, "RIESLING, ESP. GERMAN, ESP. WITH ROASTED BEETS."  Normally, I would not have ordered a reisling because I feel they can be too sweet.  The Loosen Bros., "Dr. L." Riesling from Mosel, Germany was no exception.  Alone, I would have regretted this choice, but with the roasted beets, it truly was dynamic.  The sweetness in the beets and the sweetness in the wine seemed to mingle to create a richer, and earthier taste in the beets.  The rich custard of the soft boiled egg yolk further helped the synergy.  I was shocked at what a surprising and delightful combination this was.  The beef tongue, which is rich and succulent, didn't suffer at all from being made to consort with a white wine.

My third and final course, was a Housemade Duck Sausage with a Buttermilk Biscuit, Cinnamon Poached Pears, and Milk Foam.  By now, getting a bit tipsy, I had less finesse. I only looked up DUCK, saw PINOT NOIR, and went for it.  The Rascal Pinot from Willamette Valley, Oregon, was amazing.  After my first sip, I was enchanted by the flavor of vanilla and maple syrup.  This also turned out to be a perfect pairing because the duck sausage and biscuit was incredible reminiscent of breakfast, so the hints of maple in the wine made me very happy.

Kent and I went on a wine tasting tour of Sonoma on our honeymoon, and brought back a case of wine, one bottle to open for every anniversary up to our twelve.  For our fifth anniversary, we had squirreled away a bottle of 2003 Seghesio Aglianico from Alexander Valley, California.  Because liquor laws in Ohio do not allow outside liquor on premise, we decided to pop the Aglianico the next night.  This time instead of looking up food and finding wine to match, I looked up wine first. Aglianico is a full-bodied wine.  This particular vintage was rich in tobacco notes.  At the end of the listing, it read: "TIP: Aglianico goes perfectly with a spicy sausage pizza."  So we ordered in from the best pizza place, Myles Pizza Pub, in Bowling Green.  Kent was more impressed with the pairing than I was, but after trying the combination, it made sense pair a robust wine with fatty, spicy pie.  They were equally matched.

I highly recommend What to Drink with What you Eat because it offers a pragmatic, yet non pretentious approach to wine pairings.  Even though it's sophisticated, it's never snobby.  In fact, it even recommends pairings for Doritos and Big Macs just in case you're interested.

 *Full Disclosure: I received What to Drink with What you Eat as a free review copy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kale Butter Step 1: Admitting I Have a Problem

I am obsessed with kale.  I'm slightly worried that perhaps like a drug addiction, I'll wake up one morning, semi-clothed in a strange bathtub with a bottle of cheap olive oil, a butcher knife, and a new tattoo that says: Eat More Kale, and wonder how did I get here?

Lacinato Kale (aka dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, or Cavolo Nero)
Without even realizing it, my addiction for kale has caused me to wake up from a peaceful slumber, in my own bed (no stranger's bathtub, yet) with a jonesing for kale so strong that even before coffee was made I was out in the garden picking kale to eat for breakfast.  Without being fully awake, I did not notice all the tiny aphid-eating white spiders that I was bringing into the house on the kale leaves, but even with the spider infestation, it was worth it.  (As a kale kale addict I only cared about getting my next fix, so I could care less that the spiders all drowned in the sink when I washed off the kale leaves.)

Lovely field of kale in my front yard.
If I look back, I'm not even sure how I got to this point.  I don't even clearly remember the first time I ever ate kale.  I do remember that it first came on my radar when we lived in Boise.  The brother of our neighbor across the street would stop by our house when he visited his sister.  He was a bit earthy-crunchy, and he had a lot of experience with organic vegetable gardening.  He'd come by with extra seeds, take a look at our garden, and offer advice.  He was raving about the dinosaur kale he grew, how it wouldn't get bitter or bolt in the heat like other greens, and how it produced like crazy.  So somewhere between the summer of 2008 and the late 2009, I have developed this kale "problem".

Kale addiction sneaks up on you because that's the thing about kale, it goes from being benign, vapid, non impressive, even to something you need to eat immediately, right this second, can't get enough of, have eaten so much of in the past 48 hours your poop turns green, obsession.

That's exactly what happened with my newest method of getting high on kale: kale butter.  At first it was eh, nothing special.  But then, I ate a whole batch by myself in a matter of hours and had to make another batch the next day, which I also polished off in less than 48 hours.  Then, two days later, my friend AMR, made invited me over and had made a batch, which I also put quite a dent in.

Kale Butter

I'd like to think that if I can't seem to get enough of  such a super powerhouse of nutritional density that it's my body simply telling me what I need.  Surprisingly, 1 cup of steamed kale has nearly the same amount of calcium as a cup of whole milk. Kale is also choke full of Iron, Fiber, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Folate, Magnesium and Phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Copper and Manganese, and even Protein.

But who cares about the nutriton when kale just tastes good? 

Kale Butter
This kale butter recipe came to me via my CSA weekly newsletter, along with a big baggie of Russian Red Kale.  Although I hate reprinting other recipes here, I'm going to give my interpretation of it.  Originally, this recipe came from Rip Esselstyn's The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plane that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds.  I highly recommend this book.  Not only is it a compelling story of a group of firefighters that went vegan when their cholesterol levels were dangerously high (and as a result their levels dramatically dropped), but it is full of delicious, healthy, and easy to make recipes.  So, go make this kale butter and then get your hands on a copy of The Engine 2 Diet.  

This is hardly a recipe, but a technique for mainlining more kale.  Here's my intrepretation of it:

Steam a big bunch of chopped kale (don't even worry about destemming it) in a metal steamer basket for about 5 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, toast a handful of walnuts on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Puree steamed kale and walnuts in food processor, adding the green steamer water if the mixture is too dry.

Add salt to taste.

Eat massive amounts on crackers, crostini, pita, sandwich bread, rice cakes, or straight from the bowl.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rottenly Written Recipe, but Deliciously Roasted Potato Dish

I've had some crabby, rotten, no good days lately.  This is normal for me this time of year.  As a bit of a control freak, I do not do well when my schedule changes.  Even if it is a good schedule change.  The new fall semester has brought a new, nearly ideal, job (one with benefits and without a commute-- I walk to work most days!)  But I've found myself reeling from the low level stress of adjusting to new bed times and alarm times, new students, and new department policies.  This leaves me exhausted and cranky.  Oh, I'll snap out of it in about another week.  This always happens.

But, since I'm talking about things that make me feel crabby and rotten, like adjusting to a completely new schedule...I might as tell you my big pet peeve: poorly written recipes.

Now some poorly written recipes are benign.  They are so terribly conceived that a simple glace warns away any cook. Those are not the recipes I want to talk about.  I want to talk about the more dangerous, more subtle poor recipe.

 A couple of days ago, I began stalking the internet for a way to use up some CSA fennel.  I stumbled upon this recipe for Garlic-Roasted Potatoes and Fennel. It looked perfect.  Roasted potatoes, fennel, garlic seasoned with fennel seeds, coriander seeds, Spanish smoke paprika, and saffron.  I felt it would go well with a tomato/bean casserole I had leftover.  (And I must say, the flavor combination was dynamic.) 

What should have been as simple as throwing everything in a roasting pan and baking became an annoying, illogical progression of steps.  First, the recipe said to prep the fennel, but the fennel was used last.  Second, instead of starting by heating the broth and steeping the saffron (which takes at least 15 minutes), the recipe has the cook complete that step AFTER all the other chopping, mincing, and seasoning took place.  So, I found myself, with all my veggies chopped, waiting while the saffron steeped all while the temperature in my kitchen climbed as my preheating oven rumbled away.

But, I finally got everything in the oven, the final straw was imprecise cooking times.  After 30 minutes, the recipe says to add the fennel.  (Which makes no sense because fennel is the hardest, densest ingredient, with the longest cooking time.  But, I was obviously too tired from new early alarm clock times to think this through, so I followed the directions, and my fennel was undercooked and rubbery.)  Not only that, but the recipe said to bake an initial 50 minutes after the fennel went in OR until the broth mixture evaporates.  My broth mixture evaporated in 15 more minutes NOT 50, which seems like a significant difference.  But, as the potatoes were browned nicely, I didn't want to cook any longer to risk burning the other ingredients.

I think the reason that I'm so pissed off about this terribly written is because it was such a tasty dish.  I even ate leftovers straight cold, and they were delicious.  The broth makes the potatoes taste rich.  The fennel seed and coriander give the whole dish the spicy savoriness of sausage without any of the fat or cholesterol.  Add the subtle smokiness from the smoked paprika, and the dish comes together in an elegant way.  You could do away with the fennel bulb here all together and not be dissapointed, I'd just add more peppers instead.

I want to make this dish again, but it is just down right idiotic in it's methodology. So here's how I would re-write it for an easy, stress free assembly:

Garlic-Roasted Saffron Potatoes and Fennel 
*rewritten from, originally a Cooking Light recipe.

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
 2 pounds small red potatoes, halved
2 large green bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch strips
2 fennel bulbs, core removed and thinly sliced
10-12 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed in mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed in mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat vegetable broth in saucepan until warm.  Remove from heat.  Stir in saffron.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, arrange potatoes in a single layer in a large roasting pan coated with olive oil; drizzle with more oil. Finely chop 1 garlic clove; sprinkle over potatoes. Add peeled garlic cloves, pepper strips, fennel, fennel seeds, coriander, paprika, salt, and black pepper to potatoes; toss well to combine.

Stir in vinegar into saffron broth; drizzle broth mixture over potato mixture. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes.  Stir mixture.  Return to oven; cook an additional 15 minutes or until the broth mixture almost evaporates and potatoes begin to brown.

I get a lot of recipes online, but have found that I need to be incredible judicious about which ones I'll try.  The that end, I avoid and like the plague.  How about you do you have any recipe sites you avoid or sites that you always trust for good recipes?  Do share!