May The Fourth and Cinco de Mayo

May The Fourth and Cinco de Mayo

When we got married on May 4th twenty years ago we had no idea that our anniversary date would be hijacked by Stars Wars, “May The Fourth Be With You”. Likewise, May 5th was just an ordinary day; not the Cinco de Mayo holiday that’s so popular today. As much as I love tequila and Mexican food, Cinco de Mayo will have to wait until after our two-day anniversary celebration.

A local steakhouse, Rails, serves uniquely delicious appetizers, premium steaks cooked to perfection, wonderful sides, and sinful desserts. Quality food, nice atmosphere, and professional service come with a fairly hefty price tag so we save our visits to Rails for special occasions like our anniversary. From my longtime practice in the art of the Boozy Lifestyle, I’ve become pretty familiar with retail wine pricing. This knowledge makes it difficult to order wine with a 400% markup so we put the wine list aside in favor of their creative craft cocktail list. The bourbon-based drinks we order are refreshingly full of fresh herbs and muddled fruits.

Here’s a sampling of Rails’ wine list. The Library Reserve Selections has some of the giants of Napa; Caymus, Silver Oak, and Far Niente. If you’re willing to spend big, the Nickel & Nickel Tench Vineyard is about the best deal on the wine list since it sells in local liquor stores for about $100.

Rails Wine List

With day one of our anniversary celebration complete, day two is set for uncorking Baldacci’s Four Sons Fraternity 2012 to pair with our steak doggy bags. Fraternity is a red blend from Stag’s Leap District in Napa Valley, California. I couldn’t locate documentation of the varietals in the 2012 blend, but my guess is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

I open the wine for an hour of decanting and notice that the freshly popped cork is full of sediment. We purchased this bottle about eight months ago and it has been stored on its side ever since. It’s a good idea to stand a bottle upright the day before opening it, and maybe I’ll remember next time. I pour the wine into the decanter through a small strainer to remove the remaining grit.

The nose is full of ripe cherry fruit, oak, and vanilla with floral and tobacco notes. The fruit is dominant but not overpowering. I don’t detect much in the way of earthy or vegetal aromas. Acidity and alcohol seem a little harsh on the back of the throat at first sip, but disappear over time. The palate is full of juicy plum, cherry, and blackberry. Dark chocolate and coffee flavors add a trace of bitterness, along with subtle notes of graphite that become more noticeable after swallowing.  The finish is long and leathery. Overall, Baldacci Fraternity offers a balanced structure from start to finish.

Mexican food and margaritas may just as easily be enjoyed on Seis and Siete de Mayo.

Premium Margarita

  • 1 oz. Don Julio Anejo
  • 1 oz. Patron Citronge
  • ¾ oz. fresh lime juice and simple syrup (half and half)

Shake over ice, strain into a margarita glass, and say Salud!

Panini Style Black Bean and Chicken Burrito

Ingredients

  • 1 red pepper, minced
  • 1 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic
  • ¼ Teaspoon cumin
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 oz. chicken breast (1 large or 2 small), cut into small cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon taco seasoning
  • ½ cup of grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • Pinch of pepper or crushed red pepper for more heat
  • 2 large flour tortillas

Directions

  1. Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a pot and cook the garlic and cumin for 1 minute. Add the minced red pepper and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. (If I don’t have a red pepper, I use a small onion or a stalk of celery.) Add the rinsed black beans. Heat on low, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the chicken.
  2. Place the chicken pieces in a plastic bag. Add taco seasoning and pepper to the bag and shake until chicken is coated. Brown the chicken in a pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add ¼ cup of water and continue cooking until chicken reaches internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  3. Pre-heat the Griddler (panini press) to Grill/Panini between High and Sear.
  4. Brush olive oil on the outside of the wraps. Flip them over and fill with cheese, chicken, and the bean mixture. Fold them up and cook in the Griddler for a few minutes until the outside shows some nice grill marks.

Top with sour cream, taco sauce, and cheese.

I’ve Been Summer-ized

I’ve Been Summer-ized

It’s not actually summer according to the calendar, but 80 degree weather, light past 7:30 p.m., and a Friday night to boot herald this evening as the official opening of the Boozy Lifestyle Summer Season 2017. We’ve used the barbecue several times already this year, but we’ve yet to sit outside for eating and drinking.  The deck is set up with our screened in gazebo, table and chairs, and television. Friday night is typically a non-cooking dinner but we’ll make an exception and fire up the barbecue for easy burgers. But first, cocktail hour. 

Cocktail hour begins Achaval Ferrer Malbec and a bit of cheese. Lori at Dracaena Wines (dracaenawines.com) brought this Malbec to my attention via her blog posts and #Winestudio on Twitter and, as a fan of Malbec, I had to try it. When we got home from the liquor store I happened to notice that I picked up the 2014 vintage instead of the 2015 that she had reviewed. I hope it lives up to expectations.

We’re using the decanter for this big boy. In the glass, the pour is sparkly pretty with purple edges. The nose takes a while to open up; but after a while, aromas of berries and oak appear. The flavor of anise is dominant on the palate, accompanied by intense, chewy tannins. Hints of prune, dark chocolate and coffee join the party. The sip ends in a solid, medium-length finish.

Achaval Ferrer Malbec is one of those wines that grows on you over time. By the second glass I begin to appreciate how well the nuance of licorice and sensation of chewiness complement each other. My drinking buddy, who had given up by the second glass said, “You shouldn’t have to work that hard.” Oh, how I toil for my art.

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This Malbec paired well with our cheese plate, especially the Boursin with a slice of spicy pepperoni on it. Honestly, I haven’t encountered any pairing disasters when it comes to dry red wine and cheese.

Even inside the screens, it doesn’t take long for pesky little gnats to find the wine. Thank goodness for my trusty glass covers.

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Cheers to getting summer-ized!

Cline Family Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvèdre 2015

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In the 1980s when Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay dominated the field of California wine, a rebel band of vintners formed an informal group to promote the use of grape varieties from the Rhône Valley, France, and dubbed themselves the Rhône Rangers. The fruits of their marketing labor have resulted in Syrah and other Rhône varietals becoming more prevalent in today’s California wine scene. Fred Cline, one of the original Rhône Rangers varietal insurgents, is the owner of Cline Family Cellars, located in Sonoma, California.

Cline, grandson of Valeriano Jacuzzi (the man whose name is synonymous with spa tubs), and his wife Nancy founded Cline Family Cellars in Oakley, California in 1982. They began their wine business by restoring 100-year-old vines of Rhône -style varietals. Mourvèdre and Carignane, along with Zinfandel, make up Cline’s Ancient Vines Series of varietal wines.

Today the winery is located at a 350-acre ranch in Carneros Valley in Sonoma County, and produces many different varietal wines and blends from vineyards owned by the Cline family throughout Sonoma County. The vineyards are sustainably farmed using the Green String farming method developed by Fred Cline and Bobby Cannard.

Oakley, where Cline’s Mourvèdre grapes are grown, is in the Contra Costa County appellation, 40 miles east of Sonoma County. It’s a sub-region of the very large Central Coast AVA which stretches from San Francisco in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. The area’s terroir provides favorable conditions for this grape variety that likes to have its face in hot sun and feet in cool water. Vines are planted in sandy soil along the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers where summer days are warm and sunny.

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The pour is inky purple with lots of leg action consistent with a high alcohol content of 15.5%. There’s not much fruitiness on the nose. Subtle aromas lean more towards hay, leather, and cedar. Over time, scents of grassy herbs are added to the bouquet. On the palate are flavors of ripe plum, tobacco and spicy black pepper with very bright acidity. A short clean finish closes with smooth tannins.

Cline Mourvèdre is reminiscent of visiting the horse stables; hay and saddles without the manure. The grape’s characteristic bright acidity that works to its advantage as a blending grape threw this single varietal a bit off balance. Overall, the wine was a nice change of pace from the typical fruit bomb and interesting enough to warrant a blog post. The Cline Ancient Vines Series varietals cost between $17 and $23 as per their website.

Welcome the Winery Ghost: Phantom 2013

Phantom-Bogle

At first glance at the Phantom label, it’s not obvious that this proprietary red blend is produced by Bogle Vineyards in Clarksburg, California. That information is hiding on a hard-to-see watermark on front label and more prominently shown on the back.

Our first encounter with the Phantom was about seven years ago when we owned a liquor store. One of our employees had “reserved” half of a case in the back office. We asked him why he did this but suddenly his English wasn’t so good. The lack of information gave us all the more reason to take a bottle for “homework” and find out firsthand what all the fuss was about. 

I can’t find any personal tasting notes from so long ago and I don’t remember if we liked it or not so Bogle Phantom 2013 provides an opportunity for a fresh start.

The Bogle label is so prolific that when I began researching it online, I thought I’d find it was owned by some conglomerate maker of mass produced wines. But in fact, Bogle Vineyards is a family-owned business that produces a selection of value brand wines, including popular varietals and two red blends.  The Bogle family farms 1600 acres in Clarksburg and the Lodi appellation, as well as sourcing grapes from various California growers.

We find the Bogle varietals and blends in most liquor stores selling in the range of $9 to $11 a bottle. Their reserve wines are offered on their website for about $24. As per some of the online reviewers, Phantom, priced anywhere from $16 to over $20, tends to sell out before the next year’s vintage arrives. And so the Winemaker’s Note, “Welcome the winery ghost into your home with the latest vintage…before it vanishes again” is fitting.  

The 2013 Phantom is a blend of 39% Zinfandel, 38% Petite Sirah, and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose has equal amounts of ripe cherry fruit and briary, vegetal aromas. At the first sip, I realize that although we’ve decanted the bottle for about 15 minutes, it’s quite alcoholic and can use a little more time for the alcohol to blow off.

Coming back to it after another 15 minutes, flavors of currants and ripe berries combine with black pepper and spices on the palate. The flavor is balanced with oak in a medium to full-bodied mouth feel. A long finish has a trace amount of bitterness and slightly hard and chewy tannins. Maybe a little more aging in the bottle will mellow them out?

Overall, Bogle Phantom 2013 has a decent level of complexity for the price point and is one that I’d buy again (and hold for a while before drinking for a bit more aging in bottle). My impression of Bogle wines in general is that they offer consistent quality for the price and are easy to find even when traveling.

Here is an interesting interview with Bogle’s Director of Public Relations, Jodie Bogle: https://hucklegoose.com/journal/meet/meet-bogle-wines

Here are my notes on Bogle’s Essential Red: http://wp.me/p4rcsv-2f

 

 

 

 

The Miso Soup Quest

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I first became aware of miso during my stint as a vegetarian in the 1970’s. It was long before there was a sushi joint in every strip mall and hibachi restaurants hosting children’s birthday parties. To try recipes with miso at home, we had to buy a Japanese cookbook because there was no internet to search. It was truly the Dark Ages.

An e-newsletter from Food & Wine Magazine links me to a recipe for miso soup with turmeric and tofu and my miso soup quest begins. While the recipe starts with making vegetable broth from scratch, I decide buying ready-made is easier and add it to my grocery list along with white miso and tofu.

Veggie stock and tofu were easy to find in my local supermarket, but miso, though it may have been hiding somewhere in the store’s 45,000 square feet of space, could not be located.  Not to worry. With Amazon Prime, I order it online with free shipping and get it in a couple of days.

I followed the recipe pretty closely except for the store-bought vegetable stock but was not happy with the result. Even though I like turmeric, especially as an ingredient in curry powder, in combination with miso it just didn’t make the cut. So it’s on to more internet reading and other recipe ideas.

During my reading, I remember that most of the miso soup I’ve ordered in restaurants has seaweed in it. A little more searching tells me that there are different types of edible seaweed used for different applications. Nori comes in sheets and is the type that’s used to make sushi. What I need for my miso soup is called wakame. It’s another ingredient that’s easier to buy online than to hunt down in the supermarket. Amazon Prime is turning out to be a great way to stock the pantry.

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My eagerly awaited wakeme has arrived and I’m excited to try another batch of soup. The colorful seaweed package is delightful with its Japanese writing on it. The dehydrated seaweed is dark and crunchy. The spoonful I’ve taken to reconstitute seems too small so I add another three-finger pinch. Just add a half cup of hot water and watch it grow…and grow. And expand to much more than I need for two cups of soup!

There were some dissenting views about using broth for miso soup so my second round is made by dissolving the miso paste in hot water. I add tofu, scallions, and only some of the over-abundant wakame. This batch is better than the first but a little watery and not quite there yet. Let’s hope the third time’s a charm.

For round three, I’m back to vegetable broth but this time diluted with 50% water. I’ve got a better handle on reconstituting the wakame and the proportions of miso, tofu, and scallions are tweaked to satisfaction. The third iteration is a winner in our book.

Since this is a quick and easy recipe, I found it better to only make the portion we plan to eat, rather than making a large batch that lasts several days as I do with other soups. For this reason, the recipe is tailored to two servings of one cup (8 ounces) each.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons white miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried wakame
  • ¼ cup of tofu, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon scallion, chopped

Directions

  1. Reconstitute the seaweed in warm water. Drain off excess water.
  2. Pour the broth and water into a pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Ladle out approximately a half cup of hot broth and dissolve the miso in it using a whisk.
  4. Pour the miso back into the pot and add the tofu, seaweed, and scallions. Simmer for one or two additional minutes until the ingredients are hot. Don’t overcook.

Creamy Pesto Pasta Primavera With Shrimp

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On a recent Rachael Ray Show with guest Emeril Lagasse, they made a pasta primavera with saffron cream featuring one of my favorite vegetables, asparagus. Asparagus is in its seasonal prime right now and looking its glorious best; skinny smooth stalks and tight heads with no signs of flowering or wilting. And if the sight of gorgeous asparagus isn’t enough, Rachael gives it even more sex appeal by cutting it on a bias! The audience swoons…

When I attended public school back in the Jurassic Period, we had enough time in the day to take elective classes in art and music. During the ceramics chapter, my art teacher tasked us with making our favorite food out of clay. Amid an abundance of kiln-fired pizza, popcorn, hot dogs, and hamburgers on display at the end of the week was my realistically sculpted, painted green stalk of asparagus. It turns out I was the only kid who actually liked my vegetables. Somewhere in the land that time forgot, (A.K.A my basement), my asparagus artwork is collecting dust and waiting patiently to see the light of day once again.

I’d like to say it’s my creativity that drives me to change most recipes from the original, but more often I’m motivated by the frugal need to use up leftover bits from previous meals before spoilage ensues. In this case, the previous meal was a bacon pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella and the leftover bit the basil pesto sauce. And so a pasta primavera becomes a cream and pesto sauce mash up.

If we were vegetarians, I’d call pasta primavera with asparagus, onion, peas, and garlic “dinner”. However, we like our proteins, so this dish is getting shrimp added to it.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut on a bias
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • ¼ cup peas
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ pound shrimp
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons pesto sauce
  • ½ pound penne (1/2 of a box)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Set water to boil for pasta.
  2. Sauté the asparagus and onion in olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the peas and garlic and continue cooking for another two minutes.
  3. Make a space in the center of the pan and place the shrimp in it. Cook the shrimp for a minute or two on each side until pink, then mix with vegetables. Set aside.
  4. Cook penne or other pasta al dente (one to two minutes less than instructions on the box). Drain and reserve a half cup of starchy water.
  5. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Slowly add the milk while whisking. Bring almost to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer gently for 5 minutes stirring often. When the sauce is thickened, stir in the pesto.
  6. Add the penne to the shrimp and vegetable pan. Stir in the cream pesto sauce. Add a bit of the reserved water, as needed. Sprinkle with a generous handful of grated Parmesan cheese.

And some wine to go with it… http://wp.me/p4rcsv-cy

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Wine and Wings

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The phone alarm chimes and I awake with memories of my most recent dream. Unlike my usual two a.m. nightmares that force me into consciousness sweaty and heart-pounding, this morning’s dream is a pleasant one featuring chicken wings. Have you ever dreamt about something and woken up with an acute craving for it?

Chicken wings may have been on my mind following a recent visit to the Buffalo Wild Wings franchise that opened near us in recent months. We reasoned that a restaurant with “wings” in the name ought to make great wings. In reality, this wasn’t the case. But while the wing meat was slightly disappointing, I have to give BWW credit for their selection of over 20 sauces. The Parmesan Garlic was particularly good!

With a Costco-sized bag of chicken tenders taking up space in our freezer, we’ll use them in place of wings and try out a copycat Parmesan Garlic sauce recipe to go with them. (We could have bought the sauce in a bottle but where’s the fun in that?)  There are two styles of recipes online; one involving melted butter and a second based in mayonnaise. We opt for the mayo-based sauce. Meanwhile, we open the wine.

petite-petit

A few months ago, Lori at Dracaena Wines wrote about Petite Petit from Michael David Winery in Lodi, California. I knew right away that this was one for us to try, given that we are fans of Petite Sirah, as well as other fruit-forward varietals from Lodi such as its Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. And who could resist the circus-themed labeling?

Sipping the first glass and gazing at the wine-drinking elephants on the label, it occurs to me that this wine with two “petites” in its name is anything but small. Like the elephants on the label, this wine has heft and weight. There are so many thoughtful details in this label that I wouldn’t lump it into the classification of gimmicky. Although you may need a magnifier to see it, I especially enjoyed the nod to Michael David’s popular Zinfandel, Seven Deadly Zins.

This 2014 Petite Petit is a blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot. In the glass, it’s an inky, teeth-staining purple. The nose is filled with aromatic, lush fruit. A full-bodied palate reveals plum and blackberry fruit, wood notes, smoky oak, anise, and tobacco. Flavors of prune and currant follow. A fairly long finish has nicely structured tannins.

Back to cooking, we prep the chicken tenderloins with a flour, egg, and breadcrumb/Panko coating and fry them in ¼ inch of vegetable oil until the outside is crispy-brown and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. With the sauce at about room temperature, we roll the hot chicken pieces in it to coat. While the franchise wing joints tend to skimp on the celery and carrots, we’ve loaded up on our veggies.

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Parmesan Garlic Sauce

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 5 tsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle of oregano, basil, thyme, and crushed red pepper

If one of the chicken tenders in my photo looks kind of green, don’t adjust your monitor. I experimented with a curry sauce that didn’t quite work with this meal. I ate it anyway, since no unspoiled food goes to waste around here. I’d like to elaborate on the food and wine pairing except that, as usual, almost all of the wine was gone by the time the chicken was done.