Monday, October 18, 2010

Lesson Two: Wine and Food

Wine education at Chateau Keifus has turned out to be a sporadic but pleasant and social family activity. We've done our best to package up our early lessons on tasting and bring relatives and friends into the mix, especially if the grownups are willing to foot a big part of the bill. This year, lacking funds to fly off to preferred destinations in France or Tuscany or something along those lines, we settled that the once-a-decade trip (as either reader of this blog is no doubt tired of hearing by now) would take us to California wine country to immerse ourselves in the grape, and provided we succeeded in learning anything, proceed to a suitable Lesson Two for the rest of the hometown amateur crowd. It coincided closely enough with my mother's birthday to build it into a celebration. I've promised a couple interested people that I'd share the recipes and other secrets, and this is a convenient place to do that. I go through the lesson below, and recipes follow. (As far as the regular blog thing goes, it serves nicely to fill up space as well. Election season has made the state of the country more ridiculous and loathsome than usual, and the press narrative more puerile, and while that all fuels a rant or two, it doesn't scare up too many entertaining ones.)

The wine and food evening was in two parts. For the first, we examined the basic flavors that you find in wine and food, and did some clever experiments to see how they interact. The results, as they say, will astound you. This was followed by a tasting dinner, where wine was paired for each dish. We had to adjust to east-coast pantries, and the fact that the growing season here is winding down. If you can somehow find fresh peas in October, in other words, you deserve whatever horror they taste like. (And it turns out they don't ship in kumquats year-round from Chile, even if the asparagus got us by.) This was followed, as it generally does in our family, with general consumption, so maybe it's more accurate to say that the evening was a three-parter. As I told my dad: you can learn something and get drunk.

Finally, before the nitty gets gritty, I need to make a couple of acknowledgements. I did cook it all, expanding where I thought to, but my wife did the hard work of organizing the damn thing, including acquisition of place settings and making party books, and the tasting itself we pretty much cribbed from Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, CA. The kid did a good job hosting—and gave us an excellent brewpub recommendation to satisfy our less pretentious pleasures—and I tried to copy his style for my mom's party. Maybe for the sake of free advertising, they'll forgive me for using their ideas and recipes to make myself more popular.

Alright, I know you all know this, but to review the basic wine flavors or sensations—mostly in terms of the stuff you get on the tongue—we have five:

  • Acidic (Our token crisp wine was a Fume Blanc by Dry Creek Vineyard. I get the acid in this and in most white wines more as a sour green-apply bite on the tongue than a pleasant tingle, and I think I'm getting tired of them. It worked well for our experiment though.)
  • Tannic (A selection of reds, including a 2005 Merlot from Franciscan and a Bear Boat Pinot Noir which were mildly tannic, and a Cabernet from Oberon (uh, not that Mondavi, the other one) which was aggressively so, especially after sipping the other two; usually I smell fruit on the nose with a cab, but not so much on this one. Both the Bordeaux styles had sort of "unrefined" tannins, that stood not unpleasantly against the red and dark fruit flavors, but it wasn't exactly a seamless transition--none of the wines are very spendy, which is good for education.)
  • Barrel (I tried to describe the oak flavors as consisting of specific spice and chemical notes, specific signatures like vanilla, toast, clove, diacetyl (which isn't quite correct), and things like that. Not to mention "oak," if you've ever sawed it. The Merlot had the most definable of these sorts of flavors. Here's me blathering more about barrels here.)
  • Sweet (Since I forgot the "sweet" until the extreme last minute, I pulled a cloyingly floral Moscato from Jacob's Creek at the packy on my way home from work Friday night. It wasn't ideal.)
  • Alcohol (This is more of a concern for the young or the congenitally sober. Regardless, it's the fiery and vapory sensation you get from a shot of vodka or something.)

    These wine sensations were set off against the five food tastes (five?) we all know: sour, salt, bitter, sweet, and, to throw a little curveball at the apple-polishers in the class, spiciness. On little tasting plates, we neatly arranged a couple lemon wedges, a little mound of salt, a walnut segment, a little pile of sugar (raw sugar so it looked different from the salt), and some spicy cheese with one end dusted with a hot curry powder.

    I want to include the lesson, just because I found it so damn useful. Resourceful oenophytes can do it themselves without divesting much scratch. It goes like this: "Take a sip of the sauvignon blanc, and describe it." It's reassuring to realize that not everyone's palate is the same, and we register flavors differently depending on our physiology as well as our experience. The composition of everyone's glass was the same, however, and while I tried to suggest acidity, but to hold onto that thought. "Now take a good bite of that lemon, and sip the wine again. Does it taste the same?

    I encourage you to try it if you haven't and come to your own conclusions, but since it's less boring to read an anecdote than a lesson plan, I can give you my own set of punchlines. The acid in the lemon pretty well washes out the acid in the wine, and our Fume Blanc doesn't really have a whole lot else going on. The rule of thumb (imparted on us from chef Eric down the street, and you should eat there too, if you ever get the chance) is that the wine should be more acidic than the food, at least if you want to taste the wine. Since tannins are acids too, you should get a similar effect for red wines. We tasted the Merlot with the lemon too, and although it was much less dramatic, I thought it did wash out the back end a lot, or maybe say it was replaced with some brighter stuff, which didn't feel necessary.

    Next comes the salt. The Merlot gives us a dramatic lesson in saline. Put some on your tongue, and sip again, go ahead. When I did this, it was like a magic trick. The Merlot vanished in my mouth, leaving not much but a ghost of barrel flavors. It did a similar thing with the cab too (and presumably the Pinot). We tried it with the Sauv. Blanc and the Moscato too. Salt cut the sweet and sour less dramatically, and less unpleasantly. Eric says that it's basically the chips and lemonade thing; salt makes you crave sour, and vice versa. Chips and lemonade, or, if you prefer, chips and Champagne.

    Munch on that walnut for a couple seconds, and you get some nice oily and bitter flavors. After careful screening, I felt that this went best in an experiment with the Merlot. Mmm-mm, give it a try and find that somehow the bitterness brings out all of that barrel flavor, and for that particular Merlot, it was very nice to have them brought out. Now, my wife and I have been talking about it and haven't reached a conclusion. Flavor subtraction makes sense if there are competitive receptors for what you are trying to taste—you've flooded your tongue with the other stuff, and the wine doesn't manage to get in. (Either that or your buds get fatigued, receiving such a shock of sour (or whatever) that you spike the detector. Your brain has done its job to register that tartness is there, and refuses to acknowledge further.) Plausible so far as I understand these things, but then tell me why bitter flavors are additive. Why does the walnut enhance the barrel notes? My best guess is that it neutralizes mysterious taste entities that otherwise drown those chemicals out. Or something. I'm working on it.

    When you get to sugar, although you obviously have taste receptors for that too, it's thought of more as coating the tongue. (Fat coats the tongue even more effectively, but who'd want a dollop of Crisco on the taste plate.) Putting sugar on your tongue tends to cut the tannins more than other things, and I thought that it toned down our Cabernet in a pleasant way. And for people who hated tannic wines, or who'd only eat them with a steak, I took the chance to act like a know-it-all. Cutting those tannins can make a difficult wine very agreeable, and free up subtler flavors to play nice with the nuances in your dish. Or leave you something to enjoy once the food has taken its share of the tastes.

    For the last tasting, we note that spicy food doesn't coat the mouth, but scours it, making it sensitive to alcohol (and vice versa, I guess). None of the wines were very boozy, so no good lesson there, but tongue-coating can compete favorably against tongue-scrubbing. A nice sweet wine should tone down spicy elements in food, which is why Margaritas are so awesome with Mexican. Our pairing of pepperjack and Moscato wasn't particularly pleasant though. My favorite sweet wine pairing with red spicy food is an extremely local one. Last plug, and the end of the class.

    The following dinner consisted of small bites. The Fume Blanc went against some cheese-filled spring rolls with a lemon aioli. I didn't have a thermometer for the oil and didn't heat it enough, and although these tasted nice, the texture was disappointing. Neither roll nor sauce was aggressively lemony, and the wine filled in that role nicely. Our next bite was (my favorite), the duck meatballs in porcini broth, paired with the Pinot, lots of earthy savory flavors, and the five spice blended nicely with the minimal barrel notes that the wine gave us. We bought a beautiful whole duck from Long Island for this, and ground it up, which was difficult to get myself to do. The short rib had plenty of salt and fat, as well as some citrus (it was really great), and it was paired with the Merlot. At the winery they did this with lamb and a lighter stock, I think because they had available small riblets, with the bones exposed so you could pick it up. Ours is much darker, fattier, and deeper and I liked it more. We warmed it by braising twelve bite-sized pieces for another hour with all of the liquid, and it probably made it that much better. The tannins in both wines were subdued, which made most of our guests happy. The Merlot was acidic enough, I guess, to deal with the cooked-down orange and lemon. The cab, of course, went with our steak bite. The kids made parfaits for dessert, and it was followed by the usual general-purpose shnookering.

    Here are the recipes:

    Duck Meatballs in Porcini Broth
    • Meatballs:
      • 1 lb. ground duck (best if you have a meat grinder: buy a whole duck, grind the meat, and reserve the bones to make the broth)
      • 2 eggs, beaten
      • 1 c. fresh bread crumbs
      • 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
      • 1 small onion, minced
      • ¼ c. Parmesan cheese, grated
      • 1 tsp. five spice powder
      • 4 tsp. salt
      • 2 tsp. fresh pepper

    • Meatballs:
      • bones from the duck (or use 2 lb. chicken bones)
      • 1 large onion, large diced
      • 1 c. carrot, large diced
      • 1 c. celery, large diced
      • 4 cloves garlic, whole
      • 4 quarts chicken stock
      • 1 c. dried porcini mushrooms
      • 4 parsley sprigs
      • small handful of thyme sprigs
      • 2 bay leaves

    Combine all the ingredients for meatballs (makes a loose mixture). Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. When ready, roll out to about ½ in. spheres. Refrigerate until ready.

    For the broth, place the bones, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic on a sheet tray and bake at 375 °F for about an hour. Drain excess fat (and use a little water to get any of the brown bits stuck to the tray), and add the bones and vegetables, and remaining broth ingredients to a big stockpot. Simmer for about an hour and then strain.

    To cook the meatballs, put 1-2 c. of the broth in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add meatballs in batches and cook 7-10 minutes or until they are cooked. Discard the cooking broth.

    To serve, heat remaining broth. Place cooked meatballs in a bowl, and pour the hot broth over them.

    New York Strip Steaks with Turnip Puree
    • Puree
      • 1 T. butter
      • ¼ c. spring onions (or leeks), thinly sliced
      • 1 c. turnip, small dice
      • 1 c. milk
      • 1 bay leaf
      • ½ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
      • 1 tsp salt
      • ¼ tsp. white pepper

    • 8 oz. NY strip steak
    • fresh chives

    For the puree, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the spring garlic (or leeks) and sweat until soft (don't brown). Add the turnip, cover with milk, and add bay leaf and nutmeg. Simmer 20 minutes or until turnips are soft and starting to fall apart. Remove the bay leaf and puree the turnip with half of the milk (until texture). Season before serving.

    Season the steak and grill or pan-sear it in grapeseed oil to medium rare. Let rest and then slice when ready to serve.

    To serve, reheat the puree if necessary. Spoon a little into a Chinese soup spoon and top with the sliced beef, and a little fresh chives for garnish.

    Orange and Olive Short Ribs

    (I don't think you can call a dish "Moroccan" without the properly available ingredients, and kitchen infrastructure. So I don't.)

    • about 4 lb. beef short ribs (4 servings with six short bones apiece.)
    • Rub (ras el hanout, more or less):
      • 1 tsp. cumin
      • 1 tsp. ground ginger
      • 1 tsp. turmeric
      • 1 tsp. salt
      • ¾ tsp. cinnamon
      • ¾ tsp. pepper
      • ½ tsp. white pepper
      • ½ tsp. ground coriander
      • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
      • ½ tsp. ground allspice
      • ½ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
      • ¼ tsp. ground cloves

    • 6 c. beef stock
    • 1 c. orange marmalade
    • 2 c. cured black olives or kalamata olives
    • 2 heads of garlic, split into cloves
    • 2 bay leaves
    • candied lemons:
      • 12 very thin lemon slices
      • 1 c. sugar
      • water

    Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Rub the ribs with the ras el hanout, and place them on a sheet ban. Bake for 30 minutes.

    For lemons, blanch for 1-2 min. in boiling water until softened. Then, in a skillet, make a simple syrup of 1 c. sugar and 1 c. water. Bring this to a simmer and place in lemons. Simmer gently for 1 hr, then remove to cool.

    Remove from the oven, and place the ribs in a baking dish (or split into two dishes). Add remaining ingredients. Cover tightly with foil, and return to the oven, and bake for 2 hours or until tender.

    Remove ribs and set aside. Strain cooking liquid and set aside olives. Remove garlic cloves and bay leaves.

    To serve, garnish with the lemons.

    Spring Rolls with Asparagus, Ricotta and Lemon Aioli

    (This didn't work very well for regular spring rolls; they don't seal as well, and needed to cook a little longer, which lends to filling exploding.)

    • 12 wonton wrappers
    • ~½ c. spinach leaves
    • ~½ c. asparagus, julienned (or use fresh peas if in season)
    • 3 cups canola oil for frying
    • Filling:
      • 6 oz. ricotta cheese
      • 2 oz. chevre, room temperature
      • 1 tsp. tarragon, finely chopped
      • zest of one lemon
      • 1 tsp. salt
      • ½ tsp. white pepper

    • Aioli:
      • 1 egg yolks
      • ½ tsp. fresh garlic paste
      • 2 tsp. lemon juice
      • ¾ c. grapeseed oil
      • 1 tsp. tarragon, finely chopped
      • 1 tsp salt
      • pepper to taste

    Mix together filling ingredients.

    Place a new wrapper on a clean work surface. Put on a spinach leaf, add a small spoonful of the cheese filling, and some asparagus. Roll into tiny spring rolls. Lay on a lined cookie sheet, and place the rolls in the freezer.

    For the aioli, mix the egg yolks, garlic and lemon juice. While whisking, drizzle in the oil. Spoon into a bowl, and mix in tarragon, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate until time to serve.

    To cook the rolls, heat the oil to 325 °F. Carefully drop in the frozen rolls, and cook about three minutes, or until golden brown.

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