Thursday, November 5, 2009

the magic mixer elixir... (pt 2.)


The idea of vermouth has been so demonized in contemporary "bar culture" that it has been relieved of duty in just about every vodka martini requested by patrons... which is a sincere shame. On the other hand, vermouth has seen a huge resurgence in
"cocktail culture" as better educated mixologists have realized that with a better vermouth comes a better crafted cocktail.

Vermouth is, for all intents & purpose, a fortified wine flavored with aromatic herbs & spices. There are 3 basic types of vermouth, dry & sweet (which are the most popular) and blanc or white. Dry & blanc vermouths are clear in color (while blanc may have a little more straw coloring) and sweet will be a dark reddish color that will be difficult to see through. Vermouth is a primary component in classic cocktails such as Martini, Manhattan or Rob Roy. Typically the lighter vermouths are used in the lighter colored cocktails (ie; gin or vodka based liquors) where sweet (or red) vermouth is used in more brown liquor based cocktails, though this was not always the case.

There are two reasons for the decline of vermouth in martini's.
  1. 1) most bars use cheap vermouth... the cheapest they can find. One of classic cocktailian David Embury's primary principles of drink mixing is "use good quality liquor". Certainly, the idea of using the best quality liquor with a substandard mixer defeats the purpose of using that mixer to enhance the flavor of the cocktail.
  2. 2) Vermouth is wine, and as such needs to be treated as a delicate libation, rather than as a high alcohol well-pour that can withstand the deteriorating effects of air and heat. Vermouth SHOULD be kept in coolers overnight, and pumped with a vacu-vin everyday. I'd say 99% of all vermouth used in bars and restaurants today never receive this kind of care.
Now, onto the good news! As I said earlier, most cocktail culture bartenders are getting hip to the notion that vermouth is an integral part of most cocktails. AND better vermouths are finding their way onto the shelves of better establishments. These newer vermouths may be difficult to find... however they are well worth the search. I've been able to find most online. My recommendations for the best vermouths out there with links to purchase, are as follows:

Dolin Dry Vermouth: $13.99


Dolin Vermouth Blanc: $10.99


Carpano AnticaFormula Vermouth: $25.95


My favorite recipe with these new vermouths is to do a 50/50 split between vermouth and gin. When you've got good vermouth, why wouldn't you want to taste it?

I call this the Prohibition Martini. Vermouth was used heavily during prohibition to cut the flavor of bad bathtub gin. Now with exceptional gins and exceptional vermouths, the opportunity for a delicious gin martini is in your all-to-capable hands:

Prohibition Martini:
  • 1 1/2 oz. Cadenhead Old Raj Gin
  • 1 1/2 oz. Dolin Vermouth Blanc (I've also used Dolin Dry to some excellent result)
  • 1 preserved lemon zest and goat cheese stuffed olive (if you don't have the time or patience to preserve some lemons... a simple lemon peel works well. Try to peel with no pith)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Art is wine & wine is art

You ever wonder why wine is served at art gallery openings or poetry readings? There is an intrinsic value to wine as an alcoholic consumable that you just can't get from a beer or a shot of whiskey. As an art promoter in years past, I was asked by a reporter why I entered into the Wine Director world after years of promoting local artists with a variety show entitled yawp Carnival Poetica. I told him "wine is poetry".

My band played the other night, for the first time in 6+ years, a percussive poetry performance that was created as an alternative to the dry, coffeehouse poetry readings I had attended. It got me thinking again about the new role I had taken in life, and how poetry evolved into a wine position.

As much as I believed that photography has a poetic element to it, I've always felt that wine has the same aspects of poetry that you might find in a photograph. There are levels of enjoyment you can discover with each sip from the same bottle, that may not strike you immediately, but the more you consume, the more flavors and characteristics attack your senses. A poem, which differs from prose in that it gives you snippets of a story or conversation, allows the listener to build a complete image reflecting partly on their own personal reference point. Wine's enjoyment will also be built upon the foundations of the drinker's own personal experiences with wine.

The winemaker is a poet. He/she carefully designing what is, for all intents and purposes, an alcoholic beverage, to produce a product that transcends it's aforementioned lot in life. From a fermented grape juice we can find the most varied list of taste profiles, ie; tobacco, chocolate, berries, mint, citrus, herbs, caramel, stone, grass... the list goes on and on...

dare I throw cat urine into the mix?

The point is wine is a natural accompaniment to art. Not because it has always stood beside artistic gatherings simply as a staple beverage, but because it is a consumable that makes us think about what we're drinking and gets the creative juices flowing to examine everything around us with an interpretive eye.

Pittsburgh has an amazing art scene, as I imagine most readers will agree their hometown does as well. Think about what you're drinking when at local art events and consider that there is a reason those glasses of wine are being offered with alongside the artists work which hangs on the gallery walls.

For other art events I'm including a list of what you might want to consider drinking. If you have any recommendations I'd love to hear them as well.

  1. Steelers game = beer. Preferably Iron City, Yuengling or Straub. Rolling Rock if absolutely necessary
  2. Punk rock concert= see above but there has to be copious amounts of whiskey shots (Jack Daniels or Maker's fro the truly discerning)) also included between sets.
  3. Jazz concert = Nothing like a well made martini. I prefer gin with a good quality vermouth (good luck with that one) but a dirty vodka martini with blue cheese stuffed olives performs quite nicely.
  4. Poetry reading = in honor of Charles Bukowski, I'm going to recommend a nice whiskey cocktail like a Manhatten or Old Fashioned. Also recommend Absinthe for all the 19th century poetry lovers. Why not mix both, cover all your basis. Absinthe rinse, muddle some bluberries with bitters and a little simple syrup, splash or Grand Marnier, fill with Makers Mark, top with soda (very little soda)
  5. Pop Concert = Margaritas. They're easier to make than you think. Forget about the blender. There's nothing better than a margarita on the rocks. Thinking Dave Matthews to Jimmy Buffet. Tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, triple sec (or Grand Marnier)
  6. Traditional Irish music concert = duh? Gotta be a Guinness! And don't forget that Guinness is a mandatory substitution for regular beer at any Irish-punk show as well... here substitute Jameson for your shots of Jack.

I await your recommendations.

For my favorite Pittsburgh band check out Salena Catalina video I shot the other night:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Western Pennsylvania Consumption Society

Every season we meet with about fifteen friends, old and new. The guest list includes restaurant folk, wine directors, chefs, teachers, bartenders, hairdressers, bankers, photographers... etc. Every guest brings one entree item and 2 bottles of wine to match with that item (sometimes, Lexi will bring a bottle of vodka and just mix some martinis to start the night). Each event is themed, from Mediterranean to Party Appetizers to Cooking with Alcohol. It's a great opportunity to take the time out of our hectic lives and agree on one day when a whole group of us can get together and enjoy each others company. 

This last Saturday was Cooking with Alcohol, and what a great selection of menu items we enjoyed! Chef Monique Ruvolo made a spicy grilled calamari & shrimp dish using vodka which was reminiscent of the famous Cafe Allegro appetizer, only sprinkled with crumbled goat cheese which was a nice touch. Ex-Cafe Allegro Wine Director and current server at Table 22, Jim Kwiecinski prepared Steamed Mussels cooked with white wine and Pernod, adding some peppers and onion as well. Jim also brought a bottle of Regaleali which was the perfect accompaniment. Bartender at Harris Grill and lead singer of Salena Catalina, Lexi Rebert made Mango Margarita Seviche with tilapia & corn chips. We paired with some Vouvray that our hosts Dan & Jess Lukac had had on hand. My dish was a Grand Marnier Cheesecake which I paired with Churchill's White Port, which I felt was a little too hot for this dish. Expected the cheesecake to be dryer in flavor, hence the white port, but I think it's sweetness would have been better matched with a sauternes? All in all a great evening had by all. 

I certainly recommend collecting five of your best friends (kinda have to have a little "foodie" blood in them) and ask them to invite a pair of friends each, and start your own supper club.

WPCS Dinner

Saturday August 1st

Cooking with Alcohol

1st Course

Mussels in White Wine & Pernod

wine selection: Regaleali

2nd Course

Spicy Grilled Calamari & Shrimp with Goat Cheese Crumble

wine selection: Vouvray

3rd Course

Mango Margarita Tilapia Seviche

wine selection: Vouvray

4th Course

Spaghetti with Garlic, Garden Tomato & White Wine

wine selection: Meritage

5th Course

Penne Pasta with Red Wine & Pancetta

wine selection: Meritage


Rum Soaked Grilled Fruit Compote Over Grilled Angel Food Cake

Grand Marnier Cheesecake with Honey Drizzle

wine selection: White Port


Grand Marnier Cheesecake


  Amount  Measure   Ingredient

--------  -------   --------------------------------

    1/4     cup     chocolate graham cracker crumbs

                    unsalted butter for pan

Butter bottom and sides of an 8-by-3-inch pan (if you use a

springform, it will have to be a very tight fitting one that won't

leak).  Sprinkle crumbs into pan and turn pan carefully to coat

bottom and sides.  Coating will be very thin and spotty.  Refrigerate.


  Amount  Measure   Ingredient

--------  -------   --------------------------------

      2     lbs     cream cheese, room temperature

    1/2     cup     whipping cream

      4     Tbl     Grand Marnier (liquor available at most liquor stores)

      1             Grated rind of 1 large orange (orange part only)

      4             eggs, large

  1 3/4     cup     sugar

      1     tsp     vanilla extract

    honey for drizzling over the top when finished

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Place cream cheese, cream, Grand Marnier,

orange rind, eggs, sugar, and vanilla in bowl.  Beat slowly on low setting

until ingredients bland, then increase speed to high.  Beat until

ingredients are smooth.  Pour into pan and tap pan gently to level batter.

Bake for 1 or until top just starts to brown. Take out of oven and let sit for 5 minutesbefore moving to refrigerator cool for 2 hours. seperate from wall of ban by sliding a knife along the edge, then unmold. Cut into slices and drizzle the top with honey.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hangtime Pinot Noir

A wine I'd highly recommend...

To anyone who is drunk at 2 am... watching the Highlander, after drinking three rum and colas (that's Gosling rum, Moxie cola with a splash of lime juice) after a ten hour day on your feet from 2-12:30...

I remember this wine as offering so much more, 10 years ago when I started tasting it. So disappointing now. After a phenomenally rich aroma. the palate was flat and completely unrefined. Where the nose gave notes of toasted berry fruit, the palate left me wanting. 

Thank god for The Highlander, the rum and the Queen soundtrack to keep me entertained. The Hangtime performed well as a guzzling wine to keep moving through the film. 

Is it me or does Ramirez look exactly like Joe Barsotti?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pittsburgh Wine Festival 2009

Chef Eric "Spudz" Wallace, radiant as ever

Guests line up for glasses of the good stuff

Too little time to sample all the fine wines

The absolute highlight of the wine festival is the chance to once again taste Chateau D'Yquem. 2006 from Bordeaux, France. The best way to describe this wine is to say it's like licking the nipple of God. I go back to this table again and again. Nothing like a good Sauternes, and D'Yquem is the king. The only white wine to deserve 1st Growth status. This is the wine referred to when referencing "the nectar of the gods".

Monday, April 27, 2009

The magic mixer elixir... (pt 1.)

As important as your base liquor for any cocktail, is the addition of your mixer. I've been tasting a slew of new products lately that have reminded me of how important your choices for mixing agents are. I mean, come on... this is the stuff we're diluting our liquor with, right?

Top of the list, for me, is your bitters. What ever your cocktail preferences, you should alwasy have a bottle of bitters on hand. Recommended mostly for addition to brown liquors (whiskeys, rums) bitters is an herbal blend that is actually alcoholic. Used primarily in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Rob Roy, I recommend it for one of my favorite cocktail concoctions which has undergone many different name changes depending on which restaurant I'm selling it from (ie; Donerion, Make Mine Fluffy, Whiskey Tango) which is comprised of 3/4 Makers Mark, 1/4 Grand Marnier & splash of Angostura bitters. Shaken over ice.

Bartenders across the country are playing with in-house bitters. In Pittsburgh, resident "bar-crafter" Michael Mincin has created a Blood Orange Bitters used in his "Badlands-hatten" at the bar of Eleven Contemporary Kitchen.

Along the same lines as bitters, is the "official state soft drink of Maine" known as Moxie Cola. Anyone can tell you I am an avid proponent of Moxie Cola. Moxie used to be called "Moxie Nerve Food" or "Moxie Original Elixir", which apparently cured everything from imbecility to "lack of manhood". Moxie waned in popularity when the newly formed FDA decided that the beverage could not advertise itself as a food... and lacked many of the curative qualities it purported to possess. In the 60s when one of Moxie's leading ingredients; sarsaparilla, was banned Moxie lost roughly 50% of its fan base, and now is difficult to find even in the New England states which are it's home base.

Every year I return to Pittsburgh with 20+ cases of Moxie Cola... enough to get me through the year. It brings me great pleasure to share this soda with my bartender and chef friends who invariably all love it. Moxie and a lime are the perfect accompaniment to a nice rum. Stay away from spiced rums, the flavors tend to compete, but a nice rum like 10 Cane or Zaya make a perfect match for this soda who's maine ingredient (yeah, I spelled it "maine") is now gentian root... the same ingredient found in Angostura bitters.

Another great pairing for your summer rum drinks is Ginger Beer! The spicier the better! There's nothing like a dark & stormy (rum, ginger beer & lime) on a hot summer day by the water. Dark & stormy tradition dictates that Gosling Dark should always be the rum of choice. I'd agree it is one of the best matches for this cocktail, though I have had equally impressive success with spiced & flavored rums as well. Combining two cocktails; the mojito and the dark & stormy, can add a whole new world of Caribbean flavors to your summer party. 

Muddle some fresh mint with sugar in the raw and a dash of simple syrup. Add 1 & 1/2 oz. rum (for this cocktail recipe I recommend Khukri rum from the Himalayas in Nepal),  1 oz. of Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, juice from 1/2 a lime and shake. pour over ice into a tall collins glass and top with ginger beer. There is only one ginger beer I will recommend (though there are plenty of good quality ones on the market) and that is Natrona Bottling Company Jamaica's Finest Ginger Beer, pictured here.

(to be continued...)

Friday, March 6, 2009


Geeks and nerds the world over celebrate the opening of Watchmen in theatres world-wide. 

While Superman, Batman & the X-Men may be well known comic book characters to the layman (non-geek)... Watchmen is, without argument, the most significant comic graphic novel ever written, to the true comic book connoisseur. It's release as a movie has both segregated and united comic-geeks the world over.

Alan Moore's (Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, From Hell) public dismissal of his own literature scripted to silver screen, and the debate between FOX and Warner Bros (yeh,  said BROS) has attracted much attention from the media regarding the movie's release.

But I'm here to tell it straight. Watchmen is the best comic ever written, and the movie was an excellent adaptation of the book. Whether moviegoers who've never read or heard about the book will be as entertained by the movie as I was, is hard to say. 

Let's talk about cocktails!
For our opening weekend I recommend paying homage to both Zack Snyder and Alan Moore  with this selection of different drink choices:

1) The DR. MANHATTEN : A Manhattan with Dr. Pepper (too easy) 
 A Manhattan with Vodka (sub 4 Bourbon) and Blue Curacao

2) The Rorschach: A White Russian (kahlua added after Vodka & milk shaken)
 - SHOT - White Sambuca (dark sambuca added after settling of 
white sambuca)

So enjoy your "cock"tails (No limit of blue genitalia in our subversive little script) and toast Zack for staying true to the medium, and Alan for presenting us with a truly luminary, literary gift ... the likes of which the comic fanboy world has since seen, and shall forever be indebted.

for more cocktail recipes check out:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wild Rosemary

My dining compatriot, Monique (who co-founded the Western Pennsylvania Consumption Society with me) called and said Gloria had opened a new restaurant called "Wild Rosemary" (WR) in Upper Saint Claire/Mount Lebanon, and we must go!
"Gloria" was Gloria Fortunato, Chef at Cafe Allegro. Gloria was the finest cook I'd ever worked with. She had an intuitive sense of flavor that was well displayed in the cuisine she prepared for hundreds of Cafe Allegro patrons each week. I hadn't seen Glo for close to five years, since she'd left Cafe Allegro. I knew whatever she was cooking up at WR would be exceptional, and agreed to set up a dinner date, without hesitation.

We hastened to call other fellow Allegrites and WPCS members, while we were careful not to overbook our little party, as WR only seats 8 parties at any given time due to it's limited seating capabilities. Apparently the entire restaurant is set up in a recently renovated pizza joint... perfect for Glo's needs. No wine cellar, no bar, no staff. Just Gloria in the kitchen, our other friend Cathleen Enders managing the FOH, and Cathleen's niece serving to the dining area.

We decided on February 16th, since most of us worked Valentine's Day. We figured it would be a good Post-VD celebratory dinner to share with our loved ones & friends.

Roll call was Colpo, Michelle, Lexi, Nico, Lee, Dave, Monique, Heather and I. Reservations were for 8:00.

Heather and I had time before the reso, to go get a drink and Molly MacQuires in Dormont. MM is a great little "Irish Pub" trying very hard to replicate the old country charm of a traditional pub, while conceding to the American difficulties of opening such an establishment (ie; The Allegheny County Health Department, The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board). Such government sponsored food & bevvy nazis make it very hard to copy the homey feel of a true Irish pub, with it's carpeted interior, wood tables and bar, dirty smoke-filled air and publican (who typically owns the building, bar & apartment upstairs where he sleeps between shifts). But Molly MacQuire's does as good as a job as a few other American establishments in staying true to form.

I had a Guinness (naturally) while Heather had a Magner's Cider, after a recommendation from my NYC drinking buddy, Paige Wentworth. She'd told me about Magners awhile back, but I had never heard or tried this product. Heather enjoyed it immensely.

After our drinks we headed down to Wild Rosemary. We arrived early, had to wait only while the table was reset. Once seated, the other guests started to arrive, Colpo last to show-up as he got turned around a little by the change in address numbering at a certain point on Bower's Hill Road, that I must admit, almost had Heather and I pulling a U-turn as well.

The menu had seven entree choices which included Barramundi, Lamb Loin, Veal Medallions, NY Strip, Pork Tenderloin, Chicken, and Scallops. No appetizers, no salads, no dessert menu (and as I said before, no wine cellar - hence no wine list).

I had brought two bottles to this cozy little BYOB. Louis Latour Ardeche (chardonnay) and Domaine Ligneres Aric 2007 (carignan blend)

I love the Aric, it is a phenomenal Rhone blend of carignan, mourvedre and syrah. Full bodied, with a little of that French terroir, but not as much as you'd typically find... almost tastes like a New World style wine. There's a lot of different flavors you can extract from this wine the longer it lingers on your palate, including coffee, anise, blueberry & plum. I've served this wine as a feature, and as a wine choice on many special menus, and it never fails to amaze, and tonight was no exception... it was the first bottle drunk dry.

Gloria immediately came out to see all her old friends and share some info about her last few years while away. We'd all seen major changes in all of our lives and were happy to share with our old friend.

I ordered the Grilled Veal Medallions with polenta/sundried tomato tart with roasted garlic aioli, arugula on side. A few of us opted for this item (I should note they were out of the Barramundi, didn't make the shipment, Gloria's attitude was refreshing... she shrugged her shoulders and said "Oh well. Shit happens, nothing to get excited over."), while Mo went for the NY Strip (I know this because she was sitting next to me and graciously shared) and Heather had the Sea Scallops in Saffron Cream, with shallots, crushed red saffron, mascarpone, roasted tomatoes, spaghetti and parm reggiano.

Before dinner we were served a plate of bruschetta with a ricotta cheese blended with herbs and roasted cherry tomatoes, and mediterranean olives... I could not stop pounding this delicious, abundant, "amuse-bouche" down. More an appetizer than an "amuse" it was the perfect start to dinner, immediately staving off Heather's hunger pangs, and allowing us to relax, lean back and enjoy the ambiance that Cathleen had designed in this comfortably close space.

Food came out shortly, and our eyes alighted to the feast presented us. The plates were stacked with entrees of our choosing and a heaping mound of salad on the side. 

My veal dish was cooked perfectly to temp. No small feat for a chef in a tiny kitchen, preparing every side accompaniment along with the main dish, to 9 guests. The salad on the side also, surprisingly, stood out as more than a garnish, and was as meticulously prepared as the rest of the meal.

Heather's dish, the Seared Scallops, was a enlightened! Where saffron can so often be overused and overtake a dish, Gloria created a dish that was perfectly seasoned, and the addition of citrus zest gave it a fresh, light flavor that uplifted the saffron spaghetti to the perfect frame from which to display the masterpiece that was the scallops, and allow them to shine on their own. 
We shared each others entrees and there was not one hesitation from anyone in the group in exclaiming that Gloria had truly found her niche and achieved a perfect oasis from which to share her joy of cooking with the Pittsburgh culinary scene. Immediately added to the top of my favorite Pittsburgh dining spots, alongside Vivo, Bonaterra, Casbah and Umi.

Unfortunately, as all thing do, our meal came to an end, and it was time to head home and relieve Gramma from babysitting duties. The ride home my wife commented on the quietness between us. I agreed it was unique for us not to utter a word for the 20 minute car ride, but the evenings meal had literally left me speechless, save for a deep smile, spread across my face, which spoke volumes.

Wild Rosemary Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bacon-Infused Bourbon

Probably, the most comments I ever got on my facebook account, were from people questioning my sanity when I posted that I was making Bacon-Infused Bourbon for the restaurant.

There were some mixed reactions. I think when I originally heard about this concoction, from Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, my initial reaction was similar to my facebook families. A quick revulsion, followed by contemplation and then the epiphany. "This could possibly be the greatest idea, ever!!!"

The actual recipe was found in an article from the New York Magazine, credited to New York City bartender Don Lee from PDT (please don't tell, a widely acclaimed NYC speakeasy).

 We followed the original recipe, though we traded the bourbon they were using, with Knob Creek. a) because the bourbon they listed was unknown to us, b) because Knob Creek was an item we could possibly get help from our liquor distributors to bring the cost down.

The Knob Creek did not work as well as we had anticipated. The high alcohol seemed to cover up the bacon smokiness we were expecting to taste. There was some obvious smokiness added to the Knob, that gave the whiskey a mellower flavor, with some slight sweetness notes, but where was the bacon.

So I brought the bottle home and infused more bacon fat into the 1.5L bottle... 'bout 16 strips (where originally we did 8) So now we sit and wait. See what this concoction provides. If overly bacony, I can always add more bourbon to balance out the flavor (which is easier to do than cooking up bacon over and over again, straining, chilling, scooping out fat and sediment).

Next round I'm going to go with a lighter alcohol, sweeter bourbon that I feel may take on the bacon flavor better; Woodford comes to mind.

You have the recipe, now for the PDT version. Make some at home. Share with friends. They'll be amazed by your bravery and creativeness. After all the posts I received about my own attempts at this unique cocktail, I can pretty much guarantee you'll be the talk of the next dinner party for months to come.

Here's the recipe again for y'all;

You may also be wondering why there's a mini-keg of Heineken in the picture? Well this was my Super Bowl celebratory beer (Really, Sean? No Iron City? Or even Penn Pilsner? At the very least Yuengling?) Well, I always wanted to try one of these things, and Heather isn't fond of too many beer flavors, so while we sat back and watched our Championship winning Steelers bring home another Super Bowl trophy, we shared this mini-keg between us (and between shots of Makers Mark to help rally our boys - Heather, who DOESN'T ever drink whiskey kept right up with me, shot-for-shot... I was so proud of her). I gotta say, I really enjoyed this mini-keg experience. It was fun to have this cute little green guy, hiding out in our fridge, and the beer tasted great. Fresh and refreshing. I'd recommend for anybody who has as much trouble as I do trying to pack a stuffed fridge with a case of bottles for the big game.

Cheers Big Ears!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Some moderately priced easy drinkers, with a little Spanish thrown in for good measure

Enjoyed two wines this week that were very well priced and great value.

The first was Montevina Barbera. An amador county barbera, you ask? Well yes. Actually the second barbera from California that I've tried. Renwood being the other. Both were/are exceptional representations on this varietal typically found in Italy.

The Montevina had a lot going on for a $10 bottle of wine. Black cherry aromas lead to chocolate, some tobacco-vanillan, full berry fruit on the palate. light citrus zest bookmarks both the opening and closing of this wine... very light. Great quaffing wine, could easily recommend for a bottle to share between you and your loved ones, sitting in front of a crackling fire.

The second bottle is in-hand as I write this review. From Sardon Del Duero in Northern Spain, came this lovely bottle of Rivola. Light on the tongue, splash of crisp raspberries and strawberrys on the fore palate. The Spanish earthiness is there, and the sun-ripened fruit gives a tease of heavy extracted berry flavor, but it never follows through (I mean that in the best possible way) and it leaves you with a refreshing, drinking red. A very well-rounded, well constructed bottle.

Rivola should come in around $15, but there are plenty of deals online, to be found.

Speaking of Spanish wine, I should mention my fastest growing favorite region for wine making; Priorat.

I'm loving Priorat wines, and nobody else seems to be hip to them yet. Which for you means that your store may carry a great selection that has been passed over by other wine shoppers. Prices may have gone down? Or, as in PA, you might find the state putting a few on display with it's "Chairman Select" program. 

Priorat blends are standout, in that they combine two of the greatest wine regions with masterful blending. Typically a Priorat wine will be a combination of French and Rhone varietal: cab, merlot, malbec, petite verdot, cab franc & syrah, grenache, mourvedre, carignan (in Spain: carinena) . Look for Vall Llach. I have a bottle of both their Embruix & Idus storing in my cellar. They are just great to open now, but my intuition tells me, a few years in the cellar will mellow out the tannins a little, and deliver a robust powerhouse wine. Both are $35 and up, but I've bought mine, both, at under $20 on the aforementioned "Chairman's Select". Happy hunting!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The bastardization of fine cuisines

Well, I have accomplished the unaccomplishable... (?)

Okay, maybe not completely true statement there. But I'm very excited for my newest culinary bastardization of two of my favorite new cooking techniques (?)... Asian cuisine + Buffalo Chicken wings. (somewhere - probably in DC - Don Bistarkey is groaning in dismay)


Last night saw the culmination of a dream. A dream that came to me about two weeks ago when the wife and I made our first egg rolls. Sausage and coleslaw egg rolls. They were so delicious, and so easy to make, that it got me thinking. Why not Buffalo chicken egg rolls?

After contemplating for a week or so, I came up with a preliminary recipe to test it out. Buffalo wings have always been a specialty of mine... Buffalo wings, burgers and chili are three items I have raised to haute cuisine level after years of repetitive experimentation. But Buffalo wings are the kings of my repertoire.

I have a very simple way of preparing Buffalo wings, and I have never tasted a better wing in my life. It all started almost 20 years ago in college, at one of our first house parties (the SEWER house for those in-the-know) when I decided to add a little ranch dressing into the sauce to cool it down slightly. Over the years the recipe has evolved to include a little soy, sriracha hot pepper sauce, twice baking the wings instead of deep frying, and blue cheese dressing has replaced the ranch (although my wife still prefers ranch, so I always make a separate batch for her).

Anyhow, this prep was a little different, and still in the experimental stages (so I certainly would accept any recommendations or pointers from some of my more accomplished chef friends).  

Basically, stage one was baking the wings. mixed the wings, some cayenne powder, sea salt, garlic powder, veg oil and pepper in a big bowl and placed on a baking sheet. Baked at 350 for about an hour and a half. cut some celery into thin slices, to give the texture of water chestnuts, and julienned some carrots. once the wings were done baking, I took out of oven and let sit for 1/2 hour to cool off, covered with some aluminum foil. In a pan I sauteed the carrots and celery with a little butter. I then took the chicken meat, with some skin, off the wing bones, added to the sauteing carrots and celery, added my hot sauce mixture (Frank's Red Hot, Soy, Blue Cheese dressing, splash Sriracha hot pepper sauce) and cooked down slightly until the sauce was absorbed by the chicken and veggies. The trick is not to use too much sauce, didn't want the egg rolls to be overtaken by the heat. Once heated through, I used a soup spoon and stuffed one egg roll at a time while I waited for my oil to heat up. Into the oil and all done in about three minutes.

They were delicious, with a little ranch for dipping. I was very happy with the end result. More experimentation to come, and again, would appreciate any instruction to help me perfect this dish.

Oh, and since this is a drinking man's blog... what goes great with egg rolls? Foster's beer, of course. When funds are tight and there is some beer drinking at home to be done, I'm either picking up a case of Sam Adams (again, Don groans), Heineken, or Fosters. 

The Fosters tasted just right for this Pan-Amerasian dish.