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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bargain Wine of the Week: 2007 Oak Grove Chardonnay Reserve

We buy a lot of wine under $10, much of it rated highly by someone or other in the wine trade. Our mantra is: High rating, low price. We also buy a fair amount of wine that costs more than $10, which we don't write about here.

Every now and then we forget which is which, and sometimes when that happens we open a bottle we've had around for a while but never tasted and exclaim what a great bottle of wine it is. Usually we just assume that it's one of the more expensive bottles.

But the other night we opened a bottle of a little known (at least to us) chardonnay that had been in the cellar for a bit. It was oaky and toasty and was not unlike the chardonnays from Carneros that we love so much. The fruit forward taste, followed by a pleasant aftertaste of vanilla, was glorious. It even stood up against the very hot Indian food on the evening's menu.

We checked our wine store receipts and were shocked to find that this better-than-pleasant wine was not only $7.99 a bottle, but it was also available in 1.5 liter bottles for $13.99. Now that's a bargain.

We had it again the next evening with more subtle vegetarian fare, and again it was superb.

The wine was 2007 Oak Grove Chardonnay Reserve from California. The people at Beverage Dynamics, whatever that is, rated it 87. We think it's too low.

Good Fast Food: Pseudo-Tabbouli

Between the Deadline and the Move, we haven't had much time to shop or cook. Fortunately, our share of a CSA box keeps us in produce, but the other day we found ourselves with little to eat beyond carrots, garlic, and potatoes. Though we could have devised a meal from those humble ingredients, we didn't have time to prepare one.

Looking through the pantry, we found a jar of bulgur that had been ignored for a long time, waiting to

be made into tabbouli. We had no time for that, but we remembered that bulgur can be cooked in just a few minutes by covering it with boiling water. So we did that.

Once we had the hot bulgur, we improvised: a drizzle of olive oil, a few squirts of lemon juice, salt, pepper. We still had some mint, basil, and parsley in the garden, so we chopped a few leaves and tossed them in, along with some crumbled feta cheese.

We loved the result. Though it didn't have the pungent greenness of real tabbouli, which normally includes a hefty dose of minced garlic and scallions, it did have the basic flavors, and the higher proportion of bulgur resulted in a heavier, chewy salad that went well with the sudden influx of fall weather.

We'll make this again, even after the Deadline and the Move.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Incredibly Versatile White Beans

The Tuscan version of a pot on the stove could be ribollita, a thick twice-cooked bread soup that has a foundation of white beans.

White beans are very easy to make and very versatile, for everything from appetizers to main courses.

We see a lot of people on the cooking shows using canned white cannellini beans, but although they work OK in a pinch , but generally they taste too, well, canned. Our favorite recipe comes from Saveur, a food magazine that we loved to read, but admittedly rarely used for actual cooking.

Here's the recipe:

1 lb. dried cannellini or navy beans
4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 or 5 fresh sage leaves
3 to 5 whole black peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Sort through the beans, discarding any small stones; then rinse the beans under cold running water. Place them in a large casserole, cover with at least two inches with cold water, and set aside to soak for four hours or overnight. (You can also use the quick-soak method on the dried-bean bag.)
2. Drain beans; then add 12 cups cold water, two tablespoons olive oil, garlic, sage, and peppercorns. Cover the casserole, bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for about one hour. Season to taste with salt, reduce heat to medium low, and gently simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the skins are tender and the beans are soft, about one more hour.

3. Remove from heat, set aside, and let beans cool in the cooking liquid. To serve, reheat beans in the liquid over medium-low heat, drain them, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the remaining olive oil.

You can eat these right out of the pot, drizzled with a bit more olive oil. Add a piece of sourdough toast and a roaring fire, and you have a simple but wonderful winter dinner.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bargain Wine of the Week: Château de Nages Costieres de Nîmes Red Rhone

We've just about given up on finding good French wines under $20, let alone for less than $10. The southern regions of the country known as Langeudoc-Roussillion or Corbieres, just north of the Pyrenees Mountains and Spain, offer some inexpensive wines. But you have to know what you're doing or else test a lot of wines to find the bargains that are worth drinking.

Wines from the more famous regions are getting out of reach when it comes to price. Most of us looking for bargains have moved on to Spain, Chile, and Argentina. The great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy seem to be regularly reaching the $100+ range. Too green for our palates and pockets.

We were trying out a new warehouse wine store in an unfamiliar city the other day, looking for some wine to take to a dinner party. In the Côte du Rhône section, with the Chateauneufs and other expensive burgundies, we spotted a $12 bottle that was highly rated—along with a $7.99 bottle of Côte du Rhône that was also rated in the mid-80s by somebody or other.

Well, the $7.99 bottle was certainly worth a try. And what a surprise. The first thing that hits you is that the wine is dark as night. Not what you expect from what should be a lighter red. The next sensation is the smell of berries, followed by the taste of dark, black berries. Then the taste of licorice. Just a bit of sweet and dark and licorice.

But the wine—a 2007 Château de Nages Costieres de Nîmes red Rhône wine—was not heavy. It went very well with pork tenderloin, white-bean casserole and fresh tomatoes.

When you find a rated Côte du Rhône for less than $8 and it tastes like at least a $20 bottle of wine, it's time to go back to the store and stock up.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Easy Pork Tenderloin in the Oven

We recently put up a guest post from our friend Kevin, who wrote about foolproof pork tenderloin on the gas grill, using the 7-6-5 method.

Last week we added pork tenderloin to a menu, but did not have a gas or charcoal grill handy, so we decided to see how simply we could make a pork tenderloin (two actually, because they always come two to a package) in the oven. Turns out, it's fairly easy.

Here's how we did it:

We heated about a quarter cup of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat in an ovenproof sauté pan, and rubbed a small amount of kosher or sea salt (1 teaspoon) on the tenderloins, along with about 2 teaspoons of ground pepper from a grinder that included all colors of peppercorns.

We quick-fried about a dozen sage leaves and drained them on paper towels. This is optional, but you'll like it if you do it.

Next, we browned the two tenderloins on all sides in the fat, about 5 to 7 minutes.

We put the pan in an oven preheated to 375 degrees, in the middle of the oven. We roasted them for exactly 15 minutes (until a thermometer in the loin read about 140 degrees). Then we put the loins on a plate or cutting board and covered them with foil; they continued cooking while we made a sauce.
Kevin marinated his tenderloins in a mustard vinaigrette, which we think is a great idea. But we decided to make a mustard-wine sauce to pour over the meat.
First we poured the fat out of the pan and returned it to the stovetop over medium-high heat. We deglazed the pan with about a cup of red wine and reduced it by half. Then we added salt and pepper.

During the reduction process, we whisked in a few tablespoons of mustard. One T of mustard makes a great, mellow sauce; 3 T makes a spicier sauce.

Then we cut the loins on the diagonal, about 5/8-inch thick, and finished them with a fried sage leaves and a drizzle the wine-mustard reduction.

Serve with a Pinot Noir or a Côte du Rhône.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vegetable Hash

With an influx of vegetables every week, thanks to our CSA membership, we've had to develop a triage system for avoiding waste.

First, we eat the lettuce and greens. If we can't get to things like chard and kale, we cook them and freeze them to use later in soups or polenta. Then we move on to the broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and leeks, which can last a week or more in the fridge. This system means that the vegetables with staying power, such as potatoes, onions, garlic, and carrots, tend to pile up.

So last night we made a big vegetable hash, and it turned out great. You know how sometimes you throw something together without a recipe, and it's so good that even as you eat it, you're worried that you will never be able to re-create it? This hash was like that.

And it couldn't have been simpler. We cut five small potatoes into tiny dice, for fast cooking, then tossed them into a couple of tablespoons of hot olive oil. Next we sliced four small onions and added those.

A small cauliflower had spent a lonely week on the refrigerator shelf, so we chopped that into small pieces and added them to the pan. Finally, we had a couple of cups' worth of green beans that were a bit past their prime but tasted wonderful cut into small pieces and added to the mix. We sauteed everything until it was brown and a little crispy, salted and peppered it, then served it with a generous dollop of ketchup.

Poached eggs would be really good on top of a pile of this hash. If you had leftover meat, chicken or cooked tofu, those would be fine additions.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kale Chips Part II

Because we know you just can't get enough of them! 

We want to try this version from ValleyWriter's blog, partly because they take less time to bake than the Bon Appetit version, partly because her other recipes sound so good that we trust her. Check them out! 

Last night, faced with a big bunch of Swiss chard from the CSA box, we tried to make chard chips. The oven was already running at 400 degrees for a batch of crispy smashed potatoes, so we figured we'd just keep a close eye on the chips. We don't know if the hotter oven was the problem or just that a wet veggie like chard wasn't up to the job, but the resulting chips, though edible, were much less tasty than their kale predecessors.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Most Unpopular Post Ever?

We debated putting this one up because, let's face it, kale is not high on most people's favorite-food list. But last week's CSA box delivered a fat bunch of dinosaur kale, just as Bon Appetit serendipidously posted an intriguing-sounding recipe for kale chips. We're suckers for any kind of chips and, by this point in a summer of heavy CSA boxes, desperate for any new vegetable recipes, so we tried it.

The result was very crisp, very delicate, with a concentrated kale flavor and nice salty crunch. The chips resemble very thin nori. 

The whole recipe uses only one tablespoon of olive oil, so you can indulge guiltlessly. 

If you love kale, you should definitely try this, but save a few for your kale-resistant friends. You may make some converts! 

These would be good with cocktails or crumbled on cheesy or garlicky pasta.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

[Note: Here's another contribution from guest blogger and grill king Kevin Ireton:]
I’m one of those guys who uses a grill more often than a stove, and I grill all year around, even though it frequently means brushing snow off the grill in the winter. Among my favorite things to grill are pork tenderloins. They come two to a package, so I have one for now and one for leftovers. And the meat is tender and tasty. But best of all, I don’t agonize over whether the darned things are done or not because I use a foolproof technique that I learned years ago from an article in Fine Cooking.
The recipe calls for brining the tenderloins for 45 minutes ahead of time, but I seldom bother with this step. I do it with pork chops, which have a tendency to dry out, but the tenderloins stay pretty moist. The article also calls for the tenderloins to be rubbed with a fruit glaze. But my wife and I prefer a simple mustard vinaigrette instead.
2 T. olive oil
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. Grey Poupon mustard
1 t. tarragon
I usually mix up a double batch, pour on some before grilling and some more when I’m serving.
The grilling technique is called the 7-6-5 method, and that’s pretty much all you need to remember. With the gas grill turned up to high and preheated for 15 minutes, you cook the tenderloins for 7 minutes on one side, flip them over and cook them for 6 minutes on the second side, and then turn off the gas (keep the lid closed) letting them cook for another 5 minutes. I usually let them sit a final 5 minutes on the cutting board before I slice them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dhal: A Pot on the Stove for Most Occasions

It seems that every culture has some version of a pot on the stove. In our younger days, we all had friends whose mothers or grandmothers always had a pot of sustenance on the burner, simmering away for dinners all week.

In Mexico, it seems that every house has a pot of refried beans welcoming all into the home. In Tim's family home when he was young, the default pot was goulash, frequently ready for a hungry bunch of children. In some of his friends' homes in the summer, it was pork and beans.

Our current favorite is a pot of Indian dhal. It's basically an Indian version of beans. Some Indians cook and serve them very soupy to make them stretch farther, and others serve them very dry. Either way, they're often served over rice.

Dhal looks very much like yellow split peas, which can be substituted for actually dhal. Dhal comes in bags of pink or yellow or light brown dhal. Our favorite is something called Channa Dhal, and we like it finished with enough liquid to be absorbed by the rice underneath it when served.

Our favorite recipe is from The Little Book of Vegetarian Indian Cooking, one of a series of skinny 6-inch by 6-inch books that include little books on chicken, Thai, barbeque, Mexican, dessert, and Chinese recipes.

There's just a hint of heat because of dried red peppers, and a hint of sweetness due to shredded coconut and cinnamon.

Here's the recipe for Spicy Channa Dahl:
1 cup dhal or yellow split peas
3 T butter or clarified butter, called ghee
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 innamon sticks, broken
6 green cardamom pods, split open at the top
2-4 dried red chiles, coarsely chopped (or 1 teaspoon of dried chile flakes)
1/2 t. ground turmeric
1/4-1/2 t. chili powder
1-1/4 t. salt or more to taste
2-1/2 cups warm water
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or large can of diced tomatoes, drained)
2 T. chopped cilantro garnish

1. Clean and wash the dhal and soak for at least two hours. Drain well.
2. Melt the butter over a medium heat and fry the onion, cinnamon, cardamom, and red chiles for 6-7 minutes or until the onion is lightly browned.
3. Add the dhal, turmeric, chili powder, and salt. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and frythe dhal for a further 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add the water, bay leaves, coconut, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer for 35-40 minutes (we let it go longer, and add water if necessary).
5. Stir in the chopped clantro, remove from the heat, and serve with rice.
The dhal can be frozen, so make a big pot and save some for later. The longer it cooks, the better it becomes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hello Avocado, My Old Friend

Here is another guest post from JP Vellotti. His last post was about Rice Wine Vinegar salad dressing:

In my last post, I thought Tim was overly generous labeling me as a cook; I simply make food hot. Sometimes, I can actually make food edible, as was the case during my lunch today.

I was painting the garage and didn't want to take too long a break, so I thought the Green Chile Verde burritos from Trader Joe's would hit the spot. While I was waiting for them to come out of the microwave (oh, the horror), I thought a little guacamole would complement them nicely. But we've been pretty light in the produce department these past few weeks, and no avocados were in the fruit basket. And then I remembered seeing one the other day in the fridge.

Yep, I found it, and when I cut it open, found a lot of oxidation in the flesh of the fruit. Instead of chucking it out, I was able to revive it into somewhat decent guacamole by adding the juice of 1/2 lemon and some tamarind hot sauce I brought back from Trinidad (I'm sure any hot sauce will do).

Given that avocados are fetching between $1.00 to $1.50 each, I thought it was a pretty good save.

As an aside, as I was eating lunch, I thought of this little ditty sung (with extreme apologies) to Simon and Garfunkel's, "Sound of Silence."

Hello Hass my old friend,
I've come to look for you again,
Because my belly's hungry,
I know you are the one for me,
But where can you be?
My avocado...

Behind those old salad greens,
or the wilted fava beans,
I remember when you were green,
But all I see now is something slightly brown,
and I turn away.
From what once was, my avocado...

When I saw you at Trader Joe's,
Behind the $7.99 heirloom tomatoes,
You were organic and that was OK with me that day,
and the Oregon Tilth and the USDA.
Oh, you had such promise, but I failed you,
My avocado...

If you weren't one of three,
Things different they may be,
The other two, well they made off with a lime,
In record time,
But I ask,
Who makes guacamole, with a trio?
And so my family bowed and prayed,
to the Organic Gods that day,
if you could just last one more week,
That would be really, really neat,
And we promised to correct all the wrongs in the Frigidaire,
But they didn't care.
And alas, I'm left with, a brown avocado...

How to Get Invited to Parties

[NOTE: We enthusiastically testify to the deliciousness of this recipe from guest blogger Kevin Ireton — R&T]
My mother started making ice cream pie 40 years ago. I don’t know what prompted it. We didn’t have the Food Network back then to show us how easy things are. And ice cream pie probably wasn’t covered in her well-worn copy of The Joy of Cooking. But in any case, she started making it and eventually taught me how. It is nearly as easy as opening a carton of ice cream, but you’d think you'd labored over a soufflé from the raves it invariably draws. And I’m convinced that it’s my habit of bringing an ice cream pie that gets me invited to parties.
The problem with most ice cream pies served in restaurants is that the proportions are wrong: too much ice cream, too little crust, and too little topping. When you make your own, this problem is easily avoided. Obviously, you can alter the ingredients to suit your taste, but here’s my mom’s traditional recipe.
Start by making a graham-cracker crust. This is the only real baking involved—if you can call mixing crumbs, sugar, and butter baking. You can buy a premade crust, but it won’t taste as good. Once the crust cools, fill it with Breyers butter-pecan ice cream that’s been sitting out on the counter long enough to soften. I generally get most of a half-gallon carton into the pie crust, leaving only a scoop or two for me to eat directly out of the carton. (I’m certain my mother never did this.)
Next, smooth the ice cream with a knife and cover it with Mrs. Richardson’s Hot Fudge, the whole 16-ounce jar. This is the trickiest part of the operation because the ice cream has to be just firm enough and the fudge just soft enough; otherwise the congealed topping slides off like a bad toupee. To temper the mating parts properly, I often use some combination of sticking the pie crust with ice cream back in the freezer and heating the fudge in a microwave (but not too much).
Once the topping is in place, cover it with pecan halves, resisting the temptation to create a decorative pattern or spell out something. Then put the whole thing  back in the freezer, and you’re done. Remember to let the pie sit out for ten minutes or so before serving.
I have tried making the whole thing with a chocolate-cookie-crumb crust and coffee ice cream, which was good, too. But it’s the recipe above that gets me the party invites.