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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

There's Good Fast Food at the Supermarket

Moving to Virginia has meant longer car trips to visit family and friends. Although we like to think of ourselves as the kind of people who are so well organized that we leave the driveway fully armed with delicious, healthy meals and snacks to sustain us in the hours ahead, we're really the kind of people who are always rushing around, and we tend to hit the road with little more than a bottle of water and a couple of cups of coffee.

This means finding food on the road, and as we've written, we try to avoid fast-food restaurants. But on a recent trip back from Upstate New York, we were starving, and pulled off the interstate into the usual neighboring sprawl of Wendy McBurgers, resigned to the usual fries and soda. But as we approached McDonald's we saw that there was a supermarket right next door. We could escape the fast-food rut!

In less time than it would have taken to order and receive our greasy fast-food bag, and for approximately the same amount of money, we grabbed baby carrots, hummus, and a bottle of water. If we'd been a little hungrier, we would have gotten pita bread, olives, and fruit to round out the meal. But the cold, crunchy carrots and tart hummus were incredibly satisfying, and we happily ate them with the knowledge that the next time we found ourselves road-bound and starving, we would have a delicious alternative.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

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Bargain Wine of the Week: 3 Blind Moose Chardonnay 2008

Here's a California Chardonnay that won't suck green out of your wallet. It's bright color is almost as golden-yellow as the cartoon label on the bottle. There's a bit of oak in this, but not enough to make the price reach the levels of most chards from the golden state.

This bottle costs $8 — no kidding — and could be served weekdays or weekends when friends come to your house for dinner.

There is some citrus and non-red fruit, but the wine is buttery, round and rich in your mouth. The winery says it has a bit of baked-bread taste as well, and we won't argue.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wine of the Week (Under $10): Yalumba Shiraz-Viognier 2007

Shiraz is what the Aussies call their syrah grapes and wine. When you live down under, you can flip anything around and call it what you like.

In this case they're pretty good at it. They've made shiraz their own and they make it sing.

For those who like red wine that's not as chewy and dark and intense as cabernet sauvignon, shiraz/syrah is a nice relief.

Yalumba has blended its shiraz from the famous Barossa Valley with viognier grapes from Eden Valley and come up with a smooth red that brings raspberries and plums to the table, but cuts them with cedar. Like a zin, this shiraz has a light dusting of pepper and coffee and anise.
This 2007 Yalumba won an 89 from Wine Spectator, which was a lower rating than it received in the 04, 05, 06 and 08 versions. But it's pretty darn good, and you only pay $10 for a bottle. As regular readers of Eat Well, Eat Cheap know, we don't eat much red meat around here, but this bottle of shiraz went incredibly well with our ratatouille and a fillet of grilled salmon.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ratatouille, Tian or Confit Byaldi: Great Company Food

Whether they know it or not, most people have probably had ratatouille, the French dish of cooked vegetables. In the cartoon movie "Ratatouille," the chef Remy, who is a rat (literally) makes the title dish at the end of the movie. To help the director show a fancy version of ratatouille, real-life famous chef Thomas Keller (French Laundry; Boulud, Per Se, Ad Hoc) made a version called Confit Byaldi.

Like ratatouille, Confit Byaldi is made with zucchini, tomato and eggplant, but they are sliced very thinly and arranged neatly in rows or a spiral in the dish. It reminded us of a Tian that we make from Ina Garton's "Barefoot Contessa" book. The Tian contains potatoes instead of eggplant, is sliced slightly thicker and is layered in neat rows on top of a sauteed onion and herb base.

The Confit Byaldi veggies are layered neatly on top of a piperade, which adds roasted yellow, red, and orange peppers and tomatoes to the onions.

We made one the other night and absolutely loved it. It is a good vegetarian main dish or would work as a side for everything from grilled fish to roasted chicken to medium rare steak. Here is Thomas Keller's recipe for
Confit Byaldi:

The Piperade
1/2 roasted red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 roasted yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 roasted orange pepper, seeded and chopped
(you can substitute whatever colors you find)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup diced onion3 tomatoes (12 ounces total) peeled, seeded and finely diced
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat leaf parsley
1/2 of a bay leaf
kosher salt

In a medium skillet over low heat, add olive oil, garlic and onion. Heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.
Add tomatoes, thyme, peppers, parsley and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very little juice remains, about 10 minutes. Reserve a Tablespoon and spread remainder in bottom of a large oven dish or 8-12-inch skillet.

1 zucchini, sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 Japanese or chinese eggplant, sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
1 yellow squash, sliced in 1/16-inch rounds
4 roma tomatoes, sliced in 1/16-inch rounds1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350. In oven dish or skillet (with piperade on the bottom), arrange vegetables in a spiral, starting on the outside and alternating different kinds of veggies so that 1/4-inch of each slice is exposed. Continue the spiral around and in toward the center until the dish is filled (below). You might not use all of the vegetables. Mix garlic, oil and thyme in a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal.
Bake until vegetables are tender, about 1 hour. Uncover and bake about 30 minutes more. If using as a main dish, sprinkle grated parmesan cheese on top for these last 30 minutes of baking.

When it comes out of the oven, you can serve it. Or, you can cover, refrigerate and warm later in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. The official recipe calls for a vinaigrette to be drizzled over the byaldi when it's served, but we've never felt the need to do this. The vinaigrette is made with the reserved tablespoon of piperade, 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme and chervil, and Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Great Red Values from Portugal

We have a few wines from Portugal in our cellar, but we don't know much about wines from the sliver of land on the western edge of Spain.

It appears that 2007 was a great year for red wines from Portugal, especially those from the Douro and Dão regions in the northwest.

The spring in 2007 was wet, but the grapes that survived produced great wine. Since the mid-90s, more than 40 red wines from Douro have scored 90 or higher on
Wine Spectator's 100-point scale and five scored 95 or higher. Most of these great wines were produced by well-known Port houses and cost $50 to$155 a bottle.

However, the two regions also produced many great values under $10, according to Wine Spectator. Here's a sampling to look for at your wine warehouse:

  • Encostas Do Douro Douro Palestra 2007, 91 rating, $10
  • Vinhos Douro Superior Douro Castello d'Alba 2007, 89 rating, $10
  • Goanvi Estremadura Castel do Sulco Reserva 2007, 88 rating, $10
  • Avelda Douro Charamba 2007, 88 rating, $8
  • Casa Santos Lima Estremadura Quinta de Bons-Ventos 2007, 87, $9
  • Herdade Do Esporão Alentejo Monte Velho White 2008, 86, $10
  • Symington Family Douro Altano 2007, 85, $8
  • Jose Maria Da Fonseca Vinho Verde Twin Vines 2008, 85, $9
  • Casal Branco Ribatejo Qunita White 2008, 85, $9

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saying 'Aged in Oak' in Spanish

From the time that we spent in California wine country we learned a lot about Sonoma, Napa, Central Coast, Valley of the Moon and all of the other appellations. From there it wasn't too big a stretch to Oregon and Washington.

We could ride our bike to wineries along the Russian River, where we learned much about each grape, every winery, the differences between the valleys and even changes from one vineyard to the next.

But we admittedly have a lot to learn about the nuances of French, Spanish and Australian wine and wineries. So it might come as a shock that we never knew what "Crianza" meant on the label of some Spanish wines.
It means that the red wine has spent a minimum of six months in oak barrels — and in the case of a wine from Rioja, 12 months in wood casks.

For wines that had not been aged in oak, the slightly derogatory term used to be sin crianza. But in the last 10 years, that term has been replaced by joven. The Sabor Real Toro red we recently reviewed included "joven" on its hind label. It would not be uncommon to find the term on value wines from Spain. It doesn't mean they're no good. It just means that they're not as complex, which makes sense, right?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Make It Yourself: Cornbread

We're mystified by how many people use mixes to make cornbread when it is almost as easy and fast, and much cheaper, to make it from scratch. In our favorite recipe, from Bread, by Beth Hensperger, buttermilk provides tanginess and moistness and eliminates the cloying sweetness common to most box mixes.


1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal*
1/2 t. salt
1 T. baking powder
4 T. sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
4 T. melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a good-size bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and sugar. (If the baking powder is lumpy, first push it through a fine strainer to prevent the harsh-tasting lumps from cooking into the bread.)

2. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, buttermilk, and butter. Add to the dry ingredients. Gently stir until it's just mixed.

3. Transfer the batter to a greased pie pan or square baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the bread gets a nice, brown crust and a knife comes out clean. If you like your cornbread on the moist side, check it at the 25-minute mark; it may be baked enough for you.

4. Devour, but remember that the leftovers are wonderful split and toasted.

* Any cornmeal works well, but we think a mixture of coarse and fine provides the most interesting texture. Again, it's a matter of taste.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Little Miso Boosts Flavor

Everybody is familiar with the four basic flavors—sweet, salty, bitter, and sour—but there's an elusive fifth flavor known as "umami." It's harder to define than the other four, but it refers to savoriness, a quality that blends in well with others to round out the flavor of a dish. Parmesan cheese has this quality; so do mushrooms.

We've been reading about umami for years and thought we understood it, but we never really got it until a few weeks ago, when we found ourselves with a big pot of underflavored leek and potato soup. We'd made this soup at least a hundred times over the years, and although it occasionally needed an extra dose of salt, butter, or Bragg to fill out the flavor, it had always been reliably delicious.

This time we had big beautiful leeks and a fresh bag of potatoes, and we had taken care not to add too much water, just covering the sliced veggies with liquid before we turned up the heat. What happened? We still don't know, but even after we added salt, Bragg, and butter, the soup lacked flavor. We knew that if we added any more salt, Bragg, or butter, we'd just end up with a pot of salty, Braggy, fatty, underflavored soup.

Then we thought of adding miso. After all, miso and water make a fine, simple, flavorful broth. We had a small tub of sweet yellow miso in the fridge, so, using the strainer method, we stirred a couple of tablespoons into the soup. Just like that, we had flavor; just like that, we really understood the concept of umami. The miso added depth and interest without unduly amping up the salt or adding a strong miso flavor.

There are many, many kinds of miso, ranging from the mild yellow version we used to dark, beefy concoctions reminiscent of demi-glace. (All are based on fermented soybeans and completely vegetarian.) You may be able to find miso in the refrigerated section of your produce department; if not, look for it in a health food store or Asian market.

Experiment, and you'll find that miso is a delicious, easy way to add flavor to soups, sauces, and salad dressings.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wine Week: Ortas Rasteau Cotes du Rhone Viguiers 2007

This is a lighter red than a typical Cotes du Rhone, but that makes it the kind of red wine that goes with everything from pizza to pork. Great with a casual dinner of little nibbles or various cold meats. The winery says it will stand up to calves liver and we'll take its word for that.

Made from mostly grenache grapes grown on a small chalky hillside outside the southern France village of Rasteau, the Ortas Rasteau Cotes du Rhone Viguers 2007 is an inexpensive way ($10) to drink a French red wine that Wine Spectator rated 89. But buy it and drink it this year. It's not going to improve in the bottle the way more expensive wines do.

It is light ruby colored with lots of red fruit such as boysenberry and cranberry along with spice cake and a slightly peppery finish.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wine Week: 2 Brothers 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva

Given our pleasure finding and drinking Chilean wines over the last five years, we couldn't let Wine Week pass without including a wine from Chile, especially with the earthquake there that killed 800 people and ruined hundreds of millions of liters of wine.

Chile has great bargains and values (not always the same thing). We've written about it a lot here, because it's relatively easy to find Chilean wines under $10. And many of these are great, tasty values.

Within Chile, we consider the Colchagua Valley, our little secret valley of superb wines. Ever since we discovered MontGras Carmenere, we've never had bad luck buying a wine made in the Colchagua Valley in the middle of the country known as Region 6. We're sure there are terrible wines from the valley, but we haven't found one yet.

Our latest discovery was 2 Brothers 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva. It retailed for $15 when it was released, but we bought a case for $8.33 a bottle (and no shipping) from What a bargain AND value. Robert Parker and Wine Spectator both gave it an 88. Not bad for a really good $8 weekday wine.

It smells of blackberries, currants and cedar and tastes of chocolate and spice and toast. Lots of berries and cassis in here. It's certainly chewy, but its not so thick that you couldn't drink it with non-meat dishes, which is how we had it.

And one last thing, the two brothers give $.50 from every bottle sold to breast cancer research in honor of their mother, who loved the Fleur de Lys that is on every label. They've already passed the $1 million contribution mark and have started expanding their gifts to other charities.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wine Week: Hogue 2007 Cabernet Merlot blend

This Hogue red is not as good as the Hogue Chardonnay we reviewed earlier in the week, especially given that good $10 whites are a lot harder to find these days than $10 reds, which are abundant.

Having said that, Hogue is a pretty reliable buy if you're in a small wine store on the way to somewhere and have to pick up a value red wine that you know will work no matter what the host is serving.

By blending merlot and cabernet grapes, Washington State's Hogue winery can make a distinct wine for this price category. It is not terribly complex, but has some oaky taste backed by cherries and other berries for fruit — along with some cinnamon and spice for balance.

There are better under-$10 wines, but if you're stuck for a bottle and this one happens to be in the store, it'll do nicely. If it's white sister is on the rack, definitely bring her along to dinner.

Wine Week: Sabor Real Toro 2006

Spanish wines continue to be an amazing value. If you are looking for a red wine, pick what you like but don't buy before checking out the aisle of Spanish wines in your local store.

If you are like us you don't know as much about Spanish grapes and wineries as you do about France or California, or even Chile, Australia and Argentina. But we find wines from Spain to be consistently reliable in the $8-$15 range. That's difficult to say about any wine region.

And when a Spanish red gets a 90 from The Wine Advocate and costs only $9, well, you've got a winner for weekday dinners at the very least.

We stumbled upon such a bargain recently. Sabor Real Toro 2006 came highly recommended in an eLetter we received from an online wine dealer. We looked up reviews and found the very high 90 rating noted above and the reviewer who said, this is the wine to buy by the case. So, we did.

Dark-colored, full-bodied, with "gobs of spice," and lots of fruit (blackberry) , you'd think this wine would be good only with a big steak. But we don't eat much steak. In fact, very very little red meat. And yet, this wine is well matched with anything spicy or not delicate.

At the $9 price, this Spanish red is at least worth a try if you see it in your store. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wine Week: Hogue 2007 Chardonnay Columbia Valley

Washington State's Columbia Valley looks more like a desert than a lush wine region. Unlike the other (western) side of the Cascade Mountains, the eastern side is not green and has few trees.

But the days are hot and the nights are cool, a good start for wine-friendly weather. And the rocky soil is somewhat difficult growing ground. But again, bad ground makes for good wine grapes because they strive harder and grow less fruit. The fewer grapes concentrate the nutrients in luscious wine grapes.

Hogue is not on the list of wineries that produce Washington's premium wines, but like Beaulieu and Beringer in Napa Valley, it produces very good value wines. It's 2007 Chardonnay is $10 and it makes us happy when we open a bottle for dinner (or socializing) because we know it will be predictably good.

This wine won't stand up to a burly tomato sauce, but it is great with fish fillets, a light pasta dish, clams or a crisp salad. It smells of pear and a bit of citrus, and tastes of pear and honey. It is not as complex as a $40 Chardonnay, but it is round and crisp.