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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week: Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2008

Chardonnays can be as grassy or light as a Sauvignon Blanc -- or as thick and buttery as fresh-squeezed fruit juice. Depending on your mood or what you're eating, either type might work very well.

Chateau Ste. Michelle's 2008 Chardonnay is somewhere in the middle between these styles. That's not a bad thing. For fish especially, sometimes you want a wine that won't overpower the food. After all, at dinner, wine is supposed to be a rhythm guitar, not the lead.

We tasted it next to the very California, very buttery, very thick and very rich Sonoma-Cutrer Chard, which we love. The Ste. Michelle could sit in the band right next to the Sonoma-Cutrer if the food isn't too rich.

This is an $8.45 bottle of white that rated a 90 by Wine Spectator, which said, "Bright and jazzy with pretty pineapple, grapefruit, elderflower and spice flavors that linger on the finish without excess weight."

The good news: this wine is widely available throughout the United States.

The bad news: it should be drunk before 2013 to be at it's best.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Year: Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Chilean wines are among our five current regional defaults for great bargain buys: Washington State, Australia, Rhone River in France, Spain and Chile.

The only problem with Chile is that there are still enough swill wines coming out of South America that you have to be as careful as you would be picking fruit in a grocery store without being able to touch it.

Here's a sure thing from Chile, and it's a whopping bargain to boot. Armador Cabernet Sauvignon from the Odfjell Winery in Chile's Maipo Valley was one of Wine Spectator magazine's Top 100.

We defy anyone to taste this blindly and not guess that you're drinking at least a $20 to $30 bottle of Cab. At $8.45 a bottle, it is far and away our Bargain Wine of the Year. This isn't an overly complicated wine, but it's got light cassis and berry fruitiness, and it'll make you smile every time you drink it -- if not from the exquisite flavor, then from the incredible steal you've got in your hands.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bargain Wine of the Week: Di Majo Norante Sangiovese 2008

Italy's Tuscan region is one of the most civilized and beautiful in the world. Florence is full of great paintings, world-class cathedrals, tremendous culinary offerings and centuries of history.

South of Florence, in the Tuscan countryside, vineyards of Sangiovese grapes cover the hillsides and form the basis of Tuscany's celebrated wine.

These red Tuscans can be expensive, but unlike France's Bordeaux, there are bargains to be had if you search for them. Many are obscure, and take some undercover work to find. One way to get a great Tuscan-style wine without the high price is to search for an Italian Sangiovese in a neighboring region such as Molise, southeast of Tuscany.

One low-priced and very tasty Sangiovese from Molise that we love is relatively easy to find in small wine stores throughout much of the U.S.

We've been buying this wine for at least three years and have noted it before: Di Majo Norante Sangiovese. We found bottles of the 2008 edition online for $8.95. This is a wine that critic Robert Parker gave a 90 rating.

While it's a good enough food wine, it's fruit-laden tastiness also makes it great for conversational sipping and enjoying with friends. No sharpness in this pleasing pasta and meat wine, and a finish long enough to carry you to the next course or topic.

This wine was one of the fantastic 90-plus bargains we found last month online. If you see it at your local wine stop, by all means pick up a bottle for your next Italian dinner.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mulligatawny Makes You Feel Better

There are many upsides to being a vegetarian, but one undeniable downside: it's tough to find comforting soup when you're getting sick. There's simply nothing that can compare in restorative properties to chicken soup. At least, that's what Ruth always thought, until weekend before last, when she started feeling bad.

She wasn't sick exactly, just achy and sniffly, with all the warning signs of an impending head cold. As it happened, Tim was craving Indian food—not just any Indian food, but the food served by one of our favorite local restaurants. The wind was cold and blowing in circles, so we bundled up and trundled off.

Chilled and cranky, Ruth only wanted soup, so she decided to try mulligatawny for the first time. Why had she never tried it before? Maybe there was always something more enticing on the menu, but that night, after the waiter assured her it was vegetarian, she hopefully ordered a big bowl.

She was glad she did.

Hot, lemony, subtly spicy from cayenne and subtly sweet from coconut, the soup made her feel better instantly. The next night she made a big pot at home, working off several Internet recipes. She intended to freeze half of it, but there wouldn't be enough left to freeze: in a cold, achy week, mulligatawny was the only thing either of us wanted.

But that head cold? It never happened (note: sadly, it did happen, not long afterward—R&T). Mulligatawny might work even better than chicken soup.

This recipe seems infinitely adaptable—some versions call for apples, some for green peppers and cabbage—so feel free to experiment. Just aim for a balance of spice, sour, and sweet.


1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onion
5 chopped garlic cloves
1 1/2 T. garam masala
1 1/2 t. ground coriander
1 t. turmeric
3/4 t. cayenne pepper
a couple of whole dried red peppers (optional, depending on how much heat you like)
2 bay leaves
2 cups dried red lentils
8 cups vegetable broth
1 medium-size potato, peeled and chopped
1 big carrot, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cans coconut milk
4 T. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
lemon wedges

1. Heat the oil in a big pot over medium-high heat.

2. Add the onions and cook until starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes

3. Add garam masala, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, dried peppers, and bay leaves. Stir for a minute. Add the lentils and stir until they are coated in spices.

4. Add broth, potato, and carrot and bring to a boil, then simmer until the vegetables and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.

5. Using either a hand blender or a regular blender, purée the soup until smooth. (If using a regular blender, do it in small batches to avoid burning yourself.)

6. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Easy Peasy Roast Chicken

Guest Blogger Amy Friedman shares her recipe for a classic comfort dish:

Every recipe book says roast chicken is THE easiest thing to cook. However, according to my friend Ruth, the lovely lady who helps run this fab blog, roast chicken is actually surprisingly tough to do well. For everyone, the tough parts are different: is it having moist meat? Tasty meat? Crispy skin? Hating basting? Could even be as simple as just takes too much darn time and attention. 

After several years of experimenting with various techniques, I finally hit on a surefire way to get a lovely moist roast bird with an absolute minimum of fuss and bother. Warning: If you're a huge fan of crispy skin, skip this recipe, as there won't be a lot - just some over the breast and around the legs.

The most important piece of equipment you'll need is a three-quart Dutch oven with a lid. 

Easy Peasy Roast Chicken

1. Buy a 3 1/2 -pound chicken. Unwrap, take out the giblets, and rinse. 

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. Put the chicken, breast side up, in the Dutch oven. If you want, you can dice an onion or two and sprinkle on the bottom. Sometimes I do, sometimes no. Put the neck (if it came with the giblets) next to the chicken.

4. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with your favorite mix of spices. I like black, red, and white pepper, garlic powder, oregano and dill. 

5: This is important: Take a largeish whole onion, slice off the top and bottom, skin it, and put it inside the chicken. This will keep the chicken from drying out. If you don't have an onion, an apple works fine. The onion's better, because you can eat it after the chicken has roasted.

6. Once the oven has heated, put the lid on the Dutch oven and stick the whole thing in the oven. 

Timing: 20 minutes per pound, plus an extra 20 to 30 minutes. If you've got a three-pound chicken, the bird will be in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours. 

For crispier skin, it's okay to remove the lid for the last half hour or so. However, I've found I get enough crispy skin for a happy husband without lifting the lid.

Once the timer bings (always use a timer!), turn off the oven, let the chicken sit in the oven for about ten minutes, then take it out. Uncover the chicken, let it rest for about 15 minutes, then remove it from the pot. 

Every time I've used this method, I've gotten very tender, moist, falling-off-the-bone chicken with nicely spiced, crispy top skin. If the chicken's fatty, I also get a lot of nice drippings, which I save and reuse.

The last chicken I cooked this way must have been an athlete, because there weren't a lot of drippings! What there was, however, was densely flavorful, so I used it to cook the snow peas I was serving with the bird.

The cool thing about this method is that you can break up the cooking time. For larger chickens, I've started it the night before, on very low heat (250 degrees), turned it off in the morning, and then restarted it at 4 p.m., turning the oven up to 375. (I leave the chicken in the oven during the day; the Dutch oven retains a lot of heat, which keeps the cooking process going almost like a barbecue.) 

Moist meat, crispy skin, no basting, no fuss. Pop it in, do your laundry or take a nap, and awaken to a great dinner. What could be easier?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mushroom Sauce without the Can of Campbell's—Easy and Much Better

The stores are always full of cremini (button) mushrooms, and often they are on sale. They're always good for you, and we've found that prepared correctly, they can enhance many, many dishes. So why do we insist on using canned cream of mushroom soup as a liquid binder in so many recipes when the glop is nearly tasteless and always too salty?

It turns out that making your own mushroom sauce or cream of mushroom concentrate is really easy—and it tastes so much better.

We purchased a bunch of cremini mushrooms and another bunch of shiitakes for a faux-chopped liver appetizer and had about two cups of each left over. We also had lots of turkey and lots of cooked green beans from our Thanksgiving feast. Sounded like a casserole to us, so we decided to make our own cream of mushroom soup to hold it all together—with a bit of help from our trusty old New York Times Cookbook.

We chopped the mushrooms roughly and chopped a good-size onion as well. Then we melted two  tablespoons of butter (we used Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread, which is remarkably like butter and doesn't burn when used this way) in a saucepan and heated the onion until transparent. We tossed in the mushrooms and sauteed them another ten minutes, until they had given up their liquid and started to dry out again. Then we poured in a half cup of white wine and a half cup of red wine and simmered the mixture down to a slightly wet sauce.

At that point, we took the mixture off the heat and stirred in three tablespoons of flour, a teaspoon of leftover gravy and a teaspoon of Braggs Liquid Aminos (for flavor). We added added a bay leaf and two turns on the pepper mill and a cup and a half of water (we'd have added stock, but we didn't have any handy). We added the water slowly, stirring constantly, and put the saucepan back on the burner to bring it to a boil before then reducing the heat and simmering the mixture for another five minutes.

After the five minutes of simmering, we removed it from the heat, removed the bay leaf and had a beautiful silky mushroom sauce that we could have served with steak, or pork chops, or chicken filets. We put it in our turkey (and faux turkey) casseroles with the leftover beans, dressed up with a half cup of cream and a pinch of kosher salt.

With double the stock and cream, we'd have had cream of mushroom soup. But our sauce was perfect for, well, a sauce—and for a casserole. It would work just as well in tuna-noodle casserole or any of those comfort-food favorites that we have stopped making because want to avoid the salty can of Campbell's.