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Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Happened to Us?

This photo pretty much shows how we feel when we consider our poor blogging output of the past month or so. But we hope to get some new posts up this week—please bear with us!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How to Mince Lemongrass

Sorry for the long drought of blog posts—it's our damn jobs; they really cut into our free time! Anyway, it's good to be back, and we'll start with a small but important tip that we discovered just today.

Much as we love Asian food, we've never found a good way of cutting lemongrass. No matter how much we peeled it, no matter how far down the stem we cut, we always ended up with woody little pieces that stuck out like bits of toothpick in whatever we were cooking. We tried lemongrass paste, but that was expensive and lacked flavor.

However, today we watched the Food Network show Chopped during lunch. If you haven't seen it, the premise is that contestants must whip up delicious dishes in very short time periods for the usual panel of picky foodies. On today's episode a contestant attacked a stick of lemongrass with efficient genius—she didn't bother chopping it, she simply grated it. Genius!

We'll cook something Vietnamese or Thai this week just so we can try this.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Château de Nages in Costières de Nîmes

We have for some time admired the red Réserve from Château de Nages. A Syrah and Grenache blend from the Rhône, it is a superb bargain at less than $10. It's white sister, made from Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, is also a very good bargain.

So when we found that on our trip to southern France we would be staying within 15 miles of the winery and its vineyards, we made an appointment to visit. Michel and Tina Gassier agreed, but apologized that since they were in mid-harvest, something less than a full winery tour was to be delivered. We understood, and showed up at the appointed time.

Michel is the great grandson of Joseph Torrès, who started the winery. Michel is the wine brains. Tina, his wife, is the marketing brains and described by everyone there as the "dynamo." We found that to be the case. But instead of the shortened tasting-sans-tour we were promised, Tina took us on a "no BS" tour that started in the vineyards to walk in the Grès, the rolled pebbles on red clay, and to taste the (in this case Carignan) grapes that were about to be harvested.

We have been on a lot of winery tours, but this apologetically shortened tour was our best yet. (Unlike the U.S., where it is typically OK to just show up at a winery, in Europe the custom is to call ahead or arrange your visit beforehand.)

As we noted earlier, this 2011 harvest is a puzzling one, and we saw that in the overripe seeds swaddled in under-ripe meat and skins.

Back in the winery, we toured the wine storage tanks as well as a carbon dioxide filled room of viognier filled oak barrels that left us all woozy. Deep inside the winery bowels, a small room of glass vessels and implements serves as Michel's chemistry lab, next door to the room that holds the framed photograph of JT, Joseph Torrès and the three bottles of wine that Michel seeks to emulate: a Chateauneuf du Papes from the other side of the Rhône, a German Riesling and a Burgundy from La Tâche.

Michel and Tina believe that their Mediterranean terroir should speak loudly in their wines; that "we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children;" and that since turning to organic farming, their grapes and wine are better than they have ever been.

After all of the touring and answering some questions from us, Tina turned us over to a lovely woman who led us through Michel's lines of wine. The Réserve is more of an entry to the line, which rises in quality through the Chateau de Nages Vieilles Vignes, the Château de Nages JT (for great grandpa Joseph Torrès), the Nostre Païs, and the chin-out aggressive Lou Coucardié.

Michel is one to watch, because he's always thinking, always inventing, but always letting his land and his grapes speak loudly.

The winery's website is

Green Olive and Caper Sauce for Meat, Fish & Tofu

At the exquisite Chaverdille restaurant in the little village of Caveirac, France, Tim's rare tuna steak came with a zesty sauce. He thought it would also be a great sauce for lighter fare such as pork, chicken or even grilled or sauteed tofu.

So, we tried to recreate it for our grilled tofu "steaks." The result was pretty close. This is a somewhat acidic sauce (but in a good way, as it helps take a somewhat bland piece of protein to a more interesting place. This is not a creamy sauce in the usual sense of what we typically think of as a sauce. It is more a collection of mildly pickled items blended in oil and wine.

We started with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter or butter substitute in a medium-hot skillet. We added three diced shallots, three diced garlic cloves, and let them soften and become translucent. Then we added 14 diced green olives (we left the pimento in) and a Tablespoon of capers, followed by 1 Tablespoon of diced tomato (we used canned for convenience). After about 3 minutes of cooking, the mixture was ready for a quarter cup of white wine, which we let reduce and flavor the sauce. A little salt and pepper, and the sauce was ready to go.

It was great on the tofu we had marinated in red wine, soy sauce and olive oil, and it would have tasted great on the white meats and fish mentioned above.

This sauce would be good with either a crisp, non-oaky white (Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay or a Viognier).