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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Use Gourmet Cookware As Plateware

We saw a clever idea for a dinner party in the latest issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Use your special gourmet cookware or some other non-traditional item as a serving platter or as plateware.

For example, you could use a picture frame with an appropriate photo as a serving platter, e.g. Sushi served on a frame with a photo of a beach or the sea.

Or if you have similar Le Creuset pans, use them as plates for a hot entrée.

One we've seen in restaurants lately is the small-single serving of dessert in a shot glass for those who don't want to overindulge in sweets.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bargain Wine of the Week: 2009 Bordeaux?

As a blog that preaches “eat cheap,” and exalts good wines costing less than $10, Eat Well, Eat Cheap doesn’t get much of a chance to talk about wines from Bordeaux, the most acclaimed wine region in the world.

It might not be the birthplace of wine, but it is certainly the Mecca of wine. Both because of the marketing value of its name and the actual greatness of its wine, Bordeaux wines are so expensive that four figures is not an unusual price.

But if you’ve been watching your online wine bargains lately, you would be excused for wondering whether the decimal point had been misplaced. $10.99, or even $9.99, is not uncommon for more than a few 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux bottles.

So, what gives? Are these wines any good? The answer, as is so often the case, is yes and no. Yes, there are Bordeaux bargains to be had. But no, not every $10 Bordeaux is worth even that miserly price. The new, lower prices are the result of lots of factors, but mostly it’s because the world’s wine regions produce an oversupply of wine and because 2009 and 2010 were good years in Bordeaux, both in quantity and quality. Only bad wine makers shipped bad Bordeaux in these years, so that’s good news for wine drinkers who want to try a Bordeaux that they normally wouldn’t even consider.

What to do? It’s somewhat difficult because the big names of Bordeaux are not dropping anything on the market at a reasonable price. And when you get into the unknown cousins of grand cru who live out in the Bordeaux burbs, the names are mysterious and the quality can be anything from rags to silk.

There are lots of DOCs (appellations or sub-regions) even within Bordeaux. Some you might look for are: Cote de Castillon, Cote de Blaye or Entre Deux Mers. These DOCs are all on the right bank of the Gironde River that splits the region. As with all Bordeaux output, the wines are blends of several grapes, but the Right Bank wines are typically Merlot blended with Cabernet Franc.

You still might have trouble finding a good Bordeaux for less than $10, but you could certainly find good bottles for less than $20 or $30.

These outlying DOCs, including the ones mentioned above, are the place to look. And while there is a big argument in rarified wine circles about whether ’09 or ’10 is the better vintage, our recommendation in the short-term is to go with an ’09, because they tend to be slightly fruitier and less tannic than the ’10s. The 2010 wines will be great, but they probably need a little time in the bottle.

Still confused about what to buy? Good, because there’s a lot of Bordeaux swill out there on the shelves.

With some help from our friend Paul Spring and lots of reviews, here are two suggestions:

1. If you see one or two reasonably priced ’09 Bordeaux bottles on the shelf of your local store or at your favorite online merchant, Google that wine and vintage to see what other online merchants and reviewers are saying about it. If they’re silent, stay away. If several are praising it, buy away.

2. Go to the biggest wine merchant in your area — one where they sell at least some Bordeaux wines — and tell them that some knucklehead who writes a wine blog said there are good ’09 Bordeaux wines to be had at decent prices and could he recommend one or two?

Take a chance. Buy a bottle or two at whatever price you can afford. Better yet, buy two and lay one down for 10 years in your cool cellar. If the first one tastes great now, go buy a case and put it away for a while. It will only get better.

You might not get a chance again for many years to put some inexpensive but good Bordeaux bottles in your cellar or on your table.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Can't Argue with This

Gawker says it better than we ever could.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pantry Project: Barley and Mushroom Risotto

The pantry project continues apace! We've had a jar of pearl barley kicking around the shelves for a long time; even though we love barley, we never seemed to get around to using it. Then we saw a recipe from Bon Appetit that used barley in place of rice to make a chewy, rich risotto.

We were skeptical at first—wouldn't the barley get tough? But it nicely absorbed the vegetable stock, and the final addition of sautéed mushrooms made for a satisfying winter dish.

Barley and Mushroom Risotto

4 1/2 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, or meat)
2 t. butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup pearl barley
2 t. chopped fresh thyme or 3/4 t. dried
1 bay leaf
2 t. olive oil
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced (we used Chinese shiitakes)
1 minced garlic clove
2 T. chopped Italian parsley (we used curly because Ruth hates Italian parsley)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring stock to boil in a heavy saucepan. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

2. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over low heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about five minutes.

3. Add barley, thyme, bay leaf, and two cups of hot stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until most of the stock has been absorbed, stirring frequently (about five minutes).

4. Add remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing it to be absorbed by the barley before adding more, and stirring frequently (about 45 minutes).

5. While the barley is cooking, heat olive oil in large skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms, and sauté until brown. Stir in chopped garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook until mushrooms are tender (about five minutes).

6. When the barley is done, add the mushrooms, mix in parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves four.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pantry Project: Great Cold Side Salad

In looking for a barley recipe (to use some of the multiple bags of grains in our overstuffed pantry as part of our pantry-reduction project), we stumbled into a great cold side salad recipe from It is one of those sides you could serve anytime, and it uses the sorts of ingredients that most people typically have around the pantry.

Our only problem was that our barley canister was short by a quarter cup. We quickly realized that this salad recipe's barley could be replaced by just about any grain or rice. We remembered that we had an overabundance of black rice, also called forbidden rice.

The consistency of black rice is about the same as cooked barley. You just have to make sure that you rinse it well so that the reddish-black cooking liquid doesn't color everything else in the recipe.

(We cold have substituted quinoa or faro or any of a number of other grains. But the black rice was crunchy and colorful.)

This salad would be particularly good in the summer, but it worked well in the cold depths of January as well.


2 cups cooked rice, barley or other grain
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 red pepper diced, or 1/2 red pepper and 1/2 green pepper, diced
3 scallions, sliced or chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

Cook the rice, barley, faro or other grain. A good rule of thumb is to cook the grain in twice as much water or stock, with a little salt, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Toward the end you might have to add a bit more liquid or drain off any excess. Just taste for doneness with a bit of crunchiness.

In a bowl, mix the first five ingredients.

In a small container with a tight lid, mix the dressing ingredients and shake well. Pour dressing over the salad and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

We've Got Worms

That may not be the most appetizing post title, but it's true: determined to keep making compost during the slow winter months, we've started a worm farm to make use of our abundant kitchen scraps.

Our homeowners' association short-sightedly restricts the size of compost makers that residents can use. This limits us to one of those small drum units that are better than nothing, but not much better—especially for two cooks who prepare and eat a lot of vegetables and produce a lot of coffee grounds. Last winter our compost maker had filled up by December, and because the compost process goes dormant in the winter, we were looking at the wretched and wasteful possibility of tossing our kitchen scraps until spring.

We tried saving scraps in a covered container on the patio. That handled the overflow well, but the spring thaw was very smelly and messy.

Then we remembered that our friend Chuck, a fine gardener and veritable compost king, had built a worm farm in his garage to handle kitchen overflow. A helpful website showed us how to make our own worm farm with nothing more than a couple of Rubbermaid containers, a drill, a scrap of cardboard, a few pages of newspaper, and a handful of yard dirt.

We ordered a pound of red worms online, and soon our farm was up and working. Although the worms slow down a bit in the cold months, we can see that they're doing exactly what they should be doing: eating, digesting, and making more worms.  Come spring, we'll add their efforts to our garden; in the meantime, we'll keep our new friends happy with buckets full of coffee grounds, eggshells, and other kitchen scraps.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Pantry Project Redux

Not too long ago we decided to concentrate on using up our pantry supplies, and although we made a fair amount of progress, our shelves still groan with containers of rice, grains, and beans, and our freezer is equally stuffed. Between our compulsion to try new ingredients, the abundance of fascinating ingredients at local ethnic markets, and our hatred of waste, we always seem to end up with Too Much Stuff. Now, in honor of the new year, we're resolved to draw down our supplies with renewed vigor.

So far we've gone through our freezer and pantry and made lists of what we found. As we hadn't completely emptied either place since moving into this house two years ago, this proved an interesting exercise. Apparently, we secretly expect a coming worldwide shortage of hot sauce—we found four unopened bottles. Our resolution to save bean-cooking liquid resulted in three-count-'em-three containers of white beans and their liquid. We found three large unopened packages of rice vermicelli—perfect for spring rolls, and enough to carry us deep into next year.

Does anybody have good recipes for black rice? Somehow we ended up with two bags of this mysterious grain, which was rare enough to be called Forbidden Rice long ago in China. Tim encountered it once in an Italian restaurant, but it seems to lend itself to Asian dishes.

Our plan is to "eat down" as much of this stuff as we can, preferably by using ingredients in combination.

Befuddled by how to use black rice in a nondessert dish, we threw a dart and tried this recipe from the blog Eat Make Read. Although the black rice dyed the edamame a scary dark color, the flavors were simple and lovely, and we'll make this recipe again. (Thanks to Trader Joe's, we always have bags of frozen edamame, which makes a great quick lunch or snack.)

When we picked through our giant basket of noodles, we discovered several bags of soba. Some of the noodles looked fairly new, though we honestly couldn't remember buying them, but another package seemed to date back to the last decade. Our common sense told us to compost it, but our frugality encouraged us to try it. So we mixed the new—well, newer—soba noodles with a handful of the old ones and were delighted to find that the old soba was just fine! Stir-fried with red pepper, onions, collard greens, and our all-purpose Chinese sauce, the noodles made a good fast dinner.

Still in a Chinese mood—and wanting to use up the beautiful but aging green cabbage we got in last summer's CSA box—we made a vegetarian version of Moo Shu Pork, using Boca crumbles we'd found in the freezer, shredded cabbage, slivered carrot, bamboo shoots, and some old tree ears we'd discovered in a Ziploc bag in the pantry. Served on flour tortillas slathered with hoisin, this dish made a swell end-of-the-weekend meal and had the distinction of using up three of our old pantry and refrigerated items.

Tonight we have another leftover trifecta: we're making a soup out of those old white beans and broth, some cooked collard greens, a single sausage patty we discovered in the back of the freezer, and canned tomatoes. Combined with a fresh batch of cornbread, this will make a delicious yet frugal dinner.

We'll keep you posted on our progress as we move through the stockpile!