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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wine Blending

An interesting experience came my way this past weekend, the opportunity to test out a Cabernet sauvignon that a friend has purchased for bottling and sale.  One of the interesting issues that arose with this wine was that while it represented an good Napa Valley Cabernet, it lacked some color.  The color unadjusted was more of a dark brick maroon, not the deep red/purple color that we look for in a Cab. Here is a photo showing the wine and color.
Hopefully you can see that the color has a warmth to it that is not as desirable as could be.  To be sure, I have had some wonderful tasting wine that the color was off.  In fact, in my own beer brewing, I have had some brews that tasted incredible, but, the color was not true to style.  This wine represents the same paradox.  But, we have a cure.

In fact there are a couple of cures to this problem.  One more of a 'good living through science' process and one that is centuries old.  Mega-purple is an additive used in the wine industry that is essentially a concentrated grape juice derivative that can be used to adjust the color of a wine.  Since it is a 'natural' grape product, it is not required to be included in the labeling of wine.  The rumors are that many wines, even some very highly priced and rated wines use a touch or two of this product to correct color.  We chose the more traditional method of using a blending wine to adjust the color.  In this photo, you can see the Cabernet in the white capped bottle and the blending wine, a Petite verdot in the black capped bottle.
Here was the start of our blending session, there were three of us, one of the glasses had gone missing prior to my hitting the shutter.  As you can see, there is a graduated cylinder, the classic candle (for looks really) and some Reidel glasses.  We also had notepads, a calculator and a dropper to measure out small amounts of the blending wine.  The really surprising thing is how much of an effect the Petite verdot had on the Cabernet base wine.  

First we tested the base wine alone, it definitely showed the characteristics of a Napa Valley cabernet, this one showing extremely well integrated tannins, smooth black fruit and minerality along with a decent nose.  We are working with a wine from just below the Howell Mountain AVA, so this is somewhat off-style from what we were looking for.  The Petite verdot was not impressive on any account, it was extremely subdued in all aspects and certainly not a wine I would drink.

Upon blending to create a 99% CS-1% PV wine, we found that not only was the color greatly improved, but, the nose and tannins we more pronounced.  A 1% solution seemed so minute, yet the effect of the Petite verdot was quite noticeable.  Further blends of 3%, 5% and 6% produced even more profound improvements in the base wine.  Here is what dining room blending looks like...
Nothing quite like blending red wines on someone else's holiday table runner.   In the end, as big fans of Napa Cabernet sauvignon and big wines in general, we selected the higher concentration of 5%, as this offered a really nice dark ruby color to the wine, with pronounced tannins and fruit.  The blending of the Petite verdot really affected the overall appearance, but even more so, enhanced and defined the flavors of the base Cabernet wine.  Of course, the final verdict of this decision will not be known for over a year, as the blend ages in barrel.  After this, it was off to get some dinner.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Four Ingredient Challenge Game Hen

This is my first post for a blogging event created by some fellow bloggers which features four ingredients and the requirement that at least some part of the meal be prepared over a live fire.  We decided on four base ingredients that we each interpret in a manner that suits our cooking style and interest, then post on a given day each month.  This month, and my first challenge, has the ingerdient list of:

Mini-fowl, which I interpret as Cornish Game Hens
Green Beans
Yams, which I interpret as sweet potatoes
Cranberries, which I interpret as cranberries

I started with the grilling of the sweet potatoes as this ingredient was going to require a double cooking process. Here they are ready to go on the grill, after first being marinated in a simple olive oil and parsley marinade.  I also added some salt, to aid in moisture removal, just before putting on the kettle.
These were grilled until mostly done, probably around 85% done.  I then allowed them to cool and then fried them to crisp the outside. Due to the thickess, approximately 3/16", they were not going to turn into chips. I wanted them to have some chew for textural interest. After frying, they were hit with some kosher salt for flavor.

Next was the preparation of the three sauces I intended to use:

Sauce One was an cranberry/apple chutney that got a little over-cooked.  Still, the sweet and spicy components rant through.  You can see the aromatics and fruit (except apple for some reason) here.
 I used candied ginger, dried cranberries, apple chunks, lime zest, extra sweet onion, rice vinegar and salt to aid in drawing moisture out.  These were simmered until slightly over-done. I then added 1 tablespoon of cranberry-habanero jelly, a little fresh vinegar and some ground black pepper.

Sauce Two was a curry sauce made from a mix of lemon grass, garlic, lime zest, yellow onion and cornish game hen back and bones.  I sauteed the ingredients until the chicken bones were browned and aromatics wilted.  These were simmered for a couple of hours, strained and de-fatted.  Honestly, I do not know why I de-fatted the broth.  I added salt and pepper to correct the flavor once the simmer and straining was done.
 There were three additions of curry spice. I started with a Madras Curry powder (store bought) at the start of the saute. I added a second does of curry powder, this time a mix I made just before the simmer with the third addition occuring just as the simmer was done.  This third addition was done off of the heat and steeped into the broth.  Finally, just before serving, I reheated the broth and added in some coconut milk and some salt and pepper to adjust.

Sauce Three was an herb oil, made from olive oil, flat leaf parsley, spearmint, lemong grass, green onion and garlic.  The oil was heated and the elements of the herbs were added, heat was cut and the herbs were allowed to heat.  No sizzle, the object in to release aromatic oils and not to fry the herbs.  I then blended the oil and herbs to create a herbal oil.  One of the keys for me is to bruise the herbs with the back of the knife to break down the structure of the herbs.

Finally, I ended up marinating the chicken in a vinaigrette of olive oil, rice vinegar, spearmint, lemon grass, Bob's Top Rub rub and flat leaf parsley.  I then fired up the kettle and grilled the cornish game hens over a medium fire, hoping to get some smoke on the chicken.  I also grilled the beans, which were marinated in a similar vinaigrette after grilling.  Here are the chickens...
By the way, that is a Greenpan, which is supposed to be a ceramic non-stick pan, as you can see, unless I take a brillo pad to it, there is a problem with release.  It is now my pan to move stuff from the grill to the kitchen.  As you can see, there was an excellent color to the chicken skin, the marinade did a good job of flavoring the meat as well.  The salt in the Top Rub really helped with getting flavor into the meat.

Plating was a little fancier than normal, I had made some pie dough circles and wanted to do a Southeast Asian inspired, deconstructed pot pie plating.  The napolean of pie crust rounds, sweet potato chips, green beans and chicken was stacked up with some curry sauce introduced here and there, the plate was also covered with some curry sauce.  I decided there was a need for more veggies, so the beans were dressed with more of the herb oil and added, along with the cranberry/apple chutney.

Overall, the flavors and concept of this dish was outstanding.  I loved both the depth of the flavors and the way some flavors carried through the dish, while others contrasted perfectly with each other.  The addition of fire and smoke really contributed the additional complexity that made this dish work very well.

Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail - Entry Here
The BBQ Grail website was created in 2007, initially to document the author’s quest to find the perfect backyard BBQ experience. Since that time The BBQ Grail has become one of the more popular BBQ blogs on the internet and is listed on as one of the top BBQ blogs.
Paul Haight of No Excuses BBQ – Entry Here
The No Excuses BBQ website was started in January of 2009 as a way to record the author’s goal of cooking outdoors at least once a week throughout the year and showing the results to the world.  Somewhere along the way things got out of control…
Rob Bergstrom of In To The Flames- Entry Here
Rob launched Into The Flames in the summer of 2010 as a way to share his passion for cooking, eating, and exploring food.Robyn Medlyn of Grillgrrrl – Entry Here
Robyn Medlin is the “grill girl” behind Her focus is on healthy, simple and creative recipes on the grill. She encourages women to learn to grill as it a great way to create healthy, flavorful dishes without all the fuss and clean up in the kitchen. This “grill girl” holds quarterly “Women’s Grilling Clinics” as a way to encourage women to not be intimated by the grill. As a McCormick’s flavor correspondent for their “This Week in Grilling Campaign”, Robyn shares fun, tropical video recipes documenting her grilling adventures from her backyard in Sunny, Hollywood, Florida. 
Marc Van Der Wouw of Grill Adventures - Entry HereGrilladventures by broadcastmarc is started on march of 2010.I started the BBQ thing when I was 30,before that we eat a lot outside.have fun,but when the kids came in our life We start serious cooking.Most of it is realy healthy I think;-)The grill has a special place in my heart,We love to do things outside..Everything I make is an adventure,and sometimes we use the books.We try to grill as much as we can year round.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Biscuits on the kettle

I decided to make biscuits on my kettle.  They would become breakfast sandwiches.

They looked like this at the start.  They are not healthy, although they used very good ingredients, especially the organic dairy and king Arthur flour.  But, they were cooked over a fire running at 400F in lard.  Yes, in fact, lard that was used to make duck confit.  I cannot begin to explain why I did this, or how good they are.  Biscuits bake/fried in duck fat laden lard.
To assuage my guilt, a little, maybe, I added a saute of baby spinach, baby shiitake and onions over a nice country milk gravy and a smoked sausage patty.  The red stuff is cranberry habanero jelly.  I still think this is gonna be healthier than a McMuffin.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Steak Cubes in X-faux Sauce

I recently had the chance to check out some shots from my friend Rob on his blog Into the Flames which chronicles his travels in Australia. Amongst the incredible foods that he had the chance to eat was an old classic, a treat from my youth that we do not see here much, Steak Kau is how I knew it. Traditionally made with beef tenderloin cubes in a green onion and hoisin based sauce.  This was a standby of the banquets of my youth, where Cantonese food was the standard of Oakland and San Francisco Chinatown foods.  I was inspired to take a second look at this dish with a little live fire thrown in.

First, I decided that beef tenderloin was a little out of my league budget wise, so I went with flat iron roast, which is a remarkably tender cut of beef.  It is now finding favor in many restaurants as a more budget friendly cut of beef that closely mimics tenderloin in texture, while being a little more beefy in flavor.  I rubbed it with a dusting of Salt-free Dizzy Pig rub and then a second coating of my Top Rub. This was put on the kettle at a temperature of 300F with a chunk or two of peach.
Woo hoo! Fire is a burning.  Anyways, I let this go for an hour or so, just to get some smoke on and get the temperature up to 120F internal or so. Then onto the flames to get a little color and some of that good old fire onto the meat.
This was allowed to run over direct flames until done to about 130F, I chose to keep the fire as hot as possible to get the color and a little char while not over-doing the meat. I wanted it rare, as my intent was to cook it again once it rested and was cubed. I may have gone a little too long, but, the flat iron steak cut lived up to it's reputation for being tender.
And there it is, resting in my old BBQ pan.  I allowed the meat to rest for over an hour to make it possible for me to cube it into the size I needed for the end product.  I also made a sauce which combined elements of seafood, fruit, hoisin and pepper which I hoped would suffice for my lack of XO sauce.  Traditionally an XO sauce has dried shrimp and scallops, neither of which I had, but I did have some frozen shrimp shells and a few fresh prawns. What? You don't keep frozen shrimp shells in your freezer?  I added the drippings from the meat to the sauce as well. Veggies were prepared as well, green onions, young ginger, garlic and shiitake mushrooms all cut to size and separated for throwing into wok at correct time.
A quick tossing in a hot wok, fresh shiitake first, then the young ginger, white part of the green onions, then the garlic. I then added the steak cubes to the wok, tossed to heat and added the green part of the green onions and immediately added the sauce.  This was cooked long enough to set the sauce and then plated.
This sauce really worked great in this dish.

X-faux Sauce:
1/4 cup shrimp shell and prawn broth
2 tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1 tablespoon Peach Habanero sauce
1 teaspoon Oyster Sauce
Whisk together to combine.  I believe this sauce will work best cooked once with the meat and vegetables.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back to the Grill

Well, I am back to cooking on the kettle.  It has been since August 6th since I could cook on the kettle and make some good food.  I am still recovering from the troubles, but, I can get to the kettles which is a big deal.  And I have been wondering, what to cook for the first cook, prime rib, very fancy, or maybe a brisket, I would enjoy making a nice brisket or pork butt.  So many choices, go fancy with grilled lobster or shrimp etc...

What I chose was chicken, yes, chicken.  The maligned food of banquets and Caesar salads.  Well, not that kind of chicken, I am a huge fan of properly wood-fired grilled roasted chicken, I think it really shows off when you get it right.

When I was a child and through my teen years, I participated in an annual event at my church, it was the annual Teriyaki Chicken dinner feed, and out church really did it right. One of the keys was that we had a huge live fire pit, another key was the secret sauce, but, the key in my mind was that we dipped the chicken twice as we cooked it.  It was a right of passage to be welcomed to the chicken cooking, it was where the men worked. When I saw the double-dip, I knew this was a technique I wanted to hang onto.

So, I made up a rub for use on the chicken, rubbed it up and let it sit for 2 hours in a bowl. This was because I forgot to open the fire vents on the kettle, so it took an hour for me to realize my mistake and an hour to reset and refire.  The chicken looked like this.
Once the kettle was ready and rolling at 300F, the chicken was put on. My butcher and I had an issue today, which I believe he was a little offended when I mentioned the thighs looked tiny, hence I got the mixed bag of one regular one and 7 tiny ones. This could normally be an issue, but, I can handle that on a grill.
Once the chicken was on for about 40 minutes, it was placed in the chicken wash, tossed and allowed to sit for a few minutes. The process was repeated at around 50 minutes.  The idea is to dip and soak the chicken just as it reaches being done to aid in penetration of the wash. Top image is dunk one, second image is dunk two.
Once dipped, the chicken cooks on until done. In this case, about another 10 to 15 minutes, it ends up with a rich dark color and wonderful texture and flavor.  The wash is largely acidic with some sweet/sour flavors that really complement the chicken. The skin was crisp yet tender enough to bite through, which I attribute to the fact that apparently dwarf chickens provided the thigs, so the skin was very thin.
Here is the chicken wash recipe as well:

Chicken Wash/Dip/Bath
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Turbinado sugar
2 tablespoon rub mix
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons herb mix (I used Todd's Dirt which I grind down to a fine texture)

Thoroughly whisk ingredients prior to each use. Put in bowl and dip chicken when desired.

The nest time, I am using red wine vinegar, fresh chopped garlic, crushed onion instead of the cider vinegar and rub.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Jamaican Blue Mountain

First off, one of the things this blog is all about is the multitude of vices that I seek to hide from my doctors and medical team by broadcasting it out over the internet. This post is about coffee, something I have not blogged about before, but, I got to taste a special roast today.

I go into the local coffee shop, sit down to chat with the roaster, who was busy roasting some small batch of coffee.  She offered me 5 samples of ripping hot beans fresh from the roaster, once my fingers had recovered from absent minded picking up of the beans, I realized these were something special.

Could they be?  I was told they would not be purchased this year, but these were so sweet, with a light fruity/floral characteristic, mild acidity and a lingering finish, I start scanning the bean area and see the small cask. Indeed, it was Mavis Bank coffee.  This is one of the best coffees in the world.

After crunching through a few samples, I was pretty sure that roast profiles 3 and 5 were the best, I don't want to get into detail on the roast, as that is not my right to disclose.  But, this bean worked so well with a more moderate roast, even better as it closed in on what is called acceleration.  I can't wait for the brew.