Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Just a quick post to wish everyone a great Memorial Day.  Amidst the beer, burgers and barbecuing, just take a moment to reflect on the reason for the day.

That being said, here's the first rib porn of the season:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Same Sparkle, Less Lira

I love Champagne.  I would drink it to celebrate the start of the evening news.  Realizing an exciting fact like it was Tuesday, I would send corks flying. I would brush my teeth with it.  I would dab it on as after shave.   I have often and loudly declared my never ending love to it.  Champagne is intrinsicly perfect except for one issue, it is a bit pricey.  Luckily, like the beautiful ugly person in romantic comedies, there is a more accessible hottie.  When the sparkling wine urge hits hard, but the cash reserves are light, there is Prosecco.

Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made from the eponymous grape.  The wine,  mainly produced in the Veneto region, may date all the way back to Roman times. However, Prosecco did not see much US importation until 2000.  Once it landed on these shores, Prosecco's  popularity took off faster than a flying cork.

Sparkling wine can be produced using a variety of methods.  Prosecco is made using what is known as the Charmat method.  This process is less expensive than the  traditional method that true Champagnes must use.  Sparkling wine needs to undergo a secondary fermentation.  This is what produces the sparkles in the sparkling wine.  No bubbles, no bubbly.  In a true French Champagne, the secondary fermentation must take place in the bottle.  Each bottle of wine needs to have yeast and some form of sugar added to it.  It is then capped with a standard bottle cap like you find on a beer.  The yeast feasts on the sugar producing the gas to form the bubbles.  In a Prosecco, they just dump the still wine into large tanks with sugar and yeast to undergo the secondary fermentation.  This bulk process is much less expensive than doing it bottle by bottle.  Once the secondary fermentation is complete, the sparkling wine is bottled and rushed to market.  Prosecco waits for no one, it is best enjoyed as fresh as possible.

So, what does this stuff taste like?  It has a nice bright, brisk taste, with  fruit flavors front and center.  Prosecco lacks the bready, biscuity, yeasty flavors that a Champagne has.  While Prosecco does not clone the Champagne taste experience, its own unique flavor is highly enjoyable.  Prosecco is most often enjoyed as an aperitif, but I find it quite food friendly.  The acidy and the carbonation make it a perfect accompaniment to fried foods.

I know, I got you all excited by Prosecco and you are just waiting to be let down. You are expecting me to tell you this stuff is a bargain at $30 a pop.  No fears there, Prosecco is a steal.   You will be hard pressed to find one retailing for more than $20.  The majority are under $15 a bottle.  The nice pink one in the above photo was $10.99.

When the mood to celebrate hits and you wallet has more cobwebs than cash, you now know what to do.  Pick up that bottle of Prosecco, pop the cork, and you won't miss the Cristal.  Well, you may miss it a little, but think of all the bling you can buy with your savings.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine

The open door let out a rush of cold air, drawing us in surer than any siren's song.  The AC slowly cooled our heat addled brains into rational thought and we began to notice the photos on the wall.  Nixon, Brezhnev, Carter, Princess Di all smiled back at us, glass in hand, toasting.  What filled these glasses besides history?  It was Schramsberg sparkling wine.

Schramsberg's history is impossible to separate from that of Napa Valley's.  In the nascent years of wine making in the area, Schramsberg was there.  The property first produced wines in the 1860's under the leadership of barber/wine maker/German immigrant Jacob Schram.  Some one hundred years later, the Davies bought the rundown property, started making sparkling wines and started making history.

Keeping a sharp eye out for the turn, you leave the heavily traveled Route 29 and head uphill and though the woods.  Grandma isn't there to great you at the top, but the statue of a very happy frog, "Riddlers Night Off", is.  You enter the mercifully air conditioned waiting room and the adventure begins.

A knowledgeable tour guide led us out of the reception area into the caves.  These are honest to goodness, "Be quite, sparkling wine sleeping", caves.  Dark, cool, moss hanging off the wall caves.  Caves filled with thousands of bottles of sparkling wines awaiting their time to shine.

The one thing that really stood out about Schramsberg is that they riddle they're bottles by hand.  In this day of automation, Schramsberg still has a man turn the bottles by hand, slightly angling them up, until all the sediment migrates to the neck of the bottle.  The neck is then frozen and the bottle opened, the frozen plug of dead yeast flying out, leaving the crystal clear sparkling wine behind.  I've met the riddler, and he looks at least 20 years younger than his 62 years.  Maybe there is a new fitness class in here.  Spend an hour turning bottles in a rack then rehydrate with sparkling wine.  I thing that class may be a winner.

Real caves, world leaders and hand riddling does not exactly spell out a recipe for a bargain wine.  The flagship vintage sparkling wines do command a premium price.  A sip or two confirms that this was money well spent.  They also offer non-vintage sparkling wines under $25 for those less important celebrations like say, Tuesday.

In this era of endless self promotion, Schramsberg has quietly been producing some of this country's best sparkling wines.  A visit to the winery is one of Napa's true must do activities.  Who knows, if that political career of yours pans out, it may be your inauguration photo on the wall.

If you do plan on going, you must  reserve a tour time.  The tour costs $40 but I must say is worth it.  You can get all the tour related information at:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's Hot in the Dog House

Due to a bit of a spat, your's truly has been in the dog house lately.  In order to counteract the tangible chill in the air, I've been making some spicy food.  Since E wouldn't eat anything I made for her anyway, I might as well grab the cayenne and have at it.

E doesn't like spicy food, so my hands are pretty much tied when I start eyeing Cajun and Thai recipes.  Since I am only cooking for myself, I can go to town, Scoville units be damned!  I whipped up the jambalaya we made a week or so ago in the Cajun and Creole class a few weeks ago.  I was nearly giddy as I put in the full amount of cayenne pepper and maybe, just maybe mind you, a little extra.  The dish was perfect.  It certainly had enough kick to make you sit up and notice, but not enough to make you lunge for a beverage.

Having had leftover jambalaya for lunch yesterday, I was not too peckish when dinner time came around.  When I did start to get hungry, I couldn't stop the image of a shrimp cocktail from swimming around in my brain.  This was a double whammy dish for me, spice and seafood.  I whipped up some homemade cocktail sauce, cooked up some shrimp and entered Nirvana.  It was just what the doctor ordered, spicy, lemony and briny.

Maybe being in the dog house is not such a bad thing....

Thursday, May 6, 2010

When It's Raining, Raid the Fridge

I was so wanting pasta on Tuesday.  Not some fancy or even authentic Italian dish, but more of an Italian American Sunday "gravy" kind of meal.  The kind of slow cooked sauce, filled with meaty treats, that graces the tables of Italian American families.  I looked out the window and the skies were the color of impending doom.  Seconds later, rain was falling in torrents.  Even though the supermarket is literally across the street, I it would border on insanity to venture out in this.  I grabbed a Lydia Bastianich cookbook and started browsing.

Within seconds I ran across a recipe that was perfect.  It was almost as if Lydia poked around my kitchen and came up with this dish.  Well, it wasn't 100% perfect, but it was close.  I had the pancetta in the fridge from about a week ago, I always have cans of tomatoes and of course I have onions, lots of onions.

My take was not 100% faithful to Lydia, but I made do.  I did not have fresh basil and I did not have whole, canned San Marzano tomatoes.  I just had dried basil and good old canned Jersey tomatoes, crushed.  I also did not have spaghetti, only short pasta.  E hates long pasta, so I just buy the short shapes like ziti, farfalle, etc.  I had this open bag of this funky snail shaped pasta that I pressed into duty.

In the end, it was pretty darn good.  I think it was more tomatoey than Lydia envisioned, but the taste was there.  The hollow parts of the snail shells filled up with the sauce making them an unexpected hit.  Into each life, a little rain must fall.  This time, it made me cook a memorable meal, while staying dry.

Recipe adapted from Lydia Bastianich

1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, sliced
6 ounces of pancetta, unrolled and cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes(or to taste)
Salt to taste(be cautious, the pancetta is salty so be sure to taste)
Parmesan cheese to taste
One pound of pasta

Sweat the onions until soft, 2-4 minutes
Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often for 4 minutes
Add the oregano, basil and red pepper  and cook for 1 minute
Add tomatoes and stir well
Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes

In the meantime, bring water to a boil and add pasta of your choice
Cook till al dente according to package directions
Drain pasta reserving one cup of cooking water
Put pasta in pot with sauce
If sauce looks too thick, add some of the pasta cooking liquid to thin it out
Cook pasta in sauce for a few minutes
Add cheese and taste sauce.  If salt is needed add more cheese or add salt
Alternately, if you are not serving an army.  Cook less than one pound of pasta.  Add desired amount of sauce to pasta and cook, reserving extra sauce for another meal.
Serve with additional cheese on the side.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Summertime, and the Living is Sweaty

The first salvo of summertime temperatures has been fired here in Hoboken.  In order to retaliate, I got up extra early on Saturday morning to get the grill ready for the upcoming season.  An hour and lots of elbow grease expended, the Weber is ready for a summertime of flame kissed goodness.

The first order of business was to procure a good steak and some wonderful asparagus.  A nice ribeye was seasoned with a barbeque rub and cooked to medium rare.  The asparagus was hit with salt, pepper and some good olive oil and quickly grilled.  The meal was simple, tasty, and served as the perfect opening to the summer grilling season.

Sunday was the semi-annual Hoboken Art and Music Festival.  Sunday also saw temperatures in the mid to upper 80's.  If this was July, I would have thought nothing of it  But since this was only May 2nd, the body and mind was not ready for it.  I did stay to catch some fun sets by The Doughboys and Purple Knif.  The Doughboys cranked out some blues based originals as well as some classic rock classics.  Purple Knif performed garage and surf rock instrumentals, some of my favorite types of music.  The heat just proved too much for me and I did not stay for Fountains of Wayne.  Yes, the Fountains of Wayne, the festival always gets some fairly big name act to perform.  For free.  Yes, I am lucky to live here.

I arrived home to some welcome air conditioning.  Sam the Cat seems to be happiest sprawled out on the coolest surface he can find.  I marinaded some chicken thighs in lemon juice, olive oil, thyme, bay leaf and garlic.  By the time I grilled these, the outside temperature had dropped to the 70's. so it was quite pleasant outside.  These ribs just hit the spot.  All the flavors from the marinade matched perfectly with the grilling flavors to make a quite toothsome dish.  Can't wait to see what the rest of the season has in store.