• Thursday, November 23, 2006

    Rethinking Beaujolais - It's way more than nouveau, we just don't know it yet...

    We are honored this week to have local Boston wine expert, Jonathon Alsop write a guest column sharing fresh insights into this terrific, yet often overlooked wine.

    Rethinking Beaujolais
    hits the trifecta for Old World wine: it's the name of a grape, a wine, and a geographical region in France, all at the same time. Beaujolais the grape goes by other names confusingly -- gamay, for instance; the region is further broken down into regions and neighborhoods like Morgon, Fleurie, Saint Amour and at least a dozen others that would be hard to keep in your head unless you lived there.

    Beaujolais the wine is famous for essentially two things in the US: a version of itself called "nouveau" -- French for new -- a wine that's made and released the same year within weeks of harvest, and low prices. Really low prices. Order-now-and-save low prices. Very top of the Beaujolais food chain is about $25, the middle or bottom tier of wines in many other more famous French regions. In a typical wine shop, you'd have to look hard to find one for $20. Most are between $8 and $12.

    This nouveau phenomenon is not limited to the Beaujolais region, nor is it limited to France. Nouveau has been made for probably thousands of years in many different forms all over the wine-making world. Wine makers have always siphoned off a little bit of the early juice and made a quick easy wine to celebrate the harvest, or they've always wanted to. The Rhone valley in southern France makes very tasty nouveau in almost complete obscurity, and many wineries in northeast Italy make self-styled "novello" from an otherwise unknown grape called teraldego.

    When I say there's more to Beaujolais than nouveau, I want to make sure that comes out just right. I'm not anti-nouveau: I buy plenty of it every year. It's fun and frivolous, and in spite of itself, nouveau is interesting and a little meaningful, being the first wine from the new French vintage many of us will taste. But nouveau is in the $12 range, at least when it first arrives by air on the third Thursday of every November, and for only $5 more all year long, you can be drinking some of the best wines the Beaujolais region makes. This time of year, there's a huge rush on nouveau, and the rest of the time, people see Beaujolais on the shelf and think to themselves, "You're supposed to drink that stuff by New Year's, right?"

    Landscape Of Wines

    Imagine that the Beaujolais region is shaped like a wine bottle with the top pointing north and the bottom sitting right on the city of Lyon. The big southern end of the bottle is generic Beaujolais where most of the cheapest wine comes from. When you think about Beaujolais, the classic bistro wine, this is the region that affordable juice comes from. It's big and expansive (in European vineyard terms), relatively flat and accessible, and produces lots of easy-to-drink wine at a bargain price.

    As you move north towards the top of the bottle, the region tapers, until you have ten tiny wine towns all in a row filling up the neck of the bottle. They call these towns "Crus Beaujolais," and although "cru" doesn't literally mean crew, it's pronounced the same and means just about that. They hang together in the top tier, committed to high-quality region-specific Beaujolais.

    These ten towns -- Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Regnie, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin a Vent, Chenas, Saint Amour, and Julienas -- account for many of the best wines the region has to offer. Their soils and geographies are drastically different place to place, and since each town grows the same grape -- Beaujolais -- and makes wine in essentially the same way, it's fascinating to experience the flavor of the different landscapes right in the wine glass. The wine makers say the Beaujolais grape has a unique ability to photocopy the soil and render unique flavor profiles based on geologic composition. After a couple of millennia, the ground has evolved into the key variable element in the whole system. If you can remember the ten towns -- or at least remember that there are ten towns -- you're taking a small monetary step ($17-20 a bottle versus $12 maybe) but a giant leap in quality.

    Tasting Notes

    2006 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau (about $10) Bright berries, fresh fruit, tastes like a lot less alcohol than the label says, nice juice that won't last long this holiday season. I have a confession: I opened my top-secret sample before midnight on Thursday.

    2005 Georges Duboeuf Brouilly (about $13) Much more tannic grip than you expect from friendly, easy-going Beaujolais. Aromas of earth and dust, lots of bark and sap, fit for a piece of big red meat.

    2004 Georges Duboeuf Moulin a Vent (about $20) Smells just like ripe new world pinot noir, full of brown sugar and molasses. Tasted blind, there's no way I would have made this for Beaujolais.

    2005 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages (about $11) I know I said look for the ten towns, but the best producers are strong from the top to the bottom of the product line. This is a super entry-level Beaujolais for people who are new to the region. The wine has great fruit concentration, good tannin, lots of blueberry and blackberry flavors. As business-people say, it over-delivers, which for us consumers is refreshing.

    2002 Louis Jadot "Chateau des Jacques" Moulin a Vent (about $25) This wine absolutely turned my mind around about Beaujolais when I tasted it last spring at the winery. Herbal and aromatic, lots of earth and wood and spice, it had deep dark fruit flavors like dried figs and dates. Without a doubt, one of the best Beaujolais I've ever tasted, and only $5 a glass once you get it home.

    2003 Mommessin "Cote de Py" Morgon (about $20) Rich and ripe, almost sweet, with flavors of plum and peach and some dried fruits, dried apricot maybe. Really nice pervasive tannin. Fermented with wild yeast from the vineyards, but still tastes very refined and civilized.

    2003 Mommessin "La Montagne Bleue" Cote de Brouilly (about $20) Soils in these volcanic vineyards are literally blue from mineral deposits. The grapes come from a vineyard high on the slopes and facing southwest, and it tastes like it: ripe, concentrated blueberry flavors and exotic aromas of spring water and rain.

    2005 Manoir du Carra "Non-Filtre (Unfiltered) Beaujolais-Villages (about $14) Dark red, nearly opaque ruby color, lots of dark fruit like plum, cranberry, and blackberry. Nice and lean but fruitful and citrusy.

    2005 Manoir du Carra Julienas (about $22) Beautiful garnet color, awesome smooth texture, great spicy aromas come together to make a beautiful wine with real character. Julienas is the oldest of the ten towns, named for Julius Caesar when the Romans ran things.

    Duboeuf wines are available literally everywhere in the US. Louis Jadot is available through Kobrand, 212-490-9300. Mommessin is imported by Boisset, toll-free 800-878-1123. Manoir du Carra is distributed nationally by Kysela Pere et Fils, toll-free 877-492-7917.


    Jonathon Alsop has been writing about wine since 1989. He is author of the wine column "In Vino Veritas" as well as feature articles for La Vie Claire, Cultured Living, Beverage Magazine, the Associated Press, and many others. In addition to writing, Jonathon lectures on wine, conducts wine tasting classes, and hosts wine events around the country. You can reach Jonathon at jon@invinoveritas.com and read more wine writing at here. To learn about upcoming wine classes and events, click here.

    By Jonathon Alsop
    (c) 15 November 2006

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    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Wilde Turkey?

    I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said, "I love deadlines. I love the sound they make as they whoosh by."

    Even if you're having Turkey Trauma, you can still pull off a Thanksgiving feast in just under 36 hours. Check out my Ten Point Plan for Turkey Day Procrastinators and even the most highly talented procrastinators amongst you can do it.

    You know I love this holiday. This year I'll be chasing Kevin Brauch and others at The Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Show, so my Orphans', Refugees' and Procrastinator's Thanksgiving
    will be slightly delayed. I hope to bring you lots of great info on food and wine from the show.

    In the meantime, even if you're well prepared for Thanksgiving and not at all a procrastinator like me, you can add a little zip with some spice rub, compound butter, spiced nuts or a new sweet potato recipe. I share lots of tips, recipes and cheats in these articles. Invite some friends over and enjoy.

    God gave us our relatives, thank God we can choose our friends. (Ellen Mumford)
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    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    To Italy with Amore

    A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum.

    I've been busy creating my 2006 Gourmet Gift Guide. Through a couple of coincidences, I discovered a company that specializes in tours of Italy for food and wine enthusiasts. It came on the heels of my watching the new PBS show Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie. (as an aside: if you want to see opinionated food lovers debate the signifcance of the word "Foodie", check out Chow.com - Oy.)

    The episode we last caught with TiVo included the Home Food movement in Italy. An article I found on this phenomenon begins "All Italians remember fondly the delicious, comforting dishes of childhood cooked by their mothers, grandmothers, or other relatives." This movement began as a way to preserve the home cooking and regional cooking that Home Food Italy originators feared were disappearing. It's a fascinating and moving portrait of the (mostly) women home cooks, "Cesarine" cook in their traditional, regional fashion for total strangers in their own home kitchens.

    The Naked Truth
    Another insight into Italians and their passion for their food came from Jamie Oliver. In his new show (and now you think all I do is watch TV, not true!) Jamie's Great Escape, he visits various towns in Italy in an attempt to get him out of a funky, uninspired mood he's been in. First aired in the UK last year, it's now airing on various PBS stations in the States. It's quite fun and entertaining. You are also unable to get away from the absolute truth of the quote above. Jamie comes up against it regularly. Whether he's in Tuscany, a tiny island off the coast of Sardinia, or the monastery in a region called Marche.

    He's most dejected when he visits a monastery that's known to have the oldest herb garden in Italy and finds the monks eating tinned veggies and meals that he compares to the school lunches he's worked so hard at eradicating in the UK.

    I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen the show, but suffice to say I was nearly moved to tears by the power of food, of sharing the preparation and enjoyment of a meal together. It's well worth looking for this episode.

    So we say Arrivederci Italy
    In April, Gourmet Magazine's editor Ruth Reichl, says "Arrivederci Italy" and shares a fun story of her college days, following boys on Vespas to their home for dinner. And yes, there's a happy ending to the story. She learned that what Americans think of as "Italian" is really thought of in regional terms in Italy. Campania, Basilicata, Sardinia, Emilia-Romagna, Trentino-Alto Aldige, Sardinia and so on. Her story ended, with her request that her host tell his Nonna how grateful Ruth was to have "Finally tasted Italy." And then, with Nonna scolding her to remember it's not , but food from Campania. It's a beautiful story whose theme is echoed in each of these other stories.

    Regina Schrambling, AKA Gastropoda, writes a letter from Italy also on Epicurious.com. While she's enjoying a rapturous plate of gnocchi, all the Italians with whom she is dining are arguing about what's wrong with the dish which they insisted she get. Then one friend laughed and said: "You get three Italians, you get three different versions."

    Have a little Faith
    The Epicurious site contains a fantastic primer on regional Italian cuisine, called Getting the Boot by Faith Willinger — cookbook author, cooking school instructor, and Florence resident. It is well worth a look.

    Home cooking - Underground Movement Afoot Here
    I have enjoyed cooking for people in my home and recommend it often, as you might have picked up by now. My Orphans' Refugees' and Procrastinators' Thanksgivings
    are also testament to this.

    An interesting trend that began in the power of this idea is the so-called "underground restaurants." (See the LA Times Nov. 8) Ghetto Gourmet, Sub-culture dining, Hidden Kitchen are some of the names. The phenomenon includes groups of friends and/or strangers, some are bound by ethics such as "sustainable harvests," some have credos, and call themselves racy names like "pirate factions." Sometimes there are active, ex- or would-be chefs involved. At it's core is the notion that sharing a meal in someone's home, maybe even with strangers, can be so much more of an adventure than dining in a restaurant.

    My challenge to you
    Why not get a few friends together and say "Arrivederci Italy and Ciao Campania!" (Feel free to fill in the region of your choice.) Enjoy a meal and begin your own culinary, virtual tour of Italy. You could have a regional potluck, with people bringing a dish from their assigned region. How "much of a "pirate faction" you become is up to you.

    Mangia bene!

    - Salumeria Italiana in Boston's North End.
    - Epicurious - See especially Faith Willinger's column. Or check out her book, Eating in Italy.
    - Gourmet Magazine if you have April, in print.
    - Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie website, I think Italy is episode three.
    - Home Food Italy the site includes links and information.
    - A new blog, Delicious Italy.
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    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Jack’s Chili

    It’s football weather, it’s the weekend, it’s cool and rainy…or, you just gotta have it. Any excuse for will do. Every time someone asks for my chili recipe, I have to admit I don’t have one. It’s one of those things that I always do by feel and taste. A little of this, a little of that...

    Today, for the first time ever, I’ve measured what I was doing. So to my loyal Leather District Gourmet readers, I say – Cowboy Up to Some Damn Good Grub!

    I’ve grouped the ingredients by meats, vegetables and other ingredients. Options and notes in each category are in italics, with additional notes following at the end. I don’t promise that this is an authentic, historically accurate chili, but it’s close.

    Cowboys’ food was rustic, simple and influenced by the vaqueros of their Mexican neighbor. I strive for relatively accurate ingredients to achieve a layered, rich, spicy chili. For example, chuck wagon cooks didn't have heirloom cacao from a small artisanal producer in Peru. But, chili is a product of the American frontier, the Southwest. Mexican food included influences of Aztecs and Spaniards as well as other local indigenous plants like Sonoran Oregano. And they did have coffee. In the end, none of the flavors stand out on their own, but meld into one hearty bowl of chili.

    This recipe makes a large quantity and freezes well. Should be enough for 8 (including seconds) depending on your appetites.

    You could use all beef or all pork; I prefer a mix of both. I’ve lightened it by using ground turkey.
    - 1 pound ground beef
    - 1 pound ground pork
    - 1.5 pounds ground turkey
    - 2 strips hickory-smoked bacon, finely chopped

    When bacon is crisped, remove from Dutch oven with a slotted spoon.

    Soak sun-dried tomatoes and dried anchos (3 large or 1 cup) in hot water - reserve soaking liquid.
    Pre-heat cast iron Dutch oven to medium-high heat.
    - 2 tablespoons corn oil

    Drain all but 3 TBSP of fat/oil in pan. Sauté the vegetables without browning.
    - 1 large onion, chopped (about 2.5 cups)
    - ½ cup chopped celery, chopped
    - 1.5 cups chopped green bell pepper (Or a mix of poblano and bell peppers)
    - 1.5 tablespoons chopped garlic
    - 3 tablespoons red chili (fresh) and green chili (fresh). (You can use any combination or omit if you don’t want it to be too hot. I remove the seeds and the membrane. The membrane is where the capsaicin resides, that’s the heat.)

    - 2 tablespoons dried Oregano
    - 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
    - 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    - 1 teaspoon salt
    - 2 pounds fresh tomatoes (chopped, I had a Purple Cherokee and a Brandywine on hand.)
    - ¾ cup re-hydrated, chopped ancho chilies
    - ¾ cup re-hydrated, chopped sun-dried tomatoes
    - 3 teaspoons ground cumin
    - 2 teaspoons ground pasilla pepper
    - 1.5 teaspoons smoked paprika (I like the Spanish smoked Pimenton, imparts great flavor.)
    - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
    - 2 dried bay leaves
    - 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Reduce to medium heat and add:
    - 1 large can (25 oz) kidney beans, drained
    - 1 cup Guinness Stout (Some people swear no beer should be added, or that darker beers will make the chili bitter, I haven’t found this to be the case. Omit if you’d like.)
    - ½ cup soaking liquid from re-hydrated tomatoes and peppers
    - ½ cup strong, brewed coffee
    - 2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
    - ¼ teaspoon liquid smoke (this is a concentrated liquid distilled from the smoke of hickory wood fire, it's preservative-free and completely natural)
    - 3 chopped chipotle peppers along with 3 teaspoons adobo sauce they’re packed in.
    (Chipotles are smoked jalapeno peppers in a garlicky spiced sauce. You can find them in most grocery stores in the Spanish/Mexican section.)
    - 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes – break up with your clean hand or a knife.
    - 3 tablespoons brown sugar
    - 1 teaspoon piri piri pepper
    - 3 tablespoons dark chocolate (The chocolate flavor should not be obvious, but will add a deep, rounded flavor of the finished product.)
    - 3 tablespoons masa harina (This is finely ground corn meal, used in making tamales and tortillas. You can also crush tortilla chips, a couple dozen or so.)
    - ½ C beef broth or combination beef and vegetable broth
    - 3 tablespoons tomato paste

    Reduce heat to low and cover. Stir occasionally, taste and adjust seasonings to your taste.

    If you find it’s too hot, add a touch of deeper flavors like smoked paprika, pasilla pepper, brown sugar or molasses. Look for a balance.

    You can add broth (vegetable or beef or both) and masa harina to extend the volume and bring the spiciness level down a bit.

    If you want to make this a vegetarian chili, replace meat with beans such as kidney and pinto. Use dried beans, soaked overnight for toothsome chili. You would, of course, omit the bacon, but increase the liquid smoke to achieve that rich, campfire flavor profile.

    Serve with fresh chopped cilantro and parsley, low fat sour crème, and grated cheddar cheese.

    The next day, use leftover chili for huevos rancheros (top tortilla chips with chili and cheese and eggs.)

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    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Changes in the 'hood

    We bid adieu to the Dewey Square Farmers' Market this wet afternoon. But not before scoring some great swag:

    • How about corn-on-the-cob for popping, on-the-cob in the micro. How fun is that?
    • Last of the heirloom tomatoes, Brandywine and Purple Cherokee.
    • Beautiful beets (ask me about my beet, orange, ginger, pomegranate salad...)
    • Crisp and sweet apples. Perfect for Mrs.Fisher's Apple Torte.
    • A bright, deep red tomato sauce from heirloom tomatoes & red peppers.
    • Great big, sweet Bolero Carrots to make you swoon.

    And all those yummy things we passed by, the last of the Cavolo Nero, "cheese peppers" perfect for stuffing, pickles, jams, sugar pumpkins. Well, it gives us something to look forward to next Spring.

    And from the "Coming Soon" department:

    The Hotel Intercontinental is opening bit by bit...The telephone sales staff claims it "fronts the beautiful Rose Kennedy Greenway" until you tell them you live on the less-than-beautiful Rose Kennedy Greenway construction pit. Then they backpedal a bit and mention the beautiful plans. Well, they haven't lost me yet.

    On a recent day we walked past this beautiful mirrored glass luxury tower on the very same day they picked to say "hello new neighbor" in their very own, Intercontinental way. Remember the old SNL skit with Christopher Walken as "the Contintental?" Well, all they were missing was one smoking jacket and a set of erotic Hummels...

    I couldn't make this up: they had a waiter, a housekeeper (both in uniform) standing there, presumably to show us the nice crisply uniformed staff we could expect. In between was the lovely local anchor, Frances Rivera, "gettin' her drink on" as we say, in the passenger seat of a brand new car parked behind the free shoe-shine station.

    I suppose this was their "continental" way of showing us the Interncontinental lifestyle. Hot babe in the fast car, full staff waiting on me. Guess I'm not their target audience. Do you think the car comes with the corner condos?

    The presence or fantasy of uniformed staff does less for me than the display announcing three restaurants off to the side, on an easel. I hovered, read and anticipated my flute of champagne. Alas, none was forthcoming. Still, there is hope. We are told that three "concept restaurants" are opening soon. Rumour has it the first one has actually already opened but since your favorite local gourmet food-writer neighbor didn't hear any news of even a soft-opening, it couldn't be so, could it? (sniff, sniff.)

    Still, they manage to excite me with the promise of full service and late hours, and three distinct restaurants from which to choose:

    • Miel - French for Honey - which claims to be Boston's "first authentic brasserie" (for the record: their words, not mine). Miel promises to be "full-service, 24 hours." I will undoubtedly have an opportunity to check that claim and report back. It will be Provencal-themed.
    • Rumba - will include a private champagne bar celebrating our seafaring town's long history with Rum and the rum trade. Having just recently discovered the joys of rum and rhum (we're talking here about hand-crafted, aged libations here, not the swill coeds mix with their diet soda) I'll be happy to review this spot, as soon as it comes online.
    • SUSHI-TEQ - a high-concept innovation pairing sushi and tequilas from around the world. What would Morimoto say?

    Come to think of it, with these three options right in the hotel, I should probably just move in.

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    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    A microgravity bioreactor?

    Sounds like something Marvin the Martian would use. I’m putting it at the top of my Christmas list. What is it and why? Here’s the first clue – there’s an empty decanter on my bar that until last night held some lovely single malt. Actually, it held quite a bit of it. It was a lovely evening, followed by a decidedly un-lovely next day.

    While somewhere in the fog, I sense my brain reminding me that how I feel today is nature’s way of teaching me about moderation. Part of me even feels slightly virtuous that I have remembered this fact.

    Yet, even as the fog is slowly lifting, I am taunted by
    this article
    in the BBC. Apparently, some scientists claim to have grown a small liver using stem cells and the microgravity bioreactor. I believe that the universe is actually mocking me. Somewhere, there is robust cosmic laughter at the coincidence of my stumbling upon this bit of news, today. Then again, it might just be Marvin I hear, laughing at this silly earthling.

    Softly, please Marvin, softly.
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    Friday, November 03, 2006

    My brain might be fried but I think that's Alton

    The Joy of Cooking turns 75 this month and people have been talking about the work she's had done for ages.

    See what I've got to say about it my Suite101 column Happy Birthday Joy of Cooking. The biggest problem seems to be the decline in general food knowledge.

    You think you can tell Food porn from the other kind? Do you know about creaming? Butter and sugar that is! See my thoughts on the dumbing down of food reference bible The Joy of Cooking and Bill Buford's hysterical 36 Hour Food Network Marathon ... See Notes of a Gastronome.
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