Today, I can’t stop thinking about all the wonderful things and people I love in my life.
My Sweetie [More than ever and most of all. ]
DIYing more than ever
Sweet Elena Lee
Engineering new ways to pack stuff
The Princess Bride
See also: Tee-shirt transformation crafting
Icy-Hot (It’s magic!)
I <3 NYC
Johnson and Wales
Magazine day (Best day of the month!!!)
-Be well and do good work.
The Smitten Kitchen has done it again.. right here. This is a truly fantastic blog and the link at ‘here‘ will lead you to a lady-led blog featuring tutorials about so many fantastic techniques. I am especially excited about the posting of Peter Reinhart’s bagel recipe. Although I feel quite sure that Mr. Reinhart would create this recipe in weights rather than volumetric measurements, I’m definitely giving it a try on my next two days off anyway. This is apparently a two-day process, but it’s totally worth it for homemade bagels. You heard me right! Not lenders… HOME-made bagles.
Deb, at Smitten Kitchen, you are amazing! Great blog! (And, nice work getting into the Martha circle; for some of us, Martha is a goddess, but the rest don’t matter, do they?)
On a separate but equally important note, I found this blog today featuring food pictures, self-titled as a “visual food magazine”, but what struck me most was that the post I found topic-centric of beautiful rotten fruits and vegetables. See posting: Une Jolie-laide. I once read a quote from Thomas Keller in a Michael Ruhlman book, which I shall try to recall without totally butchering the idea, that the loss of even one piece of product is truly a large loss in LIFE. Consider the idea of throwing away a good portion of risotto… Life lost? You have just murdered hundreds of rice grains, probably chickens because you likely used chicken stock, you killed mushrooms that forest foragers would have depended on and the herbs, of course, gave their life to flavor your garbage. Wasting the life of another living organism is simply careless and shows a disregard for the energy and effort it too for that plant or animal or grow and become next weeks trash. Don’t be a murderer. Think hard about what you throw away… perhaps that extra onion would be perfect in an omlet or could be frozen for next month’s chicken stock. We, as Americans, take our food supply for granted and fail to see the big picture of how much it took for that fancy Italian risotto rice to arrive at your local supermart. Check out these stunning photos for a departure from the usual food scene.
Live, love and respect your food. Now, THAT’S good eats.
Last, but most definitely not the least by any means: my foodie soul mate Elena will be joining us (mostly just me… rambling into the interwebs) at wordpress. Let’s all show her a HUGE round of applause for joining the blogosphere. Wooooo! This girl has more passion for food than French royals. Seriously, though, she’s pretty serious. Big pork-fat-lipglossed kisses to Elena from the whopping and seriously undermaintained Rachaelonia!!
Each year, as spring begins blossoming, I begin getting the itch to start a garden. As we’ll be moving at some point this summer, but not sure exactly when, I wanted to do something with the garden that would be easy to move, so I looked around my house for unused containers and found a great solution: a wal-mart shopping basket.
This turned out to be just the right size for the chives, two cherry tomato plants and an oregano. Thusly, I’m pretty annoyed with the aviary in my backyard because I just can’t let the tomatoes ripen on the plant because the birds know exactly the right moment to snatch a taste of my crop. It’s pretty hard to stay mad at them, though. We have some truly magnificent birds around here.
Locally, we have an open public market which sells crafty items like jewelry and crochet as well as plants, honey, baked goods, coffee and fresh seasonal produce. The honey we usually purchase is just the best! It comes from a family that produces it just about an hour’s drive away and is flavored with the wildflower pollen their honey bees feed on. This one pounder is only $6 and completely worth the trip to the market.
My other favorite booth at the market is the plant lady. I don’t know her name, but she always has the most interesting herb plants. Last summer, I purchased and managed to kill a chocolate mint plant from her. This year, I repurchased the same plant, but was smart enough to get some growing tips from the plant lady and now my chocolate mint is a success. This weekend, I also bought a cinnamon basil plant and a culantro plant (p.s. it is really hard to get “culantro” out with autocorrect, which is totally spelled correctly).
Strangely enough, the cinnamon basil does have a darker note of cinnamon to it, when eaten raw. I was really surprised by it! In addition, the plant lady had lemon basil and lime basil, all of which had slightly different flavors. The culantro has been on my mind since I saw it during the last market season. Why?… It looks so strange–nothing at all like cilantro, but tastes just like cilantro. The culantro has spiked flowering units that grow through the middle and must be cut off for maintenance, but I’m told it’s otherwise somewhat hard to kill. Perfect for me!
So, have you started a garden this year? Gardening is a very rewarding endeavor and it lightens the load on buying big-box, long-haul produce, which is likely to be riddled with pesticides, gasses and sometimes even radiation to keep the veggies pretty through transit. Do you really want tomatoes from South America? Or from your own community?
I can count my blessings on as many stars in the sky. This Thanksgiving was my first to host, and boy was I nervous! Thanks to lots of pre-planning, I managed to pull dinner together without a hitch. Well, almost… We did awake to the smoke alarm, but it was no biggie after a little scrub-a-dub of the oven.
We had this beautiful turkey, which was brined using the oh-so-reliable Alton Brown recipe, and it turned out exceptionally delicious. Not too shabby for my first.
I made an interesting take on sweet potato casserole, which was probably my favorite. The sweet potatoes were roasted til fork tender, cut in half, arranged in an oven safe skillet, topped with holiday spices (proprietary! ha!) and large marshmallows. I was going use small marshmallows, but we ate them before the big day. Oopsie! It turned out for the best, I think.
Braided challah was a perfect addition to the Thanksgiving meal, although I did forgo the sesame seeds (didn’t have any). Next time, I’ll definitely have to try the bread in it’s traditional manner. Making this bread reminded me of how much practice I need with general bread-making techniques. Oh, Chef Allen, my baking instructor, would not be happy with me.
I leave you today with this lovely picture of bacon taken by my incredibly brilliant husband.
May your turkey naps leave you rested and your stuffing leave you stuffed, but not too stuffed!
After dining at one of the nicest restaurants in town, I had a chance to taste one of the best chicken dishes of my life. After reviewing the menu description of the dish, I politely asked the waiter to explain how the chicken is prepared. Basically, the chicken is seared on top and bottom at the same time with a hot iron skillet placed on top, then finished cooking in the oven. I felt it was a brilliant way to sear both sides without drying out the external meat. My husband was nuts over the dish, so I wanted to (sort of) replicate the dish at home. I purchased two large (unknowingly just how large) chicken breasts, rinsed, dried and seasoned them just before cooking. I heated a large stainless steel skillet with olive oil and butter (very hot, but not smoking) and added the chicken presentation side down. I did not have a decent skillet at hand to place on top and would like to try that technique with a hot brick wrapped in aluminum foil and heated to temp in the oven, but this particular dish was moist, tasty and exactly what I wanted. Anyway, I allowed to chicken to sear, shaking the skillet from time to time, but allowing the skin to become dark and crusty then changed sides allowing all three surfaces to fully brown. Each side took about 8 minutes in all. I removed the chicken and deglazed the pan with chicken broth, scraping all the tasty fond from the bottom and added some seasoning, minced garlic and diced tomatoes. I added the chicken back to the pan and put in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and allowed to cook to temp (about 155 to 160 degrees), checking periodically with a stem thermometer. I served the moist and tasty chicken with the stewed tomatoes in the pan, baked potatoes and green beans. The meal was perfect and my husband raved about the chicken. I think this is a testament to my growing comfort with cooking and learning to experiment with food, which I had been otherwise frightened by in the past. I’m finally growing into the techniques I’ve learned and each successful meal I create is special to me. (I threw a personal high five to myself for this triumph.)
In other news, this year is coming to a close with Christmas in only 4 days, and I have so much to be thankful for from the passing year. Culinary school has changed my life and I have even surprised myself by some accomplishments, such as silver medaling at a culinary team competition, a scholarship award, two consecutive semesters of straight ‘A’s (1st sem. GPA: 1.9, 3rd sem. GPA: 3.21!!) and overall personal growth. This has been one of my best years ever and I can’t wait to see what 2011 has in store for us. Even as I type these things, I can’t believe it’s really happening to me. A stark lesson 2010 has taught me: do what ever it is that makes your heart glow, follow your passion, try new things and learn something every single day. Take away something special from each day, even if you think you’re having the worst day ever try to see something positive about that day. Taking a more positive approach will most certainly brighten your life… it has brightened mine.
I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be awarded any kind of educational prize, but yesterday I was informed that I will be given a scholarship from the Cantonment Rotary Club! Can you believe it? I applied for the scholarship because I didn’t think I had anything to lose, and in the worst case scenario I would get in some essay-writing practice. Yesterday, Chef asked me to step into the kitchen office and to shut the door when he asked if I had heard the news. “What news?”, I replied. I noticed he was holding my essay folder and followed by saying that I would be the recipient of the Rotary Club scholarship. I was speechless, and couldn’t believe it. Chef could probably sense my feelings and said, “Oh, don’t cry on me now”. WOW! was all I could think. After a quick hug, he asked me to have some words prepared to say to the club on Wednesday and I went back to work, filled with glee.
The school dining room is booked out tomorrow by the rotary club (I suppose they booked it to award whomever would receive their scholarship) and I am the kitchen manager, too. I will be serving a Caribbean/South American menu which I fully created and will be managing an entire kitchen staff as well. As manager, I am provided up to four seats in the dining room and my family will be there for the delicious meal AND for the award of the scholarship. I so look forward to sharing with them the success I’ve found in the culinary program and am keeping mum on the scholarship as a surprise. They’re going to get the best seats in the house and will get see me receive an award, which is thrilling to no end. If anything could make tomorrow better, it would be the presence of all the people I love and hold dear to my heart, although they will be with me in spirit.
Although considered to be a “slave’s drink in antique times” and remaining with a poor perception from Parisians thanks to its short production time and short vintage period, if any, Beaujolais wines and winemakers certainly deserve the respect of wine enthusiasts and new drinkers alike. While the term Beaujolais may not be familiar, the Burgundy wine region is more well-known and contains Beaujolais in the Southern half of the region. We will discuss where the Beaujolais region can be found, what kind of grapes and processes make Beaujolais unique, some identifying characteristics of the Beaujolais wines and how the wines are viewed socially, in France and in the United States. I was surprised by some findings and hope that I can help you discover a whole new facet of red wines.
We have all been told that you drink red wines at room temperature and white wines chilled (around forty-five degrees Fahrenheit), but Beaujolais wines are the exception. These wines have been crafted in a way which has been described as a white wine disguised as a red a wine, and this seems to ring true in my experience. In reality, wines should be drunk in the way that best pleases the drinker, but this wine is versatile to please many palates and can be enjoyed either warm or slightly chilled due to the special combination carbonic maceration, gamay grape and limestone-rich soil. Beaujolais wines cannot be grown anywhere else in the world, besides the southern region of Burgundy, France.
Burgundy, France is a much more complex region in comparison to Bordeaux; this is mostly due to the great variety of separate parcels and villages. After the French Revolution in 1789, all the vineyards were sold off in small parcels. The matter was further complicated by the Napoleonic Code, which called for equal inheritance disbursement for siblings, causing additional fragmentation of the vineyards. Beaujolais is located in the southernmost part of Burgundy, nearly stretching to the gates of Lyon, France. Beaujolais lies upon granite hills, stretching only about forty five miles long and about twenty three miles wide, so it amazes that thirty nine different villages exist within the small expanse to produce about fifty percent of the region’s wine and exclusively made with the gamay grape. The Granite Mountains of Beaujolais rise to a reasonable 3000 feet, but the lease obscure of producers stay to the foothills and are generally expected to produce wine reflecting their own unique style or touch of character. The Beaujolais region is certainly a unique place and has a very special history riddled with change, with people willing to change with time.
A very special kind of grape is used to create Beaujolais wines—the gamay grape. Like any naturally occurring foodstuff, varieties of this grape exist, but to get true Beaujolais wine, the gamay noir must be used. More notably, the gamay noir is the only gamay varietal allowed to be grown in the region, per the European Union. To clarify, noir denotes a dark grape and thus red wine compared to the gamay blanc, which produces a very a nearly clear wine which we call a ‘white’, but is considered inferior. The noblest grape to be grown in the region is the petit gamay but is regarded as an insufficient grape if grown anywhere else in the world, like its family member. The gamay grape is truly “at-home” in southern Burgundy thanks to the rich soil, fertile from the granite-based mountains which lie beneath. Once the same grape is transplanted to California, USA the same result cannot possibly be yielded. The development of tannins, the acidic bite we taste in wine, is only effective with the gamay grape in the granite-rich mountains, which run beside the Saone River. It is said that every few months, members of the lower-most villages must scoop up any sediment which has washed down the mountain during the last growing season and take it back up the mountainous terrain to the vineyards for new crop development. Simply put: the soil is really that important. The gamay grape is the most time-efficient grape for a couple of reasons: gamay grapes ripen comparatively early in the harvesting season and mature rather quickly, often ready to drink as soon as it hits the market. All grapes are hand-picked in Beaujolais, with some producers removing the stalks and stems before fermentation and others leaving them on. The light, fruity flavors of the well-known Moulin a Vent would not be possible without sweet combination of locale, weather and produit.
There is much to be learned about how Beaujolais wines are produced. A great deal of care is taken during harvesting and transportation as not to break the skin of the grapes. The process of carbonic maceration is used to create the quickly-aged Beaujolais wines, and in this process it is of utmost importance that the skins of the grapes remain intact until the grapes are loaded into processing vats. Once they are hand-picked from vine, chosen for processing, the grapes are transported in no more than 130 pounds per containment and combined into 60-hectoliter vats (equals about 8,000 bottles of wine). The process of carbonic maceration relies on the release of Carbon Dioxide through a unique process: the grapes at bottom of the vat are crushed by the weight of grapes upon them, causing them to be juiced. The fresh gamay grape juice will then release carbon dioxide, which rises, and envelopes the upper grapes, causing them to begin fermentation from the inside out. The upper grapes’ skin remains intact until fermentation time is considered to be complete. Some vineyards still “pump over”, which means that they pump the already-released juice over the fermenting grapes, claiming that this enhances the flavor derived from the skins during further crushing and extraction. During carbonic maceration, it is important that the vats are held between seventy-seven and eighty degrees Fahrenheit, so some use the “pumping over” as a measure to keep the grapes cool as well as reaping flavor benefits. The “pump over” method is a rapidly fading process in a vineyard market where product must reach market almost more quickly than it can be made, although carbonic maceration is a unique process that truly showcases the light fragrances, lively notes and identifying characteristics of Beaujolais wines.
What does every Beaujolais wine have in common? Producers and bottlers turn to the historic, slope-shoulder glass bottle (which is synonymous with the Burgundy region) for each ¾ liter of Beaujolais-Villages, Beaujolais Cru or Beaujolais Superior. Glass bottles made their introduction as an English invention to solve the problem of long-term storage of liquids, so a thin light-bulb-shaped bottle was used, but found to be far too brittle. The shape of the bottle was of some consequence, as it was purposed for decanting liquids, especially wine, to remove sediment but the bulb shape grew longer and more recognizable as today’s slope-shouldered bottles. These bottles differ greatly from those synonymous of the Bordeaux region, the wealthiest of the duo, who adopted a more storage-friendly version of the glass bottle. The Bordeaux region was, classically, produced wine that needed to age before they were happy with its flavors, but with little space to store the wine before it was ready for sale a wine bottle was developed with flat sides, allowing them to store the bottles more efficiently and for longer periods of time than before.
The wines of Beaujolais are afforded a much shorter period time before the pique flavor is reached, often as early as three months and as late as sixteen months or more. Beaujolais Noueveau literally translates to New Beaujolais is a regional specialty and variety of Beaujolais wines that is released on the third Thursday of November every year and has become a sensation in the recent years. Beaujolais Noueveau is meant to be enjoyed immediately and is bottled a mere three months before its release; a three-month vintage is like a newborn in comparison to most wines. In contrast, Beaujolais Crus are made in a handful of villages and is allowed to age a bit longer to increase the level of alcohol a small bit, but the overall product is often spicier and leathery and fails to benefit from being chilled. Beaujolais Crus are the most expensive the region, for more care has been taken with these wines, but the middle-of-the-road option of Beaujolais Noueveau and Beaujolais Crus are the Beaujolais-Villages wines. The Beaujolais-Villages wines are also hand-picked and often a blend of gamay grape crops throughout the thirty-nine wine-producing villages in Beaujolais. The Beaujolais-Villages wines are often the least expensive and most-accessible of the three styles of Beaujolais wines.
Before I had a chance to taste any Beaujolais wine, I started my research by asking local wine shop clerks what they could tell me about the mysteriously chilled re, French wine. The first person I spoke to said that the wine in question was rather “Chug-able” and that he generally offers it to “people just starting to drink wine”. I believe that that translates to a wine with simple, non-invasive characteristics. I asked two additional store clerks in two different stores the same question and got generally the same answer referring to the Beaujolais’s drinkability. Most serious wine-drinkers dismiss Beaujolais as a marketing gimmick, feeling that it is a cheap wine with no possibility of aging or developing flavor, but they then miss the magic and intoxicating, delicate fragrance and deliciously strong and fruity flavors derived from the carbonic maceration and special combination of gamay grapes and granite-rich soil. The biological masterpiece of the granite hillsides meshed with the Saone River, rich soil, luckily indigenous grape with the swift and loving care of hard-working winemakers gives us the unique experience of wondering whether or not to chill this red wine. Upon procuring my first bottle of Beaujolais, I knew the experience must be surveyed and measured, so I surveyed my husband, Mr. Newman. Mr. Newman has what I call, a child’s palate, with little tolerance for the tart and “fire” behind most wines, but stated on his survey that he was pleased with what he had tried. On the survey, Mr. Newman gave the balance of alcohol a high mark, saying that it was “very well balanced” and when asked if it was hot he said it was “very mild”. Mr. Newman commented on the aftertaste saying, “[it had] a very small after-taste and better than most wines.” For someone that is a self-admitted wine un-enthusiast, Mr. Newman had a great experience, rating it an overall eight out of ten, and saying that he was open to other Beaujolais wines. During our tasting, we tried the wine highly chilled, around thirty-five or forty degrees Fahrenheit then again around fifty degrees Fahrenheit. I found that the aroma was easier to identify or more pronounced at the fifty-degree mark, just as anticipated. The aroma does fade rather quickly and does not remain with the wine after the sitting for which it was opened. Beaujolais does not tout longevity in the fridge, but hopefully it can be enjoyed at once anyway.
To find a Beaujolais wine is not as difficult as it may seem, as long as you’re not much on variety. There are many producers of the European-Union-Approved Beaujolais wines, but there is only one that seems to be everywhere: Louis Jadot, Beaujolais-Villages, 2008. This wine can be found from the local wine store to the corner Walgreens, but it truly is the the lowest representation of what the region has to offer. In France, the entire Beaujolais wine region in South Burgundy has gained a poor reputation because most serious wine enthusiast feel that the wine cannot possibly compare to the vintage Cabernet Sauvignon they’ve had for twenty years or Sauvignon Blanc from their child’s birth, moons ago, so most of the grapes each harvest is processed into Beaujolais Noueveau, the quickest and most quantitative of all, and turned for a quick profit; like a Waffle House server compared to one of Jackson’s Steakhouse. Dr. Jacques De Castelnau of Beaujolais is working with the French Appellation Authority, the department which regulates wines, to study the topography, soil and climate of the Beaujolais region. After the data is collected, the French Appellation Authority will taste wines from the respectively studied regions and establish stylistic links between each. This new classification system could be a hand up for the Cru winemakers that feel plagued by the “cheap and easy” image of Noueveau, but some may continue disregarding Beaujolais altogether.
If I am ever served a chilled, red wine I’ll certainly know why and be able to tell you about the special magic the petit gamay grape encounters on its journey from the granite-rich mountains of Eastern France to my glass. Beaujolais wines are somewhat obscure, but maybe it’s like holding a special secret only to be shared with the ones closest to you. The region of Burgundy is enriched by its southernmost district, which appears to be lost in time. The hard working people still reside in eleventh century buildings which peer over seventeenth century gardens, honoring their past with processes, products and the fervor of their ancestors, the consumers of the “slave’s drink”.