Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Best Kind of Friends

It's nice to have good friends who share some good bottles of wine. That happened Saturday night when we drove down to some friends for a dinner of Beef Barolo, beef roast braised in Barolo wine.

There was a very poor, generic French sparkling wine to start, and it was quickly removed. We then opened the two Barolos, a Battisolo 2001 and a Luciano Sandrone LaVigne 1998. No question which was the better wine so the Batsiolo went into the braise. It was tight, tannic and a little pruney. The Sandrone had plums with red and dark fruit and showed much more promise. It was a little tannic, so it was pooured into a decanter.

Next up was a glass of the Koonowla Clare Valley Riesling 2006. Bright and limey with great acidity and a long finish. Highly drinkable.

Since we had three hours before the beef was finished we moved on to a 1994 Geyser Peak cabernet sauvignon from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. Big forward fruity wine with some definite cassis and a little vegetable up front. The tannins had mellowed and the acid was still there. It was in its prime and was definitely a nice match for some mushroom empanadas.

Finally the beef was ready, and after de-fatting the broth and reducing it to a sauce consistency it was time to try the Sandrone again.

To be honest - when the end of the year comes and it's time to choose the best wine consumed in 2008 this wine may very well be the top dog. The nose was now all about strawberries and red and black cherries. There was just a hint of plums and a little bit of refined leather. Just a sniff and the aroma lingered with you for a minute or two. It was a medium color in the glass, not as dark as I expected. One sip told the story. The tannins had receded to be in perfect balance with the fruit and the acid. The wine was just outright silky and a total pleasure to drink. The finish was long and smooth and left you wanting another sip. A wonderful wine.

The evening ended with my contribution to the meal, a half bottle of 1994 Smith Woodhouse vintage Port. Heavy body with nice sweetness and staying power. A perfect ending to a great meal.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Perfect Day

Blue skies and warmer temperatures here today with lots of sunshine. That brought out some hot air balloons this morning, one of which floated overhead totally annoying Scott and Ellie. The hiss of the burner definitely got their attention.

Later on in the day we all wound up at the wildlife area east of here and they got a ton of exercise. Both were into the ponds and mud and they had a great time. Squirrels, geese and ducks were all fair game today and the dogs were equal opportunity chasers. Scott even found a lone pheasant, and he pointed it - be it ever so briefly. Baths were in order when we all got home. They spent most of the rest of the day sleeping, though they did get up when it was time for their dinner.

My dinner was a small rack of lamb, rubbed with garlic, rosemary and olive oil and grilled. The pasta dish was papparadelle with white and brown mushrooms with olive oil and butter and then dusted with some Pecorino Romano cheese. Nothing difficult, just a simple but delicious meal.

There was another bottle of Vina Alarba within easy reach and it paired well with the meal.

Dessert is occurring while this is being posted and it's just a wonderful glass of Higland Park 12 year old Scottish Whisky. The perfect end to a really nice day.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mid-Week Treat

Sometimes the stars align themselves in good ways. Wednesday was cold but sunny here and a work project wrapped up early so that I was able to be home by 1:00 PM, and that meant there was time to grill something.

I knew about this a couple of days ago so there was some pre-planning. The results was country ribs of pork marinated for 24 hours in fresh rosemary, garlic and olive oil, grilled asparagus and some potatoes fried in duck fat. The pork was grilled over direct heat just until browned and then moved to indirect heat to finish cooking. Good stuff.

It certainly wasn't the most carbon friendly meal I've eaten. The pork was a natural product from Quebec, the asparagus was fresh from a Peruvian garden, the tomato garnish from Florida and the duck fat came from California. The wine was from Spain. To get back to a carbon neutral position I will have to eat tree bark until the spring thaw here in Ohio.

The wine is a personal favorite of mine. Inexpensive at $8 it delivers a lot of flavor and depth for that price. There is a good deal of fruit up front and some great acidity and some tannin to cut through the pork fat. It was decanted in an earthenware pitcher that I use as an decanter while the pork was grilling.

Such a good evening I may have to try this Wednesday thing again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sister, Sister

For the third time in her life Scott and Ellie's sister, Doer, was here for a visit. She was here originally when she was born, then she went to live in Illinois as a young puppy. She was eventually placed in a home in northern Ohio for year, and after that period the folks decided they could no longer keep her so she came back here before moving back to Illinois.

Weekend before last we picked her up again in Illinois and brought her home because there was a new 'permanent' home waiting for her in Maine. Scott was beside himself because he felt like he had the beginnings of a harem with two girls in the house. Doer's new family drove out to pick her up and the three of them immediately liked each other. She was in their laps, she was kissing them on the nose, she was selling herself - and it worked.

Over the years these folks have owned two of my dogs, and now this is the third one. At last report Doer was busy diving into snow banks in Maine and has learned to jump up on the bed. She's busy supervising a crew that is remodeling the kitchen in her new house and she appears to have found that permanent home she's been looking for.

Scott, of course, is disappointed that his harem disappeared and Ellie looked at him as if to say, "Get over it, Dude. If you're not gonna chew that rawhide I can help you out"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cold Night, Warm Braise

As predicted the temperature has continued to drop throughout the day and we are now heading down to zero or below tonight. There was a well marbled chuck roast in the butcher case at the market so it was adopted late this morning.

It was browned in a little grape seed oil, then allowed to rest while onions, carrots, garlic and celery were warmed in the pot. De-glaze was with a little white wine, then the beef was returned to the pot with a couple anchovy fillets and enough chicken stock to come up to the surface. For good measure I added a quarter teaspoon of red pepper flakes - not enough to create heat, but enough to liven things up a little. It braised for about four hours and was then allowed to rest in its broth for an hour. It was a perfect smell in the house for a cold day.

The beef was removed and the broth was de-fatted. When dinner time was near some leeks and celery were braised in a little butter just until soft, then the beef and the broth were added back to the pot and everything was popped back in the oven while the pasta cooked.

Most of the time I use tomatoes, red wine and beef or veal broth for beef or lamb braises, but this piece of beef was so well marbled with fat that I thought the usual ingredients would make the dish entirely too rich. The red wine braise would have been good, but there was certainly nothing wrong with a "white" braise for this meal.

There were a couple of slices of garlic bread to mop up the juices and a very good wine to keep things refreshed. The wine was a 2004 Fattoria Le Fonti Sangiovese Di Toscana (IGT). Think of it as a little Chianti. Excellent fruit and enough tannin to make the fruit honest and great acidity to cut through the richness that remained in the beef.

When all this settles in an hour or so there will be the last glass (fortunately a large one) from a bottle of Taylor Fladgate 10 year old tawny port while the dogs work on a large rawhide .

Who cares about the weather!

Discriminating Taste

Cold this morning, and as the day goes on the promise is for even colder weather - down to near zero degrees tonight.

A belated Christmas present arrived this week - a half bushel of grapefruit from Vero Beach FL.

Few things are better this time of year than a morning grapefruit. Sharp and tart, but sweet at the same time. It's just a perfect way to start a morning. I received a note at Christmas that the grapefruit would arrive sometime in mid to late January when they were fully tree ripe. The fruit shipped for Christmas delivery is still good, but the peak of the season is now and it certainly showed with the three that have been eaten so far.

Miss Ellie as always was in the kitchen to help. She is a big fan of grapefruit and waits, sometimes impatiently, for any handouts that might come her way. Her brother finds them distasteful, but she's more than willing to eat what he spits out. She was happy this morning.

As much as she likes grapefruit she has a long way to go to come up to the standards on connoisseurship that her great, great uncle Dangerous Dan displayed. The annual gift of grapefruit is into its third decade so it isn't a new thing. In the early 90's it became an annual ritual to buy several supermarket grapefruit during Christmas to get ready for the real thing in January. Dan thought grapefruit were absolutely great, but try giving him a piece of the supermarket variety and he spit it out. Give him a section of the good stuff and he literally turned circles and was your friend for life.

It took a small experiment one winter to prove this point. While Dan was outside making sure no birds were in his yard I cut up one Vero Beach grapefruit and one store purchased grapefruit. I put each in a separate dog dishes and placed them on the floor. He came rushing in the door and stopped quickly when he saw two bowls on the floor. The nose went in the first bowl, then the second, and then he promptly ate every piece of the Vero fruit while leaving the store variety untouched. It's nice to know he was so well trained.

While we're not into "selling" on this blog, a visit to the orchard may be in order.

And now that it's daylight and the local world is getting busy it's time to head to the market. It's a perfect day to braise something.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Most Interesting

Two very interesting wines with an early dinner tonight - a 2003 Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah and a 2000 E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde.

The Columbia Crest, from Washington's Columbia Valley was restrained, but with some nice fruit up front, primarily dark, sweet cherries. It was of a medium weight and offered promise of matching well with a spice rubbed tri-tip roast from the grill. It was not a big, "fruit-bomb" type wine, and seemed a little more slanted toward an old world syrah as opposed to a new world version. Nice and full in the middle with a relatively long finish ending with just the right amount of tannins and acid to make you ready for the next sip. It also paired well with the appetizer, monastici (thinly sliced eye of round layered with provolone cheese, rolled into a cylinder and quickly grilled just until the cheese melted). The wine was decanted for an hour.

It did go well with the tri-tip, but like a young upstart it was quickly put in its place by the Cote Rotie. The nose here was some fruit, but mostly good clean dirt - perhaps a barnyard that had yet to see its first resident animal. It too was decanted for one hour. One could get a little oak in the nose and just a hint that the fruit might be there. All this carried through on the initial taste, but the fruit suddenly appeared in the middle and most of it was a more tart cherry with some dark fruits underneath. The acid kicked in at the end and the finish was long and just wonderful. Throughout the course of the evening this wine just continued to open up and at about two hours the fruit came more forward. It also paired well with the oven roasted potatoes that were sprinkled with black truffle salt for the last few minutes of roasting. The house smelled like heaven. Earthy tasting potatoes with a very appealing earthy Cote Rotie was a wonderful treat for a cold, drizzly day.

We shifted back to the Columbia Crest and were amazed. It now tasted like a new world fruit bomb wine. It seemed to be all fruit and tasted exceptionally sweet compared to the Cote Rotie. It was still a very good wine, but it tasted plain and simple next to the other one. The things that made it appealing were still there but they seemed so simple compared to what was in the other wine.

The only dessert was a square of 60% cacao dark chocolate, and the fruity Columbia Crest was the hands down winner here. The Cote Rotie and chocolate were not well matched, but the fruit in the Columbia Crest was delicious with the chocolate.

I would certainly drink either wine again, but the next time the Columbia Crest will stand on its own and will be much more appreciated. There is one more bottle of each in the cellar.

The Columbia Crest will probably not last much past this autumn, but there will be a year or two hold on the Guigal. There is a glass of each remaining for tomorrow night.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cattus Interuptus?

Scott's early, morning walk was eventful today. Less than three seconds after we walked out the front door he spied (and I heard) two cats about to start a litter of kittens in the flower bed.

His reaction - "Not on my watch you don't!"

Fortunately he was on a 30 foot leash. The large orange and white male stopped what he was about to do, considered his situation, and decided that a morning of cat sex could wait awhile. Off he went around the corner of the building with Scott in hot pursuit. When Scott hit the end of the leash he spun around, saw the female, and came running back. Despite her "itch" in certain spots she immediately hit the tree next to the bedroom window and raced up it until she was out of his reach.

It's an hour later and she is still there and both Scott and Ellie are glued to the front door waiting for her to make a descent. I thanked her for posing for the photo and suggested she seek professional advice about her situation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


For those who asked, yes, there will be flamingos appearing occasionally here.

The short version
More than several years ago I was sitting with a group of friends when I remarked that there were two things I really hated; people who put a concrete goose on their front step and then dress it for the season and plastic flamingos. Friends being friends they decided to combine the two and the picture to the right is the result - a flamingo statue which comes with specially designed seasonal clothing. Along the way they, and others, have donated any number of flamingo items way too numerous to mention here. Some have been funny and some have been totally 'off the all.'

It's nice to have friends, but in this case I guess my biggest regret was I did not say, "You know what I really hate? Good wine and good scotch." Now that would be a collection worth blogging about.

And for what it's worth - the flamingo is wearing a Santa hat and a replica Ohio State University hockey sweater.

Quick dinner last night that was just some pasta and a veal cutlet in a pan sauce. 2005 Protocolo to drink, an inexpensive Castillian red that tastes best with a slight chill. Nothing serious, just fruit, tannin and a little alcohol to carry it through. For $6 it was good, but if the expected major hike in European wine prices hits the US the 2006 may be in the $10 range - and then it becomes a questionable buy.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sunday Dinner

Temperatures were still around 50 degrees for most of the day and it has been drizzling. That made it a great day for a roasted chicken. The free range, organic bird was rubbed with a couple of cut garlic cloves and a slice of lemon. It was then sprinkled with some herbs de Provence and salt. About 70 minutes later, and after flipping it once in the rack from breast side down to breast side up, the results called for a picture.There was some left-over Basmati rice that was re-warmed and some fresh spinach, pan wilted with just a touch of bacon fat. A rosemary roll with butter and it made for a great meal.

A major part of this is just smelling the bird and herbs as they roast in the oven. It's both appetite inducing and soothing. The lavender in the herbs de Provence just adds an extra element to everything.

Since this was a Rhone and Provence style bird we popped open a 1999 M. Chapoutier La Bernardine Chateauneuf de Pape. It smelled of dried fruits and leather and a little bit of good, clean, freshly dug dirt. It was just a little orange on the edges, so it is just beginning to show some age. There were warm spices and the tannins finally moved to the background. The acid was just enough to refresh between sips and bites. A good bottle of wine that on its own might not raise an eyebrow, but it married well with the chicken and that made both the wine and the chicken better.

The dogs have scarfed up some the excess chicken skin and are currently working on a hand-out from the recently replenished rawhide jar. Nice day here.

Squirrel Patrol

Sunday morning and the weather here has gone from cold and snowy to balmy and rainy. All that means is that the squirrels are back out and feeding on the corn and nuts that the neighbor scatters for them.

Ms. Ellie (above) is not happy about this situation since it is also muddy and she and Scott are restricted to the house. Scott is beside himself with frustration. They both have spent the better part of an hour watching intently as the corn buffet continues about 20 feet from them. There are four or five squirrels causing this problem.

The main result will be that when Scott goes out on a leash the tree will likely drown from being marked. And to show his true frustration he will likely mark the neighbors doorstep in revenge.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Definitely a cold night as the temperature dropped to eleven degrees overnight . Scott and Ellie still wanted to spend time outside, and both got their evening walk in the snow at a balmy fifteen degrees. Scott spent the rest of the time looking out the front window watching for a cat he encountered on his walk.

If it had been a weekend it would have been the perfect time to braise some beef or lamb shanks, but week nights don't lend themselves to that. Instead there was a turkey pot pie made fresh daily by a local market. 30 minutes in the oven was just enough time to get it warm and golden brown on top and to fix a small salad.

I finished the Chateau Ste. Michelle cabernet that seemed a little tannic and weak in fruit on New Year's Eve . The second half of the bottle was far superior as the tannins faded a little and the fruit came to the front. Very interesting change in the wine and it was perfect with the small pot pie. Add a Lagavulin at the end of the meal and it turned out to be a nice evening.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Eve

Quiet night at home with the dogs.

The evening started with half a dozen Island Creek oysters and half a dozen generic blue point oysters. Tossed them on the grill just until they popped open and then they got a drop or two of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper. Both varieties were good but the Island Creeks were just about perfect.

Two wines to go with the oysters, a 2006 Setzer Gruner Veltliner (Vesper) and a Ch. Callac 2006 white Graves. Nice contrast as the Gruner was tart with acid and a definite counterpoint to the richness of the oysters while the Callac was fuller and more mellow thanks to the semillon in the blend. It was more of a compliment to the oysters. Hard to choose a favorite here.

While those were going down the small rack of lamb was on the grill and the 2001 Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge cabernet sauvignon was breathing in the decanter. The lamb was delicious and there were walnut and gorgonzola ravioli tossed in a little olive oil on the side. A small salad finished off the main course.

Not much into desserts so a little Australian Roaring 40's cheese and some more of the Canoe Ridge got us through the rest of the evening. The wine could have used another hour or two of breathing and the fruit seemed a little thin, but it was more than drinkable.

Scott and Ellie got some scraps of lamb and then a chunk of rawhide to finish their evening. As usual, Ellie managed to get Scott's away from him before he could chew much of it so he got the extra piece while she was hiding hers for later. He didn't let go of his second piece. I doubt that this will change in the new year.

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