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Archive for September, 2012

Wine of the Week: 2010 Durin Pigato, Liguria, Italy

It’s time to head back to Italy for this week’s notable wine. That means it’s time to learn about another new obscure grape that you probably have never heard of from a region you’ve heard the name of, but don’t know where in Italy it actually is located.

Liguria, of course best known as the home of pesto, is the thin, wrap around region of Northwestern Italy, sandwiched by the more glitzy French and Italian Rivieras. Genoa is Liguria’s primary town and Italy’s busiest seaport. Or you may know it as the home town of Christopher Columbus.

Liguria’s Ortovero Valley is also the home of the mostly unknown Pigato grape, a more lively, full bodied white, without the buttery textures of a Chardonnay. Pigato is most often compared with Sauvignon Blanc, yet it boasts almost none of the sweet fruit and wet stone that varietal is known for. Pigato is very floral and the fruit notes veer towards more mellow flavors such as mango and green melon. (more…)

Greetings from…Austin!

Dallas and Houston are the enormous, Texas-sized metropolises. They’re both in the list for 10 most populated regions of the country. They get the headlines. They have the professional sports. They have major urban problems and major urban glamour.

Yet, neither is generally considered the food and drink capital of Texas. That would be the capital of the state of Texas – Austin.

It’s no secret that Austin is really an oasis of eclectic, vibrant culture in this cowboy, conservative state. Texas is too complex and immense to fully generalize into just those two traits. But, comparing Texas and Austin is very much a night and day, red and blue type of contrast. As one Austin resident told me during my stay, “It’s a blueberry in the middle of tomato soup.”

Uni Sushi at Uchiko

Austin certainly warrants its reputation for being quirky. From the bats under the Congress Street Bridge to the dynamic music scene to the much-loved population of food trailers (no, not carts or trucks, these are trailers), Austin is a unique city full of unique personalities. Yes, as they like to remind you, “Keep Austin weird.” (more…)

Tuesday’s Project: Pane all’ Olive, Jim Lahey’s Olive Bread

Jim Lahey, the brilliant baker and founder of New York’s Sullivan Street Bakery and its sibling pizzeria Co., you would think would have a ridiculously complex recipe for his signature bread. Listening to some of the foremost boulangers in Paris and reading their recipes for baguettes, and hearing a master pizzaiolo from Naples talk about the care that goes into their crust’s preparation is enough to make you throw up your arms and concede to never attempt to bake again.

I’m not Eric Kayser or Chris Bianco, but maybe one day I could be. I don’t have a 200 year old brick oven for the baguettes and I’m not particularly interested in starting my own sourdough starter from scratch. I save the massaging in the kitchen for tense cuts of meat, not to soothe a rambunctious pastry dough for profiteroles.

Several Thanksgivings ago I searched for an olive loaf recipe, knowing that my family tends to look the other way at bread, but can’t stop eating anything with olives. For them, it’s about the olives and the olive oil for dipping. Who needs the bread?

Lahey’s recipe from his 2009 book My Bread stood out to me for its incredible simplicity. No sourdough starters. Just one overnight rise and smaller rise 12-18 hours later. No kneading! Just four, maybe five ingredients.

How is this possible? (more…)

Plat du Jour: Monday September 24, 2012: Five Fig Ideas and Obama the Eater

Much attention has been lavished upon President Obama and the White House’s home brewing unit…the most highly coveted beer now in the world, easily over Pliny the Elder. I only had to wait five hours in line last year for the latter. I’m doubting I’ll be tasting the White House beer…you never know though, because today Barbara Walters received some of the beer from the President.

Recently I’ve been following the blog Obama Foodorama daily, an excellent concept that calls itself “blog of record about White House food initiatives, from policy to pie.” Much of the excitement from the blog, which serves as the public of the digital archive of record for the Obama Administration’s food and nutrition initiatives, comes from reading and learning what the President actually is served at formal functions and what he eats to…just eat. Often recipes are included from the White House chefs.

It’s an important and fascinating resource. Make sure to visit often!

With September coming to a close in a week, it still might be tomato season, but let’s now focus on another bountiful September produce delight: figs. Of course figs are excellent plain. How about a few other fig ideas? And yes, eat the fig skin and look for figs that are just barely starting to be soft. Use the same guidelines for ripeness with figs as you might with peaches and plums. (more…)

Monday’s Neighborhood: Pearl Brewery Complex, San Antonio

It’s fascinating to see the variety of old buildings who were thriving factories a century and now have been completely remodeled and spruced up for retail and often culinary purposes. You see your old steam powerhouses become nightclubs. Old carriage houses hold salons. Warehouses now seem to always become cozy bistros and artist ateliers, unless it’s the old B&O Warehouse in Baltimore, in which case it becomes part of the Major League ballpark in that city, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

How about old breweries? With the recent astronomical surge in craft breweries, it would seem to be common sense to replace an old brewery shell with a new brewery. That’s essentially what many of the world’s massive breweries have done, including Miller in Milwaukee, Budweiser in St. Louis, Guinness in Dublin, and Carlsberg in Copenhagen.

In San Antonio, they’re a little more creative with what they’ve done with the old Pearl Brewery, just barely north of the city center on a prime piece of real estate along the San Antonio River. Yes, the same river as the “river” in the Riverwalk. The Pearl Brewery is night and day from the endless tourist overload in the heart of the Riverwalk. (more…)

Greetings from…Dallas!

Big D. The Metroplex. DFW. However you prefer to refer to the sprawling urban-suburban-rural region of Northern Texas where skyscrapers nudge up to huge swaths of empty fields and McMansions, the eating is Texas-sized exciting here in the nation’s 9th most populated metropolitan area. As Frank Loesser immortalized in his classic show tune from “The Most Happy Fella,” in “Big D, Little A, Double L, A S…that spells Dallas, where every home’s a palace…and there’s oil all over your address.”

Oak’s handsome dining room

O.K., the oil really is more a Houston trait since the Gulf of Mexico is nowhere near Dallas. And not every home in Dallas is a Deion Sanders mansion-sized palace. But everything about Big D is, well, quite big. The jungles of freeways and the traffic with such sprawl and reliance on cars can give Los Angeles some stiff competition. Except Los Angeles still doesn’t have the big tolls that some Dallas freeways charge, a real trap for visitors to the Metroplex.

No stadium can compete size- or price-wise with the massive, billion-dollar spaceship built by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the middle of nowhere, also known as Arlington. Even the baseball stadium, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, is at least the 7th largest ballpark in Major League Baseball.

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

Of course in the summer, Big D gets some Dallas-sized temperature readings, where the main challenge of the day becomes how to constantly remain in a swimming pool or air-conditioned building. In Dallas, the triple digit heat is intense, but it is a dry heat as they like to say, unlike down in humid Houston. (more…)

Beer of the Week: Tartare Sour Berliner Weisse, Bear Republic Brewing Co., Healdsburg, CA

What a great name for a soft, easy to drink at 4% ABV beer. Usually tartare evokes raw beef, bloody rare. It’s not usually a bucolic term. This tartare evokes sunny days in the California Wine Country, or this time of year, a perfect session beer to carry you through hours of Oktoberfest oompah bands.

Tartare manages to balance being both a tart and slightly fruity beer with subtle elements of mango and blueberry. It has far more character than the typical Berlin style wheat beer, that often seems like a muddled down hefeweizen, if that’s even possible. Perhaps the character of Tartare comes from being fermented in a 2500 gallon oak vessel. It’s treated with all the care that the Zinfandel grapes receives at the hundreds of wineries surrounding Bear Republic in Healdsburg, CA.

Tartare on the Far Right

The beer’s body is less murky and hazy yellow than most of this genre. Instead it’s almost a healthy straw golden hue, nearly shining. Of course Bear Republic is best known for its Racer 5 IPA, a slightly lighter, less bitter version of an IPA than by nearby rivals Lagunitas and Russian River. I didn’t care for the somewhat prickly Jack London ESB or the indistinct Red Rocket Red Amber Ale. However, the Hop Rod Rye, the not too burly and heavy Big Black Bear Stout, and a sensational double IPA hop bomb called Café Racer 15 show why Bear Republic is one of the country’s leading craft brewers…and they’re from the heart of Wine Country.

Well, this is Wine Country after all. No wonder they call Tartare the “champagne of beers.”