Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wino Wednesday

I ain’t no wine snob. I don’t know hardly anything about wine except what I like – and what I don’t like. So if I sing the praises of a white zinfandel or wax eloquent about a Little Penguin merlot, then you’ve been forewarned. But I do like to drink wine and I’m trying to train my taste buds a little bit more to distinguish the good from the nearly-vinegar. ‘Course, if you drink enough wine, it all tastes just fine…
Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2008
Price: $13-14 (It’s on sale at Sainsbury’s for £4.99, for my UK readers)
Red, White, or Pink?: White
Pairs with: lighter seafood dishes, salads
Maggie’s Grade: B-

If there’s one thing I can be certain of in my skimming through reviews of the Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2008 from Chile, it’s that nobody agrees. I’m getting the feeling that this is true with a great many wine connoisseurs – or those who style themselves as such.

This pale white wine hails from the Maule Valley in Chile, is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes and aged 2-3 months in stainless steel tanks, and is 12.5% alcohol. It won the 2009 Wines of Chile Awards Bronze medal and the 2008 International Wine and Spirits Competition Bronze medal. Good on it! Oh – and it’s got a screw-cap. I think we’ve gotten past the point where the type of stopper/topper indicates the quality of the wine, but it’s worth noting.

So the web sites I skimmed with reviews of their own of this wine list words like:
“refreshing acidity”
“almost no acidity”
“lime, lime, lime”

I definitely tasted the citrus, but not the hay. (Hay?! Lord, wine people are weird.) It’s a crisp, light wine with not a lot of body – to me, there’s not a lot of there there. There’s just…not much to it. It doesn’t linger on the tongue particularly, nor does it provide any nice flavor burst at the beginning. There’s an almost-floral bright grapefruity citrus note right in the middle of the taste, and then in fades to nothing except a memory of the alcohol content.

My conclusion: it’s maybe slightly above average, but not much. You can probably find a more fun sauvignon blanc for the retail price – roughly $13-14 – but it might be worth getting on sale if you’re having a light salad or seafood dinner or don’t want anything too heavy.

La Couronne des Plantagenets Vouvray 2007
Price: £5-6 ($9-10)
Red, White, or Pink: White
Pairs with: dessert, aperitif, heavier seafood
Maggie’s Grade: A-

I really enjoyed this wine. It’s a little bit sparkly, with some rich honey notes – definitely on the sweeter side (the bottle says “demi-sec” - half-dry). The taste is complex; the honey notes linger on the tongue. For once I agree with the few other reviews I’ve seen – complex, drinkable, reasonably priced, and refreshing.

The packaging notes: “this medium-sweet wine comes from the appellation of Vouvray – situated on the north bank of the Loire…Produced from the Chenin Blanc grape…the resulting wine possesses a honey and apple aroma with mellow fruit flavors, balanced by a refreshing acidity.”

Yeah, I’ll buy that.

Conclusion: Nomnomnom. More please.

Sainsbury’s Corbières
Price: £3-4
Pairs with: anything, if you drink enough of it. Or use it in cooking. It’s certainly cheap enough.
Red, White, or Pink: Red
Maggie’s Grade: C

The Sainsbury’s Corbières is pressed from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes from the limestone hills between Carcassonne, Narbonne and Perpignan in the south of France. Reviews use words like “plummy” and “meaty” to describe it – I didn’t get that at all. What I did get was a big ol’ mouthful of tannins that even leaving the glass to breathe for a couple of hours didn’t fix. To me, this wine was far too tart – to the point of being vinegary. I didn’t care for it at all. I’m even wondering if the particular bottle I got was somehow off. I really enjoy a full-bodied red – this seemed…well, it needed some more meat on its bones to be classified as the kind of Rubenesque that I appreciate in reds. It almost tasted burnt.

My conclusion: I may try it again, because the price was ridiculously right, and other reviewers have such a different opinion of it that I wonder if it’s maybe me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Crème Fraîche - Ooh La La!

On a recent visit, my friend Kim passed along a recipe for crème fraîche, which I made and got rave reviews for at an Independence Day BBQ.
Despite its complicated diacritical marks and general air of French aloofness, crème fraîche is remarkably easy to make. It's also delicious, versatile, and an excellent bulk-builder for those of you trying to gain weight (seriously - it's 28% butterfat. Which is why it tastes so good!)

Cool things about crème fraîche :
  • You can whip it, whip it good (thank you, Devo, for leaping unbidden into my head)
  • You can use it in sweet or savory dishes
  • It won't curdle in recipes - although you should still add it at the end of cooking, and don't use light crème fraîche for cooking.
  • It keeps for 7-10 days in the refrigerator
Crème Fraîche Ingredients:
2 c. heavy (or "double," in the UK) cream - NOT ultra-pasteurized!
3 T. buttermilk
  • Heat the heavy cream verrrrry gently over a low flame until just warmed.
  • Stir in the buttermilk.
  • Transfer to a glass jar; leave for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir, then put in the refrigerator for a few more hours, to cool.
  • Whip with a bit of sugar and a dash of vanilla; mix in savory ingredients for a delicious chip dip; stir into borscht, asparagus soup, black bean chili, scoop over baked potatoes - basically, anything you'd use whipped cream or sour cream for, you can use Crème fraîche.
*Note: My crème fraîche became increasingly thicker as time went on, so by the time the Bald Guy and I ate the last of it, it was very thick indeed - like softened margarine. Still absolutely delicious!

Friday, July 3, 2009

WokkyWokky Steamed Bok Choy Plus Peanut Saucy Noodles

I just like saying that.
Bokkybokky! bokbokbok. Also fun to say!


I don't actually own a wok, but I have a very wok-like pan. Anyway, this recipe calls for a wok but not for the high temperatures normally associated with the Asian cooking tool staple.
I made pork chops (average. Sigh.), wok-steamed bok choy, and noodles with peanut sauce tonight. I was disappointed with the pork chops, and the method I used to cook it was nothing extraordinary, so we're skippin' the meat and going straight to the sides.

I got the bok choy recipe from this amusing site, with only very minor tweaking - Her photos are much better than mine and document every plot twist and turn in the steaming (steamy?) saga.

Bok Choy Ingredients
1.5 pounds bok choy or baby bok choy (I used baby bok choy)
1.5 T (or a couple of swirls around the pan) of olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced (I used jarred garlic - a teaspoon)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (Hell yes, I used jarred ginger!)
3 T broth, water, or a splash of wine and a tablespoon or so of water
Salt to taste
1/2 t. sesame oil

  • Trim the stem off the bok choy - just the end. Separate the leaves but keep the tender center intact. Clean leaves under running water.
  • If you use fresh garlic cloves and/or ginger, grate with a microplane grater.
  • Add garlic and ginger to the pan with the oil. Turn heat on to medium-high. Cook the ginger and garlic gently until they become fragrant and light golden brown, then add the bok choy leaves.
  • Toss very well to coat each leaf with the garlic/oil.
  • Pour in broth/water/wine.
  • Immediately cover and let cook for 1 minute.
  • Take off the heat and put on a plate! Very important - otherwise your veggies will continue cooking by the heat of the pan and you'll end up with bleh-k choy.
  • Season with salt and drizzle with a bit of sesame oil on top.
I found the following yummy peanut sauce recipe at another site, cookingwithamy. I'm not sure who Amy is yet, but I'm sure I'll continue checking out her informative site.

Peanut Sauce Ingredients
1/4 c. peanut butter (natural, no sugar added)
2 t. soy sauce
1 T. brown sugar
1 T. fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 c. coconut milk (can use lite coconut milk or substitute water)
1/4 c. water
red chili flake to taste
chili garlic sauce to taste, or 1 clove crushed garlic

sesame oil
curry paste
rice wine vinegar
fish sauce
grated ginger

Dump everything into a saucepan over low-to-medium-ish heat. Stir until sauce begins to bubble and thicken, and peanut butter has smoothed out into the sauce. Toss with your favorite noodles. Or spoon over ice cream. Or eat it on Ryvita toast. Whatever makes your little peanut-sauce-crazed self happy.

Not-Feelin' Guilty Confessions: I used bottled lemon juice, water instead of coconut milk, and added sesame oil, fish sauce (just a LEETLE BIT!), and jarred minced ginger, and tossed it with regular al dente thin spaghetti, and it was delicious.