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Thomas The Accidental Gourmet

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tasting Notes

Having recently completed (successfully, I might add) a trip to Napa for Jenn's 4-Oh, I figured it would be polite of me to share a few of my observations.

1. Always go to Del Dotto. Their barrel tasting is over the top.

1(a). Recognize that there's a reason other wineries refer to Del Dotto as "Del Blotto." Make it the last stop of the day, or you won't appreciate your other stops.

2. Find a driver.  Taxi, Limo, whatever. We used Jill Sandbek (707-225-4067), who took us to some places she has scouted that are off the beaten path. Jill really cared that we had a good time; as a result, we did!

3. If you ever have the chance to eat a dinner at Caldwell, jump at it.  John Caldwell is a great host.  You might, however, leave your credit card at home.  Otherwise (and this happened to more than one of us), you'll make some really phenomenal purchases that are not on the...shall we say...fiscally responsible side.

4. Wine clubs can be good things.  At Chandon and Mumm, for instance, having one person sign up pretty much paid for the tasting fee, plus got us a few perks to enjoy while we were there.  The fine print on all these clubs gives you a pretty quick cancellation period (1-2 shipments, usually), so they're probably worth it, especially at the larger vineyards.

5. Always bring a camera.

6.  See note 5.

7. Seriously.

8.  You might, however, want to reconsider posing every time a camera comes out. (Driver Jill)

9. Tours at larger wineries tend to be informative.  For instance, we went through Castello di Amorosa, which ran a group of about 12 every 10 minutes. I would say that a good third to half of the tour was devoted to the wine making process and technology. I certainly wouldn't spend too much of my visit checking out the big guys, but you shouldn't avoid them altogether.

10. That being said, staying off the beaten track gets you a more rewarding experience.  We enjoyed a tasting in the Celanis' living room. Martin's owner, Greg, took us on a tour of his home to view his antique arms and armor collection. Bart O'Brien lit a fire for us to enjoy while the sun set (he left us alone to be with his family). 

11. Finally, if you find you're not enjoying some place, bug out.  There are plenty of vineyards to see.  Not everyone understands marketing, and a few (i.e. those who can't smell because they did too much coke in the 80s) don't understand making wine. Don't let someone ruin your day.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to attend a TRO hearing.  My liver is NOT happy with me just now.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blue Corn Chili Souffle (With a Side of Tournedos and Sauce Bearnaise)

I think Jenn and I have been out on a date for valentine's day once.  It was an unmitigated disaster.  Cold food, crappy service, and a menu with about three choices. Oh, and it was over-priced, to boot.  Suffice it to say, we don't go out for valentine's day. 

Besides, when every day is valentine's day, what's so special about the 14th of  February?

After failing at making blue corn cornbread because of the fine consistency of the corn meal, I thought that maybe it would work as a flour substitute in something else. It still has the gritty quality of corn, so it's not really good for bread or pasta.  But it works quite well for a savory souffle.

Blue Corn Chili Souffle (With a Side of Tournedos and Sauce Bearnaise)

What You Need


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature

1/4 cup blue corn meal
2/3cup whole milk
5 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 large egg yolks
4 large egg whites
1 small can Hatch green chilis (diced)

Tournedos with Sauce Bearnaise

2 10-oz filets, preferably prime (about 2 1/2 inch thick) (OK, technically not a tournedos, but we went a little over-board)
2 tablespoons grape seed oil (or other high smoke point oil)
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cold water
150 grams butter
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 sprigs tarragon
1 cup prosecco
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 lemon
1/8 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
white pepper

What To Do with It

Get a sous chef.  Things get going kind of fast.

About an hour before cooking, put your meat on the counter to warm  up.

Drain the green chilis well.

Mince the shallots. Strip the leaves off one tarragon sprig and mince them.  Set the minced leaves aside and keep the stem.

Put the prosecco, vinegar, black pepper, one sprig of tarragon and the stem in a small sauce pot. Reduce on medium until there's about 1/3 cup left. Strain through a fine chinoise (or you can use a coffee filter).

Clarify the butter (cook on low heat until melted, then skim the solids off the top (you don't have to get them all).

Preheat oven to 350°F. Rub inside of four one-cup ramekins with butter. Coat with a light dusting of cornmeal; tap out excess. Beat egg whites in large bowl until stiff.


Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons corn meal and cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium. Simmer mixture until very thick, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Add the goat cheese and whisk until melted and smooth. Mix in salt and pepper. Whisk egg yolks in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot the corn meal mixture. Cool 5 minutes.

Mix 1/2 of whites into the souffle base to lighten. Add the drained chilis and fold in the remaining whites. Pour into ramekins. Place in 13x9x2-inch glass or metal baking pan. Add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of ramekins.

Bake for 25 minutes.


Put a pan on medium-high heat. If you have a second oven, turn it to about 175. Put salt and pepper on each side of the steaks (a healthy pinch on each side).

In a saucier, whisk the egg yolks and water until frothy. Place over medium heat and whisk like the dickens.
The sabayon will suddenly thicken and just about triple in volume, and you'll be able to see the bottom of the saucier.  Keep whisking 5-10 seconds, then remove from heat and continue whisking for about another 30 seconds.

With about 15 minutes to go before the souffle is done, put the oil in the pan. Once it gets heated and you pan is coated, throw in your steak. Cook for 5 minutes per side (you're going to end up with a rare steak). Put the entire pan in your second oven (if you don't have a second oven, cook an additional minute, then remove from heat.

Stir the butter into your sabayon (maybe over the course of about 45 seconds).  Add the prosecco reduction, then add the minced tarragon and salt, white pepper and lemon to taste).

We served with a Del Dotto Cabernet Franc (2007).  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hunter's Stew

I believe that we lack rites of passage. I'm not talking about the "put your hand in a woven glove filled with stinging ants variety." I'm talking about those things that propel us from one stage of life to another.

It used to be that we had some significant milestones.  Your first car? It was freedom. It was establishing boundaries. It was responsibility.  Now? It's either a riced-out racing machine that only teaches responsibility when wrapped around a street lamp, or it's got so many parental-imposed limits ("don't drive on the freeways" "don't drive after dark") that the boundaries are pre-made, and freedom is squelched.

Instead of true rites of passages, we substitute events such as kindergarten "graduation" (give me a freaking break), or children create their own (hazing, anyone?). Either way, these are not rites of passage. They teach nothing. They do not serve as watershed moments.

Recently, we had our nephews up to my family's place in Colorado. Pretty much located in the midst of the Pike National Forest, it's where I did a lot of my growing up.  My dad brought out a BB gun for them to shoot with one caveat: nothing moving except a rabbit that liked my mother's petunias.

For several days, it looked as if the rabbit would win (favorite quote from the great rabbit hunt: BUNNY! ... chck-chck). 

Then, finally, Cole shot it.

And with the clarity of a diamond bullet to the forehead he confronted a range of dilemmas and moral choices. What's the difference between enjoying the hunt, and enjoying killing? If I'm not OK with shooting a rabbit and cooking it up, can I be OK with the hamburger I ate yesterday?  Perhaps most importantly: Now that I've done the deed, am I going to cowboy up, own what I've done, and finish the job?

After a few minutes on the front stoop processing through things, and coming out on the right side of the questions, in my opinion, we got down to the business of skinning the rabbit, then butchering it (part of the lesson, donchaknow?).  The next day, we made hunter's stew for lunch which, although a bit lean on the meat (one rabbit for 6 provides about two to three bites each), was pretty damn tasty.

But most importantly, it was a rite of passage for Cole that few his age experience.

Hunter's Stew

What You Need

Rabbit. Ideally, one for every two people.
Broth (made from the rabbit carcass if you have it, from chicken if you don't).
Carrots, about one per person (oh, the irony)
Potatoes (depending on how much starch you like in your stew, around 1 for every 2 people)
Onion, about 1/4 cup sliced per person
Celery leaves (fresh)
A few sprigs parsley

What To Do With It

The Rabbit

Butcher your bunny. Here's a link if you have no idea (except I cut the loin off, as you would  from a deer). You're going to want a boning knife, by the way.

Put each carcass (ribs, backbone) and belly meat in about 2 cups of water per rabbit with pepper, salt, the celery leaves and oregano (1 teaspoon per rabbit). Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, drop in about a teaspoon of olive oil, and get a good sear on your rabbit (legs, loin): about 3 minutes/side.

The Rest

After your broth has been going about 30 minutes, put your potatoes, carrots and onions and a bit more oregano (1/4 teaspoon or so per 2 people), on to boil (about 1 cup water/2 people), then simmer over medium-low heat (for a thicker stew, start the potatoes at the same time you start your broth so more starch gets released, then bring to a boil mid-way and add the carrots and onions.)

Finally, join it all together (broth (minus the carcass), rabbit, veggies, parsley), and let that go for about 15 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy with some soda biscuits (or as my friends call them, "hard tack").