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Juneau Meets Kyoto to go to Santiago

February 22, 2010

Today I used my foodie bible, Gourmet Today, to compile our dinner again. Work today was particularly stressful since seven head honchos from the corporate office came to our store for a visit. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the grocery store and replace the milk and eggs that recently went bad in my refrigerator. However, with the consolation that my paycheck would be arriving tomorrow, I picked up some Alaskan Salmon and Root:1 2008 Chardonnay, a Chilean wine (which happened to be a luxurious $8.99).

Tonight was a wet dream for the economizing side of me since there were only three ingredients in my main dish: soy sauce, maple syrup and of course, the salmon. The recipe was appropriately titled Salmon with Soy Glaze. I had been anxious to make this recipe since I spotted it, but to my surprise, Chris, the usually adventurous eater, was hesitant. Supposedly, the combination of the sweet syrup and tangy soy sauce put him off, but I had great confidence that a juicy, somewhat crisp glaze would compliment the boldly flavored fish (which also happens to be my favorite of all our swimming dinners).

The recipe called for primarily roasting the fish, but I opted to grill ours on my indoor cast iron grill first. After grilling it until it cooked about halfway through, I used my basting brush to coat each side generously with the maple-soy glaze, which I had simmered for about 7 minutes. I then transferred the fillets (each about an inch and a half thick) to an open roaster and broiled them in my oven for about 15 minutes. This cooked the rest of the fish through, as well as made the glaze a little crispy on the thinner parts of the fish. Intermittently during those 15 minutes, I reached in to recoat the fish with its glaze to keep it from drying out and to saturate it with the flavor. My product was a moist fish; with a perfectly balanced glaze that caramelized beautifully.

As my side, I opted for Green Beans with Ginger Butter, another frugal recipe. After boiling the green beans until tender, I tossed them in a skillet with melted butter and ginger. Again, I used powdered ginger and skipped the lemon zest the recipe called for. However, I believe it would have been a nice addition to add a little citrus to the plate, since citrus always pairs so well with fish. I used about two tablespoons of extra butter, but the beans definitely did not need it, since they became a little drippy. A very nice lesson in restraint.

Paired with the dish was the Chilean Chardonnay, Root:1. An ungrafted wine, which Chris loved, and I could have lived without. It was crisp and effervescent, with much apple coming through from its first to last note. It went well with the fish, but I found it to be too much like champagne, and it was almost too tart for me. Just goes to show how two palates are so different, and even if someone loves a wine, you may hate it, and visa versa. In this case, we agreed to disagree.

-Ren

A Curry Adventure

February 10, 2010

For Christmas, my mother gave me a bible. Not literally the bible (and considering it was my mother giving the gift, I was very surprised it wasn’t that bible) but it was what she, and now I, have dubbed the ‘foodie bible.’ The bible to which I refer to is the recently released Gourmet Today cookbook. I was incredibly saddened when I read that Gourmet magazine would never again be gracing the shelves of my local CVS and Wallgreens when it was pulled from publication in November. But I consider myself very lucky to be given this treasure as a remembrance of their countless years of providing readers with food and drink knowledge, articles and recipes. If I could own only one cookbook, (which is a frightening thought) I would have to vote for my Gourmet Today one. It has everything from simple to complex recipes, to ingredient tips to current news about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s involvement in the sustainable fish project.

Their cookbook has a good hundred pounds on their monthly issues, but tonight I just needed the one page that contained the recipe for Chicken Curry with Cashews. Now the fact that I did not have one of the title ingredients in my pantry, namely the cashews, did not stop me from concocting my own take of the recipe. Due to the large volume of chicken I was making due to my dependency on leftovers for lunch the following day, I dragged out my 7.25 quart Le Creuset Bouillabaisse. Working as a sales associate for the company, definitely has its perks.

I learned this very useful trick of increasing the dish size to create leftovers when I found myself day after day waking up for work a mere 15 minutes before I had to leave. Since I barely had enough time to shower, I certainly had no time to make a lunch for myself. Thus, stranded at work with no car, (lucky Chris was the usual recipient of our motor vehicle since his commute was longer) I was forced to eat the local sewage the mall café deemed as edible food. So, leftovers from last nights’ dinner became my new best friend. Not only can this trick be a time saver, but it is also an economically friendly suggestion, since some more unique ingredients I purchase for meals that only require two teaspoons get more usage when doubling a recipe. I will still have half a jar of curry paste sitting in my fridge for many weeks to follow I presume, but at least its not three quarters full.

Other ingredients the recipe called for included butter, onions, garlic, fresh ginger, curry powder, cumin, cayenne, chicken, diced tomatoes in juice, cilantro, cashews, and whole milk yogurt. Since my local supermarket was devoid of fresh ginger (thank you very much Stop and Shop) I substituted powdered ginger. I also swapped out curry power for curry paste and whole-milk yogurt for low-fat yogurt, not because I wanted to be health conscious (heaven forbid) but because low-fat was on sale. As opposed to the cashews, Chris suggested peanuts, his favorite of all legumes. I consented, and after pulling the whole meal together, didn’t end up regretting the decision. The crunchy peanuts went along with the spicy curry chicken, which was cooked to perfection. I served it over some olive oil and garlic couscous in some brown wooden bowls. For me, the couscous nicely cut down the heat of the curry and cayenne, making the dish very appeasing to my palate (and making Chris pull out his hot sauces).

– Ren

Foodie Hot Spot

February 8, 2010

The aquarium is one of my most favorite places to go. It doesn’t matter if its rainy or sunny outside, I love the aquarium. The fish, the glowing-blue tanks, the brilliant coral, even the gift shops with overpriced cheesy stuffed animals. (These are the ones you finally get after a lot of pleading in the store and then bury them in your closet a week later because, realistically, you can’t fit a four-foot penguin on your bed.) I love it all. So, one can image my disappointment when Chris and I recently frequented one of Connecticut’s notable attractions, the Mystic Aquarium. And it was absolutely terrible. The fish were depressed, the tanks were almost green, and the coral was non-existent (in fact, its only redeeming quality was its gift shop, but after such a sad display, those pricey stuffed animals seem much less cute and much more insulting).

Something had to be done to revive me. Luckily, we decided to drive around Mystic. Having gone to the infamous Mystic Pizza with my ex, and not wanting to relive those lovely memories, we looked for a quick bite elsewhere. And, as though fate had a hand in it, we arrived very smoothly at East Mystic Market. I thought an aquarium was awesome, well then this place was way cooler. We opened the doors to find soft jazz playing, several couples and friends sitting at small, circular tables, a few small ‘aisles’ of gourmet food products to buy, and several prepared foods counters. These foods ranged from imported cheeses to cannolli’s to baked ziti to gelato. I made a beeline straight to the cheese counter. Now, as much as I love aquariums, I have to put cheese on a whole other level. I briefly recall an episode of Friends, in which Monica claims she would love to see a house made of cheese. Well, I would want to live there. Of course, I would eat my house, so realistically, I would have to keep the lease on our apartment. But still, I believe it’s a brilliant concept.

I selected an herbed goat cheese, made with rosemary, lavender, mint, and some secret ingredients my palate couldn’t decipher. It was wonderfully creamy and rich, as goat cheese typically is, and the herbs lingered on my tongue after the cheese had been swallowed.  It tasted complete on its own or spread over one of the salty crackers. We paired this with the French drink L’orina. It was my first try of this delicious drink and I couldn’t have been more impressed. It was much healthier than a soda, but still had a light sugariness and flavor to it, so you knew you were drinking more than flat water. I would definitely recommend it, if you don’t want to splurge on a wine for your cheese appetizer (although it had a pretty fancy price tag as well). I always find sparkling water to be another nice alternative as well. And, in my experience, you don’t necessarily have to shell out the big bucks for San Pellegrino or Perrier. Lately, we’ve been indulging in Poland Springs Lime Sparkling water, which, while there are some taste differences (San Pellegrino, which my mother always has her refrigerator stocked with, is decidedly lighter), does the trick. But, hey, if you have the money, go for the wine- all the time.

– Ren

For Richer or For Poorer

January 29, 2010

Today, Ren and I were granted a wonderful experience by two of our favorite people. A family friend of my brother’s, Carolyn Ferris Parker and Damian Parker (Director of Winemaking at Joseph Phelps Vineyards) introduced us to, as some have called it, American Eden. Napa Valley has everything for a wayward pair of food and wine hedonists. From the hundreds of tasting rooms with their ornamental and hardly used spittal vases to Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc and French Laundry, there is room for the most Dyonesian and gluttoness. With names like Insignia and their newest Bacchus, our first stop was clearly Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Thanks to the setup from Damian and Carloyn, we first sat down with their head of hospitality, one Mr. Steven Pavvy. Steven, alike to us, had not always been a wino. From minister to software engineer, it took him six different career paths to discover that wine was what he should do with his life. He described the ins and outs of the business and actually partially inspired our current more journalistic blogging venture.

After an hour and a half of amusing and informative chit chat, Steven sent us to one of St. Helena’s most delicious diner turned gastropubs, Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. Selling everything from fish tacos to real free range steak burgers and Bud Light to Opus One, Taylor’s incorporated both the chic and the rustic sides of America’s Eden. At around fifteen dollars, I enjoyed the the fish tacos. They came perfectly prepared with enough crumbly tilapia and fresh pico de gallo to make any mouth water. Ren got one of the burgers. She has never made me feel so jealous. Each bite she took created a slight popping sound as the freshly cooked beef juices flooded her mouth and left the air smelling of dreams come true. We shared a lemonade, which tasted fresh squeezed, but who knew? The rest was so good it didn’t matter.

After Taylor’s had done us in, we meandered into Dean and Deluca. That’s right New Yorker’s, there is one in California too. Looking over the high priced items like pink salt slabs from Afghanistan and candies from Spain was fun. Thank god we were already full or we would have spent all of our money. They had some fun licorices that had filling in the middle. They reminded me of my Grandfather and left the same gooey remnants on my teeth that my dentist had warned me about all those years ago.

Finally, we gave in and returned to Joseph Phelps for the second part of our day as royalty. Steven had known our weekness. He had left us a complimentary seminar on Le Naz (the nose) with one of his able front men, Michael. Michael poured each of our glasses and began to tell us all of the different hints the olfactory sense can pick up. I can’t really go into it here since you really have to have the wine in front of you, but let’s just say that it made a believer out of me. I now look at the back of the bottle and try to pick out the fruit or wood motes that are listed. Some still seem mischievously concocted, but now quite a few smell legitimate.

In essence, it was a perfect day. Ren and I picked up a bottle of their 2007 Chardonnay and went gallivanting back to our most wonderful host and hostess’ house. After a delicious dinner at Pearl Restaurant, a rustic California cuisine restaurant and oyster bar where we enjoyed their signature polenta, chicken verde, and beef tacos, we returned late with Carolyn to welcome home Damian and sip on one of the many reds in their cellar. We would have to get to bed early because the next day was to be just as full.

The next morning, I awoke in a sweat not because of a nightmare but because of the excitement. Damian was going to give us a private tour of JPV. As we neared the vineyard one last time, we saw them spraying their grapes with a composted mix of chicken manure and grape skins. A wonderfully rich and organic way to fertilize the soon to be bottle of Insignia that would surely rest on some lucky person’s table. Damian took us into the barrel room, showing us hundreds of new French oak barrels. The smell of delicious of red wine permeated the room. That image was emblazened on my mind for the rest of the day. After the tour, Ren and I bid Napa farewell and we set out on the long drive home.

When we got out of the county, we did the only thing that felt right. There was too many good and wonderful organic things in our bodies. We had to make a pit stop and it wouldn’t be pretty. We stopped at McDonalds and flying over the bay bridge back to San Francisco, I licked the surely cancer giving big mac juice off my face. Then we saw this guy, a remnant of why everyone can’t have good wine. He wanted weed instead. How silly. So in turn we did what any young couple would do, we gunned it down Hwy 1 with Ren hanging out the window trying to snap shots of the view and me edging a little too close to the guard rails to see if I could scare her back in.

In conclusion, it was amazing, and for one weekend, Ren and I lost our retail working cynicism and lived the life that we hoped one day we would deserve, a life in Eden.

– Chris with photos by Ren – I guess she dodged the guard rail 😦

Zin In Paradise: Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing

January 28, 2010

Tonight, we really lived the good life. Thanks to Chris’ parents, we were able to indulge in an evening filled with delicious food from talented chefs and Zins from top producers (what could be better!?) in Fort Mason, located in San Francisco. It was ZAP‘s pairing night and we came hungry. For the evening we grazed through the warehouse-like building, tasting, smelling, and attempting to judge wine pairings. Some of these pairings left us with a large question mark floating atop our heads (we’re hoping no one noticed), but others were simply divine, the notes of the Zin perfectly combining with the bite-sized dish they were matched with, each enhancing the others’ flavor.

One of the standout wines of the night was Gnarly Head‘s Old Vine Zin of Lodi. Gnarly Head came to event decked out with paraphernalia including bumper stickers, tattoos, and keychains (I unabashedely stuffed my pockets with all of the above), most featuring their tagline “Life should be Gnarly.” I certainly agreed with them after trying their Old Zin, which they describe as “Rich, Dark Berry Flavors, Lusciously layered with Chocolate, plum, pepper and vanilla notes and a lingering, spicy finish.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

D-Cubed cellars of St. Helena, CA teamed up with Chef Tyler Stone, a chef, we were told, who became a chef at age 16. We smiled as Stone’s employee shared the child prodigy’s life story with us as she passed over his amuse-bouche; a steak tartar on what seemed to be a tortilla chip. I have to say that this is one of the dishes that sticks in my mind as a flop for the evening. I found it dry, flat, with an unpleasant texture.

To me, the star of the night was clear with the pairing of Starry Night Winery (no pun intended) of Novato, CA and Bill Woodbridge’s Pazzo, of Petaluma, CA. Pazzo produced a cheese raviolli with a creamy, chive-infused truffle sauce which was the best ‘mini-meal’ I had the whole evening. This paired beautifully with Starry Night’s Old Vine Zin deep and light notes.

As if my Pazzo experience couldn’t get any better after winning the top prize with my palate, Chris and I were lucky enough to step outside for a few minutes of fresh air through a side exit and stumble right into their cook and cooking station. After discovering this cook was the producer of my star meal, I quickly became star struck. A playful exchange took place between the three of us as my little “celebrity chef” shared with me some words of wisdom about his dish: “Everything tasted better with lots of cream and lots of butter.” Perhaps not a universal commandment, but definitely some sound advice when it comes to ravioli.

– Ren