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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have some arsenic and plastic with that turkey?

Raised free range and fed organic soy and corn, my organic Diestel turkey is brining away in the frig in preparation for tomorrow's meal with sprigs of rosemary and oregano. I don't eat turkey myself, but make a traditional dinner for family and friends. Today's Los Angeles Times includes an article on arsenic (yes, it's legal!) in commercial-grade poultry feed, as well as the use of an arsenic-based antimicrobial compound called Roxarsone to improve the appearance of turkey meat. Besides organic producers, the article mentions Tyson and Purdue Farms as producers that shun the use of Roxarsone.
Brining turkey for a day before roasting is no longer a novelty, as we cooks have found it vastly improves the moistness of the meat. It's alarming how many people brine in plastic that is not food grade. I remember going to one bbq where the meat had been marinating in plastic lawn bags. Food grade plastic is regulated by the FDA, other plastics usually contain pthalates and BPA to improve flexibility, which may leach into food and cause a host of problems.

A plethora of roast turkey recipes are available online. After decades of trying every method, here is my tried-and-true recipe for roasting a great Thanksgiving turkey:
1 organic turkey--this year 18 lb.
handful fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh oregano
cup of sea salt
spray oil
1 container (2 1/2 oz.) paprika
2 Tbsp. ground sage
2 Tbsp. ground thyme
2 Tbsp. ground marjoram
1 cup chicken stock
1 stick butter
1 cup good white wine
Sterilize the sink, wash the turkey inside and out with cool water. Put a brining bag (food safe with a ziploc top so water will not spill in your frig!) into a your baking pan, put the turkey in the bag and fill with water so the level is halfway up the turkey. Add the salt, rosemary and oregano. Seal and put in the refrigerator a the day before Thanksgiving. Turn the turkey over in the bag a few times during the brining time. On the big day, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Drain the turkey, then pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Lightly spray with olive oil. Mix the paprika, sage, thyme and marjoram. Fill the paprika jar with the mixture and sprinkle the turkey all over so the entire surface is covered with spice. Put the turkey on a rack the baking pan so it will not sit in the juices and put an oven-safe thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh. Pour a cup of chicken stock into the bottom of the pan. Tie the legs together and put aluminum foil over the end of the wings. Put the turkey in the oven, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a pan and soak a 2 foot length of clean cheesecloth in the butter. After the turkey has cooked for half an hour, put the butter-soaked cheesecloth over the breast, folding it as needed to fit. After another half hour of roasting, begin basting the turkey with the juices every half hour. If any part of the turkey starts browning too much, put some foil over it. About an hour before the turkey should be done, pour the white wine over it and continue roasting and baking it until the thermometer reaches 165 degrees (170 degrees if the turkey is not organic) and the skin is golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit for 20 minutes while you make the gravy.
To make gravy for your Thanksgiving, put the innards (gizzards, neck, etc.) into a pot with a bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots and 4 cups of water. Simmer the entire time you are baking the turkey, adding water to keep the level constant. Skim most of the fat off the top of the turkey cooking juices, then use a spatula to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the baking pan. Add to the stock, stir, then strain. Use some of the fat you skimmed off to brown a 1/2 cup of flour in a pan. Add the strained stock and simmer until it thickens, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Some people like to mince the gizzards and liver and put it into the gravy.

If you love to talk about food as much as you like to enjoy it, let us know what you're cooking tomorrow. I'm making roasted acorn squash slices, brushed with butter and maple syrup, then baked until the outside is a bit caramelly, sprinkled with pepitas. We'll have that as an appetizer with cheese and crackers my neighbor is bringing and some Domaine Chandon sparkling wine. Roast turkey with sausage, onion, and green apple stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, Brussels sprouts pan-fried in olive oil with veggie baco-bits and Parmesan cheese (veggie version of this recipe), buttered green beans with toasted almonds, green and black olive bread, salad, and pumpkin and apple pie for dessert. Chardonnay being brought for the white wine lovers, 2009 Jaffurs Syrah and 2003 Paradise Ridge Rockpile Vineyard Merlot (one of my favorite wineries) for those of us who love red. mmmm...

I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pour ME Only RED Wine!

Food magazines and wine sites are full of advice on what wines to pair for Thanksgiving. A cursory look through them confirmed what I suspected--crisp, light whites or sparklers to start, then medium bodied whites like Chardonnay to pair with the turkey. Lighter reds like Pinot Noir or Rhone blends are suggested, with an occasional mention of a medium fruity red like a Syrah or Bordeaux. But the big California Cabs and Zins seem to be shunned, probably because they are too tannic, too fruit-forward, too bold.

As a host, I'll have a selection of wines for friends and family to enjoy, and as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time trying to pair the perfect food with a wine, I will advise a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir for my guests so their palate will not be overwhelmed. But when it comes to pour my glass of wine--pour me only red wine--as bold and brash as they come. I adore Cabernet, Zin and Barolo, that's what I love to drink. I'll be cooking, but not eating the turkey, so a big red will pair perfectly with yams cooked with maple syrup, puffed cauliflower with cheddar cheese, cranberry sauce spiced with mustard and cinnamon, black olive bread and garlic mashed potatoes. Besides, this is the one meal of the year where one should select just what one desires to eat, so the same should hold true with the wine. If you love oaked Chardonnay--drink what you love! If you love a powerful red, I'll join you with a glass of my own. To all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are some other reasons to choose red wine over white:
  • phenolic compounds in red wine inhibit the oxidation of LDL ("bad cholesterol") and increase levels of HDL ("good cholesterol) and help prevent platelets aggregation (decrease the chance of blood clots leading to stroke and heart disease)
  • resveratrol, quercetin and catechin in red wine are all anti-oxidants and help prevent cancers
  • procyanidin in tannic red wines may be the agent that aids artery and vein health
  • one glass of wine a day is especially beneficial to women in preventing heart disease, according to the American Council On Science And Health
Speaking of wine--Wine Spectator is allowing free access to their website until November 28th! It normally is blocked, unless you pay $49.95 per year, so this is the chance for us to get in and look around. Here's what they have to say on Thanksgiving wine pairing.

Southern California locals! Save tons of money this Saturday at the big Wine Warehouse Sale. Also, try the $20 three course meal at the Harbor Restaurant on a Sunday - Thursday night. I've been twice and last night the poached salmon with bok choy, asparagus and crisped mashed potatoes was served with a tasty beurre blanc. A tremendous value at an upscale restaurant where the entrees are mostly over $ a gorgeous view of the ocean and our lovely Santa Barbara.

A family tradition for 50+ years, this cranberry sauce is sweetened with orange juice and spiced with mustard, clove and cinnamon. Wonderful with Thanksgiving turkey or ham, it's also great with pumpkin waffles the next morning.

2 lb. homemade or canned cranberry sauce
3/4 Tbsp. dry mustard
juice and zest of 1-2 oranges
4 tsp. corn starch
juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 Tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
Dissolve mustard and cornstarch in orange and lemon juice. Add cranberry sauce, zest and sugar. Cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes while stirring with a wooden spoon, until it starts to thicken. Can be serve warm or chilled.
Try with one of the International wines from this week's International Wine Sampler special.

Friday, November 12, 2010

There's nothing funny about Chardonnay...

I've worked with a couple of people who had a joke or pun for everything, but never heard a joke involving Chardonnay. My Google search for one only turned the following, which is painfully un-funny:
The mother superior of a convent was worried. She called her community of nuns together and said: “Sisters, I have grave news. We have found a case of Gonorrhea here in our convent…”
“Thank The Lord,” came the cry from one of the older members of the community. “I’m getting sick of Chardonnay!”
Ugh--so here's my challenge to contribute a joke: make us laugh about America's favorite wine!

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing 101--Part III in a four part series:
If you raise a glass of California wine to toast Thanksgiving this year,  there's better than a one in four chance it will be Chardonnay.  Americans fell in love with Chardonnay in the 1960s, when Robert Mondavi, among others, began making quality varietal wine in Napa Valley. Wine growers love Chardonnay because the plants adapt well to a variety of climates and soils, are relatively disease and mold resistant, can produce abundant fruit,  and the juice responds sensitively to the winemaker's techniques. At its best, Chardonnay highlights the flavors of apples, lemon, and tropical fruits with a rich, unctuous mouthfeel. At its worst, it is flabby from lack of acidity, or over-oaked with overpowering butter or vanilla flavors.

Since Chardonnay has little tannin, oaking can give it some tannins as well as impart a butterscotch, buttered toast or vanilla flavor which is delicious when done with delicacy. In this decade, there has been a  push-back again heavy oaking (remember the ABC mantra at the end of the last decade--Anything But Chardonnay?) prompting winemakers to return to steel-fermentation or to use a lighter touch on the oak. Chardonnay is one of the grapes in France's Champagne,  Chablis, and white Burgundy where the cooler climates yield wines high in acidity.  

Whether choosing a fruitier California Chardonnay or a more acidic French wine form of the grape, you will find plenty of satisfied company when pairing the varietal with your Thanksgiving dinner. The 2008 Summerland Chardonnay is a great value, with flavors of peach, pear and citrus. If you call, I think we still have a few bottles left of the lovely Freestone Fog Dog Chardonnay -- a wonderfully balanced example of the equilibrium between acidity, fruit and oak. Bon appetit!

From Hall Wineries, a lovely side dish that could work well with your Thanksgiving dinner. A simple dish packed with plenty of flavor.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and Pancetta
2 lb brussels sprouts
1 Tbsp. salt for water
2-3 tbsp. butter
3-4 slices of Pancetta, chopped
1 tbsp. garlic, chopped
4 tbsp. shallots, chopped (about 2 large shallots)
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Boil brussels sprouts in 8 cups salted water until tender, then place into ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Sauté pancetta and garlic in butter for several minutes over medium heat. Remove Brussels sprouts from ice water, drain and cut (vertically) in half.

Next, add Brussels sprouts and shallots to pancetta and garlic and cook over high heat until brown on sides, adding more butter if needed. Add chopped thyme, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Serves approximately 6.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A 'Sideways' Glance At Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir vine Willamette Valley
It's not possible to forget Miles' obsession with Pinot Noir if you've seen the movie "Sideways". His passion for the grape was infectious, as evidenced by the estimated 40+% increase in Pinot Noir sales in the year immediately following the film's release. Pinot lovers abound, showing up by the hundreds for Pinot Noir-only festivals like California's World Of Pinot Noir and Oregon's International Pinot Noir Festival. Pinot Noir is the primary grape in the classic red Burgundy wines of France and is one of the three grapes of the traditional Champagne region of France used to make their sparkling wine. It is grown in Germany, where it is called Spätburgunder and in Austria, where it is known as Bläuburgunder, and in Italy was Pinot Nero. Pinot is king in Oregon, the cooler regions of California, such as Carneros and the Russian River Valley, and in fog-influenced Santa Barbara County appellations, as well as the Finger Lakes district of New York, in Chile, Australia and New Zealand, where a small winery won the International Pinot Noir Trophy at the international Decanter World Wine Awards. (You can read some tasting notes on Willamette Valley Pinot here.)

A little-known fact is that despite Miles' exhortation "if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving!", , his most coveted bottle of 1961 Château Cheval Blanc is actually a Left-bank Bordeaux wine from Saint-Émilion, made of a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Lest Merlot-lovers despair at their wine being dis-respected, take heart! Merlot sales have risen steadily since "Sideways" and Americans buy more Merlot than any other red wine besides Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the irony of Miles' favorite wine being partly comprised of his most hated grape, which probably was an insider's joke on the part of the filmmakers, "Sideways" caught the rapture that can result from tasting really great Pinot Noir. The grape is said to be the most difficult red grape to grow, due to its thin skin, susceptibility to all kinds of molds and viruses, and its requirement for a long, cool growing season despite its susceptibility to early frost which can prevent it from leafing and budding. It is the most terroir driven of all the red grapes, responding to the soil, weather and winemaker's hand with the utmost sensitivity. So, the quality of Pinot Noir is all over the map: from sublime to musty or shrill.  At its best, Pinot Noir has medium-intense fruitiness with just the right amount of tannic structure and a crisp acidity. Its complex aromas of black cherry, cinnamon, sassafras, mint and mushroom lead to substantial flavor on the palate with a velvety smooth texture.

Pinot Noir may be the perfect Thanksgiving wine--delicate enough not to overpower the lighter flavors of the meal but with the intensity to meet the stronger flavors, all with an elegance that befits a special occasion. Sommeliers and chefs often suggest roast poultry and mushrooms as perfect pairings for Pinot--sound seasonally appropriate? Pinot Noir--a perfect match for the Thanksgiving menu!

Sweet, mellow, caramelized onions complement the nutty, slightly salty taste of Gruyère. Enjoy now, or as the appetizer course of your Thanksgiving feast. Wine pairing suggestion: the 2008  Fritz Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion
1 tsp. ground sage
1/8 cup Passito* or brandy
8 oz of a 16 oz. package of frozen phyllo dough
spray olive oil
2 cups grated Gruyère
1 pint half and half
6 eggs
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white peppe
*What is Passito? Passito is a sweet Italian wine made with raisinated grapes--grapes dried to concentrate the flavor and sugar. I found my bottle for less than $10 at the local grocery. You can substitute brandy or sherry if you can't find Passito.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and quarter the onion, then slice very thinly. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over low heat. Cook the onion in the butter, stirring often until the onion is soft and golden brown. This will take from 30 to 45 minutes. Stir in the sage and Passito* and continue cooking until the liquid is evaporated.
Spray each sheet of phyllo dough--the easiest way to do this is to stack the layers, spraying with the olive oil as each sheet goes onto the top of the stack. Cut the stack into quarters and peel off two sheets at a time. If you are making mini-tarts, the two sheets will be enough to line each tart cup. If you are using regular muffin tins, line one half of a tart cup, then use two more sheets to fill in the other side. Fold the corners underneath and press the phyllo into the cup so there is space for the filling. Spray the tops of the phyllo cups with olive oil. Mix the eggs, half and half, salt and pepper together using a whisk. Put a pinch of grated cheese at the bottom of each tart cup. Pour a bit of the egg mixture into each cup, so it is divided equally. Then, place a bit of the onion on top. Finish with a layer of the rest of the grated cheese, divided among the tarts. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the egg is set and the phyllo is nicely browned.

Pair the warm tarts with the 2008 Fritz Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Makes a dozen tarts baked in a regular muffin tin or 4 dozen mini-tarts baked in mini-muffin tins.