Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Ten of 2011....#9 Holiday Wine Tasting Party

The best thing about the holidays is the free pass to get hammered and pass out on the carpet.  Wait, you don't get that?  But you must serve alcohol, and plenty of it, so maybe thinking while you're drinking is a measured way to steadily increase the buzz while maintaining awareness.  I help my guests (and myself) to remain alert by serving several different wines and asking everyone to join in a tasting.  'Tasting' sounds a lot classier than 'swigging', and everyone seems to get into the spirit of the game.  So instead of twelve bottles of the same old thing, I buy a case of different bottles, and make sure everyone gets a taste of each, and I get a comment about each wine.  Just tell them it's for a school project.

Starting with the bubbly, the favorite this year was Albrecht's Rose.  It is a Cremant from Alsace, which means they use the Champagne method but are not from Champagne.  Translation?  French, but cheap.  About $16, and they also do a Blanc de Blancs, which is a little less festive, but also a little crispier.  You will need at least two bottles anyway, so at these prices, why not buy both for New Year's Eve and 'compare'?  Get the picture?

The three wines that stood out the most, i.e., that anyone remembered, were a Malbec, a Chianti, and a Bourdeaux.  Starting from #3, from the Baron de Rothschild Collection, from the grand year of 2009, a 'special reserve' that started the evening but still left an impression after all the wine (and guests) was drunk.  An earthy taste, that opened up (got better) as it got some air, and paired well with some Marlboro Lights.  And some beer nuts. Classy crowd.

At #2, an Argentinian Malbec from Rutini, that we all agreed would go best with a steak (when I say 'all agreed', I mean that is what I thought, and then I belligerently badgered everyone until they all just agreed with me to shut me up-happens more than you would think.  I mean, everyone knows I'm a pussycat.  I answer politely when someone asks directions to the White House, and even demonstrate to tourists how to pluck their Metro card from the slot when they go through the 'handicap' turnstile-Just pull it out where you shoved it in!  Now walk through.  Walk, dammit!  Jeez, some of us have jobs to get to.  And hold on to your snotty kid.  But I digest.)  The Malbec was good, as I was saying, a real meaty food wine but also went down nice with some pumpkin pie and some cake from the neighbor (who happens to be from Argentina-coincidence?  Perhaps...)

Tops was an awesome Chianti Classico that everyone loved (don't get me started).  'La Vendemmia' from Dievole (2007-I only mention the years, by the way, to annoy people-don't worry, no one knows what they mean).  Classico means it is better than regular Chianti, and really worth the step up in price-just a few dollars more.  The wine is made mostly from Sangiovese, a grape that the Italians have made love to insistently for years, until it has become their mistress.  Not literally, of course.  This wine was drunk with dinner, which consisted of cheesy potatoes, green bean casserole, pork loin, and a classic jello treat.  Classed up the place to no end, and started us all on the 'classico' family story-telling that a few bottles of good wine can only help.

For example, there was the time this past October that my brother and I drove up to New York to see our mother, Minnie, for her birthday.  We got stuck in traffic and arrived about 1:30AM.  Luckily my brother had brought several bottles of wine, but of course my mom had no corkscrew.  "You brought wine but no corkscrew?" I shrieked.  "I thought Minnie would have a corkscrew," he cried. " No one named Minnie has a corkscrew!" I replied, and began to sob.  Stuck on Long Island in the middle of the night...sober?  We both sobbed.  Then we steeled ourselves, and headed into the finished basement where our father's ancient workbench held all manner of tools.  This is what we found (pictured below), and after we got the bottle open with just a minimum of spillage onto the floor (it mostly ended up, miraculously, on our shirts), we toasted to family, and to The Mothers of Invention, as we slammed down that first, satisfying, jelly-glass full of wine.  A perfect holiday story, and we also learned something important, kids-how to open a wine bottle with a hatchet.  Cheers!

Hatchet and mysterious drill/boring tool...

Ooh look, bras are on sale...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten of 2011....#10 Recipes: Sweet Magic

It's Automatic...

I never planned to move back to DC from Miami, and still view it as a temporary upheaval, necessitated by, as they say, these economic times. It's cold here, and drab as hell, with not a grain of sand or a palm tree in sight. You could swing a dead cat all day and never hit anything. But I'll count my blessings-a job, a local bar where you can still smoke, a cheap apartment, a walk to the Metro, a decent library, and a neighborhood Target. (Still waiting for all those Giada and Rachael and Paula Deen products to go on sale, guys.) I also have superstar-chef Michel Richard's Central four Metro stops from my apartment (for Miamians, a Metro is like a subway that works), and feel compelled to swing by for a Plymouth Gin Martini or a glass of Priorat and a mac and cheese about once a week. Little Mickey Richards got his start as a pastry chef, of course, and he has just released 'Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts'. I had already started baking (it keeps the apartment warm), so when I heard that he had created a recipe for a flan with an 'automatic crust', I was intrigued. Turns out the 'automatic crust' is Israeli couscous, which I just happened to have on hand. You butter a baking pan and coat it with the couscous (which is also called pearl pasta), then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. Then after you add the eggs, milk, etc., and bake it in the oven like a regular flan, the couscous somehow magically rises to the top of the pan while baking, and forms a crust on top. Exclamation point. I was skeptical, but then there it was, all crunchy and automatic-like. Here's a link to the recipe.

Now if I just had a cortadito to go with that flan, I could slip on my Havaianas, turn up the heater, and dream of those many long, lazy afternoons in the tropical sun. And of the many to come. Querida, espera para mí....

[I buy Israeli couscous at my local health food store (also within walking distance), where I also purchase my Bragg's and my Dr. Bronner's (a little inside baseball for my crunchy brethren).]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Arise Chicken

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Coconut Pecan Frosting

Long time listener, first time cupcake baker....

They rise a lot. Chanting 'Arise Chicken' (see above) seems to help but is optional....

They somehow remind me of the Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish.

To Dan Barber: No blood was spilled in making of these vegan cupcakes. Tool.

Tropical Hotdog Night: Beefheart no longer here...

At a show I attended at the Bottom Line in the '70's, there was a problem with the sound, and CB and the Magic Band had to stop playing. As the roadies were trying to straighten it out, someone in the crowd yelled, "Why don't you read some poetry!" Beefheart said, "What, poetry doesn't have to sound good?" He also played a mean harp. You never forget a Beefheart gig.

Lester Bangs' 1970 cover story in Rolling Stone from 1970 says it all.

Rest in Peace, brother.