Great Plates – Traditional Irish Dinner

Rogue Estate's traditional Irish meal from St. Patrick's Day 2012.

Delicious

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TBIFOM #08: The French Hottie

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of somewhat regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) The French Hottie Popular U.S. opinion is that French wine has a certain "mystique". Unfortunately no one really knows what that word means anymore, so it has become an alias for "overpriced" and "not immediately enjoyable". The people who believe this are the same Neanderthals who slept through French class in college, and never noticed the sweet, sexy girl in the second row who somehow had a better accent than anyone else. I miss that girl. I think she's in the bottle in front of me. This is another capable Rhône designed for bistro food, and a long, fantastic conversation about poetry, movies, politics, and the color of her eyes (there I go again…) 2007 Le Clos Du Caillou Côtes du Rhône (About $20) Learn more about the winery (French language only): http://www.closducaillou.com/site/spip.php Learn more about the bottle in front of me (French language only): http://www.closducaillou.com/site/spip.php?page=fichevins&id_article=109

Love to see what's under THAT label...

  SEE: A deep, majestic, and clear ruby red. Lightens to an even medium red at the rim. SWIRL: It coats the glass beautifully with even, slow legs. SMELL: A floral perfume over a bed of solid musky leather. There beef blood in there, and lots of dark berries. As the alcohol blows off, there's some intriguing barnyard and bacon aromas. SIP: Wonderful black cherry and cassis are upfront, but it's not long before the muted spice notes emerge, with orange peel and cloves. SAVOR: There's a long evolving finish that starts dusty and hot, but resolves to bitter chocolate.  Nice solid structure and balance to this. Final impression: A lusty wine to savor slowly and enjoy its finer aromas. This one will age well for several more years. Pair with: Classic French bistro fare. Boeuf Bourguignon, rich cheeses.

Small Scale Farming

Some of the tomatoes in pots from last year's garden.

As somebody who enjoys good food and cooking, I know that my finished product is only as good as the ingredients that I put into it.  This is especially true when it comes to fresh produce, as so much of the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are now grown for shipping hardiness, rather than actual flavor.  A sad waste, in my book!  True, we can now get almost any sort of produce, grown anywhere, at any time of the year, but is it actually worth buying?  In the case of tomatoes, I have to say no. I remember growing up with tomatoes, real tomatoes, that came fresh from the garden.  They were a focal point on our BLTs. They were sliced and lightly pickled with vinegar and onions.  They were tossed with fresh mozzarella and basil.  They were broiled with herbs and Parmesan on top.  Best of all, they horrified my early fall lunch mates in school when I would pull one out and eat it like an apple, juice dripping everywhere.  They were bright red, acidic, and had names like Big Boy, Early Girl and Rutgers.  These tomatoes were picked very ripe and traveled no further than to a neighbors house.  Is it any wonder that I find today's hard pink supermarket tomatoes to be somewhat lacking? I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Two summers ago, for the first time, I decided to try planting some cherry tomatoes.  We put a few pots out back, had 3 or 4 plants, plus 2 of jalapenos.  Last year I decided to expand, so had 10 or so cherry tomato plants, as well as a patio tomato and several pepper plants, not to mention branching out to herbs.  There were some success, some failures, and some really wet weather.  A total success it was not, but there were enough successes that I fully planned to do the same again this year. You know how sometimes, when you get a crazy idea, it just builds.  Then you can't shake the idea, and it becomes just a big encompassing desire to go nuts with your idea?  Yeah, that was me and my garden this year.  Why start with pre-bought plants?  I can start from seed!  I purchased a mixed packet of tomato seeds from Heirloom Solutions, got my seedling pots ready, and planted them, along with some onion and green onion seeds.  I quickly decided that my tiny patio out back was really not enough space, and had already proven to be not quite enough sun, so I figured that I could sneak a few plants out front.  We had a garden up against the house that was already in place when we moved in, that was stunning.  Years of neglect by us has met that it's been taken over by bug-ridden hollyhocks, and a Rose of Sharon that has spawned hundreds of mini-bushes from root shoots.   Last weekend, I took a hoe to that garden, and out everything came.  Over the next couple of weeks, multiple bags of peat soil will be added, mixed in to what is already there, in an attempt to get the soil a little more healthy.  A tiller will be rented to help chop up the roots left from that blasted Rose of Sharon, and a bag or two of manure will be mixed in.  I have blood meal on hand for later fertilizing, and am planning on placing a soaker hose in for the summer.  The plan is to keep these tomatoes healthy and organic, and hope like crazy that the birds don't love them as much as I do. Is everything going perfectly to plan?  Of course not!  My seeds, since it never occurred to me that they would need a grow light and not just a room with sunlight, got a bad start, and are currently very leggy, and are just now starting to sprout their tomato plant leaves.  For the first three weeks, they looked like tall stalks with 2 oval leaves....in other words, nothing like a tomato, and totally indistinguishable from every other seedling in the world.  I panicked a bit, consulted some friends, did some looking on the web, and decided to hit them with the Ott Light I use for crafting.  A few days of that, and little bitty baby sprout leaves started to appear!  My hopes are high again, and soon I will replant a bunch of them into slightly larger containers, to continue growing until they can go into the ground in another month or so.  The plan is to have a good dozen plants out front, some cherry tomatoes out back, along with another plant or two from this seedling bunch in containers, and to plant some at a couple of places in our neighborhood where we know the people won't mind us stealing a couple of their tomatoes if they got a type we did not.

This year's seedlings, just starting to show their real tomato leaves.

Is all of this more work than swinging by the store, and grabbing a tomato from the bin?  Of course.  Especially with having to start from total scratch this year, it's a ton of work, hassle, and a bit of an investment.  Is it worth it?  Considering the fact that I will get tomatoes that will have amazing flavor, that I know have never been sprayed or chemically enhanced, whose seeds did not start out as part of some lab project?  Absolutely.

Great Plates – Bu’n Cha’ Gio’ from DaNang Restaurant

Bu'n Cha' Gio'- Imperial Rolls with Vermicelli from Da Nang Restaurant in Clawson, MI. Delicious-///

Practical Pairing: Some Notes for Beginners

Pretty clever, if I do say...

We seem to be running short on pairing tips and tricks, so this seems as good a time as any to expand on that subject. Food and beverage pairing can be intensely intricate and daunting, but it needn't be. Simplicity can, and often does, yield amazing results, so you don't have to be a Master Sommelier or Brewmeister to find a beverage to go with your meal. With a little knowledge, experience and thought, it can be as easy or as complex as you make it. First, when contemplating a beverage pairing I always think in terms of comparative or contrasting flavors. I like to go with contrasting most of the time as it tends to add more interest, unless there is a really special ingredient (read as rare or expensive or both), then I try to go with something understated and complementary to let that ingredient be the star. Complimentary flavors are the easiest to start with. Certain foods will always pair well with certain beverages, but always keep in mind the full ingredient list of the dish and method of cooking when looking for a good pairing. Pork and shellfish, for instance, will go with beer no matter what the method of cooking. It's the other ingredients involved that will determine what you should pair with it. Mussels steamed in white wine can certainly be paired with a beer, but it's a trickier pairing than just going with white wine. The same or similar, maybe even a better quality wine than was used in the cooking process, is a no-brainer as far as pairing for such a dish goes. If you used a $5.00 bottle to steam them, serve them with a $15.00 bottle (especially if you are already familiar with that bottle) and life is easy. Bottom line with the complimentary method is you really only need some basic knowledge of beverages to pull off a successful pairing. The typical flavor profile of the various beer styles and for grape varietals and blends. Intuition often helps immensely here, too. Once you have that vision of the final dish in your head, what you want the end result to taste like, just stand in front of the beer or wine shelf and browse with that in the back of your mind. In any well stocked beverage store I'm sure something will jump out at you. Trust your instincts, and if it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to, ask yourself why. What was the beverage lacking? Was it too heavy or too flat? Did it overpower the food, or vice versa? Once you determine the answer, congratulations! You've just had a learning experience, and that is never a bad thing! This will guide your future selections. The point is, don't take this too seriously. The comparative flavor method is fairly forgiving, and works well enough most of the time. Acidity cuts through fat, is probably the best advice to give to someone who wants to venture into this endeavor. If the dish at hand is rich or has a rich and fatty sauce, go with a beverage that has some acidity. Braised pork, for instance, loves a lager or a white wine with higher than normal acidity. Hard cider is also a valid option since there's a fair amount of acid and apples are a classic pairing with pork. But, as I said, the other ingredients in the dish might scream for something more specific. Curry braised pork? I'd go with a light or medium bodied beer, depending on what sort of curry is used. Jerk braised pork? Would benefit more from a light lager, or maybe even bold white. Of course, if there is a particular beverage used in the construction of the dish, then that beverage is a no-brainer for

New Holland Breweries Mad Hatter being added to a Cheddar-Ale soup. I wonder what I should pair with this?

pairing. Beef Burgundy (Bourguignon) loves a bold red wine, because that's one of the liquids in the braise, and beer poached bratwurst on a summer afternoon cannot and should not be paired with anything other than a good beer! I doubt even Ian, our resident wine guy, would argue that.   Another thing to consider are the ingredients used in the brewing of the beverage before you. This counts more for beer and cider than wine, since wines are nearly always made with grapes alone. Many beer styles incorporate herbs, spices, citrus, even seaweed in the brew kettle. If those adjuncts would pair well with the food on the plate if they were part of the dish, then they will work well when present in your libation. Beer with citrus peel works well with deserts and fish, one with heavy spices like a winter ale will go well when game or curry or jerk seasoning are on the plate, and one with fruit additives will go well with anything that particular fruit would. Chocolate and raspberry, for instance. A classic combination. Chocolate cake and/or ganache loves a raspberry lambic. And lambics are high in acidity, which will cut through the fat and richness chocolate brings to the table, thus washing your palate clean and preparing you for the next mouthful.   So let your intuition, instincts, and sense of adventure guide you. Count failures as learning experiences. Above all, dare to explore your options. Some great pairings can come from unlikely places, and the only way to find out is to try! There is a universal “ah ha!” moment in this endeavor, one that every beverage snob has had. Most people just don't get it until they've experienced it. The synergy that can occur with food and beverage mingling on the tongue, making each other greater than the sum of their parts.   I have a few more ideas in mind for future posts right now, but I'll get back to this subject. Next time I touch on this I'll tackle the not-so-easy pairing ideas of contrasting the potable with the plate.   -Jack