Last Thursday (practically Friday, with the delay of our final flight), we returned from our two-week honeymoon in Andalucía, the southernmost province in Spain. I hardly know where to start, but over the next few weeks Marvin and I will be posting some stories and highlights from our trip (photos in this post were taken by him). For our first post, I want to share with you a natural winemaker that we discovered in the most serendipitous way.
Wandering Granada’s Albaicín neighborhood on a rainy afternoon, we decided to take shelter in a tiny place called Bar Kiki. We were leery that it would be a tourist trap, as we were adjacent to the mirador San Nicolas (a popular vantage point from which to view the city and Alhambra), but we entered anyway to warm up with a glass of wine and some rabo de toro (oxtail stew). It turned out to be a great little spot, with a friendly bartender who was happy to answer our questions about different drinks and menu items. So when a local winemaker came into the bar to make a delivery, the bartender offered to sell us a bottle at their cost. We started talking to the winemaker, Antonio Vílchez, and before we knew it he had invited us to come to his bodega, about 45 minutes away, for a tasting and tour of his vineyards.
The next day we were heading for Córdoba, but decided to take a detour to the east to visit Antonio’s winery. After all, when would we get another chance to have a personal guided tour with a Spanish winemaker? We drove towards Guadix and found our way toward the tiny (300 inhabitants) town of Marchal. On the way into town, we spotted a gypsy caravan on the side of the road, as well as cave dwellings in the surrounding cliff side. After pulling up in front of the tiny ayuntamiento (town hall) and getting some curious looks from the townspeople, we located Antonio and he showed us into his place. The operation was small and unglamorous- he produces a mere 8,000 bottles per year- but it was great to get an inside look at how a small winery operates. Continue reading
One of the biggest adjustments for me with this new cohabitation thing has been figuring out dinnertime. Suffice it to say that the food of my bachelorette days just doesn’t cut it when it comes to feeding a hungry guy (wait, you mean dudes aren’t down with scrambled eggs or a “big salad” and three bites of reheated lunch leftovers for dinner every night?!). So my new challenge in the kitchen is to come up with meals that are satisfying for the male half of the household but not too taxing after a day’s work*. That, and planning ahead enough to have certain ingredients on hand so as to minimize after-work errand-running that cuts into my cooking time.
That said, there’s a part of me that chafes at the thought of the fast-n-easy Rachel Ray-style school of cooking. I’d rather spend all Sunday in the kitchen making a huge pot of stew or something else we can reheat a couple times through the week. I’m fine with making the occasional quickie meal (pasta puttanesca or weeknight omelettes are favorites), but sometimes I want something a little snazzier; plus, someone complains if they feel too protein (ahem, *meat*)-deprived for too many days in a row.
Having splurged recently on some nicer-than-usual wines at Western Market, I decided to try a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while, a braised salmon in Pinot Noir from Molly Stevens’ excellent book All About Braising. Folks, I’ve sung the praises of this book and its recipes many times before, and if you haven’t yet picked it up I would highly recommend it! Although the recipe required some slicing, dicing and infusing, it was really easy and I was able to do the prep work while the side dishes (a Wehani rice and some Puy lentils) cooked. All in all I’d say the meal took a little over an hour, not too much effort considering the fantastic results.
I wasn’t sure if my skillet handle was ovenproof so I decided to do the braise on the stovetop. The salmon came out a tiny bit on the dry side (my fault, not the recipe’s), but paired with the flavorful sauce, it was still very good eats. The red rice and lentils were the perfect earthy accompaniments to the mushroom and bacon-laced wine sauce.
I was inspired a few nights later to pan-sear some venison tenderloin and make a similar pan sauce of shallots, mushrooms and wine. It’s a shame that Marvin wasn’t home to enjoy it with me; he was in NYC for his first gallery show (nice, right?) so I had the tenderloin all to myself. I would’ve waited to make the dish for us both, but due to a freezer debacle (cough*dontbuykenmore*cough) I was trying to use things up before they spoiled. I salted the meat, seared it in clarified butter to medium, then let it rest while I cooked shallots in the butter and deglazed it with red wine. The mushrooms were cooked in a separate pan while the meat was cooking, and added at the end. I ate it with the lentils and rice left over from the salmon dinner and it was nothing short of spectacular. Next year I’m begging my dad for more tenderloin! Also, I want to try one of these venison tenderloin recipes from Hank Shaw’s blog when I have the time/ inclination to get slightly fancier.
I just want to leave you with this: If you’re cooking meat in a skillet and not making a pan sauce, it’s like leaving money on the table. Any crusty bits that remain contain so much flavor and it only takes minutes to create a sauce that will have you scraping your plate. I also like to make pan sauce from chicken drippings that remain after roasting a chicken in a cast iron skillet. Red or white wine can be used, just use whatever you’re drinking. For red meat, cognac or brandy can be used instead of wine; just boil the sauce enough to get rid of any harsh boozy flavor. If you salt your meat, you shouldn’t need to salt your sauce, but taste and see. A couple turns of black pepper is de rigeur as well.
Notes: I scaled the recipe down to serve two, but this version serves four. If making for two, halve the salmon quantity and reduce the other ingredients by about 1/3.
4 wild-caught salmon filets, skin-on, each about 6 oz and about 1 ½ inches thick
4 ounces mushrooms, regular button or a mix
5 slices bacon (about 4 oz), cut into ½-inch strips
1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small shallot, chopped
2 cups light, earthy red wine such as Pinot Noir or a cru Beaujolais (not Beaujolais Nouveau) (yes I know that’s bossy but you’ll thank me)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, each about 2-3 inches
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Examine the salmon to see if it contains any pinbones by running your finger down the center. If you feel any small bones, remove them with a tweezer or needle-nose pliers. Season the filets with salt and a little pepper and set aside.
Brush any dirt from the mushrooms (I like to just peel them by gently pulling the outer layer off, just don’t wash them with water). Trim the bottoms of the mushrooms and separate the caps from the stems. Thinly slice the caps and set aside. Dice the stems and reserve separately from the caps.
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Prepare the braising liquid: Select a skillet just large enough to hold the salmon filets in a single layer (12-13 inches diameter). Add half the bacon to the cold skillet and cook over medium heat until it cooks through and renders much of its fat; do not allow to crisp. Increase the heat slightly, adding the leek, carrot, shallot and mushroom stems and sauté until the vegetables are soft and just beginning to brown. Add 1 cup of the wine and the thyme and bring to a rapid simmer until the wine is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup wine and simmer an additional 5 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, fry the remaining bacon in a medium skillet until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain. Discard most of the bacon grease and add 1 Tbs butter, swirling off the heat to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat until the mushrooms have thrown off their liquid and become golden. Remove from pan and set aside. You will reuse this skillet to finish the sauce. so just leave it on the stove, no need to wash it.
When the sauce base has cooked, add the salmon, skin side down. Cover tightly with foil and/or a lid, and place in the oven. After 15 minutes, check the salmon by discreetly slicing into the thickest part of a filet; if you see just a bare hint of dark pink, it’s done (it will continue cooking as it rests).
Remove the salmon to a plate and cover with foil. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into the medium skillet, pressing down with a spoon to obtain as much liquid as possible. Bring to a rapid simmer for 2 minutes and reduce to a gentle simmer, whisking in the remaining 1 Tbs butter.Add the reserved bacon and mushrooms and the parsley. Taste for salt and pepper, adding if needed.
Plate the salmon and top it with the sauce; serve immediately.
…make des nouilles «coq au vin»!
It’s always a goal of mine to try to source the most authentic ingredients possible when making food from other countries. Partly for this reason, I had never attempted one of the most classic of all French dishes, Coq au Vin. In the U.S., our chickens are sold young and bred for their plumpness and would fall apart in a recipe that called for long, slow stewing. Coq au Vin is a recipe designed to make the best of a lean, sinewy old rooster rather than a hen barely past pubescence.
So imagine my delight when I saw for sale at the farmers’ market, from one of my favorite farmers, stewing hens for sale! Ok, so it was a hen, not a rooster, but I figured it was as close as I was going to get. They were frozen solid and had a layer of frost on them, but I optimistically bought one anyway, along with some cippolini onions and button mushrooms.
Once I thawed the old girl out, I held her up for inspection. She was the scrawniest bird I had ever seen. In the schoolyard, she would’ve garnered taunts of “flat as a board” while her double-D supermarket cousins pranced past. Her legs and thighs were similarly spare; I wasn’t going to get much meat out of her. But I wasn’t overly concerned; I was looking at this as somewhat of an experiment anyway, so I forged ahead.
I followed the recipe’s initial steps, marinating the bird in wine and aromatics for a day and then braising it in the marinade and stock until the liquid had reduced by about half. Despite the low, slow braise, the chicken appeared tough as shoe leather- what had I done wrong? I decided to chuck the whole thing in the fridge and resume the next day; perhaps it needed a longer braise to break down the collagen? Any bird I’ve ever dealt with, when cooked properly, you can move the joint freely between the drumstick and thigh. This bird’s joints were completely stiff and unyielding. However, the sauce tasted absolutely phenomenal, so I figured all was not lost.
The next day I decided to take the dish over to Marvin’s and finish it there, but fate would intervene. As I was loading the car, walking down my wooden porch steps, unable to hold the railing because I needed both hands to carry my insanely heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven, I slipped on a wet leaf. The lid went flying, as did all the lovely sauce. Somehow I managed to keep the pot itself upright, but my hands were scraped, and the pot handle was broken. And that sauce! I think I was more upset about it than anything.
That night we ended up getting carry-out, but I wasn’t giving up so easily; I still had the uncooked mushrooms and onions, the meat, and a tiny bit of sauce left. I began to hatch a plan. I reheated the meat with a couple more cups of wine and stock, some fresh aromatics, and let it simmer for another hour or so. It wasn’t as spectacular as the original sauce, but it sure wasn’t bad. I added the onions to the sauce, fried the bacon and mushrooms as per the original recipe and added them. At this point it was more than clear that the meat was inedible, but at least it had rendered some body and flavor to my sauce. I boiled up a package of wide egg noodles, and we had a delicious meal of noodles with wine sauce and mushrooms (hence des nouilles «coq au vin»).
I’m still not sure what happened with the meat. I had a similar experience with a braised rabbit recipe- it had a few similarities (the meat was frozen, the recipe called for marinating in wine ahead of time, and used the same cooking technique) and I also ended up with meat so dry it practically crumbled. If anyone out there reading this has any insights, please let me know! Meanwhile, I hope this goes to show that even if a recipe goes awry, many times it can still be salvaged into something delicious and worthwhile.
P. S. I didn’t manage to get any photos for this post (it was 9:30 and after a long day, my hard-working better half needed his supper, stat!), but take my word for it that the mushrooms, onions and bits of bacon looked absolutely gorgeous glazed with the rich reddish-brown wine sauce atop a tangle of noodles, with a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley. Actually, that description probably does the dish justice better than a photo could have!
It’s always a happy occurrence to come across a book that covers overlapping topics of interest to me- in this case, wine and France, and more specifically, malbec (a favorite grape of mine) and southwestern France (where I lived for a year). I’m not quite sure why Families of the Vine sat on my shelf unread for as long as it did- it came out in 2006- but I’m very glad I finally got to it. Reading it was a little bittersweet, as I regretted not having visited any of these vineyards when I last was in France, but I now have an itinerary for my next visit!
Over the course of two years, Michael Sanders (author of From Here, You Can’t See Paris, about a French village restaurant and also on my reading list) spent time with three winemaking families in the Lot valley near Cahors, the city which lends its name to the wine’s appellation. In Families of the Vine, we are introduced to Yves & Martine Jouffreau-Hermann of Clos de Gamot, a vineyard dating from 1610 and whose signature wine is considered the quintessential expression of red Cahors; Jean-Luc Baldès of Clos Triguedina, the prodigal son who returned to the family vineyard after studying in Bordeaux; and Philippe Bernède of Clos la Coutale, who favors fast cars and producing a more international (read: softer, fruitier) style of red wine.
Le vin de Cahors has, in recent centuries at least, always played second fiddle to its cousins from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Sanders gives a bit of history explaining that due to geography and political power, Bordeaux gained the upper hand that it still enjoys to this day, in spite of the fact that the “black wine of Cahors” was once preferred by the English over the lighter claret (the Brits’ name for Bordeaux). Cahors wine, by law a minimum of 70% malbec with merlot and tannat making up the remainder, received appellation status in 1971 thanks to native son Georges Pompidou.
The book takes place in 2002 and 2003, with Sanders writing about the 2003 growing season and the 2002 vinification process, in that order. The 2003 growing season was unusually hot and dry, causing much stress on the part of the winemakers. In some cases, hot dry weather can be a boon to the grapes, but in this case it wreaked havoc on them, causing the winemakers to have yields that were 50% or less of their normal harvest. Coincidentally, I was visiting France at the exact time of the harvest Sanders writes about, and I well remember la canicule- the devastating heat wave in which hundreds of elderly people across France died.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book for me was reading about vinification, and the struggle between old and new ideas among France’s winemakers. This is a subject that has been on my mind lately, as some of my more wine-savvy friends have been talking about natural wine and what it means. The crux of the problem is that, although in an ideal world many French winemakers would love to make a more traditional product, the market demands wines that can be consumed just a few years after being bottled. Many winemakers simply don’t have the resources to cellar the wine for the requisite time, which requires not only the space to do so, but the capital to be able to tie up their money for years on end. Some, like Bernède, are embracing the more fruit-forward, “Parkerized” styles of wine, which are easier to sell internationally and don’t require as much investment. Others, like the Jouffreau family and Jean-Luc Baldès, are trying to hang on to the more traditional style of Cahors wine, which typically requires at least 10 years in the bottle to reach its full potential. Yves Jouffreau-Hermann has even gone to the extreme of planting a difficult hillside vineyard, Clos St-Jean, whose grapes he hopes will yield a truly outstanding wine in years to come.
The main thing I am taking away from this book (apart from a burning desire to return to southwestern France to sample some of the wines of the region) is the importance of supporting producers who are dedicated to making quality wine in the traditional manner, even if it means sacrificing easier profits. Like any artisanal tradition, when these winemakers are forced to cut corners to survive, we will all suffer for the lack of variety and quality. I admit that until now, I have never cellared any wines, instead just buying them as I needed them. But after reading the personal stories of these families and how much work they do for relatively little profit, I think it’s time to start endorsing that by choosing more “challenging” wines; wines that require a bit of commitment.
The only thing this book sorely lacks is a map showing the region and locations of the vineyards and châteaux, but other than that, it’s a wonderful introduction to anyone unfamiliar with winemaking, and a great resource for anyone interested in Cahors wine or the lives and struggles of the people behind the grapes.
Note: The photographs from this post were borrowed from the internet. Clicking on the photos will take you to the websites where they were found.
Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal. You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends? Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!). There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc. Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question. I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.
And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods. I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection. Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine. I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.
I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t). I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth. I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable. A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch. The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.
As for those wines? Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes! A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!) All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential. (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.
Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity; I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines. This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar. I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.
Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)
1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese
Put some water on to boil. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.
Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat. When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding). As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice. About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry. Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.
Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms. While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly. (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well. Remove from heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream. Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.) Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell. Grate a light layer of cheese over the top. Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed
Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes. Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining. Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds). Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic. Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.
To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°. Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom. Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden. Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil. (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)