Friday, December 31, 2010

Cellar Report: 2004 Alain Boisson Cairanne "Cros de Romet"

Yeah, I know the label says 2008. That's what I have in store at VINO since there's a
chance I may have forgotten to take a pic of the '04.

When I first had the 2004 Cairanne from Alain Boisson I was sitting at a table at Le Pigeon here in Portland, probably sometime in 2007, with a bunch of my boys on a guys night out. Forget the strip clubs and meat market bars. We're all about eating and drinking as well as is humanly possible in PDX. We had probably just been delivered a plate of foie gras or some other so wrong/so right part of an animal that chef Gabe Rucker has a way with. This bottle ended up on the table because as the "wine guy" in the crowd I'm usually tasked with ordering and with my love of all things wine-ish and southern French, and also because the south of any wine Euro wine producing country is almost always where the deals are, there was a bottle of Boisson. Anyway, all around the table there was consensus that this as something pretty special. Back at VINO the next day I ordered some for the store, and a half dozen extra for my basement.

So here I was a couple nights ago at home pulling the last bottle out of the basement. 2004 wasn't considered an average year for Rhone reds, but like in every mediocre vintage great winemakers will most likely make better than average wine. The other five had been delicious, getting better and better with each opening. So it was with the last bottle. As always upon opening I got a nose full of dark, plummy fruit. This wine always takes a few minutes to develop the nuances beyond the fruit. Sure enough, soon those classic aromas of pepper, smoke, earth, and roasted meat we making their way out of the glass. Taking a drink, this has dropped its hard edges and is all soft, beautifully developed flavors. More dark fruit, more hints of garrigue (that taste of wild herb, earth, and spice that are the hallmark and siren call of Provençal reds), more velvety smooth texture that led to a finish that demanded another taste. As the wine sat in the glass after about 30 minutes it really opened up...bacon fat, plum jam, spring blossoms...crazy flavors that kept changing with each sip. An hour or so later the bottle was almost empty and that delicious French haze going was going on in my head that causes irrational trip planning and dreams of escape. 2004 turned to be quite a good year. Merci, M. Boisson!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Keeping hunger and the Boy at bay!

My new paradigm of weekday cooking:
1-racing after work to pick up C-boy at daycare before their clock starts ticking at their usurious rate of a ten spot for every five minutes late (like the college tuition I'm already paying them shouldn't buy me some fucking leeway)
2-stopping at the market to shop, hoping said boy maintains composure at the store as hunger and cranky end-of-the-day tiredness start to encroach on his usually sunny disposition
3-getting home, plopping him on his play mat while I whip out some homemade babyfood to stuff in his starting-to-scowl piehole
4-stuffing C-boy's piehole
5-doing dinner prep and cooking while he sits on the kitchen floor playing with various cooking utensils and plots new forms of parental torment to draw me away from the task at hand, which is making something to stuff in our pieholes after he-who-must-be-served goes to bed.

Is it any wonder that my new cooking life revolves around fast and easy? If I can throw in delicious then that's icing on the cake. Which is why this soup I cadged off of epicurious was so satisfying. With a couple of refinements (i.e.- adding more flavoring ingredients/less liquid) we ended up with a belly warming and palate tingling bowl of goodness, which along with its ease of prep drops it near the top of my list of do-overs. Plus should your soul need some warming on a cold winter evening, this does the trick beautifully!
*** *** *** *** ***
Curried Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup

The cilantro oil listed is optional, but really adds a nice pop, both visually and taste-wise, to the curry.- bb

yield: Makes 4 main course servings
active Time: 25 min/ Total Time: 1 1/4 hr

ingredients :
For soup:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger
2-1/2 tablespoons curry powder (a mix of 2 or 3 different curry powders really builds complexity if you can swing it)
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
16 oz. water
16 oz. chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

For cilantro oil:
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup vegetable oil

accompaniment: cooked basmati rice

Make soup:
Heat oil with butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook squash, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.
Add lentils and water and stock and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Make cilantro oil:
While soup simmers, purée cilantro, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender.
Serve soup over rice, drizzled with cilantro oil.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bar exam: Corpse Reviver #2

How can you not want to make, and more importantly drink, a cocktail named the Corpse Reviver #2? Not that I need to be pushed too hard when it comes to trying new libations, but this was almost too easy. And at this time of year, all of our walking corpses could use a push as we stagger from party to party. A classic from the 1930's, this has several things going for it: 1- A great name, which came from the fact that it was originally intended as a morning beverage to get one's supposedly needy spirit revived (there is, of course, a Corpse Reviver #1, brandy-based, and to my taste nowhere near the drink this is); 2- its main ingredient is gin; and 3- it is an equal mix of all four ingredients (with an added tiny dash of absinthe or pastis), which allows you to taste each and every one, and like the negroni (an equal mix of three components) it is a perfectly balanced drink. Although I have to say better after the cocktail hour than before. But to each his or her own, I suppose. Whenever you decide you need some revivification, this is a perfect place to find it!
*** *** *** *** ***
Corpse Reviver #2

Serving size: 1
3/4 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Lillet blanc
3/4 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. lemon juice
Dash absinthe (or pastis should absinthe not be in your repertoire)

Fill cocktail shaker half full with ice. Add all ingredients and shake for 20-30 seconds. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with amarena cherry.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

What's your food craving??

A brilliantly beautiful (bountiful?) series of photos by pro photog Ted Sabarese of models and foods they are currently craving he calls "Hunger Pains"....

Thanks to my pal Kathryn for the heads up!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

I should be above this.....

....but, well, apparently I'm not. So effing funny, it's worth the embarrassment of admitting you watched it!

I am officially bereft.... the news that the best Italian restaurant in Portland is closing. Word comes to me that Alba Osteria, owner/chef Kurt Spak's paean to the glory of Piedmontese cooking in SW Portland, is closing as of Dec. 31st. I ate at Alba quite often, and was always impressed by Kurt's passion and precision. His ethereal tajarin and agnolotti pastas and his perfectly prepared sweetbreads will be sorely missed.

Apparently financial issues, as they seem to do all too often, played a factor. They are serving their last dinner December 31st, a 5-course feast that I'm sure will a worthy sendoff. Hats off to Kurt and his wonderful staff who always made us feel very welcome and provided a true taste of the Piedmont. I can only look forward to where he'll turn up next.

UPDATE: my original post had the closing date Dec. 1st, due to an error of omission, mainly the fact that I left off the "3", so Alba will be open through the month of December. Make sure you get in to get your pleasure buttons pushed!