Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Reads and Feeds

If you like wine, chances are you like food -- at least I hope so because you need something to absorb that alcohol. I’m always interested in seeing new cookbooks and while I’m skimming them I think about what wines would match well with the dishes that strike me as worth cooking. I also love to give cookbooks as holiday gifts. Here is an eclectic group of recently published cookbooks that caught my attention:

A Tavola! Recipes and Reflections on Traditional Italian Home Cooking
This is an especially useful and enjoyable book for food-and-wine lovers because the authors are a chef and a sommelier who provide both mouth-watering Italian recipes and many wine suggestions to pair with the dishes. There are also tidbits of food culture here and there including interesting reading on the culinary regions of Italy, the history of culinary traditions and Italian holidays and food.
Gianni Scappin and Vincenzo Lauria, $29.95, The Culinary Institute of America Dining Series, Lebhar-Friedman Books, New York.

Pastry Queen Parties: Entertaining Family and Friends Texas Style
The Chamber of Commerce of Fredericksburg sent me this book as a gift after I visited in September -- as if the visit to this charming town in Texas hill country wasn’t enough! Rebecca Rather is a well-known chef and baker in Texas whose Rather Sweet Bakery I dropped by. An entire book on pastry would probably not hold much interest for me, but this book, though chock-full of recipes for both food and cocktails, is about entertaining. It’s divided into the different kinds of soirees Texans like to throw, such as “Gulf Coast Beach Bash” and “Tex-Mex Fiesta,” with anecdotes and party tips that give you a window into the local Texas culture. After skimming through the book, I instantly wanted to make "Beans a la Charra" and "Gangy’s Spoonbread," which I did. There are at least a dozen more I want to try soon.
Rebecca Rather; $32.50; Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.

Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories and Recipes from the Great Depression.
Clara Cannucciari, is a 94-year-old Internet star. Telling stories, dishing out snippets of wisdom she gained from living through the Great Depression and whipping up classics like Pasta with Beef Scrap Ragu in her home kitchen, she was filmed by her grandson, and elevated to stardom when he posted them on YouTube. Not only are the Old World Italian recipes in this book intriguing in a back-to-basics way, but they are also accompanied by some disarming (and entertaining) comments such as this one that you’ll find with a recipe for Holiday Fig Cookies: “These cookies are sweet and really good for you when you’re constipated. They really work good. It’s all the figs, I guess.”
Clara Cannucciari, $21.99; St. Martin’s Press, New York.

The Veselka Cookbook
From the landmark Ukranian coffee shop in the East Village of New York, this cookbook introduces you to such exotic comfort food as sweet potato pierogi, borscht and veal goulash. Apparently, this place attracts many New York celebrities and the book sports a cover endorsement from comedian Jon Stewart. I never thought I would aspire to make homemade pierogi, but leafing through this book made me want to try.
Tom Birchard with Natalie Danford. $27.99 St. Martin’s Press. New York.

Friday, November 20, 2009


I’m calling the following finds "oddities," but I don't mean the term in a pejorative way, as in “strange,” but rather in a positive way as in “unusual and intriguing.” We all know that the popular wines in America are Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but that doesn’t mean you should only drink those fine wine varietals. Chicken is delicious, too, but does that mean you eat it every night for dinner? There are over 200 wine grape varieties, for instance, in Portugal alone and many more in Italy and Greece. There’s a whole world of wine out there and discovering new favorites is exciting.

White Flower Sparkling Riesling, It may exist, but I have not yet been exposed to an American Sparkling Riesling. Pacific Rim, the Riesling specialist, has just introduced White Flowers Sparkling Riesling from Washington State. Lovely and soft, with flower aromas and a clean, dry finish, this wine contains only 11.5% alcohol, a selling point in my book, and as a lovely alternative to more common bubblies, would be fun to introduce to your friends. And at $16, it's a bargain, too.

Blanc de Pinot Noir. I had also never heard of a white pinot noir still wine, and neither had two longtime Pinot Noir producers I know from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma. This was as intriguing to them as it was to me. This White Pinot Noir wine from Pinot Noir specialists Adam and Dianna Lee, came about as a result of a visit to Champagne 15 years ago. “One of our stops was Krug, where we got the opportunity to taste still, white Pinot Noir that had been resting in oak before going through the second fermentation to become champagne. Even though it was fairly acidic, you could taste the amazing quality of the grape. Ever since then, we’ve wanted to try it,” says Diana Lee. The Pinot Noir comes from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where the couple also sources fruit for its Siduri Pinot Noirs. This unique wine has a lovely fleshy color, with just the barest hint of pink, the weight and richness of Chardonnay but with firm acidity. Priced at $24, the Novy Blanc de Pinot Noir is available through the couple’s “warehouse winery” in Santa Rosa, California, and at some restaurants and wine shops nationally.

Samuel Adams Utopias. This “extreme beer,” the 2009 batch of Samuel Adams Utopias, is an effort to elevate American beer drinkers’ appreciation for full-flavored beer and change the context for beer. It’s 27% alcohol (an average beer is about 5%), rich, dark and uncarbonated, and meant to be served at room temperature in a snifter glass. The recommended pour is two-ounces as it is meant to be savored like vintage port or cognac. Utopias is brewed in small batches, blended, and aged at the Sam Adams Boston Brewery. Since its first release in 2002, it has held the title of ‘world’s strongest beer’ in the Guinness Book of World Records. Wine geeks take note: Samuel Adams Utopias is brewed with several different strains of yeast, including a variety typically reserved for Champagne. The limited-edition 2009 batch is bottled in numbered, ceramic brew kettle-shaped decanters and is $150. I told you it was extreme.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some Sparkling Alternatives

I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not recommend saving sparkling wines for the end-of-the-year holidays or special occasions only. Breakfast is enough of an excuse for me to break out the bubbly. But with the holidays coming up  (when the vast majority of sparkling wine is sold) and the recent news that the Champagne region of France will produce 40% less of its scrumptious elixir, there’s even more reason to discover affordable alternatives such as Crémant and other sparkling wines from France, Prosecco from Italy, and Cava from Spain.
Prices for Champagne have always been relatively high and Champagne makers want to keep it that way; lowering production means they can ensure that champagne remains an expensive luxury. Bully for them and for anyone who can afford to pay upwards (sometimes way upwards) of $50 a bottle. But for the rest of us, there are attractive options. My debut post on this blog was about the lovely Crémant de Bourgogne I tasted on a trip to Burgundy in June and some Crémant d'Alsace that was sent to me. I was lucky enough to taste more mouth-watering Crémant de Loire last week in the Loire Valley as well as some wonderful sparkling Vouvray. Producers I will be looking for at home in the future include: Cave Louis de Grenelle, Les Caves Monmousseau, and Château Moncontour.

Recommended: Louis de Grenelle NV Saumur Rosé Brut “Corail" $19, and Langlois Chateau Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé $20.
Recommended: Zonin Prosecco ($14.99) from Italy. A fun wine that can be drunk with virtually anything including cheeses, fish, chicken and lighter dishes.
Recommended: Among Cavas, the reliable bubbly from northeastern Spain, I recommend Segura Viudas’ Reserva Heredad (in an ornate gift bottle for under $20) and Aria Brut Nature ($12), as well as Cristalino Brut Cava (under $10).