A fine homegrown single malt whiskey

Westland American Single Malt whiskey As a lover of good whiskey — whatever its Gaelic or hillbilly pedigree — I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole new category that’s just become available in the Northeast. Based on a tasting of Westland Distillery’s American Single Malt, the folks behind this Seattle distillery are visionaries. The Pacific Northwest has been, arguably, the source of some of the most exciting craft beer making in the last 15 years. Part of that is due to the great barley-growing areas of Washington State and Idaho, and the localized skill in creating specialty malts.

To my taste buds, though, it’s a big jump from craft beer to a sipping whiskey, and I’m pleased with the fruity, not-too-sweet Westland house style. I’m typically a bourbon drinker, and this single malt barley whiskey is frankly less assertive and less sweet than high-end corn-bred bourbons. But it’s a very civilized sip that picks up a lot of subtlety from the complex grain bill (Washington select pale malt, Munich malt, “extra-special” malt, pale chocolate malt, and brown malt). The mouth heat I’d normally associate with 92 proof is tamed by aggressive aging in new American oak for at least 24 months (with some mellowing in sherry casks and port pipes). The flavor starts as an assertive graham cracker sweetness, quickly mellows to caramel crystal (like crème brûlée), and gives an aftertaste full of white chocolate and toasted spice.

This is Westland’s first release in New England, and will be followed soon by a peated single malt with strong smoky phenolics. I’ll be happy to see how both styles fare with a little more time in the barrel before bottling, but to borrow from the film Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Next time I’m in Seattle, I definitely plan to visit the distillery for a $10 tasting and tour (offered Wed.-Sat. at 11 a.m,, and 2, 4, and 6 p.m). The distillery is at 2931 First Avenue South, Suite B, Seattle (206-767-7250, westlanddistillery.com). Suggested retail for Westland American Single Malt is $79.

30

09 2014

TWL: Visiting the school for Prosecco

Prosecco Conegliano

Vineyard of Glera clones at Oenology School.

According to the Prosecco DOC consortium, farmers in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia village of Prosecco began making sparkling wine from the grape now known as Glera around 1600, and it became so popular that it spread to nine provinces in the 17th century. (Those provinces now lie within Friuli and the Veneto, and the symbol of Prosecco DOC is nine wine glasses.) Originally a farmhouse wine, Prosecco would stop fermenting in the fall when the weather cooled, then begin again in the spring, when it was sold as a “frizzante” wine. Antonio Carpenain invented modern Prosecco in the mid-19th century when he began using a pressurized tank for a second fermentation. His adaptation of France’s Charmat process quickly became known as “The Italian Method.”

Prosecco The full history lesson is something you can learn at the School of Oenology & Viticulture in Conegliano — or better yet, at the adjacent Enoteca Regionale Veneta (Via Giovanni Dalmasso 12, Conegliano, +39 0438-455-138, www.enotecaveneta.it). Carpenain established the school in 1876, and it still trains more than 90 percent of the region’s winemakers. It’s also a research center for establishing the characteristics of different grapes and clones of known varietals. (That’s one of the school’s vineyards above.)

While the school does have a Bottega del Vino on the property where you can learn about some of the experimental wines made at the school (and purchase them after a tasting), it is open mainly on weekdays. The Enoteca is for both the more considered drinker, and possibly the partier. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. until midnight with light snacks and the opportunity to taste any of the wines in the library. The collection includes about 500 still wines from the Veneto, as well as about 100 different Proseccos. There are typically a dozen open bottles of chilled whites, about half of them Proseccos. But if something else on the shelves piques your curiosity, you need only ask.

Some technical matters

The street of the Enoteca is named for Giovanni Dalmasso, who proposed the first delimitation of “Prosecco Superiore” around Conegliano and nearby Valdobbiadene in 1936. Finally, in 1969, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC was created. In 1977, the Prosecco IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or “typical of the region”) was established and in 2009, the Prosecco DOC was created to certify IGT producers who met all the consortium’s criteria. Just to confuse things more, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC is now Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Total production varies by year, of course, but in 2013 there were about 241 million bottles of Prosecco DOC and 70 million bottles of Prosecco DOCG.

What does this mean in practice for the buyer at an American wine shop? As a rule of thumb both DOC and DOCG certification indicates that the wine hails from the Prosecco region and is made according to some fairly strict regulations. The main grape is Glera (a rebaptism of the Prosecco grape to stop other countries from making sparkling wine called Prosecco), and there are three styles. The simplest and cheapest is frizzante, which has less than 2.5 atmospheres of pressure. Bubbles tend to dissipate quickly and most frizzante wines are low in alcohol. Prosecco brut (the most popular style in the U.S.) has higher alcohol, tighter and more persistent bubbles, and is bottled around 3 atmospheres. Extra dry, often with less persistent bubbles, is bottled around the same pressure but has more residual sugar than brut.

Prosecco

Vineyards in the rolling countryside of Conegliano.

24

09 2014

French chefs, Spanish ham & summer fruits

ile de re
During a recent visit to Île de Ré and Île d’Aix, the unspoiled islands off the west coast of France not far from Cognac, I also enjoyed a taste of Spain. In early September, swimmers and bicyclists were making the most of the warm, summer weather and chefs were looking for ways to highlight the last of the ripe tomatoes and melons. Several turned to Spain’s jamón serrano, an air-dried mountain ham, to add salt and umami to balance the sweetness of the luscious, ripe fruit.

jamon dishAt Le Grenier à Sel (www.grenierasel.fr/) in the town Ars en Ré on Île de Ré, a perfect starter consisted of a tartare of tomato mixed with the chopped ham. The next day, I encountered a slightly different version at Chez Joséphine (www.hotel-ile-aix.com/restaurant-josephine/) on the lovely, but much smaller Île d’ Aix, where Napoleon spent his last days in France. For a starter, the chefs paired a tartare of melon with crisp lettuce and even crisper jamón serrano for a lovely contrast of taste and texture. The dishes are simple and relaxed, yet they capture the elegance of the French table that even vacationers expect.

They also offer some good ideas about what we can do at home with the last bounty of summer.

19

09 2014

TWL: Getting to know Prosecco DOC in Treviso

a-psan marco
Wine is one of the easiest and best ways to bring the taste of travel back home, so this post initiates what we’re calling The Wine List — travels in wine country with a focus on the wines themselves. And we launch TWL with a journey through the beautiful towns and delicious wines of the Prosecco DOC region of the Veneto and adjacent Friuli–all within driving distance of Venice.

a-Zonin prosecco Prosecco is one of those wines that’s almost too good for its own good. The light sparkling wine made from the Glera grape is the signature sipping wine of Venice, and it is synonymous with laughter and indolent afternoons at an outdoor cafe (see above, on Piazza San Marco). The wine is made in a tightly limited area of the Veneto and parts of nearby Friuli, and there’s a lot of good Prosecco DOC to go around. Although many of the members of the Prosecco DOC Consortium are small operations, some (like Zonin) are big enough to slake the insatiable thirst of Trader Joe’s customers. Even these mass-produced Proseccos are very good.

a-Treviso sculture little Venice My Prosecco fact-finding trip began at the Prosecco DOC headquarters in Treviso, a beautiful little city north of the Venice airport. Treviso is sometimes called the “little Venice” because four rivers flow through it and some of them were channeled to power mills. Despite being heavily bombarded by the Allies in World War II, traces of its old mill wheels and mill architecture remain. Dante immortalized the town in a line in the Paradiso dutifully reproduced on the 1865 bridge over the convergence of the Sile and Bottiniga rivers. The charming city makes a good base for exploring Prosecco country. My lodging, the Carlton Hotel (Largo Porta Altinia 15, + 39-0422-411-611, www.hotelcarlton.it) was modestly priced and conveniently located near the outskirts of the city. The center of the city was a five-minute stroll away, yet it was easy to get onto the circumferential highway to drive to the countryside. Future posts will visit specific producers, the wine-making school and vinoteca of Prosecco, and hit on on some of the scenic highlights of the region.

a-making tiramisu at Al FogherOne evening in Treviso, I dined at Al Foghèr Ristorante (Viale della Repubblica 10, +39-0422-432-950, www.hotelalfogher.it), which figures in the origin story of the now-ubiquitous dessert, tiramisù. The grandmother of the current owners, who had a more modest restaurant in the 1950s when the queen of Greece visited Treviso, concocted what she called an Imperial Cup. This link to gastronomic fame (or infamy) serves as a lure to the restaurant, which serves excellent Trevisano food. I caught just the tail end of the local radicchio season and enjoyed a couple of light dishes (including an excellent squid ink pasta with fresh vegetables) with a bottle of Bosco del Merlo Prosecco DOC (about $12 in the U.S.).

Periodically, the restaurant gives demonstrations of making tiramisù and I took furious notes. Here’s my translation into American measure based on a rapid-fire presentation in Italian. It goes very well with an extra-dry Prosecco DOC (which is sweeter than a brut).

TIRAMISÙ AL FOGHÈR

Serves 8

Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brandy
4 large egg yolks
12 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup espresso
package of ladyfingers or champagne biscuits
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, grated

Directions

Whisk together sugar, brandy, and egg yolks in heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and whisk until well dissolved and mixture reaches 170F (77C) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and beat in the mascarpone. Reserve mixture.

Dip a ladyfinger briefly in espresso, turning to coat, and place in clear glass serving bowl. Repeat until entire bowl is lined with espresso-saturated ladyfingers. Pour half of mascarpone mixture over them. Then make another layer of espresso-saturated ladyfingers, and top with remaining mascarpone. Grate chocolate over the top and refrigerate overnight.

14

09 2014

Lake Placid Lodge honors Adirondacks style

Lake Placid Lodge
Rainy weather showed me just how good the rebuilt Lake Placid Lodge really is. I say “rebuilt” because the original 1880s rustic lodge turned 1940s resort hotel burned down in December 2005. An exemplar of the Adirondacks rustic style, it had been a great example of American vernacular vacation architecture. The owners rebuilt, opening in 2008, and I’d put off a visit for fear the new wouldn’t live up to the old. Then Truman Jones — a talented chef I met some years ago when he worked for Gordon Ramsay — took over the kitchen and Cape Air launched 90-minute flights between Boston and Saranac Lake, a half-hour drive from Lake Placid.

It was only raining lightly when I flew up, and the pilot did his best to minimize the Peggy-Sue moments going in and out of weather. It was still raining lightly when I arrived, so I went out in the lodge’s classic style diesel runabout for a quick tour of the lake. Hence the view from the water (above) with plastic over the porches to keep them dry.

Lakeside room at Lake Placid Lodge I was barely settled into my sumptuous lakeside room (two-sided wood-burning fireplace, hand-carved bed, private porch overlooking the lake) when the heavens let loose. The rain didn’t let up for the next two days, which is how I discovered how much I like the lodge and how true it remains to its roots. Rather than go kayaking on the lake or hiking in the woods, I hung around the property and discovered a thousand little craftsmen touches that make the current Lake Placid Lodge a worthy successor to the original.

headshot of Truman Jones With the weather putting a true damper on outdoor activities, the lodge offered an unscheduled cooking lesson (almost always available on request) with chef Jones (left). About a half dozen of us signed up. The menu was lamb two ways with spring vegetables. Morel mushrooms and wild ramps foraged on the lodge property were paired with green peas, fava beans, and cherry tomatoes roasted for 45 minutes in a 250F oven with garlic. The peas, favas, and ramps were all quickly blanched by dipping in boiling water for about 10 seconds, then in ice water. The morels had been carefully scrubbed under running water, then roasted lightly in the oven. Ultimately, Jones simmered the vegetables in some vegetable stock, finishing with a little butter and salt to glaze.

The lamb portion of the lesson was more unconventional. He began with a whole saddle of lamb and demonstrated very slowly how to bone it to separate the two tenderloins next to the spine and then the two loins. He reserved the tenderloins to make tartare, and placed the loins in sealed plastic bags with a little olive oil, thyme, and a few cloves of garlic to cook sous vide to medium-rare. A little carrot purée on the plate (below) gave the food a colorful background.
Lamb and veggies 550

04

09 2014

Green tomatoes inspire tequila cocktail

Acqua Fresco at RialtoTwo years ago we passed along Gerry Jobe’s recipe for the Killer Tomato Cocktail, and this harvest season we discovered another way to drink tomatoes, courtesy of the Bar at Rialto, Jody Adams’ terrific restaurant in the Charles Hotel in our hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The smooth and elegant tequila drink with lots of layers of flavor — created by Rialto beverage director Young Won — seemed especially timely since it uses green tomatoes. By the looks of our garden, we’ll still be gathering them right up until frost. Like many craft cocktails, you have to make many of the components well in advance, so plan accordingly.

ACQUA FRESCO… GREEN TOMATO, THAI BASIL, GINGER, MINT OIL

To make the acqua fresco:
4 green tomatoes, chopped to 2-inch pieces
large bunch of Thai basil leaves and stalk, torn into pieces
scant teaspoon sea salt

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Puree until well blended. Strain though a conical sieve (chinois) lined with coffee filter. Allow three hours for liquid to strain out. Chill strained liquid.

To make the ginger syrup:
Combine 3 parts freshly pressed ginger juice with 1 part sugar and shake into solution.

To make the mint oil:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
large bunch of mint

Blanch the mint and squeeze out excess water. Warm the olive oil in a stainless steel saucepan. Add the blanched mint and cook for a few minutes over low to medium heat. Set aside and let cool. Strain the oil through a very fine mesh.

To assemble the cocktail:

2 ounces green tomato and Thai basil acqua fresco
1 ounce 123 Reposado tequila
1/4 ounce ginger syrup
Glassware: coupe glass
Garnish: three drops of mint oil or an edible flower

Add first three ingredients to a shaker tin. Add ice and shake vigorously. Double strain into a chilled coupe. Dress with three drops of mint oil or an edible flower.

29

08 2014

Tomatoes meet their match in bacon & basil

Tomatoes
BPL Courtyard RoomFaced yet again with an abundance of tomatoes, we didn’t have to travel far for inspiration. The inventive cooks of the Catered Affair prepare the food for the Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library, including a lovely afternoon tea. Last year when we visited during harvest season, the chefs served a dainty version of a BLT. They placed a mixture of chopped bacon and chopped tomato between two small slices of bread with the crusts cut off. It was a lovely variation on a classic. This year we decided to use some of those prolific garden tomatoes to scale up the sandwich for a hearty lunch. We used English muffins and spread them with homemade basil mayonnaise, since basil is growing far more profusely than lettuce in the August heat. Each was topped with a big scoop of the tomato-bacon mixture for a delicious — if slightly messy — sandwich.

Finished sandwich

BACON, BASIL & TOMATO SANDWICH

Makes 3 English muffin sandwiches

Ingredients
6 strips of bacon cooked crisp and crumbled
3-4 garden tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced small
3 English muffins, split and toasted
basil mayonnaise (see below)

Directions
1. Combine crumbled bacon and diced tomatoes and mix well.
2. Spread toasted English muffins with basil mayonnaise.
3. Divide bacon-tomato mixture in thirds and put between muffin halves.


BASIL MAYONNAISE

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients
1 large egg yolk
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup basil leaves and flowers

Directions
1. In a quart bowl, place egg yolk, garlic, sea salt, sugar, and vinegar. Whisk thoroughly until well blended. Drizzle olive oil into mixture, continuing to whisk vigorously until oil is completely incorporated and mixture thickens.

2. Place basil in a small food processor and process until finely chopped. Add mayonnaise and continue to process until basil is thoroughly incorporated. Basil mayonnaise will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.

20

08 2014

Traditional Norteño barbacoa at Casa Hernán

JohnnyGrill
As we suggested in the La Gloria post that started this San Antonio series back in June, chef Johnny Hernandez has been helping San Antonio reclaim the Mexican side of its culinary heritage. Easy-going venues like La Gloria and The Frutería focus on the simplest of Mexican food — street food, really — but at his special events venue Casa Hernán, Johnny gets into some of the more complex traditions.

Brunch at  Casa Hernán

Brunch at Casa Hernán

Hernandez does a grand Sunday brunch about once a month at Casa Hernán, sometimes featuring barbacoa in the South Texas/northern Mexican tradition. In some parts of interior Mexico, cooks will roast an entire animal in a pit, usually a lamb. In northern Mexico, barbacoa usually signifies a pit-roasted cow’s head (and nothing more). Hernandez had an outdoor kitchen built to order in his back yard. Not only does the tiled work area include a large grill with the machinery for splaying lambs and kids over the heat, it also includes round holes into which Hernandez can use a chain and pulley system to lower chain baskets into the coals of an underground fire pit. The holes are sized to accommodate baskets large enough to contain an entire cow’s head.

CasaHernancowhead To prepare the head for cooking, Hernandez sets it on banana leaves, seasons it liberally with salt, pepper, epazote, onion, thyme, oregano, and avocado leaves, then wraps the whole concoction in the banana leaves. He then lowers it in a chain-link basket into the fire. It takes about 12 hours to cook a cow’s head before he hoists it up with a chain and pulley and pulls the meat off the bones. Now that’s barbacoa!

The beef cheeks provide the juiciest, tastiest meat and form the centerpiece of the brunch buffet, displayed next to the cooked head. For the rest of the brunch, Hernandez will likely grill a few entire lambs, cook up huge piles of sausages directly over hardwood coals, and make a big selection of vegetable dishes and (of course) fresh tortillas. Dessert always depends on the fresh fruit of the season.

Given the necessary gear to make this dish correctly, it’s one we won’t be trying at home.

18

08 2014

CIA classes bridge to Latin cuisines

CIA class helper
There’s nothing like a cooking class to build bridges across cultures, and the San Antonio branch of the Culinary Institute of America has a special interest in the cuisines of Latin America. Its spacious and modern campus opened in 2008 in some of the larger buildings of the former Pearl Brewery. It was a keystone in the development of the Pearl District, a lively area of restaurants and shops and site of a Saturday farmer’s market.

Chef Sergio In addition to professional chef training, the CIA offers enthusiast classes for home cooks. During Culinaria in May, we joined a Latin Boot Camp class for a crash course in several styles of South American cooking. The class was led by Sergio Remolina, who hails from Mexico City and studied in France. He wears two hats at CIA: He is the director of Latin Cuisine Studies, and head of the Center for the Foods of the Americas.

The objective of the class was to teach us several different approaches to cooking with acid — as in making ceviche — and to develop an appreciation for the flavor profiles of Andean cuisines. It was not necessarily a class for the kitchen beginner, as Remolina assumed that all the students had fairly well-developed cooking and knife skills. Most ingredients had to be prepped by hand, and if you couldn’t peel, bone, and chop quickly, there was no chance of finishing a dish on time to be served with dishes from other teams.

CIA tableOur team undertook a simple salad of oranges and hearts of palm, lamb kebabs marinated in a complex mix of ingredients, and an Ecuadoran-style shrimp ceviche. Other teams made empanadas, duck with rice, quinoa au gratin, and mashed potatoes seasoned with crab and cilantro. The class culminated with a grand buffet table and a satisfying feast. Here’s one of the more straightforward dishes, slightly adapted from the class version.

CIA shrimp dishECUADORAN-STYLE SHRIMP CEVICHE

Makes 8 appetizer-size portions

Ingredients for shrimp
2 lb. medium shrimp with heads and tails intact
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup medium diced red onion
1 tablespoon finely diced garlic
2 cups medium diced tomatoes, cored and seeded before dicing
1 whole red onion
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon garlic paste
2 orange habañero chiles, seeds and veins removed
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Ingredients for marinade
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
4 cups coarsely chopped very ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded before chopping
1/2 cup fresh orange or tangelo juice
1/2 cup ketchup (to taste)

Ingredients for garnish
2 tablespoons finely chopped lightly toasted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
plantain chips and/or popcorn as desired

Directions
1. Rinse, shell, and devein shrimp, reserving the shells and heads. Butterfly the shrimp.

2. Make shrimp stock: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Sear the shells and heads until fragrant. Add the chopped onion, garlic, and tomato and stir until all ingredients are cooked through. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and reduce by half. Strain the concentrated stock through a fine mesh sieve.

3. Transfer strained stock to clean pot, bring to simmer and poach butterflied shrimp for 30 seconds. Strain the shrimp and chill shrimp and stock separately in an ice bath. Reserve 2 cups of stock for this recipe and reserve remainder for other dishes.

4. Slice the whole red onion in half, remove the heart, and finely julienne. Cover red onion with cup of orange juice and chill.

5. Toss the shrimp with garlic paste. Combine the shrimp, red onion mixture, habañero chiles, and cilantro and chill.

6. In a blender jar, combine the 2 cups of reserved shrimp stock, lime juice, ripe tomatoes, orange/tangelo juice, and ketchup. Process until smooth. Strain mixture through fine-mesh sieve and pour over the shrimp. Chill until ready to serve.

7. Just before serving, salt to taste and sprinkle with chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts. Garnish with plantain chips and/or popcorn as desired.

11

08 2014

Sustenio’s escabeche puts zing on the plate

Sustenio charcuterie
The San Antonio outpost of super chef Stephan Pyles, Sustenio at the Eilan Hotel (18603 La Cantera Terrace, San Antonio, 210-598-2950, www.eilanhotel.com), veers more toward Mediterranean cuisine than his Dallas restaurants, which range from the made-in-Texas cookery of Stampede 66 to the global fusion of his eponymous dining room. Sustenio Mike Collins With executive chef Mike Collins (right) in the kitchen, Sustenio presents a light and bright Mediterranean option to San Antonio diners who are often otherwise forced to pick between Mexican cooking and a steakhouse. The menu is especially strong on charcuterie (top), much of it made in house. Those plates are great for munching at the bar with craft cocktails before sitting down to a table and tucking into tandoori-style roast salmon (below).

Sustenio salmonWhen we ate at Sustenio in May during Culinaria, Collins was kind enough to share a number of recipes with us, though many of them were pretty daunting. One of our favorites, though, was his version of escabeche. Collins often serves mussels in escabeche. They’re steamed first, then marinated for at least two hours in the tangy sauce. The bright orange flavor is a nice complement to the meaty, briny shellfish. We also thought Collins’ version would work well with chicken, which we first tried on skewers at Tragatapas in Ronda, Spain (C/ Nueva 4, Ronda, 011-34-952-877-209, www.tragatapas.com). When we went to the market and found grape tomatoes and colored carrots, the following dish was born.

Skewers
ESCABECHE CHICKEN AND CARROT SKEWERS

You have to plan ahead for this dish, as the chicken and carrots should marinate overnight in the escabeche. We serve the skewers cold with a variation on Caprese salad: chopped fresh tomato and tiny balls of fresh mozzarella tossed with couscous and sprinkled with chopped basil.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For escabeche
juice and grated zest of 2 Valencia oranges
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
3 whole allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt

For skewers
8 ounces wood-roasted chicken breast
1 1/2 cups carrot rounds, steamed al dente (about 3 minutes)
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
bamboo skewers

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients for the escabeche and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for five minutes and cool.

2. Once the liquid is cool, cut the chicken in half-inch cubes and add to escabeche with carrot rounds. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Before assembly, dip the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds and slip off skins.

4. Make skewers, alternating chicken with carrot rounds and tomatoes.

29

07 2014