Why Wineporn? Because using words and images to create a culinary sensation is analagous to showing videos of well-hung Russians and cockhungry cheerleaders to get you off. These are my naughty, sensual meanderings about the wine I love and the food that accompanies it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Breakout Barbeque (lamb Provençal)

There comes a time in every grill guy’s (or gal’s) life when it’s time to step up your game. You’ve developed a little reputation for your finesse with flame, and now its time to prove to yourself and your posse that you can do more than burgers, ribs and chicken thighs. It’s time for the breakout dish.

The breakout dish has to be something challenging, new (to you) and eventful. It has to have some pizzazz. Marinated and grilled tofu is not a breakout dish, no matter how much you dress it up. A whole ox, however, would qualify. For my breakout dish I decided on a slow roasted leg of lamb. Growing up, we never ate lamb and it’s something I now eat only in Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants. It seemed a challenging meat to conquer. It has strong flavor, and if cooked correctly, a pleasant chewiness. But if not handled well, the chewiness can easily become overly tough and eating it can feel like your mouth is doing time on a Stairmaster. In other words, it’s a meat that takes some skill to cook correctly.

Being summer, I wanted to use fresh herbs to flavor the lamb and so I decided on a Provençal theme. I set about to do my research. In an recent Cook’s Illustrated magazine, I found this recipe. It recommends buying boneless, butterflied lamb shank. I felt like that was too wussy for my project. I wanted to present a smokin' huge hunk of meat on bone. But from this recipe I got the idea of brining and pasting. From Food and Wine Magazine, I found Steven Raichlen’s recipe for Tandoori lamb leg. Not the flavor I wanted this time, but I learned a basic plan for cooking a whole leg on a Weber. Finally, I found a great recipe on Grill Guru’s blog for a whole leg of lamb Provençal. The Guru calls for a rotating spit (perhaps my next fun purchase), but a very helpful email exchange with him helped me to focus my strategy of cooking on the grill over indirect heat.

To compliment the lamb, I thought I’d cook a couple of whole chickens. If you want to make the most succulent fowl on the grill, go out right now and buy, pick or steal some juniper berries and allspice berries. Those are the only two uppity, hard to find ingredients in Alice Water’s brine for pork and chicken. It completely changed my relationship to barbequed chicken. Soaking a fowl in this solution overnight not only imparts a deep and delicious flavor, it moistens the bird enough to give you a greater margin of error when barbequing. Even the breast meat won’t dry out on an Alice Waters's brined bird. And the leftovers are beautiful for sandwiches and salads. Some folks have complained that the color of the skin looks anemic when cooked this way, but I came up with an easy solution. After brining, I rubbed the birds with a mix of brown sugar, coarse sea salt, fresh ground pepper and Turkish paprika in equal parts (my friend brought me fancy paprika back from his trip to Istanbul- you can use Schilling’s just fine). The paprika gives the bird great color, even before cooking.

To get a nice, crispy skin, I decided to spatchcock the chicken. Spatchcock has got to be the best word in the grill-nacular. Go ahead, say it out loud, “Spatch-cock.” It’s a way of preparing a whole bird that involves removing the backbone and keel bones so that it lays flat on the grill over direct heat, allowing for quick, even cooking and crispy skin. When you’ve brined it overnight, you really don’t need the support of slow roasting or beer can sodomy. So cut that puppy open and throw it right over the fire! Unfortunately, I don’t know how the hell to locate a keel bone, so I called my favorite butchers; the gents over at Drewe’s Bros on Church Street (San Francisco). They’d never heard of spatchcocking, and just saying the word seemed to make them nervous. “You mean, like, you wannit buttah-flied?” they asked. Sure, butterflied would be fine, maybe it’s even the same thing, but their lack of critical grill vocabulary put a chink in the armor of their renowned expertise. Their meats are still top notch and the lamb leg and free range chickens I got from them were no exception.

I cooked the lamb, I cooked the fowls, the guests arrived, I served them food. I first presented my guests with a barbequ’amuse-bouche of Grilled Nectarines:

Grilled Nectarines
4 fresh, ripe nectarines
one wedge Brie cheese
1/4 pound Parma prosciutto
Halve and pit the nectarines. Place a slice of Brie on the open faced side. Wrap with two pieces of prosciutto. Grill, round side down, over direct heat for about 2-3 minutes. Serve to incoming guests and accept their compliments graciously. Serves 8.

The nectarines tided us over for a few seconds but people were here for the meat. Finally both bird and beast were cooked and rested. We carved them up and served them some yummy au jus made from the lamb drippings and wine. I call this Sauce of the Fire Gods- see below for recipe. Chris grilled some great new potatoes with rosemary and chives to complement the lamb and chicken (click here for a video recipe). I had several different bottles of Cotes du Rhone wines to complement the Provençal theme. The best to pair with the lamb was surprisingly the cheap-as-heck 2004 Bonny Doon Domaine des Blagueurs Syrah-Sirrah. Make sure it’s the 2004 bottle if you are going for the southern France theme. The 2005 vintage is great, but the jokers from BD switched to a Cali wine in 05.

My Provençal theme was loosely held together until my friend Jaedon wanted to bring homemade lumpia. Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll. “Is it okay if I bring that?” he asked. Lumpia is welcome at any party of mine! Neil and Eric made a delicious cake with summer pluots, and Arthur toted another dessert that finished things up deliciously. All in all, my almost French barbeque was remarkably successful.

Leg of Lamb Provençal Recipe

Lamb and Brine
1/4 coarse sea salt (or kosher salt)
1/4 cup sugar
12 medium cloves garlic , crushed
One 5 – 7 lb leg of lamb

Combine salt, sugar, and crushed garlic with 2 quarts water in large bowl or container; stir until salt and sugar dissolve.

Score lamb leg in diamond pattern. Poke holes into the meat with a knife down to the bone. Use your finger to make the holes larger. This will allow the brine to fully flavor the meat and later, you will stuff Provençal paste in here. Submerge lamb in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 3 hours, turning the lamb over once, halfway through.

note: all the recipes that discuss brining lamb suggest 2-4 hours, whereas brining pork or chicken is often done overnight. Does anyone know why we should brine lamb for such a short time? If you know, please post and share with me.

Provençal Paste
While the lamb is brining, prepare your paste.
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh oregano
1 bunch fresh savory
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
6 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup olive oil

Smash garlic cloves with flat of knife. Remove skin. Remove the leaves from the twigs from half of the rosemary, oregano and savory. Reserve the rest of the herbs on the twigs to make your basting brush later. Place herb leaves, garlic and salt in a mortar and pound with pestle for about one minute. Stir in olive oil and mix/pound for another minute. Watch the splash. If you are lazy or mortar-less, you can use a food processor on the lowest setting.

Remove the lamb from the brine when ready. Pat dry with paper towels. This is important as you do not want the residual sugar on the surface of the lamb when you cook it. It can impart a burnt marshmallow flavor that is yummy in s’mores but bad in lamb.

Rub the paste all over the lamb leg, making sure to get it inside the holes you poked earlier.

All of this can be done the day before, if you want. If that’s the case, after rubbing the lamb, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Take the lamb out of the ‘fridge half an hour before grilling.

Cooking Directions
Kettle grill
Hickory or mesquite wood chunks (I wonder what kind of wood they would use in Provençe. Tell me, if you know!)
Chimney starter and old newspaper
Drip pan
3 cups of dry white wine – preferably something from the south of France
The reserved herbs on twigs
A foot long dowel and some twine
Half a cup of olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Make sure the grill is clean.

Fill a BBQ starter chimney with hickory wood chunks (I purchase mine from a hardware store), stuff the bottom of the chimney with paper and light. When the top chunks have a low fire, bank the wood on one side of the kettle to create an indirect fire.

Place a drip pan on the other side of the kettle (it will go beneath the lamb leg). Pour a cup of the white wine into the pan. This will moisten the air in the kettle as the meat cooks. Pour another cup of wine into a bowl to use for basting. Pour the third cup of wine into a glass and toast your lamb before he goes on the grill.

Place the grill in the kettle. Oil the grill by crumpling a paper towel, grabbing it with tongs, dipping it in olive oil and then rubbing it against the grill. Place the leg of lamb on the hot side of the grill for three minutes on each side to sear. While searing, season the up-side with salt and pepper (you do this last minute because you want it to stay on the outside becoming part of the meat crust).

Move little Wooly to the other side of the grill. Cover. About every 20 minutes, grab your snazzy brush and baste with white wine.

Remove lamb from grill when the interior temperature registers 140 degrees on a meat thermometer. It takes about an hour and a half to cook. Loosely cover with foil and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Finally, eat like a Provençal Prince!

Sauce of the Fire Gods

While meat is resting, pour the contents of the drip pan (don’t burn your hands!) into a sauce pan. Pull off the herbs from your basting brush and throw them in the sauce pan as well. Add a couple crushed cloves of garlic. Simmer for 5 minutes then pour through a strainer. You could dip Styrofoam in this sauce and it would taste good, but with the lamb it will take your tongue to a higher plane of taste consciousness.

Monday, July 09, 2007

You Must Be Joking!

Last week I picked up a couple of bottles of the Domaine des Blagueurs Syrah 2005 at Trader Joe's. I opened it up (screwcap) and poured a glass to keep me company while I was paying bills. At 5 bucks a bottle, I wasn't planning to swirl and sniff but as I raised the glass the aromas caught my attention. DAMN! Strong fruit, nice balance and a whiff of spice- a little peppery perhaps. I pushed the envelopes aside and gave the wine my attention. This wine is a steal! It's got to one of the best of the bunch in the penniless lush price point. It delivered on the tongue as well with jammy stone fruits and hints of clove and licorice. I would've liked a little more tannic kick, but it's smooth finish means that it will pair with more dishes. I'm going back to TJ'S to get a case. This is a seriously good- and seriously affordable wine. I've found an everyday bottle that I really want to drink everyday.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Little Old World Style

The brightly colored awning at Parea (Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA) has called to me for a while now and yesterday I finally decided to stop in. Well Holy Souvlaki isn't this a hidden little gem? Parea is a Wine Bar and Café focused on European wines, especially from Greece. They have a reasonable wine list focusing on Greece, France, Italy and California. Even the California wines are crafted in an old world style. But don't let the words '"old world" fool you; this wine bar was neither stuffy nor snobby. There were certainly the yuppies and mission district hipsters present; but there was ZERO attitude factor. For starters, there was a live music. Not the "I'm the entertainment, please watch me and don't converse" type of raucous that acoustically litters so many cafes these days. Just some bald dude with tufts of white hair above his ears strumming on a guitar. Now, that's my kind of old world. Funo and I sidled up at the bar and found ourselves next to pilsner sipping gents carrying on a lively conversation in Greek. I promised then and there to make this a regular watering hole.

Our wine bar dude was pleasant, knowledgeable, and again, no attitude (I have to say I find most wine bar staff to be friendly and informed- the snobbiness comes from patrons not proprietors). We ordered flights. Here was the only disappointment, and it's a minor one. I don't want to say the wines weren't good; it's just that I don't know anything 'bout Greek wines. I have a California bred palate. I like crisp, floral whites and big reds. Their wines were subtle and subdued and geared to a palate a bit more sophisticated than mine. I doubt that I’ll ever give up my Cali-nclinations, but I’m willing to sit for hours at this comfy, casual joint and try to get my old world groove on!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ottimista Superyuppie

Before I start my yuppy-ist tirade, I need to admit that I am part yuppie. I'm half filipino, half white, and like, a third yuppie. I don't have an SUV or a Prius, but I do like goat cheese.

So the bf and I stop in to Ottimista Enoteca on San Fran's Union Street for Sat afternoon brunch, remembering some yummy doughnuts dipped in melted Godiva chocolate. I didn't look the part for Union Street. I was fresh from a soccer game with encrusted sweat, a mildly ripe odor and some bloody astroturf induced strawberries on my shins. Seriously not hot, but whatev, I wanted those f'in doughnuts. Boyfriend wanted to sit on the patio, but the sweatered Unionistas were on fire out there. "Too yuppy, babes," I stated and we walked into the winebar area inside. The decor at Ottimista is impressive, kind of upscale Italian rustic with high ceilings. Its smart too, because the exposed wine bar makes you want to drink, drink, drink! But sitting inside was a mistake. There was only one other set of customers- an uber-yuppie female foursome. I'm not joking here, when we sat down two of them were on their cellphones- at a nice weekend brunch space. One of them had the nerve to roll her eyes at my scruffy appearance, while she talked on a cellphone in a restaurant! Sharing the space with just them meant that we had to hear every 'um', 'like', 'oh my god', and 'eeeeew' they uttered. We started keeping score of the ohmygods versus the eews. Ohmygods beat out eews 12 - 8 in the span of 20 minutes when we had to tune them out or commit seppuku.

But the food rocks. We got those doughnuts. If you've ever had malasadas in Hawaii or Portugal you will understand the impact of these pieces of deepfried orgasm. But then you dip them in pot of melted chocolate. I mean how much do you think our senses can take? Those dougnuts were so good I was able to tune out the highlight-headed hos nearby. Boyfriend and I split an okay salad and a delicious breakfast pizza- you break the fried egg yolk and it runs over the pizza dough - like dipping your bread in the yolk at a diner- but diner bread doesn't have aged cheese and maple bacon. I love this pizza. We enhanced the whole experience with glasses of sparking dry rose that really worked well against the salted meat.

I'm not sure what's going on with the service at Ottimista. This was my second time there and both times the service was pleasant but really inefficient. They rush around madly when there don't seem to be enough customers to warrant it. It took a long time to place our order and a long time for the food to come. I got up and grabbed the mill myself to put ground pepper on my salad. There was no 'check back' once the food was served. But the waitress was sweet when she showed up every hour or so, and the food is good enough to make me put up with service and yuppies every now and then when I happen to find myself on Union Street.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tantalizingly Close to Beauty

"welsh stewart" sonoma county zinfandel 2003

On the nose it's powerful. Significant alcohol with aromas of dark fruit jam(cherry, plum, cranberry sauce). The winemaker said it lacks prune flavors, but I definitely tasted prune (and liked it). Along with some clove.

The palate was strong- socked me in my grill. Alcohol and tannins grabbing a hold of my tongue. I felt like i was wrestling this wine a bit. I love wine wrestling. More cranberry- Slightly sour, slightly peppery. Only disappointment is that the finish of the wine had a mild sweet-syrupy finish. I think that some others might appreciate that. I didn't and I thought it marred an otherwise wonderful experience.

We paired this wine with roast pork from the chinese restaurant around the corner. I thought it would work the way a good Zin-n-ribs combo does. It didn't. I think the sweetness of the zin and the sweetness of the pork failed to achieve a balance. It made the Zin seem even more syrupy- a sad combination. I would look for a hot zin with no sweetness for my next bbq pork meal- or a pork without sweet in the sauce.

cork and demons interview with the winemaker:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Everything I Know about wine, I Learned in Kindergarten

Today’s lesson: the sun helps plants grow. A lot of sun helps plants grow a lot. Grapevines are plants.

This was the ‘duh’ moment I had on Saturday night that will change how I taste and search for many red wines.

I was waiting for a prescription to be filled, and wandered into a Castro street wine shop called Swirl, hoping that they carried the Silver Pinot Noir that I tried at Hotel Biron. They didn’t have it. They do have a charming little neighborhood wine bar staffed by bartender named Timmyloo. Timmyloo is a sturdy built lad with an apple pie face and a shock of brilliant red hair. He pours a generous flight and is eager to share his passion for wine without a hint of attitude. There were about eight folks sipping in the back corner bar, the compressed space facilitating easy cross talking between customers. I chatted with one woman about politics. I overheard Timmyloo talking to a woman about his drag punk rock band. At least I think that’s what he said… I didn’t concentrate too much because such conversations are fairly common in this city, and because I was distracted by the tempranillo I was tasting.

I haven’t tried a whole lot of Spanish wines, but I’ve found most of them to be too lean and subtle for me. But not this wine. I was tasting the Tempranillo Graciano Vicuana Bodegas Bilbainas from Rioja Spain 2003 (seriously, are all those names necessary?). This wine wasn’t lean or subtle at all! This wine had powerful fruit flavors with earth, coffee and spice. It was strong. It was gorgeous. It was both fascinating and powerful on the tongue. Timmyloo informed me that the crazy hot 2003 summer in Europe (remember those folks dying from the heat in France?) had the effect of quickly ripening the grape crop. Wines that are usually subtle took on much more intense flavors in the 2003 vintage. Timmyloo told me that he recommends 2003 wines as a great introduction to folks like me who are biased toward the meaty California wines.

While we were on the subject of heat, he informed me that Santa Barbara pinot noirs are often more intense because of the hotter weather. More heat makes grapes ripen more. This explained why I was so fond of the powerful Silver Pinot Noir I tasted at Hotel Biron. It had more kick because of the prolonged sun exposure.

Now I'm a little confused about this. Other experts say that Pinot Noir should be raised only in cool areas, as the flavor of the grape comes not from the sun, but from the time the grape stays on the vine. Too much sun means quick ripening and less vine time. I'll have to do more research on this both in reading and in tasting.

In any case, something is going on for me with these Santa Barbara pinot noirs. Timmyloo introduced me to the second Pinot Noir I have really liked, the Santa Barbara Brophy Pinot Noir (2004). I found it fruity and forceful (good forceful... like velvet bondage, hickeys or bite marks on the lower back). The prominent tastes were of cherry and earth. It was creamy on the tongue with a subtle but lingering finish. I would definitely buy this!

And I will definitely be visiting Timmyloo often.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Boredom from Stags Leap? Damn.

Chris and I are watching LOST on dvd on a Sat. night. To kick the evening up a notch (Saturday should have a little more verve than Tuesday or Wednesday, right?) I open a bottle of special wine.

At least I thought it would be special. I was allured by the the "Stags Leap" label on the Cameron Hughes Lot 16 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. I love wines from the Stags Leap area of Napa, and I really wanted to love this one.

I don't.

At first taste, I thought this wine was overly tannic but that was just my impatience; I hadn't given it ample time to breathe. 15 minutes later, I was LONGING for tannins. At least something interesting would've been happening in my mouth. This wine was a sleeper. It had promise with beautiful ruby color and and strong aroma of blueberry, mashed cherry and light vanilla. There was something merlot-like in the scent, enough to make me double check the label.

But color and aroma are only foreplay. Like a really hot guy who just lays there in bed, this wine didn't put out where it matters. Chris says its very "one-note". I got a little bit of cherry and berry but not much else. It's slightly chalky with a sweet but chemical aftertaste like nutrasweet. This wine would benefit from aging but I'm not sure I'd waste the storage space. Alder at Vinography gives this wine a 7.5/8 out of 10. I usually respect Alder's opinion, but I think he's being overly generous with a negociant that he admires.

Pinot Surprise

Last weekend I had drinks at Hotel Biron to celebrate Makana’s birthday. Hotel Biron is a small wine bar just off Market street. It’s cute, quaint and has wonderful couches that my tired ass just sunk right into. Intriguingly, it smells like an underground wine cellar inside. To a wino like me, that scent makes me almost horny. I managed to check my libido and act in semi-socially appropriate ways so that we could all focus on the birthday boy. Makana is a neophyte enthusiast. He discovered the joys of wine this year and has submerged himself in experiencing and educating himself about wine. It’s adorable. He’s falling in love with wine for the first time, and I’m enjoying experiencing first love through his eyes (and nose and palate).

The one flaw of Hotel Biron is that they don’t offer flights, and I love flights for the opportunity to taste several wines before committing to a glass. However, they pour a taste of any wine-by-the-glass that you want to try, so we had the opportunity to sample many options. The bartendress was knowledgeable, cute and sassy. I wish we had taken pics that night.

We tasted a few wines but unfortunately, I lost my frickin’ notes, so I can’t remember everything. I do remember that Joe tasted a Rioja that had a very clear and powerful aroma of Kikkoman Shoyu! Strange, but honestly not unpleasant.

Surprisingly, the best wine of the evening was a pinot noir. Despite the current popularity of pinot, I haven’t become a convert. I appreciate its subtlety and it’s ability to pair with so many foods including many dishes that usually pair with whites (e.g. fish, cream sauces). But my taste runs toward big reds. I like to get bitch slapped by my wines. I like tannic zins and cabs that are spicy, fruit forward and textured. I was surprised to find all of these qualities in the 2004 Silver pinot noir from Santa Barbara. It was beautifully purple, much darker than most pinot noirs. The aroma was plumy with subtle herbs (light tarragon? thyme? a little grassy?) and then a subtle smell of sea salt. The salt was surprising and pleasant. The plum flavor continued on the tongue. The wine had a very pleasant milky consistency. Makana noted a little ‘heat’ on the front of the tongue, but I didn’t get that. The finish was lasting and complex. A week ago I had a duck confit at Chow and I craved that duck again to pair with this pinot noir.

Happy Birthday Makana! I look forward to many more birthdays, glasses and bottles with you!