Winter oyster tradition continues

As I’ve posted before, oysters with special wine are a Christmas and New Year’s tradition in my home. When I finally got it back together from the C. difficile, it was way past prime oyster season. But it is again prime oyster season so my thoughts are turning to oysters and wine. Eating oysters on the half-shell recently at Burger Bach (yes, they “do” excellent burgers, and oysters) really got me thinking about oysters in a very serious way. Even though I’ve not made it for either Christmas eve or New Year’s eve, I still intend to have my winter oysters. I’d arranged to share with two good friends who are also oyster lovers–but we had to reschedule first because of snow and horrendous cold, and then, again, because all the snow and cold left Durham essentially without oysters!

I’ve done some fun things with oysters: oyster and corn chowder, and a in 2013-2014, with black truffle (good friend gave me truffles) and experimented with some wines.  I liked the “surf & turf” combination so well that I’m continuing it this year as well.

I’ve started the hunt for wine for this winter’s oyster feast. So far the wines recommended are:

2011 Pouilly-Fuisse (Gilles Noblet, France)

“Gilles Noblet, Pouilly-Fuisse, Burgundy, France, 2011{sustainable} 100% Chardonnay EXOTIC FRUITS, DRIED CITRUS & WHISP OF VANILLA Thirty year old Chardonnay vines provide the heart and soul of Noblet’s Pouilly Fuissé, right from the village of Fuissé. This area was originally comprised of negociant producers and Gilles Noblet was the first in his region to independently bottle his wine under his own name. This style is racy, rich and elegant with hints of kiwi and pineapple fruits. The finish goes on and on and on… Serving Suggestion: White Burgundy is the home of Chardonnay and this one is extremely versatile. A perfect match for dishes with heavy cream sauces.”  From Wine Authorities.

2013 Macon-Peronne (Gandines, Domaine des, France)

domaine-des-gandines-macon-peronne-burgundy-france-10338034“100% Chardonnay FULL & FLAVORFUL, LEMON, HAZELNUT, CARAMEL. SERIOUS! Gandines really surprised us with this compelling, and serious White Burgundy. Fully ripe and lush, but with juicy acidity and complex minerality. This kind of power usually comes from the big boys north of the Macon in the Cotes de Beaune. Aged in enormous 3000 liter old oak barrels that soften the wine without giving it any oak flavor, it is possibly the most impressive Chardonnay available at this price! Serving Suggestion: Steamed or raw oysters. Black sea bass poached in olive oil with fresh thyme. Roast turkey with truffles or chanterelles.”  From Wine Authorities.

Tenuta del Cavaliere, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Marchetti, 2013 

385762“Verdicchio is central Italy’s most distinctive white varietal. The mineral-rich soils of the Classico Superiore sector of the Marches’ Castelli di Jesi zone – just a few miles from the Adriatic Sea – imbues the finest Verdicchios with extra complexity and a deeply etched soil signature. A radiant green-gold in the bowl, Marchetti’s Verdicchio shows all the minerally snap pea and smoky white pepper notes that we so love in the very finest Verdicchios. The wine’s smoky mineral expression yields to a fleshy core of pear and melon fruit backed by riveting acidity, a tactile mineral expression, and suggestions of green tea, grapefruit zest and sappy dried herbs. Full bodied yet balanced and elegant, Marchetti’s Verdicchio begs for rich vegetarian recipes and fish steaks. Pair it now and over the coming five years with hearty fare that calls for a bold white wine, like swordfish, fresh albacore tuna, rabbit, zucchini casseroles, white pizzas, and pastas dressed with olive oil, garlic and seasonal vegetables. Impressive Verdicchio! ” Found this one at Hope Valley Bottle Shop.

Finally, the weather is cooperating, and I’ll be eating oysters on Saturday evening. I haven’t yet decided which wine will accompany this round of oyster stew with black truffles!  I keep reading the descriptions of each and just can’t decide, but I do know that three is too many–I have to make a decision.

 

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Zaphod

First, let me tell you that I’m not generally a fan of liqueurs, especially to be sipped on their own because most are syrupy and my first impression is simply of sweet. Now let me tell you that I’ve found some exceptions, starting with Krupnikas and then Zaphod liqueur bottleBeatnik–it really amazes I’ve now found five that I truly like on their own. Even sweetened with raw cane sugar, my first gustatory experience is not of sweet.

From the Brothers Vilgalys another great liqueur: Zaphod.  It’s a light liqueur (for sipping even in the summer) that is very complex–but not overwhelmingly any particular spice or botanical.  One of the things that I love about Krupnikas and these liqueurs is the complexity and the blending of all the flavors.

Sniffing the Zaphod suggests something clean, and bright. Taking a sip and holding it in your mouth the flavors begin to unfold. There is the brightness of lemon (lemon grass), the coolness of mint and sweetness of fruit. As the liqueur warms in your mouth you begin to sense the earthiness of sage, and finally a spicy, peppery feel.

The balance of Krupnikas and each of these liqueurs is impressive: they give a whole sequence of tastes–and have a very long finish. I can see this one with soda (seltzer water) or a very light sparkling wine for a summer beverage.  Another awesome liqueur.

 

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Jabberwock

Jabberwok liqueurI love the names of the liqueurs from the Brothers Vilgalys. Jabberwock conjures up some interesting images for me–something dark, smoky,  and exciting, and maybe just a tad bit scary.

I can’t say which of these liqueurs I like best–they are all so different, so I  have them all, but this one is close to the top of the list–partly because I love strong, black coffee and I like the spice of chilies.

The ingredient list for this one includes coffee, chicory, lemongrass, eucalyptus, manzano & chipotle peppers. Just like the other liqueurs from Brothers Vilgalys the flavors just unfold as you sip. There is definitely some heat–it’s going to make your mouth feel warm. With the first sip there is the “brightness” of the lemongrass and the eucalyptus, then the heat starts to build, but the heat doesn’t hide the “dark” coffee and chickory. The lemongrass and the eucalyptus come through in the nose. There’s a long, warm finish where the smokiness of the chipotles lingers, even as the heat fades. Another winner!

(It’s a fantastic addition to hot drinking chocolate–the coffee and the chickory enhancing the chocolate flavor and the chilies adding some spice.)

Beebop

Vilgalys BeeBop liqueurYou are encountering something unusual–I’ve found a liqueur that I like–another one.  I’ve posted about Krupnikas, and about Beatnik–well, here’s another that I really like: Beebop.  Again from the Brothers Vilgalys, here in Durham. I’m a serious fan of this one too. It’s another vegetable in an unexpected place–not quite so unexpected as the beets since rhubarb is used to make wine.

The aroma is bright and warm. The first taste is bright, and spicy. As it warms in your mouth, there’s definite tartness (the rhubarb–not puckery or sharp at all) and a bit of floral tanginess (the hibiscus); it makes me think of sunshine. Then there’s forest warmth (allspice, chamomile, and rosemary combination perhaps) spreads though your mouth. The finish is long with the coriander really blossoming at the end.

Another awesome blend of vegetable, spices, herbs, and botanicals.  As this warms slightly above room temperature in my hands (in a snifter) the middle flavors become more complex.  For sipping these liqueurs definitely need to be treated  like a fine brandy–warmed slightly so that all the flavors come out, and in a balloon/snifter so that you can really get your nose into your appreciation of all the aromas as well as the tastes. With this one as with the Krupnikas and other liqueurs, it’s the balance. The allspice is more pronounced, pushing this toward warm flavor, but balanced by the “forest” flavor and the final long finish where the coriander comes out.

The Brothers Vilgalys describe this a tart and savory, with a dry finish.  Agreed, but it’s much more complex–this is serious sipping stuff.

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Holiday time again….

Like it or not the holiday season approaches. I’ve one Christmas gift to order yet, but then I’m through. I thought I’d pass on a few suggestions for gifts for those of you who still have a cooking person on your list to shop for:

  • Volrath French carbon steel skillet: probably my most-used, it has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight.
  • Romertopf clay cooker: a go-to especially for one-dish meals in cold weather.
  • Home espresso machine: Can’t start the morning without my jolt of caffeine either straight espresso or café latte.
  • Clever Coffee Dripper: If I’m not wanting quite the jolt of espresso this gets something more like French press, with the benefit of a filter to eliminate the sediment.
  • Kunh Rincon garlic press: If garlic is a cooking necessity, a garlic press can be a time-saver, or it can be a total nuisance when you have to clean it, so you don’t use it. This is a good one, recommended by Cook’s Illustrated after testing lots of them.*
  • Max Burton Portable Induction cook unit: Live where it’s hot and humid in the summer? You just hate to turn on the stove? Induction cooking is much cooler–though it does require cookware that is either stainless steel or iron.  If a magnet won’t stick on your cookware, then you need the Hob Heat Diffuser that will allow you to use other cookware with the induction unit.
  • Pressure cooker: The Fissler FSSFIS5859 Vitaquick Pressure Cooker was the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated testing* and is pricey.  The runner-up was the Fagor Duo line, less pricey, highly recommended and noted as “best buy”. (This is the one I’ve used.) This cooker does work with induction cook units–a real plus in hot, humid weather when you still want those dried beans cooked.
  • Fasta Pasta Microwave pasta cooker: This is a real gem to have in the kitchen! So much easier than boiling that big pot of water–again great in hot, humid weather, but once you start using it, you’re hooked. Again this is a kitchen “gadget” that was tested by Cook’s Illustrated.*
  • If the cook you’re shopping for is just getting a kitchen set up, there’s always some of the essentials for good cooking: Penzeys herbs and spices, either basic, for bakers or for the cook starting to branch out, a do-it-yourself box of specialty herbs and spices.  If you have someone on your list who has to watch sodium intake, there are lots of salt-free blends. If you buying for a cook pressed for time, seasoning blends can be real time-savers–in my kitchen I don’t want to be without herbes de Provence for that time when I’m just too rushed to think blending my own.
  • For relaxation and enjoyment,  either alone or with company, a selection off teas to have on a leisurely morning, or relaxing afternoon break.  Harney & Sons Master Tea Blenders have a fantastic selection–black, green, herbal, flavored, and all the accessories necessary to make a special occasion. Teas can be ordered individually, or there are collections ready made.  If you’re unsure what tea would please your “giftee” most, then send a selection of samples–for a modest $2 you can send enough to brew a decent pot of many teas. Some very expensive ones–e.g. Black King which rings up at $240.00/pound–the sample may run $5. What a great way to let someone explore fine teas–treat yourself.
  • Like a liqueur to sip while relaxing? If you’re in North Carolina, there are some lovely liqueurs made in Durham by the Brothers Vilgalys: Krupnikas, a spice honey liqueur would be a real treat, or look at the unusual liqueurs they make: Beatmik, Beebop, Zaphod, and Jabberwok.  All are great in cocktails, for just sipping straight, added to hot chocolate or hot cocoa.  If you’re not in North Carolina you may still be able to get these delightful liqueurs through other distributors.

Wishing you and your favorite cook very happy holidays–lots of good food, friends, conversations, as well as wines and spirits!

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*Cook’s Illustrated equipment testing is done without manufacturers knowledge until after publication, and products tested are chosen for consumer benefit. They do not accept requests for testing from manufacturers.

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Hot Cocoa

It’s been a chilly, damp, drippy Monday–the kind of day that takes an inordinate amount of caffeine to achieve a minimally functional state. The day’s to-do list included taking the cat to the vet. Of course it was raining  when I toted Frankie out to the car, and it was raining when we came out of the veterinarian’s office. Frankie was lucky–he was in the carrier and dry (not that he was at all appreciative of that).  Now we’re back indoors.  It’s still chilly, damp, drippy Monday–but now dark.  It’s time for a warm beverage that must have chocolate in some form in it–but there must be lots of if.  That means hot coca!

The hot chocolate is sipping chocolate–thick, rich, creamy–for when you feel truly decadent and in need of something sensuous as well as chocolate. There are times when chocolate is required–after a long walk in the snow, or after you’ve finished all the errands that made you go out on a cold, damp, grey, and miserable day. Those are the times when I want hot cocoa–a lighter beverage that comes in a BIG mug (and maybe even whipped cream) to warm me up. It has to be lighter than drinking chocolate because I want to drink more just because. I don’t want the stuff from the grocery store shelves that is supposedly “hot cocoa” but is usually too sweet and lacking in cocoa/chocolate flavor (e.g. Swiss Miss or Nestle’s).

Some chocolatiers have cocoa or drinking-chocolate prepared mixes that are very good–Chuao chocolate Spicy Mayan (expensive and really drinking chocolate), Starbucks, Ghiradelli, to mention a few of the up-scale ones. Even with these, I feel that the cocoa flavor is a bit lacking–I end up using more than suggested on the package,  and they are often sweeter than I like–I’m paying for lots of sugar and powdered milk. For a review of a hot cocoa mixes see Serious Eats.

Scharffen Berger does have sweetened cocoa powder–though more flexible, you’re paying for sugar (that you can get at the grocers inexpensively and you probably already have it in the kitchen).  So, how do I get my great big, steaming, warming mug of hot cocoa?

I’ll start with a premium cocoa: Valrhona is a favorite, Ghiradelli but  you can use the cocoa powder of your choice. The basic recipe for hot cocoa for one is from Epicurious. (On particularly miserable days, I recommend doubling the recipe even if it is just for one.)

Simple Hot Cocoa for One

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet you like it
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk or any combination of milk, half-and-half, or cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

  • Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, and about 2 tablespoons milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until cocoa and sugar are dissolved.
  • Whisk in the rest of the milk and heat it over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until it is hot.
  • Stir in the vanilla and serve.
  • If you like it frothy, blend it in the blender
  • This recipe multiplies easily. When you get up to a quart of milk, use 1/4 teaspoon salt

For a bit more oomph, you can use both chocolate and cocoa together–and if you don’t want to do more that heat milk to get you cocoa and chocolate fix, here is a recipe for The Best Hot Chocolate Mix from Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2014, page 23 that makes enough mix for 12 one-cup servings. Frankly, I get less than 12 since I usually use a big mug.

The Best Hot Chocolate Mix

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1 cup (3 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1-1/2 ounces) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

  • Process all the ingredients in food processor until ground to powder (30 to 60 seconds, or as needed)
  • Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Making hot chocolate

For 1 serving:

  • Heat one cup milk (whole, 2%, or 1% low fat) over medium heat until steaming and bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  • Add 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) hot chocolate mix
  • Continue to heat, whisking constantly, until simmering (another 2-3 minutes)
  • Pour into a heated mug and serve

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Hot chocolate or hot coca sometimes begs to be dressed up with some additions like Krupnikas or perhaps Jabberwok. If you’re going to add a sweetened liquor like Krupnikas, you may not want to use a mix (as above) that contains sugar. You can only tell by tasting.

Other liqueurs that to dress up hot chocolate or cocoa beverages:

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It’s always fun to dress up your hot cocoa–but for me, forget the marshmallows (unless they are homemade), and the whipped cream (unnecessary when you use at least part half-and-half), but adding some spices or other flavors can be fun. Sometimes I make hot chocolate with favorite chocolate bars:  Chuao Spicy Mayan bars, and I sometimes use that to make hot chocolate. My local Harris Teeter has a “house” dark chocolate with orange that makes a great cup of hot chocolate, and the pear and dark chocolate is a way to get a boost if your bar doesn’t include the liqueurs.

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Hot Chocolate–with Krupnikas

In anticipation of National Chocolate Day–drink up!

I love chocolate, and I would be unlikely ever to turn down good hot chocolate or cocoa. I’m glad fall is finally here with relief from the hot humid, muggy weather; however, today is the ninth day of measurable rain in a row, and what with hurricane Joaquin making its way north along the coast, we’ve got several more days of gray, rainy weather coming–maybe a record-breaking string of rainy days. Well, after a brief lull this afternoon, the rain is back. As I listen to the rain on the metal roof, what better to do on chilly, grey, soggy, damp, rainy days than make hot chocolate or hot cocoa?  A real comfort beverage even if you don’t enhance it with spirits. So start with a good cup of hot chocolate or hot cocoa. . . .

First, let’s be clear about the definitions of hot cocoa, and hot chocolate. These terms are often used interchangeably by Americans and use the terms to apply to some really atrocious mixes. If you’re really “into” this beverage there’s a whole lingo you should know. however there is a difference (Amano chocolate page). In a nut shell: hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, milk and/or water. It’s a thinner beverage. Hot chocolate (also called drinking, or sipping, chocolate) is made with chocolate (often shaved or ground to melt faster) which, because of the natural fat in chocolate makes it a richer beverage.

So, when I say hot chocolate that’s what I mean–and I do distinguish that from hot cocoa–not that I don’t like both in different situations. (This really excludes most ready-packaged mixes–especially the “grocery store shelf” ones.)

So first you must make hot chocolate:

Simplest creamy hot (sipping) chocolate

Ingredients (1 serving)

  • 2 ounces of premium chocolate dark chocolate (unsweetened and/or semisweet) pieces
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • pinch salt
  • vanilla to taste (optional)
  • honey to sweeten to taste

Preparation

  • Place chocolate (cut if in large block) into microwave-save container. The container needs to be large enough to allow you to whisk the warmed mixture vigorously.
  • Add honey and pour half-and-half over.
  • Microwave for about 2 minutes–until milk/half-and-half is steaming, but not boiling.
  • Add pinch of salt, and whisk vigorously until the chocolate is emulsified and mixture is slightly thickened.
  • Taste and add more honey if needed, and vanilla if desired.
  • Pour into a carefully warmed mug, sit back, and enjoy.

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Don’t serve this in a thin, fancy cup–even though it’s rather decadent. I use a mug warmed thoroughly with almost-boiling water so that this creamy, sensuous beverage will stay warm while i sip it slowly. Don’t bother with whipped cream–it’s rich enough without.

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Now you have a very dark creamy cup of chocolate. Good as is, but it’s fun to add some different flavors. With all this cold rainy weather, I’ve been experimenting with additions. One of my favorite inspirations was to add a splash of Krupnikas–a spiced honey liqueur. Awesome!

Another liqueur from the Vilgalys Brothers Jabberwock–a very spicy–with coffee, chicory, lemongrass, eucalyptus, manzano and chipotle peppers–makes a spicy cup of hot chocolate–probably my favorite so far.  A splash of Chambord would not be amiss either! if you want fruit rather than spice.

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