I watched and waited for months with the patience of a wily cat. Each visit to the farmer's market left me empty-handed until I spotted them on 04 August: fresh hot Thai peppers. That's when I pounced. The next day, I donned some gloves and put together a ferment that included my catch along with sweet red, yellow and orange bell peppers, Hatch Valley peppers from Trader Joe's, onions, garlic and salt. It was finally time to make a hot Thai pepper sauce.
Hot pepper salsas, sauces and pastes can be yours with each summer's crop of peppers. Fermented foods are full of flavor, along with providing your body with meaningful nutrition and probiotics. If you'd like to give it a try, here's the recipe. You don't need an airlock to ferment peppers. Just place a tilted lid or plate gently on the top of the jar to allow the C02 to escape as the veggies ferment. Do not screw on the lid unless you have an airlock. For this project, you will need a one-gallon jar, a small ziplock freezer bag, and some plastic wrap and gloves, along with the ingredients. NOTE: Wear gloves to protect your hands from capsaicin heat when you work with peppers. Do not touch your eyes, face or any part of your body.
3 pounds sweet peppers of your choice (I used red, orange and yellow, along with Hatch Valley peppers), roughly chopped
1/2 pound Thai peppers, trimmed of their green tops and stems
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons salt
1. Place the sweet peppers, Thai peppers, onions, garlic and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt in a food processor. Pulse to mince. If you want your sauce thinner, pulse accordingly.
2. Place the mixture in a large bowl and taste a small portion. Is it salty to your liking? If not, add another half tablespoon of salt or to taste, mixing well.
3. Press the mixture into a one-gallon jar or crock. Pat it down well. If you have fermentation followers (these are weights that push down on the fermenting vegetables), place them atop the mixture. If you don't have followers, fill a small ziplock freezer bag with water and place it over the mixture. Your goal is to keep oxygen out. Top your followers or freezer bag with bunched up plastic wrap to further block oxygen. Place a tilted lid or a plate or an airlock atop the jar.
4. Set the jar on a baking sheet and allow the veggies to ferment, preferably in a dark, cool spot. I place mine in a fermentation fridge set to 60 degrees F. For a more casual approach, find a cool spot in your home and throw a clean bandana over your jar to shield it from light. Note: fermentation can sometimes cause a mess, even an explosion, if you don't allow the C02 to escape by tilting the lid or using an airlock. Choose your fermentation location accordingly.
5. Allow the veggies to sit/ferment for two to three weeks. Check your fermentation regularly to ensure that the veggies are submerged below the weights, adjusting if needed. Taste the mixture after two weeks. Is it tasty, or would you like a sharper, more acidic flavor? If you crave a tangier sauce, give it another week or so, then check it again.
6. When you love the taste, spoon the hot sauce into small jars, tamping down the mixture and filling the jars to the top to minimize oxygen. Tighten the lids and store your hot sauce in the fridge.
Hot sauces, salsas and pastes add zing to most any meal. Maybe it's a beautiful day and you're in the mood for a picnic. Pack your basket with hot sauce and its target: fried chicken. Place a couple of white wine glasses and a bottle of Riesling in your basket for a refreshing pairing. Next, tuck in some coleslaw and a potato salad. Peanut butter cookies complete your flavor-packed meal to enjoy with a friend on a lazy day. Or, bring your hot sauce to parties along with tortilla chips or tacos for sharing. Fun fact: fermented peppers last up to two years when refrigerated. They also make great gifts. Enjoy!
Fall is a cider opportunity waiting to happen, so I jumped on the chance when Spencer Chambers of Honest Abe Cider offered fresh juice from Big Bear Lake to Los Angeles area homebrewers last October.
Spencer had procured fresh juice from an orchard in Big Bear Lake: enough for his cider house and for sharing with homebrewers in Southern California. I was the first to show up with an empty fermentation vessel ready for action. This was also a chance to pick up some of Spencer's cider.
My six gallon allocation of unpasteurized cider on 13 October 2017 included the following apple varieties: Gravenstein, Pippin, Granny Smith, Starkey Delicious, Fuji and Gala. The original gravity: 13 Brix/1.053. The pH: 3.5.
In January of this year, I shared the cider with The Society of Barley Engineers (SBE) in Vista, CA. President Derek Springer had asked me to speak and we agreed on a topic of fermentation alternatives to beer. It was great to share the story of the cider while my friend and fellow SBE member Stan Sisson talked about cider making. The other topics included making hot sauce with Brian Frederick and Chris Banker, and making cheese with Curt Wittenberg. I look forward to putting together a cider from the orchards of Julian next year -- I think the SBE group can point me in the right direction for that adventure.
Read the story about Bouzy Rouge wine (Pinot Noir) from Champagne and its ideal accompaniment, a chicken lit afire. Recipe adapted by Lyne Noella.
Preheat oven to 450F. Rub the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Place butter, celery and onion in the chicken's cavity and cook at 450 F for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from oven. Lower the oven to 325F. Pour brandy over the bird and ignite. Baste until the flame falls away. Drench with Port and cream. Sprinkle with pepper and more salt, add garlic and herbs to juices.
Roast at 325F, basting occasionally, until deep brown and tender, 30-40 minutes. Serve with French bread. If you like a thicker sauce, mix water cornstarch and stir in, cooking until thickened.
A friend recently gave me a wine by Luis Duarte from the Alentejo region of Portugal, and I was curious to examine the treasure. Everything about the 2013 Rubrica was surprising, especially the lead grape: Alicante Bouschet. I had been reading about this grape in a book titled "American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink." In the book, author Patrick Comiskey explained that the Prohibition's Volstead Act included loopholes that allowed the making of sacramental wine and also, most excitingly, the homebrewing of wine for personal consumption in the home. As a homebrewer, I was intrigued to learn that during the first five years of Prohibition, acreage and production of wine in California nearly doubled to meet the demands of the holy as well as homebrewers throughout the country. As a sommelier, I read with interest that Alicante Bouschet grapes were considered star performers during this time because of their thick skins, resistance to rot and vigorous growth. It was a matter of survival of the fittest, not quality and finesse. These characteristics made Alicante ideal for long and arduous shipments to the Midwest and East Coast. Charles Sullivan of Napa Wine made a case for why other varietals such as Zinfandel were superior to the "coarse Alicante," and I thought it was a pity that a grape with such a beautiful name was such a loser. With that background in mind, I was rather afraid to taste the 2013 Rubrica and set it aside for about a week while I built my courage (and thickened my own skin).
Yesterday, I opened the Luis Duarte Rubrica Tinto 2013 and reviewed it on Vivino. This was no loser: The black plum, racy dried cranberries and forest floor riding on fresh tobacco, charred wood and hazelnut made it a darling in my book, any day of the week. The wine is a blend of Alicante, Touriga Nacional (a Port grape), Aragonez, Sarah and Petit Verdot. I have found it difficult to locate exciting still red wines from Portugal, even in Los Angeles, and it is my understanding that much of the good stuff stays in the homeland. Tasting this wine was a treat, and it got me to thinking about "lesser" wine varietals that are relegated to the blending grape category, as has the Alicante. When treated with compassion and finesse, the Alicante is a treasure that can stand on its own, and you will find varietal examples of this grape in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, Spain and even here in California.
Alicante was originally cultivated in France by viticulturist Henri Bouschet in 1866. The parents of the grape are Petite Bouschet (created by Henri's dad, Louis) and Grenache. This is one of few wine grapes in the world that has red flesh. The deep color of the wine makes it a perfect blending partner with light red wines. The intensity of the grape's color also makes it vulnerable to rogue winemakers interested in "stretching" the wine by pressing the grapes several times or diluting it. This is a grape that needs loving and knowledgable hands to make it into a single varietal or unique blend. Luckily, the Alicante is enjoying a renaissance in France, Portugal, Spain, Chile, California and other locales. Look her up when you get a chance -- you may find a darling of your own.
This torte features the gustatory pleasures of amaretto and chocolate with a racy backbone of dried sour cherries. Bake this on a Sunday morning, then keep your oven going to make a braised pork shoulder dinner. While the pork braises, you can look forward to a mouth-watering torte for the final course.
To stay with the amaretto/almond theme, pair your braised pork dinner with a Soave Classico, which is renowned for its luscious almond blossom aroma. Or, go with a Verdicchio from Lombardy or even your favorite pinot noir.
Pair the torte with -- you guessed it -- Disaronno Amaretto Liqueur. Use the amaretto in the future as a topping over ice cream.
This recipe calls for a double-boiler for melting the chocolate.To create a quick double-boiler, add about an inch of water to a pot and place a glass bowl atop the pot. Add the chocolate to the glass bowl and turn on the stove to medium.
Butter for spreading on a 9-inch springform pan
1/2 cup fine panko breadcrumbs
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks of butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons Disaronno Amaretto Liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup raw almonds, finely ground (or finely chopped with a knife)
8 ounces dried pitted tart cherries (available at Trader Joe's)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Drop the panko breadcrumbs into the pan and shake the pan to coat. Discard excess breadcrumbs.
3. Melt the chocolate over a double-boiler, stirring until the chocolate is smooth. Cool.
4. Place the butter in a mixer and beat for one minute.
5. Add the amaretto liqueur, the vanilla extract, and the sugar; beat well.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula from time to time until you are done using the mixer.
7. Place your mixer on low speed and mix in the chocolate, then the almonds, then the cherries.
8. Add the flour, mixing until just incorporated.
9. Place the batter into your prepared springform pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
10. Cool the cake completely, removing the sides of the pan after about 20 minutes. Top with ice cream or whipped cream and serve.
Are you buying paperwhites now to brighten your winter with lovely white blossoms and heady aromas? If so, consider bathing them in a five-percent alcohol solution to stunt stem growth without sacrificing the size and loveliness of the flowers. While your paperwhites may get tipsy, they won't tip over.
This method for avoiding the flop-over effect of paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) that grow as much as 30 inches tall is noted by horticulturists, including the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University. While you may prefer a higher alcohol level in your own wine or beer, paperwhites find that a five-percent alcohol solution hits the target. Specifically, we are looking for one part alcohol to seven parts water. If you're game, here's how.
A lovely glass container
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup Vodka (or gin -- do not use beer or wine)
1. Plant your bulbs in a vase filled with stones and water. The water should reach only to the base of each bulb (or risk rot). Allow about one week to pass.
2. When the roots grow and the shoot is about one or two inches tall, drain the water.
3. Create a tipsy solution: Pour water into a measuring cup and add the vodka. Place the solution into the vase that holds your paperwhites, only to the base of each bulb.
4. Pour yourself a glass of wine or beer or -- wait for it -- a screwdriver, and raise a glass to a job well done. Cheers!
Opening a bottle of Chianti? These cheesy herb biscuits offer up a crisp golden crust with soft insides packing the punch of Parmesan cheese accented with fresh herbs from your garden. Best of all, the recipe easy -- no mixer needed -- and takes only 15 minutes to cook in your oven. These biscuits also make a great side for breakfast with eggs and bacon.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, chilled
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese (or sharp Cheddar), shredded
2 tablespoons fresh herbs of your choice (sage, chives, thyme, etc.), cleaned, patted dry, and minced
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly whisked
1. Heat your oven to 450 degrees F. Pull out a large mixing bowl, two butter knives, and all ingredients.
2. Add to the bowl: flour, baking powder, dry mustard and salt; mix together.
3. Cut in the chilled butter, letting it rain down into the bowl.
4. Add to the bowl: cheese, herbs, and milk. Using knives, toss until just incorporated.
5. With floured hands, reach into the bowl and knead the mixture briefly (do not over-knead).
6. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to about 3/4" thick. Cut the dough into biscuits and place on Silpat-lined or buttered baking sheets.
7. Brush the biscuits with the whisked egg, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
8. Uncork your bottle of Chianti and feast on the wine and warm biscuits with friends.
The wines we remember most involve a special cast of characters, circumstances and wildcards. This particular bottle of Bouzy Rouge came into my life when an inspired designer/family member, Joe Schrader, noticed I was enthralled with his Wolf oven while on vacation with Peter in Edina, MN.
Even without the comfort of my home kitchen tools (Thermapen, cast iron skillet and such), it quickly became clear that the gustatory potential of Joe's kitchen was limitless. I decided that Wolf oven was the best way to thank Joe for his hospitality . . . every day.
Surprised by my frenetic activity in his kitchen, Joe brought out a worn recipe book and pointed to a page featuring a family favorite: roast chicken flambé. I pulled the book from his hand, updated the recipe, and got started. Joe ran out to the wine shop to get "something special" to go with the meal.
With a name like Bouzy Rouge de Margerie, the bottle held Joe, Peter and me at rapt attention. Joe and I lit the chicken afire and served it and we all took our seats at the table. Joe poured the Bouzy Rouge and we each inspected the label. This mystery wine was from the Champagne region but it did not sport the usual Champagne cork and cage. What was going on?
The wine was a clear, sexy shade of garnet, indicating some age and/or oxidation. Visual and mouthfeel inspection indicated no petillance/bubbles whatsoever. On the palate, we got baked red fruit and earthy complexity inlaid with medium tannins and a long finish that set the tone for a very special dinner,
This was a still red wine from Champagne country, a Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Bouzy. Champagne expert Peter Liem sites Bouzy as having one of the region's greatest terroirs. And Joe's choice of a wine produced in one of Champagne's warmest climates seemed the perfect match for a chicken that had been doused with brandy and Port wines, then lit afire. The Boozy Rouge was rich, fruity and complex, a gift from the village's South-facing vineyards on the Montagne de Reims.
Bouzy Rouge is a highly celebrated cult wine which is only produced in this village and makes a great party wine. A number of rosé Champagnes are made with Bouzy Rouge as the base wine. Though this wine can be elusive in U.S. wineshops, a search for my new White Whale is worth the effort.
If you get the chance to visit Champagne, make it a point to party in Bouzy. Or, you can run out, like Joe did, and find your own surprising gem at a wineshop when looking for "something special." Pro tip: Start by finding a friend or family member with a hot oven and take it from there.
The first time I bought the wine it was suggested by the knowledgeable staff at The Wine House. When I start a new region of study, I lean heavily on recommendations then grow bolder with each shopping trip. Today, I picked the wine myself, mostly because I recognized the winery, Château Pégau, from the podcasts I follow. Full disclosure: My choice was also influenced by the buyer-friendly price in a region that makes me want to cry when I pay my AmEx bill.
After rating the wine today, I was disappointed to realize I had already rated it, only one month prior! At first I cursed my horrible memory for the mistake. What a dummy! Then it dawned on me that this was an opportunity to assess the consistency of my tasting skills and consider the possible differences between bottles. Think about it: These wines were made by the same producer with the same grapes in the same year. The two bottles were cared for by the same shop. Could it be true that every bottle of wine is an individual, no different than ourselves?
Though my ratings and tasting notes were not wildly different, my emotional response to the wines were night and day. Let's compare the facts, as listed on the Vivino tastings:
The score for the wines are .25 apart, if you read down to the final conclusions. Here's where the scenario gets tricky: the emotional response. The bottle in September: It's a nice quaff to go along with your sandwich. October: My God this is a good wine with a luscious mouthfeel and a backbone of acidity that tells me this vintner is on the mark. I'd like to give this wine a four! When I sat down today to give it an objective review, I dialed the score down to a 3.5, but doing so in no way diminished my euphoria.
How about you? Have you tasted two different bottles of the same wine and experienced both ho-hum and joyful moments? What do you think accounts for different emotional responses to a wine? Belly up to the bar and share your experiences.
What's going on when you open a bottle of wine and smell . . . Band-Aid? Welcome to the world of brettanomyces (aka Brett). This character in our script is a wild yeast that sometimes makes it into your wine -- usually your reds, but sometimes your whites. Brett plays a leading role in the nightmares of most winemakers because it's like a feisty two-year-old child: uncontrollable yet full of potential.
Brett is not necessarily an off-flavor (in palatable amounts). If you were to make a list of Brett's positives, you could include beguiling earthy aromas such as rustic barnyard, spice and horse saddle. When I find Brett to be in a good mood, I am mentally transported to a dark, dusty stable filled with horses, hay and barnyard animals. I hear the horses snorting and pawing at the earth and hens clucking nearby. Perhaps a pig runs through the scene of my imagination. And I am in my happy place -- much like the five-year-old I was when hanging out with horses in my rustic neighborhood of Vista, California. Sidebar: The salt-licks were exotic but not off- menu.
However, Brett has a dark, evil side. Off-flavors that make it impossible to enjoy your wine might include the aforementioned Band-Aid, which I recently encountered in a 2014 Equis from the Saint-Joseph appellation in the Northern Rhone region. The Band-Aid aroma was mild but distracting in what otherwise was a delicious wine. See my review at Vivino. An unruly Brett wouldn't think twice about offering up medicinal, metallic, rancid cheese and other off-putting aromas.
Brett can make itself at home at any stage in the winemaking process, from the grapes to the winery and the barrels. Improvements in cleaning technologies have made it possible to avoid Brett, but these Yeasty Beasties sometimes find a way in.
As a brewer of beer, I find Brett an intriguing dancing partner -- racy, but don't turn your back on him. Brewers are increasingly seduced by the potential of Brett, but it takes a racy type of vintner to embrace the potential of Brett. Many aromatic compounds are shared in the fermented products of wine and beer, so when I study one, it usually helps me with the other. However, in beer, a band-aid aroma is typically associated with Chlorophenols, which is the result of chlorine-based sanitizers like bleach. This differs from wine, where we look to naughty Brett as the villain. Or the hero.