Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tequila ~ Key Lime Tarts with Tequila Caviar

Tequila~Key Lime Tarts with Tequila Caviar
This recipe is for the more advanced chef and combines two of my favorite things; Tequila as an ingredient and a bit of  Molecular Gastronomy as a method that you can do at home. You can simply make the Tarts and leave it at that, but for you more adventurous chefs, I've included the recipe for the Tequila Caviar as well. Good Luck!

Graham Crust
1 lb. graham cracker crumbs
8 oz sugar
4 oz pastry flour
8 oz melted butter
Sugar dough
2 lb butter
12 oz sugar
1/4 oz salt
9 oz eggs
3 lb pastry flour

Graham crust: Mix well and set aside.
Sugar dough: Mix the butter, sugar and salt at low speed, add eggs, flour and mix just until evenly blended. Chill for a few hours before using.

14 oz sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
3 oz key lime juice
1 oz tequila
Mix well and refrigerate

To Assemble
First, decide if you are going to use a sugar dough base or a graham base. If you choose sugar dough you will need to roll out the dough after it has chilled and form it in to your tart pan or pie pan. If you opt for graham, form the graham into the mold by simply pressing it in. Both shells need to be par baked for 12-15 minutes. While the tarts are baking prepare the filling. Fill the molds with key lime filling and bake for about 15 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool and remove from pan. Decorate and serve.

For you adventurous chefs, here is how to make the Tequila Caviar.

Tequila Caviar

3 oz simple syrup
3 oz key lime juice
3 oz tequila
.8% agar agar
.2 % locust bean gum
Frozen vegetable oil

One day prior to assembly put oil in the freezer. The day you are making the caviar, remove the oil from freezer 1 hour before using. Allow the oil to defrost, but keep it cold. Mix juice, tequila, agar agar and locust bean gum using a hand held mixer for about 1 minute. Let mix sit for a few hours to allow some of the bubbles to disappear. Bring caviar mix to a boil and strain.

When the caviar mix is ready, it needs to be warm and the oil needs to be cold. Pour the hot mix into a piping bag. Cut a very tiny hole in the bag, so small that you have to squeeze a bit to get the drips out. Above the oil, start squeezing out the mix in small drops using a circular motion. You can adjust the size of the caviar by adjusting your height above the oil. Further away makes smaller balls, closer makes larger balls. The caviar will sink to the bottom of the bowl as the mix gets warmer. Once the mix is done,  strain the oil and the caviar will remain in the sieve. Delicately rinse the caviar in cold water and use as decoration.

I hope you try the recipe for the Caviar for yourselves and don't worry if your first attempt doesn't come out quite right. It took me three tries to get the Caviar method down, so don't be discouraged. As with everything, practice make perfect and remember; the plating here was done specifically for presentation and publishing purposes. Just get creative with your plating and enjoy the wonderful flavors that will wow your friends and family.

Bon Appetit


Friday, April 27, 2012

The At Home Cook Series Installment #6: Cooking with Umami... The Fifth Flavor

Welcome to the sixth installment of my At Home Cook Series. In  the first five installments, we delved into the basics of being in the kitchen with proper techniques. So far we have covered, Mise en Place, Knife Skills, Searing and Sauteing and Mother Sauces and Grilling Perfect Steaks.

Today is all about taste and what's known as "The Fifth Flavor," Umami. Huh, you say? You've heard of Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, but….Umami? While many of you may not be familiar with the phrase, but accomplished chefs around the world, more and more, make Umami the focus of their cuisine. Many specialists now understand that taste is actually more complicated, with the taste buds being helped along by sense of smell, by the feel of substances in the mouth and even by the noise that food makes when we chew it. This newly found taste for a while was almost unexplainable and a bit of a mystery. But in the early 1900s, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo
Dr. Kikunae Ikeda
Imperial University, identified this taste when studying the flavors in seaweed broth. Ikeda isolated monosodium glutamate as the chemical responsible and with the help of the Ajinomoto company, began commercial distribution of MSG products.

Photo: Mimi Oka and Doug Fitch
So what is it, and how do I cook with it? It is actually not a physical ingredient, but more of a natural occurring amino acid that gives off a pleasant savory taste. They are found in many meats, vegetables, seafood and dairy. The word Umami is a Japanese word which means tasty, delicious, or yummy. It has also been associated with other words including meaty, brothy and savory. Not everyone can differentiate the taste from the common four, but its popularity has become more widespread in recent years. For example, there is now a Umami Food and Art Festival in NY that is dedicated to educating culinary professionals and artists about this mysterious taste. Kikkoman’s Soy Sauce has begun an advertising campaign with top chefs from around the world using Umami as part of their slogan, to raise awareness of the uses of their soy sauce products to enhance the Umami experience.

For the professional chef, it is very important to create the full dining experience through the arousal of the senses. One of the largest contributors to that is taste and the foundation of taste relies on the combination of flavors and ultimate balance. There are a few rules to balancing tastes, most of which are emotional, and all of which involve complete awareness of the ingredients at hand. Ingredients are never constant, they are always changing. Today a tomato may have more water in it than it will tomorrow and the fresh basil just picked out of the garden may become a bit dull overnight. To fully balance a dish, we need to understand the tastes, temperatures and textures that go into it. Balancing hot and cold, or sweet and spicy, or acidic and salty all involve a great deal of knowledge and awareness. But all of this can be learned by the at home cook through practice and opening up your true senses.

Taste and flavor are commonly associated as one in the same, but there is a definite distinction between the two. It is said that taste is the sensation caused in the mouth by contact with a substance, while flavor is the mixed sensation of both smell and taste. To simplify this research, it would be safe to say that the formula of taste + smell = flavor. Umami as an ingredient, becomes a flavor enhancer, bringing depth to your food without covering any flavors or subtle tastes. It is found in more mature foods such as an older Parmesan cheese, aged wine, or soy sauce.

Umami rich foods are very satisfying and can actually be a healthier way to cook as well. They tend to make salt taste saltier, which means we can lower the amount of sodium in a dish when using Umami rich ingredients. It also creates a sensation that most chefs call "mouth feel," which is normally associated with the mouth sensation we get when we eat foods high in fat. Thus, we may lower the amount of fat in a dish, and let the richness of the Umami do the trick.

Here is a starter list of a few ingredients that are very Umami rich, and would lend a great deal of taste and flavor to any home cooked meal.

 Seafood: fish sauce, anchovies, kombu, nori, dried bonito flakes, makeral, seabream, tuna, cod, prawns, squid, oysters, shellfish.


Meat: beef, pork and chicken.

 Vegetables: dried and fresh shiitake mushrooms, corn, truffles, soy beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, Chinese cabbage, carrots and tomatoes.

Other Foods: Parmesan cheese and Green Tea.

In conclusion, the ability to experience this so called,  fifth taste, is totally dependent on one’s self awareness. Umami is a very powerful taste and one that I'm sure will be researched and analyzed for years to come and I encourage you to do your own experiments and research. My friends, even though we were all taught otherwise, since the time when we were children, it is time to put aside your mom's admonitions. The only way to become a better cook and be more aware is to play with your food, so get to the store, buy some Umami rich ingredients and start playing and cooking for yourselves!

Bon Appetit!

Sources: , , ,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ice Wines; A Comprehensive Look...

I adore dessert wines. I don't know where this love came from but as of late, I can't get my fill. Having gone through ports, muscats, and then lingering for a bit on a personal favorite of mine, Vin Santo Chianti Classico Reserva, I have now discovered ice wines. Though some of you wine connoisseurs may be familiar with these wonderful dessert aperitifs, more and more occasional wine enthusiasts are now discovering these exceptional wines.

Ice wine, or Eiswein, originated in Franconia, Germany in 1794. Grapes were left on the vines until the first deep frost, and the freeze/thaw cycles that occurred concentrated both the sugars and flavors of the grapes. The process was refined and now ice wines are highly prized produced in Germany, Austria and Canada. The Niagara region of Ontario, Canada is currently the most widely respected producer of ice wines in the world.

Franconia, Germany
Ice wine is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes which results in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards. Unlike the grapes from which other dessert wines, such as Sauternes, Tokaji, or Trockenbeerenauslese, are made, ice wine grapes should not be affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot, at least not to any great degree. Only healthy grapes keep in good shape until the opportunity arises for an ice wine harvest, which in extreme cases can occur after the New Year, on a northern hemisphere calendar. This gives ice wine its characteristic refreshing sweetness balanced by high acidity. When the grapes are free of Botrytis, they are said to come in "clean." Due to the labor-intense and risky production process resulting in relatively small amounts of wine, ice wines are generally quite expensive. This chart shows how sugar varies with the temperature:

Temperature ~ Sugar Content
  • -6°C     29%
  • -7°C     33%
  • -8°C     36%
  • -9°C     39%
  • -10°C    43%
  • -11°C    46%
  • -12°C    49%
  • -13°C    52%
  • -14°C    56%
As in all harvests, the exact moment of harvest is extremely important for ice wine. Ideally, the temperature should get to -10°C to -13°C before picking. By waiting till this perfect moment, the grape achieves the optimum level of sugar and flavor. They are then carefully picked by hand. Grapes in this condition have a very low yield; often an entire vine only makes a single bottle and this is typically why ice wine can be so expensive, often sold in half-bottles only.

Ice wine is typically made of Vidal and Riesling grapes. After this long harvest process, the grapes go through weeks of fermentation, followed by a few months of barrel aging. The wine ends up a golden color, or a deep, rich amber and has a very sweet taste. The flavor is a combination of apricot, peach, mango, melon or other sweet fruits with a nutty aroma. It is usually enjoyed as a dessert wine, chilled for one or two hours and served in small cordial glasses.

Ice Wine History
There are indications that frozen grapes were used to make wine as early as Roman times. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - 79) wrote about certain grape varieties that they were not harvested before frost had occurred. The poet Martial (AD 40 - 102) recommended that grapes should be left on the vine until November or until they were stiff with frost.

Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Details as to the wine-making and description of these wines are unknown. It can not be completely ruled out that the descriptions refer to dried grape wines, a common style of wine in Roman times, where the raisin-like grapes were harvested late enough for the first frost to have fallen. In either case, the method seems later to have been forgotten.

It is believed that the first post-Roman ice wine was made in Franconia in Germany in 1794. Better documentation exists for an ice wine harvest in Dromersheim close to Bingen in Rheinhessen on February 11, 1830. The grapes were of the 1829 vintage. That winter was harsh and some wine-growers had the idea to leave grapes hanging on the vine for use as animal fodder. When it was noticed that these grapes yielded very sweet must, they were pressed and an ice wine was produced. It should be noted that sweet wines produced from late harvested grapes were well-established as the most valued German wine style by the early 19th century, following the discovery of Spätlese at Schloss Johannisberg in Rheingau in 1775, and the subsequent introduction of the Auslese designation. These wines would usually be produced from grapes affected by noble rot. Thus, Eiswein is a more recent German wine style than the botrytised wines.

Schloss Johannisberg
Throughout the 19th century and until 1960, Eiswein harvests were a rare occurrence in Germany. Only six 19th century vintages with Eiswein harvests have been documented, including 1858, the first Eiswein at Schloss Johannisberg. There seems to have been little effort to systematically produce these wines during this period, and their production was probably the rare result of freak weather conditions. It was the invention of the pneumatic bladder press which made the production of ice wine practical and led to a substantial increase in the frequency and Schloss Johannisberg quantities of production. 1961 saw the production of a number of German ice wines and the wine increased in popularity in the following years. The production has also been assisted by other technological inventions in the form of electrical lighting driven by portable generators (to assist harvest in the cold hours of morning darkness, before the grapes thaw) and plastic films that are used for "packaging" the vines in order to protect the ripe grapes from being eaten by birds while the wine-grower waits for frost.

Karl Kaiser
The pioneer status of the winery Inniskillin in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario led to their first ice wine, produced in 1984 under the direction of the winery's Austrian-born co-owner Karl Kaiser, often being mentioned as Canada's first ice wine. However, ice wine was produced in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia by German immigrant Walter Hainle in 1972. This ice wine was the result of an early and unexpected frost and yielded 40 litres of wine, which Hainle originally did not intend to sell, although he did so in 1978. In 1983, Karl Kaiser and Inniskillin's German neighbor Ewald Reif, as well as two wineries with Austrian winemakers located in another part of Ontario, Hillebrand and Pelee Island, all left grapes on their vines in order to try to produce ice wine. Inniskillin and Reif lost their entire crop to hungry birds, while Hillebrand and Pelee Island were able to harvest a minuscule amount of frozen grapes. In 1984, Kaiser used nets to protect his vines and was able to produce Inniskillin's first ice wine. This wine was made from Vidal grapes and was in fact labelled "Eiswein".

After the ice wine production was set on commercial footing, Canadian ice wine quickly became popular with domestic consumers and reviewers and many other Canadian producers picked up the idea, since the harsh Canadian winters lend themselves well to the large-scale production. The international breakthrough of Canadian ice wine came in 1991, when Inniskillin's 1989 Vidal ice wine won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo. The Canadian trend towards increased cultivation of Vitis vinifera (European) grape varieties in the 1990s expanded the palette of varieties available to be bitten by frost. By the early 2000s, Canada was established as the largest producer of ice wine in the world.

In Germany in the early 2000s, good ice wine vintages have been more rare than throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Many wine-growers cite climate change as a cause and this received support from a study by the Geisenheim Institute.

Ice Wine Grapes
Typical grapes used for ice wine production are Riesling, considered to be the most noble variety by German winemakers; Vidal, highly popular in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada; and, interestingly, the red grape Cabernet Franc. Many vintners, especially from the New World, are experimenting with making ice wine from other varieties: whites such as Seyval Blanc, Chardonnay, Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Ehrenfelser; or reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, and even Cabernet Sauvignon. Pillitteri Estates Winery from the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario claim to be the first winery in the world producing Shiraz (Syrah) ice wine with the 2004 vintage. Ice wines from white varieties tend to be pale
yellow or light gold in color when they are young and can maderise (acquiring a deep amber-golden color) as they age. The red varieties tend to have a light burgundy or even pink color like that of rosé wines.Some vintners in Canada have taken a step forward in experimenting with sparkling ice wine. Sparkling ice wines have texture similar to other sparkling wines, such as champagne or Asti, but with fuller body, and a significantly higher sugar level balanced with high acidity.

Ice Wine Production
Natural ice wines require a hard freeze (by law in Canada 17 °F or colder, and in Germany 19 °F or colder), to occur sometime after the grapes are ripe, which means that the grapes may hang on the vine for several months following the normal harvest. If a freeze does not come quickly enough, the grapes may rot and the crop will be lost. If the freeze is too severe, no juice can be extracted. Vineland Winery in Ontario once broke their pneumatic press in the 1990s while pressing the frozen grapes because they were too hard. The longer the harvest is delayed, the more fruit will be lost to wild animals and dropped fruit. Since the fruit must be pressed while it is still frozen, pickers often must work at night or very early in the morning, harvesting thegrapes within a few hours, while cellar workers must work in unheated spaces.

In Austria, Germany, and Canada, the grapes must freeze naturally to be called ice wine. In other countries, some winemakers use cryoextraction (that is, mechanical freezing) to simulate the effect of a frost and typically do not leave the grapes to hang for extended periods as is done with natural ice wines. These non-traditional ice wines are sometimes referred to as "icebox wines". An example is Bonny Doon's Vin de Glacière. The high sugar level in the must leads to a slower-than-normal fermentation. It may take months to complete the fermentation (compared to days or weeks for regular wines) and special strains of yeasts should be used.

My Selections
Egon Muller, Riesling, Eiswein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Scharzhofberger, 1996:  Deep golden colored, this full bodied Eiswine has a nearly ideal combination between hyper-sweetness and refreshing acidity, along with lemon-lime, citrus peel and minerals. A long spicy finish that cannot help but enchant. One meant for early drinking or medium term cellaring, the wine should cellar comfortably until 2020.  

Krebs-Grode, Eiswein, Auxerrois, Eiswein Rheinhessen, 1998:  Medium bodied, with abundant spices on a deliciously sweet background of pineapples, lime and apricots and with generous hints of sweet cream and minerals, this superbly balanced and remarkably elegant wine has flavors that linger seemingly without end. Best drinking now - 2012.


Inniskillin, Ice Wine, 2001:  Traditional ice wine, easily comparable to the best of Germany, this deeply sweet, but remarkably well balanced and elegant wine almost attacks you with luxurious flavors of peaches, lychees, pears in the way of fruits and then honey, cinnamon and candied fruits on the long finish. Full bodied, with just the right amount of natural acidity, the wine is drinking nicely even now.

Inniskillin, Ice Wine, Vidal, 1999:  This full bodied, bronzed orange wine is showing smooth and rich with honey and apple sweetness, together with aromas and flavors of dried apricots, yellow peaches and mangoes, Which overlay comfortably by light cinnamon-ginger flavors. Long and mouth-filling, the wine is drinking beautifully now and promises to cellar well until 2010 - 2012.

Columbia Crest, Semillon Ice Wine, Reserve, 1998: Full bodied, with intense honeyed sweetness and with delicious fig and summer fruits matched nicely by mocha and spiced roasted nut flavors and aromas. Excellent balance between fruits, sweetness and acidity and a very long finish add enormously to the charm of the wine. Drink 2002 - 2012 or longer.

Even though it is normal for residual sugar content in ice wine to run from 180 g/L up to as high as 320 g/L, ice wine is very refreshing (as opposed to cloying) due to high acidity. Ice wine usually has a medium to full body, with a long lingering finish. The nose is usually reminiscent of peach, pear, dried apricot, honey, citrus, figs, caramel, green apple, etc., depending on the varietal. The aroma of tropical and exotic fruits such as pineapple, mango, or lychee is quite common, especially on white varietals.

Ice wine usually has a slightly lower alcohol content than regular table wine with some  Riesling ice wines from Germany having an alcohol content as low as 6%. Ice wines produced in Canada usually have higher alcohol content, between eight and 13 percent. In most years, ice wines from Canada generally have higher brix degree (must weight) compared to those from Germany. This is largely due to the more consistent winters in Canada. Must with insufficient brix level cannot be made into ice wine, and is thus often sold as "special select late harvest" or "select late harvest" at a fraction of the price that true ice wine commands.

Connoisseurs argue about whether ice wine improves with age or is meant to be drunk young. Those who support aging claim that ice wine's very high sugar level (which is often much higher than that of Sauternes) and high acidity preserve the content for many years after bottling. Those who disagree contend that as ice wine ages, it loses its distinctive acidity, fruitiness, aroma, and freshness.

Since I'm just a simple lover of ice wines, I'll concentrate on the drinking and leave the arguing to the so called 'experts.' What I am hopeful of is that once you try a quality ice wine, especially if it's after reading this article,  you raise a toast to me.

Bon Appetit!

Lou,,,, Wolfgang Shultz, inniskillin,,,,,

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rachael Ray's Late Night Bacon Recipe & Life's Other Gastronomic Conundrum Solved For You!

(Parody) If you are a regular reader of mine for any length of time, you know of my love for the awesome recipes coming out of foodnetwork's test kitchens. I am not usually one to write about them, but when this complex recipe from Rachael Ray was brought to my attention, I realized that there was a real need to bring to you my, readers, explanations of this as well as some of the other recipes you may be wanting to make, but are too intimidated to try.

First, with all due credit to the foodnetwork and Rachael Ray, I will reprint her awesome recipe here for your enjoyment along with my comments and a link to it on, in case you get a bit confused.

Rachael Ray's "Late Night Bacon" Recipe
see it here on foodnetwork's site to verify!

8 slices of bacon. (Now here's where it gets complicated; Can we substitute turkey bacon? Should it be center cut, thick cut, maple flavored? Is there any particular brand? So many questions left unanswered....)

Place 2 sheets of paper towel on a microwave safe plate. Lay the bacon out on the paper towel not overlapping the slices. Place 2 more sheets of paper towel on top. Place in the microwave on high for 4 to 6 minutes. Serve.
(Whoa... wait a minute, u can't just leave me hanging like this; I looked but couldn't find the place on my plate that told me if it was microwave safe. Should I call the manufacturer, or can I get that info from foodnetwork support? What kind of paper towels? Does the design on the paper towel matter? Can I substitute toilet paper for paper towels? What happens if I accidentally overlap the bacon and should I use a face mask to protect myself just in case? Lastly, can I only make this at night, or do I have to modify the recipe if I want to make this say.. in the morning...for breakfast?)
If you have any trouble with this, my email is always open to you. please be careful.

So now that we have covered bacon, the following is a recipe that I have toiled over in the GGM test kitchens, in order to make sure you can enjoy this gourmet delight at home. Feel free to improvise and substitute, but only if you've had some training and are if you are feeling very, very adventurous.

Lou's Bleached Flour Bread Slices w/Peanut Mash & Grape Gelee
(can be eaten anytime)

For the bread
2 slices White bread*
(*for the more advanced cook, you can substitute the white bread with bread that has little little bit's of grain and seeds, sometimes called whole grain)

For the Peanut Mash
(Store bought 'peanut butter' is a perfectly acceptable substitute and there is no need to feel guilty for making the recipe more convenient and easy. No one would blame you. Cooking from scratch is hard.)

For the Grape Gelee
(Again, store pre-prepared jelly is perfectly acceptable to use. It even comes in different flavors, such as orange, strawberry, etc., but don't get too adventurous here. Stick with jelly as most of your guests may not be ready for marmalade*)
*I'll cover marmalade in another post. It's too complicated to explain here.

Now here's where things get tricky, so pay attention. Carefully place one slice of the bread in the center of a plate. Leave one aside to finish presentation. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the peanut mash mixture onto the bread. I like to microwave my peanut mash prior to serving and actually pour it onto the bread instead of trying to spread it out in order to prevent the bread from balling or tearing and ruining the presentation. I am no Sandra Lee and am afraid to try spreading it without training. Carefully insert a teaspoon into the grape gelee or jelly and put some on the spoon. Now ever so gently, place atop the peanut mash and carefully spread til it covers all the mash. Next, carefully place the remaining white bread slice we set aside atop the gelee, being careful to line up all sides evenly. Serve with a glass of milk.

Should you have any questions feel free to email me and I'll walk you though it. Next week we'll cover a very intimidating topic; "How to make perfect Toaster Waffles.' But bring your A game and possibly have a friend assist you, to help avoid burns or serious injury. Enjoy.

As always, Bon Appetit!


Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chili

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chili
This recipe comes courtesy of Elaine Giammetta

Olive Oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 large jalapeno pepper, deveined, seeded and minced
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
28 oz can organic crushed tomatoes
1 c each: black beans, pinto beans (if canned, well drained)
2 c red kidney beans (if canned, well drained)
1/2 c dark ale
2 T chili powder
1 1/2 dried hot red peppers (crushed)
1 t oregano, dried
pinch cumin powder
salt & pepper to taste
1 lb ground turkey
1 lb ground pork
1/4 c low fat or organic creamy peanut butter
3 T serrano chili sauce
Juice of 1 lime
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
2 T shaved dark chocolate

Heat 2-3 T oil in a large heavy bottom pot. Add the onion, green peppers, & garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent. Next add the crushed tomatoes, beans, beer, and spices. In a separate pan brown the ground turkey and pork, then add to chili mixture. Simmer for 45 minutes over low heat. Add the peanut butter, hot sauce, lime juice, cilantro and chocolate. Simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Spoon into soup bowl, top with dollop of yogurt or sour cream. Shave chocolate over topping. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves and shredded cheddar. Serve with a tall glass of the ale used in the recipe.

Bon Appetit!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Grilling The Perfect Steak...

Grilling season is just around the corner, so as my fifth installment in my 'At Home Cook Series' we will cover grilling basics, specifically as it pertains to steaks. Be sure to check out Installments 1~4 as well:. Mise en Place, Knife Skills, Searing and Sauteing and Mother Sauces.

Also, don't miss my article on all things Barbecue.

1~Be sure to purchase the best quality meat available. Know your source, and check packing and "use by" dates. I’ve found that the local butcher and even Costco carry premium meats to use at home. If you have a friend in the food service industry, find out if they’d like to attend your next BBQ or maybe let you buy some steaks from the restaurant!

2~Turn the grill on with the lid closed for about 20 minutes before using. It is extremely important that the grill is very hot, and also clean. Use a wire brush to clean off the grates before using.

3~For extra smoke flavor, try buying some mesquite or hickory wood chips to burn over the coals or gas flame. Be sure to soak the chips in water for about an hour; this will help them smoke and smolder, rather than just flare up and burn away.

Smoking Wood Varieties
Alder , Apple, Bourbon, Cherry, Grape, Hickory, Mesquite, Wine, Oak, Peach, Pecan, Persimmon, Sassafras

4~Some chefs like to bring the meat up to room temperature for 20 minutes or so. It helps cook more evenly when cooking further than a medium rare temperature. Personally, I suggest that steaks be grilled to a medium rare, so I leave it in the fridge until I’m ready to throw it on the grill.

5~Oil your meat before grilling! I use vegetable oil or even soybean oil. You want something that’s fairly neutral in flavor and also won’t burn too fast on the grill. Extra Virgin Olive Oils should not be used to coat the steak for grilling, but you may drizzle some over the steak or incorporate it in a sauce if you wish.

6~Seasonings can vary from simple salt and pepper, to a five peppercorn blend and crushed sea salt, to a variety of steak salts, seasonings and rubs. Depending on how adventurous your palate is, the options can be endless. I tend to steer away from too much seasoning and just let the ingredients speak for themselves. If a steak is cooked properly, the natural sugars are caramelized and form a crust which yields an amazing flavor.

7~Start Grilling!! Every grill has its' hot spots, so practice makes perfect. Find an area on the grill that gives off a pretty even and constant heat. Place the steak carefully on the grill and LEAVE IT ALONE for about 1 ½ - 2 minutes. This is where most people make their first mistake. They try to move or flip the steak too early, and it sticks to the grill. It takes a few minutes for the steak to release from the grill as the heat penetrates through the meat. You may close the lid or leave it open at this point, it's up to you.

8~To create those perfect diamond grill marks that you see on TV, is pretty simple. Rotate the meat about 45 degrees for diamonds and 90 degrees for squares. Then flip it over and repeat on the other side.

9~How to check if it's done? Because each grill's fire is different and cooking time depends on the size and shape of the steaks, it's difficult to give exact times. But there are four basic ways to determine doneness. The first two of these methods are best for novice cooks, while the last two can be learned through experience:

A. Cut into the steak in an unobtrusive place, and examine the interior to check the doneness.

B. Slide an instant-read thermometer through the side of the steak into the center to check the temperature.
 Keep in mind that the temperature of meat will increase 5 to 10 degrees after resting.

C. Use the touch test. A rare steak will feel fleshy, like an un-flexed muscle; a rare to medium-rare steak will just begin to bounce back to the touch; a medium-rare to medium steak will feel firmer still. I tend to use the hand test: Make a loose fist and press the part of your hand between the index finger and thumb. When using a relaxed fist; this will indicate rare. Slightly tighten fist and repeat touch; this indicates medium. Tightly close fist and repeat touch; this is well done.

D. Look for juices on the steak's surface. A rare steak doesn't release any juices. As the steak approaches medium rare, you'll begin to see red juices forming on the surface (you might also hear them sizzle as they drip over the coals). As the steak approaches medium, it releases more juices. As it approaches medium well and well, the juices will turn brown.

***Note: Remember, you can always put a steak back on the grill if it's too rare, but you can't un-cook a well-done steak.

10~LET YOUR MEAT REST! This is the most important step when trying to achieve a flavorful and more importantly, MOIST steak. I cook the meat to about a half a temperature lower than my desired temperature (for example if I desire a steak cooked medium, I would bring it to a medium rare and then let it rest). All the flavorful juices that have been stressed out by the heat, need to relax and distribute themselves throughout the meat again. Steaks should rest for about 5 minutes before being reheated and served. If you serve the steak right away, those tasty juices will spill out all over the plate after you cut into the steak.

11~One of my favorite things to do is brush the steak with some whole melted butter before it goes on the plate. The butter really adds great flavor to that crust and helps soften up the outside of the meat a little.


Many different types of sauces may accompany your perfectly grilled steak, but whatever your pleasure, be sure to make enough for everyone!

Bon Appetit!

smokedsalmon Brian Holm

Braised Pork Belly w/ Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Haricot Verts & Bourbon Apple Demi Glaze

Courtesy of Chef Eric Austin, Big E's Soul Food

Pork Belly
5lb. pork belly
½ oz. fresh thyme
2 large garlic bulbs
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degree F
First score the pork belly by making crisscross cuts along the entire top surface of the meat. Next, cut the whole bulbs of garlic in half across its width and place each quarter (cut side up) at the corner of a pan large enough to house the pork belly. Place the fresh thyme sprigs in the center. Now lay the pork belly to rest on the garlic bulbs – they will act like table legs, raising the meat up from the pan. Pour in the wine and sprinkle the top of the belly with salt and pepper. Cover loosely with foil and braise in the oven for 2 hrs.

Once the pork belly is cooled, transfer it to a casserole dish large enough to house it – although at this point it may be cut to any size. You’ll need to weigh it down by placing another casserole dish directly on top of the pork belly so that it is sandwiched in between. Place a couple of soup cans or some weighted item on top of that so that it may press in your refrigerator overnight, or 24 hours.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
3 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter (melted)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 pinch salt

Start a pot of water to boil. Peel and dice the sweet potatoes and add to boiling water. Remove when potatoes are fork tender. Place in a mixer and add all other ingredients and mix until smooth. Place in a piping bag and set aside until ready for use.

Haricot Verts or fresh green beans, have simply been blanched in salted hot water for about thirty seconds, remove immediately to an ice water bath until ready for sauté.

Bourbon Apple Demi – Glaze
1/4 cup apple butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 shallot (fine dice)
*1 cup demi – glaze
Pinch of salt
1 shot bourbon
Fond from the pork belly pan

In a small sauce pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth, and let reduce until it coats the back of a spoon.
* Commercial demi glaze is fine for this recipe. In fact, for the home cook, I recommend it. For the die hard foodie – you can make it, but it's three days of your life you’ll never get back!

To Plate:
Preheat oven to 400. Remove covering from pork and place in oven until crispy golden on top. It is now ready to serve. Quickly sauté Haricot Verts in a small amount of olive oil, just enough to heat.

Using a pastry bag, pipe the mashed sweet potatoes in the center of the plate. Place a small portion of the haricot verts on the left side of the potatoes. Drizzle the bourbon demi around the potatoes. Place a portion of the pork belly on the right side of the potatoes; be sure to let the ridges stay visible. Garnish with a sprig of the fresh thyme and, voila!

Bon Appetit!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The "At Home Cook Series" Installment 4: ‘Mother Sauces & How To Make A Roux’

Antonin Carême
So far in this series, we've covered Mise en place, Knife Skills and Searing & Sauteing. Today we'll talk "Mother Sauces." Ya know, cooking can be a fun filled experience in the kitchen which allows the home cook to be creative and speak from their heart. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel that passion and love for ingredients. I know you’ve seen me write before that cooking really has no rules, but sometimes it is beneficial to follow some guidelines that have been developed over the past few decades to enhance your cooking experience.

Auguste Escoffier
Many of these guidelines and original recipes were developed by a French chef dating back to the 19th century named Antonin Carême. He is credited with developing a variety of sauces that all stemmed from a series of 4 focused sauces. These became known as the "Mother Sauces", and were used as a base sauce to create hundreds of derivatives. In the 20th century, Auguste Escoffier updated these sauces and added a 5th mother sauce.

Today, they are recognized as the following 5 sauces:

  • Bechamel – a milk based sauce that is thickened with a roux (clarified butter and flour). This sauce is named after its creator Louis XIV's steward, Louis de Béchamel. Considered the king of all sauces, and often called a cream sauce because of its consistency, this sauce is most often used in all types of dishes. Examples may include crème, mornay & soubise. 
  • Velouté – a sauce made with white stock and roux. It is most often made with chicken or fish stock, and can sometimes be enriched with egg yolks or cream. Examples would include sauce allemande, white bordelaise, and supreme. 
  • Espagnole or Brown Sauce – a brown stock based sauce often made with a rich meat stock (veal, beef, or lamb) a mirepoix of vegetables (carrots, celery and onion), a brown roux (the roux must be cooked until it changes color) fresh herbs, and tomato paste. Examples would include sauce bordelaise, chasseur, Madeira, Chateaubriand, and a refined Demi glace. 
  • Tomato Sauce – a tomato based sauce normally made with onion, tomato & fresh herbs. Examples would include marinara, and spaghetti sauce. 
  • Hollandaise/Emulsions – sauces that are emulsified, meaning a fat and a liquid made into one coalescent mixture. This can be as basic as a vinaigrette, or more in depth such as a hollandaise or mayonnaise.
Sauce can be defined as a flavorful liquid or semi solid liquid that is served on or alongside of food. In French Cuisine, sauces can date back all the way to the middle ages. Back then, when refrigeration was not available, the shelf life on food was much shorter. Sauces were used to mask the foods’ poor quality, and give the plate a more pleasing taste. Over the years, sauces became more popular for their flavor, and chefs began using creativity to wow the palate with their skills.

Today, all 5 mother sauces or "grand sauces," are still used as a foundation to assist chefs and cooks in the kitchen. Pay close attention to the quality of ingredients going into the sauce, as it is very important to the success of the final sauce’s taste. Like anything you do in life, if you put less than quality ingredients in, you get a less than quality result and that fact couldn’t be more true than with this very important element of the plate. Selection of good quality wines and vegetables can be new for some people, so consult with your local store manager to get answers to any of your questions.

How To Make  Roux
Roux can be an intimidating process, so lets take a closer look at the components and how they are prepared. Roux is simply a cooked mixture of equal parts wheat flour (use all purpose) and a fat, traditionally clarified butter. First melt the fat in a pot or pan, then slowly add the flour being sure to whisk it until the flour is completely incorporated. It is also important to cook the roux until there is no longer a raw flour taste, and can continue cooking until the desired color has been achieved. The color can range from white to dark brown depending on how long it is left on the heat. The end result is a flavoring, coloring, thickening agent that can enhance the flavor and consistency of sauces, soups and stocks.

Here are some tips for a more successful sauce. When using a roux to thicken, be sure to constantly stir during cooking to prevent lumps. If lumps remain, attempt to use a whisk to break them up. If that doesn’t work, run the sauce through a strainer and then adjust seasoning. When cooking an egg thickened sauce, be sure to stir the sauce over a double boiler over medium heat (not boiling) to lightly and slowly cook the egg. Be careful not to let the sauce boil, as the eggs will curdle and destroy the consistency of the sauce. Also make sure the water in the double boiler doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl, this will prevent the transfer of heat from happening too fast and potential scrambling the sauce.

When making a cold emulsion such as a vinaigrette or mayonnaise, be sure to add the fat slowly. This will allow the emulsion to take place and the liquid to accept the fat while whisking. If the fat is added too fast, the sauce will "break," leaving a pool of oily mess with a destroyed look and flavor.

I hope this helps you explore the exciting preparations of sauce making. Try adding different herbs and spices or cook with a different wine of your choice. Remember, sauces are to enhance a dish, so always be sure that the main protein, vegetable and/or starch is great quality and purchased from a reputable supplier.

It is my hope that with this series that you will start attempting a little more complexity in the kitchen and that in some small way, I am helping bring out your inner 'Gourmet Chef.'

As always, Bon Appetit!


Friday, April 13, 2012

Madeira Wines; Its History, Terroir and Production.

I'd like to take a look at a wine that is oft-overlooked. Madeira. This is a wine most misunderstood. Unfortunately, until recently, the American view of this type of wine has been a bit skewed by the cheaper versions, sometimes seasoned with salt or pepper and used for cooking. This is a wonderful wine that can be enjoyed as a dry aperitif or a sweet dessert wine. It is also a Protected Designation of Origin wine. As usual, I will explore the the wine, history, terroir and production in order to give you the comprehensive scoop.

Most would be surprised to learn that Madeira is one of the few wines on the market today that is 'cooked' to temperatures as high as 140°F for an extended period of time and is deliberately exposed to some levels of oxidation prior to being bottled. Its lifespan is quite long and even after you open a bottle, its shelf life can be a considerable amount of time. Exposure to extreme temperature and oxygen accounts for its stability; an opened bottle of Madeira will survive unharmed for up to a year. If left in the bottle unopened, Madeira is one of the longest lasting wines, known to survive over 150 years in excellent condition. Upon a 150 yr old bottle's opening, I imagine it would go something like, "Here, you try it." "Oh no no no, you try it first, I insist."

The islands of Madeira have a long wine-making history, when Madeira was a standard port of call for ships heading to the New World or East Indies. The Dutch East India Company became a regular customer, picking up large 112 gal casks of wine known as pipes for their voyages to India. To prevent the wine from spoiling, neutral grape spirits were added. On the long sea voyages, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat and movement which transformed the flavor of the wine, as the wine producers of Madeira found out, when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip. The intense heat and constant movement of the ships had a transforming effect on the wine, and it was found that the customers preferred the taste of this style of wine and Madeira labeled as vinho da roda (wines that have made a round trip) became very popular.

Estufagem ...what makes Madeira so unique..

Immediately, producers found that aging the wine on long sea voyages was very costly and began to develop methods on the island to produce the same aged and heated style. They began storing the wines on trestles at the winery or in special rooms known as estufas where the heat of island sun would age the wine. The estufagem aging process duplicates the effect of a long sea voyage of the aging barrels through tropical climates. There are three main methods used to heat age the wine, according to the quality and cost of the finished wine.

The most common, (Cuba de Calor) used for low cost Madeira, is bulk aging in low stainless steel or concrete tanks surrounded by either heat coils or piping that allows hot water to circulate around the container. The wine is heated to temperatures as high as 130 °F for a minimum of 90 days as regulated by the Madeira Wine Institute.

The second method (Armazem de Calor) only used by the Madeira Wine Institute, involves storing the wine in large wooden casks in a specially designed room outfitted with steam producing tanks or pipes that heat the room, creating a type of sauna. This process more gently exposes the wine to heat and can last from six months to over a year.

The third method (Canteiro) is used for the highest quality Madeiras aged without the use of any artificial heat, being stored by the winery in warm rooms left to age by the heat of the sun. In cases like vintage Madeira, this heating process can last from 20 years to 100 years. Much of the characteristic flavor of Madeira is due to this practice, which hastens the mellowing of the wine and also tends to check secondary fermentation in as much as it is, in effect, a mild kind of pasteurization.
Furthermore, the wine is deliberately exposed to air, causing it to oxidize, with the results giving the wine a color similar to a tawny port. Colorings such as caramel coloring have been used in the past to give some consistency although this practice is decreasing. Wine tasters sometimes describe an oxidized wine as being maderized.

The initial wine-making steps of Madeira start out like most other wines with the grapes being harvested, crushed, pressed and then fermented in either stainless steel or oak cask. The grape varieties destined for sweeter wines, Boal and Malvasia, are often fermented with their skins to leach more phenols from the grapes to balance the sweetness of the wine. The more dry wines made from Sercial, Verdelho and Tinta Negra Mole are separated from their skins prior to fermentation. Depending on the level of sweetness desired, fermentation of the wine is halted at some point by the addition of neutral grape spirits, known as fortification. Producers of cheaper Madeira will usually ferment the wine completely dry, regardless of grape variety, and then fortify the wine so as not to lose any alcohol due to evaporation during the estufagem aging. The wines are then artificially sweetened and colored.

The Grapes
  • Sercial is nearly fermented completely dry with very little residual sugar (0.5 to 1.5° on the Baumé scale). This style of wine is characterized with high-toned colors, almond flavors and high acidity.
  • Verdelho has its fermentation halted a little earlier than Sercial when its sugars are between 1.5 to 2.5
  • Baumé This style of wine is characterized by smokey notes and high acidity. it has a dark color, medium rich texture with raisin flavors.
  • Boal has its fermentation halted when its sugars are between 2.5 to 3.5°
  • Malmsey (Malvasia) has its fermentation halted when its sugars are between 3.5 to 6.5° Baumé. This style of wine is characterized by its dark color, rich texture with coffee-caramel flavors. Like other Madeiras made from the noble grape varieties, the Malvasia grape used in Malmsey production has naturally high levels of acidity in the wine which balances with the high sugar levels so that the wines do not taste cloying sweet.
Regulations enacted recently by the European Union have applied the rule that 85% of the grapes in the wine must be of the variety on the label. Thus, wines from before the late 19th century (pre-phlloxera) and after the late 20th century conform to this rule. Other "varietally-labeled" Madeiras, from most of the 20th century, do not. Modern Madeiras which do not carry a varietal label are generally made from Tinta Negra Mole.

John Hancock
By the 16th century, records indicate that a well-established wine industry on the island was able to supply ships with wine for the long voyages across the sea. The earliest examples of Madeira, like Port, were unfortified and had the habit of spoiling at sea. Following the example of Port, a small amount of distilled alcohol made from cane sugar was added to stabilize the wine by boosting the alcohol content. Today, a good percentage of Madeira is 'fortified using brandy.

Madeira was an important wine in the history of the United States of America. No wine quality grapes could be grown among the thirteen colonies so imports were needed with a great focus on Madeira. One of the major events on the road to revolution in which Madeira played a key role was the British seizure of John Hancock’s sloop the Liberty on May 9, 1768. Hancock's boat was seized after he had unloaded a cargo of 25 pipes (3,150 gallons) of Madeira and a dispute over import duties arose. The seizure of the Liberty caused riots to erupt among the people of Boston.

USS Constitution
Madeira was also a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, and it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin are also said to have appreciated the qualities of Madeira. John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, of the great quantities of Madeira he consumed while a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress. Chief Justice John Marshall was also known to appreciate Madeira, as were his cohorts on the U.S. Supreme Court at the time. A bottle of Madeira was also used by visiting Captain James Server to christen in 1797.

 The Islands of Madeira
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies in the north Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the autonomous regions of Portugal, with Madeira Island and Porto Santo Island being the only inhabited islands. Madeira is part of the EU as an outermost region of the European Union.
Madeira was discovered by Portuguese sailors some time between 1418 and 1420. The archipelago is considered to be the first discovery of the exploratory period initiated by Henry the Navigator of Portugal. It is a popular year-round resort, noted for its Madeira wine, flowers, and embroidery artisans, as well as its New Year's Eve celebrations that feature a spectacular fireworks show, which is the largest in the world according to the Guinness World Records. Its harbor, Funchal, is important due to its commercial and passenger traffic and for being a major stopover for cruisers en route from Europe to the Caribbean.

Pliny( there he is again) mentions certain Purple Islands, the position of which with reference to the Fortunate Islands, or Canaries, may indicate Madeira islands. Plutarch (Sertorius, 75 AD) referring to the military commander Quintus Sertorius (d. 72 BC), relates that after his return to Cádiz, "he met seamen recently arrived from Atlantic islands, two in number, divided from one another only by a narrow channel and distant from the coast of Africa 10,000 furlongs. They are called Isles of the Blest." The estimated distance from Africa, and the closeness of the two islands, seem to indicate Madeira and Porto Santo.

There is a romantic tale about two lovers, Robert Machim and Anna d'Arfet in time of the King Edward III of England, who, fleeing from England to France in 1346, were driven off their course by a violent storm, and cast onto the coast of Madeira at the place subsequently named Machico, in memory of one of them. On the evidence of a portolan dated 1351, preserved at Florence, Italy, it would appear that Madeira had been discovered long before that date by Portuguese vessels under Genoese captains.

The three captain-majors had led, in the first trip, their respective families, a small group of people of the minor nobility, people of modest conditions and some old prisoners of the kingdom. To gain the minimum conditions for the development of agriculture, they had to rough-hew a part of the dense forest of laurisilva and to construct a large number of canals (levadas), since in some parts of the island, there was excess water, while in other parts water was scarce. In the earliest times, fish constituted about half of the settlers' diet, together with vegetables and fruit. The first local agricultural activity with some success was the raising of wheat. Initially, the colonists produced wheat for their own sustenance, but later began to export wheat to Portugal.

Geography and Climate

Madeira island is 323.11 miles from the African coast and 621.37 miles from the European continent, which is the equivalent of a 1 hour 30 minute flight from Lisbon.

Madeira Island is the largest island of the group with an area of 286 sq mi, a length of 35 miles, a breadth of 14 miles at its widest point, and a coastline of (93.21 miles). Its longer axis lies east and west, along which lies a mountain chain with a mean altitude of 4,000 feet considered the backbone of the island from which many deep ravines radiate outward to the coast. Its most famous sea cliff, the Cabo Girão, is one of the highest in Europe. The highest point on the island is Pico Ruivo, at 6,107 ft.
A long, narrow, and comparatively low rocky promontory forms the eastern extremity of the island, on which lies a tract of calcareous sand known as the Fossil Bed. It contains land shells and numerous bodies resembling the roots of trees, probably produced by infiltration.

Madeira Island's geographical position and mountainous landscape result in a very pleasant climate which varies between the north side, south side, and smaller islands groups like Porto Santo and Savages. The mean annual temperature on the coastline can reach more than 20 °C (68 °F) in the south. With its mild humidity, the weather of the island is classified as oceanic subtropical and with its low rain level, desertic on the Savages. Influenced by the Gulf Stream, sea water temperature varies between 79 °F during the summer and 63 °F in the winter.

My Recommended Madiera
Brought to you by Broadbent Selections which offers many many varieties of wine from all over the world. Michael & Bartholomew are two of the world's foremost experts in Port & Madeira, so these selections were a no brainier. When speaking with Bartholomew, he pointed out that they have paid very close attention to price-point, with most of their selections available at less than $50.00US. All can be purchased from Broadbent's website (see link above).

Broadbent Rainwater (Medium Dry) $16.95

Aged in oak casks for at least 3 years. Esteemed for its concentrated aroma and subtle flavor, it can be served as an apéritif or as an after dinner drink. Clear dark reddish-copper in color, it breathes classic and very appealing Madeira scents of dried dates and figs and mixed nuts. Smooth and gently sweet, it's not a "sticky" dessert wine but shows good fresh-fruit sweetness built on Madeira's sturdy core of tart, lemony acidity. Specifics

Broadbent 10 Year Old Malmsey (Sweet) $48.95

Aged in oak casks for at least 10 years. A superb, full-bodied, wonderfully rich Madeira with a sweet, rich chocolaty flavor and a concentrated bouquet. Best enjoyed with desserts, or on its own after a meal. Specifics.

Well there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did writing it. As always, we encourage you to please drink responsibly.

Bon Appetit!

Sources:,,, Broadbent Selections,