Friday, July 29, 2005 

$10 Wine can be good!

Who Knew a $10 Bill Had Such a Nice Bouquet?

Eric Asimov in the New York Times looks at cheap wine. Well, not cheaply made wines, but wines that can be had for $10 or less per bottle. He gives the results of the testing, hands out several recommendations and concludes thusly:

While we were pleased to discover all of these easygoing pleasures, $10 wines have clear limitations. Like inexpensive cars that with few thrills or creature comforts, these wines are fine for accompanying basic meals. They are not complex, and they don't have the cerebral or soulful appeal of much better and invariably more expensive wines.

Just as the cheap wines of old are occasionally romanticized, some people contend that what sets a $100 bottle apart from a $10 bottle is little more than pretension, reputation, hype and the compulsion of gullible people to pay the higher price.

For the most part, that's ridiculous. Better wine often costs more because it is more expensive to produce. Is it possible that you will like a $10 bottle better than a $100 bottle? Of course, and not just once in a while. After all, some expensive wines are as abysmal as others are wonderful. Are some $100 bottles of wine big, pumped-up frauds that depend on the willingness of fools to part with their money? Absolutely, and they are easy to find. But the argument that the price bears no relation to quality is often founded on a specious salt-of-the-earth desire that all wines should be created equal.

Thursday, July 28, 2005 

Sizzling Skewers

Sizzling skewers - Biting into the worldwide appeal of meat on a stick

By Jennifer Tomaro and Ryan Miller,

Spain: Chicken Skewers with Yogurt Mint Sauce

Japan: Ume Chicken Skewers

Southeast Asia: Thai-Style Chicken Satay with Sweet Pepper Sauce

Peru: Anticuchos

Peruvian-Caribbean: Lamb Skewers with Mint Mojo

Middle East: Ground Beef Kebabs (pictured)

Almost every culture has its own take on skewered meat, but one theme connects them all: ease in cooking and eating. Just think -- corn dogs at the fair, a whole meal in one hand, leaving the other hand free to interact with the world, or hold dessert, which might also come attached to a stick.

The varied preparations of skewered meat, whether simple or intricate, are uncomplicated and easy to cook, and offer near-instant gustatory gratification.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005 

Rice Cookers

Note: Rather than putting all the food articles from the week in one big post, I'm going to try to spread them out a little more and post on a daily basis here.

For every kitchen, a rice cooker

I used to think that having a rice cooker was a waste. After all, you can make perfectly good rice on the stovetop right? Sure, except for that layer that always burns and sticks to the bottom, or when you try to cook brown or wild rice.

I tried one of those plastic ones that you use in the microwave. It worked great. For white rice. The first time I tried to cook brown rice in it, I managed to melt the thing.

In the Los Angeles Times today Judy Yao and company test out a series of rice cookers on the market, let you know how they worked out, and give you a glimpse into the future.

We followed each manufacturer's instructions, testing each cooker with three types of rice: long-grain jasmine, medium-grain white and medium-grain brown. Some of the cookers had special brown rice settings; others didn't. The brown rice results in those that didn't have a special setting were dismal: The rice was overcooked and gummy, and there was a lot of spattering and overflow from the steam vents, creating a starchy mess.

The best rice came from the two priciest models. Zojirushi's Neuro Fuzzy ($170) and IH ($260) produced equally excellent rice: tender-firm with a hint of sweetness.

But the Sanyo, at $110, offered better value. It performed almost as well and included features found on the more costly Zojirushi models. (Pictured above)

For a basic rice cooker, the Oster is a bargain at $30. It performed well, but it doesn't have all the bells and whistles.

With preset timers and fuzzy logic, rice cookers have certainly come a long way since 1956, when the first automatic electric cookers were introduced in Japan. And it's likely to go even further.

One company, LG Electronics, is working on a cooker that will automatically measure, dispense and cook rice. It will have a built-in intelligence system that can be controlled by text-messaging, voice activation or a call from a cellphone, so you'll have hot rice ready when you get home even if you forgot to preset the cooker in the morning.

Monday, July 25, 2005 


I had been wanting to see this movie since I had first heard about it in a review in the Boston Globe a few months ago. The movie came to the local independent movie house, and a good crowd was on hand for the first of three showings. I've been interested in the wine industry for a number of years now, ever since a family vineyard sprouted up on an old farm in the town next to where I grew up. They produce wine at the Flag Hill Winery, one of only a couple places in NH to do so.

Small, family owned wineries are part of the focus of Mondovino, as well as the corporate giants such as Robert Mondavi in this semi-documentary about the industry. Filmed with handheld cameras, I initially wondered if I was going to make it through the two and half hours of the theatrical release. (I read somewhere that an upcoming special edition DVD will have over 10 hours of footage.) However, once I got into the story - and that does take a little effort - I hardly noticed the camera work.

The industry certainly has its characters, starting with the "winemaker to the world" Michel Rolland, who is a consultant to winemakers in I believe 11 different nations. Rolland is a gregarious, laughing, chainsmoking man who is filmed mainly in his car as he is driving from vineyard to vineyard, oftentimes the filmmaker only shows him advising the management of whichever winery he is at to do another round of micro-oxygenation on a disappointing batch of wine. It seems that the impression is being given that this is about the extent of the "advice" that Rolland gives to many of the smaller places for which he consults.

Wine critic Robert Parker is also featured, and he is much more low-key than Rolland, but it is clear that many feel that Parker's preferences are far too powerful for the good of the industry. Parker prefers powerful fruity wines with deep, intense color. His influence has caused many smaller wineries to change their style in order to please Parker. The conclusion is that this is causing the varieties of wine around the world to be narrowed, with some unique vintanges even being put out of existence.

Much of the movie however revolves around Mondavi. The company wanted to acquire large parcels of land in France and partner there with the established wineries, but are denied entrance when the friendly mayor is voted out and the new mayor - a communist - wants nothing to do with them. They eventually move on to Italy and find a partner there, after courting and leaving at the alter their original targeted partner. One of the most telling moments for me of the film and the influence of Mondavi was a shot of an Italian shopkeeper. He shows us a shelf of wines from the region...he says they are all the same. Then he points to the bottle with the label of the winery that Mondavi partnered with in Italy. The price was 115 Euros. He notes that the year before, the exact same wine was only 35 Euros.

The contrast between the large and small wineries are evident. Battista and Lina Columbu in Sardinia, Hubert de Montille in Burgundy, Aime Guibert,(who led the charge to keep Mondavi out of France) and Yvonne Hegoburu (Who planted vines after her husband died and now gives all her love to the vines.) stand in contrast to the Mondavi's and to the Mondavi-Rothschild partnership in The Opus One Winery, and also the Staglin Family Winery. The latter winery provided a particularly cringe-inducing moment when Mrs Staglin attempting to convince the audience that their Mexican staff are much more than workers...they're family...the Staglins know them by name, and they annually give them t-shirts, hats or jackets!

The movie is not for everyone, you probably need to be "into" wine in a major way for this movie to hold your attention for the entire running time. I enjoyed it, but I also noticed quite a few people getting up and leaving during the course of the movie. I suspect that they were perhaps expecting more of a "Sideways" type experience. If you have a passion for wine, the making of it and want a picture (not always neutral) of what the industry is like, you'll enjoy Mondovino.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 

Summer = Corn on the Cob

It's actually a pretty tame Wednesday in terms of food links today. No themes running across multiple papers like we saw last week, no really terrific features that can carry the rest of a section, just a number of separate, smaller articles on a variety of topics.

Janet K Keeler of the Houston Chronicle has a look at another summer staple - Corn on the cob. She mentions there are three ways of preparing the corn, and each has its merits. Microwaving is the fastest, boiling is the simplest, and grilling is the tastiest. She tells you how to do each method, and there are tips on selecting corn and a few recipes.

I personally like to grill corn on the cob whenever possible. Soak the ears with the husks on for a couple hours in water, then peel back the husks (don't rip them off) and remove the silk. Then melt some butter, and mix in chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper, and brush that generously over the corn. Fold the husks back over the corn and grill for about 20 minutes, rotating every 5 minutes or so to get an even cooking. I'm thinking of experimenting with Olive Oil this summer as well.

Nina Simonds in the New York Times suggests do-it-yourself Asian wraps for a dinner party. Amanda Hesser in the same paper samples the food of Laos, Vietnam. Bill Daley in the Chicago Tribune looks at Tanzanian food being prepared in a suburban Chicago kitchen.

Heston Blumenthal in the London Times instructs readers in how to prepare the perfect chips to go along with that fried fish.

You might notice a design change in the page, it might be the first of several. I've got some plans for this site, one of which might involve a move to its own server and domain. Feel free to chime in with any ideas or suggestions you might have, either in the comments section or via the email address to the right.

Monday, July 11, 2005 

Fried Zucchini

Had a zucchini sitting in my fridge last Friday and decided to fry it. I'd never prepared it that way before, but I was feeling game.

  • Sliced the zucchini into pretty thin slices - leaving the skin on, of course.
  • Heated about 3 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Cracked two eggs into a bowl, scrambled them with a fork.
  • Put about a cup of flour into another bowl and put in salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.
  • Dipped the zucchini slices into the egg and then the flour mixture.
  • Place into the heated oil/butter. Let them brown on one side, then flip over. Towards the end of the cooking, I needed to reduce the heat to medium, as they were browning too quickly.
As you take the slices out, place on a paper towel to dry a little of the oil off. Serve. They were VERY good. This time, I sliced them crosswise, in the future, I'm considering slicing the Zucchini lengthwise, or perhaps even into sticks. The picture to the right is NOT my zucchini, but is pretty much what it looked like. Sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top is an even better idea.

Elsewhere, thanks to Lifehacker: Everything you ever wanted to know about poaching the perfect egg, including photos!

Friday, July 08, 2005 

Food and Wine Tours

The site Daily Travel Deal has an offer today from The Vintage Series that features various Food and Drink, not trips where you merely eat and drink a lot, but destinations where you're headed there specifically to enjoy the food and wine of the region. They say:

If you would like to experience a holiday that rewards you with fabulous destinations, good food and wonderful wine, The Vintage Series is perfect for you. These wine tours are designed for those of us who dabble in the art of enjoying a fine bottle of wine, but don’t take ourselves too seriously. These wine tour programs offer a fun, informative and affordable experience. From wine tours to France or Italy or wine tours to Spain and Portugal, or wine tours to Australia or Argentina, has it all.
The tours featured include Italy, Australia, France, as well as Spain & Portugal.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005 

Heritage Meat in the spotlight

So how do you prefer your steak? No, not rare or medium, but grain-fed or grass-fed?

Kim Severson in the New York Times reports that there is actually a difference and there is actually a movement and demand out there to have more beef cows raised eating in a grass pasture rather than being fed processed grain. It's interesting to note that there is also a difference in the taste between a grain-fed and grass-fed cow. Carol Ness in the San Francisco Chronicle also covers this movement, which is being called heritage will cost you though, a heritage raised chicken will cost you about $50. Alison Arnett looks at natural meats (No hormones, antibiotics or animal byproducts) on the East Coast. Joe Yonan in the Boston Globe looks at the various cuts of steak and the qualities of each. Yonan also looks at whether to marinade or not. Personally, I've gotten away from marinades and have been using more rubs and olive oil on my steaks.

Patrick J. Comiskey says that it is perfectly fine to enjoy a glass of wine with lunch...even if you're going back to work afterwards. He offers some suggestions. Bill Daley says that cooler-climate wines better match to California meals. Eric Asimov reviews a few wine-related books.

Virginia Gerst looks at the fad of Asian-inspired Ice Creams. Florence Fabricant looks at alternative frozen desserts, including those made with soy and wasabi.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005 

Everything you wanted to know about making Pizza...

For all the Pizza do it yourselfers...

The Ridiculously Thorough Guide to Making Your Own Pizza

"Optimized for the non-experienced pizza maker, this guide will help you cook the best pizza in the littlest amount of time."

Here is a thumbnail list of the "chapters" of this great webpage:

  1. Know your ingredients

  2. Make the dough

  3. Prepare toppings while dough rises

  4. Punch down and chill the dough

  5. Shape dough into pizza

  6. Top it and cook it

Click on the link above for detailed instructions, photographs and techniques for making the best pizza possible.