Wednesday, March 29, 2006 

Whipped or Mashed Potatoes?

Or are they the same thing?

In a special to the Chicago Tribune, James P. DeWan offers up some tips on avoiding a gluey, stiff or lumpy flavorless mess when trying to make Whipped or Mashed potatoes (which for all intents and purposes are the same thing).

He recommends using russet potatoes, though any white or yellow potatoes will work ok. You can either bake (in a 425 degree oven) or boil the potatoes until they are tender. If you boil them, leave the skins on and start them in cold water.

Steps for whipping

As always, we control the process. Here, we're adding butter and cream until the potatoes reach the desired consistency. Don't worry about amounts; instead, follow the progress as you add more and more.

1. Pass the hot potatoes through a ricer or food mill (photo 1). This "potato puree" is the basis for many wonderful preparations. If you prefer a lumpier (I mean, more "rustic") final result, use a potato masher instead.

2. Add room temperature (not melted) butter (photo 2) and hot liquid: cream or milk, even stock. Just remember, the richness of your ingredients is passed to your final product. Figure about 1/4 cup each butter and liquid for every pound of potatoes. To be safe, start with half that amount, and be prepared to add more. Then add any other flavoring or seasoning ingredients (see below).

3. Mix until smooth with a spatula. If you're using a stand mixer, use a paddle attachment if you have one and avoid overmixing, as that breaks down the starch, making your potatoes gummy.

Steps to flavoring

1. Be sure to add enough salt: about a teaspoon of kosher salt or 2/3 teaspoon table salt per pound. Most people skimp on salt out of health concerns. Seriously, though, the fury you'll feel over underseasoned potatoes will raise your blood pressure far more than the salt you're trying to avoid.

2. Black pepper, while delicious, creates suspicious black specks in your otherwise pristine product. You may want to use white pepper, or just skip it altogether.

3. Potatoes take very well to other flavors: roasted garlic, avocado, minced rosemary, horseradish, chipotle chilies, wasabi--the list is endless. The amount is your call. One caveat: Make sure any added vegetable is cooked properly. You don't want your silky mash marred by the harsh crunch of a piece of, say, raw onion.

Steak yesterday, potatoes today...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 

Picking Perfect Steaks

Found this fantastic article from the Washington Post after it had been syndicated to other papers. I don't know how I missed it the first time around.

With so many cuts of steak available to consumers now, they offer up 11 tips from experts on how to pick the perfect steak.

· Pick out your steak like you pick out your clothes.

· Look for thick cuts.

· Don't trim that fat.

· Behind the glass or on the shelf? Sometimes it's the same meat.

· Chuck and Round are tough guys, Rib and Loin are not.

· Know your grades. (Prime is best, followed by Choice and then Select)

· Be wary of fancy brand names.

· Enhanced? Natural? Organic? Know the difference.

· Want a perfectly cooked steak? Buy a thermometer. (125 degrees is rare)

· Try this two-step trick for cooking steaks.

This is an old restaurant method and a practically foolproof way to make sure your steak is not overcooked. It works particularly well with a two-inch thick, boneless steak such as filet mignon. Sear the steak on one side in a hot, oiled pan on the stovetop over fairly high heat. This creates a nice brown crust. Flip the steak over, then place the pan in a 425-degree oven to finish the cooking. Roast to desired doneness (about 5 minutes for rare, 7 minutes for medium rare, 9 minutes for medium), depending on the thickness of the meat. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes to redistribute juices before serving.

· And the award for Best Steak goes to . . . the rib-eye.

Monday, March 27, 2006 

3 ways to roast a chicken

This article from Erica Markus appears on the website, though it appears it originally appeared in Newsday.

She tells us one of the pitfalls that many people encounter when it comes to roasting chicken:

Chicken is made up of two types of meat that cook at different rates and are considered "done" at different temperatures. Dark meat needs to get to 180 degrees; breast meat is best at 160 degrees. The shape of the bird isn't conducive to even cooking -- it's thin in some places, thick in others, with protrusions of different dimensions and a big hole in the center.

To get around this problem, she has instructions for roasting chicken three different ways, and says all you need is olive oil or butter, salt and pepper and a 2.5 to 4 lb bird. The methods which are detailed further in the article are these:

Cast-iron chicken

Butterflied roast chicken

Rack-roasted chicken

Friday, March 24, 2006 

What's in a Pan?

For two people setting up a household, the choice of pans might not be high on the list of priorities to be settled. Judith Weinraub in the Washington Post looks at a young couple getting married later in the year and deciding on a strategy for selecting what cooking equipment they're going to register for and need in their Kitchen. Some excerpts:

Russell Shultz, a bridal registry consultant at Bed, Bath and Beyond, where the couple has registered, asks his clients questions before they select a single pot. The first: "Do you like to cook?" is quickly followed by "What do you like to cook?"

For example, if he's helping customers who like to cook traditional dishes, he guides them to stainless pots and pans or infused anodized aluminum cookware. "They do a better job of searing meats and caramelizing" sauces, he says. When clients are more inclined to low-fat cooking, he often steers them to nonstick cookware, "because very little fat is needed."

Shultz asks lifestyle questions, too, such as whether people are willing to wash pots and pans by hand (as Vincent and Saputo are). "Some people don't want anything they can't put in the dishwasher," Shultz says.

Some more advice from another shop owner:

Nancy Pollard, owner of La Cuisine, a specialty cookware store in Alexandria, counsels customers to choose only equipment that suits their cooking style. Cookware is often sold in beguiling sets that cost less than buying the pots and pans individually, but the sets "aren't designed with individual cooking needs in mind," she says. "You might be the kind of cook that needs three saucepans the same size, but never the tiresome casserole in the wrong size that seems to be included in almost every set."

Thursday, March 23, 2006 

Flank Steak - Strictly for Home Use?

Lisa Zwirn in the Boston Globe has a look at a cut of steak that is very common in the supermarket, but one that you don't see often on restaurant menus. The cut is the Flank Steak, which is a favorite for grilling and used often in quesadillas and other Mexican food. She talks to eecutive chef Jay Murray about the cut:

The flat cuts like flank and skirt steak, which are typically chewier and fattier but quite flavorful, don't have the same cachet as the expensive steaks. ''People think they're sacrificing to get flavor," says Murray. There's one more strike against flank steak: its flat and squat shape, which won't win it any beauty contests. ''Even when it's tender it doesn't have the same texture or bounce that a strip steak or tenderloin has," says the chef. At home, however, the flavorful slab of flank is a favorite.

The article goes on to recommend using a garlicky dressing for marinade to make the meat a little more tender and then grilling or pan frying the steak over very hot heat. It's best served at medium rare or even less cooked.

This recipe is also included:

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 flank steak (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Kosher salt, to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil

In a baking dish large enough to hold the steak in a flat layer, combine the vinegar, oil, garlic, oregano, and pepper. Turn the steak in the marinade a few times, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Heat a heavy 12-inch skillet (cast iron works well, but not nonstick) over high heat for 3 minutes or until hot. Sprinkle the steak liberally with salt. Add the oil to the skillet and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Carefully add the steak -- it will sizzle loudly.

3. Cook the meat for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness, turning once, for medium rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it sit, loosely covered with foil, for 5 minutes.

4. Hold a knife at a 45-degree angle to the steak and cut across the grain into thin slices. Arrange the slices on a plate and pour any juices from the cutting board over the meat.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 

Inside David Ortiz's Fridge

Rachael Ray talks with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz about what is in his fridge.

RR:...You have tons of fruit and lots of broccoli, avocados and tomatoes. That fruit that looks like a coconut, what is that?

DO: They call it mamey. The juice looks like carrot juice, but it's a little thicker and it tastes really good. You mix it with milk, ice and sugar.

RR: That sounds good. I'll have to check it out. Hey, how's the seafood in Boston compared to home?

DO: It's really good because Boston is right next to the ocean. In America I have this guy who gives me any kind of seafood, anytime.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 

Swordfish Goes Good with....Cheese?

Steve Manfredi in the Syndney Morning Herald notes that when it comes to Italian cuisine, we don't often think of fish and cheese as going well together. He says Swordfish with a sharp, mature cheese can make a very good match.

He also tells us some other things that go well with Swordfish:

Swordfish is good with

Lemon and lime; butter and extra virgin olive oil; firm cheeses such as parmesan and pecorino; herbs, especially coriander, parsley, fennel, basil, oregano, rosemary; spices such as cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, fennel seeds and black pepper; chilli; garlic; fish sauce; soy sauce; sambal; vinegar; capers; olives; bitter salad leaves such as sorrel, rocket, radicchio and endive.
Following that are two quick recipes. "Marinated swordfish with endives" and "Swordfish baked in bread with pecorino"

Sounds good.

Monday, March 20, 2006 

Lidia says don't be a slave to the recipe

One of my favorite PBS cooking shows is "Lidia's Family Table". I find the show very warm, easygoing, and the recipes tempting.

In the Washington Post last week, Lidia answered a few questions from
Bonnie S. Benwick.

When asked for a first bit of advice, she says:

Don't become a slave to the recipe. Follow it the first time, yes. But after that, don't worry so much about the measuring. Really.

Then there is some more advice when it comes to fixing your mistakes when cooking Pasta:

Speaking of Italian, give us a fix for a pasta-cooking mistake.

Here are two: If you have oversalted the pasta-cooking water, immediately run some hot water from the faucet and add it to the pot with the pasta [still] in the cooking water. Add plenty of water, finish cooking and drain.

If you have oversalted the sauce, take raw, peeled potatoes and add them to the sauce (when they're cooked, remove them); they should absorb some of the extra salt.

Thursday, March 16, 2006 

Ridiculously simple and crazy good

Amy Scattergood in the LA Times offers up insanely good dishes that are a snap to make.

What these are are actually "one liners". They're recipes...methods more like...that only take up a single line or paragraph. (Perfect for a PART TIME Gourmet. Ha!)

A few:

Halibut Provençal. (pictured) Film a frying pan with olive oil, sear halibut fillets on one side, then flip and add a can of diced tomatoes, minced garlic and shallots, capers, olives and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Penne with Italian sausage and greens. Brown the meat from four Italian sausages (removed from the casings) in olive oil, add one bunch of rapini that's been blanched and roughly chopped, along with a little chopped garlic, toss with penne and lots of grated Parmesan.

Salmon with cannellini. Sear salmon fillets on one side, flip and add minced garlic, a can of cannellini beans (drained), two bunches of arugula and freshly ground black pepper.

Roasted potatoes. Quarter peeled potatoes, toss in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme and roast for an hour, stirring once or twice.

Baked stuffed apples. Core apples, stuff with raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter and bake for an hour.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006 

Krispy Kreme Hamburgers

Illinois team counts on calories to draw attention

The Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League promised to create "Baseball's Best Burger" in time for the team's opener in late May. And they appear to have succeeded.

The ballpark sandwich will include a hamburger topped with sharp cheddar cheese and two slices of bacon -- all between a "bun" made of a sliced Krispy Kreme Original Glazed doughnut.

If you can find a (loop)hole in your cardiologist's advice, calorie counters predict the monster will set you back about 1,000 calories and 45 grams of fat.

I'm speechless.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 

Pinot Noir Festivals?

A little ways back we mentioned that Merlot sales had dropped since the movie "Sideways" came out. This week in the LA Times they note that since that same movie came out, sales of Pinot Noir have skyrocketed.

In fact, Corie Brown notes that there are no less than 12 festivals dedicated to the grape and wine around the world.

A little about the wine from the article:
Pinot Noir is a single variety red wine from Burgundy, but there is nothing "hearty" about it. Perhaps more than any other wine, it reflects terroir. The soil it grows in, the weather and the touch of the winemaker are all in the glass, according to Allen Meadows, America's foremost authority on Burgundy.

"It is its sense of originality, of each wine's uniqueness that makes Pinot Noir distinct from other wines," says Meadows.

That also makes it difficult to find a great bottle. Fans call it an ethereal wine and wax on about the expansive array of red fruits, spices and herbs they taste in the glass.

But it's an unforgiving wine, and an unsuccessful version can unleash harsh flavors of unripe vegetables or heavy gobs of cooked fruit. It's a wine that can cost $200 a bottle and still be a disappointment.
I'm still amazed that a relatively small movie can have such a profound effect on an entire industry.

Monday, March 13, 2006 

East Coast vs. West Coast Chinese Food...

Is it me, or is the Chinese food on the East Coast, specifically New England, inferior to that which you can get on the West Coast?

I've been amazed recently at noticing how different the styles are. The cooking, and even terminology of each coast is very different. It seems that West coast has a lot more Mandarin and Cantonese dishes, while the East has more Szechuan cooking.

We went to a famous Chinese restaurant just outside Boston last week, and asked for Potstickers. The waiter had no idea what we were talking about. We did eventually find them, but they are "Peking Ravioli". He had never heard them refered to as "Potstickers". We were aghast.

Noodle dishes seem to be different as well, with the East seeming to rely more on the crunchy, dried noodles that you can get from a can in the grocery store.

One theory we talked about was that the East Coast is actually behind the West coast in terms of how long this style of food has been around. Chinese were coming to the West coast, the San Francisco area since the Gold rush of California in the 1840's. Perhaps the East just hasn't caught up as much?

I probably shouldn't put the whole East coast as a blanket statement, I know New York City has good Chinese food. But it's interesting to make the comparisons.

Friday, March 10, 2006 

The Unglamorous Pork Shoulder Becomes a Feast

Virginia Phillips in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a terrific article on Pork Shoulder, which she describes thusly:

It's cheap. It's fatty. It's ugly as a box of rocks. This part of the pig is insensitively known as the pork butt, and it deserves a better name.
I went to the meat counter of a gourmet grocery store last year and asked for a pork shoulder, because I was going to make some slow-cooked pork for use in tacos. The man behind the counter dismissed me with "We only have high-end cuts of meat here."


In the article, Phillips offers tips for slow cooking a pork shoulder at very low heat. She also offers up a couple of suggestions for what to do with the leftovers:

Pulled pork: There's nothing simpler than gently reheating leftover pork, shredded with a fork, in a good bottled barbecue sauce -- Bullseye and Bone-Suckin' Sauce are recommended. Pile on a bun with coleslaw.

Build a taco: On a soft flour tortilla, spread refried black beans, homemade or prepared, a generous spoonful of shredded pork, pickled purple onion or jalapenos, and some avocado slices. Roll up, heat gently in the microwave and serve with fresh tomato salsa.
The latter is similar to what I was trying to accomplish with the shoulder I attempted to purchase above. I ended up getting the meat at Food Lion.

Thursday, March 09, 2006 

Rating Irish Whiskey

This is NOT Scotch...get it right, people!

Eric Asimov has review of Irish Whiskey in the New York Times. A lot of people might think "Scotch" when "Irish Whiskey" is mention. This article will set you straight, noting that:
In its purest form, Irish whiskey has a fresh, lightly fruity, almost meadowlike aroma and flavor that is entirely its own. In general, it is lighter in texture than most Scotches. We sensed these qualities in most of the whiskeys that we liked best, yet today it is difficult to find whiskeys that might have been recognized as Irish 150 years ago.
The article also rates some Irish Whiskey in terms of a best overall and a best value. Here are the best of the ones that they sampled, noting that these need to be enjoyed on more than just St Patrick's Day.

Bushmills Single Malt 10 Years Old - $35

Midleton Very Rare Blended 2004 - $125 (Top rated of List)

Knappogue Castle Single Malt 1994 Very Special Reserve - $35

Connemara Peated Single Malt Cask Strength - $59

Clontarf Single Malt - $30

Bushmills Black Bush Blended - $28

Kilbeggan Blended - $15 (Best Value)

Bushmills Single Malt 16 Years Old - $60

Redbreast Blended 12 Years Old - $42

Tullamore Dew Blended (750 ml.) - $40

I think a sampling of my own might be in order...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006 

Trader Joe's Mania Hits New York

The grocery store chain with a cult-like following is ready to take on New York City, with their first store there opening on March 17th. The day has been anticipated for months by some New Yorkers, who had to adjust to life without the unique products offered on the shelves of the California-based chain.

Julia Moskin in the New York Times gives New Yorkers an introduction to the company, with information on the background of the company and what is involved in making and selecting the products which appear on the shelves. Food goes through a tasting panel which meticulously examines every proposed new addition to the stores, tasting and judging with great care.

She also has an article on New Yorkers who have moved into the city from areas which had Trader Joe's stores and how they crave their favorite items, and how they will go to any lengths to obtain them.

She also provides a list of the 10 most popular items sold at Trader Joe's:

*Charles Shaw Wines ("Two-Buck Chuck")
Mandarin Orange Chicken (frozen)
*Nuts About Antioxidants Trek Mix
Lite Shredded 3 Cheese Blend
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Trader Darwin's High Potency Chewable Multiple Vitamin & Mineral Formula Dietary Supplements
Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese
*Dark Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans
*Trader Giotto's Pizza 4 Formaggi (Four Cheese Pizza)
*Cheese & Green Chili Tamales (in corn husks)

*Items which I've had from Trader Joe's.

This reminds me...I need to make a trip to Peabody store very soon, I'm almost out of coffee, Olive oil, frozen fish fillets, and blue corn chips.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006 

It's time for the high flavor diet

Bill Daley wants to kick off National Nutrition Month by trying to change the mindset of those who associate the word diet with tasteless, non-fat, low calorie, no-carb cardboard. He suggests rethinking your food to be more wholesome, home cooked, and seasoned with ingredients that pack a punch flavor-wise, but go light on their impact on your body.

He lists out seven ingredients for making your food more flavorful...but taking it easy on your waistline:
Balsamic vinegar

Balsamic vinegar, made mainly from trebbiano grape juice, gets its intense flavor and silky texture from aging in wooden barrels. The better the vinegar, the longer it has been aged and, typically, the higher the price--but also the higher the calorie content. For everyday use, lower-priced brands will do fine; they generally have 5 to 15 calories per tablespoon.

"Vinegars in general are a great pantry item to add big flavor without adding lots of fat and calories," said Jim Romanoff, author of "The Eating Well Healthy in a Hurry Cookbook." "Most supermarkets have phenomenal selections of vinegars." He suggests having sherry vinegar, red wine and white wine vinegar and cider vinegar on hand. "It's something that keeps forever," Romanoff added.

IDEAS: Instead of oil-and-vinegar dressing and its typically 5-to-1 ratio of oil (at 120 calories per tablespoon) to vinegar, opt for a vinaigrette instead, which lowers the proportions as low as 3-to-1 oil to vinegar. Add herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Romanoff also suggests adding a splash of red wine vinegar to a finished pasta dish.


Mustard's zingy intensity comes with zero to 5 calories per teaspoon. Think of it as free flavor, whether it's yellow, Dijon or brown. Markets are stocking a greater variety of flavored mustards, too, that will bring additional nuance to recipes. Some may be a bit higher in calories, but not much.

IDEAS: Replace 1 teaspoon mustard for 1 tablespoon mayonnaise in a sandwich and you've saved yourself as many as 100 calories. (Not enough punch? Add another teaspoon.) When you're ready to slather butter on cooked vegetables, use a third as much and replace with mustard to taste. You also can make your own flavored mustard: Kathleen Daelemans, author of "Chef Kathleen's Cooking Thin Daybook: A 52-Week Plan to Lose Weight, Get Fit and Eat Right," adds fresh chopped dill or tarragon to honey Dijon mustard, then "paints" it on salmon, which she then bakes at 425 degrees.

Ginger root

The gnarly and intimidating look of ginger root belies its marvelous flavor, with its unique blend of citrus-meets-pepper. "It adds so much flavor to recipes," Daelemans said, adding that pickled ginger (sold in jars) brings the same flavor but with added convenience.

IDEA: "Pickled ginger is fun to just add to salads--it's a surprising little bite and it's an easy thing to do," Daelemans said.

Garlic-chili sauce

You can find this low-calorie, high-powered Asian condiment, a combination of hot ground chilies, garlic and vinegar, in the ethnic aisles of most supermarkets and in Asian stores, Romanoff said. "You're going to use it for something you want to add heat to, and it has complexity because of all the chopped garlic in it," he explained. "It keeps for at least a year in the refrigerator and it's inexpensive. You get a lot of bang for your buck."

IDEA: Add it--sparingly!--to soups, stir-fries, base sauces and marinades, Romanoff said. "You're going to get heat from it, the tanginess of vinegar from it, and obviously the savoriness of garlic," he said.

Red pepper spread

The zesty flavor of roasted red peppers forms the basis of these creamy spreads that are showing up in more markets. Typically, they have 15 calories per tablespoon--half the calories of onion dip. They're low in fat and healthful too. Italian and Middle Eastern markets typically sell many brands; Trader Joe's sells a dynamic roasted red pepper-and-eggplant spread and an Indian pinjur spread; we found a version by Bella Cucina at Treasure Island.

IDEAS: Use red pepper spread instead of fatty dips; it's great with raw vegetables. Romanoff also uses it in lieu of pizza sauce, and tops it with "small amounts of an assertive cheese" such as feta, and caramelized onions.

Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs can be pricey, but a little goes a long way. They add brightness and punch to absolutely any dish they join. Each herb provides a different flavor, and it can be fun to buy a different fresh herb each time you go shopping and play with it throughout the week. It will enhance your cooking acumen too.

IDEAS: Add a few leaves of basil to a sandwich or sprinkle chopped mint or tarragon into your salad--you won't need nearly as much mayonnaise or salad dressing. Fresh herbs should be added to the end of cooking, but there are exceptions: Sturdy rosemary can be added to a pot of stew or soup.


Lemons bring a sunny splash of color and flavor; 1 tablespoon of the juice has about 5 calories. Its potent taste can be obtained from the zest (the colored, outer layer of the fruit) or the juice within. "Lemon adds brightness to any dish--and it has the kinds of flavor properties that spread throughout something," Romanoff said. "It gives [a dish] a whole overtone of citrus and acidity . . . rather than getting lost in a group of complex flavors."

IDEA: "I love to slice them paper, paper thin and toss them into a salad just like a lettuce leaf," Daelemans said. She uses a V-slicer but a mandoline also can produce superthin slices. "Shave some Parmesan and dress the leaves with a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil and cracked pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice."

Monday, March 06, 2006 

Is Raw Food the way to go?

Greg Atkinson takes a look at the claims of raw foods zealots that these items will allow you to "experience perfect health" and "a whole new concept of beauty," even "change our lives." Other claims include making you feel more "alive" and "sexy".

Atkinson says he has always been skeptical of these types of claims, and uses a speech by Dr. Richard Wrangham, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University to really prove his point.
His lecture, "The Natural Cook: The Significance of Paleo Gastronomy," exploded once and for all — at least in my mind — the myth of a raw-food diet and its supposed superiority over a diet of cooked foods. "Every culture in the world relies on cooking, apparently because a raw-foodist lifestyle is simply inadequate for people living at subsistence level," he said. It's all well and good for people who can afford to pulverize, blend, semi-dehydrate and manipulate their food with countertop appliances, but when you're in the bush, a raw-food diet simply will not supply a human brain with the calories it needs to function. Even if it could, we would have to chew and swallow for something like 16 hours a day.
He went to say that fire...and cooking food with it, was one of the things that really set apart early man from his counterparts.

Thursday, March 02, 2006 

Oreo cookie minus trans fat?

The Washington Post conducts a taste test to see whether the new trans-fat-free Oreo cookie can stand up to the original.

Here's what they came up with:
Our tasters found virtually no difference between the two. They praised the original for its good balance between the cream filling and the cookie, its attractive smell and its familiar taste. Trying the new trans-fat-free version, they sensed only slight differences -- a hint more salt and a slightly greater emphasis on the cream -- but found the cookies equal in sweetness, with similar mouth-feel to the filling. "I think you could pass both of them off as the same," said Klc.
Another article, this one also from the Post looks at whether some cookies and crackers really contain "whole grains" as their packaging would suggest.

Whole-grain Chocoate Chip Cookies

Wednesday, March 01, 2006 

Merlot Sales Growth Sags - Blame 'Sideways'

Mike Dunn of the Sacramento Bee has a look at Merlot wine, which after having souring sales since the early 1990's, had sales slow down significantly last year. Dunn admits that the slowdown can be attributed in part to the character Miles dissing Merlot in last years sleeper hit movie "Sideways".

He adds though that there is more to the decline in growth than the movie:

But something else could be happening here. Consumers likely are discovering that other red wines have more flavor, especially syrah, which often can be nearly as approachable in texture as merlot.

In addition, after 15 years of drinking merlot, Americans may be ready to step up to red wines with more complexity and a more tannic spine.
He goes out and tries to find a Merlot that is still going to excite. He was on a Merlot panel at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition, and didn't find much to shout about. The ones that won the highest honors from them was the Toad Hollow Vineyards 2002 Russian River Valley Richard McDowell Vineyard Reserve Merlot ($16) and the reserve champion Joseph Phelps 2001 Napa Valley Merlot ($40)

I've had the Phelps...I believe it was part of the tasting seminar I attended with them back in August. Pretty impressive to this uneducated palate.