Have you ever felt stuffed while [still] eating, yet unable to refrain from taking another bite? The taste is so good that you absolutely must have just one more bite, which continues to another…and still another… Upon devouring the entire bowl (plate or platter) you let out a big sigh, albeit a highly satisfying sigh. Boy, was that good. Although you know you’ll deal with the consequences of stuffing thyself later, at the dinner table it seemed like the “right” thing to do. Since I’m a member of the Amana Elementary School Clean Plate Club, it’s mighty difficult to leave a meal unfinished.
The above aptly describes just how I felt during a recent trip to the Temecula Valley of California. We spent the afternoon sampling wine in this southern-most wine region of The Golden State. The wineries were surprisingly large and good. For me, any day sampling wine is a good day, but little did I know that the evening meat would actually be the highlight of my day!
After a larger than usual lunch and numerous glasses of wine, we opted for a little light(er) dinner consisting of flatbread and salads. That is, until I espied something on the menu that was new to me: French Fries with Gorgonzola.
I couldn’t resist ordering one dish that had linked two of my favorite foods, so I ordered it thinking it would be a normal side of fries. Imagine my jubilation when our server approached our table with a heaping bowl full of warm French Fries with Gorgonzola cheese crumbled over them. What a treat!!! They were tremendous. Mary helped a little but being much more intelligent and having slightly more will power than me, she stopped at a reasonable amount. Unfortunately, for me that elementary school training kicked in and I finished the bowl of fries along with my flatbread.
The next two hours were spent unable to make any sudden movements. Darn, that Amana Elementary School Clean Plate Club.
On our recent vacation to Palm Desert, California, Mary and I were relaxing in the January warmth of the California Desert while our family and friends back in Iowa were shivering through a week of sub-zero weather. Of course, we felt terribly guilty (translation: Wow, did we time that right).
Mary asked what I had planned for the day (translation: This is what I have planned for us) and she suggested going to the downtown area of Palm Desert to explore (translation: Shop). I replied that I would be happy to tag along (translation: I hope there is a bar with the NFL-playoff game on TV where I can hide-out).
We found a parking spot and started to stroll down the street filled with one designer shop after another. As we came to a few stores that were appealing to Mary I did the gallant thing and suggested she take her time and enjoy the full shopping experience without me patiently waiting by the door of each store (translation: I can’t take this anymore, where’s the bar?). I told her I would find a restaurant bar and have an iced tea and maybe a little snack, she replied that she would miss me but that she would find me when she was done (translation: Finally I get to shop in peace; I thought he’d never find a bar!).
I found a great place called Pacifica. Surprisingly, it wasn’t crowded and they had the playoff game on in the bar area so I bellied up, grabbed a stool and ordered my iced tea. Thinking I should have a little something to go with my beverage (translation: Not wanting to look like some shmuck that just wants to watch the game), I ordered the Crispy Fried Calamari appetizer. It came with two dipping sauces, one of which was a Wasabi Aioli.
My order arrived and I thought what a large portion (translation: Drat! They gave me the entrée not the appetizer). Well, I dug in since I was hungry and was it delicious. The Wasabi Aioli offered just the right amount of heat and spice to go with the crispy fried Calamari. As I was eating it I thought I’m glad they gave me the full size portion and I’ll save a little for Mary when she shows up (translation: If Mary shows up too soon I’m going to have to share this). Funny thing, I saved a couple of pieces as long as I could before they got cold (translation: Mary wouldn’t like these anyway, they’re fried), so I finished the serving.
Mary showed up at just about the same time as the bill and when I reviewed the check I noticed I did receive the appetizer price (translation: That was a great deal). Wow, what a great afternoon of shopping that was (translation: Sometimes things just work out perfectly).
Some holidays are synonymous with certain foods. Easter=ham, Thanksgiving=turkey, Christmas=cookies, and Valentine’s Day? Well, that of course means chocolate.
A little research on the topic of Valentine’s Day reveals that chocolate is the fifth most aphrodisiac food. It contains the endorphin called phenyl ethylamine that is linked to falling in love. The Aztecs, who reportedly invented chocolate, gave it as wedding gifts, long before Hallmark ever made a Valentine’s Card.
So if Chocolate is number 5 on the list of aphroidisics, what foods rank 4 4 through 1?
From a quick look at the list it is easy to see why chocolates have become the go to food (and gift) for this holiday!
Figs are not readily available in all parts of the world and Adam and Eve felt the leaves were better suited as clothing.
Garlic has a certain odor about it that doesn’t really put a person into a romantic mode. If you need more convincing on that point just eat a couple of cloves of garlic and then try to kiss your partner.
Oysters are a food that many are very squeamish about. I happen to love them but many won’t get close to the “slimy little buggers”. Give your sweetheart a bag of Oysters and see how that goes for you.
Honey is number one on the list and could easily have become the go to food. Maybe the honey producers should have found a better packaging method than the plastic squeeze bear that many of us grew up with.
You can see why Chocolate is the perfect choice. So go buy one of those big red heart shaped boxes of chocolates and feel secure that the Aztecs knew exactly what they were doing.
I think the problem started with some producers making them very “oaky”. For sure, not everyone likes that style. Not to worry, there is a tremendous variety to choose from, including ”unoaked”, often called “steel” due to being aged in metal rather than wood barrels.
Chards can be a lot of things and run the full spectrum from rich and buttery to tart and chalky. All generally show good fruit and nice balance so you really should have no problem finding one you like. The other good news is many are relatively cheap. You can get darn good juice for around $20. How about that for a good deal?
Each year I predict the winner of the Super Bowl by matching up the cuisine of each City. This year’s Super Bowl of Cuisine pits Seattle vs. Denver and, as always, if you are going to bet … then put your money on the city with the best food. Here’s a closer look at the two cities and their respective line-ups:
While the state of Washington is famous for apples the city of Seattle is famous for the Pike Street Market - in particular the fresh fish that gets tossed around.
The fish of choice - salmon - would be a great choice. Salmon can be prepared int a variety of ways: poached, grilled, smoked. Personally, I’m a fan of all of ‘em (although you can keep the canned salmon for yourself)! To wash it down you might think of wine , since the State of Washington and the Columbia River Valley are huge producers of fine wine, but that of course is quite a distance from Seattle.
Actually, the beverage most people think of when Seattle is mentioned is coffee. Yep, Seattle is the home of Starbuck’s Coffee. It’s the drink that is turning the youth of the country into hyped up, over active caffeine addicts. I say, “Bring on a little relaxation.”
On the other hand, Denver comes to the contest in a different direction. The meat of choice here is the fabled Rocky Mountain Oyster. This is nothing from the sea and you won’t see the boys at the Pike Street Market throwing these around.
The Mountain Oysters are so popular that they can be found at the concession stand at Coors Field. Having personally eaten these little nuggets, I think the best ones come from sheep, deep fried to a golden brown. Crispy on the outside and tender/juicy on the inside, I have never seen anyone who tried one with an open mind that didn’t love ‘em.
The beverage of choice in Denver? Beer, of course, and while Coors is just outside of the city of Denver it is really more the craft beers or microbrews that take center stage. Denver is host to Great American Beer Festival, which brings in over 1,800 different brews to town for the event. That’s impressive!
To recap; Seattle offers Salmon and Coffee vs. Denver’s Rocky Mountain Oysters and Craft Brewed Beers. Now is there any question? Put you money on Denver, even if you lose you can wash away your sorrows with one of 1,800 beers.
Instead of a partridge in a pear tree we would feature 12 wines in one evening on a traveling wine walk around the neighborhood. Three couple volunteered their homes, invited a guest couples, selected 4 wines apiece and made appetizers to pair with the wines.
The wines selected varied from house to house as the first couple featured red wines, the second couple featured wines from Northern Italy and the final couple featured wines that were favorites of their relatives.
It was kind of a pot luck for winos with each new wine being met with excitement of opening presents on Christmas Morning. After trying four wines we packed up and moved to the next home. The chill or should I say the sub zero temps of late December helped us to sober up as we trudged along the sidewalk to the warmth of the next home. Twelve wines, twelve people - as you can imagine, the math worked out very well!
With the New Year comes the cascade of new resolution that are sure to improve us as individuals, As a student of food and wine, my resolutions often include an aspect of eating or drinking (or, frequently, both)!. But prior to moving on to 2014, a quick review of my 2013 goals are in order, they were: 1) Try a New Restaurant each Month, 2) Eat the Local Cuisine as we travel, 3) Drink up Knowledge.
As the year progressed, the last two goals became a cinch to achieve as we eagerly tried every new to us food we could find on our European holiday and I was able to sample numerous wines in those regions of France and Germany as well numerous tastings that wine vendors offer.
Additionally, here in the States, there are certainly some benefits of offering wine as part of the product mix at Phelan’s Interiors. While one generally only gets a short sample when tasting wine, never-the-less, there are ample opportunities to sample many different styles and varietals. It has - and it continues to be - an education.
Unfortunately, only 2 of my 3 goals were achieved and outside of traveling I have to admit that I haven’t gone to twelve new restaurants or even 6 new restaurants in the past year. That’s disappointing and I will continue to work on that goal in the future.
Now on to 2014:
I pledge the following:
1) I will try 1 new recipe each month. Not something I have made up but a recipe from a cookbook and will follow it to the letter. I hope to expand my cooking skills.
2) I will try 1 new wine each month. Not just a new producer but a new style or a wine from a new region.
I will also post a picture of the recipe and the wine on Facebook with a review for those that are interested in seeing the results.
I’m looking forward to the challenge.
It’s that time of the year when we look back and confer our own culinary awards for the year that just ended. It was a mixed year for dining as our busy careers have left little time for experimentation at home. However, it was an extraordinary 12 months for dining out, as 2 weeks were spent eating and drinking our way across Germany and France! So without further ado the winners are:
Best Meal-A beautifully prepared and presented 6 course meal in the village of Colmar, France. The food was expertly paired with wine from the region. Pictured below is the meal which consisted of:
Cold Cream of Red Pepper Soup
Baked Cod with Tomato and Lemon Confit
Roasted Saddle of Lamb with Onion and Zucchini Tart
Red Fruits and Sorbet atop Pannacotta
To say the least this was outstanding!!!
Best New Food –Foie Gras in the Loire Valley of France. It was creamy and almost buttery. Although the dish is classic, it was new to me - and I found it surprisingly outstanding (especially since I usually don’t care for liver dishes).
Best New Food We Created—Our Vintner’s Dinners give us the opportunity to experiment and create appetizers complimenting the theme of the dinner. This year, while researching the Italian-themed dinner, we came up with a wonderful combination for a savory little finger sandwich pictured below.
A Flat Bread sandwich of Sausage, Zuccchini, Mozzarella Cheese, Olives all dressed with a Smokey Garlic Mozzarella Spread.
Finally, for a Sweet creation Mary purchased a raspberry wafer in France and brought it all the way back to Iowa without breaking one of them. The finished sweet appetizer is pictured below.
The French Raspberry wafer topped with a triple berry cream cheese and a blueberry.
Best Wine—This was a difficult choice since our European trip centered around the wine regions of Germany and France and we consumed so many outstanding wines. Surprisingly, the very first wine we had after our flight to Germany was in a small upscale restaurant in Koblenz at the confluence of the Mosel and the Rhine rivers. It was a classic dry Riesling that was their house wine. Certainly not the most expensive wine we drank, yet I dare say it was the best single glass we had on the entire trip. Funny how sometimes the first is the best.
A close second and note-worthy was the myriad of Chablis we enjoyed in France. Chablis are, of course, the chardonnay grape from the Chablis region of France and they are un-oaked, crisp, refreshing and simply delicious. We drink them at every opportunity.
Those are the winners for 2013. I’m eager to begin eating and drinking our way through 2014.