Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Salt on my Counter

I have six bowls of salt on my kitchen counter. They are organized by color, light to dark. I find that by keeping the bowls out, I use my fancy salts much more often.

My go-to-salt for pretty much everything except baking is Morton Kosher Salt. If you do only one thing as a result of reading this, consider upgrading from your regular, iodized salt to kosher salt. It's got a fresher, cleaner taste and is more chef-like.

Next up on the color wheel - as well as the usage scale - is Maldon Sea Salt. I use it as a finishing salt, meaning it is added once a dish is cooked not while cooking.

The next two salts are pink. Himalania from the Himalayas is a finely ground salt that is pink and white. Then a Hawaiian salt that actually has clay in it! It's a very pretty pink orange color. I like to fling it into sauteed spinach because it looks so pretty against the green.

At the end of the row there is a grey finishing salt that looks pretty on top of a baked potato with sour cream, and then a black salt. The black salt is a bit of a mystery. I think I got it at a store in the Ferry Building in San Francisco and I think it has Herbs de Provence in it. Not sure.

But that's not all! I have a few salts that I keep in my kitchen cabinet as they are too delicate to sit out on the counter. The first is a French fleur de sel which is flaky and can absorb moisture but makes a great finishing salt. The second is a truffle salt which has been called a "secret weapon" by one of our friends for its ability to transform an ordinary grilled steak into something spectacular. It's a great gift for the food lover who has everything.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Everyday Wine Find!

We found a new everyday wine! It's not only a good wine, but the packaging is downright cute. And, truthfully, that is why I bought it. I figured if the wine was awful I could cook with it.

The wine is Red Truck Mini-Barrel and it's pretty good. It's a smooth, fairly deep red wine with very nice fruit. It's comprised of Syrah, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Mouvedre -- all pretty heavy duty red grapes. It does not have any tannins and no real "finish." Does that matter to me for an everyday wine? Not really.

As I mentioned, the packaging is great. Each mini-barrel holds the equivalent of four bottles of wine so it's eco-friendly. The barrel packaging allegedly keeps the wine fresh up to six weeks after opening. It has not been six weeks yet so I don't know about that - I also don't think the wine will last six weeks given the consumption thus far! I keep mine in the fridge and then just pour a glass and let it warm up a bit to room temperature. Does not take long. You can hurry that process along by cupping your hands around the bowl of the wine glass.

We found it at Costco towards the back of the wine section - paid about $20 for it. Pretty good deal for the equivalent of four bottles of wine.

In terms of wine and food pairing, I have paired it with burgers, pizza and pasta with red sauce. I think it would go well with meatloaf, ribs and other heavier foods now that fall is here.

The Red Truck Mini-Barrel is a great, well-priced everyday wine that is perfect for those times when you don't want to open a whole bottle of wine. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New York Shopping & Fashion

Other than the fact that many of the women were wearing scarves, what I noticed most in NYC was footwear. I saw lots of flip-flops, which you pretty much see everywhere these days. But, in the rain? In line for the 354-step climb up to the crown in the Statue of Liberty? Don't these people own shoes?

The other footwear thing that surprised me was the number of women wearing rubber boots when it was not even raining. They were wearing them with pretty much anything - tucked into skinny jeans, with a skirt and bare legs, etc. Some of the boots were a solid color, some had cute patterns on them. The last day we were in NYC it rained and the boots were out in full force - I lost count after 1o.

I had a day to myself in NYC to shop. I started at 96th Street and gradually made my way down to 34th Street. I really liked Diana & Jeffries (Madison Avenue between 92nd and 93rd Streets). It's small and I got of a lot of individual attention and advice from a woman who I believe was the owner. I will definitely be going back there! I also hit Lord and Taylor - they do inexpensive cashmere really well and I purchased a few sweaters.

I was very, very, very disappointed with Henri Bendel. I have always loved going there because it's such eye candy and it's usually full of unusual things that I don't see anywhere else. Not so this time. The store is cut up into little boutiques, each of which appeared to be staffed by whatever manufacturer rep whose merchandise was in the boutique. It felt very disjointed. Plus, some stations were way over-staffed - one perfume counter had, I swear, three people working it. And the inventory was just so-so. Nothing really unusual or unique. Some things were just odd - there was a person sitting at a table selling custom-made sandals. Yeah, that's a hot ticket post Labor Day. I believe Bendel's is in the process of converting itself to an all-accessories store (they used to sell some clothes). Hopefully my visit was poorly timed and they are able to make the conversion and get back to being a little jewelbox on Fifth Avenue.

Standout Meals from Recent Travels

We had many good meals on our Chicago/New York trip but two were standout meals. What's interesting is that they are at two opposite ends of the cost spectrum.

The one at the low end of the cost spectrum was the Brat House in Milwaukee. We had taken a quick one-night detour to Kohler, Wisconsin so my husband could play golf. We were looking for a quick lunch stop on our way back to O'Hare Airport. Our criterion was good food somewhere in the Milwaukee area that we could order to go. We did some advance research and determined that the Brat House was the place. We both order the Bratwurst ($7). It comes on a pretzel roll with a side of fries. The prezel roll was amazing and made the sandwich. It was soft, flavorful and slightly sweet with a crust featuring a smooth, deep brown pretzel coating. Oh and it was covered in pretzel salt. Of course. The fries were good too - crispy and perfectly cooked. We got the meals to go and ate them in the car. Zero ambience, great food.

Dinner at Eleven Madison Park in New York was definitely at the high-end of the cost spectrum, but worth evey penny. Or should I say dollar as it's not cheap! We started with several amuse bouche - a bowl of outrageous cheese gougeres that were light as air, a tray of a variety of little bits, fried cornucopia filled with sweetbreads and a corn soup with bacon. For my starter - yes, we had not officially even started yet - I chose an heirloom tomato salad with melon, basil and Jamon Iberico (aka ham). The combination of perfectly ripened tomatoes, sweet melon, salty ham and spicy basil was wonderful. My main course was an herb-roasted lamb. The plate also featured a range of vegetables very artfully arranged, some of which featured more lamb stuffed into the vegetables. My husband looked at my plate and said " that looks like an amusement park." And he was right. Dessert was a chocolate caramel tart that was downright yummy. We selected a few macroons after dessert - one tasted like salted caramel corn and was just amazing. How do they do that?

Oh and we had wine too. For our starters we had a half bottle of DeLille Chaleur Estate Blanc - a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon - that paired nicely with the variety of things that we had as starters. For our main course we brought a bottle of 2005 Sine Qua Non Grenache that was a great match for the food.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tastefully Sonoma Hits the Road

As beautiful as Sonoma County is, sometimes I just have to do some traveling. Since we are fairly suburban, maybe even a bit rural, cities have lots of appeal as vacation destinations. So we scheduled a trip to Chicago and New York. In the next few posts I will update on some great meals we had, my day-long shopping expedition in New York and some New York fashion observations.

Let's start with pizza. Yes, pizza. Both Chicago and New York are known for their pizza so we decided that back-to-back visits to those cities was a great opportunity to compare and contrast. First stop was Gino's East in Chicago for some deep dish pizza. They are conveniently located just off Michigan Avenue and we got there just as they were opening so we did not have to wait in line -- by the time we left there was a good sized line. We ordered a half & half pizza -- half spinach & cheese and half "Meaty Legend" which is a combo of pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon and bacon. The pizza arrived nearly an hour later - yes, that's normal! The crust is very crispy and made of cornmeal. It provides a great base to hold up all of the filling without being overly heavy -- and there is a lot of filling! The filling is rich and gooey and delicious. Lots of cheese! The spinach side was for me - I love the combination of spinach and cheese. It reminds me of creamed spinach but in a pizza format.

Next stop was Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn. It's a bit of a hike from Manhattan but very straigthforward to get to - we took two trains and the place was maybe 1/2 block from the train station. It's a hole in the wall. They will not win any awards for their decor, but they have won every popular vote (Zagat's, etc.) for their pizza. Fortunately, we got there before they opened so we were first in line for our pizza - the place filled up fast! That's good for two reasons: 1) less time to wait for our pizza (I believe they only bake a few at a time), and 2) we actually got a table - there are maybe five tables in the whole place. We ordered a pepperoni and sausage pizza. My husband was watching them make our pizza and there was a bowl of pepperoni and sausage that he assumed they would just take a few handfuls from for the pizza. Nope, they dumped the whole bowl on! They also use several types of cheese and lots of it. As the pizza is coming out of the oven the owner uses scissors to cut up a bunch of fresh basil all over the top. I have had fresh basil on pizza before and not tasted it much, but I really tasted this basil. He also adds some freshly grated cheese to the top and finishes by pouring olive oil all over the top which seems to enhance the flavors. In short the pizza is amazing. A bit greasy, but amazing. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge after lunch is a great way to start working off the pizza.