Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wines From Parts of the World That I'm Not Very Familiar With

This post today is a small nod to my Russian readers of which, according to my stats, has been significant in the last few days.

I know, the quick consulting of a map tells me that Georgia is NOT Russia...and Hungary is certainly not Russia.  Forgive me.

What do I know about Georgian and Hungarian wine?  Nothing.  When I wander into a store in my state's capital city called "European Flavors", it takes about 3 seconds to realize I'm not in, Iowa, anymore.  Most of the foodstuff items in this store are wrapped in colorful papers and printed with a language I do not understand.  Oh, I have enough wherewithal to know that I'm probably looking at some kind of Russian or Turkish or Greek.

Some kind of middle European anyway.

In regards to wine, I like German Riesling, so I'm browsing the shelves, and luckily, the wine section is clearly marked out by country, and I do know enough to find myself a Riesling.  The bottle is in my hand when a hearty voice befriends me, "Are you finding everything all right?"  I turn, and there's the owner, a portly older gentleman (early 50s, maybe) wearing a Bela Karolyi-type moustache...and speaking with a similar accent.

He kindly informs that if I'm looking for semi-sweet, I could do way better than German.  After all, he claims, Germans add sugar to their semi-sweets, where this Georgian wine here is just as sweet, but there's no sugar added - it's the natural sweetness of the grape.  That was the Khvanchkara...supposedly the favorite wine of Joseph Stalin.  The Furmint on the left is one of the store's better-selling semi-sweet white.  I buy both, because hey, I'm kind of a sucker like that.  And because the guy's nice, showing me various products and letting me taste a sunflower-seed goody like halva and Irish cheddar cheese.

As it turns out, the Khvanchkara is good by itself, but much better with dark chocolate.  There's definite cherry on the palate, and I'm looking forward to trying it with some meat and cheese later in the week.  The Furmint is similar, decent by itself, but very good with chicken.

It's funny, though, European semi-sweet is WAAAAAY different from American semi-sweet.  I feel kind of like I'm finally drinking "the real thing".

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Tale of Two Breakfasts...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...

While this oft-quoted sentence of Charles Dickens refers to the state of affairs around the time of the French Revolution, I think the same sentiment could describe breakfast here at Chez Nelson for the last two days...


Okay, well, of course, when I really think about it for a moment, no.  I can't really say it's been the worst of least I've been able to put breakfast food on the table for my family, which is more than some French peasants were able to do back then.

Using Charles Dickens' book title seemed like a good idea, but then I started writing it out...

Anyway, here's the story.  Whilst waiting in line to pay for groceries recently, I picked up (and bought) an issue of Prevention magazine, primarily because it mentioned the Wheat Belly book.  Along with the excerpt, there were a whole slew of recipes that were supposedly wheat-free...and hey, I'm enough of a sucker for the hype, so I bought it and planned the next week's worth of meals from the magazine.

First up, yesterday morning: Wheat-Free pancakes.  In place of flour, I used almond meal, but everything else was pretty much the same.  Just so you know (because I didn't, really), almond meal has a much different texture than flour.  Almond meal/flour is gritty, and when I mixed it all up in the bowl, this is what my batter looked like.

Again, as long as you know going in what to expect, you shouldn't be alarmed or dismayed by the consistency of the batter.  But I didn't.  I'm used to smooth.  And honestly, I can't say I was excited by the smell of the mix either.  It's definitely very nutty...which I like, normally, but I dunno, it struck me as 'off' here. 

But, no matter.  I carried on, determined to see this thing through.

Fifty bucks says you can't tell where my griddle's cold spot is!

So, I got them on the griddle, and I wished immediately that I'd added a smidge more water to thin the batter out.  Also, I had the cooking surface at 350 degrees, which I think was too high.  A lower cooking temp would have allowed the outside would brown up while the inside cooked evenly as well.

In the end, although I was a little disappointed, the entire batch of pancakes was consumed by my family.  That's a good sign, right?  No, wait...maybe not.  As I recall now, they did eat them all, with the help of a bottle of sugar-free maple syrup.

I do feel that I must give these another chance, but there's some changes I'll need to make first.

1.  More liquid.
2.  Some kind of spice needs to be added.  Maybe a vanilla or an almond flavoring to help the blahness of the meal.

But, here's the thing...almond meal is not cheap.  A one-pound bag ran me nearly $11 dollars.

Day Two - this little gem came through my email a few days ago (probably in the slew of Easter recipe emails)...and it sounded pretty damn delicious to me.  I really like the idea of a strata: prepare the night before, bang it in the oven, shower while it cooks, and VOILA! an amazing breakfast to start the day.

And honestly, it really did go down like that.

I did not have raisins, so I substituted a forgotten little bag of dried fruit bits I found at the back of my pantry.  And the recipe instructs you to "cube the cream cheese".  Yeah, right!  Freeze the cream cheese first, and then and only then, can you cube it.  Tear it with your fingers instead.  Oh, and the recipe calls for a 1/4 cup of maple syrup...which I was too lazy to get I used the rest of my agave nectar.  And on a funnily disturbing note, my family ended up putting maple syrup on the strata anyways, so it's probably good that I left it out.

And this is what I woke up to this morning (because I slept in and let Brent do all the "work").

It's not so much a 'strata' as it is a 'hodgepodge'.
As you can see, by the time I was able to snap a photo, half the pan was gone.  This recipe, I think, is a definite keeper.  I think the only change I'd make next time is to substitute mascarpone for the cream cheese...and I'd only do that to see if it changes the taste any. 

I have to admit, being on spring break this week, I've really enjoyed fixing these breakfasts for my family.  And as Sydney Carton would (sort of) say: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better breakfast that I make than I have ever known."