Monday, July 29, 2013

From Government Regulations to Chicken

So, I really wanted tonight's post to be whippy and biting and highly intelligent...and I've even got the perfect topic - government wine regulations: Europe vs. the US (subtitle: European Governments Seem to Trust Their Citizens A Whole Lot More The US, Otherwise Why Don't French, et al., Wine Labels Have the Surgeon General's "Pregnant Women Should Not Drink This/This Beverage Impairs Your Brain" Warning).

But, I realized that to begin a post like that, I should probably know the answer to the question, yes?  Why do American wine labels include the warning, when, I don't know, isn't just common sense?  A quick search of this very query lands me at Wikipedia, which is good enough for a rude overview, but nothing that indicates why it's a law in the first place.

Hence, more reading is required.  I hope to get to it soon.  It's almost August, two-thirds of this year is nearly gone, and sometimes I feel as I am moving very, very quickly along this path of life, and yet, I'm hardly moving at all.  I suppose I can attribute that to old age?

Let me drift for awhile into this evening's dinner.  About two weeks ago, my parents, spouse, and I visited a local winery, one that specializes in "unique" wines...especially for cooking - i.e. Garlic, Jalapeno, and Basil Wine.  Well, tonight I had three chicken breasts that needed eating, so I tossed them into a Ziploc baggie with 1/4 cup of the Basil and Garlic wines, along with 1/2 cup of olive oil, and liberal sprinkling of Italian seasoning.  After about 25 minutes on the grill, they were ready for consumption.  The meat was juicy and cooked just right, but I didn't get much flavor.  I suppose that's because of the delicate, subtle natures of the wines I used.

However, I was most pumped about these "Zucchini Boats".  I cut the squash in half, scooped out some of the seeds, brushed it with an olive oil/crushed garlic/basil mix, salt and pepper, placed cut, fresh tomatoes in the scooped-out bit, and sprinkled with bread crumbs.  Then, I baked for 30 minutes at 350, removed it, scattered some mozzarella, and broiled it for about three minutes.

A green salad completed the meal...and I feel this fare right here is the epitome of summer.  Bring it, August!

Went a bit bigger on the salad...that's why it's not on the plate.

Was not the most riveting pairing ever...wish I'd had a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sugar and Spice and Everything Else

Kids in general are fairly curious people, wouldn't you say?  Some kids are dangerously so, while others are spiteful about it.  For example, what parent hasn't told their child to not touch a hot stovetop?  Not many.  And many sensibly curious kids will not touch the stovetop, because after all, a parent's warning is good enough for them.

But for those edgy, spiteful types?  The warning is not enough.  The curiosity burns inside them.  And, later, outside of them burns too when they defiantly place their hand on the red-hot burner.

For the record, I was not the latter type of child.  And probably for that reason, I've never had a broken bone (save a fractured nose), a hospital stay that did not involve birthing my children, or a Twitter-Instagram-Youtube worthy "situation".

I do hope my latest fit of curiosity does not land me in any trouble, on Facebook or otherwise.

In my baking class, we've been talking about cookies, and I've noticed that most recipes call for granulated sugar, or in the case of chocolate chip, etc, a brown sugar-gran sugar mix.  For whatever reason beyond reason, I was impelled to ask my instructor if I could substitute powdered sugar for all the granulated sugar in the recipe?  He chuckled, and explained that it likely wouldn't turn out right (Think: parent tells child stovetop is HOT).  So then, I ask what would happen.  Patiently he gives me another reason why the switch is a bad idea, but I forget what exactly he says because I'm already thinking about trying it (Think: child contemplates the warning and puts her hand on the hot stove anyway, despite the very prudent warning).

And that indeed is what I did spend my afternoon doing (no, not touching hot stovetops).  Referencing my baking textbook, Professional Baking, I did three separate batches of chocolate chip cookies, three different sugar variations.  Three test subjects, three different opinions.

The cookie at the bottom of the triad is the original recipe - brown sugar and granulated sugar.  Going clockwise, the next version is the brown sugar-powdered sugar mix.  The lightest-colored cookie is 100% powdered sugar.  Just by looking, the color of all three is the obvious difference.  The original version browned the most (all three were in the oven for 12 minutes), and as expected, the 100% powdered sugar is the lightest.  Also, 100% powdered cookie is cracked on the top, and has a definite sugar cookie look to it.  It's hard to tell here but the brown sugar-powdered mix has slightly more spread, while the 100% powdered seemed to have raised the most (but not by much more than the original).  

Tastewise, there honestly was not much difference between the first two...they were both yummy.  However, the 100% powdered was more crumbly and definitely tasted more like a sugar cookie (except with, you know, chocolate chips).  

I'm not really sure what I was expecting, something radical, I'm sure...but there's not much to say regarding this experiment.  There are nuances in tastes, sure, and a serious chocolate chip cookie lover (or my baking teacher) would probably taste the brown sugar-powdered sugar version and suspect something was amiss.  The rest of us would probably blissfully scarf them down, oblivious.

In regards to my test subjects' opinions, Kirby liked the brown sugar-powdered sugar version better, whilst Spencer preferred the original.  Elliot asked me to repeat the question, and I was distracted by something else before I heard what his preference was.

So there you have it.  Use powdered sugar.  Or don't.  Put your hand on the searing hot stovetop.  Or don't.  Either way, you'll probably learn something!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Elliot's Great Idea - Tweaked Only a Little by Mom

A Man, a Plan, a Canal - Panama!

Hail and Merry Meet to my two Panamanian readers!  And an especial hello to any and all other readers out there in other parts of CyberWorld.

This evening, let us discuss breakfast.  I am a fan of breakfast for dinner...of breakfast for lunch...and I am especially fond of breakfast for breakfast.

We are in the midst of an experiment here at Chez Nelson.  For one day every week, each of the three kiddoroos are responsible for planning and executing the dinner meal.  It's a big step for me, really, because I run a pretty tight home kitchen.  Let's face it...I'm territorial.

But parenting is sometimes about letting go of our idiosyncrasies and neuroses so that our children don't end up the same, messed-up way.

And there's your parenting advice from me for the month.

Bean (the almost-nine-year-old) requires a little assistance...but the other two know their way enough around the kitchen to put together some form of sustenance for the rest of us.  And I've been drilling into their heads about the balanced meal plan...

Spencer (14): Mom, if I make tater tot casserole, and it's got green beans in it, why do I need to make another vegetable?

Me (14+24): Because.  It's a casserole.  It is one entity.  And, the green beans, canned and high in sodium by the way, do not cancel out the fat of the cream of mushroom soup.

Spencer: But there's also potatoes in it, Mom.

Me: In the form of tater tots.  Starch cylinders of the Devil, you know.  *deep breath*  But, it's your night for dinner, and you make it how you want.  That's the deal.

Spencer: mutters something indecipherable

Me: What?

Spencer: How about a salad then?

Me: Great idea! And for dessert, we'll have this strawberry chiffon pie I brought home from school!

So, the rotation is simple.  Elliot is in charge of Mondays, Kirby has Tuesdays, and Spencer takes Wednesdays.  Of course, as expected, Bean put on a bit of a whimper because as he said, "I don't know how to make anything."  Which of course is untrue, he can make things...but I suppose he figures that he's lived his whole nearly nine years without "making anything", so why would he start now?  I ignore the whine and shortly afterwards he decides to go with pancakes, strawberries, and carrot sticks (balanced!).  Never mind that it doesn't scream sophistication...

Then, because I can't let well enough alone, I have this brilliant idea to fry up sausage links, slice them in half or thirds and lay them in the raw pancake batter as the first side cooks.  It would be cool as heck and we get our protein at the same time - we all win!

Elliot wasn't going for it.  He didn't like the idea.  So...I'm ashamed to admit it (a little), I commandeered the pancake-making.  Just for the first two rounds of pancake-sausage flipping, because once he saw how cool it was, he wanted in on the action.  As I knew he probably would.

Brent had only one job BROWN the sausage links...not BLACK them!

And if you aren't flipping pancakes without your shirt on, then you are clearly doing it wrong.

Yeah, welcome to the Circle of Awesomeness.

Here's the thing.  I may have added a bit of fat in going with the sausage, but adding a little extra vanilla to the pancake batter gave it the perfect sweetness to contrast beautifully with the savory pork link....and in that, I did not need to use ANY maple syrup.  That's a pretty big deal.

Of course, this brinner here (breakfast plus dinner = brinner, get it?) sparked quite the dinnertime conversation.  What else could we put into pancakes?  Brent suggested hash brown potatoes, or a fried egg, or maybe some greens.  Maybe even a strawberry chiffon pie?  You're only limited by your imagination...and well, I guess whatever you can fit within the confines of a 5-inch diameter circle of thin batter.

Breakfast for dinner, folks.  Think about it.  Try it tonight.  Let me know what you come up with.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Making Mincemeat of Pie

Cross-reference this post...Suppose We Try Pie?... in which I chronicle my Blueberry Pie failure.

However, I'd like to supplant that post with this today's entry.

For the last two weeks in the bakery, we've been working on pies.  And I will say, I do not feel as daunted by pie crusts anymore.  Or by pies, in general.

This is my latest attempt at a blueberry pie.  And I must say...I feel good.

To quote James Brown, that is...

Changes? Used frozen, cooked the fruit juice.

You'll notice there's no oozy, no liquidy.  Nothing but solid, starchy, non-oozy goodness.


That is all.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Vino, Parte Dos

According to my stats page here at Blogger, in the last 24 hours, I've had three page views from Spain.  Huzzah!  Bienvenidos to mis amigos españoles!

It could very well be that I have only one Spanish friend...and s/he has viewed my page three times.  Today, however, I choose to be the "half-full glass" person today and say that it is three friends.

Rather than haggle over international friends, imaginary or otherwise, let's talk a little more about wine.  Most of the wine I drank in Spain was, er...Spanish.  However, on one special night, for one special time only...I got to sit at the big kids' table (okay, with my other classmates, too) and try a couple of wines (one French and one Hungarian) that I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to try ever again.

Are you ready for this?

The Chateau d'Yquem is a...oh, explain it would require a short course in French wine appellations.  To properly explain, I'll defer to this rough-looking "flowchart".

Chateau d'Yquem (estate/house/castle/whathaveyou)
Sauternes appellation (think area less than 75 miles big)
Graves (think area bigger than above)
Bordeaux (think area bigger than that)

Now that I've mangled that for you, dear readers...just understand this - Chateau d'Yquem is really only famous for one thing, a sweet white wine that I've snapped in the above photo.  In fact, my Fine Dining textbook About Wine, refers to this tiny estate (250 out of 312 acres in production at one time) as "legendary".  Legendary, people, legendary.  I have drank a legendary wine.  It's been designated a Premier Grand Cru...which is French for Really Good Sh...tuff.  Okay, it really stands for First Great Growth, and that designation isn't just given out to anybody, you know.  A quick search online turns up average prices like $239.99 per bottle.  We're talking about a golden, thickly honeyed nectar that naturally occurs due to Botrytis, or noble rot, which grapes in that region are susceptible too.  And it was quite noble of our program director to share this Sauternes with all of us, instead of keeping it to himself (as I might have done).

So, what I know about Hungarian wines would fit on the head of a pin.  Tokaji is a region in that country, mostly famous for sweet dessert wines...again like Sauternes, made from grapes affected by noble rot.  This wine was a deep gold-amber and again, was honey on the palate...however, I also caught some apple-y flavors too.

Understand that I document this not necessarily to brag, but for posterity.  These planets are probably never going to arrange themselves in such a manner as this ever again...and I must record the fact that I did taste these wines.  If only to be able to tell the grandkids someday.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Vino de España - !Ya es tiempo!

Finally, the post I've muchly been waiting for!  These pictures and commentary below here reflect my wine experiences in Spain, and are by no means exhaustive.  I did not get pictures of every single wine I tried, nor do I remember exact taste nuance of every wine I tried.  Frankly, some moments were a bit more fuzzy than others.

My wine journal says I tried 16 wines whilst on the Iberian Peninsula, but it's likely that number is more like 20 or 22.  I tried taking decent notes on every wine I recorded; I did the best I could, and at the end of the day, that's the best anyone can ask for.

During our weekend in Galicia, the NW corner of Spain, we tasted a lot of white wines, and it stands to reason because the coastal area is perfect for the Albariño and Verdejo grapes/wines.  I found these dry whites crisp and refreshing (that's the high acidity and green apple, to me), and in addition to being a decent sipping wine, these wines go especially well with seafood (another staple of Galician life), and surprisingly, with hearty cheeses and chorizo.

In Valladolid, in the province of Castilla y Leon, dry reds were more the order of the day.  While whites were available (Ribeiro, especially), but two wine-producing regions are within easy reach of the city: Rueda and Ribera del Duero.  Maybe it's because my palate is evolving, or maybe my taste buds had been dulled, or maybe I am really am that sophisticated - but I found these reds to be softer and lighter than I was expected (think more Beaujolais than Cab Sauv).  Unlike the whites, these aren't that great for sipping, and are intended for food, I think.  Jamon, chorizo, mushrooms, and beef are all great pairing foods with these wines.

Hard to tell, but this is a Ribera del Duero I'm having with my stuffed red pepper







A particularly interesting vintage.  A great palate-cleanser.



Not bad, eh?  A pretty fair sampling.  I can feel the wine snob growing inside of me...I hope it's easy to get a hold of an Albariño in the States.  A trip to a decent wine store (60+ miles away) is probably in order.  Don't tell my employer.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Clouds in My Cafe Con Leche

So much for carrying on tomorrow. If I had my druthers, I'd spend the rest of my waking days on this planet blogging about Spain...and then going there again so that I could blog some more (repeat cycle as needed).

But, work, school, domesticity calls.  O, these things of the wearisome life!  Alas.

Hm.  I felt like John Keats there for a moment.

Anyway.  One of these days I will post here at "Be Food" during the daytime hours, with the ebullience to tackle Spanish wines.

But for tonight, let's tackle Spain's most awe-inspiring libation - cafe con leche.  Coffee with milk.  So, so simple...but so, so unduplicatable (did I just make that word up?).



The ubiquitous and delicious cafe con leche

There must be a trick.  There must be something I can do.  Surely, I should be able to duplicate cafe con leche!?  The closest I've come so far is doing a strong Cafe Du Monde (Chicory-based coffee from New Orleans) with milk...and while it was better than my previous attempts, it still was pretty much cafe con leche's pathetic third cousin or similar.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Small Metamorphoses!

I had (and still do have) every intention of discussing Spanish wines here tonight, but then I got wrapped up in domestic duties and studying for a school quiz tomorrow over French wine.

Thus, no time or energy for Spanish wines.  Hopefully, my dear readers, you understand this.  I wish to treat the topic with some kind of depth, which, frankly, is just not going to happen at this hour.

Instead, let me elaborate briefly on two ways I attempted to pay homage to Spain today.

I was in the country about three hours when I began to envy the Spanish people's ease of living within reasonable walking distance of anything they might ever want or need.  Groceries?  A "supermercado" down the street; fruiteria, zapateria, etc. right around the corner.  Driving was actually more of a hassle in Valladolid, with the underground parking lots, small streets, and heavy pedestrian traffic.  We walked every morning to the school, probably a mile (one way), and I found I did not begrudge the trip at all.  If we wanted to go shopping, we walked.  Looking for something to do, we walked.  In fact, I often enjoyed an extra churro or piece of jamon because I knew I'd be walking it off later.

But, back here in the States, things are not so simple.  I live in the city, but at the northern end, where there is not a sign of commercialism for a mile and a half or more.  For me to walk to the store, to the mall, to the library, to the coffeeshop, I'd devote half a day to do so.  So, I just drive instead.

Until today, that is.  I've been super impressed by the Spaniards' ability to be somewhat self-sufficient when it came to transportation, but since it was unrealistic for me to practice the same degree of self-reliance, I bought this today at Walmart:

The old-school Cranbrook Huffy

Yeah, this old girl definitely panders to my affection for all things retro.  Also, there are no damned complicated gear thingies on the handlebars...nothing to stop me except the knee-jerk jamming of the pedals in a backwards fashion.  A wicker basket for the front (or back, in the manner of Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz) is in order soon.

Because frankly, sometimes, there's no school like old-school.  

I do own a relatively nice mountain bike.  It's a Trek.  Cobalt blue and very pretty.  However, my two oldest kids have taken to riding it recently (as I have not) since they've outgrown their bikes.  And well, I just don't like that bike as much as I used to anymore.  So, it was time for something new; hence, above.

While I'd like to just eschew driving all together, the fact of the matter is, I can't.  My school is a half-hour from here, and riding my bike there for a 7 a.m. class would mean leaving the house near midnight...and I wouldn't get home until sometime after  7 p.m.  But, for a five-minute drive to the grocery store for a quick pickup of Yukon potatoes and Manchego cheese, after a quick popover to the chiropractor's?  Yes, indeed, I think riding a bike is verily feasible.  And that is my plan.  To bike anywhere I possibly can here in town.  It's a fair compromise.

The second way I attempted to Vivo La España is through my food choices tonight.  First, I opened up a 2012 Albero (Monastrell grape) from the Jumilla DO of Spain (southeast).  Then, I opened up a package of Manchego cheese (Spanish).  Then I opened up my very sacred package of Joselito Iberico Jamon.  Then, I ate them.  And it was delicious.

Manchego cheese, the Albero red, and the Joselito meat

At this point, I'd love nothing more than to go on for you, regaling you with tales of the blackberry aroma of the wine, and its unplaceable taste (grassy?), and how the cheese cut the tannins a little, and how the ham was so yummy delicious, but so very precious (one package, it must be rationed until I get back to Spain for more).  I'd love nothing more than to provide a full narrative...but alas, it is nearly 9:30 CST.  The eyelids are growing heavy.

I hope to carry on tomorrow.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Return to the Other World I Live In

How to even begin to recapitulate my trip to Spain?

How do I explain that it was one of those sublime places I will carry in my memory and heart forever...and that it changed me in imperceptible ways I did not expect?  How I do explain that what I did and learned in Spain and who I met there feels a lot like the irrelevant little pebbles that come before an avalanche?  How can I explain the paradox of being somewhere that makes me feel so small and insignificant, but yet fills my heart with joyous understanding?

How indeed!  How can one unknow what they've come to know?  It's impossible to do so - and I wouldn't want to anyway.  So then the next question is: How then do I live now?

That is the question I'll grapple with (and blog about, likely) as I readjust to life back here in the US.

For present, though, let me start with these "big ideas" and a few pictures.

1. Spanish people walk a lot.  Or they take the bus.  There are some drivers, but with the closeness of the streets and buildings, it's simply easier to walk. 

The view from our dorm balcony down Calle (street) de Teresa Gil

And when you walk most everywhere, you catch scenes like this...

The region of Galicia in NW Spain - the sun goes down on the Atlantic Ocean

2. Spanish people have cell phones, true.  But they do not text and drive, or text and walk, or sit at tapas bars because it has Wi-Fi.  And what is Wi-Fi to scenes such as this?

The UNESCO city of Segovia - and the Roman-era aquaduct

3. Spanish people dress nice.  It's not a vanity thing, either; they genuinely care about their appearance and making good first impressions.  I did not see many Spaniards wearing pajama pants, sweatpants, or even jeans.

4. Spanish kids stay up late, having tapas with their parents.  The Spanish culture embraces families being together.  Again, I did not see a lot of Spanish children wholly absorbed in any electronic devices.  They played or sat quietly.

5. The Spanish elderly are everywhere, and they are active.  I saw many couples walking about, arm in arm, casually strolling around the plaza or sitting on benches, chatting with friends.

The Plaza Mayor near our residence - Valladolid (Castilla y Leon province)

6. The Spanish value relationships and people.  They'll talk over tapas for hours, they appreciate attempts of people trying to speak their language, and they'll smile and switch over to a broken kind of English in an attempt to communicate with you.  They dote on their children, but do not absurdly spoil them.  They don't say excuse me or sorry very often, but it's not because they are a rude people, it's because there's an understanding that we're all jostling about for room on this planet; it's the way things are and not necessarily worth apologizing for.

I haven't begun to touch on the food.  The food!  The wine!  The culture!

That means more blog posts!