Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blog on Hold

For those loyal readers wondering what's going on I must announce a hold on blogging. Real life has interfered and my focus is currently elsewhere.

I hope to return to blogging soon, but for the time being I just don't have the inspiration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pinot Noir on Sale

Well it's that time of year again, once or twice a year Constellation Brands, the world's largest wine brand, put their delicious People's Pinot Noir on sale.

The wine is a relative bargain at its' usual retail of $17.99 but at the reduced price of $15.99 it is an absolute must buy . With the holiday season not that far away I'd advise breaking open the piggy bank and picking up a case but if you aren't feeling that generous, or flush, then at least grab a few bottles to enjoy on your own.

I first reviewed this wine last year in November and my impression hasn't changed after the latest bottle. Once again the wine has broad distribution but not a whole lot in any particular store so if you want a case you'll probably have to get your regular store to order one in for you.

I've published a picture of the wine before so instead I thought I'd show the folks who usually hang out near the Central Otago Pinot Noir vineyards.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Steak Fajitas and Fresh Tortillas

On Monday while wandering aimlessly around the protein section of my neighbourhood MarketPlace IGA I was approached by one of the butchers who asked: "Looking for anything in particular ?" to which I replied: "Not really, just something for dinner tomorrow" to which he then responded: "How about some Flank Steak, I've got about a 600 gram piece I cut on Saturday, I can let you have it for $4.99 a pound." I said "Yes please" and immediately began planning steak fajitas. I also pondered the incongruity of the butcher quoting me the size, 600 grams, in metric, while quoting me the price, $4.99 a pound, in Imperial measure but .........whatever, the end result was a healthy piece of flank steak for less than $7.00.

Fajitas are not a Mexican dish, they are pure Tex-Mex, that wonderful fusion of Mexican ingredients with the addition of more meat, and cheese, plus the increase in heat. My steak fajitas ideally use flank steak, due to it's superior flavour, but top sirloin is fine as well. Flank steak is cut from the abdominal area of a cow and as a "working cut" has great flavour, though it is a bit chewey so it is best served thinly sliced against the grain.

I took the flank home and gave it a rub with coarse salt, black pepper, garlic, ancho chile powder and minced poblano pepper, I then put the steak in a freezer bag and added 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the juice of one lime and left it in the fridge overnight.

After getting home from a lunch shift on Tuesday I made the dough for the fresh flour tortillas, and before the corn tortilla mafia jump in let me remind you that flour tortillas are a Tex-Mex staple, and much better for soaking up the juices of fajitas than corn tortillas, so shut up. My flour tortilla recipe is from the excellent blog Homesick Texan, a must read for those fond of all things Tex-Mex, the flour tortilla post can be found here, I follow it exactly, except I expand it by half so that I get a dozen tortillas rather than eight, because really I'm going to eat one before dinner hits the table and leftover tortillas are like leftover pizza.........great to have around. I took the recipe as far as the "roll them into balls in your hands, place on a plate (make sure they aren’t touching) and then cover balls with damp cloth or plastic wrap" part and then drove daughter to choral rehearsal.

Once back home I took the steak out of the fridge sliced up sweet onion and some bell peppers, red, yellow or orange please not green, and then rolled out the tortillas. I pan seared the steak for about three minutes a side then placed it, tented in foil, in a 150 degree oven to rest before frying the tortillas and placing them, wrapped in foil, in the same oven. Finally I fried the onion/pepper mixture while making some guacomole. When the onion/pepper mix was almost just right, carmelized but still firm, I took the steak out and poured the jus in with veg, sliced the steak very thinly against the grain and served up the whole thing with the guacomole, some salsa and grated cheese, for daughter, and cold beer for me, wife had a light bodied red .

It was magnificent, and the kicker was the freshly made tortillas. I highly recommend making these any time you are having something taco/fajitaish as the difference between these toothsome beauties and anything you are going to buy retail in Vancouver is unbelievable.

Of course with 600 grams of beef and a dozen tortillas there were leftover fajitas the next day, and that too is a good thing.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Long Grain Rice - perfect every time

While lunching with celebrated author and sports columnist buddy last week the topic of cooking rice came up . Author/columnist came to the cooking game late in life but has embraced it with all the zeal typical of those who finally discover the rewards of preparing your own food, as such he's a sponge for information and his question seemed all too simple: "How to prepare simple long grain rice properly ?".

I gave him my technique and that was that, but over the course of the next few days I discovered that what I deemed simple was actually a struggle for many home cooks and that the number of solutions out there were seemingly infinite, well actually not infinite but if you google "how to cook long grain rice" you will get in the neighbourhood of 2.5 million results so close enough. We also discussed making Pizza dough but life's too short to blog about that, suffice to say that after five years I now make pizza dough that I consider superior to anything I can buy but it was a long and painful process.

Anyway, here's my long grain rice method, it's derived from one I watched many years ago on Alton Brown's Food Network show "Good Eats", a show which, sadly, Brown has ended after 14 years.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

heat one tablespoon olive oil in an ovenproof dish over low heat on the stove top
Add 2 tablespoons minced shallot

Saute until the shallot is translucent, not browned, then add 1 cup long grain rice
Stir to allow the rice to get coated with oil then add the peel of half a lemon

The peel, not just the zest.

Add two cups liquid, water, stock, juice or any combination and bring to a boil

Cover and place in the oven for exactly 17 minutes, remove from oven, remove lemon peel, stir, add a touch of butter if you want and serve.

That's it, perfect long grain rice every time. You can add fresh herbs, pine nuts, raisins, whatever, if you like after it's been cooked but the keys are, two parts liquid to one part rice and exactly seventeen minutes at 350 degrees.

Try it, I guarantee the rice will be perfect.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A little Political Post

In the past two days there has been much furor about a report into the investigation regarding safety at the Burnaby General Hospital. In the spring of this year alarms were raised over the high number of infections at the facility so of course a government committee was formed to look into it.

A committee was formed because everything in the medical system is tainted with political bias from the heavily politically appointed executives of Fraser health down through the heavily political unionized hospital workers and the heavily politically debated private cleaning services.

Anyway the recommendations aren't even out yet but the unions and the NDP are already jumping on it for bias based on leaked emails, etc. I mean seriously, did anyone think a committee set up by the standing government wouldn't have a Liberal leaning cast ? If the NDP were in power would the committee not likely have been full of NDP supporters ? It's the way business is done, I'm not saying it's right but it is a fact of political life.

There has been some good comedy out of it though. Global news has consistently branded the Liberal biased committee members as "Liberal political operatives", which kind of makes me wonder if Len Deighton is writing their copy, and the mayor of Burnaby seriously questioned the ethics of Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid for having more than one email address..............Really ? It's 2012, my neighbour's cat has three email addresses, and a blog I think, and Mayor Corrigan thinks it's suspicious that a government minister has more than one ?

Of course Mayor Corrigan is a stalwart member of the NDP so at least we know he's not expressing any bias in voicing his disapproval of bias in the hospital committee recommendations.

It's hard times politically in BC, the Liberals are rife with the inbred small scale corruptions that are inevitable with a party that has been in power for over a decade and I have my doubts that current leader Christy Clark has the wherewithal to hold things together but I cringe at the thought of the NDP running a provincial economy that is dangling by a thread during a world financial crisis .

Plus there's the whole Adrian Dix vs. Remy from Ratatouille thing that scares me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Baby Back Pizza

Meant to post about this last week but forgot, so here goes. 

The traditional Thanksgiving Back Ribs were a little meatier than usual so I was left with the highly unusual combination of leftover baby backs and leftover pizza dough, from Saturday night's pizza, on Thanksgiving Monday as I was casting around for lunch options. The result was Baby Back Pizza, and it was deeeeeeeelicious.

I just sliced the meat off the ribs and added them to pizza crust along with some green onions, cheese and a blend of 3 parts tomato sauce to 1 part BBQ sauce and baked.

The result was a smoky/sweet delight, served with a little greens and a cold Pale Ale it was a perfect lunch, although daughter passed on the Pale Ale. Behold, the Pizza Rustica.

Should the stars ever align like this again I would add a tad more BBQ sauce and possibly some spinach, maybe even used some smoked provolone in the cheese mix. I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Almost an apology to Australia - Jacob's Creek Reserve Cab

Just last month I was somewhat unkind to the Australian wine industry in my post about Parson's Paddock Cabernet Sauvignon . I denigrated the quality of the Ozzie reds in the $15 range and swore not to darken their door with my dollars in the future, however this month I must recant, although only on a technicality.

For the month of October the BCLDB is discounting, by $2 per bottle, both the Reserve Shiraz, from Barossa, and the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, from Jacob's Creek Winery and with the discount that makes the selling price of both these wines $14.99. I will buy these wines, I buy them at their regular price, so I must grudgingly admit that for this month at least Australia are once again playahs in the "under $15" range. In fact I probably owe it to Jacob's Creek to retaste their entry level wines again, they have an abundance of wines in the $10-$13 range that may be worth drinking on a regular basis, but focusing on the Reserve wines let me assure you these are very good wines and at $14.99 represent excellent value and something to buy now for the Christmas season.

I recently had a bottle of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 vintage, from the Coonawarra Valley and it was everything Australian Cabernet should be. Coonawarra is a 24 square kilometre strip on Australia's Limestone Coast situated near the Victoria border, the region is characterized by it's distinctive terra rossa soils and with a cooler harvest season and a climate not dissimilar to Bordeaux, with the ocean only 60km away Coonawarra has long been Australia's premiere site for Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2009 Reserve Cabernet Cabernet from Jacob's Creek is a deep crimson red in the glass, with hints of purple around the edges, the nose is rich with minty spices, a touch of mocha and plummy, blackberry notes. In the mouth there are more blackberry cassis flavours, some white pepper and a distinctive backnote of black olives, the mouthfill is excellent and the finish is long. The wine is not a typical Oz fruit bomb, there is a healthy level on tannin which means it works well with food and will last another year or two in the bottle. I recall this wine retailing in the $20 range not that long ago so even at it's regular price of $16.99 it represents good value and the discounted price is an absolute steal.

Buy it, the supply isn't great, less than 70 cases available in the province, but you should be able to find some .

So at least for this month ............I'm sorry Australia, you can produce quality wines under $15 retail.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Slightly disappointing Pumpkin Ale

It's fall, harvest time, Thanksgiving and all so I thought I'd give Pumpkin Ale another try. I've tried pumpkin ales in the past with mixed results but hope springs eternal, at least when it comes to beer, and the Mothership had a decent selection of Pumpkin Ales on hand when I visited on Saturday so I thought "Why not ?" and dove back into the Pumpkin Ale pool.

My selection appeared solid, Jumping Jack Pumpkin Ale from Tree Brewing in Kelowna. I firmly believe that Tree's Cutthroat Pale Ale is the finest example of Pale Ale brewed in British Columbia so I had full confidence in the brewery to come through and give me a Thanksgiving gift of seasonal fruit beer goodness.

Alas, it was not to be. Don't get me wrong the Jumping Jack isn't bad, it's just not very pumpkinny. It's a full bodied dark ale, very dry with a strong emphasis on malt over hops that just doesn't deliver the spiciness I was hoping for from a Pumpkin Ale. At $5.05 for a 650ml bottle I just don't think this beer represents good value and so I can't recommend it, but I'm not through with pumpkins just yet as I have it on good authority that the boys from Mcauslan in Montreal make a good pumpkin ale and it's available in Vancouver currently so I may give it a try before the season is out.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Packers vs. Seahawks - a small conspiracy theory

If you pay even a passing bit of attention to the NFL you will be aware that the first three weeks of the season were officiated by "replacement referees" due to a labour issue between the league and its' regular referees.

The results weren't pretty, as could be expected, the NFL might be the hardest league in the world to officiate with 22 players all making all sorts of legal, and illegal, contact over the course of 120-140 plays per game. There were all sorts of questionable calls, wrong markings, poor decisions, wrong yardage penalized etc, etc., and even more frightening was that the 300 pound behemoths that inhabit the league were losing respect for the zebras and all out anarchy was about to ensue, meaning that by week five I'm pretty sure an on field death or two would have occurred.

The "replacement referees" issue came to a head on Monday night in Seattle when, on the final play of the game, the refs completely botched two calls on the same play and turned what should have been a 12-7 Green Bay victory into a 14-12 Seattle victory. You can watch the video of the final play any number of places but this is as good as you can find in my opinion. The possession of the ball is a questionable call, the offensive pass interference call was totally blatant but regardless the result is 14-12 Seattle. The results were long and loud with tens of thousands of letters and emails sent to NFL offices and even commentary from Barrack Obama on the issue. The end result was a swift resolution to the lockout and the real refs were back at work on Thursday.

During the discussion of the Green Bay-Seattle game much was made of the gambling aspect, Green Bay, as 3 point favourites, would have covered and paid off their backers had the erroneous call not been made, instead Packers backers (I just like writing that) lost their bets and Seattle supporters cashed their betting slips instead.

Here's where it gets interesting to me: this game was one of the most lopsided bet games on you will ever see with industry estimates that over 65% of the money was on Green Bay . This is a bad situation for the casinos and sports books because they really in the gambling business, the casinos, bookies, whatever charge a standard 10% surcharge on lost bets, known as the vigorish or vig, so in order to win $100 the bettor must put up $110, if you win you get your $110 back plus your $100 bet, if you lose..........well you lose. The casinos etc. are best served with even money on each side of the ledger and the resulting 10% profit but on Monday night, prior to the final play, the books were looking at a big time haircut.

How big you ask ?  Well according to many sources the amount wagered on the game in Las Vegas casinos alone was $150 million dollars, worldwide it may have been as much as a billion dollars, but lets just deal with the Vegas money. At 65% Green Bay money the casinos were looking at a loss of roughly $40 million had the Packers covered, $97.5 million paid out minus $57.75 collected from Seattle bettors, but the final decision created a huge windfall instead with the casinos netting almost $55 million in profits, $52.5 million paid out and $107.25 million collected from losing Green Bay bettors. The net swing is roughly $95 million for something decided by guys who weren't going to be around as refs much longer regardless.

Kind of makes me go............Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Roasted Pork Chops and Rioja

I love pork, this should come as no surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in the blog, I love it cured, I love it slow cooked, I love it just about every way there is. As a child I used to look forward to dinner if Mom was pan frying pork chops, the chops would end up crispy on the outside and sweet and juicy inside with just the right fat quotient to make you want to lick your lips after finishing off the chops.

Sadly in the 1990s the agro industry decided that pork was too fat and had to be leaner and healthier, which was all well and good except that it no longer tasted like pork, it became sort of tougher chicken breast. The modern home cook has to either take out a second mortgage to buy "heirloom" pork or brine their chops to give them a fighting chance .

Brining adds moisture and allows you to cook leaner cuts at high heat without drying out the meat and is simply marinating the meat in a salt water and sugar solution for a period of time. The simplest brine uses 1/2 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of sugar and a litre of hot water, dissolve the sugar and salt in the water, cool the brine and then place the chops in a large freezer bag, pour the brine over, seal and refrigerate . The longer you brine the more moisture the meat will absorb, I generally try to brine pork chops for six to eight hours, once you take the chops out of the brine wipe them dry and throw out the brining liquid. The brining liquid will  contain blood and proteins from the meat and is not safe to reuse . The only downside to brining is that if you have a low tolerance to salt then brining is not for you.

Once we have our brined chops, I prefer bone in loin chops, ready its time for seasoning, on Monday night I just used salt, not much as they absorb salt from the brine, pepper, garlic and fresh rosemary. Sear the chops at high heat for a minute or so on each side in olive oil/butter mix for colour and then pop them in a 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, the cooking time is going to vary depending on the thickness of the chops and how you like your chops done. I prefer medium so I check them at the 15 minute mark with an instant read meat thermometer, once the chops are 145 degrees they can come out of the oven and rest for 3-5 minutes while you deglaze the pan with some stock, or white wine, "montee au beurre" and then pour the reduction over the chops. Served with "smashed potatoes" and green veg it was as close as I can get to those lip smacking chops of my youth, it would have been even better had I remembered to saute the fresh cremini mushrooms I bought and add them to the pan sauce but they were delicious nonetheless.

With the chops I served a lovely Rioja that, for some bizarre reason, the BCLDB had discounted. I was out at the Mother Store on Sunday and spotted a price reduction tag on a few notable wines, not just the $1 or $2 discounts that happen monthly but the 30% off we want to get this off the shelves reductions that happen rarely. These reductions are always a crap shoot as often the wines are too old, or were just purchasing mistakes to begin with but on Sunday I noticed that the 2008 Crianza Glorioso from Bodegas Palacios in the Rioja was discounted from $17.99 down to $12.59. I am familiar with this wine, it was a staple on many of the wine lists I used to write, and since it was only 2008 and thus unlikely to be over the hill I grabbed the five bottles on the shelf, along with some other sundry bargains and headed home.

By definition a crianza wine will have spent one year in oak, in Glorioso's case new French oak, and the result is a smooth polished wine with lots of finesse. This wine is made in a more New World fruit forward style but still has lots of spice box, tar and tannins to balance the black currant, raspberry fruit flavours, the new oak gives a touch of vanilla and while the finish was not quite as long as it could have been overall the wine would have been good value at the original price and was an absolute steal at $12.50. I only wish I'd been able to find more but searches of three other stores on Tuesday were fruitless, still it was nice to enjoy a very good wine for a very reasonable price, we'll drink up the others in short notice as well I'm sure.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Parson's Paddock Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - another disappointing Australian Red

I really should know better by now, after being almost consistently disappointed in "entry level" Australian red wines for the past five years I have pretty much stopped trying but hope springs eternal so last week I grabbed a bottle of Parson's Paddock Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 to give it a go with some flank steak. My rationale was that the spice and aromatics in the flank rub would marry well with what I assumed would be a fruity, full flavoured red wine and maybe get the Ausssies off the schneid in the under $15 wine value category that they used to dominate.

For over a decade from the early 1990s on Australia could be counted on for full throttle, big fruit, big flavour reds that could be had in the $11-$13 range, it was easy but then the Aussies started to have too much juice on their hands and the wine world began to be corrupted by the "all fruit all the time" palate of Robert Parker and the penny dropped in Oz. All of a sudden we were deluged with sweet fruit, no acid, unmatchable with food wines often named after animals, a pretty sure method for not selecting a wine I might add . At the same time the vignerons in Chile started to pick up their game and add some complexity to their inexpensive reds. The Argentinians started stocking the international shelves with muscular Malbecs that kicked the crap out of the Aussie fruit bombs, toss in a welcome modernization of the Spanish wine industry and I pretty much stopped buying Australian reds in the $15 range, a policy I'm probably going back to after this most recent disappointment.

The Parson's Paddock is dark purple in colour, with just a hint of crimson around the rim, the nose is full of blackfruits, sweet vanilla and mocha and the mocha-berry combo continues in the taste, which is fine for Cabernet but then it just stops. There is virtually no acidity to balance the wine and so the overall sensation is one of sweet fruit with no counterpoint, so the wine has no chance against the bold flavour of grilled meat, which should be the perfect foil for young Cabernet Sauvignon.

The bottom line is a generic Australian red, with lots of fruit but virtually nothing else to recommend it, there are much better alternatives from Spain, Argentina and Chile in this price range, or lower, so I simply cannot recommend this wine.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Some Sports Observations

I know some of my readers don't care about the "sports" posts but it's my blog so they are going to keep happening once in a while.

This is the best time of the year for me sports wise, MLB is heading into the playoffs, the NFL and US college football are getting underway and, normally, the NHL would be just around the corner . Of course the likelihood of the NHL returning any day son isn't looking good with the owners having decided that giving the talent 57% of the revenue is a bad business model, even though they made it up themselves, and the players, like most people, aren't willing to relinquish things they already have so I think this one is going to drag on for awhile. I don't think the entire season will be lost, as happened in 2004-05, but a shortened season ala the 1994-95 lockout is a pretty likely scenario.

In the NFL the season opened this week, after avoiding their own potential work stoppage in 2011, and my beloved Redskins posted a marvelous first week result behind their wonderkind rookie QB Robert Griffin III, or RG3 as he is known. Griffin cost Washington three first round picks, and a second round pick, to end their quarterback carousel and at least yesterday he was worth it leading the 'Skins past the Saints, in New Orleans, and putting 40 points on the board. Only time will tell but right now it looks like the Washington quarterback situation is solved, now about that pass defense.

The NFL labour struggles aren't over however, while the teams and players have worked out their differences the league has not come to terms with the officials leading to week one games being refereed by replacement officials who apparently weren't as bad as expected. The situation did lead to the sports quote of the week however as after the opening game NY Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was quoted as saying : "I haven't been held this much since I was a baby"

In baseball the pennant race in the American League East is as tight as Uncle Donnie's wallet when it's time to buy a round of drinks, with the Evil Empire holding a slim one game lead on the over achieving Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore are defying all odds in that they are 16 games over .500 while having scored less runs than their opposition, no other team in MLB with a negative run differential is above .500 yet there are the O's at 78-62 making life extremely uncomfortable for the suddenly struggling Yankees. I grew up a Yankees fan, and will likely always be one, but I have a bad feeling about this year, oh well it could be worse, I could be cheering for the last place Boston Red Sox (man it feels good to write that) .

The other positive I have as a Yankees fan is watching their captain, #2, Derek Sanderson Jeter play. Jeter  might possibly manage to be the most under rated and most over rated player of all time. You will still find people argue that Jeter is not a Hall of Famer despite that fact that, barring a season ending injury or a meteor hitting earth, sometime this week Jeter will pass Willie Mays in career hits. Just roll that around in your head, Mays is generally regarded as one of the ten greatest players ever to play the game and yet Jeter trails him by only four hits. In fact at age 38 Jeter currently leads the American League in hits and will move into the top 10 all time early next season, yet you will still find people who think he's not a Hall of Famer, of course most of them are Massholes but still . On the other hand Jeter has no good reason to have five Gold Glove Awards in his trophy case, but after getting jobbed in the 2006 MVP voting I'm guessing Jeter figures he might as well keep the Gold Gloves .

Anyway, I hope the Yankees make the post season. I hope the Redskins continue to play well. I hope the Red Sox continue to lose until the end of time and I really hope the NHL owners and players come to their senses and realize that another work stoppage will be the end of the league .

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Late Summer Westcoast Dinner

Through a series of disastrous events yesterday represented my only day off of the week so I wanted to ensure that it was a good day. It also marked the end of daughter's first week of High School so her survival certainly deserved some sort of celebration and what better way to celebrate than with a classic west coast meal of wild Sockeye on the grill.

Sockeye is my favourite variety of Pacific salmon for home cooking because it is rich in flavour but more readily available than Spring, or King as the Americans call them. The dark red flesh of Sockeye is so visually appealing and the high fat content means they are full of flavour and stand up well to the high heat of the grill. As is the case with most super premium ingredients I don't do much to Sockeye when grilling it, if it's whole fish I will salt and pepper the cavity and add some sliced lemon and maybe some aromatics such as fresh dill or, even better, chopped fennel. Last night's Sockeye came in the form of a fillet, incredibly on sale at Nesters Market on Main Street for $6.98 a pound, previously frozen but who cares.

I checked the fillet for pin bones and removed one or two with tweezers then seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon zest and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil - that's it. I made a celery risotto while the grill got hot and then green beans were grilled before adding the salmon to a super hot grill. The fish was grilled for about three minutes per side to produce medium rare and served with the risotto and grilled beans, I really can't think of a better late summer west coast dinner and to add to the west coast feel we drank a lovely BC white wine recently purchased on our trip to the Okanagan.

The wine, a 2010 Viognier, was one of several white wines from Hillside Estate that impressed me during my tasting expedition on the Naramata bench. Hillside has been around since the 1980s, a virtual eternity in Okanagan wine terms, and has rarely received much in the way of "buzz" but the past three seasons of my tastings have showed a consistent improvement in the wines, particularly whites, though I still think the pricing is a bit ambitious. The 2010 Viognier sells for around $20 at the winery and is a very good representation of the variety, the wine has lots of peach fuzz, floral and honey notes in the nose and a slightly herbal, apricot/white peach flavour with a long finish and a big full mouth feel. Viognier is pretty forceful for a white wine and as such it was a great match to the rich grilled Sockeye. At $20+ a bottle it's hard for me to get overly enthusiastic about this wine but it is a very good example of Viognier, excellent with food and worth grabbing a bottle or two for "better than everyday" occasions. The weight and spice of the wine would also make it a nice accompaniment to spicier fare such as jambalaya or, of course, fish tacos.

It appears that summer is going to stay with us for a while longer as the weather forecasts are calling for continued sunshine and temperatures in the 20 degree range so hopefully we won't put the grill away until October, but if we do it was certainly a pleasure to sneak in one more helping of Sockeye on the Weber before the oven gets put back to use.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back from the Okanagan

Sorry for the lack of activity but August has been a busy month, what with hot weather pushing business at the restaurant through the roof, an extended visit from my in laws and a trip to the Okanagan I've just been too busy to write but here goes.

As I mentioned we spent some time in the Okanagan Valley recently, Summerland mostly, courtesy of friends who have been gracious enough to loan us their cottage near the lake for the past four summers. It is an absolute joy to just get away from the city for a week or so and do, well really nothing. We generally spend the time beaching and reading with a movie viewing each evening before bed at around 11pm. Food is, for once, secondary although the fruit and vegetables available are just beyond my wildest dreams and dirt cheap. We returned with a case of unbelievable Red Haven peaches which I paid 79 cents a pound for, yesterday on Granville Island I saw the same fruit at $2.99 a pound.

We visited the Farmer's Market in Summerland and although the market was mostly void of farmers, full of crafts and baked goods, I did spend some time talking with the owner of a small organic farm and sampling his produce. Beautiful heirloom tomatoes at $2 a pound, a massive bag of fresh basil for $2, lemon cucumbers so sweet I ate one like an apple for $2 a pound and the list goes on.

I also spent a full morning tasting, and buying, wines on the Naramata bench and once again with mixed feelings. The problem, as I've stated many times, with the Okanagan wines are the price/quality ratio, many of the wines I tasted were very good but rarely did I feel they were worth the price tag and there is virtually no "entry level" wines from the smaller estate wineries. I know that limited production and high land/labour costs mean that $12 wines from 10,000 case wineries aren't going to happen but almost all these wines start north of $20 and go rapidly up from there meaning that they just aren't likely to be on the average dinner table too often.

The best wines I tasted were, once again, from LaFrenz Winery, consistently they seem to produce quality across the board but I was also pleasantly surprised by Lake Breeze for their overall quality and Hillside Winery, especially for their white wines. It also became apparent that Syrah is becoming the signature red grape on the Naramata bench, which is a good thing as far as marketing goes. I ended up picking up a mixed case or so of wines, mostly reds but with some Hillside Viognier tossed in as well.

For the second year running however my favourite wine from the trip was the delightful frizzante Rose from 8th Generation Vineyard. This nondescript winery situated right on Highway 97 produces a wide variety of wine but their frizzante Confidence Rose is just perfect for deck chairs after a hot day at the beach. Frizzante wines are sparkling but not too sparkling, as they have the secondary fermentation halted to create less bubbles. The 2011 Confidence is a blend of Syrah, Pinot Gris and Dunkenfelder, a grape so obscure that it's actual parentage is unknown, but who cares. The wine is a burst of strawberries with a hint of something sharper in the background, cranberry maybe, and although it contains a fair bit of residual sugar it's crisp acidity keeps it from being sweet. Once agin, as is typical of the Okanagan, the wine is a little pricey at $22.50 a bottle but in this case I don't mind paying. They make less than 650 cases of Confidence a year so if you get the chance to grab a bottle do so, but drink it quickly before the summer fades away.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Wild Olive "Old Vines" Chenin Blanc 2011

In laws are in town for an extended visit and father in law is a traditionalist, to say the least, when it comes to wine pairing so even though Sockeye Salmon on the grill screams Pinot Noir to me I knew that we'd have to pour something white for "Grand Dad".  In order to keep peace in the family I headed to the South African section of the Arbutus Village store while doing my Friday morning run around.

I headed to South Africa because I find South African Chenin Blanc, or Steen as the old timers call it, to be one of the best all purpose white wines in the market place. Chenin is a bit like Riesling in that it can be bone dry to uber sweet and almost anything in between and still produce quality wines. The South African take on Chenin generally accentuates the floral, fruity character but is still made dry, Chenin should exhibit honeysuckle (floral) notes as well as citrus, green apple and a mineral quality, if unoaked the wine will be clean, fresh and best drunk young while oaked Chenin will have a smoky character with more of the honeyed complexity and hints of cooked citrus, think marmalade. I will also admit that there's probably lots of really indifferent South African Chenin on the market so I generally avoid the real bottom end of the price points.

I decided to try something new and, based on my previous success with their Pinotage, selected The Wild Olive "Old Vines" Chenin Blanc 2011 from The Grape Grinders. The wine retails for $12.99 and has broad distribution, it's nicely packaged and is conveniently closed with a screw cap. In the glass the wine shows a pale yellow with green edge for colour and a slightly sweet floral nose, in the mouth it's more about green apple than citrus but there's a reasonable acidity and a medium to log finish.

The wine was paired with grilled Sockeye, which is rich and full flavoured and while in a perfect world I'd like a bit more acidity in reality for $12.99 the wine is very good value and would be a welcome addition to any summer barbecue featuring grilled fish or poultry. In my mind it's not as good an example of South African Chenin as the Spier Signature but the Wild Olive is a bit easier to find and a bit cheaper so it's a reasonable alternative.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Grinder 2011 Pinotage

I've seen this label on the shelves for awhile and have consciously ignored it because I have a dislike of the "cute/obscure names for wines" that proliferate mostly in Australia. I often think the Aussies sit around in the pub and have contests to see who can come up with the most ludicrous names for wines, with the winner getting free beer for the day, I mean seriously Ladies who shoot their lunch ? But I digress, the wine in today's tasting is a South African Pinotage, a uniquely South African grape that is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault . There is isn't a lot of Pinotage available so I finally got over my aversion to the name and brought home the wine.

I'm happy I did.

First off the naming isn't actually a cute marketing ploy for the wine displays nothing if not the characteristics of coffee, or mocha to be more precise. With your eyes closed the nose could easily make you think that it was not a glass of wine in front of you but rather a bowl of chocolate covered espresso beans, I mean it really reeks of coffee and chocolate. The colour is dark, dark red and in the mouth the mocha is again present, along with a bit of red berry and bramble and spicebox. The tannins are smooth but there's enough acid to make it food friendly and the finish is long and full. I had the wine with roast chicken rubbed with thyme, rosemary, garlic and lemon and it was great though next time I'd like to give The Grinder a workout with some grilled lamb or spareribs.

There's lots of this wine around, over 2,000 bottles in the BCLDB system and it has wide distribution, for $14.99 a bottle it's well worth having around for the summer grilling season. A recommended buy, even if you don't have it for breakfast.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Roasted Broccoli

I serve roasted vegetables a lot, I love the flavours that roasting brings out, but almost every time I serve roasted broccoli to someone for the first time, or mention it in conversation I get blank stares or "You can roast broccoli ?" comments.

So I thought I'd share my method for roasting broccoli, it's easy, the prep time is minimal and it is delicious. Roasted broccoli is, in fact, so delicious that my 13 year daughter consistently has seconds and refers to it as broccoli candy. There are lots of variations and additions you can make but my basic roasted broccoli uses only four ingredients, broccoli, salt, lemon zest and olive oil, and is loosely based on one by The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten.

Simply trim about a kilo of broccoli crowns into large florets, I don't peel, I'm sure some do, and put in a large bowl then salt generously with coarse sea salt and  toss the whole mixture in 2-3 tablespoons of good olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place the broccoli in the oven, at the ten minute mark give the pan a shake and then check again at around fifteen minutes. The florets should be starting to brown, if so remove the broccoli and toss with the zest of half a large lemon and serve, if they are starting to char leave them in a few more minutes.

Other variations involve adding minced garlic before roasting, or adding grated parmesan and toasted pine nuts after roasting, and these are very good but the simpler recipe is my favourite. The sugars released by the high heat work beautifully with the coarse salt, lemon and olive oil and the result is a great side dish for grilled meat or poultry. You can also toss the roasted broccoli with freshly cooked pasta, grated cheese, diced tomato and more olive oil to make a nice light vegetarian pasta main course. You can choose to toss with sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds for an Asian influence if you want, it's excellent with grilled chicken.

So there it is, roasted broccoli, try it out and surprise your friends, my only advice is to make more than you think you'll need as it almost always goes quickly in my house.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kitchen Academy - Burgers

Back to posting about food and wine after a short hiatus. Daughter generally spends four of her nine weeks of summer vacation in various "camps' but this year we were a little late off the mark and only found three weeks of camps that looked promising so we, and by that I mean I, decided that this summer would provide an expansion of her cooking skills. Once a week daughter and I would make a meal together, going through the whole process of menu selection, shopping, prep and finally cooking dinner, I dubbed this process Kitchen Academy .

This week in Kitchen Academy, given the hot weather, I decided to focus on the grill and what better way than with Burgers. Daughter and I shopped for the ingredients together, with me explaining why extra lean beef was a bad idea for burgers (they need fat or they fall apart), and then came home to make the burgers. Everyone has their own burger recipes, some use breadcrumbs, some use raw egg, some use chopped pickles .......... I don't. My burger recipe calls for salt, pepper, dry mustard powder, minced shallot, worcestershire sauce and grated romano cheese to be added to the meat, along with a healthy dollop of bacon fat. These are gently mixed into the beef, by hand, and then formed into six, to seven, ounce balls and left in the fridge.

(Before starting I said to daughter: "What's the first thing we should always do before we start cooking" (the answer is: wash our hands) and she responded :"Open a beer ?" (also a good answer.))

We then prepped broccoli for roasting, trim and cut into large florets, season with salt and lemon zest, add olive oil, mix then spread on a cookie sheet, and then waited for dinner time to arrive. About thirty five minutes before dinner we preheated the oven to 450 degrees, put sliced onions in butter to saute, and lit the charcoal for the grill. We use lump charcoal so it takes twenty minutes or so for the fire to get hot enough for searing burgers, at this point wife took over as the grill is her domain, and demonstrated how to tell when the coals are hot enough and prepping the grill.

Broccoli roasts for twenty minutes, turning once, burgers are cooked roughly three to four minutes a side then cheese is added and they are topped with cheese and cooked another couple of minutes with the lid on . The result is perfectly medium burgers with nicely melted cheese, last night was cheddar, as illustrated below.

The wine chosen to accompany last night's burgers was a nice medium to full bodied red from South Africa Nederburg "Growers' Selection" Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010 which is currently on sale at the BCLDB for $12.99, regularly $14.99. The wine is a "FairTrade" wine meaning the grapes were sourced from fairtrade certified farms so there's a bit of social conscience involved which is an added bonus. I like the wines of South Africa as I find they tend to represent a nice balance between old world complexity and new world fruit dominant wine styles.

The Nederburg Cab-Shiraz is medium to full bodied with excellent red berry and black pepper in the nose and a lush mouth filling first taste, the back label says the wine spent 18 months in oak but it must have been older barrels as the wood is in the background adding a nice touch of sweet vanilla to the flavours. There's a touch of cocoa and spicebox on the finish and the finish is long and clean, the wine was drinking nicely a full hour after opening. There is limited supply on this product so I think maybe the price reduction is there to clear out stock, I would recommend buying a few bottles at the current $12.99 and keeping them on hand for the grilling season as it would be a nice compliment to virtually and meat, or poultry, off the grill.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.........really ?

So I must have missed this hoopla when it first was announced about a year ago but a major motion picture is finally going to be made from an adaptation of one of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Jack Reacher is a 40 something former marine officer who drifts around and inevitably gets involved in situations where he has to wrong some injustice, generally with a significant body count involved in the process. The books are much better than they should be because Child is a solid craftsman and the Reacher character is a classic, the lonewolf anti-hero, slow to act but invincible when he does take action, and usually short on both words and emotions but with a fixed moral compass that will not waver .

One of the real distinguishing features of Reacher is his size, he is a man mountain, 6 foot 5 inches tall and generally weighing in between 225-250 pounds with a fifty inch chest, he breaks bones with one hand and can endure all manners of physical abuse. Reacher's size and strength come into play in every one of the sixteen Reacher novels, they are one of the things that define the character and make him different. Naturally after ten plus years of negotiating to get a Reacher film made the obvious choice to play Reacher is ............Tom Cruise.

Seriously ?

Seriously, Tom Cruise, all five foot seven inch grinning, winking, shorter than his soon to be ex wife, frat boy charm Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher ???

Now don't get me wrong, I admire Tom Cruise as an actor, he has pushed limits on occasions, and made bold choices with films, I personally think he should have won the Best Actor Oscar for Rain Man rather than Dustin Hoffman. I also understand that he may be the single most bankable male star in the film industry, maybe Will Smith might challenge, and actually Will Smith would've been a really cool choice to play Jack Reacher but that's another story.

There are many lively internet discussions regarding better casting choices, Ray Stevenson, who played The Punisher and was brilliant in Rome is a frequent suggestion or something along the lines of Alexander Skarsgard after a year in the gym .  Lee Childs is enthusiastic about his support of the casting, and since the movie's profitability is important to Childs we can sympathize, but regardless of what this movie ends up being, and regardless of the title, it won't feature Jack Reacher .

Thursday, July 05, 2012


So I finally joined Facebook, my reason for joining was that since daughter became a teenager she now has a Facebook account and we felt she should have some parental supervision, given the state of cyberspace . Wife was supposed to be responsible for the creeping but between her work and playing 3,000 games of Words with Friends daily with Auntie Jacqui I didn't feel we were up to speed, so I joined.

My first mistake was using my real email address, when will I learn, so instantly upon joining I was invited to "friend" many of my real friends. For those who don't know Facebook essentially opens your mail account and checks to see if any of your contacts are on Facebook, then suggests you become friends with these people. Even though, of course, you already are friends with them or they wouldn't be in your address book.

Next I informed some work colleagues that I had joined and they instantly said "Oh I'll friend you"or "we should be friends", to which my thoughts were: "but we already see each other more than once a week...........so ?". Apparently I don't get the concept that "Facebook friending" is different than "real friending", on Facebook we share our taste in YouTube videos, inspirational posters and show off pictures of what we had for lunch, in real life we just talk about silly shit like emotions, politics and the economy......plus of course, YouTube videos and television.

Anyway, I'm on Facebook, I've got 12 friends and it is easier to keep up with people you don't see often, plus I have a whole new window into daughter's world. I can also see how it could become a huge black whole of wasted time and energy but I'm determined not to do that. Anyway I've got to run, someone just posted a new site full of Sheldon Cooper quotes.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Latest FIFA Rankings

So you are probably aware that the last few weeks have featured a major event in the Soccer world, I still have a hard time calling it football. The 2012 Euro Championships recently ended with Spain stamping their passport into the discussion of greatest teams of all time, Germany crumbling under the pressure of being the next one, Italy proving to be better than we thought and England failing miserably on the world stage once again by bowing out in the quarter finals.

England have not reached the semi finals of a major event since 1996 so simple math should mean that since they haven't been in the final four of a world class event in sixteen years that they are surely not one of the top four teams in the world, yet the governing body of world soccer will have you believe that England, mighty England, are in fact the fourth best team on the planet, based on FIFA's latest rankings, brought to you by CocaCola.

Now I realize that ranking these things is a subjective process and that the rankings are a "rolling" count of International success over the previous year, and that England had a couple of nice results at the recent Euro Championship but seriously shouldn't somebody at FIFA, or CocaCola, have taken a quick look at these ranking before publishing them and said:

"Hey, wait a second boys, if England hasn't finished in the top four of anything that matters in sixteen years how in the Hell can we rank them fourth on the planet ?".

Bad FIFA, bad.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Rose' of the Season - Gassier Sables d'Azur

Well I can't wait for the weatherman to provide us with summer so I jumped the gun last night and officially opened up Rose' hunting season for 2012. Drinking Rose' in British Columbia is more than a little frustrating as the LDB carries roughly 45 "Rose'" wines but almost half of those are $20+ and another 30% are "White Zinfandelish" horror shows but still we persevere in the pursuit of reasonably priced rose'.  Private wine stores probably offer us the best chance so check with your local private retailer to see what they have on hand .

I should preface this by stating that Rose' is often a personal preference sort of wine, much like Chenin Blanc rose' can be well made in a variety of styles, from light and fruity to bone dry and lemon tart.  I prefer mine in the dry, but still fruit aware style, I want some peachy, ripe cherry in the nose and some citrus in the mouth and a reasonably long finish so that's my caveat. I will drink, and often enjoy, fruitier off dry rose' but when I'm cooking Sockeye, as I was last night, I want dry and citric.

Out at the Mothership yesterday I cast a wary eye at the Rose' selection and beheld a true Provence classic on the shelf for only $15.99, I say only because we live in BC, elsewhere this wine would be in the $12-13 range but you take what you can get. Chateau Gassier is owned primarily by the Gassier family who have been in the Haut Provence region since the 15th century, the winery itself dates from the early 1980s, and the Sables d'Azur is their flagship rose' wine. Many will argue that the Rhone valley produces France's best rose' wines but if they do Provence isn't far behind, and the wines of Provence are typically lighter than those of the Rhone and lightness is what I want in the summer.

The Sables d'Azur is a blend of equal parts Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan with 10% Syrah tossed in for good measure. Rose' wines are not a blend of white and red wines,  except sometimes in Champagne but that's another story, the process of making rose is that red wine grapes are used but the skins are extracted early, sometimes right after the crush, sometimes during fermentation, with the result being a pink, or light orange, hue to the finished wine. Unlike the pink soda pop wines popularized in California, and other places, French rose' wines are almost universally dry.

Anyway the Sables d'Azur is pale salmon in colour, with a touch of orange, the nose is muted but shows bits of peach and floral aromas, in the mouth the wine shows more white peach and citric flavours with a lively bracing acidity that works extremely well with grilled fish and would also compliment spicy dishes and be great with sushi. The finish is medium long, a tad shorter than I was hoping for but still very good. The wine retails for $15.99, as previously stated, and is a sure frontrunner for House Rose' for the summer of 2012. The Sables d'Azur is available in government stores, with reasonable distribution and is a recommended buy.

The Sockeye, by the way, was absolutely delicious, simply seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon zest with a pat of butter on top and oven roasted at high heat until medium rare. When the ingredients are that good I basically just try and stay out of the way, served with lemon, celery risotto and a saute of green beans and cherry tomatoes the plates were all cleaned in record time, and the rose' bottle empty as well.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Humility thy name is not Donovan McNabb

A quick segue into sports this morning.

In a recent interview with Fox Sports former Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb was discussing his football future, McNabb was released after six games with Minnesota last season after his one season experiment in Washington failed miserably.  McNabb stated that there was an "80-90% chance of him playing in the NFL this season", which is probably about 75-85% too high but a man has to have dreams.  McNabb didn't only feel very good about his upcoming season he also took the time to bash Washington head coach Mike Shanahan for "misusing" McNabb, as a Redskins fan I concur but my feeling is that Shanahan really misused McNabb by acquiring him and allowing him to play quarterback for the Redskins, probably not what Donovan had in mind with his use of the term.

Later in the interview McNabb takes some time to diss future Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrel Owens and then discussed his own Hall of Fame credentials.  McNabb spent thirteen seasons as a starting quarterback in the NFL, mostly with a a very good Philadelphia team, he made six pro bowl teams and helped the Eagles reach the playoffs eight times but was never able to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl win, they lost their only appearance during McNabb's tenure 21-24 to New England.  McNabb is inside the top twenty in many quarterback related categories but not dominant in any area and, as previously mentioned, never won a Super Bowl, regardless McNabb himself is quite clear that he belongs in the Hall of Fame, to quote:

"these last two years, when people may look at it and say, 'Oh, he's done, or whatever.' I'm 34, 35 years old, but still, I played at the pinnacle, I played at the highest level of my career. I played there," McNabb told Fox Sports. "And I would vote for myself for the Hall of Fame."  Well if a sense of self worth is all it takes to play in the NFL then maybe Donovan's right about that 90% chance of playing this season.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I hope nobody was surprised

In a result that should have surprised nobody England and Italy played 120+ minutes of football today without scoring a goal in their quarter final match at Euro 2012.

This is not to imply that the game was dull, there were lovely moments throughout but seriously if there had been an over/under line on this match it could have been set at zero and nobody would've bet the over. The Italians, who are as passionate about their football as they are about pasta and red wine have, for the past two decades or so, played the most stifling uncreative defensive football on the planet. This is sad because Italy has always had marvelous talented offensive players but their collective psyche is so fragile that in order to avoid disappointment they play not to lose, a 0-0 draw that goes to penalties being their perfect result whereas English football is so plodding that it's a wonder they ever score.

Earlier in the week, upon finding out the quarter final pairings, we joked at work that without the penalty kicks option the Italy vs. England match would likely require several days to decide, but mercifully kicks were used and the Azzurri will move on to play Germany in the semi-final while England once again goes home early in a major competition.

As a side note England are sort of the international football version of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Once proud teams considered among the legendary franchises in their sport with a fanatic fan base who haven't won anything since the mid '60s, which is sad for both organizations .

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Burger King are my new Heroes

Big news in the food world today, at least news to me, as Burger King is launching its' limited time summer BBQ menu.

The menu features lots of things that I'm sure will not be as good as you want them to be, Memphis Pulled Pork BBQ at a fast food outlet ? ........ I think not. However the boys smokin' the herb in the test kitchen have come up with a menu item that deserves our serious respect, and that would be the Bacon Sundae.

That's right, soft serve ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge, caramel, and bacon bits and then topped with a "thick sliced, hardwood smoked bacon garnish". This bad boy clocks in at a mere 510 calories, with 18 grams of fat and 61 grams of sugar so you can easily handle one a day for breakfast.

I kid you not, starting today in the US of A you can walk into a Burger King and plunk down $2.49, plus applicable taxes, and get an ice cream dessert with bacon .................Yeah Baby. I know it's not going to be as good as I want it to be but still you simply must applaud the effort of a major fast food outlet to increase our bacon consumption, forget the failure of the McLean Burger of the 90s, this is the future and we should rush to embrace it. We need this north of the 49th, if I only knew where there was a Burger King in Vancouver.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pizza on the Grill, First Attempt

So what I really want is a wood burning oven in my back yard, or better yet on my back deck, so that I can make even better pizza than I already do, which is pretty good if I do say so. In addition, of course, I could make wicked bread and roast stuff and cook salmon in about a minute and a half and ............ but I digress.

Barring a lottery win, and since I rarely buy tickets my chances aren't good, I'm not going to get the wood burning oven of my dreams anytime soon so I decided to experiment with pizza on the grill. There's tons of info out there about grilling pizza and lots of zealots who claim it's the only way to make pizza, assuming of course you don't have one of those post lottery win wood burning ovens lying around. The problem is that as with many things regarding food, and the internet, much of the information is contradictory, direct heat, no, indirect heat, straight on the grill, no, on a veggie tray or a pizza stone, lid up, lid down ..........it's enough to make you give up on the whole idea, but I forged ahead because I really would like to make pizza in the summer without over heating the kitchen, assuming it ever gets hot enough for that to be an issue of course .

So last night I made my initial attempt at grilling pizza and while it wasn't a resounding success both daughter and I agreed that it showed enough potential to try again, wife is in Los Angeles at a conference so she made no comment. I made what I think were two mistakes: first I used thawed home made dough which seemed to lack in yeast as it rose very little over the course of the day and resulted in a slightly tough crust but my second mistake was not letting my fire get hot enough before putting the dough on the grill. This is a problem I have often with the grill, I lack patience and start too early which is why wife generally handles the grill, regardless the pie turned out alright with a nicely charred crust and I was able to get the topping hot and the cheese melted, apparently these are problems that frequently occur in grilling pizza.

I had the foresight to have a backup pizza ready that was baked in the non wood burning oven and it was definitely slightly better cooked than the grilled pizza, but the grilled pizza had nice smoky flavour and that great charred crust so I'm going to persevere. Next time I'll use freshly made dough and let the fire get hotter and see where that leads me, I'll probably still do a backup oven pizza though, I mean what's the worst case scenario: Too much pizza ? Not a problem in our house.

I was so focused on the pizza that I forgot to try out a new Pizza Red, settling instead for La Casona de Castano, a reliable consistent Monastrell from Spain which is in steady rotation as our House wine but which really lacks the acidity required for pizza. Anyway I'll keep you posted on Pizza on the Grill and when I finally master it I'll let you know what technique worked for me.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Cheap Pinot Noir, the search continues

As I've noted before in this blog the search for cheap Pinot Noir is a bit of an obsession for many in the wine community.  Like Ahab seeking Moby Dick or Monty Python pursuing the Holy Grail, wine enthusiasts chase after each new whiff or rumour of inexpensive wines that capture the essence of the most mercurial, and therefore most sought after varietal, Pinot Noir.

The problem with Pinot Noir is that not only is it tough to grow, it's also tough to make wine from after you grow it.  Pinot Noir is genetically unstable, the fruit of any season may not even resemble the fruit of the parent vine in size, shape, cluster, flavour or aroma.  To give you an idea of how tough it is to keep track of Pinot Noir consider that Cabernet Sauvignon has twelve identifiable clones, or types if you will, whereas Pinot Noir has forty six recognized in Burgundy alone and as many as 250 to 1,000 different genetic variants worldwide, according to an ongoing study at Cornell University.  So the Pinot Noir you grew last year may not be the same as the one you grow this year, even if the weather was identical, making consistency a bit of a problem.  Even after you grow the Pinot Noir the fermentation process is fraught with risk as the grape's high number of amino acids cause it to ferment violently often speeding the process beyond a winemaker's control, toss in difficult colour retention due to thin skins and a propensity to acetification, souring, and you have to wonder why anyone bothers.

Well they bother because when everything aligns the results are simply sublime, little Jesus sliding down your throat in silk pyjamas, or velvet trousers,  and all that.  Great Pinot Noir is one of the true treasures of the wine world, I'm not sure anything else compares, but finding reasonable representations at the $12-$20 range is much harder than with almost any other red varietal except perhaps Nebbiolo.  Still we try, endlessly we search the shelves in the hopes of an epiphany and occasionally we are rewarded, I've written before about The People's Pinot Noir and Little Yering Pinot Noir and last night I tried another contestant.

Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir is from an old, established in 1875, and massive, over 2 million cases produced annually, Chilean winery.  I haven't spent a lot of time drinking the wines of Santa Carolina, I've occasionally bought their Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon when it goes on sale, although at $12.99 it's already good value but have not tried the Pinot Noir recently, or their highly regarded Syrah which retails at $17.99. 

Anyway I grabbed a bottle of the Reserva Pinot Noir and popped the cork last night to go with a herb crusted pork roast and the results were pretty good.  Let's temper the expectations folks, this is after all $14 Pinot Noir, but the wine was varietally true and enjoyable.  The nose was fragrant with strawberry, rose petal and a hint of tomato and the flavour followed up with more strawberry, a bit of black cherry and a touch of earthy rhubarb/beet, all perfectly normal and correct for the variety.  The weight was a little light however and the high alcohol dominated slightly, the finish was reasonable but after the bottle had been open thirty minutes or so the wine began to assert an overly acidic tone.

Overall I'd give this bottle a moderate recommendation, it's real Pinot Noir and reasonably priced but I'd probably be inclined to spend the extra $3 and buy the People's Pinot Noir, still if you want Pinot Noir under $15 the Santa Carolina is just fine.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

NHL Armageddon ?

Game one of the Stanley Cup final was played last night, I worked and didn't see it but I understand it was a reasonable tilt with the Cinderella Los Angeles Kings winning their ninth straight playoff road game to take a 1-0 lead in the final. More importantly is that after this series ends it might be quite awhile before we see another NHL contest as the very real possibility of another prolonged strike/walkout looms large with the expiry of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement on September 15th.

Make no mistake, despite the healthy upturn in NHL revenues since the disastrous cancellation of the 2004-05 season the owners will be looking for concessions from the players. The simple matter of the fact is that currently the NHL players receive up to 57% of league revenues, creating the situation that has seen the salary cap rise from $39 million in 2005 to a projected $73.8 million this summer, the result is that the current cap floor, the minimum teams may expend in salaries, is now $48 million, or $9 million more than the ceiling was seven years ago.

Since returning the NHL has improved the product on the ice, added numerous major corporate sponsors, signed a much more lucrative American television contract and increased attendance but that's not going to stop the owners from crying poor. In reality despite the increased revenues as many as 18 of the NHL teams lost money in 2010-11 and although revenues are up operating income is down, 21% in 2010-11 according to Forbes Magazine and the reason for that is quite simply that the players make too much. The recent negotiations in the other two major sports with salary caps, the NFL and the NBA, resulted in the players accepting agreements whereby the players get 48-50% of revenues and you can bet that's what the NHL owners will be gunning for.

The two sides have not even begun to discuss the new CBA, despite the fact that it expires in less than four months, and the fact that the players union is now headed by Donald Fehr, who is philosophically opposed to any sort of salary cap having successfully kept one out of baseball during his tenure as the head of the MLBPA, I don't feel too warm and fuzzy about this one. Fehr, and the NHL owners, have to understand that hockey will be unlikely to survive a second work stoppage in less than a decade, the fan base is simply not large enough and the corporations who have signed on will simply walk away and spend their sponsorship dollars elsewhere.

Hopefully the players will realize that a game which has an average player salary of $2.3 million isn't really the same as working in a 7-11 and being squeezed by the man, and the owners will reflect upon the fact that the value of their franchises are at an all time high, and gaining value every year, which isn't the same for all business models in North America currently. Hopefully both sides will sit down and try and figure how to keep the game growing and moving forward.

Personally, I'm not too hopeful. I mean do these two look like they're ready to get along ?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hearts win !!! Hearts win !!!!!!

As mentioned in a previous post, the 2012 Scottish Cup Final was an all Edinburgh affair for the first time in 116 years, the match was played in Glasgow of course.

In a thrilling match Heart of Midlothian dominated and crushed cross town rival Hibernian 5-1 handing Hearts their eighth Scottish Cup victory, and first since 2006, while stretching Hibs string of failures in Cup finals to ten, their last win was in 1902.

The other beneficiaries of the Hearts win were St. Johnstone. As Cup winners Hearts move into next year's Europa League Cup play, which should mean they can make payroll on a more regular basis, but Hearts had already qualified for Europa League play so that opens a spot for The Saints.

Iced Tea and Beer, is this really Necessary ?

A couple of weeks ago I was driving along Broadway and noticed a huge billboard advertising Coors Light Iced T and initially thought it was a prank. But no, it appears that Molson-Coors are, in fact, spending a great deal of money and time launching their new Summer Beverage Concept mixing together two summertime faves, Iced Tea and Beer.

Really ? Really ?? Have we gone so far that we need Iced Tea and Beer mixed together ?

I mean I understand the effort to create a new market segment and try and attract some non beer drinkers into the breweries cash flow. Beer sales overall in North America have declined each of the past three years, and the market has also segmented as people move away from the big breweries and embrace craft brewers .  Sales of Craft Brewing beers are almost 17% of the US market, I couldn't find exact numbers on the Canadian market but in British Columbia the craft brew market share is around 13%, so the combination of less beer being sold and more of that beer coming from smaller breweries means trouble for the big Industrial Breweries.

Here's an idea, rather than mix beer with Iced Tea, or Lime and mint, why not just make better beer ? The main reason why the big breweries are losing market share is that their products just aren't very good and people would rather pay more for real beer, as evidenced by the shift to craft breweries and their products that focus on quality and taste rather than lifestyle. Molson has acknowledged this in the past by purchasing Creemore Springs Brewing and Granville Island Brewery in the past decade but the Coors Light Iced T seems to be a step in the other direction.

I haven't tasted the Coors Light Iced T, and am unlikely to, but I can say for certain that in all my years of drinking I have never once heard anyone say: "Hey, I really wish I could get a low calorie Iced Tea flavoured beer right now". As for the potential success of the brand, maybe it works but does anyone remember Zima ?

As an interesting side note, while doing some research for this post, that's right smarty I did some actual work, I discovered that Smirnoff make a vodka that is flavoured with Fluffed Marshmallow, apparently it goes great with their Whipped Cream flavoured vodka.

Armageddon my friends, Armageddon. The four horsemen are coming, and they're drinking Whipped Cream Fluffed Marshmallow Martinis washed down with Coors Light Iced T.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Middle Eastern Readership is Gone, and a legend passes

Blogger recently added a bunch of stuff that allows me to track where my hits come from, and how many I have. I'm really not interested in this information in a big way as I really just write this blog for my own entertainment and that of the 20 or so people that follow it closely, however it was interesting to see that I had loyal readership in both Iran and the Ukraine.

How or why I have no idea, but I was regularly viewed by someone(s) in each of those countries, until recently that is. In the past month I have lost my followers in both Iran and the Ukraine, now in Iran there are many reasons why reading blogs might not be happening but I'm struggling as to the loss of my Ukrainian readership.

Oh well I can console myself with the big increases from both France, 25 views last month, and Norway, checking in at a solid 18 views. It's also interesting to note that my most popular post of the past twelve months, with 417 page views, was In Praise of Pork Tenderloin, which still lags far behind the almost 1,500 views for this 2007 all time classic. Just goes to show what even the slightest penis reference can do for your readership.

On a more serious note Donna Summer died yesterday, from cancer, at the age of 63. Donna, and Gloria Gaynor, were the true Queens of Disco and Summer's 17 minute version of Love to Love you Baby was probably responsible for many a teenage pregnancy in the 1970s. Anyone who sweated away in a high school, or elementary school gym, or pimped it up in a disco in the '70s or '80s spent some time shaking it to Donna's hits. 

Summer's passing will not likely bring out the wash of emotions that Whitney Houston's death did because Summer was no longer in the headlines, and lived a life without the same sort of drama that Houston attracted, but a generation will mourn her loss .