Monday, September 26, 2011

Riesling Hour Tasting

Oolong and the wines awaiting my guests

A few months back, an announcement went out on twitter about a promotion called Riesling Hour: "Join us on Thursday evening, September 22 during the height of harvest for our next Riesling Hour, the world's largest virtual Riesling tasting, as we celebrate the arrival of the 2010 Finger Lakes Rieslings. This time we are extending the party (to three hours) and adding a bunch more venues around the country. Get more details on the participating wineries, restaurants and wine shops at Cheers to Finger Lakes Rieslings!"
As part of the promotion, they selected bloggers and tweeters around the country to receive a shipment of Finger Lakes Rieslings so we could taste along. I signed up right away because, having heard so much about Finger Lakes wines, I had not had the opportunity to try very many at all as they are not very available in the Bay Area. I then forgot all about the event. So much so that I did not change the mailing address for the package and had to make a trip back to my old office to pick up my shipment. 

Wines finally on hand, I invited a few friends over to share the the wines and their opinions. For those concerned about such things, our tasting panel was 2 men and three women, none very familiar with Finger Lakes wines. We had six wines to taste, ranging from dry to medium sweet.  All of the wines were from the 2010 vintage which had been the warmest growing season in forty years and was also the wettest since 1973.

First up was the Anthony Road 2010 Dry Riesling, $15.00 on their website. I thought that this wine suffered a bit from being a bit cold when first opened. It seemed very light and in the words of one of the tasters "innocuous." But after a little bit of time and air, the apple and citrus notes grew more pronounced and innocuous changed to "Can I take this home to try again later?" One of the favorites of the night for everyone and the favorite for one.

Next up was the Fox Run Vineyards 2010 Dry Riesling,  $15.99 on their website. Two out of the five tasters picked up some petrol notes, though the others did not agree. This wine was richer, with stronger mineral notes. The favorite of the night for 2 out of five tasters.

Third in our lineup was the Ravines Wine Cellars 2010 Dry Riesling, their website lists the 2008 vintage at $16.95. The two men in the group both liked this one a lot, saying that they tasted more "minerally." The women picked up more tropical notes. I thought it needed to open up a bit, but showed promise. The favorite of the night for one taster.

Fourth was the Dr. Frank's Semi Dry Riesling 2010, $14.99 on their website. One taster felt that the best descriptor for this wine was "white melon." Although not everyone agreed with that, all agreed on fruitier and rounder. 

Fifth up was the Wagner Vineyards Semi Dry 2010 The 2008 on their website is $12.99. This was the least favorite bottle of the night. Because I have not tasted it before, I can not be certain there was a problem with the bottle, but given the reviews I looked up online, that is probably be the case. Almost all of the tasters agreed that the nose was very off-putting and that they were only willing to taste it because they thought they should give it a try. Swirling and eventually decanting did nothing to help. It was the only bottle that someone did not take home at the end of the night.

The final wine was the 2010 Red New "Circle" Riesling $12.95 on their website. Stepping up again in sweetness, this was a hit with almost everyone. "Easy to drink," was the most common refrain. Four out of 5 tasters would buy this wine if available locally. Lots of ripe fruit. The favorite of the night for one taster.

Hard to reach conclusions after tasting six very young wines. As you can see above, the favorites were not all the same. I was pleased by most of what I tasted, particularly the dryer wines, especially given the price of some of the wines. Would I rather drink these bottles than my favorites from the Mosel? No. But, I don't drink those every night. I was impressed enough to want to taste more and will seek some out on my next East Coast trip. As for my guests, I think all of them would be pleased to see more of these wines available locally. None of them drink as much Riesling as I do, but felt that these wines were ones they would buy and drink again.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cooking from the Books with K: Anne of Green Gables

"But it isn't good manners to tell your company what you are going to give them to eat, so I won't tell you what she said we could have to drink. Only it begins with an R and a C and it's bright red color. I love bright red drinks, don't you? They taste twice as good as any other color."

K: "I like imagination a lot. She even had an imaginary friend named Katie.
Also that she has red hair like I do." 

How is it possible that I did not know that an Anne of Green Gables Cookbook existed? It was a book or really, series, that I read countless times. Anne's stories of Avonlea, along with her imagination, are not to be forgotten and remind me more than a little of K's imaginary worlds. But thanks to a few tweets from and @poeticappetite, I am rereading the books for the first time as an adult. It is one of my favorite things about twitter, shared interests coming together in creative ways. In fact, after a few tweets, it was decided that: 

"@tea_austen Some of us are getting together an Anne of Green Gables read-along, for anyone interested. Read next week, virtual potluck after
After a bit of research, I discovered that this is far from the only cookbook from the books of my childhood. There is a Secret Garden cookbook, one from Mary Poppins, Encyclopedia Brown, Green Eggs and Ham and the Little House book, among many others. K and I decided that we would choose a new book and recipe each week.
From Anne, it seemed that cordial was the clear way to start. Especially on a hot day when I had been been slow roasting tomatoes for four hours. Indeed, when I first told K about the cookbook, her first comment was about "the drink that made Diana drunk." After a frustrating few days trying to track down a hard copy of the book, I discovered the recipe online.  Having promised K a non-alcoholic version, we were off. We changed the recipe a bit because we are still in the backyard blackberry season. So rather than straight raspberries as in the book, we added blackberries for a slightly more dramatic color. For adults, I think that a bit of my blackberry-infused bourbon might be a fine addition. K will be pairing it with yesterday's custard. I'll be having it with an egg salad sandwich, inspired by Anne's Poetical Egg Salad.  

  • 2 cups  raspberries 
  • 2 cups blackberries 
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 3 lemons


  1. Put the berries into a saucepan and add sugar.
  2. Cook on medium, stirring occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Using a potato masher, mash the raspberries and syrup thoroughly.
  4. Pour the mixture through a strainer, extract all the juice.
  5. Squeeze two of the lemons and strain the juice, add it to the raspberry juice.
  6. Add the boiling water to the raspberry juice.
  7. Allow the cordial to cool, then chill it in the refrigerator.
  8. Serve cordial with a thin slice of lemon in each glass.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cooking with K: Baked Custard

The very serious grating of the nutmeg.

It is probably not surprising that K has a list of recipes that she wants to try. She spent most of kindergarten carrying around a copy of Charlie Trotter's Desserts.  Her backpack resembled more the overly full ones of middle schoolers rather than the empty but for a lunch and folder ones of the five-year-olds. She later moved on to carrying  a very battered copy of  Cookie Swap, a Whoopie Pie book, and several different David Lebovitz books, among others. One of her favorite games was to sit in bed, read a recipe, and then pretend to make it, imaginary stirring and all. 

It turns out that the recipes on her list include: jello (not the homemade with raspberries kind I made), lemon meringue pie, Neapolitan ice cream and "that custard Grammy used to make when you were sick." K likes to hear "stories of my childhood" and often asks for ones with food. She has heard many times that my mother used to make me baked custard when I was sick.This was always an event because my mother did not believe in sick days unless you were really ill. No minor stomach aches or not enough sleep, only a full on flu or fever would do. There were several years I had no sick days. Probably because of this rarity, the custard is still the first thing I think of when someone uses the phrase comfort food.

We were also very much a no-sugar-allowed household, which made the custard even more special All bread, except for bagels, was wheat. Kool-aid and soda were forbidden, and some days, the morning bowl of cereal included the dreaded wheat germ. How I longed for the Oreos and sugared cereals found at our neighbor Sean's house. There is a story that I like to tell to make K laugh. At age six I was at a gathering of the Lithuanian side of my mother's family. These gatherings were great treats for us, because there was always powdered sugar covered fried cookies (Which I'd love the  name of and a recipe for) and other sweets. One of my great-aunts asked if I would like a soda and a brownie. I said yes, turned to my older brother and reportedly asked: "What's a brownie?" 

Feeling in need of a bit of comfort this weekend myself, I suggested K write to her Grammy to ask for her custard recipe. This morning, she got an email reply so today, "Grammy's" custard. Her emailed recipe is below:

Katie, the recipe is from the Fannie Farmer cookbook:  

2 egg yolks, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 3 cups very hot milk, 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. nutmeg (I like lots)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees--butter a 1 quart baking dish (or 8 ramekins).  Set a shallow pan large enough to hold the container or ramekins in the oven and fill it with 1 or1 1/2 inches of hot water.  Beat egg yolks and eggs together just enough to blend.  Stir in the sugar and salt and slowly add the hot milk, stirring constantly.  Add the vanilla.  Strain into the baking dish or dishes and sprinkle with some nutmeg.  Put in the pan and bake for about 45 minutes; the custard is set when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Can add 1/4 cup flaked coconut to the custard mixture before putting it into the baking dish--or, dishes.  

Love and kisses, Grammy


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Speaking of Jam. . .

Feel like being judged by me? And, well, several better known others? Thanks to the fine folks at Punk Domestics and the Oakland Eat Real Festival, I'll be helping to judge their upcoming jam competition. There is still time to enter and I'll include a link to details below, including the very impressive lists of judges for all of the categories. I wonder: could we have the leftover pickles and infusions to help with the expected sugar high? Though this tweet makes me wonder:
BlueBottleSweet: @amybcleary @punkdomestics I was a jam judge last year. Many gross, a few lovelies and, a clear winner. Prepare for lots of jalapeño jam.

For the full list of rules and submission guidelines, please visit

Here's the event press release:

Eat Real Fest and Punk Domestics present 2011 DIY Contests
Two new categories announced 
Eat Real Fest, the urban street food festival, and Punk Domestics, the premier content and community site for DIY foodies, have joined forces to present this year's DIY food contests. Bay Area amateur preservationists and homesteaders may submit their handmade foods in five categories, including two new categories introduced this year.
As with years past, contestants may submit their homemade preserves, pickles and home brews. New this year is the opportunity to submit honey from their own hives, as well as a new infusions and liqueurs category.
Submissions will be tasted and judged by panels of esteemed local professionals, media figures and bloggers, all experts in their respective fields. Contest submissions may be dropped off at the eat real offices on September 21-23, and judging will occur September 24, with the winner announced at 6:30 pm that evening. The list of panel judges includes:
Bryan Hermannsson, Co-Founder/Mad Brewer, Pacific Brewing Laboratory
Johnny Van Houten, Brewer, Van Houten Brewery
Patrick Horn, Pacific Brewing Laboratories
Regan Long, Founder/Brewer, Local Brewing Co.
Richard Brewer-Hay, Brewer, Elizabeth Street Brewery
Tiila Abbitt and David Buckingham, FemALEist
Amy Sherman, Blogger, Cooking with Amy
Bryon Waibel, Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper
Donna Suh Wageman, Owner, Pot + Pantry
Nicole Kramer Easterday, Founder, FARMcurious
Rachel Hoff, Owner/Blogger, Dog Island Farm
Stephanie Rosenbaum, Author, "Honey from Farm to Table"
Infusions and liqueurs: 
Anita Crotty, Writer/Photographer, Married ...with Dinner
Chaz French, Chef, Baker, Writer
Jesse Hirsch, Food writer, Bay Citizen
John Wight, Wine Steward/Sommelier, InterContinental San Francisco
Michael Cecconi, Instructor of Mixology at The Institute of Culinary Education, NYC
Michael Procopio, Author, Food for The Thoughtless
John Birdsall, Writer
David Hawk, Publicity Manager, Food & Drink, Chronicle Books
Emily Olson, Co-founder, Foodzie
Jonathan Kauffman, Restaurant Critic, SF Weekly
Lisa Kramer, last year's winner
Karen Solomon, Author, "Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It" and "Can it, Bottle It, Smoke It"
Vanessa Barrington, Author, "DIY Delicious," Co-Author, "Heirloom Beans"
W Blake Grey, Food Editor, SF Weekly
Amy Cleary, Blogger,
Anita Chu, Author and Blogger, Dessert First
Dianne Jacob, Author, "Will Write for Food"
Heidi Kooy, Blogger and Urban Farmer, Itty Bitty Farm in the City
Irvin Lin, Blogger, Eat the Love
June Taylor, Owner, June Taylor Company
Paige Bayer, Founder, SV Local Market (
Shae Irving, Prizewinning Jam Maker and Blogger, Hitchhiking to Heaven
Tabitha Stroup, Chef and Founder, Friend in Cheeses Jam Co.

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Excess of Jam

Things that happen when I spend a bit too much time at home. . .

Top 4 shelves, all jam.

Not the canning itself, but the time to really look at what I have on hand. As I sorted through my bookshelf of jars this weekend in advance of a planned tomato sauce day, I was left with two conclusions:
1 I need to make more pickles. Although I had thought it virtually impossible, I am out of both pickled green beans and carrots, my go-to cocktail party items. On the other hand, I have pickled mango, rhubarb, plums and many other random jars.

2 I have too much jam. Now that K has been weaned off of her daily nut butter with jam sandwich and has decided that she prefers honey on her yogurt, I have more jars than even an upcoming holiday gift bonanza can take care of. Though, not to worry, I will still be sending jam. But I have multiple jars of apricot, peach, blueberry, strawberry and plum jam along with a few others. That does not even include the assorted fruit butters and chutneys.

So, given my limited budget these days, it seems a fine time to make use of some of these jars. I have plenty of recipes for all sorts of baking projects but am wondering if any of my readers have suggestions for savory uses? Marinade, glazes, secret chili additions, cocktails, whatever you have found that works for you. I'll choose a favorite, try it out and send you a jar of jam as a thank you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chocolate Covered Blackberries

Yes, that is chocolate near her eye.
If you follow me on twitter, you have heard about our backyard blackberries. For much of August and September, I frequently bemoan the fact that I am currently lacking a tall friend who wants to visit and help me pick. I look like I have been mauled, due to the fact that the berries just slightly out of reach always look oh so perfect. As much as I love the berries and I do love them enough to have had a minor meltdown when the new upstairs neighbors trimmed a bit last year, we have more than we can use. This year we have already made cobblers and buckles, "pink" lemonade and multiple batches of yogurt muffins, plus have many in the freezer that will end up in a jam.  I've also eaten, well, enough to wonder if my fingers will ever return to their original color. But I am always looking for new uses.

A few weeks back, I finally let K have her own email account. The first rule, and yes, there are several, is that she only email people she knows and that I can read everything.  To my delight, one of her first emails read: "We have too many blackberrys and need to use them up. Do you have any ideas?" Even better was the reply that came a few days later from Odessa Piper. K, it turns out, knows the right people.

The reply read: "I hope this idea for blackberries will still be useful for your next batch of blackberries.
I like to pop my extra
blackberries right into the freezer. Put them on a tray and when they are solid frozen, take them and store them is a strong plastic freezer bag.
Then they are simply waiting there for me in the freezer when I come up with an idea for blackberry muffins or to make a very special chocolate.
Have you ever had a chocolate covered cherry? You can make something sort of like that by dipping the blackberry in chocolate when it is still frozen.  The chocolate firms up quickly because chocolate hardens when it comes in contact with cold.

First you dip the frozen blackberry in chocolate ganache. Ganache is like a firm chocolate mousse( you can ask your Mom for help on this) . So you dip the frozen  blackberry in the ganache and put it back in the cooler to get firm. Then you dip that in melted chocolate. Because the ganache is cold, the melted chocolate will cling to it quickly.  Keep these chocolates in the cooler until you eat them. They are very good!"

I immediately was obsessed with the idea. Blackberries! Chocolate! Sounds easy! I followed up to ask if I could blog about the project and was told that: 
"You can indeed, but with proviso that this breaks every rule of chocolate handling- but it does achieve capturing a bursting ripe berry at its peak. Freezing it allows one to handle it intact and 'entomb ' it's goodness in chocolate. I actually came up with the idea when I wanted to serve a fancy mid winter meal using only three ingredients from afar (the other two being salt and pepper.)"

Practicing her knife skills. Note my Life in Hell t-shirt. Purchased with funds from my high school bookstore job.
How then could we resist? So this morning, it was time to try it out.  
First off, we made a very simple ganache: We boiled 1/2 cup of cream and poured it over 6 oz of chopped Scharffenberger unsweetened dark chocolate (what I had in the cupboard) and whisked. We then added 1/4 cup powdered sugar and continued whisking till combined.
Then came the fun part as we dipped frozen blackberries into the ganache and rolled them around to coat before putting on a baking sheet. The sheet then went into the freezer for 20 minutes or so to harden.

Dipping the ganached berries into the chocolate

After the ganache hardened, we melted 4 oz of chocolate, a combination of Valrhona Jivara and Lindt 70% (again, what we had on hand) in the microwave. Allowing it to very slight cool given the impatience of my assistant, we dipped each berry in and once again returned them to the freezer to set.

The end result made K and I very happy.