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Archive for August, 2007

Ever since I bought a pasta maker as an impulse buy it has gathered its fair share of dust like most impulse buys do. But this summer, I dusted that puppy off and made, count ‘em, not one but TWO batches of fresh pasta. To go with my lovely fresh strands, I make somewhat of a formulaic hodge podge sauce. I do more or less the same thing every time, but each time I make this dish it comes out different. This time I used a cheap Spanish red I bought from Trader Joe’s and the results were lip smacking. We even lamented not having any bread to sop up the residual sauce from the plate. Here’s the recipe. As you read it will become very obvious why it turns out different every time, but I’ve used this a lot and it never comes out bad. Ahhh the simplicity of Italian food. :) Cheers!

Whatever You Got Pasta Sauce
Ground beef or pork or any old beef/pork based sausage cut up (half a pound, a pound, whatever you got, combine if you don’t have enough of one)
2 medium or 1 large onion chopped ( can be yellow, red, white, green…you get the idea)3 tomatoes chopped
1 jar of any pasta sauce (I go with what is on sale or just combine the opened jars I have in the fridge)
Sliced Mushrooms (optional- whatever floats your boat!)
Lots of minced garlic
Fresh chopped Basil or Pesto (I keep frozen pesto in the freezer. If you aren’t a food nerd like me, don’t sweat it if you don’t have it.)
1 cup of red wine
a dash of cumin (enhances the flavor of the meat)
a dash of cinnamon (Cinnamon adds a unique sweetness, if you find all the tomato and wine is making the sauce tart and acidic, this will mellow it out. So add more or less as you need)
salt to taste (Or if you have any on hand you can add salt by using beef bullion cubes or any salty clear soup..onion, beef, chicken, vegetable)

1. Over medium heat saute garlic in some olive oil or any fat (butter, oil, bacon grease, lard… I could go on, but I won’t because its getting old) until mildly translucent
2. Add onions and mushrooms. Add a generous pinch of salt to get the veggies to sweat and release their juices. Saute until mushrooms are floppy and onions are mildly translucent
3. Add meat. Cook till lightly brown.
4. Add tomatoes. Cook until a little squishy
5. Add jar of pasta sauce. Let everything simmer until it thickens a bit.
6. Add wine, a cup or more to taste
7. Add basil or pesto
8. add salt to taste
9. Add cinnamon and cumin to taste (lick the spoon, add some spice, lick the spoon, add some spice….I like the lick the spoon part of cooking)

Abrazo Del Toro Tempranillo (Spain, $5/bottle)- Not Bad :)

Hot Damn! Trader Joe’s has done it again and introduced me to another good cheapo wine. At $5 a bottle, Abrazo del Toro Tempranillo may be a damn good, but I refuse to be swayed by my thriftiness. It’s got a fruity, bold berry nose with a taste to match. There is a good amount of complexity, with a lingering subtle spiciness to it. There is a little bit of dryness as well. Like any easy comfort food, this bottle is good, cheap, and accessible. ;)
Sniff- fruit, berries, spice, mineral
Sip-fruit, cherries, spicy, mildly dry
Eat- red pasta dishes, anything with red meat, bbq, steak, roasts, dark chocolate

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These are the middle of the road wineries that are worth while to hit, but wouldn’t be a great travesty to miss.

Lemon Creek Winery

Doubling as a pick-your-own fruit farm, this is a bustling little winery just across the street from Domaine Berrien. It’s got a rather sparse tasting bar, and the servers get you moving so you can mosey on to their fruit stall.

ORGASMIC :o : Moon Shadow Cabernet Franc Ice Wine ($45)- With the same subtle raisin and nuttiness as a good Madeira, I was pleasantly surprised by this unique ice wine. Touted to be the only Cabernet Franc ice wine in the United States, this little gem is for those who like sweet fortified wines and their port on the tawny side.

NOT BAD :) : Silver Beach Sauternes ($9)- Although watery and thin for a Sauternes, this bottle is definitely worth the price. It drinks like a nice fruity Riesling. Clean, citrus, and refreshing, this would go perfect with seafood or any lighter fare.

KarmaVista

Among the wineries on the northern end of the trail, this small vineyard definitely has a vibe of serenity and calm. The tasting room is a cozy area with tons of trinkets and wine whatsits to buy.

NOT BAD :) : Ryno Red ($8.50)- Fruity and dry, this is a good basic table red. One of the better reds of the bunch I would say. Would go well with pasta or any meaty dish.

Warner Vineyards

The tasting room for this particular winery is full of character, featuring a random train car in front and a restaurant attached. The tasting room itself is a nice open space where you can sip and peruse. The wines here are decent, but do not back the pomp of being one of the oldest wineries in Michigan.

NOT BAD :) : Grapes of Love ($10)- This is a good fruity white with nice complexity and is on the sweeter side. Understandably their best selling wine, this is an all around good buy. Would go well with a chocolate or a fruity dessert.

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Scotch Tasting 3

distillery_shot1.jpg 

This is the third installment on my three-part series on Scotch tasting, as I research and prepare for my upcoming trip to Scotland. In the first piece, I looked into how Scotch is made, and how one should go about tasting it. In the second installment, I examine how whisky – and Scotch in particular – is made. In the third installment, I will detail my itinerary and planned stops at distilleries along the way.

As my trip draws closer, I grow all the more anxious: there are over a hundred distilleries in Scotland – which ones should I pick to visit? I guess, my task is made easier in that I have to follow the itinerary I have mapped out. This trip, we would have to stick to the distilleries in the Midlands north of Edinburgh, Speyside, and the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately, we’d have to bypass distilleries in the remote Orkney Islands, as well as my favorite distillery in the Isle of Islay, Laphroaig. I’ve tasted probably different 20 Scotches in my life, so while a good number of my favorites hail from those places, I figure I should be a lot more open to other labels.

Still, it’s taken me a while to narrow down the distilleries we might visit on the trip. I’ll be traveling with a friend who has never tasted Scotch before, so I can’t possibly drag her around to half a dozen distilleries. Moreover, we have quite a limited time in Scotland, and we intend to use the bulk of it touring castles and hiking, so drinking, this time at least, shall have to take a backseat.

After much poking around the Internet, I have thus finally decided on the following five distilleries. I figure we could decide which three to go to once we get on the road.

Glenturret Distillery
Founded in 1717, Glenturret is Scotland’s oldest distillery, and also one of the smallest.

Description from Scotland.com:

This distillery has been around through tumultuous times over the centuries. Glenturret has had a long and colorful history beginning with illicit stills and smugglers. It was successful right from the start till the depression of the late 1830. Many distilleries were forced to shut down at that time. In fact it was the sole survivor among the many small distilleries on either banks of the burn. The situation gradually improved for the Scotch whiskey business.

In 1870, Mr. Thomas Stewart the owner expanded the plant warehouses and machinery to cope with the increased demand for Scotch whiskey. It flourished in the worldwide boom in Scottish whiskey but was almost wiped out in 1920, during the US prohibition days and after. In fact the distillery closed down in 1921, leading to it falling into disrepair. It remained in this dilapidated condition till in1957.

The Glenturret distillery was purchased by James Fairlie in1957. He began its refurbishing and revival. By June 1960, the plant was producing whiskey once again. It was mainly used to supply blenders. It continued to make whiskey in the traditional way using the same methods and equipment and the cool, clear waters of the Turret Burn.

In 1981 Cointreau ET Cie who had been one of Glenturret’s faithful customers bought the distillery. They pumped in fresh investment and expanded the distillery to a great extent. The distillery was bought by Highland Distillers in 1990. Even today Glenturret whiskey is made using the Pot Still process with age old copper pots. The whiskey is matured in their traditional warehouses.

Glenturret is the most visited distillery in Scotland and its Famous Grouse experience describes its history, takes visitors on a tour and ends with a whiskey tasting session. The distillery produces an award winning single malt, Glenturret Single Highland Malt Scotch Whiskey, renowned for its glorious bouquet and natural golden hue. Besides this bottling of the single malt in the pure form, Glenturret whiskey is used in the blending of Famous Grouse. They have a new range of blended malts, available in various ages from 10 to 30 years. Personalized bottles and labels to mark l special occasions are also available.

Edradour Distillery
From Scotlandwhisky.com:

If you have been to the Edradour distillery it is easy to understand why it is so popular with visitors. Being the smallest and most picturesque distillery in Scotland it’s a must for visitors on the whisky trail, however it also offers a lot more.

It’s a charming and undisturbed niche of Scotland where the people are genuinely warm and hospitable, the landscape glorious and the lifestyle untouched by the perils of the twentieth century.

Situated in the heart of Tayside by the beautiful township of Pitlochry and surrounded by the wilds of the Grampians, Edradour is a wonderful diversion for hill walkers. If you’re en-route to Aviemore or Inverness it’s certainly worth dropping in.

I first tried Edradour at a Scotch tasting hosted by Sam’s Wine. My notes of the Edradour, S. Highland 10 Yr (86 proof) $53 bottle: thick, creamy, and sweet – due to the sherry barrel; interesting spice; made from water from spring flowing into peat; reminded me somewhat of Dettol, hospital, but a comforting scent; I like!

Macallan Distillery
Known as the “Rolls-Royce of single malts” – how can we not visit?

From Whisky-distilleries.com:

Situated near the village of Craigellachie, the Macallan distillery got its first distillation licence in 1824 thanks to Alexander Reid.

When he died in 1847, his namesake son managed the distillery until his own death in 1858. Then the distillery was controlled by James Shearer Priest and James Davidson until it was acquired by James Stuart (from the Glen Spey distillery). James Stuart rebuild the distillery.
In 1892, this old farm distillery become the property of Roderick Kemp.

From 1968, The Macallan is quoted on the stock exchange list and shares were purchased by great international groups as Suntory or Rémy-Cointreau, but also by the workers and the inhabitants of the village. That’s why the whisky from the distillery was nicknamed “Malt of the People”. The distillery remained in the Kemp family until 1996, when Highland Distilling Ltd bought the shares of Rémy-Cointreau, and later those from private individuals.
In 10 years time (between 1965 and 1975), The number of stills of the distillery grown from 6 to 21.

Maturation happens in sherry casks for 100% of the production, among which 75% sherry Oloroso casks. Macallan uses a traditional barley type, called Golden Promise.
The Highland Distillers group has been acquired by Edrington Group in November 1999 for £ 601m.

The whole production matured in sherry Oloroso casks is sold as single malt, the remaining being sold to blenders, among which Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, J&B, Chivas Regal, Lang’s Supreme, Ballantine’s or Long John.

Glen Ord Northern Highlands Distillery
From Whisky-distilleries.com:

From the dozen distilleries which used to operate in the area of Black Isle on the East coast of Northern Highlands, Glen Ord is the only survivor. The Glen Ord distillery has been founded in 1838.

First owner were Robert Johnstone and Donald McLennan. The company which owned the distillery, “Ord Distillers Co” changed several times from owner until James Watson & Co purchased it in 1896. Watson was a blender from Dundee and he owned Pulteney and Parkmore.
Watson refurbished and enlarged the distillery by adding new stills and considerably enhancing the malting floors.

The distillery closed during World War I and was bankrupt in 1923, before John Dewar who recently entered the D.C.L. group belonging to SMD, acquired it.

World War II was synonym of a second closing period, because of a general lack of barley.

Important refurbishment works have been done in 1960 and the malting floors were replaced by a “saladin-box” in 1961, with the modernisation of the distillery.

A new malting was build in 1968 to supply the 7 other distilleries of the group, amongst others Talisker on Isle of Skye.

A new modernisation of the malting took place in 1996.

The whisky marketed by the distillery has had several different names during the last years: Glen Oran, Glen Ordie and Glen Ord.

About 10% of the production is marketed as single malt, the remaining being used in the blends Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s.

I also tried Glen Ord at the Sam’s Wine’s Scotch tasting. My notes of the 1998 Glen Ord N. Highland 8 Yr (86 proof) $65 bottle: “leafy, grassy”; leathery and nutty; whiff of barley at the end; aged in bourbon barrel; I like!

Talisker Distillery
Established in 1831, Talisker is set in Isle of Skye, on the exposed west coast of the island. In 1900, the distillery had expanded to the point where it had its own pier, tramway, cottages, and currency, denominated in days worked. Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye.

Good sources:
1. http://www.scotlandwhisky.com
2. http://scotchwhisky.net
3. http://www.dcs.ed.ac.uk/home/jhb/whisky/

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As the other Asian who did not venture on the Memorial Day Michigan wine trip, I felt obligated to go on my own outing and explore the wine region closest to the Windy City, the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. The trip was a great break from the city. We managed to fit in all the wineries. So there is A LOT to review, hence the “Part I.”

We stayed at Benton Harbor (features much cheaper lodgings) and drove the 5 minutes into St. Joseph’s and toured the local wineries. We used the handy dandy wine trail map provided by the wineries

wine_trail_map.pdf
There was a lot to do and see, especially since this was a first visit for all of us. So I want to keep this short and informational. We went to almost all of the wineries in the region, and almost all of the tourist attractions in there area. First the WINE…Some general comments:

  1. Stick to the whites, the reds fall a little flat and can be a little too tannin. Rieslings abound, many of them are styled more in the California or French style, meaning less fruity, more mineral
  2. Do leave room to try the fruit wines and dessert wines if you have a sweet tooth
  3. ALL of the tastings were FREE

THE WINERIES IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE

Best: Round Barn, Domaine Berrien, Tabor Hill

Eh, So-So: Karma Vista, Lemon Creek, Warner

Pass: St. Julian, Contessa, Free Run, Hickory Creek

Round Barn Winery

By far the best experience we had. The winery is nestled in a scenic spot. The tastings are generous and we felt it a rare treat to find a place that makes wine, beer, and vodka.

Tasting: $8= 5 wines, 1 dessert, 1 vodka, 3 beers + Free Glass + Free Tastings at Free Run Cellars

ORGASMIC :o : DiVine Vodka ($34.99)- A unique grape vodka, this stuff is smooth, so very smooth, makes-babies-bottoms seem-like-sandpaper smooth
DAMN GOODS ;) : Gerwurstraminer ($15.99)-floral, honey, spice, complex
NOT BADS :) : Artesia Spumante ($14.99)- fruity, refreshing, sparkling…you could get worse with the price, but you could get better
Golden Ale-
refreshing light, hoppy
GHETTO HOOCH :( : Pale Ale, Amber Ale, most of the dry reds

Domaine Berrien Cellars

Although this has less of the fun and flair of vineyards like Round Barn, St. Julian, or Warner, the wines here are surprisingly good and very drinkable. There is a nice outdoor deck where you can enjoy your wine and they will fix you a nice picnic basket of local treats from their fridge case so you can have a little snack. Try the local buffalo and venison sausage. Laid back and unassuming, the standout thing about this place is its wine.
ORGASMIC :o : Cabernet Franc Ice Wine ($50.00)- A cool half a benji this ice wine is unique and flavorful. If you like madeira and sherry, you might find yourself forking over the cash for this tasty liquid. With hints of toasted almonds, walnut, caramel, and raisins, its a complex rich drink. I did not regret giving up my 5 bucks for a taste, but unfortunately felt that I could get a better madiera like experience with a true $50 madiera. Still it is neat to see such a rare type of ice wine.
DAMN GOODS ;) : Vignoles 2006 ($10.50)- A nice summer white, it has hints of pineapple, apple, and citrus. Its a great clean and fruity pour and well worth the price tag.
Marsanne 2006 ($14.50)- I preferred the Vignoles, but this is less sweet and has a lot of great complexity. Hints of spice and honey, this has good body and is very light and drinkable.
NOT BADS :) : Crown of Cabernet 2004($23)- has good body, fruit, hint of oak. Not sure if its worth the $ Viognier 2006 ($18.50)- viogniers are so great in general, complex, flowery, fruity, this one is okay, but again you can get better for the money
GHETTO HOOCH :( : Grandma’s Red

Tabor Hill

Probably one of the most successful wineries on the trail, Tabor Hill is definitely has the feel of a larger more professional winery. The restaurant features fine American dining. There are several tasting rooms in the area so where ever you go it is worth a stop to sample. 8 Free Tastings offered.

DAMN GOODS ;) : Angelo Spinazze’s Spumante ($13.45)- Good complexity, sweet, bubbly, fruity, and floral. Worth the price, especially if you are a fan of sweeter spumante or asti
Classic Demi-Sec ($8.45)- One of their most populat with good reason. A very good basic fruity wine, refreshing and crisp.

NOT BADS :) : Blanc de Blanc ($13.45)- Not as sweet or complex as the Spumante, but definitely in the same vein of style. It is more of a mellow, fruity sparkling white. Some may prefer it over the Spumante if they lean more towards salt than sweet.

TO BE CONTINUED!!!

 

 

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distillery_shot.jpg

This is the second installment on my three-part series on Scotch tasting, as I research and prepare for my upcoming trip to Scotland. In the first piece, I looked into how Scotch is made, and how one should go about tasting it. In this second installment, I will examine how whiskey – and Scotch in particular – is made. In the third installment, I will detail my itinerary and planned stops at distilleries along the way.

In general, whisky distilled from fermented grain mash (some varieties include: barley, rye, wheat, and maize) and aged in wooden (usually oak) casks. The word whisky is derived from the Gaelic word, water, so you could reasonably trace its origins to Scotland/Ireland, though its actual point of origins is actually unknown. Some scholars contend that distilled spirits were first concocted in the 8th century AD in the Middle East, and brought over to the UK by Christian monks. Still others believe that St. Patrick introduced the drink to the UK in the 5th century AD. I won’t delve too much into the history of the drink here, but I believe that Tom Standage’s excellent book, History of World in Six Glasses, will provide more insight.

[Here, I want to deviate a little to point something out. You may have noticed that in my earlier post, I referred to whisky as “whiskey”. Technically, neither usage is wrong, but one generally uses whisky to describe Scotch whisky, and whiskey to describe Irish whiskey. I guess here in the U.S., either variation would work, so don't mind me if I jump from one word to the next.]

How to make whisky

Ingredients: The three basic ingredients are water, yeast, and grain.

The distillation process has roughly six stages:

Stage 1 – Preparing the grain

All grains are ground into meal. The meal is then mixed with water and cooked at boiling point to break down the cellulose walls that contain starch granules.

Stage 2 – Mashing

Mix the cooked grain with malted barley and warm water. To malt barley, soak it in water and keep it damp until it begins to sprout (after about a three-week period). At which time, the enzyme amylase is produced, and serves to convert the starch in the barley into sugars. After which, dry the barley with hot air from a kiln and then ground into meal (in Scotch, the fuel used in the kiln includes peat, which gives it its distinctive smoky flavor). Over the next several hours, the amylase from the malted barley will convert the starch in the other grains into sugars (only barley is used in scotch) as well, forming a sugary liquid known as mash/wort.

Stage 3 – Fermenting

Transfer the wort to a fermentation barrel – either stainless steel or wood. With the addition of yeast, fermentation begins; a process whereby the sugars in the mash/wort are converted into alcohol. After three of four days, the liquid in the barrel, known as wash, should contain about 10% alcohol.

Stage 4 – Distilling

Heat the wash to the boiling point of alcohol (78 degrees Celsius) to vaporize the alcohol and run the vapor through a water-cooled condenser. By running the distillation process twice, the new liquid should contain about 70% alcohol. Note that you don’t want to get too high an alcoholic content, as that would ruin the taste of the whisky.

Stage 5 – Aging

Add water to the mixture to bring the alcoholic content down to 50%-60% for the American whiskeys, and around 65% for the Scotches. Age the American whiskeys in warm, dry conditions so excess water will evaporate. Conversely, age the Scotch in cooler, wetter conditions so it absorbs more water. Age the whiskeys in wooden barrels – usually charred white oak, a preferred wood since it allows the water in the whiskey to absorb the flavors of the wood.

Stage 6 – Blending

Not all whiskeys are blended; for example, single malt Scotches are produced from single batches and bottled straight from the barrel. Mix different batches of whiskeys together; selectively add neutral grain spirits, caramel, and a small amount of sherry/port to add to the flavors.

There you go. The basic steps of whisky making. But how then, do you differentiate the different kinds of whiskeys? I guess, to put it simply, Scotches must be distilled (generally, they undergo distillation twice) in Scotland, and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Irish whiskeys are generally distilled three times and they must be aged in wooden casks for a period of at least three years. Whiskeys from Kentucky, are known as bourbon if they have been aged in oak casks for at least two years, and are made up of between 51% and 79% of corn. Rye whiskies must consist of at least 51% rye. Most U.S. whiskeys also differ from the UK ones in that they have to be aged in new casks.

Source: Whisky.com

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Scotch Tasting 1

This is the first in a series of three installments on Scotch tasting, as I research and prepare for my upcoming trip to Scotland. In this first piece, I will look into how Scotch is made, and how one should go about tasting it. In the second installment, I examine how whiskey – and Scotch in particular – is made. In the third installment, I will detail my itinerary and planned stops at distilleries along the way. Unfortunately, it looks like now that I might not be able to hit my favorite Scotch distillery, Laphroaig, given its remote and removed location. Bleah.

How to taste

While one often finds whiskey served in crystal tumblers, to best appreciate its aromas, experts recommend tulip-shaped glasses, which better direct the fragrance directly to one’s nose.

Like wine, one can appreciate the quality of a whiskey from its color. In general, the darker the color of the whiskey, the longer it has been aged in wood, and the older it is.

Also like wine, you could judge the weight of the whiskey by observing its tears. Swirl the whiskey around in the glass, and observe how the legs run down the side. If they run quickly, then the whiskey is most likely a light-bodied and/or a young one.

Next, bring the glass to your nose and take a breath – not a deep one mind, in case the alcoholic perfumes destroy your sensitive sense of smell. Then, add a splash of water (not ice, like they like to do it in bars, and not cold either), and then breath in the perfumes again. The water will reduce the alcoholic content of the whiskey, as well as raise its temperatures slightly to promote evaporation. According to Scotchwhisky.com, water “opens up the spirit” of the whiskey by breaking down the ester chains and freeing the volatile aromatics. Personally, I prefer to sniff and sip my whiskey neat first before adding water to it, just to get different senses. Whiskey aficionados would also urge the use of soft water, or better yet, water used in the production of the whiskey being tasted.

Finally, after all that ceremony, lift the glass to your lips and allow a small sip. Take a couple seconds to swirl the liquid around with your tongue, to savor its mouthfeel – its viscosity, texture, and, according to Scotchwhisky.com, the “pungency” – “essentially an evaluation of pain – from irritation to unbearable.” The forward tip of your tongue tastes sweet flavors, the sides and the middle the sour and salty flavors, and the back of your tongue the bitter flavors.

No matter how good a whiskey (or wine, for that matter) is though, it’s bound to disappoint if its finish doesn’t stand up to the taste. When the last drops have been drunk, what is the lingering after taste?

Sources:
(1) www.scotchwhisky.com

(2) www.whisky-heritage.co.uk 

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Tonight we had a special meeting of the Dead Grapes Society (DGS) featuring popular wines selected by Tastevine. The creator treated us to a good deal of quality liquid and taught me a brief lesson on how to clink a glass when toasting. I’ve decided to share this tidbit of wine etiquette to save all the poor unfortunate wine glass casualities resulting from careless toasts. Poor little chipped glasses destined for a life without more wine, so sad.

To make the proper clink:

1. Tilt the glasses about 20 degrees towards each other

2. place them side by side instead of lip to lip

3. Clink their cute little bellies together to make a delicate little tinkle

Viola, you can now clink and toast like a pro without chipped wine glasses!

toasting.jpg

WRONG!

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