Saturday, December 24, 2011

As Always, Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a few days of rest, relaxation, gorging, and copious cups of wine!

I toast you all with re-enactment gold...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Conquering the Sea Monster (Fighting the Sea Monster, Round 3)

It has become a bit of an obsession.  I just want to get a dang octopus tenderized.

Round one involved a 45 minute simmer, followed by a quick marinade, then a toss on the grill.  The result?  One chewy cephalopod.

Round two found our 8-legged meal braised in olive oil and vinegar for over an hour, then another skid across a hot grill grate.  If not for a hunger brought about by consumption, it would've remained untouched.  Even rubbery than the first attempt.

As I lay in my kitchen- a dejected, pummeled pile of inadequate cooking technique- the invitation upon the refrigerator gave a glimmer of hope.  Every year, we get together with a few folks in December and celebrate the food and drink of a particular country.  Upon the invitation, scrawled in what appeared to be octopus tentacles, I read, "Spain".  Indeed, the Spanish consume their share of this potentially tasty critter, and a particular preparation- Pulpo a la Gallega- is said to be tender and delicious.

Tender and delicious.  Blinded by the suspect wiles of the internet, and its sultry promises of edible- nay- scrumptious sea creatures,  I- yet again- lined the pockets of the local octopus tycoons.  Relaxing, no doubt, in the spoils of their octopus fortunes.

Pulpo (which is Spanish for "octopus") a la Gallega is essentially a preparation of boiling the creature until tender in a pot of water (I added some onions and a little garlic and vinegar).  The addition of a copper penny is said to help replicate the authentic technique of boiling in a copper pot.  Also, I added a wine cork to the boil.  Tradition says it ensures a tender 'pus.  Conventional wisdom says it just floats on top and looks stupid and irresponsible.

Once boiled, the octopus is sliced thinly along with sliced potatoes, and the whole mess is drizzled with olive oil and paprika.  Not surprising, as olive oil and paprika seem to be Spain's version of Ranch Dressing.

With no room for error (I had already convinced a few timid eaters that they would love food with tentacles), I employed a couple techniques seen at various corners of the interweb:

1)  When I got home with my raw quarry, I threw them in the freezer overnight.  Then, I let them thaw in the fridge for a day.  I'm guessing the freezing creates ice crystals, and the expanding ice disrupts the cell walls in the meat.  By the time the 'pus is thawed, it's all jacked up in the "structural integrity" department.

2)  I made sure to boil for over an hour.  After boning up on some light reading about thermal denaturing of proteins in squid, I figured out that the secret to cooking squid and octopus is a "bookend" approach.  That is to say, either cook very quickly or very long.  One can either cook so quickly that the protein strands remain intact, or so long that they completely unravel.  Anywhere in between, and the proteins constrict together, forming a tough, rubbery texture.  And, outside of an awesome name for an album, "Tough, Rubbery Texture" has little appeal.  

As knife hit tentacle, I knew that nerdy food science had paved the way for sexy food making.  The octopus was tender, and the monkey was off my back.

Granted, I still screwed it up a bit.  Wanting a hot preparation, I chose instead to cut up the octopus and potatoes, then quick-fry them in olive oil, with the addition of salt and paprika.  Not enough oil, and too much paprika.  All the paprika caked on the meat, and it became a bit of a soggy mess.  That said, the critter was tender, and I could put this one to rest.

Tip (guess I'm giving "tips" now):  when cooking something from a certain region, seek out wines from the same area.  As this is pulpo a la Gallega, it hails from the coastal region of Galacia in northwestern Spain.  There, the white wines of the Rias Baixas rule, and ones made from the white grape Albariño can make you freak out.  Maybe it's the proximity to the ocean, but these wines can taste almost salty (in my opionion, a simpler way of describing what some wine jerk means when he says a wine is "minerally").  They are rich and aromatic, but clean enough for seafood.  I snagged this one from Mac's in Midtown, and it was phat, if I may pull that term out of massive obscurity:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Simmering Down

Had a bit of a whiny rant go down late last week that came off (to me) as unappreciative.

Spent the entire weekend basking in the glory of lots of good wine, great friends, and amazing food.  Put in perspective how the wine world has so positively affected my life.  A really useful lesson in focusing one what is important.  Indeed, the "business" side of wine and marketing can draw us away from it's ultimate goal:  enjoyment.  From Friday night through today, that goal was achieved.

Oh, and another milestone this weekend:  I finally got a damn octopus to be tender.  More on that later, as the epic saga between me and the octopodes continues...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Suburban Wino Headquarters: Wine Sample Black Hole

Are we talking a matter of proper etiquette here?  Or should people know better?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First off, wine bottles can't talk.  Nor do they have arms.  Plus, sound doesn't even exist in outer space, so even if wine bottles could talk (which they can't), you wouldn't hear them screaming.  But if they could scream, and we could- in cases where sound does not exist- see what they were screaming (sort of like a "closed captioning" for outer space situations) I'm pretty confident they would scream in some sort of Blade Runner font.  But only in outer space.  If said wine bottle was in the mountains of Tennessee, it would scream in more of a "log cabin" font.  But, since being in Tennessee and not in space, we would be able to hear the screams, thus, the need for real-life closed-captioning would be moot.  And there'd be no reason for a wine bottle to scream in the mountains of Tennessee anyway.  That is, of course, unless it came upon a band of crazed mountain folk, all hopped up on mountain dew and such.

Which brings me to my first thought:  why would anyone want to send wine samples to a blogger who is really (truly) concerned about wine bottles in space?  What am I supposed to do with these bottles of wine they send?  I don't even have a spaceship.

No doubt, many a wine blogger probably broke ground with visions of free wine.  Admittedly, when I was offered my first sample bottles (I'll never forget you, Two Friends Imports), I had that "aha" moment that a deluge of good times were around the bend.  Freewheelin'.  Poppin' corks like Ted Danson was in town or something.  Yet, it was not the reason why I started doing this.  Honestly, it never occurred to me that free wine might be part of the deal.

photo credit:
So, on the rare occasions when I'd get some free wine, I'd give it all a nice, evaluative taste, and then I'd post my thoughts on the blawg.  Tasting notes and whatnot.  Still, I figured doing all this was part of the game, but it wasn't my wheelhouse.

After a couple years in, I had another epiphany:  I don't like tasting notes.  Even more so, I don't like to read someone else's tasting notes.  Not exclusively, at least.  Not that there's anything wrong with tasting notes.  They help many folks build a memory of familiar smells.  But, to me, they aren't interesting to read unless I'm drinking that same wine at the exact moment that I happen to come across said tasting notes.  Or unless I've had the wine before.  Neither of which happen very often.  Instead, I'm stuck reading a memoir of someone else's senses.

Honestly, there a few folks who can pull them off.  When Samantha Dugan writes a tasting note, I immediately want to go find that wine and drink it until slip into a haze that finds me lounging carelessly in a hammock for hours.  But it's not where her bread is buttered.  They just happen to work when she does sling 'em.

When people I really like (say, a Steve Paulo, a Joe Roberts, or a Ben Carter) want to do notes, I can appreciate that they're just trying to keep the tasting chops sharp and honestly educate.  Plus, folks like them already have bodies of work that lends honesty to the notes.

But, too often, I read, "I tasted under-ripe bing cherries and bartlett pear skins and the essence of dew upon spring's first stinging nettles."  And that makes me want to break a bottle of wine and stab things with it.  Because it's so full of shit that anyone who wants to get into drinking wine must get the feeling that you have to be full of the same measure of shit to enjoy a dang alcoholic beverage made out of grapes.  Poppycock! (forgive the blue language)

Anyone who has taken the time to stop by this blawg should probably know that I don't write any tasting notes and I don't really evaluate any wines.  PR companies that popped by here couldn't possibly think that this is a "hotbed of wine evaluation".  If they keep sending them and keep offering to send them, am I being rude and "unprofessional" (as if there's anything "professional" going on here) if they don't get posted?  Furthermore, if I lay out in advance that "you can send me wine, but I will almost assuredly not get around to writing about it", does that exonerate me from the common courtesy of acknowledging these wines?

For some bloggers (like Beau Carufel, whom I like a lot), the answer is "no".  According to Beau, "Wine bloggers are under an obligation, which more and more of us seem to forget or dismiss, to write about what we're sent."  Totally disagree.  If I have a taco blog, and someone sends me sauerbraten, am I obligated to talk about it?  No!  So, if I'm not a "review blog", then no one should expect reviews.  If they didn't do their homework, then tough...

...alas, then I start feeling like a jerkass.  Thumbing my nose at free wine, and coming off as trying to big-time a little winery that is just trying to get some publicity in a saturated market.  Was Nigel Tufnel this conflicted after demanding same-sized meats for his tiny bread?

photo credit:

So, as this is a de facto swan song for my days of receiving free wine samples, I might as well list as many thoughts as I can get out here:

1.  I think Twitter tastings are cool.  If I get some stuff designed for a twitter tasting, I usually tend to participate.  Yeah, it's a bunch of people shooting out tasting notes, but I'm tasting along with them, so it's all good to compare and contrast and learn together.  That said, if you were following me on Twitter and weren't involved in the Twitter tasting in question, how you wouldn't be compelled to unfollow (at least temporarily) is beyond me.

2.  If I do get anything, I never give it away.  I will always open it and taste it objectively by myself.  After that, it may be consumed, used for cooking, slugged with friends, poured down the drain, or given to hobos who are 21 years of age or older.  Cause there's nothing more depressing than an underaged hobo with a discarded bottle of sample wine.

3.  Reed's, a soft drink company, sent me a non-alcoholic soda called "Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer".  It tastes like something that dead elves who go to elf heaven probably drink.  Flying Cauldron butterscotch beer is sent directly from elf heaven.  It's that freaking delicious.  A PR person asked if they could send me some as a sample.  I said, "yes, and I will absolutely be sure to talk about it on the blog, you magical purveyors of the preferred beverage of elf angels."

4.  There are a few PR folks and wineries that are really cool and whom I like.  And if I have a relationship with someone, there's a better chance that I'd have an emotional connection to the product and want to write about it.  Such is human nature.  I'm no critic, just a dude that cranks away at a keyboard sometimes.  That may not be an objective approach, but I'm not in line for a job at the Wine Advocate either.

5.  I recently tasted through some wines from Tudal Family Winery (that were sent to me as samples).  They were really good.  Very balanced, with reasonable alcohol.  Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel Blend, and a few Cabernets.  Tasty with the steak and sauteed broccolini I made.  After tasting them, and then drinking them with the food, I took them out by the fire pit and drank them by the fire.  They were really good there, too.  Made me with I had a hammock out there.  So, I guess you'd say that Tudal Family makes some really tasty steak/broccolini/outside/campfire/hammock wines.  That's about as good as I can do for a tasting note.

6.  Anyone who thinks my approach isn't correct, or isn't "serious" enough, or is setting wine blogging back is taking him/herself too seriously.  

Monday, December 5, 2011


The all-knowing, all-seeing, great and powerful Wikipedia claims that "addiction viewed as a continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it."

For some, it is drugs.  Others, alcohol.  Eating toilet paper has been documented as an addictive behavior...

...and watching My Strange Addiction is an effective way to make you feel better about your previously-thought-to-be "strange" dependence.

Mine is chicken.

But not just any old bird, mind you.  I'm here to announce to you, America (and Russia, source of my most traffic and delightful spam comments), that I'm addicted to hot chicken.

For those not from Nashville, Tennessee, hot chicken is a (very) regional delight first made popular by Prince's Hot Chicken Shack.  Since its inception, other top-notch chicken dives have popped up around the metro area (Bolton's, 400 Degrees, Pepperfire), satisfying the Music City's cravings for meat, fat, and pain.

The preparation is rather simple:  chicken quarters are brined and/or marinated in buttermilk, breaded, and deep or pan fried.  As soon as the crispy birds leave the grease, a thick paste of melted lard and cayenne pepper is painted onto the still-shimmering crust and left to set.  The whole mess is served atop plain white bread (presumably to soak up the spicy goodness) and topped with pickles.

Of course, I'm just speculating.  If I were to discover the proprietors' specific recipes, I'm told my body would be drowned in a boiling cauldron of rendered pork fat and fiery red pepper.  I would then be mashed into a paste and be served to other snitches... 

... okay, again, I'm guessing.  But they'd probably be mad at me if I revealed their secrets and give me a good talking-to.

Bite into Nashville hot chicken, though, and you won't give a damn how it's made.  Usually served at various levels of heat, from basically plain-fried chicken to the hell-spawn of Satan himself (my strange addiction), you will only want more.  Eyes water.  Lips swell with the sting.  Tongue, nose, gums, and throat groan in protest.  But you keep going back, despite the physical pain and damage done.  The interplay of crunchy crust, incendiary spice, moist chicken, and liquid schmaltz... is... irresistible.

"...continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it..."

You are consuming quantities of fat that would make the Crisco family blush.  Very possibly, you will not have taste buds for a couple days.  But the worst comes later.  A few hours after consuming this fiery fowl- and I cannot stress this enough- DO NOT GO OUT IN PUBLIC.  Hot chicken's most sinister vengeance sneaks up on the unsuspecting, suddenly and swiftly striking down upon the gastrointestinal system like the mighty hammer of Thor.  There's really no other way I can put it.

Yet, you will come back.  Addiction, thy name is Nashville hot chicken.

So, if you find yourself in Middle Tennessee, hell-bent on culinary masochism, seek out one of the many hole-in-the-wall chicken shacks.  Call ahead if you can, as these places are really popular (supporting the fact that we all are- in fact- aboard a ship of fools).  While you're waiting, hit up Nashville's finest wine shop- Woodland Wine Merchant (which conveniently sits equidistant from Pepperfire and Bolton's)- and snag a bottle to pair.  The easiest approach is to enter the store, find a friendly associate, and ask for "hot chicken wine".  They'll hook you up with a sure winner.  Like this one:

Bugey is a region in France- east of Burgundy- that makes some wonderful wines.  This was a sparkling rosé number made from mainly Pinot Noir and/or Gamay grapes.  The fizz and acidity washed the lard from my palate, and the low alcohol (8%) and slight sweetness didn't amplify the heat of the chicken, but soothed it into submission.  Plus, when you have to slug back a lot of beverage to tame the flames, it helps to not be downing large quantities of rocket-fuel.

Granted, all that liquid may cause you to have to use the restroom.  So- for heaven's sake- use a fork when eating your hot chicken...

That's a pain that might just put you back on the wagon.