Cheese Dinner

Bob and I still love getting our monthly boxes from Louise at Artisan Cheese Company. It has been about five years that we have been going there, and the cheese just keeps getting better and better. This month we did our cheese dinner without the typical cheese plate, and it was just about the most interesting cheese plate dinner we have done in the last five years.

IMG_20170416_182524There are no soft cheeses on this plate. No buttery triple creme, or runny brie, just a number of semi-firm and firm, nutty cheeses with a sheep and goat thrown in for good measure. We had two experimental cheeses from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia, a blue for Bob and a nutty semi-firm for me. I loved the Yeti (top right in the picture) and thought it had so much character and layers of flavor. Bob described the blue as “stunning” and one of mildest, creamiest blues he ever had. We also had a sheep/cow mixed cheese that was unique and one of the best cheddars I think I’ve ever had – Westcomber from England. I usually go for a Vermont cheddar, but this was perfect. Creamy and nutty with a ton of flavors and layers.

It looks boring, our little plate of cheese, but there really were so many different flavors it is difficult to describe why it was so good. It still amazes me that essentially a few ingredients – milk, salt, enzyme – can produce such a variety of flavors and textures.

In pet news, Arthas had a field day with the pulled kale stalks. He managed to eat an entire stalk before I took it all away from him. He was not amused that I took his snack, but I think he would have eaten all four stalks that were there, and possibly kept going even after they were gone. He looks so cute and innocent; as does Ms. Leia.

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Mellen-Meyer – Brut

  • Basic info: Mellen-Meyer, Brute, Willamette Valley, Oregon, no vintage
  • Type: Sparkling, white
  • Price estimate:$35 (from winery)
  • Look: pale yellow, light. Fine bubbles with low viscosity and few legs. Low to Medium alcohol.
  • Smell: Vanilla and wine. Bob smelled grapefruit.
  • Taste: Fine bubbles lead to great mouth feel. Dry, but not overly so.  Tastes reminiscent of hard apple cider – fruit, and citrus, but can’t tell which fruit or citrus specifically. Clean and refreshing. Bob called apricot and grapefruit on the taste, but I didn’t get those.
  • Conclusions: “Pitch perfect” was how Bob described this one. Probably one of the best sparkling wines we have ever had and that includes actual champagne. Not sweet, but not dry, it is refreshing and clean tasting. The bubbles are fun – fine, and not overpowering. If I had a party or occasion that called for sparkling wine, I’d try to get a case of this.
  • Other notes: Bob got excited when he saw this in our wine club shipment from Oregon. We only get six bottles every six months, but we love the different varieties and producers that we would not normally try as we live about as far from Oregon as you can get while still being in the U.S. We thought about saving this one, but decided to just open it and have it with our cheese box this month (see next post for more on that) and we are so glad we did. It went perfect with the rich cheeses and we loved every taste of this.
    • There are no tasting notes on the bottle but the wine club notes say, “it has a beautiful toasty biscotti nose with green apple and pear notes and a lively effervescence that creates a nice, fluffy mousse.”
  • From the bottle: “Brute, Willamette Valley AVA 35% Chardonnay & 65% Pino Noir. Disgorged Aug. 2, 2016, 315 cases” 12.5% alcohol by volume.

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Couscous Stuffed Peppers

After harvesting all the kale, I made batches of kale pesto. Batches of kale pesto.

I am not sure if I make kale pesto the “correct way or not” but in general I use kale, walnuts or almonds, garlic, a little salt, pecorino cheese and olive oil. I sometimes add lemon juice , honey or basil to it to cut some of the kale taste, but I try to keep it pretty simple. I think I ended up making about eight cups of pesto on Saturday and I know I used a head of garlic and a bag of walnuts along with most of the harvested kale. (Still have enough for a large kale salad.)

But what to do with all that pesto. Well, we have a nice ravioli and pesto lunch and for dinner I tried a modified version of a NYT recipe I found that looked really good. I wasn’t going to make regular pesto, and I wanted to make my own tomato sauce using the tomatoes I picked (so they wouldn’t go to waste).  I wasn’t sure about this since Bob doesn’t like peppers all that much, I decided to try it.

General thoughts were that I loved the sauce (I was actually really, really impressed with the sauce) and the filling, but didn’t think the peppers added much to the dish. I think it can be much simpler – leave out the peppers, fold the pesto and the tomato sauce into the couscous and toss with a little mozzarella cheese. That, I think would make a perfect dish.

Kale pesto:

  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (+/- depending on consistency preference)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • basil leaves, lemon juice, or honey (optional)

De-stem the kale and break into small to medium-sized pieces. Rough chop the garlic and walnuts. All kale, walnuts and garlic to food processor process for a few seconds, just until everything starts to break down. Add in olive oil, salt and any extras (basil, lemon or honey) and process again. You may have to do this two or three times, scrapping the sides in between each round. You may also have to add olive oil in batches if you like a more sauce like consistency. (I tend to make my pesto dry and add more oil right before I use it if needed.)

Tomato sauce:

  • 1 cup heirloom tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 oz crushed tomato
  • 1/3 cup pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the tomatoes and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until the skins become soft. Add crushed tomatoes, garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Stir to combine everything and allow to reduce a little. Add pasta water and mix. Reduce a little more – the sauce should thicken a little – and taste to adjust seasoning.

Couscous:

  • 1 cup pearled or Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Heat olive oil in a small to medium pot over medium high heat. When hot, add couscous and stir to coat all the pearls. Cook, stirring, for about two minutes. Add two cups of vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Cook about 15 minutes. Drain 1/3 cup of the liquid and reserve for the tomato sauce. Drain the rest of the broth and return the couscous to the pan.

To combine:

Add pesto (about 2/3 cup is what I used) and mix well.

Here is what I didn’t do, but will be doing next time:

Add couscous with pesto to the pan with tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Mix in about 1/3 cup mozzarella pearls (or chunks of fresh mozzarella) and combine. Plate.

 

I Vasari – Barba 2011

  • Basic info: I Vasari, Old Vines Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Italy), Barba 2011
  • Type: Red
  • Price estimate: $15 (at Total Wine)
  • Look: Garnet, deep plum color. Some legs, maybe medium alcohol.
  • Smell: Jam.
  • Taste: Bright up front, rounding to a sour finish. Very tart and no fruit. Medium body. (Bob got sour up front and acerbic with some tannin and a little mineralogy.)
  • Conclusions: Not a good wine as it was just too sour. I’m not sure if we got a bad bottle or if that is the way the wine is supposed to taste, but neither of us finished a glass. Food did not help the flavor, either and the more I tried to drink it the less I liked it.
  • Other notes: Bob and I are usually pretty excited about Barbas and other slightly less known varietals, especially Italian wines. I wanted to like this wine, but it just didn’t taste good. Bob described it as having a “sticks and stems taste,” which I didn’t get, but then again, I was getting mostly sour and taste.
  • From the bottle: “Very intense ruby color, this wine denotes an intense and complex bouquet that combines cherry with different spice flavors, rich aroma with scents of black cherry, plum, blackberry.”  13.5% alcohol by volume.

*I should note that we get wine from a few places. We loved the Oregon wine so much when we went last summer, we joined a wine club that sends six bottles every six months. We still have about a dozen wines from our trip, most of which we are saving for special occasions. We also have a local wine club that is two bottles each month and we sometimes pick up a few bottles at that store. We do get most of our wine from the alcohol store (as we call it) because, well, it is convenient. So while most of the price estimates will be prices from Total Wine, not all of them will. Most of the wines I buy are between $15 and $30, with some a little lower and every now and then, higher. Also, yes, I tend to pick out the wine, but not always and it can be weeks from when I read the description or taste it in the store to when I open the bottle at home; I’m not reading the label or tasting notes before tasting and making my own notes.

Olema – Chardonnay 2014

  • Basic info: Olema, Chardonnay from Sonoma County, California, 2014.
  • Type: White wine
  • Price estimate: $14 (at Total Wine)
  • Look: Pale yellow. Very few legs, probably low alcohol wine.
  • Smell: Wine. Maybe a tiny bit of grapefruit. Bob got hints of vanilla.
  • Taste: Light mouthfeel. Bright. Good acid. Finish isn’t long and it is not a fruity wine. Has a touch of green apple in the taste and a fresh, clean, crisp taste.
  • Conclusions: It’s a decent wine and good for a summer day. For a Chardonnay, it is really good without the the heavy taste and feel. Would drink again.
  • Other notes: Bob tried this wine when we went to the Wine Walk in March. We  generally tried different wines at each station, then tasted each other’s wine, so we got a good mix. I liked this one at the Wine Walk and was really surprised that is was a Chardonnay. I have a general dislike of the heavy, oily, thick, oaky Chardonnays that dominate most wine lists, so I reflexively stay away from them. This one doesn’t have the heavy oil mouth feel. (As as aside, it is the same reason I just can’t eat foie gras, in addition to my general philosophical opposition to it.)
    • When Bob and I tasted this, we did so sitting on the back porch. He had his chartreuse mixed drink and I had a glass of wine. At one point while we were sitting there talking, I took a sip, a tiny sip, of his drink since he bragged how good it was. When I went back to the wine, it lost the bright acidity and became much more rounded. It was still light, but I got the hint of vanilla and a much smoother wine. For the rest of my glass, I had the rounder, softer wine to drink. It was a little weird to note such a different after one sip from his drink.
  • From the bottle: “Flavors of apple, citrus and a hint of toasty oak lead to a long, rich finish.” 14.2% alcohol by volume.

 

Let’s Talk Wine

A few years ago now, Bob and I got hooked on a short series on Amazon or Netflix called James May’s Road Trip. I think the first season had a different name, but this was two seasons of James May, a car guy and definitely not a wine expert, traveling around France then California with Oz Clarke, very much a wine expert. It was a fun series and got me curious about wine, which I already liked drinking. It also got me to try new wines and return to drinking red wines.

But wine was wine and I didn’t think much of it. Fast forward a few years and one of my favorite podcasts, Slate Money did a whole wine episode that I just found fascinating and it made me want to learn about wine, not just drink it. They recently did a follow up episode, and from there I read Cork Dork, (and loved it btw – hilarious and smart, a tough combination but she nailed it) which is pretty much one woman’s obsessive journey to becoming a wine expert. I’m not going there. I’m not interested in devoting my life to wine, but it did get me thinking about how to remember wines I like, how do I describe wine and is there anything I can do to become better at tasting wine that will help me appreciate it more?

So I’m going to start posting my wine “adventures” here to keep a running record of the wines I’ve tried, what I thought of them and whether or not I liked them. This is similar to the recipes I post because I know, when I’m desperately looking for something to cook for dinner, I can go back, filter through recipes and see what I made before (with the recipe if I actually remembered to write it down) and come up with better ideas. And wine is pretty, so why not post it instead of keeping it in a notebook, which realistically I wouldn’t be able to read in six months since my handwriting is so bad.

I’m going to have Bob help – after all, he drinks the wines with me and he arguably has a slightly more sophisticated palate than I do (or different at the very least) and he gets a kick out of trying to discern smells and flavors in wine. I’m going to borrow from Wine Folly and *try* to keep an actual template so I can do two things – 1) remember the wines and what I thought of them and 2) see if I can develop my tasting skills and maybe, just maybe smell something other than “wine” in a glass of wine in a year or so.

 First post should be up in a day or so, and I’m hoping I can get one up at least once a week. No promises. May is already generally a busy month (end of fourth quarter, finals, end of year prep and graduation) but this year I have an internship for school in addition to class, so May will either be heavy on the wine or very light on the wine.

Cheers, Salute, Prost!

 

Harvest

Last fall I planted a few baby kale plants along with some tomatoes and herbs. I hoped to get a few kale salads out of the plants and we have been eating kale from the garden all winter. The other day I looked at the garden and realized two things – 1) I have baby tomatoes just about ready to pick and 2) I really have to harvest and pull the kale. It is just getting too hot for it.

On Saturday, I harvested everything I could, pulled the kale out. I got a nice bunch of cherry tomatoes (purple cherokee, I think) and a lot of kale. A lot.

That is the large side of our sink, about ten inches deep, filled with kale. Filled. Picture two plastic grocery bags stuffed with kale, or one really large shopping bag, stuffed with kale. My four little kale plants gave us kale all winter and enough kale for batches and batches of pesto. All with benign neglect since I tend to let the garden go during the school year and only really check on it every now and then. I was kind of impressed.

The garden is a little sad looking now. This time if year in Jersey I was looking for what I could plant in a few weeks, maybe start some seeds so they would be ready for transplant, but in Florida, well … it’s time to let the garden rest for the summer. I do still have a few things in there, so I won’t totally neglect the garden, but for the most part, once the last of the tomatoes are harvested, the garden can rest.

The tomato plant looks awful, but there are still a number of blooms, buds and ripening tomatoes on it, so I’m doing my best to keep it alive. I picked up a watering system – terra-cotta spikes that fit a wine or other long necked bottle in it. This should slowly water the area over the course of a week or two so if I forget, the plant still gets water. I have one in and have three more spikes that I’m going to use as I acquire clear wine bottles (better to see if they need refilling) for the herbs that are left. I will say, the parsley did remarkably well with all of the kale cover – I’m not sure if it will last now that it is fully exposed, but we shall see.

I do have a little rosemary, oregano and chive in there also, along with one sad looking, but still alive poblano pepper. I’m hoping I can keep everything alive until the fall when I can plant some more. The big question is what to plant. The kale did excellent, but I might want to branch out.

I had to include this picture. Kale was the one food – the only food – that Arthas every rejectedIMG_20170415_105844. He just would not eat it. But, as I was making my batches of pesto, a leaf fell to the ground and before I could get to it (admittedly I didn’t rush cause he didn’t eat kale) he had the leaf and was munching on it. I figured he would stop after a bit or two, but no.  Nope, he
ate the entire thing. Leaf, stalk and all. So it’s official, there is not a single food that he won’t eat. Nothing. I’m not sure if I should be happy about this or worried. I’m just going to go with amused.