Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday Sips &Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.. **********************************************************
1) The 11th annual event A Taste of Ginger will be held on Monday, March 23, from 6:30-9:30pm, in the beautiful Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, with a goal of raising over $300,000 for Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI). The AADI works to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, and also collaborates with Joslin as they work to find a cure.

Each year, the event draws hundreds of supporters and foodies who gather to enjoy a lively evening, which includes the opportunity to meet and taste the cuisine of Boston’s most celebrated chefs, including Joanne Chang, Jasper White and Jacky Robert amidst the beauty of the MFA.

Jennifer K. Sun, MD, MPH will be honored for her contributions to the AADI’s mission and her active role within the Asian American community. Dr. Sun is an Ophthalmologist at Beetham Eye Institute, an Investigator in the Section on Vascular Biology at Joslin Diabetes Center, and an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.

The event will be co-chaired by C. Richard and Deborah Carlson as well as Wesley and Summer Chen; WHDH-TV, Ch. 7’s Janet Wu will serve as Mistress of Ceremonies.

Tickets are $250 per guest, and can be purchased online at: www.joslin.org/ginger.html

2) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson and his talented team pay homage to Italy’s Hillside Vineyards of Northern Italy in the next installation of “Wine Wednesdays”. Puritan & Company offers guests a taste of Northern Italy which includes a multi-course dinner prepared by Chefs Will Gilson, Alex Saenz and their talented culinary team. The Northern Italy wine dinner is $95 per guest and reservations are required. The hillside vineyards in northern Italy produce wines of considerable charm and complexity due to the altitude and cooler temperatures. This month’s wine dinner will focus on three producers operating under these extremes.

The selections featured are:
2012 Guglierame Ormeasco Sciac-Trà, Liguria
2012 Guglierame Ormeasco di Pornassio, Liguria
2013 Furlani Bianco Alpino, Trentino
2013 Furlani Rosso Alpino, Trentino
2012 Diego Curtaz “Dï Meun,” Val d’Aosta
2012 Diego Curtaz Torrette, Val d’Aosta

WHEN: Wednesday, March 4; Arrival is 6:45pm and Wine Dinner starts at 7:00pm
For reservations, please call (617)-615-6195

3) As I've said before, you should patronize local restaurants, many who have been negatively affected by our snowy winter, Dine Out Boston, hosted by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB), begins Sunday, March 1 and runs through Friday, March 6, as well as Sunday, March 8 through Friday, March 13. Dine Out Boston features a flexible pricing structure for restaurant owners and guests, alike. Restaurants have the ability to customize their lunch and dinner menus by choosing to offer lunch for $15, $20 or $25 and dinner for $28, $33 or $38. Additionally, restaurants can offer as many courses as they desire at their selected price.

Since 2008, the GBCVB has used this dining program to give back to a different local Boston charity each year. To date, over $300,000 has been raised for charities through the online auction component of DOB. The charitable partner for March 2015 is ArtsBoston, Inc. Gift Certificates provided by participating restaurants will be up for auction starting March 2, with all proceeds benefitting ArtsBoston.

This March, they also invite social media enthusiasts to share their Dine Out Boston experiences and qualify to win a $100 Gift Card to a participating restaurant. Simply take a picture of your meal, tag your location, and then share over Facebook or Instagram using #DineOutBoston. The GBCVB will award two gift cards per day, one over Facebook and one over Instagram.

For more information please visit www.DineOutBoston.com. Check out Dine Out Boston on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dineoutboston, Twitter at www.twitter.com/dineoutbos, and Instagram at www.instagram.com/dineoutboston.

4) On March 10, at 6:30pm, Legal Oysteria will host a wine dinner with the Marchesi Antinori wine company. Since 1385, the Antinori family has been involved in the production of wine, which spans through twenty six generations. The family has always directly managed the estates with innovative decisions along with fundamental respect for tradition and for the territory in which they have operated.

Legal Oysteria will team up with Brand Ambassador, Marco Deary, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with selections from the Marchesi Antinori vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Pancetta-Wrapped Shrimp
White Bean and Calamari Salad Bruschetta
Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini
Col de’ Salici Rosé de’ Salici Brut, Veneto, NV
FIRST COURSE
Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi (Sunchokes, Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes)
Antinori “Pèppoli” Chianti Classico, Toscana, 2011
La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Toscana, 2011
SECOND COURSE
Braised Beef Cheeks (Tuscan Kale, Ricotta Gnocchi)
Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva, Toscana, 2010
THIRD COURSE
Slow-Roasted Porchetta (Charred Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Confit, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino, Toscana, 2009
CHEESE COURSE
Taleggio
Pecorino Toscano
Parmigiano-Reggiano
Tignanello, Toscana, 2011

COST: $85 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling (617) 530-9392

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Boston Wine Expo: An Overview & Food

A bounty of Georgian wines, with about nine different producers, and including a few Qvevri wines. A table of interesting Bulgarian wines, a couple with indigenous grapes that were new to me. As expected, there were some excellent Portuguese wines. Intriguing wines from Lodi, elevating my interest in this wine region. These were some of the major highlights of my experience at this year's Boston Wine Expo.

With a media pass, I attended the trade hours of the Grand Tasting on Saturday as well as the Vintner's Reserve Lounge. There were over 200 wineries showcasing more than 2000 wines so I was only able to sample a tiny fraction of the available wines. I usually seek out wines which are different and more unusual, availing myself of the unique opportunity to taste such wines. Why spend time sampling wines that I see all the time at other tastings? I want this event to be educational, to learn more about less common wines.

Overall, the Grand Tasting presents some interesting diversity in their wines, though I think more would be beneficial. For example, I only saw a single Sake exhibitor and there weren't many South African tables. In addition, there wasn't any Sherry, very little Port and limited local wines. I noticed that Long Island had a fairly significant presence this year, after almost no participation in previous years. The Expo is an excellent opportunity to expose consumers to different wines, to let them taste some of the vinous wonders they might not know about but would enjoy once they tasted them. Maybe the Expo organizers could reach out to more unique producers, and entice them to display their wines at next year's Expo.

As usual, once the public hours for the Grand Tasting began, the Expo got very crowded, making it more difficult to reach many of the tables unless you waited for a time. It got more difficult to speak with producers who can't devote much of their time to each different person. This year was more crowded than normal due to the adverse weather, as those with tickets for the Sunday Grand Tasting were permitted to come on Saturday instead. In the end, they had to cancel the Sunday event due to another snow storm. If there hadn't been the storm, the Expo still would have been crowded, and it would be great if a solution could be found to make it less crowded.

I'm sure plenty of the attendees don't want to spend twenty minutes with a producer discussing terroir and harvesting methods. However, there are some wine lovers who want to take some time and learn more about the wines they are sampling. Maybe these wine lovers would benefit if the Expo had a special VIP hour or two for a limited amount of wine lovers who might want to spend more time talking with producers. Does anyone else have any suggestions for limiting the crowds at the Expo?

There were a number of food exhibitors at the Expo, offering free samples of their products, from Harrows Chicken Pies to Davids Teas, from Pasta Chips to Cabot Creamery. As I've said before, with all the wine tasting, it's beneficial to have plenty of food samples to absorb the alcohol and cleanse the palate. In addition, it's interesting to pair some of these foods with the wines you are tasting. I want to present two of my favorite food stops from the Expo, items I strongly recommend to my readers.

Back in 2012, I first discovered McCrea's Candies and they were one of my Top 3 Finds at the 4th Annual New England Dessert Showcase, They are a local company, and have expanded their selection since then. Their caramels are as tasty as ever, and I was most impressed with one of their new flavors, Highland Single Malt Scotch. They use actual Scotch, from the Ardmore Distillery, and the caramel has a prominent whiskey taste, with smoky undertones. I think the blend of the caramel and Scotch works well together and would be a unique gift for the Scotch lover in your life.

Tuscan Kitchen was at the Expo showcasing their new Online Market where you can get any of their products shipped to your home. Chef Eddie Payne was at their booth, preparing a wonderful dish of Truffle Stuffed Mascarpone Gnocchi with porcini mushroom creme and shaved pecorino tartufo. Such an irresistible dish of pillowy gnicchi with a strong umami aspect. This dish is available at their restaurant and I enjoyed some earlier this week at their Burlington location (along with a couple of other tasty pasta dishes).

During the next couple weeks, I'll be posting reviews of the wines I most enjoyed at the Expo. Stay tuned..

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Norwegian Skrei: Sustainable & Tasty Cod

Cod is tied very closely to the history of New England, as well as the histories of other countries, such as Portugal and England. Once, cod filled the waters off the New England coast, but that is no longer the case. Out of fears of dwindling stocks of cod, recent years have seen drastic cuts to cod quotas, meaning only a small amount of cod is now permitted to be caught. For example, starting May 1, the quota of cod that can be harvested from the Gulf of Maine will be slashed by 75%.

It seems clear that cod stocks in this region need to rebound and that means that the availability of local cod at restaurants and markets will be limited. As such, you need to consider other options, and you have a number of different choices. For those who still want to enjoy cod, let me offer an excellent option, though with the caveat that it only be available for a couple more months.

Consider Norwegian Skrei, a sustainable and tasty Northeast Arctic cod that lives in the Barents Sea. Skrei, which has been important to Norway for well over a thousand years, derives from a Norse word "skrida" which means "to wander or walk." Sea, When skrei reach maturity, at about five years old, they migrate in the winter, for spawning, to the Norwegian coast. From January to April, fishermen are able to catch these mature skrei, which are sometimes called Valentine's Fish because the fish are seeking a mate, and they are available around Valentine's Day.

The skrei fishing industry is considered one of the best-managed cod stocks in the world, and they have been regulating their industry for almost two hundred years, since 1816. Currently, Norway and Russia share responsibility for maintaining the sustainability of the skrei, and they have been very successful in their efforts. All skrei are also certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

For 2015, the cod quota in the Gulf of Maine will only be 386 metric tons while Norway's skrei quota will be 401,240 metric tons. That is a huge difference, and indicates skrei will be more readily available than local cod. It is also fascinating to consider that only about 10% of the skrei that migrate to the coast are permitted to be harvested, helping to maintain sustainability, as well as showing the great size of the skrei stocks. In 2014, Norway's exports of skrei have risen significantly since the prior year, 13% by volume and 25% by value.

Skrei possess some differences from Atlantic cod, including having a longer, more pointed shape and a lighter skin color. As they swim lengthy distances to spawn, their flesh tends to possess a firmer texture, and as they eat little during this travel, their flesh may also possess a cleaner taste. In addition, the skrei healthy for you, being rich in protein, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. It might be more expensive than local cod, but you're getting a quality, tasty and sustainable fish.

How do Norwegians eat skrei? One of their traditional dishes is called mølje, which is made with cod, potatoes, cod liver and cod roe. Fishermen used to cook cod roe and potatoes in a pan filled with water, and then later add the liver and cod for a short simmer. Once it was all done, they would mix it up into a "mess" or mølje. Like Atlantic cod, skrei is very versatile and can be prepared in numerous ways, from fried to broiled.

I recently received a media invite from the Norwegian Seafood Council, in conjunction with Legal Sea Foods, to experience a dinner featuring skrei. The three-course dinner was held at Legal's Harborside location and the skrei impressed me. If you like cod, or fish in general, you'll love the skrei.    
For my first course, I had Shrimp Cocktail, five huge shrimp with cocktail sauce, set beneath a half globe of ice. It was a cool presentation, and the restaurant creates this effect by putting some water into a balloon, applying some liquid nitrogen and then freezing it. When they are ready to make this dish, they use a blow torch to burn off the balloon from the icy ball. The shrimp were meaty with a spicy sauce that enhanced their flavor.

The centerpiece of the dinner was Pan Roasted Skrei, with bacon lardons, leeks, golden russet apples, and smoked mussel chowder. The skrei has a firm texture, with flaky white flesh, and a clean taste. Simply a delicious piece of fish that will appeal to any seafood lover. The rest of the dish well complemented the skrei, from the smoky chowder to the slightly tart apples. The entire dish was well composed and balanced, and I would certainly order skrei again at a restaurant or the market. It reminded me of Atlantic cod in most ways, except it possessed a firmer texture.

The meal ended with Brûléed Chocolate Banana Tart, with coconut gelato, chocolate sauce, and toasted coconut anglaise. A sweet and pleasant ending to the dinner.

Though I often ask my readers to eat local seafood, as we eat far too much imported seafood, that doesn't mean I am completely against imported fish. Skrei is a very sustainable choice, and if you love cod, then it is a good alternative as there is so little sustainable cod available in our local waters. Give skrei a chance.

Have you eaten skrei? If so, what did you think of it?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rant: Want A Bloody Cocktail?

Mixologists sometimes reach into the past for cocktail ideas, seeking out old bartender guides, while other times they reach toward the future, trying to create cutting-edge and unique drinks. In the desire to be unique, to push the envelope, there is little they won't use in such cocktails. However, is there a limit, a line in the sand, as to what ingredients should be used? Is animal blood an acceptable cocktail ingredient?

Meat has been previously used in cocktails, with bacon being the most prominent choice. It might be as simple as a slice of crisp bacon sitting in a Bloody Mary or more complicated, such as a bacon-infused bourbon. Four years ago, I enjoyed the Abbatoir cocktail at The Gallows, which used veal stock. Presenting a savory delight, the stock added a compelling umami element. As Sake has a strong umami component, it might be interesting to create some Sake cocktails using different meat stocks. It is still rare to find cocktails with meat stocks, but it seems the next step has now been taken.

The Telegraph recently reported on a London bar that is now using pig's blood in one of their cocktails. No.9, in Chelsea, created the Slaughterhouse, which is also made with Johnnie Walker Black Label, Columbian coffee, Kahlua, dark chocolate liqueur, Campari, blood orange juice and raspberry liqueur. They source the pig's blood from local butchers and put it through a couple processes to make it more amenable for the cocktail. These ingredients, once combined, are also smoked with cheery wood and chestnut wood chippings.

The cocktail allegedly doesn't taste like blood, it merely serves to deepen the other flavors of the cocktail. If you drank it without knowing the ingredients, you probably wouldn't know blood was involved. However, how many people would order it if they knew it contained pig's blood? I suspect many people might be turned off, or even frightened, of drinking a cocktail containing animal blood. It seems difficult enough to get them to drink one made from a meat stock. Blood would be an ever greater obstacle for many consumers.

I'd try a blood cocktail. I've eaten foods before that used blood as an ingredient, including blood sausage, and I very much enjoy such dishes. So why would it matter if the blood was in a cocktail and not on my plate? It wouldn't matter to me, though I know it would to others. It is more a psychological issue than anything else for many people. They might enjoy a bloody steak but wouldn't like a cocktail that had a bit of blood in it.

Be adventurous. Trust in your bartender. Drink a bloody cocktail and enjoy it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Asturian Cider: Sidra Acebal "El Carrascu"

Besides all of the compelling wines you'll find in Spain, there are also regions well known for their hard cider, which is usually called sidra. One such region, located in the northwestern section of Spain, is Asturias, where sidra has been made for over two thousand years. The ancient Romans referred to this hard cider as pomaria and the Arabs called it siserio. Today, "Cider of Asturias" is a Designation of Protected Origin, regulated and protected by the board Cider of Asturias. Asturias produces about 80% of all Spanish cider, and they also drink more than any other region in Spain.

Currently, there are about 6500 hectares of apple orchards in Asturias, growing over 30 local apple varieties though not all are used for their sidra. They use a blend of acidic and semi-acidic apples for their sidra. In general, Asturian ciders are fermented with native yeasts, aged on the lees and bottled without any fining. They will usually taste dry, be low alcohol and possess high acidity. They should be served cool, but not cold, and can pair well with many foods, especially Asturian sheep cheeses.

Traditional cider houses are known as sidrerias, and there is even a traditional way, called escanciar, to pour it. The bartender holds the cider bottle high in the air and then pours it down to a large, wide-mouthed glass. This long pour helps to aerate the cider and also causes it to make it a little fizzy. Plus, the bartender will only pour a small portion into the cup and the customer is supposed to drink it all immediately. At home, feel free to fill your glass with some sidra and slowly savor it.

Alexander Jules Imports, who I've previously raved about the impressive Sherries they are importing into the U.S., is also importing a few other Spanish wines, including an Asturian Sidra. They recently sent me a media sample of their Sidra Abebal "El Carrascu" D.O.P. (about $12). The Sidra Acebal, which was founded at the end of the 19th century, is located in Gijón, Asturias, and they continue to make sidra in much the same way as they always have done. The El Carrascu uses a blend of apples, mainly Regona, Durona de Tresali, Raxao, Carrio and Limon Montes.

With a nice golden color,which is slightly cloudy as it is unfiltered, this sidra has a bright apple aroma enhanced with herbal elements. Its taste is intriguing, very dry and acidic,with strong apple flavors, with a bit of tartness, and an undertone which almost reminded me of a briny dill pickle, yet in a positive way. It has a more unique flavor for a hard cider, and I very much liked it. At this price point, it is a very good value, especially for a more naturally produced cider. Once again, Alexander Jules has imported something more unique and compelling.