Thursday, November 30, 2017

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.
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1) On Tuesday, December 5, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods will host a four-plus-course champagne dinner showcasing the finest bubbly from Taittinger’s prestigious portfolio of French champagne. Grown and inspired by chardonnay wines, the Tattinger collection offers an extensive variety of champagnes, each unique to their own blend and terrain.

A family-owned and operated winery created in the Reims region of France in 1932, Tattinger is famed for its impressive holding of 752 acres throughout 34 different vineyards as well as for its ancient chalk cellars used for aging. The philosophy of finesse and elegance created a Taittinger empire and earned its name as one of the greatest champagne houses in the world.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Christian Dalbavie, French Portfolio Manager for Kobrand Wine & Spirits, the exclusive U.S. import agent for Tattinger Champagne, to host a dining experience designed to carefully pair each signature cuisine with select pours from the Taittinger collection.

The menu will be presented as follows:
HORS D’OEUVRES
Prosciutto-Wrapped Baked Oyster, Meyer Lemon-Garlic Infusion
Smoked Salmon Phyllo Tartlet, Cracked Pepper, Lime
Rolled Smoked Ham Crepe, Tarragon Mustard Sauce
Taittinger “Prestige” Rosé Brut, NV
FIRST COURSE
Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallop (succotash, baby mâche, vanilla beurre blanc)
Taittinger “La Française” Brut, NV
SECOND COURSE
Hazelnut-Crusted Ecuadorian Mahi-Mahi (blue corn & chanterelle mushroom polenta, blood orange beurre rouge)
Taittinger “Les Folies di la Marquetterie” Brut, NV
Taittinger “Millésimé” Brut, 2009
MAIN COURSE
Lobster Newburg (pearl onions, haricots verts)
Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs Brut, 2006
DESSERT
Peach Flambé Tart (strawberry coulis)
Taittinger “Nocturne” Rosé Sec, NV

COST: $135 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

2) This Holiday Season, Bar Boulud Hosts a Bûche de Noël Pop-Up & Pastry Class. Taking a modern approach to a classic French confection, Pastry Chef Robert Differ hosts a seasonal holiday pop-up in Bar Boulud and invites aspiring bakers to join him for an intimate pastry class featuring the traditional Parisian holiday dessert: Bûche de Noël.

Available December 4 to 25, Chef Differ’s Bûche de Noël pop-up will be available for purchase and makes a nice gift to share with friends, family and colleagues. Festively packaged and ready for pick-up, orders are available online or by the slice during lunch and dinner service ($10 each). Please note: fresh Bûche de Noël are available daily but may be limited; online orders require a 48-hour advance notice.

Chef Differ’s Bûche de Noël flavors will include:
White Chocolate Eggnog (Valrhona Ivoire chocolate crémeux, aged rum gelée, nutmeg biscuit)
8” $45 | 11” $62
Tropique (coconut dacquoise, mango mousse, banana cream, croquant)
8” $48 | 11” $65
Mocha Opera (espresso Jaconde, 55% ganache, mocha mousse, paradise glaçage)
8” $50 | 11” $68
Dark Chocolate Peppermint (64% Manjari mousse, mint chocolate feuilletine, flourless chocolate biscuit)
8” $52 | 11” $70

In addition, Chef Differ will host a Bûche de Noël pastry class on Saturday, December 9, from 10AM to 12 noon, for $95 per person. Upon arrival, participants will transform into a pastry apprentice as they sip a complimentary glass of prosecco or a rich cup of hot cocoa while preparing to craft this standout, celebratory sweet. Each participant will have a choice of White Chocolate Eggnog or Dark Chocolate Peppermint, they will then be presented with a pre-rolled Bûche de Noël that serves as a confectionary canvas.

Emphasizing festive decorating techniques, this tailored class allows students to focus on all of the fun aspects of holiday baking without the stress of measuring, mixing and manipulating. Each class participant will depart with a recipe for crafting this iconic Christmas-themed dessert at home, along with a freshly baked Bûche de Noël to share with friends and family.

For online cake orders: https://www.barboulud.com/boston/buche-de-noel
Pastry Class Tickets are available on Eventbrite.com: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/buche-de-noel-pastry-class-tickets-39664414331

3) Vialé in Central Square, Cambridge is enthused to announce a new, seasonal dinner series in collaboration with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA). The dinner series, "CSCA Takeover at Vialé" kicks off on Monday, December 4, from 5pm-10pm, with quarterly, seasonal dinners scheduled. Each dinner will pair Vialé chef/co-owner, Greg Reeves (CSCA graduate) and the Vialé team with a different CSCA student/chef. The partnership between these Cambridge neighbors is a natural fit, and a great opportunity for an aspiring, rookie chef to learn all aspects of planning, sourcing, and executing their own menu items.

On the first CSCA Takeover, Chef Greg Reeves will be mentoring and welcoming to the Vialé kitchen, second semester CSCA student, Bradley Caldwell. 26-year-old Bradley Caldwell spent his youth and early adulthood in kitchens in New Hampshire. Having completed service in the United States Navy, he decided to pursue his passion for culinary arts at CSCA and will soon complete the Professional Chef’s Program at CSCA. He balances his culinary education with hunting trips in New Hampshire, and has selected a hearty menu to reflect his roots.

On Monday, December 4, he will be serving a duck salad with pickled pear, venison served with broccolini and sweet potato puree, and ancho chile cheesecake. Bradley's dishes will be available at Vialé as a three-course prix fix or à la carte to accompany Vialé's usual dinner menu.

Cambridge School of Culinary Arts was founded by Chef Roberta Dowling and her husband William in 1974. Roberta’s legacy is carried on today by Sean Leonard, a longtime CSCA employee and friend of the Dowlings, and his partner Randall Freidus. They took over ownership on January 6th of this year, continuing to offer four professional training programs, recreational classes, and private cooking events year-round.

The Professional Chef’s Program is a 37-week program that delves deep into the science and art of international cooking and pastry techniques, and is composed of courses in basic techniques, baking, regional cuisines, and intensive French techniques. CSCA also offers a 14-week Culinary Certificate Program, a 14-week Certificate Pastry Program, and a 37-week Professional Pastry Program. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis for three program start times in January, May, and September.

Matt Grymek, the Manager of Student Life, approached Bradley to work with Chef Greg Reeves and be the guest chef for an evening at Vialé. Bradley has demonstrated a natural talent for cooking and is starting to develop his own unique style and voice in the kitchen. He has won several in-school cooking competitions and thrives in situations where he is out if his comfort zone. Bradley also has ambitions of running his own kitchen so welcomed the idea of working with Chef Greg Reeves to gain more experience in menu planning.

Check out this fascinating CSCA Takeover at Vialé and discover Bradley Caldwell's culinary skills.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Escubac: A Collaborative Liqueur of Britain & France, With Roots In Ireland

"Their wine, like the Irish Usquebaugh, drunk immoderately, accelerates death."
--Sir J. Herbert's Travels

Liqueurs, also sometimes known as cordials, are worthy of more attention, especially considering how craft distillers are creating some fascinating new products, though they might be based on historical drinks. In short, a Liqueur is a sweetened grain alcohol and I've recently become intrigued by a new liqueur, Escubac ($21.99/375ml or $36.99/750ml), which I found at Astor Wine & Spirits.

Escubac was created by Sweetdram, a company located in Great Britain that was founded by Daniel Fisher, a former senior vice president at Astor Wines and Spirits, and Andrew Macleod Smith, an engineer and distiller. Having met at the University of Edinburgh, they seemed to be of one mind, with the objective of creating some new, interesting spirits and liqueurs. At their East London workshop, they create new products, a process which commonly takes 12-18 months to complete.

While perusing some old distilling manuals, they stumbled upon Usquebaugh, which they state was a yellow British cordial that originated in the 1700s and later became popular in France, where it became known as Escubac. This recipe intrigued them but instead of using it as is, they decided to use it as a framework and create their own unique version. They also eventually decided they wanted to collaborate on the project and chose to work with the famed Combier Distillery, located in the town of Saumur in the Loire Valley of France.

The Escubac is made from a base of neutral sugar beet alcohol and then they macerate 14 botanicals, including caraway, bitter orange, cloves, nutmeg, licorice, green anise, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, lemon peel, and more, for about 72 hours. This is then sent to the Combier Distillery for distillation, and the liqueur is finally infused with saffron and sweetened with raisins, vanilla, and sugar. It almost sounds like a sweeter version of gin, but without the juniper.

However, before getting into my thoughts on its taste, let's return to the history of Usquebaugh for a bit. The term itself actually seems to originate with the Irish, and roughly translates as the "water of life," commonly being considered another term for whiskey. However, there are historical sources that indicate the earliest versions of Irish usquebaugh were flavored with various botanicals, meaning that the true ancestry of Escubac extends back to Ireland and not Britain.

For example, in The Art of Distillation by John French (1651), there is a recipe for Irish "Usque-bath," which is made with ingredients including raisins, pitted dates, cinnamon, nutmeg, and licorice root. All but the pitted dates are also ingredients on Escubac. The cookery book The Queen's Closet Opened (1655) also had a recipe for Irish "Usquebath," and its ingredients included raisins, pitted dates, dried figs, aniseed, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, musk, ambergris, and licorice root. Again, many of those ingredients are also in Escubac.

In the next century, The Country Housewife and Lady's Director In the Management of a House, and the Delights and Profits of a Farm by John Bradley (1736) there is a recipe for "Irish usquebaugh" which includes saffron, as well as ingredients like raisins, figs, licorice root, aniseed, fennel seed, coriander, and musk. This may be the first known documented mention of saffron added to this drink.

In British & Foreign Spirits: Their History, Manufacture, Properties, Etc. by Charles Tovey (1864), it states that "Irish Usquebaugh" is "... defined by Johnson to be a compound spirit, being drawn on aromatics;.." It was customary to infuse the base whiskey with various "savory or pungent" ingredients. In addition, "In all the recipes for making Irish Usquebaugh, saffron is a prominent ingredient." This indicates that saffron, which can make a drink yellow, was an integral part of Irish usquebaugh.

The first known documented French version is provided in L'Agronome, Dictionnaire Portatif Du Cultivateur (1764), which has a listing for Escubac, a liqueur, noting its base is saffron, brandy and sugar. The recipe also calls for bergamot, Portuguese oranges, vanilla, mace, cloves, angelica seed, coriander, and more. So, it appears that the concept of Irish usquebaugh was transported to France where they altered the name to Escubac.

Later, in La Nouvelle Maison Rustique, Ou Economie Rurale, Pratique Et Générale De Tous Les Biens De Campagne By Louis Liger & Jean François Bastien (1804), there are two references to Escubac, one for Irish Escubac (obviously paying homage to the roots of this liqueur) and the other for Escubac (Ratafia d’) also known as Escubac of England. The term "Ratifia" refers to a "cordial or liqueur flavored with certain fruit and their kernels." The Irish Escubac is made with brandy, saffron, coriander, green anise, and angelica root. The English Escubac is made with saffron, coriander, anise, cinnamon, vanilla, apricot kernels, sugar angel, sweet almonds, lemon zest, London honey water, and double orange water. Thus, it seems likely that Usquebaugh originated in Ireland and then traveled to Britain and France.

Back to the Escubac liqueur. The Sweet Dram website states their Escubac is a "juniper-free botanical spirit" and, like gin, mixes well with tonic. It can also be used in a variety of other cocktails, from Martinis to Margaritas, replacing almost any white liquor. I initially tasted it on its own, and was pleased with its complex and intriguing melange of flavors. There was some sweetness up front but it wasn't cloying or overly sweet, and it was complemented with a mix of citrus and herbal notes, with intriguing spice notes and a touch of bitterness. In some respects, it reminded me of an excellent Vermouth. I also mixed it with some club soda and lemon and it made for a satisfying and refreshing cocktail.

Escubac is a versatile liqueur and I'm going to enjoy experimenting with it in a variety of cocktails this holiday season. It has its own unique blend of botanicals, though the drink itself will bring to mind thoughts of Vermouth or Gin. If you're seeking a new gift idea, then consider picking up a bottle of Escubac. Or if you just want to serve some different cocktails for your holiday part, pick up a bottle.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Rant: Don't Be A Selfish, Greedy Glutton

With the holiday season here, food and drink blogs are ramping up their holiday coverage. You'll read epic tales of sumptuous feasts, accompanied by expensive and rare bottles of wine. You'll read plenty of holiday recipes, describing how to prepare some of the most decadent dishes. You'll read of pricey gifts received, from costly electronics to tropical vacations. Colorful photos will display all of these hedonistic pleasures in their luxuriant glory.

However, I want to see something else, something more meaningful. Are you up to the challenge?

I don't want to be regaled by selfish, greedy gluttons. Instead, I want to hear about charitable efforts to help those less fortunate. This should be a time of generosity and charity, of giving to others rather than feeding our own gluttony. Though many love the holiday season, it can be a very sad time for those with little or nothing. Every community has some people who find it difficult merely to pay for basic essentials. Share your largess with others, helping those who truly need it.

Even for those of us who are having tough economic times, we all probably can help out others, even if only in little ways. If you cannot spare money, then donate your time or make something to give to others, maybe bake a pie, cookies or casserole. Donate old clothes or other durable items which you no longer use. There are many different ways to help out others besides just monetary donations. All it takes is a little creativity and thought.

During this season, there are numerous restaurants, chefs, stores and others which are holding special charitable events. Promote those events on your blogs, spreading the word far and wide. Attend those events, encouraging others to do the same. Give to your favorite charities, whatever they might be. Just don't revel in selfish, greedy gluttony, ignoring the plight of others.

This applies to our readers as well and I encourage all of you to be charitable as well, in whatever way that you can. Be creative in your efforts, even if your own finances are tight. That would be the best gift I could receive from my readers, the knowledge that you have all helped out those less fortunate.

I will do my own part to help the less fortunate, to share what I possess. Year round, I promote numerous food and wine-related charitable events and probably will promote even more this season. I will give to several charities as well, even if I only can give small amounts, to those which are personally close to my heart. I will try to help in a number of different ways and I strongly encourage all of my fellow bloggers and writers to do the same this season.

Let us share with all during this joyous holiday season.

(This is a reposting of an old rant, with minor revisions, which remains as relevant as ever and worthy of repeating.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks

Today, all across America, many of us will gather together with family, friends and others, savoring a lavish feast of food and drink. We might also attend local football games, watch it on TV, or check out the Macy's Day Parade. We will talk and laugh, toast and cheer, savoring all the goodness of the day, reveling in the joy of the holiday. However, amidst all this merriment, we should not forget the deeper meaning of the day. It is about far more than turkey and wine, stuffing and football, pecan pie and naps.

Thanksgiving is a day for reflection upon our lives, to ponder and be thankful for all of the positive things in our lives. We need to appreciate the goodness in our lives, to be happy with everything we have (and I don't mean in a material sense). No matter what troubles or adversities we might face in our lives, I am absolutely sure there is also much to bring us joy.

Our focus today, and actually how it should be every day, should be on the positive aspects of our lives. Savoring the positive in our lives can brighten the darker parts of our lives, and place everything in perspective. Complaining and criticizing often accomplish little and instead we should concentrate on solutions. We can make our lives better if we truly desire to do so. It may take time and effort, but we can accomplish much with a positive mindset.

I am thankful for many other things in my life, including family, friends, health, and much more. I am thankful for all my blog readers. It would take too long to list every single thing I am thankful for here, but I will take the time to reflect upon all of them today. I will try not to dwell on the negative elements in my life. It will hopefully be a day of appreciation and reflection, of hope and a brighter future.

I fervently hope that everyone else can embrace the positive, rather than dwelling on the negative. Share your positive feelings with your family and friends. Tell them that you love them, thank them for being in your life. It may be corny, but a hug and kind words can mean so very much. And you'll never regret it.

I'm going to enjoy plenty of tasty food and drink today, but I will remember that today is about more than the feasting. It is primarily a time for thanks, for all the good that is in our lives, and for being with the people we care about and love.

(This is a reprint of an article from November 2015 which remains as relevant now as it did then.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday Sips & Nibbles

I am here with a special Wednesday edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) On Wednesday, November 22, from 9pm-Midnight, Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson invites guests to join in celebrating Puritan & Company’s 5th Anniversary at the Cambridge restaurant’s annual Family-You-Choose Feast. Puritan & Company welcomes friends to a night of merriment celebrating five years of Puritan & Company success and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday- a particularly special day for Mayflower pilgrim descendant, Will Gilson. The party will feature complimentary bites and a cash bar with specialty cocktails provided by sponsors Privateer Rum, Notch Brewing, and Campari.

To make reservations, please call (617)-615-6195

2) On Tuesday, December 5, starting at 6:30pm, Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca will host an Italian wine dinner exploring the flavors of Italy's Piemonte region as well as in-season white truffles. Starting at 6:30 p.m., the evening will include a tasting of four different courses (including three truffle-centric mains) along with wine pairings from the Piemonte region.

The menu will feature:
1st course:
Guanciale pizza with white truffles
Wine: Castello di Verduno Pelaverga 2015
2nd course:
Braised rabbit and robiola cappellacci with white truffles
Wine: Luigi Pira Dolcetto d'Alba 2015
3rd course:
Brasato al barolo with polenta and white truffles
Wines: Produttori del Barbaresco 2014 AND Paolo Scavino Barolo 2013
4th course:
Hazelnut torta with gianduja and hazelnut gelato
Wine: Brandini Moscato d'Asti 2016

Tickets are $90 and will soon be available for purchase via Eventbrite.
For more information or to make reservations, please contact (617) 421-4466.

3) On Wednesday, November 29, at 6pm, Bistro du Midi invites guests to experience a variety of Pinot Noirs at the U.S. vs France wine dinner. Executive Chef Josue Louis will prepare an exclusive five-course menu with each plate expertly paired with one of the hand-picked wines by Head Sommelier Ray Osborne.

The full menu for the U.S. vs France Pinot Noir Dinner is as follows:
FIRST
Beet-cured salmon, caper, crème fraiche
2013 WILLAKENZIE, ‘GISELLE’, WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON
SECOND
Spanish octopus, sunchoke, golden delicious, smoked almonds
2013 DOMAINE RION, 1ER CRU NUITS-ST-GEORGES AUX VIGNERONDES
THIRD
Oxtail tortellini, broccoli spigarello, salsify
2012 LOUIS LATOUR, GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN
FOURTH
Duck breast, celery root, candy cane beet, dates, juniper jus
2014 PATZ & HALL, SONOMA COAST
FIFTH
Chocolate ganache, cassis cremeux, lavender ice cream
PETITE KIR

Cost is $135 per person, not including tax and gratuity. Seating is limited; to make a reservation, please call 617-426-7878

4) Chef Daniel Bruce and the team at Boston Harbor Hotel are thrilled to welcome former New England Patriots Quarterback Drew Bledsoe to Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar for a reception and four-course dinner on Wednesday, November 29, starting at 7pm.

Former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe will bring select wines from Doubleback, his family-owned vineyard on the outskirts of the Walla Walla Valley, to be sampled and enjoyed at the picturesque Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar. After returning to his home state in 2007, Bledsoe collaborated with childhood friends and established winemakers to create a premium wine experience with a focus on world-class cabernet sauvignon.

The full menu for the evening is as follows:
RECEPTION
2015 Argyle Brut Rose
DINNER
First Course
2016 Bledsoe Family Cabernet Sauvignon
Char Seared Ora King Salmon, Smoked Winter Vegetables, Cabernet Demi
Second Course
2015 Bledsoe Family Stolen Horse Syrah
Crispy Wild Mushrooms, Shaved Iberico Pork Belly, Melted Leeks, Porchini Dust
Third Course
2014 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon – Cellar Release
Cocoa and Five Spice Rubbed Grilled Prime Rib Filet, Fennel Laced Potato Gnocchi, Cabernet Raspberry, Glazed Baby Brussels
Fourth Course
2015 Bledsoe Flying B Cabernet Sauvignon
Aged Gouda, Parsnip Feta Crepes, Red Wine Syrup, Kale Chip, Fried Sage

Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite for $225 per person (including tax and gratuity). This is a 21+ event.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Taizi Baijiu: A New Zealand Treasure


Baijiu, a distilled spirit that originated in China and is currently the most popular spirit in the word, suffers from an image problem with many Americans. In the U.S., it has a reputation of possessing a foul smell and taste, reminiscent of stinky cheese, gasoline, and even sweaty socks. Though there are Baijiu with strong aromas that might turn off some people, there are other lighter aroma Baijiu which would appeal to many preferences.

As Baijiu is showing up in more and more local bars and restaurants, now is the time to push aside your misconceptions and taste some delicious Baijiu. I suggest you check out my prior Baijiu articles, to gain a basic idea of this intriguing spirit, from its unique production process to food pairings, drinking etiquette to cocktails. My own Baijiu explorations have continued, leading me to a compelling Baijiu produced in New Zealand!

I was sent a media sample of Taizi Baijiu, from Sam and Ben Lu, the brothers who founded this company. Sam and Ben, who grew up in Taiwan, moved to New Zealand in 1994 and by 2007, they have conceived of the concept for Taizi though it took them two years before incorporating their company New Zealand Chinese Liquor Limited. Finally, in 2013, the first batch of Taizi was bottled and sold commercially. The term "Taizi" literally translates as "extreme purple," (which is the beautiful color captured on the packaging), but it also sounds the same as "crown prince."

Why produce Baijiu in New Zealand? Sam and Ben simply enjoy drinking Baijiu so decided to make their own version. They hired Southern Grain Spirits’ master distiller John Fitzpatrick to distill their Baijiu, using a rare English copper column still that was manufactured by John Dore in 1835. They only produce about 21,000 bottles annually and have no current plans to expand that production amount.

Their production process uses the basic science of Chinese Baijiu production, though they don't emulate every step of many Chinese distilleries. The ingredients in their Baijiu include Australian sorghum, New Zealand wheat, local underground water, wolfberries (also known as goji berries) and the rest is a trade secret. They triple distill the Baijiu, which isn't aged in terrace cotta urns, and it has a 58% ABV, making it a potent spirit. It is classified as a "light aroma" Baijiu, the type which should appeal more to Americans.

"This is as close as baijiu gets to vodka, particularly in the nose. It has a smooth body with notes of violet and apricot and a long peppery finish, which hangs in the mouth and warms the belly."
--Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits by Derek Sandhaus 

It is suggested that you chill this bottle in your freezer and drink it straight, ice-cold, or you can use it in a cocktail, substituting Baijiu for any white spirit in a classic recipe. I began by tasting it as an ice-cold shot and then experimented with it in a couple simple cocktails.

With its clear color, the Baijiu has an intriguing nose of berries and licorice, and on your palate, the berry flavors are very prominent upfront with more licorice notes on the finish. It has a slightly oily texture, but drinks very smooth and balanced, and you wouldn't realize its high alcohol content. There is an underlying complexity, more subtle notes, including some herbal elements, accenting the Baijiu. This Baijiu lacks that off-putting aroma or flavor which is found in more strong aroma Baijiu so it would appeal to many Americans.

I initially mixed the Baijiu with a strawberry lemonade drink, a 1 to 3 ratio, and that was delicious, the strawberry and lemon melding well with the Baijiu berry flavors. It also worked well with a pineapple/coconut juice and a Clementine juice. I'm certain it would work well in more complex cocktails as well. And within a cocktail, you definitely don't realize the high alcohol content of the Baijiu so you need to take care when drinking multiple cocktails.

The Taizi Baijiu is delicious and complex, one of the best Baijiu I've tasted, and it earns my highest recommendation. It will appeal to many spirit lovers and will change your perceptions about how you think Baijiu tastes.    

Monday, November 20, 2017

Moonshine? A History of Sotol in the U.S.

"More than 75% of the population of Mexico may be illiterate. Educational methods in Mexico follow more closely cock-fighting, sotol drinking, and the bull ring rather than the "three R's."
--Omaha Daily Bee, March 26, 1914: A letter to the editor written by Wood B. Wright

This racist comment is interesting for one aspect, that it mentions Sotol drinking rather than Mezcal or Tequila. Today, when discussing Mexico, most people would first mention Tequila and then maybe Mezcal. Very few people though would mention or even know about Sotol. However, back in the early 20th century, Sotol was apparently much more dominant in the northern region of Mexico and Americans on the borders were more familiar with it. Sotol has since been eclipsed by Tequila and Mezcal, but it is starting to make a bit of a comeback and you should learn more about it.

The Sotol plant (Dasylirion wheeleri), also known as the Desert Spoon, derives its name from the Nahuatl word “Tzotolin,” which basically translates as “palm with long and thin leaves.” It was once thought to be a type of Agave but it was eventually discovered that it actually is a succulent that belongs in the Nolinaceae family. Both the Agave and Nolinaceae families fall under the same plant order, Asparagales, so they are related to a degree. Sotol grows in northern Mexico and ranges into the U.S., primarily in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

Indigenous peoples have been using the Sotol plant for thousands of years, for a number of different purposes. They use the strong fibers of the leaves to make cords and weave baskets. The base of the leaf has been used to make a spoon-like utensil, which led to the Sotol being called the Desert Spoon. The core of the plant has been used as a food source, and some peoples also fermented the plant to make alcohol.

Once distillation was introduced to Mexico, then some people began to distill the Sotol plant, creating an alcoholic spirit that also was named Sotol. Sotol is primarily produced in the northern Mexican regions of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango, though it can be found in other Mexican regions as well. In 2004, Mexico granted Sotol a Designation of Origin (DO) and formed a Consejo Mexicano de Sotol to regulate its production. Legally, Sotol can only be produced in the states of ChihuahuaCoahuila and Durango.  Generally the producers uses wild Sotol plants, which commonly take about fifteen years to mature, and it is said that one plant can produce a single bottle of Sotol.

In Texas, a new Sotol distillery, Desert Door, has recently opened to the public, raising the issue of whether there is a history of Sotol distillation in the U.S. There appears to be some anecdotal evidence, stories passed down from family members, that Sotol might have been illegally distilled, a form of moonshine, in Texas. It certainly seems plausible that it might have occurred but it would be good if we could find some documentary evidence to support the belief.

I decided to conduct some preliminary research on the issue and based on this initial work, I couldn't find any documents to directly support the allegation of Texans distilling Sotol. What I found tends to lend more support to the possibility that such distillation didn't occur on any significant basis in Texas, and was essentially limited to Mexico. However, I did find a single reference mentioning Sotol distillation by some of the indigenous peoples of Texas region. Further research into that area is definitely warranted.

One of the earliest documents I found, with substantial information on Sotol, was in The American Naturalist Vol. 15, No. 11, Nov., 1881, an article titled "Sotol" by Dr. V. Harvard, a U.S. Army Surgeon who was stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota. Dr. Harvard noted that the production of Sotol "... is carried on mostly in the Mexican States of Chihuahua, Cohuihuila and Sonora, and sotol mescal is the ordinary alcoholic beverage of the native population. It is precluded in Texas by the high duties laid on this class of industry." Dr. Harvard doesn't indicate that any "sotol mescal" is produced in Texas, or elsewhere in the U.S.

Dr. Harvard then goes into a detailed explanation of "sotol mescal," from its harvest to a description of the heads, noting harvesting is suspended only during the rainy reason, from June to September. He also notes how the heads are baked in circular pits, which are about ten feet deep, before they are pounded into a pulp. This sounds similar in some respects to the production of Mezcal. However, the pulp is then thrown into vats for fermentation, and for a few days, men tread upon the pulp with their feet. That foot-treading generally doesn't occur when making Mezcal. Once fermentation is complete, it is then placed into a still. "The first liquor obtained, being richer in alcohol and possessing to a higher degree the peculiar aroma of sotol mescal, is considered of better quality."

Dr. Harvard provides some information on the pricing of "sotol mescal" too. "A vinata in good running order will turn out a Mexican barrel a day (about twenty-eight gallons), sold at an average price of fifteen dollars, and retailing for thirty or forty centsaquart." He also is appreciative of its taste, "Sotol mescal is a pure, wholesome alcoholic drink; if the best brand be kept long enough to lose its sharp edge, it compares favorably with good whisky;.." And another benefit is "On account of its cheapness and characteristic taste, mescal is very seldom adulterated." This is a fascinating article and you should read it for even more information on Sotol.

In some subsequent written references, Sotol in Texas and New Mexico is mentioned as animal feed, with no reference to distillation. A Colorado newspaper, Walsenburg World, June 12, 1892 wrote that in the Pacos river valley of Texas, they are using a "peculiar" sheep feed called Sotol, noting that men with axes must first cut open the Sotol heads and that the sheep are quite fond of the Sotol.

The Santa Fe Daily New Mexican, April 02, 1895, in an article titled "Live Stock Interests," wrote "Attention is now being directed to the nutritive and fattening qualities of sotol, a vegetable growth of the cacti species. Sotol is said by stockmen, who have closely studied its virtues as a stock food, to furnish both feed and water, as it contains sufficient moisture supply stock for long periods without water. Sheep readily fatten on it while cattle and horses take to it as they do to grain. It is not available for sheep unless burst open with an ax." So we see Sotol being used as feed for sheep, cattle and horses, but there isn't any mention that anyone locally is distilling it into alcohol.

There are a number of other newspaper articles during this time frame which discuss feeding sotol to animals, especially sheep, and I haven't added many of them as the information would be duplicative of what I've already mentioned. In none of those articles will you find references to Texans distilling Sotol alcohol.

One of the first references to Sotol being used to distill alcohol isn't quite what you think as no one will be drinking that alcohol. The Brownsville Daily Herald, October 12, 1906, in an article titled "And Ozona Is Advertised," reports that: "Another gold mine has been discovered in Texas, namely, the vast quantities of alcohol contained in the sotol bush. At Ozone, in Crockett county, the light and ice company is making its own fuel from the sotol and this same company proposes to supply fuel for power to all the surrounding country from its distilling plant." Again, there is no mention that anyone in Texas is distilling Sotol for alcohol consumption. You would have thought this article might have mentioned it if it were occurring.

There are additional references to the plans to use Sotol for fuel. The Jimplecute, October 13, 1906 mentions "San Antonio: John Young of Ozona, who is at the head of the company that proposes to distill denatured alcohol known at (sic) "sotol," is in this city and has shed some new light on the proposed enterprise. He says that sotol plant has somewhat the appearance of a cabbage and grows in great abundance all over West Texas. For many years the Mexicans have manufactured mescal from the plant, producing a good grade of alcohol." Though it mentions Mexicans making alcohol from Sotol, there continues to be a lack of mention of any Texans doing the same.

The San Angelo Press, October 18, 1906 adds more detail, stating that the denatured alcohol will replace fuel oil in machinery plants, also stating that: "Other good uses have been made of sotol, however. Sheepmen in the sotol section have long utilized it as the chief food during the winter for their flocks." And once again, despite refereeing other uses for Sotol, there isn't any mention of Texans making alcohol from Sotol.

As for the use of Sotol as feed, the Albuquerque Evening Citizen, July 03, 1907 published an article, Alfalfa versus Sotol for Cattle, discussing a report prepared by a New Mexico agricultural experiment station that conducted a study of the use of Alfalfa vs Sotol. Though they found that Sotol was generally cheaper than Alfalfa, commonly by as much as half, they also concluded that Alfalfa was generally better nutritionally for the animals unless additional ingredients were added to the Sotol feed. In the end, it came down to how inexpensive a farmer could obtain Sotol and the other ingredients as compared to Alfalfa.

In an intriguing article titled, Useful Desert PlantThe Florida Star, October 09, 1908 mentions that at the last session of Congress, permission was granted so a company could produce denatured alcohol from Sotol and a distillery was subsequently constructed at El Paso. The article also provides some more general and historical information about Sotol. First, there is a fascinating mention of the Spaniard's first contact with Sotol alcohol near the Rio Grande. "When the early Spanish explorers first penetrated the region along the Rio Grande river below Alpine more than two centuries ago they found that the Pueblo and other Indian tribes had a knowledge of the alcoholic properties of the sotol plant. Primitive stills were in operation, from which a fiery white liquor was obtained." This is documentary evidence of Sotol distillation, conducted by Pueblos, in the U.S. More research into this area is needed to determine how prevalent Sotol distillation might have been among the indigenous peoples of America.

The article then discusses the current status of Sotol, reporting that: "The sotol liquor still is a favorite beverage along the Mexicans of the border. The American cowboy of this region has an intimate knowledge of the "fighting" qualities of this liquor. It is one of the phases of initiation which the tenderfoot is always put through upon the border ranches." However, there isn't any mention that anyone in Texas is distilling Sotol.

Smuggling Sotol across the border, from Mexico into the U.S. was a problem and there are multiple references in various newspapers about people being caught smuggling. For example, in the El Paso Herald, August 04, 1910, there is a report of a Mexican smuggler trying to discard his contraband Sotol, "the Mexican booze," before he is apprehended by the border authorities. In none of these references is there any indication that Americans were distilling their own Sotol.

In the Bryan Daily Eagle And Pilot, May 08, 1911 there is a brief mention of Sotol: "Then there are the sotol and the maguey and other desert plants, which the Mexican well knows how to convert into either food or drink." Once again, Sotol distillation seems restricted to Mexico and there is no mention of it occurring in the U.S.

The use of Sotol for animal feed took a technological step forward as reported in El Paso Herald, July 04, 1917. A new company was formed in El Paso, Sotol Products, to produce feed for livestock derived form the Sotol plant. The company has a new patented process which produces a nutritious Sotol molasses. This molasses is then combined with the pith of the Sotol as well as some Alfalfa or other vegetable material. This livestock feed could be sold at "an extraordinary low price."

In a follow-up, in El Paso Herald, July 27, 1918, there is an advertisement for this new Sotol animal feed. The "Sotol Molasses Mixed Feed" contains a blend of 25% Alfalfa Meal, 25% Ground Sotol Plant, and 40% Sotol Molasses. There is then a breakdown touching on the feed's Fats, Protein, Nitrogen Free Extract & Crude Fiber and comparing them to beet pulp, showing that the molasses mixed feed was better for livestock. And the advertisement also stresses the low cost of this product.

In my preliminary researches, it seems there is some evidence of Sotol distillation by the indigenous people of the southwestern U.S. though more research should be done. However, I haven't find any documentary evidence that any Texans were involved in the distillation of Sotol, no Sotol "moonshine." And with all of these articles, it seems likely at least one of them would have mentioned distillation in Texas if it had occurred. The printed references seem to restrict such distillation to Mexico.

As more Mexican Sotol becomes available in the U.S. market, I recommend you seek it out. Last night, I enjoyed a glass of Sotol at the new Bodega Canal, near TD Garden. You'll find some other local Mexican restaurants too that may carry one or two Sotol. Be adventurous and enjoy a new spirit!

"There is some resemblance between the cabbage and sotol, but there is no reason to conclude that cabbage beer is anything like mescal, one drop of which, it has been said, will make a rabbit go out and hunt a fight with a bulldog."
--Bryan Daily Eagle And Pilot, August 26, 1911

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sips & Nibbles: Thanksgiving Edition

I am offering a special Thanksgiving edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. Today, you'll find some restaurant options for Thanksgiving if you just don't feel like cooking this year.
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1) Capo’s talented culinary team is offering a variety of options to help make this Thanksgiving the best one yet. Leave the baking to the experts and order a special Thanksgiving Pie to Go or join Capo for prix fixe and a la carte Thanksgiving Day dining options.

PIES TO GO
This Thanksgiving Capo is offering made-to-order Specialty Pies by renowned Boston pastry chef Kate Holowchik, the newest addition to the Capo culinary team. Available for pre-order now through Monday, November 20, the beautiful pies are sure to turn heads at the dinner table. Chef Kate’s baking up Thanksgiving favorites including Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie, and decadent French Silk for just $25 each. All three flavors are also available gluten-free, upon request, for $30 each. Visit https://www.caposouthboston.com/store/ to order a pie.
When: Last Day to Order: Monday, November 20; Pick Up: Tuesday, November 21 – Thursday, November 23
Cost: Holiday pies are $25 each (gluten-free also available for $30)

TURKEY GOBBLER TO GO
Enjoy Thanksgiving on the go with a special Turkey Gobbler Sandwich packed with Roasted Turkey, chestnut sausage stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, caramelized onion focaccia, roasted turkey gravy. The Turkey Gobbler Sandwich is the perfect option for Bostonians stuck working on the holiday that are still looking for their Thanksgiving fix, or the unlucky hosts who were left with no leftovers for next-day sandwiches. Swing by Capo on Thanksgiving between 2pm and 10pm to pick up Chef Nick Dixon’s ultimate turkey sandwich for just $12.

THANKSGIVING DINING
The team at Capo welcomes guests to enjoy a hearty Turkey Day meal at Capo, with a variety of options to accommodate families of all sizes. Dishes by Chef Nick Dixon and desserts from pastry chef Kate Holowchik can be enjoyed as a three-course prix fixe menu ($45/adult, $20/children, free for children under 4) or a la carte.

First Course (for prix fixe, choice of)
Lobster Bisque, Cream lobster bisque, crème fraiche, $15
Gnocchi Alforno, Hand-rolled gnocchi, English peas, shaved truffle, $16
Cacio de Pepe, House-made spaghetti, guanciale, black pepper, pecorino Romano, $15
Second Course (for prix fixe, choice of)
Roast Turkey, Chestnut and sausage stuffing, Yukon mashed potatoes, winter vegetables, cornbread soufflé, gravy, cranberry bourbon sauce, $25
Roast Prime Rib, Yukon mashed potatoes, bone marrow popover, au jus, $32
Eggplant Involtini, fresh mozzarella, smoked tomato sauce, torn basil, $18
Third Course (for prix fixe, choice of)
Pumpkin Crostada, $10
Apple Pie Tiramisu, $10
Chocolate Hazelnut Tart, $10
A La Carte Side Dishes
Roasted Winter Squash, delicata squash, Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, rosemary, $10
Cornbread Soufflé, $10
Slow Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole, $12

Capo will be open on Thanksgiving for dinner from 2pm – 10pm, with last call at 11:30pm. For Reservations, please call 617-993-8080.

2) The newly opened Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is celebrating their first Thanksgiving in Kendall Square by dishing out Hunanese twists on traditional “Turkey Day” staples and family-style prix fixe menus for four-to-eight guests for two straight days, November 23 & November 24 from 11am-close.

Sumiao’s a la carte specialties include the four-piece Pan-Seared Pumpkin Cake with sweet pumpkin, sticky rice powder, condensed milk and sesame ($12); Mala Turkey with house chili soy sauce, Szechuan peppercorn oil, cilantro and sesame ($14); Crispy Turkey with hoisin-BBQ sauce ($28); and, tempura-style Yolk Breaded Pumpkin with preserved duck yolk and sweet pumpkin ($18).

Whether feasting for Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, group dining is made simple with Sumiao’s trio of prix fixe-style menus ($125-$250 per group). Each menu starts with Melted Gold Soup with pumpkin and millet. Moving onto the appetizer course (Sumiao Shang Gan, Scallion Pancake or Spicy Dried Baby Fish), groups of four pick one while groups of six choose two, and eight select three. Each guest then can choose one sharable entrée from a selection of 12 signature vegetable, seafood and meat dishes like the Spicy Cauliflower, Red-Braised Pork Belly or Steamed Duijiao Tilapia. Each group also gets a complimentary order of one of the a la carte specials featured on these two days.

To make Reservations, please call 617-945-0907

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.
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1) On Wednesday, November 29, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Celtics star Marcus Smart will be hosting An Evening with Marcus Smart at Towne Stove and Spirits to benefit his YounGameChanger Foundation. Guests will be treated to passed bites; cocktails; silent and live auctions; and meet-and-greet opportunities with some of Boston’s notable athletes and VIPs.

Boston Celtics Guard Marcus Smart established the YounGameChanger Foundation to provide families with seriously and chronically ill children with encouragement and life-changing experiences and to be a voice of motivation, empowerment and encouragement to inner city young athletes to be game changers off the court or field.

Single tickets cost $200 and proceeds will benefit Marcus Smart's YounGameChanger Foundation's mission.

To purchase tickets, please visit https://www.marcussmart.org/event/eveningwithmarcussmart2017

2) November marks Diabetes Awareness Month and Kendall Square’s newly opened Sumiao Hunan Kitchen has teamed up with Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) to help bring attention to the impact of diabetes on millions of Asian Americans. All month, the team at Sumiao will be featuring a special menu with a collection of delicious, diabetes-friendly dishes, hand-selected by one of the nutritionists from Joslin’s AADI.

Standout Hunanese-style selections will include Cinderella with Japanese pumpkin and lily ($12); Kung Pao Shrimp with peanuts, green & red peppers and dried chili pepper ($20); Hunan Steak Tips with white beech mushroom, serrano pepper, black pepper and honey ($28); Lava Fish with swai filet and duo jiao ($24); and, Steamed Butterfly Shrimp with aged orange peel, garlic and peppers ($28). In total, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen will offer more than 20 diabetes-friendly options.

One in two Asian Americans will develop diabetes or pre-diabetes in their lifetime, despite having a lower average body mass index than the overall population of Americans. Originally from Hunan, China, Sumiao Chen has followed the diabetes epidemic closely through her experience as a scientist and former doctor, sparking a passion for raising awareness about the issue and promoting health conscious menu choices at her restaurant.

Joslin makes no guarantee that these items will be available at time of visit. Joslin does not endorse products or services, including those of this restaurant.

3) On Monday, December 4, from 7pm-10pm, Bar Boulud’s resident Sommelier, David Bérubé, invites guests to celebrate the holiday season with a festive five-course Champagne Dinner featuring pours from Champagne Taittinger.

Founded in 1932, Champagne Taittinger is regarded as a regional leader for chardonnay-based champagnes; they are renowned for their exclusive and extremely rare prestige cuvee: Comtes de Champagne. Showcasing a premier selection of vintages including the Comtes de Champagne White 2006, each pairing has been chosen to complement the unique, harvest-inspired dishes created by Chef de Cuisine Michael Denk and Pastry Chef Robert Differ.

Bar Boulud’s Five-Course Champagne Taittinger Dinner will include:
Truffle Arancini
Taittinger, La Francaise, Brut, 3L
Caviar “Sandwich” (Brioche, red onion, crème fraîche, farm egg)
Taittinger, La Francaise, Brut, 3L
Halibut (Hazelnut crust, spaghetti squash, Brussels sprouts, beurre blanc)
Taittinger, Prélude, Grand Crus, Brut
Veal Duo- Roasted tenderloin, veal cheek blanquette (kumquats, black trumpet mushrooms, carrots, parsnips)
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne, Brut 2006
Opera Torte Moderne (Almond biscuit, whipped ganache, ivoire chocolate-espresso gelato)
Taittinger, Prestige, Brut Rosé

COST: $175 per person (taxes and gratuity included)
Tickets may be purchased at Eventbrite.com: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/taittinger-champagne-dinner-tickets-39525509864

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pabu: Kirin-zan Sake For The Win

The relatively new Pabu, located in the Millennium Tower, is a modern-take on a Japanese izakaya and I was fortunate to dine there recently with a friend of mine from Japan. We opted for the Omakase, nine courses of nigiri and seafood, and it was superb, some of the best sushi I've ever enjoyed. I didn't take photos or notes of the dinner as it was an evening simply to enjoy, to spend time with my friend and his wife. However, I was thoroughly impressed with the food and am eager to return to check out more of their menu.

They also have an extensive beverage program, including Sake, Japanese Whiskey, Shochu, wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, and more. You'll find 8 Sakes by the glass ($12-$24) or carafe ($25-$49), 2 Hot Sakes by the carafe ($25-$30), and over 60 Sakes available by the bottle. It may have the largest Sake selection in the Boston-area. Bottles size ranges from from 300ml to 500ml, from 720ml ($59-$325) to 1.8 liters. The mark-up on Sake bottles seems to be roughly 2-3X retail, dependent on the specific bottle. There is an excellent diversity in the Sake selection, including a number of bottles you don't see at other Boston restaurants.

During our dinner, we ordered two bottles of Sake, both from the same kuraKirinzan Shuzo, and it was a superb decision.

The Kirinzan Shuzo was established in 1843 by Kichizaemon Saito, who was also a seller of charcoal. Initially, he named his brand Fukunoi, a term referring to the blessings of the gods as well as the natural waters of the area. Eventually, Tokuhei Saito, the 4th generation of the family,  chose to abandon the charcoal business and commit fully to Sake production. He also changed the name of the company to Kirinzan, as the brewery was located near Mt. Kirin in the town of Tsugawa in the Niigata Prefecture.

The Kirin is also a mythical creature, in both Chinese and Japanese mythology, and in Japan resembles a dragon crossed with a deer, with a single horn like a unicorn. It is considered a very positive omen, a harbinger of happiness, prosperity and good luck. I'm sure Kirin-zan Sake will bring you much happiness.

The Sake brewery is now located in the town of Aga, as eventually Tsugawa merged with another town and two villages. They rely on local ingredients, from their rice to their water, and their motto is "Brand sake begins with individuals working in harmony."

The Kirin-Zan Junmai Daiginjo ($189/720ml at Pabu & about $80 retail) comes in a cool pentagonal blue bottle. With a Sake Meter Value of +3 and Acidity of 1.3, it is made from Gohyaku-mangoku rice that has been polished down to 45%. This is a superb Sake, elegant and complex, with such an alluring taste. It is clean and bright, with subtle citrus notes, some peach and melon, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. It is said to be "reminiscent of a clean mountain stream," and it possesses such a sense of purity, a Sake that paired perfectly with the nigiri. This is a Sake which impresses and I highly recommend it.

The Kirin-Zan Junmai ($79/720ml at Pabu & about $36 retail) and comes in a more rounded bottle. With a Sake Meter Value of +5 and Acidity of 1.4, it is made from a blend of Gohyaku-mangoku and Yukinosei rice that has been polished down to 60%. That amount of polishing would usually qualify it as a Ginjo but the brewery has not chosen to do label it as such. This Sake is supposed to reflect the typical style of Niigata, which is known as tanrei and typically is said to be crisp and smooth. And it is dry, crisp and smooth, with more richness and acidity than the Daiginjo, and subtle flavors of melon, apple and steamed rice. Its complexity is evident, though not as complex as the Daiginjo, and its richer flavors would pair well with heartier dishes, such as beef and duck. It too comes with my strong recommendation.

Check out Pabu and be sure to drink some Sake!  


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Boulder Canyon: Thanksgiving Kettle Chips

I have to say that I dislike most flavored potato chips. I certainly am intrigued by the potential, like Chicken & Waffles or Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, but they are usually a major disappointment. Not only do they not taste like the stated flavor, but they don't even taste good. So, when I heard about kettle chips with the flavors of Turkey & Gravy and Pumpkin Pie, I was justifiably wary but also curious. I received media samples of these chips and was pleasantly surprised by what I tasted.

Back in 1994, brothers Don and Jay Poole started Boulder Canyon, with the objective of creating the best potato chip. They had previously been involved in engineering and serving manufacturing equipment for the food industry and one of their clients was a potato chip company. The Poole brothers were intrigued and created a better way of making potato chips. Don and Jay started producing kettle chips, using their new small-batch cooking methods, as well as America-grown potatoes and natural ingredients.

Kettle cooked potato chips use thickly sliced premium potatoes that are slow cooked in small kettles using sunflower and/or safflower oil. They have a crunchy texture and locally, you probably have enjoyed Cape Cod Kettle Chips. Boulder Canyon also now produces Frozen Riced Vegetables, Popcorn, and Speciality Chips made from other ingredients besides potatoes. They also make a series of Seasonal items, such as the summer Sweet Corn Chips and Peach Cobbler Chips. And for Thanksgiving, they offer Turkey & Gravy and Pumpkin Pie.

I hadn't previously tasted any of the Boulder Canyon kettle chips so these Thanksgiving flavored chips were my first experience. It won't be my last.

The Turkey & Gravy kettle chips are crunchy, with a slightly thicker chip than you get with the average potato chip. It is a well-made kettle chip and I can easily see how their basic kettle chip would be appealing all on its own. The ingredient label notes the chips contain sea salt, onion powder, molasses and spices and other information seems to indicate those spices might include sage, thyme and rosemary. Frankly, the chips don't taste like turkey or gravy, but they do bring to mind the typical spices found in Thanksgiving dinner, especially those in stuffing. The savory notes are tasty and may not taste like poultry, but the spice combination works well. They certainly would be an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving feast. They are also one of the best flavored chips I've enjoyed in a long time.

The Pumpkin Pie kettle chips are just as crunchy as the Turkey & Gravy ones, solidifying my thought that the basic kettle chips would be thoroughly appealing. The ingredient label for these chips lists pumpkin, molasses, cinnamon, paprika, and spice. And when you open the bag, a prominent aroma of cinnamon with hints of pumpkin wafts through the air. These chips actually resemble the flavor of pumpkin pie, though the pumpkin flavor is more subdued in these chips with the cinnamon being much more dominant. And the flavors once again work well, a pleasing combination of sweet and salty, which are also addictive. I enjoyed these chips far more than I expected.

Boulder Canyon impressed me with these two flavored kettle chips and now I'll be seeking out more of their products. If you want to bring something different to your Thanksgiving feast, why not bring one or both of these flavored chips. It certainly would also make for one of the easiest Thanksgiving dinners, just open a couple bags of the kettle chips.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Pantry to Palate: An Acadian Cookbook With Rappie Pie

"The point of writing a cookbook is to get people to cook."
--Simon Thibault

Some cookbooks are simply fun to read while others provide intriguing recipes. They might also teach you about other cultures, broadening your knowledge and experience. In addition, you could appreciate the beauty of the photography, the exquisite and mouthwatering dishes that are visually displayed. And sometimes a cookbook touches you in a deeper way, striking you on an emotional level and creating a connection to your heart and soul. That recently happened to me.

I received a review copy of a new cookbook, which is due out today, called Pantry to Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food by Simon Thibault (Nimbus Publishing, $29.95), a trade paperback of 250 pages. Simon is a Halifax-based journalist and radio producer whose work focuses on food and this is his first book. The cookbook explores Simon's Acadian ancestry, presenting approximately 50 recipes, many derived through his own family.  

In the 17th century, the Acadians were the earliest European settlers of Canada, having come from France, and primarily settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Unfortunately, the English expelled most of them in the 18th century, with numerous Acadians relocating to Louisiana. In the forward to this cookbook, Naomi Duguid, a famed food writer and photographer, stated, "In it we learn about the tenacity of Acadian food traditions and the way they have evolved." You may not be familiar with Acadian cuisine and this cookbook would be an excellent introduction.

"It's hard to talk about food and not talk about family."
--Simon Thibault

The majority of the recipes in this book come from Simon's family notebooks, old, hand-written cookbooks. These cookbooks were written by the women in his family so Simon stated that the cookbook is "devoted to the collective and semi-collected works of women who cooked for and amidst generations of Acadians."

The cookbook is broken down into six sections, including:
--Preserves (from Pickled Beets to Mustard Pickles)
--Breads (from Johnny Cakes to Workhouse White Bread)
--Lard (info about lard and directions on rendering lard)
--Tête de Cochon (from Headcheese to Boudin)
--Soups, Sides & Staples (such as Fricot, Meat Pies; Rappie Pie/Rapure, Potato Pancakes, & Seafood Chowder a Mame)
--Desserts (such as Molasses Cake, Seaweed Pie, Baked Apple Pudding, Date Cake & Agnes Doughnuts)

The Desserts section is the largest of the six, followed by Soups, Sides & Staples. All of these sections include plenty of history, background and family information about the recipes, presenting a fascinating story about family, culture and food. The recipes range in complexity from simple to moderate, and nearly all of the ingredients are readily available. Throughout the book, you'll also find plenty of compelling photos, of food and more, by food photographer Noah Fecks. Some of the photos are even of the old notebooks that Simon used as a resource for the recipes.

"The foods brought out during celebrations are often the foods that tell us the most about ourselves, no matter our heritage."
--Simon Thibault

The Soups, Sides & Staples sections begins with an essay, Big Meals, Big Tables, discussing how Simon's family made Rappie Pie. Usually made and served in large pans, it was often for special occasions, especially considering the length of time it took to prepare and cook. It was a joint effort, with both the men and women taking on specific roles, the men engaged in the laborious task of removing the starch from the potatoes while the women were picking the chickens clean of meat. The men and women continued working together on the rest of the tasks, a true family project. And when the Rappie Pie is done, it was served with butter and molasses.

Later in this section, Simon provided some history about Rappie Pie, noting that there were many different ways to make it. In addition, due to the nature of the dish, recipes generally weren't written down, instead they were passed down from person to person, generation to generation. Simon provides one recipe which can serve as a template for your own Rappie Pie creation.

Simon even provides some local spin on Rappie Pie, mentioning Bernadette Lyle, who is from an Acadian village in Nova Scotia and now lives in Wakefield. She started an annual Rappie Pie dinner in Wakefield, which became an extremely popular. Simon also mentions the Facebook group, Rappie Pie Rules!, which posts pictures from many people who make Rappie Pie at home.

It is all of this information on Rappie Pie which especially touched me. My wife and her family are from Nova Scotia and they introduced me to Rappie Pie. In my prior post, Food & Family: In Memory of Frenchie, I wrote about Rappie Pie and my family, and Simon's description of his family making Rappie Pie is similar to the stories I heard about the Babin family. The Babin's didn't write down their Rappie Pie recipe, but passed it down from generation to generation, although now the recipe has been finally written down, to ensure it endures for future generations.

We continue to make Rappie Pie for special occasions, for get-togethers with the extended family, so that the tradition does not end. And sometimes we just make Rappie Pie for dinner, which is much easier and quicker now with the frozen, pre-grated potato blocks. To us, Rappie Pie is more than just food, but it also has a strong connection to our family. And that is why this cookbook resonates so much to me, a shared connection to Simon's experiences.

I give a strong recommendation to Pantry to Palate: Remembering and Rediscovering Acadian Food by Simon Thibault, which tells a great story, relates some delicious recipes, and has great photography. And for my readers, I am also running a giveaway for a FREE copy of this cookbook. All you have to do to enter is to add a comment here on my blog, or comment on my Facebook post about this review. Then, on Wednesday, November 15, at 11pm EST, I will randomly select one of the commenters to win a copy of this book. Good luck!

Friday, November 10, 2017

2015 Ktima Tselepos Nemea Driopi: The Blood of Heracles

A wine made from this Greek grape is sometimes known as the "Blood of Heracles," because legends claim that Heracles drank this wine either before or after slaying the terrible Nemean lion. However, maybe the wine should be known as the "Blood of the Lion" as another of the legends claim that the grape vines were splattered with the blood of the Nemean Lion after Heracles killed it. The history of this grape may not extend back to ancient Greece, but it is certainly one of the most important grapes in modern Greece.

Cava Spiliadis is an importer of Greeks wines which were personally curated by George Spiliadis, the son of Milos restaurateur Costas Spiliadis. They represent a number of Greek wineries and I recently received several media samples from their portfolio. I've long been a passionate advocate for the wines of Greece, and some of the reasons for my passion can be found in Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine

This week, I'm reviewing four Greek wines from the Cava Spiliadis portfolio, each worthy of your attention, each compelling for different reasons. All four of the wines are red, and would be great for the fall and winter, ideal for holiday parties and feasts. Previously this week, I reviewed the 2013 Ktima Gerovassiliou Avaton, an intriguing red blend that uses the ancient Limnio grape, the 2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos, a tasty wine made from a mystery grape, and the 2014 Ktima Katsaros Valos, a wine made from Xinomavro, one of only three grapes that starts with "X." It's time for the last of the four wines to be reviewed.

Ktima Tselepos, located in the region of Tegea, Arcadia in the Peloponnese, was founded in 1989 by Giannis Tselepos who studied oenology at the University of Dijon. He worked in several French wineries in the Burgundy region and eventually returned to Greece. The vineyards are situated at an altitude of about 750 meters. In 2003, Giannis bought the Driopi Vineyard, a 50 year-old vineyard that constitutes about 8.5 hectares and is located in Koutsi, Nemea. He replanted 4 hectares, seeking to grow high-quality Agiorgitiko.

Nemea is located in the northeastern part of the Peloponnese and is famed in the myth of the Labors of Heracles. As atonement for murdering his family in an insane rage, Heracles was told he had to perform the commands of King Eurystheus, his cousin. The first mission for Heracles was to slaw the Nemean lion and bring its pelt back to the King. In one version of the tale, the lion was kidnapping women, using them as bait to slay men who came to save them.

No other warrior was able to slay the lion as it could not be slain with mortal weapons, its golden fur invulnerable to normal weapons. It's terrible claws could also slice through any armor or shield. Heracles was unaware of its magical defenses when he first encountered it, so he tried to shoot arrows in it, quickly learning that the arrows merely bounced off its fur. Eventually, Heracles temporarily stunned it with a club and then he used his great strength to strangle it to death. Finally, he realized he could use its own claws to remove its pelt. To celebrate his victory, it is claimed he consumed the wine of Nemea, allegedly made from the Agiorgitiko grape. There is no evidence though that the grape actually existed that long ago.

The 2015 Ktima Tselepos Nemea Driopi ($18) is produced from 100% Agiorgitiko, fermented in stainless steel and then matured for 8-10 months in large oak barrels, about 40% new oak. Agiorgitiko is the most planted red grape in Greece, and its name translates as "St. George's" grape, which might have been named after a village or chapel in Nemea. A variety of wine styles are produced from this grape, from easy drinking wines to more age-worthy ones. About 40,000 bottles of this particular wine were produced.

This tends toward more of the easy drinking variety, with a deep, dark red color and subtle aromas of black and red fruits and a tough of spice. On the palate, there are plenty of juicy fruit flavors of black cherry, raspberry and plum, with a sprinkling of spice notes and a moderately long and pleasing finish . The tannins are well integrated, the wine is silky smooth, and you could easily drink this on its own or with everything from pizza to burgers. There is plenty of complexity in the wine for this price point and each sip makes you crave another. Highly recommended.

Drink more Greek wine!

2014 Ktima Katsaros Valos: The Threshold of Acid-Black

There are three wine grapes that begin with "X," including Xarello (indigenous to Spain), Xinomavro (indigenous to Greece) and Xynisteri (indigenous to Cyprus). Have you tasted wines produced from these grapes? I've been fortunate to taste wines made from all three of these grapes and I'm here today to highlight one of those wines, a Greek wine made of 100% Xinomavro.

Cava Spiliadis is an importer of Greeks wines which were personally curated by George Spiliadis, the son of Milos restaurateur Costas Spiliadis. They represent a number of Greek wineries and I recently received several media samples from their portfolio. I've long been a passionate advocate for the wines of Greece, and some of the reasons for my passion can be found in Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine

This week, I'm reviewing four Greek wines from the Cava Spiliadis portfolio, each worthy of your attention, each compelling for different reasons. All four of the wines are red, and would be great for the fall and winter, ideal for holiday parties and feasts. Previously this week, I reviewed the 2013 Ktima Gerovassiliou Avaton, an intriguing red blend that uses the ancient Limnio grape, and the 2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos, a tasty wine made from a mystery grape.

Ktima Katsaros is a small, family-run winery that is located on the slopes of Mount Olympus,at an altitude of about 750 meters above sea level, in the region of Krania. Mount Olympus is the highest mountain and Greece and once was thought to be the home of the Greek gods. The winery was established in 1985, and its organic vineyards encompass about 20 acres. Their current winemaker, Evripidis Katsaros, began working at the family estate in 2007, and brings with him experience from having worked at two different French wineries.

The 2014 Ktima Katsaros Valos ($25) is produced from 100% Xinomavro, a grape whose name translates as "acid-black." In addition, the term "Valos" toughly translates as "threshold." Xinomavro likely originated in the Náoussa region, in northern Greece, and is the second most planted red grape in Greece. The grape is most often compared to Nebbiolo, and tends to possess strong tannins and high acidity, meaning it also can age very well. As the wine ages, it starts to lose its red fruit flavors and begins to acquire savory notes, especially tomato and olive. I've tasted numerous Xinomavro wines, and have been impressed with their diversity, taste and complexity.

The Valos is fermented in stainless steel, matured in new French barriques for 9 months, and has a 13.5% ABV. Only about 4000 bottles of this wine were produced. With an inky dark red color, it has a pleasant nose of red cherry with light spice notes. On the palate, there are cherry notes, as well as hints of ripe plum, accompanied by some savory elements, especially herbal notes which are most evident on the finish. The tannins are well integrated, the finish is long and satisfying, and the wine is simply delicious. This is a wine that would go well with duck, wild boar, pork loin or even a steak though you could probably enjoy this with a pizza too.

Opt for the X, the X in Xinomavro.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sips & Nibbles: Thanksgiving Edition

I am offering a special Thanksgiving edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. Today, you'll find some restaurant options for Thanksgiving if you just don't feel like cooking this year.
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1) It’s time to start thinking about how you are going to prep for Thanksgiving. Make plans now to participate in Chef Tony Maws’ Thanksgiving Class on Saturday, November 11, from 10am-11am, at Craigie On Main. You will be the Thanksgiving Hero, as you will learn:
*Three different turkey cooking techniques -Old School Roasting -Spatchcocking -2 cook Method
*How to carve a turkey -techniques -knives
*Leftovers Magic
*Great Thanksgiving Beverages

Price: $150 per person
Make Reservations by calling 617-497-5511

2) On Thursday, November 23, from 11am-4pm, Aura at the Seaport Hotel will feature an expansive Thanksgiving Brunch Buffet paired with live jazz music from the Lance Houston Jazz Quartet. The family-friendly spread includes a raw bar, breakfast offerings like eggs Benedict, tomato basil quiche, and French toast as well as traditional turkey-day dishes like roast turkey breast with gravy, sirloin with porcini red wine sauce, roasted butternut squash puree, cornbread stuffing, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and roasted Brussels sprouts. Finish off the holiday meal with indulgent treats from the dessert buffet including an assortment of cakes, pies, mini pastries, and a chocolate fountain.

Cost: $85 per adult; $25 per child ages 5-12; complimentary for children 4-and-under
For reservations, please call 617-385-4304

3) The Seaport Hotel wants to help turkey lovers host the “Friendsgiving” feast of their dreams this holiday season by offering the chance for guests to bring up to 23 friends to the Seaport Hotel’s state-of-the-art Action Kitchen, for a private, interactive and collaborative cooking experience led by Executive Chef Richard Rayment. Chef Rayment will guide the group through the process of bringing their prix fixe menu to life and afterwards, guests can sit down to enjoy their meal in the intimate dining room and reap the rewards of their handiwork with perfectly paired wines.

The “Friendsgiving” menu features an assortment of artisan cheeses and fresh bread for guests to nibble on as they work, as well as classic turkey-day dishes including rolled roast turkey roulade with cornbread stuffing and pan gravy, fresh cranberry and orange relish, sweet potato and marshmallow casserole and a creamy corn and baby spinach casserole. Guests can also finish off their meal by making, baking and decorating their own Thanksgiving sugar cookies.

“Friendsgiving” in Action Kitchen is offered from November 17-19 and November 24-26 and costs $90 per person with the option to add a beverage package for an additional $36 per guest. For more information or to reserve the space for your Friendsgiving Dinner, please visit www.actionkitchenboston.com.

4) This Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23, from Noon to 8:00 p.m., Chef de Cuisine Michael Denk and the culinary team at Bar Boulud, Boston will host friends and families for a warm and elegant Thanksgiving Day gathering, complete with everyone’s favorite trimmings. Featuring an extensive and bountiful three-course prix-fixe menu that is sure to please everyone at the table, Bar Boulud, Boston’s Thanksgiving dishes are crafted from seasonal ingredients carefully selected to evoke warm memories of long-loved holiday classics.

For starters, guests will begin their meal by selecting their preferred appetizer of choice from options like creamy Butternut Squash Soup, complemented by apples, pecans and spiced Chantilly cream, or a crisp Harvest Salad, laced with autumn-inspired components like delicata squash and spiced pumpkin seeds.

As a main course, guests will select one of four options on which to indulge, including, Heritage Breed Turkey, consisting of a tender roasted breast and braised leg accompanied by savory sourdough-sage stuffing, roasted green beans, local cranberry compote, and pomme purée, sided by savory rosemary turkey gravy, and Chef Denk’s hearty Braised Short Rib, boasting creamy garlic pomme puree, fresh herbs and a variety of perfectly roasted root vegetables.

To finish the meal on a sweet note, Pastry Chef Robert Differ will offer an array of elevated takes on traditional holiday treats, including Pumpkin Pie, supported by a delicious brown butter crust, topped with a drizzle of maple caramel sauce and light Chantilly cream, and Apple Tarte Tatin, capped with creamy vanilla bean ice cream, a flaky butter sablé and anglaise cream.

COST: $95 per person; $48 for children 12 and under
MORE INFO: To make a reservation, call 617-535-8800

5) On Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23, Guests are invited to Bistro du Midi to indulge in a Provençal Thanksgiving with a special three-course feast. The $75 prix fixe menu boasts an array of seasonal selections from Executive Chef Josue Louis and decadent desserts from Pastry Chef Allen Morter. Reservations are available from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on both floors. A $32 three-course sample menu is also available for children.

Guests can choose one item from each of the following courses:
First Course
--Belgian Endive Salad, poached pear, hazelnuts, fourme d’Ambert
--Heirloom Squash Soup, apple compote, chestnut, spiced crème
--Yellowfin Tuna, cucumber, avocado, black olive, shortbread crumble
--Pork & Duck Terrine, dates, house accoutrements
--Spanish Octopus, fennel, capers, almonds, Romanesco
Main Course
--Sweet Potato Gnocchi, ricotta salaya, black trumpet, cashews
--Loup de Mer, broccolini, artichoke, delicate, sauce grenobloise
--Roasted Turkey, pumpkin brioche stuffing, seasonal vegetables
--Duck Breast, celery root, candy cane beet, dates, juniper jus
--Heart of Ribeye, bone marrow croquette, sauce bordelaise
Dessert Course
--Chocolate Ganache, cassis cremeux, lavender ice cream
--Pumpkin Spice Cake, pomegranate gelee, thyme ice cream
--Maple Mousse, ginger cake, cranberry crème
--Apple Butter Beignet, sage anglaise
--Selection of Sorbet

For reservations, please call 617-426-7878

6) Executive Chef Steve Zimei of Chopps American Bar and Grill is pulling out all the stops for Thanksgiving 2017. Guests can dig into an à la carte menu featuring selections like Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, Oven Roasted Chicken Breast, Steak Frites or dig into a three-course Chef’s Turkey Dinner featuring creative interpretations of classic Thanksgiving eats.

Guests can choose on item from each of the following courses:
Appetizers
--Roasted Beet Salad, goat cheese croquette, tarragon, frisee, coriander vinaigrette
--Butternut & Apple Soup, toasted pumpkin seeds
Entrees
--Traditional Turkey Dinner, cider roasted carrots, Brussels sprouts, whipped potatoes, corn bread stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, traditional gravy
--Pumpkin Ravioli, roasted squash, hazelnuts, sage butter
Desserts
Eggnog Cheesecake, salted caramel sauce

Both the special a la carte Thanksgiving menu and Three-Course Chef’s Turkey Dinner are available from 12pm – 6 p.m.
The Three-Course Chef’s Turkey Dinner is $45/person exclusive of tax and gratuity.
Reservations are recommended. For reservations please call 781-221-6643.

7) This Thanksgiving, November 23rd, from 11am-10pm, in Boston’s South End, The Beehive, hosts its annual Thanksgiving Day feast, with a traditional prix fixe, three course menu. Executive Chef James Lyons cooks up what is now famously known as “Boston’s Liveliest Holiday Meal.” If that’s not enough, the Beehive’s approach to the festive holiday also delivers live jazz music throughout the day where patrons can celebrate with a glass of champagne or one of The Beehive’s signature cocktails like the Hi Ho with bourbon, all-spice dram, lime and pineapple gomme ($11), Queen Bee with vodka, Elderflower liquor, fresh grapefruit and champagne ($13) or the Sax Maniac with rye, Madeira Bual and amaro ($11.5).

The Beehive’s Thanksgiving Day Menu
Appetizers/First Course
--Lobster Chowder (Bacon, Potatoes, Corn, Chili)
--Butternut, Acorn & Hubbard Squash Soup (Maple Syrup, Granola)
--Kale Tabbouleh Salad (Farro, Quinoa, Beets, Orange, Pumpkin Seeds, Ricotta Salata)
--Beef Short Rib Arancini (Arabiatta Sauce)
--Chopped Autumn Salad (Apple Cider Vinaigrette)
Entrees/Second Course
--Organic Turkey (Country Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, Cape Cod Cranberry Chutney, Herbed Gravy)
--New York Strip Roast (Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Kale, Garlic Jus)
--Rack of Lamb (+$10)(Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Kale, Mustard Shallot Sauce)
--Wild King Salmon (Flat Leaf Spinach, Toasted Buckwheat, Forraged Mushrooms)
--Vegetarian (Vegan) Thanksgiving (Roasted Stuffed Delicata Squash, Carrot Porcini Osso Buccu, Cider-and-Bourbon-Glazed Shallots, Country Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, Cape Cod Cranberry Chutney, Herbed Gravy)
Dessert/Third Course
--Bourbon Pecan Pie
--Spiced Pumpkin Pie
--Malted Milk Chocolate Tart
*Please Note: Menu Subject to change

COST: $59 per person prix fixe menu (3 Courses); Children’s menu: $19 (10 & Under)
RSVP: Reservations recommended by calling 617-423-0069