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To Asia and Back twice within a couple of weeks, all with no good kosher wine

WOW! That is what I can say, when I last blogged, I was just about to leave for India, and then I went to China and then Israel and now I am back. In a single sentence – there is very little to no good kosher wine in Asia, which is a shame! I was thinking of shlepping my own wine, but truly it would not have been worth it. In the end, I suffered a bit, drank beer and some absolutely undrinkable wine (which was all I needed for a blessing), while in India, the Rabbi made Kiddish on grape juice (which I refused to drink!). What can I say, it was a truly bad string of wine weeks, that culminated in a great wine weekend with a BUNCH of great Malbec wines and then a trip to Israel (yeah a snowed in Jerusalem – coming next).

To be honest, I was truly shaken by my experience in India, the people are really nice in Bangalore India, but the infrastructure – the very basic things we take for granted in the developed nations of this world, are so deeply lacking there. On the Shabbat I was terrified to walk the streets because there were no sidewalks, sewage ran under what was defined as a sidewalk – raw and honest – no pipes and no hiding the smell. Worse the roads are underdeveloped, made for a few cars and a few cows, not millions of cars. A road that can accommodate two cars, is traversed by three cars, two auto-rickshaw, and god only knows how many “Tasmanian devil” moped drivers shifting in and out of the melee called a street in India. Sure, many would find this invigorating, but I guess I have lost that mad-insane-loving gene, and now I do not mind a dollop of calmness in my life. If you are like me – pass on India, enough said. Read the rest of this entry

Yitzchok Bernstein does it again – a 19 course culinary kosher tour de force

Yitzchok BernsteinA few months ago Heshy Fried, Yitzchok Bernstein’s sous chef and frum-satire blogger, was at the house for a shabbos dinner and he said that Yitzchok Bernstein, was back on the scene. Bernstein is the culinary mastermind behind the epic haute cuisine event that lasted some 27 courses, and which was one of the most often read posts on my blog, in the past year. Bernstein was lurking in NY for a few months – but he returned to Oakland after a short, yet successful, stint at Pomegranate.

The gang unpacking early before the dinner prep 3So, when I heard that Mr. Bernstein was back – we agreed that a dinner was in order. Fried was not sure what the actual cost of a multi-course dinner was, but after a few back and forth discussions with Bernstein we were set. Well, while the dinner was set, the next two hurdles were a bit complicated; finding and arranging with 10 other participants and then locking down a date. Throughout the process, Bernstein was as professional as they come, and responded almost immediately to our correspondences. Getting the final gang together had a few missteps along the way, but while the overall process was a bit long to arrange on my end, the final outcome was an absolute delight, but more on that in a bit.

Surf and Turf Salad- Fried Chicken Skins, Sea Beans, Nasturtium, Pansies, petit onions, root greens, Romaine Puree, Spring Green Pea Gazpacho, Morels, Fiddlehead Ferns, Poached Baby Potatoes, Shaved Chorizo - close upOnce the gang was roughly worked out, we agreed that the date was not going to work until after Passover. So once that was decided the next step was agreeing on a final date – which took a few emails. After that we were set and then came the fun part, deciding the food and wine menu. The dinner does not include wines, which is fine with me as I am picky about my wines, but wow were the dishes impressive! Initially, there was some interest in lamb, but in the end that did not work out, as I am not that in love with lamb. In the end the set of dishes were truly innovative and fascinating and unique – so I am happy we passed on the lamb for the dishes we got instead.

Shortrib Pastrami, Sauerkraut Foam, Deli Rye Gnocchi, Roasted Ramp, Rye CrumbsI laughed so hard throughout the process because initially, the number of courses was set at 12 or so, which was 100% fine. However, throughout the process of setting the menu Mr. Bernstein kept adding courses – it was HILARIOUS, I could not help from laughing whenever I would read the revised menu. It turns out that we were very lucky, Bernstein was trying out some new recipes and we were the beneficiaries of some wicked cool imaginative dishes. To be fair, some worked really well, some were awesome, and some were just 100% off the charts. Read the rest of this entry

Chicken Soup, Moroccan Merguez Tajine, Kielbasa Stew, and a plethora of wines

This past weekend saw us hosting a meal for my Nephew and friend who had just completed his qualifications to start his PHD at Berkley University.  The meal started with a nice Chicken Soup (recipe here) and my wife’s awesome whole wheat challah.  It was followed by two stews that were consumed heartily.  Benyamin Cantz joined us for the meal, along with some of our dear friends, and as I was preparing the stews, I could hear Benyo saying “never use the same ingredients in two dishes that are served during the same meal”.  So as I reused Yukon potatoes and carrots in the two stews, I knew I would hear it from him.  That said, the flavors of the two dishes were so very different that it worked out.  The tajine recipe starts off with browning both ends of sliced Merguez, cut into one inch tubes.  Once both sides are browned, I remove them from my Dutch Oven and brown the onions.  I always throw in the salt and pepper at this point to help soften the onions and make them release their water and increase their sweetness.  Once the onions are browned nicely, throw in all the spices, and make sure the spices coat the onions.  Once the spices are evenly distributed, throw in the other vegetables and let them get some of the spices coated on them as well, and cook them for 10 or so minutes to help them release their liquid.  At this point throw in the sun-dried tomatoes, the wine, water, browned Merguez, cinnamon stick, and vegetable stock.  Throw this in a preheated 400 degree oven for one hour.  Then add in the chickpeas and fruit and let cook for another 30 or so minutes.  Remove the cinnamon stick and serve.

Moroccan Merguez Tajine (recipe)

1/4 cup of olive oil
2 pounds of Merguez sliced into one inch tubes
6 cloves garlic

3 large onions cut into chunks
Salt and pepper
paprika
ground turmeric
ground cumin
cayenne pepper
ground cinnamon
ground cardamom
ground ginger
garlic powder
ground coriander
Pinch of saffron threads

4 Yukon potatoes cut into chunks
6 carrots cut into chunks
1/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup of white wine
1 cinnamon stick

1 can cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup of dried dates

The kielbasa recipe can be found here on another blog posting.  It came out OK, but not as glorious as my previous attempt.  The stews were paired with brown basmati rice, and a nice fresh green salad.  To pair with these foods, we went to a collection of wines that were brought by Benyo from his personal stash and from my stash as well.  A side note, some of the wines were well past their prime, and some were a bit past their prime.  Please do not look down at the work, rather look down on us for holding on to these puppies for too long.

The wines are listed in the order that they were consumed:

2004 Four Gates Rishona (750ml) – Score: A-
I need to start by stating that this was a bottle that Benyo made for us, as it was a 750 ml bottle, rather than the released 375 ml sized bottle.  The color on this brown tinged/dark ruby colored wine, was hopping with chicken cherry cola, coffee, mature oak, fig, and raspberry.  The mouth on this intense and full bodied wine was layered with bright black cherry, coffee, and oak.  The mid palate was bracing with bright acidity and oak.  The finish was long and tantalizing with more cherry, oak, and coffee, layered under a canopy of mature flavors.  This is clearly a wine that needs to be consumed now, but to some, this was one of the winners, which was shocking given the list of wines we enjoyed.

Elvi Wines Adar Cava Brut N.V. – Score: B+
The nose on this bubbly and effervescent light pink colored wine, is hopping with strawberry, lemon, and cherry.  The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is packed with small bubbles that are active and alive, they mingle well with the strawberry and cherry.  The mid palate is alive with bracing acidity.  The finish is medium long with core acidity, strawberry, bubbles, and a lemon burst at the very tail end.  Drink UP!

2009 Terra Vega Shiraz – Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine is filled with dirt, mineral, raspberry, plum, violet notes, and cherry.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts off with cherry, raspberry, and plum that flow into a lovely acidic mid palate, with spicy wood, tannins, and coffee.  The finish is long with spicy wood, cherry, plum, coffee, and pepper that all linger on the palate after the wine is gone.

1989 Gan Eden Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: N/A
I still remember this wine in its youth.  It was fantastic and some of the best Cabernet I have ever tasted.  That said, this was kept too long, which is no affront to Craig (wine maker at Gan Eden).  The nose on this mahogany was relegated to oak and  some dark fruit.  The mouth is still tannic and oaky with bright acidity, but the fruit was all gone and a bit off.  What more can be said, this was a glorious warrior in its past, but if you still have some, it should be left to lie in the bottle for sentimental value.

2005 Four Gates Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – Score: A-
The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine is filled with blackberry, cassis, plum, oak, and spice.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied is concentrated with fruit that follows the nose, blackberry, cassis, and plum.  The mid palate is balanced with oak and still gripping tannins.  The finish is long and graceful, with spicy oak, black pepper, cassis, and a hint of leather.

1998 Four Gates Merlot – Score: B
This is another one of those wines that was held too long.  It was still there, but not at the Four Gates level.  In the evening it still had a bit of a nose, but was off.  By day the wine was less off, but the nose was all gone.

Galil Mountain Meron (77% Syrah, 11% each of Cab and Petit Verdot) – Score: A
The nose on dark garnet to black colored wine starts off with a quick hit of blueberry, and then continues to show rich and ripe plum, cassis, blackberry (almost bursting with juice), tobacco, ripe black cherry, sweet oak, fig, smoke, and pepper.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is layered and concentrated with rich ripe fruit at the attack on a bed of lush and integrated tannins.  The mouth follows with layer after layer of more ripe blackberry, cassis, plum, and black cherry in a concentrated and concerted attack.  The mid palate flows perfectly with oak, soft integrated tannins, crazy spicy and smoky nuances, chocolate, and tobacco.  The finish is long and spicy with black cherry, ripe and nicely extracted black fruit, tobacco, smoke, and oak.  Quite a nice wine, and one of the winners of the evening.

2003 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard’s Choice (97% Cab, 3% Cabernet Franc) – Score: A
The nose on this inky black wine is screaming with bright and ripe blackberry, cassis, cherry, and gobs of rich and spicy oak.  The mouth on this massive full bodied wine is layered with blackberry, cassis, and plum.  The mouth is balanced with spicy oak, still gripping tannins, and nice acidity.  The finish is long with ripe black fruit, spicy oak, and chocolate.  Quite a nice wine, and one that still has a bit of time in it, but may be close to its peak.

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