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OTBN (Open That Bottle Night) 2015 – wine galore and kosher Beef Bourguignon, what a party it was!

Recanati-Special-Reserve-2006This past weekend was the 16th anniversary of OTBN (Open That Bottle Night), and what a party we had. I originally posted that we would get to the nine bottles of wine, well we did but not those nine! Benyo brought over a bottle of the famous 2003 Syrah and a friend brought over a bottle of his own concoction, and so the Ella Valley and Katrzin will have to wait for another week.

Kiddish was made over my friend’s Quail Hill Cabernet Franc, which was super smooth and fruity. After that we had some awesome whole wheat Challah, that my wife makes, and then on to some very nice olive and bean soup. The soup never ceases to amaze me, I love how the kalamata olives dominate the flavor profile, while the beans add the heft and body to the dish, really fun.

Wine wise, things started off with a bang! The 2006 RSR was my last bottle – but this wine has another two to three years left in the tank easily! WOW! What a great wine that is. The layers are rich, dense, almost fleshy with rich mineral and earth – truly extraordinary! The 07 Yatir Shiraz was nice, but it really showed its colors the next day. The Netofa Latour red, was insane, a lovely black and blue wine – so old world in style that it was shocking that it was made in Israel.

At this point we brought out the Beef Bourguignon, which if you follow the official recipe is not very kosher at all 🙂 Now, to be fair, the original video of the recipe did not call for bacon at all, instead she browned the meat in olive oil, in the video above. Still, the book has the bacon and so it has become the “law”. Since, our Jewish law does not allow for either bacon or the butter (no milk and meat), I was stuck with modifying the recipe to my liking. Instead of bacon I used Meal-mart Beef Fry and instead of butter and flour to thicken, I used chicken fat and flour. In the end, it was definitely not the fat free or healthy diet food of the 20th century, but we did serve a lot of wine with it – so if the 60 minutes episode about the French Paradox has any truth, we will all be alive to write about it! Read the rest of this entry

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2005 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard’s Choice and Lamb and Dates Meatballs

I have had the distinct joy of visiting the Ella Valley Winery a few times in the past few years and each time I enjoy a bottle of Ella Valley wine I remember the first time I tasted a bottle of the stuff – at a restaurant!

Yes indeed, the first time I heard of Ella Valley Winery was at a restaurant where they were serving the 2002 Ella Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Vineyard’s Choice! The wine was being sold at the restaurant – the new defunct Rafael’s that existed in Berkeley, CA for many years, until its unfortunate closing in July 2007. Whenever I went there with friends I always ordered the same wine, as it was rich, layered and awesome! I finally convinced some wine stores to stock it as well and it was then available to others and me in 2005.

Since then Ella Valley has done a better job marketing the wine to the kosher wine world and blessedly I do not need to convince wine stores to stock the wine – they do it on their own, based solely on the wine’s merits. Read the rest of this entry

Har Bracha Cabernet Sauvignon, Highlander

This past weekend I wanted some warm comfort food for the cold weather that was setting into the Bay Area, so I chose to make a sausage stew – but not one I have made before. This time we made a leek, mushroom, sausage, potato, and Brussels sprout stew. Yeah, I know I need a shorter name – but for now I will go with leek, mushroom, sausage stew, with fun additives.

Leek, mushroom, sausage stew Recipe:

  1. 2 ounces of oil
  2. Two onions diced
  3. Two leeks sliced thick
  4. 32 ounces of Portobello mushrooms sliced thick
  5. 8 red potatoes cubed large
  6. 6 smashed garlic cloves
  7. 8 basil leaves diced well
  8. Salt and pepper to taste
  9. Two to three pounds of sausage sliced into half-inch cubes
  10. Two pounds of Brussels sprouts

In a large Dutch oven heat the oil till it starts to shimmer and then add in the diced onions and leeks and saute them until browned. Lower to a simmer and add in the Portobello mushrooms and sweat them till they release their liquid. Then throw in the potatoes and coat them with the onions, leeks, and mushrooms and let braise until the potatoes are halfway softened. At this point the pot should be a quarter filled with vegetable liquid. Throw in all the spices and herb along with salt and pepper. Then throw in the sausage and let it them cook for half an hour. Finally, throw the Brussels sprouts into the pot and let them cook for 15 or so minutes, or until they soften – but not to the point where they become too soft – it is a fine line.

I totally understand that some find Brussels sprouts to be as evil as I find Cilantro (though to me Cilantro is the devil’s spawn). So, if you do not like Brussels sprouts – replace them with Okra or Cubed Squash. For a starch we used quinoa and paired it with a fresh green salad. Read the rest of this entry

2007 Casa Da Corca Douro and Vegan Meat Sauce

With Shavout coming up and the desire to take it a bit easy, I made some lovely vegan meat sauce along with quinoa and pasta. The vegan meat sauce is so easy to make and so absolutely tasty that I thought it best to put the recipe here.

Vegan Meat Sauce Recipe

  1. 2 tbsp olive oil
  2. 2 diced onions
  3. 3 diced zucchini
  4. 16 oz. of thickly cut mushrooms
  5. salt to taste
  6. pepper to taste
  7. 2 tbsp basil
  8. 5 cloves of garlic
  9. 2 tbsp sugar
  10. 2 packages (16 oz. each) of Yves ground soy (or the Trader Joe package)
  11. 2 28 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
  12. 1 cup (or more) of red wine

Heat the oil till almost smoking and throw in the diced onions until they are nicely caramelized. After that throw in the zucchini and saute them till they soften. Then throw in the mushrooms and cook them till they start to soften, but do not let them get too soft or browned as you want them to still have a bite. Finally throw in the spices and then the last four ingredients and cook for another 30 or more minutes until the sauce thickens, stirring often and making sure nothing sticks.

I enjoyed this over a bed of quinoa and my wife had pasta, but this goes well over any starch you may desire. It has good bite and flavor, while also being low in calories and fat.

To pair with this dish I opened a bottle of the 2007 Casa da Corca. I guess the saying, you get what you pay for really lived up to its billing. This wine was on sale during the Passover sales and this one was not worth it. The wine is fine, but not one that I wanted to waste my Shabbos wine on. Either way, drink UP if you have some and do not let it stay too long in the bottle. Either enjoy it right after you open it or save the rest to pour into a great pot of vegan meat sauce!

The wine note follows below:

2007 Casa da Corca Douro – Score: B to B+
The nose starts off with an conspicuous amount of toasty oak followed by blackberry, black cherry, a hint of raspberry, tobacco, and lovely smokey notes. The mouth is medium to full bodied with almost mouth coating integrating tannin, a large dose of blackcurrant, that is balanced with good oak extraction, earthy notes, and herbs for a pleasant mouth feel. The finish is long with citrus zest, at times, lovely espresso coffee, vanilla, licorice, and cloves. This is in drink up mode. The wine is not showing mevushal characteristics, but is quick to fade, losing its brightness and flavor profile within hours of opening. DRINK UP!

Kosher Syrah Tasting – Cool Weather vs. Warm Weather Syrahs

This past week I finally got the chance to put together the kosher Syrah tasting that I have been craving. I have been stockpiling Syrah for some time and now we finally had the chance to try them all at the same time. I have been at all of the kosher California wineries; Herzog Cellars, Four Gates Winery, Agua Dulce Winery, Shirah Winery, Covenant Winery and the Brobdingnagian Winery, and I have caught the bug of cool weather Syrah. This is not a myth; this is a real change in the manner of which the Syrah expresses itself.

The Syrah tasting consisted of a bunch of kosher California Syrah, along with one from Australia and Israel in the following order. The 2009 Harkham Aziza Shiraz, Preservative Free (not tasting as great as when I had it in Sydney), 2009 Shirah Power to the People, 2003 Four Gates Syrah, 2008 Syraph Syrah/Grenache, 2007 Brobdingnagian Syrah, and the 2004 Yarden Ortal Syrah. The first five are cool weather Syrah, while the Yarden Ortal is an example of hot weather Syrah. The 2007 Brobdingnagian was Jonathan Hajdu’s inaugural release and since than he has gone on to become the associate winemaker at Covenant Winery, while also making more of his Brob wine. The 2008 Syraph was essentially the first release by the Weiss Brothers, though they did make a smaller batch of wine in 2005 as well. The story of Jonathan and the Weiss brothers can be found in a lovely written article by Gamliel Kronemer here.

In cool weather climates, the Syrah grape is very happy to show expressions of smoked meat, black pepper, tobacco, and leather around their core of blue-black fruit. They also have nice acidity, which helps to brighten the mouth and balance out the wine’s palate. The clear note here is that the grape expresses blueberry and watermelon in ways that will astound you. The bright sweet blueberry along with rich black fruit make for a wine that is unique and truly flavorful. The blue fruit may not always appear at first, but a trademark of the cooler climates, in Australian and California, was that they all exhibited rich blueberry fruit intertwined with some lovely black and sometimes watermelon along with spice. In warm climate regions, characteristic Syrah flavors tend toward dark fruits, cherry, white pepper and earthy notes, though leather and tar are sure to also make a guest appearance.

Read the rest of this entry

Minute Steak, Roasted Potatoes, Garlic Green beans, and Domaine du Castel Petit Castel

This past week I went spelunking into my freezer and I found two pounds of minute steak, or what the meat world calls chuck blade steak. The steaks are kind of that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde meat. It wants to be braised but it also can work with a grill. Say what? Actually, the meat has a large amount of connective tissue with a thick gristle running down the middle. The best way to manage this cut of meat is to grill it after you marinade it for a few hours, or braise it. Well, I had no time to marinade the meat ahead of time, so I coated the meat with paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper. I then put them on the grill and used a bit of barbecue sauce as well. Finally, I placed the grilled steaks into a shallow pan, added in some more barbecue sauce into the pan, and then covered it with aluminum foil and placed the meat into a warm oven.

For a side dish, I whipped up two very simple dishes. One was roasted sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions. The other was garlic green beans with onions and mushrooms. Here are the recipes:

Roasted Potatoes and Onions Recipe

  1. 1 pound of potatoes – cut into large cubes
  2. 1 pound of yams (orange sweet potatoes) – cut into large cubes
  3. 2 sweet onions – cut into large cubes
  4. 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  5. 2 tablespoons of garlic powder and paprika
  6. 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper

Cut up the vegetables into large cubes 1 inch or more cubes. Then place them in a large bowl and fill the bowl with water to cover, and let them sit there for an hour of so. This is VERY important. It helps to accelerate the roasting process. Then pour out the water, and pat the vegetables dry. Next mix the spices together so that they are combined well. Next spread out the vegetable cubes into a large shallow roasting pan and cover with oil and then sprinkle the spice mixture over the vegetables. Then flip the vegetables around and add more spice mixture until coated very well. Finally, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and roast for 30 or so minutes, or until the vegetables start to caramelize.

Garlic Green beans, with mushroom and onions Recipe:

  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 large onions coarsely diced
  3. 16 oz. of mushrooms thickly sliced
  4. 7 cloves of garlic
  5. 1 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste
  6. 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed

Heat up the oil in a large skillet till it starts to smoke. Then drop in the coarsely diced onions and saute them till nicely browned. Then add in the thickly sliced mushrooms and saute them till they have sweated out half their size. Then add in the garlic till they start to bloom, then add salt and pepper to taste. Finally add in the green beans, and mix everything up, so that the hot vegetables coat the green beans, and take it off the fire when the green beans just start to soften.

The meal was absolutely killer! Sorry if I and tooting my own horn, but the pairings were just perfect. The meat was soft on the indie, yet crispy on the outside, the green beans were nicely wilted yet slightly crisp, and the roasted vegetables were lovely with the meat!

To pair with the meat we went looking for a rich red wine and pulled out a bottle of 2006 Petit Castel. I was really looking forward to a rich wine, but the wine’s lack of core acid made the wine feel flabbier and flat. The mouth was rich, but the date and sweet cedar flavors also turned me off. This is a bottle you really should be drinking up!!

The wine note follows below:

2006 Domaine du Castel Petit Castel – Score: B++
The nose on this black colored wine with brown tinge is rich with sweet cedar, chocolate, tobacco, herbs, date, very apparent green beans, ripe plum, blackberry, and currant. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is still rich and concentrated with green notes, ripe fruit from the nose, rich black cherry, mouth coating tannin, and sweet cedar all coming together. The wine is missing the bright acidity of old, which makes it feel a bit underpowered. The finish is long and super spicy, with rich black pepper, herbs in the background, and heavy sweet cedar and vanilla to round it out. DRINK UP!!!

Kosher European Wines, Hagafen Wine, Kosher Meat Lasagna, White Bean and Kalamata Soup, Vegetable Kugel

This past weekend we had a bunch of friends over to the house and we were so happy to celebrate the good health and recovery of a dear friend of the family who honored us by coming on over for the meal. It is starting to feel a bit chilly around here, so we thought it would be great to try some lovely White Bean and Kalamta Olive Soup. The link to the recipe was the best I could find on the web. The one I use is from Mollie Katzen’s cookbook, which I have no right to place on my blog, please buy her book she is a genius!

The soup is simple to make, and I follow her recipe to the tee, short of adding in a wee bit more wine than her recipe calls for. Personally, that is the ultimate compliment, using someone’s exact recipe, with little or no change, because it is perfect as it is.

We then cooked up meat lasagna. I have modified the lasagna many times, as I am constantly looking for the perfect lasagna that is not too dry or too runny. I think I have finally done that! This past week the lasagna was killer, very tasty, and it was solid without being the least bit dry. The recipe is a change from another cookbook I use, but I have modified this one to not worry about sharing it. Also, I wrote a lot about the process, so the recipe looks long, but I am just adding in my years of struggle with these recipes to make sure you do not. Overall a pretty easy recipe:

Meat Lasagna Recipe: (Makes two pans of lasagna)
2 Tbsp. Oil
2 chopped onions
5 garlic cloves smashed (or just use the frozen garlic)
2 lb. of ground meat
1 sliced green pepper
1 sliced orange or yellow pepper
3 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
2 15 oz. cans of tomato sauce
12 oz. of red wine (more acid and tannin the better)
4 to 5 Tbsp. parsley
2 tsp. sugar
3 tsp. of basil
salt and pepper to taste

16 oz. (18 pieces) of dry lasagna noodle (normal pasta that needs to be cooked)
1 LARGE eggplant sliced 1/2 inch thick

In a large Dutch oven or tall walled pan, heat up the oil until shimmering and then throw in the chopped onions and cook them till they are close to being browned. Then throw in the crushed garlic and as soon as it starts to smell garlicky, throw in the ground meat. Be careful never to burn the garlic, as that is nasty! Move around the meat and make sure it nice and browned. Now throw in the sliced peppers and lets cook until tender. Then throw in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine, herbs, salt and pepper. Now mix the pot around a fair amount until the wine color disappears and the tomato color is bright. Keep cooking the sauce until it reduces by 20% or until the sauce looks nice and thick. This step is VERY important, so do not skimp on this, it takes time but you will be generously rewarded.

At this point, bring a very large pot of water to boil and then place the lasagna noodles and cook them 1 to 2 minutes before al dente. We do this because we want them to finish in the oven. NEVER TRY the already cooked or NOT cooked pasta – it does not work. Cook the pasta and you will get the lovely texture that is not available any other way. Once cooked, pour out all the water, and put in some cold water in the pot to keep the pasta from drying up. Read the rest of this entry

Awesome kosher meatball recipe, lovely sauces, last 2009 HaSod Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2010 Tierra Salvaje Pinot Noir Reserve

This past weekend, I was on a mission from God (in my mind anyway) to make the best possible meatball possible. My wife thinks I have gone crazy, because to her the meatballs we have made in the past were fine to her, and they are. Still, my quest to make the perfect meatball cannot be quenched, though this past iteration was quite possibly my best. There are some more tweaks we will need to do, but more on that soon. Now I wanted to make a single meatball recipe, but two different sauces. Why? Simple, my wife was not interested in a meat based sauce, and I did. Now the only con to frying meatballs is that the sauce you make has no meat flavor in it. Yes, the onions and base can start from the fat that is rendered from the fried meatballs, but that still does not cut it. A true meat sauce requires meat flavors to be fully integrated in the sauce, via cooking and reducing with the meat, thereby concentrating the meat and tomato flavors, in combination. Further, I was NOT going to braise the meatballs after I went to the trouble of frying them and getting them nice and crunchy to only lose that in a pot of sauce!

So, I was left with the trouble of cooking two sauces, one with the rendered fat and one without. To get the rich meat flavor, I further rendered the fat of Nechama’s Smoked Andouille sausages (made from turkey and chicken), and then cooked them in the completed tomato sauce, to enrich the sauce with a lovely bit of heat and meat flavor. While this was successful, the extra sausages did not render well enough for me, and the extra steps were not worth the final outcome.

For the meatball recipe, I used a further modified version of the classic meatball recipe from America’s Test Kitchen:

Rosh Hashanah 2011/5772, Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf, Sweet and Sour Brisket, Vegetable kugel, and many wines

Rosh Hashanah (literally translated ”head of the year”) has come and gone again (Wednesday Night – September 28th, 2011), and once more I am reminded that it is a holiday that is more about your relationship with God than your gastronomic relationship with friends and family. Yes of course it is not a fast day like Yom Kippur, of course, but still the frivolity needs to be toned down a bit, and the attention placed on the fact that we are all being judged at this time of the year. So with that frame of mind, yeah too many early morning Selichot Services kind of kill the mood, my wife and I set out to make our menu and meals.

This year we hosted the first meal. We invited friends and family and it was quite awesome! Like last year, we had the same simanim (literally translated to “signs”), except that we modified the way we make the leeks. The simanim are a play on word and are a very basic Jewish tradition of using word play to bring out symbolism and actual changes or good tidings.  This year we made all of the simanim, as our friends were laid up, but we had other friends staying over with us who helped us out, so it was no biggie. The simanim are a yearly rite of passage, and one of my favorite Jewish traditions.  Many of the recipes have been changed to protect the innocent.  The customary recipes from my mother recipes consist of 4 basic ingredients, oil, more oil, honey, and some vegetable, and one cooking style – frying.  We decided that this tradition was awesome, but that it needed to be toned down such that it could be enjoyed for years to come and not just for the few where we are vertical.  So it called for some baking and less oil.  We ordered the symbolic food in the order of Sephardic Jewry, and here they are:

  1. Dates or Figs (Tamar in Hebrew)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should end our enemies
  2. Broad Beans coated with a mixture of olive oil, cumin, and garlic (Rubya in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should increase our merits
  3. Leeks – prepared masterfully by our stay over friends, leek fritters recipe found here(Karti in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should cut down our enemies
  4. Spinach – prepared masterfully by my wife using her spinach kugel recipe (Salka in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should remove our enemies
  5. Sweet Butternut Squash – sliced butternut squash, sprayed with oil and covered with honey, then baked in an oven set to 400 degrees (Kra in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should tear up our evil decrees and read before him our merits
  6. Pomegranate seeds (Rimon in Hebrew)
    1. The symbolism here is that our mitzvot (observance of the Jewish laws) be as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds
  7. Sweet apples dipped in honey
    1. The symbolism here is that God should grant us a New Year as sweet as honey
  8. Fish head – Salmon head poached in white wine and water
    1. The symbolism here is that in this New Year we should be at the head of the class and not at the tail

We always joke that we should try to bring out a head of a lamb instead of a fish head and freak out everyone there.  It would be totally epic, but while it is the preferred manner of implementing the head symbolism, it would fly in the face of “behaving”. The good news is that we did FAR better than last year on the wine parade, which was not too difficult!

The rest of the meal started with our reliable Herb encrusted gefilte fish loaf and simanim left over’s. The reason I really like this recipe is because while normal gefilte fish recipes tastes like bland boiled white fish, this recipe tastes like herb-encrusted fish that is lightly charred with the herb and spice flavors permeated through and through the fleshy texture – quite a treat. The main course consisted of our patented sweet and sour brisket, brown rice, vegetable kugel, and fresh vegetable salad. While the brisket recipe is normally rock solid, this one was far from perfect. Once again I am underwhelmed by South American whole Brisket. The US whole Brisket has a layer of fat that helps to baste the meat as the meat cooks slow and low in a 300 degrees oven. The South American whole Brisket is too lean, and lacks the self-basting fat. Further the meat is not marbled like the US whole Brisket, unfortunately, that was all that was available at the time. Read the rest of this entry

Roasted almond breaded chicken (a great fried chicken substitute) and 2003 Four Gates Merlot

My wife does not often make it but when she does I always appreciate it. I am talking about her roasted almond coated chicken! The recipe is really quite simple and it is her personal recipe and it tastes awesome! To pair with this wonderful dish I opened a lovely bottle of the 2003 Four Gates Merlot. The funny thing about this bottle was that it was slightly out of whack a few years ago. A few years ago the acidity was way too high and it would dominate the palate. Now, the acid has calmed down, the wine’s muscle and full body is now in full bloom, and the chocolate and fruit are showing quite well, along with some rich oak. The wine is really a joy and a crazy good deal at 20 bucks! That is the good news the bad news is that I think it is sold out 😦 We paired the chicken with a lovely kasha and mushroom pilaf and a fresh green salad.

Roasted almond coated chicken recipe

  1. Fresh chicken
  2. Unsweetened apple sauce
  3. Ground almond meal – NOT blanched almond flour
  4. Ground sage
  5. Garlic powder
  6. Black pepper

Read the rest of this entry

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