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The Kosher French wine predicament and the 2010 Château Bellerives Dubois

There were many great sales this past Passover, including some obvious barnburner sales at, that I did not take part of. However, I did get the chance to pick up a plethora of low-cost kosher and mevushal French Wines, from real French chateaus. While, my palate has no real partiality, I am always ready to enjoy a good low-priced wine that is mevushal, no matter its origin. Why? Because, so many of my friends ask me about good kosher mevushal options, for their restaurants and synagogue events.

I just posted an article on the clear QPR leader in Israel, Recanati Winery. What I would love to find is another such winery or importer that brings in quality, reasonably priced wines that may or may not be mevushal. Reasonably priced kosher French wine is like a blue moon, excluding wineries like Viognobles David, and maybe a Willm wine or two. To be honest that is a sad state of affairs! There are so many solid options under 25 dollars from around the world, mevushal or not, but once you place the word French in the search query, the options do not drop off so much as does the quality!

There are many options for kosher French wines under 25 dollars, the problem is that the quality of those wines, are so poor that they just sit there on store shelves. Many of them hail from the portfolio of Royal Wines, and bless them for trying, but the quality is still too low. When you move the number up to 50 or so dollars, now you find some very nice options, but that is like moving from first to third in a single bound – not always an option for many of the folks out there. Mind you, one of the very best sparkling wines out there, which happens to also be mevushal, Drappier Champagne, goes for about 47 or so dollars, and is well worth the cost.

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2008 Tierra Salvaje Chardonnay Estate Bottled – Wine Notes

This wine was used as the base for a wonderful Roasted Butternut Soup that we make. That said, it is still a wonderful wine, it was just the easiest bottle to get to. The wine is showing a bit better (in some ways) than the last time we tasted it, more than a year ago. In other ways, the wine is receding, given its Mevushal status and age. A fair amount of the astringency and green notes have dissipated, but there is still a green halo that hovers over the wine both in color and flavor. I liked it but I think it is drink up time!

2008 Tierra Salvaje Chardonnay Estate Bottled – Score B to B+
The nose on this brilliant golden colored wine with green halos is almost sweet with some vegetal leanings, lemon, green apple, spice, peach, hay/straw, and herbs. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is almost mouth filling with spice, green apple, lemon, orange rind, peach, and pear. The mid palate is acidic and dry, with orange rind, and herbs. The finish is long and spicy with peach, lemon, spicy notes, and a long appealing lingering of orange rind, spice, and cut grass. A nice bottle that has settled down and may now actually be more appealing to more people, but also a bottle on its way down – drink up!!

Shiitake Mushroom & Sweet Potato Risotto along with Goose Bay Viognier

This past week we were looking for an easy and slow weekend, so we opted to stay home and cook a lovely risotto. We have made risotto many times before, but this one was the best by far.  The main difference this time was that we fried the shiitake mushrooms separately in a large pan, and we browned the sweet potatoes and onions in another pan, and then before the last round of water, we put the fried shiitake mushrooms and pan fried sweet potatoes into the risotto mixture. Initially it looked like there were too many mushrooms, but when we warmed it up the next day the smokiness of the fried mushrooms permeated the flavor and they shrunk a bit more in the pot, making for a lovely looking and tasting dish.

The shiitake mushrooms stayed dark brown while also keeping their texture and structure. The sweet potatoes were cubed a bit large, so they too remained whole but soft when reheating for the Friday Night Shabbos meal. As usual, do not complete the risotto the night before, instead leave that for Friday. Friday before sunset add in a cup or a cup and a half of rice milk and mix the dish up well. Then throw it cold in a 225 degree oven for an hour+ and it should come out warm and delicious.

Shiitake Mushroom & Sweet Potato Risotto Recipe
Three sliced onions
1tbl of Canola Oil for every round of browning
2lb of shiitake mushrooms – sliced
Sea Salt on each batch of onions, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes – to help with browning
2 yellow sweet potato
4 or more cups of broth brought to boil and then kept warm on the stove in a small sauce pan
1 to 2 tbl of olive oil
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup of dry white wine
1 to 2 cups of rice milk – USE only before shabbos

Dice half the onions (1 and a half onion), slice the mushrooms and place in separate containers. Also dice the other half of the onions, and cube the sweet potatoes, and place in containers. Now in one pan heat up 1 tablespoon of Canola oil and sauté the onions until golden brown. Then add the mushrooms in a single layer at a time, and sprinkle them with sea salt. Make sure to not overcrowd the pan, so that you brown the mushrooms instead of steam them. After the mushrooms get nice and browned and slightly crispy pull them out.  Add another tablespoon of Canola oil (making sure to not have the oil splatter as the pan is VERY hot at this point), and brown the next batch of mushrooms. Once all the mushrooms are done, remove them, and add in oil once more and then start on the sweet potatoes. You want them to get a bit browned, but more important than caramelization, is that they start to smell sweet as they give off their starch and break down the sugars. Remove them from the pan once they start to get very soft.

Then in a small sauce pan bring the 4 cups of broth to a boil and then keep them on the fire on a low simmer, for use in a few minutes. Now, in a large Dutch oven or Pot add a tablespoon or two of Olive oil and heat it up. Then add in the other diced onion(s) and sauté them until soft. Once browned, throw in the spices and herbs and the two cups of rice. Make sure the coat the rice with oil and once they start to dry and stick to the pot, throw in a cup of dry white wine. Once that is gone, put in a cup of water at a time, from the sauce pan, until it too is soaked up by the rice. Once the rice has soaked up three cups of water and the wine, throw in the mushrooms and sweet potato. Mix them all around until they are correctly integrated with the rice, and then throw in the last cup of water.

At this point the dish is complete and let cool over night. On Friday afternoon, remove the pot from the refrigerator and let the pot come to room temperature. Next, add in the 1 to 2 cups of rice milk, depending on how the mixture is setting up and place in an oven at 225 degrees. One to two hours later the risotto is ready.

When I smelled the risotto and the lovely smoky mushroom smell oozing out of it on Thursday night, I knew I needed a white wine with an equally powerful perfume and aroma. I went into the cellar and brought out a bottle of 2007 Goose Bay Viognier. I have spoken often about Viognier and about this particular bottle before. It has a lovely perfumed nose, but only after two hours of air time. Well folks, I have bad news, that nose is gone and so is the wine – mostly. It is still alive, but the nose and the lovely floral aspects are all but gone, which is a real shame. I only have one more bottle, so it is not too bad for me. Drink this up if you have more.

The wine note follows below:

2007 Goose Bay Viognier – Score: B to B+
This wine is on its way out 😦 The perfume nose lasts for only a brief moment, and even then it is not overpowering as it has in the past. The nose on this light gold colored wine has peach, mint, lychee, grapefruit, rich and spicy oak, slight perfume, and citrus. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts off being oily and perfumed with peach, grapefruit, and lychee, but that quickly dissipates. The mid palate is bracing with acid and oak, and slightly out of balance. The finish is long with more acid, rich and spicy oak, and lemon tartness. As the wine airs, it loses much of its fruit and becomes a bit more balanced but also more like a single trick pony that is not so awesome. The mouth turns to quince, grapefruit, and jasmine. The mouth softens with less bracing acidity, but it too is short lived. Soon the wine becomes and oak bomb with lemon and slight notes of grapefruit. Drink up!

Roasted Sweet Potato and Mushroom Risotto, leftover Braised Flanken, and some Goose Bay Chardonnay

OK, I can already hear you all wondering out loud, has he really lost it?  Yes, we had leftover alcohol and brown sugar braised flanken with some Chardonnay.  To be fair, there was only a bit of the flanken left over, and it was not the main player on the table.  The clear star of the evening was the killer risotto.  Once again, Italy’s creme rice dish, showed its muscle and nutty flavors.  We love Risotto, and have no problem enjoying it for days or weeks on end.  So, when given the chance to make some, I jumped at it, and it came out wonderfully.  We started by peeling, cubing, and then roasting the sweet potato in the oven at 400 degrees.  In the mean time, I whipped together the usual risotto recipe, where we start with two or three onions diced and then sautéed in olive oil until they are perfectly caramelized.  In the mean time, we started another pot with onion soup mix and water and brought it to a boil.  Once the onions were caramelized, we threw in four garlic cloves and then some basil to boot.  Once the garlic and herb coated the onions, we threw in two cups of Arborio rice, and made sure they were coated with the oil and herbs s well.  Then starts the dance of hydration to dry to hydration to dry and – well you get the point.  You first hydrate the pot with a cup of white acidic wine, and then let it get absorbed into Arborio rice and then continue hydrating the pot, a cup at a time, from the boiling liquid you have alongside it.  In our case, it was the fore mentioned onion soup mixture.  We kept hydrating the pot, until the half way point, when we threw in the thickly sliced mushrooms.  They quickly started to release their liquid, and slowly started to shrink.  After a couple of minutes, we resumed the hydration dance, until the risotto was 90% of the way there.  At that point I threw in just enough liquid to get close but not complete the mixture.  In other words just a cup or so less than what is needed to force the Arborio rice to release its starch.  I did this because; I had another warming ahead of me on Friday night.

Risotto Recipe:
3 onions diced
16 oz of sliced mushrooms
2 large sweet potatoes cubed – roasted in the oven
4 or 5 garlic cloves
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup of white wine
5 cups of chicken/vegetable stock
2 cups of Rice Dream before reheating

Friday night, right before the Sabbath, I threw in the roasted sweet potato chunks, along with two cups of rice dream, and mixed it to the best of my ability, right before I left for synagogue.  When I came back and took the dish out of the oven, it had come together perfectly.  The starches had released themselves in a balanced manner, and they did not overrun the dish in any way.  Instead, the risotto was integrated with its companions in a singular, creamy, and homogeneous manner.  The sweetness of the sweet potatoes and the earthiness of the mushrooms, combined well with the Arborio rice, wine, and flavorings to add a dimension of nuttiness to the mix.

So back to the wine, yes I had a Chardonnay and I loved it.  The Goose Bay Chardonnay was fine and did not need to be rushed or consumed quickly, but I did anyway.  In the end, I could had drunk a red wine with the risotto and meat, but instead I enjoyed a wonderful wine, that was buttery and fruity and had just enough oak to make it easily stand up to the risotto, and not be conflicted by the flanken.  The wine note follows:

2006 Goose Bay Chardonnay – Score: B+ / A-
The nose on this light gold to gold colored wine is rich and not your common run of the mill Chardonnay.  The nose is almost perfumed Viognier style from the extra rich and ripe fruit.  The nose continues with rich ripe peach, honey, lemon, sweet oak, ripe guava, alongside some almond or toast.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine carries the rich and perfumed nose with rich ripe peach, guava, and honey.  The mid palate is balanced with still bracing acidity that almost is a bit tart, but that calms down over time, along with oak, and toast.  The finish is almost mouth coating and lingers long on the palate with tart and bright fruit, rich butter, sweet oak, honey, and a fair amount of vanilla.  This is a wine that is not at the end of the road, but is highly enjoyable right now, except for the tartness that fades with air.

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
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.

Kielbasa vegetable stew and Four Gates Cabernet Franc

Two weeks ago Friday night, we were looking for a lay low food that was delicious, hearty, warm, and downright good home cooking.  We had a Kielbasa sitting in the freezer, and so I went looking for a recipe.  I found many recipes, but they either wanted the stew to be beans and cream or over the top tomato. I finally found a wonderful recipe that I could modify (as usual), and it turned out to be from the wonderful folks at the Food Network.  The recipe is OK, but I like my meat browned and I like far more onions and an eggplant to boot, would not hurt.  So here is the modified recipe, for those who care:

Kielbasa and Vegetable Stew

  1. Olive Oil
  2. 1 pound of Kielbasa cut on the bias into one inch chunks
  3. Two or three sweet onions cubed into 1 inch squares
  4. 2 or 3 good shakes of sea salt
  5. 4 or more garlic cloves
  6. Paprika
  7. Cumin
  8. Pepper
  9. 4 or 5 carrots cut into one inch chunks
  10. 3 or 4 parsnips cut into one inch chunks
  11. 1 or 2 eggplant (depending on size)
  12. 4 or 5 Yukon gold potatoes cubed into 1 inch squares
  13. 3 cups of vegetable or chicken soup stock
  14. 1 cup of red wine
  15. A cup of rice milk to finish or reheat in

Start by taking a large dutch oven and place into it a tablespoon or two of olive oil – just to coat the bottom.  While waiting for the oil to get hot enough, cut the Kielbasa into 1 inch cylinders on the bias, and then start to brown the cut edges.  Once one side is browned, flip them to the other side.  Once all sides are browned, take the meat out and drop the cubed onions into the oil.  Add the salt to the onions to help the onions release their liquid.  Sauté the onions and once browned, throw in the spices and garlic, and make sure the onions are fully coated with them.  From there on, add the vegetables into the pot one at a time.  Once the vegetables have released their water, add in the 4 cups of stock, along with the sausage cylinders.  Cook the stew until the vegetables and meat are combined into a singular and uniform form.

I must say that the stew was KNOCK OUT awesome, and the best part of it is that ALL the food is edible.  You see, that there are no bones, no nasty fat and sinew, or inedible parts.  All in all, sausage stew makes for a tasty and enjoyable stew.  Finally, when I reheated the stew before the Sabbath, it looked a bit dry, so I added a half or full cup of rice milk.  It added some flavor and moisture.

To pair with this monster stew, I pulled out a bottle of 2005 Four Gates Cabernet Franc.  I loved the bottle, but it took a ton of time to come awake.  It was stored really cold, so that may have been the problem, but I think that the bottle is in a slight dumb period, and will be back soon.  The wine note follows below:

2005 Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: B+ – A-
This wine has not changed much since the last time we tasted this. However, it is in a slightly dumb period, and required a ton of time to open up. Once it did open it was quite a joy to drink. The nose on this garnet to black colored wine is a very interesting twist on Cabernet Franc. It starts with a ton of dark chocolate, cherry, currant, plum, and follows on with classical franc notes of bell pepper and a bit flowers and oak. The mouth on this complex medium to full bodied wine is packed with velvety tannins that are integrating quite nicely along with cherry, raspberry, and currants. The mid palate is flush with fruit and balanced almost perfectly by bright acidity along with oak and integrated tannins. The finish is spicy and laced with vanilla and sour cherry.

Couscous Au Poulet, Boulette, Makoud, 2007 Hagafen Lodi Roussanne, 2004 Four Gates Chardonnay, N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir, 2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, 2005 Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah

Two weeks ago saw us huddled around our shabbos table enjoying some wonderful company, friends, family, food, and wine.  This past Friday Night we had my family and friends over for a classical Tunisian Friday Night dinner – Couscous Au Poulet and Boulette.  Many have had couscous, which is fine, but proper boulette(s) and fluffy couscous is what makes a couscous dish work.  Boulette is French for balls, which in this context mean meat balls.  But if you think Italian meatballs, again, you are missing the point.  My family makes boulette by frying the meatballs, and then topping them with slices of potato, obviously they are thank god all very healthy!  However, being that I care for my heart and arteries, and they work far better when not stuffed with cholesterol, I go with lean meat and braise them in a pan of tomato sauce and wine.  The meat sauce is a hit on the table often, though not true to the Couscous heritage.  But the main ingredient to meatball heaven (other than the meat), is the Quatre Epices!  WAIT!  If you are wondering what the heck is going on – yeah that is the last bit of French, I hope – 🙂 . Truly, there are few things that totally metamorphosize a dish like FRESH Four Spices!  What an explosion of flavor that is tempered by the sweet flavor of cinnamon.  There are those who use Four Spices that is based on Ginger – but that is not what we use!  The Four Spices we use is based on: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Black Pepper, though the black pepper is not in equal proportions as the other three spices, but that is fine with me.

Meatballs Recipe:
2 pound of sliced onions
2 tbsp of olive oil
2 tbsp of sea salt
1 pound of finely diced onions
1 pound of finely diced zucchini
4 tbsp of Four Spices
3 pounds of meat
3 slices of thick bread soaked in rice milk
5 cans of 10oz tomato sauce (or 2 large cans of tomatoes)

Heat the wide and deep pan with olive oil, once the oil starts to shimmer, add the sliced onions and sprinkle them with salt (to help them release their water), and then sauté them until they brown nicely.  In the mean time mix the rest of the ingredients (except for the tomato sauce) until the meat moves well in your hands but can keep its form.  I find that the meat we order is rarely the same in terms of consistency.  So at times it is really thick, while other times it moves far better.  I can only guess it depends on how much fat, versus God knows what else, makes the meat more solid or more fluid.  This time, we added rice milk to the mixture to make it more fluid, as after the mixture was made, it was far too thick.  Roll the meat into balls that have a rough diameter of one and half inches to two inches.  Once the onions are browned, add the tomato sauce to the pan, along with some basil, and pepper.  Cook the sauce until it starts to reduce slightly.  Then drop in the rolled meatballs and simmer them for 1 hour.

Bouillon Au Poulet (Chicken soup) Recipe:
1 chicken cut up
Cubed Carrots
Cubed Onions
Cubed Parsnip
Cubed Turnip
Cubed Sweet Potato
Cubed Potato
Cubed Zucchini
Tons of Garlic
Bay leafs

This all depends on the size of your pot, and I always overdo the amount that I cook, which is fine with me, but too much leftovers, becomes a hassle!  So, keep the amount to a single large pot with a double boiler to cook the Couscous.  This part is important, the only way you will get the correct texture and flavor in your couscous, is to boil it over the Bouillon.  First drop the chicken into the pot and start browning the meat.  Next throw in the hard vegetables and let them get some of the chicken fat.  Once some of the chicken fat is rendered, mix the vegetables around and then remove the chicken for a bit.  Place the rest of the softer vegetables in, and then place the chicken and spices on top.  We do this to allow you access to the chicken for later on, when it is removed for making the Makoud.  Finally fill the pot till the top with water and you are good to go.  Boil the soup for an hour or two.  Be careful to not overcook the sweet potato or zucchini.  I normally pull them after an hour (or a bit less), and let them cool.  At that same time (about an hour in), I pull the chicken meat off and then return the carcass back to the soup to help it thicken the soup more. After the soup is fully cooked, we let the soup cool and throw it into the fridge for the next day.  I find the soup tastes much better after a few hours of chill on it.  Normally, I cook this Thursday night for Friday night dinner – the classic Tunisian meal for Friday Night.  The next day I will reheat the soup, and at that time I drop on the double boiler, wet the holes so that the couscous sticks to the pot, and then I pour in two boxes of dry couscous.  Now, on an aside, the folks who make couscous from scratch need to be praised, but I have no time to do that.  There is a GREAT video on how to make couscous from scratch.  I guess it is a touchy issue to the real Tunisian cooks, much like dry vs. fresh pasta is to a true Italian cook.  Now, once the double boiler it hot and MAKE SURE that there is a GOOD INCH at least between the boiling liquid and the bottom of the double boiler.  Remember, we want steamed couscous and NOT boiled couscous.  Another very important tip is that once you have poured in either the fresh or dry couscous in the double boiler make sure to create three holes in the couscous layer.  By doing this you will have three circles in the couscous layer and should be able to see the double boilers holes.  By making these holes into the couscous layer, you allow the soup steam to rise from out of the bottom pot and circulate inside the upper boiler.  Also, start the process by ladling a few ladles of broth from the bottom into the double boiler.  This will allow the top layer of couscous to not get dry off the bat.

Makoud Recipe:

This dish has been described by Ashkenazim as Potato Kugel!  AHAHHH!  What a shanda!  No way my friends, Makoud is NOT potato kugel.  It is more of a chicken potato Soufflé.  Like any good potato casserole, you MUST preheat the pan with the oil, so that the potatoes and mixture get crispy underneath and on top (from the oven heat).  Further, do NOT overcook the makoud!  In the beginning, I was like – what we do not need all of those eggs!  Wow was I wrong.  The eggs of course make it a soufflé instead of a kugel!

Canola Oil
Potatoes (from the chicken soup) – just add more to the soup for the second hour
Chicken from the soup, pulled and cubed
2 eggs per pound of chicken
White or Black Pepper

Place the oil in the casserole dish and preheat for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  In the mean time mash the rest of the ingredients together, and place into preheated dish and then cook for 40 minutes or until crispy on top.  This is simple as can be, the most difficult part is stripping down the chicken when it is still boiling hot!

That makes up the Couscous menu.  There are two side dishes of sliced carrots (classic middle-eastern carrot salad) BUT without Cilantro (Cilantro is the work of the devil!), along with Marmouma (a pepper and tomato salad).

To pair with all of this lovely food, we chose a set of wines, as I wanted to taste a few of them and well, it was time to drink some of them already.  So enjoy the recipes and the wine notes follow below (in the order they were drunk):

2007 Hagafen Lodi Roussanne (15% of Marsanne) – Score: B+
This was not a winner on the table, but I kind of liked it.  It is deceptive in its nose and mouth.  Initially, you think it is bone dry from the nose.  Then you taste it and you think it is actually sweet, to only concentrate a bit more and realize that this wine is as dry as a Sancerre, but ripe with fresh fruit flavors, quite a ride.  The nose on this golden straw colored wine is popping with kiwi, melon, lemon, and dry green grass.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripe with melon, kiwi, grapefruit, and lemon.  The mid palate quickly flows from the mouth in an almost shocking manner.  The fruit just ends and then there is an onslaught of bone dry green tea, flowers, and bright acidity.  The finish is long with summer fruit, slight bitterness, and toasty flavors.  The fruit attacks to start and is then annihilated by the bitterness and green flavors that come bright into the finish.  I think the finish is what turned off the crowd.  I can see this work with sweeter flavored foods, with something like maple glazed salmon, or veal.  Interesting wine indeed that exhibits characteristics that are not commonly seen in the other kosher white wines.  The closest that I have tasted recently, that compares to the Roussanne is this Chilean Chardonnay.  It may not as good as the Roussanne; but has many commonalities, the most striking one is its green dryness.

2004 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A
Well, after tasting that bone dry wine, any Kosher California Chardonnay will taste sweet!  Still, the 2004 vintage has a bit more residual vintage than do the 2005 or 2007 vintages.  This wine has not really changed much since our last tasting.  The oak is ever present, and the sweet tooth is receding, which gives rise to the acidity and the fresh fruit flavors that still abound.  Thank goodness I have a few more leftover.  I want to taste these soon side by side my 2005 and 2007 vintages that will be a real kick!

N.V. Four Gates Pinot Noir – Score: A-
This wine is still holding to our previous tastings, with the tannins receding further, which is allowing the dark cherry fruit to come through, while showing a bit more wood as well.

2006 Four Gates Cabernet Franc – Score: A-
What a treat, we have recently had this wine a few times, and the latest tasting is still true (which after a few weeks is almost obvious with this winery).  Of course we are not complaining.  Many thanks to Benyamin for bringing this wine to the dinner.

2005 Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Zinfandel/Syrah – Score: B – B+
What can I say; this is normally a wine that we love!  This vintage or bottle was not a winner.  Almost no one took more than a drop.  The wine was overly Zinny — tasting of rose and blackberry intertwined.  It may sound cool, but not great.  The wine was left open in the fridge for a couple of days and the Zin flavors (31%) finally gave way to the dominantly measured Cabernet (66%) and Syrah (3%).  At that point the American Oak and full body of the Cabernet were tempered by time and vanilla.  Still, the wine was way off balance and overall off putting.  I would recommend decanting this for a few hours in advance to give a chance for all the flavors to come out and play.

Alfasi Malbec/Syrah Reserve and Parve Spaghetti Bolognese

We have made Spaghetti Bolognese before, but this was a bit crazy, I must say.  You know when you mother used to tell you, no going out with friends on a school night?  Well, my friend Benyamin Cantz (from Four Gates Winery), had invited me to his house for a Sheva Berachot of friends of his.  Well, I should have remembered my mother, when I accepted the invite.  I had a grand time and when it was done, I was so tired (worked and cleaned up and God knows what else), that I barely could get up the next morning!  Worse, I had yet to cook the meal for Friday night.  So when I dragged myself in from work on Friday, I was pooped, and could almost not bring myself to whip up a nice Sabbath dinner.  Thank Goodness I woke up enough to make a nice affair – otherwise, I would have been kicking myself all Sabbath.

This recipe was meant to be a Pasta Puttanesca, but we had bought all these lovely vegetables from our local farmer’s market (zucchini, eggplant, etc.), and they do not last forever, and they do not fit in Puttanesca.  So, when we thought what we needed to create we came up with the Parve Spaghetti Bolognese.  The recipe is pretty simple:

Parve Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe
As many onions you have or like (you can never have enough onions)
16 ounces of sliced mushrooms
3 Japanese eggplants
3 colored (yellow, green, striped green) zucchini
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsp Thyme
2 tsp Basil
2 packages of fake ground/crumbled meat
28 ounces of good tomatoes
1 jar of Kalamata Olives
Half a bottle of good cooking wine

It not only looks easy, it is crazy easy to make.  Dice the onions and then sauté them until nice and brown.  Throw in the mushrooms and sauté them as well until you have nice brown onions and mushrooms.  At this point one could have thrown in some tomato paste to thicken the pot and food, but I passed on that, because I had little time.  Now throw in the diced zucchini and eggplant until they cook down.  Then throw in the herbs, garlic, and the rest of the ingredients, and cook down until the pasta sauce is at the consistency that you like.  I like my sauce a bit thicker, so I cooked it a bit longer than most would.

The food is thick and heavy and yummy, and I grabbed a bottle of wine that I was not initially so sure about.  But wow was I surprised, another great QPR (Quality to Price Ratio), though the score does not show it (as price is not part of wine scoring).

The wine note follows below:

2007 Alfasi Malbec – Syrah Reserve (50% Malbec/50% Syrah) – Score: B+
The nose on this ruby to garnet colored wine is hot out of the bottle, along with raisins, sweet oak, vanilla, roasted herbs, and nice heady and spicy aroma. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is busy with plum, raspberry, and cherry. The mid palate is where this nicely balanced and soft yet velvety wine comes to life with acid, integrated tannins, and a nice layer of dust. The finish is long with mounds of spice, coffee, white chocolate, and a dollop of vanilla. Quite a nice wine that really gets better with a couple of hours of air.

Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf, Stuffed Vegetables, Château Malmaison Baronne Nadine, Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon

We had our family over for the last part of Passover, and so we had a few dinners and lunches with guests and some alone, which were really nice.  Anyway, we served the baked fish, which is described here, along with our now famous stuffed vegetables.  This started a long time ago, when we had a group of people coming for a Passover meal, and we had no idea what to serve them.  We were sick of roast or brisket, and did not want chicken or fish.  We thought about the rudimentary meat loaf and such stuff.  But, that got us thinking about stuffed vegetables that my sister once served us.  They were crazy good, but man they sounded like a ton of work.  So, unfazed by the potential madness that faced us, we pushed on unfazed, and found out that the work is just maddening.  So here is the rough sketch of the recipe, but you can find out for yourself if it is worth the effort.

Meat Stuffed Vegetables Recipe
5 or more really large onions cored
3 large eggplant scooped until just the skin and a bit of flesh is left
3 large sweet yellow or red peppers
2 large green peppers
1 large can of tomato sauce
2 tbsp of olive oil
2 pounds of ground meat
3 tbsp Parsley
5 cloves of garlic – chopped
2 tbsp of sugar (or until it does not taste bitter)

Core the onions, which are crazy hard, with a large and strong spoon.  Cut the top of the onion off, and then with a large spoon start digging into the onion from the top.  Keep digging until you start to peel the onion from the inside out.  Do not worry if you cut all the way through the bottom of the onion, I do that all the time, but I put a small thin sliver in the bottom to cover the hole, and it bingo – it is like nothing happened.  Once you are done with the onions, move on to the eggplant by slicing them length wise, and coring them until there is just a drop of flesh and the skin left.  Do not puncture this one – it is far more difficult to remedy!  Drop the cored remnants and whole eggplants into a bucket of cold water to slow down their oxidation, which causes them to turn brown.  Then core the sweet peppers by cutting the tops off and removing the ribs.  Leave the peppers whole.  Now take a deep roasting pan and place 1 inch of water at the bottom of the pan.  Place the peppers and onions standing up in bottom of the roasting pan, along with eggplant lying skin down.  As a heads up, the eggplant dos not cook too well, unless you spray the eggplant ahead of time with some olive oil.

OK, so now you have a bunch of vegetable remnants, which should be in separate buckets.  So we now move on to cooking the meat and vegetable mixture that will be going into the vegetables to bake.  Start off by taking all the remnants and chopping them up finely.  Start off by placing 2 tablespoons of oil into a large Dutch oven and heating the oil until it shimmers. Next place the chopped onions into the Dutch oven and sauté the onions until golden brown.  Once golden, add the rest of the chopped remnants and sauté them until nice and soft.  Now add the chopped meat into the pot and cook the meat until it is browned.  Now add in the tomato sauce and spices and simmer for 20 minutes.  Now place the cooked mixture into the cored vegetables and put the roasting pan into a 350 degree oven for one hour.

With served an assortment of wines with the cooked vegetables.  The wine notes follow below:

2002 Château Malmaison Baronne Nadine – Score: B
The nose on this garnet colored wine has blackberry, cassis, mounds of dirt, mineral, and graphite.  The mouth on this soft but terroir harsh wine is really packed with earth, black fruit and oak.  The wine is simple enough, but still gets your attention with mounds of earth that melds with acidity and oak.  The finish is long and spicy along with more dark fruit.  It should have been a better wine, but the wine was out of balance and too aggressive in its mineral notes.

2006 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+
The nose on this purple colored wine with brown halos is hot out of the bottle, but calms down with oak, cranberry, dark plum, and roasted herbs.  The mouth of this medium bodied wine follows the nose with cranberry and plum.  The mid palate is packed with acid, spice, oak, and nice tantalizing tannins. The finish is long and spicy with more fruit and herbs.

2004 Gamla Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine is classically Cabernet with dark cassis, blackberry, oak, and anise.  The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine follows the nose with black fruit and a semi complex mixture of spice, oak, and integrating tannins.  The finish is long with more cassis, spicy wood, and chocolate.

Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf, Sweet and Sour Brisket, Roasted Root Vegetables, Castello di Cesare Bianco Lazio Toscana, Chateau Graveyron-Carrere Bordeaux, Galil Cabernet, Borgo Reale Chianti Classico, Kadesh Barnea Gilad, Tierra Salvaje Chardonnay

The first night of Passover found us with friends and we had the usual four cups of wine ritual, that makes Passover a wonderful precursor for Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings 🙂  The wines are listed below in the order that they were drunk, also we had quite a few folks, so please do not think I actually need to attend some AA meetings.

Once the first two cups were drunk we started in on the Matzoh (we only use shemurah matzoh), Maror (our custom is to use endives, because they are so easy to clean), and then the meal.  Mind you I am really happy with how the meal came out.  We started with hard boiled eggs with salt water poured over it.  There are many people who are starting to make this simple dish Haute Cuisine, but that is so broken.  The reason for the boiled egg is to remind us of the temple’s destruction and how we used to have a Passover Sacrifice, which is oxymoronic.

The meal started with a new dish for us and a major hit on the table – Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf.  A friend of ours was kind enough to share the recipe, and I hope she does not mind me sharing it with all of you.  It is crazy simple to boot!

Herb Encrusted baked Fish Loaf Recipe
1 loaf of Gefilte Fish
1 onion slices into thin rings
3-4 tsp of a mixture of any Italian Herbs you want (we used Oregano, Parsley, Thyme, and Savory)
2 tbsp of oil
Garlic Powder, Paprika, and Black Pepper

Mix the spices and oil in a bowl and drop the sliced onions into the herb mixture and mix around to coat the onions well.  Next drop the loaf into a baking pan and coat it with the garlic, paprika, and pepper.  Then drop the onions on top and cook covered for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Then flip the loaf, remove cover and bake until the pan is dry and onions are crispy.

We made three loafs at a time, by simply tripling the recipe and using a large baking pan.  The fish was a hit as were the onions.  The thing that was awesome was that the fish was permeated with a really cool herb and garlic flavor, not just flavored on top – really cool.  We of course served it cold with a nice cold eggplant salad.  We make our own, but it is available in small plastic containers at the supermarket as well.

The fish and eggplant went well with the Castello di Cesare and the Tierra Salvaje Chardonnay.  After the fish appetizer, we moved on to the main course of Sweet and Sour Brisket and roasted root vegetables.  I have described it a few times before, but put simply I braise a whole brisket and ONLY a whole brisket.  I have no idea how anyone can braise any other version of a brisket, really.  Without the top layer of fat to keep the meat moist, it would turn into shoe leather, which I have been forced to eat from time to time.

My World Famous Whole Brisket Recipe
10 white onions sliced thinly and browned in batches
1 10 or more pound whole brisket
1 can of whole berry cranberry
1 cup of ketchup
20 or more garlic cloves
1 bottle of a nice Cabernet or full bodied Merlot

So Anyway, place the browned onions in the bottom of a large roasting pan.  Then take a whole brisket and rub it with garlic powder, black pepper, and tons of paprika on both sides.  Next take the cloves and puncture the top of the meat (fat side up) and place a clove in each whole – make sure to NOT puncture the meat all the way through.  Finally, place the meat fat side up into the roasting pan, and pour the cranberry and ketchup mixture on the meat and then pour the bottle over the mixture.  The liquid should NOT cover more than half of the meat – if it does stop and add no more liquid of any kind.  I need to stress this, as the meat exudes tons of liquid and the fat melts on top of that.  Anymore and you will have a mess and worse a boiled chunk of meat, which is NOT what is meant by braising meat.  Finally roast the meat for 4 or so hours.  After it finishes cooking, let it cool over night and then slice it the next day and rebraise before serving for at least another two hours.

The roasted vegetables were pretty simple; toss whatever vegetables you want to roast in a deep pan with oil, garlic, paprika, and cumin.  Roast until just puncture soft by a fork.

The wine notes follow below:

2001 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. – Score: A
The color of this wine is a beautiful deep garnet. The nose on this wine has strong aromas of blackberry, dark plum, cranberry, eucalyptus, and oak. The mouth on this full bodied wine is layered and complex. The mouth is full with blackberry, plum, and raspberry and then layers in mint. The mid palate adds core acidity, eucalyptus and lovely integrated tannins. The finish is long and satisfying with black fruit, chocolate, and vanilla. A wonderful wine – it is at its peak if not a bit over the other side – drink up!!

2005 Kadesh Barnea Gilad (Undisclosed mixture of Merlot/Petit Verdot/Syrah) – Score: B+
The nose on this garnet-brown colored classic Cote’ de Rhone wine blend, is heavy in earth, cranberry, cassis, and oak.  The mouth on this balanced medium to full bodied wine follows the nose with cranberry, cassis, and earth.  The mid palate is jammy with red fruit, acidity, and nice oak.  The finish is smooth, balanced, and long with red fruit and oak.  The clear winner of the night, and just as good as when I tasted it in NY.

2002 Chateau Graveyron-Carrere Bordeaux – Score: B
The nose on this ruby/light garnet colored wine was the best part of this wine, with pencil shavings, blackberry, mineral, and oak.  The mouth on this astringent medium bodied wine was unbalanced and really not there.  The fruit was there, but overpowered by the mineral and musty French flavors.  The mid palate had a nice acid core, but the finish was what threw the wine into a tizzy.  It needed a ton of air, and even after all that, it was the least appreciated bottle of the night.

2007 Galil Mountain Winery Cabernet – Score: B
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine was also the best feature of this wine, it had lovely notes of blackberry, raspberry, and spice.  The mouth on this medium bodies wine was also off and astringent.  It may have been the bottle, or the fact that it was shipped to me recently.  I will be taste wine again in the future and will repost.  The fruit did show, but was overpowered by the acidity and astringency.

2007 Castello di Cesare Bianco Lazio Toscana – Score: B
The nose on this straw colored wine is super crisp with citrus, apple, peach, and lychee.  The mouth on this light bodied wine is extra dry, with citrus and green flavors.  The mouth is not as crisp and sharp as the nose is and is a letdown, almost flat.  The mid palate is citrus with a nice but not so long finish.  A bit brighter and fresher than what we tasted in NY.

2008 Tierra Salvaje Chardonnay Estate Bottled – Score: B+
This wine is controversial to say the least.  Many people on the table hated it while I really liked it.  This is not a democracy; it is more like a benevolent dictatorship.  Still, it is important to tell readers that many hated this wine, and that it may not ring true with you.  So on to the notes:

The nose on this brilliant golden colored wine with green halos is almost sweet with clear vegetal leanings, bright acidity, spice, green apples, pear, and lychee.  The mouth on this medium bodied wine is not sweet at all; rather it is almost bone dry, which is funny given its sweet nose.  The mouth is semi rich with green apples, flowers, and dry tea flavors.  The mid palate is acidic and dry.  The finish is medium long with more apples and nice acidity.  This is not a big or complex wine, but a nice dry change of pace and a quite nice quaffing wine, especially given its dirt cheap price.

2007 Borgo Reale Chianti Classico Vespertino – Score: B+
I must start by stating that this wine needs air like Frankenstein needs a new marketing agent!  It was the second worst bottle of the night, but I truly felt all it needed was air.  Sure enough 24 HOURS later, it was really yummy and tasty.  The wine had opened and now the ruby colored wine has a nose filled with cherry, raspberry, and cranberry, along with a nice dollop of chocolate.  The mouth of this medium bodied wine follows the nose with more of the same fruit, in a soft mouth that you feel throughout.   The mid palate is still bright with acidity, and the finish is long with more bright fruit and chocolate.  A really nice showing, it just needs a TON of air or time.

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