breaking bread is a universal ritual that brings us together. a good meal has the power to heal us, body and soul. all my cooking comes from the heart.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

time for a drink

For some reason I don't drink as much beer aboard in the wintertime. I still drink beer when I'm out because it's just more calorie- and cost-conscious. Whatever the reason, I've been on a run of trying new wines and enjoying the Wine for Normal People podcast to learn more about wine, winemaking, and pairing. I'm on a pretty tight budget so I can't have $20 "daily drinkers," but I have come to agree with WFNP's host Elizabeth that the sub-$10 bottles are blech. Well, I do have a couple of favs (like the Santola vinho verde from Portugal) that come in at $9.99. But those $6 and $8 bottles, they really taste like bad grape juice and have painful, sugary hangover written all over them if you actually manage to stomach the stuff.

So, here are some of the bottles I've been trying. One big hit, (pictured above), though not in the daily budget, was a $20 cremant from the Loire. Made using the same method as Champagne, a cremant of the same quality may cost half as much as a Champagne. For Christmas I tried the Gaudrelle and really enjoyed it. It had a yeastiness that made it interesting. There were only two cremant at my local liquor store and this one was highly rated, so it was an easy pick.

The Montebuena Rioja is one of my favorite go-to wines. Smooth, goes well with food or without. A reliable friend and usually $11 or $12. But I wanted to branch out from my usual Spain/Portugal/Argentina rut. I had had the Matua pinot noir when I was in New Zealand and happened to see it on sale at my local liquor store. It was just $13 and is fine for a whirl, but for a serious meal I think I'd have to spring a bit more to get a good pinot. Unfortunately the grape is the most difficult to grow, and, thus, the good wine from it is pricey. I've always been a big believer in Oregon pinot noir but WFNP suggests that they are pricier than other pinots for a bottle of equivalent quality. If only I had a budget for good Burgundy.

After listening to the WFNP podcasts on the Rhone, I felt I needed to try some southern Rhone wine. I'd love a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but since they start at $50, that wasn't happening. I agonized in the aisle for a while when the wine guy at the liquor store came over to offer some help. I explained what I was looking for and my sub-$20 budget. He recommended the Domaine La Casenove La Garrigue ($16). I had thought it might be for Christmas but I held onto it a bit longer. I really wanted to give it thought and savor it. When I opened the bottle and poured a glass the rich berry color was gorgeous and the aroma was delish. Then I took a sip and, gasp, it was awful! I expected there would be minerality and earthiness to it, but I felt like I got a mouth full of stale dirt. I decided maybe it needed to be in a different glass and switched it. I also let it sit for several minutes to get some air. Letting it "breathe" definitely helped. But the rest of the bottle was actually wonderful the next night. If I buy it again or have another similar experience I think I will decant it and just give it a little time to relax. 

A friend gave me the Los Haraldos tempranillo for Christmas. I love tempranillo and it just goes well with so much of my cooking. I enjoyed this one and would drink it again. I was drinking South American and Iberian wines before I started listening to WFNP, but I really embrace her advice that you can often get good value (i.e., higher quality for the price) when you buy wine from places where people speak Spanish (or Portuguese).

Unfortunately I haven't managed to sit and keep tasting notes. I default to a very simple rating system, which I've been using as I try to get through the 100 beers in the World Beer Club at Ram's Head Tavern: yum, meh, and ick. So very sophisticated.

Next I decided no two bottles from the same country. The Bastide Miraflors is a syrah and grenache blend from the southern Rhone, The Dr. L (for Dr. Loosen) riesling is from Germany's Mosel region, and the Altés is 100% grenache from Spain. The later is a great value at around $11 and got a 91 rating from Robert Parker (I do keep going back for the Altés). I usually love riesling but the Dr. L was way too sweet for my taste. (I like the Chateau Ste. Michelle riesling from Washington, the core one of which is about $10. Even better is the Eroica, which is a collaboration between Dr. Loosen and Chateau Ste. Michelle, but also costs twice as much.) The Bastide Miraflors was tasty enough that I bought it again and I think it went well with mushrooms and risotto.

Finally, the Cousiño-Macul Finis Terrae cabernet sauvingon, merlot, and syrah blend was very nice. It was a gift back when I renamed the boat and had been tucked away for a special occasion. But the special occasion was that I wanted to try it and not let it sit any longer. It was noted as unfiltered but I poured slowly and carefully and didn't end up with any sediment in my glass.

I have tended to avoid cabernet sauvignon, thinking it will be too "heavy." Therefore, I haven't been drinking Chilean wines lately. Chile does cabernet. Argentina does malbec and tempranillo, which is where I've been leaning in the last few years. But perhaps it's time to try some more cabernet. If I had friends interested enough in wine I would do a tasting with a bottle of Washington cab, one from Chile, and then a Bordeaux. The first step in my wine re-education has been learning about the grapes at a high level and how different winemaking techniques (e.g., American oak versus French oak) affect the wine generally. Now I need to learn more about the different styles by region/country so I can improve my pairing, and my value shopping.

Okay, one beer! Here's the Wells Banana Bread from the World Beer Club, it was amazing! I couldn't drink a six-pack at once, but one or two on a winter afternoon, sure.

Lest you think I drink several bottles of wine a night, the bottles pictured above span at least a six-week timeframe. It's not that I couldn't (or haven't) knocked off a bottle on my own in one night, but I'm a gal on budget, financially and calorically, so it's two, maybe three, little 5 ounce glasses at most.

Cheers! Salud! Prost!

Gotta run; it's time for a drink...

Monday, January 26, 2015

adventures in the galley

Here's a twist on the classic caprese salad. I don't like tomatoes unless they are beaten into submission (i.e., pureed) so this is sans tomatoes and the protein is revved up with some chicken. A classic caprese is alternated slices of fresh mozzarella, fresh roma tomatoes, and basil leaves, and then the whole thing is drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Here I made a pile of chopped grilled chicken (which had been marinated for a few days in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper) (5 oz is about 170 calories, I think I just put about 3 oz here), then I added two ounces of fresh mozzarella (170 calories), chopped fresh basil (the calories are so negligible they don't really matter), drizzled it with a tablespoon olive oil (120 calories), and then with a tablespoon of balsamic vinger (10 calories). I topped it off with fresh ground pepper and a bit of pink Himalayan salt. Yum!

Next up in making my grilled chicken multitask, chicken with Italian sausage, gemelli, and broccoli. I made four servings using one mild sweet Italian sausage, (that and the chicken both purchased from The Fresh Market), and ten ounces of grilled chicken, (about two breasts depending on how big they are). The anise in the sausage is key in getting the defining flavor for this very versatile combination. I sauteed onions and garlic in a couple tablespoons of olive oil, added the grilled chicken and sausage, (already cut up into bite-sized pieces), then added a cup of vegetable broth, (I used Rapunzel powdered broth), fresh ground pepper, and kosher salt, and let them simmer together. Meanwhile, I boiled the water and cooked up about 8 ounces (dry) of gemelli pasta. The spiral in the gemelli is nice for grabbing onto sauces. Once the pasta was al dente and drained, I added it to the pan and stirred it in. I also added a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. I often make this with white wine, but didn't have any, so the vinegar added some needed sweetness. The combination of chicken with Italian sausage is very versatile. You can play around with the ingredients you happen to have and serve it with pasta, brown rice, risotto, or whatever mild starch suits your taste. To make it saucy I usually use vegetable broth and white white, but broth and Madeira or Marsala wine is also tasty. To jazz up the color and bulk up the volume with minimal calories I added a cup of lightly steamed broccoli to each serving.

Finally, I went really "iron chef" with what I had to work with and was thrilled with how well it turned out. I boiled up vegetable broth and mixed red and white quinoa. I like to make a few servings worth so I can have some on hand for random leftovers. Unless I'm making white basmati rice for curry, I always cook rice, quinoa, or cous cous with vegetable broth to give it flavor. While the quinoa was underway, I simmered haricot verts, i.e., snooty French string beans, in about a quarter cup of water in a saute pan. Once they were cooked but not overdone, I drained out the water, added a tablespoon of olive oil, and added three slices of julienned hard salami and a quarter of an orange bell pepper. Season to taste with a bit of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Next up I mixed a can of garbanzo beans a/k/a chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. I topped the haricot verts and garbanzos (1/3 of a can here) with an ounce of light feta cheese. (The dinner plate above was full and came in under 500 calories). The salami really gave the haricot verts some zip, and while bacon is classic and would also be delish, salami was a fast and simple option to pull out of the reefer. 

My fridge is a converted icebox and is very small and very unpredictable. It freezes things I don't want frozen (lettuce, yogurt...), doesn't chill other things enough, it's just a constant challenge. Thus, I have to work with small quantities of groceries and pick items that will survive the haphazard conditions aboard, rather than what I might prefer under the best of circumstances. But life is all about making the best of the unpredictable and unexpected, so just go for it and have some adventures in your galley.

Monday, January 5, 2015

playing cookie fairy

Now and again, and particularly in the winter when baking helps warm up the boat, I like to do some baking and walk around town playing "cookie fairy." 

My butterscotch brownies are always a hit and bar cookies are the most time-effective for making large quantities, but I also wanted to take a stab at some sugar cookies. I made several dozen sugar cookie bunnies. Why bunnies? Well, because this is Running Rabbit Kitchen. Because I like bunnies. Because rabbits are a sign of renewal and rebirth appropriate to the New Year. Because it is the only cookie cutter I have.

A large kitchen is a plus when making sugar cookies, but I managed in my itsy bitsy galley nonetheless. I could only bake a dozen at a time and only have one baking sheet that fits in the teeny tiny oven, so thank god for parchment paper. The sprinkles were really messy, so I would only do those again if I did royal icing after baking the cookies and put the sprinkles on top of the icing. Next time I will probably spring for the fancy pretty colored sugars for sprinkling on top of the cookies. I also sprayed some of the cookies with purple "cake grafiti" which is basically food coloring spray paint. The rest I sprinkled with plain, old-fashioned granulated sugar. 

Both the raw dough and the finished product were delicious. These were my first sugar cookies and I think next time I will cut them a little thicker. Thicker equals squishier cookies, thinner equals crisper. Both are good, but I think I like them a little on the squishy side. I used the recipe for "Ethel's Sugar Cookies" from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book. The recipe is a little different because it uses powdered sugar rather than granuated sugar. Instead of almond flavoring I used orange oil. Next time I am considering dipping the ears in chocolate so they taste like an orange milano cookie, except better, because they are homemade.

Here are the little bags of cookies to gift to friends and strangers:

Happy New Year. Strive to practice random acts of sweetness, because it makes the world a happier place.