Distractions, Diversion, Food, Wine/Cocktails

When You Can’t Travel, Bring the Flavors of a Place to Your Kitchen

I discovered a dish several years ago when I picked up a special edition of Epicurious magazine. It was called “Epicurious Italy.” The title alone sold that magazine/cookbook to me. I’ve always LOVED Italian food. In fact, I pretty much love all things Italian. 

Epicurious Italy

Unable to travel during the corona pandemic, I decided, “If you can’t get out, at least bring the flavors of places to your kitchen.”  So, I’ve tried making schnitzel with spaetzle. It turned out pretty good. Greg whipped up some amazing curry dishes. We’ve co-cooked some Asian-inspired stuff. But far and away our favorite is Italian and our “go to.”

We took a cooking class through Sur La Table a few years ago and learned a few tricks, including how to make our own pasta. Then I found this compilation of recipes. We’ve tried at least a dozen of the recipes and love them all, but the Brasato al Barolo is an absolute favorite and has become our signature dish. 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe. Chefs always say, “add season and flavor to your taste.” We’ve used lots of different kinds of red wine – Barolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti, Super Tuscan blends, Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine enhances the flavor, so I’m always careful to go with a red we really like. For this brasato, I used a 2012 Mauro Veglio Barolo

This dish takes a little work, but is INCREDIBLE and well worth it. 

Before you start cooking, do your prep work. Cut up the carrots, onions, garlic and celery in advance. True story – I cheat on the garlic and buy the big jar of minced garlic at my local grocery store. Get that wine open and breathing. (NOTE: ALWAYS — seriously ALWAYS — taste the wine you’re using in your food. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food). If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own herbs, snip and clean some fresh thyme and basil. Otherwise, grab the fresh stuff from the store. It really makes a difference. I have somehow managed to keep the thyme, rosemary and mint alive, but my basil is looking pretty sad right now. 

My little herb garden.

Measure what you need and have it handy. The french call it “mise en place” (Everything in its place).  That’s one of things we learned in our cooking class and really makes cooking a lot easier (and more fun). Pre-heat your your oven.

Now you’re ready to get cooking.

Get a good sear on the beef

Step one: Put olive oil into a dutch oven and heat it till the oil shimmers. You’ll want to have it HOT so when you put the meat in to brown it, you get that sizzle. 

Step two: brown the meat (about two minutes a side).  and remove it from the pan to a plate

Step three: throw in diced pancetta and render the fat. I couldn’t get pancetta once and tried bacon. It was still good, but there was absolutely a difference. 

Step four: Add your cut up veggies and let them cook and caramelize for about 5 minutes. You will see a difference and everyone in the house will be coming into the kitchen to tell you how amazing it smells and find out what you’re cooking.

Step five: add those herbs and that garlic and stir ‘em in. The garlic will brown in about a minute if you use the jarred stuff. Fresh will take a little longer.

Step six. Stir in the tomato paste. It gets really gloppy here. Mix it up and get it clumpy but keep it moving. You don’t want to burn the tomato paste.

Pour in that wine

Step seven: Pour in two cups of wine. For me it boils almost immediately so I turn it down a bit and let it vigorously simmer till the wine is reduced by half.

Step eight: Add the meat (and the juices from the plate) back into the Dutch oven and pour in the other cup of wine and a cup of water. 

Step nine: Put the cover on and pop the whole thing into your pre-heated oven.

Step ten: Let that deliciousness cook low and slow for three hours. Your house will smell delicious. Your neighbors will be jealous. 

Now here’s the real secret. When your brasato is cooked, let it cool to room temp and pop it into your fridge for two to three days. Trust me on this. I’ve eaten it right away and three days later and waiting is OH SO WORTH IT! 

A few hours before you’re going to serve: Pull the Dutch oven out of the fridge and skim off most of the fat that’s set on the top. This is easiest when it’s cold. Throw the fat away, pop the covered Dutch oven into a 350℉ oven for 30 minutes.

Spoon everything but the beef into a blender.

Take it out of the oven and put the meat onto a plate. Depending on the cut of meat, it may simply fall apart or you will be able to slice it. Pull out the rosemary and thyme and spoon the contents of the pan into your blender.

Deliciousness on a plate.

Puree it. All of it. This delicious, beefy, wine-flavored, veggie mess is gonna be the most scrumptious gravy you’ve ever eaten in your life. There’s no need to thicken anything, just blend it to a thick liquid.

Voila — choose a vegetable (or not – I mean the gravy is mostly vegetables), mash some potatoes (or cauliflower) to hold the gravy. Grab some bread (you’re going to be sopping up every drop) and dig in.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes you just have to explore it with your taste buds.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, The World A to Z, travel, Uncategorized, Wine/Cocktails

Wine Tasting in a Worldwide Quarantine

With much of the world in a quarantine, companies are shutting down (permanently and temporarily) or finding creative ways to thrive. That’s the case with Schlossadler International Wines!  We discovered this relatively small wine importer at a street fair in March … just before COVID-19 forced us all indoors. What luck! At that street fair we ordered a case of wine and became a member of the club. Three weeks into the shutdown, an email popped up from Liza. Schlossadler had figured out how to do virtual wine tastings! WOOHOO!!!

All set up for our virtual wine tasting.

We chose one of the sessions featuring Italian wines, paid via PayPal and got our taste buds ready for a stay-at-home date night. Dale delivered our three bottles of wine just after lunch on Friday. We popped all three into the wine fridge, chilling the white and slightly cooling the reds. We moved a computer to our home bar so we could create a wine tasting atmosphere and logged in Friday night just before the 8pm kick-off. 

Schlossadler President Hans Fritsch stepped into view and welcomed us live from California. He introduced his team: Liza in Phoenix, Ema in Alaska and winemakers Patricia and Mauro Figaretto from Corte Figaretto in Italy (where it was FIVE AM the next morning!) 

A virtual warehouse tour kicks off the tasting.

Hans took us into the warehouse for a brief tour. Then it was time to taste the wines. We kicked things off with Secco di Corte, an indigenous white. Greg and I had created a little pairing plate of goodies to go along with the tasting and we nibbled as we listened to the descriptions of the wines. Patricia and Mauro’s described their vineyard and their boutique wines. In Italy, an annual production of 80,000 bottles is “boutique.”

Ema offered insights into the meaning of the import label and explained the DOCG band. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, DOCG), the highest official Italian wine classification.

The wine tasting begins.

We sampled the first of two reds and learned more about how Corte Figaretto blends ELEVEN grapes to create Bacca Nera. The mild red delighted us as we listened to Mauro talk about his grapes like a proud father and how they are picked by hand in two phases. About half of the grapes are harvested when they are perfectly ripe. The other half is done about three weeks later when the grapes are just overripe.

A few bites to nibble and pair with the wines.

Moving on to the star of the tasting, we poured a generous taste of Amarone del Valpolicella into our glasses. Patricia wowed us with the story behind the oak casks this wine ages in after the grapes are dried for four months. Mauro travels to France to hand select the oak used for his casks, insisting the care that goes into each cask makes a better wine. He must be right, because the Amarone was MAGNIFICENT! The deep, ruby red color and the fragrant nose tease just a bit as that first sip dances on your tongue and tantalises your taste buds. 

Once the three tastings wrapped up, Hans and the team at the California headquarters opened up the live chat feature and we “met” our fellow tasters, asked questions and bantered back and forth for another 45 minutes. What a delight. We’ve already signed up for another virtual tasting this Friday.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, sometimes you might have to explore some of it virtually. 

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020