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Wine | Manolo's Food Blog - Part 4
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Binging and whingeing in Barcelona

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As usual the task of pointing out the obvious fell to Little Henry. “This food is salty,” the young one said. Not until then did Aunt Bev notice that since arrival not once had she reached for the table salt. Considering tapas bars here don’t place salt shakers on the table, however, this is not so surprising.

For more than a week it seems Mr. Henry and family have been living chiefly on salt, delicious flaked sea salt conveyed by little fishy vehicles remarkably fresh and completely addicting. Most of these little fishes arrive fried in the lightest of batters. A few come from the grill.

The only way Mr. Henry’s delicate digestion succeeds in vanquishing the fried skins of crunchy baby squid or the dark oils of fresh anchovies is to wash them down with glasses and glasses of cava, local sparkling chardonnay available at Cuines Santa Caterina (smoke free) for a mere three bucks per glass.

Since the Henrys arrived in Catalunya the Euro has risen 9% against the dollar. Extending fiscal principles established by Wall Street and Congress, when discussing money the Henry party prefers to call Euros “bucks” and wait until their VISA bill arrives next month before grappling with subtleties of foreign exchange. Why ruin the vacation spirit?

Tapas are what you eat in Barcelona, by the way. Here one is best advised to forego the sit-down dinner which does not begin until after eight at the earliest, far too late for proper digestion before bed no matter how much cava you may swill. Regardless of the hour, the sit-down dinner is simply not prepared to the same high standards as tapas. Barcelona’s best cooks work behind the bar, not in the kitchen.

Top in the hierarchy stands the fry chef. Exactly how these marvelous little fried tapas – paper thin artichoke slices, tiny bait fish each individually breaded, squid of every size and description – emerge without tasting greasy, heavy or bitter remains an enduring mystery. cerveseriacatalana.jpg

At Cerveseria Catalan yesterday the fried artichokes tasted of olive oil, but how can olive oil sustain the high heat of frying without breaking down?

Late Friday night when Mr. Henry left the rental apartment in the old city to seek out an internet cafe that wasn’t too smoky, and by the way such a place does not exist, all at once he was surrounded by hundreds of running college students.

With a rueful smile at the boundless energy of youth, Mr. Henry tried to maintain his footsore equilibrium. Not until a long-haired youth sprinted past with blood running down his face did Mr. Henry appreciate the unsettling fact that he was in the middle of a riot. When police vans turned the corner, sirens wailing, and helmeted police swinging clubs came running down narrow, walled Carrer Montcald, Mr. Henry felt like a player in history, namely, a peasant about to be crushed.

Careful to avoid getting trampled, Mr. Henry ducked into the nearest opening to discover TextilCafe, a lovely snack bar in a beautiful Renaissance palace courtyard directly across from the Picasso Museum. (Cava there is only two bucks ninety….and be sure to order the babaganoush.)

Once the street cleared of riot police, students, and cigarette smoke (every young Catalan without exception smokes cigarettes), Mr. Henry achieved his initial goal of hooking up to the internet only to discover that the Manolosphere in all its glorious components was down, that is, crashed, kaput, off the airwaves, a temporary case of server overload that not even cava could rectify.

Indeed the day had not begun well. Once again Little Henry had pegged it. “This town is sketchy,” the young sage remarked fatefully. Later that morning exiting a crowded subway car Little Henry announced, “Mom, your backpack is open.”

Moments before Mrs. Henry had felt a little tug at her back and had turned to get a look at the likely perpetrator. There were three thieves. When the train lurched the first stumbled forward creating a diversion. At that moment the second opened Mrs. Henry’s backpack and picked the wallet, immediately passing it to the third.

With all the vigor of her 101 lb. frame she sprinted down the platform, reached out and clamped her hand on the thief’s greasy collar. Startled at having been caught, he turned and handed back her wallet with money and I.D. intact.

Shaken but gratified, the Henry party retreated to eat more salty fishes and discuss where in future to secrete family belongings. As cava calmed his nerves Mr. Henry imagined where, had he only witnessed the deed in time, he would have placed the toe of his shoe on the foul miscreant’s hind quarters. Without doubt it would have gotten ugly.

Perhaps not advancing age, jet lag, or that extra glass of cava explain why Mr. Henry’s reflexes are not what they ought to be. Since arrival more than a week ago, he hasn’t gotten one good night’s sleep. Streets in the old city howl all night long. The only quiet hours are in the morning from six till nine.

No, in sum it must be said that Barcelona’s lifestyle is not conducive to good health. But at twelve midnight the Passeig del Born is rollicking.

Steak tartare

Not for fifteen years has Mr. Henry enjoyed steak tartare.

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In the 1990’s finding himself hungry for lunch alone in London’s Soho, he remembered a genuine French bistro where years before he had enjoyed a very good steak tartare, the kind of bistro where middle-aged French waiters make a genuine career out of good service.

“Steak tartare?” said the waiter with a touch of alarm. “Steak tartare?”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Henry assuredly. “You still serve steak tartare here, do you not?”

Oui, monsieur.” Addressing his colleagues sharply he barked, “Steak tartare tout de suite.”

Mr. Henry waited quietly. The day’s International Herald Tribune lay undisturbed by his side. Would it be gauche to open it at the table? Perhaps he should wait until after he had finished eating.

The waiter arrived at tableside with steak properly minced, not ground, and with capers, mustard, lemon, egg and onion. He prepared the tartare quite expertly and Mr. Henry consumed it quite completely.

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Restored and content Mr. Henry opened his Herald Tribune. On page one a bold headline cried “Mad Cow Disease Discovered in British Beef.”

This kind of shock takes some time to get over. Impelled by recent reviews of Mr. Henry’s new neighborhood bistro, The West Branch, however, with particular mention of the duck confit salad, the pulled pork panino, and the steak tartare, last Wednesday he strode through its old-time portals on a bold mission to vanquish the perfidious tartare.

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Without thinking it through, Mr. Henry automatically ordered a glass of pinot noir which was a tad fruity and absolutely the wrong accompaniment to steak tartare. After the first bite he ordered a cold glass of sauvignon blanc.

White wine with steak? Perfection. Perfect as well, was The West Branch’s tartare recipe that used shallots, not onion, plenty of Dijon mustard, and if the Henry nose is not mistaken, a touch of white wine vinegar.

Save your pinot noir for baked salmon. Vive le vin blanc.

Martini bigotry

Foster Kincaid Says:

I was shocked to discover that Mr. Henry is advocating fruit flavored martinis. Good Lord, man, have you lost your mind? At long last, Senator, have you no shame at all? I still recall the day I tried something called–I am not kidding–an “appletini.” Sometimes, when I wake in the night, my mouth parched and caked from breathing through the only aperture available (I am a martyr to a deviated nasal septum), I can still taste it, its foul effluviant seeping from beneath an under-maintained filling. As for sage complementing the flavor of juniper berries, I keep an open mind, something for which I am well known among martini bigots.

Mr. Kincaid, clearly you are a man of fierce opinions well-grounded in experience. Carry on. Bigotry in the face of an appletini is righteous, sir, a mark of true character. It is nothing less than virtue itself.

The best Mr. Henry can offer by way of defense for his apparent lapse in judgment is that a) the altitude was high, b) Mr. Henry was low with a cold in the head, and c) there was nothing else in the liquor cabinet or in the fridge. The snow was piling up at greater than one inch per hour. Winds were gusting at 50 mph. The State Liquor Store was several thousand feet down the mountain. Interstate 80 from Park City to Parley’s Summit was closed. For the love of God, can you cede no quarter to a desperate man?

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Admittedly a Meyertini is sweeter than a classic dry vermouth martini, but it is decidedly less sweet than a Tom Collins or one of those frightful Franken-martinis made with outré liqueurs. Because gin is more conducive to good digestion than tequila, and because dry sherry is less sweet than Triple Sec, however, the Meyertini has a friendlier, more refreshing profile than the Margarita. With Mexican food Mr. Henry prefers a Meyertini over a Margarita.mexcalendar_girls.jpg

With spicy, beany cuisine such as that which passes for ‘Mexican’ in the American West one’s choice of drink is not obvious. Beer, especially at night, poses the problem of too many carbohydrates. Which wines work best? Dark reds bursting with earth like Syrah or Zinfandel are the conventional pairings but Mr. Henry finds them too dense on the palate. They are insistent, overpowering, and usually too sweet, as well.

With southwestern style cooking he prefers the clarity of a Chablis or a Sancerre, which is to say a dry Chardonnay (without oak, por favor) or a Sauvignon Blanc.

But since ski bums don’t drink crisp whites, in ski towns Mr. Henry repairs to the next best potion for cleansing the palate between bites, the gin cocktail. Since he only skis once per year, thankfully he need not face this drinks dilemma once again for quite a while.

Meyertini

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Snowbound by a fresh nine inches, exhausted by skiing in high altitude, and hopelessly out of wine, Mr. Henry sensed now was not the time for caution or for retreat. He called upon his pioneer spirit of rugged individualism, the hallmark of his character.

Luck favors the prepared drinker, and as luck would have it days before Mr. Henry had purchased a sack full of lovely little Meyer lemons despite bitter recriminations from his otherwise even-tempered consort. “And just what do you intend to do with those?” she asked with rising tone and rising eyebrows.

At that instant he wasn’t sure exactly what, but yesterday inspiration struck.

Last week Naughty Mary had come over to the apartment, you see, carrying her traveling martini field kit: one shaker, one bottle of Hendrick’s gin, one bottle of St. Germain elderberry liqueur, and a handful of fresh sage leaves. To everyone’s delight she made a sage martini (borrowed from restaurant I Sodi in Greenwich Village).
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Drop a few sage leaves into the shaker, add a gargantuan pour of Hendrick’s and muddle them together with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes add ice and much less St. Germain, shake and strain into cold glasses. (Quantities are approximate with Mary, but she never falters.)

Elderberry liqueur tastes remarkably like fresh lychee fruit, by the way. In the martini its sweetness is nicely undercut by sage’s aromatic bitterness.

Inspired by Mary’s success, Mr. Henry improvised.lagitana.jpg Making-do with what’s at hand – isn’t that the American spirit?

Seizing an open bottle of La Gitana dry manzanilla sherry, he mixed his first original cocktail. Dry sherry is slightly salty on the palate and seems to bring forward the tartness of the Meyer lemon.

Meyertini

teaspoon or so of Meyer lemon juice
liberal pour of dry sherry
double that amount of gin
ice

Shake and strain, or else find a handy motel glass and just drink it, for Lord’s sake.

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Mr. Henry’s high regard for the original martini, peerless expression of the bartender’s art, made him hesitate to name this gin cocktail a Meyertini. After drinking one, however, cleverness clouded his better judgment – precisely the state of mind he had been seeking.

Drinking in Utah

mormontemple.jpgAlthough both cities are charted on a grid, Salt Lake City is different from New York.

In Utah the pairing of beverage with dinner hangs principally on which one gets a buzz moving quickest.

If you happen to be in the mood for a beer, Utah restricts you to 3.2% alcohol, an odd brew lacking body or bite and utterly bereft of buzz.

If like Mr. Henry you were looking for a Côtes du Rhone at the State Liquor store, the only place you can legally purchase wine, spirits, or beer with higher than 3.2% alcohol, you’re going to fail. Wine here is arranged by varietal in ascending order of price. Since Côtes du Rhone is a blend of grapes, within the caverns of the State Liquor store a Côtes du Rhone simply cannot be found.

In grocery stores checkout people are overwhelmingly cheerful. The produce man abandons his lettuces to help you find the Meyer lemons. Smiles spring forth without hesitation or guile.

But State Liquor store personnel, working as they do among sin and shame, have a hard edge around the eyes, more like blackjack croupiers than adherents to the Book of Mormon. Jostled in the aisles by predatory drinkers on dark and secret missions, a casual shopper gets roughed up.

The last time Mr. Henry stood in lines this long was at Disneyworld, a place that, come to think of it, resembles Salt Lake City, architecturally as well as culturally. The treacle-sweet songs sung by calico-clad greeter girls at Temple Square is pure Disney pageantry, and so are their ankle-length pioneer dresses.

And what could be the architectural sources for the Mormon Temple itself apart from storybook fantasy?
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Thanksgiving

Inevitable as taxes or that other thing, turkey day is coming. Family may be coming. Guests should be coming. The table will be heaping.

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If you opt for a restaurant, however, shunning your traditional responsibilities as cook, will you still be able to savor that quintessential American feeling? In this defining moment, will you stand down? Can you so easily shirk the burden of history?lincoln.jpg

Will you nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth?

Take heart. Small variations of the Thanksgiving dinner are permitted. Be forewarned, however, your recipes will be compared to those of august and venerated forebears, relatives and antecedents hovering in calendric conjunction.

Don’t screw up.

At the Henry household, labor is divided. Mrs. Henry bakes the pie. Mr. Henry roasts the bird. Unable to reach agreement on stuffing, they each make their own.

Mindful of all that has gone wrong, and of all that can go wrong and be blamed squarely on him, Mr. Henry threw money at the problem. He ordered a Heritage Foods turkey online for the princely sum of $129. (This better be one tasty turkey, brother, because already the vacation is in jeopardy.) It promises to arrive by FedEx on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which leaves not quite enough time for the dry salt to fully absorb. All the same, Mr. Henry will rub salt and give thanks.

Special thanks will be offered this year to the good Glinda who divined Mr. Henry’s turkey uncertainty and sent him this attractive recipe from the L.A. Times. By the way, the hot oven option works best.sumo.jpg

Dry salt rub is, indeed, an efficacious method for roasting. For years Mr. Henry has been flinging salt on meat like a sumo wrestler entering the ring.

Cranberry sauce is de riguer. This recipe is foolproof.

Mrs. Henry will surely make the classic pumpkin chiffon pie. (The trick is to pre-bake the crust – what potters call “bisque.”)

Stuffing is the cook’s signature dish. Mrs. Henry will make a simple bread and sage stuffing for the masses. Mr. Henry will make Nadia’s aromatic 1001 Nights saffron and chestnut forcemeat. The wine will be a Burgundy, a light one, perhaps a Côtes de Ventoux, who can say?

Pie Fight

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Was it the change in the weather, the change in the economy, or the change in the presidential polls that set the stage for the savory pie, that stalwart, antique, Anglo-American fallback? Clearly the Henry household craved stability, the succor of tradition, something certain in an uncertain world.

Mrs. Henry ferried home some stewing beef. (Who knows whence these urges come? Once decided, however, she completes her missions with military determination.)

She made a standard brown stew with carrots and celery, thickened with flour. Just before crowning it with mashed potatoes, she mixed frozen peas into the stew. After half an hour in the oven, the peas perfectly hot yet still crisp, she served a storybook cottage pie fair enough to grace the table of Old King Cole.

Little Henry tucked into it at dinner and once again for breakfast. For three days straight the strapping child left the house fortified by an ample breakfast of savory pie.
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In riposte to this triumph, for dinner Mr. Henry concocted a simple, delicious, and very easy chicken braised in vermouth. Preparation time – 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350º. Using your trusty Le Creuset dutch oven sauté in olive oil two cloves of garlic, a stick of fresh rosemary, a double pinch of herbs de provence, sea salt, and a whole chicken trimmed of skin and fat.vermouth2.jpg

After browning, add 3 cups of vermouth, yes, 3 cups. (Equally you may use dry white wine, but Mr. Henry prefers the woody aromas of vermouth which marry wonderfully with herbs de provence.) Bake ½ hour covered and ½ hour uncovered until the broth has reduced to the consistency of  a sauce. Serve with brown rice and a sauvignon blanc.

Not to be outdone in the culinary competition, Mrs. Henry used the leftovers to make a chicken pot pie beyond compare. Since Mr. Henry is incapable of matching Mrs. Henry’s flaky crusts, tonight he requested a delay in the contest.

Tomorrow for presidential debate night as his weapon of choice he will prepare a Moroccan tagine of lamb with prunes. (Hmmm. Might he be accused of cozying up to Islamic regimes? Must reconsider. On second thought his tagine will be an American tagine of lamb with prunes.)

Bill Blass meat loaf

Last week Aunt Bev came barreling out of the Mountain West to help nurse Mrs. Henry and do chores with her characteristic house-elf perseverance. Now the fridge is spotless inside and out. Thanks to her deft work with a toothpick, little crevices in the door panel no longer harbor black gunk. (Who knew?)

Aunt Bev would rather clean house from top to bottom, however, than cook dinner. She is fully capable of throwing dinner together. She does it quite regularly back home. But she does not enjoy it. For her, cooking will always be drudgery.

Her sister, Mrs. Henry, is exactly the opposite. She likes nothing more than to plunge her hands in flour up to the elbows. When renovating the kitchen she designed a long, unbroken stretch of countertop so that baking would never again create congestion.

When she cooks, she leaves the kitchen a wreck. But each dish arrives perfectly hot and perfectly done at the same time. It’s a miracle of theatrical timing performed without rehearsal or stage fright.

Although Betsy hates to cook, she baked a pumpkin spice bread for Mrs. Henry’s convalescence that became the top treat of the week. If you hate to cook, it’s practical to have one whiz-bang recipe to prepare in a pinch.

When the temperature outside is in the middle 90’s, what should you fix for dinner? You want to make a dish that’s good for leftovers but you don’t want to fire the oven more than absolutely necessary.

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Aunt Bev’s choice, her whiz-bang recipe, is the Bill Blass meat loaf. (Did you realize that High Wasp society considers the humble, old-fashioned meat loaf to be the ultimate in chic? At Connecticut country estate weekend parties it’s positively revered as a holy relic.)

Always a tinkerer with recipes, Mr. Henry added rolled oats in place of bread crumbs, added an extra egg, and left out the butter altogether except to grease the pan. To accompany he chose mashed potatoes, a green vegetable, and a pinot noir.

Back in the last century Mr. Henry had the great pleasure of making Bill Blass’s acquaintance. Even in a business negotiation which normally reveals the worst aspects of someone’s personality, Mr. Blass was an authentic gentleman – witty, charming and forthright.

Here is the recipe. In changing those few details, Mr. Henry hopes he has Bill’s blessing.

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