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Wine | Manolo's Food Blog - Part 6
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A Hymn to Left-Overs

For the past week Mr. Henry has been turning out his light early, sleeping until one or two, and then rising quietly so as not to wake either Mrs. Henry, perfectly unperturbable as she busily thrashes, talks, and even
laughs in her sleep, or to rouse the faithful Pepper nestled at the foot of the big bed. Since unlike princes of yore Mr. Henry does not permit himself a midnight capon or goblet of vintage port, in place of victuals Mr. Henry sneaks off to his chilly office garret, carves out a free spot from his cluttered daybed and reads A Stew or a Story: an assortment of short works by M.F.K. Fisher, the doyenne of food writers, indeed, the most remarkable of writers about places and the feelings they arouse.

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She studied at the University of Dijon in 1929 and was still writing in the 1990’s. Equally at home in California and in France, she absorbed the deepest secrets of both places. Ever the gracious hostess, she wrote in small servings humbly sandwiched in the most unliterary journals. Who today would remember the magazines Holiday or McCall’s, or expect them to hold such riches? Who would think House Beautiful a trove of great writing?

For Mr. Henry, her sentences and paragraphs are finer than food or drink. Her styles, for indeed there are very many, established the template for this century’s food blogging. Rather than make you ache for a seat at her table, she quietly invites you, slyly prepares the tone, conjures the physical setting, and lays out recipes in amusing, clear prose that is readable and re-readable. She adds unexpected spice to a line, never too heavily, that illustrates concisely and elegantly exactly what taste truly is. She is never fussy or bombastic. (Might Mr. Henry find a lesson herein?) Her spirit is mischievous and what was once called ‘gay.’ Her laugh must have been indescribably attractive.

In A Hymn to Left-Overs (Pageant, 1950), writing of serving room-temperature roast chicken to her disapproving father, she says, “He is baffled…and I am happy, for nothing is more devoutly to be wished for in family gastronomy than the strong element of bewilderment.”

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Housebound by last week’s unremitting winter wind, Mrs. Henry embraced this ethos and served up a truly original stew composed of odd bins found in the fridge. It began with chick peas soaked all day and boiled in preparation for a hummous that Mr. Henry failed once again to prepare. (Such things, after all, take time.)

After sputtering and fuming in the direction of her feckless consort, exclaiming how he never, ever comes up with new dinner ideas, how he leaves her to do all the planning, and how there is now no possible way she could come up with a suitable dinner — a stream of invective nearly unsuitable for Little Henry’s tender ears — she yanked out every left-over container and set to work.

First she sautéed some crumbled-up Italian sweet sausage. Removing it from the fire and wiping away its grease, she quickly did the same with some chopped-up sliced ham. After sautéeing chopped onion in olive oil she added chopped tomatoes and kale. After the kale had wilted she added a small container of vegetable stock and the chick peas. Finally the meat went back in just long enough to heat but not to steam. Topped with grated parmesan this amusing, elegant invention was eagerly devoured on the new Henry couch in front of the TV.

Since the stew tasted vaguely Mediterranean but not exactly site-specific, Mr. Henry decided he had traveled to a hidden corner of Spain and chose to drink a glass of rich, dark de Ribera. This kind of traveling reduces jet lag.

Feasting plain and simple

Planning a meal is at least as difficult as preparing one. The planner must imagine which flavors and which textures might survive a culinary marriage all the way through the gastro-intestinal tract of each fussbudget friend.

While Mr. Henry believes that each of us is responsible for his or her own colon, he is mindful that out-of-town guests are stuck eating whatever the Henrys prepare. Therefore, menus must err towards the safe and the familiar.

feasting.jpgSince over Thanksgiving the Henry household entertained eight (yes, eight) of Mrs. Henry’s relatives for eight days, the feasting never ceased. Mrs. Henry never left the kitchen and Mr. Henry never stopped ferrying food in and ferrying garbage out.

Eight different palettes with eight different dietary regimens did not intimidate the fearless Mrs. Henry. Undaunted by the closeness of respected elders and rivalrous siblings, she brazenly posted the entire week’s menu on the cabinet, declaring that whoever wanted dinner had better show up on time, devil take the hindmost. She is a courageous woman. Martin Luther was not more bold in list-posting.

Everyone came, everyone feasted, and everyone thanked Mr. Henry, though he had done no cooking apart from the cranberries and some prep work. (A moment, please……Were they happy he had NOT cooked?) Whatever the intention, they complimented him as well on his choices of wine, for which he takes full and deserved credit. Given the size of the party and Mr. Henry’s shrinking holiday budget, none of the wines cost more than $18 per bottle. But given the global wine glut, good table wine is among the cheapest of treats today.

For those less organized than Mrs. Henry, and Mr. Henry suspects such a list does not exclude the U.S. Army quartermaster general, here is the week’s complete menu:

Dinner 1:
Cuban stew: an aromatic slow-cooked concoction of Mrs. Henry’s device made with pork or chicken which includes onions, green olives, raisins, garbanzos, plum tomatoes (seeded), and a splash of liquid (either white wine or stock will do). Sprinkled with fresh cilantro, it is served over brown rice (basmati is tastiest) seasoned with turmeric for color.
Green salad.
Wine: Rioja

Dinner 2: guests all dining at differing times.
Pizza made by each guest upon arrival using Bruno’s bottled marinara sauce (made smoother by a few moments in the blender) and for toppings a choice of mozzarella, sliced Kalamata olives, sweet sausage sautéed and crumbled, sautéed mushrooms, anchovies, and fresh basil.
Green salad.
Wine: Barbera

Dinner 3: pre-Thanksgiving low-fat meal
Broiled farmed salmon (wild was unavailable), broccoli, baked whole fingerling potatoes, Israeli pickles in rice wine vinegar.
Dessert: mixed berries
Wine: Riesling

Dinner 3: Thanksgiving.
Free range turkey, 8 lbs., cooked in convection oven for two hours at 400 degrees, mashed potatoes, sliced baked yams (NOT candied), green beans, Mr. Henry’s signature orange cranberry sauce, fresh applesauce.
Stuffing: sausage, chestnut, apple, fresh sage, and sourdough bread baked in two whole winter squashes.
Dessert: Pumpkin chiffon pie, apple pie, vanilla ice cream
Wine: Pinot Noir

Dinner 4: Post-Thanksgiving, pre-theater
Turkey soup, squash soup.
Ceasar salad.
Dessert: Tia’s dulce de leche soggy cake with peaches and whipped cream. (Hmmm. Thank you, Tia.)
Wine: whatever was open
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Dinner 5:
Leg of lamb, lentils with garlic and cumin, broiled asparagus (just toss with olive oil and salt, broil for 6-8 minutes), brown and wild rice, sliced drained cucumber & dill in yogurt, and iced mint tea.
Dessert: leftover pumpkin pie
Wine: Pinot Noir

Dinner 6:
Winter squash soup (made from the Thanksgiving leftovers), filet mignon, potatoes roasted en papillote, peas.
Dessert: mixed berry tart
Wine: Bordeaux

Dinner 7:
Broiled black cod in white miso, white rice, tsukemono (assorted Japanese pickles), umeboshi (salt plum), green beans
Dessert: mochi ice cream from Beard Papa’s
Wine: Riesling

Mr. Henry Changes His Mind

Unlike Mr. D’Arcy whose good opinion once lost is forever lost, Mr. Henry retains the privilege of changing his mind. Although a man of his word, he never stands by his mistakes.

A Mr. Henry Dictum: What may be true in the aggregate may be false in the particular.

[Such is the starch a money manager might employ to explain why although the market as a whole is up, your investments are down.]

With regard to champagne, our present topic, the dictum against drinking rosé hinges largely on price. Mr. Henry does not want his friends to become dependent on budget-busting effervescences.

Rosé champagne can be quite wonderful, and indeed, as Courtney says, to call it “pink” is rather disparaging. Yes, the best ones are prepared by leaving the pinot noir skins in contact with the juice – the saignée (bleeding) method – although others are made by simply blending a bit of red wine with white before bottling. (In each case, the subsequent addition of a spoonful of yeasty sugar syrup enables a second fermentation in the bottle.)

Mr. Henry’s experience with rosé champagne harks back to an embarrassing dinner ten years ago. My Phuong, a graduate of the Ecole du Cordon Bleu, had spent all day preparing an exquisite bouillabaisse in New York, a difficult accomplishment because the requisite Mediterranean little salty fishes are tricky to substitute, and Mr. Henry at the insistence of a stripling youth behind the counter of Nancy’s Wines for Food had been persuaded to buy a rosé champagne. It was a disastrous match. We seemed to be drinking our dessert as an accompaniment to our soup.

Since that fateful evening, he has not gone near the stuff.

Recently, however, small champagne houses such as Billecart-Salmon and Gosset have been making excellent dry rosé champagnes offered at high prices. Mr. Henry is not a skinflint but he balks at paying giant sums for curiosities. He is more than willing, however, to accept the generosity of his many friends who take a more carefree approach to disposable income.

nota bene: Since Mrs. Henry does not drink, which is her principal failing in marital relations, an invitation to us both won’t cost very much.

Mr. Henry Drinks Champagne

As a dinner guest at the Metropolitan Opera’s Grand Tier restaurant on Friday night, Mr. Henry found himself confronted with a common dilemma: should he order a glass of champagne for himself when his hosts André and Susie were drinking still wine?

Opera Hotty
The other question, no less vexing, was what to order from the menu. The opera was to begin at 7:30. The divine Renée Fleming would be singing the title role. What if Mr. Henry were to order the duck breast maroccaine and suffer stomach growls during her too, too soft renditions of Handel’s da capo arias? [As it was, Renée had a hard enough time carrying that huge hall without intestinal interferences from the audience.] What if the duck’s garlic were to invade the space of Mr. Henry’s near neighbor in Susie’s high-priced front row seats?

Sitting in the opera restaurant at 5:45 p.m., Mr. Henry quickly weighed each of these strategic decisions. At both of the 25-minute intermissions yet to come, Mr. Henry would amuse himself by watching women’s fancy shoes pad past and thinking how pleased The Manolo would be if were here. [And is he here?? How can one be sure he is not?] During these intermissions, to help refresh the spirits Mr. Henry normally buys a glass of champagne at the bar.

Too much alcohol early in the evening, however, renders the third act an abyss of gloom, or in the words of the eloquent Joan, “ a cosmic time sink.” Too little leaves the Henry intelligence over-stimulated by thoughts of the week’s mundane annoyances. No, it is best to take some alcoholic libation for its relaxant and slightly anesthetic effects, but how much, and which choice of drink?

At the bar the best pour by far is the champagne. Nothing else offers its combination of aperitif, dessert, and post-prandial digestive. Champagne is at once a beginning and an ending. Moreover, it should be taken alone. Once a cork has popped, the drinker should stick with champagne for the remainder of the evening.

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Having settled on the halibut with morels in cream sauce, a preparation difficult to screw up, he noted with pleasure that the house Brut (Piper-Heidsieck) was no more expensive than a glass of anything else. That settled it! The evening would be one devoted faithfully to champagne.

The very best of pairings for champagne is a salty, strongly-flavored fish dish. Even the strongest Chinese or Indian spices cannot defeat Dom Pérignon’s eternal recipe. But in deference to Mr. Henry’s gastro-intestinal tract, which after all would be accompanying him to the performance, he wisely avoided such courageous culinary voyages and stuck to the mild white halibut.

In lieu of dessert, he opted for a second glass.

A Mr. Henry Dictum: Never drink champagne with sweets.

This may seem counter-intuitive but it is a dietary dictum Mr. Henry has tested empirically in the field, so to speak. The subsequent hangover, and there will always be a champagne hangover, is made far worse by the addition of extra sugars to an already super-sugared evening. If you run short of champagne, and Mr. Henry shudders to imagine such a situation, then a sweet course will bring champagne sugars bubbling back into the bloodstream for a half hour or so, after which you are on your own, beset with cotton-mouth, headache, and nausea. [Please note: this is not a strictly scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Mr. Henry is not a physiologist, after all. Please do not expect his learning to extend into every domain.]

Cote d'Azur
One more piece of advice: Mr. Henry decries the champagne cocktail as yet another example of “fusion” confusion. If you are in the south of France seated on a terrace in the dying light of a summer day and you are offered genuine wild forest raspberries in your champagne, well, what is the harm in that? Still, mixed drinks are a fundamental mistake.

[Here the keen reader may take note of a Henry proclivity towards things in their unadulterated version. Nadia calls him the “ascetic gourmand,” and Nadia is never really wrong.]

Promiscuity and Wine

No, I am not talking about what happens after your standard frat boy has a couple of bottles of Boones Farm. I am talking about the basics of enjoying wine.

Most people like to stick with what is comfortable, choosing the same wine over and over again. For as you know, that the prospect of walking Promiscuity and Wineinto a wine shop is for many, off-putting. The choices are overwhelming, and there’s frequently an intimidating ritual involved, one that begins, “What sort of wine are you looking for?”

Although I earn my living talking about Stormhoek, that doesn’t mean that I’m not a bit promiscuous about my wine choices, and not only because Stormhoek isn’t yet widely available in the United States. (Don’t worry, that will change soon.)

So, be promiscuous with wine.

Try, taste, stray, be adventurous: Decide what you like for yourself and ignore the “experts”. (They’re not as objective as they make themselves out to be.) Bordeaux one night, California Cabernet the next… enjoy the decadence of promiscuity. Your ‘significant other’ will love you for it!

As Manolo will tell you, with wine, as with fashion, experimentation is half the fun.

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