Archive for July, 2016

Your Best Brownie Recipe

July 18th, 2016

Your Best Brownie Recipe

On Saturday we attended a dinner party at an IWFS Vancouver member’s home. Some excellent “Sicilian” themed dishes with matching wines were produced topped by a delicious fish stew that included cod, scallop, crab, mussel and clam all before the dessert course arrived. Surprise! Eight brownies purchased from some of Vancouver’s best bakeries were served “blind” with a tasting sheet and pencil for ranking them. This scribe is a dark chocolate addict and even has a stuffed toy bear that says “I love chocolate” every time you squeeze him. Last week also attended a special chocolate tasting by the quality Tuscan company Amedei (www.amedei.it) who transform the best cocoa beans from Madagascar to Venezuela, Ecuador to Jamaica, to the Caribbean islands of Trindad to Grenada into unique “terroir” creations. Liked the Ecuador ones. Also look for their classic “9” blended vineyards (75%), Porcelana, Chuao, and new Blanco de Criollo.

This tasting of Vancouver brownies was dessert heaven for me. Amazed at how different the 8 brownies showed. From a light flourless style to rich fudgy ones. Didn’t appreciate those that added noticeable oil, cocoa powder, too much sugar, or canned evaporated milk. Purity was best. The unanimous top two were the outstanding vegan one made by Beaucoup Bakery & Café 2150 Fir Street (corner of west 6th) using Valrhona chocolate to advantage closely followed by # 2 ranked Sweet Obsession 2611 west 16th with crunchy pecans & raspberries using Belgian chocolate. Check them out. If you are not able to do so then recommend making your own following this tried and true Joan Cross recipe that is really delicious:

Best Brownie Recipe:

10 oz. bittersweet chocolate (use at least 64%)

4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325F ( 300F convection ).

Chop chocolate into 1/2 inch chunks. Melt 1/2 of the chocolate and all of the butter in a heat-proof bowl over barely simmering water until melted. Stir smooth & remove from the heat. In a bowl with a wooden spoon beat eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth. Add barely warm chocolate mixture. Add flour about 1/3 at a time stirring each addition just until blended. Add remaining chopped chocolate and mix until chunks are evenly distributed. Line bottom and sides of a 9 inch square pan with parchment paper draping over the rim a little. Scrape batter into pan and spread level. Bake just until surface develops a thin crust and fingertip pressed very gently in the centre leaves a soft depression. 20-25 minutes should be about right but do not overbake! Cool on rack for 1 hour. Lift out of pan with parchment. Cut into squares or triangles. Serve and enjoy. Option – garnish with lightly sweetened whipped cream, chopped fresh mint, and fresh raspberries. Another choice – a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

Please provide us with your best brownie recipe!


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Book Review: Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

July 15th, 2016

How Mexican Food Conquered America

By Joseph Temple

From East Los Angeles to the suburbs of Middle America, Mexican cuisine is ubiquitous all across the United States. Whether you’re buying a can of chili at the grocery store, grabbing a quick bite from the local Taco Bell, or enjoying some sizzling fajitas and a frozen margarita, Mexico has definitely made an enormous impact on our palates. Ever since America took its first bite, from tamales to tacos, the multi-billion dollar demand for Mexican food has shown no signs of slowing down.

So how did burritos and chimichangas conquer America? Given a contentious history that’s lasted for more than a century between the two nations, it’s almost ironic that Mexico’s delicacies have been able to cross the border with such ease. “Mexican food has entranced Americans while Mexicans have perplexed Americans,” writes author Gustavo Arellano. “In the history of Mexican food in this country [the United States] you’ll find the twisted fascinating history of two peoples, Mexicans and Americans, fighting, arguing, but ultimately accepting each other, if only in the comfort of breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Tackling such a fascinating subject in his book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, Arellano, author of the popular syndicated column titled “¡Ask a Mexican!” sets out to uncover a history that has been largely untold and forgotten. While some Americans are under the impression that Mexican food only became popular after the Second World War as chain restaurants and supermarkets dominated the suburban landscape, the author combats this erroneous narrative with a timeline that is illustrated by a wealth of primary source material.

It is a story that began after the Mexican-American War when Yankee tourists traveling to San Antonio tried something known as chili con carne (later shortened to just chili). And serving this exotic dish from a boiling hot cauldron were women dubbed the “chili queens”—the first superstars of Mexican cooking according to Arellano. “This meal … will be an event in your gastronomic experience,” according to an article in Scribner’s from 1874. Spreading like wildfire across the country, the popularity of chili con carne was only matched by another Mexican dish called the tamale.

tamales mexican food united states
Images courtesy: Duke University Libraries,
California Digital Newspaper Collection

Vended by individuals wearing white coats and aprons, these instantly recognizable tamale men or tamaleros quickly became a staple in late nineteenth century America. Selling their product from a large pail in what became a precursor to the modern-day food truck, everything from popular songs to plays and films showcased this seemingly larger-than-life figure. “Hot tamaleees! Hot tamaleeeeeees. If you’re growing old/hot tamales will save your soul,” according to the lyrics of one song.

In finding a turning point for Mexican food, the author points to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinois.  An event that was the subject of Erik Larson’s 2003 mega bestseller The Devil in the White City, this world’s fair is also remembered as the place where the tamaleros became a part of American popular culture as they sold countless tamales to millions of hungry fair-goers. Additionally, with Chicago being the epicenter of the canning industry, it is also where chili in a can debuted, ending the reign of the chili queen but making the dish accessible to millions of new customers.

Moving on to the twentieth century, a plethora of new dishes would enter the mainstream of American fare; the story of the taco, the burrito, and the tortilla chip are all highlighted throughout the book. But more important are the stories dealing with those restaurant tycoons who provided the all-important venue for non-Mexicans to experience this fare. And despite what you might think about its menu, there is no denying what Taco Bell did in blazing the path for all future chains. According to Arellano, this Southern California fast food giant “showed other Americans that their countrymen hungered for Mexican grub sold to them fast, cheap, and with only a smattering of ethnicity.” Designing its restaurants with a mock adobe exterior and tiled roofing to look like a mini-mission, the author contends: “It was a slice of fantasy Mexican California plopped into suburbia, and a motif that has influenced the aesthetic designs of Mexican restaurants ever since.”

As people transitioned from fast food to sit down restaurants, one cannot also stress how vital the frozen margarita machine invented by Mariano Martinez was to the explosion of Mexican food. Emphasizing how revolutionary this device was and is, the author states: “The frozen margarita machine came just as the sit-down Mexican restaurant scene was taking off—really, the surge Chi-Chi’s, El Torito, and others experienced during the 1970s wouldn’t be possible without alcohol to lure in people to casually try the Tex-Mex-Cal-Mex platters the restaurants served almost as asides.”

This, of course, begs the question: what constitutes authentic Mexican cuisine? Throughout Taco USA, Arellano states his view that any food created by a person of Mexican origin fits that bill, whether its Doritos, invented at Disneyland in the early 1960s or fajitas—a dish that has been universalized so much that we no longer think of it as Mexican. While Tex-Mex hating purists might scoff at this notion, the author reminds us that non-Hispanic Americans, in their quest to find true authenticity have lead to many evolving trends like the move away from Doritos chips to more “authentic” Tostitos.

Overall, it is a phenomenal narrative that shows us how far Mexican food has come since the days of the tamale men. When in the early 1990s, salsa was revealed to be the number one condiment, beating out ketchup in what one food critic called “the manifest destiny of good taste,” it was clear that Mexican cuisine had become as American as apple pie. And through an entrepreneurial spirit embodied by companies like Old El Paso and restaurants such as El Torito and Chipotle, rarely does a week go by without the average family eating a Mexican influenced dish. Proving this point, Arellano highlights Brookings, South Dakota, a college town whose Latino population represents less than one percent of its residents. And yet for a city of just over twenty thousand people, there are four Mexican restaurants. Need any more proof?


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Ask Sid: Minerality in Wines?

July 13th, 2016
Ask your question here

Ask Sid: Minerality in Wines?

Question: I just attended a wine tasting of South American wines and the term minerality came up a lot in the discussions. Would you throw some light on this for me please?

Answer: Excellent topical question. Hard to tie down a complete definition of “minerality” but I like it when I experience it in a top Chablis grown on chalky limestone or Mosel Riesling on slate among other sites. Opinions are divided but most scientists think grapes can’t absorb minerals directly from the soil for this minerality that shows in the wine. However you can find certain wines that do show specific expression of a place with a flinty, wet stones, crushed rock and similar type characteristics.

I like the definition by Laura Catena in her book Vino Argentino: “A wine with minerality has flavors that have been variously described as “flinty”, “chalky”, “like wet stones”, and “earthy”. Wines from cooler climates, in particular, tend to have a mineral mouthfeel; the grapes have higher acidity. Minerality is often used in reference to the white wines of Burgundy or the Loire Valley. In Argentina, minerality is found in the cooler districts within the Uco Valley, such as Gualtallary in Tupungato and Eugenio Bustos in San Carlos.”

For more details an excellent review is “Rescuing Minerality” posted by Jamie Goode on his website.


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Champagne Update & Dom Perignon Plenitudes

July 11th, 2016

Champagne Update & Dom Perignon Plenitudes

A recent Spring visit to Champagne was exciting as usual with some interesting revelations. The first was the recognition of global warming in the vineyards. Most Champagne houses visited were speaking of some of the ripest grapes of highest pH levels they have seen in recent years with lower acidity levels. Some producers including Gosset, Lanson, and Alfred Gratien had a long history of blocking the malolactic fermentation (MLF) conversion of malic acid to tartaric acid for maximum freshness but in the last decade have been using some MLF to obtain softer roundness in the style. However, generally many have been using 100% MLF but now everyone has become a big believer in being very flexible with what the vintage delivers & the cuvee being produced and not to follow a rigid regime concerning MLF. I suspect that as newer “hot” vintages are released we could see more finished Champagnes with less MLF and many with only partial MLF for consistency and better balance.

A second important trend is for more respect and demand for aged Champagnes. In the past it was always a treat to drink a mature top vintage bubble and some producers like Salon & Krug among others really shone in this arena. Fond memories of the classic 1990 Pol Roger, the slow maturing 1988 Salon and the remarkable initially high acidity austere 1979 Krug that is now really singing out! On this visit our opening reception wine was 1985 Krug en magnum that was initially shy on release but is today so rich full complex and delicious.

An extended visit with Richard Geoffroy, Chef de Cave drove home the point of how important aging Champagne has become with his new “plenitudes” of Dom Perignon (DP). Though DP is all Grand Cru from 17 best villages blended to create the distinctive DP minerality and unique vintage creation it is matured a minimum of 9 years before release. However that is not enough time because DP continues to evolve reaching new heights or plenitudes as shown as P1, 2, or 3 on the neck label. Voila! P1 (10-15 years – good fresher minerality & harmony like 2006 is coming along), P2 (15-25 years – youthful energy and vibrancy shown presently by 93, 96, 98) and P3 (over 25 years “the spirit of DP” – now exhibited by vintages like 69, 70, 71, 73, 75, 76, 78, 82, 83, 85, 88, and 90 with aged complexity of wonderful coffee and other special expressions. P2 & P3 do not have the neck frozen when they are disgorged. Could a P4 be the next one?

Hart Davis Hart Wine Co (hdhwine.com) featured a selection of these DP plenitudes directly from the cellars of Dom Perignon ranging from 1969 -1998 at their just concluded successful Auction in Chicago at Tru Restaurant on June 24 & 25, 2016. Aged Champagnes are certainly in!

Admire the 10 unique features of DP set out as their Manifesto:

1. DP is always a Vintage Wine
2. DP is always an Assemblage
3. We create the assemblage of DP blanc & rose with a perfect balance of black and white grapes
4. We require the best grapes of Champagne
5. We are fully committed to respecting the Terroirs & the Seasons
6. Intensity must be based on precision
7. The fruit of DP is revealed on the palate
8. DP’s complexity is based on a commitment to slow maturation
9. DP’s mineral character is a unique Aristocratic Signature
10. DP style is deeply distinctive

Have you tried a DP or one of their new aged Plenitudes?


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Looking back at 5 Iconic Restaurants from Las Vegas

July 8th, 2016

Looking back at five Iconic Restaurants from Las Vegas

By Joseph Temple

Nearly a generation has passed since legendary hotels like the Stardust were demolished before our very eyes, ushering in a slick new corporate version of Sin City. Gone are the days when Las Vegas was declared an “open city” and run by the likes of Bugsy Siegel and Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. Today, with a skyline dominated by hotels like Treasure Island, Luxor Las Vegas and the Bellagio, the previous era synonymous with organized crime has been buried deep into the Nevada desert.

But with this transformation, many unique and outstanding restaurants that attracted tourists from around the world are also gone forever. While a few from the mid-century are still in business, the vast majority were blown up along with their respective hotels. So why don’t we take a look back at a very different time for Vegas dining as we reminisce about five iconic restaurants (there are simply too many for a blog entry, so excuse us if we miss any) from the City of Lights!


Las Vegas famous restaurants
“Golden Steer Steak House” by Roadsidepictures is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1. Golden Steer Steak House

If you ever want to relive the old Vegas, there’s nothing like going to a great steakhouse! And since 1958, everyone from the Rat Pack to Joe DiMaggio has visited the legendary Golden Steer located on the north end of the Strip. Despite its lackluster location in a strip mall, the fabulous décor, consisting of red vinyl booths and paneled wood walls will bring back fond memories of the continental style dining that dominated the 1950s and 1960s. With tuxedoed waiters serving timeless dishes as you soak in this unique ambiance, you’ll feel as if you’re in a Scorsese movie while you chow down on a juicy steak.

 

Las Vegas iconic restaurants
Image: unlv.edu

2. The Garden Room

Arguably, one of the most historic spots in all of Las Vegas was the Sands Hotel and Casino—known by many as the place where the original Ocean’s 11 was filmed. With many famous guests that included Frank Sinatra and a young senator by the name of John F. Kennedy, the Sands became etched in stone as the place to be for anybody staying in Vegas during this time. And overlooking the hotel’s pool was the Garden Room, a popular coffee shop the featured an area known as the “Copper Broiler” where guests could watch the chef cook up their steaks and burgers. Originally a segregated restaurant, the first black diner was singer Nat King Cole, who was finally let in after an irate Sinatra raised hell.

 

Las Vegas legendary restaurants
3. Dome of the Sea

Following a massive multi-million dollar renovation in the early 60s by the Dunes Hotel and Casino, a new seafood restaurant called the Dome of the Sea replaced the giant fiberglass statue of a massive Sultan. Featured dishes included Lobster Thermidor, Oysters Rockefeller and the quintessential Shrimp Cocktail. Of course, the entire experience was enhanced by a nautical theme that encompassed the entire restaurant, complimented by a maiden playing her harp as diners ordered the Surf and Turf.

 

Las Vegas restaurants
4. Aku Aku

Riding the Polynesian-themed restaurant craze of the 1950s and 1960s was the mob run Stardust Resort and Casino who opened Aku Aku, a Tiki inspired joint that was a big hit with tourists. Featuring exotic rum-based cocktails such as the “Easter Island Swizzle” and “Kahuna’s Spell,” this stand-alone restaurant even placed two enormous featherstone moai statues out in front, supplied by none other than infamous gangster Moe Dalitz. But by the 80s, the entire tiki craze had run its course and Aku Aku closed its doors for good.

 

Vegas restaurants
Image: unlv.edu

5. The Hickory Room

When the Riviera Hotel first opened its doors in April of 1955, patrons couldn’t get enough of dining at night surrounded by wormwood panels while they watched their food cook over a large rotisserie blaze and an open hickory fire. Called the Hickory Room, this Western style restaurant became so popular that it had to remain open all night. Cooking steaks over an open hearth, it also became popular for its rack of lamb and flaming kebabs.

 

Sources:

Burbank, Jeff. Las Vegas Babylon: The True Tales of Glitter, Glamour, and Greed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
Moruzzi, Peter. Classic Dining: Discovering America’s Finest Mid-Century Restaurants. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2012.
Papa, Paul M. Discovering Vintage Las Vegas: A Guide to the City’s Timeless Shops, Restaurants, Casinos & More. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.
Roman, James. Chronicles of Old Las Vegas: Exposing Sin City’s High-Stakes History. New York: Museyon Inc, 2011.
Russo, Gus. Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America’s Hidden Power Brokers. London: Bloombury Publishing, 2008.


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