Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks

Some books are like bricks to my cooking and this is one of them. Foundational material. This book has such a beautiful narrative of the most notable mentor / student relationship we have seen in Southern Food. Written by two great chefs, both from the South but from very different backgrounds, Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, this collaboration is a touching depiction of the diverse landscape of Southern food. The Gift of Southern Cooking, Recipes and Revelations from two Great American Cooks goes to show you that Edna Lewis was not some wise, old dame of soul food, but rather a hip and current force years ahead of her time. She was an unbelievably cool person. Her co-author, student and friend, Scott Peacock, of Watershed, is a very talented chef and winner of the 2007 James Beard “Best Chef in the Southeast" award. He is a great person, hilarious raconteur and a master of Southern Cooking. Most importantly though he's my friend!

Monday, January 25, 2010

2007 Bordeaux: Selling the Benchwarmer

I have an on again, off again affair with Bordeaux. Sometimes its majestic and sometimes its just bland, but its always expensive. Bordeaux ain't no cheap date.

Given the high cost of living of a Bordeaux chateau, they have to sell the stuff every year, regardless of whether the vintage is an allstar or a benchwarmer. The thing is that they feel the same way about marketing and promotion that I do: You only do it when times are tough. In good times your product speaks for itself and that should suffice. No one put out a huge number of ads for 2000 Bordeaux and it sold just fine.

So if the 2007 Bordeaux vintage is, shall we say, weak overall then we should be seeing some Bordeaux commercials coming up shortly as the wines prepare to be released. Maybe Bordeaux Bobblehead dolls, trading cards and high production viral mini-movies. Maybe an Audi commercial with Jason Statham breaking through the gates of Pichon Lalande. I would be happy to produce a jingle if that'd help.

While not an advertisement in the classic sense, one of the Bordeaux wine unions, Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, have a travelling band of winemakers and winery owners flaunting their wares these days in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and the audience is all restaurateurs, critics and retailers. Not usually how I spend my Thursdays but the thought of tasting Canon-la-Gaffeliere, Lagrange, Pichon Lalande, Pez and Troplong Mondot was a nice temptation. And I yield easily.

It really is a not-so-stellar vintage which translates as such: reds kind of suck, whites and Sauternes are very good. The problem with that is the reds pay the bills in Bordeaux, unless you're Rieussec or d'Yquem. That means you still have to sell them. Well you'd think that to sell them you would slash the prices and move them out... not in Bordeaux. They are too proud and that cost-of-living thing haunts their every step. So they laud the vintage with new accolades like, "Drinking well early" or "Fruit forward" or "Ripe". Classic Bordeaux is not really supposed to be any of those things.

So off Steve Grubbs and I went to taste through about 80 wines on a Thursday afternoon at the downtown Ritz Carlton in Atlanta. After a nice lunch at Craft in Buckhead we found ourselves in a ballroom with the standard tasting maze. Pessac Leognan was starting our course. When it comes to white Bordeaux it all seems to happen in the PL. I am a softie for sauvignon blanc and semillon so I was immediately floored with Chateau Carbonnieux, a stunning white that has a hint of petrol and bracing acidity. That acid will melt away though over time and it had layers and layers of complexity underneath. Other whites that stood out were the Larrivet Haut Brion, Latour Martillac, Malartic Lagraviere, and Olivier. I liked the Smith Haut Lafitte but then I realized how expensive it was and thought much more highly about the Olivier. More on the pricing later.

The Sauternes all rocked with the showoffs being Sigalas-Rabaud and Lafaurie-Peyraguey. Sauternes always seems to shine in the crappy red vintages. These rocked but boy they certainly ain't cheap. But boy I could eat some roasted poulet rouge with a some foie gras and a glass of Sigalas-Rabaud. Yummy yum yum.

Overall, the whites were indeed very good to great and remind me that white Bordeaux needs to be shown off more.

The reds were all pretty much what we thought they would be. They tasted manipulated. They screamed off vintage and thus they fleshed out the fruit as much as possible to grab some points. They just don't make me dream of the Gironde. They lack.

There were some good tastes like Pichon Lalande, Lascombes, Clerc Milon, Canon -la-Gaffeliere, Clinet, and la Conseillante. As we were tasting through I remarked that I thought the wines would be great overall if they were far less expensive then they were. I actually estimated the price of the Pichon Lalande at about $70 a bottle but looking at a sell sheet I realized the distributor wants upwards of $130 for it. That's where this has all gone awry. I will keep my money in my wallet and peruse some 2003s instead.

Babbo: The Cookbook

This book is a great overview about the food Mario prepares. Babbo Ristorante serves dishes that are complex in flavor and beautiful in presentation, and the cookbook reveals this style with pinpoint accuracy. It has brilliantly bright food photography. I love the pages of thematic recipes, including a page on oils with six different infused oils. So you can go to this page and see a panoply of ideas. Also notable about Babbo The Cookbook, is that Mario talks about the importance of wine service in a restaurant, something many chefs just take for granted.
This cookbook has been very important to Five & Ten and how we cook food, present our dishes and serve our wine. Through the years Mario has helped us move away from a lot of the French influences and embrace Italian styles and techniques.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Frank Stitt's Southern Table

Frank Stitt is the Chef/Owner of Highland Bar & Grill, Bottega, and CafĂ© Bottega in Birmingham. He is an honest, hardworking, brilliantly talented man who can cook the most amazing food that is decidedly Southern. Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill is an utterly inspirational book when it comes to Southern Cooking, and it is a good reflection of exactly who Frank is. Artisan did a great job of making this an extremely beautiful book to look at.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Casa Moro

Moro is a London based restaurant opened by husband and wife team, Sam and Sam Clark. Samantha & Sam are really great, and they operate a perfect style of restaurant in my mind. Moro is just all about the food, and their food is really good and people care about it. The restaurant is comfortable in its own skin, but always very exciting. The food is Spanish and Moroccan influenced, which to us is very current. Named after their house in Spain, Casa Moro is the 2nd of three cookbooks written by the Clarks. This book is filled with recipes that are lively, flavourful and attainable.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Series Begins!: Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon

For the next two weeks I will be doing a book series. Like many chefs, I have shelves full of cookbooks and magazines about food, wine & restaurants. Out of my many books, I have chosen the real standouts. Today, we will be starting off with Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon: Stories of Pork Bellies, Hush Puppies, Rock'n' Roll music and Bacon Fat Mayonnaise by Ari Weinzweig.

It does seem like bacon trend is slowing down a bit, but good bacon will never go out of style (especially in the South, but hopefully everywhere else too). Here is why I love this book: the author Ari Weinzweig is a brilliant man, who with Paul Sagninaw opened Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1982. Zingerman's Deli is an important force in food for a gazillion reasons, but more notably these days for their excellent customer service, how they treat their employees and their knowledge of food (it is in that order which is really rare, they are a special group). In this book, Ari guides his readers through the importance of bacon to the U.S. (calling it the olive oil of North America) and he explains how to make bacon and bacon dishes that really rock. This is an awesome book, a current book, and bacon will always be hot. Jump on the bacon bandwagon now!

Click HERE to check out Zingerman's Press.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

vinegar in my home kitchen

I love vinegar. It gives the oomph to the food we cook. It lifts and allows sweetness and sultry acidity to sing side by side.
One vinegar I am really into these days is a sugarcane vinegar from the Philippines called Datu Puti. It's malty and complex, and quite the opposite of what you think if you think sweet. Oh, and its cheap as can be. A liter was 1.99 at Fooks in Athens.
I'm using it in a roasted pork butt dish that has garlic, lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce and maple syrup in it. Yum Yum.

I am using a red wine vinegar that I make in jars at home with the dregs of good wines we consume. Just get a good vinegar culture from Bragg's vinegar and top over it with some wine. Cover with cloth and store in the closet for a while. About two weeks later you'll have vinegar.Some day soon I will invest in a real nice tapped cask and go the used oak route.

We use cider vinegar a fair bit too but its the nervous one of the bunch, the vinegar you don't want playing with the loaded guns. Great stuff mind you but jumpy. There are some fantastic ones out there though, like J. LeBlanc from France where they have trained their vinegars not to be so caustic.

Seasoned rice vinegar is for sushi rice.

Champagne vinegar is the epitome of clean vinegar and is great in vinaigrettes.

No balsamic right now. Its a recession and I like really good Balsamic. Once I sign a book contract I will buy into good balsamic again. Anyhow, it is not strawberry season and that's where I really love the balsamic.

The list goes on. I just love me some vinegar.

The white vinegar is under the sink where it belongs. It's a wonderful cleaner.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dancing with the Stars Wine Dinner Series

Every week leading up to The Athens Dancing with the Stars benefit for Project Safe on March 21st, Five and Ten will offer wine dinners in order to raise money for team number 7. Team 7 is Hugh Acheson and Natalie Cox! REMINDER, HUGH HAS NEVER DANCED BEFORE… he needs your support.!!

Give to Charity while eating awesome food and drinking fantastic wine!

A new menu will be created on Monday of every week. You can come in anytime and ask for the Dancing with the Stars Wine Dinner special.

Menu for next week starting on MONDAY 1/18-24/10

roasted kumomoto oysters with lemon emulsion, shallot, dill and UGA caviar

viognier, la Paradou, France, 2008

smoked salmon with salad of olives, slow roasted tomatoes, dill, croutons with a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette

St. Veran, JC Thevenet, “Clos Hermitage”, Burgundy, 2007

fried chicken thigh with collards, crisp grit cake and potlikker jus

sparkling cabernet franc, Grenelle, Loire, NV

grilled venison with pepper spaetzle, braised cabbage and stewed cherry gastrite

Cote Rotie, Rene Rostaing, “Classique”, Rhone, 2006

Pineapple upside down cake with meyer lemon sorbet

Monbazillac, Tirecul la Graviere, France, 2005

Wine dinners are $120 per person, not including tax and gratuity.

Please call Five & Ten for reservations (706-546-7300).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Drink for Charity

Try Five and Ten's newly created winter cocktail named "The Lucky Seven". Profits from this tasty gimlet, made of kumquat and vodka, will benefit Athens Dancing with the Stars. Athens Dancing with the Stars is a fundraiser benefiting Project Safe and I will be participating in this event as a dancing contestant on Team #7. So warm up with a "Lucky Seven" at Five & Ten this winter and support Project Safe!
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