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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I've MOVED!

Check out The Wine Makers Wife in its new location~ http://thewinemakerswife.blogs.com/

Monday, November 28, 2005

Bottling


The boy was inspired to make his own wine on a serious level about 2 years ago. He began with 1 ton of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that he and friends picked themselves, I think Smooth was there, then hired on helpers later that same morning. Over the past 2 years it has been a pleasure to watch and learn from him, experiencing the ups and down of winemaking. There are set backs, arguments with financial backers. Incredible moments when you discover that this isn't just a hobby, but that you might actually be talented at this too. The pride he feels to have come full circle with his own wine is one that we will never forget.
Wine competitions are next. One in April actually. We plan to submit the wine and the label into the contest.

Family and friends alike have been curious about the wine these past few years. Always inquiring how its going, when will it be bottled, what does it taste like, etc. Every major Holiday The Boy will use a wine thief and collect some of each varietal, pour them into half bottles with screw caps and bring them to dinner. (The intention here that they will be sampled immediately.) Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner and Easter, he has delighted guests with a tasting of each of his wines, all in various stages.

There is a crucial point in judging when your wine needs to be off oak so that the flavors will be well balanced. Its a terrible thing to judge becuase wine is constantly changing, even once its in the bottle it needs to sit very still and go through "bottle Shock". When you bottle, oxygen is introduced to your wine. Wine will not oxidize because you bottled - instead it will help in maturing it - but time is needed for the wine to get over being transferred from one veslle to another. It basically needs to find its equilibrium. There is no set time period for bottle shock, but during this time wine will taste somewhat flat and listless. Its actually terribly frightening. Imagine spending 2 years and who knows how much money to produce a wine, then taste it 2 weeks later to find it listless, dull and dingy. Many variables affect the equilibrium process, but it is accepted that after 8-12 weeks the bottle shock will subside. If wine is heavy with tannins, the bottle shock recovery time will be even longer.

There is a great risk of bottle shock even if your wine is a few years in bottle. For example, shipping it, or moving it a good deal can also effect the wines equilibrium. Resulting in flat tasting wine. I am almsot embarrased to say that I bought a wine suitcase. It has rolly wheels and insulated walls. I travel with half a case of wine whenever I go anywhere for a length of time. This is usually visiting friends and staying in their homes.

Being the snob that I am, I seriously spend time worrying; how much my wine suitcase as a carry on item is gettign bounced around on the plane. Fretting that it won't taste well once I reach my destination. Usually my wine is fine when I go short distances, but traveling to Tokyo a few years back I instructed all my friends to sit on the wine a bit, give it 3 months to calm down in the bottle.

Soon we will get labels on the wine and by April, for the competition, and give them as gifts to friends. The Boy refuses to gift them now for Christmas until they are drinkable. So April it is.

Here is a run down of equipment that he used. Excuse the photos for not being my own, these illustrate the equipment better then my own.


Use to seal corked wine bottles for protection of the elements. Bottles can be dipped in melted wax, or melted wax can be applied in small amounts to the top of the bottle. One pound per bag. The Boy consulted me and we have chosen Black wax to match my labels.


Altec Corks:
Partly agglomorated (natural cork ground into tiny particles) and partly synthetic, Altec corks are very durable and ideal for wines that will be aged a long time.


Table Top Fill Jet:
Automated cascading flow bottle filler makes bottling your wine incredibly easy. It contains a self-priming electric pump that pulls your wine out of a fermenter and into your bottles. It takes just 17 seconds to fill a 750 ml bottle, and it stops when the bottle is full. You can adjust the fill level to your preference. The fill jet works with 375 ml, 750 ml, and 1 liter bottles.
The Boy was able to rent this from a local supplier store for roughly 50 dollars. The device its self is about $325.00


Portuguese Floor Corker:
The floor corker is the only way to go if you make a lot of wine—it's practically indestructible, extremely efficient, and will save you a ton of time. Sturdy metal body with a plastic hand grip. Self-adjusting bottle platform locks in place when the corking arm is brought down. Easy-to-adjust plunger depth and iris cork compressor make it easy to cork bottles efficiently. The boy purchased this, at what cost, I don't want to know.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Death by Cookies

It has taken me a full 2 weeks to process this, and by the urging of my family who has heard this story ad nauseam; I am encouraged to share it with you.

A few Tuesday mornings ago I remembered that I had begged my new supervisor to let me contribute something to the staff meeting tomorrow. My office is full of politics, my eagerness makes me fresh meat. I am quickly learning it is far better to keep your nose down and offer to help only your self, rather then sincerely want to help someone.

I knew my co-worker in the office was allergic to nuts,I was just careless.

Tuesday morning at an upscale market. I bought "fig newton" style cookies. No nuts to be seen. Full ingredient list was on the bottom of the container.
I served them to my co-workers at The Department staff meeting, an hour goes by without anyone touching them. At an hour, my co-worker puts one to her lips, not into her mouth, and went into instant anaphylactic shock. Shaking, vomiting, her throat swelled so much that she was beginning to loose air. She was driven to the hospital immediately.

This does happen to her alot but she had an epi pen, along with allergy medicine to ease the effects. I was so upset that I had been so careless about this situation, that I allowed myself to be sent home.
Anger paired with embarrassment were my companions throughout the rest of the day. Anger that I had let her get hurt by something I did. However much I can torture myself over this will not change the fact that we were both careless. Neither of us checked the ingredients, we went on visuals alone. These cookies were actually made with Almond flour and Walnut Oil.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Yellow Lamborghini Mixer


Like the Countach I never had, my Kitchen Aid Mixer gets more attention then my Honda. Far be the color "Butter Cream" from the impetuous racing yellow of the 1987 Diablo that I so desiderated as a child; but it works. It even has gears I can shift to get the desired speed I need.

After the chaos that was my first attempt at baking fruitcake, I found myself wondering if hosing off my kitchen aid in the driveway would be going too far. I settled for hot soapy tap water and a toothbrush. The aftermath of incorporating 'month long rum soaked minced fruits' into my batter seems to have only splattered decadent syrups everywhere. The Kitchen Aid looked as though it had just wrapped up filming a scene from Black Hawk Down. Glazed red with juices solidifying like dripping wax on its surface.
And I wore my white sweater today. Yeah.
________________________________________

We are well into the Holiday Sprit here at the Villa, now that Thanksgiving gone & went. Today The Boy is off bottling his very fist vintage of his own wine,Cabernet Sauvignon, whilst I have my own project to attend to. Tomorrow will be spent cutting down our Christmas tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


If you recall my post on making mincemeat in late October you know that after using up all of The Boy's 'Sailor Jerry Rum' to drown minced dried fruits. I sealed up my jars for a month and let them sit to soak and marry. Now its the end of November and we are on to step 2 of the fruitcake process.

I have recently been attracted to a book called Appetite by Nigel Slater, another Brit and almost a male version on Nigella Lawson, in terms of passion for food at least. leafing through his book I stumbled upon another fruitcake recipe. The man sounds s to me like he;'s a genius in the kitchen, so I decided to go for it. His Christmas fruitcake was straight forward, calling for 3 sicks of butter, and 5 eggs, mincemeat and thorough mixing. What was so odd and that he warned of ahead of time was that our eggs and citrus from the mincemeat will curdle! But that I shouldn't be worried about this. So I sopped fretting, added the flour, baking soda and nuts. The batter was light, fluffy and definitely smooth. The curdled lumps has disappeared much to my relief.



The next bit seemed a challenge to me. I was to cook the 9 inch round cake at 325 Farenheight for an hour, then at 300 for 2 hours more! That seems excessive to me. I double checked his photos of the cake he had made. Dark, crumbly, .... dare I say... dry?
Oh dear. Now we really are in trouble.
But I had faith in Nigel and did just he instructed. But after an hour and half of cooking, my cake smelled done.
Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, if they've taught me anything, _oh and my mother_ is that if it smells DONE, it is.

Not yet wanting to trust in my own intuition, I timidly opened the oven door and inserted a bamboo skewer into the center of my golden brown cake. Came out moist, but clean with only a few slight crumbs clinging to the skewer.
Damn Near Perfect.

There was no way I was going to cook this cake another 1.5 hours. I took it out and let it rest. I surfed over to Delia Smith's site to check her fruit cake recipe, perhaps a bit guilty that I had not elected to use her recipe as I originally intended. Delia claims that a fruit cake's cooking times can vary up to 1.5 hours! She usually bakes hers for a good 4 hours (jaw drops).

"To the beginner I can only say that no timing for a rich fruit cake can be absolutely precise, and be prepared for a Christmas cake to vary even up to an hour either way. So…to test if your cake is done, lightly press the centre of the cake with your little finger – it should spring back and not leave an impression. "

I passed the spring back test too. The cake is done.



As I type my second cake is in the oven baking, I eagerly anticipate the cooking time for this ...
Once both cakes have cooled the will be wrapped up tight and set in the fridge for a month of further mellowing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Sin that is Butter

Sara: What was also cool at The Farallon was the butter on the table was (slightly) salted, but then they sprinkled red Hawaiian salt on top of it. Adding this perfect level of sea salt to the creaminess of the butter. The Boy was beside himself, you know how he's really into salt all the sudden. I told him we can do this at home, as I have unsalted butter and red Hawaiian sea salt. So we need to have you over soon, for dinner.

Bryon: I'm trippin' on the whole red salt thing, gotta try that. I myself usually buy
unsalted butter and add my own salt, but RED, oh my that is adventurous...

Sara: Yes, the red sea salt thing blew my mind too. Its the simple things in life isn't it? The combination of the sea salt with a nice fat wedge of butter smeared onto sourdough; the tiny granules not evenly mixed in- sort of surprises your palate as your eating the bread. You can really taste the Pacific Ocean in this salt, I sound crazy, but I mean it. Tasting this was just so smacking of "why didn't I think of that". The Boy seriously like needed a moment to himself when he tasted it. I thought his little eyes were going to roll back into his head.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Smooth & CrsipySoft


So our best friends Smooth & CrispySoft took The Boy and me out for dinner at the Farallon in San Francisco. To me it was legendary, as I had heard the decor alone as fantastic, think Disney's Pinocchio ride meets upscale Lounge. The restaurant is billed as seafood and is in the heart of union square. I had the brilliant idea of doing window shopping at Saks, Neimans & William Sonoma and a bit of gazing at the 70 foot lit Christmas tree in union square.

Well, the tree wasn't lit, except for all of 20 minutes, window shopping at Saks was disappointing because their displays were not ready yet- so after Smooth and I dragged the boys through Victoria Secret we decided to sit in Farallon's bar and have drinks until dinner.

The Farallon was SO much fun but I give Smooth & CrispySoft credit for that. The lights are cool; glass Jellyfish sculptural creations that swim about the ceiling. The sand colored and vaguely Grecian tiles on the ground are a little weird placed as if they'd been underwater and shifting with the flow of ancient tides.The bathroom is SO not fabulous at all. Here I am unimpressed.

( I can rattle off 8 different bathrooms in the union square district alone with amazing bathrooms, sheesh.) We sat in the bar area by the window and watched Holiday Shoppers tote packages behind them. I ordered a Cosmo (of course!) and Smooth ordered a Lemon Drop. Notoriously icky things- I sipped hers and found it to be simply heavenly!! My Cosmo was damn near the best I have ever tasted made with my favorite vodka, Hanger One Mandarin. The Boy had a Margarita and CrispySoft had a Mojito (of course!) He and I both have our signature drinks. Such fun chatting!

Smooth's mom is quite the gourmet and is attempting.... Yeah you guessed it....inspired by Paula Dean herself- Turducken. Ok, ew. I told Smooth that My Mum and I are against it and think it immoral layering & stuffing poultry inside each another to cook. Not up on Turducken? Here be a link. Basically you butterfly your Turkey, layer it with a Duck that is butterflied and then a chicken. Tie it all up and roast. It is so much more complicated then that and seriously grosses me out so I am done talking about it.


At Dinner, we ordered the seafood platter mega extravaganza thingy. It was this HUGE tray full of Oysters, lobster, crab, raw scallops, etc. What fun. The Boy and I learned we do not care for raw oysters. Give us 5 years I'm sure it’s all we will be talking about, first wine, and then mushrooms, maybe oysters and Turducken are next. *shudder*


We had a Talbot Chardonnay, 2001. Best Chardonnay I've had all year. The Boy can really pick them. We also had a Barbera from Aldo in Italy... it was a bit too light for The Boy and I, but Smooth & CrispySoft seemed to enjoy it. Little cups of Butternut Squash and truffle oil soup were brought to the table and I could have died happily right there and then, with the vanilla of the toasted oak in the wine, it paired so well with the velvety texture and aromas of the soup.

Smooth and I had the Thai Snapper with Florentine gnocchi and shaved porcinis with white truffle oil. CrispySoft choose the Halibut with grilled Porcini and The Boy had the Ono (like tuna) with a chanterelle relish. Poor Boy..., he was really trying to expand his palate. He discovered he also hates Ono. It has a very intense ocean flavor to it, which The Boy can not stand; I on the other hand love it.


For desert CrispySoft and I shared the cheese plate with 6 different varietals mostly from California but a nice blue cheese from Ireland and a wonderful semi-hard sheep’s milk dusted with cocoa. Smooth had a bake apple cobbler with Butterscotch ice-cream and The Boy, god love him, had Baked Alaska. I have always wanted to know what the hell that was. We finished the meal with mini slices of huckleberry cake with huckleberry sauce and huckleberry ice cream. Over all it was a fun, generous and lavish meal with good friends. Something The Boy and I love more then anything else.


CrispySoft kissing Smooth.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fresh Crab


'Tis Crab season here in Northern California. The Boy recently made a new friend and apparently the guy has a "dingy" and Crab pots. They ended up with 80 crabs from Bodega Bay; however there is a limit to what you can keep- so they only brought home 15. I ended up with 2!

I've determined that the season is still a tad early because these didn't taste as sweet as what I get from my local fish monger in Late December. Ah well, a bottom feeder is a bottom feeder, and my tummy was delighted.


After picking the crab from the shell (the crab has been boiled already by the guys, and sliced down the center with the shell and gooey parts removed) I transferred it to a nice clean dish. In a small dish for dipping sauces I melted a bit of salted butter and squeezed a lemon into the dish. Paired it with a bottle of 2002 Thomas Fogarty Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The oak, the butter, the slight crisp acidity to the Chardonnay made for a delicious meal.


* Photo credit to SFGate.com