Wednesday, November 24, 2010

7 Eleven Sommelier

I saw this in one of the many product newsletters I read:

"C-store giant 7-Eleven has announced that it is broadening its private brand wine selection, introducing a new label - Cherrywood Cellars - a mid-tier-priced wine ($7.99 - $8.99 per bottle) that is available in three varietals - chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Cherrywood Cellars, according to the company, is designed to appeal to millennials, and is positioned between its Yosemite Road label, priced at an entry-level $3.99 per bottle, and Sonoma Crest, a premium wine comparable to a $15 bottle, but value-priced at $9.99."
Until I try this, I can't make a judgement, but I am happy to pre-judge. This doesn't sound so appetizing to me. Then again, I guess if it hits the fan, I can always find work as a 7 Eleven sommelier!
And if you run out of wine on Thanksgiving day, 7 Eleven will likely be open. To that end, I guess it has a purpose.
I'm hoping that whatever you drink at Thanksgiving, it is enjoyable.
Until the next sniff, sip or quaff,
Alli M.

Friday, November 19, 2010

CIA, Day 3 through 5

The week flew by and though I didn't get to post each day, I'm hoping you got a sense of my week. I also thought that you might want to see some pictures of my classmates and some of the food we cooked this week.

To sum it up, I awoke each day at 5:30am to attend lectures on cooking methods and knife skills and to discuss why various techniques work or do not work. This was followed by several hours of slaving over cutting boards, stove tops and ovens while making several mistakes along the way. I loved almost every minute!

On Day 3 I was supposed to make ice cream, but the lecture ran long so I made the base (which was actually super easy) and then helped various teammates. Since we had the "night off" from an official dinner, a few of us went out to a restaurant in Rhinebeck that was widely recommended by various members of the school community. In one of the weirder restaurant moments I've ever had, a classmate found what we determined to be an animal tooth in her dish. Sadly, finding the tooth wasn't the worst experience at the restaurant. The staff's response to our "discovery" was non-chalant at best. Suffice it to say, if you find yourself in the Rhinebeck, NY area, stear clear of Gigi's.

The next day, I went into class looking forward to completing my ice cream and poaching a fish for the first time in my life. Lecture ran long again so I found myself running up an down between our kitchen and a kitchen in a different building that had an ice cream churn. Unfortunately all of the running around pushed me back a good hour. Despite the lack of cooking time, I still managed to slightly overpoach the fish! If it weren't for my teammates, Laura and John, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up with fish mush.

After the day's lunch, we each shared our thoughts on what we felt we did right and what we felt we did wrong. It was a great way to learn and share kitchen tips. We wrapped up with a lecture on plating technique and then it was off to our 3 minutes of free time before our final dinner at Escoffier, the French restaurant on CIA's campus. The food was terrific and the wines they chose for our dinner - a classic, dry, acidic and citrus-y Bordeaux white and a round, full bodied and balanced Cabernet driven red Bordeaux - were quite good. However, the real treat was the 30 year old white port I brought to dinner with me. I was introduced to the Casa de Santa Eufemia white port at an event I attended last year: Deep golden nutty, honey goodness with lovley oak notes to balance the sweetness. Almost everyone in the class enjoyed a little and it was a wonderful way to end our final dinner together.
Today we arrived for our final class consisting of "Culinary Jeopardy" and then our Team Market Basket Project. Earlier in the week each team was given a list of ingredients to put into a meal made up of an appetizer, a protein, a starch and a vegetable side. John, Laura, Wendy and I planned our menu earlier this week but unfortunately due to a family emergency John had to leave early. We should have scaled back our menu, but we were a little cocky after our "Culinary Jeopardy" win (thanks to knowledgable teammates with quick reflexes, I am now the proud owner of a set of beautiful measuring spoons). With some help from the culinary students sent in to aid us each day (long live Super James) and our chef instructor (we heart Chef Ski), we managed to produce: Prosciutto, Asparagus & Mozarella Roulades, Roasted Sirloin with a Red Wine Reduction, Roasted Potatoes and Leeks, Ravioli Stuffed with an Egg and topped with Pesto, Eggplant Gratin made with a scratch Marinara, Sauteed Cipollini Onions and Sauteed or Stewed Artichokes (all of a sudden Laura rolled them out - I have no idea when and how she made them). Some dishes were better than others and I was truly impressed with the dishes our other classmates turned out (I must get the recipe for the White bean hummus and the Waldorf wheatberry salad among other things).

After our final spread (to which I brought an incredible 9 year old Cote Rotie), we took some final pictures, we vowed not to eat any butter, bacon or heavy cream for the next several days and we said our goodbyes. I made one last trip to the book store and the local cafe and then hit the road with Wendy as well as our newfound local foodie friend, Rachel.

This was an incredible vacation. If you are interested in becoming a more confident home cook or just learning some new skills, I highly recommended a CIA Boot Camp. I also recommend you stay at a local hotel that has a workout facility. Though I did not even work off 1/8th of one daily meal, I worked out almost every day of boot camp which helped with some of the guilt!

Until after my food detox is done,


Alli M.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CIA, Day 2

I just completed Day 3, but between classes, dinner and bedtime, I've barely had any free time. And the few stretches I've had have been spent paying back some of my butter consumption on the treadmill at the hotel. As I was joking when they took our class picture yesterday, they must take the picture earlier in the week so we can all fit in the same shot.

48 crazy hours ago (that would be Monday night), was our first dinner at one of the 3 CIA restaurants we'll be visiting this week - Caterina de'Medici. I originally wrote up a nice description of our entrance through the wines we drank, but with all I have to get through, I've decided to condense it:

Glass 1: Nebbiolo d'Alba "Sontuoso" Valdinera. It was a tasty, classic Nebbiolo - dry and structured, with a nice bit of black cherry and some earth.

From there, we moved on to the wines they had pre-selected for our dinner - Feudi di San Gregoria Falanghina from Campania and Tenuta le Querce Aglianico del Vulture "Il Viola" from Basilicata.

Glass 2: Falanghina is a lovely Italian white varietal that you see more and more in good Italian places. This Falanghina had notes of green apple and citrus and was enjoyed by all.

Glass 3: Aglianico - yum. Though it was more fruit forward than the Nebbiolo, it complemented it nicely as it had similar dark cherry notes. Paired very well with the mushroom sauce that seemed to be used in both the pasta dish our table shared and the trout dish I ordered. Odd they used the same sauce in two completely different dishes, but it worked. Shoulder shrug.

Glass 4: Moscato D'Asti - OF COURSE! At the end of the meal, I had to introduce our table to one of my personal favorites and a consistent crowd pleaser - Moscato D'Asti. By this time we'd began calling ourselves "Table Debacle" as we were the most raucous group amongst our classmates, as well as in the restaurant so everyone was up for something fizzy and tasty.

Suffice it to say I slept very well on Monday night.

Day 2: We split into the teams we'll be working with for the rest of the week. I'm on a team with my friend, Wendy, Laura K. (a.k.a. LK, Laura #1, LauRock, Lola, Lo) and John. The focus of day 2 was frying and sauteeing and after some time discussing the assigned menu, we went about preparing our various components. We also convinced the instructor to let us deep fry our main entree - fried chicken (as opposed to pan frying as the assignment called for).

I also worked on a bacon topped salad and learned an important lesson about cooking in a convection oven. The air moves fast and the suction is great and once the fat gets cooked down, bacon becomes really light and can easily get sucked up in the fan of a convection oven. Despite this very funny looking lesson, I salvaged the bacon which turned out to be perfectly crispy. Of course the dressing was way too liquid-y which brings me to another lesson of the day - when making a dressing that includes a solid, start with the solid (in this case mayonnaise) and THEN add the liquid (in this case buttermilk). It helps control for soupiness.

The real crowning achievement, though, was deep frying some chicken with my new foodie friend who also enjoys some sick kitchen humor, Laura K. Actually, it wasn't so much an achievement as a ton of fun. I gotta get me one of those! Of course even I'm dubious of arming myself with something that involves a few gallons of hot oil.

For those who know Wendy and are wondering, her mac and cheese with the bechamel was AWESOME. The instructor had all of these notes but it might have been helpful had he given us the tip about adding nutmeg to the bechamel BEFORE we cooked it. Oh well, now we know. Though we still don't know why Connecticut is the nutmeg state, but I digress.

After lunch we started planning today's menu. I ended up with ice cream. due to today's meandering lecture which took an extra 2 HOURS, I was not able to freeze the ice cream in time. So I ended up helping some other classmates out and making the whipped cream for the fruit crisp. The upside is that we already have tomorrow's dessery - vanilla bean ice cream with a hint of English lavendar. Boo yah. Hopefully I'll have time to spin out the ice cream while my fish poaches....we shall see.

Oh, and today was wine class. Was a good refresher, but nothing new. Then again, when the wine was delivered late and the instructor got behind opening the wine, I jumped up and started corking bottles with own wine key. It was a truly proud moment for me.
Until the next 5 minutes breather,


Alli M.
p.s. American Bounty was o.k., not great. Their wine list is shockingly bad - limited and completely overpriced. Our featured wines at last night's dinner - Columbia Crest Merlot, Bonterra Chardonnay. Seriously?!? We're talking $8 bottles you can find at any generic wine store across the country! And American Bounty charges $28 per bottle for them. For shame.

Monday, November 15, 2010

CIA, Day 1

I have not "gone rogue." I'm currently in Hyde Park, NY for a weeklong boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America. Or for a foodie like me, Nirvana.

At 5 this morning, my friend and fellow foodie, Wendy, and I awoke to make our way to our 6am orientation and breakfast. Ouch. Unfortunately, the coffee in the dining hall is not as good as one would hope. That said, it was caffeinated and hot which worked for me!

Class began at 7am and we went right into stocks - white vs. brown and how to make one. We also covered temperatures at which meat should be prepared. Though this sounds boring to some, I was happily taking notes and looking forward to slipping into my chef's jacket, pants and toque (a.k.a. that tall, columnar hat you see in pretentious French restaurants and old movies).

After introducing ourselves and changing into our snazzy new duds, we made our way into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, the class switched between lessons on knife skills and us trying our knife skills on various vegetables, proteins and fruit. At this time I'd like to formally apologize to the lovely chicken I struggled with and the flounder I, uh, floundered. The upside is that the pieces were still usable. And delicious!

We just did the prep today, but our onions and garlic went into an incredible French onion soup and the flounder was sauteed and dressed with a Meuniere sauce (the movie "Julie & Julia" did not do it justice) and the chicken was dredged and baked. If only we had wine with lunch. Of course dinner is at Caterina de'Medici, the renowned Italian restaurant on campus and you know the wine will be flowing. Then again, we have another 5am wake up call tomorrow and we're working in teams tomorrow so we can't let our fellow foodie friends down....well, maybe we can sleep in until 5:15am.

Hopefully by then the smell of flounder will have warn off of our hands. If not, I may be writing about a full on citrus bath tomorrow.
Until tomorrow's class (in which I hope to recap the next sniff, sip AND quaff),

Alli M.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Too Much Cheese with my W(h)ine?!?

As many people equate wine with cheese, I feel it makes sense for me to highlight a recent article about the cheese industry in the U.S. Plus, for those that know me best, politics, particularly as it relates to food, is another interest of mine (like the name of my blog didn't tip you off?). Consider this my public service announcement/heads up for this week.

There was an article in the New York Times this past weekend entitled "While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales" that absolutely infuriated me. It describes the actions of Dairy Management, a government funded dairy marketing agency with a $140 million annual budget. Though increased cheese consumption is thought to be one of the leading contributors to our obesity epidemic, the government continues to promote cheese.

When you have some time, check out the full article:

It takes a good 15 minutes to read, but it is very interesting and helps explain why people are so confused about what constitutes good nutrition. It also makes me wonder why my tax dollars are subsidizing Dominos pizza. I find this company hateful enough, but do they really need the government's money when they can afford to advertise during every possible sporting event on t.v.?!? Moreover, did they really need a study showing that people would be happy with more cheese on their pizza?!?

Unfortunately, this is the way of things and I'm sure if we looked into every industry, we'd find similar types of wasteful expenditures. It's just maddening that we've gotten to a point where everyone is so busy pointing fingers and covering their asses that no one wants to take a look at this stuff and ask, "what the....?!?"

It's just infuriating so I thought I'd share (there are only so many voicemails once can leave for the offices of her Congressman and her Senators).

Until the next sniff, sip, quaff or actual wine event,


Alli M.