Three Standouts from the 2013 Family Winemakers of California Tasting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve only been to a few trade tastings before, and I’m definitely still not used to it. Walking into a giant hall literally filled with table after table, row after row, of wine after wine, is intimidating and overwhelming. Tala and I did research before this year’s Family Winemakers of California tasting, which was held at Fort Mason. We reviewed the list (220 participating wineries!), and removed the places we knew we didn’t want to check out. In developing our offering for Winelandia, we specifically focused on small producers – say 2500 cases or less, as natural production as possible, and really good value in the $15-$30 price range. We’re looking for wines that no one is afraid to open on a Tuesday night, wines that aren’t intimidating or overbearing, and that pair well with food. This was a great opportunity to for us to meet a lot of winemakers, hone our preferences, and review a wide range of styles and varietals.

But still! Even though we got our list down to, say, 100 wineries, we knew we’d never make it through. I think, at the end of the 3 hours we spent there, we probably tried around 100 wines from 15 or so wineries. And yes, we spit almost all of it out – which is something I’m still getting used to, for sure. In the expanse of wines that we saw, smelled, tasted, and noted, here are three standouts that really made us happy.

Frog’s Tooth 2012 Torrontes

This wine, from the Sierra Foothills, was floral, light, and energetic. The nose was so aromatic and pleasant, and the taste had the right balance of acid and freshness. Coming in around 12% alcohol makes it a great sipping wine. This Torrontes has everything I know Tala loves about the nose on a Viognier, but it’s also got great taste and acidity that Viognier often lacks. Perfect to drink with spicy food or light appetizers. We definitely plan to check this place out as soon as we can get out to Murphys, CA.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKaena 2011 Via Caprice Grenache

Kaena makes A LOT of Grenache, which was a pleasant surprise to me. I love the lighter bodied, livelier red grapes like Grenache, and it was a treat to taste so many side-by-side. They also had a couple of GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends to try as well. Our pick was the Via Caprice Grenache, from the Central Coast. Aged in neutral oak, this was the lightest Grenache they had on offer, with loads of acid and great tart cherry flavor. Surprisingly it was over 14% in alcohol, but didn’t drink that way at all. It’s a super food-friendly wine, but would be great by itself too.

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It’s no secret that Tala and I love Russian River Pinot Noir. We’ve had enough that we’re picky about it, though. We’ve been to a lot of wineries, tasted a lot of RR Pinots, and don’t like a lot of what happens there. This wine, though, we loved. It’s everything I want from a Pinot – a bit of cola, some nice earthy and mushroomy flavors, and medium body. A Pinot should be versatile and flexible – ready to pair with food or drink alone, and this Pinot is it. All the Wait Cellars wines were great, but this was a standout.

There were a few others that we loved, and still more that we liked. All in all, it was a great opportunity to check out a TON of California wine – a lot that we haven’t previously had access to. Who are your favorite small California winemakers? Let us know!

Wine Review: 2012 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris

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Update 4/30/14: You can buy the new vintage of this wine here!

Do you love white wine? Are you a fan of things that are both unusual and delightful at the same time? Do you get real excited when you find fancy things that don’t break the bank? This 2012 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris from the Russian River Valley is all of those things, and it’s one of my favorite wines of the summer.

Trousseau Gris was once widely grown in California under the name Grey Riesling. It’s a mutation of the red Trousseau grape, native to the Jura region in France. There is very little of it left here in the Golden State, but the Fanucchi-Wood Road vineyard in the Russian River Valley grows about 10 acres of it. This vineyard has created a name for itself through some very skilled winemakers (Pax Mahle of Wind Gap also makes a wine from this vineyard) and the wines are highly sought-after by insatiable wine geeks like myself.

Jolie-Laide Wines is a very small operation run by winemaker Scott Schultz in Forestville, CA. He produces just a few wines, and this was the first one I ever tried of his. Colleen and I were at the Punchdown in Oakland and we spied a Jolie-Laide 2011 Trousseau Gris on the menu. We have had Trousseau Gris in the past, from Wind Gap, and we loved it. It was no surprise we loved this one, too.

The hallmark of this wine is the velvety texture and spicy character it gets from the cold soak it receives for several days prior to pressing and fermentation. This process gives the wine a unique richness without being over-wrought or tannic, like many skin-contact white wines can be. It has an undeniable Trousseau Gris fruit profile, including stonefruit and citrus, which is reminiscent of other wines we’ve had from this vineyard. It has enough acid and freshness to balance the viscosity, richness, spice, and fruit. This is a balanced wine in the purest sense of the word, expertly made, by one of the nicest people we have ever met in the wine industry.

If you see this wine in a shop, and it’s hard to miss because of the sexy babe on the label, be sure to pick up at least a few bottles. At around $24, you won’t find another wine of this quality for the price. I would put my money on this wine aging gracefully for at least a little while, as it has the stuffing to do so. It’s a great food wine, like all wines we feature on Winelandia, and I suggest serving it with whole grilled fish stuffed with citrus & cilantro. Add on a side of grilled veggies, and you will be sure to impress your guests.

Have you tried this wine? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Editors Note: We previously stated that this wine was skin-fermented, which is incorrect. It received a 5 day cold-soak prior to fermentation. Thanks to the winemaker for clarifying!

Vermouth: Not just for cocktails

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can remember my first waitressing job at a British pub. It was 2003, and I was a mere 21 years old. I barely knew anything about food, wine, cocktails, or really any of the finer things in life. I can recall the bartender telling me that vermouth (a fortified wine infused with botanicals) was disgusting, so bad that when you use it in a cocktail, you simply swirl it around in the glass and dump the rest out. Why would anyone want to add something to a drink that tasted so bad? I wrote off vermouth as something I never wanted to put in my mouth.

Years later, I learned from a bartender at Bar Agricole that vermouth should always be stored in the refrigerator. It’s wine, after all, and it oxidizes like any other wine. Most people think vermouth is disgusting because they let it sit out at room temperature for months, using a splash here and there. Even bars are guilty of leaving their vermouth out, which might be one of the reasons that a Manhattan is rarely good at a bar. Even if it’s being refrigerated, it’s going to oxidize, and you should use it up within a couple of weeks.

So I started storing my vermouth in the refrigerator. I was still buying the cheap stuff, because I was only using it in cocktails. Really, you are only using a half ounce at a time, what difference could it really make? What I came to realize is that a $5 vermouth is about as good as a $5 wine. I knew that there was good vermouth out there, as it’s a popular aperitif in Europe. People drink it straight! I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. There is a scarcity of craft vermouth here in the states and it’s pretty difficult to find. A few people are making it, but not many, and you really have to know what you’re looking for or get really lucky to find a good one.

Well, call me lucky! I was recently at Ruby Wine in San Francisco – a great little wine shop with an unbelievable selection of wine. I noticed an odd-looking bottle at the register and asked about it. Turns out it was a white (bianco) vermouth from Piedmont, Italy. It was around $40 for the bottle and the shop owner told me a little bit about it. It was a blend of Cortese and Moscato, two Italian grape varietals commonly grown in Piedmont. I was intrigued and thought I’d give it a shot. He told me to serve it with a sprig of rosemary on the rocks.

I followed his advice and not only threw in a sprig of rosemary, but also a twist of tangelo (it’s what I had on hand, and orange/rosemary are a lovely pair) and a splash of soda water. The outcome completely changed my preconceived notions about vermouth. It was intensely complex; slightly sweet, bitter, herbaceous, fruity, refreshing – all of the elements I want in a cocktail. I can’t believe I’d been blind to this for so long. I have no regrets about spending $40 on a bottle of vermouth, it’s that delicious. I could drink this stuff every day, and I most certainly will until the bottle I bought is gone. It would be a shame to let it go to waste!

For those of you who are interested, the vermouth I bought a Mauro Vergano Vermouth Bianco NV, imported by Louis Dressner. There is still one bottle left at Ruby Wine. If you see this stuff at a store and want to give it a whirl, I highly recommend it. Make sure you also pick up some rosemary, a citrus fruit and some soda to spruce it up. You won’t be disappointed!

Seasonal Foods: Sanddabs

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Do you love fish? I sure do, especially if it’s sustainably harvested. Here in the Bay Area, we have an abundance of local fish to choose from. Much of it is caught along the coast of Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Bay. Many of you may be familiar with Seafood Watch, a program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium aimed at helping consumers make good choices when it comes to buying seafood. I like to use their iPhone app which helps me determine if the fish I’m about to buy is on the Best Choices or Good Alternatives list. You’d be surprised by some of the members of the Avoid list.

A few days ago, the SF Chronicle published an article on Pacific Sanddabs in their Food & Wine section. I had seen sandddabs many times before being sold by my local fishmonger. I never thought twice about them, but this article really piqued my interest. I decided to set forth on a mission to find San Francisco’s finest Sanddabs. I did eventually find them at none other than the 18th Street Bi-Rite Market for $10/lb. By Bay Area seafood standards, they are a steal. Move over King Salmon! While sanddabs are not on the Monterey Bay Aquarium “Recommended” list, they are on the “Good Alternatives” list and that’s good enough for me.

I wanted to make the preparation simple so I could highlight the delicate, nutty flavor of the fish. I ended up settling on lightly dredging them in flour and pan-frying them in neutral-tasting rice bran oil, then serving them with chive Beurre Blanc. I roasted up some carrots and cooked some French lentils to serve with them, staying on the French trajectory. The outcome was fabulous, and I’m now hooked on sanddabs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have been squirreling away a bottle of Chablis that I wanted to open with some white fish, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I really do love Chardonnay, especially if it’s French. Chablis is one of the best values in Burgundy, and this bottle only set me back $29. I picked it up at Ruby Wine in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill and I sure am glad I saved it for such an occasion. The pairing was lovely, adding a nice crisp counter-point to the beurre blanc while not overwhelming any of the ingredients in the dish. 2010 was a cool vintage in Chablis and many of the wines made that year have a ton of racy acidity. This wine also had a prominent mineral backbone, a hallmark of Chablis, which was a great compliment to the briney character of the sanddabs. Chablis is a very versatile wine, but I love it most with seafood.

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Are you a sanddab fanatic? Do you fish them yourself, or prepare them in a special way? Let us know in the comments.

 

Seasonal Foods: Wild Blackberries

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre you a West Coast native? If so, you may be familiar with the Himalayan Blackberry, a variety of blackberry that was brought to the US in 1885 for food production because of it’s large, sweet fruit. It quickly became an invasive species and spread all over the temperate US. I can remember from a very young age seeing creek beds, empty ditches, vacant lots, and hillsides absolutely covered in them. They are impartial to the city or countryside, growing vigorously all over the state of California. Their sweet canes are delicious to goats, and you may have seen herds of them munching hillsides covered in blackberry.

Every summer, it’s a Bay Area tradition to go wild blackberry foraging. We are, after all, descendants of gatherers, and I feel a very strong natural inclination to hunt for these guys for hours on end. Many of my friends behave like depression-era hoarders, and I never have trouble finding someone who wants to go blackberry picking with me. It’s an invasive species, so I never feel bad about taking as many as I want. In fact, the big patches in my neighborhood are mostly picked-over by the end of summer, but I know of a few patches that others don’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou don’t have to be Iso Rabins to forage your own blackberries. Chances are, you already know of a patch or fifty within a three mile radius of your home. If you live in a big city with no vegetation, just ask a friend. All you need is a basket, a glove (I use latex so I can still feel around but not get poked by thorns), sunscreen, long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and maybe a blanket to throw over the brambles in front of you so you can reach the untouched, fat, delicious berries farther back. (I learned that trick from a 10 year old girl I saw picking berries along Lucas Valley road in Marin). It’s always a good idea to taste some samples from your chosen patch first, as some patches taste better than others.

Another thing to keep in mind while foraging blackberries is to avoid patches along busy roads. The berries have all sorts of nooks & crannies along with really thin and delicate skin. They are essentially covered in road grime, exhaust particles and other nasty stuff that you don’t want to eat or feed to your family & friends. Try to find bushes off the beaten path, those are less likely to be picked over anyhow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce you get all of your delicious blackberries home, what will you do with them? I like to lay mine out in a single layer on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper and pop them into the freezer. This flash-freezes them, preserving their peak-of-summer sweetness and bracing acidity. After they freeze, I pack them into freezer-safe mason jars and use them all throughout the year when I’m feeling nostalgic for summer. They are great with peaches in desserts, cooked down into a syrup or made into a pie. Throw them into a bowl of oatmeal or put them into your Sunday morning pancakes. The options are really endless, use them as you would any other fruit and bask in the notion that you didn’t pay a dime for them.

If you are uncomfortable with scaling hillsides or put off by the idea of thorns, you can always visit Swanton Berry Farm on Highway 1 near Año Nuevo State Park. They have rows and rows of kid-friendly, delicious, thorn-less blackberries that you can pick yourself and pay for. They are a different variety than the wild blackberries, but they are just as if not more delicious. They also grow strawberries, ollalieberries and kiwi fruit.

How do you use your wild-foraged blackberries? Let us know in the comments!

Wine 101: Beginner’s Guide to Wine

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Most new wine drinkers are completely overwhelmed by the numerous and mysterious options when they walk into a wine store. It’s completely justified – that feeling of being totally lost. It’s not your fault, either. While most domestic wines are labeled with the type of grape the wine is made from, many European wines are not. Instead they have the region, the country, the house that made the wine, or just a funky picture on the label. Moreover, the labels generally don’t say a word about what it tastes like, what food to pair with it, or any other indication of what’s in the bottle. How on earth will you know which wine to pick for dinner?

In this post we will go over some of the common types of wines you will see in a wine shop, what they are like, what foods they pair with, a general price range, what stemware to choose, and where they are grown.

Cabernet Sauvignon
This grape is originally from Bordeaux but has gained a solid foothold virtually every wine market in the world. It’s one of the most widely-recognized varietals due to it’s widespread availability, ease of cultivation, and easy-to-pronounce name. It generally produces a very robust wine which can be appealing to a new wine-drinker’s palate due to it’s richness of flavor and enticing aromas. It can be very expensive, collectible and age-worthy. Still, if you know nothing about wine, chances are you’ve still had a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Major Regions: Napa, Bordeaux, South America
Type of Wine: Red
Stemware: Large, tall-sided, tulip shaped Bordeaux glass
Flavors/Aromas: Currant, tobacco, blackberry, green pepper, spice, oak
Structure: Full-bodied, low acidity, medium to high tannin
Food Pairings: Beef, blue & aged cheeses, lamb, bittersweet chocolate
Price Range: $15-$80

Zinfandel
This fun, delicious, rustic wine is a staple in the New World, even though some believe it originated from Croatia. It counts for 10% of wine grapes planted in the US. While much of the Zinfandel vines grown are slated for “White Zinfandel” production, red Zinfandel is where it’s at. It can be made in many different styles and is a great wine to pair with food. It’s a wine that anybody can love, it was my gateway wine for sure. You can walk away with an exceptional bottle for around $25.

Major Regions: Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Italy
Aliases: Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski
Type of Wine: Red, rosé
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped Viognier glass
Flavors/Aromas: Plum, black/white pepper, spice, vanilla, blackberry
Structure: Medium to full bodied, low to medium acidity, medium tannin
Food Pairings: BBQ, burgers, pork, beef, lamb, pizza, grilled sausages, turkey, ribs
Price Range: $10-$30

Pinot Noir
Since the debut of the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir has experienced a renaissance in America. It’s seen greater plantings, higher prices, increased sales, and wider availability. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow and make good wine from. It prefers a cooler climate and longer growing season to warmer climates. Pinot Noir is famously grown in the Burgundy region of France (it’s one of three grapes legally allowed in Champagne), California, New Zealand, and is even gaining popularity in Oregon state. It can be difficult to warm up to, but it’s seductive textures and earthy aromas are bound to pull you in.

Major Regions: Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Burgundy, Willamette Valley
Types of Wine: Red, rosé, sparkling, sparkling rosé
Stemware: Large, wide, tulip-shaped Burgundy glass
Flavors/Aromas: Cherry, mushroom, forest floor, resin, mineral, earth, herbs
Structure: Light to medium bodied, medium acidity, fine tannin
Food Pairings: Roasted chicken, duck, lamb, mushrooms, salmon, roasted pork
Price Range: $25-$60

Chardonnay
This oft-maligned grape variety has been a staple in the New World while quietly making world-class, highly collectible wine in the Old World. Chardonnay is considered a ‘neutral’ grape, which means the flavor profile is easily manipulated through farming and winemaking practices. More importantly, it showcases the vine’s terroir very well when grown in mineral soils. The style of wine can vary wildly from stony, acidic and mineral to viscous, buttery and rich. I recommend finding examples from Chablis or the Russian River Valley with neutral oak treatments if you are just getting started.

Major Regions: Burgundy, Sonoma, Napa
Types of Wine: Sparkling, white
Stemware: Large, wide, tulip-shaped Burgundy glass
Flavors/Aromas: Green apple, butter, mineral, citrus, toast, melon, lemon
Structure: Light to full bodied, low to high acidity, no tannin
Food pairings: Butter & cream sauce, chicken, crab, fish, lobster, pork, vegetable dishes, corn, cheese, herbs
Price Range: $15-$60

Sauvignon Blanc
There isn’t a grape variety more polarizing than Sauvignon Blanc, yet it’s prolific on the shelves at your local grocery store and wine shop. It’s often grassy, pungent or tropical aromas can be off-putting to some, but delectable to others. It’s originally a wild grape from South West France, but has earned a reputation in Bordeaux & Sancerre while gaining widespread popularity throughout the New World. It’s usually very crisp and good with food or just by itself. It’s also one of the few wines that can pair with brussel sprouts, artichokes, broccoli and asparagus.

Major Regions: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Bordeaux, Napa, New Zealand
Types of Wine: White
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped white wine glass
Flavors/Aromas: Gooseberry, grass, melon, tropical fruit, grapefruit, green pepper, citrus
Structure: Light bodied, medium to high acidity, no tannin
Food Pairings: Seafood, goat cheese, oysters, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chicken, herbs, peppers, salad, tomatoes, vegetable dishes
Price Range: $10-$40

Pinot Gris
Also known as Pinot Grigio, this grape is the mutant cousin of Pinot Noir. It has white juice and rose-colored skin, which means it can make crisp white wines or copper-hued skin-fermented wines. This is one of the best-selling wines in the world due to it’s approachability, food-friendliness and wide availability. It grows well in cooler climates and makes excellent wines in Northern Italy, Alsace, Oregon and Germany. It’s best to drink Pinot Gris while it’s young as only Alsatian examples age well.

Major Regions: Alsace, Loire, Burgundy, Germany, Oregon, Northern Italy
Types of Wine: Dessert, white
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped white wine glass
Flavors/Aromas: Spice, flowers, pear, apple, melon
Structure: Light to full bodied, medium to high acidity, no tannin (unless skin-fermented)
Food Pairings: Salmon, shellfish, antipasto, goat/sheep cheeses, fried chicken, roasted pork, prosciutto
Price Range: $10-$30

Cava
This sparkling wine is the hallmark of Catalonia, an independent nation in the North East corner of Spain. It’s all over the place in Barcelona as well as in the refrigerated section of your supermarket in the US. Don’t let the price fool you – Cava is one of the most delicious and inoffensive sparklers out there. It’s usually made from a blend of traditional Spanish grapes in the Methode Traditionelle (the same method used in Champagne). In Barcelona, it’s served by virtually every restaurant for 5-10 Euro per bottle and is the perfect accompaniment to tapas. If you are looking for an inexpensive, crowd friendly wine for a party or celebration, pick up some Cava. For about $15 you can get a pretty good one.

Major Regions: Catalonia
Types of Wine: Sparkling, sparkling rosé
Stemware: Champagne flute
Flavors/Aromas: Lemon, green apple, nuts, brioche, mineral
Structure: Light bodied, medium acidity, no tannin
Food Pairings: Serrano ham, olives, fried fish, cheese, sushi, BBQ, tapas
Price Range: $7-$20

Rosé
Pink wine isn’t just for girls! Contrary to common belief, rosé isn’t usually sweet. Lots of it being made these days is mostly or completely dry, and sugar is only used to balance out the bracing acidity of some wines. By no means am I talking about White Zinfandel, Blush wine or anything made by Franzia or Carlo Rossi (avoid those like the plague). Some of the finest rosé wines come from the Provence region of France, but excellent variations can be found all of the world. Although rosé can be made from any red wine grape, they mostly taste very similar. It’s not meant to be thought-provoking, but it’s delicious and affordable. This summertime gulper is best enjoyed ice cold, on a warm night, with some light fare.

Major Regions: Provence, Sonoma, Oregon, Loire, Champagne
Types of Wine: Rosé
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped white wine glass
Flavors/Aromas: Strawberry, watermelon & watermelon rind, herbs
Structure: Light to medium bodied, medium to high acidity, no tannin.
Food Pairings: Salmon, charcuterie, cheeses, grilled fish, crab, pizza, BBQ, eggs, pork, salad, grilled shrimp, picnics
Price Range: $10-$25

Is there a type of wine that you’re curious about that you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comments.

The Joys of Picking Your Own Fruit

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For the last 5 years or so, I’ve made a pilgrimage of sorts. I’m not a religious person, and to imply that I might be seems almost laughable, but going down to Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill, CA is a sublime experience that satisfies me to a degree that surprises me every time I go. Andy Mariani is a fruit grower extraordinaire, with a beautiful orchard just over 20 miles south of San Jose. It’s a long drive for me, coming from Oakland, but it’s so worth it. Every year, Andy hosts a few tasting events – generally, one in June, one in July, and one in August, to offer the public an opportunity to sample the abundance of his orchard, and his hard work developing, preserving, and evangelizing rare, precious, and fragile stone fruit varieties. (Stone fruit is anything with a pit: cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and so on.) The August tasting always has a wide array of the larger, later-season fruits – peaches, plums, nectarines, and hybrids. This year, I’m sure we tasted at least 25 or 30, and if we’d been intrepid enough, could’ve tasted through at least 25 more.

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After you walk down row after row of sliced, delicately flavored and complex fruit, you get the opportunity to trek through the orchard with a box or a bucket, picking however much of whatever fruit you’d like to take home. This is a test of discipline and will for me. I am, after all, the crazy girl who has a peach tattoo, and setting me loose in an all-you-can-pick orchard is a dangerous proposition. This year, I walked away with only 25 pounds of fruit that I split with A, who joined me. We picked 3 primary varieties – the  Kit Donnell and Baby Crawford peaches, and the Silk Road nectarine. Types you’ll surely never see in stores because they’re so delicious, but so delicate and fragile that they didn’t even make the trip from the  tree to my house unscathed, let alone from tree to distributor to store to display to cart to trunk to your kitchen shelf. They last so few days once home, that consumers would never tolerate it. But trust me – the flavor, texture, and joy is totally worth the experience.

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If you’ve never picked a tree-ripened summer fruit from a branch, noticing that the sun has warmed its – and your – skin, you’re truly missing out. I recommend this experience to everyone. Being able to pull a piece off a tree and bite into it to tell what it is, and whether you like it or not, is something unmatched by even going to the farmers market. This is as close as I can get to my food, and for me, it makes it taste all the better. A and I agreed that the Silk Road may be the best stone fruit we’ve ever eaten. I decided to turn it into sorbet to preserve the beautiful deep goldenrod color, and the creamy, dense texture.

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Oh, so what did I do with those 25 pounds of fruit? Y’all know I like pie, right? Like I’m kind of obsessed? It’s still delicious two days later, even. We also made some peach brandy (hopefully I can tell you about it when it’s done, but that might be a few months,) peach ice cream, the aforementioned nectarine sorbet, and ate many out of hand – the best way to enjoy them.

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This event was the last one at Andy’s Orchard for 2013, but if you’re jealous, you can order some of Andy’s fruit and have it delivered to you in a foam-cushioned box. So, have you ever visited a you-pick orchard? There are tons! What did you do with your treasure?

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Cooking Techniques: Chicken Stock

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf there’s any one commodity in my kitchen that is worth it’s weight in gold, it is home-made chicken stock. I’m not talking about the salty garbage you buy at the store that has been fined and filtered to oblivion and back, or even the kind that costs $80 for 2 cups worth at Williams-Sonoma during the holidays (I wish I was kidding). I’m talking about the kind that takes 8 hours to cook, anyone can make, and results in a rich, delicious, savory, viscous, concentrated broth.

What exactly does one use chicken broth for, other than the obvious chicken soup? Well, let me tell you all the things I use it for.

Risotto. Use your home made chicken stock to make the most delicious risotto you’ve ever had.
Matzoh Ball Soup. Get that matzoh ball mix from the store and get ready to indulge in this classic New York soup.
Pan Sauce. That’s right, you can use your home made chicken broth to make unbelievable pan sauce any day of the week.
Polenta/Lentils/Rice/Grains. Cook your whole grains with some chicken broth and go from ho-hum to OMFG.
Bread Pudding. If you’ve never made this before, you are missing out. Home made chicken stock makes it ethereal.
Braising Liquid. Use chicken stock to braise anything from chicken to veal.
Mashed Potatoes. Add this to your battle-worn mashed potato recipe and get ready to be amazed.
Stir-fry. Use chicken stock in your stir fry for a healthy alternative to oil.
Cereal. Just kidding.

So you see, you can use chicken stock in pretty much anything (well, except for your Cap’n Crunch, but I won’t tell anyone if you try it). This recipe will go over how to make a batch in an 8 quart stock pot, which should yield about 5 quarts of stock. That’s enough to last me about a month. You will find that although cooking it can take a really long time, there is really very little technique involved and it’s very easy to make if you have a whole day to spend at home.

The key is getting enough carcasses to start with. Some recipes call for a whole chicken, meat included. I feel this is a waste of perfectly good meat, as chicken is not great when it’s boiled. Also, the thing that makes home made stock special is the broken-down connective tissue, cartilage and bone which gives it an amazing texture. The only way to achieve this is by using lots of bones and cooking them for a really long time. The best way to get a high bone to meat ratio is by using carcasses with most of the meat removed. I like to use three carcasses to one pot of stock – use fewer and your stock may come out thin and bland. The cheapest way to obtain them is to buy your chicken whole from your local butcher, ask them to break it down into 4 pieces (leg/thigh, boneless breast/wing) and to wrap up the carcass & necks separately so you can freeze them. The meat will serve 4-6 people, or you can freeze the individual pieces and cook them as needed. Over time, you will end up with several frozen chicken carcasses, and then you’ll be ready to make stock.

As for aromatic vegetables to complement the chicken, the sky is the limit. Below I will make some suggestions and generally you want to use at least some carrots, celery & onions. You can really use anything you want. I tend to add herbs, parsley stems, fennel, bay leaf, peppercorns, and anything else that’s super aromatic and can stand up to long periods of cooking without disintegrating. Get creative here!

Tala’s Chicken Stock Recipe
Time Required: 30 minutes prep, 8 hours cooking

Tools:
8 quart stock pot (give or take)
Large fine-mesh strainer
Large heat-resistant container to strain your finished stock into (I just use my smaller stock pot)
Several 1 qt. & 1 pt. mason jars with lids
Fat separator (not mandatory, but saves you a lot of trouble)

Ingredients:
3 large carrots, broken in half
3 celery ribs, broken in half
2 medium onions, paper left on and sliced in half
1 whole head of garlic, paper left on and sliced in half
1-2 bay leaves (I just pick mine off the neighborhood Bay Laurel tree)
10-20 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp. whole peppercorns
1 medium bulb of fennel, green parts removed & sliced in half
3 chicken carcasses, necks, feet, heads, whatever you have left over (except livers, do NOT use the liver as it turns bitter)
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1. Put all ingredients into your 8 quart stock pot. Don’t worry if it gets really full (see below), as everything will break down within the first hour of cooking and fit into the pot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2. Fill the pot with water up to the top, leaving about an inch of space so that the water doesn’t boil all over the place.
3. Place on the stove and turn on the heat to high. I start with frozen carcasses and that’s totally fine. They don’t need to be thawed because you are going to be boiling them. Save yourself the trouble and let the water do the work.
4. Once the water starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium and bring to a simmer or slow boil. You will notice a grey scum collecting on the surface of the stock (see below). Skim this off with a large spoon and discard. The scum should stop forming after the first 30 minutes or so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5. Simmer for about 8 hours. You don’t need to boil the bejeesus out of it; a slow boil or a simmer is fine. Some of the water will evaporate, just add it back as it starts to get a little low. You want all of your ingredients to remain submerged, so don’t let it get more than a few inches low. You will also notice that the chicken will start to break apart after the first hour or so and will create more space in the pot for liquid. Below is a photo of what it might look like after a few hours.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA6.  After 8 or so hours have passed, turn the heat off and get out your fine mesh strainer & your second large container (I use my smaller stock pot).
7. Place your strainer over your container and SLOWLY pour the entire contents of your pot of stock through the strainer. Be very careful, ask for help if you need it, and for the love of God don’t burn yourself! You may need to empty out the strainer halfway through as it fills with chicken parts and spent vegetables.
8. Discard the solids from your stock. At this point you’ve boiled every last bit of flavor out of them and they won’t be good for much of anything.
9a. Now for skimming the fat. A fine home-made chicken stock has very little fat in it, but you may notice that the new stock you just strained is full of chicken grease. The easiest way to skim the fat is by using a fat separator. This is one of the very few single-purpose kitchen tools I have, because I make stock so often and it really does save you a lot of trouble. Fill the fat separator and give it a minute so the fat can float to the top. Then, pour off the clear stock into your mason jars, leaving an inch and a half of headspace; this will prevent them from breaking when you freeze them. Once filled, stick them in your freezer.
9b. If you don’t have a fat separator, then just put the whole stock-filled container into an ice water bath to bring the temperature down very quickly – this prevents bacterial growth. Once it’s cool to the touch, stick the whole container in your refrigerator until the fat has floated to the surface and turned solid from the cold. Then you can just remove it with a slotted spoon, then pour the fat-free stock into your mason jars (leaving an inch and a half of headspace!) and then freeze them.
10. When it’s time to use some stock, just pull a jar out of the freezer, remove the metal lid and ring, then stick the whole jar into the microwave and defrost. Use what you need and refrigerate or re-freeze the rest.
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