Category Archives: Education

RECIPE: Creme Brulee

Torturing The Creme Brulee

I have a confession! I love Creme Brulee! There! I’ve said it! However I never thought that making something so good was so easy. It all started when my brother, Tommy, told me he was coming to visit my mom and wanted to know if I wanted to make a dinner with him. I jump at the chance to cook with another passionate cook and my brother is one of those people who loves to cook (he really knows wine too). So we decided on a menu and then he asked what we should have for desert. I immediately mentioned that I loved Creme Brulee. He responded with ‘I have the perfect Creme Brulee recipe and I’ll bring my torch’. Cool! Fire too!

So when my brother came he taught me how to make Creme Brulee and French Bread as well as a recipe called Chicken Veronique. It was all just heavenly! He also had the recipes printed out for me so that I could try them on my own at home.

Jump ahead a couple of months later and I decided that for Valentine’s dinner with my love, Matt, I was going to make a wonderful dinner (Spaghetti Carbonara) and pull out my newly bought torch and make Creme Brulee. However when I went to look for the recipe that my brother had given me I couldn’t find it. Isn’t that always the case? So I searched the internet for a recipe that looked to be close or the same as that one. After extensive searching I found a Creme Brulee recipe from Alton Brown at Food Network.com that seemed to come really close. I know my brother likes Alton Brown’s stuff so I figured he may have actually used this recipe.

The hardest part when making Creme Brulee is waiting for it to come out of the oven. The rest of the process is really fun and smells great! The ingredients are simple: heavy cream, a beautifully fragrant vanilla bean, sugar, egg yolks and hot water. Most of which you’ve probably already got hanging around your kitchen. The biggest thing I had to do to prepare for this was buy ramekins, a torch (which both came in a nice little kit from Bed, Bath, and Beyond for under $30), some butane fluid for the aforementioned torch, and finding vanilla beans that wouldn’t break the bank.

The Ingredients

Now you don’t want to cheap out on the vanilla beans and reach for vanilla extract when making Creme Brulee. I am pretty sure doing that is a crime so be careful. The fact is that Creme Brulee although a simple dessert to make is a decadent, indulgent treat and every effort should be made to make sure you honor that. Suck it up and buy real vanilla beans. I originally went to the supermarket and laid down a hefty $7 for one vanilla bean the first time I made this treat (Yes, I’ve made it more than once now…can you blame me?) but I soon discovered that my town had a really great spice shop and there I found vanilla beans priced at 3 for $5.00. I immediately bought 6 and drove smiling home with my treasures. So look around your town for specialty shops who get vanilla beans in bulk. They will be cheaper there.

After splitting the vanilla bean and dropping all those wonderful smelling seeds into the pot of heavy cream I took special care to warm the combination up on the stove and stir frequently. You might want to be aware that you really need to be attentive to your vanilla bean/heavy cream combo because heavy cream loves to burn and boil over if given the chance.

Egg Yolk/Sugar DuoWhile you’re keeping one eye on your vanilla bean/heavy cream duo you can begin to whip up the egg yolks with the sugar until it reaches the right consistency. Once that task is done you can slowly add the vanilla bean/heavy cream combo into the egg yolk/sugar combo remembering to continuously stir.

You then pour the wonderfully fragrant yellow concoction into your waiting ramekins and place the ramekins in a large cake pan or some such and fill pour enough hot water to come half way up the outside of the ramekins thus creating a nice hot sauna effect for your Creme Brulee. Place in your preheated oven and wait with delightful anticipation for about 45 minutes. The whole time the beautiful smell of vanilla fills your home with joy! 🙂

Once the time is up I took the masterpieces out of the oven and placed them in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Now the real fun begins! Fire away! It was time to use my new torch! After sugaring each of the Creme Brulee tops I lit my torch and let the flames caramelize the tops. We had fun taking pictures of this process so those are the pictures you’re going to see here.Pre-sugar/torch time

Flames in the dark!

Once done with the flame thrower…err…I mean torch let the Creme Brulee rest for a moment in the refrigerator so that the top gets that wonderful characteristic glassy composure. Then take them out and enjoy! I’ve made this several times now and I really think it’s as good if not better than any Creme Brulee I’ve had at expensive restaurants. It’s easy and pretty inexpensive to make as well. Definitely one of my all time favorites. We enjoyed this dessert after our Spaghetti Carbonara dinner served with a wonderful Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2008. Wonderful!

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A New Perspective On Food And Its Enjoyment

I know I haven’t posted anything here for awhile. I have a lot of reviews for you and some great recipes coming up but until then I just saw this video and I wanted to share it with you all. It’s not only a great piece on ‘Empowerment’ as the chef calls it but I also like the statement it makes about a meal being a whole experience not just a meal. Let me know what you all think.

I thought I could post the video on this page but apparently it’s not working for me so here’s the link to it. 🙂 Fresh Perspectives

Wine, Women and…Well…What Else Is There To Say Really?

I got this in my email today from my other half and I thought it was funny and…well…true especially today. Rough day but that’s another story and another blog but being as it’s Wednesday and I owe you all a blog I thought this would be a little diversion from the usual as well as a good chuckle. Men, this is not a joke study this chart well and learn it. It could save your life one day.
The Hormone Guide

Women will understand this!
Men should memorize it!
 

Every woman knows that there are days when all a man has to do is open his mouth and he takes his life in his hands! This is a handy guide that should be carried like a driver’s license in the wallet of every husband, boyfriend, co-worker or significant other!

 


DANGEROUS

SAFER

SAFEST

ULTRA  SAFE
What’s for
Dinner?
Can I help you
with dinner?
Where would you like
to go out for dinner?
Here, have some wine.
Are you
Wearing that?
You sure
look good in brown!
WOW! Look at you!
Here, have some wine
What are you
So worked up about?
Could we be
overreacting?
Here’s my paycheck.
Here, have some wine.
Should you be
Eating that?
You know, there are
a lot of apples left.
Can I get you a piece
of chocolate with that?
Here, have some wine.
What did you
DO all day?
I hope you didn’t
over-do it today.
I’ve always loved you
in that robe!
Here, have some wine.

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #4 – Most Wines South of the Equator are Screwy!

Stelvin capsYes, it’s true! Although I’ve stated in a previous blog that I equate ‘screw caps’ with cheap wine and hobos the fact is that if I want to review any wines from New Zealand and Australia, to name a few, I will most likely have to swallow my pride and purchase a wine with the aforementioned ‘screw cap’.

These ‘screw caps’ also known as a Stelvin cap (named for the company that first invented them back in the late ’60s early ’70s) are predominately used on most wines produced south of the Equator such as in New Zealand and Australia. Although they were met with resistance  and phased out in the early 1980’s they were reintroduced in the 1990’s.

Since then the consumer acceptance of these Stelvin caps on wines have gone from 1% in 2001 to 70% in 2004 according to Wikipedia.The main reason, or so I am told from a wise wine instructor, is three-fold.

First off, there is the debate that Stelvin caps actually preserve the wine better and virtually guarantee that the wine will reach the customer in the condition that the wine maker intended it to. Others still argue that the slight oxygen leakage that comes from cork helps the wine age better. Who’s to say who’s right?

The second reason for the re-emergence of Stelvin caps particularly south of the Equator is cost. Cork trees primarily grow in countries that run along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where there’s plenty of sunshine, low rainfall and high humidity. The countries that produce the most cork include Portugal, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia. Because of this geographic dilemma using cork in wines produced south of the Equator adds more cost to producing a bottle of wine. When that happens you pay more for wines from these regions. (That explains that really expensive bottle of New Zealand wine with a cork I saw the other day…but I digress…)

To keep the cost of the wines down in Australia and New Zealand most wineries in those areas use Stelvin caps instead of cork. It’s easier and more cost effective to produce Stelvin caps locally then to ship in cork from all the way across the world.

The third reason that wines south of the equator use Stelvin caps rather than cork is to preserve the environment or so some are saying. I, myself, am doubtful of this. The argument is that all the cork being used for wine will deplete the cork forests however I’ve read other articles (namely this one from About.com) that state just the opposite.

Conservationist, environmentalists, and local cork regions are concerned that if wine producers stop using cork for their bottle closures then the cork forests will be discarded and the local animals and environment that depend on the cork trees to survive will also be discarded and ultimately destroyed. Being the tree-hugging vegetarian that I am I have to say that this view makes more sense to me than the former. It will make it even harder for me to buy a bottle of wine with a Stelvin screw cap.

So there you are! Your little tidbit of wine knowledge for the week. Use it as you see fit. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, and base your decision on cork versus screw top on what makes sense to you. 🙂

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!!

I’ve been informed that today is National Drink Wine Day. So the question is: what are you planning on drinking today? Leave your comments below and let us know what you’re planning on drinking today and whether it’s a red or white wine. Also, are you planning on eating something special with it too? Tell us all the exciting details….Enjoy!

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #3 – Determining the Body of a Wine is as Easy as Drinking Milk

At my recent visit to Total Wine an More’s ‘Wine 101’ class I learned a very easy way to determine what the body of a wine is. Up until taking that class determining the ‘body’ of a wine was a distant concept to me. I knew that they were talking about the ‘heaviness’ of the wine but still couldn’t figure out how everybody was coming to their conclusions so  easily and with conviction.

Well I now know that it is really easy to make this determination using something that most people have a daily experience with – drinking milk! Now I haven’t had a glass a milk in over 20 years but I am no stranger to the differences in consistency when it comes to dairy products. It was something that I wholeheartedly participated in prior to that 20 years.

Most people will agree that when drinking milk there is a distinct difference in consistency when it comes to skim milk, 2% milk, and whole milk. Skim milk, to most, has the weight and consistency of drinking a glass of water. 2% milk is slightly heavier/thicker and whole milk is the heaviest/thickest in the mouth. Knowing this simple fact is the key to determining the ‘body’ of the wine you’re drinking.

‘Light Bodied Wines’ are those that when you take a sip and move it around your mouth has the consistency and thickness of water or skim milk. It’s very ‘light’ on the tongue.

‘Medium bodied Wines’ are those that when  you take a sip and move it around your mouth has a slightly heavier weight and thickness. They are the equivalent of drinking 2% milk.

‘Heavy bodied Wines’ are those that are thick and…well…heavy on the tongue. They are reminiscent of drinking whole milk or even heavy cream. They loom large in your mouth as far as thickness is concerned.

Now that I’ve learned this little comparison trick it’s been easy for me to identify the body of every wine I’ve been drinking with little or no need for second thought. It’s an immediate ‘knowing’ now which frees me up to figure out more about the complexities of the wine like the bouquet and aromas that want to be identified.

I also want to add that a wine can fall between those categories of ‘light, medium, and heavy bodied’ too. Like anything else there’s a scale where something can be mostly light bodied but bordering on medium and thus you might say that that particular wine is a light to medium bodied wine or a medium to heavy bodied wine.

Nothing is absolute. It doesn’t have to fall neatly into just one category. Just like a person can be primarily an introvert but with some extrovert qualities a wine can absolutely do the same thing. It’s a living and breathing thing just like you and I are and even though a particular wine may be described as a medium bodied wine it can still have some slight variations too.

So now armed with this new knowledge (I am assuming it’s new to you too…if not then forgive my assumptions here) I challenge you to get out there and start to get to know the body of your wines. Feel them, touch them, get to know them! 🙂

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #2 – Serve White Wines Cold

Well being last week’s Interesting Wine Facts was about the serving temperature of red wines I figured it would only be fair to do the same for white wines.

Most people already know that white wines are served chilled but most, like me, don’t know what that temperature actually is supposed to be. White wines should be served between 48-53 degrees F. This is usually the standard temperature that you’ll find in your refrigerator.

It’s also good to note that even though white wines are supposed to be served cold make sure you don’t serve them too cold. That can affect the flavors of the wine too.

Another good tip for white wines is to take them out of the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes before you’re going to drink them.

If you’re serving a champagne, sparkling wine, or Prosecco it should be served between 40 to 45 degrees F. In order to get it to this temperature you may have to place it in an ice bucket filled with ice or put it in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes before serving to get it to that temperature. Of course, you should have had it in the refrigerator before that but the standard temperature in your fridge is not going to be cold enough to get your bubbly to the right temperature thus the use of the ice bucket or freezer stated above.

Frei Brothers Reserve – Chardonnay 2008 – Sonoma, CA

From the back label: Russian River Valley, Sonoma’s premier Chardonnay appellation, is the source of our Chardonnay grapes. With a soft mouthfeel and long crisp finish, this medium-bodied wine has bright aromas and flavors of citrus, pear, peach, and a hint of vanilla and spice.’

Price: $16.99

This clear pale yellow Chardonnay may have just changed my opinion of myself. I have always considered myself a red wine drinker and I still do for the most part but this wine was a very nice surprise for me because I really enjoyed it.

In the past I would never buy a white wine for myself to drink. My past experiences have had me deem all white wines as heartburn makers. However in the interest of learning about wines I have been forcing myself to pick out white wines as well as reds. So when I saw this wine on sale at my local Publix grocery store with the words ‘Reserve’ on the bottle I felt it was worth a try and am I glad I took that leap of faith.

The bouquet of this wine is very lemony and citrusy and the taste was subtle, smooth and mellow. I would deem it a light to medium bodied wine although the label says it’s medium I would say it’s slightly lighter than that. It’s very fruity with a crisp, quick finish and very enjoyable.

I served this wine with a vegetarian chicken scallopini and I used a bit of this wine in the making of it as well. The chicken scallopini was accompanied by beautiful steamed broccoli and sweet potatoes. This wine perfectly complimented this meal and I would totally recommend this wine for light chicken, pasta, or risotto dishes especially if they have a lemony and light character to them.

My overall feeling on this wine was that I really liked it. I will definitely buy it again and have it as a regular wine in my wine rack. I am finding it really interesting that now that I am experimenting and learning about wines three of the wines that I gave a score of 90 and above are white wines. I never in a million years would have thought that that would happen.

I guess the lesson in this is to never say you’re a ‘red wine drinker’ or a ‘white wine drinker’. You need to experience many different types, brands, and vintages in order to really find out what suits you. All these years I thought I didn’t like white wine all that much and now I am realizing that when it comes to whites I just need to find the ones that I do like.

So the bottom line is I highly recommend this wine. I give this wine a score of 95 and will definitely have it again especially when my menu calls for a nice white to compliment it.

Here’s a nice recipe for chicken scallopini from AllRecipes.com if you’re a vegetarian like I am you can easily substitute the chicken in the recipe with any vegetarian chicken alternative. I used Gardein brand ‘Lightly Seasoned Chick’n Scallopini’ and then used the recipe on the back of the bag which is very close to this one from AllRecipes.com. It came out fantastic!

Interesting Wine Facts: Fact #1 – Serve at Room Temperature

Here I would like to introduce you to a new series of posts called ‘Interesting Wine Facts’. This is where I will share a few interesting facts that I’ve learned about wines recently. So without further ado here’s fact #1.

FACT #1: Red wine should be served at a temperature of 65 degrees.

Most people have heard that red wine should be served at room temperature and never put in the fridge. The fact is that in the old days in European wine country that was indeed true and for the most part is still true however, ‘room temperature’ there is different then say here in Florida. If I serve my red wine at room temperature you’re going to get a nice hot wine most of the time.

The fact is that it is best to serve wines at their suggested temperature rather than some arbitrary, nondescript instruction of ‘serve at room temperature’. The actual  serving temperature for most red wines is 65 degrees F. If you are in a cooler  climate you probably can achieve that by leaving the wine at ‘room temperature’ but if you’re in a warmer climate it’s perfectly okay to put the bottle in the refrigerator for an hour or so, use a bucket of ice to chill it for 15 to 20 minutes, or any other method to get it to reach its optimal temperature. No one is going to take your head off for doing that especially if they really know their wines.

How to Pair Wine and Chocolate

For those of you who know me personally you know that I have several really strong loves in my life: Matt, Wine (obviously), The Beatles/Paul McCartney, and chocolate. Any time that I can mix any and of all those together, in my book, it’s heaven!

Now I have always liked to eat chocolate with wine. To me it’s natural to do that but I am constantly intrigued when friends look at me in horror as I am doing it. I usually get that bewildered look and they’ll say something like ‘Chocolate and wine? Really?’ My blissful reply to them is usually something that sounds somewhat like ‘Oh my God, yes!’

I say ‘sounds somewhat like’ because my mouth is usually stuffed with chocolate and wine and I am doing the yummy moan. You know that moan. It’s the one that comes out of your mouth involuntarily when you’re eating something that’s sooooo good that you can’t reply fully with words. Yes, that’s the one.

Now when it comes to matching wines and chocolates I’ve never really given it much thought really. I mean if I am drinking a really nice wine and there’s really nice chocolate nearby what’s there to think about? But apparently there is a skill to it that if mastered can make your wine/chocolate pairing even better than nature intended. Sounds awesome, right? So here I will attempt to share with you what I’ve learned about this skill.

Now the first thing to know is, in my opinion, there is no right or wrong when it comes to doing this. The simple fact is that if you like the combination then it’s right and if you don’t, it’s not right…for YOU. Someone else might think it’s absolutely wonderful. So there is no judgment here.

As a general rule though you should match lighter-flavored chocolates with lighter-bodied wines and more intense-flavored chocolates with more full-bodied wines. By the way, ‘lighter-flavored chocolates’ is not referring to whether it’s milk, white, or dark chocolate. It is referring to the intensity of flavors in the chocolate. For example, most people think of dark chocolate as intense but many dark chocolates are light compared with a milk chocolate with intense caramel or nut fillings.

When pairing wines and chocolates there are no rights and wrongs as I’ve said before. You can pair chocolates and wines that share the same flavors like spicy, cherry, minty, etcetera or you can look for wines and chocolates that contrast each other. Whatever floats your boat really. 🙂

Here’s a list of what wines match up well with the different chocolates (remember this is not a definitive list and let your taste be your guide):

Bittersweet Chocolate (Dark chocolate with 70% to 100% cacao): These chocolates match up really well with a Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvigon, Cognac, Grenache, Malbec, Marsala, Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel, or a Tawny Port.

I find it really interesting to find that my favorite chocolate is Bittersweet Dark Chocolate with at least 70% cacao and my favorite wine at the moment is Merlot. Perfect matches and I didn’t even know anything about pairing the two before doing my research for this post. That’s why it’s important more than anything else to go with what you like and what works for you. You will innately know what matches up for you even if you don’t know how to justify it or describe it to someone else.

Semisweet Chocolate (Dark chocolate with 50% to 69% cacao): These chocolates match up with all the same wines as the Bittersweet chocolates above and the aftertaste will be balanced and not too sweet either.

Milk Chocolate: Milk chocolate has a higher percentage of sugar and a smaller percentage of chocolate liquor than the dark chocolates so the pairings are going to be a bit different.

Good pairings for milk chocolate are Muscat/Moscato, Tawny Port, as well as something called Mas Amiel Rouge & Vintage Blanc (I don’t know what those are so don’t ask 🙂 ). The best match for milk chocolate is said to be the Tawny Port but again try different wines and see what you like.

White Chocolate: White chocolate is my least favorite chocolate unless it’s from Switzerland because they know how to make it in my opinion. White chocolate is not really chocolate. It has no chocolate liquor. It is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk and in my opinion is just way too sweet to enjoy usually.

But if you like white chocolate good wine matches would be Champagne, Gerwurtztraminer, Mas Amiel Vintage Blanc, Muscat/Moscato, and a nice Riesling.

Chocolate with Coffee in it pairs well with Sherry.

Chocolate with fruit in it like chocolate covered cherries or dipped or glazed fruit goes really well with a nice Cabernet Sauvigon, a Mediera, a Merlot, or a Ruby Port.

Also any chocolate that has liqueur in it will pair really nice with its corresponding liqueur. Kind of the like attracts like concept though in my opinion that might be too much of the same thing but I’ll have to try it and let you know. Oh the things I do for you all. 🙂

So that’s the basics of it all. I hope it’s opened your eyes to the wonderful marriage of chocolate and wine and has given you the inspiration to get out there and find out what your favorite pairings are. When you do find some please feel free to comment below and let us know what great pairings you’ve found. You might just discover a combination that no one has thought of and I for one would love to try it too.

Also here’s a great short video, called appropriately enough “How to Pair Wine and Chocolate’ from About.com, to walk you through the whole wine and chocolate pairing journey.

Until next time enjoy yourself and experiment!