Once upon a time in Texas, there was a girl with an appetite and a dream...


Weekly Wino: Oh What a Night

A trip to Uncle Ace's is always a pleasure for Jeremy and me, where we are taken care of, cooked for, and forced to drink wine from the rich cellar of our mutual friend. We are more than happy to help him whittle down his supply of old wine, a worthy sacrifice for the guy who has affected such positive change in both of our lives.

After my workday was over, DoBianchi and I made the quick trek up I-35 with visions of 1968 Conterno Monfortino Riserva dancing in our heads. We were greeted by our (Galeotto) Alfonso and his SO Kim. Arriving at dinnertime, Kim had made a lovely little antipasto of herbed chevre on baby endive and paired with Loimer "Kamptal" Gruner Veltliner.

The chevre-y goodness paired perfectly with the dancing minerality of the Gruner.

The menu would be local, grass-fed T-bones and veggies to support the 1986 Mouton and star-of-the-night 1968 Barolo Monfortino by Giacomo Conterno. Despite the champion and expert effort of our very own sommy-somm Jeremy, the cork broke. I cannot imagine anyone getting that thing out intact.

No matter! There was no cork a-floatin' in my glass.

If you look at the label closely, you will see that it was aged in botti (huge neutral-wood vats) for a full decade before it was bottled. This wine was taken care of, raised with a loving hand, and left to nap peacefully in Alfonso's cellar.

This wine...aaahhhh. This wine...makes me go all wistful. It had that old Nebbiolo nose of cedar/sandalwood/suede with a hint of moist, leafy underbrush. If there were a to-do list for the expression tertiary aromas, we would have checked every one.

What no one expected was the acidity. This wine was ALIVE and not in the way that a forty year-old wine can be--explosion of taste and smell, only to burn out with an ephemeral last gasp--it HUNG OUT. It was in for the party and if we hadn't drained it in less than an hour, it would have drunk us under the table in a no-country-for-old-farts kind of way.

This Barolo had LIFE and it had umami. I don't want to give more specific tasting notes because what was special was how this wine made us feel, transcending the material and bringing us into a soulful flex of admiration. I felt surprise, appreciation, lovely yummy, in the moment, in the glass, in love, in a state of being that was...together.

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Pastasciutta Part 2: La Cottura

Click here for Part 1.

La Cottura in Italian refers to "how you cook the pasta." Jeremy (my very own highly-paid Italian language expert) explained to me that there is no direct translation, when I asked him if there were another way to define this word without using an entire English phrase.

But there is no direct or "slavish" translation for this second important element in making a great plate of pasta. Much more simple, at the same time much easier to err, than it would seem.

The simplicity (and difficulty) in all of this is twofold.

1. Salting the water
2. Duration of boiling

For the first, many a cookbook would have you egregiously underseason your water. I use the word "season" because how you flavor the water translates to flavor enhancement of the pasta itself. In Italy, we can eat a fantastic primo piatto, but recreating that glory once home can leave even the best home cook scratching her head, wondering why she can't get that same intangible...umph.

One thing that I have seen over and over in my years in Italy is a generous flow of salt into the boiling pot. Taste your water; it should be just a bit less salty than the sea. This may seem like an exaggeration but I promise it will take the pasta itself from being a neutral vessel for the exaltation of your best sauce to a supporting role that takes the whole show over the top.

Second, please don't overcook your pasta. I said PLEASE DO NOT NOT NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA! Did you hear me? Chewing on slightly undercooked pasta is preferable to the awful sensation of a rigatone that gives up too easily under the pressure of your teeth.

Besides the flavor of your sauce, you should really be enjoying a well seasoned spaghetto with the pleasant tactile sensation of pasta that is perfectly al dente. You want to feel, taste, and smell its presence underlining the fabulosity of your perfect ragu'.

To achieve this effortlessly, read the cooking time on your box of high quality dried pasta (remember lesson 1?) and drain it about 2 minutes short. There will be carry-over cooking as well as a bit more time in the pan with the condiment. (Please tell me that you stir your pasta in the pan with the sauce! Also important--must meld.)

Tell your guests to sit down and dig in when the plate hits the table because, honey, zee pasta waits-a for a-nobody!

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Call Me Crazy

But living in the Garden of Eatin' that was Italy didn't exorcise the taco-loving Texana out of me. Even the clams couldn't eclipse the burning in my heart that was my love for Mexican (Texican) food.

I always make nachos/quesadillas/tacos at home. I have convinced myself that I can make them healthy without a hint less of flavor, which is important because my metabolism cooperates less every day closer I get to 34. What I do is make a filling/topping that is versatile and, being forced to confess, I would say damn good.

My DoBianchi has asked me to post a recipe, inspired by our ritual equation of American Idol+nachos=love. I will do no such thing, as I am too willy-nilly with my filling to be precise, but I will tell you what I do and maybe you can too:

*One pound, maybe a bit more, of ground turkey or chicken breast. (HINT: when you can find it, ground chicken breast is quite a bit cheaper.)

*4-5 T of Chili powder, not the authentic New Mexican kind, but that Americanized spice mix. I like Fiesta...it's fancy.

*1 can of drained and rinsed (rinse please!) black beans. I like Progresso and Goya.

*Handful of frozen corn, fresh if you find yourself in the midst of Summer.

*A bunch of fresh baby spinach

*As much cilantro as you can stand to wash and cut, the more the better!

*2-3 limes, depending how juicy they are

*1 minced garlic clove and maybe 1/2 cup of finely diced onion.

1. Put the onion in a heated (mediumish) pan coated with olive oil, saute 5 minutes and add garlic until it becomes fragrant.
2. Add the bulk of the chili powder and stir with onion, garlic, and oil.
3. Add spinach and cook, and this is important, until the water is gone. Add ground meat and brown, putting the balance of chili powder in the mix.
4. Now that the meat is cooked, season to taste with salt and pepper, adding more chili powder if you're not feeling it.
5. Now it's time for the corn, stir it in until it's heated and seasoned. FOLD in the black beans, letting the spices penetrate without breaking them into mush.
NOTE: At this point, you want the mix to be free of running liquid, but not totally dry.
6. Take the pan off of the heat and go crazy with the lime juice and cilantro. Crazy! The lime juice is the secret that totally takes this over the top.

If you're making nachos, top some chips with the filling, low-fat refrieds too should you choose, and a moderate amount of ColbyJack cheese. (I SO know we're not Mexican anymore, but it's "inspired.") Throw them in the oven, melt, and top them with shredded cabbage and more cilantro. The cabbage is delicious, crunchy, and much more nutritious than mere lettuce.

Jeremy and I LOVE Herdez ranchera salsa. Goes great on top of the nachos!

If you make a little more of the mix, you'll have it on hand in the fridge to make quesadillas, tacos, or tostadas at will.

Whew! For all of my hard work, Jeremy surprised me with a bottle of Tempier Rose' (seems to be another emerging pattern, next week Tempier Blanc?), and you can read his thoughts here. It was lovely, very much in the same way as its Rouge sibling that I wrote about two weeks ago, but it's his turn, so go read it please.

My poor guy has to eat this at least on a weekly basis, constantly reminded by the leftovers, but he's still hangin' around so I guess our resident DoBianchi is a sucker for punishment! Who knew?

Now go get your Mex on! And feel good about it.

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As if I weren't impressed before...

...our Jeremy P (DoBianchi) dun' wrote him a book! Well, he translated it for Princeton Press. Can we get a big fat auguri? This Texana is so proud!

I mean, it's kind of a big deal :)


Blogication: To My Jeremy P

I must interrupt the regular programming to post a pic of my sweety and me. I have to say that this has been the best part about coming home and a confirmation that I do have a bit of sense...

Thank you for coming to Austin DoBianchi! You've made life even sweeter :)


Weekly Wino: Tempo per Tempier? Indeed.

I'll admit to being very excited about American Idol, but awkward performances and triumphant surprises made for a splendid evening over a glass of Tempier Bandol. My very own DoBianchi, was recently braggety-bragging about having drunk the famous Tempier Rose' that I have yet to taste. In his wisdom, to avoid seeing me take a long walk down pout street, my guy hastily opened a bottle the '05 Bandol Rouge last night.

Please visit here to git yerself a-learnin' about the Bandol appellation. I will not torture you with my clumsy and perfunctory version of history and percentages when my rested fingers can point you elsewhere. I'll just tell you that this Provencal beauty is mostly Mourvedre with some Cinsault, perhaps some other usual suspects. Maybe someone out there knows the recipe...? The Google gods granted me no such tech sheet in an admittedly brief search this morning.

I brought two cheeses home from Mandola's. The first was a Chevre, the second a Pecorino Sardo. I fully expected the former to pair with the aperitivo of bubbles and the latter with the Tempier. Instead, this wine seemed strong but SO delicate that the Pecorino overwhelmed it. The Chevre was, suprisingly, the perfect partner.

Who knew?

Aahh, now to the good stuff. The nose gave hints of earth and tar, supported by an undercurrent of black cherry liquorice. On top of the crust and the filling were sprinkles of anise, lavender, cedar, and eucalyptus. But what was new and MEMORABLE about this wine was the velvet softness that reminds me of the fresh, cool stroke of talcum powder on a warm summer day. It made my mouth water in the same way that natural minerality usually does, but this was not made of salt or stone, it was Baby Soft.

I could barely tear my nose away.

So when the performances were sub par, I retreated into my glass of babies and spice, thankful to Kermit Lynch for deliverance.

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