Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Martini Rosso Vermouth

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An old favourite - this was my downfall in university, that one fateful term that knocked me to my knees (academically speaking). Vermouth is fun. And satisfying. Just add ice, clink it a bit in the glass, and say with your sexiest faux Italian accent, Martini?

I finished the bottle in one go. Yeah, this is a terrific drink for when you want to race to intoxication. I tried to get a bit fancy, and mix in some orange juice - bottom photo shows why it was a bad idea. Tastes good, looks like used toilet water. Oops.

DF

Poised

Evenly, evenly, evenly

Being a good cook is difficult. To be in the right moment, to be precise, to understand that balance overrides all else. To understand that sometimes the most important things you do aren't always shown prominently on the plate.

I hope to be a good cook. Someday.

DF

Monday, August 30, 2010

2008 Alsace

2008 Jean Geil Riesling

2008 Jean Geiler Riesling Lieu-dit Sonnenburg, AC Alsace

You know, for an inexpensive Alsatian riesling bottled under a composite cork, this is a surprisingly good wine. Very good in fact, one of the most enjoyable bottles of Alsace wine I've drank in many, many months. And a single-vineyard bottling as well!

Just very pleasantly surprised at the delicious tropical fruit character, the mineral elements, creamy texture . . . this is a good one. High acid, helping it to hold on well even on its third day. Very, very delicious indeed. Complete, balanced - I thought I could never really love a dry riesling, after all my rhapsodizing about Mosel, but if more Alsatian wines are made like this, then yes, I'm going to keep an open mind.

DF

SiChuan MaLa poached fish

Sichuan style poached fish

A thing of beauty, no?

DF

Dip into the water

Sprouts in

Fish in

Time to drop the fish into our broth. First though, the sprouts, to layer the bottom. Quickly then, the fish goes next. Heat management, right? Right??!! Now, why do I sear the fish? One, to maintain texture and prevent it from breaking up. Two, so that it cooks faster in the broth, preventing the sprouts from overcooking. Watch everything like a hawk because as soon as it cooks, take everything off the heat, and feast!

DF

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fiery

Spice

Heating the spice

This is the base for the broth we poach the fish in. A very intense reduced sauce with loads of chili peppers, peppercorns, and puréed garlic, among other things. I quickly heated it up with some finely minced fresh garlic, before dumping it into boiling water. And then the magic began . . .

DF

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sliced and in the pan

Basa fish

Searing basa fish

I like my fish to be sliced thinly, almost as if I was preparing it for sashimi. The firm meat of the basa fish makes it somewhat difficult, as my heavy chef's knife isn't the most appropriate knife for such delicate work. But, I managed. You have to roll the pieces lightly in corn starch, to make sure that it doesn't stick once it goes into the pan. Lightly sear, to firm the outsides - the real cooking is done in the broth. I was really careful not to overdo it - the key isn't so much to give it colour as it is to firm up the fish, so as to avoid it from breaking up in the pot.

DF

Sprouts

Sprouts

Soybean sprouts, which I've always enjoyed eating. Firm, crunchy stalks, and the lovely beans on top that lends itself well to a variety of different dishes. This was going to make up the bottom layer of our poached fish. A major issue I have with eating this in restaurants is the improper cleaning and prep work. The stalks have a single root at the end, that must be snapped off. These also cook quickly, so the key is to make sure that the texture is not ruined by overzealous heat.

DF

Basa

Basa fish

Basa fish, which I like using for a Sichuan poached fish dish. Firm meat, which helps it hold onto its texture and flavour well in the chili peppers and peppercorns that give this kind of cuisine it's intense spicy and numbing characteristics.

DF

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pig ear

Pig ear

Food to me is all about texture. The wrong texture will destroy a dish, regardless of flavour. Which is why I love cartilage so much. Any kind of cartilage, from any animal - I love it. These are pig ears, a dish that my mother used to make for me when I was a child. Delicious, and my kind of comfort food. Clean the ears, slice thinly, sauté and simmer with oyster sauce, green onion, ginger, and fresh chili peppers. So, so, so delicious, just all love. Stays beautifully firm with that mind-blowing crunch of the cartilage . . . as arousing as food gets.

DF

Blue crab

Pan-fried crab

Moving on. With blue crab about to come into season, we bought a few over the weekend. This is a very traditional Shanghainese dish - clean and quarter the crabs, lightly dust the meat side in flour, and sear in vegetable oil. Once the meat sets, sauté with green onion and ginger, adding in a touch of soy sauce and love. If the crabs are beautiful, this dish is full of savoury flavours and delicate textures.

DF

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Snatched

Profile

Fuck. I got robbed today.

My gym locker was broken into, and someone is the proud new owner of both my credit cards and my new iPod Touch. I sure hope you're proud of yourself. The police are on their way to my house right now - we know that you've charged one of the cards, and yeah, they're coming for you.

And the best part about this story, the real winner? The store that he decided to visit, to purchase something with my money? A Wal-Mart in Scarborough, where he rang up two $400 gift certificates. Pretty pathetic for a grown man, to want to steal someone's mp3 player just for what, a cheap thrill?

I came home really upset, but, I have a great weekend lined up, and I have a glass of old Rheingau riesling in my hand. Sipping on gold nectar, and reminded that if humans are capable of producing these stunning wines out of rock and gnarly vine, then people must still be good. Generally speaking.

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Blogger's note:

And it just keeps on getting better. This imbecile not only made a beeline for Wal-Mart, he also charged $800 at Le Chateau. You have great taste. Why not drop by the food court for fried chicken and a coke while you were at it?

DF

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lobster porridge

Lobster porridge

Being Shanghainese means being good with money, and knowing that you spend a dollar like it's two. So, in the spirit of frugality, while still being true to flavour, we didn't waste the lobster shells. We simmered everything hard to create a stock, then stirred in leftover rice to make the most amazingly flavoursome porridge. So delicious I was left wanting for more.

DF

Boil, then peel

Reddish

First things first . . . I just saw my first police takedown. I was driving in the north part of Toronto, in the financial district, when I saw 3 squad cars racing around an intersection. I heard tires squeal, as if someone was braking very hard. Then, to my utter shock, I see the officers jump out, guns drawn. Wow. They had cornered a white sedan in, from all sides and were yelling at the driver to get out. As I slowly drive pass the intersection, I see them drag the guy out, kneeing him on the ground and putting cuffs on. He was wearing white sneakers.

Wow. Well done. I didn't know Toronto police were like that - that was totally like a cop show. Clean, precise, and very, very fast. I'm just glad no one decided to start shooting.

Right, so we've been eating a lot of lobster recently. In the spirit of summer, clean flavours, and minimal manipulation, all we do is boil them, peel them, then devour them with a rice vinegar sauce. I've discovered that nothing satisfies a monster hunger quite like lobster. Delicious. Wait until you see what we did with the shells.

DF

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Aroma kits

Le Nez, Courvoisier

The power of suggestion is, well, a powerful thing. If someone tells you to sniff for a certain aroma in any wine, chances are you're going to smell it, or convince yourself that you do. We got these kits at the Courvoisier Exclusif event (search for it on the top left corner), and our host used it in her cognac tasting presentation. Everyone sniffed the vials of extract, as the cognac bouquet was supposed to contain each aroma.

An interesting presentation, but do these kits really work? They sell the same thing for wine - dozens of vials, containing what are supposedly the most common aromas of every major grape varietal. I think this is symptomatic of a wine drinking culture that places the identification of specific aroma descriptors as the height of connoisseurship. That is a mistake. Identifying 12 different pantry ingredients in a perfectly good Chablis does an incredible injustice to wine. Wine isn't just a collection of independent aroma compounds, it's a complex drink that engages eyes, nose, and palate - reducing it to a cocktail of individual smells and tastes is a very one-dimensional way to experience wine. And yes, if you smell an incredibly extracted sample of any aroma, chances are your mind will convince you that that same smell is contained in the wine.

There has to be a better way to approach wine writing and how we talk about wine. Yeah, I'm working on it.

DF

2008 Terre di Chieti

2008 Riseis Pecorino

2008 Agriverde Riseis Pecorino, IGT Terre di Chieti

So every wine drinker who thinks they have somewhat of a palate is wailing on the values of indigenous Italian whites. Pecorino certainly fits that bill - no one's heard of it, it's hard to find, and I'm pretty sure no one genuinely likes drinking it.

Kidding. I bought this wine as sort of an intellectual exercise, to at least say that, yes, I've tasted a pecorino. Not surprisingly delicious like an assyrtiko, or even an insolia wine, but certainly interesting. An Italian wine through and through - there's an absolute lack of any fruit. Greenish, straw-ish, rustic like nothing else. Holds up well over 3 days, good texture. But did I enjoy drinking it? Intellectually, yes. Sensually . . . well, at least it was interesting. You know what always works though? Ice cold Havana Club white rum.

DF

Monday, August 23, 2010

Plating pasta

Basil on

Sauce on

Now, for the finishing touches on a fresh pasta for summer. Cook your noodles al dente, of course, and drizzle with olive oil. Layer a few leaves of fresh basil. Top with your sauce, relying on its heat to gently cook the basil and take off some of that overt herbaceous character. So fresh, so delicious.

DF

Fresh, clean

Sweating

Bright red

I like eating clean foods. Clean flavours, clean textures, all fresh. What better in the summer than a fresh tomato sauce on whole wheat pasta? Sweat down your onions and garlic, add fresh celery and tomato (straight from a friend's garden), and that's it.

DF

Sunday, August 22, 2010

So fresh, so clean

Photo on 2010-08-22 at 14.46 #2

I shaved my head. For the last time this year? It kind of looks patchy at the back. Another problem with not being rich and getting this kind of stuff done professionally on a weekly basis. Don't look at the back of my head!

DF

Shining for DF

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I have this unnatural addiction to washing my car. Gojira, being a shiny black, gets dirty easily. And it's my job to make sure she shines. What doesn't fit in, on the bottom photo? You have the American car industry's contribution to global warming, the Suburban, a shit-tastic Hyundai, Gojira, and . . . a bright blue Bentley Continental GT? In my neighbourhood? Really dude?? And you're going to just leave her out there in the rain and wind and dirt??!!

DF

New toys

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Junor's wins every time. A little gem, hidden in Toronto's Bayview Village, it has every single kitchen gadget a cook could want. Whatever Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, or any other top brand kitchen store doesn't have, Junor's will have.

I needed a funnel, for wine (naturally). Yes, I had a decanting funnel already, but for double decanting purposes, you need a regular funnel as the little holes in the bottom in a decanting one doesn't release the wine quick enough, forcing the liquid up the bottle neck. The mess is one thing - it's quite another blow to the dignity when I have to bend over and slurp up every precious drop of wine off the table.

After a lot of running around, I finally found it. Should have trusted Junor's to come through from the beginning. A beautiful stainless steel decanter, making all my double decanting wishes come true.

DF

Saturday, August 21, 2010

All love

Basil

Oh basil, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love your colour . . . I love your sensual shape . . . I love your aroma . . . I love your silky texture . . . I love you raw . . . I love you cooked . . . I love you in Chinese cooking . . . I love you in all cooking.

Oh basil, you complete me.

DF

Friday, August 20, 2010

Yixing clay teapot

Yixing clay teapot

Yixing clay teapot

One of my uncles is from Yixing, in Jiangsu province. This area is famous, most of all, for their clay teapots. Why? Because the terroir here, namely the clay, is perfectly suited to making these fabulous teapots. What makes this marriage a fateful match is not only the fact that the clay holds heat well, and is especially conducive to shaping and etching paintings and calligraphy - it is also porous enough for the tea to infuse into its walls, and subsequently make your brews taste better and better with age.

He gave me this teapot, during my trip back this April. Very elaborately decorated. I'm still in the process of seasoning the teapot, making sure that a layer of tea extract develops on the inside walls. Four months in, I'm making some progress, but much more brewing needs to be done. I'll keep you posted.

DF

Thursday, August 19, 2010

2009 Lössterrassen

2009 Stadt Krems Grüner Veltliner

2009 Stadt Krems Lössterrassen Grüner Veltliner, Austria

Here we go, another Austrian in the glass. Double decanted, this is so young that it's still fizzy. Bottled under Stelvin . . . should I be worried? Nah. What did worry me was the wine being devoid of varietal character, regional character - matter of fact, any kind of character at all. Am I taking a cudgel to an infant? Perhaps. But the Austrians can do better.

DF

Diamonds in the glass

Wine crystals

I shouldn't be doing this - I shouldn't be writing tutorial type pieces because I'm neither qualified nor boring enough to do so. But I'm going to do so here. Wine crystals, or diamonds, form in some white wines, especially ones with high levels of acid. At extremely low temperatures, during production or during bottle aging, the tartaric acid in the wine crystallizes and yes, you have wine diamonds. They are completely harmless - just don't drink them. Probably a sign of good wine, in fact - at least you know that you have good levels of acidity. And you know how I feel about low acid wines . . .

DF

On the floor

A good night

This is how you know it's been a good night. Empty bottles, corks everywhere, overcome on the floor. Good night.

DF

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Teaming up

Dream team

Your turn

Flip without breaking

Girl's an intense cook

These are the last few photos. I promise. It's not as awful as it sounds, but I put my dinner guests to work. If you haven't already heard of her, you should. My rockstar friend LucyP, and her blog, Le Petit Somme. Because you need to be this intense to be a good cook.

DF

Pick up the tongs, your turn

Season well

Follow me

Get some colour on them

Dream team, plating

I recruited a friend to help me cook my last dinner. Because DF loses all sense of cool when he's frantic in the kitchen.

She did a great job. The fish soup, perfectly rich and milky. Striped bass fillets, seared beautifully. Porgy, packed tight with delight. And for the finale, the octopus was ably seared and sautéed. Well done. Really well done. Took some pressure off my shoulders, and I was able to relax a bit more (for a change) during dinner.

Many thanks. And I'll have your apron and towel washed and pressed for next time. You see that bracelet? Glamorous.

DF

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And he wants to know what you think

Have a taste

And he wants to know what you think

This right here is the look. It's a look that my piano students know well. It's also one that my regular dinner companions have often seen.

DF wants to know what you think. Oh yes, drink my wine. But in return, I demand complete honesty about what you feel about the food and wine. And no, it's good/bad, is not an acceptable response.

When my friends ask me what to bring over for dinner, I always say, an appetite. Maybe I do want something a bit more from you . . . that is your bill for the evening.

DF

Before the heat is on

Hard at work

The most important step, I feel, when I'm cooking is the prep work that goes in beforehand. What you do before the guests arrive, before the wines are poured, and before any kind of heat is applied, is absolutely critical to how the meal is going to turn out. Oh yes, the washing, the knifework, the organizing of all your ingredients on the counter - all that matters much more than working the stove and oven.

Like all good and fine things, it's the details that aren't immediately noticed that make the difference between a passable meal and a memorable one. Cooking's the easy part - it's just the correct application of heat, no?

DF

Monday, August 16, 2010

2006 Mosel

2006 Dr. Hermann Riesling Spätlese

2006 Dr. Hermann Riesling Spätlese, QmP Erdner Treppchen, Mosel

Yes, finally, we get to the last wine of the five bottles opened for Rieslingfest. I was looking forward to this one, what I hoped was a textbook example of what young Mosel wines can deliver. Rich honey and fruit, with a certain muskiness underlining everything. Very sweet on the palate, its youthful exuberance unsettled and callow. Lacking acidity as well - just doesn't have the pop or energy of a 2007, or even many of the 2008 Mosel's I've been drinking. We'll see. This is still a very, very young spätlesen wine.

Opinion amongst my dinner guests were more in agreement - too sweet. I would agree, but for different reasons. I don't have a problem with the amount of residual sugar in the wine - the only issue is the utter lack of acid, which would undeniably help balance the wine, lending it more intensity, focus, and energy. A Mosel wine without tension plays like limp guitar strings - disagreeable to the palate, and to good sense.

But still drinkable. Come on, you know me better than that - I will never scorn a German riesling, ever. I finished the bottle after my guests left - I had given up trying to clean up everything, leaving it for the next day. Slept late (or early, depending on your perspective), very full, very drunk, and very satisfied. Rieslingfest, done.

DF

2008 Mosel

2008 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling

2008 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling, QbA Mosel

The fourth wine of Rieslingfest, moving onto the Mosel to provide a foil to our older Rheingau rieslings. A simple estate level bottling, a very young wine. It certainly drinks very young, but develops into something quite interesting. All ripe fruit at first, with a certain oily minerality. Over a few hours, diesel fumes just start roaring out of the wine - pungent, belligerent diesel and petrol. Not unappetizing, but maybe not what I want out of a Mosel.

Opinions around the table were varied. An interesting wine, to provide another point of reference in our experience with Mosel wines. I finished the wine after my guests left, and I think this was the wine that did me in. More on my (inevitable) hangover, next.

DF

Sunday, August 15, 2010

1991 Rheingau

1991 Schloss Schönborn Riesling Spätlese

1991 Schloss Schönborn Riesling Spätlese, QmP Hochheimer Domdechaney, Rheingau

Leapfrogging back in time by a decade, we come to the final wine of our trio from this estate, for Rieslingfest. The 1991 riesling spätlese, single-vineyard - I've been holding onto this wine for a few years, and my hands were shaking in excitement as I drew out the surprisingly clean, intact cork. Hats off to this producer - all 3 corks were in pristine condition, a testament to their great cellar.

With a deeply golden colour, the bouquet just sings of what mature Rheingau rieslings can achieve - ripe citrus fruit, oily, creamy, and with just the most linear minerality. Rich in the mouth, but very vigorous and lively, belying its almost 20 years of age. The palate is just so balanced, with high levels of extract and what seems like crunchy acidity on the finish. Complex, delicious, and long - with our cured hams and then octopus, a dream.

Clearly the finest wine of the evening, and my favourite. Sadly, I have but one bottle left. Mosel wines embrace more of my heart and intellect, but these old, perfectly mature Rheingau's (like Victoria Secret's Candice Swanepoel, like my neighbour's Bentley Continental) are absolutely irresistable.

DF

2001 Rheingau

2001 Schloss Schönborn Riesling

2001 Schloss Schönborn Riesling, QbA Rheingau

Second wine of the night for Rieslingfest, and we're going a bit forward in time to 2001. This wine shows much more age, with a darker colour, shimmering gold. Riper on the bouquet, lots of lanolin cream minerality, honey - palate is rich, with lots of sweetness and stewed fruits. Softening acidity, but this wine is just delicious right now. A very textural wine, great length.

The general consensus around the table was that this was a bit too sweet for everyone's taste. I thought it remained balanced - rich, yes, but with good extract and acid. Drunk with the striped bass soup and seared fillets, just sublime, the fish helping to temper down the residual sugar.

DF