02 August 2013

The feta cheese recipe from the "Wine and Mediterranean Diet" Tasting

I am delighted this was so popular!

Here's what you need:

1 pound of Bulgarian feta -- it's cheaper than French or Greek and to my mind has the best flavor. Buy it in blocks at a cheesemonger and DO NOT USE those plastic containers of horrible crumbs of feta that supermarkets sell in the dairy aisle.

1/3 cup or more of extra-virgin olive oil; the cheese should be moist but not runny.

Zest of 2 lemons

2 or 3 gloves of garlic, chopped, hopefully not hideous Chinese garlic but New York State or New Jersey grown, but use what you have

2 or 3 branches' worth of rosemary leaves.

1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes, more to taste if you wish

A lot of freshly ground black pepper. You should grind enough that you hand should hurt.

Break the feta into smallish chunks. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and thoroughly blend with a wooden spoon or a very large fork, breaking up the bigger chunks of feta as you go. Cover, refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight or longer, shaking the bowl every so often. Serve with good South Philly style bread or plain crackers. Plan on making more than you think people will eat, because they will eat more. Watermelon or other sweet fruit makes a fine companion. The cheese will last in the icebox for quite some time.

NOTES: There are infinite variations here: for hotter cheese, use a teaspoon or more of your favorite hot sauce or Tabasco. For a funkier cheese, add a tablespoon of pickapeppa or Worchestershire sauce. A shallot or two, finely chopped, would add crunch. Make it vaguely Asian by using lime zest and oyster sauce. The herb could be thyme, sage, or basil.

11 July 2013

Quick wine reviews from the Jersey Shore

I am enjoying an extended stay in Avalon this month, which means I cook almost every night and there's always wine. Here's a quick review of the wines we've had so far.

Gilles Gelin Beaujolais Villages 2010 -- Everybody knows 2009 was perhaps the best Beaujolais vintage of our lifetimes, but 2010 was very close to it. Perhaps less rich fruit and more mineral body, which would be my preference anyway outside of the crus of Julienas and Chiroubles which to me should be about fruit first. This Villages is several cuts above the more commercial Villages, with deep mineral flavors supporting crushed black cherry and herbal flavors. Now to 2016. Served with marinated steaks.

Johann Peter Reinert Wawerner Ritterpfad Riesling Auslese halbtrocken 2011 -- If Donnhoff, based in the Nahe, are now my favorite German winemakers, Reinert, a Saar-based veteran, is right behind. This magic exilir, served with grilled scallops stuffed with basil and garlic, is a candidate for wine of the year. The Auslese means it's full-bodied, with an intense backbone of pure Riesling fruit, but the halbtrocken means it's more or less dry on the palate with a teasing of sweet petrol on the end. Every sip leaves you wanting more. Stunning now, but will last for decades.

Perhaps the finest rose being sold right now,  but the price creep to $19 is a bit of a concern. A pale, "onion skin" color with herbal notes of thyme and rosemary. Very refreshing and mouth-puckering, but not quite the equal of the 2011 (see below). Worth the price, but the value isn't what it used to be. Served with sausages. Drink now, or 2014.

NV Pol Roger Champagne -- Served with fireworks on the beach on July 4. My favorite non-vintage Champagne, endlessly rich, lovely mousse, acidity just right and frothy fun to celebrate a birthday!

2011 Chateau Revelette Coteaux d'Aix Provence Rose -- Leftover from last year, these four bottles were blown through at record speed with everything from shrimp remoulade to frankfurters to fish. I have been drinking this wine for several years now and the 2011 is the best vintage ever. Massive amounts of flowers and herbs on the nose, lovely strawberry, honeysuckle and tart raspberry fruit, vibrant acidity, a finish to remember. Drink with whatever you are eating. Could last three years. Won't at my house.

NV Hawk Haven "American Kestrel" White -- From a Cape May County winery. 80 percent chardonnay, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. The Chard is aged in stainless steel and therefore is crisp and clean, peachy; the Sauv is aged in French oak; creamy and complex. A fine blend, though 60/40 may been more to my taste. Serve this deeply cold; it refreshes very well and warns into something a bit more complex. Served with grilled chicken with spicy sauce, and held up vs. the intense sauce. $14 a fair price.

2012 Josef Leitz "Eins Zwei Dry Rheingau Riesling Trocken -- This is one of Germany's efforts to crack the international market for everyday table wine -- simpler label, under a screwcap, priced at $13. Leitz has a winner here. More alcoholic than many German rieslings at 12.5 percent from fully ripened grapes from the glorious south-facing wall of vines that is the Rheingau, it's full-bodied but still racy, the acidity balancing out the fruit. Long, intense finish. Johannes Leitz was named German winemaker of the year in 2011 and I can see why; he is innovative while respecting a family tradition that dates back to 1744. This is a terrific wine to serve to people who think all German Rieslings are sugar bombs. This can age, but will be just fine young and fresh.

27 April 2013

5 ways Montreal should be more like Philadelphia

These were harder than the reverse, I would say.

1) Ice is not a luxury item. It is infuriating watching Montreal bartenders and servers practically counting cubes individually for your drinks. Guys, get a nice big ice machine, eh?

2) As in most French-influenced cultures, a lot of restaurants and bars don't carry extensive selections of liquor; even Philadelphia dive bars have more. In Montreal, yes, they have Scotch - one kind. Gin? Beefeater. And Beefeater. And Beefeater (this was so at one of the fanciest places in the city). Montreal joints do have, delightfully, extensive selections of aperitifs, liqueurs, digestifs, fortified wine, and the like -- but liquor? Not so much. Four or five bottles of each major liquor would make Montreal bars and restaurants worlds better. This does not apply as much in Anglophone-area bars, btw.

3) Be polite in the Metro. Montrealers are pleasant, friendly people everywhere else, but I have never seen such rudeness and nastiness on a subway/Metro. New York is Courtesy Central compared to Montreal, and Philadelphia a paradise. I watched one man throw an old woman out of his way on the platform as he was getting OFF a train. Seats are not yielded to the elderly or disabled. People are shoved, slammed, and buffeted even when trains are not crowded. Surliness rules. Take the bus.

4) Get a chain of convenience stores such as Wawa that understands concepts such as "broom", "scrub" and "mop". Montreal brims over with "depanneurs", as they are called, but most are a mess and some are appallingly filthy. Wawa does clean very well, even if Philadelphia does not.

5) Make your train station special. Dowdy Central Station is pleasant enough, but feels like an Amtrak stop in a place like Fort Wayne or Omaha, not a cosmopolitan metropolis such as Montreal. Philadelphia's 30th Street Station makes a grand entrance to the city -- Montreal deserves one too.

26 April 2013

Five ways Philadelphia should be more like Montreal

There could be quite a few more, but let's stop at five. There will be a companion post to this one -- the reverse -- tomorrow.

1) A modern public transportation system, starting with an easy, convenient smart card. Subway cashiers who -- gasp -- sell the cards and -- yes -- make change! There's also plenty of machines that sell the cards in every station too. Most stations have a newsstand kiosk, too. At every bus stop a schedule is posted. Very visitor friendly.

2) An 18-year-old drinking age. If 18-year-olds can vote, buy a gun, and fight for the U.S.A. they can have a beer. It was a thrill for me to see 18-year-old kids in a jazz club enjoying the music, and they weren't sloshed or out of hand in the slightest. In fact, I was out every night for eight days and did not see drunken younger kids. No reason this couldn't be in Philadelphia too.

3) Related to 2), selling beer and wine in convenience stores. Convenience stores don't sell Chateau Latour, to be sure, but most offered at least drinkable stuff, and were open until midnight for booze. The beer selections varied; lots of Molson and Labatt's everywhere but some had excellent craft beer lineups.

4) Stay open later. On weeknights Montreal restaurants are still humming at 10, 10:30, even 11, which is almost incomprehensible in Philadelphia. Montreal is a later city than Philadelphia -- bar time is 3 a.m. in theory but many places run later -- but if you're not open, people can't come. I think 11 p.m. should be a minimum closing times.

5) Free museums. The main art museum in Montreal is free. So are several smaller ones. Meanwhile in Philadelphia the Philadelphia Art Museum charges hefty fees while the Barnes is jacking up its entrance to $22 (so much for Dr. Barnes' idea that art should be available to the common man). Art is part of our heritage as human beings, and it should be available to all free or at very low tariffs.

25 April 2013

Brad's Montreal/New York Odyssey -- Days Nine and Ten

Said goodbye to my hotel, where I would happily stay again, though my advice would be to skip the "free" breakfast, which was dreadful (tasteless croissants, awful coffee, third-rate orange juice) and not worth the price. Much better to walk 10 minutes to Brulerie St. Denis for the best cafe au lait I have ever had.
To Central Station for the train back to New York. VIA has men to help with baggage, the station is roomy and pleasant -- so much better the third-level-of-hell that is Penn Station in New York.
The ride back is long, but lovely scenery along Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. I saw a huge wild turkey strutting serenely in a field near Fort Ticonderoga. I can't imagine a better train for scenery east of the Mississippi.
Amtrak uses old Amfleet I coaches on the Adirondack, which are weary and tired (the carpeting in the cars is badly worn) but quite comfortable. The car was about half full and I was able to stretch out. U.S. customs was no more annoying than usual.
Amtrak sometimes gets a bad rap for indifferent service, but on this train both the train crew and the cafe car attendant were friendly, witty and helpful. Amtrak's cafe-car food is awful -- its dining car food can be good, though -- but then again the food is dreadful on FRENCH trains, so maybe Amtrak gets a pass.
I only need the beverages from the cafe car, though, which are OK (even the coffee is acceptable, if barely so) because I have a picnic packed of raw-milk cheeses, hot Quebecois sausage and crackers. The Langres, from Champagne, was stinky and runny and gooey and yuuuuuuumy. Also had well-aged Prince Edward Island cheddar, a wonderful Camembert, a ripe St. Marcellin and perfect Pont L'Eveque.
Due to Canadian Pacific track work we were about 20 minutes late into New York, but so what, I got more reading done. Cab to my hotel, The Jane, along the Hudson in the Village and chill for a bit before a short walk for dinner at the Corner Bistro.
The Bistro, one of the last old landmarks of the pre-zillionaire West Village left, is slightly misnamed; it's a dive bar with a cool neon sign, cheap booze, an ancient and sagging wooden bar, a jukebox packed with jazz and blues and a menu that offers chili, grilled cheese, a grilled chicken sandwich (which in 20 years of drinking there I think I have seen one person order), french fries, and burgers.
Dinner at the Bistro is an easy call: a bowl of chili, meaty in a rich stewish broth, topped with onions and cheese and best with about 6 serious jolts of Tabasco, followed by the Bistro Burger, which you want medium rare. It comes with lettuce, onions, tomato, cheese and bacon and is the best burger you will ever have. Period. I like extra onion on mine. I'd skip the fries, though they can be good later to soak up booze. They have wine, which I wouldn't order.
Wash it all down with a mug of McSorley's Dark Ale, have a Bushmills for an after-dinner drink and you have not spent $25. This would be a deal anywhere, but in Manhattan it is an epochal, epic bargain.
It helps that the place is often full of oddball Village characters, and the bartenders are classy, clever, fast and characters themselves; one is a playwright and actor, another a superb photographer who has had gallery shows of his work.
The Bistro is open until 4 a.m. every night, no matter what, and the kitchen closes at 3:30 a.m.
Manhattan has been Disneyified, gentrified and transformed by staggering amounts of money into a playground for the world's wealthy, but if you look the old Manhattan is hanging on in a place or two. The Bistro is as old-Manhattan as you can get.
Next day, sleep late and decide to have breakfast at the Cafe Gitane in my hotel before going to an art exhibit.
The cafe tries for, and pretty well hits, a French Mediterranean vibe. High ceilings, lazy ceiling fans, walls painted in soft-pastel washes, big windows, lots of sunshine. A gleaming and glistening full bar is attractive. A neat place to sit and while some time away.
Breakfast was very good. I had a carrot salad, grated carrots in olive oil, orange juice and mint, that, topped with fresh pepper, I could have eaten a huge bowl of by itself. Main was three eggs baked in tomato and basil and topped with grilled merguez sausage, a tasty combo though the sausage was a bit overcooked. Cappuccino was fine, and my Ricard pastis - a necessity in such an environment, which may as well have been Marseilles, if a rich neighborhood there, was served absolutely perfectly, in a Ricard glass with clear ice cubes in a small basket and water on the side in an adorable yellow Ricard-branded pot. This was the best Ricard service ever outside of France. Service in general was friendly if a bit languid; there's another Cafe Gitane in NoLita but the Jane location is far superior.
Off to the Asia Society for a terrific and highly-recommended exhibit of 17th century Chinese painting - running through 2 June; a real eye-opener for me about Chinese art, which I know little about. Also enjoyed an exhibition of statues and pottery from their permanent collection.
To Grand Central via cattle-car No. 6 train for lunch at -- where else? -- the Oyster Bar. The name tells you what to eat there: the raw bar, stews and panroasts; the fancier seafood is probably to be avoided.
A dozen perfect oysters - Cotuits and Martha's Vineyards from Massachusetts, Blueberry Points from Prince Edward Island and East Beach Blondes from Rhode Island, which is where, I must say, my favorite oysters, briny and richly flavorful, are coming from these days.
Unfortunately, the glass of Sancerre I chose to drink with the oysters - Domaine Fournier 2011 - was a dud. Sancerre goes with oysters because of its flinty minerality but this example was far too sweet and lacked any acidity. Very poor, and surprising at the Oyster Bar, where the wine program is outstanding. Stick with Muscadet or Chablis there.
Ran an errand or two then off to Carnegie Hall for the Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann delivering a marvelous Bruckner 8th Symphony. Finished up with a late dinner at the Bistro, same as the previous night, then drive out of Manhattan and back to the real after a glorious vacation. Sigh.

Corner Bistro, 331 W. 4th St., New York. 212-242-9502. Open until 4 a.m. daily, kitchen closes at 3:30 a.m.

Cafe Gitane at the Jane Hotel, 113 Jane St., New York. 212-255-4143. Open 7 a.m.-midnight, until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, 89 E. 42nd St., New York. 212-490-6650. Open 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon-Saturday.