Thursday, December 31, 2009

HAPPY NEW YEAR! No Matter How You Say It!

Happy New Year! Bonne Année! Felice Anno Nuovo! Feliz Año Nuevo! Shana Tova! Ein glückliches neues Jahr! La Multi Ani si Un An Nou Fericit! Xin nian yu kuai! Sehe Bokmanee Bateuseyo! Selamat Tahun Baru! Voorspoedige nuwe jaar! Gott Nytt År! Kul 'am wa antum bikhair! Gelukkig nieuwjaar! Hauoli Makahiki hou! Eutychismenos o kainourgios chronos! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! Onnellista uutta vuotta!

Best wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Olio Nuovo 2009: Mascio from Umbria

For many years now my family has enjoyed the Christmas tradition of having an Extra Virgin olive oil from the recent harvest. As the Italians would say, "Olio Nuovo/Novello.” Most years the new oil shared at our table is from either Italy or California. Many times the annual oil was one that I had participated in or at least witnessed the production in the mill. The aggressive grassy aromas hurl me instantly back to the memorable day of those pressings. Being in the mill during the harvest is truly magical. I strongly recommend the experience.

This year was no different. In early December I placed my order with a California source for two bottles of olio nuovo. Unfortunately, they have not arrived.

Not to worry, good fortune is coming my way. Yesterday morning I was scrambling to pack the car for the eight hour drive from Washington, DC to Kentucky to spend the holidays with my family. As I was about to embark on my journey, Mary, who manages the front desk during the day at my building, yelled, “Mr. Sanders, WAIT! I have a package for you.” After looking around for my father (nobody calls me Mister), I did what any gift loving mortal would do, I stopped. As I turned to Mary, she was holding a medium size box. To my surprise the sender address was from Italy. I had forgotten that Gioia Pinna, who with Giuseppe Giancalini, owns Agricola Mascio Farm (, located in the small picturesque village of Trevi in the Italian region of Umbria, was sending samples of her two olive oils for me to taste. So, with a “Joy to the World” smile, I wrapped the box in swaddling cloth and laid it in the trunk of my the car and sailed off through the blowing snow and tractor trailer rigs of western Maryland and West Virginia. Please note this is following 20” inches of snow from the weekend.

After the arduous drive and some semi-restful sleep, I bounce out of bed with my eyes all aglow and rushed to open this early Christmas treasure. Voila! There was one bottle each of Mascio's “Principe di Mascio” and ‘Gioio di Trevi” from the 2009 harvest. OLIO NUOVO! There was also a small bottle of 2008 Gioia for comparison purposes. The classic Italian varietals Moraiolo (80%), Leccino and Frantoio (20%) comprise the blend. Now I will give the oils a couple days to recover from the trip before tasting. Please, stay tuned for my tasting notes. Shipping this time of year can leave an olive a bit chilly. You can be assured my anticipation awaits the typical grassy, floral and artichoke aromas. Umbrian oils have a medium spicy character compared to their robust neighbors from Tuscany. This medium style seems to suit the American palate which has not grown up on olive oil.

It’s worth mentioning that many growers produce an olio nuovo in addition to their classic bottling. Technically speaking these are Mascio’s classic oils. The olive oil geeks can argue about that one. New oil is more assertive with bitter, spicy and peppery flavors which are the polyphenols (antioxidants) which give quality olive oil its healthy benefits. They can often bring a prize fighter to his knees with just one sip. Great stuff!

An indication of quality and attention to detail is Mascio's participation in the transparency and traceability system in Italy ( Place and time of each lot of olive trees can be traced to precision. As you know my rant is about freshness and verifying the harvest date of olive oil. This system is a huge step in providing consumers with confidence about the quality and freshness of the olive oil they are purchasing. Coincidentally, traceability was a major topic of discussion among researchers from olive oil producing countries at a recent conference in Tunis, Tunisia ( Do you know anyone who attended?

Let's start the holiday celebration by getting your hands on a bottle of olive oil from the recent 2009 harvest, olio nuovo. And you, too, will be hooked into a new holiday tradition, a healthy and flavorful one.

And for you, Gioia, grazie for the olio nuovo and saving our family's holiday tradition.

Finally I want to wish all of you and yours a joyful and safe holiday season and remember, FRESH is BEST!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Comment on Olive Oil Longevity

This comes from leading international food entrepreneur, Liz Tagami.

I agree that 12-18 months is preferred when considering the age of an olive oil. The challenge is that retailers will not unload old oil. For most major retailers, the 2009 harvest will not appear on their shelves until late summer or fall. This is a bad strategy on the part of retailers, which does not serve the best interest of the consumer.

This discussion is about an unopened bottle. Once the bottle is opened, it should be consumed within 30-60 days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buying Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Fresh is Best!

Because there are no Federal Standards for Extra Virgin olive oil in the United States, our country has become the dumping ground of inferior, adulterated olive oils from Europe. The words “Extra Virgin” offer no quality guarantee. A label containing this renowned phrase can be slapped on a bottle of spring water or soda pop and sold as Extra Virgin olive oil. Is this an illegal activity? No, except, perhaps, in California. Most American consumers of olive oil are consuming a product that is flavorless, flawed and lacking in the health benefits they are desperately seeking. The Western Farm Press reported on November 30, 2009 that California Olive Council Executive Director Patricia Darragh has been sharply critical of a lack of federal standards for olive oil. “We have become a market for oil that is potentially adulterated or mislabeled,” Darragh said.

This is unfortunate given the health benefits of olive oil are extolled in the press every day. The benefits are an established, scientific fact. Most consumers get that. What they don’t understand is all olive oils are not the same. They are unaware and confused about buying and using this natural nectar to maximum its flavor and health benefits.

How can you be assured of buying quality Extra Virgin olive oil? To begin, the source of the oil is crucial. The mislabeled, adulterated oils from Europe referred to earlier are usually "bulk" olive oils. These are found commonly on the shelves of mega supermarkets. They are cheap. When you see the words “Imported" or "Packed from Italy,” run. The source of fruit for these oils can be from most anywhere in the Mediterranean, and perhaps, cut with other seed oils. Some bulk producers are now listing on the label the countries supplying the fruit. Moreover, the age of the oil is usually a mystery and the shipping and storage conditions are often suspect. Consequently, flavor, freshness and health benefits are lacking.

Now here's what you want. Quality can be found with estate Extra Virgin olive oils. With these olive oils the when and the where are known. The individual grower has sole control over the process from tree to bottle. The fruit is usually handpicked (some excellent oils are mechanically harvested). With these dedicated, hardworking folks there's no sourcing fruit from another country. Their trees are family. The tender loving care is evident by their flavor and freshness.

Now, how do you know if it's an estate olive oil? The answer often lies in the fine print... the harvest date. The front or back label should state the date or year of harvest. The label will read, "November 2008" or simply the year. Some oils from the recent 2009 harvest are available now. These are referred to as new, nuovo or nouveau Extra Virgin olive oils. Intense pungency and pepperiness are their trademark, and super healthy. Most of the oil from the 2009 harvest will become available by early spring.

Why is the harvest date important? Olive oil is not like wine. It does not get better with age. The fresher the oil, the more flavorful and healthful it is. Oxidation and deterioration begins immediately after the fruit is picked from the tree, if not before. Olive oil should be consumed within 18-24 months from the harvest (18 months is better). In the northern hemisphere olives are harvested in the autumn, usually October, November and December. The southern hemisphere harvest occurs during our spring. Presently, the freshest available oils are from the southern hemisphere, except for the recently harvested new oils.

Alternative to the harvest date, a Best Used By (expiration) date is commonly listed on the bottle or label. Generally, this date is two years (or 18 months) subsequent to the harvest. For example, if the bottle indicates it’s Best to use by 12/10,” then you know the olives were harvested in the autumn of 2008. Buyer beware, many gourmet retailers will gladly sell you a three or four year-old olive oil for $35-40.

To what regions of the globe should be you looking for these estate growers? Your options are vast and fun. Here's a sampling of treasurers. First the earlier negative reference to "Imported from Italy," should no way reflect poorly on the Italian estate growers. These passionate folks produce outstanding olive oil. For your holiday gift giving consider the 2008 harvest in Tuscany was the best in a decade. Other regions in Italy produce fabulous olive oils. For ten years, my desert island oil (should I ever be stranded on one) is Ravidá from Sicily. Spain is now pouring out a flood of extraordinary oils. My good friend Rosa Vañó produces a steller portfolio at Castillo de Canena. Italy's historic bulk supplier, Tunisia, now has an expanding group of estate growers producing and bottling quality olive oil. France has Jean-Benôit Hugues' Castelas in Le Baux,Provence.

California has entered a oil boom and not with rigs. Chris Banthien's Le Colline in Santa Cruz and Apollo's Mistral have been my favorites for years. Australia (Rylstone), New Zealand, South Africa, and Chile (Olavé) are storming on to the scene with quality product that is worthy of a place in your pantry. So explore and have fun. Yet, always remember that Fresh is Best.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Discovering Bordeaux: Marvelous Margaux

Bordeaux is considered by wine experts to be the greatest wine region in the world (Burgundy and the Rhone Valley are my personal preferences). It is difficult, however, to argue with that lofty praise after tasting 50+ quality Bordeaux wines at yesterday's "Discovering Bordeaux," a trade tasting and seminar event sponsored by Robert Cavanaugh's Wine Adventure. When writing about wine, we should not assume the basics, as Robert Cavanaugh aptly stated. First, Bordeaux is a wine region, not a grape. The region is located in southwest France, near the Atlantic Ocean and spread along the Gironde River.

Jay Youmans, the only Master of Wine in the Washington, DC area (24 in the U.S) and owner of the Capital Wine School ( stated three primary reasons for Bordeaux's greatness. The first two are low alcohol (but rising) and high acidity which makes the wines wonderful partners with food. The third is their extraordinary ability to improve with age. No wine region in the world, particularly new world, can compare to Bordeaux's age worthiness. Grand Cru Burgundy and the Northern Rhone's Hermitage and Cote Rotie regions have rightful claims to excellent aging.

Now, here my thoughts and reflections from an afternoon of listening to Bordeaux experts and tasting the fine wines of the region.

To aid your understanding of Bordeaux, Youmans also offered a useful primer. To summarize briefly, Bordeaux is split by the Gironde River into the Right and Left Bank. The famous communes of Margaux, St. Julien, Paulliac and St. Estephe reside on the Left Bank (west of the river). Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominate grape variety because of the gravel composition of the landscape. The better drainage of the gravel allows the Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen earlier. Here the wines are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and small amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The Right Bank (east) includes the renowned Pomerol and St Emilon and other lesser known appellations. The Right Bank is primarily Merlot, which now accounts for more than 60% of all wine produced in Bordeaux. The high composition of clay in the soil which is cooler and retains water easily is more suitable to Merlot. Because of the lack of drainage, Cabernet Sauvignon has difficulty ripening in clay.

Now, there's much more to understanding Bordeaux such as the classification systems. Those discussions will be parked for future postings. For an in depth study, read The Complete Bordeaux, by Stephen Brook.

We need some wine ideas for the holidays.

From yesterday's tasting, the wines from Margaux were my personal favorites. Elyse Kudo, General Manger, Monument Fines Wines, offered a fantasy line-up. The 2006 Palmer Alter Ego, second wine of Chateau Palmer, typified the elegance and femininity of Margaux. The 2006 Chateau Malescot's silkiness and brightness could get my nod for best of the day (picking bests is a senseless exercise). My old friend Chateau D'Angulet illustrated the promise of the renowned 2005 vintage. The soft and integrated tannins framed the gorgeous fruit aromas. There was none of the drying coffee sensation on the palate that often comes from top youthful Bordeaux. Remember, this wine was from 2005, which is not known for its youthful drinkability. The 2006 Chateau Prieure-Lichine showed more richness, while retaining that Margaux elegance. Chateaux La Gurgue and Monbrison are worth a look. Simply, Margaux wines are made with food in mind.

The 2005 Phelan Segur showed surprising approachability for a St. Estephe, often burly when young. This a consistent chateau worth looking at every year. Youmans remarked that wines from St. Estephe are good value compared to the complete lack of value in Paulliac, St. Julien and Margaux. More Merlot is being added to the blends to improve approachability in their youth. St. Estephe is worth exploring.

Maisons Marques & Domaines presented a steller group led by the wines of former Decanter "Person of the Year and owner of Chateau Petrus, Christian Mouiex. From 2006, his Chateau Magdelaine, St. Emillion, (Premier Grand Cru Classe) and Pomerol properties Chateau Certan-Marzelle (Pomerol) and Lafleur-Gazin showcase Mouiex's distinct style which is the antithesis of the modern, international style of big, blockbuster fruit. These highly structured wines require patience, but worth the wait. Another St. Estephe, Chateau de Pez, is recommended.

Here are some other noteworthy wines that merit your consideration: Chateau Loudene (Medoc); Chateau Fleur de Rigaud (Bordeaux Superieur); Chateau Rilet Rouge (Fronsac), Chateau St. Andre Corbin, St. Andre Corbin, St. Georges St. Emilion; Chateau Larose de Gruard, St. Julien (formerly Sarget de Gruard-Larose and second wine of Chateau Guard-Larose); Chateau d'Aggassac (Haut Medoc); and Chateau Pibran (Paulliac).

Here are some other regions worth exploring. Pessac-Leognan in the Graves has to be at the top of the list. Also, venture into some smaller or lesser known appellations such as Haut Medoc, Listrac, Moulis, and Fronsac where good value can be found.

For most of us, it is impractical to attempt mastering a large region such as Bordeaux. The good news is that we do not have to. The fun is always in the adventure.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Olive Oil Line-up: Gregory Peck, Halle Berry, Audrey Hepburn.....

Along with Florence Devilliers, Le Lavandou Restaurant, Tony Quinn, Cleveland Park Wines, and Antoine Songy, Robert Kacher Selections, I cordially invite you to taste, learn and shop the wines from the South of France, olive oils from around the world and food of the Mediterranean. Chef Edith Reyes is preparing a fabulous menu of tasty treats to showcase the olive oils and wines. Wine and olive oils will also be available to purchase for your holiday gift giving.

Costs: $45 (tax and gratuity included). RSVP at (202) 966-3002, (202) 966-8530 or by email: or

Location: Le Lavandou Restaurant, 3321 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (Cleveland Park-across from the Uptown Theatre)

Here's the line-up of magnificent Extra Virgin olive oils that we will be tasting. To help describe the flavor and style profile metaphorically, each olive oil is compared with a famous celebrity.

  • Olave Organic (Chile) This olive oil producer is blending Italian and Spanish cultivars (varietals) and challenging the old world with price and quality much like the wines of South America. This might well be described as the Halle Berry, lovely texture and gorgeous with a little spice.
  • Colonna (Italy) Produced by the Countess Marina Colonna near Rome is the Audrey Hepburn with its undeniable grace, elegance and class. Say no more!
  • L'Estornell Organic (Spain) The Vea family standard bearer from Northwest Spain in Catalonia is produced 100% from the Arbequina cultivar. I refer to this olive oil as the Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sadler, charming, popular with hints of nuttiness.
  • Castelas Organic (France) Jean-Benoit Hugues produces a robust, high phenolic (the super healthy stuff) oil from traditional French varieties in the foothills below the beautiful village of Les Baux in Provence. This is genuine Clint Eastwood, explosive and in your face, but polished.
  • Ravida Organic (Sicily) The Ravida family traditionally produces one of the finest olive oils in Italy. This has been my desert island oil for over ten years and can best be described by no other than Gregory Peck, manly, suave, debonair, and always gives a stellar performance.
Please join us Sunday for a fun afternoon of olive oil, wine and food. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stuffing Recipe that Rocks

Stuffing has never been one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes, until there was stuffing with pancetta and chestnuts. This recipe is courtesy of celebrity chef, Giada de Laurentis and it has become a family favorite. Here is little Italian-American fusion that works. For red wine fans, this recipe is super red wine friendly. One cautionary note--please don't stuff your turkey with "stuffing." See the explanation in the "Roasting and Brining a Turkey" post.

Ciabatta Stuffing with Chestnuts and Pancetta

6 TBL (3/4) stick Butter (halving it with olive oil is cool)
8 Oz. Pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 Large onions, finely diced
2 Carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 Celery stalks, finely diced
2 TBL chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 Garlic cloves chopped
2 (7.4 oz) Jars roasted peeled whole chestnuts, coarsely broken
1/4 Cups chopped Parsley
1 Lb day-old Ciabatta bread, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2/3 Cup or more canned low-salt chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Large eggs, beaten to blend

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Butter a 15 by 10 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 2 TBL of butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a large bowl. Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, and garlic.

Saute until the onions are very tender, about 12 minutes. Gently stir in the chestnuts and parsley. Transfer the onion mixture to the large bowl with the pancetta. Add the bread and parmesan and toss to coast. Add enough broth to the stuffing mixture to moisten. Season the stuffing, to taste, with salt and pepper. Mix in the eggs.

Transfer the stuffing to the prepared dish. Cover wtih buttered foil, buttered side down, and bake until the stuffing is heated through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top is crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009: Bubbly and More!

"What wine should I serve on Thanksgiving?" This is always the most frequently asked question of me leading up to turkey day. Wine selection can be challenging with the wide variety of flavors and dishes at our traditional feast. Cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, scalloped oysters, and the star of the show, turkey, blend sweet, creamy, savory, herbaceous, earthy, and spice into a state of culinary chaotic nirvana. So what wine(s) can we serve to cut through and compliment this cornucopia of tastes? Fortunately, there are a multitude of options to pick from. Because of the host of flavors and individual preferences (and prejudices), a mix of white and red is preferred. Here are my varietal and regional thoughts concluding with my grand pick of 2009. As for specific domaines or wineries, your local wine merchant can ably assist you. My suggestions are in no way intended to be exhaustive. Please comment with your own recommendations.

Thanksgiving lends itself to a broad choice of fun and interesting white alternatives. Any of these can also play the aperitif role. I often begin dinner with a spicy (red pepper and cumin) butternut squash or pumpkin soup. Last year I served a German Spatlese Riesling with the spicy soup. Surprisingly, this was selected as the star of the evening by my dinner companions. The elegant sweetness of the Spatlese neutralizes the fire of the soup while the the spiciness lessens the sweetness. Simply lovely.

There are many other white wines that can be served throughout the entire dinner. Spicy Gewurztraminer has always been a classic Thanksgiving wine. Strong consideration goes to Riesling, particularly German Kabinett. The 2007 vintage in German was outstanding and offers fair value. Wines from Alsace, France are ideal partners including Riesling, Pinot Gris and/or Pinot Blanc (my aperitif pick). My Oregon friends can be heard screaming rightfully for Oregon Pinot Gris. Also a wonderful choice. In his fourth quarter issue of Burghound, Allen Meadows raved about 2007 and 2008 Chablis (Chardonnay). The limestone chalkiness of Chablis proves a zesty match with oysters.

Now for a wine with a different color, a top Red vin is essential for me on Thanksgiving. Light and medium body wines seem to work best. Pinot Noir is the obvious preference. The wide range of Pinot Noir styles all seem to work for different reasons. The more fruit present Pinot Noir of California and Oregon mirror the fruit flavors of our feast. Yet, Burgundy compliments the earthy and savory. In recent years Burgundy usually finds it way into my glass.

Because Thanksgiving is an exclusive American holiday, there are justified proponents of the true native varietal, Zinfandel. Who would argue? It's lush fruit can be Zinful. There is an exciting universe of options, notably among the "Rs" of Zin--Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenbloom.

Other considerations are from France's Loire Valley (Cabernet Franc), Cotes du Rhone and Cru Beaujolais. For my after dinner beached whale imitation, a glass of Pedro Ximenez from Spain with pumpkin pie is certain to export me to a dreamy world. In the likely event an emergency digestive is required, a bottle of Armagnac will be nearby. Alternatively, a little Bourbon on the rocks can toast my Kentucky heritage.

Now, Here is my grand overall pick.

In 2009 you had to be living under a rock to not be challenged by the downturn in the global economy, whether it was for yourself, a dear friend or a beloved family member. In honor of the woes of 2009, my pick is Rose Champagne (or sparkling wine). Bubbly is a classic match for turkey and all that goes with Thanksgiving. For the value minded (all of us), the highly respected Ghislaine de Montegolfier, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne and president of Champagne Bollinger (one of my personal faves) stated in the December issue of Decanter, "You can be sure some excellent Champagne will be available at competitive prices, thanks to a succession of stellar vintages and a fall in demand brought about by the economic crisis...Champagne houses will be doing what they can to boost sales this Christmas, so you can expect some attractive offers."

After all Napoleon is credited with saying about Champagne, "In victory we deserve it. In defeat we need it." Regardless if it is deserving or needed, we should all expect Champagne this year... or anytime.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Roasting and Brining Turkey

We have all had a turkey on Thanksgiving that was more like dry, stiff cardboard than edible poultry. Here is a solution to roasting a turkey that will guarantee a flavorful, succulent bird and raving fans. The credit for the detailed preparation outlined below goes entirely to Brian Patterson, Hospitality Manager, at the American Medical Association in Washington, DC, and a long time member of the faculty at his alma mater, L'Academie de Cuisine French Culinary School. Having had the pleasure of attending classes at L'Academie for seven years, you can be assured Brian's classes (and dozens of classes by other terrific chefs) are a must for anyone desiring to improve their cooking skills. Brian's knife skills classes are outstanding and legendary. Knowledgeable and entertaining, he will improve your skills in the kitchen by quantum leaps. I recommend signing up immediately upon release of seasonal catalog, because classes fill up instantly. Register for online notices and peruse the catalog at L'Academie conducts classes at their recreational school in Bethesda, Maryland and the professional school in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Roasting and Brining Turkey

If possible, buy a fresh turkey, one that has not been previously frozen. If you do use a frozen turkey, thaw it out in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. If you get your turkey one day or more before you are going to cook it, it is a good idea to remove the turkey from its package, rinse it, and rewrap in new plastic and place it in the refrigerator. Remember that turkey, like chicken is a host for salmonella, and all utensils and food preparation surfaces that come in contact with raw turkey should be thoroughly washed and, ideally, sanitized with a mixture of bleach and water.

Place the wrapped turkey in the sink before removing the wrapping, to avoid making a mess of your counter top. Remove the turkey from the package, remove the neck, giblets, and other goodies from both cavities (this may mean un-hooking the legs from a plastic retainer designed to hold the legs in place at the opening of the cavity. Rinse the bird thoroughly inside and out with cold running water to remove standing blood and juices and any slimy film that may be on the skin. Pat the bird dry with paper towels inside and out.

BRINING The skin and surface of a roasted turkey can be enhanced by brining. Brining also makes the meat more moist and flavorful. A brine is a mixture of salt, sugar, water, and pickling spices. The brine cures or partially cooks the outer 1/2 inch of the roast which preserves the roast prior to cooking, and it helps seal in flavor and moisture. You will need a large enough container to allow the turkey to be completely immersed in the brine. A five gallon plastic bucket from a hardware store is perfect and costs about $2. Brine the turkey up to 24 hours prior to cooking. Remove the turkey from the brine an hour prior to placing it in the oven, to allow the skin to air dry. A turkey that has been brined does not require further seasoning. Here is the formula for a brine :

1 Gallon Water
1/2 lb Salt
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Tbls Pickling Spice
3 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
Combine all the ingredients, bring to a boil, cool and strain. Refrigerate until needed.

I avoid cooking stuffing in the cavity of the turkey, especially a large one, for the following reason: By the time the heat from the oven has worked its way through the turkey to start cooking the stuffing, the turkey is done, and stuffing is raw. So you either over-cook the turkey to finish the stuffing, or, if you serve a perfectly cooked turkey, you run the risk of serving stuffing that is not only undercooked, but that has also been in contact with raw turkey juices (blood) and standing in the cavity about 100 degrees for several hours. It is much safer, and more efficient to cook the stuffing separately. If you do stuff a turkey, NEVER stuff a raw turkey with warm stuffing, whether it is the night before or right before you are about to cook the bird. I like to stuff thyme, strictly to flavor the turkey, not to eat as a stuffing.

IF YOU HAVE NOT USED A BRINE season the turkey with plenty of salt and pepper inside the cavity. Once you have finished seasoning the cavity of the turkey, replace the legs in the plastic retainer, or tie the legs in place in such a way as to hold the cavity closed. Rub the turkey with oil such as olive oil (to enhance the golden color of the finished bird) and season with plenty of salt and pepper (use white pepper if you do not want the "freckles" of black pepper). IF YOU HAVE USED A BRINE, skip seasoning and slathering the outside of the turkey.

If you are more concerned about flavor than appearance, roast the turkey with the breast-side down most if not all of the overall cooking time. Most of the flavor and juices of a turkey are in the bones of the back, therefore, if the bones are on top, the flavorful juices will cascade down throughout the meat, making the breasts more moist. Place the turkey on a roasting tray that permits access to the juices that collect in the tray with a baster or a spoon. To begin, place the turkey--breast-side--into an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees. Once the breast side is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, invert the turkey so the breast-side is facing down.

About 15 minutes after inverting the turkey, turn the heat down to 325 degrees. The initial heat sears the outside of the bird, sealing in the juices and giving a roasted flavor. I recommend leaving turkey breast-side down for the duration of the cooking.

In order to schedule the timing of other dishes and time to serve, plan on cooking turkey for about 7 minutes per pound. However, the most reliable method of knowing when the turkey is done is by using a very accurate meat thermometer. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes or so, however, in order to maintain a consistent temperature, avoid opening the oven frequently. I do not cover the turkey while it is roasting. Do not pierce the meat other than to take the internal temperature, as this drains the meat of valuable juices. The internal temperature of the turkey should be 170 degrees. Using a meat thermometer, take the temperature at the last place to be cooked, right in the elbow of the thigh, on the side facing the breast. In general, the juices should run clear. If the juices are cloudy or bloody, the turkey is not yet fully cooked. Once the turkey is cooked, it is very important to ALLOW IT TO REST, COVERED, IN A WARM PLACE FOR 1/4 - 1/3 OF THE OVERALL COOKING TIME. A large cooler is perfect not only to hold the turkey while it rests, but also to transport it once it is cooked. Allowing the turkey to rest permits the juices to re-distribute throughout the meat. This makes the meat more moist, and avoids creating puddles of juice on the carving board, leaving the juices in the meat where they belong.

Bon Appetit!

Domaine Pierre and Jerome Coursodon

Last night I enjoyed a 2005 Domaine Coursodon St. Joseph from the Northern Rhone of France with a beouf Dube (beef stew) at Le Lavandou, a Provencal restaurant, in my Cleveland Park neighborhood. Starting in 2006, this wine is labeled "Silice" This past January, I had the good fortune of meeting Pierre Coursodon and his son, Jerome, at the Cote Rotie Marche aux Vins in Ampuis. This annual three day gathering of the wine producers from the region affords trade professionals a convenient opportunity to taste the wines. And the locals have the opportunity to taste and purchase at favorable prices before the juice is exported to the four corners of the world.

The Coursodons are third generation vignerons (vine growers) in the village of Mauves in the southern St. Joseph appellation. Jerome's son, Antoinne, who was born in 2003 is expected to become the 4th generation. Pierre's grandfather ,Gustave, who unfortunately passed away in 2005, was the former mayor of Mauves, and a catalyst in developing St. Joseph into the prominent wine region that is today. As a historical side note, during WWII Gustave's home was occupied by the Germans and was destroyed in August 1944 as the Germans retreated. The occupation, however, never stopped him from tending to his vines.

The Coursodon wines are classic expressions of St. Joseph Northern Rhone Syrah. This bottle was medium bodied showing warm black fruits with a soft touch of chocolate. Restaurant owner, Florence Develliers, called the St. Joseph the perfect match for Daube. On another chilly autumn evening in 2006, I had the Delas St. Joseph with a wild boar and red wine stew at Le Chateau in Tournon, the largest village in St. Joseph. Winter stews and Northern Rhone Syrah warms the heart and the soul, transporting me emotionally to France every time.

The Coursodons produce two higher end reds, St. Joseph Paradis St. Pierre Rouge and La Sensonne. Their whites are highly recommended.

In the photo from left to right are Jerome Cousodon, moi (with the purple teeth), Pierre pouring and Gilles Barge, a superb vigneron in Cote Rotie. I stayed at Gilles' chambre (B&B) during my stay.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cranberry Sauce with Roasted Shallots Port and Red Wine

For years certain Thanksgiving dishes have not done it for me. Cranberry sauce was one, especially that jello, silo shaped stuff in a can...Gross!! In the last few years I began searching for and creating traditional dishes that are more red wine friendly and thus tastier. Here's a cranberry sauce recipe that I have been serving during the holidays for several years that is not only palatable, but extraordinary. It is a sure hit.

Credit must be given, however, to Andrea Immer-Robinson's Fine Living Network series, Pairings with Andrea. I friend told me recently that her professor at Wharton graduate business school advised her to "steal shamelessly." When it comes to recipes, I always have, while giving proper credit, of course.

Cranberry and Roasted Shallot Sauce with Port and Red Wine


18 Medium shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise through the root end

1 TBL Extra Virgin olive oil

5 TBL Balsamic vinegar

1/2 Cup granulated sugar

1 Cup Dry red wine (Zinfandel or Pinot Noir)

2/3 Cup Ruby port

1/3 Cup Light brown sugar, packed

12 Oz Bag fresh cranberries

TBL Fresh Thyme (or dried)

1 TBL Chopped fresh parsley


Preheat oven to 400F

Toss shallots with oil and minced fresh thyme on small rimmed baking sheet.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes.

Drizzle 1 TBL vinegar over shallots, toss to coat. Continue roasting until shallots caramelize, stirring occasionally about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Bring red wine, port, brown sugar, remaining 4 TBL of vinegar, and granulated sugar to boil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Add cranberries; cook until berries pop, stirring occasionally about 8 minutes.

Mix in parsley and shallots.

Transfer to bowl. Cover and chill overnight.

Serve cold or at room temperature.

Note: This dish can be made up to a week in advance if kept refrigerated.