Open That Bottle Night – Saturday, February 28

This Saturday is Open That Bottle Night, an evening to finally crack that bottle of wine you’ve been saving for that ‘special occasion’. It was started by the wine writers at the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, and gestated as an evening to finally open that bottle of wine that you’ve been saving. They kept getting letters from people asking things like: “when is the best time to open this bottle?” or “what’s it’s aging potential?” They’re conclusion was to just open the bottle, but make the occasion special. Sign me up!

Dorothy and John write the Tastings column in the WSJ and Open That Bottle Night has been rolling around since the late 90’s, this Saturday’s will be the 10th annual. Reason to celebrate of course. It always lands on the last Saturday of February and provides wine drinkers from all over to finally open that bottle. And if you’ve been drinking wine for anytime you will have all sorts of bottles that fit under this banner.

I have a bunch, nothing too valuable, so no 1st growths or California cults, but there are bottles that have special meaning and I think are great. But the inverse is that I get a little gun-shy to open them. Will I open it at it’s peak? Will my dinner guests appreciate it? These questions can be a little pretentious, but the wine drinkers out there know what I’m talking about. In other words, I’m not opening that bottle of Betz for those friends that love Yellowtail. A little snobby? Yes.

That is why I love Open That Bottle Night; a great excuse to drink up, enjoy wine, have fun with friends, and share stories about wine – about anything. In fact, Dorothy and John also provided some great tips on hosting your own OTBN night. And if you didn’t want to have a dinner party there are spots around the country hosting OTBN parties.

In Seattle, the Art Institute’s Portfolio Restaurant will be hosting an OTBN dinner. It’ll be on Friday 2/27 from 6-9pm and the upper level students will be preparing a four-course meal, the AI’s wine educator Dieter Schafer will provide guidance, and it’s all for $30! Bring your bottle and the corking fee is waived too. It all goes to support the culinary stars of tomorrow at Portfolio, so revel in a night of good vino. Reservations are required, so call 206.239.2363.

What will I open this evening? I’m not quite sure. But I know I’ll be looking forward to drinking it.

Yukon Salmon Benefit Dinner at Elliott’s – February 26

This Thursday, Elliott’s Oyster House on Seattle’s Waterfront will be hosting a charity dinner to support the Yup’ik village in western Alaska. I think this is something for anyone to do that loves salmon, particularly Yukon.

Elliott’s is hosting this charity dinner because the Yup’ik village is one of the few that provides Yukon salmon to all of us lower 48ers. Because the salmon run for Chinook hasn’t been as robust lately, this past winter and fall have been challenging for those living in Alaskan bush communities. Jon Rowley (who is the dude that has introduced us to Copper River, and now Yukon) wanted to reach out and help these Alaskan villagers and Elliott’s has come through to help too. So throughout the month of February, 25% of the sales of salmon dishes at Elliott’s will go to the Yup’ik people of Alaska.

This all culminates with a Salmon Dinner this Thursday at Elliott’s. The menu sounds delicious and is centered around Yukon Keta Salmon. The Keta from Yukon is unique, delicious and much more readily available than the Chinook. Make sure to call Elliott’s to make a reservation for this benefit dinner – 206.623.4340.

Don’t just stop yourself at this dinner, whenever you see Yukon Keta at your fishmonger, buy it! You’ll help the fisherman of the Yukon River, you’ll help your heart with the Omega-3’s, and you’ll have a great meal. My favorite recipe for salmon is to use Tom Douglas’ Salmon Rub and grill it. Awesome.

Wine values in the modern economy

The worldwide economic status has made every one of us evaluate where we put our dollars. Now more than ever we are going out of way to find value in what we buy. This also applies to wine. No doubt about it, wine can be expensive. The operative word being ‘can’. There is opportunity to find value with wine, it just requires some creativity as we do our best to navigate through this world.

First off, the economic downturn has drastically affected the wine industry. Sales of wine are down at restaurants, wineries are going out of business, grape growers are feeling the pinch, and now consumers have been watching their spending habits. For many gone are the days of splurging on bottles, now it looks like the new sweet spot for wine values is the $15 to $20 dollar range. This is the area where a lot of producers are trying to hit. There is a lot of great stuff in this range, but of course there will be bad stuff too.

Wading through this area can be tricky, but thankfully much more skilled wine writers than me (although I think Spain has some good values) are weighing in on finding good wine deals. Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal touched on some regions that you can find great value in their recent Tastings column – they weigh in with Chile. The WSJ even asked wine experts around the country for their picks on great values. Wine Spectator magazine has a breakdown too.

Finding wine values isn’t that difficult, you just need to know where to look. And in Seattle, we are fortunate to have a lot of great local places to find wine values. I’ve written about Seattle Wine Outlet, where you can find some good deals. Esquin in SoDo always has great deals and they recently opened up their backroom for some bargain buys. Pike Place’s The Spanish Table (I’ll be writing more about them soon) has all sorts of good stuff from the Iberian peninsula. Anson and Jenny at Picnic also have some nice buys on lesser known varietals and regions.

In this day and age, we’re working harder and harder to find ways to stretch our dollar. Food and wine can step into the realm of luxury, but it is still possible to keep things grounded and affordable. Good luck on the search, lots of people are looking out for you too.

Photo courtesy of Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

The easiest way to eat your veggies: Kale Chips

One of the chief takeaways when I read The Amateur Gourmet‘s book was in the section about shopping for groceries. The biggest tip was to buy what looks good to you, especially when it comes to produce. Buy what looks good – it can be seasonal or a bit curious looking or something that you’ve heard about and really want to try. This was the case with our last visit to the store when we saw the array of kale. Inspired by a write-up in a recent issue of Bon Appetit, we bought a bunch and were ready to roll.

What’s kale? In a nutshell it’s a hearty green that rolls around during wintertime. It’s full of vitamins and nutrients, which makes it really good for you. Kale has a flavor that is not like most other greens, so it’s a great change of pace to your cooking routine. Try it in salads, saute it with butter or bacon fat and garlic, or throw it in with pasta. Sometimes kale can be chewy and hearty, just be careful to cut the stems off and slice the leaves into thin strips, especially if you’re making salad – put on a vinaigrette and some Parmesan cheese and you’re done!

You can also make chips out of kale! It’s a really fun and easy way to incorporate healthy food to your plate. The February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit’s feature on kale offered some great recipes, but my favorite was the one for Tuscan Kale chips. Tuscan Kale is a tall flat leaf version of kale that is a rich deep green. To create this recipe, fire the oven up to 250, cut off the stems, toss them into a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and salt & pepper. Lay them flat on to a baking sheet, throw them in the oven until crisp (about 30 minutes) and you’ll have the easiest, tastiest way of getting one of the healthiest vegetables into your diet. Isn’t that easy? The recipe comes to us from Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill and it’s definitely a winner.

Give the recipe a shot, you won’t be disappointed. I like to freestyle on the recipe a bit by using Grains of Paradise in lieu of pepper; the floral kick provides a nice counterpoint to the chips. Enjoy kale and go out and eat your greens! The Tuscan Chip recipe is so easy you’ll find yourself doing it often and it’s a good show-off dish for when you have dinner parties.

Photo by Jamie Chung for Bon Appetit

Kale Chips on Foodista

The Magic of Bacon Fat

With so much love for bacon across the internet and blogosphere, it can be a bit overwhelming; its possible to reach an oversaturation point. Which is where I am right now with bacon. But there is one great causal effect of making so much bacon – bacon fat.

I was first introduced to the thought that bacon fat as something great when I attended the Fat event with Jennifer McLagan earlier in the winter. I always loved bacon, but I realized that I was just wasting the bacon fat – and then I started saving it. Yup, I started to keep the grease from each batch of bacon that I made.

This is where a lot of my friends get freaked out and can’t comprehend what I’m doing. So what, I have awesome bacon fat to sauté vegetables in, or anything for that matter. It lends an incredible flavor. In fact, Serious Eats had an entire post listing out what to do with bacon fat.

One thing to consider is to do this when you buy good bacon, the stuff you get from butchers or doesn’t have too much ‘stuff’ added. This bacon will render a better fat because it isn’t loaded with the nitrites and chemicals a lot of companies use. And the bacon tastes better.

So why save it? Bacon fat has such a great flavor that isn’t at all overpowering. For example, a bacon vinaigrette can take a humble salad to higher levels. It’s a staple in Southern dishes. Also, in this day and age of value and sustainability, isn’t it a good idea to utilize as much as we can from the things we cook? By saving the bacon fat you can do this.

And how do you save it? Because it is a hot liquid, wait for it to cool down a bit from cooking. Then place a bit of cheese cloth over your storing vessel (Tupperware or glass jars work well) to strain out the larger bits, pour and tada – bacon fat is ready for you! Keep it in the fridge for about 6 months or put it in the freezer. It’s not really the healthiest thing, but neither is the parent it comes from and that doesn’t stop people from enjoying it.

I’m a bit overloaded on bacon at the moment, but I still love it and I think I love my bacon fat even more. For those might think it’s odd, get over yourself, you’ll be using it all the time. You’ll find yourself with a mischievous little grin every time you use it to cook. And that’s a good thing.

Sippin’ on Siduri

I am in love with this winery and I have only had one glass of it. During my dinner at Art of the Table last weekend, Dustin paired the 2006 Siduri Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir with the main course and I was instantly smitten with wine from Siduri. He mentioned that they just received it that day; this stirred my curiosity and I was desperate to learn more about this winery.

Pinot Noir has always been a popular wine, but when Sideways came out a few years ago it reached even higher plateaus. This new demand drove the cost of Pinot up, but on the inverse, mediocre Pinot started to surface. It’s a difficult grape to grow and it can create wines that are deserving of all sorts of praise and sonnets. When it’s great it is truly great. Like Michael Jordan-level great. I felt this way with the Siduri I had. Now I wonder what it’ll be like if I ever have a taste of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Although I doubt I’ll ever have that opportunity.

I started to do some research on Siduri and was walloped with this nugget of information – when Pearl Jam hits the stage, Eddie Vedder drinks Siduri’s Van der Kamp Pinot Noir. I’ve been a huge Pearl Jam fan (Ten Club member!) and have gone to my fair share of shows. I’ve sat close enough to see Eddie bring a bottle of wine onstage and see him swig and enjoy himself. I always wanted to know what he drank and now I know. My obsession with Siduri continues.

Reading more about Siduri I discovered that Pinot noir is the only varietal that they produce. And they make Pinot from vineyards between Oregon and California. So this is great for those Pinot snobs that only drink from certain appellations, they’ll play nice with Pinot Noir from the states that do it best. However, best is a relative term because Siduri’s goal is to produce world-class Pinot noir from areas that grow Pinot best. Admirable indeed.

Digging a little deeper into Siduri, I also discovered that they produce and vinify each barrel of wine by lot, yeast, and cooperage. Idiosyncratic, but in their quest to create top notch Pinot noir that best expresses the terroir, these steps pay off in the long run.

The folks at Siduri have a good thing going. They’ve carved out a winemaking niche that is admirable and have the accolades to show for their efforts. I try to make it to Napa and Sonoma once a year and now I have another place to visit. It should be a fun visit don’t you think?

It’s interesting how much wine can grab you and sweep you off your feet. So much, that you can rediscover how great wine can be and how a sip can make you love it all over again. It’s happened a couple of times in my legal drinking career. Now I can chalk up a glass of Siduri Pinot noir to my list. I look forward to drinking more of their stuff.

Such Great Heights at Peaks Frozen Custard

Frozen custard is a treat that our friends from the Midwest know dearly. In fact, if you’re from Wisconsin chances are you pretty much grew up on the stuff. (The folks at Peaks did, they’re all from Wisconsin.) I bet the three main food groups to folks from Wisconsin would be sausage, cheese, and frozen custard. Seattle has the first two locked down, now the area finally has it’s first frozen custard joint; Peaks Frozen Custard.

February 14th was the official ‘grand opening’ of Peaks Frozen Custard. That’s a bit of a misnomer though because they’ve been open for a few months now. But with a chance to get their sea legs, they decided to party and announce their opening on Valentine’s Day – a great day to treat yourself, no matter the circumstance. Seattle has a proliferation of ice cream, gelato, and froyo places, but up until Peaks opening, we didn’t have a frozen custard spot of our own. What’s nice about all of these frozen desserts is that they are unique, and frozen custard is no exception. It’s lusciously creamy and has a ton of mouthfeel. This will be the first thing you notice when eating it. Chalk this up to the greater percentage of egg yolks and that they don’t mix in too much air. Also, because it’s made fresh daily the flavors are very pronounced.

To find Peaks think of nearby landmarks. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Greenlake. It’s across the street from the Roosevelt Whole Foods. It’s neighbors to Teddy’s (one of my favorite bars). And it’s around the corner from Roosevelt High School. Knowing this you’ll know who’ll be going to Peaks; everyone! The Greenlake neighborhood is truly an epicenter for many and with their location on 65th and Roosevelt, all walks of life will make their way into Peaks. And that’s awesome. In fact, when we went, a couple of nice ladies invited us to sit with them. How neighborly!

The vibe of Peaks is very fun; it’s dressed up similar to a lodge. And they keep playing off this theme with the ordering system. You start your order at “base camp” (cone or dish; waffles are an extra option). Then you step up to “the climb” (flavors; they have vanilla, chocolate, and a ‘flavor of the day’). Once you’re on the climb you can choose to add toppings or not. But it’s the frozen custard that you go for and it’s delicious. Frozen custard has an unctuous creaminess that is unparalleled and Peaks does not disappoint. Because it’s fresh and not served as cold as ice cream you’ll notice that the flavors are deeper and more developed. The vanilla has a well-rounded taste and a lingering finish. The chocolate is awesome, smoky with a distinct richness unlike other chocolate flavors that I’ve tasted before. I wanted to take custard home!

Enjoy Peaks and all they have to offer! They also have a ton of fresh baked treats that they make in house. From the cupcakes to the cookies to the sandwiches, all are done by the good folks there. And they get their coffee from Lighthouse Roasters! It’s always nice to acknowledge places that use local Seattle coffee. I’m starting to get annoyed when I see coffee from south of Washington. Peaks Frozen Custard is going to be a nice little place to enjoy a snack of frozen custard goodness.

Peaks Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon

Photo courtesy of jdong’s Flickr