Food Network enters the wine game

photo from Eater

On the scale of interesting news this fits somewhere between ‘huh’ and ‘that’s cool, I guess’. As shared by the folks at Eater, the lifestyle behemoth that we know as Food Network is releasing their first series of wine.

Making and releasing wine can definitely be a vanity project. It’s filled with hard work, massive overhead, low margins and more, but when you’re playing at the level that Food Network is, it’s pretty much an opportunity to brand something that already existed. It’s not like they’re having Michael Chiarrello or Tyler Florence lend a hand in the wine-making. For that, the Food Network has relied on the folks at Wente Vineyards in California. They are calling their new wine ‘entwine‘, with a goal to create a wine that pairs well with food. Well, no crap. Most wines match well with food.

Here is what I find interesting. The pricepoint is $13 a bottle. Not bad, some decent stuff can be had at that level. (Though, it is awfully hard for small producers to meet that pricepoint.) But their bottles state ‘California’ as the region designate. What this says to me is that the grapes, and grape juice, used to produce their wine are sourced throughout the entire state and each vintage going forward could likely have different vineyard designates each year. I’m not a geography major, but I recall California being huge. Such vineyard designates can be anywhere from Napa Valley, Central Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, or the dozens of other California AVAs. Or a combination of said areas.

While it’s possible one could get a good wine with no vineyard designate, it does raise an eyebrow as the yield of jug wines coming from California is staggering.  I personally want to drink and buy wine that celebrates its origin, not a chemical process that creates a consistent product. Buying grapes and grape juice on a spot market is a way to make winemaking more accessible, but purposely creating a brand that does not highlight the origins and producers that help to make the brand successful gives me pause. No matter how big of a presence you have, producing a wine like this will always be a community effort.

That’s not to say that entwine doesn’t have potential. I just happen to be skeptical of it. They’re making Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon a part of their suite of varietals. If you want to try these, they’ll be available nationwide soon enough. As for me, I think I’ll keep trying wineries closer to home with more character that aren’t conceived by marketing execs, rather produced by former marketing execs that are following a new passion and appreciating those who have helped educate them along the way to success.

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Top Chef Auditions in Seattle

Calling all budding chefs; the folks at Bravo are going to roll back into town for more auditions for their Top Chef brand. They’ll be searching for talent to fill their flagship show, Top Chef, and their pastry focused, Top Chef Desserts.

When Top Chef was last in Seattle, the auditions were at Canlis. And the local beat covered it with aplomb. In prep of getting the word out for this round of auditions the good folks at Seattle Weekly delve into more info about it here.

If you think you have the skill and thespian ability to be the next cheftestant, get your chef’s whites ready, figure out your on-camera persona, and grab your spatulas for these auditions. Until then, I’ll finish up with this season of Top Chef All-Stars. I’m still annoyed that Jennifer Carroll was kicked off. My money is on Richard Blais now. So if you’re ready to be the next Michael Voltaggio or Yigit Pura, get yourself down to Hotel 1000 on Wednesday March 9, 2011 from 10am – 2pm. I think I may swing by on my lunchbreak to check out the scene. And if you are auditioning, best get to crackin’ on that application (PDF); word off the street says it’s a doozy.

Photo courtesy of Bravo Media LLC and the AJC

Oysters as far as the eye can see

Over the course of the next two weekends, folks in Seattle will have at their disposal two events catering to oyster addicts. If you love the briny bite of the bi-valve, these two events will be up your alley. This Saturday will be South Lake Union’s Oyster Frenzy, while next weekend’s will be Elliott’s Oyster House’s Oyster New Year Bash.

I’m an unabashed oyster fiend. Love them. On the half-shell, in a stew, barbecued, roasted, whatever, I’m in for them. So events like these are totally up my alley. In fact, I went to Flying Fish’s Oyster Frenzy many years ago and was able to be a part of the gleeful carnage of shell and slurp. And it was awesome.

But truth be told, this oyster appreciation has only kicked in during the latter third of my life. Growing up, my parents would eat oysters (roasted, never raw), but they never held an appeal for me. Clams and mussels I was fine with, but oysters, no way. As one does when they get older, I experimented. I’m glad I finally did and now I’m making up for lost time. Which is why events like Oyster Frenzy or Ocean New Year are up my alley. I get to binge.

On deck is this Saturday’s Oyster Frenzy at Flying Fish. The one I went to was a blast. It was in Flying Fish’s Belltown location, and if anyone has been there, you know that the space can feel tight in a hurry. The newer Flying Fish in South Lake Union feels larger and will probably have a nice feel and flow. For $35 you get all you can eat oysters; raw, fried or in a stew. Along with tastes of beer and wine that aim to pair nicely. The event runs from 1-4pm, and it’s a crazy popular event, so call Flying Fish stat for last minute availability. Flying Fish 300 Westlake Ave N, Seattle 206.728.8595

I’m really looking forward to next week’s Ocean New Year at Elliott’s Oyster House. I was invited to a ‘slurp-up’ a few weeks ago as a teaser to the event. Local oyster growers told us of the history of the bi-valve in our area. We tried out some of the wines that Jon Rowley noted as being ideal oyster wines. And we were able to indulge in fresh oysters and other seafood bites.

All of this made me anticipate Elliott’s Oyster New Year bash (as part of their Ocean Harvest Festival) even more. On Saturday night from 5-9pm, Elliott’s will host a big bash with live music, a 90-ft bar, seafood buffet, wines from dozens of producers and more. An added bonus to the festivities is that all proceeds will benefit the Puget Sound Restoration Fund; a group with a mission to protect our waterways and the species calling it home.

For more information on the event, visit the Oyster New Year site; where you can see what’s on tap for the seafood buffet, the roster of wineries, and how to buy tickets. For $95, you can be part of quite the ocean party. Added bonus; Elliott’s is aiming to make this event as sustainable as possible. From compostables to recyclables, most everything will be handled as green as possible. I’m sure my SO’s dad would want the empty shells; he’s had a grand goal of lining his driveway with oyster shells. I’m sure an event with several hundred people consuming thousands of oysters will help this endeavor. Because otherwise, I think the turn of the century is the feasible goal.  Elliott’s Oyster House 1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, Seattle 206.623.4340

Look forward to seeing you around town; knee deep in oyster shells with the look of delirium that all oyster lovers have. See you around the shucking table.

Photo courtesy of Serious Eats.

Cooking Tip: Parsley

The second in a cooking tip series that I started a few years ago (ed. note: Yes, I do need to add a few more). These are some household tips that should come in handy when cooking at home. The goal: to make things easy, cheap, and useful. Today’s installment: getting more mileage out of herbs, specifically parsley.

I love adding parsley to dishes. Its herbal freshness provides a nice clean flavor pop, it’s healthy, and the color adds a vibrant hit to any dishes you sprinkle it on. I hadn’t thought about parsley as a vehicle until this article about Daniel Boulud a few years ago where he talks about parsley’s ability to balance garlic and other strong flavors. I used to always think of it as a boring garnish. After reading the article I went parsley crazy.

So you’ve bought your bushel of parsley from the market and leave in its bag. If you do this, you’ll maybe get your parsley to last a couple of days tops. Anything more and you’ll get herbal sludge. Here is how you can prolong your herb’s lifespan (note that this also works for cilantro):

  • Get a tall jar or container.
  • Place parsley, stem end, into the jar/container
  • Pour water into jar/container device to cover stems
  • Cover loosely with plastic bag
  • Enjoy your parsley for much longer than you thought

There you have it! Quick, easy and free. Plus, you won’t have to pay for a crappy kitchen gadget like this one. And what to do with your bounty of parsley? A couple of recipes are below, but really, you can add it to most anything. Be sure to save the stems to use in stock; waste not, want not.

  • Chimichurri (an Argentinean sauce that goes great with grilled steaks and vegetables)
  • Pesto (for a variation on the traditional basil, try it with parsley)
Photo courtesy of chez loulou

Summer of grilling has begun

With the great weather that Seattle had last week, many a weekend warrior dusted off their grills to put food to flame. I love summer because a great meal is as easy as opening up the backdoor, lighting a fire, and getting dinner (or lunch) rolling. Although I will say that I’ve grilled in the rain, cold and in pitch black conditions, but I’m okay with this. That’s why they make grill lights and fleece; to cook outdoors when the elements go bad. Or so I’ve heard. But as we get going with the long nights that summer offers, here are some great grilling books that I find myself turning towards of late.

Two cool grilling books for the summer:

Top Chef Masters returns for Season 2

Its been announced and making the rounds; Top Chef Masters will be returning for Season 2 on Bravo. I’m looking forward to this season for a few reasons; I thought season 1 made for good watching, I always enjoy seeing top-tier chefs doing there thing, and most of all, Seattle has three entrants. Woot.

When we last talked about Top Chef Masters, season 1 was on the horizon and Kelly Choi was still an unknown to me. Well, after watching the season, we have a few more opinions on Kelly Choi, but most importantly, we were able to learn more about the roster of chefs. Going into the show I was already a fan of Rick Moonen and Rick Bayless, so it was pretty cool to see Chef Bayless walkaway with the prize. What I think is really great about the show is that it highlights chefs that are in the high-tier of their industry and expose them to a mass audience.

For this season, the net was cast a bit further and there are even more contestants. And also some returning contestants. So one of my faves, Chef Moonen will get another chance to take a stab. I’m also looking forward to seeing what’s up Marcus Samuelsson’s sleeve. I’m a fan of his style of cooking and have a lot of success with his recipes. Also, look forward to seeing what Susan Feniger brings to the table; she seems to be a blast.

What’s exciting for Seattleites is that we’ll have three entrants to the arena; Maria Hines of Tilth, Jerry Traunfeld of Poppy, and Thierry Rautureau of Rover’s. For season 1, Seattle didn’t have any competitors so to have these three is rather symbolic for the profile of our area. For any proof, read the comments in some of the blog posts about Top Chef Masters Season 2; people from San Francisco are freaking out because they aren’t represented.

I look forward to tuning in on April 7 for the start of the new season and to see what’s cooking. It’ll tide us over until the next season of Top Chef is at bat.

Here is the list of the chefs that will be competing in this season’s Top Chef Masters:

Jody Adams – Rialto Restaurant, Cambridge, Mass.
Govind Armstrong – 8 oz Burger Bar, Los Angeles, Calif.
Graham Elliot Bowles – Graham Elliot Restaurant, Chicago, Ill.
Jimmy Bradley – The Red Cat, New York, N.Y.
David Burke – David Burke Townhouse, New York, N.Y.
Wylie Dufresne – wd~50, New York, N.Y.
Susan Feniger – Street, Los Angeles, Calif.
Debbie Gold – The American Restaurant, Kansas City, Mo.
Carmen Gonzalez – Chef Consultant, New York, N.Y.
Maria Hines – Tilth, Seattle, Wash.
Susur Lee – Madeline’s, Toronto, Canada
Ludo Lefebvre – Ludo Bites, Los Angeles, Calif.
Tony Mantuano – Spiaggia, Chicago, Ill.
Rick Moonen – Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nev.
Mark Peel – Campanile, Los Angeles, Calif.
Monica Pope – t’afla, Houston, Texas
Thierry Rautureau – Rover’s, Seattle, Wash.
Marcus Samuelsson – The Red Rooster, New York, N.Y.
Ana Sortun – Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.
Rick Tramonto – TRU, Chicago, Ill.
Jerry Traunfeld – Poppy, Seattle, Wash.
Jonathan Waxman – Barbuto, New York, N.Y.

Coffee’s Fourth Wave?

A recent post from Serious Eats about this apparently unbelievable espresso machine heralding coffee’s fourth wave made me think of something; most people don’t even know that coffee is in its fourth wave.

Here’s a short rundown; coffee, in the mind of connoisseurs, has gone through four waves. These are movements, or consumer shifts, that spur massive change through the industry. It effects corporations, growers, businesses, customers, bloggers, and the list goes on. Here are the four waves and brief descriptions:

  • First wave – This was eons ago where Folgers, Maxwell House, or Nescafe made instant coffee an essential component of home kitchens and into ubiquity. This was the start of the nation’s dependence on java.
  • Second wave – We have Starbucks to thank for this. The second wave is where consumers started to look through the coffee prism and see espresso, cappuccino, lattes, etc. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a cup of joe. This was the start of our nation needing coffee at every second of the day served on every street corner.
  • Third wave – This wave is where growers, retailers, and customers were achieving a higher sense of possibility and uniqueness with coffee. Probably the most discussed of the coffee ‘waves’, the Third Wave had people thinking about origins of the beans, characteristics, differences, etc. This was the start of the nation being snobby about their coffee.
  • Fourth wave – Honestly I had no idea that we were even in our fourth wave, but apparently change in the world of coffee never stops. This was the start of the nation Googling ‘coffee third wave’ to learn about the fourth wave.

In the post on Serious Eats, the Fourth Wave is described as the technique and creativity of the barista to enhance the coffee experience. And one can kind of see this happening. Think about the kerfuffle a while back about the Clover machine. This was the espresso machine that was supposed to create as perfect a cup of coffee possible. So awesome that Starbucks bought the company, but only has these machines in a handful of their cafes. Now comes the Slayer (awesome name) a new $18K machine that is supposed to be a game-changer. Hence the fourth wave. I guess. It’s very interesting, but a bit presumptuous.

Honestly, I’m not as well versed on coffee as I could be, but this subject was too interesting to not share. So now if you ever find yourself in a conversation about third wave coffee you can throw your two cents in and elevate your clout by talking about the fourth wave. If there is even such a thing. I’m still getting a hang of the third wave.

Photo from Slayer Espresso