I can’t believe there’s such a thing as Milo breakfast cereal. Why don’t they just drop all pretence and sell Violet Crumble cereal, and Mars Bar cereal, and Toblerone cereal?
Archive for the ‘Food’ Category
The 2005 Reserve Merlot from Gibson is a blend of two Merlot crops, from the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley, both in South Australia, with a total of 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon added in, also from both locations. Apparently this is little enough that it doesn’t need to be mentioned on the front label. Anyway, we had this wine at a Thai restaurant, with grilled salmon, and a beef pad khee mao – flavourful but neither dish very spicy. From the first sip I knew this was something special. It’s very complex, bursting with layers of different flavours that it took me some time to get to grips with. Wife held the back label of the bottle secret and we tried to list some flavours. I got an aroma of raspberry – it smells very fruity and simple. But the flavour is big and round and fills the mouth, with black cherry dominant to my tongue. There’s no hint of the mint you sometimes get with Merlot, but more of a dark fruit thing, with a subtle hint of cinnamon and maybe nutmeg. A light touch of oak comes through and some light tannin. And then the most extraordinary thing happens – the aftertaste is long and lingering, and both wife and myself picked up a creamy, milky sensation. After this, we referred to the back of the bottle, which listed stone fruits, musk, cinnamon, and almond. The milkiness clicked with the almond – a definite link there. Overall it was very pleasant and interesting, and it matched the food tolerably well, so a definite success.
And ever since I started getting into wine, I’ve been keen on trying some of the more exotic sweet offerings. I’d read about Hungarian Tokaji, but had never seen any in a local shop. Then when I went to San Francisco recently, I happened on a wine shop in Burlingame, and browsed around. When I spotted this bottle of Tokaji, I had to buy it. It survived the trip home in my luggage, and we cracked it the other day after dinner. It’s really different to any other dessert wine I’ve tried. Most are sweet, tending to syrupy, with orange and marmalade notes dominating. This one is much more tropical in outlook, with a bright golden yellow colour, and a thin-ness that is far from syrupy in the glass. It smells fresh and clean, fruity, with perhaps a hint of freshly cut grass. The taste is liquid sunshine, with pineapple coming through strongly, and hints of kiwifruit and lime. There’s a minerally, chemically mid-taste, slightly reminiscent of Riesling. Some dessert wines retain residual fermentation fizz, but there’s absolutely none here. The aftertaste is smooth and lingering, tending towards banana. It’s totally different to any other dessert wine I’ve tried, and very nice. I must keep an eye out for more.
I recently bought the book Cooking for Geeks. It’s very cool, and it approaches cooking the way I like to approach things, by understanding how it works. Rather than give you a recipe and you just follow it blindly and hope for the best, it explains that at this temperature this particular protein denatures, which makes meat taste good, and at that temperature some other protein denatures, which makes meat tough and stringy, so the secret to a good steak is to warm the inside to a temperature between the two.
Another thing it tells you is the temperature at which collagen – the tough gristly connective gunk between the meat – denatures into gelatin. This reaction takes a long time, so the way to get a tough piece of meat to be nice is to cook it at a specific temperature for several hours. This explains why cheap cuts of meat should be stewed over a low heat for hours. After explaining this, it gives a recipe which demonstrates the principle: duck confit. This sounds fancy and scary, but the procedure is pretty simple*.
So on Sunday I bought a couple of duck legs from a local gourmet butcher, prepared them, and whacked them in the over for 6 hours. It was 10pm by the time they came out, so I cooled them down and stuck them in the fridge. Tonight for dinner, I took one of the legs out and seared the skin side in a really hot frying pan with some butter, while I boiled up some simple pasta spirals. I tried to be fancy and make a sauce out of the leftover fat in the pan once I removed the duck leg, but it didn’t turn out (I need more practice at that), so I dumped it and just had the duck leg with the pasta.
Oh. My. God.
I had no idea I could cook anything that delicious. The duck, deprived of its connective collagen, simply fell off the bone. It was moist and tender and slightly salty and lip-smackingly tasty. And the seared skin was crispy and provided a nice contrast to the soft meat.
Next time we have people over for dinner, or I have to cook something for the guys for a gaming day or something, I am going to make this. I want people to fawn over me as the creator of this sensual, delectable delight. And I have another leg still in the fridge… oooh, yum.
* Duck Confit
Get some duck legs. Pat dry, then rub salt into them, covering every surface (about a tablespoon of salt per leg). Option: add garlic and/or herbs. Sit in covered bowl in fridge for a couple of hours. Wash thoroughly and pat dry. Arrange in an oven dish and cover with olive oil – the duck has to be completely submerged. Bake at 80°C for six hours. (Yes, 80, not 180. Below the boiling point of water.) Remove from oil and either store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week to use later, or sear the skin crispy in a frying pan and serve. (And save the oil – it now has duck fat mixed through it. Use it to fry potatoes, or eggs, or meats.)
Inniskillin is a Canadian winery, which makes one of the most acclaimed icewines in the world. These are sweet dessert wines produced from grapes that freeze on the vine late in the harvest season with the first frosts of winter. The freezing removes water and concentrates the sugars, allowing deliciously sweet wines to be made without further processing.
I’ve reviewed one icewine before, and I’ve tried another once at a wine festival in the German town of Bingen, on the Rhine River (boast, moi?). Both were absolutely delicious. So when I saw this bottle of Inniskillin Riesling Icewine in a local bottle shop, I was immediately attracted to it. Alas, the price tag was around $115, for 375 ml. I held out for a couple of visits, while I read up on Inniskillin online. Everything I found said that these were the pinnacle of icewines. And then I got a 20% discount voucher for the bottle shop, and went in one day to pick up some bottles of other things. While there, I asked the guy about the Inniskillin. He said that they were lucky to have that one bottle in stock – they rarely get them in, as the number of bottles imported to Australia is so few. Given that, I took the plunge and grabbed it, not knowing when I might get the chance to acquire a bottle again.
We opened it on New Year’s Eve, after a quiet dinner at home, relaxing into an evening of TV, and had it with a platter of cheeses. The colour is, as you can see from the photo, a rich, dark gold – darker than any other dessert wine I’ve had. The aroma was fresh and vibrant, with oranges the dominant note. It was slightly thick and syrupy. On the tongue it was sweet, with flavours of orange and marmalade, with a touch of acidity to cut into the sweetness, something like lime. It was nicely balanced, but very sweet, and… disappointingly simple. I was expecting layers of complex flavours developing in the mouth, but there wasn’t much of that going on. There was a hint of Riesling minerality underneath it all, and that slight piercing note in the aroma, but the fruit flavour and sweetness were basically straightforward.
M. put it best when she said it reminded her of Noble One, the benchmark Australian dessert wine, a botrytis Semillon by De Bortoli, and one which we’ve had several times. It’s true – it tasted almost exactly like Noble One. The same orange dominance with a bittersweet marmalade finish and lingering taste. While this is very nice (I love Noble One), it wasn’t what I was hoping for in an internationally acclaimed wine that cost nearly 3 times as much.
So… Inniskillin Riesling Icewine. Good, but not that good. Inniskillin also makes icewine from Vidal, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo, so I might try one of those at some point (if I can find any).
Yesterday I went for an overnight trip into the country with the wife. We stayed overnight at Kangaroo Valley, about 2.5 hours drive from Sydney. It’s doable in a day trip, but we figured we have some time off over the Christmas/New Year period so why not stay overnight and give ourselves time to explore at leisure, rather than rush. We drove down via Bowral and the Southern Highlands wine region, though we didn’t stop in at any wineries along the way. The weather was hot and we spent most of our activity time wandering around Bowral itself, then taking a walk through the bush at Fitzroy Falls to see this 82 metre waterfall plunging off the sandstone escarpment into the rainforest valley below.
At Kangaroo Valley, we had dinner at Jing Jo Thai Restaurant – one of the few options open on the day. We ordered a garlic and ginger squid dish, and spicy stir-fried battered fish pieces. To go with this we chose this Yarraman Road 2000 Semillon. A young waiter poured glasses for us, then a minutes later the owner came out and asked if we’d tried the wine yet. He said that this was a particularly unusual Semillon, being extremely dry in style, and he’d had several diners return bottles of it, thinking it had been corked. So he wanted to check to see if we were happy with it, or if we didn’t like it he offered to replace it with something else for us. We tried sips, and thought it was okay, so we stuck with it.
I can see what he meant though, as it was very dry, with a gooseberry tartness that reminded me of Sauvignon blanc, and also a hint of something earthy, slightly truffly or musty. It wasn’t unpleasant or very strong though, and the cork itself seemed perfectly fine, so we were happy to keep it. The aroma was strongly citrusy, with lime dominating over lemon, and the flavour likewise, with that gooseberry tartness on the finish. It was actually very nice with the spicy food. The earthiness was very much a background note – not something that dominated the flavour at all. Overall I’d say it was decent, and matched the excellent food well.
We finished our trip by driving back a different route, taking the coastal highway via Berry and Kiama, getting home in time for New Year’s Eve!
I haven’t done a wine post for a while, mostly because I’ve been a bit lazy. But I had to get my act together for this one. Having had so much fun with the Stonecroft Gewürztraminer from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, I thought I’d try this one from the famous Cloudy Bay winery in NZ’s Marlborough region.
We took this bottle to our favourite Thai restaurant, knowing that the spiciness of the wine would suit the food. I had a spicy duck stir fry, which was dressed with a touch of Thai red curry and coconut cream, and M. had a vege stir fry with cashew nuts (her favourite). The food was excellent as usual, and complemented the wine nicely.
Firstly, this is a very different beast to the Stonecroft. It has that lemon-lime citrusy aroma, with a hint of jasmine, and maybe orange blossom this time. The taste is immediately sharper, with the spice hitting up front, over layers of honeydew melon and lychees. There’s some slightly chalky minerality mixed in, and a merest hint of fermentation fizz. And there’s a hint of sweetness, and an orange marmalade bitterness at the back end, mixed with black pepper spiciness. Again, there’s heaps going on, and it makes for an incredibly complex range of sensations.
Interestingly, M. didn’t like this one much, despite really enjoying the Stonecroft version. I could tell they were very different, and I have to agree the Stonecroft is more to my liking, but I enjoyed the complexity and flavours in this one too. I guess I’ll stick with Cloudy Bay for top-notch Sauvignon blanc, but go further afield for Gewürz.
I just had a Subway sandwich, and I notice on the packaging the following information:
Subway sandwiches with 6 grams of fat or less include:
- Ham (4.1g fat Aus; 4.5g fat NZ)
- Veggie Delight(3.1g fat Aus; 3.1g fat NZ)
- Turkey & Ham (4.9g fat Aus; 4.9g fat NZ)
- Turkey (5.1g fat Aus; 4.9g fat NZ)
- (some others)
Prepared according to standard recipes […]
This presents some interesting observations. Firstly, notice that the amounts of fat are different for Australia and New Zealand. I’m guessing this is because here in Australia Subway uses leaner ham than in NZ, while conversely we get fattier turkey than in NZ.
Secondly, the veggie sub, which has negligible fat content in the filling (essentially just lettuce, tomato, onion, carrot, and cucumber – the “6 grams of fat or less” subs are defined to have “no cheese or condiments”) must be getting all of its fat content from the bread. The fact that this is the same in both countries is mildly reassuring.
Thirdly, the combined Australian ham & turkey sub contains a fat content that is, understandably, between the fat content of the ham or the turkey alone – assuming it contains a fraction of the ham plus a fraction of the turkey of the individual subs, not just both lots added together. The NZ ham & turkey is a bit more puzzling, since it contains the same amount of fat as a turkey sub alone! Yet we can see the turkey is fattier than the ham, so if we remove some turkey and add an equal amount of ham, the total fat content should drop.
Fourthly, the “prepared according to standard recipes” implies that the same proportions of ingredients are used in both countries to make the same sandwiches. (This may not actually be the case, but run with me here.)
Well, given these data, let’s see what we can deduce. Let’s call the amount of ham in a ham sub a “serve of ham”, and the amount of turkey in a turkey sub a “serve of turkey”. Then in Australia a serve of ham contains 1 gram of fat and a serve of turkey contains 2 grams of fat, while in NZ they contain 1.4 and 1.8 grams of fat respectively.
Now let h be the number of serves of ham in a ham & turkey sub and t be the number of serves of turkey. Then, subtracting the 3.1 grams of fat from the bread (the same for each sandwich), we have:
- In Australia: 1h + 2t = 1.8
- In New Zealand: 1.4h + 1.8t = 1.8
Plugging this into Mathematica (hey, I could solve it by hand if I wanted, but I have Mathematica sitting right here, so why not use it?) gives:
- h = 0.36
- t = 0.72
So, this means:
- A ham & turkey sub contains exactly twice as much turkey as ham!
- The total amount of meat in a ham and turkey sub is 1.08 serves!
But wait, there’s more! That 1.08 serves is made up of 0.36 serves of ham and 0.72 serves of turkey. If the serves are the same size, then you get more meat in a ham & turkey sub than in either a ham or a turkey sub alone. But let’s say the size of a serve of ham is H and the size of a serve of turkey is T. Then setting the size of a standard serve of “ham & turkey” to be the same size as a serve of turkey, we get:
- 0.36H + 0.72T = T
Solving for T in terms of H, this gives:
- T = 9H/7
In other words, if a serve of turkey is more than 9/7 the size of a serve of ham, then a ham & turkey sub gives you less meat than a turkey sub. But if a serve if turkey is less than 9/7 the size of a serve of ham, then a ham & turkey sub gives you more meat than either a ham sub or a turkey sub alone. A sensible assumption is that Subway is likely not going to give you less meat on a ham & turkey sub than on a turkey sub, so we can be pretty sure that a turkey sub contains no more than 9/7 the amount of meat of a ham sub.
This then allows us to calculate that, in Australia, turkey is at least (2/1)/(9/7) = 1.56 times as fatty as ham, while in New Zealand turkey is at least (1.8/1.4)/(9/7) = 1 times… at least as exactly fatty as ham!
What this in turn says about turkey and pig farming practices in Australia and New Zealand is left as an exercise for the reader.
Last night we held the wine tasting night which I described a few days ago.
We had a total of 12 people participating, and six white wines to taste. Veronica got the job of decanting the wines into the set of identical decanters we bought. We labelled the decanters with letters (A through F) using Post-it notes. Veronica was sequestered in a room with a green filter placed over the light so she couldn’t distinguish the colours of the wines as she was pouring them. She wrote down a mapping from the wines to the letters, and kept this secret from everyone else.
Veronica then left the secret room and Steven went in. He wrote down a shuffled mapping from letters (A to F) to numbers (1 to 6). He then replaced the letters on the decanters with the corresponding numbers and kept his piece of paper with the mapping secret. Then we brought the decanters out to the dining table, where everyone had six wine glasses of their own (brought from home).
Meanwhile, we’d all labelled our glasses with Post-its or stickers, numbered 1 to 6 to match the decanters. And while doing all this we were snacking on cheese and crackers. There was a King Island brie, some sort of soft, mild blue cheese, and a matured cheddar. The crackers were intended to be useful during the tasting, to cleanse palates in between sips of the various different wines.
We passed the decanters around the table so everyone could pour a sample of each wine into their own matching numbered glass. Once that was done, I (having bought the wines) announced to everyone what the six different types of wine were. And then we began tasting.
We have a mixed amount of experience with wine. David Mc’s uncle owns a winery in the Hunter Valley, and he probably knows more about wine than any of the rest of us, though he’d admit he’s no expert. I’ve been trying to learn, but less than a year of experience is not a lot when it comes to the complexity of what lay before us. The list of wines again, for reference:
- Wither Hills 2009 Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc
- Brokenwood 2008 Hunter Valley Semillon
- Wynns 2008 Connawarra Estate Riesling
- Gramp’s 2006 Barossa Chardonnay
- Brown Brothers 2009 King Valley Pinot Grigio
- Pewsey Vale 2008 Eden Valley Gewürtztraminer
The goal was not to be competitive and try to identify the wines, but simply to discuss our impressions of them and see if we could get most people agreeing on various characteristics and descriptors, helping the less experienced people to find the right vocabulary to describe the aromas and tastes. And of course for everyone to actually have six different wines in front of them to assist in making immediate comparisons and get a handle on the variety of flavours that are possible.
Of course this didn’t stop some of us from trying to identify the wines. This resulted in some hilarity later on when we revealed what the wines were, but more about that in a minute. The first thing that was agreed on by those with some wine experience was that Wine #1 was the Chardonnay. The oaky, woody flavour stood out, and even the people with little experience agreed it was very different from all the rest of the wines.
I actually started tasting from #6, since M. was sharing our glasses and started at the other end. A sniff of #6 brought to mind the distinctive piercing, minerally small of Riesling. A sip confirmed this in my mind, and I locked that in as an identification. This turned out to be a critical error. Working my way backwards, I found #5 to be very acidic and lemony. I thought I could detect the grassy, herbaceous qualities of Sauvignon blanc, and wrote that down. But #4 made me doubt that identification, as it turned out to be very similar at first taste. There was a bit of discussion about how similar #4 and #5 were, and Tina came up with the observation that while they were both citrusy, #4 had a slightly bitter citrus peel aftertaste, that #5 lacked.
Working may way back through the numbers, #3 had me baffled. By now my confidence in identifying at least 2 or 3 of the wines was being eroded. I think I wrote a tentative Semillon for #3, mainly because I have very little experience with Semillon. #2 seemed to have a very floral aroma, which I associate with Gewürztraminer. Others agreed in discussion. I then tasted it, looking for the spiciness that I expected, and found a hint of it – probably more through expectation than anything else – so I wrote down another identification.
The discussion was lively, with everyone throwing in opinions and flavour words like “peachy”, “lychees”, and so on, as well as quite a bit of, “Oh, this has a distinctive smell… what is it?” The main observation about the colours of the wines was that #6 was much more pink than any of the others, but this bit of information didn’t illuminate anything for us.
When we’d had enough discussion, Andrew S. grabbed the wine bottles and read out the descriptions on the back labels. They included the usual references to various fruits and so on, and some people made notes and tried to adjust their guesses of which wine might be which based on this new information. My list looked like this:
- Pinot grigio?
- Sauvignon Blanc?
I was positive I’d got the Chardonnay and Riesling right, and moderately sure about the Sauvignon blanc and Gewürztraminer. The Pinot grigio I’d assigned based on nothing other than David Mc’s telling me a few weeks ago that it was a bit like Sauvignon blanc – I’d never tried this grape myself yet. The wine label reading didn’t really illuminate anything new for me.
Then came the moment of truth. Veronica and Steven colluded and came up with the mapping from numbers back via letters to the wines. Here is what they were (also see the photo, where the bottles are shown in order, left to right):
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot grigio
Yeah, I got a measly one right. David Mc got the Chardonnay and the Semillon – he’d pointed out that a young Semillon is very citrusy and acidic, with hints of buttery and nutty flavours underneath that come out with age as the acidity dies away. His experience there was a big advantage. Steven, who went in claiming to know virtually nothing about wines, had based his guesses entirely on the wine label reading stage compared to the notes he’d made – and he scored 6 out of 6, much better than anyone else! In hindsight, my big mistake was nailing down the Riesling at the first taste of #6, which blinded me to the fact that #4 also displayed the distinctive Riesling notes. Basically, as far as my identifying skills go, this was pretty much a debacle! I’ll have to be more circumspect and careful next time, when we attempt red wine varietals.
After the tasting, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner together, with a fantastic pork roast by Tina, spinach and pine nut pasta by Andrew S, chili chicken wings by Andrew C, lasagne by David K and Christine, followed by a chocolate tart by M. and me, with fresh fruit brought by Loki and Rach. All together it was a great evening. I think we all learnt a lot about our experience with the wines, some of us learning we knew less than we thought we did, and others getting more up to speed with tasting and terminology. A resounding success!
You probably know I’m in the process of trying to increase my knowledge and experience of wine. As it turns out, a bunch of my friends would also like to do this. So we are holding a wine tasting evening tomorrow night!
Being the irrepressible geeks that we are, we have worked out something moderately close to a double-blind wine tasting protocol, which goes roughly as follows:
- Decide on a set of wines to try and buy the bottles.
- Assemble for the tasting.
- Take the wines into a secret room, with an equal number of decanters.
- Under coloured light (to conceal the colour of the wines), one person pours each bottle into a decanter, and labels the wines and decanters with matching letters.
- A second person writes down a mapping from letters to numbers, and replace the letters on the decanters with numbers based on the mapping.
- The decanters now contain numbers that can be mapped back to the wine bottles, but no person knows the mapping! Bring them out to the common room.
- Pour and taste the wines, making and comparing notes amongst the participants. Each person will have six wine glasses so they can have a sample of every wine in front of them at once. The idea here is that this will help us pick up some of the differences between the wines, and the less experienced tasters can learn how to describe them from the more experienced tasters.
- Reveal the wines in each decanter, so we can learn what aromas and flavours are associated with which styles.
After the tasting, we will be having dinner and playing games and stuff. And we’ll have spittoons for the tasting. We don’t want anyone driving home intoxicated.
Here’s the list for the first tasting event: White grape varietals:
- Wither Hills 2009 Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc
- Brokenwood 2008 Hunter Valley Semillon
- Wynns 2008 Connawarra Estate Riesling
- Gramp’s 2006 Barossa Chardonnay
- Brown Brothers 2009 King Valley Pinot Grigio
- Pewsey Vale 2008 Eden Valley Gewürtztraminer
We’re sticking with Australian and New Zealand wines for the first few events. Next time we’ll do red varietals, and then we can move on to international varieties, or perhaps try tasting a set of different vineyards, vintages, and prices for one style.
Should be fun! I’ll report on anything interesting we learn from the experience.
I’ve started reading the copy of Cooking for Geeks I ordered from Amazon. It includes a bunch of interviews with various foodies and food-oriented geeks. The first is with one Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University who studies people’s interactions with food.
He says at least 80% of cooks can be described in one of these five categories:
- Giving cooks: See food as an extension of love. They tend to make great bakers, stick to trusted traditional recipes, and everyone loves their home-style cooking.
- Healthy cooks: Cook because eating pre-prepared food isn’t as healthy. Tend to use lots of fresh produce and seafood, may have their own vegetable garden.
- Methodical cooks: Can cook anything, but will do so with a recipe in front of them the whole time. And when they’re finished, the result will look exactly like it does in the cookbook.
- Innovative cooks: Cook by intuition. If they use a cookbook at all, it’s merely to glance at the picture, say, “I can do that,” and then go try doing it. It may not turn out right, but that’s okay, they just go, “No biggie, I’ll do it differently next time.”
- Competitive cooks: Cook to impress. Try weird stuff in an effort to make people go, “Wow! I’ve never had anything like that before.”
As much as I dislike pigeonholing, this breakdown (and the fact that Wansink says only about 80% of cooks fall neatly into one of the categories) sounds pretty close to my experience with the cooking of myself and other people. My wife is the methodical sort. I’m always exhorting her not to bother measuring stuff – just chuck in as much as looks right – but she insists on carefully using the measuring cups and scales that I never bother with.
Interestingly, I pegged myself as an innovative type, but when I read the categories out to her she immediately said the competitive category fit me perfectly. Hmmm.