Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Campo ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino 2015
If you live in Ontario, go visit your friendly neighbourhood government liquor outlet (aka Gum Department Store) and pick up a bottle of this very nice red wine from Frescobaldi. The price is $21.95, which is a bit above normal table wine in this overpriced jurisdiction, but it is a fine wine indeed. It’s a poor man’s version of the $52.95 Brunello di Montalcino by the same producer. For scientific purposes I will try the Brunello and report on whether one would be better off with the big dog than with 2.2 bottles of the “lesser” wine.
“I like to have a martini, Two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”
— Dorothy Parker
So one night recently I was watching Springwatch on the Beeb and sipping a wee dram of Scotland’s finest. After the show I went to waste some time on the machine – Empire Deluxe Enhanced Edition being my latest addiction. At some point I thought a bit of Cointreau would finish off the evening, so I poured a small slug. It was late and the room is not well lit – at least that’s my excuse for not noticing that a small amount of single malt still remained in the glass.
On the surface this looks like a recipe for disaster, but the result was intriguing. The main impression was the dry intense orange flavour of Cointreau, but somehow the smoky, peaty malt added a very pleasing edge to the concoction.
I have tried a lot of corkscrews over the years, and in general I have been disappointed. Most of those available fail in at least one of the two critical criteria: they don’t remove corks cleanly and easily, and/or they are fragile. However I bought a Rabbit a couple of years ago and am finally content. I think the Metrokane Rabbit two-step corkscrew achieves the gold standard.
The most important quality of a corkscrew is that (duh!) it removes corks easily and efficiently. The Rabbit has the key features needed to do the job. It has a slim but strong screw with a coating that allows it to easily screw into even old and hard corks. It is robustly built and very comfortable in the hand. The blade for removing foil is sharp and nicely shaped. The fact that it costs no more than a decent bottle of table wine is icing on the cake.
This particular design is called a waiter corkscrew, but the best examples have a two stage (“two step”) lever action. The Rabbit is a two stage model and it works brilliantly . The two stage action gives you a mechanical advantage that comes in very handy when trying to remove a long cork, such as those used in vintage Bordeaux wines.
My sainted wife gave me an early Christmas present!
For all that I enjoy living in Britain, there are a few national peculiarities that continue to puzzle me. A case in point is the Cheerios Affair. Any reputable grocery store will stock a number of bizarre offshoots of the Cheerios clan – honey/almond, multi-grain, “chocolatey”, basil/chipotle (OK, I made that last one up), but the humble simple unsweetened toasty perfection of the original 100% oat Cheerio is nowhere to be found.
This is not merely an academic observation – my standard breakfast for going on 40 years has been a bowl of Cheerios. The chaos that might befall if I had to eat some other kind of cereal is too terrible to contemplate.
We do have the option of driving for about two hours to the nearest American PX, which also stocks other essentials of life unknown to the Brits: Miracle Whip, Texas Pete’s hot sauce and crunchy peanut butter in tubs larger than a teacup, but with fuel running at £1.20/litre this is an expensive proposition.
It’s probably a sign of age that we didn’t immediately work out the obvious solution. Of course you can Google Cheerios and of course you can have them delivered to your door. And this being Britain, of course they will show up the day after you order them. (That’s the standard delay for mail delivery). And just in time too – I was down to my last box.
Civilization as we know it is once again saved by the power of the world-wide web! Perhaps I’ll send a box of O’s to Sir Tim Berners-Lee as a reward. 🙂
For a long time I failed to see the point of guacamole. It was a tasteless green paste that occasionally showed up on your plate at natural foods restaurants, the proprietors apparently believing that its sickly chartreuse hue contrasted pleasingly with the dish you had ordered.
Then in 2002 I had a religious experience. At the end of a fine week at a cycling camp run by Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo (see link to PAC Tours), we now-hardened roadies decided on a night out in Tucson. Imagine if you will a mile long strip of Mexican restaurants, only very few of them were mere generic Mexican – instead they featured cooking from the Yucatan, or Oaxaca, or Veracruz or Chiapas, and so on. A veritable cornucopia and only one meal to eat. Happy sigh.
Once we chose a place and ordered drinks, the waiter asked us if we wanted guacamole. The consensus was yes, so I went along with the crowd. Shortly thereafter the guacamole lady showed up with her cart, and after asking how we wanted it, proceeded to mash up the avocados and our chosen condiments in a large bowl. The result was a revelation – fresh, flavourable and very satisfying. I kept a close watch on how she made the stuff and have developed this recipe based on her technique plus a bit of experimentation. It’s dead easy to make and extremely delicious.
Guacamole is a rustic peasant food. It should be fairly rough in appearance: basically a well blended mass but with lots of chunks of avocado of various sizes. Looking a lot like this:
Seriously. One of mankind’s greatest inventions. Make a basic stir fry, then just before you thicken it, mix in two or three heaping teaspoons of the magic elixir. Result – nirvana. Or to be more correct, ambrosia (food of the gods).
This is a good brand, but they’re all pretty much the same. Chili, garlic and salt. Normally I would tend to shy away from products from the People’s Republic – their problems with food producers using dodgy ingredients are well documented – but I have to admit that the Lee Kum Kee sauce has a nice fresh taste. Speaking of fresh, remember that this ingredient is very inexpensive. It will last forever in the fridge but if it’s been open for six months or so why not splurge on a new jar?
As a thirsty tourist in Salisbury you will be faced with a large number of pubs eager to have your trade. Most of these are quite sound so it’s hard to make a really bad choice, but there are a few that are particularly reliable.
Having been here for two years and having visited most of the local establishments (purely for research purposes!) I can make a few recommendations. The following ratings are entirely subjective, but include things I consider important in a pub: mainly ambience, beer selection and food.
As the Americans would say, Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): My top choices for Salisbury pubs are The Cloisters, The Avon Brewery, The Rai d’Or, and The Old Mill (which is actually in Harnham rather than Salisbury)
First, a word about food. The challenges faced by the pub industry (see sidebar below) have created a situation where many pubs have become restaurants in order to survive. This is not a bad thing – many of the pubs I visited on my first trip to Britain in the early 80s were proud to offer a full menu of crisps, ghastly packaged Scotch Eggs and peanuts. So the fact that in most pubs you can now buy something decent to eat is not a bad thing.
However my particular prejudice is that pubs should serve pub food. The “gastro pub” (soi-disant) can be an interesting place to eat but the better and more precious and “cheffy” the food is the less likely that you would want to drop in for a pint (even if they allow you to do so). If I want restaurant food I also want restaurant amenities – which as a minimum include table service by people who know about what’s on the menu and how to serve it, tablecloths and silverware, and most importantly a trained chef in the kitchen who makes the food rather than heating up prepared meals.
So… with one exception these pubs are rated on their ability to deliver the canon: good ales, a decent wine for my bride, and a menu that includes fish and chips, beef burgers, gammon steak with egg and chips, and Sunday roast.
Chocolate Brownies (Jane Kaduck) These are the Best Brownies Ever, but don’t skimp on the ingredients! Use butter (not margarine or any other substitute) and good chocolate. Baker’s is the standard but you could push the boat out a bit more and go for Valrhona.
1. Melt: 4 sq unsweetened chocolate with 1 cup butter
2. Sift together: 1 ½ cup white flour, ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt
3. In a large bowl: Cream together: 4 eggs and 2 cups white sugar Beat in: 2 tsp vanilla, 1 Tbsp corn syrup Then beat in melted chocolate/butter, followed by the flour mixture.
4. Bake in a greased 9×13 pan at 350F for 20 – 25 minutes. Brownies are done when they test done (with a toothpick) about 2 inches from the edge of the pan (not the centre). (They continue to cook in their own heat after removing from oven). In British ovens you may need to cook an extra 5 minutes or so with a piece of aluminium foil draped loosely over the top to prevent over-browning on top.
Top Tip: Don’t overcook these brownies. They should be very moist, Cool. Frost with chocolate icing if desired.
Chocolate Frosting Melt: 3 heaping tbsp cocoa powder, 2 tbsp butter, 1 ½ to 2 cups icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp (approx) milk. Beat together. Add more icing sugar/milk to achieve desired consistency.