Because a bare cupboard and an empty fridge are sad sights to behold, the Urban Forager hunts through food & wine shops bringing home tasty morsels that make your kitchen table the best place to eat in town.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

White Bordeaux

You know how in movies women always fall for the inaccessible and dark, brooding man who is slightly standoffish and layered with complexities? And the decent looking (but not striking) friend who is available and friendly and fun struggles the whole movie to get attention? During these movies I usually want to root for the friend. He’s fun! And nice! But like in love, these qualities can be more of a burden than an asset for a wine. Be honest - when you hear the word Bordeaux is your first thought ever of white wine? Dry white wine from Bordeaux is made predominately with Sauvignon Blanc and in a style that many California SB producers have imitated: grassy, zingy, citrusy. A little bit of juice from Semillon and Muscadelle grapes is blended in to add richness and aromatics and sometimes a little fruitiness. Very expensive, complex and age-worthy dry whites from Bordeaux are out there, and maybe one day I’ll have enough money to buy them, but right now I’m enjoying the nice, fun bottles that are usually around $12. These wines are very light, making them perfect for lunch (does anyone really drink wine with lunch? If so, god bless you) or perfect for a warm night at the Hollywood bowl. If you have trouble conjuring up what the 2006 Chateau Lamothe de Haux Bordeaux Blanc tastes like just based on words (youthful, lively, grassy, citrusy), then instead, visualize yourself laying under a lemon tree in a patch of lush, bright green, spring grass next to a gurgling brook. For me, that is inexpensive white Bordeaux.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Year of the Pig

In hindsight, perhaps the best way to celebrate the Chinese New Year and welcome in the Year of the Pig was not to, well, eat a pig. An Italian pig, at that. But when I veered out of Chinatown into Formaggio Kitchen at Essex Market and was handed the fattiest piece of pork I’ve ever seen, what was I supposed to do? Say no?
Formaggio Kitchen calls these feathery, fatty slices Porchetta. I’ve seen the word Porchetta applied to various roasted and stuffed pork loin concoctions, but this Porchetta is more like a cured meat, sliced paper-thin with a peppery, herbaceous aroma. In the deli case it looks like Pancetta, but unlike Pancetta, Porchetta does not need to be cooked before being eaten. It is like a cross between Lardo and Prosciutto. I’m throwing around a lot of Italian pork-product lingo here, and if you’re lost at this point, Porchetta may not be your thing. Porchetta is for someone who has years of Prosciutto eating under their belt and is ready for something new. What is unbelievable about Porchetta is how light it feels on the palate, when nutritionally it can’t be much healthier than licking a cube of lard.
In the U.S. you’re likely to pay at least $15/lb for a taste. I have heard that in certain parts of Italy Porchetta sandwiches are sold from what sounds like the Italian version of a taco truck. Which is a nice little reminder that what we think of here as “new gourmet” food is more often than not, food that someone in another country has been eating for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pepper is the New Salt

Updating your spice rack is a lot like flossing – one of those things you know you should do but never get around to. And just like your dentist always reminds you how important flossing is, I’m going to remind you again that yes, using freshly ground spices really does make a difference in your cooking. Especially during winter months when fresh herbs are scarce, spices are an easy way to add more flavor to any dish. My prediction for 2007 is that pepper is the new salt. Don’t get me wrong: I love my fleur de sel and sprinkle it on anything that comes within ten feet of my kitchen. But the shelves of stores and pages of magazines have been saturated with all-things-salt-related for too long. Pepper is poised and ready to reveal its spicy-ness to the world.
I bought two different types of pepper from Formaggio Kitchen this week – the spices are priced at around $25/lb but nobody needs a pound of the stuff; my $4.00 portions will last at least a month. Urfa is a dark, dark red color (almost black) and soft and feathery to the touch. First it’s sweet, then smoky, then a slow burn begins. They say you can use it on anything and I’ve put that to the test, sprinkling it on meat, roasted vegetables, and on one sad starving night directly onto a piece of cheese. I actually have found the Maras to be more versatile, like a really delicious red pepper flake. The texture is coarser and it is spicier, and less smoky, than the Urfa. Remember that when you are using freshly ground spices like these, a little dab will do ya. A little bit adds a lot of flavor, unlike the dead cumin you just bought at the grocery store that is probably as old as the Twinkies in aisle six. So repeat after me: I will floss my teeth. I will use fresher spices.
Other lovely spice purveyors: The Spanish Table, Penzys

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Swiss Chard

For the first installment in my on-going series called “What the Hell is this?” I’m starting out with something simple. You will find it nestled among the various heads of lettuce and other, darker leafy greens in almost any grocery store: Swiss Chard. The one thing I always remember about Swiss Chard is that my dad doesn’t like it. You may think that this is a strike against Swiss Chard, but keep in mind that my dad loves bologna and margarine sandwiches. Swiss Chard is one of those enormously healthy leafy greens. When I was a kid we always had it in the summer straight out of the garden, sautéed with butter. Now, because you can find it in grocery stores year round, I think of it as more of a winter green to be eaten on cold days when salad just doesn’t sound good. I roughly chop the greens (sometimes omitting the stems, which tend to be tough)and rinse them, leaving some water on the greens when I put it in a pan over medium heat. This way, when you put a lid on the pan the Chard will steam itself. When it’s soft and wilted I sometimes add a little olive oil or salt. I especially like it as a side to pasta dishes with a red sauce. In the summer, look for rainbow chard – before I cook this chard I stick in a flower vase and use as décor on my counter for a day or two.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Shut Up and Eat

Am I the only person who thinks restaurant bloggers are bordering on obnoxious?
To the diner who asks which country the short ribs on menu are native to, I can only say this. Who cares! And stop pestering the poor wait staff! Now, I am a woman who LOVES FOOD. I love it, folks. I love to eat it, look at, think about. When The Husband frequently sees a faraway look in my eyes and asks what I am pondering, it is rarely world peace. It’s usually something along the lines of how I would construct the perfect ham sandwich. But come on. It’s time for the restaurant bloggers to pipe down a little bit and stop turning the restaurant industry into a freak-show where patrons don’t come simply to eat, but come instead to gawk at the staff and nit-pick their way through a meal. Is that really an enjoyable eating experience for them? This is one of the reasons the Urban Forager stays out of restaurants. Eating at one brings back bad memories of working at one and having to deal with people who have turned what used to be a leisurely activity (eating) into a competitive sport. Sheesh.

Viña Borgia 2005

My first sip of this wine immediately created the visual of frozen raspberries that had defrosted in a bowl, bright red juice pooling around tart berries. A raspberry plucked from the vine in the middle of summer is plump and juicy and ripe – that is not this wine. This is the raspberry that has let go of its sweetness and become a lean, tart berry. When I took a sniff, at first I thought the wine had a floral bouquet…then I realized I was smelling my hand lotion (that, my friends, is why professional tasters ban perfume and lotion). The bouquet is actually quite subtle, some bright red berries with a hint of cinnamon. The finish is very dry. And that’s about it – for $7.00 I don’t expect more complexity than that, and considering that this same wine would probably cost me a few dollars more for only l glass at a restaurant, I completely feel like I got my money’s worth. I suggest a chunk of cheese and/or cured meat to round out the rough edges. I find that most less expensive wines are not meant to be drunk without food. Like people, wine craves a companion. I also like the sexy label, as so many of the newer Spanish wines have. If you look on the back of the bottle you will see in small letters “Jorge Ordoñez Selection.” Ol’ Jorge does a fine job of bringing inexpensive ($6-$12) Spanish wines to the market. While they may not knock your socks off, many are as drinkable as higher priced domestic wines.

Cheese & Politics

I am not quite ready to say which of the democratic candidates for the 2008 presidential election I would like to see in the White House, but you should know that I am not above letting my palate do the choosing. And my vote, ladies and gents, is Barick Obama. This tasty but funky-almost-to-the-point-of-being-foul-smelling cheese is made by Lazy Lady Farm in Vermont. It is a bold cheese ready to take on the world, meaning don’t let it sit in the back of your fridge or every time you go to get the milk or peanut butter or salad out The Husband will say, “what is that *#%& smell…” But the bark is worse than the bite (for both the cheese and The Husband). If you catch it before it’s too ripe, the texture is almost like a very dense triple crème, but a little gooey-er. The flavor is meaty and rich. Other Lazy Lady cheeses with political aspirations are the raw goat’s milk Tomme de Lay and the raw cow’s milk Fil-A-Buster. Like politics, these cheeses are not for the faint of heart.