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.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Perhaps a sharp knife is not what you want everyone in your circle of acquaintances to have, but for those who can be trusted (and more to the point, like to cook) getting their kitchen knives sharpened for them just might make a great holiday gift. Sharpening knives is one of those things people rarely get around to doing for themselves. Case in point, myself: a culinary school graduate who cooks regularly and until last week hadn’t sharpened her knives in…this is a little embarrassing…four years. Perhaps I got away with it for so long because I have great knives (W├╝sthof). But a sharp knife really does make a huge difference in your ability to cut well and cut quickly, making life in the kitchen much easier. Although when I asked the knife sharpening guy how often I should have them sharpened, he just shrugged and said, “When they need it.”
He did, however, chastise me for not using my steel to give the knives occasional touch-ups, just as a dentist would lecture his patient for not flossing. A steel is a tool used to maintain the edge of the knife, not to actually sharpen it. It was a culinary instructor who scared me away from steels by pointing out everything that could go wrong. “If you hold your knife against the steel at too much of an angle, it will dull the blade!” "If you stroke it against the steel too many times, it will dull the blade!” “If you don’t run the whole length of the knife against the steel it will . . .” – you get the point. But I am afraid no more. I’ll hold the knife at a 20 degree angle to the steel. I’ll make even, light strokes. I’ll do it regularly and once or twice a year I’ll go see the knife guy. It’s inexpensive (several dollars for each knife) but invaluable.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Beware the Stacks!

It’s that time of year again, when we all find ourselves running into wine stores for a bottle on the way to a party. Inevitably, stacked on the ends of the aisle are ginormous displays, cases stacked on cases of wines. The signs promise red wine bursting with some luscious red fruit or another and white wine with what they swear is pleasing acidity. Unless the wine on display is one you have tasted before and like, my holiday advice to you is this: Step away from the stacks. In most wine stores, my friends, the really good wine is in the aisles, never stacked on the ends. Wine stacked on the end is what the employees are supposed to sell because it makes money for the store. If the employees are truly wine lovers, however, what they want to sell you is the non-descript bottle somewhere on the shelf that they drank the other night and thought was fantastic. Here is a short list of a few affordable wines I’ve tasted recently (none of them stacked at my place of employment) and enjoyed:
Artazuri Garnacha, Navarra Spain, $10-13:A great balance of cherry fruit with tannins that are soft enough to be enticing but dry enough to keep the wine from being fruity.
Araucano Pinot Noir, Chile, $12-15: A good, affordable Pinot is hard to find. I brought this one to Thanksgiving dinner and my family lapped it up. Lots of fruit with a little spice. Made by the French brothers Jacques & Francois Lurton who make wine in five different countries.
Domaine du Bel Air “Jour de Soif” Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley $13-16: Organically farmed, this light-bodied red hints at jammy fruit then quickly turns minerally and musty. A nice English Cheddar, or better yet a French sheep's milk cheese, would be a great pairing.
Domaine du Salvard Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay blend,Cheverny France, $12-15: Tangy, minerally and light. An elegant looking and tasting bottle.
Trapiche Malbec, Argentina, $7-10: Rich fruit with a little kick to it. Trapiche also makes a Cabernet and a Chardonnay, but I haven’t tried them yet.
Cuvee Jean Philippe Brut, Blanquet de Limoux, $11-13: If you’re like me and love Champagne but can only afford those expensive bottles once or twice a year, Jean Philippe will become your new best friend. The sparkling wine is from the somewhat obscure appellation of Limoux in southern France and made with the even more obscure grape, Mauzac, with a little Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc blended in. The people in Limoux (Limouxians?) claim to have started putting wines through a second fermentation in the bottle to create bubbles long before the region of Champagne ever started doing it. Who knows if this is true - all I know for sure is this bubbly is cheap and good, with a rich texture and yeasty,green apple flavor.