Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment


June 20, 2011
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Leftovers are a drag.
To some, this is an inflammatory statement. Akin to saying, “I can’t stand Glee.” (btw- I can’t stand Glee).
So, before I’m verbally smacked in the face with an open-faced meatloaf sandwich (or accosted my a rabid army of Gleeks), let’s break this down:
1) Eating the same thing in sequence is very boring. This is why I’m not in the military, avoid prison, and run through failed diets like a pack of smokes at an Al-Anon meeting.
2) Many foods, though delicious initially, lose a whole lot of luster when refrigerated and reconstituted.

Eating leftovers- ones not meant to improve overnight like a pot roast or a soup- is like fighting a gustatory battle against the evil forces of hunger with a decimated officer Alex James Murphy, pre-Robocop enhancements.
But, even when dealing with the most-ravaged of leftovers, a little culinary surgery can turn the most lifeless Steve Austin into the Six Million Dollar Man.
Take, for example, the low country boil (or “frogmore stew”, “shrimp boil”, or any number of regional names). This southern, coastal delight is a mash-up of shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage, boiled together in seasoned water (most traditionally, in straight-up seawater). Generally made for a large crowd, the one-pot feast is dumped onto a table covered with newspaper, and devoured by famished, often-tipsy, party or tailgate guests.
When the crowd has been eating all day, the chance of leftovers is more palpable. What’s left? A fridge full of Murphys and Austins:
Cold, greasy sausage, enveloped in a film of congealed pork fat. Wrinkled corn. Potato mush. And, of course, shrimp that have already been cooked once. And overcooked shellfish is an abject disaster.
Alas, at times, fiscal responsibility outweighs the desire to discard. With a few ingredients and some basic know-how, you can rebuild it. You have the technology.
Six Million Dollar Pasta (or Robocop Pasta, if you prefer)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter or olive oil, or a combo of both
1/2 lb. smoked kielbasa (about the equivalent of 1 link), cut into 1/4″ half-rounds
4 scallions, chopped (greens and whites)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2-3 heads of garlic, minced
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Cup whole milk or half-and-half
1/2 lb. cooked large (30-35 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb. (1/2 box) dry pasta (in this case, linguine)
Salt & Pepper to taste

1) Melt butter, or oil, or combo of both (I like that one) in a pan. Add the kielbasa sausage and sauté on medium heat until the sausage has given up some fat.

2) Add the scallions, celery, garlic, peppers, and cajun seasoning. Sauté until veggies are a little soft (3 minutes)

3) In the meantime, get at least a half gallon of water a’boilin’. Salt and keep bubblin’. Yes, I hate the letter “g”.

4) Add the flour and mix into the goodness. Once the flour is incorporated and has absorbed the fat, add the milk. Put the spurs to it and crank the range to high (the flour will thicken the milk into a sauce, but only once the liquid boils (don’t ask me the science on this). If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk, a bit at a time. Bing bang boom.

5) Add pasta to boiling water after the milk goes in.

6) Once the cream sauce is how you like it, add the shrimp, basically just to heat them up. Salt and pepper to taste.

7) When the pasta is ready, strain it and dump into the sauce (I also like to add a small ladle of the pasta water to the sauce).

8) Garnish, or don’t garnish. I don’t care. And who am I to influence your garnishing decisions?

I know your first instinct is to drink a tall glass of whole milk with this. However, since there’s already a bunch of whole milk in the recipe, do something wacky and drink wine. In the case of this dish, containing both a seafood element and some sausage, I figured there may be opportunity to go either way- red or white- with the wine. Fortunately, PR pal Constance had slung me some sample New Zealand beauties recently (okay, it was a long time ago. PR folks: I’m a really terrible person to send wine to). In any case, they fit the bill: A Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir. White and Red. It was meant to happen this way.
The wines of New Zealand always tend to be great with food, especially from the Marlborough region (on the South Island). The significant distance from the equator and the maritime influences ’round those parts make for bottlings that aren’t too heavy, are crisp and clean, and bonzer with chow (though I think “bonzer” is an Aussie saying, and now I’ve lost my entire Kiwi readership). Although many other wine grapes are grown in New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are definitely the ambassadors for white and red, respectively, and neither of these offerings disappointed.
In the end, the acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc balanced the rich pasta dish, with pronounced grapefruit goodness to tame it’s fiery cajun soul. The Pinot Noir, although tasty on it’s own, didn’t jive with my lofty aspirations of a colorblind meal…
…but it was bionic; resurrected from a refrigerated tomb to bring hope to generations of leftovers.


The Untold Birth of Cabernet Sauvignon (okay, it’s been told)

September 1, 2010
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“a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.”

-definition of deus ex machina from
When you think of very unlikely pairings, what pops into mind? No! Not Capri Sun and an eight-ball. You’re a sick puppy. I was thinking more along the lines of romantic pairings, and one in particular jumps out at me like a cooler full of Capri Sun at a 70’s disco coke party:
It’s well-documented in the annals of music history that David Crosby is the father of one of Melissa Etheridge’s children. Etheridge, being a card-carrying lesbian, didn’t exactly get busy with the mustached troubadour. Crosby- rather- was a sperm donor, and the child was a product of artificial insemination (however, do you think he was listening to “Come to My Window” to get into the mood?).
Anyway, the partnership and method by which this child came into the world was- needless to say- unusual and unexpected. Now, let’s say this couple- a couple which I would have to point out is not the most handsome of unions- gave birth to a child who ended up looking exactly like, say-
-a Brooklyn Decker. That, my friends, is deus ex machina (literally, “God out of the machine”). A resolution so ridiculous and unexpected; something absurdly convenient sprouting immaculately from somewhat dire and irresolvable circumstances.
In a way, such is the story of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is, perhaps, the most recognizable and prolific of the red grapes. The undisputed alpha-male of vitis vinifera. The crown jewel of Bordeaux. Yet, as much as the purple-stained scrolls of wine history teem with legendary names like Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Opus One, and Haut-Brion, the primary foundation of these wines has a relatively short history.

According to studies at UC Davis, enologists discovered that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the product of a wild and spontaneous cross between native Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that occurred as recently as the 17th century. A “cross” is when two subspecies of the same species (in this case, both parent grapes are vitis vinifera) genetically merge to create a new subspecies. And sure, in this case the “parents” are talented and perfectly fine on their own, but here’s the rub I can’t get past: how did a generally medium-bodied red variety and a crisp white variety get together to create the powerful, expressive, and incredibly profound ambassador of the red wine world? I guess there’s some science in there. Some protons and electrons banged around and, boom-goes-the-dynamite…Ms. Decker. Maybe I need to ask UC Davis guys. That was a pretty lackluster explanation.
Or, perhaps this happy accident of nature was Divine Providence. Maybe it WAS deus ex machina. Impossible, but yet it happened, resolving the previously-hopeless search for the greatest grape in the world…
And we are thankful for that.
Want to drink some Cab Sauv with hundreds of wine lovers around the world? Join in the fun on Twitter this Thursday, September 2nd, by participating in the worldwide #Cabernet tasting event. Just grab a bottle (drop me a line if you need some recommendations), pour a glass, and start interacting. Or, you may also find a local live event in your area. Click HERE to RSVP and get more information.

Coyote Callers Agree: Sauvignon Blanc is not just for Twitter Tastings anymore!

March 9, 2010
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Last Thursday marked a pretty incredible event….a worldwide Sauvignon Blanc tasting on Twitter. This thing was started by wine guy, social media marketing extraordinaire, and all-around nice guy Rick Bakas, and the word spread fast.

The idea was to connect wine lovers around the world with wineries, distributors, retailers, and other oenophiles in open discussion about arguably the Tubbs of the white wine landscape (to Chardonnay’s “Crockett”, of course). That is, the #2 out there. Nothing wrong with Tubbs. Some prefer Tubbs. Just meaning that Don Johnson’s star rose a little higher. Maybe the marketability of his sassy fashion-sense. I don’t know. I wasn’t allowed to watch Miami Vice as as a kid. Nor could I drink wine. Geez, my folks were real mennonites, huh? Maybe I need to start over. You see, Sauvignon Blanc is the “other guy in Wham!” to Chardonnay’s “George Michael”…
…enough of that. Anyway, folks would hop on Twitter and comment about the wines, adding the hashtag #sauvblanc. Then, by searching said hashtag, participants could view all the comments from all other Tweeters out there. Honestly, pretty amazing to see folks in North America, South America, Europe, New Zealand, Asia, and beyond connect so effortlessly. ‘Twas a true demonstration of the power of technology and social media. In fact, Twitter shows a list of the top-ten trending topics on Twitter (worldwide), and #sauvblanc made the cut about an hour into the event. Incredible!

Swelling with a feel-good vibe of world peace, I opted- once again- to patronize the wines of Chile in the wake of their recent earthquake. Chilean wines are neither the Crockett nor the Tubbs nor the 3rd most popular character on “Vice” in my mind and experience, but I continue to give them a try. Furthermore, they’re making a lot of Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s easy to find on most retail shelves.

Sadly, neither of my selections on #sauvblanc eve were earth-shattering (yikes, that’s a bad choice of words). The 2008 Palo Alto Maule Valley Sauvignon Blanc Reserve (not pictured) couldn’t even get past my nose. It had a very unpleasant smell of rubber and a whiff of rotten eggs, suggesting excessive sulfur compounds in the finished wine. Sulfur dioxide is a common addition to wines (notice most bottles say “contains sulfites”) to prevent spoilage and oxidation, but it can sometimes be overdone and cause reactions that ruin the wine. I’ll give it another try, because I don’t think this is what the winemaker intended. “What? You don’t love my burnt rubber/rotten egg nuances in the wine?!”
The second one was MUCH better. The 2008 Chilensis Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc Reserva had a subtle nose to it, but there were the thumbprint aromas of gooseberry (I’ve smelled enough SB to assume I know what the hell a gooseberry smells like), grapefruit, cut grass, and some stone fruits, with a bit of toast from the oak aging. So far, so good. However, it fell pretty flat in the mouth. While SB is renowned for a nice dose of acidity, this one was just…well, watery. Not a lot of flavor; not a ton of acidity. Honestly, if this had been a $10-12 bottle, I would’ve been perfectly happy with it. The fact that it cost $17, and it was from Chile, where wines are supposed to over-deliver for the price, well…it left me feeling as flat as the taste of the wine.

So, I dumped the Palo Alto and put the Chilensis in the fridge, hoping it’s time would come. Fortunately, the suburbs- at times- have a way of making the nuances of a bottle of wine take backstage to its undeniable ability to be no more than a vessel containing alcoholic beverage. Sitting on the back porch with neighbor Van Burin, piping Varmint Al’s coyote sounds through the outdoor speakers at 1 AM (all in an attempt to get a response from the large pack that inhabits the woods in our neighborhood), I must admit that the Chilensis- pulled straight from the bottle- was mighty good.

Rollin’ the bones and shuckin’ the stones

May 22, 2009
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“Welcome to our craps table. Yes? Hi, Ed from Kansas City. It’s a pleasure to meet you! Play all you want, but don’t you dare touch the dice.”

Yes, our friendly and firm greeting/mantra to all those who slunk up to our golden-goose of a craps table at Paris. We were all looking for that roll that would catapult us into financial freedom; surely on a gravy train to endless seafood sammiches and Royal Crown Cola…or at least a free Coors Light here and there.

But Booty and I were on the way: pockets lined with green and black chips; bellies sloshing and brains swimming with liquid nerve. We couldn’t lose. From 2 AM to 8 AM, it was the hottest craps table I’ve ever experienced…courtesy of the concept of the “DS”, or “designated shooter” (not a paragon of originality, but what our strung-out noodles could muster at the time). Ever seen an entire craps table pass the dice to the last person who shot? A thing of beauty; a utopian society of degenerate gamblers, all putting ego aside for the common good. When a “DS” decided to leave, auditions would be held for the next one. Hit two points, maybe a 7-way “yo”, and you’re it. But there was no pressure. For but a moment in time, the dice…just…cooperated. They were part of the team, and we were freakin’ loving it!

Ah, Vegas. The latest trip was yet another one for the history books. The highlight- no doubt- this 6 hour craps roll that was truncated only by physiological necessity for sleep and breakfast. As you can see, the aftermath was gruesome:

Being lulled to sleep by oatmeal and mimosas outside Paris

However, as with any trip to Las Vegas (at least my trips, anyway), there was more to the story than the hot gaming (formerly “gambling”…”gaming” sounds much less degenerate). For me, this is certainly one of the best food towns in the States. Sure, not a great food town in the sense of street food or long-tenured regional classics. There’s just not enough history for all that. Remember: Vegas looked like a setting out of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome before 1905. But with the city’s popularity virtually unmatched as a resort destination, and with the somewhat-disturbing rise of the celebrity chef, everyone wants to get his food to Nevada, where it will no doubt collide with the thundering herds of Croc-clad touristas, exposing them to the 5-star experiences that they would normally have to schlep the globe to find (pretty sure this sentence is a run-on…sorry to all my English teachers from years past). Anyway, all this great food is in one place. And no doubt, the crowd’s come with the money to pay for the experience.

While dropping $500 on a meal is almost certainly going to guarantee you a meal sure to disarm your embarrassing food boner, I find that getting good food on the cheap is the real cat’s pajamas. And, since there’s really no “local” specialty to try, I felt perfectly fine tucking into a hell of a meal at Joe’s Prime Steak, Seafood, and Stone Crab.

Joe’s located in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, has another location in Chicago, and is no-doubt a spin-off of the legendary Joe’s Stone Crab in South Beach, Miami. Stone crabs are native to those waters around Miami, and the population has been maintained by regulations only allowing one claw to be removed from the crabs at harvest, which they will regenerate while having the other one to survive. Sure, it sounds a little harsh, but not as harsh as killing the little guys. Besides, once you’ve tasted these delicious morsels, you’d probably be complaining that they only take one claw. Man, you’re sick sometimes.

Bottom line: $21.95 lunch special was 7 claws, coleslaw, hash browns, and bread. Paired it up with a nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (I think it was Kim Crawford), which I feel is always a good match with flavorful shellfish. Killer. And to top things off, I waddled out of there, feeling more full off shellfish than my last visit to Orlando’s Boston Lobster Feast– with much less shame for humanity- and proceed to finish the night with the amazing craps roll that surely hooked you into reading this boring anecdote about crab claws.