Follow by Email

Friday, January 17, 2020

Where’s the Beef? Wagyu & Kobe

                                            American Wagyu must be at least 50% Wagyu

I was a guest at a recent holiday dinner party.   In addition to being an extraordinary decorator, the home’s owner is an accomplished cook and a lover of wine.   As I was bringing the wine for the main course, I inquired about the menu:  my friend was splurging on a prime rib of Wagyu beef, so we dug out two bottles of 1995 Lynch Bages for the table of six.  Everyone present was quite knowledgeable about wine (all had even visited Lynch Bages in Bordeaux!).  But, no one knew many details about Wagyu, or for that matter, how it differed from Kobe.

Both Wagyu and Kobe are native to Japan.  Let’s start with Wagyu.  Interestingly, Wagyu literally translates to Japanese beef (“wa” meaning Japanese, “gyu” meaning cow).   Originally used in agriculture, these cows over centuries went through a selection process where the cows with more physical endurance were selected and bred.   Seems these stronger cows had more intra-muscular fat cells (aka marbling) which provided a readily available source of energy.   There is some evidence that this separation into the Wagyu genetic strain occurred as much as 35,000 years ago.

Modern Wagyu beef in Japan, however, has been cross-bred with European breeds since the 1800’s.  Wagyu first came to the USA in 1975 when someone in Texas imported a few for breeding.   Much of the meat produced was sent to Japan, but in 2003 Japan prohibited importation.   It didn’t take long for America’s chefs and gourmet cooks to discover Wagyu’s unique taste and tenderness because of its highly marbled meat.

                                        All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe

So, how does Wagyu differ from Kobe beef?  As Wagyu means Japanese beef, all Kobe beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe.  Let me explain.  Kobe is like an appellation such as  Champagne, or Prosciutto di Parma where only sparkling wine from France’s Champagne district can be called Champagne, and only Prosciutto from pigs raised in a demarcated area in Parma, Italy that have been raised according to strict laws can be called this highly protected name.  Similarly, Kobe beef must come from a certain breed of cattle that have been born, raised, and slaughtered in a certain province of Japan.  Furthermore, Kobe is subject to rigorous Japanese grading that includes fat marbling and overall quality. 

Currently there are approximately only 3,400 cows in the Kobe area of Japan, so how is it possible for Kobe beef to appear on so many American menus?  It’s not.   At best, these are American Wagyu cows.  At worst, they are beef from who knows where.  Currently, there are few laws about what can be called what.  There is also misleading nomenclature such as “Kobe-styled” beef.  Moreover, even if it is real Wagyu beef from the USA, the US Department of Agriculture only requires that the cow be at least 50% Wagyu.

Instead of saying “Where’s the beef,” we should be saying “What’s the beef?”  and “from where is the beef?”

Friday, January 10, 2020

A Cocktail to Warm Up Cold January

Pears are a wonderful winter fruit.  One of my favorite salads at this time of year is made with pears, roasted nuts and Stilton cheese.  But, pears can also be an absolute stunner in an aperitif.  This recipe, made with pear vodka, is sure to warm up anyone on a chilly winter's evening.

Another ingredient in this luscious pre-dinner drink is an elderflower liqueur by the name of St Germain.  If you don't own a bottle buy one as the flavor is truly delightful (and the Art Deco-inspired bottle alone is worth the price).  Elderflowers are very tiny fragrant flowers, and their essence has long been popular in European baked goods.  While I have loved the elderflower floral profile for some time, it recently skyrocketed to fame when Megan Markle chose it as the flavor for her wedding cake.

The recipe below can be tweaked to fit your preference for flavors (e.g. you may want to increase the St Germain and decrease the vodka).  Also, the amount has been designed for a Champagne flute or a martini glass...both hold the same amount (which is less than a wine glass).

Pear Elderflower Aperitif (per glass)
  • 1/2 jigger pear vodka
  • 2 teaspoons St Germain
  • 1/3 cup good quality sparkling wine
  • Thinly slice ripe pear
Serve with a slice of front of a roaring fireplace.

Happy 2020!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Classical Winter Wine & Food Pairings

                                         Winter does not necessarily mean only red wine

With nearly three months of winter before us, it’s time to bring out the colder weather wines, as well as recipes for their accompanying foods.  Winter wines are bold and powerful, and the dishes served with them need to match the wine’s intensity.  For many this time of year means big reds, however, there are some formidable whites that can also work beautifully.   And, let’s not forget wines such as Port, both a perfect winter aperitif, as well as a gorgeous dessert wine for this time of year.

Below is my winter list, arranged in alpha order by grape varietal.

Barolo & Barbaresco
Both of these Italian red wines are made from Nebbiolo grapes grown at the base of the Italian Alps.  Nebbiolo harvested in the town of Barolo is called Barolo, while Nebbiolo harvested in the nearby commue of Barbaresco must by law be called Barbaresco.   Known for robust tannin and high acidity, these wines need equally substantial foods.   Julia Child’s veal with mushroom cream sauce, or a pasta with a cream sauce of porcini mushrooms and/or truffles are perfect matches.

Oaked Chardonnay
Winter is a time for full-bodied whites and an oaked Char fits the bill.  The oak barrel gives the Chardonnay structure by adding tannins to the wine’s profile, along with the addition of complex butter, caramel and nutty flavors.  Oaked Chars can support luscious cream sauces and rich shellfish such as crab, scallops and lobster.

Cabernet Sauvignon
It goes without saying that all Cabs should have some age on them.  Cabernet grapes are hugely tannic, thus time is required for this varietal to be drinkable.   A smashing wintertime pairing is either a prime rib or a rack of lamb.  But, another classical coupling is a Bolognese-sauced pasta, or even a pizza---no kidding, try it…you’ll like it!

Aged Riesling
With time in the bottle the Riesling varietal changes dramatically.  Young Rieslings offer a fruity profile----varying from lemon in cold growing areas to apricot nuances in warmer climates.   Aged Rieslings not only become fuller and richer, but the wine’s taste and aromatics morph into something with petrol nuances.  For some, aged Rieslings aren’t enjoyable.  However, for many, an aged Riesling served with the right foods can be nirvana.   Perfect pairings are a pork roast with braised cabbage, or duck and goose.

There are many types of Port and one size doesn’t fit all for matching them with food.  Tawny Port, which presents rich and nutty flavors, works well with salty items such as Parmiggiano Reggiano and/or nuts.  Vintage Ports (which are extraordinarily powerful with intense fruits, chocolate and spices), can stand up against a blue cheese such as a Stilton, or a well-aged power-house Cheddar.

If there’s ever a classical winter wine, it’s a Zin.  As most Zinfandels are a heavy alcohol wine, they must be served with a food of equal weight in boldness.   Think rich, unctuous wine-braised short ribs, or a hearty beef stew with root veggies.  But, beef is not the only match.  Chicken can work but it’s all about how it’s prepared.  My favorite method is a recipe marinating it for 24 hours with balsamic and aromatic herbs, then cooking it with onions, prunes, capers and green Olives.  Here the recipe:

Have a wonder-filled wine winter.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

World's Best Cranberry Sauce (Really!)

Nearly 40 years ago a dear foodie friend of mine shared her recipe for an ethereal cranberry sauce which she had learned in a San Francisco cooking class. (Thank you, Beth Izmirian).  It’s been on every Thanksgiving and Christmas table of mine ever since.  The recipe was developed by the culinary luminary Perla Meyers.  Perla was not only one of the pioneers of farm-to-table philosophy, but authored nine cookbooks over her illustrious career during the 1970's-90’s.

So what makes this cranberry condiment the best on the globe?   One of the reasons is that it has both apples and pears which give it great texture (plus these fruits add depth of flavor rather than a one note cranberry).  Another is the plumped raisins which offer a lovely sweet contrast to the tart cranberries.  The fresh squeezed orange juice, zest, and the Grand Manier further infuse multi layers of orange.  The last reason it tops the best-ever list is its color.  Humdrum cranberry sauce is all one color (also only one flavor profile).  The world’s best, however, offers a wide assortment of color due to the lighter colored apples and pears, as well as the golden raisins or the dark currants.

Recipe inventor Perla Meyers actually named this dish a cranberry chutney.  While chutney doesn’t quite ring true for me (they are spicy and/or have vinegar), I still refer to it as Perla intended out of homage to this extraordinary food personality.  The chutney keeps for a couple of weeks in the frig, and if there is any leftover (usually not) I serve it on top of a log of goat cheese…it’s magical and colorful pairing for a holiday appetizer.

  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 12 oz. fresh Cranberries
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 TBLSN orange zest
  • 2 diced Pears
  • 2 diced Apples
  • ½ cup currants or light colored raisins
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier liquor

Cook the first six ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat for 30-40 minutes (add currants/raisins during the last 15 minutes of cooking). Remove from the heat and let cool for approximately 30 minutes.  Last, add the Grand Manier.

BTW:  it’s best made several days before serving.

Enjoy the world's best, and have the best-ever Holiday Season.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Yule Love these 7 Bubblies for the Holidaze

       Representing 4 countries & ranging from $85-20, these bubbles are guaranteed winners

The holidays aren’t the holidaze without sparkling wine.  Below is my fave list for non-vintage bubbles.  There’s the real-deal Champagne, but there’s also a super-duper sparkling wine from Burgundy at half the price.  The wines are listed alphabetically by country.  One of my personal favorites is a bubbly from Italy’s premier sparkling wine district, Franciacorta.  England is also on the list…don’t laugh as British fizz has beat out some of the most respected French Champagnes in many blind tastings.  Last, there’s an American bubbly that I particularly enjoy.  All but one are under $55, and three are $25 or less.


          ~ Wiston Estate Brut:  this one has won more medals than any other English fizz.  $40


          ~ Billecart Salmon Champagne:  this one has been a long-standing winner in my book.   $85

~ Gosset Champagne:  Consistently well-made wine and a cut above the others in the over $50 category.  $55

~  Ployez Jacquemart Chamapagne:  one of the best price/quality I know of.  Difficult to find, but worth seeking out.  $50

          ~  Veuve Ambal Brut Cremant Grande Cuvee:  Made in Burgundy (which is contiguous with the Champagne district), Cremant is the legal term for any sparkler from Burgundy.   $20

          ~  Ferghettina:  This winery’s vintage sparkling wines are the bomb, but this list is only about non-vintage.  Located in the lake district of northern Italy, Ferghettina’s non-vintage is an absolute delight. $40

          ~  Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley:  this one is a perennial winner in my book and a great value.  $25

Enjoy the Holidaze with one of these bubblies. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A Spicy Holidaze Cocktail

     This festive cocktail epitomizes the smells & delights of the holidays

On WineKnows’ recent trip to England to explore the country’s international award-winning sparkling wine industry, we also visited a gin distillery in the Cotswolds.  It was here that I was introduced to spiced gin.  Like a pumpkin pie that has just been removed from a holiday oven, this gin exudes pungent nutmeg, fresh ginger, just-grated cinnamon sticks, and decadent clove oil (all, of course, with the requisite backdrop of juniper notes).

I can’t take credit for this stunning holiday cocktail as it comes from a book I found in the distillery’s giftshop, Gin Tonica by David Smith.  Fortunately, one does not have to go to England to find the spiced gin as it is imported into the USA (call the importer, Palm Bay, at 561.893.9998 to find the store nearest you), or purchase it online.  Also available online is the Cranberry Tonic…it’s pricey but, come on….. it’s the holidaze!

Holidaze Gin & Tonic  (makes 4 cocktails)
  • 7 oz Darnley’s Spiced Gin
  • 2.5 C Double Dutch Cranberry Tonic
Decorate with fresh rosemary sprigs, fresh cranberries, and thinly sliced fresh ginger.

A few English tips for making any great gin and tonic:
  1. Use a chilled glass (or quickly chill it by adding a full glass of ice & stirring for 15 seconds with a sure to pour out any liquid from the melted ice).  
  2. When adding the tonic pour slowly as this helps the tonic to keep its fizz.
  3. Let the drink rest for 30 seconds to allow flavors to integrate with one another.
Have a spicy and very merry holiday season!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Spice it Up for the Holidaze!

                            Poblanos when stuffed with cheese morph into chile rellenos 

With the holidays descending, many are looking for special items to prepare for pot-luck dinners, or for evenings at home with visiting guests.  I like to spice things up by serving peppers.  Not all peppers, however, are hot.  In fact, the three peppers below offer very little in terms of heat, but are chocked full of flavor and color for the holidays. 


These large, bright green shiny peppers are best known for their use in chile rellenos.  While poblanos are the perfect vehicle for ooey-goey melting cheese, they can also can be stuffed with anything from meat to rice, veggies or poultry (relleno actually means “stuffed.”)   Topped with a red tomato sauce, chile rellenos make the perfect colorful holiday dish.   Poblanos are used as well in traditional Mexican dishes such as chile verde, a luscious pork stew.

                                        Anchos are simply mature, dried poblanos

Poblanos used in chile rellenos are young fresh chiles.  At maturity, poblanos turns dark reddish brown.  These fully mature poblanos are called ancho chiles.  Anchos have a raisin-like sweetness and are often dried to be reconstituted later in a sauce for items such as enchiladas.  Dried anchos are also a predominant ingredient in many classic chili recipes---and chili is perfect for any cold holiday night in which you're serving a crowd.


                       Super mild piquillos provide the perfect holiday backdrop for crab

I first learned of piquillo peppers twenty years ago when visiting Spain’s Rioja wine district during the autumn.   All of the elderly women in the wine villages were sitting outside in front of their homes cleaning piquillo peppers that had been first roasted over open air wood fires.  Every autumn menu in the Rioja features piquillos.  Most common is a simple preparation of these exquisite roasted peppers sliced, and served with olive oil and garlic.  The fancier the restaurant, the fancier the picquillo dish.  Some upscale restaurants stuff them with crab or wild mushrooms.   Michelin star establishment can even serve them topped with truffles.

                                   Fresh herbs & goat cheese scream holidaze

I particularly love piquillos for the holidays because of their brilliant red color.  While the US is not growing many, the peppers are becoming increasingly popular on upscale restaurant menus.   Roasted Spanish piquillos can be easily procured online, and increasingly are being featured in fancy grocery markets.  They come either packed in olive oil or simply water-packed.  I buy them by the case.  My favorite preparation is stuffed with crab for Christmas, but a goat cheese and wild mushroom stuffing topped with truffle oil is also a crowd-pleaser all year long.

                                          Only 1 in every 10 shishitos can be spicy

Shishito peppers are becoming a main-stay appetizer on many up-market restaurant menus in California.   Harvested while tiny and emerald green, these mild peppers are just the right size for a holiday nibble.   I love them prepared simply, sautéed quickly in some extra virgin olive oil with garlic, and topped with fleur de sel.  

Have a spicy holidaze season!