Friday, October 28, 2016

Brownie Points

                        Invented over a century ago, the brownie remains an American classic.

I admit it.  I’m a sucker for a great fudgy-ooey-gooey brownie.  In fact, it would be on the menu of my last meal.  Did you know that the modern day brownie originated > 120 years ago at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago?  Here’s the story.

The Palmer House has been an iconic property since 1871.  Famous on many fronts other than inventing the brownie, the hotel completely burned to the ground in Chicago’s Great Fire a mere 13 days after it opened.  Two years later the Palmer House rose from the ashes and made headlines:  it was the first hotel to use Edison’s recent invention, the light-bulb.  Moreover, it was the first hotel to use Bell’s invention, the telephone.  But, there’s more.  It was the first to use the “vertical railroad,” which we call today the elevator.  Now, for the hotel’s real star, the brownie.

This ethereal chocolate dessert was concocted in the kitchen of the Palmer House hotel in 1893, the year of the World’s Fair in Chicago.  Bertha Palmer, wife of the hotel’s owner, was involved in orchestrating the women’s activities at the Fair.  Mrs. Palmer asked the chef of her hotel to make a “ladies dessert:”  one that would be easier to eat than a piece of pie, was smaller than a slice of layer cake, and one that could be transported without issues to the Fair.  As Mrs. Palmer loved chocolate, it was a no- brainer for the chef. The brownie was born. 

This recipe, created over a century ago, is still served today at the Palmer House Hotel.  It remains one of their most popular desserts.  Check it out:

Brownie Ingredients:
1 lb  high quality, semi-sweet chocolate
1 lb butter
1.5 cups sugar
½ cup cake flour
8 eggs
2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup water
1 cup apricot preserves
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

Brownie & Glaze Instructions:
·        Preheat oven 300 degrees.
·        Butter & flour 9 x 12 pan. 
·        Toast walnuts in skillet, stirring and watching carefully so they don’t burn.  Cool. 
·        Melt chocolate and butter in double boiler over very hot water. 
·        Meanwhile, mix dry ingredients (without walnuts) in mixing bowl. 
·        Mix melted mixture with dry. 
·        Wisk in eggs, one at a time, beating about a minute for each egg.
·        Place in prepared 9x12 pan.
·        Sprinkle brownies with toasted nuts, pushing down to partially submerge.
·        Bake for about 35 minutes until there’s a 2 inch crispy brownie edge---the interior will be slightly jiggly.
·        Remove and let cool for 30 minutes.
·        Prepare the glaze by mixing water, preserves & gelatin in saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk until boiling, then boil for 2 minutes.
·        Spread a thin layer of the hot glaze over the cool brownies, then cool completely.
·        Place in the freezer for 3-4 hours. 
·        Slice and serve while very cold and firm.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Your Own “Personal Terroir”

                                      Science shows that each person smells different aromas

If you’ve been on a Wine-Knows trip, you know the word terroir works its way into the conversation several times a day----it doesn’t matter if we’re in the Southern or Northern hemisphere, or it’s a trip to Bordeaux, Tuscany or Australia.  To remind you, terroir is a French word that has no exact translation.  It is the sum of all parts that go into making a wine unique:  everything from the soil in which the grapes are grown, the micro-climate, the drainage of the vineyard, and even the pests in the local environment.   Is there such a notion of one’s "personal terroir?"  Is there something unique about each person that effects our perception of a wine?

Scientists in Spain believe there is.  Research has demonstrated that there is a physiological reason for the perceived differences in the aromas that we smell in a wine.  The reason has to do with our unique microbes that live inside saliva.  A minimum of 700 different bacteria live in our saliva and mouth.  No two persons’ makeup of these bacteria is exactly the same. The microbes are involved in chemical reactions resulting in different aromatic compounds in wine. Different bacteria cause different reactions and ultimately different smells for different people.

While more research is necessary to explore this notion of a personal terroir, the door has been opened to explore the idea as the olfactory equivalent of our fingerprints.  No two people smell exactly the same due to the difference in their unique bacteria makeup.  Next time the person next to you swirls a glass of Cabernet and speaks of “leather and cigar box” and you smell “chocolate and spices” it could very well be due to your personal terroir. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Got Gruner?

                        Wine-Knows will be staying in this fairy-tale Danube village on its 2018 trip

I’m just home from a whirlwind trip to Austria & Hungary----a “reconnaissance” for the 2018 Wine-Knows’ harvest trip to these two countries.  While I had visited Austria and Hungary some years ago, profound changes have occurred in the countries, including changes in their wine industry.  What hasn’t changed in Austria, however, is that many of its wine districts continue to be Gruner-centric. 

Gruner Veltliner is flat-out a spectacular varietal.  While it has long been a favorite choice of many fine-dining sommeliers, this white grape could become the next Holy Grail of the wine world.  Blind tastings of “Gruner” by international experts have shown that Gruner can outrank top white Burgundies such as Montrachet and Corton Charlemagne.  In fact, professional tasters often mistake top Gruners for white Burgundy (Chardonnay).

One out of every three vines in Austria is Gruner Veltliner.  The grape has a long history in the country as the Romans were vinifying it shortly after the birth of Christ.  It achieves rock-star status, however, in the region of the Danube River on steep, gravel terraces.  Gruner is a beautiful melding of minerality, along with a profusion of seductive peach and nectarine in best vintages with beautifully ripe grapes.  But, in years of less sunshine, Gruner’s citrus mélange mixed with gentle spices also makes an attractive wine.  Regardless of vintage, the varietal offer gorgeous acidity to make for a gorgeously balanced wine.

Got Guner?   If not, you must search out the following which were my favorites on the trip that are available in the USAAll are family owned and operated wineries.  Each represents a superb quality – price ratio, with Muller being a steal for the price.  All are from Austria's castle-dotted northern Danube area just west of Vienna where Gruner reaches its pinnacle.

Listed in alpha order:

~  Bernard Ott:  Stein and Rosenberg (both 2015)

~  Hirtzberger:  Axpoint (2015)

~  Muller:  Kremser Kogl (2015)

~  Salomon Undorf:  Pfaffenberg (2015)  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Volcano Wines in Hungary?

                                       Wine-Knows will be touring Hungary in 2018

I've just visited one of the world’s most unique wine districts---it is also one of the smallest.  Hungary’s tiny hill of Somló belongs to an exclusive collection of wine areas around the globe that are totally volcanic (think of Greece’s enchanting Santorini, Sicily's Mt. Etna, the Canaries, or Madeira----all islands).  Somló, however, is an aberration as it is hundreds of miles from the sea.

Ten million years ago Somló was an underwater volcano in a very shallow inland sea.  It erupted and spewed enough molten lava so that it rose out of the sea to a height of nearly 1,500 feet.  The spewed mineral-rich lava was mixed with bubbling gasses from super-heated air deep in the earth’s strata.  The gas penetrated the cooling magma into relatively crumbly, coarse soils that have eroded over the millenniums.  These friable soils today allow water to be delivered to the roots of vines very slowly, a lifesaver during a dry growing season when vineyards must rely on groundwater to survive. The coarse soils are also fast-draining, perfect for vines.  Equally compelling, the mineral-laden soil also contributes interesting minerality to the wine.

Although Somló is a mere 1,200 acres, the hill has over 1,200 individual wine-producers.  This is special soil and everyone for miles around wants a piece of the action.  There are only two sizable producers;  everyone else is a boutique winery, or simply making a wine for home consumption.

Somló is white wine country.  Pronouncing the grape varietals can be a challenge (Juhfark, Olaszrizling, Furmint and Harslevelu---the latter two of which are also the grapes of Tokaj.).   But, drinking these magical white wines is pure bliss.  I’m charmed by Juhfark’s  brilliant, deeply concentrated yellow color and its almond-like finish; Olaszrizling’s high-acidity;  Furmint’s honey and white flower essences; and Harvslevelu’s liquid sunshine of melons and citrus.  Wet stone nuances abound in all.

Blue Danube Wines is the exclusive importer for all Somló wine to the USA.  While Somló may be a little wine district, its white wines are huge in pleasure.  Looking for something new and enticing for a dinner party?   Somló could be your crowd-pleaser.