What we’re drinking

The New York Times has What We’re Reading. Here’s our take on that: What We’re Drinking–a summary of interesting wine, beer, and/or cocktails we’ve tasted over the last week.

  • Thomas Fogarty Late Disgorged 1998 Blanc de Blancs, Santa Cruz Mountains. Wow, a late disgorged bubbly from California? I didn’t know what to expect from this. I bought it on a whim because I was curious–but it’s one of the most earthy, mushroomy bubbles I have ever had. It’s a very savory sparkling, with lots of complexity and great balance. A great food wine and a steal at $30. -DD
  • This isn’t just one taste, but many: recently I went to the In Pursuit of Balance seminar at RN74. Take everything I say here with a grain of salt because I’m far from an expert on California pinot, but it didn’t do much to relieve my skepticism of it. I tasted 20-some producers, and at the end of it, most of them just tasted the same. Big, high alcohol, and fruity. None of those things are inherently bad, but the wines overall lacked character for me. Especially for the retail price (few were under $40). There were a few standouts, though: LIOCO’s 2009 Michaud Vineyard and the Tyler 2008 “Presidio” from Santa Barbara were both excellent and full of complexity. I thought the Hirsch 2007 San Andreas and the Kutch 2009 McDougall Ranch stood out as winners as well. -DD
  • 1997 Philipponnat “Réserve Millésimée. Have I mentioned that I love old bubbles? I wish I would’ve bought more of this. On the nose, there is something about this wine which is oddly similar to the Fogarty–which is extra odd because the Fogarty is chardonnay from California and the Philipponnat is mainly pinot from Champagne. But, they both have some mushroomy, earthy tones to them. But in the mouth this is a classic pinot bubbly with great length. The only bad thing about this wine is that it reminds me that I need to drink their higher end Clos des Goisses which is nearly triple the price. C’est la vie. -DD

Foraging for the bar: Douglas fir martinis

If you’ve ever stopped by the loft for drinks or dinner, you already know that there are very few ingredients I won’t try to put in a cocktail. But until this week, I never made a cocktail out of… tree.

Infusing vodka with Douglas fir tips

The chain of events that led me to tonight’s lovely beverage:

1. Rene Redzepi wrote this op-ed piece for the New York Times about how we should eat our Christmas trees (“because evergreens are delicious”).

2. Daniel Patterson tweeted about his deliberations over which type of Christmas tree would taste best.

3. Daniel Patterson wrote this piece for San Francisco magazine about foraging Douglas fir tips.

4. We hiked one of my favorite trails last weekend and encountered a fir tree with low-hanging, brand-new tips. We pilfered a few.

5. Said tips went into a jar of Ciroc vodka to infuse.

6. Today (eight days later), we deemed the mixture fully cooked and built a cocktail around it. Et voila! The result is a very clean, lightly citrusy drink with just a hint of floral flavor to enhance the herbal notes from the fir tips.

Tree martini (serves 2)
6 ounces Douglas fir-infused vodka
1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Shake, strain, and serve up. Garnish by floating a fir tip in the glass.

More than one way to cook an octopus

Around here, duck is the undisputed Most Delicious and Magical Animal. But for me, octopus runs a pretty close second. Its satisfying meatiness, fun form factor (tentacles!), and tendency to pick up subtle smoky flavors from surrounding ingredients make it one of those things I automatically gravitate toward on any menu.

Five pounds of delicious, magical octopus

Done right, octopus is tender rather than rubbery. But there are a few things you need to know about cooking octopus at home. Most importantly: OCTOPUSES ARE NOT SQUID. If you try to cook them the same way, you’ll end up with something that resembles your rubber sink stopper. And nobody wants to eat that.

You have essentially two choices for preparing edible octopus. You can barely cook it and serve it sashimi style–a great option if you fished the thing out of the ocean yourself and know exactly how fresh it is. But if you’re like me and can’t trace the provenance of your cephalopod past Sun Fat Seafood, you should probably make like an Italian grandmother and cook it slowly for a loooooooooooooong time before you grill/sear/sauce it.

Harold McGee, food science expert extraordinaire, very eloquently explains why in this New York Times article. Basically, because octopuses don’t have bones, the muscle fibers in their arms have an enormous amount of connective tissue that gets tough and rubbery before it starts to break down between 190 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. So whatever your final preparation for the octopus, you need to tenderize the meat first by heating it to that temperature for a few hours.

We used McGee’s recommended method this week as part of testing for our Weird Wines dinner. After breaking down our monster five-pound specimen, we blanched it quickly and then cooked it in a dry, covered cast iron pot at 200 degrees for about five hours. The outer ends of the tentacles were awesome–tender, with a distinct but not overwhelming oceanic flavor. The body ends, though, were a little dry. Clearly we have some work to do on calibration of our cooking time. On the upside… dry tentacles mean I get to eat more octopus this week, and I’m not exactly sad about that.

One other cooking method we’ll be trying: sous vide. McGee doesn’t mention this as an option in either his article or On Food and Cooking, but my theory is that heating the meat to 195ish degrees will work the same way whether the meat is in the hot oven air or a water bath. And perhaps by sealing the juices in the vacuum bag (octopus gives off a TON of liquid as it cooks), we can intensify the octopus flavor.

So, talk to me. Have you tried cooking octopus? How did you do it? What worked and what didn’t?