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Category: Winemaking

Things I’ve Learned About Cooking Recently

I love food and beverage-making challenges. Making things that sound “hard” gives me no end of pleasure. This year, I’ve stepped it up a notch and taken on a number of the big ones, but I’ve also learned quite a bit about cooking some very simple things. Here’s my partial list of things I’ve learned how to make, maybe a short description of how I feel about it, and the thing I consider to be “the key” to success with that thing.

Cassoulette – very tasty, but made me become vegetarian – it’s not easy to find all those meats in the US. Try Asian markets, or find a more Americanized version.

Beer – homemade can be so much better – cleanliness is key.

Cheese – still very new to this – your thermometer is your friend.

Wine – if I could stop doing everything else, I’d just make wine – Best advice I’ve ever gotten came to me 2nd hand from a very famous winemaker: “Get good grapes and don’t fuck em up.”

Pizza dough – easy as pie! – With 3 to 5 ingredients, you kick ass and you’ll be so happy.

Tortillas – I can eat these all day. – With 2 ingredients, you kick ass! A tortilla press is inexpensive and helpful, but I’ve made some of my best tortillas using an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin.

Tamales – if you’re gonna do tamales, do a LOT of them. I make em vegetarian, and I make everything from scratch. Takes me 8-10 hours, but I end up with 70 or so of them. I hear they freeze great, but they never make it to that point here.

Guacamole – I thought I knew how to make guacamole until my Mexican friend taught me her family recipe. Sorry, I can’t say any more.

Crepes – Amazingly versatile and tasty. Just a few ingredients, but the cooking takes practice. Don’t give up! I always have to throw away the first one to get the amount of oil right in the pan.

Souffle – memorize the recipe you’re doing. At certain points, it’s critical that you work fast.

Pretzels – the dough is irritatingly dry. There must be a better way to do them. I have a lot of trouble making long and thin enough ropes of dough. Tasty, though!

Limoncello – I make the best limoncello you’ve never had (well, maybe a couple of you have). Filter the water, filter the alcohol. Wash those lemons. Be patient, it’s worth it!

I’m looking for new challenges. What else is there that a lot of people don’t bother to learn to cook, or that’s considered difficult?

Chinotto and Exciting News

Here’s the quick version of my biggest winemaking triumph to date:

I brought bottle of my cidrata (limoncello made from citrons) to Darrell Corti on Saturday, because he’s been giving me advice about things to make and so I’ve been bringing him things I make to get his feedback.

He appreciated it and said he would bringing it to an orthodox easter dinner on Sunday. He also asked if I had seen Bob Sylva’s article about limoncello in the Sacramento Bee. He said I should send a sample of my limoncello to the Bee (note to self: do this!), and that he would get “Sylva” to interview me.

I mentioned during our conversation that I was making some meyer lemon wine. He asked how I was making it, and I told him. He said he’d be interested in tasting it.

He then told me about chinotto, which is a type of orange that’s pretty bitter and is only used to make some candy and a soda that people in parts of Italy like to drink before dinner.

He said that I should come back on Monday (yesterday) and he would bring in some of the fruit from his tree. In the meantime, he recommended that I get this soda. Interesting stuff.

I went home after this and bottled the lemon wine. It’s actually pretty nice.

Monday, I went to Corti Bros and tracked down Darrell. He said that he liked my limoncello better and that the cidratta separated (alcohol from the fruit, I guess). I asked if he knew why and he said no, then he repeated that the limoncello I had brought him several weeks earlier was very good.

I had brought along a split of the of the Meyer lemon wine and gave that to him. Darrell had forgotten to bring in the chinotti (he said to come back tuesday), but he looked at the bottle of wine and seemed impressed. THEN, he put it on his desk and said that he would put it in the tasting on Thursday.

Tastings at Corti Brothers are legendary. I’m sure there are thousands of winemakers who would give anything to have their wine in a Corti Brothers tasting. This is a very big deal! Even though I know that mine is just going to be curiousity at a tasting of over 100 great wines that are all competing to be carried at the store, I’m still extremely excited.

I went back today and told the person in the wine department that Darrell was going to leave something for me. He said “citrus?” and handed me a pretty big bag of chinotti…maybe 25 of them. They look like tiny dry oranges and taste bitter.

It’s pretty clear to me that I’ve been given a challenge. I brought them home and juiced and zested them and put it all in the freezer until I get back from L.A. this weekend and can think about what to make.

In the meantime, I’m not going to be able to sleep until I hear about what happens at the tasting Thursday.

Lemon Wine!

My neighbor has a Meyer lemon tree. They mentioned to me last fall that they don’t know what to do with the fruits and don’t particularly like the taste of them. So, back in March, I grabbed a bunch of the lemons, did some research, and made a gallon of wine out of them. I mostly followed a mixture of the recipes on Jack Keller’s web site, with a few modifications I thought were necessary because I was using Meyer lemons rather than Eureka lemons.

Saturday morning, I went to Corti Bros and mentioned to Darrell Corti that I was making Meyer lemon wine. He said he’d be interested in tasting it. So, I went home and checked out the wine and bottled it. It’s actually pretty good.

Grapefruit Wine Info and Update

Here’s my post about the fabulous Grapefruit wine over there at the Bad Astronauts Winery blog:

Grapefruit Wine!

Since I wrote that post, the initial work was done to peel the fruit, we trucked the juice to Revolution Winery in downtown Sacramento, and it’s been fermenting nicely (but slowly because of the cold) since then. The next step will happen Thursday, when we separate the fruit and the juice and continue fermenting the juice in 15 gallon kegs. I tasted it today and it still has a lot of sugar, but is definately tasting like grapefruit wine.

I think it will be very good with Asian food.

Citrons and More New Hobbies

It’s that time of year when all of our citrus gets ripe! We have a huge crop of grapefruit, some lemons, and an astounding number of citrons. This is going to be the year that we actually use all of this stuff that grows like crazy in our yard.

Lemons are easy to use, and we have a plan for the grapefruit (like, 30 gallons of grapefruit wine!), but citrons are a little more tricky.

Before I go any further, let me tell you about the Citron. Citrons are mellon-sized citrus fruits that smell like lemons, are lumpy, and have very little pulp or juice. The rind of citrons is candied and used in fruitcakes.

In previous years, we’ve tried to make juice from the citrons, we’ve tried using them as decorations around the house, and we’ve tried just eating them. Last year, we gave some of them to a friend and she made lemoncello (or citroncello) from them (it was very tasty too). This year, however, I got it into my head to actually learn the traditional ways of using citron.

I started a new web site for the purpose of recording what I learn about citrons, canning, and candying, but I’m going to try to move everything over here.

So, stay tuned for more citrus ideas and info!