Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spanish Wines with Pretty Labels, Great Price!

My neighbor Bob is a retired San Francisco police officer. He enjoys all kinds of alcoholic beverages, including wine. He is fun and my kind of guy and he can tell a lot of interesting stories, but frankly he is not a fine wine connoisseur. He buys wine quite often and has an interesting collection of mostly domestic wines, each with a funny  name or label:  Fat Basterd Chardonnay, Evil (it’s just wrong), Unruly Red,  Beauze Aux (bo-zo), Ménage à Trois, etc.  

I don’t know where he buys these funny-named wines, but every time he finds something new he gives me a bottle, and now I have some of those wines in my closet (um...  wine cellar). I have not opened any of them yet, but they are resting on the shelf next to the prestigious and elegant French wines in my collection that are waiting for a glorious wine tasting event in the near future. And I must select special guests for that, but I haven’t figured out who I should invite.

Anyway, when I saw these cute labels on Spanish wines at Trader Joe’s, I loved them immediately and I purchased the wines without hesitation, not even checking varietal or vintage. Yes, I just bought them as Bob would. I bought a couple bottles of each – one each for my dining table decoration and another for drinking, of course. The first time I tasted them I was not too impressed, but I don’t mind paying for these wines because I really like the labels ... and for the price the taste is not bad! Since then I have been giving them to my secret admirers, and everyone says, “that’s so cute.” They love the bottles, as I do.

These wines are LAGRANJA 360, Cariñena, Denominacion de Origen. From the back label: “LA GRANJA 360 (AKA The Farm 360) winery is located in the North of Spain. La Granja  is there to entertain and bring happiness to all the people. A different wine – 360° turnaround – for different people. “

 Cariñena is one of the oldest protected (DO) wine growing areas in Europe, and is considered the birthplace of the Carignan grape, for which it is named (although it is now mostly planted with Garnacha/Grenache). Worth checking out!

LAGRANJA 360 tempranillo/2011 (large lovely hog on the label) $3.99: “An everyday drinking, soft, round, juicy red wine with ripe raspberry flavours.  A great match for barbeque, roasted meat, grilled vegetables or cheese.”

 It’s not too bad, and I have never found Tempranillo wine this cheap.

LAGRANJA 360 tempranillo/garnacha/2011 (label shows a zebra with its rear half painted in red stripes) $4.99: “Cherry red colour. Plenty of red fruit aromas, full flavour and velvet finish due to 2 months oak aging. A great match with red meats, pizzas or Manchego cheese. “

It is made with 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha. Both grapes are native Spanish varietals. I like it.

 LAGRANJA 360 garnacha/syrah/2011 (this one sports a handsome rooster with a golden egg) $4.99: “Deep dark red colour. Plenty of dark red fruit like blackberry. Full flavour and velvet finish due to 2 months oak aging.  A great match with white meat, spicy Mexican food or tapas.”

It is made with 50% Garnacha and 50% Syrah.  It “lays” on some pretty good body and flavor... great  for burgers and barbequed meat. Many of my young guy friends like it.

Conclusion:  I really admire the wine buyers at Trader Joe’s. They know their wines and always bring us good wine at a great price. Where else can you get decent wine this cheap? Anyway, LAGRANJA wines are definitely worth trying. I am pretty sure you are going to enjoy them; if not, well, at least they make great decorative items for your kitchen.

Here is the whole lineup of La Granja labels:!La%20Granja%20360%20family/cwc0


Monday, April 15, 2013

Chocolate Cake Study -- One Recipe, Two Quite Different Cakes

I have been studying, tasting and experimenting a lot with chocolate and chocolate-containing confections for many years. I enjoy learning about this very popular ingredient, but I must confess that I have never been mad about chocolate (I know... what’s wrong with me?).

Since I was a young child, I have loved chocolate éclairs, pan au chocolat and chocolate ice cream, but never have been obsessed with these things. I normally prefer custard confections such as crème caramel, mille-feuille or baba au rhum with whipped cream. However, I have been making/baking chocolate confections quite often these days, because of increased demand for higher quality chocolate at work, and because every woman I know can’t get enough of it.

The following recipe is straight forward and simple, but the result is very rich and irresistible. I tried two different methods of baking this cake using exactly the same recipe (one using a hot water bath at a lower temperature and the other using just dry baking with a shorter baking time). It results in two very different looks and textures, and even the taste seems different. It was a very interesting experiment.

dry baking

hot water bath baking

This cake used an 8 inch springform pan.

Grandmother’s Creamy Chocolate Cake / Gâteau au Chocolat Grand-Mère
Recipe adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

For one 8-inch square pan, loaf pan or round (I used an 8 inch springform pan)

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Callebaut's 60% cacao)

¾ cup (150 grams) sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

¼ cup (35 grams) all-purpose flour (or rice flour for gluten-free version)

Fresh berries, whipped cream, crème frâiche, or vanilla ice cream for serving

1.       Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 300° F. Butter the pan and line it with aluminum foil. Have ready a large pan that can hold the cake pan and water (to make a bain-marie).
2.       Put the butter in a heavy, medium saucepan, then add the chocolate and sugar.  Place the pan over medium-low heat and, stirring almost constantly, heat until the butter, chocolate and sugar are melted and well blended. Remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for 3 minutes.
3.       One by one, stir eggs into the chocolate mixture using a whisk. Sift the flour over the mixture and stir it in as well. Rap the batter on the counter to deflate any air bubbles, then pour into the prepared pan.
4.       Put the cake pan into the larger pan, fill the large pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan, and slip the combo into the oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is set on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out streaky but not wet. Lift the cake pan out of the water bath and place it on a rack to cool to room temperature. Chill the cake at least 1 hour before unmolding.
5.       When cake is cold, gently turn it over onto a serving platter, lift off the pan, and carefully remove the foil. The cake is meant to be served upside down, with its sleeker side showing. It can be served cold or at room temperature with a scoop of whipped cream, crème fraiche, or ice cream, or topped with fresh berries.

Storing: The cake can be kept tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Wrapped airtight, it can be frozen for a month.

Nutrition per serving (1/12 of cake), not including berries or cream toppings:
310 calories, 24 g fat (15 saturated), 100 mg cholesterol, 26 g sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein, 10% Daily Value for iron ("good source"). Nutrition data by Palate Works.

I personally prefer both the texture and taste using the dry-baking method (350 F for about 25 minutes), as used for the above-pictured heart-shaped cake. But many tasters (my lucky friends and neighbors) say, "There is no question the steam-baked one is much more tasty and far superior." As a matter of fact, this cake using the hot water bath cooking method is like eating chocolate butter. Let me know what you think!