Saturday, October 10, 2015

Brrr! Give Me Warm Food and Good Wine!

  • I was almost hopeful that it wouldn't get colder so soon...color me wrong. All I can think about this week is sitting at home with a big bowl of beef stew, a glass of wine, and all of the Netflix. 

So, typical weekend.

This recipe is from a Williams-Sonoma book that I found, and just everything from Williams-Sonoma is awesome - this must be as well.

To go with this I will be pouring myself a large glass of the Le Chateau Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington. Full-bodied, opens with floral aromas beside cassis and strawberry jam with hints of rosemary. Lingering finish of herbs and elderberry. A steal at under $30.


  • Ingredients
  • 3 lbs. boneless beef chuck 
  • 4 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon, chopped 
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped 
  • 3 carrots, cut into chunks 
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch lengths 
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter 
  • 6 Tbs. all-purpose flour 
  • 4 cups beef stock or broth 
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste 
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish 
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh thyme 
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1 1/4 lbs. red-skinned potatoes

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F. Cut the beef into 1 1/2-inch cubes and set aside. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and browned, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and set aside. Pour the fat into a heatproof bowl. Return 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper. In batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer the beef to a plate. 

Add another 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and let it melt. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Gradually stir in the stock, and then stir in the tomato paste, the 1 Tbs. parsley and the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Return the beef to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, place in the oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours. 

Cut the unpeeled potatoes into 1-inch cubes, add them to the pot, stir, re-cover and continue cooking until both the meat and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes more. Season the stew with salt and pepper. Serve at once, garnished with parsley and the reserved bacon. Serves 6. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Brunello di Montalcino...and other fine Italian things.

It is a warm evening in Orvieto Italy. The Villa that we are staying in is located in the hills about seven hundred meters above the valley floor surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. The evening air is rich with the scent of lavender and sage as the heat from the valley floor pushes air up the ravines in the hillside.

The property is heavily planted with herbs and fruit trees and with the exception of a few lizards and local cats we have the place to ourselves. Hearing the sizzle of sausages on the grill and waiting patiently for the Brunello to open up a little as the sun slowly slides behind the mountains to the west, is the perfect ending of the day and the beginning of another evening of culinary experience. Tonight it will be sausage and prosciutto with three different types of cheese made from the milk of the local sheep and of course paired with the most famous type of wine in Montalcino.

We are starting our third week in Italy and I can say without any exaggeration that even though I have had quite a lot of Italian foods over the years, I had no idea that simple melon, or tomato could taste so good. Not to mention the cured meats and cheeses. I think that I could live on bruschetta coated in Tuscan olive oil or cantaloupe and prosciutto for quite some time. Who knew that such simple foods could taste so good, it’s not about complexity it’s about quality.

Anyway, let’s talk about wine.

Like many wineries in the U.S. some of the best ones are also small family operations. We stumbled across some real gems in Montalcino some of which are imported into the U.S. so our next task will be to try to find them and see if we can get them into our shop for our loyal customers.

Here is a short list of some of the Wineries in Montalcino that we have found. Some of these wineries are easy to find and some could only be accessed with the help of a guide.

La Fornace
Le Macioche
Santa Giulia
Casanova di Neri
Il Cocco

All the wineries in this list are great examples of what a family run business should be. In our country it is unusual for a family business to last past the second generation possibly 50 years. In Italy there are vineyards that have passed from father to son longer that the United States has existed and some can trace their roots to a time before Christ. None of this determines the quality of the juice that is in the bottle but you have to admire the sheer determination and attitude to not let the business fail on my watch, or to be seduced by a large corporation throwing millions at you to sell the family vineyards.
Just as in this country there are large corporations swallowing up small companies, in Italy there are large companies buying small wineries and every time that happens consumers loose the artistry and individual expression that the small independent wine maker contributes.

Support Local
Support Independent
Support Artistic Expression
Support Family


Life is too short to drink bad (or boring) wine

Cheers Jack
(Orvieto image credit: