Tag Archives: Wine Selection

Company’s Coming Part 4: Shopping

Note: This is the fourth post in a series. If you missed Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here. For Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here. For Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time, click here.

So far, so good. But it’s still early in the game. I feel confident in my game plan, but the game is really just starting. What’s important is that I feel focused on making this fun…for me.

Plan to Entertain’s Step 4 is Shopping. On Sunday I filled out the At Home Shopping List based upon my menu plan. I had my “what” shopping plan. With At Home’s Organizing Tasks & Time Schedule, I had my “where and when” shopping plan.

Last Saturday I did a little “pre-shopping” — and picked up bread for crostini on Tuesday.
Thursday I will do a little light neighborhood shopping for a few things I want to do on Thursday evening. My preference would to have done this on Wednesday, but I had the opportunity to have dinner with a friend I only see rarely so I changed my plan. A sub-principle of planning  is to be flexible.
Friday My day for fun shopping at Reading Terminal Market.
Saturday More fun at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market for cheese, flowers and maybe a little last minute inspiration.

There are several ways to look at food shopping.

Shopping can be purely functional. You’ve got your list…milk, check…eggs, check…coffee, check.  You’re on a tight schedule, you’re in, you’re out…done. Task completed, check. I concede that with good reason, in our busy and over-committed lives, this is how we do most of our food shopping. In fact, for much of what we shop for, this works just fine.

However, not all food shopping need be the same. I invite you to look at some food shopping differently..shopping with more foreplay! It has to do with enjoying the journey and not rushing to the destination. Enjoy exploring what’s seasonally new in the produce aisles.  Rhubarb and local asparagus are as sure a sign of spring as the daffodil and robin. Shad roe has just appeared in markets — the annual evidence of shad’s life force. Shopping slowly extends beyond fresh food. Buying dried pasta? Explore its origin. Honey? There are now honeys available with all manner of natural flavor accents — the result of where the honey is from and where and on what bees fed.

I remember, as a teacher many years ago at the Green Tree School (See At Home Page 69: The Green Tree Cafe), using food shopping to teach learning-challenged inner-city children that bacon does not simply come from the supermarket, but from pigs and some is smoked and some is not and pigs are raised on farms. Food is the result of farm and farmer, ranch and rancher, fish and fisherman. Food is not just “there.” Food goes through a journey to get there and that journey is “contained” in the food itself…if you just stop to think about it.

Do your functional shopping wherever, but occasionally seek out better markets and farm stands and shop slowly and for fun.

Reading Terminal Market
Which brings me to The Reading Terminal Market. The Reading Terminal Market is my favorite place in Philadelphia. This extends from the wonderful prepared foods your can buy — no better lunch options in the city — to the fresh fish, meat and produce. Strolling the aisles for me is akin to wandering the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

My principal objectives on Friday will be seasonal local vegetables. There are two stands in particular that I will visit. One is the Fair Food Farmstand. Fair Food is formerly a program of White Dog Community Enterprises — a program to focus community support of and access to local farm products. See www.fairfoodphilly.org. It is centrally located along the 12th Street perimeter of the market. The other produce stand specializing in local produce is Livengood’s Produce, located in the center of the market.

Here are some notes about some interesting ingredients I am using for our dinner.

Wild Italian fennel pollen
Wild Italian fennel pollen is a distinctly Tuscan product harvested from wild fennel plants in full bloom, dried and screened. It has the texture of a coarse powder with sweet notes of anise plus musty and floral aroma. I bought mine from chefshop.com. It’s actually from Umbria and costs $19.99 plus shipping. It is pricey but a little goes a long way and keeps well.  While cooking with wild Italian fennel pollen might not make you swoon, it tastes wonderful and just saying those words are somewhat transformative! You may substitute toasted fennel seed coarsely ground in a spice grinder. Not quite fennel pollen — but a perfectly reasonable substitute.  (See At Home’s Fennel-scented Striped Bass on P.260.) But if you do make the substitute you won’t get to say “wild Italian fennel pollen.”

I will use the fennel pollen to coat my striped bass before searing and maybe sprinkle a little fennel pollen “dust” on the entrée plate as a garnish.

Meyer Lemons
Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and Mandarin orange. They are more round than a lemon and more oval than an orange. Correspondingly, their flavor is a cross between the two – sweeter and a lemon, more sour than an orange. Same thing with color – pale orange to deep yellow.

Meyer Lemon Sorbet
Meyer lemon produces a sorbet with a distinctive flavor that results in the crossing of a lemon and mandarin orange. Remember to remove sorbet and other frozen desserts from freezer ahead of time to allow to temper and soften a bit.

Do ahead Must be made at least one day ahead and as much as two weeks ahead stored tightly covered in freezer. You may pre-scoop portions and hold in freezer to speed the process of serving.

3 cups Meyer lemon juice (about a dozen Meyer lemons)
3 cups simple syrup
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon rind

Combine Meyer lemon juice, simple syrup and Meyer lemon rind. Chill. Transfer to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacture’s directions.

Yield About 5 1/2 cups serving 6-8

Wine Shopping
Start by getting a sense of what style/type of wine you would like to serve based on your menu. (At Home includes two terrific wine charts on Pages 32 and 33 than can help you.) If you are planning for a single wine for your dinner it should be paired with your entrée with some consideration given to what comes before. More interesting than doing one wine with a three course dinner would be to do one wine with your first course and another with your entrée. You will probably spend about the same — for example, two of the same bottles or one each of two different wines — two bottles. Rely on the store personnel to the degree that you can. Some Pennsylvania State Stores are better than others and they have all made great strides since the State Store dark ages. New Jersey is blessed with numbers of excellent wine sources including Canal’s and Moore Brothers. Moore Brothers is especially good for high value uncommon wines. Unless you are dealing with a wine store with extensive variety, it makes no sense going into the store with a specific winery and/or year in mind. The chances the store will have that particular wine are slim. They know their wines best. Give them a per bottle budget, let them know what you are serving, what you think you came in for, and trust them. You really have little choice other than making your own best guess. And they want you to be happy so you will return.

In our case, knowing that our guests are wine enthusiasts, we decided that having several wines is a way to add interest to our dinner. As a result, we planned our wines corresponding to each course. With cocktails we will serve At Home’s Spring Champagne Cocktail — champagne with a little honeydew puree and mint syrup. (Page 43)

Here’s our wine line-up
Spring Vegetable Antipasti — Gruner Leltliner, a medium dry Austrian white wine.
Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms —  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Striped Bass with wild Italian fennel pollen – Viognier
Cheese – a red from our little “cellar” – actually a rack and two small Cuisinart wine refrigerators, TBD
Dessert – also from our little wine cellar, TBD

We bought two bottles each of the Gruner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, but it is unlikely we will need two. A bottle of wine typically yields five glasses, but with all this wine six per bottle seems fine – one slightly small glass for each guest. In fact, as host I have the responsibility to control the amount of wine guests drink. Alcohol is an area where the generous host is not the caring host. I am not concerned that this will be an issue with our guests, but as moderation in portion size is a goal of my dinner, that extends to wine.

Next — Step 5: Organizing Space and an Update on Thursday’s prep work

Reminder about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
On Monday At Home blog readers received an email from me about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special. The special includes an inscribed book by me to your mother, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card, a recipe card with my mother’s Stuffed Cabbage Recipe, and an At Home book plate for you to inscribe your own message. Check your Monday email. Note: At Home’s Mother’s Day Special is not available from our online store. You have to use the order form that comes with the email. You can also access the At Home Mother’s Day Special and download the order form by going to the blog site. If you read the blog via email or on Facebook, just click on the blog title to get to the blog site.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Merry Christmas – Some Last Minute Advice

Izzy Extends His Holiday Wishes

Last Minute Gift Giving

My wife Christina and I have both been incredibly busy. Me working – with your help – in spreading the word about At Home; and, Christina on re-settling our Fairmount Avenue operation into the Franklin Institute where we have begun operating the restaurants. (Come to our Cajun Christmas Festival at The Franklin Institute from December 26th to January 3rd.) So neither of us have had much time for holiday shopping. Christina has extended the period of our holiday celebration to Twelfth Night which, over dinner last night, we calculated to be January 5th. In the event you have tighter gift giving deadlines, here are some last minute suggestions:

Dessert Wine
Dessert wines are sorely under appreciated. Read the following note from At Home and then see some suggestions below.

High-Quality Sweet Wines
They may not be very popular, but I’ve never known anyone who tasted a high quality sweet wine for the first time who wasn’t delighted and amazed. Sweet wines range in price from relatively inexpensive to extraordinarily expensive, and pairing them with food is not a simple business. With few exceptions, sweet wines are dessert wines. The pinnacle of these are Sauternes from Bordeaux and lateharvest German wines. California also produces some sweet wines of distinction. They’re generally produced from grapes that have been allowed to stay on the vine beyond a typical harvest time. The term late harvest refers to this sweet process. In sweet wine–producing regions, a fungus that occurs naturally in the soil attacks the wine grapes. The fungus effectively punctures the skin of the grape and allows some evaporation of water and concentration of the natural sugars in the grape prior to picking. This lets the winemaker ferment the wine and produce the desired level of alcohol while maintaining a natural sweetness. The high-quality product contains extraordinary depth and complexity, with a honeyed sweetness that’s not cloying. These wines are the true nectar of the gods.

The following wines should be available in Pennsylvania State Store. If not available, try to find something similar at about the prices indicated. If possible, seek the advice of a store employee. Typically you drink small portions of dessert wine so a 375 ml or half bottle will provide enough wine for 4-6 servings.

Bonny Doon Muscat Vin De Glaciere   ½ bottle  $17.99
Bonny Doon Viognier Doux  ½ bottle  $18.99
Eos Tears of Dew  $19.99
Robert Mondavi Moscato D’Oro ½ bottle $16.99
These next two are premium French sauternes — extravagant, but worth it.
Chateau Rieussec Sauternes  $93.99
Chateau Suduiraut  $93.99

A Good Bottle of Sake
I will spend more time in the new year talking about sake. But, if the only sake you know is none or not much, there is an entire new beverage world waiting for you or your gift recipient. Sake is actually brewed like beer – though other than technique there is no flavor similarity. Made from rice and served chilled, fine sake is more like fine white wine with much of the flavor notes found in wines. In Pennsylvania we have a very limited supply, but there are a few good bottles. Expect to pay at least $25 for a good sake and much more for great sake. Worth it.

A Good Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine is to gift giving as the black dress is to cocktail dresses – not original, but always appropriate. If you are going to bother giving sparkling wine, give something a notch or two up from what you would buy for yourself. You can’t go wrong with a Veuve Cliquot – a French champagne with the iconographic orange label. ($59.95) For an American selection think about a Schramsberg Brut Rose ($39.95). Schramsberg is the classic American vintner of sparkling wine.

A Promissory Note for an Herb Garden
You don’t need a green thumb to plant and nurture a successful herb garden. Giving the promise to plant an herb garden come Spring – in containers or a sunny spot in a backyard — is a very special gift and one of those proverbial gifts that keep on giving. The following is a note from At Home.

Ingredients
Planting an Herb Garden
Here’s a list of herbs for a nice but not exotic herb garden. Basil (Thai if you can find it). Thyme, preferably lemon thyme. Sage. Cilantro. Fennel, preferably bronze for the color. Chervil (though this is very heat sensitive and doesn’t do well in the height of summer). Lemon verbena. Rosemary. Several varieties of mint. It’s also fun to add a Thai pepper plant. Since parsley and dill are plentiful and pretty inexpensive in the supermarket, I usually don’t plant them. Also, I don’t think of dill as a summer herb, but one associated with cuisines of colder climates. Get the herbs in as early as you can. Herbs like sun, but don’t require it all day. If you get more than you can use for your normal cooking, add them to a salad. The ultimate herbal extravagance is an all herb salad with just a bit of olive oil, a touch of lemon juice and good salt and pepper.

Here are links to previous blogs about gift suggestions.

At Home’s Stocking Stuffers

At Home’s Top 5 Holiday Gifts for Home Entertainers

Last Minute Advice for Guests

1. Do Not Arrive Early. (My goal always is for your host to get one relaxed hour prior to your arrival. Your early arrival does not help my goal, or, more importantly, your host, who does not need you as an un-scheduled distraction from getting ready for you.)
2. Stay out of the kitchen unless helping or invited.
3. Help out.

Last Minute Advice for Hosts

It’s great that you are hosting a holiday celebration. Whatever you do is good enough. Do not fret. Relax. Ask for help. Enjoy yourself.

Merry Christmas

I want to thank you for the support you have provided since the mid-October launch of At Home. It is a wonderful feeling to know At Home is already helping hosts and that over the next several days lots of people will be receiving At Home as a holiday gift. I am confident they will enjoy At Home for many holidays to come. It has also provided me with great joy to have spent many an hour sitting in the amazing Reading Terminal Market “hawking” At Home. More people than I could count shared with me their appreciation of their tattered and worn Frog Commissary Cookbooks — seemingly everyone’s favorite cookbook — and their their own joy over many years dining at Frog, The Commissary and my other restaurants. It has made for a Merry Christmas for me.

Christina and I are off to brother-in-law Larry and Susan’s in Tuxedo, NY, for a Seven Fishes Christmas Eve (including my Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade) followed by what I am sure will be a wonderful Christmas day meal. Larry and Susan are wonderful hosts and though I am sure the food will be delicious, what is most important by far, is that family is gathering to celebrate. Whatever your Christmas tradition, my wishes for many delicious moments…at home.

Thank you for visiting. Merry Christmas.
Steve

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Thanksgiving Wine

What Wine for Thanksgiving?
People obsess way too much about wine. If your family Thanksgivings are anything like mine, they border on chaos. Hardly anyone is focused on the fine points of wine.

At Home includes two very useful charts to guide you in your wine selections for all occasions. As I was working on At Home I went online to see what wine charts were available. Everything was way too complicated. I thought there was a need to provide something that helped demystify wine that struck the right information balance — not too heavy and not too light.  One chart I created is Selecting Wines for Entertaining. This was originally titled An Oversimplified Chart for Selecting Wines. It provides on a single page a detailed enough overview of all the major wines varieties, their characteristics and what they go with. The other chart — A Simple Food & Wine Pairing Chart — provides a grid with all sorts of food down the left side and all sorts of wines across the top. Little dots within the grid provide your guide to what goes with what. It is a very useful guide to help you pair wines and food. Nothing like either is on the internet.

According to my At Home pairing chart, here’s what I suggest for your turkey.

White wine: Viognier (a personal favorite), Gerwurztraminier (a spicy wine), Chenin Blanc or Pinot Blanc. You could also serve a Sauvignon Blanc.

Red wine: These should be light.  Zinfandel (a light variety), Tempranillo (Rioja) or Pinot Noir. I would also consider a Shiraz. Merlot/Cabernet Saivignon are too heavy for turkey.

How much wine?
You have to know your guests. In general, I would offer a choice of white or red. If I had 12 guests, I assume half would drink white and half red and some might start with white if I served a first course and then switch to red for turkey. I would plan on two to three glasses per person. So let’s say 2.5 glasses per person. At a dozen guests, that’s 30 glasses. You get five glasses from a standard 750ml bottle and 10 glasses from a 1.5 liter bottle. So I would need 6 standard bottles or 3 double bottles. Me, I would plan for 40 glasses and get 4 standard bottles of white and four red. I generally do not get the double bottles, but feel free. I would get two double bottles white and two red. Open as you go. Use this as a guide and adjust to your guest number.

Coming Attractions
On Friday my blog will include a video on how I suggest you set-up for prep. I think you will find it very helpful. Look for it and please pass it along if you think of friends and family it would help.

Getting Around I
At Home is not available in bookstores, but generally just at our website. However, there will be a number of retail opportunities between now and year’s end.

Weekends at Reading Terminal
Look for our At Home table in the Center Court of Reading Terminal Market on weekends between now and the end of December. If you have not been to the Reading Terminal Market recently, you are missing one of the great treasures of Philadelphia. And there is no more exciting time to be there than the holiday season. My sous-chefs will be there all day to sell books and I will be there as much as I can to sign books. All books come with book-owner’s access to At Home Online, our companion website.

Mt. Airy’s Weavers Way on Saturday, December 19th
I will be signing books at Weaver’s Way Co-op in Mt. Airy from 11 AM to 2 PM on the Saturday before Christmas. Weaver’s Way Co-op, a natural foods grocery, is at 559 Carpenter Lane at Green Street.

Getting Around II: Virtually
Huffington Post
A child of the Sixties who grew up on the New York Times and I.F. Stone’s Weekly (a prize to anyone who actually knows who I.F. Stone was!), I am a blogging rookie. So it is of some note that I had a blog posted today on The Huffington Post based on my advice about how to avoid Thanksgiving panic. Here’s the link.

Uwishunu — Philly. From the Inside Out.
At Home had a wonderful “review” posted by Marisa McClellan on Philadelphia’s Uwishuknew site. Thank you Marisa. It’s perhaps our best yet endorsement of At Home.

More
Tomorrow I tape with Jim Coleman of WHYY’s A Chef’s Table, due to air on a December Saturday at noon. I will also be a guest on Marty Moss-Coane’s Radio Times on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I feel honored to be on these two great shows.

What Guests Can Do To Help
I am still looking for your suggestions for What Guests Can Do to Help. Please post your suggestions for What Guests Can Do To Help on this blog by using the “Leave a Comment” under this post or send an email to me at steve@athomebysteveposes.com.. Suggestions will be posted on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

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The Perfect Gift for Your Thanksgiving Host
At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining with At Home Online, the companion website for book owners, is the perfect house gift to bring to your Thanksgiving host. At Home is not available in bookstores, but only from athomebysteveposes.com. Order now in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve

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