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Archive for October, 2010

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October 21, 2010

Corkscrew FAIL

I used to be into high ceremony and flashy accessories when it came to opening wine.

When having guests over, I would proudly walk over to my laminated box full of glitzy accessories and conduct the ritual that I thought ‘serious’ wine drinkers should perform — you know, the foil cutter, an antique wine funnel and my Rabbit corkscrew.

Due to serious design flaws, I junked all but one of these wine openers.

Honestly, I chose all of my wine accessories for form over function, thinking function was pretty much the same.  One night, this strategy really bit me in the ass. My suave wine opening attempts failed miserably three times in a row. And with each successive gaffe, I earned an increasing amount of laughter from my friends — the exact opposite response I was trying to elicit!

This comedy of errors ended with my Rabbit exploding into bits, ejecting a metal spring into one guest’s risotto while leaving the screw still in the cork! At that point, one of my guests started impersonating Elmer Fudd in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, singing “kill the wabbit…Kill The Wabbit….KILL THE WABBIT…”

Once all the hoots and howls subsided, I still had the issue of opening the bottle with the screw lodged in the cork. Luckily, I had a small pair of vice grips in the garage to bail me out.

Fast forward to the next morning. While trying to put my Rabbit back together, I realized that this wasn’t the first time my glitzy wine accessories had failed me.

At that point, I decided to hit the reset button on my collection and buy a whole new set of accessories. If something had failed on more than once occasion, I junked it…ergo, 2/3 of my accessories collection was gone including a Rabbit, a large mounted brass opener and a French Laguiole.

My new go-to set of tools:

  • A $0.69 sieve to replace my $200 antique wine filter. I found the sieve at a dollar store. It completely outperformed the antique filter, which had large holes instead of fine mesh. I sold the antique on eBay and bought more wine.
  • A Pulltap Waiter’s Corkscrew, which replaces EVERYTHING ELSE. Yes, the sturdy and perfectly functional Pulltap (image right), found in the pocket of most wine-serving waiters walking around restaurants today. This thing works like a dream, and you can buy it for a song ($4-6).  I gave away the other dozen wine openers to Goodwill.
    My new (old) rule for wine accessories: form follows function. And, luckily function doesn’t usually cost more than $5.

Out of curiosity, I’d love to know where my readers stand on wine accessories.  How many do you have?  Does function follow form?  Why?

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Hot value wine region: Coteaux du Languedoc

For most Americans, France’s Coteaux du Languedoc region is below their value wine radar.  That’s because CdL made nothing but plonk for decades and because the sub appellations (and their varietals) are usually hard to pronounce.  But recently, the region’s winemakers have put their attention to quality over quantity and have started turning out some memorable wines.

If you are unfamiliar with the wines of Coteaux du Languedoc, I highly recommend you find a knowledgeable retailer who can put a few good examples in your cart, such as these from K&L Wines:Guillemarine picpoul

negly2006 Chateau de la Negly Cuvee de la Falaise (CdL, La Clape). $12.99.  Think Cotes du Rhone red.  Negly is an awesome producer and this blend is no exception.  Made up of 55% grenache and 55% syrah, pair this with summer barbecue of beef and pork.

2008 Domaine de Guillemarine (CdL, Picpoul de Pinet). $8.99.  The grape is picpoul blanc, which supposedly means ‘lip stinger.’  Serve this in place of the next bottle of sauvingon blanc you plan to pour, and it may just become your summertime house white.  I served it three times in the past month and the crowds were wowed.  The best pairings were oysters on the half shell and a melon salad.

About My Picks:  I try every wine I mention in the section.  I would never recommend a value wine that I wouldn’t proudly serve at my house.  And I usually spend my own money, they are not samples.

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October 20, 2010

5 tips to keep Whole Foods from becoming ‘whole paycheck’

I’m guessing that 90% of Whole Foods customers have made the ‘Whole Paycheck’ complaint at least once in the past 10 years.  Why not?  This crack gets a laugh.

Me?  I’m starting to get irritated.  Because what I’m realizing is that the complaint comes from lazy shoppers.  Here is my take on why the Whole Paycheck phenomenon occurs in the first place, and some tips on how to keep your extra cash out of their hungry till and in a better place – like your IRA:

1. Shopping Manogamy. When I hear the WP joke, I always ask:  “So, do you do the majority of your shopping at Whole Foods?”  The answer is often a sheepish ‘yes’ followed by a ‘but’…  “But it such a better shopping experience than Safeway.”  Or, “When I have a dinner party, I only need to go to one place… it has Mt. Tam AND Tallegio…”  Whatever.  If you only shop at Whole Foods, I can’t help you.

2. Buying ‘Flintstonian’ portions of meat.

The U.S. is still reeling from its meat-abundance issues that started in the 1950s.  Check out the photo to the right.  Whole Foods prides itself on offering premium cuts and sizing, evidenced by this bone-in pork loin chop clocking at 15 ounces.  But does that mean everyone at your table need one?    At my dinner parties and everyday meals, I try to keep meat portions down to about 4-5 ounces, and load up the plate with reasonably priced vegetables and starches.

3. Lust-driven produce selection.

Buying in season is always a good idea, but not enough at Whole Foods’ pricing schemes are downright clever.  Even in San Francisco, when asparagus is being harvested 20 miles away in Pescadero, it can range between $1.99 and $7.99 a pound!  If priced at the top end, why not lay off the asparagus until the next trip, when the price will likely improve?

4. Staple price UN-consciousness. This is the one that drives our coupon-clipping ancestors to stir in their graves.  If you are a normal working professional, you probably have no idea how much sphagetti sauce should cost.   If so, avoid buying staples at Whole Foods –skip the aisles in the middle of the store.  Or if you have an iPhone, get Red Laser to at least get a price comparison before you drop it in the shopping basket.

5. Too lazy/not enough time to prep ‘whole foods’ yourself. A whole pineapple costs $2.99.  A tub of pineapple ready to eat  is $8-9. Marinated meats see about the same markup. I’ll leave it to you to assess your skill set and available time to figure out what things are worth taking on from the original form.  But if you commit to just an hour of prep time a week, you will do wonders for your food bill – and likely bump up the nutritional quality of what you are eating during the week.

Disclosure:  While I’m hardly a shill for Whole Foods, I do shop there once a week to the tune of about $50-75 per trip.  For a store chain, there is consistently no better produce and meat under one roof.  But you won’t find me in their middle aisles, nor pushing a large cart that includes all the staple items… isn’t that what Safeway Home Delivery is for?