AG Pick Under $20: 2008 Antigal Uno Malbec

As the weather gets cooler, stay warm by opening up a bottle of the 2008 Antigal Uno Malbec.  This big and earthy red from Mendoza, Argentina is a great treat for a fall evening.

The Antigal Uno Malbec is easy to spot in any wine shop — just look for the big “1” on the bottle.  But don’t be misled by its simple appearance.  This wine is complex, with layers of concentrated flavors that are enhanced by oak aging (the wine spent 13 months in 75% new French oak and 25% new American oak).

Intense in color and in smell, the deep red, almost purple wine has aromas of dark berry fruits.  On the palate are notes of ripe cherry, blackberry and cassis, which give way to smoke, black pepper and a hint of vanilla.  Decanting the wine brings out additional flavors of smoked meat.  The wine is elegant and well balanced, with a lush mouthfeel and a lingering spicy finish.

Pair the Antigal Uno Malbec with steak, lamb, hamburgers or any kind of red meat.

A bottle of the 2008 Antigal Uno Malbec is $15.

13.8% alcohol by volume

Atlanta Cake Designers Win Food Network Challenge

Acclaimed cake designers from Atlanta’s own Highland Bakery took top prize Sunday night on the Food Network Challenge, a cooking competition where chefs compete for a cash prize and bragging rights based on a theme that changes each show.

Sunday’s challenge was to create a perfect character rendition of Beauty and the Beast, in preparation for the re-release of the digitally remastered Disney film.

Joshua John Russell and Karen Portaleo were awarded the win over three competing teams.  Over an eight hour window they created a cake that featured Mrs. Potts and Chip along with a book picturing the fairytale.  They were judged on theme, artistic value and technical merit by three judges including one of the creators of the movie.

Russell and Portaleo received a $10,000 check for winning the competition.

The Disney Beauty and the Beast Cake Challenge will air again on the Food Network channel on September 29th at 7pm, October 3rd at 7pm and October 9th at 4pm.

Portaleo will compete again on the Food Network Challenge on an episode scheduled to air on October 31st.

Highland Bakery is located at 655 Highland Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward, (404) 586-0772.  Their new Midtown location is 1180 Peachtree Street NE, (404) 835-3130.

Snapshots from the Great Chili Cook-Off

Saturday’s 31st annual Great Miller Light Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain was a celebration of all things spicy and savory as hundreds of teams cooked up their best chili, Brunswick stew or cornbread.

Amateur chefs served up samples of their recipes along a tasting trail that wandered through the trees.  From sweet to spicy, beef to alligator, there was a chili (or several) for everyone.

Around 300 teams competed for top prize in each of the three food categories.

First Place for Chili: Howard Crew Chili & Stew, Don & Jen Howard

First Place for Brunswick Stew: Dos Gringos, Bob Sims

First Place for Cornbread: Hammerhead Chili, Amy Phillips

For more information on the Great Miller Light Chili Cook-Off and to see a full list of winners visit www.theatlantachilicookoff.com.

Here are snapshots from the chili cook-off.  click photos to enlarge

Yolk Art: Magic Egg Shaper

Why have a basic hard boiled egg when you can have one that’s shaped like a heart, square, star or flower?

With the Bento Buzz Magic Egg Shaper you can turn an ordinary egg into an extraordinary (or eggs-traordinary) dish.  Hard boiling eggs has never been so fun!

Though the Magic Egg Shaper is advertised as ideal for Bento boxes, you don’t need to create a Japanese-style meal to enjoy it.  With the mold you can make great additions to any salad or sandwich, or enjoy the eggs on their own.  They’re sure to add pizazz to any school or work lunch.

It’s easy to create cute looking eggs with the Magic Egg Shaper.  Using 6 eggs, separate the whites from the yolks, pouring the egg whites into each of the four containers.  Close the four covers of the container to create space for the yolk.  Place the mold in boiling water for 15 minutes to cook the whites, then remove the covers and pour in the yolk.  Place the mold in boiling water for another 10 minutes, then let the eggs cool before slicing and eating.

The Bento Buzz Magic Egg Shaper is available online at CasaBento.com for €21.99 (about $29).  The online store which is full of great Bento boxes and accessories ships to most countries.

Photos from CasaBento.com

AG Pick: 2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah

Since returning from the south of France I’ve been craving the region’s main red varietals: Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah.  Fortunately it’s possible to find these Côtes du Rhône grapes a little closer to home, on California’s Central Coast.

A wine that helped ease the transition back to the American way of life was the 2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah.  Full bodied, rich and spicy, it was a delicious way to be welcomed home.

I visited Zaca Mesa during a trip to Central California in June 2009.  Located in Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County, the family owned estate vineyard and winery produces mostly Rhône varietals.  In the late 1970s Zaca Mesa became the first winery to plant Syrah in Santa Barbara County.  Today their 90 acres of Syrah host the oldest Syrah vines on the Central Coast.

The wine is 100% Syrah from the Santa Ynez Valley.  It spent 16 months in 30% new French oak and has 15% alcohol by volume.

Deep purple-red, almost black in color, the 2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah has enticing aromas of black fruits, espresso and spice.  On the palate are lush, layered flavors of blackberry, cassis, mocha, smoke and a hint of sage.  Silky in texture with ripe tannins and a lingering spicy finish, the Syrah is a well-rounded and satisfying sip.

The wine opens up nicely after resting in the glass and should continue to drink well over the next ten years.

Pair the 2006 Syrah with beef, lamb, game, blackened meaty fish, mushrooms or root vegetables.

A bottle of the 2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah costs $23.

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

Wild Heaven: Georgia's Newest Craft Brewery

Dozens of beer enthusiasts packed into the upstairs bar at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur Tuesday night for the first taste of Georgia’s newest brewery: Wild Heaven Craft Beers.

The Decatur-based brewery was created by Nick Purdy, founding publisher of Paste magazine, and brewmaster Eric Johnson of Athens’ Trappeze Pub.  The two lifelong Georgians wanted to make world-class beers in the tradition of European brewing but with a uniquely American flair.

On tap at the launch party were Wild Heaven’s first two ales: Invocation and Ode to Mercy.

Invocation is a Belgian-style golden ale.  It’s cloudy golden yellow in color, with spicy flavors of dried and tropical fruits and a slightly bitter finish.  Nick and Eric recommend pairing Invocation with roasted chicken, grilled pork chops, salmon, portobello mushrooms, Gouda or Gruyere cheese.  The ale is 8.5% alcohol by volume.

Ode to Mercy is an Imperial brown ale.  My favorite of the two, it’s bold and balanced with rich flavors of coffee and oak and a hint of citrus from the hops.  The finish is smooth and creamy.  Suggested food pairings include barbecued chicken, kielbasa, prime rib, paté, English cheddar cheese and muenster cheese.  Ode to Mercy is 8.2% alcohol by volume.

Both beers are now available at pubs and restaurants in Atlanta, and will be on tap elsewhere in Georgia and Alabama later this month.

With the popularity of the local food movement, it’s nice to know you can enjoy a delicious local beer as well.  Wild Heaven is Georgia’s fourth brewery, joining Sweetwater and Red Brick Brewing Company in Atlanta and Terrapin in Athens.

Wild Heaven plans to open a brewery in the Decatur area by 2013.

For more information visit wildheavencraftbeers.com.

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Want to try a glass tonight?  Here’s where you can find the ales on tap:

Decatur: Brick Store Pub, The Corner Pub, Leon’s Full Service, The Marlay House, Thinking Man Tavern, Twain’s Billiards
Midtown: Cypress Street Pint & Plate
Virginia Highlands: Diesel Filling Station
Westside: Octane, Ormsby’s
Little Five Points: The Porter Beer Bar
Grant Park: Young Augustine’s
Sandy Springs: The Fred
East Atlanta: Midway Pub
Smyrna: Muss & Turner’s
Oakhurst: Steinbeck’s
Dunwoody: Taco Mac – Perimeter Place
Athens: Trappeze Pub

Ice Cream with a View

The Amateur Gastronomer spent the month of August in Provence, France.  This is one of a series of articles on the region.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: the best ice cream in western, or perhaps all of Provence.  But you have to promise not to tell anyone so it won’t get too crowded and lose its charm.

This hidden gem is called L’Art Glacier.  And hidden is a good way to describe it, as you’d likely only hear about it from a local.  It’s in between the towns of Ansouis and La Tour d’Aigues, about a 15 minute drive north of Pertuis which is a town about 30 minutes north of Aix-en-Provence.

I was taken there by my host parents in 1998, when I spent the summer living with a French family in Pertuis.  When planning my trip to Provence this summer I was thrilled to find out L’Art Glacier was still around.

As the name implies, at L’Art Glacier ice cream making really is an art.  All the ice creams and sorbets are made on site with fresh local ingredients by husband and wife Michel and Sigrid Perriere and their son Olivier.  On any given day there are more than 30 flavors to choose from, with additional flavors that change with the seasons.

I remember from my visit in 1998 that finding L’Art Glacier was a bit of a challenge.  Fortunately they now have a website with directions.  Still it’s an adventure to get to, up and down long, winding roads through vineyards and a final steep uphill drive.  I recommend driving east from Ansouis, where you’ll find a few signs to help guide you in the right direction.

This off the beaten path location helps make the experience.  When you arrive you see right away why L’Art Glacier is so special — it feels as if you’ve been invited into the Perrieres’ home, with an incredible view of the valley below.

L’Art Glacier isn’t a normal ice cream shop where you order your scoops and then walk away.  Here there is table service, which of course you won’t mind because you’re seated in an outdoor garden looking out at the countryside.

When my husband and I arrived on a warm and sunny afternoon in August, I immediately noticed some differences from my visit in 1998.  Word had apparently gotten out about the exceptional ice cream, as there were many more tables and most of them were full.  The menu had expanded too — in addition to the dishes of ice cream there were milkshakes and floats.

My husband and I decided to share a dish of eight flavors.  Choosing just eight from the list was a bit challenging, but eventually we settled on a good mix: chocolate, hazelnut, nougat, passion fruit, Grand Marnier, lavender, honey from Provence and basil.

The presentation hadn’t changed since my first visit.  The assortment looks so pretty you almost hate to dig in.  The balls of ice cream are adorned with whipped cream, fruit and edible leaves made from sugar.  We discovered later much to our delight that the ice cream sat on top of a giant meringue cookie.

The taste was even better than I remembered.  Each ice cream was more delicious than the last, and I couldn’t get enough of the non-traditional flavors.  Despite being full as we scooped out the ice cream-soaked meringue, I wished I could order eight other flavors to try.

Though a bit skeptical on the long drive in, my husband agreed — L’Art Glacier is worth a special trip.

For information on L’Art Glacier including directions visit artglacier.com.

Related Stories:
A Guide to Gordes
Festival of Wines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Photographs of Vineyards in Provence

Lentils with Turmeric and Vegetables

This hearty lentil stew gets its flavor and color from turmeric, a bright yellow spice that resembles a mix of ginger and pepper in taste.  Additionally turmeric is thought to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, so it’s a great addition to any diet.  Combining the spice with lentils and vegetables makes this a nutrient-packed meal that both vegetarians and meat eaters will enjoy.

Though this dish takes some time to make (you’ll need about an hour), it’s not too labor intensive and requires little prep work and cleanup.  I use frozen vegetables for an easy way to add variety.

Here’s what you’ll need:

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 small to medium shallot, chopped
1¼ cup dried lentils
3½ cups water (more if you want it soupy)
2 cups frozen vegetables (I use a mix of carrots, peas, green beans and corn)
1 tbsp turmeric
juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tbsp)
salt & pepper

Optional:
additional seasonings — allspice and ground cloves
non fat plain yogurt

Directions:

In a medium pot, heat olive oil and add in the chopped shallots.  Let the shallots cook until they become fragrant and turn slightly brown, about 3 minutes.

Add lentils and water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer covered for 30 minutes.  Add turmeric, salt, pepper and a dash of allspice and ground cloves.  Stir and cook covered for 10 minutes.

Stir in frozen vegetables.  Cook covered for 10 minutes.

Add lemon juice.  Check the seasoning of the lentils, adding more turmeric, lemon juice or additional spices to taste.

Serve right away (with an optional scoop of plain yogurt), or let the stew continue to cook if the lentils are not yet the desired consistency.

Serves 4

Festival of Wines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The Amateur Gastronomer spent the month of August in Provence, France.  This is the first in a series of articles on the region.

What better way to kick off a three week trip to Provence than by tasting wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Our first weekend in the south of France happened to coincide with Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s annual Fête de la Véraison, the festival of grape ripening.  For a weekend at the beginning of August the town is transformed into a medieval village to celebrate both its heritage and the upcoming harvest, complete with street performers, knights competing on horseback and of course, plenty of the famous local wine.

For its vast stretch of vineyards, the actual town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is fairly small.  Five narrow roads branch out from the main square, with ruins of the 14th century château keeping watch from above.  Even without the people in medieval costume it’s easy to imagine yourself stepping back in time, with the old tan and gray stone buildings and their weathered window shutters adding splashes of color.

My husband and I arrived just in time for the parade that kicked off the day’s festivities.  Dozens of people dressed up as noblemen, peasants and even a prisoner walked through the streets.  They were led by drummers and bagpipe players, with a group of donkeys bringing up the rear.

For 3€50 we purchased souvenir wine glasses that allowed us to taste wines from the numerous wineries that had booths along the streets, as well as at the wineries located within the town.

We started off slowly, tasting a few whites and reds while taking in the sights of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  We checked out medieval themed gifts, compared cheeses and saucissons, smelled soaps made in Marseille and somehow resisted the urge to buy nougat and marzipan.  We walked up to the château ruins for a great view of the surrounding vineyards and Mont Ventoux in the distance.  By mid afternoon I had lost track of how many wines we tried, though the half a dozen bottles we carried around helped us remember our favorites.

In contrast to our experiences in wine shops and restaurants back home, we found many wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape to be extremely affordable.  I almost didn’t trust my french when I heard that the delicious Syrah Grenache blend we were sipping cost only 5€ a bottle.

We quickly discovered this was the norm — during our three week visit we enjoyed many great bottles that cost between 5€ and 10€ from all of Provence’s wine regions.  I guess in Provence the saying ‘wine is cheaper than water’ is fairly accurate.

One of our favorite wineries in Châteauneuf-du-Pape was Domaine Comte de Lauze.  It is located right in town and is one of the few wineries that still does all the wine production there (the grapes grow in nearby fields).  The owner took me on a tour, showing me the large stainless steel fermenting tanks on the ground floor, then down a narrow staircase to show off the barrels in the cave below ground.

Comte de Lauze’s red — a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault — was rich and silky with flavors of black cherry, licorice and pepper.  At around 20€ it was on the more expensive side of the wines we tasted at the festival.  The winery also produces a nice Côtes du Rhône for 8€50.  It’s lighter in body and in color than the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with bright red fruit notes.

Like with many of the wines we enjoyed during our three weeks, you’ll be hard pressed to find these reds in the United States.  As the owners explained, Domaine Comte de Lauze doesn’t produce enough wine to export to the U.S.  But that’s part of the reason why you visit places like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to discover special wines that you can’t get back home.

At the Fête de la Véraison there were not as many foreign tourists as I would have guessed, though I did hear English spoken when I least expected it — from one of the vineyard owners.  Doug Graves, owner and winemaker at Mas de la Lionne, came to France in 2008 from Washington State.  He kept the winery’s name, which goes back to the 1950s and a tale about an escaped circus lion that was said to live on the property.

Though literally across the street from Châteauneuf-du-Pape (a narrow road runs along the north side of the property), Mas de la Lionne is located in Sorgues, so the wines do not have a Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.  As Doug explained, the terroir is similar and is expressed in the wines.

We tried the 2008 and 2009 Côtes du Rhône reds.  After tasting the two my husband was extremely surprised to find out they were 100% Grenache, which he usually does not like.  Both were upbeat and juicy with red cherry and strawberry flavors and a hint of spice on the finish.  We couldn’t decide which was our favorite so we bought one bottle of each.

With our lips stained and our hands full, we decided it was time to take our bounty home to our cottage near Gordes.  Only a couple of days in to our trip, we already had quite a wine collection.

 

Related Stories:
A Guide to Gordes
Ice Cream with a View
Photographs of Vineyards in Provence

Chocolate: Seed to Sweet Opens at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Bring your sweet tooth to the Atlanta Botanical Garden this fall for Chocolate: Seed to Sweet!

The new exhibition is fun for chocolate fans of all ages.  After passing through a giant cacao pod visitors learn how chocolate is made, starting with the cacao tree and ending with candy factories.

At this weekend’s grand opening kids could decorate chocolate cupcakes, finger paint with chocolate and sculpt chocolate scented play dough (recipe below).

Chocolate was the main ingredient in the cooking demonstrations at the Edible Garden Outdoor Kitchen.  Chef Christina Curry made a tasty vegan dark chocolate mousse, which gets its creamy texture from silken tofu (click here for the recipe).  It’s a healthier version of the decadent dessert that still satisfies your chocolate craving.

Local chocolatiers and chefs will be demonstrating chocolate recipes on the second Sunday of each month throughout the exhibition, which runs until January.  There will also be chocolate classes and activities including a truffle making workshop and holiday chocolate high-teas.

The garden’s popular Cocktails in the Garden event will be chocolate-themed in September.  At Mocha and Mudslides on Thursdays from 6pm to 10pm guests can sip drinks while checking out the new exhibit.  There will be additional sweet happenings on select Thursdays, from an adults only egg hunt to a chocolate market.

By the time you finish your chocolate tour you’ll certainly be craving some of the sweet stuff.  Not to worry — each guest gets a complimentary Dove chocolate square in the gift shop at the end of the visit.

Chocolate: Seed to Sweet at the Atlanta Botanical Garden runs through January 2, 2011.  For more information visit www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org.

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Chocolate Scented Play Dough

1¼ cups flour
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup salt
½ tablespoon cream of tartar
½ tablespoon cooking oil
1 cup boiling water

Mix flour, cocoa powder, salt and cream of tartar together.  Add cooking oil and boiling water to mixture.  Stir quickly and mix well.  Cook over low heat until dough forms a ball.  When cool, mix with your hands.  Store in airtight container.