Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dinner at Dad's: How I Make Steaks.

Dinner last night, 30th January 2010, was at my father's place - in commemoration of my late mom's birthday a few days ago. He wanted steaks, and I was to cook them. Since it's easier for me to make them at home (I also have more and stronger burners for proper searing), he sent the meat over - anyway, he also lives in the village, so bringing them back to his place already cooked is not an issue.

My two older sons had their respective parties to attend, so we were just 7 in all: Dad, my youngest sister Reena, brother Tad, sis-in-law Hisako, my youngest son, my wife & I. We arrived a little past 7pm, the others finishing up their beers and pica-picas, then dinner was served.

R's Grilled Vegetable & White Cheese Salad - she had intended to make a fresh green salad and dad wanted some grilled vegetables, so she just combined the two into one dish. Very nice, actually - a good mix of fresh and smokey. Aside from the fresh greens and white cheese, there were grilled tomatoes, eggplant, onions and asparagus. I'll suggest she add a bit of grilled red peppers to the salad next time.

Spaghetti Tomato, Basil, Olives, etc. Sauce. There was also a bowl of mashed potatoes which I didn't bother to photograph.

US Prime Grade Rib-Eye Steaks - There is no secret to making good steaks.

1. The most important factor is meat quality - buy good quality beef. These are real prime grade US rib-eyes which South Supermarket Alabang carries (at other South Supermarket branches, you'd have to order 2 days in advance). There are frozen pre-sliced ones readily available, but these are sliced too thinly for me. We ask someone in the meat section to slice up some at least 1-¼ to 1-½ inches thick. This, for me, is the thinnest for a nice juicy steak.

2. When using frozen steaks, thaw them slowly in the refrigerator. For steaks this thick, I transfer them from the freezer to the ref at around 9pm the night before the steaks are to be served for dinner.

3. Around an hour before they are to be cooked, I season them on both sides with a very simple dry rub of McCormick Broiled Steak Seasoning and cracked black pepper, pat them down gently but firmly so that the rub sticks, then drizzle very lightly with a high-burn-temperature oil (usually canola or corn oil). Then I stick them back in the fridge.

4. Around 15 minutes before cooking, I bring them out to warm. In the meantime, I am heating heavy cast-iron pans and pre-heating the oven to maximum heat.

5. Once the oven and pans are at proper temperature. I sear the steaks for around 45 seconds on each side (flame on maximum; 1 minute per side for steaks 1-3/4 to 2 inches thick) and pop the whole thing (steak and pan) into the oven for 4 to 4-½ minutes for just under medium rare. 5 to 6 minutes for thicker cuts and for more doneness if desired. Personally, the most done I will have steak is medium-rare. Anything more than that is a waste of good meat in my opinion.

6. I then let the steaks rest, covered loosely with foil for at least 15 minutes (if you cut them before they are properly rested, the juices will all run out).

7. Since it's been years since I or any of my friends can finish one whole of these steaks (we used to though), I normally serve them diagonally sliced on the bias. I also make sure to have sea salt on the table for those who care.

8. Serve it with a good red wine. During the subject dinner, I picked out from dad's wine cav a bottle of...

1998 Herederos del Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva - This '98 Rioja gran reserva is notably Bordeaux-esque in its smooth, medium body, silken texture and its firm structure, healthy acid balance and typically austere, dry, minerally dark fruit, black cherry, bit of underlying warm asphalt, violets, licorice, cedar and leather. The wood is very well-integrated, and I suspect French oak is used rather than American. In the finish, there was licorice, dry black cherry, cedar, violets and, to me, a suggestion of blueberry (the latter a note I cannot remember ever before encountering in a Rioja). I like this wine's quiet, dignified style. It is very food-friendly, and, though I had some apprehensions at first, it stood quite well against the rich, fatty steak.

Dessert was a Super Moist Chocolate Cake which easily lived up to its name, and then some.

Hisako had tried this a few years ago at The Diamond Hotel in Manila, but found the source too geographically inconvenient to buy it regularly. Lately, though, she found that the hotel opened a shop at Rockwell called "The Cake Club" and so got one for us to try. Very moist, deeply chocolatey but not sweet, overly rich or heavy. This cake is right up my alley. Loved it.

We finished up with some fresh fruits, then some glasses of Martell XO Cognac, cups of coffee, and, out on the lanai, a few cigarettes.

My youngest, though, had finished his dinner quickly and hied off to the video room to watch 2 back-to-back movies of Naruto. I guess with his brothers away, the adult conversation didn't interest him much.

John H's birthday Dinner.

Friday night, the 29th January 2010, was John Harvey's 40th birthday golf tournament and dinner. I missed out on the golf, but my wife and I joined the dinner at John's and Gina's home. I've known John for several years - we met through golf, are members of the same neighborhood country club and a small wine, food & tobacco appreciation club and we live in the same village.

I also happen to be legal counsel of the Philippine branch of a foreign company that John heads in Manila and Gina happens to be a cousin of the Doc, etc. Manila is really very small. Most importantly, however, John is a good friend, so I wouldn't have missed his birthday dinner.

Many familiar faces there...

...members of Manila's Irish and British communities, golf buddies, etc. John's little fellow is a chip off the old block - as one can see him in the picture above apparently grabbing a quick, surreptitious sniff from his dad's wine glass. Dinner was an Indian buffet catered by Kashmir...

...enjoyed in the garden.

The bar was fully stocked. I had a NZ sauvignon blanc, for my apéritif, the maker and vintage of which now escapes me. Probably because of the several glasses of Jameson 12 year old Irish whiskey I had with my post-dinner cigar.

The red wine flowed from 7pm to past 2am, an endless and generous stream of...

1999 René Barbier Penedès Gran Reserva - Distributed by Aaron's ADP Industries. Though I've had this at least thrice in the past year, each time was always with many other wines. This time, it being the sole red of the evening, I was able to liesurely enjoy and delve a little deeper into it.

Penedès is a wine region in Catalunya, not far south-west of Barcelona. Though it is better known for producing cava, Penedès also produces a lot of red wines from the likes of tempranillo, grenache, cariñena, monastrell (a.k.a., mourvèdre and mataró), cabernet sauvignon, merlot and others. The subject wine is mainly tempranillo. I do not know exactly the percentages, but I would say there is probably a small percentage of a weightier grape in this, probably cabernet sauvignon. Per Hugh Johnson, 1999 in Penedès was marked by mild winter and spring, with a dry, warm summer which led to a very good, abundant harvest.

Dry, very smooth, comforting and very easily approachable, this medium-bodied wine shows a mellow personality in its soft black cherry, minor wild strawberry, bit of underlying blackcurrant, cedar with hints of tobacco leaf, licorice, whispers of violets and leather. After sitting in the glass, slight notes of vanilla and cinammon emerged. Acidity is adequate, balance is good. This is mature at a little over 10 years from vintage. Nice.

I've liked this wine ever since I first had it almost a year ago at a lunch hosted by Aaron at Café Ysabel. It made my list of Favorite/Go-To Locally Available Wines of 2009 wherein I wrote:

Below P2000/bottle:

1999 René Barbier Gran Reserva - Penedès, Spain; from ADP Industries, P1200/bottle. One will have to look very far and wide for an equally good and mature tinto gran reserva at this low a local price. I, personally, don't know any.

After dinner, we lit up our Cuban cigars...

...and John handed out the trophy to the winner of his birthday tournament.

Aled, the runner-up, didn't go home empty-handed, however,...

...being handed a dignified, black-and-white picture-portrait of our celebrant-host. Everyone had a good laugh when Aled proclaimed that he'd hang it in his bathroom. Great fun. Thanks John, and, happy birthday again. Many more to come!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Lamb Dinner for Sandy.

Wednesday night, the 27th January 2010, was dinner at home for Sandy and her folks, Uncle Frank and Tita Maribel. They often used to host our whole group in Candelaria back in college - a whole horde of us - up to 15 at a time - for days on end. Those were fun, carefree and memorable days. I haven't seen Sandy's folks in a long time. Far too long, so it was great that they accepted our invitation to join us for dinner. Also there were the two other Agustinettes, Sandy's closest friends, as well as their respective hubbies - all of us friends and groupmates for decades. Topsy, my youngest brother-in-law, also joined us - as he used to join us in Candelaria back in the day - he must have been only 11 or 12 years old then.

Uncle Frank, Tita Maribel, Catha, Maricel, Sandy and Maxy.

While waiting for Tonji and Sylvia to arrive, we started off with some pica-picas of Parma Ham, Salami Milano, St-Nectaire, Chèvre and Tapenade. With these, we had glasses of 2008 Marqués de Cáceres Viura Blanco - a fresh 100% viura Rioja blanco that I really enjoy as a casual sip. I've written about this fresh, bright and dry blanco several times (the last being at Boozze's & Margarita's steak dinner a few days ago), so there is no need to repeat myself. Suffice it to state that I keep a stock of this at home. I also opened a bottle of 2006 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Carneros Chardonnay, but I didn't have any of it - anyway, I've also written about this wine often and recently.

Tonji and Sylvia arrived soon after, and, of course, the girls huddled together... did the guys.

Me? I hied off to the kitchen to cook the main courses. Since Boozze already hosted a steak dinner for Sandy last Friday - I wouldn't even to attempt to compete with his steak-prowess - Roast Racks of Lamb were in order.

Well, I also got a few Dry-Aged US Prime Angus Bone-In Rib-Eyes through Boozze because I figured Sandy's folks may want to try some. Anyway, the evening before, Boozze coached me on how to cook these luxurious cuts of dry-aged beef. I was pretty happy with the results.

These were just a little over medium-rare as I know not everyone likes their steaks as bloody as I do.

This, as well as a smaller, non-dry-aged "emergency back-up rib-eye" were done medium-rare for those who preferred (i.e., me).

Aside from these, we also had our usual Salad of Butter Lettuce, Fresh Tarragon Leaves, Toasted Pine Nuts, Grated Parmesan Cheese & Parma Ham with a Honey-Mustard Dressing (the recipe concocted by my brother and his wife).

There was also a fish course of Sole Meuniere and a Pilaf which were made by our cook. Unfortunately, I totally forgot to take a photo of them.

Naturally, we had some red wines for the meat courses.

For the lamb:

1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - I know I've written about this wine so many times. So deep, complex and graceful it is in its medium-bodied cherry, strawberry, underlying slightly leathery dark fruit, nuances of violets, cedar, licorice and whispers of vanilla , I simply cannot keep my hands off them. Excellent balance.

2001 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - I finally get to try the currently available vintage of this favored Riojan producer. The flavors and scents are, of course, quite similar to the aforementioned '99 vintage, but this one is slightly less open (well, it is 2 years younger), the fruit seems a bit riper and, at this point, the dark fruit, licorice, hint of tobacco and slightly creamy oak hold sway over the red. Firm in structure, it comes off more masculine. Good wine. I'm sure it will age gracefully as well. Both were fine matches for the herb-encrusted roasted lamb racks.

For the steaks, I opened a young Napa cabernet sauvignon...

2006 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - A gift from Rocky & Apple, Rocky always makes it a point to give me good Napa reds (nb: a 1996 BV Georges de Latour PR CS from them got me my 2nd consecutive win at our last Blind Non-Bordeaux Challenge). I decanted the subject wine and let it aerate in my wine ref for almost 3 hours before service.

This is BV's 70th vintage release of the Georges de Latour Private Reserve CS. Big, dense, viscous, very concentrated, highly-extracted blackcurrant, black cherry, hint of kirsch, some crème de cassis, violets, licorice and hefty doses of creamy oak/vanilla and, underneath, dark chocolate. Very full-bodied, with a mouth-filling, chewy roundness. Tannins are big but smooth enough, giving a bit of a dusty feel to its long finish. I thought it went well with the steaks. Young as it is, it does need some good, red meat to go with it - and that we had.

Desserts were...

Coffee Crunch Cake, Ube Puto (a local rice cake flavored with a violet yam), Polvoron and Fresh Fruits. With the whipped-cream-and-fluffy coffee crunch cake, I served a bottle of...

2007 Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Reserve Vidal Icewine - An icewine from Canada's Niagara Peninsula, this was a gift from my Indiana-based brother-in-law, Harry. Flamboyant, opulent, tongue-coating honeycomb, super-ripe apricot and mango (the Philippine "Carabao" type) flavors dominate its thick, viscous full-body. Orange marmalade and lemon drop nuances emerge slightly towards the rear. Rather straightforward, but very easy to enjoy.

It was wonderful, as usual, to see Sandy and her folks again after so long. It brought back a lot of happy memories of more carefree days.

Monday, January 25, 2010

French Oysters & Crab with Chablis @ Ciçou.

Last night, the 24th January 2010, was a quiet Sunday dinner with my wife at Cyrille Soenen's Ciçou for a special menu of fresh French oysters (Fin de Claire, Brittany Belon Nº2, Creuse TG 1) and Crabe Torteau (I opted for the 2-way preparation, but served together).

I had forgotten to bring a bottle of wine, but, as luck would have it, Jerome Philippon's Sommelier Selection had a pairing promo wherein a bottle of 2006 Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis was going for a reduced price. Good, traditional Chablis, oysters and crab? This was a no-brainer choice for me - a bottle of this it was.

Amuse Bouche

Fine de Claire (left), Creuse (right), facing away is the Belon, the latter of which was my favorite (rounder, smaller, fatter, jucier), but they were all excellent.

The 1st preparation of the Crab Torteau (Cancer pagurus, a type of Dungeness crab; I've seen some available live in Bordeaux) was a choice between risotto and pasta. I went for the pasta as risottos tend to make me feel way too full. The serving looked huge. I gave a little over a fifth of it to my wife, and somehow finished the rest. It actually didn't feel heavy at all. The crab meat was delicate, sweetish and juicy, subtly but definitively flavoring the pasta. Lovely.

The 2nd way of the crab was reminiscent of the Thahn Long style (not surprising noted my wife due to the strong French influence in Vietnamese cuisine) roasted with butter, olive oil and moderately spiced. Delicious.

My wife had an order of Steak Tartare with Frites as her main course. Another large serving. I had several forkfuls just to help her out (no, chivalry is not dead), but she still couldn't manage to finish it. Cyrille's steak tartare is admirably seasoned and textured. I prefer this to I Am Angus' tartare - as the latter is comparatively a little too creamy in texture (nothing to bite on at all) and, honestly, a bit under-seasoned for my tatste (I have to ask for extra helpings of caper berries in I Am Angus just to add a bit of cut and acid to stave off palate fatigue).

With all these, as mentioned earlier, we shared a bottle of...

2006 Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis - I've loved the style of Laurent Tribut ever since Jerome Philippon made me try it several years back. This is the village level Chablis, fermented in enamelled steel tanks, no new oak, no battonage (i.e., no leese stirring) minerally, tense, laser-focused, medium-bodied green apple with nuances of cool steel, cold limestone and oyster shells. The last bottle of this I opened was also at one of Boozze's and Margarita's dinners on the 12th June 2009. My notes then, just for comparison, are as follows:

My bottle. The domaine is located in the commune of Poinchy, approximately 1.5 kms west of the old town proper of Chablis, and owns 5.2 hectares of Chablis vineyards, including holdings in premier cru vineyards Beauroy, Côte de Léchet and Montmains. It produces wines in the classically lean, tense, steely, sea-shell, minerally, minimalist oak style (fermentation in enamelled stainless-steel tanks, no use of new oak in ageing, no battonage), which I much prefer.

Those familiar with the wines of Chablis star, R&V Dauvissat, will note a marked similarity between the labels of the two domaines. This is most likely because Laurent Tribut used to work with Dauvissat and, married to Marie-Clotilde Dauvissat, Laurent is Réne Dauvissat's son-in-law and, perforce, Vincent Dauvissat's brother-in-law. I recall reading that Laurent Tribut still helps out occasionally at Domaine Dauvissat.

My wife and I spent a couple of extremely hot days in Chablis in July 2006, billeted at Michel Vignaud's Hostellerie des Clos (at La Residence du Domaine where they have bigger, air-conditioned rooms) until the weak air-condition system drove us out to look for cooler climes. We didn't leave, though, before having dinner at the hotel's *Michelin dining room (they have a smallish but excellently stocked cellar, the bottles of which are reasonably marked-up from retail).

I first tried Tribut's Chablis (a vintage 2004) sometime in mid-September 2006. Jerome Philippon recommended it to me when I expressed my preference for old-style Chablis. I've bought every vintage since then, including Tribut's 1er cru Côte de Léchet.

With around 45 minutes opened, kept chilled in a bucket of iced water, the 2006 holds true to Chablis terroir with clean, pure, nervy/tense, cold-stone, oyster shell notes shining through the softish, ripe white stone fruit/apple, merest hint of white peach (it was a very hot July in Chablis, I can attest). Well balanced with acidity, nicely focused. I'm very happy with this and am glad I still have some as it is excellent with seafood, particularly fresh, simply prepared shellfish....

For dessert, I requested for some macarons. I love Cyrille's macarons. They are not cloyingly sweet like most all other locally available versions. The other ones I like are by Sunshine Puey-Pengson. Unfortunately, however, Sunshine doesn't make much of them anymore.

My wife ordered what I would call a Chocolate Lava Cake with a Vanilla Ice Cream Macaron "Sandwich". The cake was really lava-filled, the latter cascading out in indulgent, rich chocolatiness. Cyrille really uses very high quality ingredients, that much is obvious.

As usual, I had my double espresso at the end and my wife had her brewed coffee. Cyrille sent us some complimentary glasses Calvados which were very much appreciated. He'd stop by at our and others' tables every so often to make sure everything was going smoothly, and, again, before we left. I will definitely be organizing something for his next shipment of oysters and crab. As a matter of fact, it is already in the works.

Excellent dinner all around.

A Steak Dinner for Sandy.

Last Friday, 22nd January 2010, was at Boozze's and Margarita's place. Sandy, a longtime, SF-based friend, is in town so B & M graciously hosted a dinner for her. It goes without saying that they, as always, served copious quantities of top-of-the-line Dry-Aged US Prime Grade Black Angus Rib-Eye Steaks, among other dishes.

A lot of time was spent catching up over bottles of white wine and various pica-picas (jamón, cheeses, etc.).

The inseparable trio I used to call "The Agustinettes" in college: Sylvia, Sandy & Maricel.

The Guys: Tonji, Willy, Kenny & Toñico.

Toñico with Minnie, Margarita and Yvonne.

My wife with her cousin, Lisa (Kenny's wife).

During this time, Boozze was already busy in the kitchen firing up his specialty steaks.

This fellow really has it down to a science. He made it look effortless.

Seared in heavy, cast-iron pans and popped into ovens cranked up to full.

Thick, juicy, tenderly yielding but with just enough resistance to keep it from being mushy. Perfection. Be still my heart.

I'm salivating as I write.

Ever the considerate host, Boozze also cooks some a little more for the ladies (and Willy), while he and I ravage the bloodier ones.

We then all moved to the dining room where the evening's hosts put the finishing touches on their dishes...

...a freshening toss of the Baby Arugula with Cherry Tomato Salad (simple, delicious, simply delicious)...

...a final drizzle of truffle oil on the Spinach & Mushroom Ravioli with Tomato Sauce (a recipe from Giada, per Margarita).

Marge's Baked Prawns, were already fine on their own. Confident in their fresh goodness.

I love the way these are just barely cooked - this is the way I, my dad and brother prefer our shellfish. With glasses of Marg's 2007 Marqués de Cáceres Viura Blanco (sorry, no photo of the bottle), it was sheer heaven. I've written about this a few times before and have recently described it as "fresh, light, dry with a touch of white florality and bright, moderate acidity and an appetizing bitterish almond finish (which is why it is usually taken as an apéritif with toasted almonds in northern Spain)." Superb pairing for shellfish dishes.

With the steaks, we had 1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva (from me, of course, decanted for around 1½ hours before service) and 2004 Château Lascombes (from Kenny).

Coincidentally, we had these exact same two reds at our group's past Christmas Dinner at The Goose Station barely over a month ago. My notes from then, still very applicable, are quoted below in red:

1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - my bottle, of which I, unfortunately forgot to photograph. I've written about this a few times, the last being at a WSCP event on the 28th October 2009. Last night's bottle I decanted for around 1-½ hours before serving.

Willy admired its "complex nose" and noted scents of licorice, violets, cedar and vanilla in its dark fruit. On the palate, he described this shades-over-medium body Rioja as "complex and graceful". I couldn't have put it better myself. I purchased the last case of this from Terry's Selection. JC de Terry now has a new vintage of this wine available, but I've yet to try it out.

2004 Château Lascombes - Kenny's bottle. This is only the 3rd vintage of the new owner/management of Lascombes that I've tried (though I've had many of its older vintages). Since the new owner/management took over in 2001, the wines of this 2nd growth from Margaux have shown generous toasty new vanilla/oak in its low-acid, concentrated/extracted ripe dark fruit, cassis, dark plum, bit of cherry, bit of chocolate, cedar, gravel and "tar". Maculine, a bit top-heavy for me, but still quite enjoyable.

Willy opined that it was somewhat Napa-reminiscent, and I agreed it was quite modern. Many liked this and Willy noted that it's modern slant helped it pair well and stand up to with our steak main courses topped with thinly-sliced, crunchy onion rings.

Desserts were Margarita's Tiramisu and Sylvia's Apple Pie. Unfortunately, the hordes got to them with their forks before I could with my camera. We adults were not the only ones enjoying ourselves, mind you. That day being our hosts' youngest's birthday, the children joined us for the traditional candle-blowing and singing the birthday song. Sylvia led the singing of the extended, disco version of "Happy Birthday".

The sleepy little celebrant seemed slightly bemused at all the noisy adults, but she took it all in stride. That husky little fellow with the glasses looking on is my godson.

We lingered over more stories and jokes, the wines having taken their toll.

That is, until our hosts pulled us some coffees and double espressos. Such great fun being with old friends; always a great pleasure and a great comfort. The superb food and wines certainly don't hurt.

Until the next!