August 2, 2012
“A glass of the Chianti. With ice on the side.”
While I’ve had more than a few raised eyebrows shot in my direction for willingly diluting my red wines with ice, my distaste for the acetic sting that accompanies warm wine far outweighs my concern for thinning out my drink with a cube or two of ice. I’ve often wondered about the age-old “rule” that red wine should be served at room temperature, while white wines should be served chilled. Personally, I’ve always found room temperature red wine to be, well, repulsive.
It turns out that my uncouth icing of the reds is not completely unjustified. Most red wines are served too warm; the “room temperature” rule originated in Europe, where room temperature is between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, chilled white wine came from the European cellar, where temperatures hover around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
In America, to achieve the ideal wine temperature you actually have to cool red wines and warm white wines, assuming your reds are stored in a room temperature wine rack and your whites are kept cold (too cold!) in the refrigerator. Average room temperatures can be over 70 degrees and most refrigerators are a frosty 35 degrees Fahrenheit. One critic recommends putting a bottle of red wine in the fridge for 45 minutes before serving while taking a bottle of white wine out of the fridge 30 minutes prior to serving.
For those with a more refined wine-tasting palette, temperature can be adjusted to accommodate bold, dark versus light, fruity red wines, and white wines can be served warmer or colder depending on whether they are sweet and full or crisp and light. Between a robust Bordeaux and a bright Pinot Grigio, the temperature graduation for serving wine runs between about 65 degrees to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take two or three degrees.
The reason temperature is so important to bringing out the flavor of wines is that warming or chilling wine can unlock different layers of flavors within the wine. Serving wine at a temperature too far from its ideal range may overpower desirable flavors with alcohol or tannins.
When wine is served too warm, the dominant flavor can be that of alcohol, masking the subtler flavors of the wine’s ingredients. This effect is particularly noticeable with strong red wines that have a higher alcohol content to begin with. On the other hand, chilling a wine brings out greater astringency, which means the wine tastes sharp and tart as the flavor of tannins is emphasized. The trick is to find the happy medium for each wine, especially important in bringing out a wine’s aroma. Goldilocks had it right about more than just porridge when she said, “Too hot, too cold….just right.”
The good news is that there are no hard and fast rules for the “exact” correct temperatures for serving wines; it truly is to the preference of the individual. The chart above page can be used as a guideline, but by experimenting with a wine’s temperature, wine enthusiasts can fine tune their favorite “flavor sweet spot” of aromas and flavors.
Even my habit of dumping ice cubes into my red wine turns out to not be completely unrefined, although the practice is definitely a point of contention between wine experts. Famous chef Mario Batali, who was featured on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and his own cooking show “Molto Mario,” has been noted to chill and dilute his wine with fruit-juice-based ice cubes. I’ll consider that permission enough to continue my controversial use of ice.
Cheers to that.
July 19, 2012
Beating the lazy, mid-afternoon summer heat with a cold energy drink?
Energy drinks are a staple among active Americans, who substitute the canned, sugary beverages for coffee or tea and have launched brands like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar to the top of a $7.7 billion industry. Not only do energy drinks pack a caffeine-punch, they are filled with energy-boosting supplements.
It’s a tough call whether the benefits associated with supplemental boosters outweigh all the unhealthy sugars that give energy drinks their sweet flavor. Red Bull contains 3.19 grams of sugar per fluid ounce, Monster contains 3.38 g/oz. and Rockstar has 3.75 g/oz. Marketed as health drinks, energy drinks are as high in sugar as classic Coca-Cola, which contains 3.25 g/oz. of sugar.
So what exactly are those “energy-boosting natural supplements” that supposedly set energy drinks apart from other sugary beverages — and how do they affect the bodies of those who consume energy drinks?
Taurine: Although it sounds as though it was dreamed up in a test-lab, taurine isn’t foreign to the human body. Its name stems from the fact it was first discovered and isolated from ox bile, but the naturally-occurring supplement is the second-most abundant amino acid in our brain tissue, and is also found in our bloodstream and the nervous system.
The taurine used in energy drinks is produced synthetically in commercial laboratories. Since excess taurine is excreted by the kidneys, it’s improbable that someone could overdose on the supplemental form. To be on the safe side, one expert recommends staying under 3,000 mg per day. Animal experiments have shown that taurine acts as an antioxidant and may have anti-anxiety and anti-epileptic properties. Some studies have even suggested that dosages of the amino acid may help to stave off age-related bodily degeneration.
And taurine’s anti-anxiety effects might be useful when consumed as part of an energy drink; the amount of accompanying stimulant found in popular beverages is capable of causing some seriously anxious jitters.
Guarana: The caffeine component of many energy drinks is guarana, which comes from a flowering plant native to the Amazon rainforest. In fact, most people in South America get their caffeine intake from the guarana plant rather than coffee beans. Guarana seeds are about the same size as a coffee bean, but their caffeine potency can be up to three times as strong.
Both coffee and guarana have weight-loss inducing effects through the suppression of appetite, a common side-effect of caffeine. Although caffeine can improve mental alertness, it can also cause dizziness, nervousness, insomnia, increased heart rate and stomach irritation.
Ginseng: Some of the most interesting, if not debatable, effects come from supplemental Panax ginseng, which is included in 200mg doses in several energy drink brands. As a traditional herbal treatment associated with East Asian medicines, ginseng has many folkloric uses — although many of those uses are not proven scientifically. Rumored uses for ginseng have included improved psychologic functioning, boosted immune defenses and increased sexual performance and desire.
Myths aside, ginseng does offer some attractive benefits. Studies have indicated positive correlation between daily ginseng intake and improved immune system responses, suggesting ginseng has anti-bacterial qualities in addition to boosting a body’s “good” cells.
Ginseng has also been shown in animal and clinical studies to have anticancer properties, due to the presence of ginsenosides within the extract of the plant. Ginsenosides are a type of saponins, which act to protect the plant from microbes and fungal and have been described as being “tumor killers”. Scientists are still working to understand the effects of ginseng supplements for use in preventative and post-diagnosis cancer treatment.
Energy drinks may be overhyped as a source of supplemental substances. All of the supplements found in energy drinks can be bought individually as dietary supplements, which allows consumers to ingest the substances without the complementary sugar load found in energy drinks.
Please, though, if you’ve ever sprouted wings after chugging back an energy drink, we’d like to be the first to know.
June 15, 2012
One of the greatest treats of summertime is sweet, tender lobster slathered in hot, dripping butter. But fork over the bibs and claw-crackers. Here are ten less traditional but no less taste-bud-enticing recipes for a round-the-clock lobster line-up.
Breakfast: Incorporating lobster into your morning meal brings a whole new meaning to taking advantage of the fresh catch of the day; lobstermen set out well before sunrise to bring home the spoils of their traps by dawn. Try one of these dishes for a fresh spin on breakfast.
Wild Mushroom and Lobster Pancakes: This recipe, created by Nantucket-turned-Connecticut restaurateurs Everett and Linda Reid, pairs lobster meat with garlic, shallots and wild mushrooms in a brown-sugar-based pancake. Top off the fluffy pancakes with salmon roe or caviar sprinkled over a cream garnish.
Cheesy Scallion and Lobster Quiche: Simple and versatile, this recipe may be made with non-fat ingredients for a more heart-healthy hearty breakfast. Swiss cheese and paprika lend additional layers of flavor to the dish. A pre-made nine-inch pie crust will cut your prep time down significantly, leaving most of the work up to your oven.
Baked Lobster and Egg: Serve up this hero in a half shell to make a statement while entertaining guests. The recipe calls for halving lobsters and baking veggies and eggs right alongside the lobster meat. The finished dish creates a bold-looking plate.
Lunch: Match lobster with fresh produce to pull off one of these quick and easy midday meals.
Avocado and Lobster Quesadilla: Creamy goat cheese complements sweet lobster and avocado in this twist on Southwestern cuisine. Turn up the heat by introducing diced jalapeno to all the melted, flaky goodness.
Mango and Lobster Salad: The super easy and super succulent recipe calls for mango and lobster chunks to be tossed in a sweet honey, basil and lemon cream sauce.
Dinner: Retire the worn-out surf and turf routine and opt for one of these dishes which styles lobster into traditional American, Italian or Asian cuisine.
Lemon Aioli Lobster Burger: Tuna and salmon burger lovers, rejoice. Lobster and crab combine to create one seriously scrumptious seafood sandwich. Serve on a traditional burger bun or herbed focaccia bread.
Ricotta Salata and Lobster Pizza: Chef Lydia Shire of Boston’s Scampo restaurant created this recipe, which uses a special salted variety of ricotta cheese. Opt for white, wheat or half-and-half dough. While Shire creates this masterpiece in a wood-fired oven, a conventional oven set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit will do the trick just fine.
Lobster Curry: Bring some color to your cheeks with this hot and tingly supper. Serve lobster and curry over wild rice for a more substantial serving. Spice curry to taste.
Dessert: Land-lubbers beware, sweet lobster meat can find its way into every course of the day. Don’t try this with chicken.
Lobster Cheesecake: Pretzel-crumb crust and hints of zesty lemon and dill balance out the flavor profile of this decadent dessert.