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Friday, July 16, 2010

Cooking over a wood fire

When I was a teenager, I would go camping with my aunt and uncle. We would drive many hours to Moose Brook State Park, north of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. This being the North Woods, there was never such a thing as a wood fire ban, as we have on a regular basis here in Colorado. We had a Coleman stove for cooking but every night we would get a good, hot wood fire going and cook some of our dinner over the fire (provided it wasn't raining, which is did more than I care to remember). There is something very special about cooking over a wood fire. It's not easy, like cooking over a gas grill. More like cooking over charcoal, but even less reliable. Wood doesn't burn as consistently as charcoal, so the fire may not burn hot enough for cooking. It burns faster than charcoal, so you have to be vigilant to add more wood and keep the coals going. It's challenging, largely because most of us lack the necessary skills anymore. When was the last time you cooked over a wood fire? Have you ever cooked over a wood fire?

I recalled these long dormant skills this month. My lovely niece Lindsay was visiting from the east and we took her camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. I cooked the entire meal over the wood fire and dinner was a great success. It sprinkled and rumbled a bit just before dinner. Just enough to add some suspense to the proceedings but not enough to ruin our meal. All my clothes smelled strongly of wood smoke. My eyes burned from the inevitable smoke that blows in your face. But, it was worth the pain, the trouble, the constant tending of the fire. There is something very primal about tending a wood fire and cooking your food over it.

We had baked potatoes, fresh asparagus and garlic sauteed on a cast iron griddle, and a delicious marinated top sirloin. Dessert was smore's, of course. I've included the marinated steak. I'm sure it will taste wonderful cooked on your gas grill, but it will never taste as good as that steak cooked over a live fire.

Ginger-Soy Grilled Steak
[Recipe from]
(serves 4)


 ● 6 tbsp soy sauce
  ● 1/4 cup chopped onion
  ● 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  ● 2 tbsp oriental sesame oil
  ● 1 tbsp chopped peeled ginger
  ● 1 cup chopped green onions
  ● 1 1/2 lb. top sirloin steak, about 1 inch thick

Blend first 5 ingredients in processor until almost smooth; pour into a large glass dish or ziploc bag. Mix green onions into marinade. Add steak and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day, turning steak occasionally.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Pour marinade into small saucepan and bring to boil; then pour into small bowl. Grill steak to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steak to cutting board. Cut steak crosswise on diagonal into thin slices. Serve steak with marinade as sauce.

Made for campfire cookout. Delicious especially cooked over wood fire.

Link to PDF of Ginger-Soy Grilled Steak

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wine (and some Beer) in Italy

As promised, a blog post on drinking in Italy. Italy is a country of wine. Beautiful inexpensive wine. Yeah sure, there are some very expensive beautiful wines, but I didn't try many of them. The dollar isn't so strong over there that I'm going to spend 50-60 euro on a bottle of wine. But, not to worry. There is plenty of lovely wine to be had for very little. 

House wine is not the disaster it is in the US. It's local, cheap, and from what I tried, universally decent. And I mean cheap: most of the time you can get a 1/2 liter of wine for 7 euros. Now, that's a bargain! Don't ask me what I drank because I don't know. In Venice, it was from the Veneto. In Cinque Terre, I have no idea what it was but it was white, refreshing, and delicious. In Reggio-Emilia, it's Lambrusco and in Tuscany, it's Toscana. I drank a fair amount of Chianti too and it was all good. Sadly, we missed a food & wine festival in Siena by one day. When we arrived in Siena, they had a giant Chianti cork, complete with the rooster, by the train station. We didn't take a picture and it was gone by the time we returned later in the day. In Rome, we drank Frascati because the weather was hot as the blazes and Frascati is cold. It was good too.

I am definitely the wrong person to ask for specific wine recommendations in Italy since my plan was to order what was local nearly everywhere and not think too much about it. Call me lazy. Call me cheap. Hey, it worked! I wasn't disappointed in any of the wines I got.

We did splurge one night. We went to Cantinetta Antinori, the wine bar owned by the Antinori family in Florence. Even better, it's in the Palazzo Antinori, which has been occupied by the family since the 15th century. How many of you have enjoyed lovely wine in a Florentine palazzo? Cantinetta Antinori isn't really a wine bar. Far more formal than a wine bar and it's not exactly cheap. Their wine list by the glass features wines exclusively from Antinori estates, and the food was excellent. I have been a fan of Villa Antinori Toscana IGT for years; we even drank some of it somewhere else. But, since they have many of their better wines by the glass, you come here to try them without having to buy a whole bottle. We had a glass of the Peppoli Chianti Classico DOCG and a glass of the Marchese Antinori, a Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva. They were both delicious but I liked the Peppoli a little better. They are 90% Sangiovese but the Peppoli uses Merlot and Syrah to make up the remaining 10% while the Marchese uses Cabernet Sauvignon. If you really want to splurge at Cantinetta Antinori, you can order a glass of Tignanello, Antinori's Super Tuscan. I think it was 30 euro a glass. Don't ask me the vintage. At 30 euro, I didn't look that closely! This was the fanciest restaurant we ate at in Italy. The service was impeccable and it's a lovely space.

On to beer...there is plenty of beer in Italy. Mostly lager and great on a hot day. Which they have plenty of in Italy! It was muggy and  over 100 degrees in Naples. Good beer drinking weather, for sure. I only found one microbrew while we were in Reggio-Emilia. We ate dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Osteria La Casa di Nonna in Bibbiano. They had bombers of local beer. Unfortunately, I didn't note the producer. I doubt you can find it anywhere except in the countryside near Parma. We enjoyed Peroni red ale at their brewpub in Rome, a casual and reasonably priced restaurant. As brewpubs go, not much of a selection though - Peroni lager and Peroni red ale.

My advice to anyone traveling to Italy - drink lots of wine. Drink lots of local wine and you won't be disappointed. You'll also get off cheap.