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Trac

Say Yes to Riesling!

Americans love sweet things – from Frappuccino to Coca Cola, we can’t get enough of them. But when it comes to wine, we turn our noses up at it, always wanting something “dry.” And that’s too bad, because anyone who dismisses Riesling is missing out on what just might be the most versatile and complex white wine in the world. This grape can be made completely dry with racy acidity or with rich, full bodied nectar that can stand up to steak, which is why it’s an incredibly easy wine to pair with any cuisine, whether it’s Sichuan or delicate seafood.

Finding the right Riesling for your taste can be tricky because Riesling labels can be hard to read, especially the German labels with ripeness level classifications like Kabinett (light and fresh) to Auslese (high in sugar, usually for dessert), which can take months to study.

We’re here to help! If you want a dry Riesling, look for the work trocken on German bottles or pick up an Alsatian or Austrian Riesling, as most are generally dry. Look for alcohol percentage on the bottle: if it’s 12.5% or higher, 99% of the time it will be a dry wine.  Don’t hesitate to ask folks on our wine team, who’re on a mission to make Riesling more widely quaffed.

Here are some of our favorites you can shop at the Markets:

Domaine Ostertag Riesling “Vignoble d’E” Alsace, France 2013
Made by revolutionary Alsatian producer, André Ostertag, this cuvée is made to express the essence of Riesling in Alsace instead of terroir. It’s delicate with notes of white flowers and peach, and delicious with shellfish and fish.

Tatomer Riesling Vandenberg Santa Barbara, CA 2014
Winemaker Graham Tatomer shows us that Rieslings can shine in California. Having studied at one of the best wineries in Austria, Tatomer’s Vandenberg Riesling has rich fruits with pure mineral notes.

Von Hövel “Hutte Oberemmel” Spatlese Riesling Saar, Germany 2014
A family-owned estate now operated by seventh-generation winemaker, Max von Kunow, has some of the best vineyards in the Saar region of Germany. This classic Spatlese has typical Saar notes of savory herbs like mint and tarragon with a long and juicy apricot finish. Try this with a Peking duck – stunning!


Trac

An Amaro Love Affair

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“Amaro,” the word for “bitter” in Italian, is also a broad and loosely defined category of bittersweet, Italian-born, herbal spirits flavored through maceration. While consistently enjoyed in Western Europe for hundreds of years, only recently has American interest and excitement in amari (plural for amaro) been renewed. In San Francisco, one can visit places like Locanda and Trick Dog just to taste the range of amari available in the U.S. today.

One of amaro’s unique traits is that it epitomizes a true sense of terroir; the flavors of these liqueurs are defined by either the botanicals that grow in the region in which they are produced, or by ingredients heralded centuries ago for their medicinal benefits. The bitterness of amari is one of the reasons they are so versatile in cocktails. It balances quite well with sweeter spirits like rum and bourbon.

We’re excited to offer a fantastic selection of Italian amari so you can explore the terroir and history of Italian spirits. Which is your favorite? Be sure to try our new amaro cocktail recipes, created for us by Josh Harris of The Bon Vivants and Trick Dog, and experiment on your own!  Tweet us your favorite amaro cocktail!

AmaroMelettiMeletti Amaro | Marche, Italy | $19.99
Meletti is a bit astringent for an amaro; its somewhat hot and bright entry is tamed quickly by sweetness. The initial flavors are of orange zest, chocolate, and licorice. Subsequent sips show cardamom and cinnamon. In 1870, Silvio Meletti began producing a popular anise-flavored liqueur bearing his name. Years later, he added an amaro to the line. Meletti is unique in a few ways, principal among them is the addition of saffron—quite an expensive ingredient indeed.

AmaroLucanoLucano Amaro | Basilicata,  Italy | $26.99
Silky like a liqueur, both bitter and sweet in varying degrees, aromatically complex, and quite simply delicious and fascinating. A sophisticated exploration of over 30 herbs, including Roman absinthe, wormwood, clary sage, orange peel, elderberry, and aloe. Amaro Lucano’s roots go back to 1894 in the tiny village of Pisticci, of the Lucania region in the province of Matera, where Pasquale Vena created a special recipe in the backroom of his famous cookie bakery, which is still a well-kept secret today.

amaroMonetnegroMontenegro Amaro | Bologna, Italy | $29.99
This bitter is flavored with licorice root, saffron, and orange peel. Despite its light rust color, this Amaro from Bologna has rich herbal aromas that segue to deep, slightly sweet flavors and a citrusy finish. Amaro Montenegro, “The liqueur of the virtues,” was created in 1885 by distiller and herbalist, Stanislao Cobianchi. The name Montenegro is a homage to the second queen of Italy, Princess Elena Petrović-Njegoš of Montenegro, on occasion of her marriage in 1896 to Victor Emmanuel III, the Itlian sovereign at the time.

AmaroVarnelliVarnelli Sibilla Amaro | Marche, Italy | $54.99
Named after the impressive mountain range in the Southwestern corner of the Marche, this spirit is a must-try for amaro fans. The flavor profile definitely leans toward the drier, more herbaceous end of the spectrum and will seem quite bitter if you are used to Averna or Montenegro. The botanicals are wood smoked before maceration which adds a degree of complexity seldom found in Amari. Mountain honey is used sparingly to balance the bitter flavors. I have found Sibillia to be a delicious digestive, but also quite delightful at the shore when mixed with tonic and an orange rind.

AmaroFernetContratto Fernet | Piedmonte, Italy | $44.99
Based on the original 1920s family recipe this traditional Fernet puts a heavy emphasis on anise, licorice, saffron, clover, and chamomile. The grappa base complements the complex floral aromas well and the layers of flavor don’t come across as too bitter or too sweet. There are so many wonderful ways to drink this old-school liqueur.

AmaroAmaraAmara Amaro d’Arancia | Sicily, Italy | $34.99
Made in Sicily from blood oranges grown near the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, it’s a citrus-dominated liqueur with only a slight bitterness that marries well with hints of baking spice. The finish is like the purest expression of citrus peel I’ve ever tasted in a spirit, giving the Amara a versatility that is simply off the charts. You can sip it after dinner as a digestivo, add soda water to make a spritz, mix it into a Negroni, or simply pour it over ice.


Simon

Enjoying the Peak of Tomato Season

IMG_5651One of the most exciting times of year in the Bay Area is when the local farms start harvesting tomatoes in early June. By the time September rolls around, the local tomato season has hit its peak. All the local farmers from the Pescadero Coast to the Sierra foothills have vine-ripened tomatoes that offer different flavors depending on the growing practices and climate. Throughout September in at both Bi-Rite Markets, we are celebrating the Tomato Triple Play, which highlights three different tomato crops— Heirloom, Cherry, and Dry-Farmed Early Girls. All of the tomatoes we sell during the season come straight off the field to our shelves, allowing our growers to let them stay on the plant a little longer and develop that perfect flavor before picking. Be sure to check out our recommended pairings to make the most of your tomatoes–just visit our store on Instacart.com for a shopping list, and  even order everything you need online for delivery in San Francisco in under an hour!

Heirloom Tomatoes are an open-pollinated variety that have been circulating among farmers and backyard gardeners for more than 50 years—and many of the varieties were introduced before 1940! Heirlooms are not only important because they offer us so many different shapes and sizes to cook with, but they allow us to maintain genetic diversity in the agricultural world. The Cherokee Purple Tomato is one of the most popular. With its thin skin and meaty texture, the juicy, acidic flesh offers a rich, old-fashioned sweet flavor. They take BLTs and Caprese salads to the next level of enjoyment.

Cherokee Purple Heirlooms

Cherokee Purple Heirlooms

We are currently getting Cherokee Purples from Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero and Mariquita Farm in Watsonville. Another popular heirloom is the Brandywine Tomato.  Farmers love them because they get huge on the plants and the meaty flesh doesn’t break down easily when ripe.  Don’t let the large size fool you! These are one of the sweetest tomatoes out there. The Green Zebra Tomato is a small variety that starts out green but turns yellow with green stripes when it’s ripe. The sweet/tart flavor works really well with salsas and salads.

Our guests really get excited about tomatoes when the Dry-farm Early Girls hit our shelves! About 10 years ago we started selling these tomatoes from Two Dog Farm in Davenport. They’re the first farm in Northern California to grow these Early Girls, and over the past 5 years more farms have made the effort. Dry-farming is a farming technique used in a lot of climates where there’s not much rain. The roots of the plants can tap into moisture in the soil and go through the entire growing season with no irrigation. Two Dog Farm grows on the coast, getting moisture from the fog and the high water table in the soil allowing them to never water. The resulting tomatoes are usually smaller and lower in yield, but they pack pleasantly intense flavor and a dense, firm texture. 

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Dry-farm Early Girls

Unfortunately, Two Dog Farm lost a majority of its crop this season due to the heat wave that hit the Bay Area. Crops grown on the cool coast can’t handle the heat! But we’ll have plenty of the tasty Dry-farm Early Girls from Live Earth Farm, Bluehouse Farm, and Tomatero Farm for the rest of the season.

When Heirlooms and Dry-farm Tomatoes are in full swing the Cherry Tomato varieties just don’t get the same amount of love. Cherry Tomatoes might be one of the easiest plants to grow, but keeping up with the daily harvesting and their delicate nature can make them a challenging crop for farmers. Similar to Heirlooms, there are a ton of different varieties but only a handful of them make sense for the retail marketplace. The Sweet 100 Tomato is one of the most popular for farmers to grow because they are a classic red tomato, extra sweet, and keep producing large clusters of fruit for most of the season. The Sun Gold Cherry Tomato is the most popular non-red tomato out there, with their sweet-but-tart flavor that explodes in your mouth.

Mixed Cherry Tomatoes

Mixed Cherry Tomatoes

The Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato is a teardrop-shaped tomato with tangy flavor and low acidity. You can get them along with our Sweet 100 and Sun Golds combined in a mixed baskets. Cherry Tomatoes are not only a perfect snack for kids, but they can add a flare to pasta dishes and almost any salad. They’re especially wonderful in cucumber salads!

One of the best parts of having all these local tomatoes at the Bi-Rite is that we get use them throughout the Family of Businesses—from the world-famous Gazpacho in the Deli to the Mozzarella and Cherry Tomato Skewers on the Bi-Rite Catering Summer menu. We also have an endless number of grocery items that enhance the tomato experience like the Public Label Tuscan Style Olive oil, Pt. Reyes Mozzarella, and Josey Baker’s Breads.  Do you know which tomato variety is your favorite? If not, this is the perfect time to swing by one of the Markets and ask for some tomato samples so you’re better prepared for tomato season next year. Enjoy!


Simon

Getting Figgy With It

Fig trees are one of the most common fruit trees in backyards throughout the Bay Area. You would think IMG_5393this would lead to them being a super popular fruit in the area, but this isn’t the case!  Figs are one those pieces of fruit that usually taste better the uglier they get – but a lot of consumers buy figs that are under-ripe, are still extra-firm, and are not that sweet.  At Bi-Rite we realize that the best tasting figs are the ones that sit on the tree longer to develop their sugars, and are harvested just when the jelly-like flesh of the figs is about to explode out of the skin with sugary goodness.  The fresh fig selection at the Markets changes every day depending on which varieties our favorite farms are harvesting and delivering to the Markets.

Black Mission Figs are the most common fig you see at grocery stores.  They have a thicker skin than most other varieties, which makes them a good crop for shipping long distances.  If grown to the perfect level of ripeness, their dark purple flesh makes them one of the sweetest varieties. The Brown Turkey Fig is similar to the Black Mission in appearance, but a little lighter in color with green skin next to the stem. Brown Turkeys are known to be the largest growing fig and have beautiful rose-colored flesh.

IMG_3004The green fig varieties bring a lot of excitement to Bi-Rite each season with their lime green skin and beautiful reddish pink flesh. These are usually the some sweetest varieties of the season and a perfect dessert fig.  Adriatic, Kadota, and Calimyrna Figs will all hit the Bi-Rite shelves between now and the end of September. I can’t forget to mention the Candystripe Fig with its yellow skin and green stripes – it’s always a main attraction in the produce department in August! The flesh is crimson-colored and they taste like raspberry or strawberry jam.

Throughout the month of August we will be celebrating all of these amazing figs and the local farms that grow them! From Bi-Rite Farm in the foothills of the Sierra, to the legendary fig farmers at Knoll Farm in Brentwood, each fig variety will bring a different flavor to the table.  We are also highlighting the awesome Point Reyes Bay Blue Cheese and have adapted a killer recipe from our book, Eat Good Food, combining figs, blue cheese, and prosciutto that is going to blow your mind! Shop for the ingredients in our Markets or directly from our online store at Instacart.com and have them delivered to your door. And if you don’t remember what a big, juicy, ripe fig taste like please come by either Market and ask for a sample.

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Stephany

Eggplant: A Versatile Fruit

The nightshade family includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers – and thousands of eggplant varietals that have been cultivated all over the world for centuries. Originally hailing from India, eggplant is widely used all over Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. Botanically it’s considered a berry, and like berries eggplants come in many shapes and sizes. In the United States the most commonly grown variety is the Globe Eggplant, which is large, deep purple-black, and glossy, so this image is a natural eggplant association for most Americans. But many early 18th-century eggplant cultivars are creamy white or pale yellow and are smaller and rounder compared to the commonly-known modern globe, giving rise to the name of “eggplant.”

eggplant1But the world of eggplant is populated by a variety of shapes, colors and tastes. Thai eggplant are tiny, no bigger than a crabapple, and their bright streaks of green make them look almost like a Green Zebra tomato! Japanese eggplant are long, skinny and dark purple; Chinese eggplant are a similar long shape but possess a bright lavender color. Both varieties cook quickly and are great on the grill or in a stir-fry.

Calliope eggplant are small, teardrop-shaped and striped white and bright purple. They’re very sweet and great for grilling, roasting or stuffing.

Listada is an Italian varietal that is striped like the Calliope, but larger and more oblong.

Rosa Bianca is an heirloom Sicilian varietal, large and bulbous, fading from deep purple to lavender to white, and super meaty, sweet, creamy – my personal favorite for Eggplant Parmesan!

Ratatouille, moussaka, caponata, eggplant parmesan, baba ghanoush…eggplant takes well to a myriad of cooking techniques and is at home in an almost endless variety of dishes. It isn’t great raw – it can be somewhat bitter and spongy-textured (the eggplant is a relative of tobacco as well; its bitterness comes from nicotinoid alkaloids) – but cooking coaxes out those meaty and creamy attributes. Like a sponge, eggplant will absorb any flavors (or oils) to which it is exposed, making it a great candidate for stews. Eggplant is often used in Southeast Asian curries or spicy Indian chutneys and pickles. It can be roasted whole in its skin and then scooped out and mixed with other vegetables (think onion, tomato, chiles), or mixed with tahini, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice to make baba ghanoush. Pickled, stuffed, fried, roasted…the possibilities are constrained only by the limits of imagination.

As I mentioned above, Rosa Bianca eggplant is great for Eggplant Parmesan. Here’s a great recipe you can try using ingredients you can get at Bi-Rite Market.

Eggplant Parmesaneggplant2

Eggplant Parm is a staple of Italian-American cuisine, served at almost every red sauce joint in the USA. I first became enamored of this dish while living in New York City during college, where I had it between sesame rolls as a hero or over spaghetti with marinara. It’s a hearty, filling dish, and a beautiful way to showcase the meatiness of eggplant. Though it’s served year-round at many restaurants, I like to wait for local heirloom eggplant; Full Belly Farm’s Rosa Bianca eggplant, a Sicilian heirloom varietal, is my absolute favorite in this dish. It’s a large, bulbous type, with skin blushing from deep to lavender purple to white. It looks like a watercolor, and has no bitterness and a thin skin. Any larger eggplant varietal will work, such as Globe or Barbarella, another Italian heirloom variety that we are growing at Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma!

Traditionally, Eggplant Parmesan is made with thick slices of eggplant that are fried (sometimes battered, floured or breaded and sometimes not), and then layered with tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, basil, and (sometimes) hard-boiled egg slices. The eggplant can also be grilled, broiled or baked for a lighter version.

Here are two variations that I like to make. The first is a Spiced Eggplant Parmesan, made with a little garam masala in the breading and ginger and chiles in the tomato sauce. The second is a lighter version I came up with during last week’s heat wave, a bit more fit for a hot summer day than the traditional version.

Spiced Eggplant Parmesan

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • Basic Fried Eggplant
  • 2-3 large eggplant, such as Rosa Bianca, Barbarella or Globe
  • Kosher salt, pepper, dried herbs such as oregano, thyme; garam masala for the spiced version
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk, water, or buttermilk
  • 1 ½ cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • Canola, peanut or other neutral oil for frying

Instructions

Wash the eggplant, peel if desired (I don’t, usually, unless the skin is very thick), and cut into thick 1-inch rounds. Place in a strainer over a bowl or sink. Salt liberally on both sides, rubbing the salt on a little to make sure it’s coated. Set aside to drain for 1 hour while you prep the rest. The salt helps draw out excess water, to prevent your parm from getting soggy when fried. It also seasons and tenderizes the eggplant, and draws out any bitterness that might be present.

Set up three shallow bowls or pie plates, with a clean plate or tray at the end. Put the flour in one, add a big pinch of salt, some pepper, and a big pinch of garam masala or any other spices you want. Whisk it. Crack the eggs into the second bowl, whisk with enough milk or water to loosen slightly, and a pinch of salt. Put the breadcrumbs into the third, add salt and any other seasonings you’re using (about 1 tsp garam masala and 1 tsp dried herbs for the spiced version).

Press on the eggplant lightly and brush off any excess salt (most of it drains away with the water). Dip into flour, flip and roll around to coat it on all sides. Shake off and pat lightly to remove excess. Next, dip it in the egg mixture, flip and shake off excess (tip: use one hand only to dip into the wet ingredients and keep one dry; monster-fingers form very quickly!). Last, dip the eggplant into the breadcrumbs, patting them lightly on both sides to make sure it gets an even coat. Roll it around on its side, then shake lightly and place on a tray or platter. This can be done ahead of time – bread it all and store covered in the fridge until ready to fry.

To fry: heat up a cast-iron skillet or another pan with an inch or so of canola oil. You want it to be fairly hot but not smoking; the eggplant will cool down the oil a lot when it goes in, and if it gets too cold your eggplant will absorb tons of oil and become greasy and heavy. If it’s too hot, the breading will burn before the eggplant cooks fully. To test it, drop a little piece of the breading in. It should bubble and float right to the top. Drop the eggplant slices in gently, 4-5 at a time, so that they still have room to float around. Fry for 3-5 minutes on the first side, until golden brown, then flip and fry the other side for a few minutes. Keep moving them around and checking them to get an even brown; you might have to flip back and forth a few times. Remove to a tray lined with paper towels. Season with a little salt and pepper while still hot and cut one open to see how it’s cooked – it should be creamy, not spongy. If it’s not fully cooked, turn your oil down a bit and let them go a few more minutes, or finish in the oven.

For Spiced Eggplant Parm:

Layer fried eggplant with spiced tomato sauce (your favorite recipe, just add a teaspoon of garam masala, a knob of minced ginger and a little fresh chile with the onions and garlic), fresh mozzarella (I’m obsessed with Point Reyes Mozz right now; it’s cultured so it has a little twang and a little salt from the brine), grated parmesan cheese, and torn basil. Bake or broil until the cheese is melty. Finish with more grated parm and fresh basil.

For Summertime Eggplant Parm:

Arrange the fried eggplant on a platter, alternating with sliced fresh mozzarella and grated parm, or put a ball of burrata in the middle for an extra-special treat. Chop up a mix of heirloom and cherry tomatoes, toss with olive oil, basil, salt & balsamic and spoon over the fried eggplant and cheese. Finish with lots of fresh basil and olive oil. Totally untraditional but a really refreshing take on it, which makes sense since eggplant comes around mid-summer.