Romantic Meals & February Wine

groundhog-day-2016-wishes2-300x218February is here – finally! Seriously, I thought January would never end. February brings us many wonderful holidays with which to celebrate. Here in the United States, Ground hog day starts off the festivities. Up next is Chinese New Year, followed closely by Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Then there is Ash Wednesday, Lincoln’s Birthday and the all important Valentine’s Day! The final popular holiday is President’s Day (I guess this replaced Washington’s Birthday?)

This gives us a plethora of opportunities for cooking romantic meals and pairing them wine-dark-chocolatewith February wine. You may be asking what is February wine? For me, it is beautific reds and creamy complex whites. I’m thinking about Cabernet Sauvignon (the king of reds), Merlot, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. The whites I love to drink in February are from France, White Burgundy (Chardonnay), White Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc) and Sémillon.

Yes, there are a lot of other reds, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Gamy, Grenache, the list can be quite long, and of course many, many other whites, Albarino, Vinho Verde, Pinot Grigio, I’ve written about all of these, but in February, especially in the cooler climate, I peggplantrefer a more complex red or a white such as the White Wines of France.

Now that you know what I deem to be February Wine, let’s pair these lovelies up with some meals!

For the vegetarians in this group, I tapped an excellent source from Australia, my lovely daughter-in-law. She is a vegetarian and she is a chef, I figured I would just go to the professional in the family. She recommended an Eggplant Parmesan or an Roasted Veggie Risotto.

Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients

  •    1 large unpeeled purple eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
  •    1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or as needed
  •    2 eggs
  •    1 tablespoon whole milk
  •    1 cup Italian-seasoned Panko crumbs, or more as needed
  •    3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
  •    1 (24 ounce) jar prepared marinara sauce, or home prepared marinara sauce –    recipe below.
  •    1 bunch fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  •    1 (8 ounce) package smoked mozzarella cheese, very thinly sliced
  •    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions”

Line a plate with a paper towel; place a layer of 2 or 3 slices of eggplant onto the towel. Sprinkle eggplant with sea salt. Repeat layers of eggplant sprinkled with salt until all eggplant slices are stacked. Place 2 paper towels onto the stack and place a plate on top of the towels. Lay a heavy book onto the plate to squeeze out moisture. Allow to drip for 20 minutes to 2 hours. Rinse and pat dry.

Note: salting is done to take away bitterness, not to make the eggplant tender, and it is not necessary if you have wonderful tight-skinned, fresh young eggplants.

Beat eggs with milk in a shallow bowl. Place Panko crumbs into a separate bowl. Dip eggplant slices in the egg mixture and gently press into the crumbs to coat; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8×8-inch baking dish.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; fry eggplant slices in the hot oil in small batches until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

Pour about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish and arrange a layer of eggplant slices to cover the sauce. Scatter basil and a few slices of smoked mozzarella cheese over eggplant; repeat layers, ending with a layer of sauce on top. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven until heated through and the cheese has melted, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  •    2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
  •    1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  •    4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  •    2 cloves garlic, minced
  •    1 teaspoon dried oregano
  •    1 teaspoon salt
  •    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  •    6 tablespoons olive oil
  •    1/3 cup finely diced onion
  •    1/3 cup red wine

Directions

In a food processor place Italian tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the blended tomato sauce and red wine.

Cover the saucepan and simmer for an hour minutes, stirring occasionally.castle rock

If you do not have Panko crumbs, you can substitute bread crumbs.

I would pair this dish with a rounded Merlot, one such as Castle Rock. Look for a Merlot that has a few years on it. We recently had a bottle of Castle Rock Merlot, year 2011. Fruit forward, lots of berry notes, little tannin. Open the bottle about 15-20 minutes before serving.

Corn Risotto with Roasted Red Pepper

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups Unsalted or Low Sodium Chicken Stock, divided, heated
  • 1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until leek is softened (do not allow to brown), about 6 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste; add rice and cook, stirring, until grains look slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.

Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until wine has all been absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Add a ladleful of chicken stock to the rice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until rice has absorbed all of the stock. Add another ladleful of stock, stirring, until rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue adding stock, one ladleful at a time, always allowing rice to absorb it before adding another. When about 3 cups of the stock has been added, stir in corn and roasted red peppers. Continue cooking, adding the remaining stock, a ladleful at a time, until all of the stock is incorporated, corn is tender, and rice is creamy and tender, about 30 to 40 minutes total.

Remove risotto from heat and stir in the Parmesan and remaining tablespoon of butter. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

With whisk or electric mixer, beat cream at high speed until it holds stiff peaks. Uncover the risotto and stir vigorously. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, stir in the chives and then gently fold in cream.

Serve ducasse-graves-bordeaux-blanc-2013immediately.

Pair this with a chilled bottle of White Bordeaux, Ducasse Blanc would be my choice. The crispness of this beautiful wine would not compete with the decadence of the Risotto.

On to my favorite chicken dish. I serve this often to celebrate, it is one of my family’s favorite recipes.

Lemon and Wine Chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 or 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast half – pounded thin
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 4 mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups Chablis or other dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

in a medium skillet, heat oil and sauté the onion, garlic and mushrooms until slightly brown. Remove the onion, garlic and mushrooms to a dish. Heat more olive oil if necessary for frying the chicken. Dredge the chicken breasts in flour and place it in the hot skillet. Add pepper to taste. Cook until golden brown on one side, 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn chicken over (presentation side up) and add the wine, the onion, garlic and mushrooms, pour the juice from 1/2 lemon over and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove chicken from skillet and add the room temperature butter. Swirl it around in the macon villagesskillet sauce until it is incorporated and the sauce is slightly thickened. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve over wild rice pilaf or angel hair pasta.

Pull out a chilled bottle of White Burgundy to serve with this dish. I brin

g out a bottle of Henri Perrusset Macon Villages to enjoy when we have this chicken. The wine is creamy and complex, but it finishes with a taste of citrus to compliment the lemon in the chicken.

filet mignonFor the meat lovers, the most romantic of meals is a steak, and I always go with a Filet Mignon when it is time to turn up the romance.

Filet Mignon with Balsamic Glaze

Ingredients

  • 2 (4 ounce) Filet Mignon steaks
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine

Directions

Sprinkle freshly ground pepper over both sides of each steak, and sprinkle with salt to Rodney-Strong-Cabernet-Sauvignon-2009-Labeltaste.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place steaks in hot pan, and cook for 1 minute on each side, or until browned. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add balsamic vinegar and red wine. Cover, and cook for 4 minutes on each side, basting with sauce when you turn the meat over.

Remove steaks to two warmed plates, spoon one tablespoon of glaze over each, and serve immediately.

The only wine I can recommend to serve with this meal is a Cabernet Sauvignon, of course. Bring out the big guns for this, something such as Rodney Strong’s Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, the older, the better. Try to find a 2010 or 2012. Open the bottle 25-30 minutes before serving to fully enjoy the flavors of blackberry, cocoa, and herby black-currant.

lindt dark chocolateFor dessert, to go with any of these meals, serve a Petite Sirah, such as Michael David’s Petite Petit Sirah, slightly petite petit sirahchilled with a very dark chocolate. I like Lindt’s extra dark. If you’re not serving chocolate, then pair a bottle of Ware’s Warrior Port with some blue cheese, that is room temperature, one such as Plymouth Blue Cheese.

No matter what you serve, be sure to celebrate at least one big_blueoccasion during this wonderful month of February.

 

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Five Courses, Five Wines in Five Days

Sunset over Lake Champlain Burlington, Vermont.
Sunset over Lake Champlain Burlington, Vermont.

As Summer begins to wind down here in Vermont (so very sad), I thought it would be an opportune time to take advantage of the bounty I’ve been finding at our local Farmer’s Market.  The local produce has given me inspiration for a five course meal.  Unfortunately, we are not at a place in our lives to consume this much food at one setting.  We’ve been trying to cut down our consumption of food, smaller meals, smaller portions.  So…what to do?  I decided to do a five course meal in five days – with wine of course.  The menu has been planned knowing our weather will be very, very warm this week.

I will be writing on the progress of this plan each day – so stay tuned!  The menu planned is:

tricolored-peppers-goat-cheese-su-xMonday = Appetizer = Roasted Tricolored Peppers and Goat Cheese with Ciabatta Bread.

Wine will be an Albarino; Burgans Burgans-Albarino-2013Albarino Baixas Rioja White. Sauvignon Blanc would be the obvious choice but because the weather is very warm and this is an appetizer I’m going with the Albarino.

tuna and corn salad  Tuesday = Fish Course = Grilled Tuna and Corn Salad

Wine will be a rosé; Rive Sud. This rosé is made from the Pinot Noir grape giving it aromas and flavors of ripe cherry, raspberry, and rive sudwatermelon. I think this wine will bring out the nuances of the Tuna and the sweetness of the caramelized corn.

lemon chickenWednesday = Main Course = Lemon Chicken with Linguine and Fresh Green Beans

Wine will be a Chardonnay; Franciscan Napa Valley Chardonnay. I believe the apple, 2011-Franciscan-Estate-Napa-Valley-Chardonnaypear and nectarine flavors in this wine will pair well with the lemon in the chicken.

fennel saladThursday = Salad = Fennel-Radicchio Salad

Wine will be a Barberra; Scagliola Mati Barbera. The liveliness of this Italian red should play barberawell with the peppery tones of the salad.

roasted pearsFriday – Dessert = Roasted pears with blue cheese and walnuts.

Wine will be Warre’s Warrior Port – the obvious choice for warre'sthis dessert.

This is the plan, we’ll see what actually happens!

original_Bon_Appetit

The Odd Wine Pairing

Peanut_Butter_&_Jelly_Sandwich_imageMost wine drinkers know the typical pairing rules; beef = heavy red, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Brunello. Seafood/Shellfish = white, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pork/Pasta = Pinot Noir, Zin.   But what about those evenings when you’re not eating the standard fare for dinner?  I do not usually eat a full meal for dinner, most nights I’m not wanting or needing more than a small nosh before bed.

While attending a recent wine tasting, I realized I do not always pair the wine I’m drinking with conventional food – or any food.  There are those days whentwirl pinot grigio I just don’t want a big meal at dinner but I do want a glass of wine.   It is those evenings when I’m just enjoying a peanut butter and cherry jelly sandwich that I find myself thinking – now…what wine goes with peanut butter and jelly?  Answer:  Pinot Grigio.   I really like the Twirl Pinot Grigio which is from California.  This is a dry, slightly fruity Pinot Grigio.  The cherry jelly  brings out the fruit in this wine.  Any type of sweet jam or jelly would do the same.

Captain Crunch is a bit more of a challenge to pair with wine.  I personally do not eat cereal but there are those in my family that do.  And, while I do not advocate eating a dry reislingsugary cereal in the evening,  if you’re a person that enjoys a bowl of Captain Crunch late in the evening, try a Dry Riesling,  such as Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling.  We usually drink this with sweet or spicy foods (think Thai food or spicy Asian food).

Nachos is more my style for dinner than cereal.   We recently enjoyed some nachos with pickled jalapeño  nachospeppers and pulled pork.  A typical wine to go with this would be a red Rioja.  The oak aging of a red Rioja brings out the best in any barbecued beef, pork or chicken.  However, the sweetness of the pulled pork made me think a French or lillieCalifornian Sauvignon Blanc would be tasty, and yes it was.  We paired this with Lillie’s Californian Sauvignon Blanc.  While the Rioja was good, Lillie’s was a surprising tasty treat.   Lillie’s is from the Northern Coastal region of California, with medium acidity with flavors of lemon and grass, not a lot of melon in this Sauv.

Now, let’s talk about Mac n Cheese.  I imagine you’re thinking “Mac n Cheese in the summer?”  Yes!  My personal recipe calls for a sprinkling of shredded cheddar/jack, then blue cheese crumbles, a dusting of panko crumbs or bread crumbs then a drizzle of Vermont maple syrup.  Yep, Vermont maple syrup (if you’re going to make this recipe please use Vermont maple syrup).  This particular recipe works well as an appetizer, broadbentespecially at barbecues or an afternoon get-together.  A nicely chilled Grüner Veltliner goes perfect with this recipe, keeping it light and fresh.   We enjoyed Broadbent, from Austria.  A typical Grüner Veltliner is crisp, light and fresh with notes of toasted almonds and melon.  Broadbent is no exception to the freshness of this grape varietal.  The flavors of the Broadbent Grüner Veltliner enhance the blend of the blue cheese and maple syrup.  Mac n Cheese is a good choice to have at parties because many people cannot eat shellfish, fish and/or beef.  Most everyone I know can, and does, eat Mac n Cheese!

For those evenings when a grilled cheese sandwich and/or tomato soup is on the menu, try a Central Coast California Chardonnay.  Of course the wine choice would change depending on silverwhat cheese you choose, but for a typical medium cheddar grilled cheese sandwich, I’d go with a medium oaked, medium bodied chard.  Most of the Chardonnays coming from the Central Coast region of California fall into this category.   One of our favorite Chardonnay wines from this region is Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay which comes in a unique ceramic bottle (very easy to locate in your chilled wine storage).

If your choice for dinner is the fresh produce of Summer, and veggies are on the grill, try a Vinho Verde.  Grilled veggies are synonymous with Summer as is Vinho Verde.   Coming from Porcasal gtugal, most Vinho Verde wines have a light effervescence and a hint of sweetness, together with citrus and melon flavors, making them perfect for a light grilled supper.  One of my favorite Vinho Verde wines is Casal Garcia.  The lightness of the Casal Garcia makes it perfect for any mildly flavored dish or as an apéritif.

We have covered a lot of wine for the summer weather but for baked potato those of you that are stuck in colder weather and craving the comfort carbs such as potatoes (mashed or baked) or some good old dirty rice and beans, try pairing these foods with a easy going red such as a whitehall laneMerlot, Right-Bank Rhône or even a Grenache.  These wines are usually easy on the tannins and lean more to the fruit forward side.  Keep the Big Boy Reds, the Barolos and Cabs for the meals heavy in beef.   We recently enjoyed a lovely Merlot from Whitehall Lane.  Nice and soft with notes of plums and blackberries.  Not a lot of structure in this wine but then a meal without heavy protein does not need a wine with a lot of structure.

And finally, when you’re not in the mood for a meal but want a bit of something to end the day, try pairlindting smooth Blue Cheese with Warre’s Warrior Port.  If you’re looking for something on the swmcmaniseeter side consider pairing very dark chocolate with a slightly chilled Petite Sirah.   We usually open a bottle of McManis Petite Sirah when we’re in the mood for this combination.

Now that you have some ideas for ways to pair what is in your wine stash with what you’re having for supper, what will you be eating and drinking tonight?

Weather or Not – What to do, What to Drink?

boston summerOur weather here in New England has been heating up.  Not as much as other parts of the world but for us – 80 degrees is hot.  We do not have a lot of air conditioning, many of our cars do not have it.  We rely on fans and chilled beverages.

Most of us are familiar with the white wines you will usually find on the shelves of your favorite wine shop; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, to name a few.  These are all good and do well in the summer heat but there are other whites that can be crispier, cleaner and brighter.  I’m talking about the Albariño, Viognier, Vermentino and Vinho Verde wines to name a few.

My all-time go-to favorite for summer is the Albariño.  The Albariño wines generally comes from Spain albarino-wine-0810-mbut some can be found in Portugal, Australia and the United States.  Depending on the type of soil the vines are growing in, the taste of this wine runs from a more mineral-driven and structured wine to a softer, rounder wine.  The Albariño grown in an acidic, granite soil will produce a wine similar to a dry Riesling for its minerality and a Viognier for its fleshiness and peach/apricot character. The vines grown in a sandy soil will produce a taste closer to a Pinot Grigio with a floral feel and flavor.  Regardless of where your Albariño is grown, the taste is perfect for a hot summer day.  A Spanish Albariño will be the easiest to find in your wine shop.  It should cost anywhere from $11.99 to $21.00.  Do not keep this wine in your storage longer than 12 months, and as with all chilled wines, let it warm up slightly to really appreciate the subtle nuances of the grape.  I would pair this wine with any food you would serve on a warm summer day; grilled fish, poultry, veggies, salads or just sip it and enjoy it with a cheese plate.

vinho verde regionVinho Verde is another favorite of mine.  It is perfect for those hot summer afternoons when all you can do is sit on the porch or deck and drink crispy chilled white wine.  Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine that has a light fresh green flavor and will typically have a slight effervesce to it.  Vinho Verde is not a grape varietal but a blend of grapes coming from the Vinho Verde region in Portugal.  The price of this wine is usually between $8.00 and $12.00,  It is easy to drink by itself or pairs easily with grilled fish or a tasty fruit salad.   Because of the light fresh nature of this wine, I would not overwhelm it with anything heavy or overly spicy but it would be perfect with a seafood salad.

Viognier  (prounced vyon-yay or vin-yay) can be found world-wide.  From France to New viognierZealand, North America to South America.  This is a lush, soft full bodied wine with notes of peaches and pears.  I prefer my Viognier to come from a cooler climate to lessen the amount of sugar in it.  The Central Coast of California is a good place to start.  This is the one summer white that I would pair with a spicier food such as Thai or zesty barbeque.   The price of this wine should run between $10.00 and $20.00 depending on the location of the winery of origin.

The last of the “other whites” is Vermentino, which will take us to Italy.  This is the lightest of the whites, with a pale straw color and the flavors of green apples and limes.  The taste is more to the sweeter side while still remaining a dry wine.  Lovely with your Oysters and other shellfish, or your grilled veggies but will still be just as good without a food pairing.  The pricing on a Vermentino will run between $15.00 and $20.00 and worth it.

vermintinoThe Albariño, Viognier, Vermentino and Vinho Verde wines are what I drink from July to September.  While they are similar to the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay wines, they offer a bit of deviation from these to give you a variety of choices.   What’s not to like about having a choice of wines?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

spring garden Here in the Northern Hemisphere we’ve made it to the start of the growing season – woo hoo!  Personally, I still have snow in my yard but I’m beginning to see spots of lawn and dirt show in the sunnier parts of the yard.  This means we will be turning the earth and planting the seeds very soon.  With this thought in mind, I’m thinking of drinking some wine with minerality in it.  Not really sure if minerality is a word in the English dictionary but in my dictionary it means wine that has the taste of minerals.  This includes the flavors of slate, Black and White Slateessence of rain, aromas of newly mowed grass.  A balance between fruit, floral, acidity and tannin.  Perfect for the growing season.

If you are not familiar with the flavors and bouquets of a mineral wine, think of going to the opposite side of sweet and fruity.  If you’re able to get to salt water, that smell you get from salt water the water and the salt in the air.  A mineral wine is dry and flinty, never sweet and little fruit.  Most mineral wines are white but there are some reds.

When I think of a wine that is high in minerality, my first thoughts go to a wine that comes from the cooler climate, for instance a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley such as

Joseph Destinea Mellot or a Chablis such as Louis Michel & Fils.  A bit more obscure wine would Joseph Destinea Mellotbe a Domäne Wachau, which is made of the signature grape, Gruner Veltliner, from Austria.  Turning towards the reds, a Pinot Noir from the cooler regions such as Oregon or the  North Coast of California,  is my obvious go-to red for something in the flinty tasting category but a wine from Priorat, Spain would be a more    priorat spainunique choice.  A red wine with peppery notes, nuances of licorice and steel, the wines coming from Priorat, Spain are usually a blend of Garnacha, Cabernat Sauvignon and Carinena which give them that earthy, graphite taste and texture.

If you’re like me, and you’ve been working outside in the warmer weather, you want to sit down to a chilled, crisp white and a plate of honeyed goat cheese, some lightly salted crackers and perhaps a bit of fruit chutney or Potlicker Jelly.  My first choice from my inventory would be the Louis white wine pairingLatour Marsannay Blanc which is a white burgundy full of steely goodness.  If I was headed to my local wine shop, I would ask for a Chablis or a dry Chenin Blanc (most under-rated varietal right now – in my opinion).  Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier would fall into this category.  The best part about the white wines is; they are nice even without food, just sipping on the porch.  Okay, I like my nibbles, but if I was stuck with nothing but the wine – I could make it work.

Now – if we’re talking barbeque or grilling then that’s a different story.  If I was grilling some acrobatlovely spring veggies and perhaps  a little pork, chicken or fish then I may go with the red.  I’m not talking about a deep red (notice, no red meat was mentioned above) but the lighter reds that have no fruit but more of a structured pepper taste to it.   Pinot Noir is the obvious choice but a good earthy Sicilian such as Buceci Myrina Nero d’Avola would work – perhaps even a Chianti in a pinch.  Be sure to pick a red that does not have a lot sicilianof fruit or floral to it, a red with more of a blend of controlled tannins and a balance of spice to the fruit.  Be sure to take advantage of the Spring seasonal veggies and foods such as Fiddleheads, Fennel, Greens and Artichokes.  Put a bit of garlic infused olive oil on these, toss a few mushrooms in with a bit of parmesan or assiago cheese, wrap in foil and grill for about 5 minutes on each side.  This will really bring out the flavors in your wine.

garden toolsSo…pick up that shovel, spade, rake, hoe, whatever your garden tool of choice is and start digging, planting and spreading that fertilizer, then sit back with the wine of your choice and admire your hard effort.  What wine will you be drinking?