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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Valentine Gift Ideas for Your Honey

valentines day heartsIt is amazing to me that Valentine’s Day is less than three weeks away.  Where did January go?  I’m not complaining about seeing the end of January, it is never my favorite month.  And now we get to move into a glorious month!  One filled with hearts and flowers – and ground hogs.  Okay.

So…what to do about the big day that lands in the middle of February – Valentine’s Day.  The answer depends on who’s your honey?  Of course.

You can always go the standard traditional route – flowers, chocolate, fragrance.  There is flowersnothing wrong with this.  But – if you’re going the traditional route, change it up a bit.  Go with the unexpected, but more requested.  Find out what flowers your honey loves the most.  My particular favorites are Tulips, Lilies, and Daffodils.  I know, sounds like an Easter bouquet and that doesn’t arrive until March.  What I’m saying is, not everyone loves roses. if your snookums loves Gerbera Daises, or Sunflowers, then by all means, get those flowers, not Roses. If you are unsure as to what flowers to get, just ask.  But don’t wait until February 13th to ask what flowers your special someone likes, ask today, and makes notes.

The same goes with chocolate.  There’s nothing wrong with giving chocolate – ever – except perhaps if your sweetheart is on a strict diet – then no chocolate, go with lake champlain chocolatesomething else.  But all chocolate is not created equal.  Sad, but true.  Find out what your darling likes as far as milk, dark, white?  Nuts, chews, soft centers, caramels, the list goes on and on.  Godiva, Dove, Lindt, Lake Champlain, See’s?  So much chocolate, so little time.

The easier course is with fragrance.  My suggestion is to find out what your honey is currently using and get a matching lotion, powder or shower gel.  My personal chanel_bath_body_rangeexperience is that I rarely repurchase a fragrance, so getting more is not always a good thing. And, I seldom purchase the special extras to go with the scent I’m currently using.  I love having the matching shower gel or lotion but it costs more money, and I don’t feel comfortable spending more money than I’m already spending on a fragrance.  Check out what your special someone is wearing, and get some body lotion, shower gel or powder to go with it, the gift will be greatly appreciated.

Then there are those that don’t go the traditional route, they give a gift that keeps on giving.  You do this by paying attention to what your special someone wants/needs/desires and go for it.  This course of action will require you to pay attention to what is going on – all year long.  And you will need to take notes!

wild birdsIf your loved one adores animals, birds or fish, go in that direction.  For example, we feed the wild birds, and a 20 pound bag of wild bird seed is a wonderful gift.  If your sweetie has a cat or a dog, see if a new bed is needed, or a toy or a new feeding dish.  Something along these lines is always appreciated. Please note: do not give an animal, bird or fish to anyone, this is something that the individual receiving the animal needs to pick out.

If your special someone is currently repairing a vehicle, get him or her one of the parts they need, or a tool that will help the project along.  If it is a woodworking project, find out if a new saw is need, or perhaps special wood?

Throughout the year, I am sure your Darling has said “I need a ___” or “gosh, I wish I had a ____”.  You fill in the blank.  Every time you hear “I want”, “I need”, I wish I had”, write it down.  When you’re out and about with your Honey, and you hear, “wow, I really like that”, or “isn’t that beautiful” or something to that effect, write it down.  Keep this information on a pad of paper, your phone, your Kindle, somewhere.  Then, when a celebration comes along and you want to give a gift, you will know what to give.

It is also helpful to keep a list of likes, favorite colors, sizes (fingers, hands, wrists, and making a listthe usual top, bottom, feet).  Keep track of favorite music, books, movies, coffee, wine.  Everything you pay attention to, and everything you keep track of, will give your sweetheart the message that you care, and what is more important than that?

Valentine’s Day is a day to be with someone you love, someone you care about, and someone you want to share your feelings with.  Giving a gift should be a way of showing that you care about that person.  Giving a gift that reflects how much you have paid attention to the wants and needs of this person really communicates how much you care.

One last little piece of advice.  If you’re going to go out for dinner, don’t go out on Dinner-party-finger-hordervs (1)February 14th.  Make it the following or the next weekend.  The restaurants are extremely busy on February 14th and you won’t feel special at all.  But, if you wait and go out the following weekend, you will not be rushed and you will certainly have a much better time.  Instead of going out for dinner on February 14th, why not cook dinner for each other?  Or, make it a group event, have a party of 6 or 8, assign jobs to each party member party that turns into dinner.

No matter what you do, where you go, or what you give, do it with love in your heart and you cannot do it wrong.

valentines_day_love_mug_gifts

 

Aw Honey….

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  One of my favorite days – it’s the sweetest day of the year.  I am a person that likes sweets.  Chocolate is of course my favorite but I’m not fond of chocolate wine.  Yes, I’ve seen it.  Chocolate and wine mixed and sold in a bottle.  It isn’t bad ice grapesfor one sip but nothing that I would purchase.  Now Ice Wine is another story.

Ice wine is a dessert wine.  It is very sweet and dense.  Sweeter than a sauterne (or Sauternes if it’s from the Sauternais region of the Graves section in Bordeaux), but because of the high acidity, ice wine is usually not cloying.  The flavors you get from the wine will depend on grape variety your wine is made from.  With a Riesling you’ll will typically taste peaches, apples, honey and pears.  It is a very unique type of wine that can only be produced in a climate that has temperatures that are cold enough (below freezing) with some regularity. Canada and Germany are the world’s largest producers of ice wines.  The Finger Lake region of upstate New York, Vermont and Michigan also produce ice wine.  This type of wine is difficult to produce because the grapes must reach a naturally frozen state, no cryoextraction (that is, mechanical freezing) allowed.

The grapes need to hang on the vine until fully ripened, almost over ripe.  A freeze must occur before the grapes rot or fall off the vine.  As soon as the freeze comes and the grapes become frozen, a labor force is called into action (this is usually in the very early hours of the day (3:00 am is typical).  The frozen grapes must be picked within a few hours, otherwise damage will set in and the grapes are lost.  The frozen grapes are then pressed while frozen.  The working ice wineconditions are difficult at best.  This results in a small amount of production which is why ice wine usually comes in a 375 ml or 200 ml bottle. It can be expensive, but you can usually find it for less than a dozen roses from a florist.

The grape variety typically used to make ice wine is riesling.  However, some growers are producing ice wine made from other varieties: whites such as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, or reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, and even Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Pillitteri Estates Winery from the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario claim to be the first winery in the world producing Shiraz (Syrah) ice wine with the 2004 vintage, Semillion, and Sangiovese in 2007.  I’ve not tried any of the reds, but the Pinot Noir looks tasty!

I like to pair ice wine with a slice of pound cake and some fresh fruit such as raspberries, peaches or strawberries.  This will bring out the fruit flavors in the wine.  If the fresh fruit is not available, then I’ll pair it with sliced apples or a simple, not-to-sweet cookie.  Ice wine is so good, you don’t really need to pair it with anything but the fruit does bring out the different flavors in the wine.  Chocolate would go well with any of the red ice wine.  A cheese board would be nice, with some nuts, but I would use more of the mild cheeses.

Ice wine is the perfect ending to a meal.  It does not leave you feeling heavy and overstuffed as many desserts can, it’s just a bit of sweetness to finish your meal with.  It can also be served at ice wine pairingTea Time (instead of Tea) for a bit of a break.  Serve it in smaller wine glass with a narrow bowl or you can use a white wine glass to enhance the color and aroma of the wine.  It should be chilled but not overly so – about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).  As the wine warms the flavors will become more pronounced.   As your wine warms up, perhaps your evening will too.

valentines day wineHappy Valentine’s Day!