'Main Course'

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Main Course, Shrimp in Sriracha-Butter

Sriracha (Se Racha).  I’m amazed at how quickly the American palate has adopted this spicy-sweet condiment from Thailand.  It is named after the coastal city of Si Racha, where it was first produced to accompany the many seafood dishes such a town is generally known for.  Its use has grown, and it is now a popular addition to any dish that can use a bit of a kick, which in my book, is just about anything that comes after the breakfast cereal.

It’s a simple paste, with just five ingredients – ground chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt.  We found a recipe on line and had it  jarred and labeled within several hours, but you can find it for a few bucks in most good grocery stores.

Here, we use it to form a simple compound butter that is used to flavor this simple fish dish.  Hey, let’s make it even easier and skip making a compound butter, which has to sit overnight, and just add the sauce to the melting butter in the… but I get ahead of myself.  Just read the recipe.  It’s easy as pie.  Easier even.  A lot easier.

Ingredients
2 Tbsp butter at room temperature
2 Tbsp Sriracha
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 – 6 good-sized shrimp per person, peeled (the shrimp, not the persons) with tail left on.
1 Tbsp lemon zest
2 Tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped

Preparation

Using a fork, combine butter and Sriracha in a small bowl until well mixed.  Heat a saute pan over medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes, add a little of the butter (to test) – if it smokes, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for about 20-30 seconds before adding the butter.  When well melted, return to heat and add the chopped garlic, cooking just until fragrant, then add the shrimp – don’t crowd the pan, be sure each little bug is in full contact with the pan.

Just before the shrimp turn fully pink, add the lemon zest, mint and basil.  Toss to coat.  When shrimp are done and herbs have wilted, serve immediately.  We like this with good side dishes of Jasmine Rice or Quinoa cooked in chicken or veggie broth and a salad dressed with rice wine vinegar, honey and sesame oil.

My Recommended Wine Pairing

The heat in this dish requires something with some sweetness and lower acidity.  Relax, relax, I’m not talking about disgusting cheap stuff that’s going to shred your cred with your date, friends, spouse or family.  It’s all about balance here, and with your tongue dancing with spice, you’ll be begging for a wine with these characteristics.  Look for a German Riesling (preferably Spätlese or Auslese) or a muscat/Moscato.  An off-dry Rosé would also be nice, but avoid the dry ones, I think they will clash quite badly with this dish.  To pull the dish more towards a drier wine, amp the garlic and turn down the Sriracha.  

Cheers!

Dave “the Wine Merchant”

Adapted from Bon Apetit, though altered to make the dish far more wine compatible.  See their original recipe here.

Recipe: Pulled Pork Shoulder – A Perfect Pinot Pairing


BBQ pork is a wine-friendly and deeply satisfying summer dish.  But there are a million variations – each with its own fiercely loyal proponents.  If there isn’t already a BBQ Pork episode on the Food Channel – some sort of heated competition (pun intended) between proponents of the various styles – there surely will be soon.

We’ve experimented with quite a number of approaches, but we prefer the results that come from the more pain-staking process – the very sort of time-sucking activity one might find as much fun as rush hour gridlock.  Which is exactly why it’s worth doing – the it requires makes this meal (and its leftovers) special for you as well as all your guests.  Food is love, after all, and what better way to show your family and friends that you care?

And get this – the time you spend around the grill, maybe reading or sipping wine and chatting with friends and family, is almost as relaxing as meditation. Try sampling the wines you’ve chosen to accompany the meal – such as these Pinot Noirs.

Procedure:

  1. The Boston Butt.  First – begin with the right cut of meat!  For slow-roasting on the grill, that means a pork shoulder your butcher mysteriously knows as a “Boston Butt”.  Ask your butcher for the whole thing, bone and all.  They tend to weigh between 6 and 8+ pounds, but if you have a choice, planning 3/4-one lbs per person allows for plenty of left-overs.
  2. Dry Rub!  The ingredients are shown below, but keep in mind that a dry rub is completely open to your own creativity.  You may want to try ours first, then branch out and make one of your own (if so, please tell us about it in the comments section!)  Get a large plastic food-grade bag, place the washed-and-dried shoulder inside, add enough rub to cover, and give the whole thing a good massage.  Leave in the refrigerator overnight.  It will get deeply red in color.
  3. Grill-Roasting, “Low & Slow!”  About seven hours before mealtime, light 35 – 40 briquettes.  When ready, arrange them for roasting via indirect heat (coals arranged along or around the edge of your grill, not directly under your meat, as seen in photo at right, though leave the pan directly under your  meat, not under the grill – you’ll see why in a few more steps).  Cover the grill with vents wide open.  Your work is done for the next hour, at which time you’ll need to add 6 – 8 fresh briquettes, and again after another hour has passed – leave it on the grill for three hours.  Add well-soaked wood chips (wrapped in foil and poked with a half dozen vent holes on top) during the final hour.  If possible, turn the top of your grill so the top vents are on the side towards the meat, thus encouraging the smoke to draw across the meat, imparting flavor before it escapes through vent holes. 
  4. Wrap it, Move Indoors.  Remove the pan containing the meat from the grill and wrap it in heavy foil before setting on the middle rack of a pre-heated 325 degree oven for another two hours.  Guys, between you and me, I like to depart from this step by wrapping the meat and its pan, but leaving it on the grill and increasing the heat with more coals and, if needed, better venting.  If you do so, you’ll benefit from an oven thermometer so you’ll know when you’ve attained 325 degrees – better to go a bit under than over.
  5. Bag it and Rest it!  We agree with Cook’s Illustrated when they say this is the difference between good pulled pork and great pulled pork! Wrap the entire assemblage, foil, pan and all,  in a brown paper shopping bag, top folded over, and rest for an hour.  During this slow cooling process the meat absorbs flavor and retains moisture. 
  6. Pull It!  Using good clean gloves to protect your hands from the heat, and to keep everything sanitary (top photo), shred the pork. Serve with small, soft white buns, the dipping sauce, dill slices and a bit of cole slaw.  Heaven.

The Dry Rub Ingredients
4 Tbsp Sweet paprika
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp brown sugar (dark)
2 Tbsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ground white pepper
1 tsp Cayenne pepper

Experiment!  Try the adding or substituting dried herbs or aromatic seeds of your choice – just grind them up along with the rest of the ingredients.  Your rub can be mixed ahead of time and refrigerated, in an air-tight container for weeks.  It’s a great rub for just about anything grilled, particularly red meats.

The Mop

  • 2 Cups cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper (crushed)
  • 1 tsp cayenne or pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients and let sit, ideally overnight.  Serve as a dipping sauce or pour over your meat or sandwich.
Suggested Wines: Pinot Noir, Zinfandel (with lower alcohol or it fights the hot pepper!), Rosé wines.

Hamburger Wine – What to drink?

The common mantra for choosing a wine for burgers is “just use the cheap red stuff!”  I have a couple dozen reasons you don’t want that rock-gut wine for a good burger at home.  But before we begin to consider which wine to serve with your burger, let’s first define your burger!  What is it, exactly?  (click image at left for some great recipes)

First, let’s wade into the debate over how to best cook a burger at home – grilled vs. griddled.  As you can see here at Chowhound, the debate is not without proponents on both sides.  The topic arose again in this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine, proving that the final word has yet to be established or that it’s been established but is worth re-hashing every year as grilling season flares upon us (pun intended though weak).

In sorting through all the opinions on how to cook the best burger, grilling is ahead by a length, with a cast iron skillet a distant second, and your basic frying pan and George Foreman grill getting pooh-poohed by foodies.  Just a few tips I’ve picked up along the way for grilling the perfect burger:

  • Bring your burger up to room temperature before grilling.  This helps assure an even doneness without drying out the meat.
  • Coat your grill with a high-temperature cooking oil just before setting your burger down.  Peanut oil works well.  This helps keep your burger from sticking, obviously, but also allows you to begin with thinner burgers, which shorten cooking time and helps assure the meat doesn’t dry out before it’s done!
  • Cook over direct heat for a long minute, flip for one more long minute.  Then move your burger to indirect heat for a couple minutes per side.  That’s all you’ll need if your patties are no more than 3/4 inch thick.
  • Adding cheese?  If you want it melted, be sure to add it during the cooking time or the meat will dry out.  To help melt your cheese, cover your grill or top your burger with an inverted pot.

BURGER TOPPINGS

Whether you grill or griddle, how you top your burger makes a big difference in the wine you’ll want to drink.

What Meat? The first consideration, when pairing a wine with your burger, is the meat used to create the burger.  Beef is most common, of course, but I’m quite partial to the LAMBurger, and that link will take you to a wonderful recipe from Bistro Ralph that may just put you off cowburgers for life.  The gamier taste of lamb argues for earthy wines such as Pinot and Chianti.  Even grilled portobellos provide a tasty, low-fat alternative (which also begs for Pinot, in my book!)

Grilled onions? The caramelized sweetness of grilled onions (particularly red onions, or the naturally sweet ones such as Walla Walla) works well with many new world reds (Finally!  A meal you can have with some of those California Cabs!)  Other pairing suggestions include Zinfandel, Syrah and Bordeaux blends.  Afraid to  pull the cork on your high-scoring wines?  Get over it!  You just KNOW they’re going to sit there, waiting for the perfect moment until, years from now, you discover they’re over the hill.  Do it now, the world ends on the May 21st anyway.  ;-)

Mushrooms? I like to grill the mushrooms right on the grill, wrapped in foil with some vent holes, and a simple dash of soy sauce, a quick grind or two of fresh nutmeg (trust me), and a bit of pepper and thyme for seasoning.  Whether cooked on the grill or on the stove-top, mushrooms pull your burger’s wine pairing in the direction of earthy red wines like Pinot Noir or Chianti or Spanish reds.  Go for it!

Cheese? Man, this ads another layer of complexity as far as what wine to choose with your burger. From the vast sea of cheesy options, which do you choose?  Is your burger topped with melted Kraft Singles or Swiss?  Blue cheese or goat cheese?  Cheddar?  Limburger??  It’s impossible to recommend a single wine that will be a home run with each cheese option, but as a general rule of thumb the added complexity cheese brings to a simple burger argues for a more complex, earthy wine. There you go again, getting all spendy on me.

Sauce? The most common, of course, is ketchup.  And the sweet/acid nature of the beast makes me think of blush wines.  A dry Rosé works with so many foods, it should be one of your go-to utility players.  Get over the pink color, Mr. Macho!  These wines also offer a bit of cool refreshment for those used to chilled drinks with their meal (and who among us didn’t grow up drinking iced Cokes with our Burgers?)  Plus, they generally have good acidity, which helps refresh our palate for the next bite of fatty meat/cheese/onion…

For those opting to top their burger with a bit of BBQ sauce, compatible wine pairings move towards the sweeter or fruitier side – a high-alcohol Zin might be just the ticket, as the fruit extraction is a metaphor for sweetness, a taste experience enhanced by the alcohol.  Just remember my first rule of thumb for food and wine pairing?  Match sweet with sweet, acidic with acidic.

Wait, that was rule number two.  But who’s counting?  Just go enjoy your burger.

Cheers!

Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

Wine-Friendly Recipe: Sheperd’s Pie (Irish Pub Grub)

Sheperd's Pie, a very wine-friendly dish

San Francisco's Blarney Stone

I tend to prepare this traditional Irish Pub fare in the springtime.  Of course it’s a great Winter dish too, but Spring is when we usually have a surfeit of lamb in our house, and this recipe provides a great way to use every bit of your left-over protein, ensuring the lamb wasn’t sacrificed without good justification.  It does take a bit of time, but places little demand on the skills of a home chef.  In fact, this was a favorite during my bachelor days for its ability to provide several meals during the course of a week – a great return on my investment of an hour in the kitchen.

OK, and its economical too, which means you’ll have more money left for wine.  This dish compliments a wide variety of red wines, from Pinot Noir and Sangiovese to Merlot and even lighter Cabs, if you must.  I find its boldness to be too much even for full-bodied white wines, though it might be pleasant with a full Rosé (think Grenache/Mourvedre) chilled for no more than 20 minutes in your refrigerator.  Oh, it’s also nice with a Guinness. ;-)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs Ground lamb (beef can easily be substituted, though the classic Irish version features lamb)
  • 1 Small brown onion, diced
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/4 Cup beef broth
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup (or tomato paste and a touch of sugar)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 Cups frozen mixed vegetables (peas, carrots and corn), thawed
  • 2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled (optional) and quartered
  • 2 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • 1/4 Cup butter
  • 1 Cup cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preparation:

Add the potatoes and garlic to a large pot of salted and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for ~25 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a large pan up to temperature over medium heat, add a bit of oil and once hot, add the onion.  Sauté, stirring, until just beginning to brown, then remove to a plate and add the ground meat to the pan.  Break up the meat as it cooks to obtain a fine consistency, then stir in the flour for a minute or two.  Stir in the broth, and then the salt, pepper, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, onions and mixed vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, ~5 minutes before spreading evenly across the bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole dish and set aside.

Set your oven temperature to 375.  Then, drain the potatoes and then return them to the pot.  Add the milk and butter and mash (no chunks) or smash (some chunks) the potatoes.  At the end, stir in the cheddar cheese, if using. Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Spread the potatoes evenly over the casserole and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden (I sometimes cheat and cut the baking time short with a few minutes of broiler time – but if you choose this shortcut be sure to WATCH the entire time, as it goes from perfect to ruined in 30 seconds!). Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.  Keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

Garlic-Herb Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Confit

This recipe is adapted from one provided by DeLoach Vineyards, one of my favorite producers of Pinot Noirs from Russian River Valley.  While I’ve long considered using one of their smaller, vineyard-designated Pinots in my wine club, they are simply too large a producer to be one of the “Boutique” wineries that defines our niche.  But I still encourage you to try these wines – old world style meets new world fruit.  This recipe is ideally suited to Pinot, but would work well with other light or medium-bodied red wines with good acidity – Barbera or Sangiovese come to mind, perhaps even a cool-climate Syrah.

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb Pork Tenderloin
  • 2 T Lemon Zest
  • 4 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, stemmed and minced
  • 2 Tbsp Rosemary, stemmed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 4 tsp panko bread crumbs
  • 2+ Tbsp Olive oil

Procedure

Pre-heat oven to 350 and remove tenderloin from refrigerator.  Meanwhile, combine in the bowl of a food processor all remaining ingredients up to the Panko bread crumbs.  With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the contents combine into a thin paste.  Massage the paste into the room-temperature loin.

Heat an iron skillet over medium-high heat for three to four minutes, remove from heat and coat with thin layer of olive oil, then add the tenderloin.  Return to heat and sear on each three sides until golden – 1-2 minutes per side.  Turn the tenderloin to the fourth side and place the skillet into the oven for about ten minutes or until the interior reaches 138 degrees.  Remove from oven, coat with foil or up-turned pan, and let rest for ten minutes before slicing into medallions.

Apple Confit Ingredients

  • 6 Tart green apples, such as Granny Smith
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 Cup cognac or brandy

Procedure

Peel and core apples and slice into eighths and sprinkle with sugar.  Heat a skillet over medium heat, when warm melt the butter and sauté the  apples until brown and caramelized.  Add the cognac and cook until tender (CAUTION – before adding the cognac, remove the skillet from the heat, as the cognac may flame up.  If it does, simply let it burn off).

Recommended Wines

See my complete list of available Pinot Noirs to compliment this dish.

Braised Pork Shank with Soft Polenta & Horseradish Gremolata

After moving to the Bay Area from the Midwest in 1994, most weekends were spent fueling my wine passion in Napa or Sonoma.  Being single and new to the area, these were often solo trips, which meant I had to confer with no one about what wine to taste, where to eat, or how much to spend.  This freedom was greatly appreciated until it came time for dinner, when it would have been nice to share a meal with someone and rehash the events of our wine-soaked day.

But one solo dinner I recall fondly was eaten in a small restaurant called Girl & The Fig.  At the time, it was situated in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon, and its warm glow rekindled memories of bistros enjoyed while biking through the Provencal wine country.  Every wine on their wine list was either from the Rhone valley or made from Rhone varietals, and their menu was crafted to match the warm and welcoming foods of Provence.

Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze at "the girl & the fig"

Sondra Bernstein, John Toulze at "the girl & the fig"

Although “French Bistro” is one of the most over-used restaurant concepts, this one was different. Owned by the very special Sondra Bernstein, Girl & The Fig was infused with the spirit of the Rhone and  I was smitten.  The Bistro became my preferred dining spot for many future trips – and I became something of an evangelist for it.

I watched with pleasure as Sondra tirelessly added successful venture after successful venture – cook books, an iPhone app, a line of packaged food products, a line of body products, two restaurants, bio-dynamic farms behind each of her restaurants, a catering company and probably several more things I’m forgetting.

I’ve become casually acquainted with Sondra and her business partner over the years, and was most pleased that she agreed to provide a recipe to pair with domestic Syrah-based wines.  I think this dish would work well with a broad range of red wines such as Cabernet, Zinfandel and any red Rhone blend.  This dish can be made year-round, but it resonates for me during the cold Fall and Winter months, when oven braising fills the home with warmth and aromas that beat back Winter’s chill.

Ingredients for Pork Shanks (Serves six)

  • 6 Pork Hind Shanks (we prefer Niman Ranch)
  • Salt & black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 stalk celery, rough chop
  • 1 small carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 4 crushed cloves of garlic
  • 1 bottle white wine (unoaked, preferably)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 quarts pork or chicken stock

Procedure for Braised Pork Shanks

Preheat oven to 350’.  Season the pork shanks heavily with salt and black pepper. Over medium heat, add the oil to a hot sauté pan and then sear the shanks until browned on all sides.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a braising pan (deep-sided roaster) over medium heat and then add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and half the bottle of white wine.  Bring to a boil and reduce until almost dry.  Add the seared shanks to the braising pan along with the bayleaf, peppercorns, thyme and enough stock to just cover the shanks and vegetables.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and move to the heated oven for 1-1.5 hours or until the shanks are just tender.

Remove from oven and when sufficiently cool, remove the shanks from the braising liquid and set aside keeping warm. With a fine mesh sieve, strain the braising liquid and skim any remaining fat from the top.  Add the remaining half bottle of white wine to a large saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and continue reducing the wine until almost dry. Add the braising liquid and simmer while continuing to skim off any fat that forms on the top.  Reduce to a thickened consistency.

Ingredients for Soft Polenta

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • White pepper

Procedure for Soft Polenta

Add the water, milk, olive oil and butter to a medium saucepan, season with the salt and bring to a simmer. While stirring with a wire whisk, slowly add the polenta and beat into the liquid. Simmer and continue to stir for 10 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese, adjust the seasoning, continuing to stir, cover and keep warm.

Ingredients for Broccolini

  • 3 Bunches broccolini, tough stems removed
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Salt and white pepper

Procedure for Broccolini

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the broccolini for no more than 60 seconds, then shock in an ice water bath until cool and drain. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat until melted; add the broccolini, season to taste and heat till warm.  Alternatively, roast the broccolini in the oven until just crispy, and once plated, top with a small amount of the Gremolata.

Horseradish Gremolata

  • 1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, cleaned from the stems
  • 3 tablespoons capers, chopped
  • 2 lemons, zested
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 horseradish root, peeled & grated
  • Sea salt

Mix the parsley, chopped capers, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, and grated horseradish.  Season with sea salt.

To plate:

Spoon the warm polenta into the center of a warm bowl, place a sixth of the warm broccolini onto the polenta, top with a braised pork shank. Nap the shank with the white wine braising sauce and garnish with the gremolata.

“the girl & the fig” • 110 west spain street • sonoma, ca 95476

www.thegirlandthefig.com

Asian Salmon (Easy)

This dish can easily over-power any wine you pair it with, and the sauce can easily overpower the salmon!  I’ve adjusted the ingredients to allow the salmon to remain in the limelight, but you may want to adjust further.  Recipe feeds six.

Salmon is one of the more controversial fish you can buy these days.  Mention “farmed salmon” to most foodies and you’ll likely start a fight – the prevailing wisdom being that it’s bad for the environment, cross-breeding with and weakening the wild salmon population and killing off all of the plant and ocean life directly under each salmon pen.  And honestly, the things are huge.

But increasingly, inland aqua farmers are improving their animal husbandry techniques, as you can see on the latest version of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site, where a little browsing will bring you to the phrase – “Salmon farmed on land in “closed” or “contained” farms is a viable alternative that points the way to a more environmentally-friendly future for salmon farming.”   One of our favorites is the sustainably farmed salmon from Scotland’s Loch Duart – it can be nearly as pricey as the wild-caught salmon, but we choose to make the sacrifice despite these tight economic times, as we figure it’s an investment in our daughter’s future.

Ingredients
2 – 2  1/4 pounds Salmon fillet
1/2 Cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 Cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 Cup lemon juice (from ~ 2 medium lemons)
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce or oyster sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chili paste
2 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Clove garlic, minced fine
1  1/2 Cups panko bread crumbs
Aluminum foil

Procedure
Heat oven to 500.  Line and 8X12 pan with the foil, and coat lightly with olive oil before laying salmon skin-side down.  Whisk together all ingredients except the bread crumbs.  Pour 1/3 of the liquid over the salmon, then with the bread crumbs.  Pour remaining liquid onto crumbs, lifting fish to allow run-off to seep underneath.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes before baking for 20 minutes.

Serve with wilted greens such as spinach sautéed in olive oil, anchovy paste and garlic, or bok choy steamed in soy sauce.

Wine pairings – a light pinot noir, sangiovese, or an aromatic white such as a Riesling, Vermentino, Gewurztraminer or Pinot Bland.  But the best pairing may just be with a crisp rosé of Grenache.

Steak “au Poivrade” – Cracked pepper sauce (easy)

Sometimes one must eat dinner alone, though I must admit I don’t care to.  To offset such misfortunes, I turn solo meals into a treat with a recipe that’s satisfying but easy enough to justify cooking for one. This is such a dish, a favorite from my bachelor days.  But please don’t feel compelled to save it for a night on your own – it works just as well for two.  Or a crowd.

There are two keys to success here.  A heavy pan (a well-seasoned cast iron skillet is ideal) and freshly ground peppercorns.  I recommend green peppercorns here, as they are significantly milder than their black counterpart, and won’t fight the wine.  If black peppercorns are all you have, use half the amount called for.  And while steaks are welcome at my house in all seasons, the backbone of mild heat that runs through this sauce will warm the cockles of the coldest Winter-chilled heart!  A great cold-weather dish.  (Image from Shawna’s Food Blog – click to find another recipe for comparison)

Ingredients

1 Steak / person (about ¾ pound if bone-in)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Shallot – minced
¼ Cup cognac (or red wine, in a pinch)
¼ Cup red wine
2 tsps green peppercorns, roughly smashed
1/3 Cup cream (or a bit less, with a good pat of butter whisked in at the end)
Salt & freshly-ground pepper to taste

Procedure
Heat a heavy frying pan over medium heat for several minutes.  Season the steak with salt & pepper and prepare your ingredients.  Remove pan from heat, add oil and quickly tilt to coat evenly.  Return to heat and add steak – do not move until it is time to flip!  Cook to preferred doneness, remembering the meat continues cooking after removing it from the pan.  Cover and place in warm oven.  (Alternatively, grilling the steak adds nice complexity)

In the pan, adjust the fat so there is a scant tablespoon.  Add the minced shallot and sauté a few minutes until lightly browned.  Pour in cognac and deglaze the pan. Add the red wine, raise heat to med-high and reduce liquid by ¼.  Add the peppercorns and whisk in the cream.  Reduce sauce until it coats the back of a spoon.  Whisk in cold butter, if using, and serve as desired – this sauce is nice whether served as a base, a topping or on the side.  And don’t under-estimate its deliciousness when used to top potatoes or steamed vegetables!

Wine Pairings – Pair this with bold reds such as Zinfandel, Syrah, Rhone blends or new world Cabernets or Bordeaux blends.

Gourmet Macaroni n’ Cheese with Pecans and Truffle Oil

This dish was a huge hit among my skeptical tasters.  The first thing you have to do is delete the memories of our childhood “Mac and Cheese” – the orange-coated pasta that came inside the blue box for about 30 cents (back then).  Yes, they’re both comfort food dishes for the Fall / Winter months.  But other than that they’re as different as an iPhone and a telegram.

Try this dish with a full-bodied wine with nice acidity – cool climate Pinot, blends from the Northern Rhone, even un-or-lightly-oaked Chardonnay from solid producers.  The pecans and truffle oil provide a great bridge to the wine, while the salty bacon plays to the wine’s fruitiness and the herbs work with the wines minerality.

Ingredients

6 Small ramekins, buttered and set aside 2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp Kosher salt 1 1/2 Cups heavy cream (or cut with up to 1/2 with whole milk or Half-and-Half)
8 Ozs (1/2 lbs) Penne pasta 1 Tbsp minced basil
1 Tbsp truffle oil 1/3 tsp minced thyme, plus one sprig for each ramekin
2 Tbsp shallots, minced White pepper to taste
3 – 4 Ozs Applewood smoked bacon, minced 3 Cups white, sharp cheddar, chilled and shredded
1-2 Cloves minced garlic ½ Cup pecans, chopped
2 Tbsp butter 1 Cup cheddar, chilled and shredded

Procedure

Heat oven to 350 and put on a gallon of cold water to boil.  When it reaches a rolling boil, add the 3 Tbsp salt.  Add pasta, stir, and boil for 5 – 6 minutes, then turn off heat and drain water through a colander.  Pasta will be very under-done, but don’t worry.  Drain pasta for a minute, gently shaking off excess water, turn into in a bowl and add the truffle oil.  Stir and set aside.

Heat a 4-qt stock pot over med-low heat for a couple minutes, add the butter and when melted, add the shallots and bacon and cook for 7 minutes, stirring periodically.  Add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Stirring constantly, add the flour and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.  While still stirring, slowly add the cream, then raise the heat until cream almost boils.  Reduce heat to low and cook another 10 minutes.

Add the basil, thyme and pepper and once combined well, add the white cheddar cheese, stirring until smooth.  Add the pasta and combine.  It will gloppy.  Don’t worry, it does that.

Distribute evenly across ramekins, top with shredded cheddar and chopped pecans and bake for 10 -15 minutes or until browned on top.  Serve with sprig of fresh thyme on top.

Pairings – For lunch, brunch or light dinners serve with a side salad dressed simply with really good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.  Add garlic crouton (drizzle sliced bread with olive oil, pinch of salt, hot oven till dried, swipe once with peeled garlic clove) and you’re happy.

Grilled Salmon with Mushrooms, Bacon and Oyster Sauce

A member recently asked me “Why don’t you suggest more salmon recipes with your pinot noirs?  That’s the classic pairing!”  Yeah but…as with any rule of thumb, blind application can be disastrous.  Salmon is an oily fish, which is why it’s so good for us.  But that oil fights with big pinots, leaving an almost tin-like aftertaste that is offensively unpleasant.  What to do?  Two things – first, grill the salmon, the caramelization reduces this interaction.  Second, select a wine that leans towards the austere side – Burgundy, New Zealand, Oregon, Sonoma Coast, cooler years in Russian River or Carneros.  Then you’ll have a perfect pairing!  (other wine considerations, Riesling, Albarino, Vermentino, or bigger dry or off-dry Rosés)

Ingredients (serves 4)
1+ lb Salmon fillet(s)
Salt and pepper to taste
5 Slices bacon cut into 1” squares
1 Cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 Clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley
3 Tbsp Chinese oyster sauce
½ Cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp chopped parsley or chervil

Procedure
Prepare your grill for direct heat (coals directly underneath the fish).  Season the salmon with olive oil, salt and pepper and return to refrigerator until ready to grill (it’s almost always best to grill fish cold, but meat at room temperature).

In a bowl, combine the oyster sauce and the chicken broth. Set aside.  Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium high heat for two or three minutes, then add the bacon.  When crispy but not too dark, place bacon in a mesh strainer to drain the fat, and reserve 1-2 Tbsp of the fat in the pan.

To the pan add the shiitake mushrooms and sauté until golden brown. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the parsley. After 1-2 minutes add the minced garlic and cook another 30 seconds, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the oyster sauce/chicken broth mixture and reduce over medium-high heat for several minutes.  Keep warm.

Mop your hot charcoal grill with oil and then quickly put the salmon on the grill – if you have skin on your salmon fillets, place the non-skin side down first, cooking for a long minute before flipping to the skin-side down.  Grill the salmon until done to your liking – I like to use a fairly high heat so the skin gets crispy and the center is still pink and moist.  Note, salmon often takes longer to cook than is often thought.

Meanwhile, back on your stove top – crumble the bacon into the sauce and combine.  Top each salmon fillet with sauce and garnish with chopped parsley or chervil.

Suggested Pairings – Wild rice pilaf and grilled spring peas tossed with extra virgin olive oil and good sea salt.  Pure heaven!



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