Wine-Friendly Recipe: Robust Red & Goat Cheese Lamb Burgers

Bistro RalphI took my first of many wine vacations in 1988.  I was staying in what was then the small town of Healdsburg, quaintly nestled in Sonoma.  When it came time for dinner, the owners of the Camelia Inn B&B directed me  to one of the few restaurants in town back then – Bistro Ralph.  I’ve been in love with that place ever since.

I recently introduced some friends to Bistro Ralph, where we shared a leisurely lunch.  The combination of this lamb burger and the Rhone wine we selected was so memorable, it’s become one of my favorite easy meals.

This recipe originally appeared in the December, 2008 shipment to our club members.  It played chaperon to a bottle of the Tous les Jours syrah from Andrew Murray Vineyards, and that youthful wine remained well behaved under its careful tutelage.

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)
Olive oil
1 Red onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Goat cheese, or to taste
1 ½ – 2 Lbs ground lamb
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cumin
Freshly ground black pepper and Kosher salt, to taste
4 -6 Good buns
1-2 Heads Bibb lettuce

Procedure
Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat until hot, add the olive oil then the onion.  Sauté until well caramelized and dark but not crispy – 10-15 minutes.  Add the balsamic and integrate well, remove from heat and add the goat cheese. Stir to coat and melt slightly. Set aside. Can be re-heated

In a large bowl, combine minced garlic, thyme, cumin, pepper, and salt. Add the ground lamb and combine. Be careful not to over-handle the meat (and I caution those of you with dirty minds to get them out of the gutter right now) or the consistency of your burger will be mushy.

Form 4 patties, each about 3/4 inch thick. Place on a medium-high grill for 4 to 6 minutes per side, or broil or sauté for ~5 minutes per side.

Brush buns with olive oil, toast slightly, scrape once with a peeled garlic clove, and set aside.

Assembly – Place burger on bun, top with lettuce, then with onions.  Spread goat cheese on underside of top bun, pour a glass of wine, and call me if this isn’t transcendent.

Wine Pairings
For my recommended Syrah and other Rhone Varietals, click here
For Zinfandels, click here
For Pinot Noir, click here
And if your idea of the perfect red wine is Cabernet, click here

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com

Wine-Friendly Recipe: Coq au Vin (Chicken in Wine)

40Th Anniversary, Mastering The Art Of French CookingThis month, our wine club is celebrating Julia Child’s birthday (August 15th, 1912) and giving a nod to the hit movie “Julie & Julia” which I think will do wonders for reviving interest in Julia and her message.

This classic dish from Julia Child (P. 287 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking) can be made with either white or red wine, though red is traditional.  For this dish to be more complimentary to white wines, simply replace the red wine ingredient with white.  In general, chicken is a versatile accompaniment to most any type of wine, depending on the chicken’s preparation, seasonings or sauce.

Ingredients

  • 4 Ozs Lean bacon
  • 1 Oz Butter
  • ~ 3 Lb Frying chicken, cut into pieces
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • ¼ Cup Cognac
  • ½ Bottle red wine
  • 3 Cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp Tomato paste
  • 2 Cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1/3 tsp Thyme
  • 1 Bay leaf (very small if California bay)
  • 12-24 Small white boiling onions
  • ½ Lb mushrooms, sliced medium
  • 1 Oz Flour
  • 1 Oz Butter, softened
  • Parsley, chopped

Procedure
Bring 2 Qts of water to a simmer.  Cut the bacon into ¼ inch lardons and simmer for 10 minutes, then rinse in cold water and dry.

Over low heat, melt butter in Dutch oven or casserole dish, then add bacon.  Sauté until lightly browned.  Set bacon aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

Increase heat to medium high.  Dry the chicken’s skin before placing it in the hot fat.  When lightly browned, season with salt and pepper, add the bacon and cover.  Reduce heat to medium and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning chicken once.

Add the cognac and light it (it WILL flare up to 2+ feet, so take precautions!), then shake the pan until it goes out.  Add the wine and then just enough stock to cover the chicken pieces.  Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, take out two sauté pans.  In the first, brown the onions in butter and then add some of the remaining stock or red wine, simmering until very soft.  In the other, melt butter and oil (~1 Tbsp ea) over high heat and brown the mushrooms for about ten minutes, turning only once (don’t crowd the pan, otherwise they steam).

Remove chicken to a side dish, and simmer its cooking liquid as you skim off the fat (tip the pan).  Raise heat to a rapid boil and reduce liquid by half.  Discard the bay leaf.  Blend the soft butter and flour until smooth, then whisk into hot liquid and simmer for ~2 minutes.  Arrange chicken in dish with mushrooms and onions, baste with sauce, top with chopped parsley and serve at table!

Wine Pairings
As mentioned above, this chicken dish spans a wide variety of dry table wines – just be sure to use the same type of wine in the dish as you serve at the table.  Here are some of my favorites:

pinot noirChronicle Wines, 2006 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast $35
This is one of my favorite new discoveries.  They have employed different winemakers for their pinots and their Zins (like the Chronicle ’06 Old Vine Zin from Russian River Valley – $28) – both of which  are nicely nuanced and intelligent wines.  A very tiny producer, this may just be the poster child for the sorts of wines I seek!

store_chardbottleElkhorn Peak, 2006 Chardonnay, Vineyard Select $28
I definitely prefer Coq au Burgundy to Coq au Burgundy Blanc, but for white wine lovers, this medium-weight Chardonnay goes well from stove to table.  You may prefer a white wine with a bit less oak, which can sometimes conflict with food.  But I’d avoid Sauvignon Blanc, which I think would reduce down until its grapefruit or grassiness would be turned up to eleven on the volume meter.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
866-746-7293

Quote of the Day
In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport
~ Julia Child, Food Visionary, Author and TV Personality (8/15/1912 – 8/13/04)

Tapas Recipe – Pinot Noir with Tarta de Cebolla (Onion Tart)

2007 Tous Ensemble labelIn June, 2009, this recipe was paired with the Copain, 2007 Pinot Noir “Tous Ensemble” ($36), which was sent to members of our Miles’ Pinot Selections sampling program.  Click here to find alternative recommendations.

This recipe is easily adapted to create a single large tart which can be cut into individual, pie-shaped servings.  But in keeping with our Tapas theme, this recipe calls for a number of individual-sized tarts, making this much easier to serve as an appetizer without utensils.  This is a much welcomed small plate to serve when people are meeting at your house for a glass of wine before heading out on the town!

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen puff pastry
  • 1/4 Pound thick-cut bacon (preferably nitrate-free), cut into 1/4″ strips
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 6 Large onions, very thinly sliced
  • White pepper, to taste
  • Egg, beaten slightly

Procedure

Lay out the pastry dough, repairing any tears by pinching.  If your kitchen is equipped with individual-sized tart tins, by all means enlist them here!  If not, cut the dough into about a dozen 5” rounds.  Either way, refrigerate the dough until ready to use.

Heat a large pan over low heat, then add the chopped bacon.  Cook for ten minutes, then melt the butter and add the onions, cooking on low for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring frequently.  When done, the onions will be golden and beautifully caramelized.   Spread onto a cookie sheet and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Assemble the tarts by placing the cooled onion/bacon mixture in the center of each circle, leaving an uncovered perimeter of a scant inch or so.  Using a sharp knife, score the dough almost all the way through, making a complete circle around the onion mixture – this allows the puff pastry to rise up around the tart’s contents.

Brush the egg wash onto the uncovered perimeter.  Place on middle rack of pre-heated oven and bake for ~20-25 minutes or until edges are a dark golden brown.  Serve hot.

A French Variation
Though the French are not known for their Tapas tradition, they do have some pretty good culinary chops.  I fondly recall a French onion tart that brought warmth and a smile to our group of cyclists on a cold drizzly day.  But it incorporated toasted walnuts and blue cheese for added complexity.  Just be sure to substitute 2 Tbsp of Blue Cheese for 2 Tbsp of the butter, stirring it in with the walnuts in the final few minutes of cooking your onions.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com

Today’s Quote
It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration stopped issuing warnings about toxic substances and just gave me the names of one or two things still safe to eat.

~ Robert Fuoss, food author & wheat farmer.

Tapas Recipe – Chardonnay with Steamed Clams

07CHARD-bottleIn June, 2009, this recipe was paired with the Bonneau Wines, ’07 Los Carneros Chardonnay, Catherine’s Vineyard ($28), which was sent to members of our Maya’s Collectible Selections sampling program.  Click here to find alternative wines.

The richness of fresh clams provides a great foil for chardonnay, especially when white wine is used in the clam pot.  But please don’t use this great wine for cooking!  Its beautiful nuance would be cooked off, and that would be a shame. Instead, pick up a bottle of the $8 or $9 stuff for the clam pot – the less oak influence the better, as oak will concentrate and dominate the dish.  Just be sure it’s something you would actually put in your mouth – cooking with bad wine just amplifies its flavors!

Ingredients
3 Pounds fresh clams, well scrubbed.  Throw out any that do not close when cleaning.  They be dead.  Bad to the bone*.
1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 Ozs diced Serrano ham (a dried ham similar to prosciutto, with a somewhat sweeter taste)
½ tsp Red pepper chili flakes
1 Pinch paprika
4 Cloves garlic, minced
¾ Cup dry white wine
½ Cup water
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

Procedure
Heat a large (wide bottomed) skillet over medium heat, add the oil, then the ham.  Cook until almost crispy, stirring often.  Add red pepper flakes, paprika and garlic and stir constantly for about a minute, just until the garlic is gives up its aromatics. If you take a call from your mother and the garlic burns while you’re gabbing, ya gotta start over.  Focus.

Add the wine and reduce for about a minute, scraping up any brown bits from the pan.  Add the water and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes.  Add the clams and cover.  Increase the heat to high and cook until the clams begin to open – they get tough if cooked too long, so be ready with tongs in hand and a serving bowl at the ready.  They only take about five minutes.  Throw out any clams whose shells are not open and reduce the broth for another couple of minutes..

Pour the broth over the clams in the serving dish (or place four clams on individual appetizer dishes, if using as tapas!), sprinkle with parsley and serve with a side of toasted bread.

Happy Merchant

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
866-746-7293

Quote of the Day:
Researchers have found that clams reproduce at 10 times their normal rate when Prozac is introduced into their aqueous environment.  Apparently, Prozac is an effective mussel relaxer!

*Yes, I KNOW clams don’t have bones.  It’s just an expression.  Would you rather I said “bad to the mantle?”  or “Bad Quahog”??  Sorry, neither works for me.

Cabernet Sauvignon & Grilled (Grass-Fed) Ribeye Steak

In June, 2009, this recipe was paired with the Sojourn Cellars ’05 Sonoma Valley Cabernet sent to members of our Grand Cru Selections sampling program.


SOJ Cab Sauv 05B 1-14-08 AgainAs I wrote the tasting notes for the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($48) I began craving grilled steak.  I could practically smell the hot grill and hear the sizzle.  And got hungry!

We’ve recently started buying grass-fed beef, ever since my wife investigated the environmental and health impacts corn-fed cattle brought to large feed-lots.  I listened attentively as she taught me all about the downside of corn-fed beef, with the antibiotics they require in the over-crowded feedlots where they’re fattened up  just prior to their last moo.  It’s the sort of “Hey listen to this” reading that romantic married couples do for a few minutes before the lights go out and we retreat into our individual dream cycles.

After learning the dangers of commercial beef, I was looking forward to tasting  the healthier, more sustainable, and more expensive alternative.  I just want it to be at least as good as corn-fed beef, perhaps even tastier.  But my first few experiences with it were less than stellar.

You see, grass-fed beef is so much lower in fat that it must be cooked at a lower temperature and for shorter periods of time than regular beef.  We had been told this, but it proved difficult to overcome a lifetime of experience that had taught us exactly how long to leave a steak on the grill.   As a result, we over-cooked our first few efforts with grass-fed beef.  When grilling or pan-searing beef (high heat, short cooking time), it is best to use a New York strip or rib eye, as it comes from a more tender part of the cattle, and benefits from both bone and a layer of fat.  And fat, my friends, is  flavor!

The fat of grass-fed beef is more yellow than that of corn-fed beef, as grass provides a richer source of Vitamin A.  Its flavor will be more mineral-driven than the more iron (blood)-driven flavor of regular beef.

We also found considerable flavor differences among sources of grass-fed beef.  Terry, our butcher at the Real Foods Market,  carries a brand from Argentina that we didn’t find as tasty as the Prather Ranch brand we prefer.  So we invited him over for a taste-off – he brought his brand and we provided the Prather Ranch and all were grilled in an identical manner.  Every taster could tell the difference in flavor without hesitation, but as for which was preferred, there was no concensus.  So you may need to try different ranches before you find a favorite!

Ingredients
1 Grass-Fed Rib Eye Steak per person.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A good grill.  Mesquite or other hardwood chips add a nice layer of flavor, but I prefer my steak unadorned with extra filigree.  It’s up to you!

Procedure

Arrange your grill for high, indirect heat.  Grill your steak as you normally would, but muster every ounce of will power you can, and shorten the cooking time by a full minute per side.  Depending on the thickness of your steak, this might mean leaving it on the grill for only 2-3 minutes per side.

Serve with grilled corn on the cob and a side salad of fresh tomatoes with basil and balsamic and life won’t get much better.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com

Today’s Quote
“Red meat is not bad for you.  Now blue-green meat… that’s bad for you!”
~Tommy Smothers (American Comedian and Winemaker.  1937 – )