'Side Dish'

Recipe – Grilled Bacon Kebabs

Grilled Bacon Kebabs imageFunny, this – “Living high on the hog” used to mean one could afford the prime cuts of meat farthest away from the pig’s belly – the luxurious loin.  But today you can’t walk down a block at lunchtime without running into an urban hipster biting into some form of pork belly.  Eating low on the hog is decidedly trendy.  

This recipe feeds that craze, featuring bacon in a rather unusual but delicious preparation – skewered and grilled. The recipe originated with Chris Morocco  over at Bon Appetit (photo by Ted Cavanaugh), but I’ve simplified it a bit so more people can prepare it using ingredients already in their pantry – unless the back corner of your condiment shelf is hiding a jar of the spicy Asian concoction known as sambal oelek, in which case add a couple TBSPs of it to the relish, by all means. 

When planning your meal you may find it easiest to purchase the bacon by the number of slices you’d like to serve each guest instead of by weight. If this is your main protein, you’ll want a good five or six slices per person.  If serving as an appetizer or side dish, perhaps just two or three.  I prepared this recipe with a thick-cut pepper bacon and can’t imagine how it would work with anything thinner.  

There are three sections to the recipe – the glaze, the relish and the meat.

The Glaze – used during the last two minutes of cooking. Can be prepared in advance and refrigerated. This recipe is sufficient for 8 slices of bacon.  Increase the recipe accordingly as your party gets larger.  And when you’re serving these, it’s bound to do so.

  • 2 Tbsp honey or agave
  • 2 Tbsp sambal oelek or Sriracha
  • 1-2 Tbsp unseasoned Rice Vinegar

Combine all ingredients and set aside.  Told you this was easy.

The Relish – liberally disperse over the dish immediately after removing from the grill.  Let sit at room temperature while preparing the grill so the flavors infuse.

  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced (just up to the green part)
  • 1 Serrano chile, seeded and diced
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1+ tsp ginger, peeled and grated, to taste (substitute powdered ginger, if you must)
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar or squeeze of honey or agave syrup

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

The Meat

Indirect bbq heatAt this point, prepare your grill – you want a medium fire on just one side of the grill – you’ll need to use indirect heat to prevent charring.  Using metal (preferably) skewers, weave them through the meat (not the fat) every few inches, then stretch the bacon out flat, as shown in the photo above.  

Place the skewers over the indirect heat side of the grill and turn every minute or so for about 8 minutes.  Don’t leave the grill, these do require a bit of constant attention.  You don’t want the bacon to burn, but it should sizzle as it renders its fat and crisps up.  While still slightly limp but almost ready, brush the bacon with the glaze and turn every 30 seconds for another 2-3 minutes or until you can’t wait to bite into one.  The glaze burns easily, so don’t leave the grill, put your wine glass down, and focus.

Wine Pairing

The heat in this dish can prove tricky for most wines, and it is really best with a low-alcohol, off-dry white (think Riesling) or Rose. However, the “Red Only” crowd prefers to pair hot dishes with fruity, high-alcohol wines such as a CA Zinfandel.  To each his/her own, but if I were forced down the red-only lane I’d opt for a Russian River Pinot. Shop for wines here.

Enjoy!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Recipe – Perfect Homemade Meatballs

meatballs_bowlMeatballs are delicious when perfectly made.  Otherwise, they’re better relegated to your slingshot than your table.  The key to the perfect meatball is minimal handling – don’t touch your meatballs too much and they won’t end up being too dense.  And as you likely know, dense, gummy balls will end up as over-cooked chunks of gravel.  Probably not what you had in mind.

That said, here’s a great meatball recipe of only moderate complexity.  Have your butcher grind the three types of meat, and if he/she complains just find a new butcher. This is simply part of their craft.  Or should be.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound ground pork butt
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • ½ pound ground bottom round (beef)
  • ½ cup frozen spinach thawed and drained thoroughly
  • ½  cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt (preferably kosher or sea)
  • ½  cup bread crumbs, ¼ for mixture, ¼ for rolling.
  • Herbs and spices to taste (probably about a tablespoon of any or all of the following: basil, parsley, red pepper flakes, pepper, garlic powder (not salt))

Lightly mix everything with the exception of ¼ cup breadcrumbs, emphasis on lightly, try not to squish or squeeze.  Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or up to overnight to let the flavors mingle. 

Preheat oven to 400’.  By hand, form the meatballs into the size of golf balls. (keep it gentle!)  Roll the balls in the bread crumbs, and don’t worry if they aren’t perfectly coated.

Bake for 15-20 minutes in a mini muffin pan.  If the balls will be cooked a second time, say as part of a pasta sauce, err on the lower side of the time range.  If eaten as is, go for the higher end.  But because ovens vary, be sure to test one before you declare them done.

Wine Pairings

If your meatballs are to be served as a stand-alone appetizer, they will pair well with any number of red wines or even Rosé or sparkling wine.  But if served over pasta with the traditional red sauce, the tomato sauce drives the choice – it’s acidity requires wine of equal measure, such as Chianti, domestic Sangiovese, or other varieties from Northern Italy (Nebiolo, Barbera, etc.)

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Recipe courtesy of Paul “Rad” Radcliffe!

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.

Rhone-Style Red Wine with Bistro Jeanty’s Tomato Soup

Many of my suggested wine-and-food pairings are discoveries I’ve made after trying them at some of my favorite eateries.  While this may seem like an open-court layup, you’d be surprised how often such pairings fail to inspire much more than a shrug.  Not so with Bistro Jeanty, whose tomato soup is a great side for a robust grilled cheese sammy!

Bistro Jeanty

INGREDIENTS (Serves 6)
1/2 Stick (+ 1 TBSP) unsalted butter 1 1/2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Yellow onion, peeled, halved and sliced 1 1/2 Lbs Ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
3 Cloves garlic, minced 2 Cups (1 Pint) Heavy cream
1/2 Bay leaf 2 Pinches Ground white pepper
1 Scant tsp whole black peppercorns Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Thyme 1 Package frozen Puff Pastry
  1 Egg beaten with ½ Tbsp water

Preparation

In large stockpot over medium-low heat, melt the half stick of butter. Add onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Cover; cook 5 minutes or until onions are soft (do not let brown.)

Bistro Jeanty Tomato Soup

Add tomato paste; cook gently, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and if needed, 1/4 cup of water (only if tomatoes are not ripe and juicy). Simmer over low heat 30-40 minutes, or until tomatoes and onions are very soft.  Purée through food mill (Phillipe Jeanty prefers a food mill, but a stick blender followed by straining with mesh sieve are just fine).

Return soup to stockpot and add cream, pepper and remaining butter; season with salt. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled completely.  Divide soup among six 8-oz. ramekins, soup cups or bowls.

Roll puff pastry to 1/4-inch thickness and cut 6 roughly round shapes slightly larger than the tops of bowls you’ve chosen. Paint the rounds with egg wash and place, washed-side down, over the cups, making sure the soup does not touch pastry. Press overhanging dough against sides of cups, pulling lightly to make a taut lid. (Can be assembled 24 hours in advance if refrigerated and covered.)  Cut unused pastry into strips for dipping – roll in coarse salt, herbs, or Parmesan for added flavor.

To serve, lightly paint top of dough with egg wash. Bake at 450F 10-15 minutes or until dough is puffed and browned (do not open oven in first several minutes of cooking to prevent dough from falling).  Bistro Jeanty is in Napa Valley’s Yountville.  You must eat there on your next visit!  http://bistrojeanty.com/

Honey & Soy Glazed Carrots – Guest Post

Thanks to FaceBook, my wine shop and wine-friendly recipes have been rediscovered by some of the people who helped steer my career ship in this direction.  Here’s a great side dish from my old friend “Sunny” Heyer – it brings the earthy tang of carrots along with a little sweetness to your chosen main course.

Adapted from Food & Wine, Oct. 2009

Honey and Soy Glazed Carrots
2 Lbs carrots, peeled and cut into 2 1/2 inch strips
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp honey

Procedure
1.  Bring large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add the carrots and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.  Drain.

2.  In a large skillet, melt the butter.  Stir in carrots AND soy sauce and cook over high heat until the carrots are browned in spots, about 2-3 minutes depending on the BTUs of your stove.  Stir in the honey and cook until the carrots are glazed.  About 2 minutes.

I found it took a little longer to glaze nicely but I wasn’t in a hurry . .. when the carrots were glazed, I tasted and added more honey and sprinkled toated sesame seeds on top.  Served with a nice fluffy rice (bet you thought I was going to say rabbit!) and boneless pork chops piccata.  I love anything with capers and the pork chops picatta were wonderful with this . . .  just pan saute in canola oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  When the chops are nicely browned on both sides, remove from the pan, add butter, lemon juice and a little white wine to reduce  . . . add the capers until nice and frothy, then added the pork chops on a low heat to cook just a little more . . . Serve on a warm platter and you’re good to go !!

PS, love reading your posts. . .
Best, Sunny

Recommended Wine Pairing
To maximize the wine pairing, think about a wine with a little sweetness (or a high level of ripeness) or one with some earthy minerality.  If paired with anything “picatta” (such as the pork chops recommended here, or my old favorite chicken picatta) you’ll find the highest satisfaction comes from a wine that reflects the tanginess of the white wine and lemon sauce, one that can stand up to the salty capers. Such a wine can be found in a cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc, though I think a dry (or off-dry) Riesling or other aromatic white (even an unoaked Chardonnay) would prove less prone to demand the center stage. Good bets – whites from the Loire, Alsace, Germany, Austria, or New Zealand.

Cheers!
Dave
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

Nacho Mama Surprise – Guest post

Part of my meandering career path found me in Chicago for several years, where I came across a direct marketing wiz named Elizabeth “Sunny” Heyer.   Little did I know she was also known as Naco Mama.  Here’s why.

Here’s a different take on nachos . . .  I used to make this when I lived in Boulder . . .from leftovers initially.  Take a baking dish and line with refried beans – a thin layer . . . then make ‘stripes’ across the beans using everything and anything that’s left over.  We started with a small piece of steak from a doggy bag, sliced, it made our first stripe.  Then we laid down some slices of leftover chicken next to it, then a stripe of sour cream, then a stripe of salsa, then some chopped veggies (any kind will do), and then… you get the drift!! One layer was different types of olives, then peppers – roasted or chili . . . depends on your taste. Once we added a stripe of rice and topped the whole dish with shredded jack cheese.  It’s fast, easy and you can put anything in it . . . I added cubed tofu to the rice and no one was the wiser – given that it was a meat eating, sprout stompin’ crowd.

Pop it in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes and serve with chips on the side . . . or spoon it directly into the mouth. . .  I named it ‘Nacho Momma Surprise’  and it became a huge hit at parties . . .

I always had it with wine. . . but it goes well with beer too!

Thanks Sunny!
Dave
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

Perfect Pairing – Pinot Noir with Roasted Squash Risotto

Every chef I know makes risotto differently.  And it seems they each believe their way is THE way to make it.  The only thing they can seem to agree on is that a good risotto should be creamy but not mushy – cook it too long and it turns to a glop best used to affix wallpaper.  And though this recipe is not simple, neither is it difficult to do – and the time required to make it is well rewarded by the pleasure it brings.

Ingredients (Serves 4 as main course, or 8 as first course)
6 ½ Cups low-sodium, Organic chicken stock
4 Ozs pancetta, chopped fine (1/4” square)
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Large onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ Cup Arborio rice
2 Cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
½ Cup white wine, not heavily oaked
2 tsp garlic, micro-minced
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, destemmed and chopped
4 Ozs fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced thin
¼ – ½ Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 Ozs fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
Salt and Pepper

Procedure
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees (F).  Set a large sauce pot on a back burner over low heat and begin warming the chicken stock.
Heat a large, oven-proof stock pot or Dutch oven over med-high heat for 2-3 minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and when the oil is hot enough to shimmer (but not smoke), add the squash.  Sauté until it starts to brown – about 5 minutes – stirring so each side of the squash makes contact with the pan.  Move your pot from the stove to the oven for 8 -10 minutes or until the squash is tender but not mushy.  Remove from oven, transfer squash into a bowl (set the pot aside, we’ll use it again in a minute) and gently stir the minced garlic into the squash.  Set aside.
Heat a 12” sauté pan over med-high heat for two minutes, then stir in 2 Tbsp of the butter.  As soon as the foam subsides, add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and fresh pepper and sauté for ~5 minutes without touching.  As soon as the bottom mushrooms show good browning, begin stirring and continue cooking for a minute AFTER the mushroom liquid has all cooked off, then set aside.
Increase heat to high under chicken stock.  Heat your large, empty squash pot over medium-high heat, add another Tbsp of the oil and sauté the pancetta until brown.  Add the onion and sauté until soft, ~5 minutes.  Add the Arborio rice and begin stirring (for the next 30 minutes!)  But first, after a full 2 minutes of stirring the hot rice, add the white wine and simmer until nearly absorbed.
Add the first cup of hot chicken stock to the rice.  Stirring often, add more liquid as soon as it is nearly absorbed – more frequently at first as the rice gets saturated after about 20 minutes, when the rice will be “al dente” tender. Gently stir in the thyme, squash and mushrooms.  Add another ½ cup of stock, the parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of butter and gently combine.  Taste for salt and pepper.  The rice should be creamy and tender.
Enjoy!
Dave the Wine Merchant

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.



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