10 Activities for A Perfect Fall

The Fall season – some dread it, others love its slow transition from summer to winter.  However you feel, here are ten seasonal activities that assure you’ll enjoy the weeks ahead.

  1. Take a Fall Color Tour – Colorful eye-candy – what better reason to love Fall?  If you’re from the Northeast or Midwest, this is a well-known Fall activity, with the smell of decaying leaves (and in the day before burning bans, the smell of smoldering leaf piles after a day of raking) etched into our collective memories.  And though Fall doesn’t provide such displays of color in most of California – let alone the bracing chill of daytime air – our state’s thousands of square miles of grapevines provide a spectacular show as October progresses.  Visit one of our many wine regions during the coming weeks- whether for a day trip or a weekend.  (If you choose to visit Napa, here’s an iPhone touring app you’ll find useful) 
    Abbey-Harris vineyard, Anderson Valley
    Early Fall colors in Anderson Valley - Abbey-Harris Vineyard. 10-8-11
  2. Attend A Football Game – Though our nation shares few common traditions anymore, this seasonal sport is one of them.  You don’t need to be a huge sports fan to enjoy the fun and festivity of this great game.  But forget the wine, a tailgate calls for beer!  Sure wine would be fine, and I can recommend a good hot dog wine if you’re interested (Loire Valley Rose), but there’s nothing wrong with a little Sierra Nevada with your grilled dog of choice – sauerkraut or no. And if the NFL is a bit to commercial for you, re-discover the thrill of your local college team (assuming you can still tell the difference).fun fall activities - football
  3. Prepare This Hot Lunch  Here’s a fast and affordable hot lunch that’s perfect after a cold morning spent raking leaves – Sweet sausage and apples with Gewurztraminer.  Simply poach German sausage (or sweet Italian sausage, if you prefer) in enough Gewurztraminer to cover – bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes before grilling or sauteing until browned. Meanwhile, peel, core and slice two firm, crisp apples per person.  Bring a wide, covered sauté pan up to medium heat, add a cup of the Gewurztraminer and the apples and cook until soft – 5-10 minutes, adding a dash or three of cumin and cinnamon and other sweet pie spices of choice (these form a nice bridge to the wine).  Serve with spicy mustard and a premium dry Gewurztraminer such as this one from Phillips Hill.
  4. Forage for Mushrooms – Foraging for wild mushrooms is an unforgettable experience.  But whether you decide to join a foraging group or simply forage through your local farmer’s market, these edible fungi give up their flavor to some of my favorite seasonal dishes.  And what wine goes best with mushrooms?  Without hesitation I tell you it’s Pinot Noir!  And while I specialize in this varietal in my online wine shop, I feature here a Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot from Tudor Wines, as Dan Tudor is a well-known mushroom forager.Dan Tudor mushroom forager 
  5. Break Out A Favorite Sweater for Breakfast al Fresco! – A hot cup of coffee and a favorite sweater are the best way in the world to start a brisk Fall day.  Take both outdoors and enjoy the morning.
  6. Host a Halloween Party – Show me someone who doesn’t enjoy donning an alternate identity once in a while, and I’ll show you a stick in the mud.  Whether your party is family-themed or an adult-only re-creation of Burning Man in your living room, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about the food for your guests, as one cannot live by Butterfingers alone (believe me, I once tried).   Here’s a recipe for “Runaway Chicken Chowder” that always gets rave reviews.  It’s orange color lends itself to the season, so sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top, serve with a bit of toasted pumpernickel and you’re done.  Serves a crowd.   Recommended pairing – Chardonnay.
  7. Host An Elections Forum – Whatever your political leanings, the arrival of November marks the annual exercise of our right to vote.  And with the complex nature of contemporary ballot initiatives, it’s helpful to invite friends over to discuss the local ballot initiatives and candidates.  A meal isn’t necessary, but some cheese and crackers are wise, as well as favorite wines of course, though you may find it wise to avoid over-serving if the initiatives are controversial!
  8. Plan Your Thanksgiving Dinner – This meal can be intimidating, as much for its family dynamics as its multi-course meal preparation.  But it’s my favorite meal of the year, and we always begin it with the Macy’s parade, followed by a bit of college football and ending with the umpteenth viewing of “Miracle on 34th Street” (the original with Natalie Wood, not the dozen or so universally bad re-makes).  In our household, the Christmas holiday is dedicated to the family we’ve been given, but the Thanksgiving holiday is for the family we would choose if left to our own devices – both are equally important and worthy of honoring.  However you spend yours, here is some useful assistance with your Thanksgiving meal – some of my time-tested favorite recipes I’ve posted in my recipe section (enter “thanksgiving” in the upper right search box).  Happy Thanksgiving!
    NBC Telecast Thursday, 11-24-2011
  9. Shop on Cyber-Monday – Save gas.  Avoid crowds.  Save time.  Get all your holiday gifts while sitting in the comfort of your home, then go out and enjoy your  friends and family.  This single activity will make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the season.  I cannot recommend it highly enough as a way to eliminate stress from your holiday season!
  10. Whew!  Now Get Ready For Winter – OK, so this one isn’t such a fun seasonal activity.  But before it gets truly cold, now is the time to check boilers, storm windows, snow blowers, and other necessities of the season to come.  And in our house, this is the time the Christmas baking begins to fill our freezer!
Cheers!
Dave “the Wine Merchant” Chambers

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

Perfect Pairing – Malbec with Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

Because of the slow cooking, the lamb practically melts in your mouth.  Which is reason enough to try it, but it also boasts an earthiness that I like with a good Argentinian Malbec.  One of the nice things about Malbecs from Argentina’s Mendoza region is their affordability.  But sadly, their quality is inconsistent, so be sure to confer with a trusted wine merchant for a recommendation before parting with the $20 or so you’ll need to find a good one.

Ingredients (Serves 6+)
 2 Lbs lamb shank
 10 small onions
 4 Cups water
 5 tomatoes – blanched, peeled and chopped (or one can organic chopped tomatoes)
 2 Sprigs fresh parsley
 2 Sprigs fresh thyme
 2 cloves garlic, chopped
 2 Bay leaves
 2 (15 Oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
 1 pound cubed ham3 Sweet Italian sausages

Procedure
Boil the lamb in the four cups of water until it’s falling-off-the-bone tender.  Remove from heat but RESERVE THE LAMB BROTH for later. Once the lamb has cooled, cut into bite-sized cubes/pieces.

Using a generous square of cheesecloth (photo), secure the parsley, thyme and bay leaf with kitchen twine, leaving a long leash on the garni, so you can easily pull it from the stew later.  Place the herb bundle, the lamb, ham, onions, tomato and garlic in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the reserved lamb broth and enough water to equal four cups. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low and simmer for an hour.

Meanwhile, remove the sausage meat from the casings and brown lightly, breaking up into fork-sized crumbles. Remove sausage from heat, drain off fat, and reserve.

Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.  After the stew has simmered for an hour, stir in the beans and sausage and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, or more if you want a thicker consistency.

The deep flavors of this dish work very well with the tannin and fruitiness of the Malbec, both of which offer warm comfort on a winter evening.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Eileen’s “Dead Easy” Leg of Lamb

My wife and I enjoy a wide variety of people, but especially those who appreciate good food.  This dish always reminds us of Jeff & Eileen, our two foodie friends who introduced us to it, and it to us.

Their recipe works on many levels – it’s dead easy and affordable, it fills the house with the enticing aromas of garlic and Rosemary, and it tastes fantastic.

This highly seasoned dish calls for an earthy red wine, though frankly, it’s not that picky about what type – a wide variety of varietals will compliment this warm winter dish.  Try a Monastrell (AKA Mourvedre), a good red from the North of Italy, or a cool-climate pinot noir.

.

Ingredients
3 ½ – 4 lbs bone-in leg of lamb
2-3 Cloves garlic, peeled
1 Oz Sea salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
3-5 Rosemary sprigs,about 6 inches long

Procedure
Pre-heat oven to 375℉.  Using the flat side of a broad knife (or any convenient and flat surface) smash the garlic on your cutting board.  Using the oil and salt as grit, chop and mash the garlic into a paste, then spread evenly on lamb and rub.  Place the meat on a wire rack in a roasting pan (OK, do as I say, not as done in the photo!) with about an inch of water and the Rosemary sprigs in the bottom of the pan.  Put in oven and set timer 15 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes (ex. – a 4 pound roast would get 4 X 15 = 60, plus the extra 15 = 1 hour, 15 minutes).  This simple timing formula produces a roast leg with a nicely pink center and some nice crusty bits at the ends for those who prefer their meat with less (or no) color.  Remove from oven, cover, and allow to sit for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve with roasted potatoes and a green vegetable.  Pairs well with a variety of red wines, though I prefer those with a bit of earthiness, such as pinotnoir, Mourvedre (Monastrell),  or most red wines of Northern Italy.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

“Runaway” Chicken Chowder

I’m never sure if the name for this dish refers to the chicken seeking escape from the chopping block, or the recipe’s run-away popularity.  Either way, its bright orange color (and great flavor!) has made it the traditional dish at the annual family Halloween party hosted by our friend (and club member!) Laura Nagle.

It is one of the rare dishes featuring Halloween colors that is not a contrivance, but rather a memorable dish in its own right.  In fact, at the Nagle’s annual Halloween bash, it just may be as big an attraction as the candy.  At least for some attendees  ;-)

Recommended Wine Pairings
This chowder has the sweetness of the yams, a bit of a warming kick from the peppers and the rich texture of  the chicken and hominy.  To compliment all elements, I recommend an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer (click to buy) or one featuring a nose-full of fragrance and a fuller body – a classic California Chardonnay or a rich white Rhône wine such as Viognier.

Ingredients
3 Boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Med onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 or 2 Large golden yams,  peeled and sliced thin (2-3 millimeters)
4 1/2 Cups Chicken stock or broth
1-2 Serranno peppers seeded and minced
1/2 tsp Ground coriander
2-3 tsp Ground cumin
2 Cans golden hominy (16-Ozs), drained
2/3 Cups fresh cilantro
Toasted Black sesame seeds or toasted Rye bread croutons for garnish (optional)
Sour Cream for garnish

Procedure
Remove the skin and fat from the chicken and cut into 3/4 inch cubes.

Over high heat, melt butter in stock pot or large sauce pan and stir-fry chicken, stirring constantly, just until no longer pink. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside to drain.

Add onion and potato slices to pan with 4 1/2 cups of stock. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Add the peppers, coriander and cumin and blend in the pot with a stick blender, or in batches in food processor or blender. Whatever your blending tool of choice, continue until smooth.

Return all ingredients to the pot and add the chicken and the hominy. This chowder can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to two days.  Also freezes well.  When ready to serve, simply heat, top with cilantro leaves and garnish with sour cream, if desired.

Serving Ideas
This chowder is welcome throughout the cold winter months. But to leverage the Halloween theme (for which this orange soup is ideal!) sprinkle with black sesame seeds or croutons made from dark rye bread.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Syrah with Coca-Cola Braised Short Ribs

Luella restaurant san franciscoThe day before Leslie became Superwife, we held a rehearsal dinner at a San Francisco restaurant called Andalu, where their specialty dish – cola-braised short ribs – was among the night’s most popular dishes.  Several years later, Andalu’s founding chef, Ben Devries, left to start a restaurant named Luella, and has enjoyed great success there as well.  Ben and his wife have made Sunday nights at Luella into family nights, with a separate menu for kids, while maintaining a full menu for the parents.

About that time, Ben and his wife, enrolled their daughter in the same school our daughter attends.  So he and I sometimes find ourselves watching school events from the sidelines, as we discuss the latest trends affecting our livelihoods.

Here’s the Devries-inspired recipe for Coke-braised short ribs – a perfect pairing for Syrah (click here to view my current inventory of compatible wines for this dish).  It is simple and delicious, but it does take some time…

 

Ingredients (Serves 6)

RIBS PICKLED ONIONS
4 Lbs pork ribs 1 Red onion, halved and sliced
Salt & Pepper ¾ Cup red wine vinegar
1 Liter Coca-Cola 2 Tbsp sugar
2 Quarts Chicken Stock Water to cover

 

 

.

.

.

Procedure

Preheat your oven to 400.  Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat a deep roasting pan over high heat for three minutes, add oil and sear the meat until golden brown on all sides – about 7 minutes total. Remove the ribs from the pan and set aside.  With the pan still on high heat, add the Coke and reduce by ⅔.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Return meat to the liquid, cover and put in a 400 degree oven for 2 hrs or until meat falls off the bone.

Remove from the oven and let rest, preferably overnight. Reheat in a 400 degree oven until hot.  Remove meat from the pan, place remaining sauce on stove top at medium heat and reduce until syrupy. Return ribs to sauce until ready to serve.

PICKLED RED ONIONS
Place all ingredients in sauce pot, bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer for 5 mins.
Take off flame and let cool. To make sharper add more vinegar; to make sweeter, add more sugar.

TO SERVE:
Place ribs over a bed of mashed potatoes and top with pickled red onions.  Serve with Syrah or other Rhône-style wine.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com