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.

Roast Chicken with Orange-Honey Glaze

I’m a huge fan of honey.  And this recipe was posted by some online wine friends currently on an extended tour of Australia.  Not only am I thoroughly jealous of their travels, but they also had the chance to don bee suits and inspect the world’s last genetically pure strain of bees. Pair this dish with some nice vegetables sautéed with sliced garlic and it makes an easy mid-week meal.

A Chardonnay works well with this dish, particularly if the oak is moderate and the acidity is good,  because it bridges across to the orange-and-honey glaze, the salt of the chicken and the vegetables, and, well, everything.  If your palate leans towards wines with a bit of sweetness, try a dry muscat or Riesling.  I think Viognier would work quite well, though look for one with alcohol below 14.5% if it’s to work well with this bright dish.

Ingredients
* Whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
* Juice of one orange
* 2 Tbsp honey
* 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce

Procedure

Pre-heat oven to 400℉.  Stir together the orange juice, honey and soy until the honey is dissolved.  Wash and thoroughly dry the chicken (some chefs recommend letting the skin dry out for a day in the refrigerator).

Baste both sides with the honey liquid. Place a rack inside a roasting pan, chicken on the rack (not touching, if possible and roast for ~50 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 185℉.

This next step is a royal pain in the patootie, but if you can baste the chicken pieces with the pan drippings every 5-10 minutes, you’ll be thrilled with the crispy skin that it creates.  Make sure the skin doesn’t burn – the sugars in the honey make it easy to do!

Cheers,
Dave the Wine Merchant
866-746-7293

“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

Moules Marinieres – Mariner’s Mussels, the Highway to Heavean!

Mussels Marineires recipeFor one of my rather large birthdays, the kind that either demands a grand celebration with friends or a quiet closet in which to whimper, Superwife and Cole surprised me with a trip to the Loire Valley.  One of my favorite meals was at this street side cafe in Tours.

This simple meal – mussels, crisp french fries, a fresh baguette and a cool glass of local Chenin Blanc – brought me closer to heaven than I probably deserve (or will ever be again, now that St. Peter knows I’ve found this loophole).

Wine Pairing Ideas
When paired well, the right wines can provide the same slice of Tours street side nirvana. So pull a cork on one of these wines, splash some into your glass, then add some fresh-shucked oysters or steam some mussels (recipe below) and you’re in for an hour of pure happiness.


Moules Marinières with Lardon

Moules Marinières are also known as “Sailor’s mussels” or “Mariner’s mussels.”  This basic dish consists of fresh mussels delicately steamed in white wine with garlic, parsley, butter, onion and cream sauce. The addition of lardons by the chef at our sidewalk cafe was a unique twist, adding a permeating smokiness.   Along with the small amount of cream added to the juice, this extra richness suggests a fuller-bodied white wine – an austere wine will fight this dish.  Think Dry or off-dry Riesling, Chenin Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay and perhaps even Viognier from a cooler clime.

Be sure to have a good baguette (more than you think you’ll need) to dip into the delectable sauce and juices once your mussels are gone. Mussel veterans eat by using an empty mussel shell as a pincer to pick the remaining mussels from their shells – a fun way to eat with your fingers!

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an opening course)

  • 2+ Lbs of fresh, live mussels
  • 1/2 Pound thick bacon or pancetta, cubed
  • 2 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 1 finely chopped shallot
  • 5 fl oz (1 glass) of dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 large handful of finely chopped parsley
  • 4 tbsp of cream
  • salt and pepper

Procedure
Clean, debeard and rinse the mussels several times in cold running water. Discard any that do not snap shut when tapped and set the rest aside in a colander. Cook the lardons in the bottom of a wide, deep pot until crispy but not burned. Remove, drain on paper towel.  Remove all but one Tbsp of bacon fat, add enough butter to equal 2 Tbsp total, then add the chopped shallot and garlic. Cook for a few minutes on a medium heat until the shallots have softened.

Add the white wine and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add mussels and cover, cooking on a high heat for several minutes. Gently shake the pan several times during cooking to redistribute the mussels. It is best to remove the mussels one by one as they open, placing them in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the juices – liquid gold. Again, discard any mussels that have remained tightly shut, as they may produce unpleasant gastro-intestinal side effects (you don’t want to know).

Return the lardons to the liquid and boil until reduced by half. Stir in the cream and parsley. Taste the sauce and add salt or pepper to taste. Transfer the mussels to a large bowl, pour the reduced liquid over the mussels, and serve immediately. Pair with any of these wines and you’ll agree that happiness is at hand.

Les_moules_cropped_and_lightenedCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.
~Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French gastronome (1755 – 1826)

 

Macadamia-Encrusted Tilapia in Orange-Cream Sauce

sfw_map

For those concerned about the quality of their food supply, a valuable information resource is available at Seafood Watch (see map, above).  You’ll be pleased to note this recipe is not only delicious, but that Tilapia is recognized as one of the most sustainable sources of protein in the ocean.  Pair this recipe with a floral white wine such as Viognier, Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer  or even an unoaked Chardonnay.  Even a lighter off-dry Rosé works well here, though the wrong one will fight with the orange sauce.

Ingredients (Serves 6)
1 Small tilapia fillet per person (V-shaped)
¾ Cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ Cup buttermilk (or Half-n-Half)
2 Cups panko or toasted bread crumbs
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp finely chopped dill
½ Cup+ finely chopped macadamia nuts
2+ Tbsp olive oil

Sauce Ingredients
2/3 Cup orange juice
1/3 Cup half-and-half
1 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in ~ 1 Tbsp cold water
1 Tbsp fresh chopped dill

Procedure
Rinse fillets and set on rack to drain – pat dry. Get out two large plates and a medium mixing bowl and create an assembly line in the following order:

–       Station #1 – on the first plate, mix together the flour, salt and pepper,
–       Station #2 – Pour the buttermilk in the bowl and place in the center,
–       Station #3 – On the last plate, mix together the panko, butter, dill and nuts.

Dredge each fillet in station #1, dip it in station #2, then dredge again station #3.  Refrigerating your breaded fillets for 30+ minutes will set the coating.  Discard any remaining flour and milk, but reserve the panko mixture for pre-frying touch-ups.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat for ~3 minutes, add the olive oil and coat evenly (I like to add a Tbsp of butter to the oil.  It browns better but is less healthy!)  Pan-fry the fillets until golden brown on each side (about 4 minutes per side for every inch of thickness).  Remove to a warm oven until ready to plate.

The Sauce – In a saucepan, whisk together all the sauce ingredients and heat over medium heat until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Serving Suggestion (see photo) – Serve on a bed of sautéed spinach (in a wide pan, warm some olive oil, dissolve 1-2 anchovies in the oil, mashing until liquefied, sauté spinach until just beginning to wilt, finish with lemon zest and toss).  Place fillets atop the bed of spinach.  Add sauce to plate beside fillets.  Enjoy!

DSCN0417Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my wine sampling program.  It was customized to showcase a floral white wine, such as those you’ll find here.