Pinot Noir and Slow-Cooked Lamb Tagine

A couple of months ago, an old friend of ours (Drew) married a new friend of ours (Bridget).  They provided a generous budget and I provided a generous wine list for their grand event.  After the honeymoon they invited us over for dinner.  I was impressed at this amazing meal in the middle of Bridget’s hectic work week.  But when she shared her recipe I saw that it’s made in a slow cooker – this is a dish you can enjoy any night of the week!  That impresses me even more.

Because of the slow cooking, the lamb practically melts in your mouth.  And this dish has a  sweetness that balances its acidity, reflecting and complimenting the dynamic in a good Pinot Noir.

Ingredients (Serves 4+)

3 Lbs lamb (1/2” cubes of shoulder or leg) 1 Bunch fresh cilantro
1 Clove garlic, chopped 2 Tbsp butter
2 Tomatoes, chopped 2 Large sweet onions, halved and sliced thin
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon 1 ½ tsp Ground cumin
2 tsp Sugar ¾ Cup golden raisins
Salt and ground black pepper 2 Cups instant couscous, cooked in lightly salted water and fluffed with a fork
1 Tbsp tom paste (if tomatoes under-ripe)


7 Hours Before Serving

In a 4-Qt Crock Pot (slow-cooker), add all the ingredients from the first column (above) with a ½ Cup of water.  Keeping the Cilantro in its bunch, trim the stems and tie them together with kitchen string, setting the leaves aside.  Nestle the stems into the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 5-6 hours.  Remove and discard the stems prior to serving.

30 Minutes Before Serving

Thirty minutes before serving time, Put the butter, onions and cumin in a sauté pan and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.  When onions are a deep golden brown, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

20 Minutes Before Serving

Skim off as much of the fat from the Tagine as possible and remove the embedded stems.  Reserving a few for garnish, roughly chop the cilantro leaves and stir them with the raisins into the tagine.  Turn the slow cooker to high and continue to cook, uncovered.

About 10 Minutes Before Serving

Prepare the couscous according to package directions.

To Serve
Spoon the couscous onto a serving platter and top with the lamb, then the caramelized onions and finally the whole cilantro leaves you set aside.

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.

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

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.

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)

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







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.

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.

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

Dave the Wine Merchant