Pinot Noir with Chicken in Balsamic-Cherry Sauce

I must confess to an unabashed and obvious bridge ingredient here – the savory cherry sauce evokes pinot noir better than anything except maybe cranberries.  Come to think of it, cranberries would be a good experimental substitute for the cherries – I’d try them with blueberries as well.

Ingredients
6 Boneless chicken breasts (halves)
2 Tbsp ea. – olive oil and butter
3 Shallots, minced
3 Cloves garlic, minced
½ Cup pinot noir (drinkable, but not expensive)
3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
½ Cup chicken stock
½ Cup heavy cream
1 Small tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ Pint (or ½ can) cherries, pitted
Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure
Place a breast (the chicken’s, not yours) between two generous layers of plastic wrap.  Using any heavy, flat item (though not flat, a rolling pin or empty wine bottle will suffice) pound the breast to half its original thickness.  Tip, wetting the plastic wrap helps prevent breakage during pounding.

Over medium high, heat a wide skillet for ~3 minutes, add the olive oil, then the butter.  When melted, sauté the chicken breasts in batches, without crowding the pan.  Sauté until just barely browned on each side (the inside should still be slightly pink at this point).  Remove to a warm oven and hold.

Add the shallots and garlic to skillet and cook 6-8 minutes or until tender.  Add wine and vinegar and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil while stirring constantly.  Continue to simmer rapidly until reduced to about 1/3 – ½ cup.  Add chicken stock, cream and tomato and simmer until sauce is reduced by almost half, about 5 minutes.

Add cherries to sauce and stir to warm.  After a minute or two, return the chicken and its drippings to the skillet and warm thoroughly, about another three minutes.  Add a touch of salt and a generous amount of cracked pepper.  Serve sauce over chicken.

DSCN0417Bon Appétit!
Dave the Wine Merchant

NOTE: This recipe originally appeared in materials sent to members of “My Pinot Selections” – a bi-0monthly wine sampling program.  To review wines currently in stock that will pair well with this recipe, click here.

Merlot with Braised Beef Short Ribs

When this marinade and slow-cooking process are used on a cut of meat with lots of well-marbled fat and connective tissue (Flank or Top Round are also fine) the resulting flavor and mouthfeel are perfect for this wine.  I again employ my secret ingredient – vanilla – which echoes the flavor of the wine. It really works!

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 club shipment.  Click here to see wines that pair well with this recipe.

Ingredients

6 Lbs beef short ribs 4 Ozs dried cherries
¼ Cup flour ¼ Cup fresh Thyme sprigs
½ Cup olive oil, divided 4 Sage leaves, fresh
3 Cups chopped onion 3 Bay leaves
2 Cups chopped carrots 2 Cups Merlot (don’t use the good stuff!)
2 Cups chopped celery 4 Cups low-sodium beef broth
8 Cloves garlic, peeled 1-2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 scant tsp Vanilla

Procedure
Preheat oven to 300°.  Put ribs in large bowl and coat well with salt, pepper, and flour.  Heat a heavy Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat for ~4 minutes.  Add half the olive oil and brown ribs all over, working in batches.  Set browned ribs aside.

Add remaining oil to empty pot and, when hot, add the Mirepoix (the holy trinity of onion, carrot and celery).  Cook until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, dried cherries  and the herbs and combine well.  Deglaze the pot with the red wine then return ribs to the pot.  Bring to a simmer and reduce for about five minutes.  Add the broth, cover, and place in oven to braise until ribs are tender – check after two hours but plan for three.

Remove from oven and let stand for 15 minutes.  Remove ribs and set aside (try to keep them on the bone!), and remove Thyme sprigs and Bay leaves.  Pour remaining ingredients into a food mill (or pulse in a food processor six or seven times until finely chunked), then return to pot.   Spoon off any fat, season to taste with salt and pepper, then add balsamic and Vanilla.  Return ribs to sauce until warmed through, serve with extra sauce spooned over ribs.

Serving Suggestion: Stand the ribs upright in mashed potatoes, spoon remaining sauce over both, and serve with a side dish of sautéed spinach.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my “Grand Cru Selections” sampling program.

Click here to see my current inventory of wines that pair well with this recipe.

Pork Ribs, Tuscan-Style (For Earthy Red Wines)

This month, my recipes seem to center around ribs.  I guess I’m craving these hearty fall-off-the-bone dishes as Autumn approaches.  Hope you are too!

These ribs are best when slowly cooked using low, indirect heat on your charcoal grill, but they are still delicious when slow-roasted in your oven until tender and crisp.  They are generously seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices that compliment the earthiness in a lighter wine, though they do have a bit of spice kick that will fight with high-alcohol wines.  What makes them Tuscan is the simple balsamic glaze finish, Balsamic vinegar being a Tuscan specialty.  I’ve adapted it here with a touch of vanilla, which helps round it out and bridge more effectively with Pinot Noir and other domestic reds.  Other bridge ingredients would include cherry juice or cranberry juice, and I encourage experimentation if these ingredients are handy in your kitchen.

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my “Pinot Selection” sampling program.  Though optimized to showcase an earthy Pinot Noir, it works well with other such wines, such as a good Rhone-style wine (look for with alcohol below 14.5% or it will fight the spicy heat of these ribs) or the old-world wines of Italy.  Click here to see some current selections  that work well.

Ingredients (Serves 6)
2  Tbsp chopped rosemary
1 Scant Tbsp kosher salt
1 ½ Tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Chopped sage
2 tsp Chopped thyme
2 tsp Sweet paprika
1 Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp Ground coriander
1 tsp Ground cumin
1/2 tsp Ground allspice
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 Lbs pork spareribs
4 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 Scant tsp vanilla extract

Procedure
Combine all but the last three ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Rub the spice paste over the meaty side of the spareribs and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for a day.

Three hours before your planned mealtime, bring your grill (or oven) up to 300° (this is a low heat, requiring no more than 30 or so briquettes, though you’ll need to add five more every 45 minutes or so. Arrange the ribs on the indirect portion of your grill (or on a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan if cooking in your oven) with the meaty side up.  Roast until tender, about two hours.

Remove ribs from heat.  Combine the vanilla and balsamic vinegar, then brush the meaty side of the ribs and return to the direct heat side of the grill (or 6” under the broiler) until browned, ~2 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut between the ribs and serve.

Serving Suggestion: mashed potatoes with chives, gingered carrots.

Adapted from a recipe by Bruce Aidells

DTWM Video Still croppedCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Note: This recipe originally appeared as an insert with my October, 2009 shipment to members of my “Pinot Selection” sampling program.  Though optimized to showcase an earthy Pinot Noir, it works well with other such wines, such as a good Rhone-style wine (look for with alcohol below 14.5% or it will fight the spicy heat of these ribs) or the old-world wines of Italy.  Click here to see some current selections  that work well.

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.

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 – 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 – )