Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pairing Red Wine and Indian Food: Carmenere, you say?

Somehow, a post I wrote 6 years ago on pairing wine with Indian food remains one of the most visited on this blog. Clearly the subject is of interest to folks! However, that post only featured white wines because that has always been my default option with the spices of Indian food. I've seen quite a few people suggest red wines can go with Indian as well, but my limited experimenting with such pairings have led to a clash of tastes on my palate, such as with the red blend I mention in this post.

I don't give up easily. So when  Neill Dahill was sampling the 2009 Apaltagua Reserva Carmenere at Pairings  and suggested it could be a  red wine pairing for Indian food, I was all ears. He hadn't actually tried it, but thought it had a hint of cumin spice that would match Indian food well. I was a bit skeptical but curious to try it. And at $13 a bottle, why not?

The wine was pretty tight when I first poured it--there was a strong woodiness that dominated. But I decanted it just briefly, and it opened up with blackberry fruit along with a bit of spice and oak. The oak seemed to give it structure to stand up to the beef curry we had, and the spice and fruit in the wine's taste blended fairly harmoniously with the flavors of the food. We had aloo palak (potatoes in a creamy spinach sauce) along with the beef; as you might suspect, the Carmenere tasted better with the beef.

I would not call this a perfect pairing per se, but definitely a pretty good match that I'd try again. So I'm happy to report that I have finally have enjoyed a red wine paired with Indian food! I'll have to experiment a bit more with this. Have you found a red wine you enjoy with Indian food?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fettuccine with Creamy Chicken & Mushrooms

OK, perhaps you are ready for recipes that don't have to do with preparing the Thanksgiving feast or using the leftovers? Came up with this tasty dish about a week ago, seeking to use some thyme and cream I had on hand. Figured it was time to write it up and share! Not exactly light but it does use a bit less cream, cheese and oil than my standard fettuccine recipe.

2 chicken breast fillets
3 tbsp olive oil
2 small or 1 larger shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 ozs mushrooms, sliced
couple sprigs thyme, or tsp of dried thyme
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup cream
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
12 ozs fettuccine
salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a large skillet with 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium high. Add the chicken to the skillet, sear for a few minutes on each side until it begins to brown. Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate covered with foil to keep it warm. Start boiling water to cook the fettuccine.

Add another tbsp olive oil to the skillet, with heat on medium. Add the shallots, cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, cook for another minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, cook for about 4 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the cooking wine and and thyme, and raise heat to bring so that the wine begins to boil. Lower it to a steady simmer on medium heat, and add the chicken. Cover the chicken with the mushroom sauce. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste Cook for about 5 minutes until the chicken is just about cooked through. Remove the sprigs of thyme. Take the chicken out and slice crosswise, then add back to the pan to finish cooking the chicken. Stir in the cream when the chicken is cooked and the pasta is just about ready to drain.

Drain the fettuccine when it is cooked al dente. Toss it with the chicken and mushroom mixture, and stir in the extra cheese. Add a few more grinds of pepper, and serve with extra cheese at the table.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Three American Pinots for Thanksgiving

Missing from photo: the Willakenzie Pinot!
I'd be hard pressed to think of a wine I haven't heard suggested as a good pairing for Thanksgiving. Red, white, rose. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (yes, I really have seen Cab suggested!).And I've tried many of them (including a a Cab...Cab Franc that is). Though it's fun to read and sample these different suggestions, the last couple of years I've landed on Pinot Noir as my favorite option for Thanksgiving. It's such a food friendly wine, typically with some good earthy flavors and some acidity.

Though I don't hew to the concept rigorously, I do like the idea of serving American wines on this national celebration. That led me down the path of zinfandel some years ago, but now I'm more likely to save that for steak or perhaps pork. This year, I've sample three American pinots recently that I think would go nicely with the Thanksgiving meal, and will likely bring some combination of them with me on Thursday! They provide a range of price options depending on your budget, too.

2011 Hahn Winery California Pinot Noir ($14): The Monterey County based winery produces some great values, and their pinot is no exception. Nice, well-balanced fruit, without being the "fruit bomb" that many California pinots can be. Hahn Winery is SIP certified (Sustainable in Practice) for all its Central Coast Vineyards.

2009 Wente Vineyards Reliz Creek Pinot Noir ($22): Reliz Creek is in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterrey  If I were blind tasting this I might have guessed it hailed from Burgundy. Good structure, subtle fruit. I haven't had this with food yet but anticipate it is going to go nicely Thursday.  Sustainably farmed-- details on the Wente sustainable practices can be found here (and you can easily jump to other parts of their site from there!).

2009 Willakenzie Pierre Leon Pinot Noir ($42): There aren't too many Pinots from Oregon's Willamette Valley that I haven't like, but I'm especially fond of the Pinots (and other varietals, too) from Willakenzie. If you want to spend a bit more than my other recommendations  this would be a nice treat. This is a sophisticated wine, cherry fruit and earthy undertones that can pick up the rich foods on your table. The wine is made from estate grown grapes from the Yamhill-Carlton appellation. More on the wine here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NY Strip Steaks with Mushroom Sauce

I keep my eye on the Facebook updates from my local Whole Foods Market for specials, and the upcoming one day sale on New York Strip Steaks quickly caught my attention. This is one of my favorite cuts of steak, and Whole Foods has a one day special on them this Friday, November 16. So I thought I'd preview the special with one of my favorite ways to prepare this cut. For that day only, you can get their NY Strip Steaks for $9.99 per pound, $8 off the regular price. That is a great deal for meat of this quality--I like knowing that Whole Foods is naturally raised. This particular cut on sale gets a "Step 1" rating, meaning no cages, no crowding. More on their rating system here.

The Whole Foods standards gives me peace of mind, but it's the taste of this steak that gets me--and my family--excited. Our seven year old exclaimed after trying this one, "The best steak ever!". He had it without the mushroom sauce; surely, this cut doesn't require much preparation to be enjoyed. But for the grownup tastes in the house, the mushroom sauce made a nice addition. Enough preliminaries; on with the recipe!

2 NY Strip Steaks (take them out of the refrigerator about 10 to 15 minutes before you start preparing them)

For the rub:
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
pepper to taste

For the sauce:
10 ozs mushrooms, sliced
1 lg or 2 small shallots, chopped
1/3 cup red wine
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped, or 1/2 tsp dried
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Make the rub by combining the rub ingredients in a bowl. Take the steaks out of their wrapper, pat dry with a paper towel and place on a cutting board. Sprinkle half the rub over the steaks, and then gently rub it into the meat. Turn the steaks over, and repeat with the rest of the rub.

Spray a large oven safe skillet with cooking oil, and heat on medium high. When the skillet is good and hot, place the steaks in the skillet. Cook for about 2 minutes to brown the outside of the steak, then turn over and brown the other side by cooking for another minute or two. Remove the skillet from stove top and place in the oven.

Roast the steaks for about 14 to 15 minutes to cook medium rare. Remember they will continue to cook as they rest, so take them out when they are almost but not quite done to your liking. When they've reached that point, take the steaks out of the skillet and place on a platter, loosely cover them with aluminum foil.
Take the skillet you used for the steak, reserving all those good cooking juices, and place back on stove top to make the sauce. Melt 2 tbsp of the butter on medium heat, stirring to incorporate the bits of meat and fat remaining in the pan. Stir in the shallots, and cook until softened. Just takes 2 to 3 minutes as the pan will be quite hot still from the oven. Stir in the mushrooms and thyme, cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add the wine, cook a few more minutes until the wine is reduced by one half. Finish by melting in the last tbsp of butter and adding salt & pepper to taste.

When the sauce is about done, reduce heat to very low. Slice the steak against the grain, about 1/2 inch thick. Serve 4 to 5 slices per plate, topped with a bit of the mushroom sauce, and pass extra sauce at the table. We served with a salad and homemade baked french fries.

Wine pairing: We rounded out this special treat by serving an outstanding, single vintage Cabernet from Howell Mountain (Napa Valley)--the 2006 Bravante Vineyards Cab (about $50 retail). But certainly any full bodied red would go nicely with this dish, including some for half that price.

Full disclosure: Whole Foods Woburn provided me with the ingredients for the meal to help spread word about the special. I chose the recipe, and the results are fully my own!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Boston's Best Burger?

Actually, I'm really in no position to judge Boston's best burger.I like to throw a burger on the grill at home, and occasionally get creative with the preparation--see for instance Burgers topped with Garlicky Arugula. But when I go out to eat, I tend to order something more off the beaten path than a burger, especially when going to a top notch restaurant with lots of interesting choices.

This week a business lunch meeting gave me a good excuse to try Radius. As I was waiting for my lunch appointment, I reviewed the Foursquare tips for the restaurant. The overwhelming recommendation was to try the burger. Who am I to question the wisdom of the crowd?

I followed the tip, and was very pleased with the amazing burger! Plenty of good quality beef, seared to be just a bit firm on the outside, was topped Vermont cheddar and thin crispy onions--kind of like mini onion rings. Quite the mix of salt and savory flavors going on there. Also had a bit of horseradish sauce for a little kick. The fries on the side were outstanding, too.

So, I haven't tried many Boston restaurant burgers, but one would be hard pressed to top this! But if you know somewhere that might be able to, let me know, I'm open to trying!

As if this weren't enough for the meal, I started with a parsnip veloute which was served with great flair. First, some kind of candied vegetable concoction was placed in the bowl, then the soup was gradually poured on top. I wish I'd taken a video of that--but alas, I was there for other business after all.

We declined the dessert menu, but accepted the offer of a cookie plate to go with our coffee. A nice finish to a great lunch!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Roast Chicken with Herb Butter and Shiitake Mushroom Sauce

We are definitely getting into roast chicken weather in New England! With whole chickens on sale at Whole Foods and Sandy bearing down on the region last weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to roast some chicken. I always get a least two meals out of it by making chicken stew on the second night--which in this case was finished right before we lost our power. Made for a nice candle light meal! But I'm getting ahead of myself. I often use this roast chicken recipe from Food & Wine, but noticed we had a few herbs and shiitake mushrooms that I hadn't gotten a chance to use yet. So I applied some basic concepts from the recipe I'd used before to create this new and very tasty dish!

for the butter:
6 tbsp butter, brought to room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sage leaves, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

1 whole chicken between 4 to 5 lbs, giblet removed
4 smash garlic cloves
quarter a lemon, you need 2 quarters for this dish.

for the sauce
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil 2 butter
2 shallots, minced
1/3 cup red wine
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 dried thyme
1/4 cup cream
fresh ground pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 375.

Make the butter: When the butter has softened, combine it with the other ingredients. It tends to be a bit hard to stir at first, but work at it vigorously with a sturdy spoon and it will soon be blended into a nice consistency with the ingredients well distributed. You can microwave the butter for 5 or 10 seconds if it hasn't softened enough to work with. I actually use Earth Balance dairy free butter spread due to my son's allergies, and that works nicely.

Prep & roast the chicken: Have a large roasting pan ready. Rinse the chicken and pat dry, and place on a cutting board to do the prep. Use your fingers to lift up the skin on the breast a bit. Take about 2 tbsp of butter and insert under the skin, rubbing into the breast meat. Rub the remaining butter all over the skin, making sure the chicken is thoroughly coated. Insert the smashed garlic, lemon and any remaining butter into the chicken cavity. Place the chicken breast side up into a roasting pan, and roast for approximately 90 minutes. Ovens vary, so you'll want to get a sense of whether you typically need a bit more or less time than recipes call for. You don't want to overcook the chicken, nor do you want it raw. You can determine doneness with a meat thermometer, but I prefer the method of piercing the thick thigh meat or cutting into it a bit--the juices should run clear and the breast meat should be white, but still good and juicy. When done, place the chicken on a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes. Save that pan juice for the sauce.

Make the sauce: Start prepping the sauce ingredients after the chicken has roasted for about 45 minutes. Heat the olive oil on medium, and add the shallots. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir occasionally. Cook for about 5 minutes until they start to get soft and begin to "sweat". Add the red wine and butter, stir to combine. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so to reduce the liquid by roughly half. After that, keep warm on low heat until the chicken is done roasting. After you remove the cooked chicken from the roasting pan, pour the juices into the sauce. (I poured it all in; you might want to measure out a cup to use). Add the parsley, thyme and pepper after pouring in the pan juices. Simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce the liquid, stirring frequently.

Serve and enjoy! Carve and plate chicken, topping with a bit of the sauce for a nice presentation. Pass extra sauce at the table. Enjoy! We served it with some orzo & butternut squash and an arugula salad.

Wine pairing: An earthy pinot noir would be a natural choice to pick up the mushrooms as well as the roast chicken. I went off the beaten path and served it with the Grillo Azienda Agricola, a red wine from Italy's Fruili region made with the Schioppettino grape. It's a nice bottle of wine and change of pace, and worked well with the dish.