Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Perfect #Wine? A Noble Quest!

When my friend and fellow wine aficionado offered to share a wine written up as "almost-perfect", I was intrigued. I eagerly accepted the opportunity, and set to planning a little dinner. The wine in question was the 2001 Mas de Daumas Gassac, Cuvée Emile Peynaud. The wine is labeled a "vin du pays" which typically implies a humble French wine, but here the term applies because this wine doesn't conform to the traditional French wine classifications. It's made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, produced according to the methods of the Medoc region of Bordeaux. They have found a way to make some pretty wines in the foothills of the Massif Central, a previously overlooked part of the Languedoc region. (source: "The World's Greatest Wines").

Typically I'd plan a special meal to go with such a wine. But the evening we landed upon for this wine coincided with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, so I wanted a simple preparation that could be made and enjoyed before the puck dropped. A big Cab seemed to call for beef; Grilled NY strip steaks topped with grilled onions, along with some salad and couscous, answered the call nicely.

John and Liz arrived at the appointed time, and John eagerly set the bottle in a suitably prominent place on the counter for us to admire.  "Should we start with some white, and save this for dinner?" I inquired. This would be following be the typical approach to this sort of foodie gathering at our place.

John smiled, "I think we should get started with this now," proffering the Mas de Daumas, "It's going to take awhile to drink and enjoy this."

Now, this comment was a bit of a head scratcher at first. This was not a larger bottle of wine, and when several of us gather on such an occasion, there is usually more than one opened in the course of the evening. John continued, "It's a very big wine. We opened it at Pairings when I bought it yesterday."

Hmm, interesting. A substantial investment in a bottle of wine that's a dozen years old, and it was opened the previous day for a couple of small tasting pours? But John's confidence that the wine would hold up to being open that long was well-founded.

Now here's where I must confess the limited notes I do take were tossed somewhere during the quick post-dinner/pre-game cleanup. What I recall a week later was that this hit me from the start as being a huge wine, big bouquet of forest floor and blooming flowers. The first taste was a bit overpowering, I'm quite sure my first comment was simply, "Wow!". Never could have guessed that it had been opened for 24 hours nor that it was a 2001. Taste of leather, prunes and ripe berries. It evolved in the glass, softening a tad, showing great depth and complexity, various spices coming through along with the other tastes. It surely was a wonderful treat!

The production of this wine was extremely limited; 2,500 bottles according to this article. That low number along with the great quality means if you happen to find a bottle somewhere it is not likely to be inexpensive!

Now, on to this comment I read about this wine being "almost-perfect". That leads to an interesting there such a thing as a perfect wine? It strikes me that a winemaker might might have some vision for the perfect wine that she might make from a particular vineyard. But I suspect that might be a quixotic quest. For those of us who simply enjoy good wine, what would constitute perfection? A top notch Bordeaux? Barolo? Or perhaps this interesting gem from the Languedoc?

Alas, I suspect we could not single out wine wine as being truly perfect. But I'm willing to try others that are associated with claims of perfection! Trying to coax the most wonderful wine out of a great vineyard is truly a noble quest, one that I'm happy to appreciate.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pasta with Greens, Gruyere and Bacon

Pasta with Greens, Gruyere and Bacon. Cooking Chat recipe.
Gruyère is one of my favorite cheeses. The rich nuttiness makes it a tasty snack on its own, and it also melts nicely to impart a lot of flavor when cooking. So when I was asked if I wanted to sample  cups Emmi Kaltbach™ Cave-aged Le Gruyère®  I quickly agreed. Though I was tempted to just crack it open when it arrived and start nibbling, I waited a week or so to plot what I wanted to make with it. When last weekend's weather didn't look good for grilling, it seemed like a good time for a pasta dish featuring the Gruyere cheese. Collard greens were on sale, so I grabbed them to combine with the cheese and bacon, and I was well on my way to a tasty new dish! You can easily substitute other greens here. This method for fixing the greens along with the bacon is also my go-to way of fixing them as a side dish.

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch collard greens, coarsely chopped
½ cup or so chicken broth
1 or 2 slices bacon
pinch salt & red pepper flakes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
bit of fresh oregano (or other fresh herb you have on hand)
1/2 cup Emmi Kaltbach™ Cave-aged Le Gruyère® cheese, shredded (plus extra to serve at table)
12 ozs elbow macaroni or other short pasta

Heat a large pot on medium high and spray with cooking oil (I use olive oil). Add the bacon and cook until it is nice and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and cool it on paper towel set on a plate to absorb the excess grease. Pour most of the extra grease out of the pan, but leave a bit for that bacon flavor! When the bacon is cool, crumble it into bite sized pieces and set it aside to add to the dish later.

Add a tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan, heat on medium. Add the garlic, cook for a minute or so until it starts getting fragrant. Gradually add the greens in a few batches, stirring the greens as you add them so they get well coated with the oil and garlic. Add a light pinch of salt, then stir in the chicken broth and balsamic vinegar. (You could certainly use other cooking liquid in place of chicken broth). Heat the liquid until it begins to simmer, then cover to cook gently on moderate heat. Stir the greens occasionally. You'll want to braise the greens for at least 20 minutes, 30 is better if you have time, so they get nice and tender, absorbing the garlic and broth flavor. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes about halfway through the greens cooking time.

Start boiling the water for pasta after you've added the greens. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta when it's done, then toss the pasta with the greens. Be sure to use up all the good liquid from cooking the greens to capture all the nutrients and flavor. After mixing the greens and pasta, stir in the cheese followed by the bacon. Serve at the table with a bit of extra grated Gruyère , and enjoy! This can be a main course, though we did have a bit of salmon on the side, and served with a nice Greek white wine.

Full disclosure: The Gruyère was provided to me as a free sample. The recipe is my own creation!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa

You don't mind easy recipes, do you? If not, I'll keep them coming! Been a busy spring, not much time for fancy or complicated here. But I am still coming up with some tasty new creations, like this Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa. I also used the salsa with mahi mahi I grilled the same night, which also worked nicely too.

Chicken Marinade
2 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
½ of a lime, juiced
1/4 tsp salt

3 chicken breast fillets, rinsed and patted dried

Pineapple Salsa
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped into small pieces (I cut a typical pineapple chunk size into quarters).
1 small red onion & ½ green bell, coarsely chopped & grilled (see grilling note below)
bit of cilantro, chopped
juice of ½ lime
tsp chipotle in adobo sauce (optional, you could also add a pinch of cayenne for kick, or add a jalapeno to grilled onions and peppers)

Start by combining the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the chicken breasts, toss them to get the chicken well covered with the marinade. Cover and put the chicken in the refrigerator, unless you are doing a quick marinade (e.g. 15 minutes or less.  I marinaded for about an hour, which was came out well, but I'd say you could do up to 4 hours if you wanted.

Pre-heat the grill to medium high. Toss the onion and peppers with olive oil, then spread them into a grill pan. Grill them for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that get nicely cooked and a tad charred all over. If you don't have a grill pan, you can wrap the peppers and onions in aluminum foil to cook on the grill, though I really prefer the grill pan for the charring effect.

You can start combining the salsa ingredients as the peppers and onions are grilled. Toss those in with the rest of the ingredients when they are done and have cooled a bit. Set the salsa aside while you grill the chicken. You could also make the salsa in advance, it tasted great the 2nd day after the flavors had a chance to meld.

Get the chicken ready to grill by shaking off the excess marinade, reserving the extra in the bowl. Put the chicken on the grill, flipping the chicken after about 5 minutes. Brush the chicken with the extra marinade after flipping it to help keep the chicken moist. The chicken takes about 10 minutes to be ready, check for doneness at that time. I simply cut it open a bit to see that it is white all the way through, though you can use a thermometer too. Remove the chicken from the grill. Plate the chicken topped with plenty of pineapple salsa and enjoy!

The photo below is actually of the salsa served on the mahi mahi, along with some greens and blackeyed peas. We concluded the chicken came out better and more blog worthy, after eating it sans photo!