May 31, 2011

Salmon in Puff Pastry with a Memorable Italian White

I recently thumbed through Eric Ripert’s cookbook “Avec Eric” and stumbled across a recipe that caught my attention. Salmon, wrapped in dough, with a horseradish cream. Sort of a Salmon Wellington… That reminded me, I still had a sheet of frozen puff pastry in the freezer that I did not know what to do with…
The recipe calls for phyllo dough, but I figured that puff pastry should work, and I could just bake it in the oven, which was easier than having to worry about stuff sticking to a frying pan, anyway. For the herb used on the salmon I decided on dill rather than basil. I love dill, and the two main uses I have for it are with salmon and also with cucumbers, so I couldn’t pass this chance up.

The horseradish cream which served as a condiment was very easy to make and very delicious and lemony. Many of the recipes in this cookbook look a little intimidating to me, but this one really gave me a boost to try more of the seafood recipes in this book.

As my wine pairing, I selected the 2008 Tenuta Luisa Friulano, which is a white wine from Italy. The grape type Friulano is somewhat obscure (oh well, aren’t most Italian white wines, except for Pinot Grigio…), and until recently it was actually known under the name Tocai Friulano, or just Tocai. But then the European Union decided that this name could easily be confused with a Hungarian wine that has a similar name, and made the Italian winemakers change the name of their white wine grape…

Wines made from the Friulano grape are difficult to find here in the U.S., but every now and then you can run across one. Since I have fond memories associated with this grape type, I can’t resist picking up a bottle every time I see one. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with my first two finds. Actually, I was beginning to think that the surroundings associated with my very first encounter with this type of white wine had pushed my positive rating way off the scale. A replication of those flavors seemed to be completely unattainable in hindsight.
I know you are just dying to hear where I enjoyed my first glass of Friulano. It was on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant in Venice, Italy. Picture a perfectly sunny day. We are sitting in the shade of a large red umbrella, overlooking the Grand Canal, with a virtually unobstructed view of the large round dome of the church Santa Maria della Salute. Gondolas and boats with beautiful and happy people are floating by… (Yup, it's the place with the red umbrellas where we ended up... I snapped the picture from the other side of the canal, on the steps of the Salute church.)

During the meal, there was no time for picture-taking. In front of us was a big plate of the most perfectly cooked risotto you could ever ask for. The waiter had suggested to pair a Tocai Friulano with it, from a region to the north of Venice. Hm, never heard of that, but when in Venice, do as the… oh wait, that was Rome… To cut a long story short, it was one of the most memorable meals I have ever had in my life. Simple, but definitely memorable…
But back to my salmon and the Tenuta Luisa Friulano. This Friulano did not disappoint. It was wonderful. The aroma was of ripe apples, white flowers and hazelnut, and it had a nice acidity and surprisingly full and round mouthfeel. It was a very nice match with the salmon dish, I think it particularly complemented the fresh lemon zest flavors. Final verdict: a good combination!

May 25, 2011

Pork and Pinot

The other day I set out to discover whether Pork and Pinot, a.k.a. Pigs and Pinot, is just a witty alliteration, or if those two things really work well together.
For the “pigs” part, I decided on pork tenderloins with an onion and dried apricot stuffing. Here’s the recipe, but note that I substituted dried apricots for the dried figs.

Just a few years ago, I would not touch any food that contained fruit in an otherwise savory meal. I have since become more open-minded and adventurous, and I have to say that this particular dish was absolutely delicious. I definitely plan on making it again. Even if it sounds unusual to you, give it a try!

As a counterpoint to the slight sweetness of the pork, I decided to go with a Pinot Noir from a cooler climate, the 2006 Anton Bauer Wagram from Austria. Austria and Germany is probably as far north as it gets for cultivating red wine grapes in the world. These Pinot Noirs are often described as lean and elegant in style.

Upon sniffing the wine in the glass, it actually smelled sort of vegetal, I would call it mushroom, whereas hubby described it as collard greens… (You know I just had to mention this little tidbit.) But then a cherry note came through as well, which was a little bit more encouraging. The taste was rather tart, like cranberry, and I could tell a little bit of oak on the finish. It was well integrated though and did not bother me the least.

I think the pairing with the sweet pork dish was excellent. Emphasizing a contrast, the sweet versus the tart, was the right way to go in this case. This particular wine definitely needed a worthy food partner, and the pork tenderloin was just the right fit. So whoever came up with this Pork and Pinot thing, was actually on to something! Final verdict: an amazing combination!

May 21, 2011

Port and Chocolate Cake

So here I am, with a couple of bottles of port wine in my cellar, and summer is well on its way. What's a girl to do? Port, a fortified red dessert wine, is definitely the kind of beverage you think of sipping in front of the fire place rather than by the beach fire pit... But much of this spring has been cold and rainy, and I just could not wait to open the Sugar Creek Vineyards Signature Port which I had picked up on a recent trip to Missouri.

Yes, you read right, Missouri. They do make wine there. Even port! Even more interesting is the fact that this ruby port is made from a grape called Cythiana, also known under the name Norton, which is Missouri's state grape, by the way, and is only grown in North America.

But back to my dilemma. I just had to use up this bottle before the hot summer days, and the folly did not end there, but I also decided to pair it with a decadent chocolate cake. Do I even have to mention that said cake had a buttercream frosting? Well, you probably guessed it by now.

As expected, the combination was just decadent. Port and chocolate are perfect pairing partners, in my opinion. The wine has flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate, and you can definitely tell the higher alcohol content typical for port.

If I had to sum it up, it's "Mon Chéri" in a glass. What is "Mon Chéri"? It's a chocolate candy available in most of Europe, chocolate on the outside, a whole cherry floating in liqueur on the inside. My mom's favorite, by the way. If we didn't know what to get her for Mother's Day, a box of "Mon Chéri" would always do the trick. But I digress... Personally, I'd go for the glass of port with chocolate on any given day... Final verdict: a good combination!

May 17, 2011

Balsamic Mushroom Linguine with Virginia Chardonnay

Sometimes I am just in the mood for something vegetarian. A dish where some fresh, seasonable vegetables are the star. The last few weeks, I have found green onions to be really tasty. White button mushrooms are cultivated year-round and looked good that day at the store. As a sauce, some reduced balsamic vinegar and veggie broth would be nice over some linguine pasta. Throw all of those things together, and voilà, here was a quick and healthy pasta dish.

A recipe for a similar dish can be found here, well, except for the fact that I changed almost every single ingredient… but seriously, the one important extra step that I did was to reduce the vinegar before using it (to avoid the pungency), and to add some broth to make more sauce.

I was really hungry that day and as time was of the essence, I could not do much prior research as to which wine would pair well with balsamic mushrooms. So I just grabbed a bottle I had been wanting to open for a while. It was the 2008 New Kent Winery Chardonnay from Virginia.

I have to admit, that I am not a big fan of Chardonnay in general. On the rare occasion that I find one which I like, it’s usually one that has spent no or very little time in oak barrels. Such is the case with the New Kent Chardonnay, which is in a fruit-forward style. It has aromas of apple and tropical fruit, and the taste has great citrus notes and a lovely acidity.

I found it to be a wonderful match with my pasta dish. I had been worried about the interaction with the acidity of the balsamic vinegar in the food, but it turned out to be very harmonious. My research “after the fact” came up with pairing suggestions for lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir, and I tried that the next day with some leftovers, and honestly, the Chardonnay had worked much better! Maybe I should just go with my gut feeling more often, rather than to over-think the issue…

By the way, the New Kent Winery is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in the area, sort of halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg in Virginia. The tasting room’s architecture is very impressive, and any winery that makes me want to buy their Chardonnay is worth a special mention and kudos in my book! Final verdict: an amazing combination!

May 13, 2011

Squid and White Wine from Rueda, Spain

Now who doesn’t love calamari? These crispy deep fried rings of squid-y goodness, dipped into a lovely garlic mayo… absolutely divine if done right, reminiscent of rubber bands, if done incorrectly. I am scared of hot oil though and as a general rule stay at least three feet away from a deep fryer at any given time. But then I found a recipe for squid that was neither breaded nor fried, but rather put under the broiler in the oven for a couple of minutes. I could do that! A warm squid salad. Here, the calamari are served with salad greens and a pepper relish. The dressing, which is also brushed onto the squid, contains smoked paprika, which just has to be my new favorite spice.

The recipe from the Food and Wine magazine web site suggests a Spanish red wine as a pairing partner. Beside the fact that I was not going to hunt down a bottle made from the particular grape type they are mentioning, which I have never tried and is possibly difficult to find, I could just not wrap my head around the idea of pairing a salad and seafood with a red wine. In the past, I have had a couple of rather unsuccessful pairings of spicy foods with red wine, which created the effect of an unpleasant alcohol spike in the wine’s flavor profile. The smoked paprika I used turned out to be more smoky than spicy though.

I did however want to stick to the idea of a Spanish wine, as the smoked paprika spice, known as pimentón in Spain, really seemed to demand that. I opened a bottle of the 2009 Prado Rey Birlocho from the Rueda region. This wine is made from the verdejo and viura grapes. It is a dry white wine with flavors of passionfruit and citrus notes. Anybody who likes Sauvignon Blanc would also enjoy the white wines from Rueda.

The wine worked well with the dish. The smoked paprika might have been a bit too overpowering for the Birlocho in the end though. So overall I wish I had been daring enough to try this delicious dish, the squid came out perfectly tender by the way, with a light red wine, as the nice people of F&W had suggested… But there’s always next time! Final verdict: just an OK combination. Do you ever pair salad with a red wine?

May 9, 2011

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Nachos and Pink Bubbles

When I realized that it was Cinco de Mayo a few days ago, I became obsessed with the idea that I should have some Mexican food on that day. Yes, I know, I do have my priorities straight. I did however know that I would get home rather late, so it had to be a quick and easy recipe, more of throwing some stuff together rather than cooking. I am not well versed in the art of Mexican, or even Tex-Mex, cooking and have no idea if this is at least somewhat authentic, but I finally decided on a recipe for Nachos.

The typical pairing for this type of food would of course be… beer. Not wine. However, I am exploring wine pairings here, so I went out on a limb, and popped a bottle of Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.

This is a sparkling wine from France, but we cannot call it champagne because it is from the region of Alsace rather than the region of Champagne. I really don’t want to get sued by the nice winegrowers of Champagne, as they are really not playing when it comes to their rights for this name. So to make it easier, I usually just call my sparkling wine “bubbly”. Because that’s what I usually buy. Bubbly from some other region in the world, not from Champagne. Simply because I feel that if I did, part of my hard-earned money would go towards paying for the name on the bottle rather than what’s in it…

This Crémant is made from Pinot Noir grapes and has a lovely soft salmon color. The flavors are of red berries, particularly strawberry, and the bubbles provide a pleasantly creamy mouth feel.

And this wine was also a real winner as far as the pairing is concerned! The spicy and salty flavors of the nachos really brought out the berry flavors of the wine. There were some pretty hot jalapeños in that dish, and the bubbles really doused the burning feeling on the tongue after each bite, which was a rather interesting sensation. See? Who needs beer any more?!

May 4, 2011

Spanish Wine and Greek Food

The disclaimer first, I did not cook this food. I was simply too lazy and decided to go for take-out that day. It was the first time I gave Aleko's in Middletown, MD a try. I simply adore Greek food and find Greek restaurants much too few and far between in the area where I live. I selected a small sampler of some of my favorite dishes, a gyro pita sandwich, spanakopita and dolmades.

If you are not that familiar with Greek food, dolmades are grape leaves with a rice stuffing, usually eaten cold, spanakopita is filo dough with a spinach and feta cheese filling, and gyro of course refers to the lamb and beef meat cooked on a vertical spit. The meal definitely evoked memories of past vacations and carefree summer living. The food was well seasoned, and I would not have minded even bolder flavorings.

Usually I pair Greek food with Greek wine, the Boutari Naoussa would have been nice, but I really wanted to try a wine I had never tasted before. I was wondering if Greek food could play nice with Spanish wine, and since both are considered to be from the Mediterranean region, I went with a 2009 Montebuena from the Rioja region. This wine is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes.

I tasted dark berries and very subtle, well-integrated tannins. Honestly, on its own, this wine was almost a little boring, but in combination with the food, it really came to life! The spices of the food intensified the flavor profile of the wine dramatically and made it multi-dimensional. I guess now I understand what people mean when they say "this is a food wine"! Amazingly enough, this wine even went great with the stuffed grape leaves, which I expected to be difficult to pair, as the leaves often have been cured in a brine and the finished product is served with a yogurt sauce. I will have to put this wine on my "regulars" list.
"Kalí óreksi" and "¡salud!"  Enjoy your meal and cheers! What is your favorite ethnic food and does it go well with wine?

May 1, 2011

Strawberry Tarts and a Late Harvest Viognier

I know you couldn't stand the suspense any longer, so here's the solution to what we had for dessert after our Easter dinner. I made some individual strawberry tarts, you know, the kind you find in the grocery store's display case, for about $5 a piece... As part of the recipe, I first made a pie crust, then a pastry cream, and finally topped the tarts with fresh strawberries and pistachio nuts. Strawberries are just another one of those signs that spring is here. If the recipe sounds like a lot of work, let me tell you, it is. But it's well worth it!

For the wine pairing, we picked the 2008 Hillsborough Vineyards Moonstone, which is a late harvest dessert wine, made from the viognier grape. (Important note: it's MoonSTONE, not MoonSHINE.) We had purchased this wine on a recent visit to the winery in Loudoun County, Virginia, and for my husband the motto usually is "It's a viognier? Wrap it up!"
The pairing was great, and it definitely kept the residual sugar of the wine in check. The wine itself had flavors of apricots, peaches, and honey, and that worked well with the apricot glaze I had brushed on the strawberries. As I have learned from various pairing seminars, the secret of pairing a dessert with wine, is to make sure that the wine is sweeter than the dessert. It was a lovely finish to a great meal. Have you ever had wine with dessert?