October 30, 2011

Moroccan Stew and Argentine Malbec

I love experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients. So when I saw a jar of preserved lemons at my grocery store, I just had to get it. Of course I had no idea what I would do with it. But as luck would have it, I own plenty of cookbooks with recipes from around the Mediterranean. Joanne Weir's recipe for a Lamb Tagine with Artichokes seemed just about perfect to me. While I do not own a tagine, which is the traditional vessel to cook this dish in, my beloved enameled cast iron pot did just fine.

Besides the preserved lemons, the recipe included two of my favorite ingredients, artichokes and olives. As one would expect from a dish containing lemons, the sauce came out a little tart, which made me decide to add some extra cinnamon spice, to round out the flavors. This final touch made it just about perfect. I served the stew over some plain couscous.

I decided to pair this dish with the 2009 Las Perdices Malbec from the Mendoza region in Argentina. This Malbec is a nice medium-bodied wine with aromas of sour cherry and vanilla. I purchased this bottle because I had been very pleased with the Viognier by the same producer, but I found this Malbec to be justaverage when it comes to the world of Argentine Malbecs.

 Nonetheless, it was a good match with my Moroccan stew. The citrusy tartness from the lemons in the dish and the sour cherry tartness in the wine seemed to mellow each other out. Also the interplay of the cinnamon in the sauce and the vanilla notes from the oak-aging of the wine were rather intriguing. I think the food and wine pairing really uplifted the sensory experience of this special dinner.

October 16, 2011

Back from La Rioja, Spain

I have been away for a while, and to let the cat right out of the bag, I just returned from a culinary tour of the Basque region and La Rioja wine country in Spain! It was an amazing trip, and I am still in the process of digesting all the memories I have made. I do however want to share a few of the culinary highlights with you right away.

On this trip, I decided to be brave and taste at least a small bite of everything that would be put in front of me, even things that I would normally turn my nose up at. First of all I wanted to be polite to our most gracious Spanish hosts of course, and second of all, I was ready to learn and experience new things and expand my horizon. One of the most wonderful dishes during the trip was called "Rabo de toro desmigado y lacado, crema de foie y guiso de chantarelas" which I enjoyed at La Vieja Bodega in the little town of Casalarreina. I am not even going to try to translate this word for word, but it is essentially ox tail meat with a cream of foie gras and chanterelles, my favorite kind of mushroom.

I am not sure how exactly this is prepared, but it must be a long process of slowly braising the meat, until it is so tender that it literally melts in your mouth. One of the best things I have ever eaten. Seriously. As a matter of fact, I did not have a bad meal the entire time I was in Spain. I really had to pace myself in order not to put on weight at the rate of about two pounds per day...

The fact that every meal is paired with the wonderful wines of La Rioja of course also contributed to that. Here in the United States, we can easily find Spanish wines from the La Rioja region by quite a number of different producers. I did however notice that those wines are usually of the Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva categories, which describe respectively longer periods of ageing requirements in oak barrels and in the bottle. Being not a huge fan of strong oak flavors in my wines, I was pleased to often be presented with "joven" or young red wines when eating out at restaurants or while tapas bar hopping in Spain.

One such wine was the 2010 Albiker, made by the winery Bodegas Altun. It is of course made from the Tempranillo grape, which is the absolute star in the La Rioja region. This young red wine from 2010 is very fruit-forward and easy-drinking, and simply a wonderful match to all types of food that you would find in that part of the world. I wish more of these young Spanish wines were available here in the United States and will definitely keep an eye out the next time I visit my local wine shop. Stay tuned for more!