Friday, February 25, 2011

Redux–Butternut Squash and Chorizo Empanadas

Abu Dhabi Bread

Recently I wrote about the Decanting Napa Valley wine pairing of butternut squash and chorizo empanadas paired with Cakebread Chardonnay.  Overall, my impression was very positive with a couple of minor exceptions; use of puff pastry as the empanada shell and my assessment of the Cakebread Chardonnay as over priced.

Having a few spare minutes on my hand this week, I decided to revisit the pairing and the recipe with a couple of twists.  To be honest, with the exception of making the empanada dough from scratch, the balance of the recipe modifications were a matter of “what’s in the pantry” rather than forethought.  The other substitutes were use of Italian sweet sausage in place of the chorizo, and cream cheese rather than gruyère.  Finally, I added a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to add a touch of heat and smoke introducing some contrast to the Chardonnay.

Virginia Vineyard

Not wanting to blow another $40 on a bottle of Cakebread, I substituted a 2008 Simi Chardonnay ($13 – and I will unequivocally call this a good value).  Here are the winemaker’s tasting notes:

“Brilliantly clear, light yellow straw. Fresh green apple, nectarine, Meyer lemon and orange zest are laced with notes of vanilla, honey and toasted brioche with a lifted mineral edge. Golden delicious apple and tangerine are lightly warmed with subtle notes of cream, butter and smoke finishing with a note of lime zest.”

Generally, I found this description accurate with the exception of the “toasted brioche.”  I’m not sure I can conceive of toasted brioche while drinking wine and found this a bit confusing and left me shrugging my shoulders and thinking “really?”  The flavors that stood out were the fruit, citrus rendered acidity, and mildly buttery finish.  This complex of characteristics worked wonderfully with the empanada.  The fruit and acid played a beautiful contrasting role, while the buttery finish accented with a hint of smoke sang a wonderful harmony with the butternut squash and cream cheese filling.

Three Eggs-2

As a final note, I was very pleased with the scratch made empanada dough.  It tasted great, had wonderful texture, and did not feel like I was cheating.  On the other hand, if you are short of time, the puff pastry route will not disappoint your taste buds.  Follow the link to the original post for the empanada dough recipe.

Photography.  Sorry, I did not photograph the redux.  Rather, you get a few shots from my gallery for visual entertainment…clearly no relationship to the empanada or the Simi Chardonnay.

In vino veritas, buen provecho


Friday, February 18, 2011

Butternut Squash and Chorizo Empanadas with Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay

Plated Empanadas-2

I am finally writing the first post about a pairing from the anchor of this podcast:  Decanting Napa Valley The Cookbook (lets call it DNV so I can save some typing).  The pairing we chose first was a butternut squash empanada paired with Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.  I will be honest and tell you that the choice was completely random.  Well at least random from the perspective that I went to my favorite purveyor of wine and spirits (Schneider’s of Capitol Hill) with my wine list from DNV and said “which of these wines do you have in stock?”  The Cakebread Chardonnay was the first choice and therefore the first pairing.

The Food

The empanadas were a perfectly balanced blend of spiciness from the chorizo and sweetness from the butternut squash.  The spice of the chorizo was further contrasted by the gruyere cheese which did a complete vulcan mind meld with the squash.

Empanada Filling

The only disappointment with the recipe was the use of puff pastry in place of empanada dough.  I will be fair and say that it did not diminish the flavors, but it just felt like cheating.

Empanada Washing

For a little variety I added a distant cousin to the empanada from another part of the world – Feta and Spinach Tyropitas.  Unlike the empanadas, I can share this recipe.  You will find it along with a recipe for empanada dough at the end of this article.

Sautee Spinach

The Wine

From the Cakebread Cellars Tasting notes:

“Our 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay boasts lovely, perfumed aromas of fresh melon, yellow apple, lime and white peach, with complementary mineral and toasty-spicy oak scents.  On the full-bodied, yet sleek palate, the wine offers concentrated, beautifully focused, peach, apple and citrus zest flavors, with mineral and spice tones enlivening the long, refreshing finish. Delightful now, this purely delicious Napa Valley Chardonnay will blossom further with another six months in bottle and, with proper cellaring, will drink beautifully for another 3 to 5 years.”

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay-1

The components that stood out for me were the fresh citrus flavors blending nicely with the well balanced oak and butter flavors.

The Pairing

The pairing worked exceptionally well.  The citrus flavors formed a nice contrast with the spice of the chorizo while the oak notes of the Chardonnay danced happily with the same spice.  The moderate buttery flavors of the Chardonnay picked the dance partners of the butternut squash and guryere cheese.  They were all very happy.

With the feta and spinach tyroppitas, the fresh citrus of the Cakebread formed a nice contrast with the saltiness of the feta cheese.  It was a battle that came to a pleasing draw.

Plated Empanadas-1

Final Words

I have no reservations in recommending this pairing.  It was a true pleasure, and I can’t wait to make the empanadas again (with dough made from scratch).  The only thing that is not completely positive is with respect to the price/value of the Cakebread Chardonnay.  Yes, Cakebread has a wonderful reputation, and yes, they produce wonderful wines.  And this 2009 Chardonnay is no exception.  However, I believe it is over priced.  There are plenty of Chardonnays that compete well with this wine for half the price.  I paid $44, and web prices range from $35 to $53.  When I get to the $40 range, I expect eye rolling back in the head, angles singing, pinch me back to reality, multiple winegasms.  The wine was good, but not that good.  The 2009 Cakebread Chardonnay is a good value at $25.


Sorry, you will have to buy the book for the Empanada recipe, but here is a recipe for Empanada dough and the recipe for the feta and spinach tyropitas.

Empanada Dough


  • 3 cups flour (plus a little more for kneading)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons shortening


1. In a bowl, beat the water, egg, egg white and vinegar together. Set aside.

2. In a separate bowl, mix together the 3 cups of flour and salt.

3. Cut the shortening into the flour mix with a pastry blender, two butter knives or a baseball bat (I don’t like this part). Make a well in the center of the flour mix and pour the liquid ingredients from the first bowl into the center (just like we did with the gnocchi)

4. Mix the wet and dry ingredients with a fork until it becomes stiff.

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead it just until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is smooth.

6. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but never more than 24 hours.

Servings: Makes approximately 10 six-inch empanadas.

Feta and Spinach Tyropitas


  • 1 pound of crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 pound spinach sautéed with garlic
  • 2 tablespoons ouzo
  • 2 shots ouzo (for you!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine ground black pepper
  • 1 pound thawed phyllo dough
  • 2 cups melted butter (you can use clarified butter if you are a purist)


  1. Mix the first five ingredients together in a bowl.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  2. On a cutting board, layout three sheets of phyllo brushing with the butter between each layer.
  3. Cut into strips roughly 2.56573 inches wide.
  4. Place a healthy tablespoon full of filing (remember the bowl?) at the bottom of each strip closest to you.
  5. Fold into triangles.  Huh?  Easy…it is like folding a flag for all you scouts out there.  take a corner, fold it over the fat boy tablespoon of filling at a 45 degree angle.  Then just keep folding until you use up the 2.56573 inch strip. 
  6. Place on a sheet tray and bake at 375 degrees until golden brown (about 10 minutes).

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lamb–And the Answer is 2009 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec

Plated Lamb-1
And the wine I (hastily) chose for the Rosemary, Thyme and Mint Crusted Leg of Lamb was the 2009 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec from Mendoza Argentina.  If you are confused, follow the link back to the first in this two-part post.  The first article discusses the food and challenged you to pick a wine.  Several of you left comments or sent me a note with your choices.  Each were very good choices – one of which was a Cotes du Rhone that I think would have been spectacular.  However, my choice was this Malbec, and I am now here to defend my choice.
Don Miguel Gascón produces only Malbec.  From year to year, this wine is a consistent great value at a mere $10 (+/-) and frequently is rated between 85 and 90.  But being a good value is not sufficient reason to pair this with Chef Sue’s wonderful boneless leg of lamb (and supporting cast).  I chose this Malbec because I couldn’t think of anything else at the moment of the acidity it brings to balance the sweet mint jelly and the full fruit notes blended with the game flavors of the lamb.  Along with the acidity, this Malbec adds some fine tannins and flavors of blackberry, plum and a nose that includes a dusty earthiness.  The earthiness in the nose was a nice compliment to the gamey lamb…I could almost smell the field where our little lamb once frolicked…until we ate it.  Finally, the adequately long finish of this wine brings hints of cocoa – another nice match for both the lamb and the mint jelly.
I have to admit that the mint jelly was key to making this pairing work.  Chef Sue, Steve the Golf Buddy, and I all tried portions of the lamb with and without the mint jelly.  Our panel agreed that the combination of young tannins and acidity were too much for the lamb alone.  The mint jelly was a key component to creating a balance.
2009 Gascon Malbec
If you have not spent much time exploring Malbecs, I encourage you to do so.  There are some great flavors and great values.  And just in case you had not noticed, the Malbecs are one of the hottest things going now…Merlot was kicked aside by the Pinot Noirs, and now the Pinot is feeling the pressure of the the spirited Malbec.  On the other hand, I could care less about trends.  I drink what I like, and you should too!
In vino veritas, in victus sanitas

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rosemary, Thyme and Mint Crusted Leg of Lamb

Plated Lamb

Oh dear baby Jesus (thanks Ricky Bobby for that quote)!  It was a Friday in Washington DC and my wife (Chef Sue) and I took the back door out of DC and headed down to our weekend getaway on the Potomac river (affectionately known as the Crab Shack).  I met Chef Sue at the house and was greeted with a pronouncement of the menu for the evening.  I was both excited to indulge, but unprepared with wine…and therefore…oh dear baby Jesus!

Here is the menu:

  • Baked elephant garlic with brie on toasted baguette
  • Roasted butternut ginger soup garnished with pan fried ginger strips
  • Rosemary, thyme, and mint crusted Australian boneless leg of lamb
  • Garlic, truffle, and parmesan gnocchi
  • Roasted cauliflower with chickpeas and onions
  • Two tickets to the phat pharm.

As Chef Sue stunned me with this great news, I instantly thought this deserved a feature on the blog…but I needed the right wine.  With no good wine stores within 30 minutes of our secret Potomac lair, I quickly called Golf Buddy Steve who was on his way the Crab Shack and placed a wine order.  It was a hasty decision, but one that worked well.  Alas, you will have to wait until the next posting before my choice is revealed.

In the mean time, I encourage you to take a look at the menu, the recipes, and make your decision.  Which wine would you choose?  As a hint about my selection, the thought process was focused solely on the lamb.  Take a moment and leave a comment with your choice.

And here are the recipes:

Baked elephant garlic with brie on toasted baguette

Brie and Garlic

First, admire the majesty of the elephant garlic, then cut off the pointy end, drizzle on some olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, and place in a preheated oven at 350 for about an hour or until the exposed garlic cloves turn golden brown.

Slice and lightly toast a baguette – I’m sure you can handle this without insulting but potentially comical directions.

When the garlic is done, crank the knob up to 400 and throw in (ok, gently place) a whole brie (straight from the fridge) for 15 minutes.  Spread a clove of buttery smooth garlic on your toast, add a generous dollop of brie lava flow, close your eyes, and moan seductively.  This, along with a pomegranate martini should keep you entertained through the rest of the preparations.

Roasted butternut ginger soup with pan fried ginger strips

Butternut Squash Soup

Quarter two butternut squash and remove the seeds along with the other stringy stuff.  Once cleaned and pretty, finish cutting the squash into roughly one inch squares and place on a sheet pan.  Do the same favor for a large onion by cutting into large chunks and separating the pieces.  Now give the squash and onion some company by cutting an inch and a half piece of fresh ginger root, peal, and slice into thin strips.  With the trio mingling on the sheet pan, fulfill their last wishes by drizzling with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.

Butternut Squash

After the 45 minute sauna, add the happy veggies to 4 coups of chicken stock.  Blend, strain, and combine in a pot with two cans of coconut milk and another one inch section of thinly sliced fresh ginger.  Season to taste, heat and serve with pan fried ginger strips as a tasty garnish (one and a quarter inch section thinly sliced and fried to a medium crisp in veggie oil). 

Rosemary, thyme, and mint crusted Australian boneless leg of lamb


Head out to the back yard and slaughter a lamb.  Fresh is best.  If your butchering skills are under developed, pick up a boneless leg of lamb (which normally comes with a handy net around it) and tuck herbs into the webbing (rosemary, thyme and mint)  Alternatively, combine your herbs in a food processor with butter to make a tasty suntan oil for your lamb.  Massage the paste into the lamb with lots of love.

Place your herb happy lamb in a roasting pan and then into your 400 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes (uncovered).  Reduce heat to 350 and cook until the lamb is at a pleasant internal temp of 140 (approx 1.5 hours).  Wrap in aluminum foil and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes.

Now, the juicy good part: put the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat and deglaze with 1 cup of madeira followed shortly by one cup of water.  Stir until all the little tasty chunky parts are swimming in unison and singing a 60’s folk song.  Reduce in the same pan by 1/3 then strain into a small sauce pan and reduce again by 1/3.  Adorn your lamb with this tasty reduction when serving.  A final blessing with a dab of mint jelly completes the miracle upon plating.

Garlic, truffle, and parmesan gnocchi

Happy Gnocchi

Boil three potatoes and rice them (see the steamy photo below).  Make a bowl with the riced potatoes, add 1 cup of flower to the bowl, then 2 egg yolks and one complete egg (less the hard stuff).  Mix with a fork then add 1/2 cup of parmesan, salt, pepper and pinch of nutmeg.  Lightly form a ball bigger than a golf ball, but smaller than a baseball then roll into a log of one inch diameter.  Cut into 1” pieces, and repeat until you have no more gnocchi dough.  Boil water and add gnocchi - boil until they float then drain. Sauté some chef selected mushrooms and shallots in olive oil and add a touch of truffle salt to excite your adoring fans.  Add the sauté to the gnocchi, toss and cover with freshly grated cheese.

Potato Ricing

Gnocchi bowl

Stirring the Gnocchi bowl

Roasted cauliflower with chickpeas and onion

Cut a whole cauliflower into 1/2 inch slices cutting from top to stem.  After a back flip and 1 and a half twists, the cauliflower should be resting on a sheet pan with a thinly sliced vidalia onion to keep company. Make it a harmonious trio by adding a can of drained garbanzo beans, coat with olive oil, cumin, salt pepper, coriander, paprika, and minced garlic.  Bake for 25 minutes at 400 or until cauliflower is smiling (crispy brown on the edges).

Roasted Cauliflower

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Which Wine for a Burger? Good Stuff Eatery, Washington DC

I don’t believe I made it very clear in the first article, but I want to assure you that we will be exploring the full spectrum of food and wine.  While doing so, we will avoid the real or perceived snobbery that is sometimes associated with us winos and foodies.  On the other hand, when we begin to describe wines, food, processes, and the “why’s” of food and wine working together, we will necessarily use appropriate technical/industry terms.  No worries – we will make crystal clear anything that is not common English.

To prove we are not fixated on fine dining and $100 bottles of wine, I thought our experience from last night might be a good place to start.  My wife, good friend Steve, and I went to the Good Stuff Eatery located at 303 Pennsylvania Avenue S.E., Washington DC.


Good Stuff Eatery specializes in burgers, salads, handspun shakes, and fries…and all FRESH.  I had heard good things about Good Stuff Eatery, so finally decided to pay them a visit last night.

Good Eats Menu

I had a medium rare “Spike’s Sunnyside” that is appointed with dairy fresh cheese, applewood bacon, a farm fresh egg on a brioche bun with Good Stuff sauce.  And it was cooked to perfection!  Unfortunately, Good Stuff Eatery does not serve wine – but that does not mean I was not thinking about it!  So my mental debate started – what wine would go best with this burger?

Untitled picture

Whenever I start thinking about a pairing I first ask “who is the star of the show?”  In other words, which ingredient(s) are the features in the dish?  In this case, the burger is clearly the star, but the bacon was playing a strong supporting role with a fine performance by the egg.  The key characteristics of these co-stars are the sweet and salty flavors.  The sweet goodness of the egg yolk coupled with the totally rocking honey tones of the applewood bacon (BTW – prepared perfectly; well done but not crispy) give the real clues to selecting a wine.

My wine decision was one of balancing the sweetness of the egg yolk and bacon.  This presented two immediate and distinct paths; a wine with a balancing acidity or a wine featuring spicy flavors to stand up to the sweet and salt.  While either approach would work, I decided on the spicy route.  My imaginary bottle of wine complimenting this awesome burger would be either a nicely complex Zinfandel featuring some fun spiciness, a Syrah, or Shiraz, each of which offer dark berry, plum, and pepper flavors (pepper – that would be the spicy part).

Thanks to Chef Spike Medelsohn for creating some ridiculously good burgers.  Also with regards to credits…the photography is not mine.  The images are all from the Good Stuff Eatery website.  I encourage you to visit the site, then visit the restaurant.  You will not be disappointed.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Craig’s Grape Adventure is Underway!

Thanks so much for tuning into the launch of Craig’s Grape Adventure.  I am excited and hope you will come along for the ride.  Before we go too far, it may be useful to note what this gig is about.  Simply put, I love wine, I love food, and most of all I love the mind bending ecstasy of great wine paired with great food.

I am not a trained chef (although my wife is, and I have been paying close attention for the last 27 years).  I am not a trained sommelier, but have been practicing for 30 years, give or take a few days.  So with no training, and just a couple of decades of enthusiasm for food and wine, why bother with my little blog?  I intend to bring you along on my little adventure of drinking great wine, preparing mouthwatering food, and help all of us enjoy them more in the wonderful marriage of vino and victus.  In vino veritas, in victus sanitas (in wine there is truth, in food there is health).

I decided to start this blog after a recent trip to California.  During this trip, my wife and I took two weekends to hop around Napa, Sonoma, and Medocino County – and after a few wine tastings, we were literally hopping around.  One day was dedicated to cooking classes at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (more on that in another post).  Following the classes, I found a wonderful book in the campus store; Decanting Napa Valley The Cookbook.

Decanting Napa

This cookbook is my inspiration for Craig’s Grape Adventure.  Over the course of the next 100 wines, together we will work through the cookbook.  I will be talking about my experience of the wine, the food, and their glorious combination.  Obviously, I will not be able to share the recipes with you (the author and publisher might have a slight issue with that…but you may want to consider buying it), but as I explore, discover, create or divine recipes and pairings that do not result in copyright infringement, I will be certain to share the details.  And so we are clear, the folks at Decanting Wine Country are not sponsoring this blog (but hey, I will never turn down a few bottles of wine…hint, hint).

The other fun thing I get to do with this blog is bone up on my food photography.  I am also a photographer, but have not dedicated much time to improving my food photography skills.  As I see it, this is the perfect opportunity to combine my passions for photography, wine, and food.  If you want to see more of my photography, please visit Craig Corl Photography.

In summary, this blog is about wine and food pairing anchored by “Decanting Napa Valley The Cookbook” and supported by my other passion, photography.  With DNV as the anchor, we will also explore other recipes, wines, pairings, events, and generally anything that helps us enjoy wine and food more.

If you have comments, suggestions, or want to contribute the benefit of your experiences in food and wine, leave a comment, or send me a note at

In vino veritas.  Buen provecho.