Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Curried Chicken and Potato Roti Paired with Chenin Blanc

Curried Chicken and Potato Roti with Chenin Blanc

Last night was a seminal moment in my burgeoning culinary pursuits.  I made Trinidad style roti.  If you have not been to Trinidad or the West Indies, this may mean very little to you.  However, for those initiated into wonderful world of roti, you know of the great gastronomic treat that I speak of.  A roti is a tortilla like bread (dhal pouri) that encases a of variety of curried meats and/or vegetables.  This curried goodness is beyond description.

For this post, I will be breaking from form.  This post is more about the roti than anything else.  Don’t get me wrong, the Chenin Blanc that golf buddy Steve brought to pair with the curried chicken and potato roti was a match made in heaven (sweet and citrus flavors balancing the spice), but when it comes to roti, I have a hard time focusing on anything else.

I first encountered roti in 2004 on my first trip to Trinidad and Tobago.  At the time, I was the US Coast Guard Attaché in Caracas Venezuela with additional responsibilities for 9 countries in the Eastern Caribbean including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.  I know, tough life.  I survived.

After my first roti in Trinidad, I was hooked.  But it gets better.  Roti can be found throughout the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, and each country imparts their own character to roti.  What a treat!  My job kept me traveling regularly to each of these islands where I made it my mission to sample roti from every little roti stand and shop I could find.  Once again, tough, but I survived.

After three years of regular travel to the islands, I concluded that my favorite roti came from Trinidad and Tobago.  I can even tell you my favorite roti shop – The Hot Shop on Maraval Road in Port of Spain.  Oh my…what spectacular curried memories!  For quite some time I have dreamed of recreating the experience from The Hot Shop, and I finally succeeded!  Both Chef Sue (a frequent visitor to Trinidad during our stay in Venezuela) and Golf Buddy Steve (who lived in Trinidad) agreed with my assessment of success.  Roti will now be a regular feature on the menu in our home!

So now on to the recipe.  My recipe is based on a number of recipes I discovered.  If you care to see them your self and arrive at your own interpretation, here are some links:

Curried Chicken and Potato Roti Filling

Curry Chicken Roti Filling-1



  • 4 tablespoons curry powder
  • 3 skinless chicken breasts cubed – 1”
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 4 medium red potatoes
  • 1 can chick peas
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup milk (your choice of fat content, but I would not recommend skim milk)
  • 1 healthy tablespoon of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt

Curry Chicken Roti Filling


Combine the cubed chicken breasts in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the curry powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Get your hands in there and make sure all the cubes are well coated with curry love.  Cover the bowl and let it get happy while you make the dough for the dhal pouri (up to the point when you first let the dough rest).

Just a note on the curry powder, you can use your favorite, or you can make your own.  Emeril’s West Indian Curried Chicken Roti recipe includes a wonderful curry powder that you make from scratch.  I took this route and loved it.  The photograph below is the roasting process before grinding the combined spices.

Roasting Curry

After you get the dhal pouri started, boil the potatoes and cube them when they are done (1” cubes).  Coarsely mince half the can of chick peas in a food processor and set aside. 

Coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with olive oil and heat.  When the oil is hot, send in your chicken that has been relaxing in the curry powder.  Turn once in a while with the objective of getting the chicken browned on all sides.  Add the onion, chick peas (both the whole ones and their minced brethren), garlic, 2 tablespoons of curry powder.  Stir on medium high heat until the onions soften.  Add cubed potatoes, honey, vegetable stock, and milk.  Bring to a simmer and allow the juice to reduce to your favorite consistency (the thickness of the sauce is one of the key differentiators between the West Indies – it ranges from very dry in Barbados to quite a bit juicier in Trinidad).  For my tastes, it was about 90 minutes of simmering.

Dhal Pouri

The recipe here comes from Felix at Simply Trini Cooking.  I have made a couple of adaptations, but all the credit goes to Felix.


  • 1 cup split yellow peas
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron powder
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • olive oil
  • butter as necessary for skillet
  • 3 cups water +/-


Combine the flour baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add room temp water, one cup at a time, kneading.  Adjust consistence with addition or reduction of water until you get a firm yet moist consistency.  Form into a ball, coat with olive oil and set aside for about 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into eight equal portions and form balls.  Coat with olive oil and leave to rest for another 20 minutes.  While the dough balls are resting, it is time to make the dhal.  Boil the peas with the saffron and garlic cloves.  Continue to boil until the peas are easy to bight through yet firm.  Dried split peas can vary, so timing to get to this texture will also vary.  You don’t want the peas to get too soft or they will turn to paste in the food processor.

Dhal Pouri Balls

When done, strain the water off the peas and garlic and place in a food processor with minced garlic and diced jalapeno pepper (deveined and seeded).  You want a fairly fine texture – pieces should be just smaller than the size of uncooked quinoa.  Add cumin and salt to taste.  Take each dough ball and stretch until roughly twice the original diameter.  Place 2 to three tablespoons of the dhal in the center, fold the edges up to reform a ball and repeat for all eight balls.  Let rest for 15 minutes.

Ground Split Peas

Roll out the dough.  This is one of the tricky parts, but I found a method that works great.  I have granite counters, so I can’t vouch for how well this will work on other surfaces.  I spread a thin coat of olive oil on the work surface and rolled out the dough as thin as possible – just before the dhal would break through the surface.  Once rolled out place in a preheated and lightly buttered skillet (the tawa is used in Trinidad, but I have not seen one in the U.S. – a large non stick skillet works fine).  Cook on medium high heat until just before bubbles form and just as small spots of brown appear on the cooked side.  Flip and repeat.  Overcooking will result in hard pouri.  If you are to err in a direction, it is better to err on the undercooked side so the pouri remains flexible.

Rolling the Dhal Pouri

Place the finished dhal pouri on a plate, place some of the curried chicken and potatoes in the center, and roll up much like you would a burrito.  Alternatively you can have the dhal pouri on the side.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pork Stuffed Pork Wrapped in Pork and Roasted Cauliflower Paired with 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir

In my last post “Pork Stuffed Pork Wrapped in Pork” I shared some photographs of the ingredients that made up last night’s pairing.  As promised, I am back to offer you the blow-by-blow along with recipes for the menu.  Golf Buddy Steve brought the 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir, and we were joined by Photography Buddy John.

Stuffed Pork Loin Roasted Cauliflower with 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir-1

The Food

The pork stuffed pork wrapped in pork is a creation of my wife, Chef Sue.  For this meal, I made some modifications to Sue’s approach which resulted in some wonderful surprises, and “some opportunities for improvement.”  From the flavor perspective, my adaptation was a great success.  This comes from my use of home made sausage rather than pre-made sausage.  This gave me some control over the flavors.  My intent was to heat to balance the sweetness of the pork (particularly the bacon) and the fruit glaze that was added during the last 30 minutes in the oven.  This part worked brilliantly with one exception.  I had intended to add apple and orange to the sausage (see the photos of ingredients from “Pork Stuffed Pork Wrapped in Pork”), but somehow failed to add these important acidic and sweet components.  This was not a critical flaw, but it would have been better had I paid closer attention.

Pork Stuffed Pork Ingredients-2

The second improvement applies to the texture.  The home made pork sausage texture was not far from the pork loin texture after roasting.  Gratefully, there was a nice textural difference with the bacon.  The dish could have been improved tremendously by drawing a further distinction between the stuffing and the pork loin.  So here is my recommendation (ok, not mine – this comes from Chef Sue):  If you attempt this recipe, I would follow the directions for making the sausage.  I would then prepare some seasoned bread stuffing (make it from scratch with toasted stale bread, or Pepperidge Farm, your choice) then combine the sausage and bread stuffing with 1/3 sausage by volume and 2/3 stuffing.  Also, when you hydrate the bread stuffing, make sure you prepare it with butter (1 tablespoon per cup of dry bread crumbs) along with your broth or water – the sweetness of the butter will be a noteworthy added flavor.  The addition of the bread stuffing to the sausage will make for a layer a softer texture and therefore contrast nicely with the pork loin and the bacon.

Stuffed Pork Loin Roasted Cauliflower with 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir-2

Like the lack of apple and orange, the textural improvement was not a critical flaw, just another opportunity to make a wonderful meal even better.

With respect to flavors, the stuffed pork loin is a matter of balance; fat balanced with the heat of the sausage, the sweetness of the bacon and fruit glaze in balance with the heat in the sausage.  The dominant taste components included sweet, umami, and piquance.  The roasted cauliflower and onion was a nice mild supporting actor for the pork.  Flavors from the cauliflower and onion were a very pleasant nuttiness that was enhanced by the roasting.  The texture was tender yet firm. 

Roasted Cauliflower and Onion

Finally, I highly recommend you try the recipe for the roasted cauliflower.  It is simple, features straight forward flavors and may win over that person in the house who is not a fan of Cauliflower (we saw exactly this happen with Photography Buddy John).

The Wine

Golf Buddy Steve brought a 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir.  This wine has gained some notoriety through sales at Trader Joe’s.  A quick search of the web revealed our experience with this wine was consistent with all but a few who were not impressed.  Our judges for the evening enjoyed the 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir, and agreed that the $10 price tag makes this a great value.  This Pinot Noir easily stands up to Pinots for which I have paid $20 to 30.

2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir

From a tasting perspective, the 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir is a surprisingly nice balance of earth and fruit (dark cherry, raspberry, and a hint of plum).  The fruit in this medium body wine is also well balanced with the acid which makes it food friendly.  With a medium body, this wine is able to keep pace with some stronger flavors on your dish.

The Pairing

The pairing worked well and was certainly one of those cases where the sum of the two was better than the individual components.  The best combination was a proportionally balanced small bight that included the sausage stuffing, the pork loin and a bit of bacon followed by a taste of the 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir.  This became particularly evident when Chef Sue challenged us to taste with just the pork loin and the wine, and then with the stuffing and the wine.  What a tremendous difference.  The Caretaker Pinot Noir with the pork loin was nothing more than ok.  However, combining the spiciness of the sausage with the wine sent sparks flying; the fruit from the wine quickly rushed to the front of the stage and bowed hand in hand with the spice.  There was also a subtle sense that the earthiness was helping with this balance while blending nicely with the sweet nutty and smoke flavors in the bacon.

Stuffed Pork Loin Roasted Cauliflower with 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir

The conclusion from this little experiment  was that the dominant spiciness from the sausage stuffing was balanced nicely by the dark fruit flavors in the 2009 Caretaker Pinot Noir.  And therefore the pairing was successful.  Anther good choice might be a Zinfandel (dark fruit flavors like this Pinot Noir, and complimentary spice).

Final Words

So once again, you read that I could have done things better.  I’m ok with this.  It clearly demonstrates you are getting the real deal on this blog.  The comments come from our guests, and this is a one take episode (unless I decide to try it again) and the chips fall into place with no Jedi tricks.  I promise that even if I completely blow something, I will let you know, and let you know why (as a warning to avoid my mistakes).  Fortunately this pairing was a success.  My helpful critics were very kind in offering suggestions for improvement.  Honestly, if it were not for the fact that we were intentionally sitting around the table wearing our critic hats, it is unlikely anyone would have said anything other than “delicious.”

Finally, after some further experimentation this week, I am ever more satisfied with my new do-it-yourself lighting rig.  I was happy with the photography before, but am very pleased with the improvements resulting from the addition of nicely diffused light.  Check in at Craig Corl Photography this week to learn more about the construction of my lighting rig and my experimentation to get the most out of this rig.


Home Made Pork Sausage

Pork Stuffed Pork Ingredients-1


  • 2 lbs. pork shoulder
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 finely diced apple
  • 1 finely diced orange
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3/4 oz. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes


Plug in your Kitchen Aid and find the meat grinder in the back on the bottom shelf just to the right of the oven. I know, you don't use it often, but now I am giving you a reason! Run the meat though the grinder - just once to keep it on the coarser side.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. This is more sausage than you need, especially if you take my recommendation to combine this with bread stuffing (1/3 sausage and 2/3 bread stuffing by volume). On the bright side, this sausage is so tasty you will want it for breakfast, made into a patty and grilled like a burger, or just about anything else you can imagine. You can use the excess over the next week, or stick it in the freezer for later use.

Stuffed Pork Loin

Stuffed Pork Loin


  • 2 to 3 pound pork loin
  • 6 pieces of extra thick hickory smoked bacon (or any bacon you want)
  • 1/2 cup fruit preserves (cherry, raspberry, or blackberry work best)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice or any fruit juice hanging around in the fridge

Stuffed Pork Loin-1


Preheat your oven to 350.

Open your pork loin by beginning a cut about 1/2 inch thick, then sort of spiral around until you run out of loin.  The ideas is to transform a cylindrical piece of meat into something flat that we can wrap around the stuffing.  Trust me when I tell you that you will not be happy if you decide to just open it with a cut like a hot dog bun.

Add the sausage (or sausage stuffing) and roll up.  Wrap in bacon and hold the whole thing in place by spearing some toothpicks through the bacon.  Place in the oven on a sheet pan for one hour.

Heat the preserves until thinned (a minute in the microwave will do the trick), and combine with the fruit juice.  After one hour in the oven remove the pork from the oven, and poor 1/2 of the fruit preserve/juice mixture evenly over the top.  Put the pork back in the oven and repeat in 15 minutes.  Put the pork back in the oven for another 15 minutes or until the internal temp has reached 160 degrees F.  Remove from the oven, cover in foil and let rest for 20-30 minutes.

Stuffed Pork Loin-3

Roasted Cauliflower and Onions


  • 1 large head of cauliflower cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 1 large onion sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Roasted Cauliflower and Onion-2


Combine all in ingredients in a bowl and toss to evenly coat the cauliflower and onions.  Place your happily bathed veggies on a sheet pan and send off to a preheated oven (400 degrees F) for 20 minutes or until golden brown and tender.  For the menu described in this post, the oven was doing some double duty – at 350 degrees F, it took about 30 minutes for the cauliflower to show some nicely browning edges.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Pork Stuffed Pork Wrapped in Pork

Pork Stuffed Pork Ingredients-2

No, this is not a joke.  On the contrary, it is a fabulous creation of Chef Sue – and it is my job to prepare it for this evening.  One of the food photography tips I posted on Craig Corl Photography addressed the issue of preparation.  In short, if you plan on eating the food you are photography, you need to prepare.  By preparation I mean having lights set, table set, and ready to shoot and eat (after quickly getting the photo gear out of the way).

Pork Stuffed Pork Ingredients-1

This morning, I was doing just this preparation when I decided to shoot the ingredients for this evenings menu.  So here you go.  Golf Buddy Steve is in charge of wine selection for this evening and will be bringing a yet to be selected Pinot Noir to pair with our pork feast.  When I do the full write up of this pairing, I will provide the full preparation instructions.  But to motivate the salivation glands, I will briefly describe pork stuffed pork wrapped in pork.  The dish starts with a pork loin, stuffed with home made pork sausage which is then wrapped in bacon.

Pork Stuffed Pork Ingredients

Stand by for the blow by blow!

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crab Stuffed Lobster Paired with 2009 Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio

The title of stuffed lobster is a severe understatement.  This pairing featured Chef Sue at her New England root’s finest.  Keeping company with the perfectly prepared crab stuffed lobster were clam fitters, fried clams, long neck clams, and some garlic sautéed green beans to add a bit of color.  Joining us for this shell fish fiesta was good friend Gun Slinger Teji.

Stuffed Lobster-1

I will not be providing recipes for this menu – other than making some crab stuffing (freshly picked crab meat, bread crumbs, butter and minced onion), this menu is just a matter of steaming fresh seafood and a small bit of time in the oven for the stuffed lobster.

The Food

Seafood, shell fish or not, is always welcome on my plate.  I love the delicate flavors and textures.  But how do you describe the flavor of lobster?  The word that comes to mind is DELICIOUS.  The same goes for the clams and crabs that were keeping the lobster company.  Unfortunately, when we are asking the questions of “why” with respect to a wine pairing, “delicious” is not of much help.  So here is my stab at a description of the dominant flavors; when I think of lobster, I think of early summer corn combined with an easy earthiness and a touch of the sea.  This description is not great, but it helps explain why we love to combine butter with lobster and the other shell fish supporting the lobster.

Crabs in the Pot

Lobsters in the Pot

I have to admit that this menu was terribly indulgent.  Crab stuffed lobster, clam fritters, fried clams, and long neck clams (steamers) along with some clarified butter for dipping, and some garlic sautéed green beans just for the fun of it.  Time to hit the road for a few miles!  Not withstanding my need to hit the gym, the flavor palate across these dishes was a true pleasure; consistent and related which made the wine pairing a piece of cake.

Steaming Lobster

Stuffing a Lobster

The Wine

The 2009 Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio is a beautifully fresh wine with abundant acidity, flavors of fresh citrus conjuring orange and grapefruit (accentuated by the pleasant citrus aromas) and a nicely balanced sweetness.  Overall, the Santa Cristina is lively, bright, refreshing, easy to drink, and a wonderful pairing for dishes not featuring acidic components (like a tomato based sauce) and more delicate dishes that require the wine to blend with, rather than overpower the subtle flavors.  At $13, this wine is a very good value with a wonderfully food friendly composition.

2009 Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio

The Pairing

Our judges, Chef Sue and Gun Slinger Teji, were very pleased with the pairing.  Our mouths were watering in anticipation of this New England shell fish extravaganza which left our expectations high.  The food was brilliant, and the wine a perfect match.  The success of the pairing can be attributed to the pleasant citrus flavors and the acidity of the Santa Cristina - a natural for seafood.  Think of squeezing a fresh lemon on your seafood to balance the acidity – in this case it came in a nice bottle, and was more pleasant than the lemon.

Stuffed Lobster

Final Words

Unlike some of the pairings I have written about, this pairing featured a number of items.  Fortunately, all the flavors fell within a fairly narrow band and did not complicate the way food and wine worked together to achieve a heavenly blend.

2009 Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio-1

I believe I have one other pairing on deck that features photography using only available light.  In the near future you should see some improvement in the quality of photography with the use of my new homemade lighting rig.  If you are interested in my lighting solution, check my photography blog “Craig Corl Photography” later this week.  I will be explaining fully my lighting solution and what my experimentation has revealed.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Taste and Flavor for Food and Wine Pairing

Roasted Cauliflower

The photograph leading off this post is simply gratuitous.  Unlike most posts, this one is more about words than photos.  So if you are just looking for the pretty photographs of great food, you can turn back now.  However, if you want to read about taste and flavor, read on.

My purposes for Craig’s Grape Adventure are several including a great excuse to enjoy great food and wine, explore food and wine pairings I have not yet experienced, uncover the “why” of food and wine pairing that creates a sensation greater than the sum of it’s parts, and of course to enjoy making it all look good through photography. The purpose of this article is to begin discussing our experience of taste and flavor to lay the foundation for understanding why food and wine pairings work – or don’t.

For those of you who already have a solid understanding of this, I apologize – like my good friends who enjoy all the pretty pictures, you too can turn back now. However, among my group of friends and others who have written to me, I know that the understanding of pairings vary dramatically; from those who are eager learners to those who are more skilled than I am. I trust everyone will find a grain of useful information. To begin the discussion I want to focus on taste and flavor. While some argue the distinction between taste and flavor is a matter of splitting hairs, I believe there is good reason to distinguish and hope to make the case here.

We are all aware of the five basic tastes; sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness and the less well understood and more recent acknowledgement in western cuisine – umami. And this story of tastes is a debate that has not yet ended. Consider the flavor of piquance that comes from the Spanish word “picante” which reflects our sensation of spiciness – as in spicy hot – a taste with roots in Chinese, Indian, and Japanese cuisine. Personally, I like the expanded definition of tastes; it gives us more and better ways to describe our experience. For my less than scientific purposes, I will admit all six.

Because umami is less well understood in Western culture, let me take just a moment to talk about it. Umami comes from the Japanese and means a pleasant savory taste. Some research suggests that rather than a distinct taste, umami refers to a distinctive quality or completeness of flavor which in the West we would generally describe as savory or simply delicious. Personally, I generally use it as a declaration of particularly delicious food like a steak fresh off the grill when I exclaim “ooooooh mommy!” Umami is common among proteins, like the NY strip steak I just seared and grilled to perfection, and vegetables – think of ripe tomatoes, eggplant, fish, mushrooms, soy sauce, and spinach. When you think of these foods, you can imagine the mild and pleasing taste that is difficult to describe. Just thinking about it starts the salivation and conjures flavors concentrated in the back of the mouth.

While on the subject of umami, a good question is whether we experience umami in wine. The answer is yes! But unfortunately it is not commonplace. Umami develops in wines that are at the peak of maturity and quality and typically appear in wines that have been treated with extreme care and involve artisanal methods such as barrel or cuve fermentation, malolactic fermentation, extended barrel development, bottling with no filtration, and aging in temperature and humidity controlled cellars. Chances of experiencing umami in wine increase with bottle aged wines in the three to ten year range.

The debate of umami and wine continues to rage – mostly because of the chemical-receptor processes involved (too deep for me!), but I am confident I have experienced it. A recent umami experience with umami in both the wine and the food came with my Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon pairing with lamb from the Decanting Napa Valley cookbook. That was a serious ooooh mommy moment. Finally, don’t expect to find umami flavors in young fresh wines. These wines focus on the tastes that generally do not include umami. When it comes to umami and wine, think of mature rather than fresh.

When we experience food, these basic tastes are just the start. Other strong contributors to our experience include smell, texture, temperature and the visual component. I won’t dwell on the visual component, but I am confident we have all had the pleasure of a beautiful dish (or not so much) that affected our expectations and therefore influenced our judgment of the flavor.  Now we get to the hear of the matter; the difference between taste and flavor. Taste refers to the receptors that send a signal to the brain. Flavors are the more complex combination of all these additional components. In other words, when you take your first bite of a perfectly prepared and plated foie gras, the combination of appearance, aroma, texture, taste, and temperature all contribute to your experience and judgment of flavor. It is this integration of the senses that compose the flavor. This helps explain why we describe wine in terms of flavors (fruit, citrus, acidity, earth, fresh, dark, deep, spice, and so on) rather than taste. Another way to think about it is understanding taste as physical (bitter, sour, salty, sweet, umami) and flavor is the sum of our perceptions from all these tastes plus the aroma, texture, temperature, and appearance. Flavor is cognitive – meaning it is the recognition that happens after the taste signals are transmitted. Taste is a finite chemically induced piece of information, while flavor is an infinite mental construct which can also include intangibles of memory and place such as that bite of lobster macaroni and cheese that takes you back fondly to a New England dockside food shack with lobster boats bobbing in the distance.

To wrap up this first installment of the “stuff” that informs our choices of food and wine pairing, the conclusion is that flavors are complex and infinite. The good news is that with an infinite (ok, maybe almost infinite) set of flavors and flavor combinations, we have lots of room for making food and wine pairing an extremely pleasurable experience. In future posts we will look at flavor descriptions, flavor and aroma, and some of the rules of thumb that help us understand why pairings work – or don’t.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Smoked Chicken with a Stack of Polenta, Spinach, Ricotta, Pancetta and a Parmesan Crisp Paired with a 2006 Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc

I am excited about writing this post because not only did the food and wine make for a wonderful evening, but I finally took a big step to overcoming my lighting challenges with food photography.  I won’t bore you with all the photo geeky details, but I came up with a DIY solution for lighting and a diffuser/reflector that involved a bunch of PVC pipe, a couple of halogen work lamps, a couple of sheets and a half dozen spring clamps.  I will be writing more about the details on my photography blog (Craig Corl Photography) soon and post a link to the article in case you are like me and find this interesting.

2006 Baron Herzog Chenic Blanc with smoke chiecken polenta and Pancetta-1

But for now, on with the food and wine!  This little event (dinner for eight) took place at our weekend getaway on the Potomac River affectionately known as the Crab Shack.  The Crab Shack is Chef Sue’s favorite place to cook.  Often it seems that our entire purpose for going to the Crab Shack is so Chef Sue can engage in weekend long cooking therapy.  For me, not a bad deal.  This meal was no exception for Chef Sue – she totally rocked it.  And my wine pairing was a nice addition.

The Food

I love food in the smoker.  I love ribs, chicken, veggies, fish, you name it.  For this meal, Chef Sue decided on chicken breasts and thighs smoked with hickory chips.  The beauty of smoking chicken (or anything else) is not only the intense smoky flavors it produces, but the chicken is wonderfully juicy and tender – and for us photographers, it takes on a wonderfully rich color.

Smoked Chicken

To accompany the smoked chicken, Chef Sue went over the top.  She started with home made polenta and home made ricotta.  To this she added some sautéed baby spinach, a touch of rendered pancetta, and a parmesan crisp for a bit of cheesy goodness and a nice contrasting texture.

Polenta spinach ricotta and pancetta

In combination, the two features on the plate highlighted flavors of smoke on the part of the chicken that felt much like the oak flavors in a Chardonnay, with the contrasting creamy warm flavors of the wonderful blend of polenta, spinach, ricotta and pancetta.  Visually, the pair appeared as co-stars.  But from the flavor perspective, the smoked chicken demanded attention while the polenta stack played a beautiful second chair.

The Wine

There are a number wines that could have been paired with this including a big oaked Chardonnay (playing off the smoked chicken), a Pinot Noir, or even a Merlot.  I chose a 2006 Baron Herzog Clarksburg Chenin Blanc.  At $10, this wine is not expensive yet has some surprisingly pleasant flavors.  The first thing you notice is the fruit – melon and apple dominate this pleasantly dry wine with a mild finish.  This is a wine that should be enjoyed in its youth (1 to 3 years) to feature the fullness of the fresh, crisp fruit flavors, but at 5 years, the fruit is a bit more subdued, and a subtle note of honey emerges.

2006 Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc is a workhorse among grapes.  It is very versatile and is used in a number of applications.  I would not overlook this fine little grape, particularly as vineyards and winemakers continue to improve the quality of Chenin Blanc based wines.

The Pairing

The crowd of judges were all pleased with the pairing.  Describing the pairing and why it worked is quite simple.  The fruit and honey undertones were analogous to adding a few pieces of diced fruit (say a mild apple or some melon) to a salad.  Without the fruit, the salad is fine, but with the fruit, it is something different.  As is the case with our fruit in salad analogy, the wine did not play a star role.  The domination of the chicken was nicely contrasted with the apple, melon, and honey of the wine.

2006 Baron Herzog Chenic Blanc with smoke chiecken polenta and Pancetta

This was not a pairing that was greater than the sum of it’s parts.  It was more like exactly the sum of it’s parts…and everyone agreed it was a very enjoyable pairing.

Final Words

This pairing was successful.  It should also be noted it was a successful pairing on a budget.  With the exception of the baby spinach and the pancetta, all the ingredients, including the wine, were budget conscious items. 

I also want to take a moment and sing the praises of home made polenta.  It was only recently I came to realize I like polenta.  This realization came when Chef Sue decided to make polenta from scratch (no worries, easy stuff – see the directions below).  There is no relationship between home made polenta and the crap that comes in a tube in the grocery.  Try home made.  You will like it!

My last comment is advocating home made ricotta.  Chef Sue makes here own cheese.  Ricotta made in your own kitchen completely outclasses the store bought, plastic wrapped, homogenized, sterilized, ionized, and relatively flavorless ricotta.  If you have not considered making your own cheese, you should.  It is surprisingly easy, fun, and delicious.


Smoked Chicken

The challenge with smoking chicken is, well, having a smoker.  If you don’t have a smoker, search the web – there are plenty of DIY alternatives to make it happen.  The key is low temp for a long time.  For the thighs and breasts prepared for this pairing, we used hickory chips, 275 degrees, and three hours.

Polenta, Spinach and Ricotta Stack

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 oz. finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound of spinach sautéed in olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic (add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar at the end
  • 16 oz. ricotta
  • Small package of pancetta (rendered on high heat for about 5 minutes – drain fat)
  • 8 teaspoons of finely grated parmesan (make 8 small mounds on a sheet pan lined with parchment - bake in over at 400 until parmesan just begins to turn brown) - there you have it - parmesan crisps.

Bring milk to a simmer and stir constantly while adding the cornmeal. When all the cornmeal is incorporated and swimming happily it will begin to thicken. As it thickens, add 1 oz of finely grated parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and scoop onto a sheet pan covered with parchment – spread evenly to about 3/8 – 1/2 inch thickness. Like Norwegians running from the sauna to the snow, place the warm polenta in the fridge to harden for about 1/2 hour (or you can wait until tomorrow). Once hardened, cut in to 2" x 2" squares.

Pan fry polenta in butter until one side is browned - about 5 min. Flip and add sautéed spinach, 2 tablespoons of ricotta, then put lid on pan to melt the ricotta (just slightly). Pan fry until bottom is crispy.
Garnish with parmesan crisp and rendered pancetta.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Food Photography Tips and a Preview

I have heard from a number of you with kind words about this blog.  I really appreciate it.  The other thing I hear, are great stories of why people visit the blog and how they experience it.  Some of you can’t read, and just look at the pretty pictures.  Others get to the section describing the wine, open a bottle, and then forget you left your computer on.  Many of you have been inspired to go the gym more frequently so you can enjoy more of this great food and wine.  Many of us should spend more time in the gym.  And then there are some of you who are interested in improving your food photography.

2006 Baron Herzog Chenic Blanc with smoke chiecken polenta and Pancetta

I have recently started a series of articles on my photography blog (Craig Corl Photography) to share what I have learned about food photography.  I have written three articles so far, and am sure to have at least two or three more before I wrap up the series.  Here are links to the first three articles:

Finally, I have a small backlog of wine pairings that include a 2009 Santa Cristina Pino Grigio paired with Chef Sue’s New England seafood extravaganza, and a 2006 Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc paired with smoked chicken and polenta with sautéed spinach, home made ricotta parmesan crisp and pancetta.

2009 Santa Crisitina Pino Grigio with Lobster

Come back soon for all the details on this great food and wine.  I also hope to get back to Decanting Napa Valley the Cookbook sometime this week.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Soy Braised Pork Belly, Broccoflower Purée, and Curried Butternut Squash Soup Paired with 2009 Travis Chardonnay

2009 Travis Chardonnay with Pork Belly Broccoflower puree and curried butternut squash soup

I nailed the recipe and the preparation!  The wine was outstanding.  The pairing was an utter failure.  I could have saved myself some public humiliation by not even mentioning this little slip.  I may have been better off by just letting this one slip into the mist.  However, there is still some good things to take away from this experience, and besides, I already had taken all this great photography.  I can’t let it go unappreciated.

During our visit to Northern California in January, I had braised pork belly with a jicama slaw at Celadon of Napa.  Specifically, the menu item is “crispy soy-braised pork belly with jicama slaw, Indonesian sweet soy and fresh herbs.”  It was good.  No, it was phenomenal.  It inspired me to make braised pork belly.  And at some point, I will take a stab at my interpretation of the jicama slaw.

This meal is somewhat unique in that it was accomplished without the supervision of Chef Sue, and the recipe for the soy braised pork belly is my own as is the recipe for the curried butternut squash soup.  It may not be fair to call the soup recipe my own – I have watched Chef Sue prepare similar soups dozens of times, and I can now do it in my sleep…which is pretty much what I did.  But I wrote it down, so now it is mine (but feel free to share it with your friends – all the recipes are at the end of this article).

And now, on with the gruesome details.

The Food

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

We started with the curried butternut squash soup.  Chef Sue gave me five stars, two thumbs up, and a kiss for my performance with this soup.  It is good.  The dominant flavors are the curry, buttery squashiness of the squash, and the coconut milk.  The butternut squash hits the umami button and blends seamlessly with the coconut milk.  This is just creamy, smooth, buttery splendifery.  The curry, is a contrasting flavor within the soup that brings a level of intensity to the squash that was just not in its genes.

Broccoflower in milk and Butternut Squash Soup

We then moved on to the main dish which consisted of a layering of textures and flavors.  At the base was a purée of broccoflower supporting the soy braised pork belly which in turn was topped with crispy fried onion and fennel slices.  The bitterness of the broccoflower was a good contrast to the sweetness of the pork belly.  The crispy fried fennel added yet another layer of flavor and texture.  The crispy fried onions added more texture than flavor.

Braized Pork Belly-1

The Wine

2009 Travis Chardonnay-2

Tasting notes from the winemaker:

“Ripe peach, pear, nectarine and exotic fruit aromas. Rich yet lively on the palate, with excellent natural acidity.”

The bright fruits and acidity of this wine make it a real pleasure and easy to enjoy.  This is a wine you could easily enjoy on it’s own, or with any number of seafood or poultry dishes…just not my selection of food for the evening (this is clearly my fault, and not that of the wine).

This wine is an excellent value at $16.

The Pairing

The Travis Chardonnay worked reasonably well with the curried butternut squash soup.  But the strength of the curry demanded something much sweeter such as a Pinot Grigio, Riesling or even a Muscat blend.

When we attempted the wine with the braised pork, all I could think was that “wow did I screw this one up.”  The food was great, the wine was great, but they were never intended to be married – or even date.  Chef Sue quickly ran to the wine rack and grabbed one of the milder Cabernet Sauvignon and it quickly became clear that to compliment the richness, sweetness, and soy, the darker fruits and some spice would make a good pairing.  A bold Pinot, or Shiraz would have made this a memorable meal – in a positive way.

So the real question at hand is why did I screw up?  Here was my rationale for selecting the Travis Chardonnay;  the acidity was intended to balance the sweetness of the pork belly and the bright fruit was intended to compliment the broccoflower.  In the end, the intense flavors of the pork belly overwhelmed the Travis Chardonnay…the acid could not dent the sweetness of the pork belly and the bright fruits were lost – sometimes just feeling out of place when they did emerge.

Again, I want to emphasize that the wine was great.  The food was great.  My powers of wine selection faltered.

Final Words

I will definitely revisit this recipe with a new wine selection.  I will also revisit this wine with a new food selection.  They both deserve better.


Curried Butternut Squash Soup


  • Olive oil (for saute of vegetables)
  • 1 onion, chopped - 2 cups mas o menos
  • 2 lovely cloves of garlic minced with love
  • 1 football sized butternut squash (ok, maybe a bit smaller), peeled (no fun), and cut into 1-inch cubes after raking out the tentacles.
  • 3 - 5 cups chicken or veggie broth (depends on the size of the squash and your preference for viscosity)
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons, awe hell, lets make it 2 tablespoons of curry powder - be bold!
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 can of coconut milk - god I love this stuff.
  • Plain yogurt (or sour cream in a pinch), for garnish
  • Oh, and put a few green leafy things like parsley or cilantro for a touch more color when garnishing


Coat the bottom of a large pot or stockpot with olive and heat at a medium temp. Invite the onions and garlic to the party and sauté until soft but not brown. Now for the star that you just reduced in stature to mere cubes - the butternut squash is added along with play-dates broth, curry powder and salt. Bring the hot tub to a boil and watch everyone sweat. Reduce heat and simmer until the squash cubes are not sure they want to be cubes any longer (in other words, tender). They usually succumb to this form of torture after 13 minutes or so...butternut squash is no tough guy. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender (the outboard motor looking thing...lots of fun) or in blender (no more than 1/2 full, and hold the top!!!) until smooth. After blending, add coconut milk and bring to serving temperature. Season to taste. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with yogurt and greens.

Soy Braised Pork Belly


  • 1 slab of pork belly...say it with me...a SLAB!
  • 2 cups of pomegranate juice, or orange juice if that is more convenient, awe hell, just pick a juice.
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (ah brown sugar, how come you taste so good)
  • 1 fresh squeezed lemon
  • 1 fresh squeezed lime
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic - oh yeah!
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup (one small bunch) of minced green onion bottoms (white part only...maybe a touch of the green)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    1/2 onion sliced thin
  • 1/2 fennel sliced thin (like onion rings)
  • 2 cups canola (or vegetable) oil


Slide the pork slab, skin down, into a glass baking dish. Don't you just love that we are working with a "slab" of pork belly? How often do you get to play with slabs of things? Whisk together the pomegranate (or other fruit) juice, 1 cup of chicken stock, soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, lime juice, garlic, ginger, and green onions. Give the pork belly a bath with this mixture...yes, all of it. Let this sit and become happy for about one hour. If you are in a rush, you can go straight to the oven. Place in the oven and roast for 1 hour. Turn the pork belly over and roast for another 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the skin  from the pork (it sounds worse when you say pork rather than onion). Allow the pork to cool in the juice bath mixture stuff until about 30 minutes before you intend to serve. If you cover and put it in the fridge, you can even save the final prep for the following day. If you decided to let the pork belly fully cool or put it in the fridge, remove any congealed fat that rests on top of the cooking liquid. Using a sharp knife, score the fat layer of the pork in a cross hatch pattern, and poor off the liquid from the baking pan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Add 1 cup of chicken stock to the pan and place in the oven. Cook the pork belly until slightly caramelized on top and warmed through, 20 to 25 minutes. Heat the oil in a sauce pot or mini wok and quick fry the onion and fennel slices. The goal is to make them crisp and just turning brown.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Banana, Strawberry, and Custard Twinkie Colossus paired with 2003 Chateau de Myrat Sauternes

Twinkie Cake with 2003 Chateau de Myrat-2
Our French friends are rolling their eyes while exclaiming “comment cela peut-être?”  Yes, this is a fine French desert wine paired with twinkies (albeit twinkies dressed in a tux).  This pairing, which turned out to be spectacular, resulted from some joking that went too far. 
Golf Buddy Steve and Formerly Dawn of Austin invited Chef Sue and I over for drinks.  Over the course of the week, the invite expanded from drinks to dinner.  Chef Sue asked what she could bring and the response was “desert.”  Probing a little further, we asked if there was anything in particular they enjoyed.  Response; “Twinkie.”  This back and forth was carried on entirely via texting, and likely contributed to the response of “Twinkie.”  Chef Sue decided to run with the joke and quickly planned a deconstructed Twinkie desert.  At my urging, she discarded the original idea and went with a more literal approach – incorporating twinkies into the dish.
So, on we go with the post mortem.
The Food
Chef Sue decided on a simple yet effective approach to the twinkie.  I will not be providing a recipe because I am confident you could (if desired) replicate this desert based on the following description.  Chef Sue’s concept was to use Twinkies sliced lengthwise (1/2 base, and 1/2 top) to form a shell in spring form pan.  The shell was then alternately layered with custard, bananas, fresh sliced strawberries, topped with whipped cream (made in domain of Chef Sue of course) and garnished with another layer of strawberries.
Twinkie Cake
The challenge with this recipe is making the twinkie halves stand up while the layers are built.  Chef Sue conquered this challenge by some crafty use of toothpicks.  Remember to remove these once the twinkies are adequately supported – wood is not part of the recipe.
Twinkie Cake-1
The custard serves not only the purpose of creamy goodness, but also as the mortar holding this masterpiece together.  And of course, the strawberries are a great flavor that pairs nicely with wine, but also adds some beautiful color and texture.  Once constructed, the twinkie castle heads to the fridge for a couple of hours to meditate and gain a sense of self as cohesive whole.
Twinkie Cake-2
In combination, the twinkie fades into a minor role and does an adequate job of forming a “crust.”  The balance of flavors are a wonderful blend of bright strawberry contrasting with the mellow sweet tones of banana, custard, twinkie cream, and whipped cream.
The Wine
I was unable to find a wine maker’s tasting notes for the 2003 Chateau De Myrat Sauternes.  This is a very well respected and appreciated vintage with plenty of commentary on the web with ratings consistently at 90+.  Rather than comparing notes with others, I will give you our impressions directly.
Twinkie Cake with 2003 Chateau de Myrat
This wine is wonderfully sweet and fruity.  Like many desert wines, it is viscous and intense.  Aromas included apricot, pineapple, and a hint of caramel.  The flavors are complex including strong fruit, apricot, citrus and nutmeg.
At $20, this wine is a great value and would go particularly well with any desert featuring fruit.
The Pairing
As much fun as we had with the idea and creation of a twinkie cake, the wine pairing was the most interesting.  Both Chef Sue and Formerly Dawn of Austin are not fans of desert wines.  And as one might expect, they grudgingly took their first sip of the wine which confirmed their aversion – too sweet!  But the magic happened when they followed their first nibble of the twinkie colossus with a sip of the 2003 Chateau De Myrat Sauternes. 
Twinkie Cake with 2003 Chateau de Myrat-3
In opposition to what you might be thinking, the twinkie cake as not overly sweet (no additional sweeteners were added to the fruit).  The wine added a level sweetness that completed the cake.  The prominent role of fruit in the 2003 Chateau De Myrat Sauternes seamed to enhance the strawberries and fruit in the twinkie cake.  And the hint of nutmeg we found in the wine tasting was further enhanced in the pairing which added a nice hint of spice to the combination.  Finally, the notes of caramel in the wine blended perfectly with the custard.  Overall, this was a surprise win.
I swear the next article will return to our normal fun – sans twinkies.  I am sure you will want to see the upcoming article featuring a New England seafood extravaganza paired with a 2009 Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio.
In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lamb and Cauliflower Purée Paired with 2006 Ghost Block Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Lamb and Cauliflower Puree

As promised in the preview, I am back to share all the tasty details of this pairing.  First, I want to note that I deviated a bit from the original recipe out of necessity.  The full title of the recipe from the Decanting Napa Valley cookbook is “Spiced New Zealand Lamb Loin Fennel Frawns, White Pepper Foam, Cauliflower Purée.”  My decision to prepare this dish was a bit last minute based on a welcome surprise visit by Photo Buddy John (John A Downey II Photography) who also served as the guest photographer for this pairing.

Due to the last minute decision, the lead role of New Zealand Lamb Loin was adeptly played by a gorgeous Lamb Shank.  The supporting role of White Pepper Foam was omitted due to the lack of lecithin and a failed attempt to use unflavored gelatin in place of the lecithin.  Otherwise, the recipe was played according to script.

The Food

This was a wonderfully balanced dish.  The unique gamey flavors of the lamb were balanced by the fennel and in particular the lemon vinaigrette dressed fennel frawns perched atop the medium cooked lamb.  Prior to going into the oven, the lamb was coated in a spice mixture of fennel seeds, bay leaf, coriander and salt.  After a quick searing, the lamb headed for the oven and was brought to an internal temperature of 140 then left to rest for about 20 minutes as the cauliflower purée was finished.

Lamb and Cauliflower Puree-1

The tasting team (Chef Sue, Golf Buddy Steve, Photographer Buddy John, and Formerly of Austin Dawn) all had high praises for the dish.  Across the board, we agreed that the most pleasing bite included a small bit of everything; lamb, fennel, fennel frawns, and cauliflower purée.  It is clearly a recipe designed to have everything play harmoniously in a single mouthwatering bite.  Chef Sue was particularly enamored with the cauliflower exclaiming “I could make a meal out of this alone.”  Formerly of Austin Dawn  was the big surprise of the night.  Dawn is not a fan of lamb although she has tried it in many forms.  In this case, she was literally dancing in her seat.  Follow this link to hear about it in her own words.

Cauliflower Puree

Normally when discussing the dish, I pick out the key flavors that are the headliners and those that are playing a supporting role – important when it comes time to discuss the pairing.  In this case I am at a loss – this was a symphony of glorious harmonies.  The lamb was balanced by the fennel and vinaigrette, which was complemented perfectly by the creamy sweetness of the cauliflower purée.  In addition to the harmony of flavors, the contrasting textures made each bite a true pleasure.

The Wine

The recipe was paired with a 2006 Ghost Block Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  In a word it was spectacular!  Of course I have more words, but first lets see what the winemaker says about this wine.

“The 2006 vintage has elegant aromas of cherry, blackberry, spice and roses. The palate confirms the nose with flavors of ripe blackberry, chocolate-covered cherries and coffee.  The finish is long and lingering, with notes of toffee and cherries. This wine is both  complex and balanced.”

My only issue with this description is that it should include a bunch of expletives pronouncing the spiritual experience you will have upon the first sip.  Yes, choirs of angels, euphoria, and a sense that all is right in the world accompanies each drop.  As we were nearing the end of the bottle, each of us were taking smaller, and smaller sips in the desperate hope we could make it last just a few minutes longer.

2006 Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon

In addition to the wonderful flavors (and choirs of angels), the wine makes an unforgettable first impression with the combination of complexity and smoothness as the winemaker promises.  In other words, all the flavors mentioned in the tasting notes are there, but they are all subtle and perfectly in balance.  This wine makes you think; the flavors do not assault you but rather tease you to find them as they play hide-and-seek.

Just a bit ago, when I wrote about “Butternut Squash and Chorizo Empanadas with Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay” I expressed my opinion that while an excellent wine, the Cakebread Chardonnay was over priced at $44.  As evidence that I was not just being cheap, we all concluded that the Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon is worth every penny of the $65.

The Pairing

Like the perfectly balanced recipe and the exquisitely balanced wine, the dominant impression of the pairing was also one of perfect symmetry.  None of the flavors from the food nor wine were screaming for attention but rather melded in a wondrous sense of tranquility.  It was akin to old friends meeting in a familiar embrace after a long absence.

Lamb and Ghost Block Cabernet

I would be very pleased to go on at length about how one aspect of the lamb or cauliflower complemented or contrasted with some aspect of the wine – but I can’t.  This was one of the most congruous and synchronically composed pairings I have ever experienced.  The stunned silence around the table as we began to indulge was clear evidence this is a winner (along with the ooohs, aaahs, and other moans of enchantment).

Final Words

If you have not been to church, temple, ashram, hanging out with Himalayan Monks, mosque, or otherwise have not had a significant spiritual experience in last few weeks, I highly recommend this pairing.  Here are a couple of options; 1) buy the wine and do your best to mimic the description I provided, 2) visit the good folks at Decanting Wine Country, buy the book and skip the recipe guessing (I am not supported or sponsored…just a dedicated foodie), or 3) buy a couple bottles of the wine and a loin of lamb, come to my place and I will gladly do the cooking.

Thanks again to Photo Buddy John for playing guest photographer and thus allowing me to focus on the food and wine.  I encourage you to visit and check out his remarkable photography.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.