Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pouring Wine Sideways–How I Made the Title Photograph

Sorry, no food, wine or pairing in this short post.  A number of you have asked how I made the title photograph (top of the page).  I just posted the story of how this photograph was made at my other blog – “Craig Corl Photography.”  Go check it out.  It was easier than you might think.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Coffee and Beer Marinated Steak with Truffle Parsnips Paired with 2004 McClean Vineyards Estate Private Reserve Paso Robles Syrah

Grilled London Broil Truffle Parsnips paired with 2004 McClean Vineyards Estate Private Reserve Paso Robles Syrah-1

Welcome to a special Memorial Day weekend edition of Craig’s Grape Adventure.  I don’t normally post on the weekend, because my handy Google Stats tell me that most of you are enjoying a bit of escapism while at work during the week.  No worries, I won’t let your little secret out.

Grilling is a time honored tradition in the U.S. over the Memorial Day weekend.  In case you have not yet completed your menu for the weekend, this pairing may provide an interesting twist on the traditional.  Chef Sue and I tested it last night with absolutely mouth watering results.

London Broil on the Grill-1

In the interest of full disclosure and appropriate credits, this recipe comes from Whats Cookin – Food With Taste.  I highly recommend you sign up for their free newsletter that conveniently shows up in your inbox twice a week with some deliciously unique recipes.  Thanks a bunch to the folks at Whats Cookin for an endless stream of inspiration.

It goes without saying that Chef Sue and I cannot take any recipe at face value.  In this case we stayed pretty true to the Whats Cookin recipe for Coffee Steaks Under the Influence, but made a few modifications mostly out of convenience and a little intuition.  Follow the link for the original recipe.  I have parenthetically noted our modifications in the recipe at the end of the post.

The Food

London Broil Plating

I was drawn to this recipe out of idle curiosity – a coffee and beer based marinade – really?  My curiosity was rewarded with a wonderful blend of flavors.  Although the marinade and the rub include a number of ingredients, the coffee was clearly the headliner.  The coffee, toasted on the surface of the steak was a perfect addition to the steak.  It was not overwhelming and added a very pleasant nutty coffee note to each bite.  This earthiness melded perfectly with the truffle parsnips chosen to fill out the plate.

The Pairing

2004 McClean Vineyards Estate Private Reserve Paso Robles Syrah-1

Normally I would discuss the wine a bit before getting to the pairing.  However, in this case I am simply too anxious to get to the heart of the matter.  The pairing was spectacular.  We have already established that the steak and parsnips feature a wonderful nutty earthiness with plenty of umami to bring smiles to the faces of even grumpy old men.  The 2004 McClean Vineyards Estate Private Reserve Paso Robles Syrah precisely complemented these flavors with deep flavors of chocolate (chocolate and coffee – YES!) plumb, and a pleasant spiciness which added a delicious peppery coating to the steak.  At $28 per bottle, this wine is well worth every penny to pair with the fruit of your grilling efforts.

The Recipe 

Coffee Steak Under the Influence

The following recipe is presented in it's original form. Chef Sue's modifications and other notes are parenthetically noted.

Grilled London Broil Truffle Parsnips paired with 2004 McClean Vineyards Estate Private Reserve Paso Robles Syrah-4


  • 12 ounces heavy beer. I used Yuengling Black And Tan, but any dark preferably craft beer will work.
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Crystal Hot Sauce
  • 3 boneless strip steaks (1 1/2 to 2 pounds), trimmed of fat (Chef Sue chose London Broil cut in Barney Rubble thickness - honestly, use your favorite steaks, its all good.)
  • 3 tablespoons fine ground dark roast coffee
  • 1 tablespoon pure chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

Sliced London Broil-1


The Night Before: Mix the beer, Worcestershire sauce and Crystal Hot Sauce in a large freezer zipper lock bag. Put the steaks in the bag, seal it shut, then refrigerate overnight. (Chef Sue combined ALL the ingredients in the marinade - they all made sense in the marinade and she could not resist the temptation. Rather than marinade overnight, Chef Sue let the steaks marinade for about 4 hours.)

Grilling Day: Mix the other ingredients in a bowl. Take the steaks out of the marinade, discarding the marinade. Pat dry the steaks with paper towels, then dampen with vegetable oil. Coat the steaks with the spicy mix, patting in gently with your fingers.

Pre-heat the grill. If you’re using a propane grill, high heat is good. Grill the steaks until they have a dark crust. Two minutes on each side for medium rare (depending on thickness of steaks). Four minutes per side for medium. (As designated grill master at our secret Potomac lair affectionately known as the Crab Shack, my grilling method is slightly different. Because we used the Barney Rubble cut (think hugely thick Brontosaurus steaks), I grilled on high heat with my tried and true process of 2.5 minutes, rotate 90 degrees for another 2.5 minutes, flip for 2.5 minutes, then rotate 90 degrees for another 2.5 minutes. This process results in those oh so beautiful grill branding marks and beautifully pink medium rare steaks. The timing is completely dependent on the steak thickness which may require some minor adjustment. Use a meat thermometer and adjust your grilling time to get an internal temperature of 130 to 140 degrees F. Legal disclaimer: USDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees. If grilling steak to 130 degrees is the riskiest activity in my life, I can live with that. For my palate, the more you head in the direction of well done, the greater the loss of flavor. When you remove the steak from the grill, allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing/plating. The internal temperature will continue to rise during this resting period and the juices will redistribute throughout the steak ensuring a plump juicy piece of meat.)

Truffle Parsnips


  1. 4 medium parsnips (cleaned, pealed and cubed)
  2. 3 small red potatoes (cubed)
  3. 1/4 cup cream cheese
  4. 2 oz. butter
  5. Truffle salt to taste
  6. Green onions (chopped as garnish)


  1. Boil parsnips and potatoes until fork tender.
  2. Mash parsnips and potatoes in a bowl along with the cream cheese and butter.
  3. Season with truffle salt to taste.
  4. Plate and garnish with green onions.

Enjoy your grilling, and have a great Memorial Day weekend.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Udon Noodle Soup with Thai Curry Paired with 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Udon Noodle Soup with Thai Curry Paired with 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay-4

For the faithful followers of my humble little blog (thanks to all of you!), it will come as no surprise that I speak frankly about the recipes, wines, and pairings.  This honesty unquestionably extends to the less than pleasant surprises as well as the happy coincidences.  I do this in the firm belief that we learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes.  And with that prelude, on with the story.

This pairing occurred on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend 2011.  Chef Sue was able to get away from the office early so we could extend the holiday weekend.  Chef Sue was able to leave DC for our secret Potomac lair a day in advance of my arrival.  Before I left DC, I selected four wines from the Cavernous Corl Wine Cellar, thankful I could remember the cypher lock code and my DNA had not been altered since the last update of the biometric security system.  I called Chef Sue and gave her my selections and asked that she consider some pairing dishes.

Udon Noodle Soup with Thai Curry Paired with 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Chef Sue was inspired and decided on a Japanese – Thai fusion of udon noodle soup mashed up with a thai red curry coconut sauce with chicken.  This dish was selected for pairing with 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  When Chef Sue announced the pairing, my mind started quietly raising the red flags – silently of course.  In general, Chardonnay does not have the big fruit, sweetness and acidity to stand up to a spicy dish.  Further, I remain convinced that mixing oaked wines with spice can work on the rare occaision, but can also introduce some undesired flavor surprises – I prefer to avoid food and wine surprises.

2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chadonnay

With the red curry paste and coconut milk certain to dominate the palate, wines with tropical notes like pineapple, mango, peaches, apricots, would pair well with these strong flavors.  A balancing acidity is also important to standup to the acidity of this dish, and sweetness balances the heat nicely.  I would have chosen a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, a dry Rosé, or a Proseco.

Sauteed Onions

The wine did not turn out to be a train wreck.  Quite the opposite, it was very enjoyable.  The 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay was opened while Chef Sue was cooking…thirst took over.  This Chardonnay is soft and complex with dominant flavors of green apple, a buttery feel, and toasted nuts.  In other words it can be likened to a freshly baked apple crisp in a bottle.  Nice.  Unfortunately when faced with the daunting aggressiveness of the Thai red curry, the Chardonnay became a wall flower.  It added nothing with respect to the pairing – not the fault of the wine, but rather a faulty choice (sorry Chef Sue).

Sauteed Shitake Mushrooms

The pummeling of the wine was made worse by a tragic wrong turn with the recipe.  When preparing this dish, Chef Sue followed the directions on the tiny little can of Thai red curry paste (you’ve seen those little 4 oz cans slinking around the international section of the grocery) that directed the use of all 4 ounces of the paste.  Oh my!  Maybe a translation error (and there were a few of those on the can)? After a few bites Chef Sue and I looked at each other with the mutual knowledge that the nuclear waste level heat of this dish was sure to conclude with unpleasant consequences.  Don’t let the pretty pictures fool you.  The piper will be paid!

Chopped Cilantro

Oddly enough, as we sat down to enjoy this fire festival, Man vs. Food was playing on the television – an episode which required the host to eat a dozen chicken wings lathered in “shut up” sauce, complete the challenge in 10 minutes, and keep it down for another 5.  You know things are going bad when you have to don a pair of latex surgical gloves to eat a meal.  I’m happy to report that he suffered far more than we did.

Chopped Cilantro-1

Have no fear my friends.  The recipe at the end of this post has been recalibrated to the human palate.  We have not yet gone back to the kitchen to validate it, but I am confident the rebirth of this fusion plate will be quite enjoyable.  I stick with my wine pairing recommendation.  Save the 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay for another day – it has potential and is a good value.

Chopped Green Onions

Between crabbing, cookouts, sailing and other traditional Memorial Day weekend festivities, we will be doing more cooking and more pairing.  I hope to report some great success rather than lessons learned.

Red Curry Coconut Sauce



  • 2 packages (8oz) precooked udon noodles
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 8 oz. shitake mushrooms
  • 1 chicken breast (about 8 oz.) sliced into 1/4 inch strips laterally
  • 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 gallon chicken broth
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3/4 chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup miren
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 3/4 cup sliced green onions for garnish
  • Olive oil for sauté
  • Salt to taste


  1. In a large skillet or medium pot, add the curry paste, coconut milk and chicken broth. Allow to simmer while the balance of the recipe is prepared. Stir occasionally. The mixture should be brought to a boil just before adding to the rest of the ingredients. At about the 5 minute mark, add fish sauce, cilantro, ginger and miren.
  2. Sauté sliced onion in a skillet with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When translucent yet firm, place in a large bowl (the bowl needs to be large enough to fit everything in the recipe).
  3. Sauté shitake mushrooms in the same skillet as the onions. When done, add to the bowl with the onions.
  4. Sauté chicken in the same skillet once the mushrooms are done. Add to the bowl with onions and mushrooms.
  5. Add precooked udon noodles to the bowl.
  6. With any luck, your curry paste - coconut milk - chicken broth is at a boil now. Don’t let it boil long - just get it to a boil, and you are done.
  7. Add the broth mixture to the bowl, cover and let sit for five minutes.
  8. Plate to bowls and garnish with green onions.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seasoned Chicken Breast over Garlic Sautéed Baby Spinach with a Spicy White Wine Strawberry Mango Reduction Paired with 2009 Ledson Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

2009 Leson Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc Paired with Chicken Breast Strawberry Mango Reduction and Garlic Spinach

Wow, that’s a lot of words for the title of this post.  Considering the whole idea began with the humble strawberry, it seems a bit over the top.  So here is the story.  The other day I was motivated to construct a recipe and treat Chef Sue to a nice pairing.  I went to the fridge to see what was in stock and found a basket of strawberries that looked like they had another good day left before they became mulch.  Rather than waste these tasty morsels, they became the inspiring kernel for this recipe.

I have to admit a small measure of pride with this recipe because it is 100% my own.  Normally, I have an idea of what I want to achieve, search the internet for recipes that are similar to my idea, cobble together the best bits and pieces, and voila!  This recipe came directly from the small hollow space between my ears – and I like it.

2009 Leson Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc Paired with Chicken Breast Strawberry Mango Reduction and Garlic Spinach-2

Starting with the strawberries and the idea of a reduction to lather the chicken breasts (also sitting in the fridge and searching for a purpose in life), I knew the reduction would be very sweet and a wholly strawberry celebration.  With the chicken breast as a somewhat neutral element in the dish, I needed to add some balance to the strawberries.  Within the reduction I did this by adding a mango as another layer of flavor, and a tablespoon of red pepper flakes to offer some heat.  Finally, I completed the reduction with a cup of white wine to boost the acidity.

2009 Leson Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc Paired with Chicken Breast Strawberry Mango Reduction and Garlic Spinach-5

The recipe was further balanced by the garlic sautéed spinach.  This part of the recipe brought a touch of bitterness to balance the sweetness in the reduction.  Gratefully, when fully composed, the dish was very well balanced.  I love it when a plan comes together (or luck is on my side)!

2009 Ledson Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc-1

The 2009 Ledson Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc was a perfect match for this recipe.  This wine is explosively fruity with the aroma dominated by pineapple.  The palate matches this bright fruitiness with rich fruit flavors, well balanced acidity and a pleasant mineral finish.  Each of these elements are a heavenly compliment to the recipe.  The sweetness mirrors the sweet notes of the reduction while balancing nicely with the heat.  The fruit flavors in both the reduction and the wine play nicely with each other, and the acidity forms another finely honed balancing act with the food.  This wine is a pleasure to drink alone, but it really shines in a pairing.  This pairing was dominated by complimentary flavors (vs. contrasting) and like the recipe components, was very well balanced.

The Recipe

I am presenting this recipe as three different components in the order of preparation.  The strawberry mango reduction takes about 45 minutes, the chicken 30, and the spinach about 5 minutes.  It is very easy, and very rewarding.

Spicy White Wine Strawberry and Mango Reduction

Spicy White Wine Strawberry Mango Reduction


  • 10 medium strawberries cleaned and diced
  • 1 medium mango, pealed and diced
  • 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup white wine - in this case I used one cup of Barefoot Moscato, but anything would work fine sans oak
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Spicy White Wine Strawberry and Mango Reduction-1


  1. Place all ingredients in a pot on low heat.
  2. Stir and let simmer for 5 minute.
  3. Repeat step 2 until sauce begins to steam.
  4. Turn heat to medium and stir.
  5. Continue until the sauce reduces to a consistency you are comfortable with.  I achieved my desired consistency in roughly 45 minutes.

Spicy White Wine Strawberry and Mango Reduction-2

Seasoned Chicken Breast

Seasoned Chicken Breasts


  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about one pound)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add to skillet and cook 12 to 15 minutes or until no longer pink in centers (165°F), turning once.
  2. Optionally, season and place on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes (still looking for 165 degrees).  I used this option.
  3. Set aside - timing should coincide with sautéed spinach and spicy strawberry Mango Reduction

Garlic Sautéed Baby Spinach

Garlic Sauteed Baby Spinach


  • 1 1/2 pounds baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse the spinach well in cold water to make sure it's very clean. Pat dry.
  2. In a very large pot or Dutch oven (my preference – uncooked spinach is voluminous and unwieldy), heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic over medium heat for about 1 minute, just short of being browned.
  3. Add the spinach, salt, and pepper to the pot, toss it with the garlic and oil, cover the pot, and cook it for 2 minutes.
  4. Uncover the pot, turn the heat on high, and cook the spinach for another minute, stirring until all the spinach is wilted.

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  Both Chef Sue and I did.  This recipe makes four servings which meant we had a great lunch the following day.  After a night in the fridge, the reduction seemed even better!

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Recipe for Truffle Macaroni and Cheese

Winery in the Fog

Last week I reported on the latest gathering of our little DC area wine tasting group (see Truffle Macaroni and Cheese Paired with 2008 Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay).  As I described, the clear star of the show (not that it is a competition…that anyone will admit) was Kelvin and Leya’s Truffle Macaroni and Cheese Paired with 2008 Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.  The food, the wine, and the pairing were absolutely amazing – a true grand slam unaided by steroids!

Kelvin and Leya were kind enough to share the recipe.  I have not yet prepared this heavenly version of mac and cheese, but hope to do so soon.  In the mean time, give it a go and let me know what you think.  I am sure you will be pleased (ok, roll your eyes back in your head while moaning aloud kinda pleased).  Thanks Kelvin and Leya!

The Recipe


  • 1 pound box of penne pasta
  • 1/2 bar unsalted butter
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese shredded
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup mild cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1 cup Sottocenere with Truffle Cheese
  • 4 tablespoons Savitar White Truffle Oil
  • 1//2 cup Savitar Truffle Peelings
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper


  1. Bring water to boil in a large pot, and add pasta
  2. When soft, strain pasta and place in a large bowl
  3. Add butter, mix in then set aside
  4. Add eggs and milk to a separate bowl
  5. Beat egg and milk mixture with whisk
  6. Pour mixture into large bowl with macaroni and mix gently with spatula
  7. Add all cheese, oil and truffles
  8. Season with salt, seasoned salt and pepper
  9. Fold together with spatula
  10. Check consistency and add more milk if too stiff
  11. Sprinkle a little cheese on the bottom of a casserole dish
  12. Spoon pasta and cheese mixture into dish
  13. Smooth over with spatula
  14. Sprinkle all remaining cheese on top
  15. Place in oven for 35 minutes at 350 degrees (or until done)

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Carne Adobada: Grilled Adobo-Marinated Skirt Steak Paired with 2008 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Carne Adobada with 2008 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Chef Sue was on a role yesterday – sending me a number of recipes to add to the batting order for upcoming wine pairings.  She found some dishes that I am very excited about.  Not being one to waste time in such matters, we went straight to work last night.  After picking a recipe and a pairing for last night, I asked Chef Sue “so who is cooking tonight?”  She replied “us.”  That didn’t work out exactly to plan.  Chef Sue loves the kitchen.  Not only does she enjoy creating wonderful meals, she finds her time in the kitchen as a creative and therapeutic release.  I understand this and gladly took up my role as photographer.

2008 Rober Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon-1

When we selected Carne Adobada: Grilled Adobo-Marinated Skirt Steak I was very excited; the recipe made my mouth water well before the wonderful aromas began filling the kitchen.  However, I was very skeptical of the wine pairing – a 2008 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (the recipe and pairing came from Epicurious.com).  Chef Sue and I lived in Northern California for a couple years in the mid-1980s.  Living on the meager salary of a US Coast Guard Ensign, we spent many weekends visiting Napa Valley wineries – a cheap way to make an enjoyable weekend.  In these days, my impression of Robert Mondavi winery was equated to a jug wine.  I can’t say what has transpired since this time, but the impression has remained, and wines from Robert Mondavi rarely (ok, never) make it to our table.

Flank Steak on the Grill-2

My second level of skepticism was that of pairing a Cab with the spicy Carne Adobada.  I was afraid that a Cab would be too heavy and just not feel right with the adobo.  Gratefully, my skepticism was unfounded and we had a great meal and pleasing pairing.


The extremely flavorful adobo marinade (with a portion reserved to use as a salsa when plating) coupled with the smoky flavors added from the grill made the flank steak a truly tasty centerpiece for the meal.  The Mondavi Cabernet was not as heavy as I feared, and the dark fruit flavors played nicely with the high notes of the adobo and guacamole.  Overall, it was very well balanced.

Sliced Flank Steak

In the end, I concluded that it would be a good idea for me to check my biases toward Robert Mondavi wines (and others I had paced in the jug wine category) and let the wines speak for themselves.  At under $10, the 2008 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is a good value and a good pairing wine.

2008 Rober Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

Here is the link to the Carne Adobada: Grilled Adobo-Marinated Skirt Steak recipe at Epicurious.com.  I give this recipe two big thumbs up and definitely recommend it for your summer grilling season.

Carne Adobada with 2008 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon-1

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Truffle Macaroni and Cheese Paired with 2008 Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Wine on the Dock 1

Sorry friends, I have no photography for this post (other than the token photo above).  Thankfully I have good reason for this lapse, and I have a bit of compensation for you; a multiple pairing discussion.  All this is a result of last night’s monthly gathering of friends (which actually happens about every second or third month) for a wine tasting.

So here is a little history.  This group started several years ago with a very simple structure.  Each couple brings a white and a red wine, and an hors d’oeuvre.  The host, which rotates among the group, is always at liberty to add further instructions such as “only Washington State wines,” or “only Old World wines.”  Over the last few gatherings we have imposed a new standing guideline – pair your hors d’oeuvre with one of the wines you bring.

This was a great move, and with each event, the pairings are getting more exciting.  Chef Sue and I could not agree on our hors d’oeuvre, so we each made one.  Honestly, we did not work too hard on agreeing – we both wanted to cook.  I would tell you more about Chef Sue’s pairing, but I can’t remember the wine she selected.  I can tell you this; she prepared superstar green chile tamales (with a very pleasant bit of heat) paired with a sweet German wine (not a Riesling).  The heat and the sweet were a very pleasant pairing.

I took a similar approach and prepared cream cheese and bacon stuffed green poblano peppers paired with a 2008 Wente Riverbank Riesling.  The poblanos are mild, but when combined with the cumin, and the richness of the cream cheese and bacon, I needed a moderate sweetness and equally moderate acidity to form a complimentary pair.  The 2008 Wente Riverbank Riesling worked exceptionally well.  This Riesling is not overly sweet, displays delightful apple flavors, and has a well balanced acidity that make it a versatile wine.

I was very pleased with my handy work, but was quickly humbled by the pairing offered by good friends Kelvin and Leya.  As soon as they walked in the house, and before I saw what was in the pan, I was already having a Pavlovian response to the aroma of truffle.  And it soon got even better.  Kelvin described their pairing while I impatiently waited for him to stop talking and get to the good stuff.  It was worth the wait.  The 2008 Pahlmeyer was a spiritual experience with full HD/3D visions of angels.  And the truffle macaroni and cheese lived up to the aromas that left me in a olfactory stupor just moments earlier.  And the pairing was Olympic caliber.  I am negotiating with Kelvin and Leya for release of the recipe and will be sure to share it once they relent.

For now, here is the recipe I constructed for cream cheese and bacon stuffed green poblano peppers.


  • 12 poblano peppers
  • 12 strips of bacon
  • 1 medium onion minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 12 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Slice the peppers in half lengthwise.  Scrape out the seeds and ribs then rinse.  Place open half down and allow to drain/dry while you prepare the cream cheese filling.
  3. Mix together all the filling ingredients.  Voilà!
  4. Pack the filling into the peppers.  Voilà!
  5. Poblano peppers should be roughly about 1/2 bacon strip in length (yes, you can even measure with bacon!).  Cut the bacon in half laterally and gently, with all appropriate respect, place a piece of bacon over each pepper half.
  6. Place on a sheet pan and send to the over for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven, allow to cool for about 5 minutes and serve.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Blog Title Photo - Thanks John!

When I started this blog just a few short months ago, I decided to focus on three things

  1. Food
  2. Wine
  3. Food and Wine Pairing, and
  4. Food photography

I have been a photographer (in a somewhat serious way) since 2003.  Unfortunately, I had never attempted food photography.  Gratefully, my good friend and fellow photographer John (I highly recommend a visit to his site at John A Downey II Photography), let me “borrow” a photo to help get this blog up and running.  I am very appreciative of John’s support.  Until now, this photograph made by John, was the title photograph:

BZ, OP, Tiradentes, Sao Paulo-150

Just last week I realized that I had sufficiently advanced with my food photography technique that it would be a good idea to “return” John’s photo.  I spent a little time thinking about it, came up with a concept, then executed this shot:

Craig's Grape Adventure-1

Just so we are clear, this is not a fabricated shot (i.e. “photoshopped”) – what you see is what I shot with nothing more than a slight exposure correction and contrast enhancement.  It was fun, I got to play with lighting, and it is consistent with the intent of this blog.  I hope you enjoy.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Deconstructed Crab Cake Sandwich and Suggested Wine Pairing


The crabs are in!  Last weekend was spent on the water in Southern Maryland and I am happy to report we (by we, I mean Chef Sue) caught crabs!  Last year was a dismal year for crabs, but this year is already shaping up to be a banner year.  With fresh catch in hand, I decided it was time to do something interesting with my little crustacean friends.

My inspiration for this recipe comes from my true amazement of the chefs I watch on television who take a common dish, deconstruct it, and build something new, refreshing, and creative.  For this recipe I started with the idea of a crab cake sandwich.  A crab cake sandwich is comprised of a bun, a crab cake, a slice of tomato, some lettuce, and tartar sauce.  My approach was to use garlic bread instead of the bun.  The tomato and lettuce says salad to me, so the crab cakes lie on a bed of salad, and I took artistic license and converted the tartar sauce to dressing for the salad.  The crab cakes remain unmodified with the exception of size and form – I decided to go with slider size crab cakes as a better proportion for their bed of salad.

Crab on La Orchilla

I did not make my traditional wine pairing with this recipe, but rather just grabbed a bottle off the shelf.  I would recommend either a Chardonnay, refreshing Pino Grigio, or Viognier with this recipe.  The dressing already has plenty of acid, so the acidity of the wine is not a concern – the dish is pretty well balanced.  Due to time constraints I did not have the opportunity to photograph this dish.  I’m sure I will be preparing it again and promise to do some shooting and share with you.  In the mean time, some pre-crab cake subjects will have to do.


Salad Ingredients

  • 1 bunch fresh spinach (remove stems)
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1 medium red onion diced
  • 2 ears fresh sweet corn (buttered, seasoned, and grilled under the broiler or on the grill - until you get some color on the kernals). Once slightly charred, cut kernals from the cob.
  • 1 pink grapefruit (skinned, yes even the inside membrane - cut into wedges then halve)
  • Finely minced Parsley for garnish

Dressing Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Easy as making salad.
  2. Because I used fresh spinach, a thorough wash was necessary followed by patting dry. Too much water and your salad won't be any fun. You could also substitute the fresh spinach with a half bag of baby spinach leaves.
  3. Toss the salad ingredients.
  4. Whisk the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad when plating.

Crab Cake


  • 1 lb jumbo lump crab meat
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch of finely diced green onions
  • 1/2 of a small onion - diced
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 to two cups bread crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons of butter


  1. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Add Old Bay seasoning, cayenne and add fresh ground pepper to taste and stir until mixture is well blended.
  3. Add the green onions, diced onion, parsley and mayonnaise.
  4. Role up your sleeves and use your hands to gently fold in the crab meat and breadcrumbs. This is a critical part of the operation with respect to the quantity of breadcrumbs. First, if you have some stale bread hanging around the kitchen, use it. The point is to avoid using pre-seasoned bread crumbs that might add unexpected flavors. The quantity is also important. You need to add enough bread crumbs to absorb much of the liquid leaving you with something that is easily formed into patties before heading to the skillet. On the other hand, you want to use as few bread crumbs as possible - the crab is the star, and breadcrumbs can dilute all that crabby goodness.
  5. Divide the crab meat into golfball size balls - I used an ice cream scoop. The idea is to make something like crab sliders rather than full patties.
  6. If you have enough time, it is best to cover with plastic and refrigerate for about an hour before cooking.
  7. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and adjust heat to medium low. Sauté crab balls about 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. The heat is important. The idea is to keep it low enough to cook all the way through without overcooking the outside.  I listed 4 tablespoons of butter in the ingredients because due to the size of my skillet, I had to make two runs to sauté all the crab – in other words, 2 tablespoons for the first batch and then another 2 for the second batch.
  8. While sautéing the crab balls, have your assistant prepare some garlic bread. I did this by cutting a baguette in half, lathering with butter and minced galic, then putting it under the broiler until toasted (thanks Chef Sue!).
  9. Plate and dress the salad. Artistically place three crab balls on the salad and enjoy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Risotto with Chicken and Peas Paired with 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier

 Curried Pumpkin Risotto with Chicken and Peas Paired with 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier

Photo Buddy John (John Andrew Downey II Photography) was in town this week so of course we decided to have some fun with a wine pairing.  And with John in the house, we had a guest photographer for this pairing.  While it is always fun to cook, pair, photograph, eat, and drink, it is a much easier endeavor when I can cook while John shoots.  This pairing presented a couple of interesting surprises, but not to worry, gastronomic joy was experienced by all.

The Food

I love curry.  If you take a minute to look through some of my past posts, you will find a bunch of pairings and recipes featuring curry – curried duck, roti, curried chicken, curried butternut squash soup and on, and on.  I offer no apologies – I love curry.  Throw in some coconut milk with all that curried goodness, and I get emotional.

Diced Shallots

Pumpkin risotto is a bold dish that combines sweet earthy flavors with rich, creamy textures and a coconut enhanced spicy lingering on the palate at the end of each bite. The pumpkin adds a heft to each morsel that takes this from being just another rice dish to becoming marque worthy.

Pork Belly and Chicken

This dish is another example of the curry smile that appears on my face when the sweet aromas begin to fill the house.  In addition to the holy marriage of curry and coconut milk, pumpkin (like butternut squash) introduces another flavor that marches comfortably in unison with the precision of a military parade.

Pork Belly and Chicken-1

The first surprise from this recipe was the way in which each component stood out as a distinct flavor.  Often, many components become lost in the combination like an oboe lost in an orchestra.  Clearly, the dominance of the curry was a feature flavor, but the cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric, chicken, pork belly, parmesan cheese, cilantro and coconut each had their moment in the spotlight.

Rendering Pork

This was my first attempt at risotto.  The risotto played the perfect role as the foundation on which all the luxurious flavors were built.  However, I have to admit that while certainly enjoyable, the risotto was slightly on the al dente side.  Live and learn.

Stirring Risotto

The Wine

2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier

The wine for this meal came from my monthly purchase of a mixed case from Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.  Honestly, the pair was inspired by the wine.  I had the wine in the rack, and said “what would work will with this bottle of 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier?”

2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier-1

With a light sweetness and flavors of citrus and mango, I hoped this Viognier would stand up to the bold flavors of the curried pumpkin.  I will talk about the pairing in a moment, but on it’s own, the 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier was very pleasant and enjoyable.  At $10 – $12, this wine is a reasonable value and an easy drinking wine.

The Pairing

Pumpkin Risotto with Peas and Chicken

And now on to the second surprise – the pairing was not as successful as I had hoped.  Although we (Photography Buddy John, Chef Sue and I) all enjoyed the wine, it did not stand up to the intense flavors of the curried pumpkin dish.  The wine seemed to lose all flavor in the face of such a daunting opponent.  These strong flavors demand a wine that is equally bold in either sweetness, HUGE fruit, acidity or a combination of these three.  Of these components, high acidity is most important – fight power with power!  If I were to do it again (which I will!) I would look to a big fruit and high acidity Sauvignon Blanc.  As a side note, be careful of high alcohol wines which cause problems with the big spice of a curried dish such as this.

Final Words

This dish is a delightfully indulgent trip into big flavor.  I highly recommend it, and will be back for a better pairing soon.  Be careful and bold in your selection of wine with this recipe.  Finally, I can’t promise I will lay off the curry, but will do my best to offer you some new and exciting options in the near future.  With crabs now in season, I see some seafood in our future as well as a culinary trip to Venezuela.  Stand by for a few of my favorites.

The Recipe

Cilantro and Risotto Recipe


  • 1 lb cubed chicken breasts
  • 6 oz smoked pork belly (cubed to 1/2 inch) - alternatively use country bacon, or just plain bacon - it's all bacon and oh so good.
  • 6 oz. butter
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 quart of chicken stock
  • 1 cup of water
  • ¼ cup sherry
  • 1 finely chopped shallot
  • 15 oz. canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling – just plain puree)
  • 1 1/2 cups risotto rice
  • 1 bag of frozen peas
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated fine
  • 2/3 can coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh cilantro (garnish)


  1. In a sauté pan over a medium-low flame, render smoked pork belly until firm. About mid way through the rendering, add the cayenne pepper and season with salt. Increase the heat to medium, add the curry, and turmeric, and sauté the chicken with the pork belly and pepper mixture, until browned on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Pour the chicken stock and one cup of water into a pot and bring to a simmer.
  3. Whisk 10 oz. of your 15 oz can of pumpkin puree into the warm stock.
  4. When you are ready to make the risotto, place a medium size pan over a medium heat. Add two ounces of butter.
  5. Once the butter melts, add the shallots, a pinch of salt and allow the shallots to sweat.
    When the shallots have sweated and begun to turn translucent, add the rice and stir.
  6. Increase heat to medium and continue to stir vigorously for two minutes but don't let the rice take on color or brown.
  7. Add the sherry and stir it into the rice until it cooks off.
  8. Return the flame to medium-low and add the last half (6 oz.) of pumpkin puree and the cinnamon. 
  9. Stir to combine completely and add your first ladle full of stock. As the stock reduces and the mixture turns creamy, continue to add stock (one ladle at a time - about 12 minutes to incorporate) continuing to stir for a total of 18 minutes. I recommend you have a glass of wine at the ready - this is tedious.
  10. At 18 minutes, add the peas, chicken, bacon, coconut milk, and 1/2 of the cheese, and stir in completely and taste on the minute until the rice is done. There are lots of variables here, so you have to use your judgment on when you feel the rice is done.
  11. Season with salt to taste and plate with cilantro garnish and cheese.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Feedback on Shrimp and Grits Paired with 2009 Cuvaison Chardonnay

I really enjoy when I hear from you and your adventures in trying either the recipes, wine, or pairings from Craig’s Grape Adventure.  I would even love to hear about your recipes and pairings!  Just send them my way, and I will be glad to feature them here.

Just yesterday, my friend Jay made a full on run at the Shrimp and Grits (See Shrimp and Grits Paired with 2009 Cuvaison Chardonnay).  Jay, being a brilliant man, was preparing the shrimp and grits for his wife – a big fan of grits.

Shrimp and Grits with Cuvaison Chardonnay

Jay was also kind enough to share some thoughts about his experience with the pairing.  Here are some paraphrased thoughts from Jay:

“I thought it was an excellent recipe, there were a variety of flavors going on in each bite. It's got some nice complex stuff there…and yet it is pretty easy to put together -  we are going to make it again (for guests next time). “

“It was interesting with the creaminess, the bacon flavor, countered against the more bitter tastes of the lemon juice and the parsley.  My dinner guests said they would like to cut back on the lemon juice by about half next time and see how that compares - though they did like it.”  

Sautee Shrimp and Bacon 

“As far a prep, I drained off about a 1/3 of the rendered bacon fat before I put the shrimp in and I think I would like to cut that even more next time.  I'd say I had about two tablespoons of grease in the pan after the bacon was done and I could have gotten by with quite a bit less which would have made the parsley/garlic/onion combo not get drowned out as much.”

“I had some Chardonnay with it and it was a decent match but I think I'd like to find one that had a little more butteriness than the one I had which was more fruit forward.” 

Jay’s comments are thoughtful and appreciated.  And I like the thought on the wine…a buttery Chardonnay would meld into a sensual slow dance with the creamy grits and the shrimp.  And I just recently found a wonderful value in a Chardonnay that would do just this – 2008 Sebastiani Chardonnay, Sonoma County.  This wine is a true delight with well balanced fruit flavors, moderate acidity which makes it a good food pairing choice, subtly present minerality and an understated oak profile.  A friend brought this wine to a recent event and I was hooked.  I quickly began my search and found this wine at Harris Teeter for an amazing $10.99.  This is a super value.

I have several pairings to write about, including one from just a couple days ago – Curried Pumpkin Risotto with Chicken and Peas Paired with 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier.  Wow!  Soooooo good.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.