Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hard Shell Chicken and Beef Tacos from the Austin Grill Food Truck Paired with 2010 La Ardilla Moscato de Valencia

Austin Grill Tacos with 2010 Lar Ardilla Moscato de Valencia-1

The recent growth of gourmet food trucks is a good thing.  It is a particularly good thing if you live in a place that has some healthy competition among a number of these creative vendors.  In Washington DC, we are lucky enough to have a great variety of these young entrepreneurs. We have a sufficient number of trucks to warrant a website and an app for both iPhones and Android phones that shows you (in real time) where all the food trucks are located.  Go to Food Truck Fiesta to locate the trucks and find out about the App.

Austin Grill Truck

At the moment, Food Truck Fiesta lists 55 trucks with 12 more on the way.  With only a couple of exceptions, these trucks are all offering some unique cuisine.  These are not the hot dog trucks of our childhood.  About a month ago, I decided to make it my mission to methodically and scientifically work my way through each of these food trucks.  I started today with the Austin Grill food truck.

Austin Grill Truck (2)

I will be honest and tell you that today’s wine pairing represents about 30 seconds worth of forethought.  Here is my story.  I was walking home from a meeting in NW DC and realized it was closing in on noon…my stomach let me know before my watch did.  So I pulled out my Food Truck Fiesta App and found the trucks that happened to be on my route home.  I selected Austin Grill.  Austin Grill specializes in Tex Mex and today had a $7 special that included two hardshell tacos (one with grilled chicken and the other with grilled steak), rice and beans.

Austin Grill Tacos with 2010 Lar Ardilla Moscato de Valencia

At first, the tacos did not seem to be anything particularly special; corn shells, diced onion, diced tomato, lettuce and shredded cheese.  However, after the second bite, the magic started to happen.  The secret ingredient is the exceptionally well seasoned grilled meat (both the chicken and the beef).  Included in this seasoning is a hint of heat that accentuates the rest of the flavors.  The beans are better than average, and the rice is a unremarkable.  The reason to buy these tacos clearly lies in the perfect grilling and seasoning of the meat – worth the price of admission.

2010 Lar Ardilla Moscato de Valencia

Paired with this little lunch time treat was a 2010 La Ardilla Moscato de Valencia.  When I saw the taco special at Austin Grill, I immediately thought of this Moscato I had tried just the night before.  I really enjoyed this wine.  It is intensely floral on the nose with crisp citrus, and complimentary flavors of citrus, honey, and apricot.  Many times with Moscatos, the sweetness buries the fruit flavors.  Not so with the La Ardilla.  I did not have to hunt for the flavors.  And this wine had a very pleasant surprise – a light effervescence.  The first impression is a wonderful balance between the sweet and the fizz that make this wine both fun and refreshing.

2010 Lar Ardilla Moscato de Valencia-1

When I purchased the tacos, I was expecting a little piquance and therefore immediately thought of the 2010 La Ardilla Moscato de Valencia to balance the heat with the sweet, fruit, and effervescent components.  The tacos did not have as much heat as I expected, but the pairing still worked exceptionally well – particularly on a hot-almost-July day in DC.

Other pairings that I might try with these tacos would be:

  • Beef taco: Zinfandel, Malbec, Syrah, Shiraz, Spanish Rioja.
  • Chicken taco: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc.

When you have a choice, support our DC Food Trucks.  I want to see them stick around and continue to surprise us with their creativity.

Austin Grill Truck (3)

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

DIY Lighting for Food Photography

This is is just a short note to point those of you interested in the food photography aspect of this post to a couple of relevant articles.  This week I posted two articles addressing do it yourself (interpret as really inexpensive) lighting techniques for food photography.  If you are interested, visit my photography blog “Craig Corl Photography” to see these articles:

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I begin a series of posts featuring wine pairing with food from DC food trucks.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cooking and Reality TV–Some Constructive Feedback for the Food Network


The title of this post was revised several times – each progressively more reserved.  The first draft was something along the lines of “WTF are you thinking?”  My blood pressure rose to this level while watching an entertaining and wonderful retrospective on the evolution of Food Network covering it’s full history all the way back to the launch in November of 1993.  While reliving the challenges and inexperience of the first shows, I was shocked back into the present with the speed of Bobby Flay’s knife as I watched a commercial for the soon to debut Food Network show “Extreme Chef” featuring contestants challenged with creating an award winning dish with a Swiss Army knife, while fending off rattlesnakes and armed guerillas in the Mountains of Colombia. 

I suddenly realized that one of my favorite networks (ok, it doesn’t take much to make my top ten – I only watch sports and cooking shows) was sliding into the deep fryer with no life jacket.  Back in the day (I think it was a Wednesday) I watched HGTV.  I enjoyed the practical advice, the craftsmanship of people like Norm Abrams, and wonderful restorations such as those featured on “This Old House.”  However, at some point, HGTV dove into the deep end of an empty pool while shooting itself in the foot with a nail gun and committed most of it’s programming to reality based shows - we now have to endure more mind numbing crap than is legally permissible in most states.  I don’t care about the personal relationships of some dysfunctional group of house flippers.  I don’t care that you can descend on a home with 1000 people and turn it into another Disney ride in one week.  HGTV is the fast food of what used to be true craftsmanship.  And now I am afraid that the Food Network will commit a fatal seasoning error by becoming the fast food of, uh, food channels.

I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming earlier.  With the addition of shows like Chopped (and all it’s orphans), Iron Chef, Cupcake Wars (a whole different set of issues for me…sorry, you can keep your cupcakes, lets talk about real food), Last Cake Standing (see my thoughts on cupcakes sweetheart) Next Food Network Star (where nearly all the contestants seem to get a show – win, lose or draw), The Great Food Truck Race,  Restaurant Impossible, Food Network Challenge, Worst Cooks in America (how about worst idea in America?).

Being intimately aware of the frog in boiling water analogy, the programming folks at the Food Network slyly and effectively used the same trick by slowly turn up the heat on mental flatulence shows until we finally arrive at the pièce de résistance of television insults – Extreme Chef.  I will admit that I have not seen the show.  If I were to watch it, I am confident my opinion would not change – just the concept makes me want to self-Heimlich.  I also have to admit that I have not yet been bitching constructively.  For this I apologize.  There are still a number of shows I enjoy, and I appreciate the hard work of the folks at the Food Network for the quality shows we get to enjoy. 

So, to Mr. Bob Tuschman (General Manager of the Food Network), I apologize for the harsh words.  However, my underlying intent remains, so I suggest using the Google translator to rephrase everything I have said so far into French or Spanish – it will sound so much better if you don’t understand the language.  And as for the constructive part, here are just a couple of thoughts for you to marinade overnight in the fridge:

  1. Go back to your roots, ok, just above the roots when you got the production thing squared away.  Bob, you were there in 1998 and were responsible for developing some of the best programming and talent the network has seen.  I am confident you can do it again.
  2. A small portion of the competitive/reality programming is okay.  Chopped and Iron Chef are good examples…but like any seasoning, use it sparingly and with full intention.
  3. Avoid the silly and fluffy stuff – like Extreme Chef and anything with the word “cake” in it.  An exception would be the use of cake, as in Cakebread Winery.  BTW, I used the photo of the cannoli at the beginning of this post to show I am not biased against deserts – quite the contrary.  But please, no more cake competitions…even if you try to disguise it by adding a cup.
  4. If you need something new, try a show devoted to food and wine pairing, and why it works – or not (hmmm, interesting).
  5. Reserve at least half of your programming, and all of your prime time programming, to serious chefs creating serious food (they can be done in an entertaining way, ala Alton Brown, but leave the circus acts and sideshows to the Clown Network).  Make this a fire tempered sacred steak – and nobody gets a bite.  The rest of the experiments can be programmed from midnight to noon.

Finally, I know that I don’t have to watch the brain jello reality shows.  I can just turn the channel, and I do.  But I honestly enjoy what the Food Network brings to television (well most of it).  And because I care, I would rather speak up, than see next season’s debut of “Pimp My Salad.”

If you harbor feelings similar to mine, I encourage you to let the good folks at the Food Network hear from you.  Here is a link to the Food Network feedback page.  Heck, if you disagree with me, go to their feedback page and encourage them to continue down this path toward the dark side of irreparably  burnt foie gras (now there is a sad image to leave you with, but really, no influence on your decision was intended).  I will still have sports to watch – where reality is the name of the game.

Thanks for listening to my little rant.  I will be back on the meds tomorrow so we can return to the important business of food, wine, and the mind bending ecstasy of great wine paired with great food.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Butter Poached Divers Scallops, Flounder Fillet over Pesto Fettuccini Paired with a Dry Riesling

Maine Ave Fish Market Tilt and Shift 2

Sorry friends, no great food photography for this post, but I have arranged for a suitable stand in – some photography from the Washing DC Maine Avenue Fish Market.  In all honesty, this pairing was a completely unplanned and happy coincidence that started with a hyper-productive basil plant in the garden of Chef Sue.  This recipe was built from from the base up.  Here is the stream of consciousness that occurred yesterday afternoon:

  1. Oooh, lots of basil.  What to do?
  2. Basil = Pesto.  Yes!!!
  3. Pesto needs pasta – fettuccini.  Yes!!!
  4. What do we have that might like to sit on a bed of pesto fettuccini?  Flounder fillet.  Yes!!!
  5. But why stop at the flounder?  If we could just add one more thing, this may turn into something really special.  Scallops!!!

Main Avenue Fish Market-4

So there you have it.  I told Chef Sue what I was up to, and she picked up the scallops on the way home and a bottle of mass produced Riesling.  We will not spend much time on the wine, but I will comment that even though this was a non-vintage $5 bottle of Riesling, the pairing worked well.  I think a dryer and bit more sophisticated Riesling would have been better, but this was an unplanned pairing and completely adequate.  If you are like me, I can’t afford to drink the wine I would like to drink whenever I want to drink it.

Main Avenue Fish Market-1

One of the reasons the Riesling worked was the addition of a very light breading to the fillets that included some cayenne pepper for a hint of piquancy.  The sweetness of the Riesling was a nice contrast to the pepper while also complementing the sweet butter flavors of the scallops, flounder, and the garlic butter sauce that was drizzled over the top.

Main Avenue Fish Market

This was a super easy dish to prepare and took only 30 minutes.  Before presenting the recipes, let me set up the process that gets you to a 30 minute meal:

  1. Boil the water for the pasta
  2. Preheat oven to 375, and prep fillets to go in the oven. 20 – 25 minutes in the oven.
  3. Make Pesto.
  4. At 6 minutes to go before the fillets are done, prepare the scallops and garlic butter sauce.

Main Avenue Fish Market-2



Stick with me here, because this will be a description of what I made, rather than a precise recipe.  But honestly, I have tasted so many pesto recipes, each with their own little twist, this is more a matter of being in the ball park than being precise.

I started by visiting Chef Sue’s garden and picked enough basil leaves to fill the bowl of a mini food processors (about 5 inches in diameter and 4 inches tall).  To this I added a handful (pretty precise, huh?) of almonds.  Yes, I said almonds and not pine nuts.  Pine nuts are expensive and over rated – the almonds worked fine (and I happened to have them).  Add a tablespoon of minced garlic, and about a one ounce chunk of parmesan cheese.  Pulse the food processor until you have a coarse cut.  Then begin to add olive oil slowly as you continue to pulse.  Continue to add the olive oil until you achieve a consistency you like.  Season to taste.  Easy stuff.

Later on, when your pasta is done, add the pesto to the pasta and combine completely to coat the pasta.  Rely on the heat of the pasta – there is no need to heat the pesto.

Baked Flounder Fillets

Again, this is soooo easy, I’m going with a description rather than a normal recipe format.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Dredge your fillets (any nice white fish will do, no need to stick with flounder – I am a huge fan of cod and haddock) in a mixture of of corn flower or corn meal with a small amount of cayenne pepper.  This can be adjusted according to your taste.  I went for the subtle side.

Place the fillets on a sheet pan, add some sliced onions on each fillet along with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a drizzle of butter, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes.  Your goal is firm fish that flake easily with a fork.

Butter Poached Scallops in a Garlic Butter Sauce

In a small skillet, sauté 1/2 onion and a tablespoon of garlic in 1 tablespoon of butter.  When the onions soften, add two more tablespoons of butter, and push the onions to one side of the small skillet.  Add the scallops at medium high heat.  For a serving of two, I used five divers scallops (big ones – an inch + in height) cut in half to make 10 smaller scallops about 1/2 inch thick.  The butter should cover at least the bottom half of the scallops (this is really a matter of picking the right size skillet – small).  After two minutes, flip the scallops and continue for another two minutes.


Begin with a bed of pesto fettuccini, then add a fillet.  Over the fillet, arrange five scallops.  Over the whole construction, spoon on the sautéed onions and garlic in which the scallops were prepared.  Garnish with parsley and a lemon wedge.

Final Words

This recipe and pairing was a happy coincidence.  It was not planned.  It just happened, and I am glad it did.  Give it a try with a dry Riesling.  You will not be disappointed.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Preview of an Upcoming Theme Pairing Inspired by Casino Royale

Winery in the Fog

Food and wine should be fun, and I’m not talking about the time when I was 10 years old and pushing the horribly overcooked carrots around my plate hoping for a magic trick that would make them disappear.  I am presently planning a dinner party that should add a component of fun that goes beyond the pleasure of enjoying a great meal.  A pairing inspired by James Bond from the book Casino Royale.

I have recently read a number of books that have movie counterparts.  Each of these were movies I had seen, but had not read the book.  I was pleasantly surprised to read Casino Royale and find an elaborate description of the meal shared by Bond and the ubiquitous Bond series femme fatale, Vesper in this case.

Story line:  Bond is tasked with beating Le Chiffre at baccarat and thus leaving him bankrupt and at the mercy of the Soviet counterintelligence agency (the SMERSH) to which Le Chiffre owes millions.  No Bond episode is complete without a "Bond Girl."  In this case it is Vesper, a counterpart from the British Intelligence "S" directorate who turns out to be a double agent.  Prior to the big face off with Le Chiffre, Bond and Vesper have dinner, and in typical Bond fashion, it is indulgent.  My goal is to recreate this dinner.  Oh, and importantly, this is the book that introduces his famous martini recipe which he names in honor of Vesper.  

Here is the menu:

To start:

  • Caviar and toast with finely chopped onion and grated hard boiled egg (whites and yolks separated into two bowls)
  • Vesper Martini

Vesper's order:

  • Plain grilled rognon de veau (veal kidney cubes sautéed in a garlic mushroom butter sauce)
  • Pommes Souffles (twice fried potatoes)
  • Fraises des bois with lots of cream (strawberries and cream)

Bond's order:

  • Tournedos, underdone, with Béarnaise sauce (filet mignon with Béarnaise sauce)
  • Coeur d'artichaut (artichoke hearts)
  • Half an avocado pear with french dressing

The meal is paired with Champagne Blanc de Blanc Brut 1943 - clearly not a realistic pairing for us. So we will do the contemporary (and affordable) equivalent. Blanc de blanc is a champagne made only from white grapes. The "Brut" part is a classification that indicates a "dry" Champagne (meaning not sweet - don't confuse with “extra dry” - another classification ironically not as dry as brut) that is very food friendly.

Check back in couple of weeks for full photographic coverage (including the chef toiling in a tux) along with all the recipes.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Softshell Crab BLT, Crispy Pork Belly, Brioche, Calabrian Chili Aioli Paired with 2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir

Crab BLT with 2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir

Welcome back to another pairing from Decanting Napa Valley The Cookbook. This pairing of softshell crab BLT, crispy pork belly, brioche calabrian chili Aioli with a 2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir is particularly special because I prepared it in honor of Chef Sue’s birthday.  It is also a bit special because we have been anxiously waiting several months for the arrival of softshell crabs.  Meanwhile, the bottle of Etude Pinot Noir has posed in the wine rack taunting me with that familiar Pinot snicker.

With softshell crabs finally arriving, and a event appropriate for this wonderful pairing I was very excited to prepare this creatively conceived dish.  This is one of those magical recipes where I find myself loving every single ingredient.  But before we press on with the full description, I have to mention a few substitutions.  I was unable to find pork belly, so I substituted oven roasted thick cut bacon.  Mache (a type of lettuce) was also prescribed but not available near home, so I substituted red leaf lettuce adding some nice texture and color.  Finally, I was unable to find the calabrian chilies and used dried pepper flakes as a substitute. All the substitutions worked fine, but I really would have liked to have the pork belly – yum!

For the full recipe you will need to purchase the cook book at Decanting Wine Country.  Sorry, but I will tell you a bit about the dish.  Fundamentally it is a reconstructed BLT sandwich with the wonderful addition of a lightly fried softshell crab.  At the base, we start with a brioche lathered with a generous portion of the pepper aioli.  We then stack on the pan seared and oven rendered pork belly (or bacon in my case).  Next comes the thinly sliced grape tomatoes and lettuce and rather than top our BLT with another piece of bread, we finish it off with a lightly breaded and fried softshell crab.

2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir-3

The flavors in this dish are subtle and complimentary.  Even the pepper aioli adds only a small splash of heat and does not overwhelm the will balanced warm flavors from the pork and the crab.  The three featured flavors derive from the pepper aioli, pork, and crab.  Before seeing this recipe, I had never thought of the crab and pork combination.  However, once presented with the possibility, it made good sense.  Neither have bold or dominant flavor profiles, and we all know that pork belly matches well with just about anything – even crabs!  In this case, it worked beautifully and the dish was extremely well balanced. 

Crab BLT with 2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir-1

Our tasting crew consisting of birthday girl Chef Sue, Gunslinger Teji, Golf Buddy Steve, and Formerly of Austin Dawn, all commented that in each bight, you not only were treated to a wonderfully balanced set of flavors, but that you could taste each individual component without any one flavor bullying another.  From a textural standpoint, this dish has everything you can imagine from the crisp crunch of the brioche and softshell crab, to the fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and finally to the multi textural bacon (the pork belly would have even been better from a textural perspective).

Crab BLT with 2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir-2

So far, so good.  However, the crowd was skeptical of pairing a red wine with the delicate flavors of the softshell crab.  Fortunately, the Etude Pinot Noir was a light to medium bodied Pinot Noir that made everyone around the table smile in approval.

2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir-4

Here are the tasting notes from Etude Winery:

“Our goal is to produce a distinctly styled Pinot Noir of the highest quality, a wine that can satisfy any 'Burgundian' urge and yet be proud of its California roots. The 2007 Estate bottling offers inviting cool climate aromatics of raspberry, pomegranate and sandalwood with a touch of turned earth. Classically structured, the palate bursts with flavors of sweet frambois strawberries, red cherries and mocha. The lush fruit combined with the baking spice notes from aging in French oak creates a defined Pinot Noir with elegance and length.”

Also from the Etude Winery website are some notes from 2009 when Robert Parker gave this wine 90 points and said “Etude’s outstanding trio of Pinot Noirs begins with the dark ruby/plum-hued 2007 Pinot Noir Estate, which offers plenty of sweet cherry, pomegranate, wood spice, and forest floor characteristics in its round, gracious, expansive personality. Enjoy it over the next 5-6 years.”

2007 Etude Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir-6

In my opinion, the bright red fruit of this wine was clearly the star with a good supporting structure and earth notes to form a nice balance and full mouth feel.  The fruit forward nature of this medium bodied Pinot Noir perfectly complimented the sweet, rich flavors of the pork and crab.  Had the wine featured darker fruits, I don’t believe it would have worked nearly as well.

At $40 per bottle, this is a wine worth trying.  It would be a pleasure to drink on it’s own, but this wine is a brilliant choice for a broad range of paring options.

As you can tell, I am not rushing my way through Decanting Napa Valley The Cookbook.  I believe this is about the 6th pairing from the cookbook.  I’m sure we’ll return to the cookbook soon.  But for now, I will sit back and enjoy another glass of wine.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Venezuelan Arepas with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Paired with 2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Arepas

My last assignment in the US Coast Guard was as the Coast Guard Attaché in Venezuela.  I lived in Caracas for three years, travelled throughout Venezuela, and was introduced to a number of great foods.  In general, Venezuelan food is not terribly distinctive (Venezuelans enjoy food from around the world, and like any major metropolitan areas, Caracas features a broad variety of international foods), but there are some real indigenous gems nonetheless.  The best of Venezuelan food comes from the grill (parilla), street food, and special holiday dishes.

Pollo Mechado

The food featured in today’s pairing is a Venezuelan staple – Arepas.  Arepas are the very tasty distant cousin of the hamburger roll (ok, they are not even remotely related, but it is helpful in getting your head around the idea of an arepa).  Arepas are made with corn flower and water, grilled to a slight crisp on the out shell, and cooked through in the oven.  Sliced in half, or slit on one side and opened for stuffing, Arepas are the backbone of Venezuelan street food, and are stuffed with just about anything imaginable.

Reina Pepiada

For this meal, I decided to make two of my favorites for stuffing the arepas; Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado.  The easy way to understand reina pepiada is to think of chicken salad with avocados.  The flavor is so intensely satisfying, I am truly surprised I had not experienced this phenomenal combination before living in Venezuela.

Pollo Mechado is similarly simple, and nearly as tasty (just my opinion).  Pollo Mechado is shredded baked (or grilled) chicken which is supported by a sautéed mixture of onions, peppers, and garlic.  The chicken is keeping good company.

Garlic onion and peppers-1

Neither the reina pepiada or pollo mechado are particularly strong flavors – think of the warm, pleasant flavors of comfort food – Venezuelan style.  With these mild flavors in mind, I chose the 2009 Benziger Family Carneros Chardonnay with the intent of complimenting the flavors in both arepas while trying to avoid overwhelming them.  The arepas did not require a wine with a high acidity, fruit, or sweetness to form a balance, so I thought the Chardonnay would be a good bet.  And for the record, if you were to do this in true Venezuelan style, the wine would be pushed to the side, and you would open a bien frio polarcita.

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay-1

The 2009 Benziger Family Carneros Chardonnay is a described by these tasting notes from the Benziger Family Winery:

“Our Carneros Chardonnay is a bright, clean wine with excellent balance of fruit and structure. In this vintage, flavors of ripe peach and pear are followed by notes of soft vanilla. Barrel aging contributes to a round, satisfying mouthfeel with very subtle oak flavor.”

I would have written my own description, but these tasting notes describe it well.  My only additions would be to say that the fruit flavors are moderate, but well balanced with the finishing hints of vanilla.  The oak flavor is similarly subtle and well balanced with the fruit and vanilla flavors.  At $10 per bottle for a wine produced under certified sustainable farming methods, this is an exceptional value.

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay-3

Chef Sue (my best critic) was extremely happy with both the arepas and the wine.  However, she rated the paring as only “good.”  Chef Sue said she would have preferred something with a bit more acidity, or bolder fruit (or both).  Personally, I was very satisfied with the pairing.  While I will agree with Chef Sue that the wine did not particularly enhance any of the elements of the arepas, I would emphasize that the wine did not overpower or detract from the mild flavors of the arepas.  Too much of anything (acid, fruit, sweetness) could have easily overwhelmed the arepas.

Overall, Chef Sue and I declared the pairing a success, and will certainly be making more gastronomic visits to memory lane in Venezuela.





  • 2 cups pre-cooked cornmeal flour (Harina P.A.N. is the best)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Vegetable oil



  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal and salt. Pour in the boiling water and mix with a spoon until fully combined and without lumps. If it is too wet and sticks to you fingers, gradually add more flower. If it is too dry, add more water. Cover and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Wet your hands and make a ball out of some dough. Press the ball into a patty. The goal is to get a patty that tis 3 to 4 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Keeping your hands wet makes the process much easier.
  4. Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the patties to form a light brown crust and flip to brown the opposite side.
  5. When all the patties are browned, transfer them to a sheet pan and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until they sound a bit hollow when you tap them.
  6. Slice the arepas in half lengthwise, or slit about half way to form a pocket. Scoop out the remaining moist/loose dough in the middle, stuff and serve.

Reina Pepiada


  • 1 lb skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 avocados (diced)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 medium onion diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, place on sheet pan and place in oven for 9 minutes.
  3. Turn the chicken and continue in oven for another 9 minutes.
  4. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to cool.
  5. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken breasts.
  6. Combine and mix the shredded chicken, avocados, mayonnaise, and onion. Fundamentally, this is chicken salad with the addition of avocados. Feel free to vary the amount of mayonnaise to achieve the consistency you prefer. (Add some cilantro to kick up the flavor a bit – I love it, but it is not authentic Venezuelan)
  7. Season to taste and stuff into arepas.

Pollo Mechado


  • 1 lb skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 red bell pepper finely diced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste.


  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, place on sheet pan and place in oven for 9 minutes.
  3. Turn the chicken and continue in oven for another 9 minutes.
  4. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to cool.
  5. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken breasts.
  6. In a sauté pan or skillet, sauté onions, pepper and garlic in two tablespoons of vegetable oil
  7. When onions are translucent, add the chicken and two more tablespoons of oil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to sauté for 2 minutes stirring will to combine all ingredients.
  8. Season to taste and stuff into arepas.  Top with grated queso quayunes, queso fresco, or other mild/soft white cheese.

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Arepas-2

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Open Faced Steak Sandwich Topped with Sautéed Celery Root and Leeks Paired with 2006 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma County Merlot

For quite some time now, I have wanted to construct a pairing that featured pureed celery root.  Unfortunately, the celery root has not been available for several weeks (at least while I was visiting the grocery).  Well, I found celery root yesterday, and came close to making the celery root puree.  I say almost because as I looked at the stock in the fridge I found a leftover steak from the weekend grill-fest and decided to do something with it – and include the celery root.  The result was an open faced steak sandwich with a mound of sautéed celery root and leeks, oh, and a little cheese to hold the mound of flavor in place.

This wonderful little sandwich is rich in umami and layered with the aromatic celery flavors from the celery root and just a touch of piquance from the cayenne.  Warming the leftover steak in the beef broth was a key part of the process which “rehydrated” the steak and made things nice and juicy.

These flavors were joyously complimented with dark and vibrant flavors of blueberry and pepper supported by soft tannins in the 2006 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma County Merlot.  This Merlot is silky smooth and perfectly echoed the flavors in the sandwich.

2006 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma County Merlot-2

I have to admit that like the dish, the pairing was not planned in advance.  Similar to the steak, the 2006 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma County Merlot was a leftover – we tapped into this bottle the night before to enjoy just a taste of our recent shipment from Benziger Family Winery.  We joined the Benziger Family Winery wine club during our January trip to California, and were ecstatic to find this Merlot living up to the wonderful experience we had while visiting the winery in Sonoma County.  We thoroughly enjoyed every wine we tasted, and I highly recommend you give them a visit at



  • 1 leftover steak sliced in to 1/4 to 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 loaf of par baked bread (or make your own from scratch)
  • 1/2 medium sized celery root coarsely grated
  • 1 leek chopped
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup grated cheese (your choice of cheese, but I recommend something mild)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Finish baking the par baked bread, in my case it was 15 minutes in a 375 degree preheated oven.
  2. Coat the bottom of a small pan with olive oil and place on medium high heat.
  3. Add leeks and cayenne pepper.  Sauté for about one minute.
  4. Add the grated celery root and sauté until tender.  Season with salt and pepper then remove from heat and set aside.
  5. If you time this right, your bread should be done now.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  6. In a medium sauce pan, bring two cups of beef broth to a simmer.  Just before you are ready to assemble the sandwich, add the steak strips to the broth and warm through.  The idea is simply to warm the meat, not cook it.
  7. Cut the bread into 1 inch or so slices.  In my case, the steak made three sandwiches which miraculously meant three slices.
  8. Assemble the sandwich by laying slices of steak across the bread, adding a stack of the celery root and leek sauté and lightly coating with grated cheese.
  9. Place the sandwiches on sheet pan and place under the broiler until the cheese melts. 1-2 minutes.
  10. Remove from broiler and plate with a small saucer of the beef broth (for dunking bread).
  11. This is somewhat of a “vertical” sandwich, so bring along a fork and knife.

My apologies for the lack of photography with this post.  It was a last minute thought and last minute happy coincidence.  However, if you give this pairing a go the next time you have a leftover steak in the fridge, I’m confident it will make up for the lack of pretty pictures.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Braised Short Ribs in a Red Wine Reduction with Rustic Egg Noodles and Red Cabbage Paired with 2006 Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Braised Short Ribs paired with 2006 Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-2

A few weeks ago, Chef Sue decided to reclaim her kitchen for the evening and planned this wine pairing.  As is always the case with Chef Sue’s creations, this was a spectacular meal.  Braised short ribs are not a difficult meal to prepare, but it takes some time.  With three hours in the oven alone, this meal takes a little planning (time management) but is well worth the wait.

2006 Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-1

Braised short ribs are a real treat, and the vegetable pure – red wine sauce makes this a truly flavorful feast.  To top it off, the 2006 Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon chosen by Chef Sue was a wonderful match.  This wine is best when decanted to let it open up a bit.  You will be rewarded with ripe and sweet black cherries, a touch of dark chocolate, and subtle notes of vanilla and oak.  These wonderfully complimentary flavors were equally complimentary to the earthy flavors of the fall-off-the-bone delicious short ribs.

Braised Short Ribs paired with 2006 Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-1

Adding to the gastronomic fun were a base of rustic egg noodles and sautéed red cabbage.  The noodles were a nice complimentary texture and the red cabbage added some fun color.  I’m not a huge fan of the red cabbage, but in combination with the rest of the players, I found a happy place.

2006 Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-2


Braised Short Ribs in a Red Wine Reduction


  • 4 short ribs with bones
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion roughly cut (medium large pieces)
  • 2 celery stalks cut to 1/2 inch lengths
  • 2 peeled carrots cut lengthwise then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cups tomato paste
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bunch of tied fresh thyme
  • 6 bay leaves
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper to taste

Braised Short Ribs


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Season each short rib with sea salt.
  3. Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven (or other large pot) with olive oil and bring to a high heat.
  4. Add the short ribs and brown all sides.
  5. While the short ribs are browning, puree all the vegetables and garlic in a food processor.
  6. When the short ribs are browned, remove and set aside.
  7. Add pureed vegetables to the pot just vacated by the short ribs.
  8. Season the vegetables and brown until they are dark and bits are forming a moist coating/crust on the bottom of the pot - about 5 minutes or so.
  9. Scrape the pot to release the vegetable coating and add the tomato paste.
  10. Brown the tomato paste for 4 minutes or so then add the wine and scrape again.
  11. Lower the heat and allow the mixture to reduce by half.
  12. Return the short ribs to the Dutch oven and add 2 cups of water or enough so the water just covers the short ribs.
  13. Add the thyme and bay leaves. Cover and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check periodically and add more water, if needed.
  14. At the mid way point, turn the ribs over.
  15. With 20 minutes to go, remove the lid to let the sauce reduce.
  16. Plate with sauce generously drizzled over the short ribs.

Rustic Egg Noodles


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion roughly diced
  • grated parmesan cheese


  1. Add flower to the bowl of your electric mixer (with dough hook)
  2. Start the mixer to medium speed and add eggs one at a time.
  3. Add olive oil and salt.
  4. Let the mixer do it's thing until the dough is smooth, firm and dry. You can adjust the texture with water or the addition of flour.
  5. Remove the dough from the mixer, wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let sit for an hour.
  6. Remove dough from plastic and roll out to your preferred thickness.
  7. Use a pizza cutter to make random and fun shapes…be creative.
  8. Sauté onion in a bit of olive oil and butter until tender.
  9. Add your creative pasta bits and sauté until cooked through.
  10. Plate and top with parmesan cheese

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Lamb Spinach Ricotta Ravioli in a White Wine Mushroom Cream Sauce Paired with 2009 14 Hands Washington State Chardonnay

2009 14 Hands Chardonnay paired with Lamb and Ricotta Ravioli-1

I’m afraid the description of this pairing will not follow the normal form.  First, the pairing was supposed to be with a 2009 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay – but Chef Sue and I drank it while preparing the meal – oops.  Second, I don’t have a recipe – this meal (and pairing) started as an idea and was a “cook on the fly” type experience sticking within the broad idea for the meal.  The dish is not difficult, so an idea was sufficient.  This is a common experience for our weekends at our secret Southern Maryland waterfront lair – no rules, just ideas.

Although I will not be providing a recipe, this was not that complicated with the exception of all the home made ingredients which include ricotta, lamb sausage, and the pasta.  If you are not prepared to whip up those parts in your kitchen, make a substitution from the grocery store and butcher – it won’t hurt my feelings.  Between my description and the photographs, I am confident you can recreate this wonderful dish.

In the last year, Chef Sue has tilted over the edge and decided that we should be making our own cheese.  Being a Homer Simpson-like fan of cheese, I don’t complain.  And because this is Chef Sue’s little running science project, all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the fruits of her labor.  Not a bad deal.  This dish started with Chef Sue making fresh ricotta.  Yum.  There is a world of difference between home made ricotta and the stuff that comes in the plastic tub.  Added to this cheesy goodness is some garlic sautéed spinach and some freshly ground lamb combined with some fennel and ground mushrooms to form the loose lamb sausage.

Making Ricotta

Lamb Sausage

Next comes the pasta for creating the ravioli – just follow the pictures – easy stuff.  Once the pasta is ready, stuff it with the spinach-ricotta-lamb sausage mixture, seal it with an egg wash, cut to shape and it is ready for the swimming pool.

Making Pasta

Making Pasta-1

Making Pasta-2

Lamb and Ricotta Ravioli-5

Lamb and Ricotta Ravioli-6

Finally, Chef Sue topped the cooked ravioli in a white wine mushroom cream sauce.  We used dried mushrooms, so the soaking water was a key ingredient in the sauce.  Plate, garnish (parsley and shaved parmesan), and enjoy.

Dried Mushrooms

Mushrooms Soaking

The flavors in this dish are the ones that make you smile involuntarily.  Earthy mushroom, creamy smoothness from the sauce and the fresh ricotta, a little gaminess from the lamb and a touch of bitter from the spinach and garlic.  A other-worldly mixture and balance of flavors.  Add a touch of truffle oil or truffle salt to achieve interplanetary travel.

2009 14 Hands Chardonnay paired with Lamb and Ricotta Ravioli-3

I have to be honest and tell you that it has been over a month since we prepared this meal, and I don’t recall the specific flavors of the wine (maybe the fault of that first bottle of Cakebread).  But I am confident in saying the wine was a delight and the pairing a real treat.  Lacking a crystal clear memory, here are a few notes from the people at 14 hands:

“14 Hands Chardonnay offers bright aromas of apples and pears with a touch of caramel and spice. Elegant fruit flavors give way to hints of butter and coconut, ending with a juicy finish. Balanced and approachable, this wine can stand alone as an aperitif or partners well with buttered fish, grilled pork or pasta with cream sauce.”

Sounds about right to me – and pasta with cream sauce – YES!  The fruit and buttery finish I hazily recall as prominent and key to working well with the ravioli and cream sauce.  At $12 a bottle, this wine definitely falls into the category of excellent value.

2009 14 Hands Washington State Chardonnay

My apologies for the less than precise rendering of this pairing, but every once in a while it is good to use your imagination.  Maybe one of these days I will post a pairing with nothing but photos and let you figure it out – now there is a challenge!

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chilorio with Mexican Rice Paired with a Long Line-up of Wine

Chilorio with Mexican Rice-1

To celebrate cinco de Mayo, Chef Sue and I decided to put together a Mexican based wine pairing featuring Chilorio with Mexican Rice.  Unfortunately, none of my favorite wine shops carried Mexican wine.  And to be quite honest, I don’t believe I have ever tasted or even seen a Mexican wine.  I’m sure they exist, but for the purposes of this pairing we had to make do.

We invited over several friends which resulted in a long line-up of wine ranging in price from under $10 to over $20.  With the Mexican theme in mind everyone brought wine to pair with the spicy chilorio.  The selection was dominated by Sauvignon Blanc along with a Pinot Grigio, Viognier, and a Moscato.

In addition to the wine line-up, we were treated to Formerly of Austin Dawn’s spicy shrimp.  The shrimp was a perfect addition to the chilorio – and they did not last long.  Dawn was nice enough supply the recipe you will find at the end of this post.

Dawn's Spicy Shrimp-1

All of the Sauvignon Blancs provided the fundamentals to pair well with the chilorio – mild sweetness, well balanced acidity, and pleasing fruit flavor.  The Pinot Grigio was very pleasant and worked well for much the same reasons.  The only wines that we found questionable were the Viognier and the Moscato.  I find it hard to describe now, but the Viognier paired with the spicy ancho chiles of the chilorio resulted in some off flavors – nearly offensive.  The Moscato might have been a reasonable choice except for the company it was keeping.  Side by side with the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, the Moscato felt too sweet.  I think it suffered by simple contrast to the higher acidity and moderate sweetness of the other wines. 

Wine Line-up for Cinco de Mayo

The next time you are looking to add a little spice to your life (the food type), this recipe and a nice Sauvignon Blanc will surely do the trick.


Spicy Grilled Shrimp


  • 1 lg clove garlic
  • 1 TB coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 TB olive oil 
  • 2 tsp lemon juice 
  • 2 lbs large shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • lemon or lime wedges, for garnish


  1. Preheat grill for medium heat. 
  2. In a small bowl, crush garlic with the salt. Mix in cayenne pepper and paprika, then stir in olive oil and lemon juice to form a paste. In a large bowl, toss shrimp with paste until evenly coated.
  3. Lightly oil grate (or spray with nonstick cooking spray). Cook shrimp for 5-7 minutes or until opaque, turning often with spatula.
  4. Garnish with lemon wedges.



  • 2 pounds boneless pork
  • 4-5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3-4 dried ancho chiles (dried hablano peppers)
  • 1/2 of an onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, simmer the pork in the vegetable broth, covered, for 2 hours.
  2. During the last 20 minutes, ladle out enough liquid to cover the dried chiles in a bowl. Let the chiles soak in the liquid until they are soft then remove the stems and seeds.
  3. At the 2 hour mark, drain off the liquid and reserve 1 cup.
  4. Using a fork, shred the pork.
  5. Using the pot or Dutch oven that held the pork, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  6. Add the pork and fry until browned. Remove the pork and set aside.
  7. In the same pot and same oil, sauté the onions until translucent. Remove them from the pan and set aside to cool.
  8. In a blender, add the chiles, onions, spices and reserved liquid (1 cup). Blend until smooth.
  9. Combine pork, and chile sauce back in the same pot and simmer for 10 minutes then serve with rice or tortillas.

Mexican Rice


  • 2 cups uncooked white rice
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 large diced onion
  • 1 large diced tomato
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (add at the end)
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar


  1. Using a small amount of the oil, sauté onions over medium heat in a large skillet until tender.
  2. Add remainder of oil along with the rice and remainder of ingredients except cilantro, diced tomato and chicken stock. Stir for one minute.
  3. Add diced tomato and chicken stock. Bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Add chopped cilantro, stir and serve.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.