Saturday, July 30, 2011

Updates to the Blog and a Reminder for the Call for Recipes

Over the last couple of weeks I have undertaken a few updates to the blog you may have noticed.  I am taking a brief moment to highlight these changes and hope you find useful.

First, under the title photograph you will find a row of buttons that link to some information that you may find useful as a reference.

  • Recipes.  This link will take you to an index to all of the recipes I have posted on this blog.  The index is sorted by main ingredient and includes reference to the wine I paired with the recipe.  This page will be updated regularly as I explore new recipes.
  • My Favorite WinesRecently a good friend asked about some of my favorite wines.  I hastily threw together an e-mail with a half dozen of my favorites.  In doing so, I realized I had to put some thought into the response.  This encouraged me to think a bit harder and put together this list.  Wines make my list of favorites for appealing flavor, food friendliness/pairing attractiveness, or value.  Clearly, the sweet spot is a wine that makes the list for all three reasons.  Although all the wines currently on the list result from successful food pairings, I am leaving the option open for wine I like to drink, but have not yet used in a pairing.  Again, this is a dynamic list and I encourage you to return frequently if you are in search of a new wine to try and comes with a thoughtful endorsement.
  • Taste and Flavor for Wine and Food Pairing.  My purposes for this blog are several including a great excuse to enjoy great food and wine, explore food and wine pairings I have not yet experienced, uncover the “why” of food and wine pairing that creates a sensation greater than the sum of it’s parts, and of course to enjoy making it all look good through photography. The purpose of this page is to begin discussing our experience of taste and flavor to lay the foundation for understanding why food and wine pairings work – or don’t.  As I refine my knowledge in this area, I’m quite sure this page will be updated with new information.  If you want to explore the “why” of wine and food pairing, this is a good place to start.
  • My Wine and Food Pairing Decision Model.  This page describes my process for selecting a wine to pair with a recipe, or conversely, how I select a recipe to pair with a bottle of wine.  This is clearly not a rigorous treatise on food and wine pairing, but it reflects my thought process that you may find useful.
  • Food Photography.  Part of the fun with this adventure in food and wine pairing is the photography.  I have written a number of articles providing food photography tips, approaches to improving your food photography, and some gear to aid your food photography.  This page provides links to each of these articles.

Next, Blogger recently added a new gadget I have included on the blog.  This gadget adds snippets of the posts most popular among the readers.  You will find this list in the right hand column under “Popular Posts.”  The list is updated continuously and reflects the popularity of posts over the last month.  This is an cool way to see what other readers find interesting.

Finally, in the upper right corner of the blog, just under the title photograph, I have added a “Donate” button.  This button allows you to throw an occasional bone my way through PayPal if you find the content valuable, or just want to buy me a bottle of wine for the next post.  There is a great deal of effort that goes into producing this blog, and I sincerely appreciate your support.

As a post script note, I want to encourage you to send your recipes for me to try and share with the readers of this post.  Following my original call “Send me Your Favorite Recipe” I was pleased to find five recipes in my inbox at  I am very excited about creating pairings with these recipes and sharing them with you.  The call for recipes remains open (perpetually), and I look forward to hearing from you and highlighting your favorite food.  Simple or extravagant – there are no constraints.  On the other side of the pairing, I would be pleased to hear about your favorite wine.  It would be fun to feature your favorite wine and create a pairing to go with it.

I hope you find the updates to the blog valuable and enjoyable.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pan-Seared Cod Creamy Fennel Ragoût with Black Bean, Jícama, and Grilled Corn Salad Paired with 2008 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay

Cod in a Fennel Sauce with Jicama Salad Paired with 2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay

In the very early days of this blog I posted a wine pairing featuring Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay - Butternut Squash and Chorizo Empanadas with Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.  The pairing was spectacular, but I did not give the Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay my full endorsement when I wrote that the wine was wonderful but overpriced.  I decided to give it another chance, forked over another $40, and started the meal with an open mind.

2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay-1

While suffering through the heat wave that has its grip on the East Coast of the U.S., actually most of the U.S., Chef Sue and I began thinking of dinner and our desire for something light and fresh.  We quickly settled on one of our favorites as the centerpiece – cod.  Through some convoluted logic trail that I am unable to explain, fennel came to be named as a key ingredient as well.  Chef Sue quickly set about to find ideas.  Moments later she came across a recipe for pan-seared cod and creamy fennel ragoût at  Normally, this is just the starting point, but Chef Sue was satisfied with the recipe, and there you have it.

Cod in a Fennel Sauce

As a composition, the pan-seared cod and creamy fennel ragoût was subtle, buttery, creamy, flakey goodness.  The fennel was sweet and delicate and added just the slightest hint of licorice.  If you are not a licorice fan, no worries – you have to concentrate hard to pick up the flavor.  Fresh Florence fennel is quite sweet and subtle, and has little relationship to the much stronger flavor of fennel seeds.

Jicama Salad

Along with the pan-seared cod and creamy fennel ragoût, Chef Sue prepared a black bean, jícama, and grilled corn salad (this recipe also came from  This was a wonderful addition to the meal.  Unlike the internally complimentary flavors of the pan-seared cod, the salad was an exercise in well balanced contrast.  The black bean, jícama, and grilled corn salad was fresh, bright, and a wonderful textural contrast to the cod.

Orange Zest

Now we come full circle to the 2008 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay.  First, here are the tasting notes from the winemaker:

“Our 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay seduces right off the bat with brilliantly fresh, complex aromas of lemon-lime, scented pear, ripe yellow apple, honeydew melon and mineral. On the sleek, vibrant palate, rich, concentrated, ripe apple and pear flavors dominate, with refreshing citrus and mineral tones emerging in the wine’s wonderfully long, crisp, finish. Deliciously fresh and delectable now, this youthful Chardonnay will blossom and gain further richness and complexity with another 6-8 months in the bottle and will drink beautifully for 3 to 5 years.”

2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay-2

The only thing I would add is that I tasted subtle notes of vanilla, and was pleased with the acidity making this a wonderful wine for food pairing.  I was hoping to recant my prior assessment of this wine and suggest it was a good value.  While a wonderful wine, I still believe it is a bit pricey at $40.  Having said this, the pairing was exceptional.  The intense and bright fruit flavors are perfect compliments to the fresh flavors of the black bean, jícama, and grilled corn salad.  And like the salad, the Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay was a very pleasing contrast to the creamy, subtle flavors of the pan-seared cod.  This is a pairing well worth your time, effort, and $40 for the Chardonnay.

Cod in a Fennel Sauce with Jicama Salad Paired with 2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay-4

We were fortunate to share this wonderful meal with our neighbors Aaron and Lena.  We topped the night with a made from scratch banana cream pie while keeping one eye on Cadel Evans capturing the Yellow Jersey in the final time-trial of the Tour de France – leading to the first ever Tour de France win for an Australian – good on ya mate.  The banana cream pie was spectacular, but deserves our full attention in another post.  We will return to this piece of heaven soon.


Pan-Seared Cod with Creamy Fennel Ragoût

Sliced Fennel


  • 4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 fennel bulbs (sometimes called anise; 2 pounds), stalks discarded and bulbs cut lengthwise into 1-inch wedges
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (14 fluid ounces)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped drained sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 (7-ounce) pieces cod, scrod, or halibut fillet (about 1 inch thick)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Garnish: fennel fronds



  1. Cook bacon in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.
  2. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon oil to fat in skillet, then cook fennel with salt and pepper over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add broth, cream, tomatoes, and garlic to fennel and cook, partially covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until fennel is tender and cream is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
  5. While fennel cooks, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
  6. Season fillets with salt and pepper, then sauté 4 minutes. Turn over and sauté until just cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
  7. Stir mustard and bacon into fennel ragout and season with salt and pepper. Serve cod over fennel ragout.

Black Bean, Jícama, and Grilled Corn Salad


  • 2 large ears of corn, husked
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1 cup 1/3-inch dice peeled jicama
  • 1/2 cup 1/3-inch dice peeled carrots
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons grated lime peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin


  1. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat).
  2. Brush corn with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Grill corn until tender and brown in spots, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes.
  3. Cool slightly. Cut off corn kernels; place in large bowl.
  4. Add black beans, jicama, carrots, green onions, cilantro, and basil.
  5. Whisk lime juice, orange juice, lime peel, cumin, and remaining 4 tablespoons oil in small bowl.
  6. Mix dressing into bean salad. Season generously with salt and pepper.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Send Me Your Favorite Recipe

As you may have guessed by now, I love food and wine.  Breaking this down a bit, I can say without reservation that I love exploring food I have yet to try, and I love the cornucopia of flavors offered by international cuisine.  For this reason, I am asking you to send me your favorite recipe.

I am fortunate to have readers from around the world including Canada, France, Venezuela (buenos dias Christina!), Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago (hey Rajesh!), China, Russia, Ethiopia (stay cool John and Ji), Jordan (salam alaikum Nour), United Arab Emirates (can’t wait to see you Bruce and Christina – and the rest of the gang), UK, Germany, Spain, Australia (G’day Steve - lots of good mates in Australia!), Philippines, Hungary, Turkey, Iran, Singapore, Barbados, South Africa, Denmark, and of course the Independent Republic of Texas (Amanda, I know there is some good food in Texas).  There are many others, but you get the hint – I am graced by readers from around the globe, and I appreciate it.  If you are a regular reader and I failed to mention your country, you are free to chastise me.  Please accept my apologies.

With a world of food out there, I am dedicated to exploring it.  I would be honored if you would send me a recipe that reflects your country or region (or is just a favorite of yours).  If you have a suggested wine pairing, even better.  If you have a story to go along with the recipe, I would love to hear it and share it.  Of course I will give you full credit and be happy to send you photographs of the final creation.

Finally, if you don’t have the recipe, just send the name of the dish and a description.  I will research it, prepare it, pair it, enjoy it, and share it.

I’m listening.  Just pack your favorite recipe in an e-mail to, spank it on the bottom and send it away.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grilled Flank Steak Marinated in Balsamic Vinegar with Fresh Garden Vegetables on Garlic and Truffle Focaccia Paired with 2007 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Grilled Flank Steak with Grilled Vegetables on Focaccia

Notwithstanding golf obsession, summer is all about grilling and locally grown fresh produce.  If you are looking to add some variety to your summer grilling adventures, you have come to the right place.  This creation of Chef Sue’s is sure to be a winner with the anxious onlookers standing around your grill.  Chef Sue’s tasty combination of focaccia, fresh vegetables and marinated flank stake have a wonderful depth of flavor and freshness that will gain the envy of your grilling mates.

Grilled Flank Steak

While this recipe is quite easy, the depth of flavor from each of component stands out brilliantly.  First, we have to start with the marinated flank steak.  The balsamic vinegar adds some nice acidity and the first of many flavor layers (note; balsamic vinegar can be treacherous territory with respect to wine pairing – fortunately no problems here) .  Next, the fresh vegetables (grape tomatoes from Chef Sue’s garden, and onions and zucchini from the local farm stand) add wonderful summer freshness.  The combination of gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese add, eh, cheesy goodness.  Finally, the addition of truffle oil ties all the flavors together with a wonderful earthy bass note.  All these wonderful flavors are supported by a beautifully puffy and equally tasty garlic truffle focaccia.

Focaccia with Grilled Vegetables

With respect to the wine pairing, this dish offers a number of possibilities.  Certainly a Chardonnay would blend well with the truffle, garlic, and vegetable combination.  We decided to focus the pairing on the flank steak and went with the 2007 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  We were delighted.  The inviting deep ruby color and rich aromatics of cassis, roasted espresso bean and dark ripe plum follow through with flavors of blackberry, and hints of minerality that linger.  While not an ideal flavor construction for the “fresh vegetable” aspect of the food, it danced beautifully with the flank steak and produced an overall effect that accentuated the flavors of both the food and wine.  We will likely give this paring a another go with a Chardonnay or a light bodied Pinot Noir– just because we can.  And other than the flank steak marinade and the focaccia starter, this meal takes very little forethought.

2007 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


Balsamic Marinated Grilled Flank Steak


  • 2 1/2 pounds flank steak
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves fresh minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed


  1. Marinate flank steak with all ingredients for at least 4 hours.
  2. Grill steak to medium rare - about 6 minutes per side. This may very depending on the temperature of your grill.

Focaccia Starter


  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 3 tablespoons flour


  1. Combine ingredients and let set for at least 4 hours. If you have more time, that is better. You can let the starter set for up to two days.



  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • Focaccia starter
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 - 1 cup of water (depending on humidity - higher humidity = less water)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons truffle oil
  • 1 sliced zucchini
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 12 grape tomatoes sliced in half
  • 3/4 cup gorgonzola cheese
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese


  1. Combine flour, yeast, herbs, salt, starter and 1/2 cup of water. Mix and continue to add up to an additional 1/2 cup of water or until the dough becomes sticky - whichever comes first.
  2. Let rest for one hour.
  3. Dust preparation surface with flour and kneed dough for 5 minutes.
  4. Cover with towel and let rest for one to three hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 500 degrees (with pizza stone in the oven)
  6. Stretch dough and place on a pizza stone and brush with truffle oil
  7. Add zucchini, grape tomatoes, onion, and cheeses.
  8. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
  9. Cut the focaccia to desired serving sizes then top with thinly sliced flank steak, fresh off the grill, being sure to cut across the grain.
  10. Just for fun, drizzle a bit more truffle oil over the top of your creation, the aromas will draw everyone to the table.

With the 2 1/2 pound flank steak Chef Sue grilled, we were left with ample leftovers.  I have a great recommendation for this tasty hunk-o-meat.  See my post on “Open Faced Steak Sandwich Topped with Sautéed Celery Root and Leeks Paired with 2006 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma County Merlot.”

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Bastille Day Dinner–Coq au Vin Paired with Côtes du Rhône

Coq au Vin-7

I don’t need an excuse to gather with friends, head to the kitchen, and open a bottle of good wine.  However, if a good reason happens to pop up, I am not one to ignore it.  This week presented a perfectly good excuse, and I did not ignore it.  At the beginning of the week, we realized that Bastille Day was Thursday.  Perfect!  French food and French wine!  The deal was done.

I lost my Virginity-1

Not having any experience with French cooking, I quickly sent a text message to Chef Sue asking her for recommendations.  In mere seconds I received the reply “coq au vin and cream puffs.”  I immediately seized with terror.  Not so much with respect to the coq au vin (I supposed I could figure that out, but still a little intimidating), but the cream puffs part left me feeling I had just turned down a dark alley and came face to face with Freddy Krueger.  This paralyzing horror has a history.  Back in the day when Chef Sue and I were still dating (when telephones still had rotary dials, we listened to music on vinyl, and Ronald Regan was not a legend – he was President) I recall the crystal clear memory of Chef Sue practicing for her pastry final while attending Johnson and Wales – cream puffs shaped in the form of a swan.  Oh, the humanity of the scene.  Discarded cream puffs littered the kitchen of her small apartment.  Cream puffs that deflated, headless, were too dry, to wet, or suffered other various states of imperfection or anatomical deformity  that did not meet Chef Sue’s exacting standards.  Of course, I ate them and was dumbfounded as to why any of these delicious creations were found wanting.  In the end, Chef Sue aced the pastry final with an artfully formed swan, and I ended up with a cream puff hangover…I’m pretty sure it was the cream puffs.

Cream Puffs

As is tradition, I began the coq au vin meal planning by researching recipes.  Unremarkably, the gaggle of recipes I found used essentially the same ingredients and the same process.  I made a couple of minor adjustments that are reflected in the recipe at the end of this post.  Nothing major, but why leave well enough alone?  In summary, I replaced the recommended blanched salt pork with bacon, for the mushrooms I used a combination of sliced button mushrooms and baby portabella, minced garlic rather than pureed garlic cloves, and thyme sprigs rather than parsley.

Coq au Vin-2

The crowd (eight of us – I would name all of you, but you know who you are – rock stars each and every one) all found this meal plate licking good.  Seriously, the layers of flavor and the mind bending awesomeness of the sauce prompted involuntary smiles and giggles around the table.  Some of this flavor layering is due to the choice of cooking wine – I used a bottle of Four Vines Zinfandel.  The complex layers of flavor in the Zinfandel were repeated exquisitely in the final dish.  These deep fruit and spice flavors made for a wonderful match to the wine paring - Côtes du Rhône.  In addition to the flavors imparted by the Zinfandel, the dish features deep, rich, earthy notes well balanced by the sweetness from the braised onions and a bright acidity contributed by the tomatoes, onions and Zinfandel.

Cotes du Rhone Lineup

The wine for this pairing was a group effort. We had four bottles of Cotes du Rhone contributed by the dinner party contestants including:

  • 2008 Sélection Laurence Féraud Laurence Feraud Seguret Côtes du Rhône Villages
  • 2008 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Côtes du Rhône
  • 2009 Michel Picard Côtes du Rhône
  • 2009 Barton and Guestier Côtes du Rhône

I would love to give you all the details of each wine…but it would be redundant.  Quite honestly, as I tasted each wine with the meal, I could barely distinguish only subtle and un-noteworthy differences.  So, as a group, I will offer the following observations; black cherry and dark fruit flavors with black berry seeming to be the most recognizable, nice acidity and noticeable minerality.  All were velvety on the tongue which was accentuated with a hint of leather, and subdued tannins.  These were all very drinkable wines that clearly have a favored place with food pairing.  Finally, all the wines were great values and ranged in price from $10 to $16.

Coq au Vin-6

The pairing of the Côtes du Rhône with the coq au vin was simply heavenly.  With the first forkful of the coq au vin came a small voice saying “some wine with this would make me very happy.”  And happy we were.  Everything about this pairing worked better than planned.  The wine sang in perfect harmony with the coq au vin with neither the food nor wine competing for attention – they found a pleasant state of peaceful coexistence that drew out the principal flavors in their counterpart.  The cherry and dark fruit flavors of the Côtes du Rhône were a wonderful layer of flavor standing squarely beside the deep earthy notes of the coq au vin. Finally, the acidity of the coq au vin was precisely matched with the acidity of the Côtes du Rhône.  This pairing will certainly be showing up on our table again – ah, as soon as I work my way through the rest of France!  Thanks a bunch to the dinner party for their commentary that made writing this post cream puff easy.


Coq au Vin

Note:  The recipe is for 4 servings with some leftovers for lunch.  For our group of eight, I doubled this…and yes, I had two Dutch ovens running in parallel.


  • 4 bacon strips cut to one inch lengths
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken quarters
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Olive oil to coat bottom of Dutch oven
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 small vine ripened red unpeeled tomatoes from Dawn’s garden, chopped,
  • 3 cups of Four Vines Zinfandel.  I know you want to drink it, but it is worth the sacrifice.
  • 1 or so cups chicken stock
  • Beurre manie, for the sauce (1 1/2 tbs. each flour softened butter blended to a paste)
  • 1/3 cup cognac or brandy
  • 12 small brown-braised white onions
  • 3 cups fresh mushrooms, 1/2 button mushrooms and 1/2 baby portabella.

Chicken Flambe

Coq au Vin


  1. Brown the onions in butter and touch of olive oil. During the last 2 minutes, add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Sauté the bacon  in a Dutch oven with a little olive oil (lid off) and remove to a side dish, leaving the fat in the pan.
  3. Brown the chicken in the pork fat, adding a little olive oil, if needed.
  4. Flame the chicken with the brandy using a match or gill lighter.  Have someone else take photos – safety first.
  5. Season the chicken with salt and pepper; return it to the Dutch oven. Add the browned onions, and the garlic, bay leaf, thyme and tomato. Pour in the wine and enough stock barely to cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer; cover, and continue to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender when pressed.
  6. Finishing the chicken -- the sauce. Remove the chicken to a side dish.  Boil down rapidly adding more of the seasonings if you think them necessary.  The idea is to boil down the sauce to get the intensity of flavor you are looking for.  This is a matter of taste.
  7. Off heat, whisk the beurre manie to make a lightly-thickened sauce. Bring briefly to the simmer -- the sauce should be just thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
  8. Return the chicken to the sauce and warm for serving.  If you have reduced the sauce so the chicken is exposed, baste it while heating.
  9. Serve with boiled new potatoes.

Cream Puffs

Cream Puffs-3


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  2. In a large pot, bring water and butter to a boil. Stir in flour and salt until the mixture forms a ball.
  3. Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or stand mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time.
  4. Drop by tablespoonful's onto an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Centers should be dry.
  6. When the shells are cool, either split and fill them with the pudding mixture, or use a pastry bag to pipe the custard into the shells.

Cream Puff Custard


  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 5 tablespoons flour and a pinch of salt.
  2. Stir in milk, a little at a time, until smooth.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Boil 60 seconds, then pour a small amount of hot liquid into the 2 egg yolks, and stir. Then return now heated egg yolks to saucepan and stir, over heat, until mixture starts to bubble again.
  5. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, cover and chill in refrigerator.

Cheese Plate

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Deconstructed Maryland Crab Corn Chowder Paired with 2006 Buena Vista Carneros Ramal Vineyard Clone 17 RY Chardonnay

Deconstructed Maryland Corn and Crab Chowder

Today’s pairing features one of my favorite food adventures – taking a classic recipe, ripping it apart, and rebuilding it into something new and delicious while maintaining the basic backbone of the original dish.  The victim for today is a Maryland Crab Corn Chowder and is a creation of Chef Sue.  My role was simple; select the wine, make some photography, and enjoy.  Easy stuff.

Crab Butter Saute

Chef Sue’s idea was both simple and brilliant.  Chef Sue turned the chowder into a corn custard lovingly placed in ramekins, then topped it with butter sautéed fresh picked crab and scallions.  And of course, when you say Maryland and Crab in the same utterance, you are obligated to finish the sentence with Old Bay seasoning to add some authentic Maryland flavor.

Crab Butter Saute-2

The flavor profile for this dish is consistently sweet and buttery throughout.  With the exception of the Old Bay seasoning to add a little kick, the corn, the custard, the crab, and the scallions all feature sweetness.  The scallions add a nice depth and complexity to the flavors, and the buttery flavor shines through with the corn, crab, and custard.  With all this rich creamy goodness, the recipe limits the serving size to a single 6 ounce ramekin.  Confession:  I had two servings and have no regrets.

2006 Buena Vista Carneros Ramal Vineyard Clone 17 RY Chardonnay

The 2006 Buena Vista Carneros Ramal Vineyard Clone 17 RY Chardonnay is rated at 90, 91 and 92 points by various sources and features some wonderful flavors.  From the winemaker:

True to its Carneros terroir, this Chardonnay exhibits floral aromas and a pretty nose of green apple, Asian pear, citrus rind, mineral, and hazelnut. The wine continues with flavors of peach and spiced apple and tropical flavors with a nice broad mid-palate, which leads to a long finish with a great acid/fruit balance. The 2006 Ramal Vineyard Chardonnay has complexity with its multiple clonal selections, showing bright acidity and great fruit intensity along with richness and lush texture.

My only addition to these tasting notes is the pleasant and subtle butter notes evident in the finish and wonderfully balanced with the fruit and the acidity.  This Chardonnay is a real joy, and worth every penny of the $30 price tag.

Cutting Corn

The pairing of our deconstructed Maryland crab corn chowder and the 2006 Buena Vista Carneros Ramal Vineyard Clone 17 RY Chardonnay was truly exceptional.  The nicely balanced bright fruit and acidity of the wine with the buttery finish was a perfect compliment to the buttery sweet flavors of the crab chowder.  I was particularly enamored with the butter flavors echoing among the two.

Corn in Ramekins



  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels (roughly 3 ears)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon truffle salt
  • 1 pound of freshly picked crab steamed with Old Bay
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bunch finely sliced scallions
  • Old Bay seasoning to taste

Corn Custard in Ramekins


  1. Cook corn in boiling water until very tender. Allow to cool and cut kernels from the cob.
  2. Combine corn and milk in a sauce pan and warm over medium heat.
  3. Whisk eggs in a bowl and temper with heated milk-corn combination.
  4. Added tempered eggs to sauce pan, add truffle salt, and continue to cook for two minutes over medium heat.
  5. Pour the custard mixture evenly into four (6 oz.) ramekins.
  6. Place ramekins in a casserole dish and pour water around the ramekins to just over half the height of the ramekins. Place in 375 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes or until firm to the touch.
  7. Remove ramekins and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
  8. While custard is cooling, heat butter in a skillet over medium heat until the nanosecond the butter begins to turn brown. Immediately remove from heat.  Don’t burn the butter.
  9. Add crab and green onions and return to heat stirring constantly for about two minutes.
  10. Serve custards topped with crab and season to taste with Old Bay seasoning.

Crab Butter Saute-1

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Cannoli di Ricotta with Chocolate Chips Paired with 2010 Veglio Moscato d’ Asti


I don’t often feature dessert pairings, but when I do, you can be sure it is worth it.  Today we are pairing cannoli di ricotta with a 2010 Veglio Moscato d’ Asti.  This pairing is 100% Italian.

2010 Veglio Moscato d' Asti

I’m not an aficionado of desserts.  But for those that I enjoy, it is more like a passion.  Cannoli is one of the few desserts on that list.  The creamy sweetness of the cannoli filling (with the occasional chocolate chip surprise) contrasted texturally with the crunchy shell is a true delight.

Cannoli Shells

Add a Moscato with a moderate level of effervescence, and you have a real treat.  The 2010 Veglio Moscato d’ Asti is very delicate and very low in alcohol (5.5%) which makes it particularly light and soft on the palate.  The fruity bouquet, low alcohol, excellent acid balance and light - moderate effervescence make this wine an excellent choice for a desert with subdued flavors like the cannoli.  The finish is crisp with a lingering citrus flavor.

Cannoli Shells-1

The pairing was exactly what I look for in an exceptional mating – the combination of flavors and textures was greater than the sum of their parts.  The sweetness of the wine deepened the creaminess of the ricotta, and the effervescence became a wonderful textural contrast with the cannoli filling and the shell.

Cannoli Shells-2

The recipe Chef Sue used for this creation came from Epicurious:

The recipe was modified slightly:

  1. We used home made ricotta (a bit creamier and sweeter than what you find in the grocery store).
  2. We left out the orange.
  3. When forming the cannoli shells we used a 1” dowel cut to 4 inch lengths, sanded and seasoned in oil.
  4. We fried the cannoli shells in an electric fondue pot which provided excellent temperature control.


In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Casino Royale Wine Pairing–Tournedos with Béarnaise Sauce, Rognon de Veau Paired with 1998 Jacquart Champagne Blanc de Blanc Brut

Tournedos with Béarnaise Sauce

Customarily, the title of my wine pairing are more descriptive and include the principle parts of the meal along with the wine.  In this case, it was impractical.  This event was the most ambitious undertaking yet and included the full meals ordered by James Bond, and his traitorous lust interest Vesper Lynd from the Ian Fleming book Casino Royale.  Here is the menu:

To start:

  • Caviar and toast with grated egg and finely chopped onion
  • Vesper Martini

Caviar with Grated Eggs and Toast-3

Vesper Martini-1

Vesper's order:

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

Rognon de Veau-4

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

Roasted Artichoke Hearts-3

Fortunately, I had a lot of help with this.  All nine of our dinner party contributed to the event.  I want to give a special thanks to hostess and Suisse Chef Dawn, and Chef Sue.

For the wine part of this extravaganza, Bond ordered Champagne – a 1943 Blanc de Blanc Brut.  Having just finished off the last bottle from our massive wine cellar (the shelves underneath the stairs in the basement), I decided to take a recommendation from my good friends at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill and substitute a 1998 Jacquart Champagne Blanc de Blanc Brut.  Each of the other couples attending this event also brought a bottle of bubbly.  Unfortunately I did not get photographs, and by the time the bottles made it to the recycling bin, I had failed to take notes. 

1998 Jacquart Blanc de Blanc Brut Champagne

The evening began with the caviar and Vesper Martini’s prepared by bartender Steve.  The Martini’s were true to the original recipe with the exception of the Kina Lillet which is no longer produced.  My research suggested Cocchi Americano as a suitable replacement.  Cocchi Americano is a fortified aperitif wine infused with citrus and herb.  This martini is very tasty, with most of the flavor coming from the Cocchi Americano.  However, this drink should come with a warning label as Bartender Steve figured out through experience.  Really, one is enough.

Cocchi Americano-1

Steve the Bartender-1

Across the board, the food was spectacular.  Using French recipes as the basis for each component, the meal was thoroughly lathered in buttery goodness.  The big surprise of the night was the rognon de veau.  Even those in the crowd who were not fans of kidney (or organ meat in general) found this dish pleasing.  For me, the real star of the meal was the filet mignon with béarnaise.  Chef Sue prepared this part of the meal and the execution was flawless.  The filet was perfect, and the béarnaise was the best I have tasted.

Filet Mignon

Béarnaise Sauce

The 1998 Jacquart Champagne Blanc de Blanc Brut was a real treat.  I found this bottle to be fresh, with aromas of lemon, toast and herbs which were balanced nicely with the richness and freshness. The palate is complex and flavorful with high notes of toast and moderate citrus/lemon acidity which makes it a nice pairing choice.  On the other hand, I did not find the pairing to be exceptional.  It was certainly pleasant and enjoyable, but I did not find that the combination of the meal and the wine to sum to something greater than their parts. 

1998 Jacquart Blanc de Blanc Brut Champagne-3

But I do not want to disparage the pairing completely.  With a heavy bodied meal, the 1998 Jacquart offered a lemony freshness and acidity that contrasted nicely.  Also, the toast flavors complimented the meal nicely.  If I were constructing this pairing from scratch, I would have made other wine choices.  However, it is important to recall this pairing comes from a couple lines in an Ian Fleming novel.  I have the feeling that Mr. Fleming made the choice of both meal and wine based on consistency with Bond’s natural attraction for the extravagant rather than a studied composition of flavor.  In the end, it worked and was enjoyable – just not a 5 star pairing.

If you decide to recreate your own Casino Royale night, go ahead and give this pairing a try.  You may think differently.  Regardless of your choice, you will have fun.  And if you take it to the length I did, you will find yourself in the kitchen in a tux preparing a great meal.

Finally, we get to the dessert.  What can I add to any description of fresh strawberries and freshly whipped cream?  On the other hand, I can comment on the avocados with French dressing.  I am a big fan of avocados, but I never thought of avocado as a dessert fruit.  Further, I have never experienced avocados with French dressing.  Although I doubt that avocados will show up as dessert in the future around our home, we thoroughly enjoyed the combination of avocado and French dressing.

Strawberries with Cream

Avocados with French Dressing-1

As a final comment, I would definitely recommend a Casino Royale night.  It was a great excuse to bring friends together, dress up, and enjoy a fabulous meal.  The breadth of the meal makes for a great culinary challenge, and conceiving of the meal as a Casino Royale recreation turns the meal into a great event.


Vesper Martini

Vesper Martini

In the words of James Bond:

Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

Kina Lillet is no longer produced, so substitute Cocchi Americano.  If you live in the Washington DC area, Schneider’s of Capitol hill carries Cocchi Americano.

Caviar, diced onion and Grated Eggs on Toast

Caviar with Grated Eggs and Toast-2

This is almost self explanatory.  The only thing to note is to hard boil your eggs, separate the whites from the yolks then dice them finely and place in separate serving bowls.  Similarly, dice your onion finely (we used red onion to add some color).  You can either make your own toast or purchase small (about 1” square) toast.

Roasted Artichoke Hearts

Roasted Artichoke Hearts-1


  1. 3 cans of artichoke hearts
  2. 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
  3. 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  4. Juice of 1/2 freshly squeezed lemon
  5. 2 tablespoons melted butter
  6. salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Drain artichokes and rinse thoroughly.
  3. Mix artichokes, garlic and olive oil. Use your hands, and do so gently to prevent the artichoke hearts from falling apart.
  4. Place artichokes on a sheet pan and drizzle with melted butter and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and place in oven for one hour, turning artichokes after 30 minutes.

Tournedos Béarnaise


  • 5 filet mignon
  • 1/2 stick butter for Filet Mignon
  • 1/2 pound butter for Béarnaise sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut oil
  • 5 slices of bread with crust removed
  • 1 Tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsely
  • 1 Tablespoon wine vinegar
  • 3 egg yoks
  • Salt and pepper

Filet Mignon Preparation

  1. In a frying pan heat 1/4 stick of the butter and 1 tablespoon peanut oil.
  2. Add filets and cook 10 minutes on each side. Remove and keep warm in oven.
  3. In the filet frying pan, add 1/4 stick of butter with the 1 tablespoon peanut oil. When heated, brown the bread on both sides.

Béarnaise Sauce Preparation

  1. In a small sauce pan, add shallots, tarragon, parsley and wine vinegar. Reduce until liquid is almost evaporated.
  2. Remove from heat and add egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of water.
  3. Return the sauce pan to the heat and whisk until thick, being careful not to burn or overcook.
  4. Add melted butter slowly, whisking constantly, over low heat. When butter is absorbed into the yolks, remove from heat. 
  5. Continue to whisk until sauce begins to cool.


Place bread on a plate then add the filet to the bread and top with a tablespoon of sauce. Garnish with tarragon sprigs. Add remainder of sauce to a gravy boat.

Pommes Soufflés

Pommes Soufflés-3

Pommes Soufflés-4


  • 8 large potatoes
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

Rognon de Veau

Rognon de Veau-2

Rognon de Veau-3


  1. Peel the potatoes and trim away the round edges.
  2. Cut lengthwise in slices that are uniform from end to end, about 3/8 inch thick. Cut the slices into 3/8 inch widths.  If the potatoes are particularly long, cut to 2 to 3 inch lengths.
  3. Soak the sliced potatoes in ice water for 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and pat dry completely.
  4. Pour vegetable oil into adequately sized pot to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Heat oil to 325.
  5. Drop slices into the for 6 to 7 minutes. After about 5 minutes the slices should start to blister and rise to the top.
  6. Remove the slices and drain on paper towels.
  7. Increase the oil to 375 and return the slices to the oil. They should swell instantly. Cook until golden, then remove and drain on paper towels. Discard any that have not puffed. 
  8. Season with salt and serve.


  • 1 1/2 pounds veal kidney
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • All purpose flour
  • 1/2 c madeira wine
  • Toasted French bread slices
  • salt, pepper,
  • Parsley for garnish


  1. Cut the kidneys into small cubes discarding the white part. Dredge in flour.
  2. Warm the olive oil and cook the minced garlic over medium heat.
  3. Add the kidneys and sauté briefly.
  4. In another skillet, cook the mushrooms in the butter.
  5. Add the mushrooms to the kidneys along with the Madeira.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Cook, covered, over a low flame until a sauce forms.
  8. Serve on thin slices of toasted French bread garnished with parsley.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.