Friday, September 30, 2011

Alligator Loin Poached in Butter and White Wine with Three Remoulade Sauces and Vegetable Quinoa with Two Wine Pairings

Butter and White Wine Pouched Alligator Bites

If you are thinking I wrestled and alligator for this pairing, you may be right.  What is life without a little adventure?  When the opportunity to draw outside the lines presents itself, jump on it. 

About a month ago, while visiting my favorite butcher (Nick’s of Calvert), Chef Sue noticed a display case featuring a selection of meats that are a little off the beaten path – including alligator loin.  Of course, the alligator jumped into my basket tempting me to expand my culinary repertoire.  I wrestled with the idea of preparing alligator, and the alligator ended up on my plate.

My experience with eating alligator is limited.  The two times I have tasted alligator, they were battered and fried much like you would expect with batter fried shrimp.  Both experiences were pleasant, but I thought the batter and frying process disguised the flavor and muddled the texture of the alligator.  With this in mind, I set out to prepare the alligator in a way that let the flavor and texture of the alligator take center stage.

My approach was simple.  Wrestle and alligator – and win.  In a large skillet, I heated two tablespoons of butter, added the alligator which had been cut into bite size pieces, then added a cup of white wine after sautéing the alligator for about one minute.  I continued to poach the alligator for another 5 minutes, then lightly seasoned with salt and pepper before removing from the heat.

To accompany the alligator, I made three remoulade dipping sauces – mostly because I could not decide which approach I wanted to take.  The first was a spicy Cajun horseradish remoulade.  The second was a mustard influenced remoulade, and the third a white cheddar cheese remoulade served warm.

With the alligator cut into bite size pieces, and several tasty dipping sauces, this is a perfect football food.  The quinoa is not necessary if you are doing football food.  But it was a tasty addition to our meal.  In this case, I grabbed a few vegetables from the drawer, sautéed them with a little olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and added to the quinoa when it was finished.

2010 Dry Creek Vineyard Sonoma County Fume Blanc-1

The pairing for the evening featured two wines.  I provided a 2010 Dry Creek Vineyards Sonoma County Fumé Blanc.  Joining me for the evening were good friends Richter and Meredith who brought a 2009 Breaux Vineyards Jolie Blond Virginia Seyval Blanc.

Tasting Notes from Dry Creek Vineyards:

“This new vintage harkens back to the early days of Fumé Blanc at Dry Creek Vineyard. At first swirl, pungent grassy aromas framed by kaffir limes leap from the glass. On the palate, the wine displays racy citrus characters along with granny smith apples, Meyer lemon and orange zest. The grassy elements repeat on the finish with acidity that is both refreshing and brisk. Dave Stare pioneered this style back in 1972 and this wine certainly carries forward all of those old school elements. Simply delicious!”

2010 Dry Creek Vineyard Sonoma County Fume Blanc

For our group of tasters, the citrus and acidity were the key characteristics that really made this pairing sing.  While the grassy components noted by the winemaker were not comments I heard at the dinner table, all agreed this was a great pairing.  The freshening acidity was key to making the pairing work with the three remoulade interpretations.  Of the three, the decidedly best combination was this Fumé Blanc in concert with the mustard based remoulade.

2009 Breaux Vineyards Jolie Blond Virginia Seyval Blanc-1

Tasting notes from Breaux Vineyards:

“Lemon zest, white grapefruit, and mineral undertones describe the flavor profile of our Seyval Blanc. Enjoy with seafood dishes.”

This wine is very pleasant and enjoyable.  Although not noted in the winemaker’s tasting notes, this wine also featured a notable oak flavor that stood out in comparison to the Dry Creek Fume Blanc.  The acidity was also subdued in comparison which made this a good, but less than ideal pairing with the remoulades.  The wine paired nicely with the alligator and white cheddar remoulade, or simply alligator sans remoulade, but the subdued acidity and the oak made the pairing with the other two remoulade sauces slightly less than impressive.

2009 Breaux Vineyards Jolie Blond Virginia Seyval Blanc

As a final note on the alligator, I would highly recommend taking this poaching method under consideration rather than the more common fried approaches.  The meat was tender, full of wonderful texture, and just a hint of fish flavor.  Tasting the alligator without the distractions of batter was a pleasant surprise.

Butter and White Wine Pouched Alligator Bites-1


Cajun Mustard Remoulade


  • 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons rustic coarse ground mustard sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt-free Cajun-Creole seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until well blended

Spicy Horseradish Remoulade


  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup horseradish
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon pepper sauce. I used Trinidad Pepper Sauce, but anything similar like tobasco will work.
  • 1 teaspoon paprika


  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and chill at least one hour.

White Cheddar Cajun Remoulade


  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces grated white cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter


  1. Combine all ingredients except butter, heavy cream, and cheese and mix will.
  2. In a sauce pan, melt butter and cheese with the heavy cream.
  3. Add the mixture of other ingredients, stir well to combine, and heat to serving temperature.
  4. Serve immediately.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Rotisserie Grilled Prime Rib and Spinach Soufflé Paired with 2006 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2007 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Valley Merlot

Prime Rib and Spinach Souffle

The brisk fall breezes were blowing leaves across the street, pumpkins with tortured faces stared from every doorstep, and grills were on sale at the Home Depot.  Fall clearance sales on grilling gear (and golf shorts) mark a special time for the golfing griller.  This was exactly the case a couple years ago when I purchased my Goliath size, stainless steel monster grill…and a striking pair of plaid golf shorts.  Along with a couple dozen burners, several ceramic searing burners, 500 watt work lights, and a dozen Titleist golf balls, the grill came equipped with a turbo charged 10 horsepower motorized rotisserie.

I love my grill even more than my stylish plaid golf shorts.  Unfortunately, the rotisserie sees about as much action as my 3 iron (I just can’t hit that club – it now serves duty as part of my sophisticated home security system).  The rotisserie was recently called off the bench to the starting lineup for prime rib.  The result was fantastic, and the rotisserie is now officially off the “injured reserve” list.

Prime Rib

The grilling process was about as easy as it gets.  Chef Sue decided on the low and slow process which involved trussing up the prime rib so it would not disintegrate while cooking, skewering the beautiful piece of meat on the rotisserie, bringing the temp up to 300 degrees, and waiting.  Of course the prime rib was well seasoned with salt and pepper before heading to the hot house.  The prime rib spun happily on the grill until it reached an internal temperature of 120 degrees. 

I removed the prime rib and let rest while covered with aluminum foil for 15 to 20 minutes.  The internal temperature continued to rise and reached 125 to 130 degrees during the resting period.  Avoid the temptation to cut into the prime rib during this resting period.  The objective is to keep all the wonderful juices inside.

Prime Rib-1

If you you don’t happen to have Tim the Tool Man’s manly man’s grill with 10 horsepower turbocharged rotisserie attachment, you can achieve the same results in the oven using a roasting pan.  But if you are using the oven, don’t wear the plaid golf shorts.  That is just not right.

To go along with our joyous Barney Rubble sized prime rib, Chef Sue and Formerly of Austin Dawn prepared spinach soufflé.  This choice was a key aspect of choosing our wine for the evening.  The prime rib demands at least a medium bodied wine, but we did not want to go too heavy and have the soufflé suffer from being terribly overpowered.  We reached a good compromise position and chose a medium bodied Pinot Noir and a delicious full bodied Merlot.

2006 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2007 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Valley Merlot

Our choices were a 2006 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and a 2007 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Valley Rose Ranch Merlot.  Here are the tasting notes for the two wines:

2006 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir:  Medium garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cranberry and a lightly spicy cherry liqueur quality. In the mouth it is smooth and silky with very nice balance and a core of cranberry and raspberry flavors, that give way to a cocoa, and light smoky quality on the finish.

2007 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Valley Rose Ranch Merlot:  The 2007 Rose Ranch Merlot is supple and full-bodied with velvety texture and rich flavor. Its aromas evoke connotations of dark fruit and pepper. Robust flavors of currant, black raspberry, anise and ripe plum linger on the palate.

2006 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2007 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Valley Merlot-1

The group of Chef Sue, Golf Buddy Steve, Formerly of Austin Dawn and I all concluded both wines worked exceptionally well particularly with respect to the berry flavors in compliment to the prime rib.  While both wines were excellent, we conceded the 2007 Benziger Family Winery Sonoma Valley Rose Ranch Merlot as having an edge over the 2006 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  The deeper, richer flavors of the Merlot resulted in a combination that was well beyond the sum of the parts – our holy grail of wine pairing.

Spinach Souffle

But lets not forget the spinach soufflé. This is not yet in my repertoire and was glad that Chef Sue and Formerly of Austin Dawn decided to take on this task as I wistfully watched the prime rib slowly lull me into hypnosis.

Spinach Souffle-3


Spinach Soufflé

Spinach Souffle-1

  • 4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the dish
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 bunch spinach, stems removed, or 12 to 16 ounces loose, young spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 4 6 ounce soufflé dishes .
  2. Wash the spinach well, then wilt it in a skillet without drying the spinach.
  3. Drain into a colander, press out the moisture, then finely chop.
  4. Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan, saute the garlic for approximately 2 minutes. stir in the flour, and cook for 1 minute while stirring.
  5. Whisk in the milk and stir until it thickens.
  6. Add 1 teaspoon salt, then stir in the Parmesan.
  7. Turn off the heat and stir in salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form firm peaks that are just a bit on the soft side.
  9. Fold the whites and base together.
  10. Scrape the batter into the prepared dishes and bake until golden brown and set, about 25 minutes.
In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Craig’s Grape Adventure–the eBook is Coming in Time for Christmas!


Great news friends!  I recently decided to turn “Craig’s Grape Adventure the blog” into “Craig’s Grape Adventure the book.”  And better yet, the book will be available for Christmas.  I am already well into the writing, and am closing in on 350 pages of this compelling love story.  By the time it is complete, you will be treated to at least 400 pages of action packed entertainment (listen, the kitchen is a dangerous place), intrigue and culinary drama sure to match any psychological thriller on the best seller list.

Honestly, I am very excited about this project and believe the e-book format is perfect for a book like this.  You will be able to load the book on your iPad, iPhone, laptop, or Kindle, take it to the beach or the kitchen, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy or cook – or both.

The eBook format works well because the book will always be with you, and finding the recipe is as easy as pointing to the pairing you wish to create.  And of course, the book is filled with great photography for those of you who sadly prefer to look at great food rather than eat it.  Any way you look at it, it will be a fun read.

And here is the best part – the price.  You get to name your price.  I will be accepting donations (see the button in the upper right area of the blog).  By sending a donation of your choosing, you will receive the book along with instructions on loading the book on to your favorite device (as long as it is a laptop, iPad, iPhone, or Kindle).  Easy stuff, and at a price you cannot argue.

Stay tuned for the official release.  I’m pretty sure I will not let you miss the opportunity to get your copy.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

California Blends: Tasting Some Pleasing, Affordable and Approachable Wines

I would prefer to be writing about our latest palate bending pairings, and there have been several, but unfortunately the three pairings waiting on deck were all tasty creations by Chef Sue.  Yes, we are married and live in the same house, but pinning her down for an interview and capturing the recipe for her latest creation is about as easy as stopping a New England Patriots scoring drive – she never stops.  Literally, she has a little beeper gizmo that reminds her it is time to take another walk.  Until I can get an appointment with Chef Sue, I will tell you about a little wine tasting side road I am taking.

I’m sure that like me, you have a couple staples in your wine rack.  Pleasant, enjoyable, and affordable wines that are the equivalent of comfort food.  If you don’t, this may be a nice starting point for you to consider.  In our home, the Folie a Deux Menage a Trois California Red Wine is a long standing staple.  I had never given the wine a great deal of thought.  Comfortable in the knowledge this was a wine that fit my tastes, is readily available, reasonably priced, and quite flexible with respect to food pairings, it has remained a steadfast pillar of the wine rack.  In other words, it is like that one pair of shoes that fit perfectly and are always at the ready for nearly any occasion – just tastier.

Quite honestly, I only infrequently acknowledged the  Folie a Deux Menage a Trois California Red Wine is a blend (well, the “menage a trois” was a hint).  I was recently introduced to Apothic Red, another California blend, by good friends Richter and Meredith.  Like the Menage a Trois, the Apothic Red is another affordable example of “comfort wine” with nice complexity and layered flavors that make you sit back and say “where did that come from?”  The Apothic Red is a great example of fun and surprising California blends – my first and unfiltered impression was that of a chocolate covered cherry bringing back childhood memories of the holiday season.  The flavors are distinct, harmonious, and sheer pleasure.

With two California red blends hitting on all cylinders, I decided to venture out and look for other blends that fit the mold of affordable, approachable, offer ample opportunities for food pairing, and enjoyable (read “comfort food”) while offering unique individual characteristics.  With this in mind, here is my list of California blends to taste, think about, and consider more seriously:

  • 2009 Folie a Deux Menage a Trois California Red Wine
  • 2009 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet
  • HRM Rex-Goliath Giant 47 Pound Rooster Free Range Red
  • 2009 Apothic Red California Winemkaker’s Blend
  • 2007 Marellotto Santa Ynez Valley Grenache Syrah Mourvedre

All of these wines come in at $12 or less with the exception of the 2007 Marellotto.  I would not have included this one based on the “affordable” criteria, but the folks at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill would not stop raving about this wine.  I have a 100% hit rate on wines from Schneider’s (with probably 100+ different wines) and decided to acquiesce to their endorsement.  I’m confident I will not be disappointed, and it will be a nice point of comparison with the less expensive blends.

The other part of this sidetrack into California blends is testing a couple of iPad apps designed to assist with wine tasting.  In other words, rather than the normal routine of sitting around with friends, tasting, discussing, then trying to remember all the nuances the next day, I am trying a couple of apps that let you record your impressions by touching the screen.  Hell, a typical wine paring at my house already involves a dinner table surrounded with lighting gear and photography equipment, why not an iPad in place of the salad bowl?

If you already have a wine tasting aid in the form of an app, I would love to hear about it.  More importantly, if you have a favorite California blend you think I should add to my tasting lineup, I am anxious to hear from you.  Leave a comment, or send me and e-mail.

I will return with my thoughts on these wines – after I take care of the pork shoulder that has been cooking low and slow for the last few hours.  Yum.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Frog Legs a la Poulette with Truffle Parsnips and Honey Dew Melon Gazpacho Paired Five French Wines (yes, five!)

Frog Legs a la Poulette Honey Dew Melon Gazpacho Truffle Parsnips

During a recent visit to my all time favorite butcher, Nick’s of Calvert in Prince Frederick Maryland, Chef Sue drew my attention to a before unnoticed section of the store featuring some off-the-beaten-path delicacies.  I am constantly in search of opportunities to expand my culinary repertoire and quickly became excited about the possibilities.  I will gradually work my way through the entire display case, but decided to start with frog legs.

Knowing little more than frog legs are naturally attached to frogs, I began my research.  As I scoured the internet to learn about frog legs and their preparation, I found that from a culinary perspective, frog legs have their roots in France.  With this tidbit in hand, I decided to proceed with a French preparation and promptly settled on frog legs a la poulette.  As is my routine, I collected a number of recipes, analyzed them, selected the best aspects of each (in my opinion) and cobbled together the recipe you will find at the end of this post.  The frog legs were accompanied by a honey dew melon gazpacho starter (an original of mine) and truffle parsnips thanks to Chef Sue.

Frog Leg Saute

The honey dew melon gazpacho started the night off with brilliant freshness amplified by the mint and cilantro in the recipe.  The mint and cilantro components are contrasting flavors that wonderfully focused the bright sweetness of the honey dew melon.  As we enjoyed this palate cleansing treat, Chef Sue offered her praise but suggested that it could be improved by reserving some portions of the melon, peach, and tomato, chopping them and adding back to the puree for a more complex texture.  I agree completely with Chef Sue and plan on making this adjustment.  I thoroughly enjoyed the gazpacho and am certain I will be preparing it again soon with this improvement.  If you decide to make the gazpacho, I would recommend reserving 1/3 of the tomato and peach along with 1/4 of the melon.  Chop these to about 1/4 inch cubes and add back to the mixture after blending.

While the frog legs were pleasant, they tasted like, um, chicken.  I was expecting (and hoping for) a touch of gamey flavor, but alas, the cliché proved true – frog legs taste like chicken.  Chef Sue did not completely agree with me on this assessment and noted a gamey flavor.  C'est la vie.  Although the meat was not deserving of a “must have” endorsement, the sauce in the a la poulette preparation is a medal winner.  It was rich, full of mushroom induced earthiness, and a wonderful flavor profile that made our wines sing with joy.

The truffle parsnips were a glorious accompaniment to the poulette sauce.  The creamy earthiness of this dish was a beautiful compliment to the poulette sauce with extremely well balanced flavors distant echoes between the truffle and mushrooms, and a nice textural contrast to the frog legs.  The earthiness also became an enjoyable complement to the minerality in each of the wines.

2005 Chateau de Citeaux Bourgogne Chardonnay-1

As for the wines, things get complicated.  I selected the 2005 Chateau de Citeaux Bourgogne Chardonnay and new that friends Aaron and Lena were bringing a bottle (2007 Cahteau de Rully Primier Cru Rodet).  So far, so good.  The world began to spin out of control when Richter and Meredith showed up with three bottles disguised in paper and bows with the challenge of identifying the grapes.  This made for great fun and a couple of surprises I will get to momentarily.  Here is the full list of the wines we enjoyed:
  • 2005 Chateau de Citeaux Bourgogne Chardonnay
  • 2007 Cahteau de Rully Primier Cru Rodet Bourgogne
  • 2008 Christophe Camu Chablis
  • 2008 Savigny Les Beaune Premier Cru Les Peuillets Bourgogne
  • 2009 Gonnet Gigondas Rhone
2008 Christophe Camu Chablis

Without divulging the contents of the disguised Chablis, Meredith offered a helpful piece of information by stating this wine was the one in the group with bright acidity.  With this knowledge, we paired the 2008 Christophe Camu Chablis with the honey dew melon gazpacho which turned out to be a perfect pair in balance between acidity and sweetness of the gazpacho.  The acidity also did a fine job of penetrating the creaminess of the other items on the menu, but showed its true colors in the gazpacho pairing.  To get a sense of this wine, think of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, back off the sweetness a notch, and add minerals.  A very pleasant and versatile pairing wine.

2005 Chateau de Citeaux Bourgogne Chardonnay-2

The three burgundies were similar in flavor profile with subdued melon, peach, butter, and citrus accompanying instantly notable minerality.  With the exception of the 2005 Chateau de Citeaux Bourgogne Chardonnay, all presented a well balanced and moderately bright acidity.  The 2005 Chateau de Citeaux Bourgogne Chardonnay stood out with a well integrated and creamy mouth feel.  Another standout performance was the pleasant buttery flavors from the 2007 Cahteau de Rully Primier Cru Rodet Bourgogne which made for a heavenly match with the poulette sauce and the truffle parsnips.

2007 Chateau de Rully Premier Cru Rodet Bourgogne

The undisputed surprise of the night was the 2009 Gonnet Gigondas Rhone.  This wine stood out for two reasons.  First, it was the only red wine in the crowd of Chardonnays.  Second, while all the wines worked wonderfully, the 2009 Gonnet Gigondas Rhone was clearly the best pairing across all three recipes.  The 2009 Gonnet Gigondas Rhone is a medium bodied wine with rich flavors of red and dark berries supported by noteworthy minerality and subtle tannins.  I would not have independently selected this wine, but I am extremely pleased the professionals at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill recommended this wine to Richter and Meredith.  It was one of those great surprises that come along on occasion and result in a mind bending awesome parings.

2008 Savigny Les Beaune Primier Cru Les Peuillets Bourgogne

I cannot pour enough accolades over the great folks at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.  They assisted all of our dinner party with recommended wines for the pairing.  On top of that, they offered Richter and Meredith three different approaches to the pairing – the acidity and minerality of the Chablis, the well balanced and buttery 2008 Savigny Les Beaune Premier Cru Les Peuillets Bourgogne, and the winner for the night, the 2009 Gonnet Gigondas Rhone.

2009 Gonnet Gigondas

With five wines, blind tasting, great food, and great friends, this was an extraordinary evening.

Frog Legs a la Poulette Honey Dew Melon Gazpacho Truffle Parsnips-1


Honey Dew Melon Gazpacho

  • Flesh from 1/2 honey dew melon
  • 1 peach, peeled and diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  1. After extracting the flesh of the melon, cut in to pieces or cubes about 1 inch large.
  2. Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth.
  3. Taste and adjust sweetness with honey.
  4. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
Truffle Parsnips

  • 4 medium parsnips (cleaned, pealed and cubed)
  • 3 small red potatoes (cubed)
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese
  • 2 oz. butter
  • Truffle salt or truffle oil to taste
  • 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 or truffle oil to taste.  If you decide to go with the truffle oil, you will want to season with salt.
  4. Plate and garnish with green onions.
Frog Legs a la Poulette

  • 1 dozen frog legs
  • 2 wine glasses white wine (one for you, and one for the frogs)
  • 2 cups diced mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 small onion diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper
  1. Wash the frog legs and pat dry.
  2. Sauté onions and frog legs in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter over medium high heat until onions are translucent.
  3. Season with salt and add a glass of wine and mushrooms. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add remaining butter, sugar, flour, and paprika. Cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add chicken stock, lemon juice and cream.
  6. Bring to a boil then add the parsley.
  7. Reduce heat to medium and thicken with egg yolks, remove from heat and serve.
2005 Chateau de Citeaux Bourgogne Chardonnay

In vino veritas, buen provecho


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grilled New York Strip Steak with Craig’s Bourbon Rub, Grilled Garden Fresh Vegetables Paired with 2007 Mayo Family Winery Napa Valley Random Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Bourbon Glazed New York Strip Steak with Grilled Vegetables

Labor Day, the official end of summer in the U.S. has come and gone.  Like many people, part of our holiday weekend included well spent time in front of the grill.  Although Labor day marks the official end of summer, it should not mark the end of your grilling season.  Quite the contrary.  With football season underway and the first week of the NFL schedule capped off by a spectacular and record crushing win by my beloved New England Patriots over the Miami Dolphins, we now enter the serious tailgate grilling season.  If you want to take your grilling experience to a new level, my bourbon rub is a tasty way to do so.

I have to admit that “bourbon rub” is a bit of a misnomer.  On the other hand, it is not a barbeque sauce either.  It is somewhere between the two – it is a barbeque paste.  The word paste just doesn’t have the same appeal as a “rub” so I am taking a bit of culinary creative license…because I can.

Vegetable plate

When you look at the seasonings in this concoction, it looks like a rub…until you get to the brown sugar and bourbon.  These two ingredients rule out use as a “rub.”  If you use this as a rub, the bourbon will give you a fun moment of pyrotechnics as the bourbon ignites.  As the bourbon ignites, it caramelizes the sugar, and if left on for the full grilling time, will go beyond caramelization to a full-on char.  For this reason, I am providing specific directions for when and how to use the rub.

But before we get to that, we need to discuss meat.  The best way to buy meat is from a butcher.  Not the butcher at your local grocery store (there are exceptions) who cuts the meat, wraps it up and places it in the display cooler.  I mean a real butcher where you can pick a slab of meat, have the butcher trim it to your specifications then cut the steaks to your favorite thickness.  Personally, I prefer the Barney Rubble size steaks – 1 1/2 inches thick or even a touch more.  Why?  Thickly cut steaks allow you to get a nice sear, grill for an appropriate time, and leave the center a beautiful and tasty medium rare.  Honestly, it should be a criminal offense to cut a thin steak, grill it until uniformly brown throughout, and serve it as a substitute for shoe leather.  I cringe when I hear someone order a steak well done.  Why bother?

Bourbon Glazed New York Strip Steak with Grilled Vegetables-1

With my “well done” rant out of the way, lets talk about the appropriate use of Craig’s Bourbon Rub (paste).  First I will explain my formula for grilling Barney Rubble sized steak.  Heat the grill so when you set your first steak on the grates you hear that wonderful sizzling that lets you know the fun is underway.  I set my timer to two minutes and flip the steaks three times so the steak is on the grill for 10 minutes.  But you say “three flips multiplied by two minutes does not add up to 10 minutes Craig!”  I will prove that it does.  Place your steaks on the grill, close the lid, pick up your glass of wine, take a joyful sip, then turn on your timer.  When the timer runs down, take another sip of your wine, put the glass down, turn off the barking timer, walk over to the grill, lift the lid, flip the steaks and repeat the process.  This leisurely approach to enjoying your wine, fiddling with your timer, and maybe a kiss for your spouse will account for the missing two minutes.

Now the critical part – applying Craig’s Bourbon Rub.  The rub should be applied at the last flip and will be on the grill for just two minutes to avoid going from caramelized to char.  Specifically, when you get to the last flip, take the steaks off the grill.  THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!  With honest to god real bourbon in the recipe, you do not want to risk a flame-up while you have your hands over the grill.  With the steaks off the grill apply the “rub” to both sides of the steak using the back of a spoon to compress the “rub” onto both surfaces.  Send the steaks back to the grill, and flip after one minute to get good caramelization on both sides.

2007 Mayo Family Winery Napa Valley Random Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

For the pairing, I ventured to the depths of the Corl wine vault and selected a 2007 Mayo Family Winery Napa Valley Random Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  Here are some notes from the winemaker:

“Officially this vineyard is in Napa Valley. However, it really sits on the very top of the mountain that divides Sonoma Valley from Napa Valley. The mountain grown grapes give us obscenely rich, intense wine that is stuffed full of dark berry and cassis flavors backed up by a structure that begs for cellaring. Very little is produced in part because yields are so low in the vineyard, but also because fruit from this vineyard is very difficult to come by. Fortunately, our relationship with the owner/grower is quite solid. Enjoy this wine with a medium rare, well seared rib eye.”

Although the winemaker suggests this wine begs for cellaring, we found it silky smooth and ready to drink now.  The dark berry flavors were a wonderful flavor compliment to the bourbon rubbed NY strip steak, and the body was a perfect match.  Steak and Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural pairing – like Tom Brady and Wes Welker – you just can’t lose!

This wine is available online from Mayo Family Winery.  This is a small Sonoma winery that produces spectacular wine.  You will not find it at your local wine store, so give them a visit and enjoy some fantastic wine.


Craig’s Bourbon Rub, errr Paste


This recipe provides enough "rub" for two to three steaks

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


  1. Grind fennel seed and dried rosemary leaves in a coffee grinder.
  2. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  3. Add bourbon (I used Maker's Mark) and mix into a paste.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  5. When you are ready to grill your steaks, season with salt and pepper, and begin grilling using my secret timing formula.  Apply the paste (OFF THE GRILL) to both sides for the last two minutes of the grilling time making sure each side gets one minute of flame time.
  6. Happy grilling!

Grilled Vegetables

Grilled Vegetable Pouch

For the gilled vegetables, I selected a variety of vegetables from the local farm stand that included three different colors of eggplant, potatoes, red pepper, and onion.  I cut the vegetables into bite size chunks, placed them in a foil packet with a pad of butter and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Place the packets to the side of the grill (off direct heat) when you put the steaks on.  Grilling in the tent for 10 minutes makes for nicely al dente veggie morsels that maintain some texture to match nicely with the steak.  If they are too al dente for you, just leave them on the grill for a few extra minutes while you let the steaks rest before serving.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chile Rellenos with Peach Pepper Jam, Edwin W. Beitzell's Baked Crab

Chile Rellenos with Peach Pepper Jam

I am going off script today.  Normally I don’t post on weekends because I know you are out having fun doing whatever you do on your weekends – if my guess is right, you take a peak at my posts while sitting at work and the boss is not looking.  No worries, your secret is safe with me.  I am also going off script because I am not discussing a wine pairing (don’t be alarmed, I have some recommendations), and the two photos of the chile rellnos with peach pepper jam is all you get.  My apologies.

As I write this, I am with Chef Sue at our secret lair on the shores of the Potomac River in Southern Maryland.  This is an important point because while sequestered at our secret lair, I am generally banished from the kitchen – this is Chef Sue’s cooking therapy retreat.  Although my attempts at securing some kitchen time are normally thwarted, I happily get to enjoy the fruits of Chef Sue’s cooking therapy.  This weekend was a real treat.

Poblanos on the Grill

Last night we joined several neighbors for a dinner where contributions to the feast were provided by all.  One of Chef Sue’s contributions was chile rellenos with peach pepper jam.  In a word, they were stunning!  I was so excited about this delectable treat, I was motivated to write about it immediately.  I found the chile rellenos so exciting because she prepared them in a traditional manner, but used her culinary creativity to add a delicious twist by stuffing the peppers with a shrimp and cream cheese mixture and preparing a perfectly balanced and seasonal peach pepper jam.

This dish is another perfect addition to your football food repertoire I started with my post Chile Verde Paired with 2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir and 2010 Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  As the football season progresses, I am confident the chile rellenos will be prominently displayed between me and the television.

Chef Sue did not prepare this dish as one of our normal wine pairings, but I will offer a couple of suggestions.  With the piquance of the peppers, sweetness of the peaches, and warm creaminess of the cream cheese and shrimp filling, a light to medium bodied wine with some sweetness and healthy acidity would be a good choice.  Depending on the characteristics of the specific wine choice, I would recommend a Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chardonnay (unoaked, or light on the oak).

Although all of the food we shared last night was simply splendid, there was one other clear standout brought by good friend and neighbor Mary Leigh - Edwin W. Beitzell's Baked Crab.  I am a sucker for crab – any way you prepare it.  However, this recipe is a real winner.  It is light, delicate, and the crab is clearly center stage.  This is a recipe that lets the wonderful sweet goodness of crab meat do what it does best – make you happy!  Again, this was not a wine pairing, but I will offer a couple of thoughts.  As this is a wonderfully subtle dish, a delicate light bodied wine with flavors that do not overwhelm the crab is in order.  As always, a winemakers approach to the wine is all important, but I am confident you can find a Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Muscat Blanc, Champagne, or even a light bodied Chardonnay that would add to the experience of this wonderful dish.


Chile Rellenos


  • 12 poblano peppers
  • 1 package of cream cheese
  • 1 small diced onion
  • 1/2 pound shrimp (small shrimp such as salad shrimp, or larger shrimp cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 egg whites
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup al purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Safflower oil for frying


  1. Grill poblanos until the skin is lightly charred.
  2. Remove from grill, let cool, then peel skin.
  3. Slice down one side and remove seeds then rinse under water to fully clean.
  4. Sauté onions and shrimp in a skillet over medium heat.
  5. Add onions and shrimp to cream cheese with cayenne pepper and chill. This is most easily accomplished by leaving the cream cheese at room temperature for about an hour to let it soften.
  6. Stuff peppers and put in freezer for a minimum of 1/2 hour. Don't stack the peppers - they will stick together.
  7. Whip egg whites with salt until you have firm peaks, then add egg yolk and flower and continue to mix until fully incorporated.
  8. Dip peppers in the batter and fry in 350 degree oil until golden brown.

Peach Pepper Jam


  • 10 peaches
  • Juice of one freshly squeezed lime
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper


  1. Peel peaches and cut into bite size pieces then toss in the lemon juice.
  2. Clean and remove seeds from jalapeno and scotch bonnet pepper (gloves are a good idea), then dice.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a pot over medium heat.
  4. Add water as the mixture reduces while cooking for about 1 hour. Every 10 minutes or so, stir with a potato masher further incorporating the ingredients. In the end, reduce mixture until you have the consistency of a peach jam.
  5. Place in a serving bowl to allow your guests the opportunity to spoon on the level of sweet heat they prefer.

Edwin W. Beitzell's Baked Crab

This recipe provided Mary Leigh comes from the St. Mary's Academy's Treasured Recipes of Old St. Mary's, published in 1959, 1969, 1976.  I have not edited the recipe – it has some great character in the way it was originally published.  Mary Leigh was nice enough to add several comments (italics) for elaboration on her preparation.  Thanks Mary Leigh and Mr. Beitzell!

Take 1 Lb (2 cups) of jumbo lump back fin crab meat.

Make cream sauce:

1 Tbs. butter

1 Tbs. flour

3/4 cup fat free milk

3/4 cup half-and-half

Cook sauce until done and remove from fire. (that's the official recipe instructions, but it is important to get the sauce pretty thick because the onion and lemon juices thin the sauce a bit) Add juice of small onion (I grated less than 1/4 of a sweet onion and that seemed enough), juice of 1/2 a lemon, salt, dash of cayenne, 1 tsp. chopped parsley.

Very gently mix the cream sauce with crab meat. Add 2 well beaten eggs to crab mixture. (I did NOT add the eggs because the sauce was pretty thick and looked like it would be fine without the added thickener of eggs. Turned out I was right.)

Butter baking dishes. IMPORTANT: Use only crockery baking dishes. A Pyrex dish is not good.

Put crab mixture in the buttered baking dishes. Top with soft breadcrumbs made in the processor. Top bread with small bits of butter. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 or until lightly browned on top and crab is hot.

(I doubled the recipe and that made enough to fill 12 crab shells or small ramekins)

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Zucchini Bruschetta and Zucchini Rings Stuffed with Garlic Sautéed Shrimp with Saffron Zucchini Puree paired with 2009 Sebastiani Sonoma County Chardonnay

Zucchini Bruschetta Zucchini Rings and Shrimp Zucchini Saffron Puree-1

September is the time when your garden, and the gardens of everyone you know, is overflowing with zucchini.  It’s the season when bags of zucchini show up on your door step and litter the counter of your break room at work as everyone goes into zucchini overload and is desperately trying to find someone to take their excess crop.  Chef Sue’s urban garden did not include zucchini, but we have not been at a loss for these beautiful green garden missiles.  With this in mind, I thought to put together a couple recipes you might try to help with your zucchini inundation.  My intent was to stray outside the lines of the normal zucchini fate and create something new and interesting.  My good friends Richter and Meredith joined me last night to sample these creations.  When the night ended with not a morsel left, we concluded the experiment was a success.

As has been my recent trend in recipe creation and pairing, my intent with these dishes was to not stray far afield of the principle flavor of the main ingredient.  In this case, I wanted the essence of the zucchini to remain at center stage.  The zucchini bruschetta and the puree were true to my intent.  However, the zucchini ring filled with an egg and topped with garlic sautéed shrimp was not as clear an interpretation.  Don’t get me wrong, it was rich and delicious, but the zucchini offered little more than a pleasant textural contrast while the egg yolk (perfectly cooked to form another layer of sauce), and the garlic shrimp overpowered the mild flavor of zucchini.

2009 Silvergum Australia Chardonnay

The bold flavors of the garlic shrimp were also a challenge for the wine pairing.  I had intended this pairing to feature a wine recommended by Golf Buddy Steve – a 2009 Silvergum Australia Chardonnay.  This wine has a pleasant floral nose and features flavors of citrus, peach, mellon and subtle hints of butterscotch supported by healthy acidity.  Unfortunately, for a Chardonnay the 2009 Silvergum Australia Chardonnay is light bodied and did not match the heft of the garlic shrimp.  This is not to say a light bodied wine would not work – something like a Sauvignon Blanc with bright citrus flavors and strong acidity would have gone toe to toe with the shrimp.

2009 Sebastiani Sonoma County Chardonnay-1

Fortunately, I was prepared for this and had a bottle of my standby favorite within arms reach.  The body of the 2009 Sebastiani Sonoma County Chardonnay was up to the task with welcome structure and minerality coupled with flavors of ripe pear, apple, vanilla and a wonderful buttery feel.  At $11 this wine is an exceptional value and is a staple on my wine rack.

Zucchini Bruschetta Zucchini Rings and Shrimp Zucchini Saffron Puree


Zucchini Bruschetta


  • 4 slices French bread
  • olive oil
  • 3 cups zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 finely diced red onion
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Arrange the bread slices on a sheet pan and brush with olive oil
  3. Bake until crisp, about 8 minutes.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  5. Add the zucchini and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently just to soften.
  6. Season with the salt and pepper.
  7. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  8. Combine red onion, feta cheese, capers and basil in a large bowl.
  9. Add the zucchini and any olive oil left in the skillet.
  10. Stir well and season if needed.
  11. Top each bread slice with the zucchini mixture and serve.

Garlic Shrimp and Egg Stuffed Zucchini Rings


  • 4 large 3/4 inch thick zucchini rings with center cut out. Find a large zucchini - 4 to 6 inches in diameter.
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves


  1. Cut zucchini into 3/4 inch rings and hollow out the middle
  2. Sautee one side of the zucchini then flip
  3. Add an egg to the hollowed zucchini
  4. Cover and continue until egg is cooked leaving the yolk uncooked
  5. In a separate skillet, melt butter, add garlic and shrimp.
  6. One minute before done, add basil leaves and season to taste.

Saffron Eggplant Puree


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2  cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped zucchini
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch saffron
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Heat oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft.
  3. Add the zucchini, vinegar, basil , water and saffron and bring to a simmer.
  4. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Place in a blender and blend until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oven Roasted Chicken Breast Over Garlic Sautéed Fresh Asparagus, Colombian Baby Potatoes, and a Saffron Red Pepper sauce Paired with 2009 Finca Enguera Verdil

Oven Roasted Seasoned Chicken Breast over Garlic Sauteed Asparagus with Colombian Baby Potatoes and Red Pepper Sauce

Simple is good.  Carrying on from my recent simple treatment of cod, bay scallops and shrimp, I was inspired to make something similarly uncomplicated with chicken breast, baby potatoes, and asparagus.  As a matter of fact, other than the saffron red pepper sauce, this meal is so simple a recipe is not required.  It is so easy, you can prepare it any night after work with very little effort – about 20 minutes.  Honestly, the most time consuming part of this pairing is making a trip to your favorite wine merchant to pick a bottle of something new and interesting.

Seasoned Chicken Breast

Speaking of pairing, this meal is about simple and straight forward flavors.  The only standout flavor comes from the saffron and red pepper combination.  The sauce is mild an delicious – the fact that this is the dominant flavor in the dish (and it is quite a subtle flavor), leaves the pairing options wide open.  I’m quite sure that anything from a bright Pinot Grigio to a big full bodied bodied Chardonnay could be a pleasurable pairing.  I decided on a Spanish wine – a 2009 Finca Enguera Verdil. The Verdil grape is much like the Verdejo and produces full-bodied, strong acidity, medium alcohol content wine featuring tropical fruits, ripe peaches and notable minerality.  Verdil, also known as Verdosilla, is grown in south-eastern Spain and mostly used in Yecla and Valencia. When looking for familiar landmarks in tasting this wine, numerous different grapes can be referenced - from Viognier to Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay - there are fascinating and very tasty components that line up in this Verdil.

2010 Finca Enguera Valencia Verdil

The 2009 Finca Enguera Verdil nose is a blend of mixed peaches and plums with a gorgeous light minerality. The palate starts with lush kiwi fruit and a blissful lime and pink grapefruit marriage leading to healthy acidity. There’s a note of almond skin and peach pit in the background that descends to a lengthy finish featuring the stone fruits we started with. At $10, this wine is a tasty bargain.

2010 Finca Enguera Valencia Verdil-1

As I mentioned at the onset, pairing with this meal would be hard to screw up.  The flavors were direct and uncomplicated.  The chicken breasts were prepared by seasoning on all sides with salt and pepper and roasting in a preheated oven for 18 minutes – turning once at the 9 minute mark.  The asparagus was sautéed in a touch of olive oil with a tablespoon of minced garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper just before taking off the heat.  You will find the recipe for the saffron red pepper sauce at the end of this post.

Garlic Sauteed Asparagus

But here is the surprise – the Colombian baby potatoes were not just something to fill the plate.  These little babies are spectacular.  Chef Sue and I learned of this wonderfully simple and tasty preparation while living in Venezuela.  We learned about Colombian baby potatoes from our housekeeper affectionately known as Santa Cecilia.  Cecilia is a wonderful woman who taught our family many valuable lessons – and how to make Colombian baby potatoes.  One day I came home from work and found Cecilia in the kitchen.  I asked what she was cooking, and she replied “papas colombianas” (Colombian potatoes).  Before writing this post, I tried to research recipes for Colombian potatoes but drew a blank.  However, Santa Cecilia told me they were papas colombianas, and therefore they will always be called so in my kitchen.  The preparation could not be easier.  Boil potatoes until fork tender, drain and place in a large bowl.  Drizzle some good olive oil over the potatoes, then turn the potatoes by hand ensuring they all get a nice coating of oil.  Spread the potatoes on a large sheet pan then season with salt and pepper.  The oil makes the salt and pepper stick to the potatoes and gives you a perfectly seasoned bite every time.  Thank you Santa Cecilia!

Oven Roasted Seasoned Chicken Breast over Garlic Sauteed Asparagus with Colombian Baby Potatoes and Red Pepper Sauce-1

With direct simple flavors of the chicken, garlic asparagus and red pepper sauce, each component was able to shine and not be obscured.  The same was true for the 2009 Finca Enguera Verdil which added a pleasant citrus note complimenting the chicken perfectly.  Overall, this was a pleasant pairing that was easy on the wallet, and is another example of how simple preparation can achieve exceptional results.


Saffron Red Pepper Sauce


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2  cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 red peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch saffron
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Heat oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft.
  3. Add the red peppers, vinegar, water and saffron and bring to a simmer.
  4. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Place in a blender and blend until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Chile Verde Paired with 2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir and 2010 Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Chile Verde-2

This pairing marks the official kick-off of the 2011 football season and is the first in what I intend to be a series of finger licking good football food.  All the football fans out there know exactly what I am talking about.  There is a whole class of foods that we fans of the game find nearly enjoyable as the game itself.  Settling down for a Saturday afternoon of college football or a Sunday afternoon of NFL football demands a certain cuisine.  Unfortunately, football food and wine pairing is not the first thing that comes to mind when dreaming of our weekends at the game, or in front of the TV cheering for our favorite teams.  Football (or pretty much any other sport) is usually synonymous with beer.  I like beer, but believe there is an unexploited audience of wine lovers that would enjoy a good football food wine pairing – and I am just the person to fill this void.

Cubed Pork

To kick off the season, we are starting with chili – a time tested favorite football food.  Never one to draw within the lines, we are flipping the coin in favor of Chile Verde, a favorite dish in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.  The offensive line for this meal is a pair of New Zealand wines which makes great sense – they play the more civilized cousin of US football – rugby.

Chile Verde

The quarterback (chef) for this meal was “not so much a football fan” Dawn.  Golf buddy Steve and I were at the wide receiver positions and selected the wine.  After hearing Dawn’s description of the recipe, we decided on a double wide-out pairing with Steve selecting a Pinot Noir, and me selecting a Sauvignon Blanc.  Our selections included a 2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir and a 2010 Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  I chose the Sauvignon Blanc with the idea of balancing the piquance of the recipe.  We hedged our bets, not having previously tasted the recipe, with Steve’s selection of a Pinot Noir with the thought of a better body balance.

2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir and 2010 Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc-1

Although the bright citrus flavors and healthy acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc did a fine job of balancing the heat of the chili, the heft of the dish overwhelmed the light body of the Sauvignon Blanc.  While enjoyable, the Sauvignon Blanc just could not stand up to the weighty front line of the chile verde.

2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir and 2010 Matua Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

On the other hand, the 2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir went toe to toe across the line of scrimmage with the chile verde with perfect balance in body.  This Pinot Noir was not only a well balanced compliment to the chile verde with respect to weight, but was impressively smooth with well integrated tannins and flavors of bright berry fruits with darker berries lingering in the finish with a nice touch of sweetness that worked very well in balancing the mild heat of the chile verde.  While everyone enjoyed both wines, the 2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir was clearly the best pairing choice.  At $15, both wines are very good values.

Chile Verde-1

For the recipe used by Chef Dawn, follow this link to the Sunset Cookbook.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fresh Tuna Three Ways; Tuna and Avocado Tartare, Seared tuna with Mango Peach Salsa, and Toasted Fennel and Cumin Crusted Tuna Steak on a Bed of Spicy Summer Vegetable Quinoa

Avocado Tuna Tartare on Shredded Celery Root-2

If you are a fan of fresh tuna, you are going to love this three course tuna love fest.  The courses were inspired by the idea of using tuna as the central theme running through three preparations of increasingly cooked approaches.  The other theme that runs through the courses is seasonal fruits and vegetables.  Joining Chef Sue and I for this adventure in tunatopia were good friends Don, Beth, Richter and Meredith who contributed to the adventure by bringing wine for the second and third courses – each a beautiful choice.

Main Avenue Fish Market

Fresh tuna, the foundation for this meal is, is the critical step in ensuring success.  Fortunately, living in DC, we have the Maine Avenue fish market where fresh seafood is plentiful.  Picking up a tuna steak at your local grocery is not recommended.  Sushi restaurants use both fresh and frozen fish. With today’s freezing technology, fish can be frozen quickly to retain freshness, flavor and color. As long as it is not kept frozen a long time and goes to the market quickly the fish will have a good fresh flavor.

However, I recommend you stay away from packaged frozen fish, unless it is sold specifically as sushi grade.  When selecting your fish, look for bright fresh color and avoid off or pale colors.  Try to avoid purchasing Ahi tuna or albacore loins that have too many distinct white lines in the flesh.  This sinew is not so much of an issue for the seared tuna, but can make the preparation and enjoyment of the tartare more challenging.  Finally, the flesh should be firm, and should not smell “fishy.”

First Course:  Tuna and Avocado Tartare with Avocado Butter paired with 2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Estate Bottled Riesling Kabinet.

Avocado Tuna Tartare on Shredded Celery Root-1

Along with the fresh tuna flavors, this dish features strong tartness from the avocado butter, and pleasant piquance from the Trinidad pepper sauce.  These flavors led me to select the 2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Estate Bottled Riesling Kabinet balancing the tart and piquance with the mild sweetness of the Riesling.  This wine is subtle and pleasant with flavors of honeysuckle and pear.  These subtle flavors let the flavor of the tuna shine through and made for an enjoyable pairing.

2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Estate Bottled Riesling Kabinet-1

Second Course:  Seared Tuna with Mango Peach Salsa Paired with 2009 Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay

Seared Tuna Over Mango Peach Salsa

I am a big fan of properly prepared seared tuna, and this pairing took it to a new level.  The deep rich flavors of the seared tuna combined with the fresh flavors of the mango and peach (with a touch of heat from the jalapenos) were elevated to a new level when enjoyed with the 2009 Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay.  This Chardonnay hits you first with big buttery flavors – a wonderful butter bomb.  Next you are treated to some wonderful fruit and a delicious mouth feel.  In the words of the winemaker “On the palate, flavors of pears, peaches and melons are backed with lively acidity. A nice touch of vanilla-scented oak provides an added flavor dimension. The creamy palate has a lingering finish of melon and citrus fruit with a satisfying buttery complexity.”  The melon and peach flavors present a splendid compliment to the peach and mango salsa.  This is a wonderful wine that will be making my list of favorites.

Third Course:  Toasted Fennel and Cumin Crusted Tuna Steak on a Bed of Spicy Summer Vegetable Quinoa Paired with 2009 Takutai Nelson New Zealand Pinot Noir

Toasted Fennel Crusted Tuna on a Bed of Spicy Summer Vegetable Quinoa

Finally, our third application of heat.  The tuna for this course was prepared much like the seared tuna in the second course, but at a lower heat and longer time resulting in a beautiful piece of fish heated through while maintaining bright beautiful internal color.  The fennel and cumin crust added deep complimentary flavors that worked brilliantly with the piquance component of the summer vegetable quinoa.  In contrast to the first two courses, this dish demanded a wine with more body, and the 2009 Takutai Nelson New Zealand Pinot Noir responded perfectly.  According to the winemaker, '”The cool, stony-soiled maritime region of Nelson often delivers lighter, fragrant and taut pinot noirs. This Pinot has a lovely nose of cherry jam, mint, wood spice and toasty notes. It’s mid-weight, fairly supple, silky and smooth on the mid-palate, with fine tannin and a toasty, bitter coffee finish.”  This pairing was a pleasant surprise with the relatively deeper and richer medium bodied flavors of both the dish and the wine complimenting each other with brilliant elegance.


Please note that these recipes are based on servings for six (and a few leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch!)

Tuna and Avocado Tartare with Avocado Butter
Avocado Butter

  • 2 diced ripe avocados
  • Juice from two freshly squeezed limes
  • 4 teaspoons honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. This is a tart sauce that you can adjust by adding either more or less honey. I recommend going with the quantities listed, then adjusting to your taste. Don't be afraid of the acidic tartness, it works great with the tartare.

  • 1 grated celery root
  • 3 fresh medium tuna steaks (sushi grade tuna) finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons course mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 teaspoon Trinidad pepper sauce (see my recipe for Trinidad Pepper Sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 bunches finely sliced green onion
  • 1 diced ripe avocado
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine tuna, olive oil, mustard capers, pepper sauce, cilantro, and green onion in a large bowl.
  2. Gently fold in the avocado and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Plate with a small bed of grated celery root, top with tartare then finish with a dollop of avocado butter.
Seared Tuna with Mango Peach Salsa

  • 3 fresh medium sized tuna steaks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 diced medium onions
  • 2 teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 diced ripe mango
  • 1 diced ripe peach
  • Juice from 1 freshly squeezed orange
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 minced fresh seeded jalapeno peppers
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
  1. Sauté the olive oil, onions, and ginger in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
  3. Add the diced mango and peach, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 more minutes.
  4. Add the orange juice, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, and jalapeno; cook for 10 more minutes, until orange juice is reduced, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove from the heat and add the mint.
  6. Heat a sauté pan over high heat until very hot.
  7. Season the tuna liberally with salt and pepper.
  8. When the pan is very hot, add a drizzle of olive oil and then the tuna steaks.
  9. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until the outside is browned.
  10. Slice the seared tuna about 1/4 inch thick and serve over the the salsa.
Toasted Fennel and Cumin Crusted Tuna

  • 1/3 cup whole fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup cumin seeds, toasted
  • 3 tuna steaks
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Place fennel and cumin seeds in a coffee grinder and coarsely grind.
  2. Add ground seeds to a hot skillet over high heat and toast until the first signs of smoke appear. Remove from heat and spread over a large plate.
  3. Brush tuna with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Preheat sauté pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat .
  5. Dredge both sides of the tuna in the toasted fennel and cumin seeds.
  6. Sauté, for 5 minutes over medium heat until golden brown, turn over and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
Summer Vegetable Quinoa

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups Quinoa
  • Water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow zucchini julienned or cut into 1/4 inch rings - your choice
  • 1 green zucchini julienned or cut into 1/4 inch rings - your choice
  • 1 leek finely sliced
  • 1 onion finely sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Trinidad pepper sauce (see my recipe for Trinidad Pepper Sauce)
  1. Prepare quinoa according to directions or 2 cups water for one cup of quinoa. Add water to quinoa, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover for 18 minutes.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan and sauté the vegetables until just cooked through.
  3. Add the vegetables, 3 tablespoons olive oil, Trinidad pepper sauce and balsamic vinegar to the quinoa.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Plate a bed of quinoa and top with 1/2 of a tuna steak.
In vino veritas, buen provecho