Monday, October 31, 2011

Shrimp Risotto Paired with 2010 Delaplane Cellars Indian Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Shrimp Risotto-1

The last month was a real wine inspired eye opener for me.  Not being impressed with the local (Maryland and Virginia) wines for quite some time, recent finds have changed my mind.  I am always open to revising my views based on new information, and Delaplane Cellars did just that.

Chef Sue and I recently embarked on an impromptu trip to the Shenandoah to visit the annual balloon and wine festival.  After making the trek West from DC, we found the winds to be unsuitable for balloons (steady 20 knot winds with gusts above 30 – based on my well calibrated thinning hair).  With diminishing expectations of seeing the balloons, we short stopped our trip and decided to visit a few wineries.

2010 Delaplane Cellars Virginia Indian Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay-1

We were not particularly impressed with a couple of the wineries, but one was a true standout – Delaplane Cellars.  We tasted five wines and were entertained in the beautiful tasting room by Jacqui.  We enjoyed two Viogniers, a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Franc, and a blend.  We enjoyed all five wines tremendously, bought several bottles, and immediately joined the Delaplane Cellars wine club.

2010 Delaplane Cellars Virginia Indian Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay-2

My clear favorites were the Viogniers – some of the best I have ever tasted.  Period.  In short order, I will be constructing a pairing with one of the Viogniers.  However, today we are featuring the 2010 Delaplane Cellars Indian Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay paired with Chef Sue’s Shrimp Risotto.

Shrimp risotto is a wonderfully rich and creamy dish with full flavor of the shrimp at center stage.    We are always searching for the perfect complement between food and wine, and this is a particularly wonderful example.  At first bite and sip, Chef Sue and I met eyes and nodded in approval.  The pairing was spectacular.

Shrimp Risotto-5

The 2010 Delaplane Cellars Indian Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay is a small batch wine (200 cases) made from whole cluster Chardonnay grapes from a single vineyard – Indian Springs.  The wine was fermented in small French oak barrels and aged for 10 months before bottling.  This wine starts with a pleasant herbaceous nose and hints of peach and melon.  Slightly off dry, the wine features flavors of ripe stone fruits, melon, grass, and subtle notes of vanilla supported by a well balanced acidity.  The creamy mouth feel is pleasantly contrasted with a lingering yet crisp finish.

If you remain in search of good wine from Virginia, look no further.  Run, don’t walk, to Delaplane Cellars to enjoy wine by a serious winemaker producing serious wines.  Now that we are wine club members, you are sure to find future pairings featuring great examples of the winemakers in Virginia can aspire to.


Shrimp Risotto

Garlic Marinated Shrimp


  • 12 extra large shrimp peeled and deveined (save the shells to make stock)
  • 1 diced onion (save the skins and extra bits for stock)
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 threads saffron
  • 1 cup risotto
  • Four cups shrimp stock (see preparation instructions)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 ounces grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • Scallions for garnish
  • Salt and pepper

Shrimp Risotto Ingredients


  1. Peel and devein the shrimp (save the shells).
  2. Place shrimp in a small bowl, add garlic, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Coat the shrimp by tossing and allow to marinade while you prepare the shrimp stock.
  3. In a medium sauce pan, brown onion skins and shrimp shells in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat.
  4. When the onions begin to caramelize, add 6 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, five threads of saffron, and one bay leaf. Cover and let reduce for about one hour over low heat.
  5. Strain the shrimp stock, and put the liquid back on low heat and reduce by 1/3 - to approximately four cups. If you reduce too far, add enough water to make up four cups.
  6. In a sauté pan, sauté shrimp for one minute on both sides after lightly coating the pan with olive oil (they will not be cooked through). Remove shrimp and set aside.
  7. In the same sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil and heat. When the butter is melted, sauté the risotto, mushrooms and onion until risotto turns pearl like.
  8. Deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine. Turn heat to low. From here on, you must continuously stir the risotto.
  9. When the liquid (wine) is absorbed, continue to add shrimp stock 1/4 cup at a time as the liquid is absorbed. Continue this process (and continue stirring) until the risotto is a smooth consistency and is cooked through.
  10. Humidity and altitude will determine the time and amount of stock necessary. At sea level, it should be about twenty minutes and between three and four cups of stock.
  11. With the last addition of stock, add peas.
  12. When the texture of the risotto is "right" add shrimp, cover, and take off heat. Allow to rest for five minutes.
  13. After five minutes, add parmesan cheese, stir, check to see if more stock is necessary, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  14. Garnish with chopped scallions.

Shrimp Risotto

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vinegar Chicken and Duck Fat Fried Garlic Parsley Potatoes Paired with 2009 Cornarea Estate Bottled Canale D' Alba Italy Roero Arneis

V‌inegar Chicken

I am a fan of gifts – particularly when I am on the receiving end.  It is better to give than receive?  Ha.  I don’t think so.  Just this week I received one of those surprise gifts  - it made my day.  This particular gift came from good friend Christina Princess of the Desert.  Like many gifts from Christina Princess of the Desert, this one came with a catch.  Christina sent me an Italian recipe for vinegar chicken as a challenge for pairing with wine.

Vinegar chicken?  My bulky wine pairing muscles began to spasm.  Vinegar is a natural rival to wine.  When faced with the strong flavor of vinegar, many wines will taste sour, or flat at best.  Although I have prepared dishes using vinegar, a common approach to raising the acidity of a dish and bring balance to the composition, I had previously not prepared anything that featured vinegar as a principal ingredient and this appeared to be just the challenge Christina intended.

After taking a deep breath and running through a dozen or so yoga positions, I began to think more rationally about the challenge of pairing.  To avoid having the wine appear sour when faced with the vinegar, I concluded the wine must be clean and bright with ample acidity.

Vinegar Chicken-1

The recipe Christina provided has its origins in Italy.  I decided to run with the Italian theme and choose an Italian white.  Italian whites are generally known for healthy acidity, so this narrowing of the universe of wines was a good place to start.  I also wanted to stray from the typical wine varieties most popular U.S. stores.  I made a quick jaunt over to Schneiders of Capitol Hill and found a 2009 Cornarea Estate Bottled Canale D' Alba Italy Roero Arneis.  The good folks at Schneiders introduced this wine as having the strong acidity I was looking for as well as healthy minerality.  Perfect.

2009 Cornarea Roero Arneis-1

To accompany the vinegar chicken, I pan fried potatoes, sliced thin on a mandolin, in duck fat and garlic finished with Italian parsely, salt, and pepper at the end of the fry.  The vinegar chicken was delicious and surprised me a bit because the vinegar was not as prominent as expected.  The vinegar flavor certainly existed, but it was subtle, pleasant, and brightened the flavor of the chicken.

2009 Cornarea Roero Arneis-2

When first tasting the chicken, my fears of the wine pairing were relieved.  With only subtle vinegar flavors remaining when plated, I knew the pairing would work.  The 2009 Cornarea Estate Bottled Canale D' Alba Italy Roero Arneis delivered the bright acidity as promised and featured flavors of peach and apricot with grapefruit lingering in the crisp finish.  This wine is a medium bodied white with noteworthy hints of minerals.  It is a delightful wine and a good value at $20.  The pairing was a success.


Vinegar Chicken


  • 2 chicken thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings [or whatever pieces you want]
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour, spread on a plate
  • Salt, black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1/3 cup tablespoon red or white wine vinegar


  1. Heat a thin layer (1 or 2 tablespoons) of vegetable oil in a frying pan.
  2. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, and fry on a medium heat until golden and crisp, turning once. Do this in a couple of batches, if necessary.
  3. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Season with a little salt, and pepper according to taste.
  4. In same pan [wiped of all flour/residue], warm the olive oil, rosemary, garlic and anchovy fillets.
  5. When the anchovies have dissolved/ [garlic starts to exude nice little odor], put the chicken into the pan, turn two or three times, add 1/3 cup vinegar, turn again, cover, and cook over a very low heat for about an hour, turning the chicken pieces from time to time.  
  6. Fiddle with the liquid if you have to -- our chickens here are super tiny so they don't really need a full hour.  I usually serve this with pan-fried potatoes in olive oil, butter, and mashed anchovies (you don't actually taste the anchovies in either, so it's not as redundant as it seems).

In vino veritas, buen provecho.





Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Salmon with Peach Pepper Jam Glaze Colombian Potatoes Garlic Sautéed Asparagus Paired with 2009 Sokol Blosser Winery Evolution Oregon White

Salmon with Peach Pepper Jam Colombian Potatoes and Sauteed Asparagus

In my kitchen, nothing goes to waste.  I love leftovers, and frequently cook more than is necessary to feed the dinner crowd just so I have a nice lunch the next day.  Likewise, I often find ways to reuse components of leftovers to create something new.  This pairing is a result of leftover peach pepper jam Chef Sue made for a dipping sauce to accompany her chile rellenos (see Chile Rellenos with Peach Pepper Jam, Edwin W. Beitzell's Baked Crab).

When I opened the fridge to survey the stock, I found the peach pepper jam and said “hmmm, I know I can do something with that.”  It took only minutes to decide to use it as a glaze on baked salmon.  I quickly ran down to the Maine Avenue fish market, picked up a fresh salmon fillet, and got to work.

The dish was rounded out by a recycled recipe for Colombian potatoes a la Santa Cecilia (see Oven Roasted Chicken Breast Over Garlic Sautéed Fresh Asparagus, Colombian Baby Potatoes, and a Saffron Red Pepper sauce Paired with 2009 Finca Enguera Verdil) and garlic sautéed asparagus that was local and in season.

My guess that the spicy sweetness of the peach pepper jam used as a glaze for the salmon would make the ordinary something special was spot on.  The glaze became concentrated on the salmon, and was an enjoyable complement without overwhelming the salmon.

2009 Sokol Blosser Winery Evolution Oregon White-1

The 2009 Sokol Blosser Winery Evolution Oregon White was a perfect pairing for this dish.  This wine is a blend of nine grapes.  Yes, nine.  I tried to get the list of the grapes, but was unsuccessful.  Although I have no idea what comprises this wonderful blend, the folks at Sokol Blosser Winery have thrown in everything including the kitchen sink to arrive at something very enjoyable.

The 2009 Sokol Blosser Winery Evolution Oregon White is a medium body off-dry white that is aromatic with fresh herbal and tropical notes and flavors featuring pronounced lush fruits including melon and peach.  The fresh acidity leads to a crisp finish.  This wine is made for food pairing and easily stood up to the spicy peach pepper glaze with the peach flavors in both the wine and the food echoing nicely the Ricola man sporting lederhosen in the alps.  Beautiful…I mean the pairing!

2009 Sokol Blosser Winery Evolution Oregon White

At $15, the 2009 Sokol Blosser Winery Evolution Oregon White is a good value and a versatile wine for any number of dishes including the more difficult pairings with spicy and Asian inspired dishes.  I give this wine my full endorsement for your next pairing.

Salmon with Peach Pepper Jam Colombian Potatoes and Sauteed Asparagus-2


Salmon with Peach Pepper Jam Glaze



  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut fillet into two serving sized pieces.
  3. Season both sides of the fillet with salt and pepper.
  4. Liberally apply the peach pepper jam to the fillets.
  5. Place on a sheet pan and place in oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until fish just begins to flake when prodded with a fork.
  6. To add some texture put the salmon under the broiler for a minute or two to add a bit of concentrated texture to the glaze.

Colombian Potatoes and Garlic Sauteed Asparagus

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

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, October 21, 2011

What do Wine Ratings Really Mean?


Have you ever stood in front of the wine rack at your favorite purveyor of wine and scratched your head while thinking “what do the wine ratings on those little white tags really mean?”  Whether you care to admit to having this thought or not, I will raise my hand.  The relationship between the rating on that little white tag is important to your next wine pairing you are planning.  But if you are not familiar with the meaning of the rating, the relationship may not be what you expected.

When it comes to wine, my clear focus is understanding why pairing a wine with a particular dish works and the never ending pursuit of palate bending flavor combinations.  This is distinct from enjoying wine for the qualities embodied by the wine alone.  This is an important difference.  For instance, if you were to purchase a highly rated wine, you are selecting a wine judged by some “expert” as a good representation of the varietal and the region.  This rating tells you something about the quality of the wine.  However, it provides none of the information you need to ensure a good wine pairing.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy wine for the simple pleasure of tasting something enjoyable.  Wine ratings are a good aid to help you select a quality wine.  However, the numbers alone are insufficient to make a judgment on pairing wine with your favorite dish.  I am dedicated to the mind expanding pleasure of food and wine pairing, and therefore the number is just one in a long line of discriminators (see my food and wine pairing decision model).


There are several reputable sources for wine rating including The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits Magazine.  Each conduct blind tastings under controlled conditions by seasoned experts (I clearly picked the wrong career!).  The specific process followed by each varies slightly, but is not sufficiently diverse to draw a distinction.  The ratings are similarly consistent with most variation in assessment falling on wines that dip below a score of 80.  But really, why would you select a wine rated as average or less? 

On to the nuts and bolts.  Following are the ratings and associated definitions used by each of the noted wine critics:

The Wine Advocate

95-100: Classic; a great wine
90-94: Outstanding; superior character and style
80-89: Good to very good; wine with special qualities
70-79: Average; drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69: Below average; drinkable but not recommended
50-59: Poor; undrinkable, not recommended

Wine Spectator

96-100: Extraordinary; a classic wine of its variety
90-95: Outstanding; exceptional complexity and character
80-89: Barely above average to very good; wine with various degrees of flavor
70-79: Average; little distinction beyond being soundly made
60-69: Below average; drinkable, but containing noticeable deficiencies
50-59: Poor; unacceptable, not recommended

Wine Enthusiast

95-100 -- Superb. One of the greats.
90-94 -- Excellent. Extremely well made and highly recommended.
85-89 -- Very good. May offer outstanding value if the price is right.
80-84 -- Good. Solid wine, suitable for everyday consumption.

Note:  Only wines scoring 80 or better are published.

Wine & Spirits Magazine

95-100 -- Extraordinary
90-94 -- Outstanding
85-89 -- Very Good to Excellent
80-84 -- Good
75-79 -- Average
70-74 -- Below Average
<70 – Avoid

And now we draw back the curtain and reveal the true Oz.  Back in my naïve days (yesterday), I expected to find a formula that miraculously summed to the rating numbers.  In other words, I expected to find a scale or system that assigned 5 points for one characteristic, 10 points for another, and so on.  It doesn’t exist.  The rating scales you just read represent a big picture assessment by the taster and are not the result of some elegant distribution of points among characteristics.  Like the professionals, you have full license to taste a wine and proclaim “88!”  And you would be right.  Who is a better judge of your taste than you?

You should now have a reasonably good understanding of what the numbers mean.  However, here comes the bottom line when it comes to pairing a wine with food; these numbers are simply a discriminator for those wines you should avoid.  The numbers say nothing about the appropriateness of the pairing selection.  Don’t lose hope just yet.  Each of these wine critics also provide tasting notes – the real meat and potatoes of wine pairing.  The tasting notes discuss aromas, body, flavors, acidity, complexity, maturity, mouth feel and all the things you need to know to make a good selection for your next creation.

In the wine industry however, emphasis is clearly laid at the feet of the holy score.  Less attention is given to the tasting notes.  I understand why.  With a highly favorable score, a wine can become a star and lead to profits.  The same is not true for tasting notes.  Well crafted tasting notes contain the information we need to construct a successful pairing, but they do not sell wine.


In most cases, wine shops rarely provide tasting notes – they try to extract the contents of your wallet by highlighting the points awarded by one of the critics.  Unfortunately this means more research on your part if you intend to take care in composing your food and wine paring.  Tasting notes can be had from the critics we have discussed, a well informed wine merchant (like my favorite - Schneiders of Capitol Hill), the back label on a bottle, the website for the winery, or simply tasting the wine before constructing the pairing.

Once you have narrowed the wine field to those wines that are rated at good or better, you can then begin to look at the tasting notes and the specific characters of the wine that will appropriately complement your hard work in the kitchen.  If you want to enjoy wine of a particular varietal and region, you can trust the numbers.  If you want to construct a memorable paring, look deeper.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew–Craig’s Grape Adventure the eBook to be Released in November!

Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew

I am very happy to report the publication of “Craig’s Grape Adventure – Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew” remains on schedule for an early November release.  Two good friends, Golf Buddy Steve and Photography Buddy John, volunteered to give the draft a critical editorial look.  I really appreciate their valuable and generous contribution to the book.

Golf Buddy Steve admitted to being distracted by the content – all the romance, comedy, and special effects forced him to read passages multiple times so he could focus on editing rather than the drama of this page turning psychological thriller.  Overstatement?  I will let you be the judge.

I received numerous wishes for success with this book and plenty of notes from people far and wide noting their anticipation of publication.  Thanks for your kind words.  There was one comment that caused me to pause.  Good friend Meredith emphatically stated she did not like my pricing model (see my post Craig’s Grape Adventure–the eBook is Coming in Time for Christmas!)  Meredith is not comfortable with my “name your price” model. 

Meredith noted that most books on Amazon sell in the $10 range.  Cookbooks even more with many in the mid $20s.  She prefers that I set a price.  So here it is: One Million Dollars (with pinky in place and the voice of Dr. Evil).  Sorry Meredith.  I’m sticking with my belief that people want to be treated fairly and will do so in return.  The price remains the same – anything you want.

I will be shamelessly promoting the book again soon, so standby for more details on the release date.  Tell your friends!

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Venezuelan Pepito, Guasacaca, Salsa de Ajo Paired with 2009 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Venezuelan Pepito

It is Sunday, my beloved Patriots are preparing to humiliate the Cowboys, and I am bringing you another great football food wine pairing.  This is my second pairing of Venezuelan street food and features one of the most popular street food sandwiches in Venezuela.  Next to the arepa (see my prior post “Venezuelan Arepas with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Paired with 2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay”) and possibly empanadas, pepitos are the most common and favorite among those who love street food in Venezuela.

With sauces that typically include guasacaca (don’t you just love to say that?) and salsa de ajo (garlic sauce), this famous Venezuelan sandwich is full of well balanced flavor and a clear favorite of late night revelers in Caracas – and everyone in Caracas is a night owl.

Pepitos are constructed with either chicken or steak on a bed of lettuce and diced tomato in a hoagie like roll which is then topped with guasacaca, salsa de ajo, and other sauces such as ketchup and mayonnaise if you care to add them.  Other options include a slice of ham and a fried egg.  I prepared two versions with my favorite ingredients; both with guasacaca (come on, say it three times and smile) and salsa de ajo, one with the ham and egg, and one without.

Venezuelan Pepito-1

Chef Sue was the only one in the house with first hand experience of a pepito.  The smile on her face was all I needed to know that I had faithfully recreated our fond adventures in Venezuela.  She was particularly impressed with how well I hit the mark with the guasacaca and salsa de ajo.  Success!

I paired our Venezuelan delight with a 2009 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  We found this wine to offer complex aromas of citrus, pear, and lime with vibrant floral tones. The flavors echoed the aromas nicely with a nice touch of citrus, melon, butter and vanilla.

2009 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay

The pairing was a pleasure.  Who says street food is not up to a good wine pairing?  The 2009 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay worked particularly well with the chicken and matched the body of the sandwich perfectly.  The citrus flavors complimented the acidity in the guasacaca nicely, and the creamy buttery finish left us hustling for the next delicious bite.

It is early in the day, so I expect you to make a quick trip to the grocery, gather your ingredients, pull a bottle of 2009 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay off the rack, and settle in to cheer on the Patriots.  You should also repeat the word “guasacaca” a few times and nod your head toward Venezuela in acknowledgement of the creators of this wonderful sandwich.

2009 Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay-1

Finally, I know I have some Venezuelan friends and readers.  I would love to hear from you and your thoughts on this pepito recreation.  I know you prefer a Polarcita and baseball with your pepito, but hey, the wine worked!




  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 green bell peppers, cleaned, deveined, and chopped 
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • A third cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup corn oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Continue blending and drizzle in the oil until fully combined and smooth.
  3. Let stand and serve at room temperature.

Salsa de Ajo


  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 green bell pepper cleaned, deveined and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 of a medium onion chopped
  • Salt to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth
  2. Salsa de ajo is best served from a squeeze bottle so you get a nice squiggly line of garlic goodness on top of your pepito.



  • 4 hoagie-type bread rolls
  • 1 pound chicken breast cut in half crosswise then sliced into 1/4 inch strips
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (also known as salsa negra in Venezuela)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded lettuce
  • 1 diced tomato
  • Guasacaca
  • Salsa de ajo
  • Crushed ruffles potato chips
  • Four pieces of thinly sliced sandwich ham (one per sandwich - optional)
  • 2 fried eggs per sandwich (optional)


  1. Over high heat, sauté the chicken until it about half cooked.
  2. Add the garlic, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Construct the sandwich with a bed of shredded lettuce and tomatoes. Add the chicken and drizzle with guasacaca and salsa de ajo. Top with crushed potato chips. Ruffles with ridges are standard in Venezuela.
  5. Optionally, add a slice of thin sliced deli ham and two fried eggs. The hoagie rolls should be long enough to support two eggs.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Korean Tacos with Marinated Sirloin Cooked on a Himalayan Salt Plate Paired with Sauvignon Blanc

Korean Taco

Chef Sue and I went shopping for a couple of kitchen gadgets yesterday, something I used to dread, but now enjoy almost as much as a good round of golf…almost.  One of the items on the list was a Himalayan salt plate.  If you are not familiar with a Himalayan salt plate, don’t worry.  I had no idea either.  Hey, Chef Sue said it would be cool, and I never argue when she wants something new for the kitchen.

The idea is simple and elegant.  Salt retains heat (or cold)…and of course is, um, salty.  Image a block of pure, unprocessed salt in a block (it looks like a slab of granite) roughly 1 1/2 inches thick, 10 inches wide and about 16 inches long.  For those mid-western hunters out there, don’t go out to the woods and retrieve the salt-lick you put out for the deer – not the same thing.  And besides, you don’t know what the deer have been doing with that salt.

Salt plates can be used to cook nearly anything and can be placed on the grill, on the stove top, or in the oven where they do a wonderful job of evenly distributing the heat.  You can also heat the salt plate in the oven and use it to do the cooking right on the dining room table as you would with fondue.  This was the approach we took for our Korean Tacos.

Korean Marinated Sirloin on Himalayan Salt Plate

With our new Himalayan salt plate in hand, I was anxious to put it to work.  With the recent influx of Korean taco trucks, I was inspired to give crack at creating my own, and the salt plate seemed to be perfect for the task.  Or at least, the Korean taco gave me a good excuse to play with our new toy.

Korean tacos, from my experience, are simple and delicious.  Marinated and grilled or barbequed meat topped with a slaw dressed with traditional ingredients, and topped with pepper/chili paste or sauce.  My interpretation was easy, tasty, and a crowd pleaser.  I am not a connoisseur of Korean tacos, but the flavor was spectacular and I believe I came pretty close to this wonderful bite of street food.

Korean Slaw

Using the Himalayan salt plate in this preparation worked extremely well and served as a center piece for conversation as the dinner guests cooked the meat at the dinner table.  One of the lessons learned from this event included care in how long the meat stays on the salt plate.  If left too long, the salt flavor combined with the sirloin and marinade and tended toward to the too salty.  The key is to cook only the amount of meat necessary to construct your taco, then start over for the next serving.

The wine pairing for this dish was not planned.  From the time we picked up the salt plate, conceived the dinner, and sat down to eat was about two hours…and nobody thought about the wine.  We pulled a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc out of the rack and it worked well.  It was a cheap and cheerful wine but still had the characteristics for a good pairing.  The key to pairing with this dish is selecting a wine with light body, healthy acidity, and a touch of sweetness all intended to balance the piquance of the taco and condiments.

Korean Taco-1

The next time I prepare this, I will choose another Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling with medium acidity, bright fruit, and a touch of sweetness.


Korean Sirloin and Marinade Ingredients

  • 1 pound sirloin sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 ounces mirin
  • 2 ounces sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 scallions
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

Korean Slaw Ingredients

  • 1/2 head of Napa cabbage thinly sliced
  • 1 cup daikon, julienned
  • 1 1/2 cup bean sprouts
  • 6 scallions, diced
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
  • Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lime
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek (or equivalent chili paste)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for Assembly

  • 1/2 cup of marinade reserved as condiment
  • Sambal oelek to taste as a condiment
  • 8 tortillas


  1. Blend soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin, sesame oil, garlic, scallions and ginger.
  2. Reserve 1/2 cup of sauce and add to a sauce pan. Reduce by 1/2 then refrigerate for later use as a condiment when assembling the tacos.
  3. Place sliced sirloin in a small container and add the sauce. Cover and refrigerate to marinade for at least one hour - the longer the better.
  4. Prepare Korean slaw dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, olive oil, mirin and sambal oelek.
  5. Add Napa cabbage, daikon, spouts, scallions and cilantro to a large bowl and dress with slaw dressing. Toss to ensure uniform coating.
  6. Place your Himalayan salt plate in the oven and slowly heat to 450 degrees. If you don't have a Himalayan salt plate, sauté sirloin in the marinade over high heat.
  7. Carefully remove Himalayan salt plate from the oven and place in the center of the table. Allow your guests to cook their sirloin on the salt plate.
  8. Assemble tacos with sirloin, a drizzle of marinade reduction, Korean slaw, and sambal oelek to taste.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Beef on Weck Paired with 2009 Boisset Family Estates Fleur De Lyeth California Proprietary Blend

Beef on Weck - Lamb on Weck-2

This pairing comes from a confluence of inspirations that include my recent exploration of California blends, a weekend at the crab shack in the midst of canning madness, and family ties to Buffalo NY.  The weekend was dominated by a gathering of family and friends to prepare and can at least a dozen varieties of fresh vegetables.  Somewhere in the chaos, brother-in-law Bill mentioned a Northwest NY sandwich delicacy – beef on weck.

A beef on weck is a sandwich made on kummelweck bread (think of a kaiser roll topped with caraway seeds and coarse salt) with thinly sliced slow roasted beef heated in au jus before serving.  Horseradish is added as a condiment.  Finally, the truly special part of this beauty, the top half of the roll is dipped in the au jus to add another layer of juicy flavor.

Beef on Weck - Lamb on Weck-1

According to Wikipedia; “The origin and history of the beef on weck sandwich is not well established.  It is believed that a German baker named William Wahr, who is thought to have emigrated from the Black Forest region of Germany, created the kummelweck roll while living in Buffalo, New York.  A local pub owner is said to have used the roll to create the beef on weck, with the thought that the salty top of the roll would make his patrons drink more.”

Kummelweck Rolls-1

With this inspiration and description of a beef on weck I set out to create my interpretation.  I did not stray far from the original concept with the exception of a big right turn with respect to the beef.  Having just prepared a slow roasted boneless leg of lamb, I decided to make a meat substitution and created the “Lamb on Weck” sandwich.

First I made the kummelweck bread.  I am not including a recipe, but kummelweck bread recipes are easy to find, or you can use a recipe for a kaiser roll and simply add some caraway seeds and course salt.  Alternatively, go to your local baker, buy some kaiser rolls, brush on a egg wash and top with caraway seeds and salt.  Pop this into the oven for a few minutes to bake off the egg wash and cement the salt and seeds in place, and there you have it.

Kummelweck Rolls-3

I then sautéed some onions until brown and added 2 cups of beef stock to the onions.  Thinly sliced lamb was added to the stock and brought to serving temperature. The sandwich was constructed by placing a healthy portion of the lamb on the kummelweck roll and topped with the sautéed onions and prepared horseradish. Staying true to the roots of this great sandwich, I dunked the top half of the roll in the au jus, snapped a few photos and made a mental transition to a Buffalo pub. 

There is good reason this sandwich is a Buffalo favorite.  The layers of flavor that come from the caraway seeds, salt, horseradish, au jus soaked bun, and in this case, lamb, all combine to something ridiculously tasty.  While I have not visited Buffalo and enjoyed this local delicacy on its home turf, I am confident the substitution of lamb was a nice modification.  The moderate gaminess of the lamb added a distinctly enjoyable twist in comparison to beef.

2009 Fleur De Lyeth California Proprietary Blend-1

Imagining these wonderful flavors, now add a velvety smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec from the 2009 Boisset Family Estates Fleur De Lyeth California Proprietary Blend.  This pairing was a winner!  Here are the tasting notes from the winemaker:

“Nose: The nose offers bright cherry and aromas of dusty oak and dark plum.
Palate: Opening with luscious flavors of bing cherry and plum with a touch of strawberry and cherry cordial, the wine is perfectly balanced by a subtle oak backdrop. With a light-medium body, round tannins and a clean finish, this wine is very smooth and easy drinking.”

In my opinion, the tasting notes represent my experience precisely.  My single comment would be to emphasize the velvety smoothness of this wine.  The satisfying fruit flavors complimented the lamb perfectly and the body was perfectly matched to the sandwich.  The cherry and plum flavors were a wonderful complement to the slight gaminess of the lamb. 

Beef on Weck - Lamb on Weck

While this wine is lusciously satisfying on it’s own, the medium body and wonderfully distinct fruit flavors and velvety smoothness make this a great pairing wine that will work well with many dishes demanding a medium bodied wine. 

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Gorgonzola Juicy Lucy Hamburger with Sautéed Onions and Mushrooms, Garlic Aioli Paired with 2009 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet

2009 Cupcake Red Velvet and Gorgonzola Juicy Lucy

This pairing was inspired by my recent and intense exploration of California blends and an episode of America’s Test Kitchen.  If you have not explored the many blends coming out of California, I recommend you give them a chance.  Most popular among these blends are a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel.  Of course there are other blends, but these seem to be the dominant grapes used in these proprietary blends.

Out of the many I have recently tasted, I am very pleased.  It is a tough job, but I am up to the challenge.  These wines are smooth, layered with flavor, and generally inexpensive.  The 2009 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet was next on deck and was my choice to pair with the Juicy Lucy Hamburger.

Hamburger Rolls

Before viewing the episode of America’s Test Kitchen that inspired this pairing, I had never heard of a Juicy Lucy Hamburger.  Simply put, a Juicy Lucy is a hamburger stuffed with cheese.  According to Wikipedia;

“Two bars on the same street in South Minneapolis both claim to have invented the sandwich: Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club. They differ in how they spell it; the former omits the letter "I" in "Juicy", while the latter uses the standard spelling. Shirts worn by staff at the 5-8 Club have the motto "if it's spelled right, it's done right" while advertising for Matt's Bar says, "if it's spelled correctly, you're at the wrong place."

If you are like me, the Juicy Lucy solves an important hamburger challenge – melted cheese.  I consider the construction of a hamburger something of utmost importance.  In other words, all the stuff that goes on a hamburger must be placed in a specific order to ensure the flavors combine optimally, and most importantly, the cheese must be placed directly on the burger to ensure it melts. 

There may be a few of you that are thinking I’m a lunatic.  But most of you will secretly admit you have your own routine and rationale for the proper order of hamburger ingredients.  I know you do – don’t be shy.

Sauteed Onions Mushrooms and Garlic

The Juicy Lucy elegantly takes care of the melted cheese issue by putting the cheese inside the burger and ensuring gooey, cheesy goodness in every bite – and no sliding cheese issues.  America’s Test Kitchen went into great detail on the best way to form the burger with the cheesy surprise in the middle.  They suggested taking a chunk of cheese and forming a small burger around the cheese to seal it completely.  The next step involves adding another layer of ground beef to form a fully sized patty.

Chef Sue decided she wanted to use crumbled gorgonzola which made the America’s Test Kitchen method difficult.  Chef Sue decided to go with two thin patties to encapsulate the cheese and firmly seal the edges to keep the cheese in place.

Chef Sue also decided to make her own hamburger from fresh sirloin and a handful of other ingredients you will find in the recipe.  Chef Sue’s unbridled creativity paid great dividends.  The burger was absolutely fantastic.

2009 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet

To accompany our Juicy Lucy hamburgers we chose the next California blend which was patiently waiting on deck – the 2009 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet.  From the winemaker:

“Our first blended red wine for Cupcake Vineyards has over the top aromas of chocolate, deep rich blackberries, red fruits that follow through the palate to a creamy mocha finish that is unmistakable in its intensity and length, with a hint of coconut. It’s reminiscent of a blackberry chocolate cupcake with a mocha coulis.”

“Red Velvet is a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah; each variety lending structure, aroma, depth of flavor and a long creamy finish to this wine.   The grapes were harvested from some of the finest vineyards of California’s viticultural areas; each picked for their ability to engender these grapes with distinct characteristics that will add to this blend. Each varietal was fermented separately and later blended and put through a unique oak regime that imparts a certain creaminess.”

We concurred with the tasting notes with the exception of the hint of coconut we did not pick up.  The body of this wine was perfectly matched to the hamburger and the chocolate and fruit flavors were a wonderful complement.  The wine also worked surprisingly well with the twisted pasta and vegetables we chose to accompany the burger.  Overall, this was an exceptional pairing.

This pairing is another great choice for your grilling season and certainly works great as another arrow in your quiver of great football food.

2009 Cupcake Red Velvet and Gorgonzola Juicy Lucy-1


Gorgonzola Juicy Lucy


  • 1 pound sirloin
  • 10 cloves roasted garlic
  • 4 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 medium red onion (for burger mixture)
  • 1 red onion, sliced, to top burger
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 6 cloves roasted garlic (for burger topping)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Run sirloin, garlic and onion through meat grinder
  2. Combine salt and olive oil with ground sirloin.
  3. Form two thin patties, about 3/8" thick. (you will have enough ground sirloin for four complete burgers)
  4. On one patty place 1 tablespoon of gorgonzola cheese in the center.
  5. Top with second patty, and form into a single patty.
  6. Continue until you have prepared all four burgers.
  7. Place on preheated grill for four minutes.
  8. Flip, puncture with a small hole to release the steam from the cheese, and continue to grill for another three minutes.
  9. Top with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and garlic.
  10. Drizzle with garlic aioli

Twisted Pasta with Anchovies and Fresh Vegetables

Twisted Pasta


  • 1/2 pound fettuccini (Chef Sue made fresh pasta and twisted)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 3 anchovy fillets finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 ounce grated parmesan cheese.
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Sauté garlic and anchovies in olive oil and lemon juice.
  2. Add remaining vegetables and 1/2 cup liquid from the pasta boil
  3. When the tomatoes become soft, add pasta, remove from heat and let set for 2 minutes.
  4. Season to taste.
  5. Top with grated parmesan.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.