Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crispy Pan Seared Duck Breast with a Red Wine and Blueberry Reduction, Duck Fat Sautéed Potatoes Paired with 2009 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Parris County Blend Virginia Merlot

Pan Seared Duck Breast Wine and Blueberry Reduction

Way back in the early days of my culinary independence, I picked duck as a challenge not yet conquered.  This recipe is my first foray into the wonderful world of duck, and duck fat.  My first attempt was very successful, and I have prepared it several times since.  However, I realized I had not shared this recipe.  Today, I am rectifying this tragic oversight.

If you have not yet attempted duck, this is an easy and tasty place to start.  From prep to plating, this recipe takes only 30 minutes with the most difficult challenge for the uninitiated being cutting the breast from a whole duck.  If you are not comfortable with this, I am confident you will find plenty of resources on Youtube.  You can also follow these easy instructions. 

Pan Seared Duck Breast Wine and Blueberry Reduction-2

First, a boning knife is a real plus.  If not, any knife with a sharp tip will work.  Begin by scoring through the fat along the center of the duck.  Continue to lightly cut until you reach the bone.  Once you get to the bone, move you knife slightly to one side and continue to make scoring cuts along the bone until the breast is laying off to the side and connected by just the layer of fat.  Cut through the fat, and you have a duck breast ready for the pan.  Repeat for second breast.

The principal flavors in this dish include the mild gaminess of the duck, dark fruit flavors of the red wine and blueberry reduction, and the rich earthy flavors of the potatoes pan fried in duck fat (the fat is reserved from rendering the duck breast).  With the acidity of the reduction, this dish is well balanced and therefore selecting a wine with strong acidity is not particularly important.  The combination of duck and the reduction call out for a medium to full bodied wine (tending more to the full bodied).  A wine featuring dark fruit flavors and healthy earthiness will also echo flavors found in the dish.

2009 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Parris County Blend Virginia Merlot

To achieve the pairing characteristics I was looking for, I chose a 2009 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Parris County Blend Virginia Merlot.  You are first greeted with earthy and dark fruit aromas which are echoed in your first sip.  Although the flavors feature pleasant blackberry and plum notes, I find the earthiness most memorable.  The tannins accentuated the earthiness and promise this wine will continue to drink well for years to come.  I am confident this wine has not yet arrived at it’s peak.  I recommend picking up a few bottles to cellar for a few years.

2009 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Parris County Blend Virginia Merlot-1

The 2009 Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn Parris County Blend Virginia Merlot featured each of the flavor components I was looking for, and the pairing was a great success.  Although I was not looking for healthy acidity, the wine delivered and balanced the rich duck fat perfectly.



  • 2 duck breasts
  • 2 cups full bodied red wine (extra tannins are good)
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 2 potatoes (thinly sliced – I used a mandolin)
  • 1 onion (thinly sliced – I used a mandolin)
  • red wine vinegar and sugar (to adjust balance of reduction)
  • 4 tablespoons duck demi glace
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • Fresh parsley

Pan Seared Duck Breast Wine and Blueberry Reduction-1


  1. Score the fat on the duck breast in a 1/2 inch cross hatch pattern.
  2. Place the duck, fat side down, in a cold skillet.  Render fat over medium low heat for 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Pour rendered fat into second skillet for frying potatoes.
  4. While rendering the fat, pour two cups of red wine into a sauce pan and reduce by 1/2 over medium high heat.
  5. When reduced by half, add blueberries (reserving about 1/4), 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and demi glace.  Reduce by 1/2 again.
  6. Increase heat under the duck to medium high and crisp the skin.  When crisp, return heat to medium, and turn breasts to the meat side.  Continue to cook for 8 minutes.
  7. Remove the red wine and blueberry reduction from the heat and blend with an immersion blender.  Adjust balance by adding sugar or red wine vinegar. Add remaining blueberries and return to medium heat.
  8. Bring your second skillet (with duck fat) to medium high heat, and add thinly sliced potatoes, onion, garlic, and 1/4 cup diced parsley leaves.  Continue to cook until potatoes are tender and just turning brown.  Season to taste.
  9. Remove duck from heat, slice on the bias and plate with a drizzle of the reduction.  Plate potatoes and onions with parsley garnish.

In vino veritas, buen provecho


Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Dinner: Stuffed Pork Crown Roast Paired with 2009 Cono Sur Cochagua Valley Chile Viognier and 2009 The Immortal Zin Old Vine Lodi California Zinfandel

Pork Crown Roast-3

Every time we get in the car to visit our secret Potomac culinary lair, I always look forward to our customary stop at Nick’s of Calvert – our favorite butcher.  During the drive, Chef Sue and I usually chat about menu plans for the weekend with the intent of visiting Nick’s to provision.  This trip occurred just in advance of Christmas weekend, and I was thinking Goose a la A Christmas Carol. 

We arrived at Nick’s, and found our goose.  Unfortunately, the $58 price tag sent me reeling.  I would really like to cook a goose, but I’m not ready to empty my wallet to do so.  If you happen to know of a source in the DC area where I can find a goose at a better price, let me know.  After dumping the goose idea, we proceeded to graze through Nick’s for inspiration.  Minutes later we came across a beautiful pork crown roast and Christmas dinner began to take focus.

Pork Crown Roast

For the stuffing, I adapted a recipe for bobotie (a South African meatloaf type dish) that features plenty of fruit (pears, apples, raisins), curry, and a touch of heat from pepper flakes.  Each of these components contributed to my selection of a Viognier for the pairing.  The idea was to echo the fruit flavors with the hallmark intense fruit found in a Viognier.

Pork Crown Roast-2

The 2009 Cono Sur Cochagua Valley Chile Viognier deftly fulfilled my expectations with big floral aromas and intense flavors of apricot, peach, melon, and more subdued hints of spice and almond.  This wine features healthy acidity and a crisp finish.  I found this Viognier to be much brighter and crisper than the local Virginia and Maryland Viogniers I have been tasting lately which makes it a versatile pairing wine that would work very well with spicy meals such as Asian or Indian dishes.  At $12 this wine is a great value.

Of late, I have begun a routine of pairing two wines – one a complementary pairing such as the 2009 Cono Sur Cochagua Valley Chile Viognier, and a second intended to create balance through contrasting flavors.  Selecting a wine for contrasting balance is a tricky proposition, so the complementary wine is selected as the principal pairing, while the contrasting wine is more of an experiment.  In this case, I selected the 2009 The Immortal Zin Old Vine Lodi California Zinfandel as the contrasting wine.

Zinfandels, a full bodied wine, provide complex layers of flavor with dark fruits, spice, varying levels of acidity, high alcohol content, and a broad range of tannins.  My selection in this case was based on the intent to contrast the lighter fruit flavors of the stuffing with the dark fruit and spice from the Zinfandel.

Pork Crown Roast-5

The 2009 The Immortal Zin Old Vine Lodi California Zinfandel was a wonderful surprise pairing.  The subdued dark fruit and cherry aromas belie the bold cherry, strawberry and dark fruit and spice flavors.  This wine is velvety smooth in the mouth and has a pleasing long finish.  The pairing was spectacular, and was the favorite of our Christmas dinner crowd.  However, I am finding it difficult to describe why.  Here is my best attempt:  The 2009 The Immortal Zin Old Vine Lodi California Zinfandel was a pleasant contrast in fruit flavors adding a layer of dark fruit to the brighter fruit flavors in the stuffing.  I found the spice flavors of the Zin played nicely with the curry and red pepper flakes, and the smooth round mouth feel seemed to match the tender texture of the pork precisely.  At $14, this Zin is a great value and an enjoyable wine anytime.

Pork Crown Roast-4

To round out the meal, we had salt boiled baby red potatoes and pureed turnips.  While quite enjoyable, the pork crown roast was clearly the star of the day.  I hope you enjoyed your Christmas dinner as much as we did.



  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 1 pound loose fennel sausage
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups bread broken into 1 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 apple diced
  • 2 pears diced
  • 1 orange sectioned with membranes removed
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg


Pork Crown Roast-1

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions in the hot oil until soft. Break the pork sausage into the skillet and cook until just browned. Do not cook through. Just before finished, add curry, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and place in a large bowl.
  3. Place the milk in a shallow dish. Soak the bread in the milk. Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and add to the bowl with the sausage and onions. Set the milk aside. Add the bread to the sausage mixture.
  4. Stir in the raisins, pears and apples.
  5. Place the pork crown roast in a roasting pan just larger than the crown. Pack the stuffing mixture into the center of the crown roast and in the open spaces at the base of the roast.
  6. Whisk egg with leftover milk, and pour half the mixture over the stuffing in the center of the crown roast.
  7. Cover the stuffing and the tips of the rib bones with foil then place the whole roast in the oven and bake for  2 hours or until an instant-read thermometer inserted near the bone registers 150 degrees F.
  8. About 45 minutes before done, remove the foil covering leaving the small bone tip foil in place.
  9. Remove crown roast from oven, cover with foil and let rest for 30 minutes before serving.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hallacas – A Venezuelan Christmas Tradition

Venezuelan Hallacas-2

Many countries and regions have a dish that is a source of family, if not national pride.  You know the type – the recipe passed down from generation to generation for which everyone claims to have a secret ingredient or preparation that makes theirs the best you will ever taste.  In Venezuela, it is the hallaca.

Venezuelan Hallacas-1

The Venezuela national competition for the best hallaca comes every Christmas season.  I still do not understand why hallacas are a traditional Christmas dish – they are sooooooo good I could eat them all year long!  One of the great things about living in Venezuela at Christmas is the wonderful generosity of fun loving Venezuelans.  Much like we in the U.S. deliver plates of cookies and other Christmas treats to friends, coworkers, and neighbors, Venezuelans deliver plates of Hallacas.  I know this is mostly motivated by the giving season, but I am quite sure that some people like to share their hallacas as proof their recipe is the best.  I was always pleased to accommodate.

Venezuelan Hallacas

Unlike Christmas cookies, hallacas require a good deal of effort.  However, the reward when you unfold your steamy plantain leaf to reveal a fresh hallaca is unquestionably worth the effort.

Sorry I did not do a wine pairing.  I planned to, but was a little delayed getting around to making the hallacas (actually, Chef Sue did all the hard work – I just helped with the assembly).  However, I would recommend a Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, a light bodied Viognier, or a light bodied Chardonnay with good acidity.  Any of these would complement the hallacas nicely.  If you want to be daring and try the contrasting balance approach, a Zinfandel, Syrah, or Malbec could be interesting.

Venezuelan Hallacas-4




  • 1 lb chuck roast cut to less than 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 lb pork cut to less than 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1lb shredded roasted chicken
  • 1/4 lb bacon cut to 1/2-inch lengths
  • 3 seeded tomatoes
  • 4 hard boiled eggs halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 1 medium diced leek
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 diced bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salsa negra (Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • salt and pepper , to taste
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • Pimento stuffed olives, halved
  • Tobasco Sauce


  • 2/3 cup lard (or substitute vegetable shortening)
  • 2 cups harina flour (we prefer authentic Venezuelan Harina Pan)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water



  1. Combine beef, pork, bacon, tomatoes (after pureeing) onion, garlic, salt, marjoram, and leek in a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer until the meat is tender.
  2. Add capers, mustard , vinegar, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar. Add Tobasco to taste, and season to taste.
  3. Increase the heat and reduce for about ten minutes or until liquid is nearly evaporated.
  4. Add raisins and set aside.


  1. Melt 1/3 cup lard over low heat and let simmer for 2 minutes.
  2. Whip remaining lard until fluffy and combine with harina, salt, cayenne pepper, and water.
  3. Mix in melted lard and form into 24 equally sized balls.

Final Assembly

  1. Cut banana or plantain leaves into (24) 8-10 inch squared.
  2. Put a ball of masa in the center of each leaf section and press into a square shape about 1/8 inch thick.
  3. Top with the meat filling, chicken, eggs, and olives.
  4. Fold leaves and press to seal the masa around the filling. Traditionally, the hallacas are now tied with kitchen string, but if you fold and stack carefully, you can skip this step.
  5. Stack hallacas in a large pot and steam for one hour and serve. I prefer to garnish my hallaca with salsa de ajo.

Enjoy your hallacas.  Feliz navidad.


Friday, December 23, 2011

My Christmas Gift to You – Craig’s Grape Adventure; Loving Life With a Skillet and a Corkscrew

Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew

Merry Christmas friends!  I have an offer you can’t refuse.  Follow this link, and get your free copy of my eBook Craig’s Grape Adventure – Loving Life With a Skillet and a Corkscrew.  Christmas is a time of giving, and it is my turn to give.  I hope you enjoy it.

Craig's Grape Adventure on Devices

If you enjoy the book, I hope you feel in the giving spirit as well.  Just click on the donate button at the top right of the screen and send me a few pieces of coal (I prefer pork belly and a nice Cab, but I will gladly accept your kindness).  If you are reading this after Christmas 2011, sorry, I have changed the link and will gladly accept your donation – and will honor your donation with a copy of the book.

After you download, you can read it on your computer, iPhone, iPad, or Kindle (and maybe other devices – I have not tested others so cannot be sure).

To move files to and from Kindle:

  1. Connect your Kindle to your computer. Your Kindle should appear on your computer in the same location you would normally find an external USB drive.
  2. Use your computer's file browser to drag and drop or copy and paste the file to the “documents” folder on the Kindle.
  3. When finished, use your computer's undock, eject, or unmount feature to remove your Kindle.

To Open in iBooks

  1. Either download the file directly to your device, or download to your computer and e-mail it to yourself and open the e-mail attachment on your device.
  2. In the upper right corner of the screen, touch the envelope with an arrow and select “open in iBooks.”

Merry Christmas, and best wishes for an enjoyable and tasty New Year.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Braised Pork Belly Coconut Curry Noodle Soup Paired with 2010 Bin 106 Twisted River Germany Gewürztraminer

Braised Pork Belly over Cocunut Curry Soup and Ramen Noodles

Had I not conceived of this recipe and was simply reading it, I would not be able to resist.  Pork belly – gotta love a pork fat foundation!  Curry – yes!  Then the we arrive at the holy combination of curry and coconut milk.  Add to this a beautiful suite of textures, and I am sold.

I realize that Christmas is just a few days away, and this menu and pairing has no resemblance to anything you may be considering for your Christmas feast.  On the other hand, many of my friends and relatives have holiday traditions that include atypical routines for Christmas Eve and New Year’s celebrations.  This may give you some inspiration for your non-traditional, er, holiday traditions.

Braised Pork Belly over Cocunut Curry Soup and Ramen Noodles-3

With the principal flavors coming from the curry, cumin, and richness of the coconut milk and pork belly, the clear choice of a pairing was an off-dry white to balance the strong spices and sufficient acidity to balance the richness of the coconut milk and pork belly.  In this case I chose the 2010 Bin 106 Twisted River Germany Gewürztraminer.  This wine adeptly met our acidity requirements and offered intense pear and apricot flavors that complemented the dish nicely.  The bright fruit and light sweetness balanced the intense flavors of the curry nicely and made for a wonderful pairing.

2010 Bin 106 Twisted River Germany Gewürztraminer-2

I don’t have much of a history with Gewürztraminer, but found that the 2010 Bin 106 Twisted River Germany Gewürztraminer lived up to my expectations of big aromas, off-dry, and intense fruit flavors.  When thinking of Asian cuisine, Riesling comes to mind immediately and almost always provides a good pairing experience.  I will now add Gewürztraminer to my decision process – particularly when looking for more prominent fruit flavors.

2010 Bin 106 Twisted River Germany Gewürztraminer-1

I may post again before Christmas, but if by chance I do not, I would like to wish you a very merry Christmas.



  • 3/4 pounds pork belly
  • 3/4 pounds pork chop (or other cut of pork - your choice)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 diced onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup (or so) chicken stock
  • Japanese noodles (we used Chuka Soba, but any noodle such as rice noodles or udon noodles will work equally well
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 4 ounces fresh bean sprouts
  • Cilantro
  • Sriracha Chile Sauce
  • 4 tablespoons hot madras curry powder
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 4 cups julienned napa cabbage
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 dup crushed peanuts
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • Dash of fish sauce
  • Green onions (2 bunches)
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms


Braised Pork Belly and Pork Chop

  1. Heat olive oil in a braising pot or Dutch oven - sear pork belly and pork chop. Remove and reserve.
  2. Brown one diced onion, and 2 cups napa cabbage with cumin, ginger, and curry, and 1 tablespoon minced garlic in braising pot over medium-high heat.
  3. Return pork belly and pork chop to braising pot, add mushrooms and chicken stock to just below the top of the meat.
  4. Cover and place in preheated oven at 220 degrees F for three hours.
  5. Remove pork from the braising pot and set aside.
  6. To the braising liquid, add 1/2 red pepper (chopped), 2 cups napa cabbage, and let cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes.
  7. Strain liquid and put back in braising pot with coconut milk. Adjust seasoning as desired.
  8. In a small sauce pan, add soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, and brown sugar. Reduce by 1/2 over medium-high heat.
  9. Brush pork belly and pork chop with the soy reduction and place under broiler for two minutes.
  10. Remove pork from broiler and cut the pork belly into 3/4 inch cubes. Shred the pork chop.
  11. Cook noodles according to directions for the noodles you choose.
  12. In a large bowl, add the noodles and the strained braising liquid. Add the pork, then top with bean sprouts, green onions, julienned napa cabbage and red pepper.
  13. Cover bowl and let steam for five minutes.
  14. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts, serve with sriracha chile sauce on the side.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Best Stocking-Stuffer of the Season–Craig’s Grape Adventure!

Craig's Grape Adventure on Devices

I will admit that stuffing an eBook in a stocking may present some challenges – I have yet to find a stocking that holds electrons well.  You may want to print the cover, sign it with some best wishes from Santa, and add it to the gifts.

If you do not yet have a copy of Craig’s Grape Adventure – Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew, you have plenty of time with guaranteed delivery before Christmas – and no shipping charges!  To top it off, your copy is available for whatever you care to donate.  My model of giving away these 500 pages of culinary joy in exchange for a donation you pick has exceeded my expectations.  Everyone has been very generous.

Just click on the donation button in the upper right corner, pick an amount, and you will shortly have your copy readable on the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, computer, or any other device that can display a PDF file.

Whether or not you get your copy of Craig’s Grape Adventure – Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew, I hope you have a wonderful holiday.  Eat well, and drink better.

Merry Christmas,


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Broiled Oysters Paired with 2009 Mayo Family Winery Emma's Vineyard Napa Valley Unwooded Sauvignon Blanc

Broiled Oysters-3

This pairing was inspired by two recent events.  The first was the Old Ebbitt Grill annual Oyster Riot, and the second a visit to Senart’s Oyster & Chop House on Barracks Row in Washington DC.  In the last month, I have consumed more Oysters than I normally slurp down over the course of several years.  What have I been thinking?  I love oysters!

I attended the Oyster Riot with a group of friends that made for a wonderful evening.  Not only is this event a celebration of oysters, it features the top wines from an international competition of oyster and wine pairing – right up my alley.  Unsurprisingly, the wines were dominated by Sauvignon Blanc – a pairing that virtually guarantees success.  The real surprise was the variety of flavors represented by oysters harvested up and down the East and West coasts of the U.S. and Canada.  I had no idea there was such a diversity of flavor from the humble oyster.

Broiled Oyster Ingredients-4

The three dimensions on which the flavors varied were salinity, sweetness, and earthiness – in order of prominence.  The oyster riot features stands of oysters each labeled with the location they were harvested making comparisons easy and quite enjoyable.  The first two dimensions of flavor were easily distinguishable – salinity and relative sweetness jumped out immediately.  More subtle was the component of earthiness – a mushroom-like flavor that was particularly noticeable in the Rhode Island oysters.  Coincidentally, the Rhode Island oysters were my favorite closely followed by a selection from British Colombia.

Broiled Oysters-4

More recently, Chef Sue, Golf Buddy Steve, Formerly of Austin Dawn and I visited Senart’s Oyster & Chop House following an exciting victory of the New England Patriots over the Washington Redskins.  I am a fan of both teams, but was happy the game was close and the Pats came out on top.  I instantly targeted the broiled oysters on the menu to cap off a great day – and what a good choice they were.  I also came to the conclusion “hey, I can make these!”  My approach to preparing the broiled oysters is directly inspired by the expert preparation at Senart’s Oyster & Chop House and is a near relative to Oysters Rockefeller.

2009 Mayo Family Winery Emma's Vineyard Napa Valley Unwooded Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing for Oysters.  The 2009 Mayo Family Winery Emma's Vineyard Napa Valley Unwooded Sauvignon Blanc is no exception.  The great folks at Mayo Family Winery recognize this holy marriage as well - as they state on the bottle “Serve this crisp, fruity, elegant wine alongside oysters on the half shell…”

Notes from the winemaker:

“Emma's Vineyard in Napa Valley is the source of Sauvignon Blanc grapes that always possess a citrus character we love so much and you will too. This wine has always been one of our most popular bottlings for its expressive and refreshing qualities. The 2009 vintage is made from the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines on the property and delivers stone fruit notes, a fresh palate presence and hints of grapefruit and lemon. Perfect for the last warm days of the year.”

2009 Mayo Family Winery Emma's Vineyard Napa Valley Unwooded Sauvignon Blanc-1

So why do Sauvignon Blanc and oysters work so well together?  The answer is that not all Sauvignon Blancs work well. To achieve a well balanced pairing, seek out a Sauvignon Blanc that features fruit that is not over ripened and sweet.  A light bodied, crisp, grassy, Sauvignon Blanc with healthy acidity and minerality will echo the flavors in the oyster while offering a balancing level of acidity much like the wedge of lime we often add.  A joyous experience – precisely accomplished by the 2009 Mayo Family Winery Emma's Vineyard Napa Valley Unwooded Sauvignon Blanc.


Broiled Oyster Ingredients-3


  • 12 fresh oysters in the shell
  • 6 ounce package of baby spinach cleaned and dried
  • Gruyere cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 strips bacon
  • White caviar
  • Salt and pepper to taste.


  1. Halve the bacon lengthwise then cut into one inch lengths.
  2. Render bacon in a large skillet over medium low heat. Do not allow the bacon to crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Finely dice when cooled.
  3. In same skillet with remaining bacon fat, add minced garlic and sauté until just browning.
  4. Add spinach, wilt, and sauté. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and reserve.
  5. Clean the oysters under cold water and scrub with a brush to remove whatever may be left clinging to the shell.
  6. Shuck the oysters with an oyster knife and a oyster glove or knife glove. Shucking oysters can be a challenge until you find the little opening near the hinge. Insert the knife, and twist to open. Using an oyster knife and a oyster shucking glove is important to keeping you from the emergency room and unwanted stitches. Retain the oyster in the deep side of the shell.
  7. Assemble the oysters by placing a small bed of spinach in the bottom of the shell, add the oyster, then a one inch square sliver of gruyere cheese and top with diced bacon from step 2.
  8. Place under a broiler for five minutes or until cheese melts. For those of you who do not like the slimy texture of oysters, no fear. The broiling process takes care of this.
  9. Remove from broiler top with caviar and serve with a wedge of lemon.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Paired with 2010 Apothic Red California Winemakers Blend

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Quad small

Every once in a while it is enjoyable to test the limits of food and wine pairing and just have fun. Food and wine pairing is always a fun event for me, but stretching the limits a bit with a whimsical pairing can add to the adventure and offer some surprises that are quite enjoyable.

I embarked on such a pairing this weekend. The pairing was originally inspired by one of my favorite affordable wines - Apothic Red. When I first tasted this wine, I was immediately impressed. Velvety smooth with deep rich flavors and an immediate sensation of dark chocolate and mocha over an impressively luxurious mouth feel, this wine inspires a world of possibilities with pairing options.

2010 Apothic Red California Winemaker's Blend-1

The chocolate flavor inspired me to try this wine with complementary chocolate flavors. Chef Sue has a full arsenal of decadent chocolate desserts, but I decided to veer dramatically off course and try the Apothic Red with my favorite candy since childhood - Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Notes from the winemaker: "A captivating blend of three distinct grapes, with the dark fruit flavors of Syrah, brambly spice of Zinfandel, and a smooth elegance of Merlot.

Apothic Red reveals intense fruit aromas and flavors of rhubarb and black cherry that are complemented by hints of mocha, chocolate, brown spice and vanilla. The plush, velvety mouthfeel and smooth finish round out this intriguing, full-bodied red blend."

2010 Apothic Red California Winemaker's Blend

The notes from the winemaker capture perfectly my impressions of the wine and make it one of my favorites. At $11, this wine is an exceptional value for such a wonderfully complex wine rivaling blends at five times the cost. With all these complementary flavors, this wine is an exceptional choice for pairing with dishes demanding full body and deep, rich flavors.

With a couple of exceptions, I am not a big fan of sweets. I occasionally find myself in the mood for butter pecan ice cream and rarely ever eat candy. However, when I do, Reese's are the clear favorite...typically as a result of leftovers from Halloween.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

One disturbing trend affecting my sacred love of Reese's is the proliferation of different sizes and forms. Back in the day, it all started with the traditional cup, then came the miniatures, then the minis, and finally Reese's Pieces. And this doesn't even account for the holiday versions including everything from eggs, bunnies, Santas, turkeys, and so on. And then there are the dark chocolate versions, white chocolate, the big cup, the Fastbreak, and other variations of "sticks."

My concern with all these incarnations is the inevitable mucking with the chocolate to peanut butter ratio - the key to enjoyment of Reese's. As a lifelong fan, I thought the original cup was near perfection in chocolate to peanut butter ration (C/PB). Then came Reese's miniatures - a shocking and welcome improvement to the C/PB ratio. Unfortunately, I find the remainder of Reese's incarnations sorely lacking in achievement of the optimal C/PB ratio.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-8

This misguided marketing of Reese's forms is extremely noticeable in the holiday forms where the C/PB is out of balance in favor of peanut butter. However, the true bottom of the barrel is the Reese's Pieces. The sacred combination of chocolate and peanut butter is contaminated by a candy shell imparting a chemical flavor - the chocolate and peanut butter are barely distinguishable. Shameful.

My judgment of the various Reese's forms has always come as a result of independent tasting. In other words, I never carried out a side by side comparison. I decided to overcome this shortfall in science by conducting a head to head analysis.  The first tasting was conducted sans wine.  Here are my notes:

  • Reese's Pieces – crap. No peanut butter flavor, no chocolate flavor, dominated by the chemical flavor of the coating.  Yuk.
  • Reese’s Minis – Good, but the chocolate overpowers the peanut butter.
  • Reese’s Miniature – Perfect balance of peanut butter and chocolate – the clear best choice.
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (full size) – Great, but peanut butter/chocolate out of balance favoring the chocolate when compared with the Miniature

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-2

Now for the notes when paired with the Apothic Red:

  • Reese’s Pieces – like drinking a soda and eating candy at a movie – this combination could only be appreciated by a severely underage taster.
  • Reese’s Minis – nice balance with the wine. Peanut butter appears on the back of the tongue – chocolate and wine stay to the front.
  • Reese’s Miniature – Good – almost indistinguishable from the Mini. Draw. Chef Sue declared the minis were best and in the interest of a healthy marriage, I giver her assessment the nod.
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (full size) – excess peanut butter detracts from the wine. Way better than “Pieces,” but not as good as Mini’s or Miniatures

A final note on this tasting.  Reese’s paired with wine is a great cavity detection device.  If you have even the hint of a cavity, the wine will wash the Reese’s concoction into every crevice and warn instantly of any faults – just ask Chef Sue.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-12

Although the Reese's tasting confirmed my preference for the Miniatures, the preference did not hold up when the tasting was repeated with the Apothic Red. The first thing we noted when tasting the Reese's with the wine was the difference in chocolate flavor. The Apothic Red features deep, dark, luxurious chocolate notes while the Reese's is a less substantial milk chocolate. The result was a pleasant layering of chocolate flavors with the milk chocolate brightly sitting atop the dark chocolate base notes of the wine.

The less harmonious aspect of the tasting was the peanut butter. Both the original Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and the Miniature have healthy amounts of peanut butter while the Mini has a higher chocolate to peanut butter ratio. We concluded the higher chocolate content of the Mini was the most appealing pairing with the Apothic Red. The Reese's Pieces pairing was just awful and not recommended.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-9

So what can we conclude from this? First, Reese's does a fine job of offering a variety of forms varying the C/PB ratio to fit nearly any taste. For my tastes, the Miniature offers the optimal ratio. Reese's Pieces are an unholy abomination of the beloved peanut butter and chocolate combination. On the other hand, they must be selling, or they would be discontinued - to each his own. Finally, if you are looking for a fun pairing, try the absolutely spectacular Apothic Red with a Reese's Mini. It is whimsical, fun, and tasty.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Seafood Fra Diavolo Paired with 2010 Three Fox Vineyard Apassionata Virginia Vidal

Seafood Fra Diavlo-2

Your tremendous response to my book “Craig’s Grape Adventure – Loving Life with a Skillet and a Corkscrew” inspired me to begin working immediately on the sequel.  I considered several approaches and themes and tentatively settled on Virginia wines.  I have not thought seriously about a title, but “Virginia is for Wine Lovers” came to mind immediately.  If you have any creative ideas for the title, let me know!  Most likely I will be maintaining the approach of telling a story, sharing a wine pairing experience, and recipes.

For some time, I dismissed the thought of focusing on Virginia wines because my experiences were not favorable.  However, my recent experience paints a different picture.  The Virginia wineries and vineyards have matured, hired experienced consultants and wine makers, and now sum to the characteristics of other wine regions.  There are now rock stars, duds, bulk box wineries, boutique artisans and everything in between including wineries that produce spectacular flights and those with one good wine lined up with five other wines unworthy of note.

2010 Three Fox Vineyard Apassionata Virginia Vidal

The pairing for this post was inspired by the 2010 Three Fox Vineyard Apassionata Virgnia Vidal.  We purchased this wine from the vineyard during a visit and tasting.  Three Fox Vineyard focuses on Italian grapes and Italian style wines.  The winery is young and holds promise.  However, for my tastes, I found only the 2010 Three Fox Vineyard Apassionata Virgnia Vidal drew my attention sufficiently to make a purchase. Other than the Vidal, we found the wines at Three Fox Vineyard to be too sweet with a viscous mouth feel.

Like the off-dry theme that runs through Three Fox Vineyard wines, the Appasionata Vidal is sweet.  From the winemaker:

“Our Vidal has a beautiful balance of acidity with citrus fruit tones and is done "off-dry" style, with 3% sugar for a light, pleasing hint of sweetness, which plays off the acidity. Try it with Thai food, curries, or very sharp aged cheddar.”

2010 Three Fox Vineyard Apassionata Virginia Vidal-1

I agree with the pairing suggestions for this wine – it has both the sweetness and the moderate acidity to stand up to the intense flavors of Asian and Indian dishes.  For similar reasons we paired it with seafood fra diavolo – an Italian-American creation featuring noteworthy heat.

We were pleased with the pairing, but would have preferred more acidity.  The citrus fruit flavors played well with the seafood, and the sweetness formed a decent yet not precise balance with the heat of the pepper.  The 2010 Three Fox Vineyard Apassionata Virgnia Vidal is a good wine and certainly something to consider with spicy dishes requiring sweetness from the wine for balance.  If your dish demands acidity as well, this may not be the best choice.

Seafood Fra Diavlo-1



  • 1 cleaned cuddle fish
  • 1 pound scallops
  • 12 clams
  • 12 mussels
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 pound linguini
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Cut calamari into 1/4 inch rings from pre cleaned cuddle fish.
  2. Sauté calamari and scallops sautéed over high heat with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and minced garlic. Remove calamari and set aside.
  3. In same skillet, add mussels, clams, with white wine, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes.
  4. Cook pasta al dente and time for completion with the clams and mussels.
  5. Add drained pasta to clams and mussels and continue to cook over medium heat for two minutes. Add calamari and cook for another minute. Season to taste.
  6. Scoop out pasta to a serving plate and top with seafood and sauce.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Fennel Sausage, Latke, Red Cabbage, Sautéed Apple, Onion and Fennel Paired with 2010 Horton Vineyards Orange County Virginia Viognier

Fennel Sausage Turnip Latke Red Cabbage-1

Who says you have to stay with one culture or country for a meal?  What fun is that?  Today’s pairing combines fennel sausage (unused from a recent Italian inspired meal), latkes from our Jewish friends, and a German inspired red cabbage and sauté of apple, onion and fennel.  Our little UN dinner was lubricated by the USA – Orange County Virginia to be precise.  The 2010 Horton Vineyards Orange County Virginia Vioginier represented the U.S. well.

I can’t really explain how I came to this combination – it was a moment of clarity from the food muse…and we happened to have all the ingredients.  My muse hit the mark – the flavors were balanced, each had their moment in the spotlight, and the textures added interest.  The fennel echoed in the sausage by the sauté, adds a nice suble bitterness to the bright and sweet flavors of the apple, and the red cabbage.  To add acidity, I deglazed the sauté with a cup of fresh apple cider then covered and steamed the sausages to blend the flavors.

I took a twist on the latkes (potato pancakes) and substituted turnips for potatoes.  I loved the result.  Although I am a big fan of latkes in their traditional form, the turnips brought sweet earthy flavors not found in potatoes.  If you take just one thing away from this post, take the turnip latkes with a dollop of sour cream – I promise you will be glad you did.

Fennel Sausage Turnip Latke Red Cabbage-5

Although we have contributions from several cultures, I saw this meal as being most influenced by Germany.  With this in mind, I decided to select a Riesling.  A semi-dry or dry Riesling would nicely echo the sweetness of the sauté and sausage and bring a welcome level of acidity to balance the combination.  However, when I made it to the wine section I became distracted by a small group of Virginia wines.  Soon I had talked myself out of the Riesling and into a Virginia Viognier.

2010 Horton Orange County Virginia Viognier

Like Riesling, Viognier features floral aromas often supported by fruit.  Also like Riesling, Viogniers often have a touch of apparent sweetness invoked by the bright fruit flavors although the style is dry.  Riesling and Viognier diverge dramatically when it comes to acidity.  Viognier is a low acid fruit while Rieslings often feature strong acidity.  In other words, when pairing, a Viognier can often be a good substitute for a Riesling if the food does not demand high acidity from the wine.  In this case, I went with the Viognier.

As you would expect, the floral and tropical fruit aromas of the 2010 Horton Vineyards Orange County Virginia Viognier are bold and enticing.  This Viognier is a medium bodied wine with a lush, viscous mouth feel.  Following the joy of the initial aroma bomb, you are greeted with vivid tropical fruit flavors with hints of peach and melon.  While not as versatile a pairing wine due to low acidity, this Viognier is an exceptional and classic rendition of the variety with a ripeness and expressiveness normally found in wines costing five times the bargain price of $16.  

2010 Horton Orange County Virginia Viognier-1


Fennel Sausage with Sautéed Onion, Apple, and Fennel


  • 6 links fennel sausage
  • 2 Granny Smith Apples diced to 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1 coarsely chopped onion
  • 1 thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • Olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Brown sausage in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Remove and set aside.
  2. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté onions.
  3. Just as the onions begin to brown, add apple and fennel.  Sauté for 2 minutes.
  4. Deglaze with 1 cup of apple cider – scrapping all the good flavor from the bottom of the skillet.
  5. Add sausage back to the skillet with onions, fennel and apple.  Cover, reduce heat to medium, and keep on heat until the liquid is reduced by 1/2.
  6. Season to taste.

Turnip Latkes


  • 8 peeled turnips (think of the equivalent of 5 large russet potatoes)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Canola oil.


  1. Grate turnips and onion by hand or the grating blade of your food processor.
  2. Place grated turnips and onion in a strainer to drain excess liquid.
  3. Once drained, add to a bowl with 4 beaten eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with a coating of canola oil.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the hot oil forming small pancakes.
  6. Cook until underside is golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Flip and cook until other side is golden and cooked through, about 2 minutes more.
  8. To use all the mixture, you will likely cook several batches. You will need to add oil on occasion.
  9. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.