Friday, April 27, 2012

A Wedding in Chicago and Chicago Street Food

This weekend Chef Sue and I are off on an adventure to Chicago.  The purpose of the visit is to attend the wedding of good friends Nora and Michael, but we plan on making it more of an adventure than just the pleasure of attending the wedding of our friends.  The first part of the adventure begins this afternoon when we board a train for Chicago.  I am a big fan of train travel as it is much more relaxing (albeit slower) than air travel...and bonus...we can sit in comfortable seats and enjoy a REAL bottle of wine and some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.  I have traveled between DC and NY many times via train, but a 14 hour overnight trip to Chicago could be great fun - or complete torture.  I will let you know.

The second part of the adventure will be exploring street food in Chicago.  Although Chicago has all sorts of ancient and prohibitive street-food laws—food trucks, carts and, yes, even hot dog vendors are rarely seen—I am told there are still some soulful dishes being served on the city’s sidewalks if you know where to find them.  I don't yet know where to find them, but I am bringing comfortable shoes and am ready to set out on a culinary expedition.  In the event we are less successful than hoped, I am confident we will at least find some hole-in-the-wall places offering something unique.

If you know Chicago and have any recommendations, I would love to hear from you.

I will have camera in hand and promise to report on our adventure next week.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Grilled Mole Marinated Steak Paired with 2010 Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Virginia Barbera

When developing a recipe or wine pairing, much of the fun for me is found in discovering an inspiration for the meal.  In other words, finding a theme, purpose or other cohesive thought for the meal.  In this case, the motivation comes from the soon arriving Cinco de Mayo.

According to Wikipedia, “Cinco de Mayo is celebrated nationwide in the United States and regionally in Mexico, primarily in the state of Puebla, where the holiday is called El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla.  The date is observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, and to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War. In the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Contrary to widespread popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day—the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico—which is actually celebrated on September 16.

Imagine my shock when I read this and found that it was not a celebration concocted by Corona and Jose Cuervo!  Regardless of origin, Cinco de Mayo was the inspiration for this meal and pairing.  Chef Sue and I started throwing around ideas which were quite opposed.  I focused on coastal foods dominated by a variety of seafood, while Chef Sue went directly to the interior.  In the end, Chef Sue exerted her Alpha dominance and I conceded knowing that a return to Mexican inspired seafood will not be far away.

Chef Sue’s creation featured a mole sauce as the heart of the meal.  I love mole and was pleased with her decision.  On top of that, she executed the mole perfectly.  In my mind, preparing an exceptional mole is all about balancing the heat from the chile with the chocolate.  If either is out of balance, I would judge it as inferior.  Chef Sue’s recipe strikes the perfect balance.

To accompany the mole marinated grilled steak, we prepared grilled corn basted with a spicy cream sauce, asparagus grilled in a pouch with lemon and olive oil, and new potatoes boiled then tossed in olive oil and simply seasoned with salt and pepper.  In combination, this entire meal is a very simple preparation featuring the natural flavors of fresh vegetables with Mexican inspired sauces bringing focus to our culinary celebration.

The pairing for this meal was a bit of a challenge.  With grilled steak and mole at center stage, selecting a full bodied red was the easy part.  My concern came when considering the piquance of the mole.  I decided to go with a fruit forward approach and hopes of the fruit flavors balancing the heat while echoing the chocolate component of the mole.

My wine selection was the 2010 Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Virginia Barbera.  In general, Barbera is an exceptionally food friendly wine with good acidity, low tannins, and flavors of raspberry, blackberry, cherry and vanilla notes depending on fruit yield and ripeness, oak treatment, and climate.
We found the 2010 Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Virginia Barbera an excellent example of a classic Barbera.  It was wonderful.  It was beyond wonderful - I was simply gushing over this wine.  Here are the tasting notes from the winemaker:

A full bodied red wine with intense raspberry, cherry and anise aromas and flavors. an overlay of vanilla precedes a direct and well rounded finish.  This wine is well structured and has good aging potential.

I would like to say more, but these notes directly reflect our experience.  The intense fruit flavors were well balanced and a true joy.  Although the winemaker suggests this wine has good aging potential, it is drinking exceptionally well now.  Go ahead and try to keep it in your cellar for a while - I dare you!

I was exceptionally pleased with the pairing...the balance was perfect.  However, as we discussed the pairing, Chef Sue commented that the wonderful fruit flavors in the wine could have stood up to a more aggressive approach to the mole.  In other words, Chef Sue thought the wine would have complemented the mole with even more piquance and deep chocolate flavor.  I can’t disagree, but I was nothing but smiles with each sip and morsel.



  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 ½ medium onions
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup sofrito (Latino soup base)
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili powder
  • 4 ancho chile peppers


  1. Halve the peppers and clear seeds.
  2. Peel and halve the onions.
  3. Halve the tomatoes.
  4. Place all vegetables on a sheet pan and place under the broiler until skin on the peppers begin to char.  Let the peppers cool and peel the skin.
  5. In a pot, add the chicken broth, sofrito, ancho peppers, salt and pepper to taste and 1 teaspoon hot chili pepper.  Bring to a boil.
  6. When the stems of the ancho peppers loosen from boiling, remove stems.
  7. Add broiled vegetables to the pot.  Continue to cook for 10 minutes on a low boil.
  8. Pour ingredients of the pot into a blender and blend until smooth.  Add ¼ cup of dark chocolate chips and blend to incorporate.  Adjust seasoning.
  9. Marinate steaks in mole for at least one hour (up to 4 is best).
  10. Reserve a cup of the mole for your dinner guests to use at the table.
Cream Sauce for Grilling Corn

  • ½ stick butter
  • ½ package of cream cheese
  • pinch of hot chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Microwave butter and cream cheese 30 seconds at a time, stir and repeat until you have a paste.  Incorporate chili power, with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Place corn on grill and baste exposed side with the sauce.
  3. Flip corn and baste the other side.
  4. Continue to grill until corn just begins to char.  Serve immediately.
In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Apple Cider and White Wine Braised Pork Shoulder Käsespätzle Paired with 2004 Cuvee Jean Baptiste Adam Aslace Kaefferkopf Riesling

This pairing was inspired by my love for German food and a desire to master the art of making spaetzle.  My history of spaetzle consumption includes two forms; spaetzle prepared in a German restaurant, and the mediocre (at best) store-purchased-dehydrated spaetzle.  The difference between the two is akin to the difference between fresh homemade pasta and the stuff in the box on the grocery shelf.

After a bit of research and a couple trial runs, I found that making spaetzle at home is quick, easy, and fun.  Honestly, it is dramatically easier than making fresh pasta.  For this meal, I decided to use the spaetzle in a German casserole called Käsespätzle.  This dish is a traditional German recipe popular for it's ease in preparation, and who can argue with cheese and onions?

To accompany the cheesy spaetzley goodness, I decided to braise a pork shoulder in apple cider and white wine.  Another easy preparation of what I would consider German comfort food.

My pairing selection for our little Germany night began with the idea of a dry Riesling.  As I ventured to the wine cellar and found I had no German Rieslings (they usually don't last long around our house) and found a French Riesling - a 2004 Cuvee Jean Baptiste Adam Aslace Kaefferkopf Riesling.  A French Riesling, why not?  The Germans and French get along well right?

This Riesling met my desires of a dry riesling with healthy acidity and prominent fruit.  Although in general, Rieslings are intended to be consumed young, the acidity and complex structure of this wine revealed beautiful minerality imparted by the granite dominated soil from the region.  Although nearly 8 years old, this wine aged exceptionally well.

In summary, the pairing was spectacular with the fruit, acidity, and minerality complementing the warm tender flavors of the braised pork shoulder and käsespätzle.


White Wine and Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder


  • 1 fresh pork shoulder
  • 6 garlic cloves, cut into halves and imbedded in the pork shoulder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 medium onions, halved lengthwise then sliced
  • Add equal portions of cider and white wine to bring liquid to about 1 inch below top of pork shoulder
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  1. Score fat and any skin on pork in a crosshatch pattern. Make slits all over meat with a small sharp knife and insert garlic. Pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper.
  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot over moderately high heat then brown meat on all sides.  Remove pork shoulder and set aside.
  1. Add onions to pot and sauté over moderately high heat until tender.
  2. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized.
  1. Deglaze with a cup of cider and return pork to pot.
  2. Add a cup of wine, then add equal amounts wine and cider until liquid level is about 1 inch below the top of the pork shoulder.
  1. Cover pot and braise pork until very tender - 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
  1. Transfer pork to a serving dish and let rest while boiling cooking juices with onions until mixture is reduced by ½.  Adjust seasoning and serve over sliced pork shoulder.



Caramelized Onions

  • 2 tsp. olive oil (20 ml)
  • 1 tsp. butter 9(10 ml)
  • 2 medium onions (400 grams) quartered and sliced
Spaetzle (per person)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  •  2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 oz. Gruyère
  • Butter and breadcrumbs for casserole dish


  1. Start by making the caramelized onions about one hour before the casserole needs to go into the oven. Heat the butter and oil in a non-stick pan on medium, turn heat to low and add onions. Stir every few minutes until onions are lightly browned and sweet enough for your taste. 
  2. Turn off heat and set onions aside.
  3. Mix the dough several minutes until glossy. The dough should be wetter than brownie batter but not as wet as pancake batter.
  4. Dip a wood board into the boiling water, to help the dough slide off when you are making your noodles.  I found using a glass cutting board works better than a "spaetzle board."
  5. Spread dough over spaetzle board about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
  6. Use a spaetzle knife, scraper, or pastry knife to slide 1/4 inch strips of the dough into the not-quite-boiling water.  A little twist of the rist, and keeping everything wet will aid in the process. 
  7. The spaetzle noodles are done when they float to the top.  Ladle the spaetzle from the water and place in a bowl.  Repeat from step 5 until dough is used.
  8. Butter and line a casserole dish with bread crumbs.
  9. When noodles are done, add them to the pan with the onions. Add the grated nutmeg and 3/4 of the grated cheese and stir to mix.
  10. Place noodles into the casserole, sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake, covered, at 350ºF for 20 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes. 
In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wine Pairing Theme Night Ideas

Occasionally I enjoy adding a bit of whimsical fun to food and wine pairing.  Our last such event was a recreation of Casino Royale - the extravagant meal enjoyed by James Bond and his love interest Vesper Lynd.  You can see all the details at  Casino Royale Wine Pairing–Tournedos with Béarnaise Sauce, Rognon de Veau Paired with 1998 Jacquart Champagne Blanc de Blanc Brut.

It has been some time since our Casino Royale night, so it is time to start planning another theme night extravaganza.  While sitting around with a glass of wine, Chef Sue, Steve, Dawn and I began brainstorming some ideas.  The concepts we came up with cover a range of specific meals (such as the prison cooking scene from Goodfellas) to ingredients from which we could base our culinary creativity (Treasure Island).

Here is our list of potential themes:

  • Treasure Island.  This theme would be based on the list of staples in the stock of the crew on Treasure Island.  "I'm a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off."  There are also references to lamb, apples, and biscuits.  I think we can make something of this.  Of course, the attire would be our finest professional pirate gear.

  • Prom Night from 1980.  I'm not sure yet what food would play a staring role, but as I look back to the popular fare from 1980, I'm recalling things such as the blackened food fad, swiss steak, sweet and sour stir fried beef, fondue, and beef stroganoff.  Attire? You guessed it, vintage prom dresses and pastel colored tuxes with huge lapels.
  • When Harry Met Sally.  Our culinary adventures would involve a creativity challenge to update the ham sandwich, pastrami sandwich and coleslaw served just before Meg Ryan had her "moment" in Katz's Delicatessen.  Attire: sweaters - and big hair for the women - scruffy beards for men.

  • Goodfellas.  There is a classic food scene in Goodfellas where a great meal is being prepared by the principals - a pasta course featuring garlic shaved with a razor blade, tomato sauce with veel, beef and pork, pan fried steak, lobster, salami, priscuito, cheese, scotch, red wine, white whine, and bread.  Attire:  bathrobes or running suits.

  • Blues Brothers.  Food is a running theme throughout the movie with the highlight occurring in the Chez Paul scene when Belushi asks "how much for the women, the little girl, your daughters, how much?"  The food for this event would be based on pepper steak, champagne, shrimp cocktail, fried chicken and plain white toast.  Of course the attire would be black suits, white shirts, thin black ties, and fedoras. 

  • Breakfast Club.  This could be a culinary challenge based on the ingredients of the lunch bags that include everything from sushi, cold cut sandwiches, pixy sticks, and captain crunch, I'm sure our collective creativity could muster something interesting.  Attire: pick a character and do your best impression.

  • Pulp Fiction.    This theme would center on an interpretation of the Royal with Cheese and french fries with mayonaise.  Dessert - a $5 milkshake  Attire:  Men in suits with a bolo.  Women can do their best Uma Thurman impersonation with a mans white dress shirt, french cuffs and cuff links.

If you have any ideas to add, I would love to hear from you.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Pan Seared Lamb Chops with Blueberry Pomegranate and Red Wine Reduction, Oven Roasted Parsnips Paired with 2007 Barboursville Vineyards Virginia Octagon

When conceiving of a wine pairing, there are two entry points; select a wine and prepare a menu complementing the wine, or start with a feature dish and select an appropriate wine.  Most of the time, my routine begins with the inspiration to prepare a dish followed by a wine selection.  This pairing is an exception.  Octagon is the signature wine produced by Barboursville Vineyards.  This exalted position is well deserved.  I sampled this wine at a tasting months before and was quite impressed.  Due to my affection for this wine, I was excited to prepare a meal that showcased the wonderful flavors in both the wine, and my yet to be conceived culinary creation.

Octagon exemplifies what the best of what Virginia wineries are striving for and more frequently achieving; a wonderful expression of terroir.  A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, one would think you were sipping a fine Bordeaux yet with a welcoming assertion of Virginia climate, exposure, altitude, care, and soil.

This full bodied red features aromas of berry, plum, and dark cherry which are echoed on the palate.  Rich, silky tannins lead to a lengthy and refined finish.  It is rich, elegant, and a real pleasure.

In conceiving this pairing, I needed a construction that first mated well with the full bodied Octagon while also complementing the berry, plum and dark cherry flavors.  To match the body, I began my thought process with lamb chops, then added the blueberry pomegranate reduction to echo the flavors of the wine.  The result was spectacular.

The key to this wildly successful pairing was selection of the lamb as the protein and adding the complementing flavors of the reduction.  In terms of principal flavors, the lamb and the reduction contributed equally and resulted in a pairing that was absolutely heavenly.


Pan Seared Lamb Chops with Blueberry Pomegranate and Red Wine Reduction

  • 8 lamb rib chops or one rack of lamb cut into 4 sections (8 ribs per rack)
  • 2 tablespoons. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot
  • 1/2 cup blueberry pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 of the berries from a pomegranate
  • 1/4 cup full-bodied dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons butter divided into small cubes
  • Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  1. Liberally season the lamb chops with salt and pepper on both sides. 
  2. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot. 
  3. Sear the chops until browned on both sides (about 2 minutes per side for medium rare, or 3 minutes per side for medium). 
  4. Place the chops on a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
  5. Add the shallot to the same pan with remaining fat and cook, stirring constantly, until browned. 
  6. Add the pomegranate juice, wine, chicken stock, vinegar, and thyme and reduce by half 
  7. Reduce the heat to medium low and add butter, keeping on the heat until the butter melts. 
  8. Adjust seasoning.
  9. Run reduction through a fine sieve and ladle over lamb.
  10.   Garnish with pomegranate berries. 
For Oven roasted parsnips and onions, peel four parsnips (or whatever quantity you need for feeding your dinner crowd) and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Add to a large mixing bowl.  Slice an onion and add to the bowl.  Chop 1/2 cup of cilantro and add to bowl.  Drizzle contents with olive oil (enough to lightly coat), season with salt and pepper, and toss.  Spread evenly over a sheet pan and place in oven preheated to 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until parsnips are tender.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

No Kitchen Required - The Second Course

In my last post, BBC America's "No Kitchen Required" and the NY Bite Club, I wrote about a spectacular meal and a wonderful evening hosted by the NY Bite Club and BBC America.  I'm back today to remind you that the premier of No Kitchen Required will air tonight at 10/9 Central on BBC.  My second purpose is to share the impressions of some of my fellow bloggers.  Finally, I am including some photography that did not make it into the original post.  Enjoy.

Please check out these links - if you enjoy Craig's Grape Adventure, you are sure to enjoy these talented folks as well:

Lingered Upon
At the Sign of the Pig
Off the Broiler
The Spanish Hipster

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

BBC America's "No Kitchen Required" and the NY Bite Club

Last night I had the great pleasure to enjoy several new experiences.  Thanks to "my people" in New York (my daughter Dana and her boyfriend Kevin) I was invited to a screening of the BBC Americas's new show "No Kitchen Required."  Not only was this a screening of the show with host Dr. Shina Somara and Chef Kayne Raymond (one of three chefs featured on the show), but the event was hosted by the NY Bite Club.

First a little about NY Bite Club.  They are part of a groundswell of underground fine dining experiences cropping up in homes and apartments around the country.  The beauty of this modern reincarnation of the supper club lies with great food served in an intimate setting by people passionate about food.  This was my first experience in this quickly growing social-gastronomical experiment, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I will now be heading back to DC to see what is happening below the radar in my neighborhood.

As I talk about the event and my impressions of "No Kitchen Required," I will share some photography from the evening.  As a guide, here is the menu (inspired by food from the Mexican state of Chihuahua):

  1. Tuna ceviche in fried plantain cups
  2. Pozole con Puerco
  3. Huitlacoche Quesadilla
  4. Pipian de Pollo
  5. Chivo Enchilado & Chanfaena
  6. Flan & Horchata

The diners at last night's event were all food writers.  Although I did not have the opportunity to speak with all 20 guests, most of the writers were either bloggers or associated with a paper or magazine.  For the most part, their writing takes the approach of sharing their dining experiences, critiquing restaurants, or writing about food trends.  Again, I found myself the lone person writing about food and wine pairing.  That's OK...I like my little corner of the world.

It was a real pleasure to meet with a number of the people associated with the new BBC America show "No Kitchen Required" (BTW, the premier is Tuesday, April 3rd at 10pm).  I was chatting with the Executive Producer of the show about a couple reservations I held.  I'm glad we had a chance to talk, and the opportunity to watch the screening video in the context of our chat - my reservations were replaced by enthusiastice well wishes of success for this program.

My reservations began immediately as I entered the venue and watched clips showing three chefs in remote and jungle locations, foraging, hunting, and cooking under austere conditions.  My first thought was "I can't believe it, another "Extreme Chef" (see my previous rant about this drug induced bad idea - Cooking and Reality TV–Some Constructive Feedback for the Food Network).  Gratefully, this is not a competition to determine who can make the best meal with little more than a pocket knife and a lump of coal.  Quite the opposite as explained to me by the show's marketing representative. 

She described a completely different approach that I found appealing.  Yes, there are three chefs, and yes, there is a competitive aspect.  However, the approach is to take three notable chefs, drop them into a remote area with distinctive local culture and immerse themselves.  The chefs are tasked with learning how the locals get their food (the hunting and foraging part), how they prepare it, and then make their interpretation of the local cuisine.  The brilliant part of the competition, is that the locals judge the products of the celebrity chef's labor.  

Locals as judges makes good sense.  While the chef's have the latitude to run as far amuck as they desire with their interpretation of the local food, they will need to keep in mind their audience...something every chef should do.  Although the competitive component is present as a real or perceived necessity to draw an audience, the approach taken by this show appears to be much more respectful to both the food and the local culture.  I wish them great success in achieving this balance.

Finally, thanks to the NY Bite Club for a fantastic evening and wonderful food.  Well done!

In vino veritas, buen provecho.