Friday, November 27, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #20

This piece in the New Yorker on a former favorite daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church is worth every second.

The Apu Trilogy was just released on Criterion. But this Sunday, Turner Classic Movies will be showing all three starting at 7pm CT. Set that DVR, people.

'Spotlight' is a fine film. Well-paced, nuanced, detailed, and understated performances from people that typically don't choose to go that direction. But here's hoping we don't get all crazy and proclaim it the best film of the decade around awards season.

Thursday: Ottolenghi Quail, Farro-Wild Rice and Snap Peas with NV Moutard Brut Champagne

Food Details: Thanksgiving food! Quail from D'Artagnan in New Jersey, made in the typically weird deliciousness manner of Mr. Ottolenghi. Miso paste burnt in the oven, then blended with sugar, mirin and sherry vinegar. Salsa of pickled walnuts, pomegranate seeds, sherry vinegar and parsley. Quails sautéed, then glazed with the burnt miso butterscotch and placed under the broiler until it bubbled. Farro and wild rice base on the plate, quails on top, pickled walnut-pomegranate seed salsa on top of quails, snap peas with mint on the side.

Did We Like It? Damn fine Thanksgiving meal. Damn. Fine. No family this year for us, which meant no six-hour, round-trip car ride and everything that family holiday entails. Just loafing around, sitting on the couch and then eating this meal. The grizzly, aggressive, dark miso glaze was taken down a notch beautifully by the delicate meatiness in the quail, without the quail flavor being lost in the least. The pickled walnuts brought a funk that you'd think pickled walnuts would bring, while the pomegranate seeds kept them from going too pear-shaped here. Oddly delicious wild rice. Funny what an long absence of a food-type thing will do to your taste buds. Snap peas with mint are snap peas with mint. They = bright and happy. This was a meal worthy of its holiday-ness, all with new flavors galore. Very happy.

How Was The Wine? For $35, this was perfectly fine Champagne, even playing above the Champagne price tier. All pinot noir and funky as heck underneath its standard Champagne-ness on entry. Medium bubbles, medium acid, medium fruit expression, but all adding up to something more for $35. Nice stuff.

And The Pairing? Mrs. Ney worried about this one. What were the burnt miso and pickled walnuts going to do to the wine? This ended up ab-sol-ute-ly scrummy for the most part. A sturdy backbone in the wine allowed it to play well, only flattening out once or twice, but mostly staying buoyant and utterly interesting here. A big Thanksgiving Miracle!

Cost: $37 for food, $35 for wine = $72  

Wednesday: Homemade Sheet-Pan Pizzas with 2014 Broc Cellars Love Rosé California

Food Details: Same pizza prep as two weeks ago, using pizza dough recipe from Lucky Peach, this time substituting Caputo's blue bag pasta flour instead of farina 00 because we had that on hand. Would not do it again. 48-hour proof, but the gluten and its elasticity was a bit moody. Sausage, fresh oregano, tomato sauce (from Cook's Illustrated) and Boar's Head Mozzarella (which isn't the best, but served and we had it on hand) for one pie. White pizza of grape tomatoes, mozzarella and arugula for the other.

Did We Like It? Good. Nice to have two big sheet-pan pizzas with flavors in front of us for a leisurely two-hour meal. Didn't match the extreme goodness of the potato-rosemary pizzas from two weeks ago, though. That crust was boss.

How Was The Wine? A grenanche gris-zinfandel-barbera blend, done up rosé style from Broc. $17. Had that gloss and buff to the fruit we love from Broc Cellars, with underlying earthy flavors, all coming at you in a low-alcohol format. A drier veneer, but a trampy sweetness deeper down that wanted to be liked, and was in spades. Big fans.

And The Pairing? Pizzas and a friendly wine with zinfandel and barbera in it. What's not to like?

Cost: $10 for food, $17 for wine = $27    

Tuesday: Fried Haloumi, Beet Salad and Green Beans with 2013 Garzon Albaniño Uruguay

Food Details: Fried haloumi: sliced, fried in mini-cast iron at a lower temp than usual, resulting in fabulous haloumi, probably the best we've had. Herbs put on late in the frying helped as well. Palmina winery yellow beet salad (recipe) using marcona almonds instead of walnuts this time, just for funnsies. Tangerine-marinated cerignola olives (from The New Spanish Table cookbook). Blanched green beans with onions and red bell peppers, made into a salad and tossed with the olive marinade. Baguette to dip, top and dunk in the cheese oil.

Did We Like It? A big pile of vegetable and cheese happiness. Great haloumi. Wouldn't do the marcona again, as it resulted in a sweetness with nothing to counter that, but beets are always welcome. Good to have green beans. Felt like it had been a long time. Delicious meal overall.

How Was The Wine? Our second Uruguayan albariño, after the Bouza. Won't be our last either. These two rank right up there with Rías Baixas albariños in terms of quality, and offer a distinctive well-water and sunshine edge. Six months stainless steel on its lees for this one and you can taste it. A bright-light creaminess throughout, with notes of peach and tangerine. Bumpy-bouncy acid. We really enjoyed it. For $16, a great deal in the GOOD albariño world.

And The Pairing? The wine loved the green beans. A lot! And the beets and green beans together. This was a good example of a veggie meal with a moderately zippy and distinct wine offering something new to a meal we love and have had a dozen times.

Cost: $18 for food, $16 for wine = $34

Monday: Trader Joe's French Pizzas with Trader Joe's Brut Rosé Sonoma County 

Food Details: Take these French pizzas from TJ's and gussy them up with asparagus, walnuts and pecorino. Done.

Did We Like It? Ham, gruyere, caramelized onions, asparagus, walnut, pecorino. Flavors. On the cheap. Virtually no work. A lunch trip to Garcia's, where I inexplicably ordered fish tacos...from Garcia's, resulted in easily a top-five worst meal ever for me. I was comical how overcooked and under-seasoned they were. Rough work week for Mrs. Ney, so easy-peasy pizzas were just the ticket.

How Was The Wine? New Trader Joe's product, a brut rosé from Sonoma County made from pinot noir and pinot meunier, done up in the Champagne method. Quite delicious for $10. Fruit plays in the background here, with its dryness and a touch of funk dominating in a nice way. Guzzle-worthy stuff for $10.

And The Pairing? Fine enough. This wine will be popping up a lot over the next month or so.

Cost: $13 for food, $10 for wine = $23  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #19


Wonderful Karl Ove Knausgaard piece (speech) in the New Yorker this week, with a bonus video of the superlatively great Jhumpa Lahiri at the bottom.

This piece on Rhonda Rousey couldn't be more spot-on.

The Davis Theatre in Lincoln Square is a dump and has been for decades. That's about to change.

And Jon Bonné checks back in on Abe Schoener of Scholium Project for the Chronicle.

Total food and wine cost for the week: $110 for food and $125 for wine = $235

Sunday: Salmon, Bagels and Cream Cheese with 2014 Berger Grüner Veltliner Kremstal

Food Details: Trader Joe's salmon, bagels, herbed-up cream cheese, kumatoes, arugula. Rip, top, eat.

Did We Like It? More easy food that brings an enormous satisfaction that belies its easiness.

How Was The Wine? All of Berger's freshness here on full display. Stony, peppy, lively, proper hits and hints of greens-citrusy fruit. A bit of an ammonia note kicked up for me, but that didn't deter me from finishing it off.

And The Pairing? The ammonia note, that was more like a farmhouse well next to the pig sty note, actually helped here. Weaved into the salmon, taking it to a down and dirty place that resembled being on said a good way.

Cost: $19 for food, $15 for wine = $34 

Saturday: Pick-n-Choose Meat and Cheese with 2014 Alloy Wine Works Grenache Rosé Central Coast

Food Details: Ham, salami and red leicester cheese with peppers on ciabattini with sundried-tomato mayonnaise and herb salad

Did We Like It? Always and forever. It's pick and choose your bite, in whatever order you want, with whatever toppings that trips your fancy.

How Was The Wine? More Alloy Grenache Rosé in the can, our fave rosé this year. Dirt-covered, juicy grenache showed up in bunches. Perky, substantial, bright and happy can o' rosé.

And The Pairing? Had everything anybody would ever want. It's like standing at the food spread on a table at some sort of function you don't want to be at, and enjoying everything in front of you, while avoiding all the people you don't want to talk to. It's a double-whammy of happiness, with guzzle-able rosé to accompany all of that.

Cost: $14 for food, $14 for wine = $28

Friday: Pizzas and Arugula with 2015 Viñas Chileans Reserva Rosé Valle Central

Food Details: Digiorno tomato/cheese and pepperoni pizzas, topped with arugula.

Did We Like It? Rough work week for Mrs. Ney. Easy food is smart food. Buy two, get one free offer made this an easy choice.

How Was The Wine? Best thing about the meal. This is $4, fresh, fruity, round, bouncy and delicious. Cabernet-syrah blend done up rosé style. Nice find here.

And The Pairing? Good wine, mediocre pizzas. That's what it was.

Cost: $12 for food, $4 for wine = $16

Thursday: Rotisserie Chicken, Charred Onions, Yogurt and Ancient Grains Bread with 2014 Terrasse du Moulinas Blanc Elegance Languedoc-Roussillon

Food Details: Whole Foods prepared rotisserie chicken, charred onions done up Melissa Clark-style, over labneh-yogurt with parsley and pomegranate seeds, and Whole Foods Ancient Grains bread. Rip, top, eat.

Did We Like It? We're going to eat this charred onions and yogurt business until we're sick of it, which I'm betting won't be anytime soon. It goes beautifully with the meat of your choice. Chicken here, lamb and goat in the past. Prepare your food, slice your bread, put it in front of you on the coffee table, turn on your mindless entertainment for the evening, sit back, relax, and enjoy the goodness for an hour or two.

How Was The Wine? Great find, also at Whole Foods. A one-liter bottle of a Langeudoc white blend (grenache blanc, vermentino, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc). It's a four-act play, with the grenache blanc and chardonnay offering softness, freshness and roundness in different forms, while the vermentino (which shows up big here) and the sauvignon blanc offers perkiness, cut and bite, also in different forms. Keeps vacillating back and forth between the four and the result is impressive for the price. It's $10, one liter, and one of the better wine bargains found this year. Should be a very versatile white blend that's cheap and plentiful. What else does one need?

And The Pairing? Exactly what anyone would want here. Not transcendent, just a cheerful pairing offering slice-and-dice acid when needed and softness, body and depth when wanted.  Delicious.

Cost: $16 for food, $10 for wine = $26

Wednesday: Sean Brock Patty Melts and Punched Potatoes with NV Marietta Christo Sonoma-Mendocino Counties Rhone Blend

Source: Sean Brock burger patties (from Heritage, page 121), Sam Sifton faux pomme frites, Serious Eats sun-dried tomato-garlic mayo

Food Details: Burgers griddled, on seeded light rye bread (I can't hear "rye bread" without thinking of this now), with pepper jack cheese and shaved raw onion. Punched potatoes, drizzled with rabbit oil, baked in the oven. Quick dipping sauce of sun-dried tomato and garlic for both the potatoes and patty melt.

Did We Like It? Yes, sir. And the patty melt got oodles better as it came up to room temperature. Classic patty melt flavors (a "fancy food" when I was 19) with all the patty melt nostalgic goodness (maybe should have gone with American cheese). Damn fine, crunchy, creamy, rabbit-oiled potatoes. Delicious as heck dipping sauce. Everything we wanted from patty melts and potatoes-in-some-form was here.

How Was The Wine? Syrah, grenache, petite sirah and viognier. This is our first Lot #2 after having Lot #1 a half-dozen or so times. Lot #1 was pure joy in the bottle; loose, expressive, a wine that takes its time to give you everything it has. Lot #2 felt quiet here, giving some of the smoke-blackberry-lavender business that we love from this wine, and taking its time to give it all in one sip. This might need a bit of time, as it opened up more as the meal progressed, but it missed a completeness the Lot #1 had (and last had with a very similar meal).

And The Pairing? A ton of basic happiness here, but it somewhat lacked that second and third level that we've found in the Lot #1; that viognier-like "voooooop!" at the end; that point where you can't stop taking a bite and reaching for the glass because it's so gosh-darn good. After an hour open, we did find whispers of the Christo magic, so... We'll see.

Cost: $10 for food, $16 for wine = $26

Tuesday: Vietnamese Cornish Game Hens, Scallion Pancakes and Spicy Fish Sauce with 2013 Darting Muskateller Kabinett Trocken 

Source: From Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World, Vietnamese Cornish Game Hens, page 334. Lucky Peach Spicy Fish Sauce. Scallion pancakes from Serious Eats.

Food Details: Aldi Cornish Game Hens ($3.59 each!), marinated in garlic, shallot, fish sauce, ginger and honey; roasted in a 500-degree oven on a preheated griddle for 22 minutes, drizzled with sesame oil after roasting. Spicy fish sauce of Red Boat fish sauce, garlic, chiles, white wine vinegar and lime zest (added) for dipping, dunking and drizzling on everything. Scallion pancakes, charred up in the cast-iron. Salad of cucumber, radish, scallions, arugula, basil, mint, cilantro and pomegranate seeds.

Did We Like It? Mrs. Ney, after seeing the lacquered-burnished-blackened birds, said, "Well, at least the salad will be good." But the full-blown glossy char on these lil birds was absolutely essential. It created a quick crust that seemingly protected the bird from drying out, leaving perfectly juicy bird meat throughout (the breast meat was freakin' perfect). Perfect inside meat with fish sauce-sesame oil crusty skin, dripped in a Lucky Peach fish sauce-sauce that's bright, perky and crackling delicious. Best scallion pancakes yet (or Chinese fry bread - we like the fry breads). A salad where the basil's bitterness took over, unfortunately. But this meal was an enormous shock, though it shouldn't have been, really. That Bittman book has hundreds of recipes and we have all our lives to cook through it. It's $5 right now on Amazon! The beef cheeks in chickpea purée was one of the better meals we've ever had.

How Was The Wine? Speaking of best meals ever, we last had this muskateller with probably the best meal of the year. Certainly the best pairing. Less so here, as it lost its definition of classiness and pure sunshine. This time it delved more into its fruit and talc, becoming more of a blue collar, workhorse wine attempting to counter the flurry of Asian flavors on the plate and mostly succeeding.

How Was The Pairing? We were rather content with the muskateller. Loved the talc that remained steadfast in its presence. But a cheap Trader Joe's Mosel riesling was cracked to compare and it did things with its fruit and seamless transition to that second, gaseous, riesling-and-minerals level that the muskateller didn't. It wasn't fancy riesling in the least, though it found a place with this food quite nicely. But if a wine has talc, it comes from a place we like. That's the truth.

Cost: $17 for food, $18 for wine = $35  

Monday: Uzbeki Lamb Plov with 2008 Avanthia Mencia Valdeorras

First, a Monday lunch of Greek sandwiches and olive oil chips with 2014 João Portugal Ramos Lima Loureiro Vinho Verde kicked off a very productive weekend of house cleaning and winter-is-coming organizing. Feta-pepper spread (from week #17) with cucumbers, tomatoes, arugula, onions and black olives from Barcelona, from a sister of a work friend, marinated in herbs from said garden. Leftover Pugliese bread, toasted. Trader Joe's olive oil chips. Our favorite, cheap, $8 loureiro. THAT was a Happy Lunch. A new favorite dinner, which is basically Uzbeki paella in a way, rounded out a great food day.

Source: Recipe here, via Cucee Sprouts

Food Details: Last eaten in July, and we loved it then. This version was better, simply because the lamb bones were cooked in the braise. A savory, boney, gelatinous, succulent juice-sweat resulted, and it was be-aut-i-ful. Farm City lamb shoulder, chickpeas, carrots, barberries (doubled the barberries, omitted the raisins in the recipe), garlic, cumin, tumeric, basmati rice. A one-pot meal that's considered the national dish of Uzbekistan. Tomato-onion-mint salad on the side.

Did We Like It? (Swear word) yeah! That marrow sweat-juice was a sumthin-sumthin. This is homey, country-style lamb stew taken to another, complete place. It's the bestest.

How Was The Wine? We opened this wine a week ago, didn't find it interesting in the least, put a Preserva disk in it, and left it on the counter. With its $40 price tag, dumping it, or even drinking it with a more simple, weekday meal seemed sad. So we gave it a go here and were rewarded. This settled into a medium-bodied beauty with smoky cherries/raspberries and spicy tobacco, bright minerals and perfect jolt of acid with this food. Maybe we opened this too soon. Maybe it needed a healthy decant. While we found the smallest bit of a watery thread from it being opened for a week, this was a complete pairing surprise.

And The Pairing? There's some elemental crossover between plov and paella, mostly in presentation and strut. Like the first time we had this food, with the Abacela Tempranillo, there was some nice pan-Spanish pairing perkiness, with the mencia loving the lamb and lamb sweat, leading to a "good enough!" experience. And it loved the tomatoes. Just loved them. So...good stuff, we say.

Cost (for lunch and dinner): $22 for food, $48 for wine = $70      

Thursday, November 12, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #18

For the winter...we have all the meats.

Patrick Modiano's Occupation Trilogy, so far, captures all the moral ambiguity and farce that came with the manipulation of moral ambiguity under the Vichy regime during WWII. Bad, weak-willed people given their chance to do bad things. It's been a treat. An odd treat, but a treat nonetheless.

This week, we've had great boar, delicious Veracruz scallops, and we found our house pizza dough. So...success.

Total food and wine cost for the week: $88 for food and $114 for wine = $202

Sunday: Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil and Pugliese Bread with VinTJ's Arneis Russian River Valley

Food Details: Exactly the above. Trader Joe's marinated mozzarella (has all the oil and herbs in one container), campari tomatoes, copious amounts of basil and Pugliese bread. Slice, top with all of it, eat.

Did We Like It? Yeah. Easy as all get-out, filling, and satisfying.

How Was The Wine? Trader Joe's arneis from Russian River. We like the Italian varieties grown in California. We find that infinitely interesting. Here's a moody one. A bit watery in terms of distinctive arneis flavors, with apples and pears and anise and a leafy quality, but it was all there...except with the mozzarella.

And The Pairing? Fine stuff with a tomato-bread-herbs-oil bite, approaching that "just drink Italian wine with Italian food and be done with it, because it's good" quality. But with the mozzarella, it tasted like a dead ferret got into the tank.

Cost: $8 for food, $8 for wine = $16  

Saturday: Fenugreek Blackeyed Pea Curry, Naan and Celery Raita with 2014 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley

Source: From 660 Curries, page 321, "Fenugreek-Perfumed Black-Eyed Peas;" Celery raita here, via

Food Details: Black-eyed peas, onion, garlic, ginger (added), peppers, tomatoes, dried fenugreek leaves, turmeric. Make the day before. It's better. Celery raita and naan, to dip, dunk and cool.

Did We Like It? Tough call on whether the curry or the celery raita was better. When you have celery in the house, this raita is what you do with it. It's delicious. The curry (our new house curry) was blazingly hot the day before, but mellowed out so well. Perfect level of heat, happy cooling from the raita, tasty Trader Joe's naan, a product that I could make a case for being a top-five, all-time TJ's product (along with seafood sausages, dark chocolate gelato, Picpoul, Muscadet...). It's incredibly versatile, has great chew, acceptable depth, and not wildly expensive.

How Was The Wine? Chilean sauvignon blanc on the cheap. Tangerine and grapefruit and herbs with nice, punchy acidity. We've had a couple of vintages of this one. The 2014 might be the best. Everything was in balance, with every layer giving way to the next in graceful fashion, allowing it to play above its price tag.

And The Pairing? Happy. The acid did its cut-and-slash with the food, then the wine showed its herbal-fruity side and juicy finish. My Saturday work night was filled with nutters. Coming home to this...? Wiped away.

Cost: $9 for food, $10 for wine = $19

Friday: Mexican Red Rice with 2014 VinTJ's Vermentino Russian River Valley

Source: Rick Bayless recipe here

Food Details: Bayless' Mexican red rice with jalapeño chicken sausages, leftover kale and leftover lentils. Sour cream and cilantro on top.

Did We Like It? It's a staple. An easy staple. A happy staple. This one with leftover rabbit oil-dripped kale and tea-smoked lentils from the week. Brought texture and depth to a meal that can sometimes get a little mushy in terms of texture.

How Was The Wine? Two new labels arrived at Trader Joe's: this vermentino and an arneis, both from Russian River Valley. The vermentino, with this meal, brought some lime notes with a wee touch of minerality and herbs. Simple vermentino, nothing special, but for $8, a decent little wine when you want/need a modicum of citrusy snap to perk up and weave into the food.

And The Pairing? I pretty much hated this wine by itself. Had that garbage dump waft to it. But with this food, a fine level of enjoyment merged; ironing its pants, straightening out the wine's ties and fluffing its coat. Misses on the second and third level of goodness, but it's $8. Not too shabby.

Cost: $7 for food, $8 for wine = $15  

Thursday: Pick-n-Choose Chicken, Tomatoes and Herb Salad with NV NV Grifone Bianco Sicily

Food Details: Mariano's glazed rotisserie chicken, campari tomatoes, herb salad and ciabattini buns. Rip your bun, top it with all the rest, eat.

Did We Like It? Don't wanna cook? Buy all this stuff, cut that chicken in half, slice, salt and pepper your tomatoes, dress your salad, put it all on a plate and eat food that pushes the all the food buttons. Pro tip from people that do this regularly: Put the half-chicken under the broiler - it crisps up the skin and adds a delicious, crispy dimension.

How Was The Wine? Drank the rest of the Charles Smith Pinot Grigio, which didn't really add much here. The Grifone Bianco, a riesling-moscato blend, is the default wine for this meal. Meh on its own, with this food, it's long and complete. A touch less so here, but still nice. It likes kumatoes, but we didn't have any in the house.

And The Pairing? See above.

Cost: $11 for food, $16 for wine = $27

Wednesday: Potato-Rosemary Pizzas and Arugula with 2014 Tablas Creek Vermentino Paso Robles and 2014 Charles Smith VINO Pinot Grigio Columbia Valley

Source: Pizza dough, via Lucky Peach. Learn it, know it, love it.

Food Details: Boiled potatoes, Boar's Head fresh mozzarella, rosemary and olive oil on top of the above-linked crust. Arugula on top. Two rectangular pizzas cooked on 18" x 13" pans, oiled. Five minutes lowest rack, 7-9 minutes middle rack. Preheated 500-degree oven. 48-hour proof on the dough in the fridge. Two balls.

Did We Like It? HUGE surprise. Perfect dough, at least what can be done with our oven. Thin and crispy, with oodles of flavor. Perfect amount of salt and yeasty depth. We have found our house pizza dough! This was potato pizza, but with the arugula and rosemary, the flavor and weight was so bouncy and light. We ate both pizzas and didn't feel like we just ate "POTATO PIZZA!" in the least. Big success, and impossibly easy to make.

How Was The Wine? Vermentino from California? Yes, please. A bit pricey at $25 retail but real vermentino deliciousness with this one. Punchy, scrummy entry of citrus, tangerine, herbs and salt; a somewhat quiet mid-palate, but that leads right to a more complex, broad finish of minerals, Asian herbs and Asian citrus leaf. Oh, for this to be $18. Put this in the La Val Orballo albariño price world and we'd be buying six a year. $27 with tax gives us pause, but it's rather delicious.  But then there was Charles Smith being Charles Smith...

And The Pairing? We were quite happy with the vermentino and these pizzas. It loved the rosemary. But a couple of glasses of the Charles Smith VINO pinot grigio turned into all sparkly, twinkly stars with this food. It was perfect. We have found our pizza dough, and we've found the wine to go with it.

Cost: $7 for food, $27 for wine = $34

Tuesday: Wild Boar, Kale and Tea-smoked Lentils with 2008 Duorum Colheita Duoro

Source: Francis Mallman's pork tenderloin with burnt brown sugar, orange confit, and thyme, via News OK, using wild boar from D'Artagnan.

Food Details: Boar brined overnight in lapsang souchong brine, braised in orange confit oil for three hours, coated with coconut sugar and thrown under the broiler, raw lacinato kale tossed with black lentils cooked in more lapsang souchong, pomegranate seeds, all drizzled with thyme and braising oil.

Did We Like It? This was very good boar, eating like brisket in a way, and every flavor coming through. Loved-loved-loved the orange confit oil. It defined the meal along with the tea smoke. This was melt-in-your-mouth meat with a big pile of meaty, smoky kale, and it was deep and dirty-delicious.

How Was The Wine? Opened a 2008 Avanthia, a mencia from Valdeorras in Spain and it was strike-two for the week in terms of 'first wine choice' boringness. Tasted tired and quiet. Moved on to the 2008 Duorum, a red Douro blend of touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta roriz. Dry, savory, medium-bodied, medium acid, medium verve. A nice Douro red blend for under $20. Happy dirt. The 2007 Reserva was great, this one less so, but good guts here while simultaneously having an overall ethereal presence.

And The Pairing? We were just glad we found a wine that was good enough after opening a $40 Avanthia that brought nothing to the table. This was a tough pairing - a lot going on with the food - and the Duorum brought enough slice and dice for us to be moderately satisfied.

Cost: $24 for food, $19 for wine = $43    

Monday: Veracruz-style Scallops, Rice and Kale with 2013 Noêlla Morantin Chez Charles Vin de France

Source: Fish Veracruz-style, via Saveur, using scallops

Food Details: A house fav with sea bass, this time with scallops. A blend of tomatoes, capers, olives, garlic, onion, manzano peppers, said pepper juice, rosemary, parsley, bay, all the goods; placed over annatto yellow rice. Seared scallops on top of that. Baby kale salad with pomegranate seeds on the side.

Did We Like It? Happy-slappy Veracruz goodness. And good to have scallops again. Felt like it'd been years. Check the link above to the sea bass versions. This was the spiciest version yet. Not blazingly hot, but it certainly permeated every bite. This meal has all the stuff we like while maintaining an overall lightness and spunky punch.

How Was The Wine? In the link above, you'll see a white López de Heredia in some form or vintage, because it's stupid-perfect with this food. A bottle of 2004 LdH Gravonia Blanco couldn't keep up with the heat in this meal, even coming up a bit boring by itself: salty, too much pineapple-like fruit and smoked oil, something that lesser vintages of Heredia sometimes possess. We probably opened this too soon, as 2004 was considered a very good vintage in Rioja. Moved on to an already-chilled bottle of natural sauvignon blanc from Touraine, and it was freakin' lovely. Pure, clean sauvignon blanc that's much lighter than most SB while maintaining an intensity and expression all the way through. Bit of lime, some ginger, some Thai basil, perfect acid, but mostly a prettiness, lightness and integrity of flavor that we loved. Unique sauvignon blanc to us, and we'll be buying more, most likely.

And The Pairing? With the Heredia being such a dud here, the Chez Charles brought everything we wanted from a wine that wasn't going to bullied by the heat in the food. Nice lime linkup with the orange zest (addition) and good acid that provided just the right cut. But this one was mostly about how much we liked this wine. Big fans.

Cost: $22 for food, $26 for wine = $48  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #17

Pastoral opened up a store and restaurant in Andersonville this week.

We've always liked Pastoral. While the Broadway store hasn't been an "only stop" kind of destination, mainly due to the distance and us not being cheese people, their wine selection was always right in line with where our tastes were going. Even with a markup of $4-7 more per bottle than around town or on the internet, they've always has a couple of things you simply can't find in Chicago.

Their new location has 2-3 times the selection of Broadway and you can tell the people that stock it like their wine. It's a few blocks away and on my weekly errand route. We'll be regulars.

Total food and wine cost for the week: $80 for food and $126 for wine = $206

Sunday: Lamb Salami, Feta spread, Arugula and Ciabattini Buns with 2014 João Portugal Ramos "Lima" Loureiro Vinho Verde

Food Details: Feta cheese blended with pepper relish from last Sunday and mint oil from Monday. It's spicy feta cheese spread made from leftovers! Paulina Market "spicy lamb sticks," sliced. Arugula salad dressed with white vinegar, olive oil, s/p. Mini-ciabatta buns. It's PICK. AND. CHOOSE. Bread+feta spread+lamb salami+arugula. Eat. Repeat. Greeky.

Did We Like It? Jebus! Yes. Yes we did. Best weeknight meal this week. It's right up there with sausage, zucchini, tomato and cream cheese surprise in the world of taking bread, topping it with creamy-spicy goodness, and repeating it about 40 times. Kick back and relax for about an hour with food that's your friend.

How Was The Wine? Lightly fruity, lightly floral, lightly acidic. It's $8 loureiro.

And The Pairing? As Mary Berry would say, "That's scrummy." The Lima gives the impression of having lighter acid, but there's a strong backbone underlying everything with this one, which was perfect here, as it wasn't going to be pushed around by the spiciness in the food. Great meal. Might have it for Christmas lunch.

Cost: $10 for food, $8 for wine = $18 

Saturday: Ottolenghi Pumpkin Soup and Portuguese Corn Bread with 2015 Viñas Chileans Reserva Rosé Valle Central

Sources: Ottolenghi pumpkin soup here (at the bottom), David Leite's Portuguese Corn Bread here.

Food Details: Pumpkin soup of canned pumpkin, chickpeas, harissa paste, shallots, garlic, cardamom, cumin, dried apricots, preserved lemon, rose water, etc., topped with yogurt and cilantro. Portuguese corn bread made with fine-ground cornmeal, flour, yeast, salt and water, formed into loaves and baked.

Did We Like It? Probably a one-off. But fine and good soup that became rather fancy with the wine. Peasant-style, mountain-type bread that looked great but was a bit dense due to me working it too much. I'm not a soup eater. But this was good soup and made better by $4 Chilean rosé.

How Was The Wine? Cabernet-syrah blend done up rosé style. $4. Trader Joe's. 2015. Incredibly fresh; big, upfront swirl of bright cherries and strawberries, beautifully bouncy acid, fuller body, delicious in every freakin' respect. Big surprise. We thought this was a bad rosé year, but the end of the year has brought some pretty gosh-darn good ones.

And The Pairing? If this wine wasn't present, this meal might have been 30% worse. It's what a happy wine can do to food: Make. It. Immensely. Better.

Cost: $6 for food, $4 for wine = $10

Friday: Orecchiette, Sausage and Rapini with 2012 Trader Joe's Barbera Lot #88 Mendocino County

Food Details: Orecchiette with sausage, rapini, onion, red pepper flakes, parsley, bread crumbs and evoo.

Did We Like It? Once or twice a month dinner. Has been for years, mostly because it's classic Italian that has what we want on a work-night: meat, bitter, carbs, a little heat and herbs. A Big Bowl of Good.

How Was The Wine? Juicy, darker red fruits, a lil underbrush, spicy finish. Medium body that grows fuller, punchy acid for a red, something barbera done well. It's become a case-a-year type thing. 

And The Pairing? Italian with Italian. It's always happy. If you're stumped on a pairing for Italian food, start with Italian wine and you're halfway there.

Cost: $7 for food, $10 for wine = $17

Thursday: Potato-Chicken-Serrano Naan Pizzas and Arugula with 2013 Charles Smith VINO Pinot Grigio Columbia Valley

Food Details: Leftover chicken, leftover serrano, artichoke hearts, onion, grape tomatoes, nicoise potatoes and herbed cream cheese on naan. Arugula salad to put on top.

Did We Like It? It made 10 of them! For five extra dollars! No flavor dominated. They became a nice mélange of subtle flavors that elevated itself to something much more than "leftover food put on a bread-like platform." Yes. We liked this. A very fine weeknight meal.

How Was The Wine? This is the last of the 2013 VINO. Just bought six of the 2014, because this is "house white" in the best sense. Fruity, persistent, juicy, silky, peppy and clean. Has the 15% more attention to detail that takes this wine out of the "oh, pinot grigio...sure...why not" realm. $10 right now at Binny's.

And The Pairing? Nothing that made us think about the delicious nooks and crannies here with the grub and juice dance. Just nice food, wine we like, and nothing that turned pear-shaped.

Cost: $5 for food, $11 for wine = $16

Wednesday: Tuna Niçoise with 2014 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard Russian River Valley

Food Details: Niçoise salad of A's do Mar oil-cured tuna, grape tomatoes, mustardized potatoes, onions, green beans, Niçoise olives and capers, with a dressing of tarragon, shallot, anchovy, garlic, dijon, extra virgin olive oil, hazelnut oil, white balsamic, a touch of lavender, salt and pepper, all over arugula. Baguette and butter on the side. It's a heaping mound of healthy, delicious goodness.

Did We Like It? We think this night's Niçoise, a meal we've eaten dozens of times, might have been the best yet. Everything was so perfectly seasoned! And something about leaving the lemon juice out made everything else pick up the slack here, turning it into a meal playing in the lower, more earthy levels of flavor, letting each element show off their punch. Something about that let the tarragon pop. And the lavender. And textures took center stage. This was wonderful. But this wine is the best wine we've had this year.

How Was The Wine? We first had it at Chez Panisse Café in September and were blown away (read about the wine here). "Such prettiness and purity. Shimmered and sang a beautiful song. Dirt, flowers and stars." A tough to find wine, but we found it. I'm not telling where until I get over there and buy more. I could use 12,000 superlatives that describe the loveliness of this wine, but why spend the time? It's simply The Best. Utterly complete, beautifully floral, perfect acid...tastes like your favorite author's prose.

And The Pairing?A close second to Ottolenghi fish and cocount-peanut salad with 2013 Darting Muskateller as the pairing of the year. It tasted like watching a dog dig a huge pile in the yard and watching how much fun they're having doing it. "She's gettin' down there! Going' deep! God, she's having a blast." This wine dug into this food so perfectly that we did a lot of swearing while eating it. Wow! Terrific with the food, and frankly stupid-perfect with the baguette and butter.

Cost: $18 for food, $37 for wine = $55    

Tuesday: Greek-ish Chicken, Ottolenghi Corn Cakes and Celery Root-Apple Salad with 2014 Quinta do Porrais Branco Douro and 2014 Trader Joe's Cuvée Azan Picpoul de Pinet Languedoc

Source: Ottolenghi corn cakes and salad here (at the bottom) using celery root instead of beetroot for the salad.

Food Details: Chicken marinated in evoo, onion, lemon juice, white wine, garlic and oregano, roasted.

Corn cakes - that were more like corn soufflés - flavored with tarragon, celery seed, fennel seed, cumin, etc. (see recipe), with a nugget of feta in the middle of each.

Celery root, apple, celery leaf salad with a dressing of yogurt, celery-fennel seed, sherry vinegar and lemon juice.

More dressing on the side to dip and dunk (great with the chicken).

Did We Like It? Mrs. Ney thought the chicken might be more of a meat side, but this was quality chicken; juicy and bright. The corn cake-soufflés were little corny pillows of deliciousness. Very soft, but never gooey. Like bread pudding and a soufflé had a baby. Freaking great salad, with an earthy celery root hit and tons of crunchy goodness. Very good meal.

How Was The Wine? We love the Quinta do Porrais Branco, Vale Meão's entry into white wine. It's the best Douro white we've had. Cool climate gaseousness and acid. Plenty of space offered to enjoy its subtle hints of flowers and spiced pears at your leisure, with only of hint of honeydew and talc, things that typically take Douro whites to a rather basic, boring place. This isn't a fancy white. It's just all the Douro white parts in all the right places. But here, with this food, while it was quite pleasant, even delicious in spots, it couldn't hold a candle to the complete pairing loveliness that the Trader Joe's picpoul brought.

And The Pairing? We liked the Porrais here, but it got clipped by a few bites, and had its legs swept out from underneath itself on others. We would have been fine and happy if we stayed with it, but one sip of the picpoul with this meal confirmed that something was missing with the Porrais. Fireworks with each bite and a sip of picpoul, with each element exploding into the fullest version of itself. That Trader Joe's's one of the best values out there. At it's $8!

Cost:  $14 for food, $22 for wine = $36

Monday: Serrano-topped Endive, Red Pepper-Manchego Crostini and Pea Shoot-Persimmon Salad with 1999 Domaine Aux Moines Savennières Roche aux Moines

Source: Ottolenghi Caramelized endive with serrano ham here (eliminating sugar and subbing pecorino for parmesan).

Food Details: Endive, seared in cast iron, topped with a blend of breadcrumbs, pecorino, thyme, cream, salt and pepper. Topped with serrano ham, baked.

Baguette slices, brushed with rabbit oil, topped with fresno/red pepper relish from Sunday Sandwich Day and manchego, toasted into crostini.

Salad of pea shoots, persimmons, charred scallions, parsley, candied walnuts and pomegranate seeds.

Mint, blanched, puréed with olive oil, strained; drizzled over everything.

Did We Like It?  Yeah. Kind of a lot. When trying something new, there's always an initial debate going on in our heads over whether we'd have it again. It's a "Hey, this is quite good! But would we have it again?" Halfway through, it was an unqualified yes. It's light, but never too light, and feels like 50 different flavors that all get along very well. The endive-serrano was the star, tasting like little pillows of lightly-caramelized clouds with serrano adding just the right meaty substance. Good crostini with a touch of manchego sheepy-ness and surprising heat. Fantastic, persimmon-led salad that tastes very Ottolenghi, even though the recipe didn't come from him. Matched up with the Ottolenghi endive-serrano perfectly in weight, texture, and Ottolenghi-ness. We REALLY liked this.

How Was The Wine? $27 for a 16 year-old Saviennières, so not too shabby. Plenty here to be of interest. Very alive, even youngish for its age. Nice pear and honey, olive oil and salt. Moderately intense, good acid. But...

And The Pairing? Finicky little bugger with food, as Saviennières can be. Flat with the endive-serrano, BRU-TAL with the salad, but very complete, jumpy, and layered with the crostini, so we stuck with those and the wine. Opened a Trader Joe's Albero Cava Brut to matchy-match with the elemental Spanishness of the manchego and serrano, and it led to a more happy, less persnickety pairing.

Cost: $20 for food, $34 for wine = $54      

Friday, October 30, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #16

Royals are better.

And I can't wait until Halloween is over. It's a silly holiday, though Mrs. Ney's costume for work, Red Flags, is awesome.

A celebratory week of solid restaurant chicken, a couple of greatest hits, and one of the best dinners we've had in a good long while.

Rabbit. Stupid rabbit. You're delicious. And grilled radicchio with rabbit? Gee whiz.

Best rabbit we've ever had.

Total food and wine cost for the week: $142 for food and $137 for wine = $279

Total food and wine cost for the month: $688 for food and $716 for wine = $1404

Sunday: Ham and Mortadella Sandwiches with 2014 Innovacíon Rosé Mendoza

Food Details: Ham, mortadella and red pepper sandwiches on ciabatta, baked. Olive oil chips. It's sandwich and chips!

Did We Like It? Fine and good. Fine. And. Good. Ending your waiting tables week with a big plate of sandwich and chips with rosé works every freakin' time.

How Was The Wine? Last bottle of the $8, one-liter rosé goodness. We drank probably 8-10 bottles of this pinked-up malbec-syrah blend this year. It was good to us. Fading now, as it's getting a little muddled in flavor, but still happy $8 pink.

And The Pairing? It's ham sandwich, chips and pink. What's not to like?

Cost: $15 for food, $8 for wine = $23    

Saturday: Taco Salad with 2014 La Granja Blanco Rioja

Food Details: Put all the following ingredients in the biggest bowl you have and mix: Ground beef cooked with taco seasoning, chopped romaine, crushed tortilla chips, shredded white cheddar, kumatoes, onions, leftover jalapeño crema from Fish Taco Tuesday (limed up), cubed avocado and cilantro...

Did We Like It? ...Bring your bowl to the couch, lean back, put the bowl on your stomach, put your favorite TV entertainment on the tele, move your beverages to the edge of the coffee table so you don't have to move too much; eat, drink and enjoy Halloween the way you do.

How Was The Wine? It's taco salad. $5 Trader Joe's Spanish white will suffice. Nothing gets in the way.

And The Pairing? See above. Just enjoy the Big Bowl of Taco Salad with some wine that's good enough.

Cost: $12 for food, $5 for wine = $17

Friday: Boxing Day Sausage Rolls and Arugula

Food Details: Sausage Rolls (here, via NYT Cooking) with an arugula and pomegranate seed salad.

Did We Like It? Fine, easy-peasy, substantial and satisfying food.

How Was The Wine? No wine. We needed a break.

Cost: $8

Thursday: Rabbit Confit, Grilled Radicchio and Celery Root-Chestnut Purée with Pouillon Rose de Maceration Brut Champagne

Source: Rabbit from Michael Psilakis, via Leite's Culinaria

Food Details: D'Artagnan rabbit with rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, shallot, garlic, bay, mustard seed, fennel seed and lavender. Radicchio, grilled, cored, coarsely chopped; with rabbit oil, orange juice, whole-grain mustard dressing. Celery root and chestnuts sauteed in 2 tbsp butter; cooked in almond milk, pureed; finished with a drizzle of rabbit oil. Rabbit drizzled with more rabbit oil at the table. Radicchio and rabbit spritzed with orange.

Did We Like It? Je-Sus! Best rabbit we've ever had! Best radicchio we've ever had! Tasted like if we gave this to an Alsatian grandmother, she'd begrudgingly nod in approval. So savory and crunchy and bitter and creamy and slightly sweet, with perfect acid, perfect rabbit skin and meat, all of it...just perfect. We couldn't get better rabbit dish out in the world, period. Best meal in months!

How Was The Wine? 100% pinot noir, given the saignée treatment. Not floral, not deep, not a lot of stuff, but everything it gets right, IT GETS RIGHT. Pretty fruit, pretty mouthfeel, lilting acid, Champagne doing what Champagne does: make you happy that it exists in the world.

And The Pairing? Like Wednesday, we could have gone in a lot of directions, but in the end the sparkling nature of the wine brought a bounce and lift that kept the entire meal buoyant and a sheer joy, something a still wine might not have done here. Golly, we eat well. This was Exhibit A.

Cost: $40 for food, $44 for wine = $84

Wednesday: Lamb Kofta, Charred Shallots, Labneh and Ancient Grains Bread with 2013 Broc Cellars Grenache Mendocino

Source: Ottolenghi kofta and Melissa Clark charred shallots

Food Details: First time making kofta with lamb. It's usually been goat. Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, parsley, nuts, onion, garlic, all the kofta goodness. Big splotch of labneh on the plate, charred shallots on top of labneh, kofta on the side. Ancient grains bread instead of pita. Inland cress salad with mint. Spritz of lemon on things.

Did We Like It? We had to get back on this horse after the sweetness of the tomatoes in the last version of this meal, with goat leg, brought out some food hate. That was confirmed when we had a bite of this. A piece of Ancient Grain bread, a lil dollop of labneh, some charred shallots, maybe some inland cress, sometimes some kofta. Eat. Beautiful savory combinations that offers space and time to taste and savor everything, instead of sweetness muddying the waters. Can't recommend this more highly.

How Was The Wine? Broc being Broc, again. Our first Broc grenache, with low alcohol (12.5 - nice place for grenache), lovely floral frame, happy red fruits of raspberry and darker currant, sometimes a bit of licorice, sometimes a bit of chocolate. Light body, sunny acid, bright disposition. Liked it very much.

And The Pairing? No complaints in the least. Everything liked each other. We could have gone in a few directions here with the pairing but this one brought a completeness to the meal that never made us think of other options.

Cost: $20 for food, $30 for wine = $50 

Tuesday: Fish Tacos with Purple Corn Sangria

Source: From Duncan Gott of Gott's Roadside. Recipe taken directly from here. Purple corn sangria (Bobby Flay) here.

Food Details: Mahi mahi marinade = shallot, garlic, jalapeño, olive oil, lime juice, chili powder, cilantro and cumin and then grill the fish. Make some cabbage slaw. Bought guacamole this time, because the avocados weren't ready, and mixed it with tomatoes and cilantro. Jalapeño crema. Hot sauce. Charred tortillas.

Did We Like It? Any celebration week in this house must have fish tacos, because they're the best fish tacos on Earth. This batch was one of the better batches made. Complete balance in flavor. Loved-loved-loved it.

How Was The Beverage? And one of the better batches of purple corn sangria made in this house. Oodles of depth, made possible by a more significant reduction in the purple corn-pineapple rind juice.

And The Pairing? Classic. It tastes classic when made this perfectly.

Cost: $17 for food, $18 for wine = $35

Monday: Nando's with 2014 Cara Viva Rosé Lisbon

Food Details: Full chicken platter for two with two sides of fries and four sides of peri-peri mayo.

Did We Like It? Got $60? Don't wanna cook? Want a tableful of chicken and fried potato sticks with tons of mayo to dip? We do. Often. And Nando's does that pretty darn well. This is nothing earth-shattering, just solid bird and good fries when you want that.

How Was The Wine? Had the Cara Viva branco last time. It's nice for $16. Rosé this time, same price, same label. It's their house label, and it tastes like Portugal. Fresh dirt, nice fruit. Again, nothing earth-shattering here, simply a drinkable rosé that doesn't get devoured by the spiciness of the peri-peri.

And The Pairing? See above. Eat, sip, eat again, sip again. The solid acid in the wine cuts nicely, the food is good, and you get about a third of the way through the meal and say, "This'll do. This'll totally do."

Cost: $30 for food, $32 for wine = $62

Thursday, October 22, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #15

Mets were better.

Should be a good food winter. A D'Artagnan haul arrived yesterday, so our freezer is stocked with quail, guinea hen, rabbit legs and wild boar to go with goat leg and bison short ribs already in there.

Food is good.

Now, how do we get out of the family holidays?

Total food and wine cost for the week: $104 for food and $140 for wine = $244

Sunday: Dak Bulgogi with 2014 Lacheteau Vouvray

Source: Recipe here, via Kimchi Bulgogi dot com

Food Details: Spicy Korean goodness, a dish we have about 4-6 a year. Chicken thigh filets with cabbage, red pepper paste, red peppers, green peppers, carrots, onions, red pepper flakes, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, wine, scallions, etc. Over rice. It's hot, stewy, Koreany, and a delicious weeknight meal every time.

Did We Like It? Always. Decent batch here, though the wine fell short.

How Was The Wine? Trader Joe's $8 chenin blanc from Vouvray. 99% of the time we have this wine, it's with this dak bulgogi. Usually its touch of sweet is the perfect counter to the heat in the bulgogi, and there was some nice back-and-forth on occasion again here, though this vintage (or this bottle) separated out the alcohol in unwelcome ways. Everything that's good about this wine was present, just in more quiet and less vibrant ways. Less round, not as streamlined, and less of its great gaseous finish.

And The Pairing? See above. Meh.

Cost: $12 for food, $8 for wine = $20

Saturday: Chicken and Sprout Sandwiches and Olive Oil Chips with 2014 Alloy Wine Works Grenache Rosé Central Coast

Food Details: Chicken, Monterey Jack, onion, avocado, kumatoes, alfalfa sprouts and mayo on ciabatta. Olive oil potato chips.

Did We Like It? We loved Big Mike's Sub Shop in Iowa City. It was our default 1am dinner after our weekend shifts waiting tables where we had to wait on people listening to superlatively terrible jazz. Here, a recreation of our favorite sub at Big Mike's, tastes like the joy in knowing that the shift is over and we don't have to do that for at least another day. And they taste like Love.

How Was The Wine? More Alloy Grenache Rosé in the can, our fave rosé this year. Dirt-covered, juicy grenache showed up in bunches this night. Bouncy, substantial, bright and delicious.

And The Pairing? Everybody has a favorite shirt. You like the fit, the length, the feel, the color. It has that something that your other shirts don't have - a Completeness. This tasted like wearing your favorite shirt.

Cost: $26 for food, $14 for wine = $40

Friday: Sausage Cacciatore and Pugliese Bread with 2012 Barreri & Rovati Barbera d’Asti Superiore

Source: Marcella Hazan Cacciatore, via Saveur, using sausage instead of chicken

Food Details: Mariano's spicy sausages, with San Marzano tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, red pepper, rosemary, garlic, bay and parsley. It's hunter's stew.

Did We Like It? Yep. Could be a recurring thing. It's easy stew with flavors we want.

How Was The Wine? $10 Trader Joe's barbera. Juicy, with structure. Bit of violet and chocolate. A gutsy wine that finishes smooth and happy. Different from the TJ's Mendocino barbera, as it has that Italian edge that makes solid barbera just that. We like the Mendocino version for cleaner meals. With a stewy meal like this, this one likes it more.

And The Pairing? Tasted like a meal made for a cloudy, cold day with wind that cuts through your too-light jacket. This'll warm you up.

Cost: $15 for food, $10 for wine = $25

Thursday: Dolmas, Muhammara, Split-pea Dip and Toasted Pita with 2014 João Portugal Ramos "Lima" Loureiro Vinho Verde

Food Details: Leftover dolmas from Monday, with yogurt-dip dip. Leftover pita from Monday, toasted. Two dips. Muhammara, from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food (page 58), a dip adjusted for what we had: sunflower seeds (instead of walnuts), roasted red peppers (instead of tomato), bit of bread, olive oil, pomegranate syrup, red pepper flakes, cumin, sugar and alt. Yellow split-pea dip, from Michael Psilakis, using dill instead of basil. Eat dolmas with yogurt-dill dip, dip toasted pita in a duo of dips. It's dips and dolmas!

Did We Like It? Certainly good enough. Used up stuff and made an entire meal out of it. Full and happy.

How Was The Wine? Lightly fruity, lightly floral, lightly acidic. It's $8 loureiro.

And The Pairing? Food with wine. Nice little meal. And for $2 extra in ingredients!

Cost: $2 for food, $8 for wine = $10

Wednesday: Fish Cakes, Celery Root Pita Panzanella and Chermoula with 2014 Desperada Sauvignon Blanc Fragment Santa Barbara County

Food Details: Swai, shrimp and bay scallop fish cakes, a fish ball recipe (page 196) from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, turned into fish cakes, first had here. Chermoula from the same cookbook (page 180). Garlic, cilantro, cumin, paprika, cayenne, olive oil, lemon. Blended. Blanched celery root, scallions, shredded carrots, arugula, pomegranate seeds and leftover pita (toasted), tossed with a bit of more chermoula = celery root pita panzanella. Chermoula on the fish cakes with a spritz of lemon.

Did We Like It? Huge surprise! Mrs. Ney thought the "chermoula on chermoula" aspect of this meal might make it a bit mono in flavor but...Not. Even. CLOSE! This was a big plate of fresh and poppy flavors bipping and bopping everywhere! Big fans. Big! Made better by this California sauvignon blanc surprise.

How Was The Wine? Sancerre is a derogatory word in some circles. To that, I call bunk. Quality Sancerre loves food when it offers a back-and-forth of grizzle and grace. This Santa Barbara sauvignon blanc did just that, while offering a California sunny sheen, with oak that offered a perfect roundness and THAT'S IT, which is how oak should oak. We sorta loved it. And at $20, a bargain for what you're getting. Didn't love it on its own, but loved it with this food.

And The Pairing? Nothing too spicy or aggressive in the food in a relative sense, and that let the wine do its dance. It flat-out LOVED the celery root. Loved-loved-loved it. I'll remember that eat-and-sip for awhile. Happy, bright, perky food with depth that liked the drink. What more could you want in life? And a second bottle of Espiral Rosé Portugal wasn't too shabby here as well.

Cost: $10 for food, $30 for wine = $40

Tuesday: Hanger Steak, Potato Latkes and Tuscan Kale Salad with 2009 Villa Creek Granadina Paso Robles

Food Details: Hanger steak marinated in garlic, parsley, rosemary, evoo, balsamic and soy; seared medium-rare. Trader Joe's potato latkes with sour cream, and Tuscan kale salad (recipe, subbing parmesan).

Did We Like It? It's our standard beef and potatoes meal, and it's delicious (and different) every time. Great beef. Good to have hanger again. Feels like it's been months. These TJ's latkes are the best easy-starch complement to beefy meals on the planet. Don't wanna cook three things at once? We don't, especially in our cracker-box kitchen. Throw these in the oven. Done. They're delicious with a bit (or more than a bit) of sour cream. Eat your kale. Many kale recipes aren't that great. This one is. It makes you want/crave kale. Good meal made better by this wine:

How Was The Wine? A cabernet-mourvèdre blend that came in a wine club shipment from Villa Creek a few years ago, put on the shelf, and promptly forgotten. It has cab in it. 50%. It's not our...first choice. But here's lovely cab that lets the mourvèdre play as well. A true-blue blend where the combination elevates itself to something more. Happy red fruits mixing with black fruits, with a bit of leather and prickly brush in a medium-bodied "look how light I am!" expression. Very loose and malleable. Pleasant by itself, better with food:

And The Pairing? All mourvèdre with the latkes, and Frenchy-Bandol mourvèdre done well. Cabby with the beef, and good cab at that. It was cabernet that let the meat talk as well instead of the cab shouting over everybody. A mix of the two with the kale. Here's a versatile wine seemingly made for food, something we haven't seen in some of the previous Villa Creek wines we've had.

Cost: $19 for food, $40 for wine = $69 

Monday: Solomonov Hummus, Pita, Dolmas and Fattoush with NV Andrea Calek Blonde Ardèche

Source: Hummus here, pita here, fattoush here, Ottolenghi dolmas here.

Food Details: After eating Mr. Solomonov's hummus and pita at the Spiaggia pop-up last Tuesday, replicating it became a mission. The incredible texture of the hummus and perfect lightness of the pita are two things this house would like with the current versions of hummus and pita in our world somewhat lacking. The result, using the Vitamix and adding baking soda to the soaked chickpeas, was the identical texture we had at that dinner. It's so luscious, rather easy to make, and a big upgrade. Done. Found our hummus going forward. Pita in our world has been the same. Semiramis pita is nice. But we don't love our grocery store options. This recipe makes pita that taste better. They have that homemade quality in a good sense. Fattoush of romaine, tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, scallions, toasted naan, parsley, lemon juice-olive dressing, homemade za'atar (fresh marjoram was key) mixed in. Nice dolmas (Mr. Ottolenghi) in that we liked the fact we could taste every ingredient, but don't know if we'd do it again. Dill-yogurt to dip.

Did We Like It? Yep. Tons to like. Tons! We found a great hummus recipe (though I still think there's the perfect hummus out there that I haven't had), very serviceable pita that I could work on, nailing down the process, making it quicker and getting the perfectly spare and fluffy insides. Oddly great fattoush; the za'atar was lovely. Dolmas that offered a meatiness that the meal needed. We loved this and it wasn't too annoying to make. Pokey time in the kitchen for about three hours for me.

How Was The Wine? Chenin Blanc (particularly Saumur) and hummus love each other. But a bottle of Broc Cellars Chenin Blanc was corked. Moved on to our last bottle of Calek Blonde, a chardonnay-viognier natural wine with a slight bubble to it (other two drinkings here). Overall impression of a spring breeze with apple-fennel upfront and slight brushy herbs underneath, with a pleasing acidity. Really nice bounce to its personality. This last bottle has been around for awhile. No deterioration in the least. Has the same pleasure as biting into a chilled, juicy apple.

And The Pairing? No complaints at all. The wine loved the fattoush, picking up on the marjoram and spices in the za'atar and running with it. Wasn't a transcendent pairing, but the fact that this wine was already chilled after the corkage of the Broc, and how well it slid into the food and played nice...happy people.  

Cost: $20 for food, $30 for wine = $50

Thursday, October 15, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #14

An exceptional dinner on a spur-of-the-moment decision at Spiagga Café for the Michael Solomonov pop-up dinner on Tuesday.

Inevitably, after eating so much of Yotam Ottolenghi food lately, a comparison is going to be made, which is unfair, but happened. We enjoyed the snot out of the food, and will be making his hummus and pita, two items that need improvement in our food world.

It was very Good food. It maybe didn't dig into our soul.

Close, though.

Total food and wine cost for the week: $272 for food and $74 for wine = $346

Sunday: Sausage, Zucchini, Tomato and Cream Cheese Surprise with 2014 Alloy Wine Works Grenache Rosé Central Coast

Source: Based on a recipe from Mexican, by Jane Milton (page 186), with the addition of green chorizo, from Melissa Clark in NYT Cooking.

Food Details: "Zucchini Goop" by another name. Cook your chorizo. Remove from pan, and then brown two sliced onions. Add garlic and four [previously salted and rinsed] sliced-into-sticks zucchini, sautée some more. Add half-pint of halved cherry tomatoes and sliced pickled serranos; sauté briefly. Dump in chorizo, warm through. Turn off burner, add half a block of cubed cream cheese to melt in residual heat. Fresh oregano, dill and parmesan. Buy everything at Harvestime so total cost for all this is $6. Plus a $5 loaf of Whole Foods Ancient Grains bread. What more do you ask of life?

Did We Like It? It's our new favorite Sunday supper. Bready, porky, touch spicy, vegetabley, happy as all-get out.

How Was The Wine? Our favorite rosé this year was a dud with harissa goat leg on Monday. So we dumped both cans in a wine bottle and left it in the fridge. Here, since the wine in the bottle was all the way up to the neck, it lost virtually nothing in vim and vigor. Guava and strawberry wrapped inside perky, sunny acid. A fun drinker. Big fans.

And The Pairing? Can't ask for more. Best pairing of the week. Toss some goop on the best bread ever, eat it. Take a sip. Know that my week is over and Mrs. Ney's is almost over.

Cost: $11 for food, $14 for wine = $25 

Saturday: Chicken Milanese with 2014 Estancia Pinot Grigio California

Source: Recipe here. Make it, eat it, and you'll make it 200 more times throughout the course of your life. It's that good.

Food Details: Chicken breasts, breaded. Quick-pickle onions. Pecorino-nut-herb dry gremolata-ish goodness. Arugula. Mini-ciabatta, buttered.

Did We Like It? Yep. Always. Decent batch this night.

How Was The Wine? I tried it before dinner and sorta hated it. But with food, pretty lemongrass and lime, with a creamy peachy note and the upper-end of medium acid. Quite nice for $10.

And the Pairing? Good cut with the wine. Made us want to keep going back. The Milanese recipe goes with a lot of white wines that bring an acid-first personality, follows with graceful flavors that taper off rather quick-like, and then bring a gaseous, mineral finish and more acid refreshment. Bring some snap and you'll be happy. We were here.

Cost: $10 for food, $10 for wine = $20

Friday: Husk Cheeseburgers and Oven Fries

Food Details: Leftover Husk Cheeseburgers from here (Sean Brock's Heritage cookbook, page 131). American cheese, mustard-pickle sauce, brioche buns. Oven fries, from this NYT Cooking recipe, via Martha Rose Shulman, using leftover russet potatoes.

Did We Like It? Big shipment of meats coming from D'Artagnan soon so we have to clean out the freezer. Single-stack here with surprisingly delicious oven fries. Burgers = always great (better fresh, of course, but still quite good), and easy oven-baked fries that we'll be making again; crisp-ish, then creamy. Happy Meal for adults. And Happy Meal.

No Wine.

Cost: $8 for food.

Thursday: Potato Pie and Herb Salad with 2013 Sainte Céline Chablis

Source: Savory Potato Tart recipe, via NYT Cooking (Tanis)

Food Details: Thinly sliced potatoes mixed with leeks, crème fraiche, garlic, thyme, nutmeg, s & p. Placed in a pie crust, topped with more crust like a pie. Baked. Herb salad on the side.

Did We Like It? Easy French bistro food at its best. It's a house favorite, last had in July, when it was stupid-great with a Chablis we forgot we had. It's about the goop in this one. Deliciously savory, expanding in your mouth (giggity) so beautifully. This batch was a touch salty, but it didn't detract.

How Was The Wine? Trader Joe's cheap Chablis. Both of us didn't get much here. Right and proper entry and finish, just not much in the way of excitement, presence or energy.

And The Pairing? See above. Nothing went pear-shaped; there just wasn't much in the way of linkage or interest.

Cost: $8 for food, $13 for wine = $21

Wednesday: Venison and Bread Sauce with 2014 Domaine de Fenouillet Vin de Pays du Vaucluse

Source: Venison in bread sauce recipe, via Lucky Peach

Food Details: Venison (FREE from a co-worker) braised in red wine, orange juice, apple and marjoram. Bread sauce made with sour cream and almond milk instead of milk. Arugula salad with pomegranate seeds to finish.

Did We Like It? Nice one-off. We had free venison, Lucky Peach is a great source, and we've never had bread sauce, which sounds a touch odd but simply brought a mashed potato quality in a different form. Nice bready essence. We don't love venison (I grew up on rather boring deer meat), we have free venison, and now we've had our every-three-years venison.

How Was The Wine? For a wine we put in the fridge last week (with a preserve disk), this had all the stuff you'd want from a cheap Côtes du Rhône without the bad. Not too shabby. Nice brush, dry fruit, good length, pleasing finish. Happy. Typical of Vaucluse. If you can't decide between two CdR and Vaucluse is one of them, go with Vaucluse.

And The Pairing? Good enough for a meal Mrs. Ney wasn't even sure we'd eat. "Might be getting a chicken!" came from the kitchen. That's a sign that she's leery of ALL OF IT.

Cost: $5 for food, $10 for wine = $15

Tuesday: Michael Solomonov Dinner at Spiaggia Café

Michael Solomonov, Philly chef, of Zahav, Federal Donuts and Percy Street BBQ, held a pop-up dinner at Spiaggia Café. I heard about it on Twitter through Tony Mantuano, and I've always been interested in going to Zahav in Philadelphia. We made a quick decision to go. Glad we did. It was a great time.

Cost: A huge bargain for this kind of thing: $200 for both of us.

Monday: Harissa Goat Leg and charred onion-tomato over labneh with 2011 Three Wine Co. Mataro Contra Costa

Source: Goat leg (a Molly Stevens recipe). Charred onions over labneh (a Melissa Clark recipe).

Food Details: An altered version of lamb and charred onion with labneh from last Tuesday, a meal we flipped for and wanted to eat again NOW. Goat leg, slathered with homemade harissa, roasted with tomatoes and onions (which took too long). Labneh on the plate, ripped goat next to it, the charred tomatoes and onions from the roast on top of the labneh, pita on the side.

Did We Like It? It missed. Maybe we ate it too soon after first having it, but we didn't find the sweetness from the tomatoes, which permeated the entire meal, to be satisfying. It didn't allow for any gaps and pauses, any enjoyment of the char and the oniony goodness, any love of the interplay between the char and labneh coolness. Everything was just sweet.

How Was The Wine? We abandoned the Field Recordings Grenache Rosé in a can quickly, as "we were gettin' nothin'!" Moved on to the Three Wine Co. Mourvèdre and found some delicious violet, plum and charred meat notes, all in a medium-bodied package. This wine is lovely. Loved it last year, liked it here.

And The Pairing? The meal was frustrating. Tasty, but frustrating. The goat took too long, the sweetness was overwhelming, we had to abandon our favorite rosé of the year. In the end, we have some nice food and a happy wine that brought something to the food, but little in the way of total satisfaction due to all of the above.

Cost: $30 for food, $27 for wine = $57