Tuesday, July 28, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #3

Vietnamese brioche sandwiches from La Patisserie is a freakin' game-changer.

Why it took us so long to get to this beautiful place is a mystery to me, particularly when it's about eight blocks away and you can buy ten sandwiches that have the diameter of a softball for about $12.

Ham and cheese, curry chicken, curry beef, chicken pot pie, bbq pork for this order.

Buy them, make a salad, pop a sparkler (Luis Pato this time), and poof! Great Monday Lunch.

Thursday: Chicken, Tzatziki, Kumatoes, Arugula and pita with 2014 João Portugal Ramos Lima Loureiro Vinho Verde

Food Details: Harvesttime roasted chicken, homemade tzatziki, salt and peppered kumatoes, arugula and pita. Open a pita, throw all the stuff above inside the pocket and go to town.

Did We Like It? Yes. It's pick-n-choose with a Greek bent. Well, not so much pick-n-choose. We used everything for each bite. More of an easy-peasy dinner. No cooking. Just whip up a tzatziki, slice some sort of tomatoes, dress some arugula, put it all on a plate and eat it. Feast. Good batch. Harvesttime chicken was lacking in skin-glaze goodness, though.

How Was The Wine? It's $7 at Binny's. Lightly fruity, lightly floral, happy acid, cheap as hell. Loureiro is delicious. We like it. We've had some fancy ones, but this is the loureiro we drink the most...by far. Mostly because it has all the loureiro goods for $7.

And The Pairing? Good enough. All the basic elements were there. Lift, nuance, snap, pause. Nothing superlative. Just nice.

Cost: $11 for food, $7 for wine = $18  

Wednesday: Moroccan Goat Meatballs, Farro And Barley with 2013 Broc Cellars Carignan Alexander Valley

Source: Recipe for Moroccan meatballs here, via Leite's Culinara. We use a lot of Mr. Leite's recipes, because he likes food. Mrs. Ney used the recipe as a guide. Alterations: ground goat meat, buttermilk/butter instead of crème fraîche, shallot and parsley instead of cilantro, manzano pepper instead of cayenne, orange juice instead of lemon, and used one 14 oz. can of tomatoes to beef/juice it up.  And the big one: farro/barley pilaf instead of rice, with the addition of dried apricots, almonds and scallions.

Food Details: See above and see the picture to the right. Arugula salad to finish.

Did We Like It? Mrs. Ney didn't want it/didn't want to make it. And it turned into such a pretty, bright, spicy, slow North African dinner with flavors we love bouncing around all over the place. This capped off a pretty great food and wine weekend (see below). On the wine...

How Was The Wine? Broc being Broc. We want everything they make. And are working to make that happen. They make nero d'Avola? Sparkling cabernet franc? Valdiguié in multiple forms? I. Want. All of it. Loved the 2012. The 2013 is less floral, more concentrated red fruit - smoked dark raspberries here - with a beautifully angled slender body, great lift and a spicy finish. All with a background feeling of walking through a garden set right on the ocean. Clean, herby, and cool. Vacillates so nicely between being svelte/tender and showing an attitude/having a chip on its shoulder.  Tailed off a touch after 1.5 hours, but it's delicious. We need more very soon.

And The Pairing? LOVES. GOAT. It's perfect. Goat and this wine play in the same weight region, with both able to pick up what's happening around it and take everything to a better place. And I'm beginning to think Broc just makes their reds to like Middle Eastern-inflected goat. The valdiguié loved goat-stuffed artichokes last November. Their style and light Middle Eastern flavors... Gee whiz, that's good. Big surprise dinner here with a wine that really loved the food.

Cost: $12 for food, $29 for wine = $41                     

Tuesday: Tuna Niçoise with NV Pommery Rosé "Brut Aganage" Champagne

Food Details: Niçoise salad of A's do Mar oil-cured tuna, grape tomatoes, baby potatoes, onions, green beans, Niçoise olives, capers and one hard-boiled egg for me with a dressing of tarragon, dijon, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, white balsamic, salt and pepper, all over arugula. It's a heaping mound of healthy, delicious goodness. Whole Foods ancient grains bread with butter to round it out.

Did We Like It? Oh, my, yes. Not the greatest version of Niçoise we've had, but that's like saying that playoff win wasn't the best playoff win your favorite team has won. Still a playoff win. Who cares? It's a win in the playoffs. And using this oil-cured tuna instead of cooking up some rare tuna from Whole Foods cuts the cost of this meal by about $18, with virtually no loss in quality, because we just want the vegetable bounty anyway. We'll get our rare tuna experience from Szechuan peppercorn-crusted tuna at some point. It's better.

How Was The Wine? Champagne Rosé, nearly half-off at Binny's (down to $50 from $90), and quite good. Plums, blood orange, figs, dry as all get-out, rolly bubbles, nice gas. A damn good Champagne rosé that was clean and moderately complex. Never would have guessed this was 60% chardonnay. Red grapes at the fore, with pinot noir serving as the guider and meunier bringing the interesting weirdness. Nothing wildly extravagant or great here, just Champagne rosé done well. And nice to have it again. Been awhile for us. And we want it by the bucket now.

And The Pairing? Niçoise and rosé, in any form, brings the love. No exception here. Wasn't "slap-my-face" great together, with flavors bouncing off the walls, but we had zero complaints.

Cost: $25 for food, $50 for wine = $75

Monday: Marinated Hanger Steak, Cold Sesame Noodles and Cucumber Salad with 2000 Clos Fourtet Saint-Émilion

Source: The Silver Palate Cookbook and The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. It's a thowback dinner! A remake of the first "fancy" meal Mrs. Ney made a month after we moved in together 13 years ago.

Food Details: Hanger steak marinated in olive oil and homemade yakitori sauce from the freezer, basted in the same sauce. Cold sesame noodles from SPC (page 79), using 1/4 of the mayo the recipe calls for. Nobody needs two cups of mayo in their noodles. Cucumber salad with Asian flavors, from NYT Cooking, placed on top of the noodles. Carrot-garlic-ginger topping for the steak, from SPGTC (page 275). The result tasted like a well-done time warp back to 2002, then back to 1978. We loved it. Made us think, "Okay, they weren't stupid eaters back in 1978. They made good food, representative of a region, with what was available." Growing up in Iowa, eating a lot of meatloaf and pot roast, sometimes I forget that might have been true for the rest of the country.

How Was The Wine? Stupid-great, silly-good! We have a boatload of Bordeaux that has to be drunk quite soon. This begins that journey. One-hour decant. We were surprised how Old-Old World it was, and French specifically. No compromises here, very Frenchy-French from a great year in Bordeaux. Blackberry liqueur on the nose to start, turning into something like walking through a well-kept old house. We could smell the years. Not dusty, really. Just old. As if you can smell the attic. Nice flowers. Ripe-ish fruit, full-bodied, but never a bully. A bit of Jack Daniels at times. Happy length, fine tannin perking up on the finish, nice acid. This was big, and texturally a touch more flamboyant than we typically drink, but golly, we loved it. Had those pauses and breaks that allowed us to think about it for a bit instead of being bombarded with a bombastic, bellicose, belligerent nature that comes from so many aggressive fruit bombs. A 15-year-old Right Banker, from the house that originally got us into Bordeaux, and it's simply great right now. Could have waited on this one, didn't, and loved it. Real presence.

And The Pairing? That's probably what made us love the wine even more. Slipped right into this food that came off Asian only in a Silver Palate sense ("Apparently cilantro didn't exist in the 70's"). Held its ground beautifully. Different with each bite while maintaining its core goodness so nicely. Big winner here.

Cost: $18 for food, $65 for wine = $83      

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #2

It continues...

El Carrito, on Peterson and Lincoln, makes solid Mexican street food tacos that don't skimp on ingredients and are priced right. Two steak tacos and a southwest salad for $7? 


My bi-monthly drive right by that intersection makes it an option.

And...creepy clown alert! A bit close to home.

Total food and wine cost for the week: $92 for food and $118 for wine = $210

Sunday: Pick-n-Choose Meat, Cheese and Bread with NV Elvio Tintero Grangia Favorita Blend 

Food Details: Speck, salami, provola, arugula, Provençal mustard, and baguette. Pick and choose your combination of food-types on the plate to put together for each bite and go to town.

Did We Like It? Yep. It's a long, meandering meal perfect for Sunday night (the end of my week, second-to-last for Mrs. Ney). No cooking. Just throw a bunch of stuff on the plate, dress your arugula, cut your baguette, pour the wine, eat and enjoy.

How Was The Wine? Might be my new favorite cheap white. Piedmontese favorita blend (50% Favorita, 25% Moscato, 20% Arneis and 5% Chardonnay) that's light (11.5%), ever-so-slightly fizzy, lightly sweet, and deliciously mouthwatering. And it's $10! Great gaps and pauses here that extend it out nicely. Tastes like walking through an orchard on a surprisingly chilly morning.

And The Pairing? Quite good. Mustard messed with it on occasion, but the salty cured meats and this wine really like each other.

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

Saturday: Southern Chicken Sandwiches with 2013 Charles Smith VINO Pinot Grigio Columbia

Food Details: Breaded Southern-style chicken breast sandwiches with pickles, mayo, kumatoes, onions and lettuce on pretzel buns. Olive oil chips. Sandwiches and chips.

Did We Like It? Oh, my, yes. For me, after a crappy work shift clouded by the general annoyance of watching people chew for a living, coming home to jazzed-up, sunny, picnic food wiped the slate clean.

How Was The Wine? We don't like pinot grigio, but we like THIS pinot grigio. Its 2013-ness makes for a wine that's losing some of its distinction, sparkle and polish, but the acid and citrus blossom notes are hanging on enough to 'bring the happy.' We'll be buying this one until Mr. Smith stops making this one. It's $13.

How Was The Pairing? Good. Enough. After two days of terrible wine, The wine's quality was more than welcome. The pickles messed with its segues a bit for me.

Cost: $12 for food, $13 for wine = $25  

Thursday and Friday

Wifey worky pool party on Friday. She ate food there, with jug Aldi Lambrusco, probably. It's fruity and tastes like the 80's in not a bad way. Or when you go to someone else's church service that's much more wealthy than your church, take communion, and realize that even their 'blood of Christ' is more fancy. I ate work pizza and drank a glass of chilled gamay from Thursday. Still...not good. Bit like chilled wood polish.

Meatloaf and potato salad on Thursday. Opened a bottle of wine that's been sitting around the house, WELL past its drinking window, the 2009 Gilles Bonnefoy Côtes de Forez Gamay, and it was just that. Good stuff a little over a year ago. Not so much now. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Cost: $8 for food, $12 for wine = $19

Wednesday: Fried Haloumi, Yellow Beet Salad with Walnut Gremolata and Garlic Bread with 2013 Palmina Sparkling Malvasia Bianca Larner Vineyard SBC

Source: Beet salad recipe straight from Palmina's website for malvasia pairing (this beet salad is a house fav)

Food Details: Yellow beets, roasted. Slathered with a walnut, garlic, lemon-orange zest and juice and anchovy blend. Put on top of arugula. Haloumi fried off in mini cast-iron with parsley and olive oil. Jamie Oliver garlic bread. Rip, cut, dip, eat.

Did We Like It? Always. The beet salad is a 3x a year thing. It's stupid-great and stupid-easy. Fried haloumi, same. Who doesn't want fried Greek-Cypriot cheese? It's delicious even after it gets a bit waxy. Plenty of bread to do as you do. Arugula to keep it lifty. Complete and satisfying meal.

How Was The Wine? The star. Loved it. More fresh on New Year's Eve, but we liked it better here, as its malvasia-y floral notes became FLORAL notes! Apricot blossoms to start with oodles of dying white flowers backing it up. Bubbles just barely hanging on, but I got something akin to a great Cava-like mineral finish occasionally. Turned into a delicate sour-bitter beer about halfway through and we loved it. Nutmegged pear fruit in the background throughout. It was like a Haruki Murakami novel. It took about two minutes to realize that this was going to go to deliciously odd places and we're going to love it.          

And The Pairing? So great with the beets. Less so with the haloumi but still happy. A leisurely meal with loveliness at every turn.

Cost: $15 for food, $36 for wine = $51

Tuesday: Uzbek Lamb Plov and Kumato/Onion/Arugula Salad with 2010 Abacela Tempranillo Umpqua Valley

Source: Recipe here, via Cucee Sprouts

Food Details: Lamb, chickpeas, carrots, barberries, garlic, cumin, tumeric, basmati rice. A one-pot meal that's considered the national dish of Uzbekistan. And boy, does it have people that are passionate about the assemblage of it, right down to the carrot cutting. I heart the tyranny of the authenticity brigade. Recipe followed to the letter, but left out the raisins and used barberries fished out of the torshi seer. Kumato, onion and arugula salad to finish.

Did We Like It? The result was a delicious, savory, light, homey, country, lamb and rice dish that both of us utterly loved. And will be having again. Probably soon. Very easy to make. The kumato salad rounded out of perfectly great meal. We're beginning to think we gravitate more towards land-based Mediterranean-Middle Eastern food instead of something more sea-based. Gets into our bones more.      

How Was The Wine? Tempranillo from southern Oregon's Umpqua Valley. Abacela has two, one for aging and this one. Happy, round, fresh dark cherries, getting plummy later. Smooth texture, medium length, nice acid keeping everything lifty, enough tannin to keep everything in place.

And The Pairing? The wine served as a pleasant supporting actor to the star on the plate. Missed that third-level, Spanishy, Ribera, lamb-and-tempranillo complete greatness, but got kinda close. Liked it.

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

Monday: Nando's Peri-Peri in Lakeview

Food Details: Full chicken platter for two, fries and mashed peas. Chicken slathered in peri-peri, heaping mound of fries with peri-peri mayo for dipping, mashed peas with mint parsley and chili. Open on Monday and straight-through from lunch to dinner, if we want spicy chicken and fries and don't want to make spicy chicken and fries, Nando's does it well. At 3pm, because we're old.

Did We Like It? Like other souped-up, fast-casual places out there, it's just good enough to say "this will work and it's cheap enough to justify the expense." There's some flavor, preservative or otherwise, that all of the Shake Shacks, Five Guys, even Urban Bellys of the world uses that make it taste quite somewhat similar. There's something there we can't quite pinpoint. And all of this can be made at home at 1/2 the price, but no kitchen time + no dishes = why not, once or twice a year. $15 more and we'd make it at home, but it's not. Amsterdam Falafel still reigns in the fast-casual category, though. That's The Stuff.

How Was The Wine? the 2013 Cara Viva Lisbon Branco is probably a wine made specifically for Nando's. Zippy, easy, with enough guts to stand up to the hot sauce. No complaints at all. Tasted like Portugal in nice ways. They probably pay $3 a bottle for it and charge $17 but who cares?

And The pairing? Refreshing. It helped in the overall impression of the meal.

Cost: $32 for food, $17 for wine = $50

Thursday, July 16, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #1

Let's mix it up. 

We're going to track every meal and wine pairing for one year: the contents, source, success, lessons, and the cost. 

Each post will be one week's worth of meals, from Monday to Sunday, and added to as we eat-and-drink it. 

Monday through Wednesday is our weekend and Thursday through Sunday is our workweek.

Week #1, so far, has had a "nostalgia food" feel to it.

Total Food and Wine Cost for the Week: $83 for food and $130 for wine = $206

Sunday: Edwardo's Pizza with 2012 Trader Joe's Barbera Mendocino

Food Details: Strack & Van Til-bought Edwardo's Chicago-style spinach pizzas, topped with rosemary onions to up the quality here. They were the best part of these pizzas that won't be eaten again. Not our bag. Malnati's is better and it's not even close. We do the Chicago-style business a couple times a year and we'll stick to Lou.  

Did we like it? Edible, filled a hole.

How was the wine? Typically good with Chicago-style pizza, the barbera was nothing more than present. Better than the wine we originally opened, a bottle of 2011 Luis Pato Beira Atlântico Colheita Seleccionada Baga-Touriga Nacional (hence the addition of rosemary onions), which tasted like Christmas coffee cake gone wrong, then a LEAN cab after a quick aeration. In the fridge. We'll check it.

And the pairing? Food was on the table. Wine was in the glass. That's it.

Cost: $13 for food and $23 ($13 - Luis Pato) for wine = $36

Saturday: Smoked Turkey, Ricotta and Asparagus Naan Pizzas with 2013 Berger Grüner Veltliner

Food Details: Trader Joe's Naan, topped with smoked turkey, ricotta blended with cream cheese and basil oil, asparagus, corn, onion and pepper jack cheese, baked until everything was melty and warm, with a handful of arugula on top of each afterwards.

Did we like it? Yes. Had to use up some ricotta so dinner turned into this. And it made ten naan pizzas for just the two of us, so lunches over the next couple of days are covered. Arugula on top completed it.

How was the wine? The one-liter Berger is a fantastic deal. Basic, everyday grüner done well. Its 2013-ness here made for a less shiny and sparkly grüner but a basic goodness was present...enough.

And the pairing? Fine. The primary-tertiary flavors were fading but the acid was still there. Asparagus is a pairing asshole, particularly for the weekday, "nothing too spendy" wine realm. Grüner can get close.

Cost: $13 for food and $13 for wine = $26

Friday: Turkish-style Braised Green Beans, Meatballs and Bread with 2012 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil

Source: Recipe here, from John Willoughby, via NYT Cooking

Food Details: Turkish-style braised green beans is the star here, with a dollop of yogurt, spritz of lemon on top. Freezer meatballs (have no idea what meal they were originally from). Whole Foods freshly baked wheat bread loaf with a underdone, doughy center. Used the non-doughy edges. Take some bread, top it with the beany-yogurt mixture and a bit of meatball, eat, pause, think about it, and enjoy the goodness. In the same sort of family as Turkish beany surprise (which is sorta like Egyptian ful), swapping out borlotti beans for green beans.

Did we like it? Remember when you ate meatloaf and green beans growing up? Remember when some of soupy juice off the meatloaf and green beans began to mix together? Not great, right? Here, it's fancy-ass delicious soup that has eight different flavors bouncing around in your mouth, all playing off each other.

How was the wine? This is the abandoned Bourgueil cabernet franc from Monday. We put in the fridge and served it chilled. It's nice when abandoned wine can be salvaged into something useful. Four days open and chilled turned it into a twiggy, raspberry chocolate truffle that was dropped in dirt. Rather delicious.

How was the pairing? Happy. They liked each other. Made better by the fact that the wine wasn't a total write-off.

Cost: $7 for food, $17 for wine = $24  

Thursday: Chicken, Kumatoes, Herb Salad, Ciabatta & Cilantro Mayo with NV Grifone Bianco Sicily

Food Details: Strack & Van Til BBQ-flavored rotisserie chicken, kumatoes (salt and peppered), TJ's herb salad dressed with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper, TJ's mini-ciabatta buns and cilantro mayo from Wednesday's cheeseburger tacos. Put all of it on a plate, rip your ciabatta, assemble into open-faced mini-sandwiches with all of the ingredients, eat and enjoy. It's a house staple, pick-and-choose meal when Mrs. Ney doesn't want to cook or spend any time in our tiny-ass kitchen. It's delicious every freakin' time.

Did we like it? Always. The Strack & Van Til chicken wasn't BBQ-y in the least. First time for this chicken. Wouldn't do it again. Mariano's chicken and whatever glaze they put on it is oodles better.

How was the wine? It's a $5 Trader Joe's riesling/moscato blend from Sicily. Boring on its own, we happened upon this stupid-great pairing about a year ago. It goes from borderline insipid without food to this wispy, light, balanced, refreshing $5 quaffer with THIS food.

And the pairing? Not as delicious as with the Mariano's glaze, but it mimicked that with enough completeness to satisfy.

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

Wednesday: Stupak's Cheeseburger Tacos with NV Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot 61

Source: recipe from Alex Stupak, via Lucky Peach

Food Details: Goopy meat and chihuahua cheese cooked in lard (added onions). Flour tortillas, salsa roja, cilantro mayo, avocados, tomatoes and limes. Bagged curly fries with more cilantro mayo for dipping. Assembled and went to town.

Did we like it? the first two were rather spectacular - nostalgic, fresh, fatty, early 80's family reunion-y with my brother playing Jethro Tull on the banjo - but it suffered from a sameness and diminishing returns. Mrs. Ney would make it again. In a year. Maybe.

How was the wine? Marietta Cellars Lot 61, at $11, proves California can make table wine very well (Jon Bonné's interview with Levi Dalton three years ago discusses this - good listen). This drinking, it was more dirt, meat char, balsamic strawberries and spice, showing more of its zin-based heft and less brightness this time. Always delicious and a house favorite.

And the pairing? Good. Fine. Nice. Nothing wrong here. Picnic goodness, but few surprises.

Cost: $12 for food and $11 for wine = $23

Tuesday: Waxman Spring Gnocchi with 2013 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Blanc

Source: recipe from Jonathan Waxman, via Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking

Food Details: Homemade gnocchi, using Caputo pasta flour. Frozen peas and fava beans. Grape tomatoes and freezer celery pesto. Topped with parmesan, parsley and mint.

Did we like it? Yes. Needed soft food due to Mrs. Ney's dental cleaning. Tasted a bit out of season (and frozen is a nice substitute, but not ideal), but the gnocchi were light and delicious, and everything was cooked well. DO NOT make gnocchi ahead of time and layer them with wax paper! Lesson learned. And salt your pasta water, idiot.

How was the wine? Perfection. Hot damn, Vacheron makes a delicious sauvignon blanc. Lemongrass and smoky lemon/lime peel. Darker minerals galore. Great balance, weight, pauses and length. It's Sancerre without the moodiness. Less of a unwelcome cloudy day, more of a springtime sunny breeze.

And the pairing? The wine ruled the day, boosting the springtime-veggie-in-the-dead-of-summer meal to a better place.

Cost: $8 for food and $30 for wine = $38

Monday: Lamb Skewers, Potatoes and Green Beans with 2011 Jonata The Paring Red Blend

Source: For lamb marinade, go here (under Greek grilled chicken). Standard Greek meat marinade for this house.

Food Details: Paulina lamb skewers, marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, onion, parsley, oregano and garlic, oven roasted Yukon Gold potatoes with paprika-garlic oil drizzled on top, sautéed green beans.

Did we like it? Yes. Happy, Greek/Spanish meat and potatoes meal.

How was the wine? We didn't go Spanish or Portuguese here. Didn't crave it. Started with the 2012 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil and abandoned quickly. No presence, watery finish. Not the first time with that one. Popped the Jonata The Paring cabernet-centric blend (40%, with merlot, cab franc, sangiovese, petit verdot and syrah in there). This one is cabernet without screaming it. Fresh, figgy, cinnamon, touch of coffee. Round, dark, pretty edges, very nice.

And the pairing? Head and shoulders above the Bourgueil. It loved the potatoes and saddled up to the lamb quite happily.

Cost: $18 for food and $24 for the wine = $42

Inter Alia:

* Christina Tosi's Birthday Cake is A Thing. Recipe here, via MilkBar Store (where it's $48 if you simply want to buy it).

Altered a bit. We had 8" pans, so Mrs. Ney used those. More simple to make than a cursory reading of the recipe would suggest. And the Crisco in the recipe makes it like crack. Can't stop eating it! It tastes like every birthday cake you had growing up jammed together, then drizzled with delicious fat in the form of a frosting-like crumble. It's over the top, but not offensively in the least.

* Decent batch of the best chocolate chip cookies recipe on the planet, from Saveur. Used white sugar this time. Liked it.

* The 2014 Laurent Miquel Pere et Fils Cinsault Syrah Rosé ($10 - Lush), paired with homemade margherita pizza and a bianca with tomatoes and arugula, was light and fresh, but forgettable. Wouldn't buy again. Very good margherita and boring, overcrowded-with-cheese bianca. Worst dough experience yet, though. Loads of cursing. Don't use homemade dough made three months ago and then frozen. Lesson learned. Good dough recipe (looking for it...) with a great salt level. Almost pretzel-like. Better than ATK. And we lost the pizza stone. Cracked in the oven.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Food: A Recipe

Mrs. Ney's step-by-step guide to The Delicious:

Do you want to serve an excellent meal that ticks every box, but isn't fussypants?  Here's what you do.  Since last week you've been wondering what to do with that ridiculous amount of pickled fennel you made for god-knows-what reason:  that's now the lumpy ingredient in the tzatziki you've been craving ever since Purple Pig was mentioned.  You didn't want Purple Pig, you wanted tzatziki.  And dinner grows from this craving.

Paulina Meats sells a very nice lamb-based gyro sausage.  It's lamb, but it's also sausage.  Which means 8 minutes of virtually mindless cooking time.  Buy one sausage for each person @$2.5/.  You may think it's not enough:  it is.

Whole Foods and Mariano's sell baby greens, locally- and hydroponically- grown.  They're delicious.  Buy one container for every two people @$5/.

You'll need fresh oregano and mint.  $2 at Mariano's or $3 at Whole Foods.  One onion and fresno pepper per person, too.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Begins

Summer, in our house, tends to be a high-low concept. One ridiculously great meal a week surrounded by an easy-peasy, greatest hits-style collection of dinners. Along with a fair amount of grilled food without the grill, some boozy sangrias, more cocktails, and tons of freshness.

So, no ribeye and vanilla mashed potatoes with Bordeaux for us. We want to light, perky and fun, not brooding and self-serious.

This weekend illustrates that point.

Got a cucumber, some tomatoes, and leftover pita floating around? Make fattoush for lunch. Grab some arugula, a bell pepper, a lil sumac, some mint, lemon juice, olive oil. Use those radishes that have been sitting in the  crisper for a bit. Maybe the chervil you bought for a very specific purpose and only used a tiny amount. It's an open book. Cut everything up, toast up that pita, toss it all together. Make it big because this is starting off your weekend. It shouldn't be a salad, with all that entails. It should be a SALAD, like a Seinfeldian "Big Salad" (Julia-Louis Dreyfus on CCGC this week). Drink fridge wine with it, like a 2014 Charles Smith VINO Rosé Wahluke Slope ($10 - Whole Foods), a 100% sangiovese from Washington. It's friendly and fresh, if not the lovely, distinct wonder that is Charles & Charles's syrah-based rosé from Columbia Valley. Maybe watch some 'Family Feud' or 'Cutthroat Kitchen.' Nothing heavy. That's a good lunch, and kicks off the weekend right.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Trip To D.C. And A Week's Worth Of Meals

A second mini-vacation to D.C. last week left us feeling like it might have been the easiest traveling experience we've ever had.

People say you should always travel to a new place, see new things. That's bunk. Some of the most superlative joys we've had traveling have been returning to a place we loved and expanding on the familiarity of it all. It makes the place feel like a tiny chunk of Home.

Some D.C. Notes: It's getting expensive. Things are inching up. ... Komi, the main reason we returned, continues to sit among the four places on our Mt. Rushmore of food (Extebarri, Ubuntu, El Trujal del Abuelo ???). Such friendly staff and spectacular food. Swapped out goat for lamb just for funsies this time. Very good lamb. Goat's better. ... DC is hot. God, it gets hot there. ... Red Hen does it right. Great wine program with oodles of natural wine and very good food to match. It's what Chicago wants, but blows it in the execution and price. ... The woman I sat next to on the flight there was pregnant. Do you know how I know? She told everyone around us 48 times. ... A return to 2 Amy's made for a great lunch, without the ass-sweatingly hot walk we made last time. The pizza quality is leaps and bounds better, with a near-perfect chewiness and lift. Sad not to see the Hipster Cuvée on the wine menu. That was delicious barbera. And the salty albariño is gone as well. Sad. But the Vesuvio (sparkling aspirinio and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice) is "super-super-super." Sammy, the child next to us was rather annoying. Do you know how I know his name? His mom said it 48 times. "Sammy. Sammy. Come here, Sammy." ...

On the one non-hot day of our stay, we weren't waiting in the hour (probably two-hour, because it was non-hot) line at Rose's Luxury. So more pizza, this time at Pizzeria Paradiso (from the Obelisk people), which made for a quality, cheap pizza dinner with cheap Lambrusco. Happy stuff. ... We haven't experienced much Uber surge pricing in Chicago. In DC, if there's a darkish cloud in the sky, it seems that 5X is rational and proper. ... On the new "sharing economy" or whatever the heck my 42-going-on-82-year-old brain won't ever call it, we had an entirely pleasant first AirBnB experience. Not too shabby. ... Amsterdam Falafel is our new favorite chain. What more does anyone need? Falafel, 12,000 topping options, and a crapload of fries with various sauces for dipping. It's perfect! ... If you're going to DC, why would anyone fly into Dulles? I'm asking. National (I won't call it Reagan) is right there and it's linked to the Metro. Everything is 20 minutes away! ... The town is getting so trendy that everyone is moving there, making for patently absurd traffic. ... The 9/11 Pentagon Memorial is quite a sight. Rather unforgettable, really. ... There's flights every hour or so from DCA ---> ORD during the day. Do you know how you get bumped up an hour if you arrive early to the airport? You ask. And it was free. ... Uber, I like you. But can you create a button that lets me opt out of hearing the driver's life story? ... Our TV in the condo we stayed at only had a few TV channels, so we knew every detail of the quadruple homicide investigation as it unfolded. Terrible. But the reporter on the scene changing his fedora to a new one every report was a bit much. And funny. ... Champagne on the roof with chips and guacamole left for us by the AirBnB owner (I hope)? Nice. ... Cava and dessert at Jaleo after a quick stop at the Arcteryx store (because I like nice things sometimes)? Also nice. ... Realizing that you can wake up on the coast, go to the airport, fly home, and be on your couch by noon is a little weird in the grand scheme of things...and VERY NICE.

Some Food Notes: Coming home to chicken panzanella and 2013 Berger Grüner Veltliner ($14 - Vin Chicago) is the Way. To. Go. ... And this Spanish salad of watercress and arugula with quince paste, manchego and almonds, served with cheap LaGranja Cava Brut ($8 - Trader Joe's) makes for an easy, Old School Spanish lunch that's quite friendly. ... But the two big winners of the week were Sean Brock burgers for Memorial Day and a Greek white wine. ... From Mr. Brock's Heritage, page 131, these are burgers with nostalgia woven through every freakin' bite. Tastes like Tasty-Freeze or Dairy Sweet burgers from my childhood. Double stack burgers with onions in between and cheese everywhere, zippy burger sauce and potato buns to round their perfection. Huge winners here. A bottle of 2010 Owen Roe Ex Umbris ($30 - Binny's), while solid and a favorite for backyard BBQ-y type stuff, didn't match the level of joy the burgers brought. Almost too savory (can't believe I just said that). Marietta Old Vine was the play. And half the price. ...

But big food-wine winner with the next dinner. Fried haloumi, skordalia, pita, and tomato-fennel salad with 2014 Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini ($22 - Binny's). House staple when it comes to the food. This meal has everything. Fried cheese, char, creamy potato goodness, cleanse and refresh from the salad. It's always good. And this 2014 from Sigalas is ALL minerals and acid in the best possible way. We loved the snot out of it. Great meal. ... You can't go wrong with Asian beef and some sort of fresh salad doused with chile peppers, lime juice and fish sauce. Ever. So Asian hanger steak (marinade) with carrot and red onion with spicy fish-sauce sauce (from this month's Lucky Peach, page 68) and rice. Halve the carrot and red onion in the recipe if for two people, but keep the same amount of herbs. Because herbs are good. And if you make crappy rice (which I did), just mix some extra herbs in and you're good to go. This was a hearty Asian beef meal that still was oddly clean and light. And all of it without rice vinegar or ginger, which was strange. To drink, rosé-watermelon-gin-triple sec-lemongrass-serrano-mint sangria. Just dump stuff in a container and see what happens. This was delicious.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Osso Buco and White Corn Grits with 2010 Raul Péréz El Pecado Ribeira Sacra

To the right is a picture of last night's meal before the pan juice (lamb shank marrow and drippings with garlic and anchovy) was dumped on top.

Which is key, because that pan juice...crap. That was good pan juice. Which doesn't take away from everything else delicious in this meal, like that line of gremolata in the middle (parsley, orange zest, mint, and peppadew peppers), which set off and brought in line so much of this meal.

Oh, and that lamb shank (D'Artagnan). Jeebus. That's a Thing. ... Okay. I have to stop talking like this. I just watched Inherent Vice. I think I'm still on a contact high.

Osso buco recipe from Mark Bittman, with the addition of rosemary and sage. White corn grits gussied up with pecorino. Roasted carrots that went from merely roasted carrots to pretty freakin' great carrots with the parsley-zest-mint-pepper business.

This was great meat, great grits, great everything that became more than the sum of its parts. Homey, but not too homey. Fancy, but not too fancy. It hit just the right balance.

And I swear this has happened before. We get a taste of Spanish wine and vacation plans dramatically change. The beginning dalliances with Barcelona are currently in the works. Because Spain is Spain. It feels like Home.

The wine that did it, the 2010 Raul Péréz El Pecado Ribeira Sacra ($88 - Spanish Table), smelled like the indescribable reason Spain is Spain. Evocative. Transportative. A mencia that will ruin us against all the other mencias out there. Floral, bright berries, blood orange, smoky wood, spice, with acid all over the place in such of pretty sense. This has plenty of life left, but it's perfect right now in our book. It kept changing with every sip, but was never scatter-brained, holding its personality while offering new insights and thoughts throughout the meal. This wine, among others, is why we like Spain so much, and why we keep going back. For some, it's Italy. For some, it's France. For us, it's Spain. And it has something to do with a confidence and 'space given.' Something like, "Here's me. Take it or leave it. I don't care. You fill in the rest. I have things to do." That's the best I have to explain it right now.

Very good food. Very good wine. Very good pairing. They really liked each other. Can't ask for more than that.      

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Step-By-Step Guide To A Great Food And Wine Week

A map to a week of flavors:

Day 1: Make David Leite's Portuguese orange-olive oil cake. Because it's the best snacking cake on the planet. Breakfast, mid-afternoon, after dinner. It covers all your snacking cake needs for the week. DO NOT eat it the day you make it. This is best after a day or two or three. Soak five pinches of fenugreek seeds in water overnight.

Day 2: Drain fenugreek seeds and toss in the processor with garlic, cilantro, salt, green chile, lemon to make a paste. Forget to take out the seeds from from the chile. Enjoy the mouth burn. Set aside.

Glaze some marcona almonds that have to be eaten and roast them off for Day 3 vadouvan-bee pollen pork with beet-pickled rhubarb salad and griddle cakes. Wonder if they will come off remotely resembling Ubuntu's vadouvan almonds circa August 2011.  Nope, but still delicious.

Begin Afghani leek-scallion fry bread recipe. Roast some leeks, chop some scallions, set aside. Make the dough. Knead for 10 minutes. Think this is quite relaxing for eight minutes. Get sick of it. Ruminate about how impatient you are in life. Let sit (the dough and the rumination). Dump your fenugreek paste into a bowl with a 1/2 lb. of shrimp that's been in your freezer for weeks.

Make a fry bread dipping sauce of honey-lime-cilantro-garlic-walnuts. Taste it. Like it. Set aside.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Galician Tuna Empanada With 2012 Forlorn Hope Que Saudade

Savory pie and salad. It's a house favorite.

Here's a great version, brought to the world by Anya von Bremzen from her cookbook The New Spanish Table. When Ms. von Bremzen tells you how to make a dish, that's how you make it. Don't be dubious or "creative." She knows more. Make it once, see how you like it, and THEN maybe think of different fillings you might use.

Saffron dough. Filling of tuna, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, paprika, you see the recipe link. Make the dough, sauté up the filling, compile it into sheet pan pie and place in oven. Not super-easy, not super-hard in the least, just takes some time. Just don't make mahmoul and ham balls at the same time. It leads to a feeling of a kitchen prison from which you seemingly will never escape.

We loved the snot out of this. Just went crazy for it. The tuna got lost just a wee bit, but all the other "stuff" made up for it. Perfect touch of saffron. Cleansing arugula salad on the side. It has it all. Savory pie and salad. It's so damn Good.

And for some reason, savory pie and salad usually makes for a very good wine pairing in this house. Maybe it's something about the dough/crust that softens the edges of the food, allowing the wine to do some talking. It did here with a bottle of 2012 Forlorn Hope "Que Saudade" Sierra Foothills ($28 - Pastoral). 100% verdelho, principally a Portuguese grape, but grown in Australia, the Loire (just found that one out), and increasingly in California.

I'm getting kinda sick of describing tasting notes, something I didn't agree with when I read Asimov's screed against "the tyranny of the tasting note" in his book How To Love Wine. I'm starting to fall into his camp. It's just too much and accomplishes little. Works for some to remember how it tasted. Sometimes, it's just fun to say, "This tastes like the cat got into the barrel. It's not urine, it's cat hair. Tastes like cat hair!" But mostly, I'm finding myself using hand gestures to describe the path of the wine with a bite of food, which probably makes me look like a crazy person.

This Forlorn Hope brought wonderful texture, perfect acid zip, nice freshness and lovely presence. With a (hands moving up) voooop, then a (hands moving out) aaaaaaah. With an empanada bite, it choose a broad path, widening out and expanding into a fennel flesh note without the anise, or cinnamon tinge without the cinnamon, if that makes sense. Stuff like that. So pretty, so delicious, and we'll be buying more. Buckets.

With less minerality than we expected in the wine and less tuna presence in the empanada, this meal tasted more like a land-based dinner in some restaurant in a tiny town, like in Rioja or something, where every flavor jumps and you feel like you found a surprise.

Big. Fans. Savory pie and salad with delicious wine. There's little better.      

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Vitello Tonnato with 2012 Ponzi Arneis and 2013 Bastianich Rosato di Refosco

We had to pick something up downtown today, and figured a Purple Pig lunch was in order, since we were already down there.

The Pig does so much right. Oodles of well-made flavors, great wine list, nice atmosphere. It's a fine restaurant that feels like a mini-vacation.

But after we had this dinner, Purple Pig didn't feel necessary. We had our mini-vacation right here on the plate, with a busload of flavors done oh-so well and six layers of flavors in each bite that kept changing, moving and surprising.

Great food at home. It's what's Good.

Vitello tonnato (Saveur), with olive oil-poached tuna (Sur la Table) instead of a can. It's a pain in the ass, but utterly worth the effort, according to Mrs. Ney. Veal prep followed to the letter and turned out gorgeous. Bittman herbed-up red potatoes tossed in a mustard vinaigrette. Asparagus tossed with the tiniest bit of the same vinaigrette and thrown under the broiler. Carrot and celery garnish. Parsley over everything. And the surprise of the night, deep-fried lemon slices to top (thank you, Ms Clark). A bite of these with some veal and tuna sauce was so gosh darn superlative, I have no words.

Spring's here, windows are open, fresh air in the apartment, shorts and skirts, gloves and hats put away, and then great food like this. All that crap.

And the wines didn't detract, serving more as a funky counter overall than bringing the pairing love, but we didn't care. The 2012 Ponzi Arneis ($30 - Winery) is still kicking, but barely, offering a well water mixed with older fruit note. Still some acid, still nominally solid. We needed an arneis for this meal, we had one, so we drank it. Downright funky, even a bit strange then strangely good, with a veal-tuna bite. It got lost with the fried lemon rind, but rounded out rather nicely with the potatoes, which were the food pairing winner of the night as the 2013 Bastianich Rosato di Refosco ($15 - Whole Foods) excelled with them as well. The Bastianich, a house fav for specific meals, brought a spicy, floral, slightly funky garden dirt quality, and had a more fully developed personality than the Ponzi. More life here. Both weren't great with the food, but both offered just enough angles and cuts to the meal to leave us mostly satisfied.

It's been a weird year. Meals like these make it less weird. For that, we're thankful.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jambon au Chablis And Gougères With 2011 William Fevre Chablis Vaudésir

Every once in a while, we eat something that tastes like "a thing," the sort of "thing" that tastes like people have been eating this combination for decades, because it's capital-G Good. And they drink the wine made down the street with it because, decades ago, they tailored the food for the wine. And vice versa.

Maybe it's not "our thing" all the time, because this meal had buckets of heavy cream by the...bucket. But, together with a higher-end Chablis and plenty of tarragon, jambon au Chablis with three-cheese gougères came off oddly light. We'll be forgoing the cream bucket dinner for at least a year, but this was a freakin' delicious meal.

Saveur recipes for both (links above), from their Chablis piece. Cheap ham from Aldi and recipes followed to the letter with one exception - didn't strain the sauce, cuz we like chunks of tomato-shallot goodness. Note: make sure your eggs fully come up to room temperature. My pâte à choux didn't come together until the very last egg. Felt like magic unfolding in the face of disaster.

Eat a bite of ham. Dip one of the gougéres in the luscious sauce. Rinse with fancy Chablis. Repeat 20 times. Finish with arugula salad. And you have yourself a winner-winner Ham-cream dinner!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Chicken Cacciatore With 2005 López de Heredia Cubillo

I'm trying to recall the last time I've had chicken cacciatore.

20 years? If we were to go to a traditional Italian restaurant (that feels like it's been 20 years as well) and I read down the menu, trying to figure out what I want to order, my eyes would blaze right by chicken cacciatore and immediately dismiss it.

There's nothing wrong with it. I like all the ingredients in cacciatore. But there's a sense about its...basic-ness...that doesn't inspire an "Oooh! I want that!"

It's probably the mushrooms. There's something about mushrooms. It's like watching a movie that I'm enjoying, and then an actor pops up that, in my head, makes it impossible to think this movie will ever reach great heights. He's not a bad actor. He has his own style. Brings something mildly unique. But I can't get past all his past work and all the past movies I saw with him in it that had potential and ended up utterly forgettable. Was it his fault? I can't say, but I can say that there's just too much evidence in my movie life that his inclusion in a project means that there's an 80% chance I don't need to see it.  

They're the Michael Rapaport of food.

But here, with this Lidia Bastianich recipe, the mushrooms don't bully their way to the front of the stage, letting the overall flavor of the dish become something more than the sum of its simple parts. The mushrooms only added a "here's where mushrooms come from and THAT'S IT!" note.

It's just chicken, onions, peppers, tomatoes, oregano, white wine and mushrooms, but that's what makes it good. Recipe followed to the letter here. The result was delicious, highlighted by a great broth-like soup in which to dip the Jamie Oliver garlic bread (made with a smoked paprika butter to help the wine).

Served with 2005 López de Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza Rioja ($25 - Vin Chicago). We've never craved the Cubillo, particularly when a Tondonia or Bosconia from Heredia usually costs a mere $10 more (though that's inching up lately). In lesser years, the Cubillo has been a little too blunt. Here, the 2005, might be the best we've had. Tons of grace in a Cubillo frame. It's more quiet and less in a hurry to belch out its personality. Spice and tobacco, raspberry and cherry, with the tiniest hint of smoked orange peel.

This wine needs food, this was the food, and the pairing was the star. Together, this tasted like a foggy mountain meal. Everything slowed down, tasting like a well-told, slow-paced story that reveals itself in layers, as if hearing an old, burly, bearded mountain man say, "It was long, dark winter and that grizzly bear had been inching closer to the cabin for weeks..."

We loved it.    

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Persian Beef with Barberry Sauce and Buttered Almonds With 2012 Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc

This recipe, from Najmieh Batmanglij (her son is in Vampire Weekend...huh...learn something new everyday), via the American Pistachio Growers website, came about because we wanted to try barberries a month or two ago and the smallest quantity I could buy was in an ENORMOUS bag. Gotta use 'em up.

We love barberries now. Well, there's at least a deep like. They provide a tartness reminiscent of cranberries but are so much more bright, light, and focused. They don't overwhelm things, providing a tiny punch to food that needs it.

Like here. Persian beef (swapped out chicken for beef in the recipe - and we'll be trying this with lamb, probably quite soon). We don't know Iranian food, having only nibbled at the edges here and there, but this food, Persian beef stew essentially, tasted like Iranian Sunday comfort food.

Bet it's delicious with chicken, with the barberries and nuts playing with the bird in different, brighter realms, but beef shank worked here, turning it into a juxtaposition between the darker, deeper beef and marrow that played with the cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon and pepper, and the barberry sauce perk and perfect integration of sunny saffron, echoing a Mediterranean saffron beef play that we enjoy on occasion. Buttered almond-pistachio blend on top (more almonds, less pistachios - pistachios be EX-pensive right now). Rice underneath. Mint on top.

It's been a long month in our house. Great food has been less frequent because of it. It was nice to have Great Food again. This was Great.

Made better by a wine that let the food shine, while offering just enough in the way of pop to keep us coming back to find new and intriguing things about it. The 2012 Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc Central Coast ($19 - Vin Chicago) is biodynamic, I assume culled from different vineyards, 12% alcohol, sleek, pretty, and a great value for the dollars. Shiny red fruits, violets and cinnamon on the nose, a bit less in the intensity of that on the palate for the first 2/3, then finishing with something like a rum raisin smack. The finish made it. Texturally, it's more thin than expected, but that doesn't hurt its enjoyment. Given blind, it's Loire cab franc. Not fancy Loire cab franc with its oodles of layers and fascinating, almost obstinate personality that we love, just utterly drinkable cab franc giving what cab franc-y-focused food wants.

Very nice pairing here. Tasted like going to a friend's house for dinner. This friend is a bit of pot smoker. You like him. He's fun. You eat dinner, have some wine, good conversation. Then the evening gets to the 'I'm gonna blaze up, if that's alright' point. You don't care. He does. And the rest of the evening turns into one of those meandering conversations that twists and turns at a wonderfully pleasant, glacial pace that you get from about one out of thousand pot smokers. Usually, it gets rapidly weird and you plan your quick exit. With him, you relish the respite from everyday life.

Tasted like that.          

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Goat Kofta, Roasted Cauliflower, Kale, Hazelnuts, Pita And Tahini With 2010 Owen Roe Pinot Noir The Kilmore

$5 goat. $7 for everything else. That's $12 for dinner.

We spent roughly that for an Arby's lunch a couple of days ago when there were no other options and we needed something fast. You tell me which one sounds better. Our answer is, unequivocally, in the above picture. Good Lord! Arby's cheese is not natural!

Don't think you like cauliflower? Eat this cauliflower and get back to me. From Yotam Ottolenghi (natch) in the New York Times. I didn't need cauliflower in my life. Now I want cauliflower in my life after eating this. Sweet, roasty, spicy, nutty, with a pomegranate seed pop and celery crunch. Every ingredient has a purpose. Perfect balance, utterly new, and plenty of roughage to clean out Arby's cheese.

Goat kofta (here's a reason to buy $5/lb. ground goat and toss it in your freezer), made with similar flavors in the cauliflower salad, using allspice, cinnamon, etc.. Tahini and pita to round out the meal.

Eating this meal was like rereading a chapter in a book you're reading, because the chapter was that freakin' good. The world slows down, things make a bit more sense, there's a touch of clarity in your head that wasn't there before. And it's why I can't abide people that say eating should be treated as mere sustenance. When one willfully avoids good food, it's like they're willfully avoiding...beauty. That feels like idiocy to me. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of Arby's next to real food, but this dinner felt like beauty to us.

The 2010 Owen Roe Pinot Noir The Kilmore Yamhill-Carlton ($42 - Winery) benefitted from the similarity of spices in both the kofta and cauliflower salad, letting the wine take a cue from that and say, "Here's all the pretty earth I can give to this." A complete Oregon pinot nose, a touch of plum and a hint of something like a mulled Christmas wine, but this one was all about the earth on the tongue. Delicious wine. The food could have maybe used a floral note from the wine but we were happy campers with this food-wine combo. Felt very intentional, which is all anybody wants from a pairing.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seven-hour Goat Leg, Carrot Purée, Watercress, Pistachios and Naan With 2013 Donkey & Goat Carignane

Eat more goat.

Because goat is good. And cheap. Go to Farm City on Devon, people. Farm City on Devon. When we moved to Chicago 11 years ago, our first meat purchase at Paulina Meat Market felt like we'd made a quantum leap in the quality of our meat, and food in general. The discovery of Farm City in the last year or so feels like another step forward in quality and pleasure. This is fantastic stuff. If you find food to be merely sustenance, that's too bad. Winnowing something you do at least twice a day, something with the potential to offer so much joy down to simply 'energy' feels sad to me.

This meal had a passing resemblance to one of our favorite meals over the last few years, the place where great goat became known to us, at Komi in D.C..

It's well-done goat, a seven-hour roast of goat, slathered with harissa paste, cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, bay, verjus, etc. (recipe here - Molly Stevens, modified to a slow roast in a closed dutch oven). The heat from the harissa mellowed out in the roasting, turning this goat into delicious and balanced goat. It's not medium-rare goat, which was so damn close to Komi's goat, but this is perfect build-your-own goat bites with these accompaniments:

1. Watercress, pistachio and orange-blossom salad (Ligaya Mishan)

2. Spicy Carrot Purée (Claudia Roden)

3. Homemade naan with nigella and fennel seeds (Aarti Sequeira)

All three recipes followed to the letter. All of them easy, with enormous pay-off by themselves and relative to the work involved.

Naan topped with goat-tomato-onion-juice, followed by carrot purée and a heap of watercress and herbs. Pick and choose, mix and match. This meal was about 20 mini-flatbread bites of some of the best food we've had this year.

Served with 2013 Donkey & Goat Old Vine Carignane Testa Vineyard Mendocino ($30 - Binny's). Nice plum, nice funk after the clean, polished front entrance. Pure fruit, medium length, maybe a touch young, as it didn't stretch itself out much. Missed the floral and mineral notes from the wine notes. Pleasant, but not what we were looking for here. With carignan, we want that country feel, a rustic burliness that shows up just when you think it's a fine enough, light-ish quaffer. Good carignan is like a movie that takes a perfectly dark turn. Didn't find that here, at least with this food. But Donkey & Goat is basically across the street from Broc Cellars in Berkeley. That trip is gonna happen sometime.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Feta-brined Chicken, Latkes And Arugula With 2012 Birichino Malvasia Bianca

"Cold enough for ya?"

We love Spanish wine oodles more than Italian, if we were prompted to provide a preference. Not even close, really.

BUT. If we see an Italian-style wine/grape grown in California on the shelf, it's a much more immediate "Yes, please" than a Spanish version. You gotta pick and choose with the Spanish-style stuff. Isn't that funny? Weird, huh?

Today's post is brought to you by useless tidbits about our wine proclivities.

Here's an example, though.

Food: Feta-brined roast chicken, latkes, roasted veggies and arugula-parsley salad

Recipe for feta-brined chicken from Melissa Clark in the New York Times. Good chicken, moist breast (giggity), got the feta notes, sort of, but this didn't change Mrs. Ney's two-day salt rub preference. Nice. Worthy diversion.

Veggies roasted under the bird, mostly celery on crack. Celery, celery seed, celery leaf included, because malvasia LOVES celery. Trader Joe's potato latkes with feta crumbled on top. This is a top-notch product, particularly when whipping up a fancier starch seems like a lot of work that day. Or even not. They're that good. Creamy-crunchy and a great vehicle for more cheese. Arugula-parsley salad to mix and match with a piece of chicken, latkes and/or veggies. You do what you want. It's your food and you're an adult, damn it.

Quite pleased with this meal, we were. All the flavors we like done well. And the wine was perfect.

Wine: 2012 Birichino Malvasia Bianca Monterey ($14 - Vin Chicago)

Elderflower, lime leaf, pink carnations, white peach, kiwi juice. Lighter body than we expected. Bright impression. Seamless transitions. Delicious wine. A perfumey, floral wonder that never wandered into true-blue perfume, which can sometimes be a problem for this grape family that includes malmsey, our favorite name in the malvasia family. This one is bouncy and light, letting the floral notes sing instead of weighing it down. Birichino is an off-shoot of Bonny Doon. Like Bonny Doon wines, it seems Birichino also likes to take Old World grapes and make them their own. So...we'll be following this winery. Because we like surprises.

Pairing: Yep. Good. Happy with this one.

We've been in a pairing slump, particularly with whites. We just haven't had that interlocking deliciousness that's made a meal complete of late. This one meshed and connected in great ways, allowing for that pause in the meal when you say to yourself, "Crap, this is good." Except with the arugula. That was god-awful.

Glad we have another bottle of this stuff. It's another example of the slap-happy goodness coming out of the California.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Two Meals With Four Wines

The month of February has zero redeeming qualities.


Two meals and four wines. Or. Two solid meals with four fair-to-middling wines that offered just enough to keep things in the realm of acceptable, with sprinkles of interesting.

#1 - Rabbit confit with sauerkraut buckwheat crêpe lasagna and shishito peppers, served with 2011 Kuentz-Bas Alsace Blanc ($15 - Whole Foods) and 2013 VinTJ's Gewürztraminer Mendocino County ($8 - Trader Joe's)

Delicious recipe for rabbit confit from David Leite (of The New Portuguese Table). Halved, spiced and herbed up, covered in oil and confit-ed in the oven for three hours, grilled (save that oil! It's awesome as a sauté oil for garlic in pasta). Rabbit from D'Artagnan. Two rabbit legs each. These were capital-G great rabbit legs, so pretty out of the package and perfect after cooking. Rabbit meat with the three-act play. Frenchy skin hit, clean rabbit-y meat, woodsy, herbal finish. Big winner. Sauerkraut (Paulina) crêpes, from this Saveur recipe, turned into sauerkraut crêpe lasagna, as the buckwheat and almond milk subs in the crêpes made them fall apart. Tossed a little (read: a lot) of sour cream on top and whole grain mustard on the side here and we were happy with the result. Sautéed shishito peppers (Trader Joe's is selling them now), done up Mr. Leite-style again. The hope was that these would add a cut and snap to this meal. Missed. But overall, this dinner gave us much of what we wanted, which was great rabbit with 'other stuff' to back it up.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Scallops, Grits, Carrots And Carrot-top Pesto With 2013 San Salvatore Falanghina

Crap. Now all I can think about is "hilarious" Carrot Top jokes.

Here are two elements, taken from an April Bloomfield recipe in Saveur, that taste like fancy-pants food: roasted carrots and carrot-top pesto. And they're versatile as heck. Put it with beef, roasted chicken, whatever. Because the protein is simply going to become a garnish to the superlative flavor in the carrots and pesto. Like the scallops did here.

Food: scallops, white corn grits, roasted carrots And carrot-top pesto

White corn grits on the plate, seared scallops nestled into the pile, big pile of carrot-top pesto glopped on the side, piles of carrots surrounding the grits. Basil on top, lemon spritz. Mix and match how you want. Perfect carrot roast and texture. Nutty, garden-y pesto (here, subbing pistachios for walnuts). Tasted like spring with a nod to winter. Or winter with a nod to spring. Comforting, fresh, balanced, chockablock with flavors flying everywhere. We loved this. Eat it.

Wine: 2013 San Salvatore Falanghina del Beneventano Campania IGT ($19 - Vin Chicago)

I've drunk the vast majority of bargain falanghina available in Chicago through my job. Most offer simple citrus, bit of minerals, a nod to something floral, but, in the end, they're southern Italian pinot grigio. Many of the components of an interesting white are there, but most are in too much of a rush to tell you their story. They're loud, they're brash, and frankly, they're boring because they're so loud, brash, and so quick to tell you how interesting they are. Here's one that's not. The San Salvatore (story here) is more calm, slower to reveal its tasty nuggets. Medium-bodied with a clean frame, offering white peach, citrus and green apple, sharp-edged minerals and a 'smacking of the lips' acidity. And it takes its time getting to the finish. Worth $19? Yes. Just. It doesn't inspire comparisons to great Sicilian white wine, or its Campanian companions of fiano, coda di volpe or even greco di Tufo at times, that can reach higher heights. It just takes falanghina, which is basically a patio sipper most of the time, and gives you a couple of extra notes to make you forget it's basically a patio sipper. Sunshine in a bottle.

Pairing: Very nice stuff

Not perfect, but very happy with this one. This wine was quite alive and jumpy, but it took a cue from the food and settled down, resting into a more graceful pairing buddy with the food. Clunky at times, but a good clunky, because flavors were jumping on the plate and in the glass. Not a well-produced play, more like a great Improv show where, as you're walking out, you say, "That was really fun."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Meat And Potatoes With Marietta Cellars Christo Lot #1

Sometimes, when people you know keep recommending things and you continuously ignore such things, a bit of guilt emerges.

So you try one of them. This is that.

Food: Trader Joe's tri-tip sirloin steak with Kansas City barbecue marinade, bacon-onion potato hash and arugula salad

The tri-tip is $10, pre-marinated, and ready to go. That's a plus. Another plus is that there's nothing in the marinade that we don't eat. So, while we can't say this is going to be a regular thing, we can say that, in a quick pinch, and wanting beef...maybe. It's quite decent. Throw it next to grilled potato salad and a slice of watermelon in the butt-sweat hotness of summer...bet it's not too shabby.

Fingerling potato hash and arugula salad to round things out. Quick, tasty, done.

Wine: NV Marietta Cellars Christo Lot #1 Sonoma-Mendocino Counties Rhône Blend ($16 - Binny's)

Syrah, grenache, petite sirah and viognier. People who cry about California not having bargains aren't looking too hard. Here's another one from Marietta Cellars. The Old Vine Red at around $10 might be the best $10 (on sale) red I've had in a year or two. This one tastes $6 better (also on sale at the time) and so full of what's good about California wine and what's good about the direction it's heading. Ripe with savory accents, with a "vooooooop" -like viognier lift at the end. Fresh dirt and spice on the finish as well. Even something like a hint of lavender floating around. Changed with each bite-sip. Delicious wine, we're loving the non-vintage reds trend lately, has the same name as my internet name, and it's under $20. Plus, I'm a slut for grenache and I don't care who knows it.

Pairing: Summertime red in spades

I have a personal issue with bigger reds in the summer. I want light and I want to put a chill on it. Here's one that I don't want to chill and I don't want to be lighter. The viognier gives me what I want - a lift. Starts big, goes savory, ends with a perk. Yes, please. I'll take a dozen to go.

Quick Note: Lamb spezzatino with 2012 Catherine et Pierre Breton "Trinch" Bourgueil ($20-ish - Vin Chicago). The star was the wine, one of the Bretons' bargain cabernet francs. Swirling cherry deliciousness with great length, tobacco and twigs, and pretty pauses. Everything we want from cab franc at a great price. We've had this one other time. I don't know why we're not drinking this by the bucket.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Savory, Savory, And Savory, With A Side Of Savory

Maybe needed a splash of balsamic, because this meal was SAVORY.

Food: Flap meat, patatas bravas and cumin carrots, with parsley and rosemary

Rosemary flap meat, seared medium-rare. It's very near the top of our favorite beef, because it's oozing with beefy flavor while still being gnarly like hanger and fresh like skirt. Grilled potatoes with patatas bravas sauce. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, paprika, chili flakes, white wine...tastes like a piquillo pepper purée without the piquillos. And tastes like everything Spain is. Oven-roasted white and orange carrots with cumin. Parsley dumped over everything. Steak and potatoes without the boringness of steak and potatoes. Less sweetness came from the carrots than Mrs. Ney thought, so this meal was quite savory. It's our kind of food, but a drizzle of balsamic might have been nice.

Wine: 2009 Verdad Tempranillo Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Edna Valley ($20 - Binny's) 84% tempranillo, 8% grenache, 8% syrah. A cool-climate tempranillo that tasted like it. Sour, darker cherry, very nice leather, toast and wee hint of cardamom. Medium-to-full body, medium finish. Just enough acid to keep all the soldiers marching to a proper beat. A finished product, well-made, and likes food but doesn't NEED it. It's rare we want red wine by itself. This one has that drink-alone friendliness to it. Enjoyed this one. Liked its strut. And drinking well right now.

Pairing: A very pleasant one, tasting like a well-written pop-thriller novel that breezes along a quick and efficient clip. A roundness emerged in the wine with the (mostly) Spanishy grapes dancing with the Spanishy food, as they do, and as the pairing thought-process intended. It's nice when that works to such a degree. A bit of astringency came from the rosemary, but didn't muck things up.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cuban Wild Boar Shoulder with 2008 Twisted Oak Ol' Chumbucket And Lou Malnati's with Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot #61

More California wine.

Because, in the past year, we've had our prejudices utterly debunked by a wide range of California wines. H/T to Mr. Bonné.

#1  Cuban wild boar shoulder with yuca fries and mojo sauce, served with 2008 Twisted Oak Ol' Chumbucket Calaveras County ($28 - Lush)

Two-ish pounds wild boar shoulder (from D'Artagnan), brined in water + [3-1 orange-lime] juice, sugar, salt, garlic, cumin; stuffed with pancetta, prunes, oregano; wrapped in more pancetta; rubbed with dark brown sugar; braised in Malta. Based on a Roberto Guerra pork shoulder recipe, using boar instead. Mojo sauce for yuca dripping and dragging the boar through, made with charred garlic scapes, guava paste, evoo, sherry vinegar and cumin. Mucigelatinous wonder! Goopy texture that didn't make us miss our favorite condiment with this type of meal - spicy mayonnaise. The mojo brought a garden-like punch to a meal that wanted such things. Solid batch of yuca. Aggressive Cuban flavors galore, something we like oh-so much and liked them here very much.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Quick Hits

Highlight of the late-week: savory doughnut fry bread!

If you're making dinner and want to incorporate doughnuts into it without sending yourself into a shame spiral, Blackfeet fry bread is a perfect alternative. Top it with goat barbacoa, pickled onions, spicy tomatillo salsa, sour cream, mint and cilantro, and you got yourself goat flatbread that tastes just like it sounds.

But we lost the goaty-ness of the goat. The cascabel-guajillo-ancho chile blend and slow roast made for a very rich slather that obscured the brightness goat needs in order to strut to goaty goatness. Very good one-off, though. We were excited about eating it, it was satisfying, but if given blind, it might have been pork. The Argus Cidery Tepache Pineapple Wine ($15 - Lakeview Liquors) helped things along though, finding its strut with this food. The goaty richness pumped up the clove-cinnamon spices and turned the pineapple flavor into PINEAPPLE! Good stuff. Saved things in a way. Kept things interesting.

Jamie Oliver Greek Chicken with herby vegetable couscous & tzatziki has a very specific flavor for me. It was the lunch I had right after getting back from sequestered jury duty. A weird day, that one. Flavors: allspice, fresh oregano, lemon zest and juice, mint, peppers, sweet corn (added), avocado (added), cucumber, yogurt, feta, black olives, watercress (added), green onions, couscous... so...Stuff. Thrown together. Then eaten. A "15-minute meal" that took me an hour. Fine enough version. Had all the vegetal-spice joy that we wanted after rich goat. Served with a bottle of 2012 Casa de Saima Reserva Bruto Bairrada ($20-ish - Perman), a bical-maria gomes-chardonnay blend. Pretty tangerine skin and bright cream with fine bubbles and medium length. We liked it. Fresh, moderately complex, nice. We'd buy another bottle if we were at Perman, but wouldn't make a special trip for it. Fit well with this food. Something strange going on with Greek food and Portuguese wine. Always seems to work.

Sausage and rapini, a house staple that we have about once a month, is BFFs with minerally, poppy, Italian white wines and occasionally something juicy, red and Italian. Opened a Matthiasson Tendu Red to start and got only "wine" from first sip (lil flat, sorta Life Saver-y). So we went with a new favorite, the 2013 Charles Smith Vino Pinot Grigio Columbia Valley ($13 - Binny's). It has all the goods. Length, cut, polish, juicy exotic fruit without screaming, "I'm pinot grigio! Aren't I cute?" and that sorta gaseous-delicious mid-palate that expands everything to a point of such happiness. It's just G-O-O-D, and it was again here with sausage and rapini. Turned good food into a long and leisurely meal.

Hey, I kept a three-meal roundup kinda short. I'm growing.