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 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 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. The 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.    

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Duck Pâté with 2013 Forlorn Hope Ost-Intrigen And 40-Clove Chicken With Palmina Sparkling Barbera

A dishwasher-less Monday lunch and dinner.

The horror!

I think it was Oscar Wilde, or perhaps the band Cinderella, that said it best: "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone." (Oh, holy crap. There's a Best of Cinderella CD?)

Lunch: Homemade duck pâté, manchego cheese, sweet potato tapenade and ciabatta mini-buns, served with 2013 Forlorn Hope "Ost-Intrigen" Ricci Vineyard Carneros St. Laurent ($32 - Pastoral)

Saveur duck pâté recipe, followed to the letter, except for using pancetta instead of bacon. Easy to make (relatively) and quite delicious. Ducky, with great balance. Everything in the pâté serves a purpose and did it very well. Trader Joe's "anejo" manchego cheese. It's older and better than the standard stuff at TJ's, tasting gosh-darn close to the good stuff. Sweet potato surprise in the form of tapenade, adding pickled mustard seeds and olives to a fine-dice of sweet potato. Sweetish, pickle-y, and briny, all in one bite. Ciabatta to rip and top.

Very good lunch made better by the wine. The Forlorn Hope St. Laurent, the first time we've had this grape, follows a similar pattern when comparing it to all the other Bonné-inspired wine buys-and-drinks over the last year. Lighter, lower alcohol, almost ethereal, with fruit that's distinctive, swirly, very pure, and nearly always surprising/delicious/bright/new. Some are mossy in a good way. Others have had nice twigy-leafy notes. All have been at least intriguing, mostly quite good, with a few being 'hot-damn!' great. This St. Laurent is ALMOST a hot-damner. Medium body, trending towards light but never goes there. Rose petal nose. Bursting dark raspberry/blueberry coulis, with background floral accents keeping everything savory and tart. A bit top-heavy/front-loaded but stretched out a bit throughout the drinking, becoming a touch longer. A happy wine, offering a poppy acidity and mineral cut. Like a pinot noir and gamay had a baby, then they put a California-fresh sheen on it. Liked it muchly.

And helped along by the fact that it admirably slid right in with the food, snuggled up warmly and got very cozy. We'd do it again, cuz it was good.            

Dinner: Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, gnocchi and Proveçal yellow tomatoes, served with 2013 Palmina Sparkling Barbera SBC ($32 - Winery)

Saveur recipe again (with the addition of sage and oregano to the cooking liquid), last had in July with Scholium Rhododatylos. This pairing was oodles better. Garlic and garlic with a side of garlic for this food. Then, some more garlic. Five HEADS. Even pre-roasted, as was done here, that's a lot. If you don't like garlic, this meal is the bane of your existence. If you do, it's eff'in perfect. Great chicken, doughy-delicious gnocchi, and anchovy-heavy tomatoes Provençal. If I searched this blog for 'tastes like Love,' I'd probably get 200 results. This meal is near the top.

Palmina just started making sparkling malvasia and barbera in 2013. We had the malvasia for New Year's Eve. THAT was a good NYE. This barbera is a licorice-blackberry bomb, while staying lightly effervescent. Both the malvasia and the barbera aren't the bestest, most complex sparklers we've had. But we'd drink both by the bucket. They're wines with a smile on the face.

And the barbera was nearly perfect with 40-cloved chicken; countering, turning, adjusting so nicely. A little more oregano in the food might have made it perfect but we were just fine.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cassoulet And Grenache, Potato Pie And Pinot Meunier

Hey, Bordeaux, you aren't all that.

For what seems like the hundredth time, another Bordeaux came off too uppity and obstinate to play nice with food like a simple savory pie consisting of really wine-fussy ingredients like potato, chicken stock, black pepper and leeks. How dare we try to force such things?

I can't remember the last time I saw a wine turtle like a bottle of 2003 Fombrauge did last night. Fine by itself. Whiny little baby with food.

Two pairings.

#1 Cassoulet with 2012 A Tribute To Grace Santa Barbara County ($35 - Vin Chicago)

Seems like every time some national (insert food) day happens, Mrs. Ney has, by coincidence, already planned it. Today is National Cassoulet Day. We had it Wednesday, at the outbreak of the nose hair-singeing cold here in Chicago. So, right and proper food.

No weisswurst, which is our favorite (previous cassoulets here). Shop was out. Duck sausages, pork shoulder and duck stock this time. Cook's Illustrated recipe. White beans, porky essence, crusty, juicy, lovely. Bone-warming stuff.

And quite nice with Angela Osborne's cheaper grenache, the gray label, a culled Santa Barbara County offering. The white label was so pure and clean. We liked it, but its delicate nature left us wondering if we could really love it enough to buy more. This one, the gray label, has more rawness and verve, less of a spit-shined veneer. Similar rose-y floral notes, but with grit and dirt. Harder-edged minerals, pretty bright red fruits with a darker berry undertone. More punch.

And that helped with the cassoulet. I wanted grenache, thought about a Les Pallìeres, and eventually settled on this. Solid play. Very friendly with the quality version of cassoulet. Similar weights in the food and wine made for satisfied bites and sips.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hoppin' John, Flap Meat, And Lamb Niçoise With Three Favorite Winemakers

I haven't heard much carping, mostly because I haven't been out in the world much over the last two weeks. But let us remember how this winter's weather has been so far.

When it's minus-7 this week, and a foot of snow rests under every step, how about we just shut up about it? There has been no literal 'winter of our discontent.' It's been boss. And pitchers and catchers report in six weeks.

Three meals, three wines.

#1  New Year's Day Hoppin' John, pea gravy, buttermilk biscuits and Iberico ham, served with 2011 Luis Pato Ferñao Pires Beira Atlântico ($28 - Lush)

Hoppin' John is thought to bring good luck if eaten on New Year's Day. Black-eyed peas, same. Pork, ditto. So, black-eyed pea Hoppin' John, using Sean Brock's red pea Hoppin' John recipe, from Heritage. Trader Joe's Iberico ham, because I was too lazy to go find country ham, and Thomas Keller fatty-delicious buttermilk biscuits, from Ad Hoc At Home, because they're fatty-delicious.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Eve: A Recipe

So you like fennel and want to eat a good chicken dinner at 6 o'clock tomorrow?  Have a plan.

Buy a loaf of country bread and a 3-4 pound Air-Chilled chicken today.  Take the chicken out of its packaging, insert 4 bay leaves and 4 thin slices of lemon under its skin, rub it with 1/2 tbsp ground white pepper, 1/2 tbsp kosher salt, and 1 tsp fennel pollen.  Put in a slightly-too-big container in your fridge, so it gets some air around the skin.  Let it stay there overnight.  Pick a white wine that makes you happy (like Palmina Sparkling Malvasia), and a cheaper sparkler (like Trader Joe's North Coast Brut), and throw them in, too.

At 3 o'clock tomorrow, take the chicken out of the fridge and out of its container so it gets room-temp air circulating around it, and turn the oven on to 450º.  Put on a good podcast or some sing-along music.  Tear up your bread into bite-sized pieces.  Drizzle the pieces with olive oil, put them in a single layer on a sheet tray.  Halve 24 oz of small yellow tomatoes, and very thinly slice 1/4 of a lemon, removing the seeds as you go.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put them cut-side-up in a single layer on another sheet tray.  By 3.30, the oven will be hot, so the tomatoes go on the top shelf, and the bread goes lower.  15 minutes later, the bread should be nicely toasty and some of the tomatoes should be charred and/or bursty.  Remove them from the oven, dump the bread into your biggest mixing bowl, gently transfer the tomatoes/lemon slices (with all the juices) onto a plate to cool.

Dick around for a little while.  Delight in how wonderful it is that the winter holidays are over.  Make a mixer for your sparkling wine:  1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, 2 tbsp maple syrup, and 1 tbsp bitters.  Add 1 1/2 tbsp of this concoction to each glass of sparkling wine that you pour, and you should have the right amount for the whole bottle.  Don't be skeptical:  this is delicious stuff.

It's probably around 4 o'clock, now.  Chop 2 fennel bulbs (reserving the fronds, if you have them), 2 medium onions or/and shallots into similarly-sized bite-sized pieces.  Together in a bowl, toss them with 4-ish chopped anchovies and a gentle glug of olive oil with thyme, salt and pepper.   At 4.15 throw the big cast-iron pan into the oven on the bottom shelf.

Make a vinaigrette.  Warm some moderately crushed fennel seeds and 2 chopped garlic cloves in 1/4 cup olive oil.  Remove from heat, add 2 tbsp nice white vinegar, 1 tsp dijon, and a lot of chopped tarragon.  Salt and pepper, maybe a pinch of sugar.  Set aside.

At 4.30, rub the chicken all over with olive oil, and remove the pan from the oven, remembering that empty cast-iron never looks hot. . . .  Dump in the chopped fennel/onion.  Lay the chicken on top.  Throw it back into the oven.

Do you need to refresh your drink?  Is the music striking your fancy?  Should you take a shower and/or go have a quickie?  There's time for these things, now.

At 5 o'clock, rotate the chicken pan 180º in the oven.  Chop big clumps of parsley and dill, and reserved fennel fronds, if you have them.  Are you supposed to call your mother?  Don't do that or anything else that might cause stress.  Have another cocktail.

At 5.15, turn off the oven.  At 5.30, take the pan out:  put the chicken onto a plate by itself, dump the juicy hot fennel/onion over the toasted bread and mix it up.  Get the flatware, wine glasses and wine onto the table.  Admire the chicken.  At 5.45, dump the chopped herbs and the vinaigrette into the bread/fennel.  Toss.  Load the dishwasher.  A few minutes later, add two big handfuls of arugula, the cooled tomatoes with their ooze, and whatever juice has accumulated under the chicken.  Toss gently.  Divide the panzanella between your plates, or plop it all onto a platter with the chicken on top.  Take everything to the table, and go to town.  Be proud of yourself, accept compliments, and taste the happy.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Duck Legs, Grits, Brussels Sprouts And Serrano Ham Red-Eye Vinaigrette With 2009 Domaine des Tours Vaucluse

A $14 Aldi duck was turned into three quarts of duck stock, Christmas duck pâté, and this duck leg dinner.

And what a good duck leg dinner it was. The smells alone!

Duck Legs, Grits, Brussels Sprouts And Serrano Ham Red-Eye Vinaigrette

"Cheater's" duck confit from Anne Burrell (with a decent amount of duck fat drained off and saved for future endeavors). It's duck confit without the "Yes, we get it. It's cooked in duck fat," leading to simple, delicious duck that can mingle with other flavors on the plate instead of screaming, "I'm cooked in duck fat!"

Bob's Red Mill white corn grits, based on Sean Brock's instructions for cooking grits in 'Heritage.' Since Mr. Brock uses what's probably the best corn on the planet, his one-hour cooking instructions didn't apply to Bob's Red Mill. Half-hour was perfect. Soak the grits overnight and DON'T USE MILK! Subtle corn goodness with perfect texture. Hello, grits. We'll be getting to know each other more intimately from here on out.

Charred Brussels sprouts that were nice to have around to fill out the plate but got very little attention.

Thomas Keller serrano ham vinaigrette, modified into a red-eye vinaigrette with the addition of a 1/2 cup coffee, reduced. Duck broth used instead of chicken broth, duck fat used instead of vegetable oil. Added sherry vinegar. This concoction "really tied the room together," bringing a third, fourth and fifth level of deliciousness.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Anne Burrell Chicken Milanese With Argus Cidery Tepache Pineapple Wine

Click to embiggen and read
Drinking this pineapple wine with chicken Milanese is like going to the ballpark to see your favorite team with a bunch of friends and your team gets beat 10-2.

You don't care that your team got their booty kicked, because you went to the ballpark, with a bunch of friends, and had a good time.

In this scenario, the actual score of the game is the pairing. Not. Good. The wine overwhelmed much of what was on the plate, even the ONIONY! pickled onions, which was surprising.

But good food was on the table, and in the glass was chugalug happiness: The Argus Cidery Teach Pineapple Wine ($15-ish - Lakeview Liquors).

Anne Burrell chicken Milanese recipe here. Panko-parmesan crust on the pounded chicken cutlets. Quick-pickle onions. Dry gremolota, this time consisting of toasted pumpkin seeds, parsley, pecorino. Cherry tomatoes in pickling liquid. Arugula salad with pomegranate seeds. Mini ciabatta buns and butter on the side. Dump a bunch of pickled onions and germolata on top your chicken. Dive in. Just keep eating. It's a once-a-month meal in this house because it's boss.

When we went to Minero in Charleston two months ago, we had this pineapple wine and thought there's no way Chicago is going to have it. Probably a Southern thing that won't reach us. Nope. Lakeview Liquors on Addison has it. Buy it. It's delicious summertime goodness with oodles of verve, complexity, refreshment and swagger. Lightly charred pineapple, savory spices everywhere, touch of white pepper, bit of fizz. We love it.

Not good with this food, but we didn't care one bit. Tacos is its home. Picnics. BBQ. California-style burgers. Big plans for this one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Suquet alla Ca L'Isidre with 2004 López de Heredia Gravonia Blanco

This is our first 2004 López de Heredia Gravonia Blanco.

The 1996 was our first love, and a wine that probably did more to get us into Spanish wines in general than any other bottle. The 1999 mostly lived up to the 1996 when it came to acid and echoing the original goodness, but fell short a bit. The 2000 emphasized freshness more than the typical Gravonia nutty depth. And the 2001 was all class. Everything you would ever want from Heredia. No write-up for the 1998, but it came pretty close to the 1996 in terms of completeness, if I recall correctly, and a shame there were so few of them on the market.

Early meals with Heredia Gravonia involved some variation on chicken, many times with saffron risotto. That migrated to Spanish-ed up fish, and it's been a good migration, one that makes the meal feel kinda special.

Like this one.

Suquet alla Ca L'Isidre, local fish stew that has its origins in Catalonian fisherman's Sunday dinner, made with whatever fish they had left. Taken from Barcelona's Ca L'Isidre restaurant. Recipe here, chronicled in Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes In The World (great book). No changes made to the actual cooking. Swapped out red snapper for Icelandic cod and langoustines for lobster tail.

Boiled down, this is deconstructed Spanish stew, with two types of seafood - and all the complementing and contrasting that comes with that - potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, fish stock, parsley and chile. Depth from flamed-up brandy. Garlic-d up mayo for dipping. And a spectacular hazelnut sauce for drizzling over everything. Super-duper Spanish in every bite and done right. It's not the easiest meal to make, but this was the first time Mrs. Ney made it. She expects subsequent ones (which there will be) will be easier.

Hot damn, this was good. Want Spanish food? THIS is classic Catalonian Spanish food.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Salsa Verde-d Lamb Rosettes And Panzanella Salad With 2012 A Tribute To Grace Grenache

"Is someone making frappato in Oregon?"

That's how the 2012 A Tribute To Grace Grenache SBH tasted at times, a wine that's been a darling of the Jon Bonné New California movement, a wine I've been trying to get since I read Bonné's book, and a wine that was just given the top spot on Bonné's list of Rhône-style reds in the San Francisco Chronicle.

And when you want the vitamins and goodness that comes with a summer salad in the winter, "Just put bread in it!"

Paulina Market lamb flank "rosettes" marinated in Michael Symon salsa verde, seared medium-rare to medium. Rosette form is our lamb going forward. It's so darn easy, you get the lamb you're looking for, and it's so less a pain in the ass than rack. Green bean-sundried tomato-charred scallion-parsley-mint salad with panzanella-style bread soaked in pickled mustard seed-fennel seed dressing, with more dressing drizzled on the salad. Simple. Substantial. Full of the vitamins and greenness. Clean. Delicious. Happy.

And the wine helped bring some unique interest to the meal, but missed just a bit in being broad enough to capture our full attention.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thanksgiving Week

The week leading up to Thanksgiving, and a good time after, means easy meals in this house. One of the worst work weeks of the year and an impending family visit makes that necessary for sanity and general well-being. So, a round-up of such.

#1 Red-wine-rosemary hanger steak (Martha Stewart recipe) and potato pancakes with crème fraiche for slapping on top, served with 2004 Chateau Faugères St.-Emilion Grand Cru ($22 - Binny's)

Baller meat. Just the best. One of those rosemary meat preps where the rosemary gets into the medium-rare meat and juice so perfectly. Trader Joe's potato pancakes (ideal starch for such a week) with a whipped-up horseradish/blue cheese crème fraiche to slather. Very good meal.

Bordeaux is in the house. Gotta drink it. We stated that this may be the winter we gulp down a good amount of all the Bordeaux sitting on the shelves. After this one, like so many in the past, we may have to backtrack a bit on that statement. This bargain St.-Emilion brought an earth-first joy, with a medium body, happy textural presence, everything one would want in this price range. Unfortunately, it was schizophrenic with the food. Mildly interesting at times; tinny, backwards, limp at others. Sometimes, it was super concentrated but short. Other times, it was almost quite good. But it was too all over the map to find that place of pairing enjoyment. We never knew what food step to take in order to find its happy place.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TWIB Notes: This Week In Bottles

Wine-Searcher does a fantastic job with their 'Producer Portraits.'

I learn buckets with each one. Ponzi this week (40% of their production is pinot gris?). La Rioja Alta last week (They make albariño in O Rosal?). Good stuff.

Quickie round-up. It's 'clean out the freezer' time again.

Monday: Mustardized chicken and asparagus with mashed potatoes, served with 2008 Domaine Fourrier Bourgogne Blanc ($30 - Vin Chicago)

Take freezer breasts, try a "velveting" technique because you hear that's a thing, make a pan sauce with whole grain, dijon and ground mustard, broil the asparagus in the leftover fond, make mash (leave the skins on, you fussy-pants people - skins be good for ya). Put all of it on a plate and go to town. Simple. Basic. Good.

Fancify it with good wine. Frenchy-focused food, so open Frenchy-French wine. It works. This entry-level bottling from Domaine Fourrier has been sitting in the house for over three years, slowly getting lost in the shuffle. Sometimes, the wine you have starts to lose its cachet. You forget why you bought it, why it was a good value, why the person selling it to you thought it was so good (feels like an Amy or Sean rec.). It becomes just another bottle in the house. Then you open it, jus' cuz, gotta drink it, and say, "Holy Hell!"

Jumpy minerals, sparkly Asian fruit mixed with French pear, and a creamy, slate-like accent that makes quality, simple white Burgundy so damn good. Still young. Throw this one in with Domaine de Roally, serve them to people who don't think there's value to be had in France, and show them why they're thinking like a silly person.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dirty Rice With 2011 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py

Chicken livers, andouille chicken sausage, and ground pork.

Onions, scallions, wild rice, garlic, celery, green pepper, bay, thyme, and pecans.

Good flavors we like.

And onions and chicken livers were key with this delicious dirty rice recipe from Susan Spicer. Beaujolais likes onions and chicken livers provided the iron-y, blood-like background that matched up with similar notes in this Morgon, turning this next-level Beaujolais into a matchy pairing wizard with the food. While it sucked with an andouille bite, it was so "gee-whiz!" delicious with everything else.

Some alterations. This recipe serves 10. We're not 10 people. So less rice, less chicken stock, and fewer chicken livers. Added pecans, which beefed up the dish but added little in terms of flavor. And the aforementioned chicken sausages (Whole Foods) that brought more beefiness, but just didn't match up with the wine.

The result with dirty rice with more girth, yet stayed in that realm of "this is utterly filling, completely delicious, strangely complex, kinda magical, and I don't feel like I need to buy bigger pants."

We both loved it. Anyone want chicken livers? Cuz we have tons.

Tuesday dinner is the one meal of the week that Mrs. Ney makes certain has a certain swagger-newness-fanciness to it. This meal, on its surface, might not seem like such. We ate it on Tuesday and it lives up to the house Tuesday standard.

And it's easy enough to whip out on a weekday night. Gluten and dairy-free to boot, if that matters to you.

The 2011 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py ($41 - Lush) helped make it that way. This isn't spicy food (though the homemade Scotch bonnet hot sauce we brought to the table...don't go to the bathroom right after you've handled hot sauce THIS hot...jus' saying) and this isn't heavy food. Good Beaujolais has guts inside its medium-light body. Good match.  Crunchy dark raspberries and a touch of smoke, hint of dark chocolate, floral-rosey aroma, and tons of pretty dark forest-y dirt. But really, it was defined by the texture. Silky smooth, almost like thinned out blood that matched up with a touch of iron in very defined and memorable ways.

We don't drink a ton of Beaujolais for some inexplicable reason. Always loved Marcel LaPierre. And we have a few 2011's, a great vintage for Beaujolais, particularly Morgon. Need to drink more.

This was lovely, shockingly light dirty rice with deep flavors. The Jean Foillard made it complete.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thomas Keller Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Biscuits With Trader Joe's North Coast Sparkling

I really should take better pictures...

You can buy Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home, or you can simply search for the recipes. But you really should buy it, because it's enormous (and fussy), and detailed (and fussy), and gets you into the head of the guy who makes damn good food (and fussy), and kinda awesome.

This is our third time taking a fatty-delicious dip into the TK buttermilk fried chicken waters (last two). A lesson to be learned with TK BFC is that you might have the urge to pop a spendy Champagne with such meticulously prepared and somewhat laborious fried chicken. You might. You say it warrants such things, you put in hard work and should be rewarded. Well, you resist that urge. We've done it and the buttermilk gobbles up much of the nuance. You end up separating bites from sips, taking a pause between, in order to find the Champagne goodness, instead of rolling up your sleeves and getting all down-and-dirty with the chicken and bubbles. Thinking about how much you spent on the wine should never enter the equation here. You want to become a remorseless eating machine with chicken like this.

Buttermilk fried chicken recipe here. Buttermilk biscuits here. A frisée salad with Rogue blue cheese, roasted tomatoes and croutons to mimic wedge salad (Ad Hoc recipe as well), because frankly, iceberg lettuce in wedge salad form is something I crave about once every two years, then I have three bites and I'm pretty much done. Frisée is a better choice here. It does a better mop-up job on your throat and tummy with the buttermilk bounty.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

It's Been Six Weeks...

Husk Restaurant
This blog isn't dead and I haven't been busy.

FAR from busy.

Which is too bad in ways, because I've forgotten many of the details of some very good meals and solid pairings that should have been detailed.

But let's try in stream-of-consciousness form.

Ten days in Portugal in September left us wanting, even bordering on annoyed. There just wasn't enough 'vacation' in it, not enough 'holy crap!' to it. So with our first round-number anniversary approaching, getting the heck out of Dodge again was necessary. Personally, I think Portugal might have been fine enough if not for a couple of meals that put the nail in the Portuguese food coffin. "Wait for it, wait for it, I bet we get potatoes AND rice and overdone meat again. Here it comes. Put your bets in. YEP!" I'm a snob and Spain spoiled me. Plus, it might have been fine - it WAS insanely relaxing - but that Newark passport-control line. Oh, that line. 300 people and four booth attendants. Screw you, Newark! Screw you! I no longer love you!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Harissa-marinated Skirt Steak and Cornbread With 2011 Three Wine Company Mataro

Or mourvèdre, by another name.

Yotam Ottolenghi is the chef du jour in our house. If we find a recipe he wrote, Mrs. Ney will probably make it. He makes flavors we like, while putting a bit of a tweak on what we like.

This harissa-marinated skirt steak was a good example. Both of us loved the simplicity of the marinade, which allowed the harissa to just be harissa. It was beef and harissa playing with each other, without anything else getting in the way. Place it on top of the tomato-red pepper simmered stew that was bright, sweet, light, and deep, and we got something akin to Moroccan ropa vieja.

Recipe. Halsted Whole Foods skirt instead of sirloin. Fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Preserved lime instead of lemon. Coarsely ground caraway and cumin added. Cornbread as the side. Arugula-parsley-pomegranate seed salad to finish. Fusion-ish but not really. Just good, clean flavors that left an impression. We'll be having this again.

Quality pairing as well. Served with a bottle of 2011 Three Wine Company Mataro Spinelli Vineyard Contra Costa ($20 - Binny's). Tasted EXACTLY like a bargain California mourvèdre done well. Like if the winery tried to fancify these grapes and make something more structured and long-lasting, something would be lost in translation. Opened herby, transitioned to a blackberry/black cherry bitter-dry sassafras soda quality, and finished light and easy, but with enough guts to finish right. Overall bright and happy. It's not trying to be anything but what it is and that was welcome. Matched up quite nicely with the food, offering that extra dimension and depth with a bite and sip, sip and bite, while showcasing this wine as a bargain keeper with food.

This was a good example of buying a wine blind, never having anything from the producer before, and wanting to try more from them after having it. Served with stewy food flavors that was still bright and chiseled, like Moroccan ropa vieja, this was good surprisingly stuff.

Charleston soon. Charleston? Yep. Charleston. Sean Brock Charleston mini-vacation. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

After Portugal, Two Meals With More Flavor


(Portugal, Portugal, Portugal)

We have conflicting feelings about 10 days in the Douro and Porto. Blank brains, plenty of pool time, lots of lounging, and a general sense of Vacation was nice. And needed. Very much needed.

But timid food lacking the aggressive flavors we like - food with pop, depth and surprise - left us without an element to our day that brings us joy.

Our weekends at home revolve around good food and good wine. We need it with the jobs we work. In the food-wine world, we like our vacations to be on par with our weekends. It's the essential cherry on top to all the relaxation and away-ness. Portugal wasn't that.

We dearly missed spices and herbs and the proper use of salt and pepper. And we won't be eating ham, cheese and bread in any form for months.

So two meals after our return to bring back The Flavor.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Birthday Week

While half the customers in the place resemble a commercial, Tanta, a Peruvian vittles, wine and cocktails restaurant downtown, has the pleasant aspect of not feeling like anything in Chicago. The rooftop bar feels like Spain and the restaurant feels eerily Californian in scope, minimalism, pop and chatter. Get anything ceviche-related, don't get the beef cheeks. Get the cocktails, don't look at other customers  - they're looking around enough for both of you. Eat the plantain chips, make sure your servers and bussers don't take away things that aren't finished. We went to Mr. Gastón Arcía's restaurant in Madrid and liked it muchly. Very similar punch here. We'd go again, which is saying something in our restaurant visits of late. Best thing: the rooftop opens at 3pm, has a full drink menu and enough lil noshes to make it a meal. That's probably our next play, should we return.

This week's food:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mid-August Mishmash of Meals


Still waiting...

Don't skip a spring vacation and then book your fall vacation five months ahead of time. The lack of a spring vacation, with all the attendant annoyances involved with that, along with the taxed anticipation that morphs into "GET HERE!" for the upcoming vacation is just too much. Screw you, time! Move it!

We're waiting, but it's almost here. Should be good.

A quick round-up today, mostly chronicled to make sure the Owen Roe Cabernet Franc gets a write-up. Oh, and to remind ourselves to not make Anne Burrell's falafel recipe. Too much work for too little pay-off.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Goat Rendang With 2011 Luis Pato Fernão Pires Beira Atlântico

Indonesian goat rendang with a Portuguese red that's made with 94% white grapes.

Goofy? Nuts?


This was a perfumey, delicious meal unlike anything we've ever had.

Saveur recipe, using goat (from Farm City on Devon), macadamia nuts, jarred lime leaf and low-fat coconut milk. Otherwise, everything else followed to the letter. Put over a pearl barley-farro mixture, topped with pomegranate seeds and mint, served with a side of roasted, multi-colored carrots spritzed with the juice of roasted lime.

We were mostly shocked with how perfumey everything was, in a good sense though, abutting the property of "Holy crap, that's perfumey!" but never falling into that lawn (really stretching it with that metaphor. Screw it. I'm leaving it).

Light, bright goat that never became overwhelmed by the healthy amount of fresh spice and four-hour simmer. This was balanced food offering fireworks in our mouths without becoming a spice bomb. Pomegranate seeds and mint freshened things up, pearl barley-farro starch tamed the rough edges. Just everything you'd want from new food. If we went to a restaurant for the first time and I ate this, 10 more visits would follow to chase that great first experience.

Served with 2011 Luis Pato Fernão Pires Beira Atlântico ($28 - Lush), a blend of 94% fernão pires and 6% baga. So...94% is the white grape, ferñao pires, and 6% is the red grape, baga. Yet this wine is a red with the color, strut, and complete feel of a floral red wine. Smelled like Oregon pinot noir (ringer for Ponzi), tasted like the fruity-floral first half of a Beaujolais, and had a bass guitar background beat of a Loire cabernet franc. Red berries and white flowers, with bitter cacao nib notes. Wet tobacco leaf at times. Medium-to-light but with wild guts and verve in every sip. Pretty finishing lift that summarized everything that came before quite beautifully. Read about it here. Luis Pato is a wonder. We might be taking a side trip in a month or so.

See that Nat Decants food and wine pairing widget to the right? Put in beef rendang and baga shows up, so we ran with it. Fernão pires is a spicy, floral white grape (maria gomes by another name). Baga is a red grape with high acidity and produces wines with surprising structure for how light it can come off. Mix those two together and we got a wine that stood up rather admirably to the spice in this dinner. It retreated from the challenge for a split-second with every bite and sip, only to come back stronger and more fully than it was by itself. It was complete, lifting, refreshing and entirely interesting with this food, changing into about eight different expressions with each slightly different food bite combination, with every expression very much welcome and fascinating, with a great Portuguese dirt note throughout.

I don't know how this worked at this level, but it did.  

Eat more goat, people. And drink wild Luis Pato wine with it.

It makes both better.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lunch With 2012 Do Ferreiro & Dinner With 2009 Yves Leccia Domaine d'E Croce Patrimonio

Quickie today.

Lunch of mozzarella and tomatoes in olive oil with basil and Aleppo pepper, served with baguette to dip, top, and dunk.

House lunch favorite. It's been awhile.

The 2012 Do Ferreiro Albariño Salnés ($20 - Vin Chicago) isn't the Cepas Vellas from this winery, which is ethereal magic in a bottle. This is their basic albariño offering that gives delicate cantaloupe melon-like fruit upfront, followed by a citrus and Asian fruit number, ending with a touch of salt. Bright, tasted like a melon shooter right after opening, then transitioned to something more complete and complex as it warmed up. Do Ferreiro always seems to shoot for a more fancy, lacey acid and minerals and a more delicate albariño overall, without losing the signature guts of the grape. Saw that here. Nice. Nice with the food, as mozzarella/tomato and albariño is a frequent house pairing. Still like Orballo for all its in-your-face acid goodness more.

Dinner of Jamie Oliver piri piri chicken a side of roasted sweet and regular potatoes with feta, dill and mint. It was just chicken but, as with most Jamie Oliver things, this meal hit Every. Freakin'. Note. In his recipe, Mrs. Ney has always forgone the roasted potato side in favor of some sort of veggie salad and baguette to sop up the delicious piri piri juice. Not this time, though she roasted, instead of nuked, the potatoes (1/2 hour for sweet, hour for regular) to give them a crusty exterior. Topped with feta and a healthy amount of dill and mint, it was a crispy-crunchy, creamy, herby, fresh party in our mouths. Doin' that again, cuz it's chockablock with awesomeness. Typically happy piri piri with its spike of heat that didn't overwhelm the meatiness of the peppers and chicken. Just all-around great food.

Served with 2009 Leccia Domaine d'E Croce Patrimonio Blanc Corsica ($42 - Lush). 100% vermentino, five years old, imported by Kermit Lynch. So...yes, yes and yes. Started out rather basic and fine, offering more simple vermentino notes, but sort of exploded into a funky gooseberry and smoked apricot wonder once it had some time to open/warm up. Solid, sturdy stuff with the acid pumping along quite nicely, keeping everything right and proper. Spritely, happy, bright - creamy at times. I have a strange obsession with vermentino but, at times, it can be a bit too...vermentino-y. ALMOST saw that here. $42 is steep for what it gave, but a nice one-off. Pairing fine-ness with certain bites that didn't contain so much heat and we should have saved it for a Farmers' Market jubilee, but not too much regret here. Opened a 2013 Caves de Charmelieu Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc ($10 - Trader Joe's) as well. In terms of the price difference and overall enjoyment, close race, as this Saint-Bris has been the house white for the better part of the last year. We just love the snot out of it.

Up Next: Goat curry

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chimichurri-ed Hanger Steak and Arancini with 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo Calaveras County

Vacation soon, so it's "empty out that freezer!" time.


* Recently purchased Whole Foods hanger steak (cumin, coffee, pepper rub)

* Not recently made pumpkin-Rogue Smokey Blue-rosemary arancini, leftover from a huge batch made in March for flap meat and arancini with 2004 Two Hands Beautiful Stranger (best wine of the year)

* Chimichurri from who knows when, slathered on the meat, with...

* Leftover freezer bacon and parsley added

Served with a wine given blind that, given a thousand years, I never would have guessed was California tempranillo. Well, not a thousand, that's a long time. And I'd be dead.

Delicious, juicy, medium-rare hanger with a great cumin-coffee hit, mixing and mingling beautifully with the chimichurri and bacon. Arancini that lost its pumpkinness but gained a "look at me!" rosemary number, which was surprising and so gosh-darn good. Star of the meal. Arugula salad to finish, cuz meat and fried food needs a lil somethin'-somethin' to move things along.

Meat and starch in a happier, better form. Good stuff.

A 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo Calaveras County ($15 - Lush), bought at Lush because it was $15 and California tempranillo and $15 and 2004. And $15. Little lost if it sucked. It got lost in the wine storage shuffle. I didn't even remember it was in the house. Mrs. Ney knew what it was, socked it up, and gave it to me blind. Round and ripe. Formerly full-bodied, now wandering into a happy "middle-aged man who still routinely whips my ass in tennis" medium number.  Fading but not faded in the least. Huge, alive, black fruit hit. Blackberry and blueberry. Purple Sweet Tart number, indicating to me that this HAD to be Australian shiraz. Just had to be. Guessed 2004 Pirramimma. Nope. Calaveras County tempranillo (with 12% cabernet added). We love Twisted Oak, mainly because they love Spanish grapes. May I suggest The Spaniard with Romanian skirt steak and scallion sauce? Or with lamb osso buco in anchovy-garlic sauce, charred green beans and fried haloumi? Those were GOOD meals.  

The Twisted Oak found its perfect self with the arancini, turning all complete and layered and deep. Less so with the hanger, as a touch of oak separated itself from the pack and went rogue, but still decent stuff.

Big surprise here. Mrs. Ney had few expectations for this meal. Turned out pretty great.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chicken With 40 Cloves Of Garlic & Tomatoes Provençal With 2012 Scholium Rhododatylos


It's good.

Mrs. Ney last used the recipe for chicken with 40 cloves of garlic for guinea hen a few months ago. We had a bottle of 2007 Vin de Monsieur le Baron Chateau de Montfaucon with that meal, making for a meal of Frenchy-French on crack and It. Was. Stunning. One of the best bottles of wine this year. And a very good meal.

This was better. Something about the chicken being just chicken that allowed the GARLIC sauce to be some darn delicious. Chicken is a vehicle. A great vehicle. When used well, like here, it elevates food to long, slow, meandering specialness.

Garlic utterly IN the chicken. Sauce that's ALL about garlic. Tons of softened garlic that's delicious simply to pop in your mouth all by itself. And Pugliese bread to dip, dunk and drag through all of it.

Simplified tomatoes Provençal using yellow Campari tomatoes, herbes de Provence and breadcrumb topping, roasted off. Elderflower cheese that's been around awhile on the side.

This was "Hot Damn!" good. One of the best dinners this year. Feed this to a Frenchman and that'll be one happy Frenchman.

It's funny how if I did a top-50 meals list, chicken in various forms would occupy 10-15 spots.

Chicken. Vehicle. For all that is good in the world. Like garlic here.

The wine fell short.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Three Winners Of Jury Duty Week

Sequestered Jury Duty Week!

Coming home to Jamie Oliver Greekiness and Matthiasson Tendu White washed all the exhaustion and mild frustration that comes with sequestration right away.

Greek chicken, from Jamie Oliver's new CBS Saturday morning show, 15 Minute Meals. It's loud and flashy and boom-boom-boom, cut-cut-cut, but it's Jamie Oliver making quality food that speaks to our stomach. As per usual.

Swapping out the regular couscous for whole-wheat Israeli and adding avocado and sweet corn to the salad were the major changes from the above-linked recipe. The result was punchy, herby chicken, a big mound of couscous salad consisting of ten different delicious flavors dancing in step with each other, a minty tzatziki to slather on anything we darn well pleased. This was good as 15-minute lunchy food gets.

The last time we had the 2013 Matthiasson Tendu White ($20 - Vin Chicago), about six weeks ago with chicken Milanese, it was deliciously simple with echoes of complexity that allowed it to go deeper with the food. Completely different this time. Where we maybe missed a briny, ocean quality that comes from good vermentino last time, at its core this time were seashells, minerals and herbs all over the place! Framed by its citrus but defined by a distinct, attention-getting ocean-mineral center. Loved, loved, loved it. Bought four more. It's a liter bottle, it's 12.8% alcohol, and it's pretty great stuff. With the food, it fit like a glove. When the 2014 round-up happens a few months from now, this will be on the list as one of the best of the year, at the top of the 'perfectly simple and perfectly perfect' category.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brandade, Crostini & Tomato Salad With 2013 Laurent Miquel Albariño & 2012 Perfum de vi Blanc

Read Matt Kramer's piece in Wine Spectator on the dogma from both sides of the 'natural' wine debate. We couldn't agree more, as is the case with most everything that comes from Matt Kramer.

Last night's meal checked off all of the boxes in terms of goodness. Substantial without being gut-busting? Check. Fresh and clean? Check. Twenty different flavors that mingled well together? Check. Wines that played right into those flavors? Check.

This was utterly satisfying food. Some of the best this year. But if we'd eaten this without wine, it would have been a meal that fell into the category of mere consumption, instead of the long, lazy, slow, indulging event that it became.

Plus, some people say they could eat bacon every day. I could eat fish in some form and drink albariño with it every day of my life and never tire of it. That's my bacon.

Should have taken a picture, cuz this was pretty food. Jacques Pépin Brandade de Morue au Gratin, substituting celery root for potatoes, rice milk for milk, and white balsamic for lemon juice. House favorite. This one shed its dairy-and-potato heft that sometimes wanders into heaviness, becoming something quite lifty and light. Charred bread to dip. Tomato salad - one of the best things I've eaten this year - of campari and yellow grape tomatoes, lightly charred garlic scapes, celery leaves, red chile and fresh oregano. One ounce leftover Dante sheep cheese shredded on top, mixed, and then put over arugula dressed with lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic.

Top-10 meal this year. Spectacular brandade and a tomato salad that brought the new and new with a side of new. The way the sheep cheese and fresh oregano mingled with the tomatoes was a perfect bite of food. All of it together felt oh-so vacationy. We're counting the days until vacationy turns into  vacation. Please get here. Please.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rib-eye, Onion Rings, Potatoes & Cheese Sauce With 2006 Venge Cabernet Family Reserve

We don't eat rib-eye, we don't have cheese sauce, and we don't drink cabernet.

It's not what we like. So we don't eat or drink it.

Cabernet always feels like a bully to me with food, injecting itself into the pairing conversation to a point of forced inclusion that ultimately leads to utter domination.

I hear people talk about wines at cabernet tastings and say that 'this needs a thick, fatty steak. I'd buy a case!'

To that, I say, "How many steaks are you eating? Cripes!" There's a point of diminished returns. Steak of that ilk is a once-a-year thing in our book. It's like eating Chicago pizza. I shouldn't have to plan my food coma BEFORE I eat.

That said, last night was that once-a-year time, accompanied with a once-every-five-years cabernet drinking. And we got a good one.

Loosely based on Sam Sifton's Steak Mock Frites. Rib-eye bathed and basted in butter and bacon fat, seared a rather gorgeous medium-rare. Delicious juicy suck-age. Fatty. Sloppy. Happy. Fried onion mound of goodness. VERY thinly sliced onions, battered, fried. Potatoes followed to the letter from the recipe, coming off like twice-baked potato boats. Cheese sauce made with 8-year white cheddar to dip, dunk and slather where and when we chose.

Not a green veggie in sight. It was weird, wrong, and utterly delicious. And we'll be having it again in about five years. We say if you're going to take the dive, you TAKE THAT DIVE. Here, that's exactly what we did. Fat on fat on fat. G - O - O - D, Good.

Served with a bottle of 2006 Venge Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve ($60 - Binny's), marked down from $120 for some odd reason three years ago.

Decanted about an hour before eating, as the tannins needed settling and the tartness needed to be better integrated. We hit a very fine spot with that hour of air. More red currant fruit than the blackberry so many reviews said. Ripe, but not bombastic in the least. Herbal with pretty hits of sage. Wood fully integrated and bringing a pretty roundness. Thicker but never viscous. Pretty wine. Only complaint was the lack of a long finish. Most of the joy came from the mid-palate with a ordered, but rather dramatic tapering off to the end. We wanted more length, but were happy with all the joys that came before.

Happy pairing here, as expected. Fatty meat, Cabby weaving. They're best buds. Toss in the cheddar-cab hug and we had a pairing cuddle and embrace. Not our bag, but we respected the two-step.

Tasted like the fanciest that Applebee's could hope to achieve.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lamb Flank Steak, Sardinian Fregola and Mint Pesto With 2006 Palmina Nebbiolo Honea Vineyard

Bargain product alert!

Paulina Meat Market is selling rolled-up and skewered lamb flank steak for $13.

Want lamb but don't want to blow a Jackson? Want lamb and don't want mess around with bones and roasting? Wanna simply take some lamb, throw a marinade on it, toss it in the fridge for a bit, and then sear it off and go to town?

Buy Paulina lamb flank steak.

Maybe serve it with this Saveur recipe that's been printed out and put in the "maybe" file for seemingly years.

Maybe drink a bottle of wine that's been in the "someday" file for seemingly years.

It's food and wine housecleaning and the result was something wildly beyond the goodness Mrs. Ney expected.

Lamb flank steak skewers marinated in leftover balsamic-rosemary-onion marmalade (from Pintxos), seared medium-rare. Sardinian fregola followed to the recipe letter. Zucchini salad with Fresno chilies, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Mint pesto (more hazelnut heavy) to slather on lamb and mix with the zucchini salad. Flavors galore! And good flavors, mixing well - not just flavors. Delicious lamb, nutty pesto, and a fregola salad I could devour an entire bowl of and love every second. Stupid currants. They're delicious.

And the 2006 Palmina Nebbiolo Honea Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley ($70-ish - Winery) made it a complete meal. Dark sour cherry, blackberries and balsamic-ed up strawberries (?). Tar. Hint of wilted flowers. Some sort of root related to sassafras but not sassafras. A little weight here but never heavy. Lifting finish. Went through a tar phase about an hour in that came off oddly light and distinctive, like someone was mucking about with zinfandel and found a strangely light, low-alcohol zinfandel place. But this was all nebbiolo in many ways, with a lilting bounce that threatens to devolve into something larger but never does. No decant. Just left open for an hour or so. Perfect place. And plenty of life left with this one.

We futzed over what to serve this wine with, thinking some Italian fall stew might be its bestie. In the end, we found a winner with this meal by saying, "Let's just drink the damn thing! It can't be bad with this." And it wasn't in the least. Quite happy with it, as it emphasized the glaze on the lamb and currants in the fregola rather joyously. The wine found a balance and played with the food like a person that very much wanted to have a good time. Can't ask for more than that.

Big, fat, happy meal here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ginger-Sesame Hanger, Tomatoes & Sweet Potato Fries With 2013 Tendu Red

We don't see much Matthiasson here in Chicago.

So when Vin Chicago had both the red and white Tendu sitting there - wines I nearly ordered last week through the interwebs - it felt like a wine miracle!

Well...maybe not a miracle...wait...yes, a miracle! My wife and I are now embracing the YOLO/serendipity lifestyle. Anything mildly convenient that happens to us will now be seen as a sign that we are indeed special and that ____ (insert whatever hastily compiled philosophy/personally created deity/this month's best-selling self-help book focus/aura here) loves us, specifically and wholly.

Brace yourself, people. It's about to get ugly up in here. We're going to take "How can I make this about me?" to unforeseen heights (As you can see, I have to work on my Instagram skills. CUE UP FILTERS!).

Not really. But it did feel like one of those moments that make a shopping excursion entirely worth the hassle.

Food: Ginger-sesame hanger steak, tomatoes and sweet potato fries with mayo for dipping and arugula salad to finish

While not enormous beef eaters anymore, we like it. Sometimes love it, but over the years it's devolved into "let's just marinate some hanger, grill it up, throw some easy starch with it and pair it with a cheap New World blend. It's what we like." Particularly Whole Foods hanger. What used to be $8/lb. is now $12/lb. but it's still worth every cent. Not a sinewy bite in the stuff, ever. Just pure meaty, gnarly, hanger-y goodness, though it's now in the Paulina price realm. We'll see.

Recipe from this month's Saveur. Marinade of ginger, sesame oil, honey, lime, garlic, salt and pepper.   Seared a very pretty medium-rare. Tomatoes halved, doused in the same marinade and tossed in the oven for three hours at 275º. Tomatoes on top of hanger, rosemary tossed on top, aged balsamic drizzle over all of it. Alexia sweet potato fries crisped up, mayo for dipping, arugula salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pomegranate seeds to finish.