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 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. 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.    

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: