Thursday, July 7, 2011

#204 - Two Meals As Our Dog Heals

Between thunderstorms, four days of fireworks and a biopsy on her head, our dog has been sent through the ringer in the past week.  She's been a trooper.  A lot of tub time but she's been a trooper.

I've talked about our love for many cookbooks over the last two years with The New Spanish Table and The New Portuguese Table certainly near the top.  A new one has entered the fold, Pintxos, Small Plates In The Basque Tradition, from the chef-owner of Piperade and Bocadillos in San Francisco.

We had a delicious, distinctive and memorable meal at Piperade three years ago.

His recipe collection here seems to reflect that same experience.  We've just started to delve into the bowels and they're plenty to like, plenty to crave and plenty to understand as the recipes are meticulously written and straight-forward.  I can say 'we' because I actually participated in the cooking (!) and had a great time.

Meal #1 - Bill Kim-marinated chicken thighs, soba noodles and fava beans

A Bill Kim spicy Thai marinade with basil and cilantro for chicken thighs from July's edition of Food & Wine.  Wonderful, deep dark flavors in the marinade that nonetheless came off lifted and bright throughout.  Fish sauce integrated well enough to offer a mysterious depth to the chicken while letting all the other flavors show up individually in a great way.  Winner marinade here.  Thighs cooked under a brick à la Mark Bittman.

Served with soba noodles tossed with vinegar-softened jalapeños and onions and sesame oil.  A split between wheat and buckwheat in the noodles (my bad) and it showed.  Still good stuff but somewhat missed the delicious darker whole buckwheatiness of the 100% kind.  Still popped with the jalapeños and onions but again the sesame oil was the binder to the flavors on the plate and jumped with the Cava.

The shock of the night came from the simplistic wonder of the fava beans tossed with crème fraiche, mint, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.  From the Pintxos cookbook, it tasted like fancy restaurant fancy.

Cilantro, basil, pomegranate seeds, sesame seeds over everything.

After having the 2005 Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia Cava ($16 - Binny's) at Purple Pig last week, we tracked it down at Binny's for a steal at $15.  Fresher and less of a moldy, damp and funky cellar quality than the Purple Pig experience but still tasty, showing a more fresh green apple core with edges of lemon zest, spritely bubbles and Cava in essence all the way.  Hints of the funk we loved previously and all together good stuff.

I was initially skeptical of the pairing, cracking a 2009 Dr. Loosen Riesling Mosel to see if the sugar would work with the Thai-inspired dish as Thai and riesling can but we came back to the Cava rather quickly, mostly due to the way the sesame oil popped with the wine.  Slid right in with it and performed admirably with nearly everything else except with the chicken, cutting the finish in the wine short.

A delicious and complete meal with everything we wanted.  With standard advice on chicken Thai pairings falling into the riesling camp, we might be staying in the bubbles world for awhile.  We missed on chicken and soba noodles in March with two demi-secs but hit with scallops, soba and a Prager two Decembers ago.  Maybe Asiany seafood, soba and sugar is the way to go while staying bubbly with Asiany chicken and soba-like meals.  Pairing Score:  88

Meal #2 - White asparagus Vichyssoise, Basque chicken skewers, Portuguese cheese and baguette

Got my butt in the kitchen and contributed to the family food unit yesterday by cooking two recipes from the Pintxos cookbook that intrigued me.

Apparently just missed the season window on white asparagus but did find some at the eighth store I visited, Whole Foods on Cicero and Peterson.

White asparagus soup made with onions and garlic, chicken stock, lemon, bread crumbs, salt and pepper, topped with a sherry reduction, marcona almonds and asparagus tips to finish.  A thin soup from the straining but nonetheless offered the spirit and nature of everything white asparagus is.  Tasty and light that could have used a bit of time reducing with the lid off and/or the use of less (and more concentrated) chicken stock.  Nice.

Basque chicken skewers made with thigh meat, garlic, shallots, cumin seed, coriander seed, fennel seed, thyme and piment d'Espelette, an expensive but interesting spice only made in the Basque region that comes off like Aleppo without the kick.  More fruity but I'm still trying to figure out if it's needed in our world with Aleppo offering the delicious goods.  Skewers made into meatballs and fried, then finished in the oven, put on skewers and served with a yogurt, mint, piment d'Espelette, lemon juice and sugar dipping sauce.  Bought Dannon in a pinch and won't again.  YOGURTY!  And if made again, we'll be using less sugar.

Good stuff again, cooked correctly (whew!) and every ingredient could be tasted.  I think using Aleppo might have brought some more depth that we wanted by nice eats nonetheless.

The star of the meal may have been the cheese though.  Casa de Mendevil Velho Portuguese cow's milk cheese that tasted like the best of Portuguese food goodness.  A gamey cheese with a slightly smoky edge, offering hints of some of the best food we got in Portugal and wanted from the rest.  Baguette and Matiz Vasco Piparras sweet Basque peppers (great pickled, sweet stuff there).

A good meal that maybe wasn't a complete and finished meal.  Too light and seemed to be missing one or two additional flavors to round things out.  Plus, I was starving three hours later.

Served with a 2009 Abacela Albariño ($20 - Binny's), a round and richer albariño from the Umpqua Valley in southern Oregon that's made in the Galician style and it shows.  Acid drives the citrus fruit party with hints of old orchard playing in the background.  A friendly wine with a distinctive personality that performed well enough with the food, if not offering much in the way of surprise or memorable moments.  Just okay with the chicken skewers, less than that with the soup but excelled with the cheese.
Pairing Score:  85

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