Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chinese Chili & Asian Cornbread With 2011 Trader Joe's Reserve Syrah

We expected very little.

"Meat in a bowl" and cornbread.

Not the most inspiring impression to start the meal.

But as with most New York Times recipes, the bar on its minimum level of happy-goodness is raised.

Toss in green chili cornbread and this was an enormous surprise, with a wine that shocked both of us with its savory change-y-ness throughout the meal.

Chinese chili recipe here.
Green chili-cilantro cornbread recipe here.

TJ's brisket ($20) used, resulting in a large bar-raise in terms of meat. Look at the list of ingredients in the recipe. If you want to be a happy cooker, making even the simplest of meals that satisfy, surprise and just all-around feel like teeny-tiny mini-vacations every night. You have that stuff on hand at all times. It's not expensive, most of this stuff lasts forever, and if something is "on the verge," cook something with it. Simple.

I just had Taco Bell for the first time in probably three years, as I was sucked in by the "loaded grillers" commercial and I'm a weak man at heart. I feel like I just ate a soapy chemical bomb, mostly because there were no herbs and acid. The tummy wants herbs and acid. And garlic. And pop.

This meal had that. A swirl of Asian flavors, always staying light, always offering something different with each bite, always feeling like we were eating something purposeful and substantial. It went from a meal when plopped down that screamed "just eat it!" to something slow-down, pretty, deep and delicious.

The wine, a 2011 Trader Joe's Reserve Syrah Paso Robles, came from a crazy vintage with lower sugar levels but solid concentration. It showed in this $10 offering from Trader Joe's. Surprisingly savory, with a brushy-foresty notes throughout. Medium depth, lifting acid that kept it perking along, and a licorice jump here and there. It was in the realm of "meh, fine" by itself, but with this food we saw about eight different expressions.

Big ball of bright raspberry fruit with a admirably paced tail-off with the chili for the first half of the meal. Became a touch ordinary in the second half. With the cornbread (it's cornbread with a punch), its savory bonafides strutted in all its relative glory, getting all barky-loamy and licorice-like with a black cherry soda quality, yet always allowing the food to taste like the food.

Here's a meal we had little hope for. It was going to be just "food," in the basic sense. We liked it so much more than that, thinking we may even make it again. "Would you eat it again?" "Yeah, I'd make this again and throw it into the freezer for a weeknight meal, easy. It's good!"

The chili could have used a big handful of cilantro on top but this is a winner. Nice job, NYT.

As always.  

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