Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Week Of One-Offs

This week's food and wine is brought to you by the letter 'P.'

And taking days off work.

One of those days including working the coupons to get $45 off a Target trip. Another was making pasteis de nata, little Portuguese tarts  brought to you by a shortcut Jamie Oliver recipe, resulting in silly-great little nuggets of delights that for some ungodly reason we didn't get while in Portugal. So...winner week in our book.

Plus, there was partridge, peas, pancetta, pearl barley, all paired with a potent potable from Pfalz. And pizza.

"Don't practice your alliteration on me!"

Sunday "Off for Oscars" Dinner: Chorizo-stuffed dates, Uruguayan baked cheese, baguette and arugula, served with 2009 Pingus PSI Ribera del Duero ($35 - Binny's)

We hadn't had Avec's stuffed dates in probably three years, saw the New York Times did an adaptation of the restaurant's recipe, and a yen developed in both of us. Good stuff. Problem, though. San Marzano tomatoes are boss. Love 'em, use 'em all the time, there's a purity to its bright tomato flavor that's very much welcome and wanted. But the acid level is lower than other tomatoes, creating a dish that needs to be amped up a bit for our tastes. We wanted piquant (another 'p') and got something lower than that, making it feel like something was missing, if ever so subtly. Cento used here, with the a jar of Spanish piquillo peppers brought back from Spain. Olympic Provisions chorizo. This was good, not great. Uruguayan baked cheese (provolone) was great, because souped-up melted cheese is exactly what it promises to be - Awesomeness. Baguette for dipping, dunking and dragging. Arugula to you know, eat, and top the cheese (best bite in this dinner). Eating this meal while watching interviewers ask dumb-ass questions on the Red Carpet made for happy sarcasm and good eats.

The Pingus PSI suffers from our high expectations. This is the third bottle in a row that either died on the table, got moody with the food, or tasted like it was trying too hard. This 2009 opened with a bit of a tannic bite, settled into a nice Ribera place of blueberries, blackberries and a brush fire, then died halfway through the meal to where a sip offered little in the way of anything interesting. About a half-hour of happiness followed by another half-hour of "I'm gettin' nothin'!" Note. Taken.

Monday Dinner: Lamb-stuffed artichokes with fava beans, saffron orzo pilaf and wilted spinach, served with NV Frank Cornellisen Susucaru #5 Etna Sicilia ($35 - Red & White)

Prelude to spring. Frozen artichokes and fava beans here that didn't suffer from it. Surprisingly great artichokes. Recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, reprinted in Wine Spectator. Swapped out beef for lamb, peas for favas. Saffron orzo pilaf that Mrs. Ney thought might have been cooked to death but turned out delicious with everything else on the plate. Wilted spinach that was indeed sad, mainly because we don't dig spinach.

Food from the Levant plays so well with each other. Not a bully or straggler in the lot and this food was no exception. Great one-off. Served with...I think we can just say it...our favorite wine of 2014. If a wine beats this one by the time this year is up, it was indeed a Good Year for wine in this house. The Susucaru Rosato #5 is all DRY rose petals with a wee bit of macerated raspberries. Cataratto, malvasia, nerello capuccio. Natural, unfiltered, no preservatives added, beautifully cloudy and clay buildup on the bottom. Serve this one a little chillier than you'd think, as the evolution is delicious. As it gets to room temp, it becomes a little more simple.  <--- myself="" nbsp="" p="" plagiarized="" there.="">
Got a meal that would be perfect with a little rosewater? Drink this. Happy, tickly feelings will ensue.

Tuesday Dinner: Partridge! Peas! Pancetta! Pearl Barley! Pinot Meunier!

D'Artagnan partridge bought during the waning hours of their February free-ship sale. If you missed that, don't say I didn't tell you. Jamie Oliver partridge recipe. Learn him, know him, you'll love him. Great one-off again here. Tons of buckshot that Mrs. Ney had to pick out, but partridge is good. Might even have it again. One thing we will have again is pearl barley. That's Great. As good, if not better, than farro, a house staple for many years that we kinda got tired of. And apparently pearl barley is ridiculously good for you. This was an utterly good meal that we probably won't have again in this form.

We will be having the 2012 Darting Pinot Meunier Pfalz ($20 - Binny's) again. Completely different from the 2009 and 2010, while still maintaining its identity. Ever fly Swiss Air? You get these little chocolates. They're cheap chocolates, certainly what the Swiss would call cheap chocolate. They taste, though, like no other chocolate I'd ever had up to that point, with an emphasis on their milkiness in a way I'd never tasted. It's like a seminar in your mouth on how chocolate is made into milk chocolate. This wine took that and added Fannie Mae chocolate-covered cherries goo. Followed by dirt. And great length. With a little perky fresh lift on the finish. We loved it and will probably be drinking another six or so this year. Because it's $20. A great quote came from a commenter in the great Asimov NYT piece on River Café being forced to re-evaluate their wine stock after Hurricane Sandy: "If you know wine, wine is dirt cheap...if not, it is totally unaffordable."  This is a perfect example of that.

Wednesday Lunch & Dinner: Homemade pizza margherita & jerk chicken with bok choy and plantain scones.

Christo Cooking Day produced a pretty gosh-darn solid margherita, from a Cook's Illustrated recipe. And a jerk chicken meal that will be forgotten by...I'm saying...Saturday at 8pm.

BelGioioso mozzarella, Cento San Marzano tomatoes, shredded basil on top after cooking, arugula to top at the table. Recipe followed to the letter. Shockingly pliable dough, easy to stretch and mold. It took two hours from walking into the kitchen and starting work to taking a bite. Not too shabby. Dough could have used the smallest touch of more salt, but it was a Cook's Illustrated recipe - they don't love salt. These pizzas were completely acceptable, perfectly crispy, and a true-blue success all around.

Jamaican jerk chicken with bok choy and plantain scones wasn't an all-around success. Solid, moist chicken. Two jerk-marinated halves of chicken thrown onto a preheated flat-top in a 500-degree oven. Old lemongrass that HAD to be used put underneath in an attempt to reduce the smoking effect of this style of chicken cooking. Suc. Cess! No smoke whatsoever. 40 minutes in the oven led to moisty-moist chicken and tasty skin. Good stuff. Chopped bok choy sautéed with sesame oil, ponzu, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Sad bok choy. Like spinach, we don't dig bok choy. We've had it probably 6-7 times at home and we're done. It's like celery and spinach had a baby and that's not necessarily a good thing.

The real head-slapper is brought to you by listening to an idiot Score caller and not paying attention to a recipe for scones that didn't include salt. Caribbean scones seemed like a good idea with jerk chicken. Put a cup of diced plantains in it. Infuse the cream with lemongrass to link up with the bok choy and some of the ingredients in the jerk having an Asiany double usage....should be good. Asian-Caribbean fusion...? Without the salt in the recipe, no plantain flavor whatsoever. No lemongrass flavor either, though that was really just throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks. No real flavor, period. Salt is good. Salt enhances flavor. These scones were a textbook example of that. But we threw some tomatillo pepper jelly on top and sprinkled it with salt, leading to something that had the terrible flavor of no flavor to something quite more than that. Tomatillo pepper jelly (Prieto Pronto grocery) is as good as it sounds. With LaGranja Cava (under $10 - Trader Joe's), fine enough pairing. But don't put grapefruit juice ice cubes in your Cava. It tastes like something went terribly wrong with your beverage.

Looking back, this was a pretty busy week! 

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