Tuesday, August 4, 2015

365 Days Of Food And Wine: Week #4

Ever buy tickets to a show a couple of months in advance and think at the time, "That will be fun. Dinner and show downtown during the summer. It'll be a nice night out." 

Then the show begins to approach, and slowly you begin to think, "Why are we going to see this person. He's fine and all, but...did we really just PAY money to see this person?" 

That'll happen this week. We'll see. 

Update: Completely fun show. A professional, veteran comic that knows how to entertain. 

Total food and wine cost for the week: $89 for food and $110 for wine = $199

Total food and wine cost for the month: $361 for food and $555 for wine = $916

Sunday: Big Greek Salad with 2014 Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini

Food Details: Greeky salad of kumatoes, kalamata olives, onions, green pepper, corn, salami, feta, dill and oregano, over arugula, dressed with white wine vinegar (red for Mrs. Ney - a mistake, she said, with the wine), olive oil, salt and pepper. Buttered mini-ciabatta buns on the side. "A Big Salad….it's a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it ..."

Did We Like It? Both of us worked hard this Sunday. A Big Greek Salad helps in forgetting the bad parts of most of that hard work, leaving, "Yeah. That sucked. But look what in front of me on the plate! It's a Big Greek Salad! I need nothing more right now."

How Was The Wine? We loved the 2014 with fried haloumi, skordalia, pita, and tomato-fennel salad in May. Pretty minerals and acid with wonderful length and gaps. Less so this time.

And The Pairing? It had the acid we wanted overall with the food, but became a little clipped and moody with the red wine vinegar for Mrs. Ney and the green pepper for me. Not everything we wanted in terms of pairing paradise, but still the kind of meal where you pause halfway through, lean back like Costanza's girlfriend after the risotto, and relish in the goodness.

Cost: $9 for food, $22 for wine = $31

Saturday: Dirty Rice with 2013 Michel Léon Vin D'Alsace Gewürztraminer 

Source: Recipe here, from Susan Spicer via Food & Wine, recipe halved.

Food Details: Andouille chicken sausages, wild rice, mirepoix, chicken stock, herbs, ground pork, chicken livers, chopped scallions on top, habanero hot sauce added. It's a big, honkin' bowl of rice chockablock with meaty, herby, Cajun flavors.

Did We Like It? Always do. It's strangely deep and dirty, while being simultaneously clean. Probably have it four times a year. Rotation food that pops up when the crave hits.

How Was The Wine? It's $10 gewürztraminer, sold at Trader Joe's, that's better than any we've had in this price range, and even a bit above. We don't particularly like gewürztraminer, mostly because they can be more hit-and-miss than other grapes we like (i.e. - we don't take a chance on a random gewürztraminer in a store just for funnsies. We gotta know if it's going to be good).  But it picks up spice, herbs and heat well. Get one with a nice sweetness and acidity play and it can elevate itself to something quite nice with the right food. Michel Leon is our default gewürztraminer because it always delivers. Its shimmering and bouncy acid lifts the lychee and grapefruit notes to something that tastes elevated and sprite-like. As it did here with heat, herbs and Cajun accents here.

And The Pairing? The wine was a great refresher, countering everything in the bowl quite well, particularly with the excess hot sauce I dumped on top. WHEW! That was HOT for the few first bites!

Cost: $9 for food, $10 for wine = $19

Friday: Chicken Parmesan and Garlic Bread with 2012 Trader Joe's Barbera Mendocino County

Food Details: Chicken breasts, breaded, fried. Mozzarella from Monday and tomato sauce dumped on top, then baked off. Basil on top. Pugliese bread, sliced, slathered with a butter, olive oil, parsley and garlic spread, broiled off.

Did We Like It? It's a "use stuff up and eat like it's 1986!" dinner. The fancy restaurant near my hometown growing up was Rastrelli's, an Italian-American place where everyone went for their graduation-reception-"just got my braces off!" dinner. This meal tastes like I just got my braces off (and this is still on the menu at Rastrelli's, by the way). Homey, goopy and delicious.

How Was The Wine? It's our house red for weekday Italian meals, because it's juicy, bright and friendly, with an underlying spicy edge. We always wonder if we should have something different and inevitably wander back to this one, because it delivers.

And The Pairing? Lively and lovely. Simple Italian-American meal with a wine that kept things on the bright side.

Cost: $12 for food, $10 for wine = $22

Thursday: Fava Bean and Ricotta Salata Strozzapreti with 2014 Quinta de Porrais Branco Douro 

Source: Recipe here, via Lidia's Italy, using strozzapreti instead of cavatelli.

Food Details: Onions sweated with garlic and red pepper flakes. Fava beans added to the pan with some pasta water and reduced down to a sauce. Strozzapreti, cooked, drained. Fava-onion-garlic sauce added to the added to the pasta in the pasta cooking vessel and swirled, plated. Dressed with ricotta salata, pecorino, dill, tarragon and parsley.

Did We Like It? Best batch yet! Less of a saucy-sauce this time, which allowed the dill and tarragon to come through, taking this batch to a different place, and we loved it. This is great with fresh fava, it does make a difference, but bagged fava didn't leave us wanting here at all. It's a simple dish where the triangulation of the fava, ricotta salata and onions is simple Italian cooking on full display.

How Was The Wine? We were stunned to hear Francisco Olazabal of Quinta do Vale Meão made a white Douro wine at Quinta de Porrais, about an hour northwest of Vale Meão in the Douro Superior. How did we not know this? High elevation, cooler climate; 55% códega do larinho and 45% rabigato. It's at Perman Wine for $14 (and somehow about $4 at Jumbo - a strange, but pleasant supermarket chain all over Portugal - like if K-Mart and Jewel had a baby). This might be the best expression of a Douro white we've had. Cool climate gaseousness and acid. Plenty of space offered to enjoy its subtle hints of flowers and spiced pears at your leisure, with only of hint of honeydew, something that typically takes Douro whites to a rather basic, boring place. This isn't a fancy white. It's just all the Douro white parts in all the right places. And it LOVED this food.

And The Pairing? The dill, tarragon and parsley medley made for a firmer, greeny background in this plate of food and the wine picked up on it and ran, rounding and extending itself out beautifully. While the finish reminded you of what you just tasted, just in case you forgot. This is a fairly versatile meal. We've had it with frappato, Sancerre, even a Douro red from Duorum. This was the best yet. Just the tops. We bought four bottles when we heard this existed. After having this meal, we bought four more two hours later. They'll be gone by winter.

Cost: $16 for food, $14 for wine = $30          

Wednesday: Cornish Game Hens, Amaranth Greens and Pretzel Rolls with 2013 Broc Cellars Mourvèdre Martian Vineyard SBC

Food Details: Cornish game hens (domestic - Harvesttime - $3.69/bird), spatchcocked (fun word to say, along with dessert - a schichttorte), stuffed with a fig jam/kalamata tapenade under the skin (David Leibovitz), roasted Dorie Greenspan-style (from Around My French Table, a book that's been good to us, page 225). Amaranth greens, leaves removed, tender stems sauteed with a shallot, garlic; leaves wilted in that pan; drizzled with balsamic. Lemon spritz on bird and greens. LaBriola pretzel dinner rolls, butter and lavender jam.

Did We Like It? We liked the "lil chickens!" Could be a good vehicle for other "lil chickens!" preparations down the road on the cheap. And the tapenade was delicious. But these amaranth greens are just the tops. We've had amaranth greens once or twice before and liked them. Bump that up to LOVE with this meal. These are rarely stocked in Mrs. Ney's supermarket sweep. You see them, you buy them. All sorts of greeny-planty-earthy goodness here. Grown-up greens. Pretzel rolls with butter and lavender jam that brought more "Holy crap! That's delicious!" shouts. Overall, we liked it. My goodness, we liked it.

How Was The Wine? More Broc being Broc. Smelled like smoky brisket right away. Turned into a light mourvèdre that highlighted its floral-bright fruit character with low alcohol, light spice and sunny disposition. There's something that Broc Cellars does with their reds. About 2/3 of the way down, a place where many reds concentrate, get a little showy, strut around, try to show how masculine they can be, Broc allows space at this point. There's a pause to allow food to frolic. That's why we love them. Same with this mourvèdre. Because...

And The Pairing? So freakin' perfect with the amaranth greens, taking this wine to a maximum expression. Long, broad, juicy, rich, balanced; everything on full display. A bit short with the game hen and tapenade, which was surprising. Figured we had a match there. But with these greens, it made the entire meal into something memorable. One of those times where you say, "Why do people care so little about their food and wine pairing when this exists in the world?"

Cost: $15 for food, $24 for wine = $39               

Tuesday: Peanut Chicken Satay, Pot Stickers and Carrot Salad with Watermelon Sangria

Food Details: Chicken satay using peanut sauce from the freezer (golly! Was this from TWO years ago?). Surprisingly great freezer sauce, vacillating nicely between peanuty and coconuty; concentrated, yet light. Chicken, sauced and skewered, grilled off. Trader Joe's vegetable pot stickers. Here's a product good enough to avoid making pot stickers if you don't have the oomph to make pot stickers, pan seared, then steamed, and delicious. Multi-colored carrots for carrot salad. Ponzu for drizzling and dipping. Extra peanut sauce for dipping.

Did We Like It? We did. "This is really pleasant," was the phrase of the night. Pan-Asian flavors that satisfied the Asian-flavor jones, quite nicely, thank you very much.

How was the booze? Watermelon purée from the freezer, lychee juice steeped in lemongrass leaves, mint, manzano pepper, ginger beer, liter bottle of 2014 Innovac!ón Malbec-Syrah Rosé Mendoza ($8 - Whole Foods). Sangria? More of a delicious spritzer. We got all of the flavors included at first sip, then it become so broad and friendly about a 1/3 of the way down. Thought about adding gin, then abandoned adding gin, because gin is satan's spawn the day after for us.

And the pairing? Pleasant and friendly, friendly and pleasant, we liked this. Great minimum goodness across the board. Floor was raised with every bite and every sip. At $5 a plate and about $10 total for the booze, we say big winner in terms of dollars-to-satisfaction ratio.

Cost: $10 for food, $10 for booze = $20  

Monday: True-Blue Pick-n-Choose with Laurent Savoye "Magma des Granites" Vin Mousseaux Rouge

Food details: Heirloom tomato, salt, peppered and oiled. Celery and fennel seed mostarda (fun word to say in combination with dessert - a blueberry/peach crostata). Sliced roast beef. Salami. Marinated mozzarella balls (barely eaten). Arugula-parsley-basil salad. Baguette. Pick-n-choose on crack.

Did We Like It? Yeah. Definitely certain combos. Way too much food, a result of trying to turn the all elements of caprese that we had on hand into a dinner. Big winner here was a baguette, mostarda, salad and heirloom tomato bite. So gosh darn fresh and vertical in flavor. Mostarda-roast beef-bread = happy. In the end, a fine and good pick-n-choose with a garden-like quality. But this wine, man... This wine...

How Was The Wine? Outrageously good. A mousse-y gamay from Beaujolais, this was jumpy, jaunty, juicy, light and delicious. Round and upfront blueberry-blackberry fruit. Big herby background. Tasted like eating black fruits right from your picking basket, seeds, dirt, vines, leaves and all. Straightforward bubbly red that's so friendly and done oh-so well. It's $20, from Vin Chicago, and can't be recommended more highly.

And The Pairing? A baguette, mostarda, salad and heirloom tomato bite with a sip made the wine become an HD 4K version of itself. On a 90" TV. Rather ridiculous stuff. Nice with the roast beef. Less so with salami. Less-less so with the cheese and greens. But this wine, man... This wine... We'll be buying much more.

Cost: $18 for food, $20 for wine = $38

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