Perfect Pairings: Crab Cakes and Albariño

Crab CakesIf crabcakes are on the menu, that’s what I order. I love-love-love crabcakes.  They’ve been my go-to favorite food since my college days…you know, back when we all had spare time to do things like experiment with recipes and have impromptu wine parties.

The good thing about my near-lifelong obsession with crab cakes means that I spent decades perfecting my recipe for them.  I vaguely remember the first crabcake recipe I ever made…it was in a cookbook I purchased at Moe’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in the early 80’s.  The author was either Craig Clairborne or Pierre Franey…one of those early “gourmet” chefs who published recipes in the New York Times (I definitely remember some connection to the NY Times). Therefore, despite many twists, turns, and changes, this recipe is somehow inspired by that first crab cake recipe, churned out on many a weekday evening for the gang of pre-med, pre-law, and women’s studies students who were my roommates and pals back in my Berkeley Days.

Bubbly Prof’s Crabcakes – Ingredients:

  • 1 pound crabmeat
  • 1 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers, roasted and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (for sautéing, although they can also be baked.)

Procedure:

1.   Using a large bowl, check out the crab meat to make sure it is clean from bits of shell and other things.

2.  Add the following ingredients to the bowl, and, using your hands, mix them all together lightly: 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs, Green Onions, Red Bell Peppers, Sour Cream, Lemon Zest, Worcestershire Sauce, Chopped Dill, Dry Mustard, Salt, and Black Pepper.

3.  Crack one egg into a small bowl and whisk lightly.  Add to the crab cake mixture and, using your hands, mix well.

4.  Put the mixture, covered, into the refrigerator for about one hour.  You can skip this step, but it makes the mixture easier to handle.

5.  Shape the mixture into patties:  if using for an entree, this recipe should make 8 good size crab cakes and will feed four people.

6.  Crack the remaining egg into a flat bowl (such as a pie pan) and whisk together with 1 tablespoon milk.  Set up another flat container (a round cake pan or even a dinner plate will do) and place a portion of the remaining bread crumbs in it.  Using a somewhat standard breading procedure, dip each crab cake into the egg mixture, then roll around in the bread crumbs, patting them down so you get quite a nice coating. If you like to work ahead of time, at this point, you can place the crab cakes on a baking tray, over with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours.

7.  When you are ready to dine, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the crab cakes for 4 to 5 mintues on each side.  Be sure to monitor the heat so the crab cakes remain at a sizzle but don’t burn.  If you have two large pans, you can cook all the cakes at one time – otherwise cook them in batches and keep warm in the oven until they are all ready to go.  If you prefer, the crab cakes can be baked in a 350º oven for 25 minutes.  Use a large sheet pan or cookie sheet, coated with spray oil.  Give the crab cakes a quick spray with the oil to encourage a crunch, and bake until brown.  You can turn them half way through the baking to give them a crunch on both sides, or leave on one side the entire time for a different style of cake (both delicious).

8.  You can serve these crab cakes with just a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a nice bit of salad on the side.  You can also serve them with your favorite version of tartar or cocktail sauce.  I usually use the sour cream I have leftover from the recipe to make an impromptu sauce using lemon juice, lemon zest, and whatever else I find in the kitchen.  If I have extra dill, that is ideal, but on occaision, I have used capers, parsley, finely chopped pickles, and  a touch of mustard.

The Pairing:

This dish, with is subtle tastes, salty seafood flavors, and crunchy-soft texture, would obviously pair well with a wide variety of wines, and my preference would be something white.  I would look for a light-to-medium bodied, crisply acidic (especially if you serve the crabcakes with a squeeze of lemon or other acidic topping), fruity white wine. Unoaked Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and any number of light, Italian white wines—including Prosecco—would work just fine.  I’d avoid low-acid whites such as Viognier or Gewurztraminer.

Paco and LolaMy ideal pairing is Albariño, particularly those from Rías Baixas in Spain. Albariño (or, as it is called in Portugal, Alvarinho), is thought to be native to the Iberian Peninsula, although whether it first originated in the Minho region of Portugal or the Galician corner of Spain is up for debate.  Either way, the grape stars in both regions; as a main ingredient in the delightfully light and sometimes spritzy Vinho Verde of Portugal as well as the new superstar white wine of the Rías Baixas region in Spain.

Albariño based wines have all the basic components for an ideal pairing with a seafood dish such as crab cakes:  crisp in acidity, refreshing on the palate, medium-bodied, and moderate alcohol. The wines are highly aromatic, leading with fruity and floral aromas that often include white peach, apricot, melon, pineapple, mango, honeysuckle, orange blossom, lemongrass and green apple – to mention a few.

But Albariño has other qualities that made it my first choice for crab cakes.  For one, the grape is widely grown on the Atlantic Coast, and on my last trip to Spain, I seem to recall relaxing in a café in the old section of Pontevedre, dining on crab cakes and sipping Albariño.  (As a matter of fact, I took the train from Santiago de Compostela to Pontevedre for this express purpose – luckily Shields T. did not mind.) But more to the point, Albariño tends to have that fleeting, mineral-like aroma of “clean seashore” or “salt air” that I often notice but can hardly describe. Jancis Robinson and Company, in their book Wine Grapes, describes this aspect of Albariño as “a marine note.”

While not quite sold on any one of them, I have used the following terms to describe this aspect of a wine: Wet Sand, Slate, Oyster Shell, Salinity, Gunpowder, and Steel; perhaps I should just call it “The Beach.”  However you describe it, this aspect of Albariño makes it both one of my favorite wines, and my top choice for crabcakes.  Give it a try!

Perfect Pairings: Wine with Holiday Ham

Easter HamIf your next big, crazy holiday gathering is going to feature a big, juicy holiday ham, the centerpiece of your meal will probably be glazed with maple or pierced with cloves. On the side, you are likely to find the standard line-up of holiday buffet dishes, including scalloped potatoes, sweet potatoes, brandied peaches, and green beans.

Your first wine pairing guideline is to keep your wine choices centered around white wines, rosés, or lighter styles of red, so as not to clash with the inevitable sweetness on your plate and to avoid overpowering the entrée.  As usual with holiday feasts, the array of side dishes offer up a wide variety of tastes and flavors, so our challenge is to find a wine that doesn’t wrestle with the rest of the meal.

Keep it Light to Medium Bodied – A meal based on ham will need a light to medium bodied wine in order to not overpower the main course in terms of both weight and flavors.  For best results choose a sparkling wine, a white wine, or a rosé.  If you just must have a red wine, keep to the lighter styles; Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are great choices.

Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors – A dinner based on ham will most likely contain a side dish based on peaches, raisins, or sweet potatoes.  While it is very hard to predict flavor-based reactions in wine and food pairings (as opposed to taste-based, which can be predicted quite accurately), fruity flavors in food will often make your wine seem less fruity.  In order to avoid a fruit-on-fruit wrestling match and ending up with insipid-tasting wine, make sure the wine has fruity flavors to begin with.

easter ham with bourbon peachesA Wine with a Touch of Sweetness will be a great match, especially if your Ham is Honey-Baked or Brown Sugar-Glazed – This is important:  sweetness in food makes wine taste less sweet and more acidic.  So…if your ham is coated with a sugary or sweet glaze, this rule cannot be ignored!  Don’t worry about having sweet wines on the dinner table ….the sweetness in the food will make the wine taste dry.  Trust me on this one!  Besides, don’t forget that your open-door policy on holidays most likely means that your guests have a broad range of preferences in wine, and this is one case where the Moscato drinkers and the sweet wine lovers may just have an edge.  Hey, a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui never hurt anybody!

Bubbly Professor Wine Suggestions For Holiday Ham

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State…for the wine adventurer, try finding a single winery that offers wines in varying levels of sweetness.  Tasting them along with the meal will make for an interesting feast!
  • Vouvray, either sparkling or still, or any other Chenin Blanc-based wine from the Loire.
  • Rosé…just about any Rosé would be lovely, and this might be a time where Rosé d’Anjou with its slight hint of sweetness will absolutely shine.  A rosé made from Sangiovese, which to me always seems to have a charming little hint of baking spice in the flavor would also work.  If you have a rich uncle, tell him to bring Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, and save a bottle for me!
  • Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon – this is an under-appreciated wine if ever there was one.  For less than $20.00 a bottle, grab a bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  For a bit more dough, try just about any Pinot Gris from Alsace – I guarantee you will love it!
  • Gewürztraminer…my favorite “love it or hate it” wine will really shine with the flavors of a holiday ham feast.  Germany and Alsace make terrific dry varieties, and some of the versions from California have a slight hint of sweetness.
  • Rosé Champagne might just be the perfect choice.  Go for broke and load up the table with Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé, or buy Cristalino Cava Brut Rosé by the case (at around $6.00 a delicious bottle you can afford it.)   Or, buy the Cava for your guests and keep a secret stash of Laurent Perrier in the bedroom mini-fridge just for you and your bestie.
  • Prosecco is a good choice, but then it just about always is!
  • For the wine adventurous…try a Cabernet-Franc based red wine from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil.
  • Red Burgundy, Cru Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.  You just can’t go wrong with these food-loving wines.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Alba, or a nice Chianti. Sure to please the lovers of earthy red wines.
  • For the sweet wine aficionados in the crowd, grab a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.  These sweeties will work for the whole meal from spiced cashews to pecan pie!

easter eggsRemember to relax and enjoy the holidays, and don’t stress over the wine choices.  Choose something you love and something that your guests will be comfortable with, whether they be wine newbies or wine adventurers!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Grenache

grenacheThe Soundbyte:  Grenache (technically Grenache Noir) might just be the most popular “wing man” in the world of wine.  By that I mean that while Grenache is certainly capable of starring in varietal wines, it is one of the world’s most popular partners in a red wine blend.

In Spain, Grenache is often blended with Tempranillo, Cinsault, and a host of other grapes.  Grenache is one of the three amigos (Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre) of the Rhône Blend (otherwise known as G-S-M), while also playing a part in some of the more complex (ie., 13-grapes-or-even-more) wines of the Rhône.   Grenache is also made into dessert and fortified wines, and makes a world-class rosé.

Typical Attributes of a Grenache-based Wine:

  • A typical varietal wine made with Grenache might be described as soft on the palate, relatively high in alcohol and with aromas of spice and berries.
  • The texture of Grenache has been described as “rustic” or “fleshy”.
  • The grape tends to be thin-skinned and low in both color and tannin, however, these factors can vary depending on vineyard conditions and winemaking; some Grenache packs a powerful tannic punch.
  • In addition to varietals, Grenache is used in fortified wines, dessert wines, and delightful rosés; but its most common incarnation is as the backbone of hearty red blends.

Typical Aromas of a Grenache Based Wine:

grenache grapesFruity:  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Currant, Cherry, Raisin, Plum

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Menthol, Licorice

Earthy:  Wet Earth, Leather, Forest Floor, Bramble, Tobacco, Smoke, Leather

Floral:  Roses, Dried Rose Petals, Violet

Oak-Derived:  Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa, Vanilla, Sweet Wood

Where The Best Grenache is Grown:

  • In France’s Rhône Valley, especially the Southern Rhône, where it is the super star grape of Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Gigondas, and Rasteau. Typically, it plays a leading role in the blended red wines of the Southern Rhône.
  • The grape is part of the blend that is used to produce many delightful rosés throughout the Southern Rhône, including Lirac and Tavel.
  • Also in France, Grenache is grown in Provence, Rouissillon, Languedoc, Minervois, Fitou, and Corbières. It is also the leading variety of certain fortified wines in produced in Banyuls and Maury.
  • In Spain, where it is among the most widely planted red grapes in the country, the grape is called “Garnacha”.  Garnacha is main variety in Pirorat and Campo de Borja; and plays a role in the wines of Rioja, Navarra,  Somontano, Catalonia, and La Mancha.
  • Australia, where it makes some awesome varietals, including my favorite, d’Arenberg’s McLaren Vale “The Custodian” Grenache.
  • California, where it has historically been grown in San Joaquin Valley and is now produced in many other regions such as Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.
  • Washington State is also getting into Grenache.
  • Several regions throughout the south of Italy, particularly Sardinia, where it stars in the wine known as Cannonau di Sardegna.

grenache foodFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces
  • Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers, Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sémillon

35-Semillon-grapesThe Soundbyte:  Sémillon is a golden-skinned white wine grape known primarily for its close association with Sauvignon Blanc, as in the Sauvignon/Sémillon blends of White Bordeaux and its many imitators worldwide.  Sémillon is increasingly seen as a stand-alone varietal, particularly in the Hunter Valley Region of Australia, where it seems to have found its “second home.”  Sémillon has a well-documented susceptibility to Botrytis, and is often made into dessert wines.  It is the most widely planted white wine grape in Bordeaux, particularly in Sauternes.  Fans of Sémillon like to brag that the most famous dessert wine of all, Château d’Yquem, is 80% Sémillon.

Typical Attributes of a Sémillon Based Wine:

  • The grapes are hardy in the vineyard and relatively easy to culitivate.  They are fairly resistant to disease, but as luck would have it, are quite susceptible to Botrytis.
  • Sémillon tends to have moderate acidity, which is most likely why it became the world’s best blending partner for Sauvignon Blanc, which tends to scream with acidity.
  • Sémillon tends to have good extract, and a rich, “oily” texture or weight,  sometimes referred to as  “waxy”.
  • Varietal wines tend to have medium to high levels of alcohol.
  • Sémillon tends to be low on aromatics when made into a varietal, which is another reason why it does so well with the intensely aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. 
  • It has been described as rather “bland” in its youth, but is one of the rare white wines that can transform with age.  Older versions can take on a hazelnut, toasty richness. Oak aging also helps create a more complex wine, and, along with  malolactic fermentation can encourage aromas of butter, cream, vanilla and smoke.
  • An interesting wine-tasting term that is often used to describe Sémillon is “lanolin,” which is actually a substance found in wool and used in cosmetics (!).  In “WineSpeak” the term refers to a smooth, creamy impression that might be considered to opposite of “tart” or “sharp”. 

semillon bottlesTypical Aromas of a Semillon Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apple, Pear,  Lemon, Nectarine, Grapefruit, Melon, Fig, Date  

Spicy:  Saffron, Vanilla, Dried Herb

Vegetal:  Green Grass, Asparagus, Bell Pepper 

Botrytis Affected Versions:  Apricot, Dried Apricot, Quince, Peach, Honey, Pineapple, Vanilla, Butterscotch, Curry

Oaked Versions:  Vanilla, Sweet Wood, Toast, Smoke, Oak, Coconut

Where The Best Sémillon is Grown:

  • The Southwest of France, particularly Bordeaux, where it most likley has its native home.  Sémillon is the most widely planted white grape in Bordeaux, particularly in Sauternes where it may claim up to 80% of the vineyard property.  Of course, it shares the white Bordeaux blend with Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes a dash of Muscadelle, so it has remained somewhat out of the spotlight. But be sure…Sémillon rules the white Bordeaux world.
  • Australia’s Hunter Valley, which has become Sémillon’s adopted home in much the same way that Malbec has taken to Mendoza. Hunter Valley is well-known for being a leading producer of 100% varietal Sémillon.
  • In other parts of Australia, Sémillon is used as a blending partner for Chardonnay as well as in Bordeaux-inspired Sémillon-Sauvignon Blends.
  • The Côtes de Gascogne, a Vin de Pays produced in the Armagnac region, is heavily planted to Sémillon.
  • The Loire Valley has a smattering of Sémillon, as does Portugal, Israel, Argentina, Chile, California, Washington State, New Zealand, and South Africa.

semillonFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Roast Chicken with Herbs!
  • Seafood of all kinds…try Classic French Steamed Mussels
  • Poultry, Duck, Veal, Pork…

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Polenta
  • Coconut, Apples, Pears, Pineapple
  • Nutmeg, Saffron
  • Hazelnuts, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans
  • Bacon, Mushrooms, Sweet Onions, Garlic
  • Lemon and Grapefruit make excellent flavor bridges, but try not to overdo it on the acidity (remember, this is a low-acid wine)
  • Tarragon, Basil, Thyme, Lemongrass, Basil, Rosemary, Fresh herbs of all kinds 
  • Butter, Brown Butter, Cream, Sour Cream, Olive Oil

If your Sémillon-based wine is more “Sauvignon” than “Sémillon” – check out the food pairing advice on the Cheat Sheet for Sauvignon Blanc.

If your Sémillon is botrytis-affected, it will go well with sweet dishes made with honey, cream, apricots, apples, and pears—in addition to pairing beautifully with savory dishes such as blue cheese and foie gras! 

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” of Austin, Texas

missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

Turkey Confidential (Part 2)

Twas the day after Thanksgiving

And all through the land

Leftover turkey was served

Dry, boring and bland.”

But NOT at the Bubbly Professor’s house, because she has spent the last few years collecting and perfecting recipes that use leftover turkey in disguise! 

If your leftovers need a boost, try this fancy-sounding “Insalata di Turchia Riservate” with gorgonzola crumbles, roasted walnuts, and green apples. No one will know it’s leftover turkey in disguise, or that “Insalata di Turchia Riservate” is simply Italian for “Turkey Salad Confidential.” 

This salad would go well with a number of white wines, but my choice would be Chenin Blanc, especially this one.

Bubbly Professor’s Insalata di Turchia Riservate

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups mixed salad greens (I like the field green type with a bit of arugula, but this is leftover day so use whatever you have on hand!)
  • 2 cups leftover turkey, shredded
  • 1 green apple, cored and julienne
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 ounces gorgonzola cheese
  • 2 oz. grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 cup roasted walnuts
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced as thinly as possible

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 T. Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

  1. Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  We’ll use the bowl later to finish the salad.
  2. Place the julienned apples in the dressing as soon as possible after cutting in order to prevent browning.
  3. Place the salad greens, the shredded turkey, the gorgonzola, Parmesan, and the roasted walnuts in the bowl with the apples and the dressing; toss to coast. Taste the salad and adjust for salt and pepper if needed.
  4. Divide the salad among four dinner plates and garnish with the cherry tomatoes and red onion.
  5. Serve with some nice bread or rolls and don’t forget to gloat a bit about the healthy meal you just served! 

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Turkey Confidential

What to do with leftover turkey???

If you’re like me, the day after Thanksgiving, you are faced with a mound of leftover turkey.  Some of you might then think, “Yeah! Turkey sandwiches for days!”

Now, I love a good sandwich, but the day after Thanksgiving I have another issue.  After days of cooking, thinking, and talking turkey, I’m at the point where I never want to see turkey again.  So, to get around the issue, over the years I”ve developed a series of recipes that use leftover turkey…but don’t look like (or taste like) leftover turkey.  As a matter of fact, they are as far from turkey and dressing as one can get, in terms of taste and style.  So, if you ever find yourself with mounds of turkey, I invite you to try one of these recipes out!

This first recipe, “Coconut Curry de Dinde”  showcases Asian flavors and would pair perfectly with a dry Riesling.  “Dinde”, by the way, is French for “turkey”.  See, it’s all incognito.  Enjoy! 

Bubbly Prof’s Coconut Curry de Dinde

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked turkey meat, shredded
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 Jalapeño pepper,  seeded and minced
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 2 T. curry powder
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 lb. new potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups green peas (frozen is fine)
  • 1 (13 ounce) can coconut milk
  • 1 (14 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro

 Procedure:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add the sweet onion and saute for 5 minutes, until translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, green onions, jalapeño pepper, and spices. Saute for two minutes more, stirring continuously. 
  3. Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, salt and potatoes.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the shredded turkey and green peas, simmer for a few minutes just until heated through.
  5. Add the cilantro, adjust for seasoning, and serve as-is or with steamed rice.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas

 

Can She Pair a Pumpkin Pie?

After the Thanksgiving meal is served…and served, and served, and served…you swear you’ll never eat again.  But, after an hour or so of watching football, washing dishes, or snoozing on the couch, you’re ready for some pumpkin pie.

The typical accompaniment for T-day dessert in my experience has been the dregs of whatever wine was served with the meal.  Nothing wrong with that, but Thanksgiving is a special day, so why not offer up a specially chosen Pumpkin Pie Pairing to cap off the day?

If you’ve read The Bubbly Professor’s “Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing” you know that the most important factor in most food-and-wine meetups is to “pair to taste, not to flavor.”  This makes a pumpkin pie pairing really simple:  you need a sweet wine, lest the food dull out the wine.  Now, it doesn’t have to be uber-sweet, just a hint of sweetness will do, but this is also one of those pairings where super-sweet wine works. 

Here are a few of my favorites –  enjoy!

Sauternes:  Sauternes, with its luscious sweetness is a match made in heaven for pumpkin pie.  The wine is a good “big and rich meets big and rich and they live happily ever after” type of match in terms of texture, and the subtle dried apricot-vanilla-nutmeg-dried leaves kind of aromas and flavors of Sauternes make this a Fall Fest in a glass.  Sauternes can be expensive…my personal favorite, Chateau Guiraud, is a cool one hundred bucks, however, there are many inexpensive (around $20.00 a bottle) versions on the market these days, and they are worth a try as well.  

Tawny Port: For years now, I’ve spent my Thanksgiving in the best possible way…surrounded by an awesome group of friends and family at the lovely home of (hi Janelle and Kyle!!) Janelle and Kyle. My contribution to the feast has often been a selection of dessert wines…with all of my suggestions listed here of course…and every year, the first bottle to be emptied is the Tawny Port.  So there.  First emptied = great match.  Not a scientific experiment, but a darn good one.  My go-to Tawny Port is Taylor-Fladgate 10-Year-Old Age Indicated Tawny Porto, which runs about $20.00 a bottle. 

Moscato d’Asti:  Moscato d’Asti, besides being just plain hands-down delicious, is a great match for pumpkin pie. It’s light, fizzy and sweet, but not too sweet, and with the pumpkin pie pairing, the wine will transform and taste just slightly off dry.  It’s a cool trick to play with people who claim to be too sophisticated for sweet wine.  Moscato’s popularity of late has spawned a host of cheap imitations, but you can’t go wrong with a true Italian; Saracco makes one of my favorites, and it’s a winner at around $14.00

Vin Santo:  Tuscany’s famous  “Wine of the Saints” is another great match for pumpkin pie.  The wine’s just-barely-there sweetness will allow it to pair with the pumpkin pie well; after a bite of pie, you won’t taste the wine’s sweet side anymore, but it will still taste rich, woodsy, spicy, and delightful.  If you try, if might even find a scent of pumpkin pie spice lingering in your glass.  Just about any Vin Santo will delight you, but my personal favorite is from Borgo Scopeto.

Brandy:  If you enjoy a long evening of conversation, Brandy is a great choice to serve with your pumpkin pie.  I personally don’t buy into the “spirits dull the palate” argument and think that Brandy with its warmth and calm makes a perfect pie pairing partner.  The anh (adorable new husband) and I fell in love with Torres Brandy on our honeymoon in Spain, but I am equally enamoured with Christian Brothers Brandy from the San Joaquin Valley in California.  The Christian Brothers Wineries and Distillery played an impressive role in the history of California Wine, as any visitor to Napa knows…perhaps that’s a story for a future blog post!

Coffee:  If you are in need of a wake-up (or sober-up) session before continuing on to the rest of your day, nothing beats a good cup of coffee with your pumpkin pie.  Coffee and pumpkin pie also makes a great day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast…just don’t tell  your fitness trainer.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Perfect Pairings: Amazeballs and Tempranillo

In honor of International Tempranillo Day 2012, I offer up my “Most Amazing Meatballs” Recipe!  These meatballs remind me of the tapas-style Albondigas the anh (adorable new husband) and I feasted on in Madrid just a few short months ago.

These meatballs can be served up however you like…with spaghetti, on a sandwich, as a tapa, or you can do like I do and “pretend” to eat healthy by serving them up with a nice green vegetable.  Just don’t forget the Tempranillo!

For more information on Tempranillo and suggested food pairings, see my Tempranillo Cheat Sheet.

The Bubbly Professor’s Amazing Meatballs:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. Ground Beef
  • 1 lb. Pork Sausage (bulk)
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 2 T. finely chopped Parsley
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 t. Kosher Salt
  • 1 t. freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup water

For the Sauce:

  • 2 cups chopped Sweet Onion
  • 1 T. minced Garlic
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 cup Tempranillo (or other dry red wine)
  • 2 – 28 oz. cans of Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 T. chopped Parsley
  • 1 T. Kosher Salt
  • 1 t. freshly ground Black Peper
  • 1 t. ground Cinnamon

For the Amazeballs:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Crack the egg into a small bowl and beat well with 1 cup water.  Set aside.
  3. Place the ground beef, pork sausage, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl and mix well to combine.  You have to get your hands in there.
  4. Pour the egg and water mixture over the top and mix well again to combine.
  5. Divide the meatball mixture roughly in half and form each “half” into eight meatballs.  You should have a total of 16 meatballs, about 2-inches in diameter each.
  6. Place the amazeballs on an oiled cookie sheet and bake 350º for 20 minutes.

For the Sauce:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in 2 T. olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Watch the pan so the onions and garlic do not brown, you just want them to soften.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes and their juice, the wine, salt, pepper, and cinnamon and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes.
  3. Add the seasoning, adjust the seasoning, and add the finished meatballs.
  4. Simmer the meatballs for five minutes and eat immediately, that evening, or the next day.  This is one of those dishes that gets better after a few days.  The meatballs also freeze beautifully in the sauce.  If you eat all the meatballs and have sauce leftover, use it to make a pasta dish or whatever strikes your fancy.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Perfect Pairings: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic and Viognier

Chicken with Forty (yes, forty) Cloves of Garlic is one of my favorite cold weather dishes.  A flavorful chicken braise like this is not a quick dish to put together, but it is a great kitchen project for a cold weather Sunday.  This dish is also something of a miracle in the way it transforms ordinary, inexpensive ingredients into a meal with delicious, elegant flavors.

Don’t let the forty cloves of garlic, which is quite literal, frighten you away.  The slow-roasting and simmering process takes away the bitter bite of the garlic and leaves earthy richness in its place.

I’ve chosen this dish as a “perfect pairing partner” for Viognier, but it could be a perfect partner for a number of wines.  I know a lot of people would choose a rich, butter Chardonnay to pair with this dish, and I agree with that whole-heartedly.  I also agree that it could pair equally well with unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, or Fumé Blanc.  It could fare well with Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Champagne or Rosé.  It’s a wine-loving dish if ever there was one.

Why Viognier?

This recipe for Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic gets it delicious flavor from slow simmering,   caramelization, and sauce reduction.  While all this slow cooking is going on, the umami-rich chicken flavors blend with the earthiness and complexity of the herbs and garlic. It all adds up to a delicious dish!

However, the reason I chose Viognier as the perfect pairing for this dish lies more in what the recipe does NOT include rather than what it does. While many recipes use a squeeze of lemon, a dice of tomatoes or a splash of vinegar to add flavor complexity, this recipe does not have any acidity added at the end.  We humans love the turbocharged flavor a dash of acidity brings to a dish, but it also diminishes our ability to taste the acidity in a wine. That’s one of the reasons why highly acidic white wines pair so well with seafood, salads, and Italian food!

However, acidity in food can kill a wine like Viognier.  A typical Viognier is a relatively low acid wine, so it’s generally not a good match for high acid food.  When paired with a high acid dish like Salmon with fresh Lemon, Viognier can transform from a rich, round, and delightful wine into something that tastes rather flat and bitter.  A dish like this with little or no acidity is Viognier’s chance to shine!

The Bubbly Professor’s Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

This dish takes a good deal of time and effort, so I like to make a big batch.  This recipe will feed 6 hungry people, or you can feed four people and have some wonderful leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken breasts, complete with bones and skin
  • 4 chicken leg quarters, complete with bones and skin
  • 3 whole heads garlic
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2  cups chicken stock
  • 1 t. dried thyme
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 T. Heavy Cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Procedures:

  1. Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them, unpeeled, into a pot of simmering water.  Let simmer for 60 seconds, then cool them quickly by shocking them in ice water.  Drain the garlic, pat dry and peel.  The garlic skins should slip easily off.
  2. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels.  Liberally season both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or dutch oven.  If you don’t have such fancy implements, a small stock pot will do.  Add the chicken pieces, in a single layer, skin side down, and saute until golden brown, at least 3 – 5 minutes on each side.  You will need to do this in several batches, moving the browned chicken off to the side untill all the chicken has had its turn. Don’t worry that the chicken is not cooked through; it will cook to tenderness during the braise.
  4. When all the chicken is browned and removed, lower the heat.  Add the peeled garlic to the pot and sauté the garlic, stirring continuously, for five minutes until the garlic is just golden.  Don’t let the garlic burn or get too brown, as this can lead to bitterness.
  5. When the garlic is golden, keep it in the pot and add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock.  Raise the heat and allow the mixture to come to a simmer while continuously scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Add the remaining stock, the wine, and the dried thyme, and return the chicken to the pot.
  6. Allow the mixture to return to a boil, then turn the heat down low, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. When ready to serve, remove the chicken to a platter.  Cover it with aluminium foil to keep the chicken warm while you finish the sauce.
  8. In a small bowl, which together the 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons cool water.  While whisking continuously, add 1/2 cup of the still-hot braising liquid to the bowl, then quickly whisk the mixture back into the pot.  Whisk for 2 – 3 minutes while simmering, until the sauce begins to thicken.  Finish the sauce by adding the cream and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
  9. Pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken, and enjoy.  This makes a great dinner with either a simple vegetable dish or a salad.
  10. Don’t forget the Viognier!

Perfect Pairing: French Onion Soup and Gewürztraminer

I rarely make soup at home  as my anh (adorable new husband) has a sort of primordial dislike of soup as a meal or even a starter course,. He can’t explain it; but I think he believes that a serving of soup somehow pre-empts genuine sustenance.  French Onion Soup is one of the few he can abide, and certainly a dish we can agree on˜so it gets served a lot at our house.

There’s one rather odd caveat about my version of the soup.  When we first got married, the anh mentioned he loved French Onion Soup but hated how hard it was to eat.  I had to agreed that I had been put off by stringy versions myself, so this recipe is custom-designed to avoid crouton-cracking splashes and stringy cheese arm-stretches.  I used to think such accommodations were silly, but during my decades as a cooking instructor one of the things I have learned to teach my students is that a fanciful presentation or even delicious flavor cannot make a customer enjoy a dish that is awkward to eat.

My preferred pairing for this dish is Gewürztraminer. In my experience, the funkiness of the onions seems to make the funkiness of the wine fall in line and it shines through with pure deliciousness! Try a dry Gewürztraminer, and off-dry Gewürztraminer…they have all worked quite well for me!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound White Onions, large dice
  • 1 pound Sweet Onions, large dice
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil (plus more Olive Oil or Olive Oil spray for croutons)
  • 1 t. Sugar
  • 1 – 2 t. Salt, or to taste
  • 1 T. Flour
  • 1 t. Dried Thyme (or Oregano)
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1/2 cup Dry White Wine (By all means, you should use Gewürztraminer if possible)
  • 4 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1/2 t. Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
  • 1/2 Loaf of Italian Bread or Baguette
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère Cheese
  • 4 T. Grated Parmesan Cheese

Makes four appetizer, or two main course, servings.

1.  First of all, make the croutons without too much drama.  I like to cut the bread into one-inch cubes – that’s part of the “easy to eat” platform.  Simply spray (or toss) them with olive oil, place on a flat cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Give them a quick toss, and continue baking until they are golden brown.  After they cool, wrap them in several layers of aluminum foil.  They will keep indefinitely.

2.  For the non-string-inducing cheese topping:  Mix the finely grated Gruyère with the finely grated Parmesan, set aside.

3.  In a large stock pot, melt the butter and add the olive oil.  Add the onions and season with 1 – 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, then stir.  Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, reduce the heat and cook for another 10 minutes at low heat.  Add the garlic.  Continue to cook the onion/garlic mixture for 40 minutes or longer, stopping to stir the mixture and check for browning every 10 minutes. Cook until they onions are very soft and a deep golden brown.

4.  Add the flour, thyme or oregano, bay leaves, and pepper.  Stir over medium-high heat for two minutes.

5.  Add the wine, stock, and water.  Stir until the mixture simmers, then allow to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Check back and stir the mixture every 10 minutes.

6.  Remove the Bay leaves, and give the soup its final “zing” by adding a generous Tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar.

7. When ready to serve, heat the soup to a simmer and divide among two or four bowls.  Spread a pile of croutons out over each bowl, and top with your finely grated cheese mixture.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and serve your “easy to eat, non-string-inducing” delicious French Onion Soup with a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer.  Enjoy!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas