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The Arrival of Summer Wines

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Summer is so close I can almost taste it and by taste it, I mean the glorious flavors of strawberry, bing cherry and minerality of Rose. Our first delivery of Bieler Rose is arriving right now, which means warm summer weather is right around the corner.  Following on the heels of the 2013 Bieler Rose from Provence are some new additions from other corners of the globe. We are adding the Zios Albarino and Skouras Moscofilero to our summer lineup.

Bieler Rose

RoseThe Bieler Rose is a classic example of Provence style Rose, clean fruit flavors, streamlined minerality and bone dry. Paired with salad Nicoise, grilled shrimp and cheese or left on its own, it is a fantastic way to enjoy a warm summer evening.

Zios Albarino

The Zios Albarino from the Rias Biaxes region of Northern Spain is great pairing for Spanish food and seafood. There is this underlying saline note as a result of being so close to the ocean that reinforces the seafood pairing. With notes of green apple and lemon, the lees aging adds weight and body to this lush wine.

Skouras Moscofilero

whitewineThe Skouras Moscofilero from Peloponnese, Greece is an expressive white wine made from 100% Moscofilero, a native Greecian grape typically grown at high altitudes. With notes of orange blossom, white flowers and honeysuckle, there is a bright acidity that makes this a great food wine or a refreshing glass by itself.

Stop by The Chopping Block to grab a bottle (or two) for that nice evening that’s just around the corner.

What’s your favorite warm weather wine?

 

Fantastic Cooking vs Glorious Fails

Friday, March 21st, 2014

It’s not what you do, but how you do it.

This one phrase pretty much defines cooking. You could use some of the most expensive ingredients on Earth to cook your favorite dish, but depending on how you do it, it could either be a fantastic creation or the most glorious of epic fails.

riceRisotto is a classic example. It’s simple enough in theory: cook some rice in stock, add yummy ingredients and enjoy.

The Glorious Fail Version

Sauté some chopped onions and garlic in a pan, pour in some wine (forgetting to reduce), add your Arborio rice, cover with chicken stock and simmer until rice is cooked. Finish with expensive Parmesan. The end result is gummy rice with a somewhat boozy taste and little flavor development. You did the steps more or less in the correct order, but the execution of the steps resulted in a less than appetizing meal.

The Fantastic Creation Version

Evenly dice your onions and sweat them in some olive oil or butter in a heavy bottom pan over medium heat until translucent. Add in your Arborio rice and gently toast in the butter or oil and after the rice has toasted for a minute or so, add in minced garlic and sauté until fragrant. Next, deglaze with dry white wine, ideally Italian, and reduce until the pan is almost dry. Pour in just enough stock to cover the rice and gently stir. This is where the attention to detail becomes paramount. You have to stir the pot every minute or so to get the proper final consistency of the risotto (the starch in the rice breaks down as you cook it and thickens the dish). As the rice cooks and absorbs the stock, you will have to keep adding more, but just enough to cover the rice again. The longer the rice cooks, the less stock you should add each time.

For the final consistency, you should be able to “draw a line” through the risotto, but not “make a mountain” out of it. This means it is thick enough to hold its form for a few seconds, but not so thick you can pile it in the middle of the pan. The rice itself should be cooked through, but still a little al dente. I always add Parmesan to my risotto, so I leave it a little on the thinner side because the cheese will thicken it up a little more. Now is the time to add fresh herbs: parsley, tarragon or basil depending on your preference. If you add them too early in the cooking process, the fresh, bright flavors will cook off and leave you with an off green color to your risotto.

If you want to add some roasted butternut squash or mushrooms as my wife usually does, I do this toward the end.  Squash can overcook rather quickly and turn into a mushy paste. Also, these ingredients will affect the color of the risotto, and I like to keep the color of my risotto a light to golden brown for presentation; it makes the other colors pop when you plate it.

This is why grandmothers’ food tasted so good. They spent years making the same dishes over and over, making small changes each time to arrive at perfection.

What dish in your cooking repertoire have you tweaked to perfection?

Cooking to Clean Out the Fridge

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Every couple of weeks, my wife and I make one of our favorite meals. It’s called clean out the fridge. We like to think of it as our own little Iron Chef challenge. Over the years we have had some epic wins and a few (but not too many) glorious fails. But that’s the cost of trying something new and different. This last round turned out to be such a win that we decided to recreate it for some friends for supper club.

The Ingredients

It all started with some mushrooms and leeks that were slowly dying in the fridge and were excess from some soup we made earlier in the week. While rummaging through the pantry for some dried pasta, we found a package of ready-to-boil gnocchi. Not ideal, but still pretty good.

The Process

Our dinner began to come together. We started by sautéing the mushrooms and leeks, sweating some garlic, then de-glazing the pan with that handy bottle of white wine we keep around. Next, we added a little chicken stock to make a light broth for the gnocchi and let that simmer for a few minutes. Now we could have stopped here, but we still had some great condiments left in the fridge: sour cream, horseradish, Dijon. We mixed together a light horseradish sauce and seasoned with some fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt. Only thing left to do was cook the gnocchi in some boiling water, add them to the mushroom broth and finish with a dollop of the cream sauce.

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The Result

When we recreated this dish for friends, we served the gnocchi with a few slices of whole roasted pork tenderloin and some braised red cabbage. Paired with a medium to full-bodied dry white wine, it was quite the impromptu dining experience.

What’s your biggest “clean out the fridge” success? Share it with me here in the comments.

Weightier Winter Wines

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Winter weight. No, I’m not talking about the inevitable expansion of your waistline from being stuck inside during this brutal Chicago weather.  I’m talking about the natural trend of drinking fuller bodied, weightier wines during the colder months. The weight, or body of wine, refers to how thick the wine feels in your mouth.

The short and easy guide to pairing is: the lighter the wine, the lighter the food and the heavier the wine, the heavier the food, and vice versa. I like to pair my food to my wine. If I’m in the mood for a Cabernet Sauvignon, guess what Honey? We are having steak for dinner.

Un-oaked Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are two of the most common lighter bodied wines. Think of warm summers with all the tropical notes of a California or Australian Sauvignon Blanc paired with grilled chicken and fruit salsa: very light, crisp and refreshing.  Not exactly something you crave when it is -1 outside.  As you move up in body and weight, you come across oaked Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnays and big German Rieslings. These wines feel thicker and lusher on the palette. Typically, fuller white wines are paired with rich cream sauces, seafood or pork.

redwineFor red wine, Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are the most widely known light body wines. Pinot Noir is light enough in body and flavor that it can be paired with richer seafood, but also compliments mushrooms, cheeses and duck.  Scrolling down the wine list, we come across Barbera and Merlot. These are middle ground wines. Barbera, with its high acidity, pairs with tomato-based Italian fare, such as Italian beef stew. Merlot, with its lower tannins and dark fruit notes, pairs with leaner meats and dark chocolates.  At the end of the list, and my winter favorites, are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. These are big, rich wines that will stand up to the boldest of flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon, with its high tannins, needs fatty meats to balance it out. Braised short ribs or ribeye steaks are the my favorites. Syrah, which originated in the south of France where deer and wild boar have been hunted for hundreds of year, pairs well with wild game.

A full-bodied Syrah doesn’t sound refreshing when it is 95 degrees outside with blistering humidity. On the other hand, rosé and grilled Tuna Nicoise would be perfect. Right now, a glass of Hedges Syrah with braised lamb shanks sound absolutely delightful.  The richness of the tomato broth and the lamb will balance perfectly with the wine.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for braised lamb shanks and if you manage not to eat them all the first day, they are even better the next day.

Braised Lamb Shanks

lamb6 lamb shanks (I like to buy them from Paulina Meat Market)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil

2 onions, chopped

3 large carrots, cut into 1/4 inch rounds

10 cloves garlic, minced

1 (750 milliliter) bottle red wine, preferably from the Rhone Valley

1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with juice

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups beef stock

5 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

  1. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy large pot (I use my Le Creuset French Oven which happen to be 20% off in January) over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook shanks until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Don’t rush this part! Transfer shanks to the upside down lid, which saves you dirtying up a plate.
  2. Add onions, carrots and garlic to pot and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and beef stock. Season with rosemary and thyme. Return shanks to pot, pressing down to submerge. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover, and simmer until meat is tender, about 2 hours.
  3. Remove cover from pot. Simmer about 20 minutes longer. Transfer shanks to platter, place in a warm oven. Boil juices in pot until thickened, about 15 minutes. Spoon over shanks.  Serve with oven roasted potatoes or polenta.

What food do you like to pair with weightier winter wines?

Good Times in Low Country

Friday, December 27th, 2013

When opportunity knocks, you answer. A recent series of events like an extra plane ticket, a few days of vacation and a hotel special was the perfect opportunity to take a quick weekend getaway to Charleston, South Carolina. A little southern hospitality and whole lot of great restaurants turned the weekend into a mini culinary adventure.

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With a few recommendations from Mike of The Chopping Block’s events team, a recent Charleston transplant, my wife and I were off and running. Starting at the Market Pavilion across from the Customs House, they have one of the best roof top decks in the city.  The view of the “Double Diamonds” bridge at sunset is spectacular, although a little deceiving. An old building law dating back to who knows when states that no building can be taller than the church steeple. As a result, you can see over every building in the city, even though you are only six stories off the ground.

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As far a dining goes, you really can’t go wrong.  Every restaurant and bar had great service and well-designed southern themed menus. Our favorite way to dine, while traveling, is to try one or two dishes at as many places as we can; kind of a culinary bar hop.  Some of the highlights were Hominy Grill, a great little brunch place on the north side of downtown. For happy hour, Pearlz Oyster Bar by the historic section was the place to be.  They had $1 oysters, a great beer selection and proof that solid recipes, done right, are all you need for a great meal. For fine dining, the Peninsula Grill on the other side of Market Street came highly recommended. We sampled our way through the appetizers and by-the-glass wine list for an impromptu early evening pit stop.

If history is more up your alley, Charleston is full of it. I highly recommend one of the walking tours of downtown. They have day and evening tours ranging from landmarks to the darker side of colonial America. Fort Sumter, the site of the first battle of the Civil War, is a 40 minute scenic boat ride from Charleston and another must see. They still have some of the original cannons at the fort, along with a plethora of period artifacts.

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Even though we could have spent another few days there, Chicago was calling us home. A trip to Charleston is a worthwhile stop for any history or culinary buff looking for some warmer weather.

Have you been to Charleston? What places would you recommend for dining?

 

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David Indriksons is a Lead Class Assistant at The Chopping Block with a background that goes from small scale bistros to large scale catering and everything in between. In addition to a great love of food, he is a self-admitted travel junkie that enjoys hanging out with locals around the world and trying new cuisine. Outside of TCB, he enjoys skating, snowboarding, and playing with his dog, Caesar.