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March 2015

While I can’t make the argument that we have had too much of a winter out here in California, I have thoroughly enjoyed more than my fair share of hearty winter fare. And so, as we transition into spring (or leapfrog into summer) I thought I would share with you all one last rich, decadent and fattening meal to hold us off until the fall rolls around again. Without further ado, I present to you, Milk-braised pork and creamy polenta with mushrooms.

I teamed up with my old culinary school classmate and we spent the day coming up with dishes. We each did our own pasta course (shrimp ravioli and whipped pork agnolotti) and then teamed up on the entrée. The pork loin was seared whole, cubed and braised in milk, stock, fennel, onions and herbs. The polenta was boiled in water and then mounted with cream, butter and heaps of Parmesan. We roasted the mushrooms separately and made a little pan jus to pour over all. It was truly hedonistic and I can safely say that no one went home hungry.

For dinner, I left the wines to our guests… and they didn’t disappoint! In addition to a 2001 William Seylem Chardonnay, a Piemonte San Vito da Uve Timorasso and a 2008 Facets of Gemstone, someone also broke out a wine that we actually have on our shelves: a 2012 Calder Wine Company Charbono from Meyer's Vineyard in Calistoga ($25.) It was, quite possibly, the revelation of the night, in a line-up of great wines from all manner of price points. It’s low alcohol (12.5%) and bright red fruit flavors of pomegranate and crushed raspberry, plus hibiscus and a kiss of wild fennel made it the perfect match for pork. Rory Calder Williams continues to make some of our house favorites for small production, artisan wines made from lesser known grapes. Certainly helped to make our dinner party night to be remembered.


February 2015
Dan's two most memorable food & wine pairings from last month:
1) Blue Cheese stuffed hamburgers and "Las Gravas" Jumilla 2010 Magnum ($65/btl).
Wine is made by Bodegas Casa Castillo. Southern Spain, bit inland from the Mediterranean. "Big Red" country. Las Gravas is Monastrell (Mourvedre) based. Fruity, bold, and great with outdoor cookin' and eatin'. I used Michael Chiarello's "Live Fire" cookbook and took the tip to put cheese on the INSIDE of the Burger. Great idea...I'll never top a burger with cheese again. Blue cheese, good ground beef, great bun, simple on the condiments. Loads of flavor between the sandwich and the hearty wine. The magnum vanished in a hurry.

2) Nigiri and Maki Sushi at Morimoto and Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner "Lamm" Kamptal 2013 ($76/bottle).
Spicy Tuna and BBQ Eel Rolls, Hamachi Nigiri. Solid. The "Lamm" is awesome. Often tight upon release, this ain't the case with the 2013. Quickly comes together with juicy orchard, citrus and tropical fruits. The necessary green tea, white pepper and parsnip notes peak through...they'll emerge with time I'm sure. Match was great. Not exactly a marriage per se, but the levels of flavors were similar and the flavors were complementary. Didn't think as much as I just simply enjoyed.

Two Super Bowl food and wine pairings stuck out for Dan.
1) Velveeta cheese dip with diced tomatoes and ortega green chiles.
Wine match: WHITE ROCK "Reserve" Chardonnay 2012 (not available at Back White Rock direct for the wine). Creamy texture and bright fruit in the wine meld together with this classic trashy gourmet goo.

2) Blue cheese-stuffed hamburgers with Red Onion/Zinfandel Marmalade and
GREEN & RED Zinfandel "Tip Top Vineyard" Napa Valley 2012. Also not available at this time at Back Room.
The burger and marmalade recipe comes from Michael Chiarello's "Live Fire" cookbook. I made giant 1 1/2 lb burgers and put them on focacia round loaves (cut into 6ths). Chiarello recommended Zinfandel with this burger (duh). Right as rain. Fantastic match.

For Connor, the standout pairing was Spicy Chicken Wings and Cava.
Roasted the wings with salt and pepper and tossed them in some unbelievably spicy wing sauce. I call it my kitchen sink sauce... 'cause, well, you know. Sriracha, soy, brown sugar, ketchup, dijon, fish sauce, cayenne, lime and whatever else seemed necessary at the time. It'll knock your socks off. Good thing a bottle of bubbles cures all.
The BOHIGAS Cava Brut "Reserva" ($15) was just the extinguisher for this fire. Crisp, bright with a nice zip.

January 2015
Dan's two most memorable Food & Wine Matches during the holidays:
1) Moules Frites (Mussels & Fries) at Bouchon Yountville.
With a bottle of PASTOU Sancerre "La Cote de Sury - Vielles Vignes" 2013 ($24/bottle at Back Room Wines.) Was tickled pink to see they served it by the glass and by the bottle. 

2) Crab Bisque made by my Mom for Christmas Eve.
She got the recipe from Here it is.
With a bottle of FRITH Grenache Napa Valley 2012 $32/bottle. Rich shellfish stock made with roasted crab shells, lots of herbs and some tomato paste made this an excellent Grenache dish. And it was!

December 2014
December is here and I’m still knee deep in Thanksgiving leftovers. In addition to the two turkeys I made this year (one smoked, one roasted for comparison’s sake,) I also made a whole ham. Yes, a whole friggin’ ham. Can’t say that I was planning on it, really. Dave Bos (of Bos wines, naturally) raised a couple of pigs, fattened on the scraps of his organic and biodynamic wine grapes. He had them slaughtered and needed a skilled butcher to break the meat down into manageable pieces. After he gave up on finding a skilled butcher, he turned to me. I hadn’t broken down a whole animal since culinary school… man, it was a lot of fun! Butchering two whole pigs is thirsty work, but luckily Dave brought copious amounts of his Bos “Ode to Fume” Sauvignon Blanc ($26) to keep us hydrated (and happy.)

Finally I got down to the legs and wow, were they a couple of beauties! I couldn’t bring my knife to scar them,
and far grander plans began to take shape in my head. So I broke out the trash bags, my biggest cooler and a whole lot of my special brown sugar brine. 8 days and 40 pounds of ice later, these babies were ready for the smoker. I used cherry wood (soaked in cooking wine) and a small handful of hardwood charcoal for the smoker. Kept it low and slow for 8 hours at a constant 200 Fahrenheit and then brushed a brown sugar, black pepper and honey glaze all over and let it caramelize at 300 Fahrenheit for another hour. I hate to admit it, but it outshined my turkeys and became the hit of my Thanksgiving Feast. My favorite wine to match? A lovely (and inexpensive!) Alsatian Gewurztraminer from Boeckel ($18.) The very same that is on our tasting tonight, actually. Now I just have to find another whole pig leg in time for Christmas. Happy Holidays!


November 2014
Autumn is here, bringing with it some cooler temperatures and those lovely Fall colors.
There doesn’t seem to be a single grape left on the vine anywhere in the valley, and most of the 2014 vintage is already in barrel. All this amounts to my favorite time of year for throwing dinner parties. My friends on the production side are finally getting to see the light outside of their cellars and rinse the grape must and dirt from off their hands to take a much deserved rest. My kitchen friends are still pretty busy with all of the valley’s scores of visitors, but even they get the occasional Tuesday off every now and again. Me, I love to cook… and especially for my friends.