Monday, January 08, 2007

Saturday Blow Out (1-5-07)

Sometimes when the going gets Weird, you just have to lock yourself in the Kitchen for three days and bang the pots and scrape the kettle and cook yourself a fantastically delicious (but not terribly healthy)meal.

There is something about making food with herbs and spices that people never bother to taste on a regular basis in the US because they just do not know enough to put them into their food - or they are so accustomed to fast/pre-prepared food that is high in salt and low in flavor: they just do not know what they are missing: dangerous living!

Put some Rosemary, Thyme and Marjoram in your pot; buy some funky cheeses; get some bread that was baked this morning; put some fresh flowers on the table; find some cool ingredients; get some great recipes; and most importantly - pick some delectable wines.

Do it up right with proper glasses, plates, silver, service, multiple courses - the fancier the better because we are so used to the mundane & boring, repetitive, angry and reckless life of the average US Citizen's cuisine. Display some sorely needed culture. Your friends and family will thank you for it ( that is if they do not run screaming from your house, unable to cope with the madness you are attempting).

Get to the point: My dinners always start with a trip to the cellar and a selection of the wines that I wish to serve. These are generally wines that I have had for some time and should be ready for drinking - my opinion of "ready" is about 15-20 years old, depending on the wine.

Tonights selection included eight wines:

  1. Champagne, Deutz Blanc de Blanc, 1993 (magnum)

  2. Scheurebe, Egon Muller "M Forst" Forester Ungeheurer Spatlese, 2001

  3. Barbaresco, Roagna, 1989

  4. Prosecco (in a Bellini interlude), Nino Franco "Rustico", nv

  5. Bandol Rouge, Domaine Tempier, 1985

  6. Saint Julien, Chat. Beycheville, 1983

  7. Port, Warres LBV, 1982

  8. Semillon, Swanson Late Harvest, 1992 (375ml)

With the Champagne I served some appetizers: fresh baked cheese straws, olive tapenade, leek & goat cheese mini-tarts, caramelized-shallots, potato chips and rosemary infused cashews. The Deutz was just beautiful - lively, creamy and smooth with elegant flavors of lemon-cake, long flavors. Well worth keeping this for the past ten years - not one of the best vintages, but his wine always shines.

With the Scheurebe I served a "salad" of sautéed greens (red Chard, Bok Choy) in olive oil and garlic. This was set atop a circle of toast with a swipe of goat cheese (Vermont Butter & Cheese - one of the best domestic producers) and a sprinkle of minced red pepper and chiles. The heat from the chile balanced with the tangy flavors of the olive oil and the tartness of the greens worked extremely well against the sweet flavors of the Scheurebe - this had white pit fruit flavors of peach and nectarine that bounced off the food. This was one of my favorite pairings of the night.

With the Barbaresco I served a risotto of "wild" mushrooms (porcini and chanterelles) fussed with parmesan cheese and parsley (this dish was based on a Jamie Oliver recipe). The wine was unbelievable: totally sound. In fact, I cannot believe that this wine could have been better (except perhaps right at the winery). The silky mouth-feel was delicious - the strawberry and cherry flavors were balanced by earthy undertones of mushrooms and dried leaves. Worked so well with the salt, herb and mushroom flavors in the risotto.

This next pairing was the best surprise. 1985 Tempier! The flavors and aromas of this wine are still stuck in my mind (there was a bit of the wine left in a glass the next morning and the flavors coming out of this 10 hours later were still unbelievable). Cherries and dried-blackberries, figs and raisins, smooth and mouth coating with just a touch of aged decadence - perfect. I served this with a Wild Mushroom Paté topped with sautéed walnuts and scallions (a Deborah Madison recipe). The pate was smooth yet firm and flavorful. I was so pleased with this dish as it was a new one for me, but one that will now become a regular on the table. The intense flavors in the wine played well against the mushroom flavors.

Chateau Beycheville, 1983 - probably the most elegant wine of the evening, and perhaps a bit over-shadowed by the Tempier, but we plowed on! You have to sometimes. Fine, rich flavors with loads of the beautiful, decaying cassis and forest floor that only Cabernet Sauvignon can get at 20+ years. Quite nice. This I paired with a Winter Mushroom and Barley Stew with a crouton and gruyere melted over the top. I wanted a rich savory stew and that is basically how it turned out. I cooked this the night before and let it stand out with the barley soaking up all the rich flavors and infusing some creaminess back into the broth. The wine balanced well with the more delicate flavors in this dish.

Cheese plate - three selections: Roquefort (sheep), Cato Farm (Colchester, CT) Brigid's Abbey-style (Jersey cow), and an aged goat ( I am going to up-date later the producer); also a dried fig and several light crackers on the plate. This went with the port. I am not a big port fan, but this wine was smoothed out and just delicious - working so well with the intense flavors of the cheeses. This was the best Port/Cheese combo I have ever had (if I do say so, myself)!

The dessert was a trio: Chocolate Pot (Jamie Oliver, again)- an intense, rich and very decadent mousse/pudding served in an espresso cup (this includes dark chocolate, cognac, eggs and orange, mm, good); Bustrenga (Jamie, again) - a tart/cake with apples, figs and raisins, some lemon and orange zest for added flavor complexity; and a dollop of Hagen-Daze Vanilla. This was served with the Swanson Semillon (1992), which showed delicious notes of orange and nectarine in a rich mouth-feel. This was a great combo as the wine played off of all the sweet and tangy flavors in the food.

That was it - probably enough, though. Actually I was not stuffed because I kept the portions quite low - didn't want to overload my guests - I wanted them to enjoy everything. I find this important as a host as pleasure is the name of the game, yet I didn't want anything (wine, food, effort) to go to waste. Another interesting thing about this meal is that is was completely vegetarian - and nobody suffered any worse for it!

Bust it out once in a while, cook a great meal, and wow them with more than they expect - you'll feel happy and your guest will thank you...reward enough.

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