Shifting Focus

Dinner:  November 1, 2007

We usually have wine with dinner, and when I’m planning out the pairings, the food usually comes first. But as I was putting together a grocery order last week and browsing the bottles available through Best Cellars, I was surprised to see a white wine listed among their “Big” selections. The bottle in question was a 2004 Oriel “Dylan” Russian River Valley Chardonnay, and while I’m not usually a fan of big Chardonnays, and the bottle was a bit more spendy than we usually go for weeknight dinners, the description of the wine had me intrigued. I added it to our cart and began thinking about building a meal around it.

I like pairing scallops with Chardonnay, so I decided on that as my protein – simply seared, with a little vermouth-enriched brown butter. The side was a bit more challenging; since scallops are so mild, I tend to match them with something more aggressively flavored or seasoned, but I didn’t want to make anything overpowering. As luck or serendipity would have it, I happened upon a few recipes for celery root remoulade over the weekend, and decided to go with a variation on that theme. I added fennel and apple to the mix, and ended up with a wonderful combination of crunchy, creamy, tart, sweet and tangy – a great foil for both the scallops and our delicious bottle of wine.

Celeriac, Fennel and Apple Remoulade

1 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon extra-hot Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 oz. crème fraiche
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 not-too-tart green apple
1 small bulb fennel
1 small celery root (celeriac)

Place kosher salt in a bowl, add lemon juice and whisk until salt is dissolved. Add mustard, mayo, crème fraiche and tarragon, and whisk again until well combined.

Core the apple, slice into matchsticks and add to dressing. Core the fennel bulb and slice as thinly as possible. Peel celery root and slice into matchsticks. Blanch the fennel and celery root briefly in unsalted water. Remove the vegetables using a spider or slotted spoon and shock them in an ice bath. Drain them well, pat dry, and add to the dressing. Toss until the mixture is well-combined, cover, and chill before serving.

School of Fish

Dinner:  October 30, 2007

I spun out another one of our old standbys last night – crispy fillets of white fleshed fish (this time, black sea bass) over tomato-fennel broth. This is so easy to prepare, and I love how well it works in the heat of summer or on a chilly fall evening.

Wine Pairing: Our friends at Thirst recommended the 2005 Olivier Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes to go with this dish, and we both agreed it was a really gorgeous wine – a beautiful gold color, very crisp and flinty, with an almost toasted-buttery aroma.

Bacon and eggs, with a twist

Dinner:  October 23, 2007

It’s no secret that we are big fans of the pork products here at Chez Dietschyblossom, so when we saw Melissa’s absolutely mouthwatering photo of Derrick’s take on Craft’s bacon and egg risotto, there was no doubt in my mind I’d try my own spin soon.

I used pancetta instead of bacon because that was what we had on hand. I diced up six thick slices, rendered them down, set the crispy bits aside on a paper towel and used the fat (mixed with a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano butter) to saute my diced onion and to begin to cook the rice. I used 1/2 cup of white vermouth and some of our homemade chicken stock for the liquid components, and stirred in the cooked pancetta with the last addition of stock. I finished the risotto with a little bit of grated parm, a dollop of crème fraiche and a bit more butter, then spooned it into our bowls and topped each serving with a poached egg yolk and some chopped chives.

Though I over-poached the yolks just a bit, I will say that this was a pretty darned awesome dish – rich, creamy, and luxurious, with a nice bit of sweetness from the pancetta. Mike brought home a bottle of Schloss Koblenz Trittenheimer Altarchen Kabinett Riesling to drink with dinner, and while the it was a bit sweet for my taste on its own, it was a wonderful match with the risotto, the richness of the dish bringing out the bright citrusy notes in the wine.

Dietschtoberfest Dinner

pillows

I decided to surprise him this year. His office wasn’t closed for the Columbus Day holiday, and mine was, so I had the apartment to myself and it would be easy. The plan was to make gnocchi – I haven’t done it in over a year, and a friend recently asked for some tips, so I’ve had gnocchi on the brain lately.

I’ve made dozens of batches of these little dumplings over the years, with varying degrees of success. The ones I made last night were my lightest yet, though I think they were almost too delicate. Still, I was pleased overall with the result and more importantly, Mike loved them.

My creation

I’m not going to print a recipe here, because I think gnocchi are something you just need to try and try and try again until you get a feel for them. I’ve always used Lidia’s recipe as a base, and I referred to Heidi and Elise this time around as well. I would estimate that I ended up using about 2 cups of potato, one egg seasoned with about 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, and about a cup of flour – far less flour than I have ever used before.

Dinner:  October 8, 2007

As I said above, this made for extremely light gnocchi, but a few of them just barely held together in the sauce. It’s possible that gnocchi like this would do better in a lighter sauce – sage brown butter, perhaps – as opposed to the wild mushroom cream sauce I served them with last night.

Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (2004)

The birthday boy had no complaints, though, and he happily downed two helpings between phone calls from our families passing along their well-wishes. We opened a bottle of Bindella Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with our meal, and drank a toast to the year ahead.

Stuffed

Dinner:  October 4, 2007

This dish was supposed to happen earlier in the week, but I got sidetracked by sardines, so I put it off for a couple of days. Luckily, the gorgeous poblano peppers I picked up at the Greenmarket on Saturday were still good, so I was able to make chiles rellenos last night.

Chiles rellenos are basically just stuffed peppers, dipped in a light batter and fried until golden, then served on a bed of light tomato broth. The traditional stuffing is picadillo, but it seems the version that appears most often in restaurants in the U.S. is the cheese-stuffed version. I actually prefer the cheesy version, but what I don’t like is ordering rellenos in a restaurant and getting peppers that are encased in such a thick batter that they sit in your stomach like a rock. Making them at home requires a little bit of work, but the result is totally worth it.

poblano

To prepare the chiles, place them under the broiler or on a hot grill or burner until the skin is charred and blistered on all sides. Set them aside until they are cool enough to handle, and then carefully peel the skin off. Cut a slit in one side and gently remove any seeds or membranes inside. Stuff each chile with shredded cheese – Monterey Jack, Oaxaca or Queso Quesadilla – and close up the slit with a toothpick. Set the chiles in the fridge for about 20 minutes so they firm up.

For the sauce, I combined a cup of our homemade chicken stock, a cup of crushed tomato, about a teaspoon each of ground cumin and chipotle powder, and a bit of salt in a small saucepan and warmed it over low heat while I got to work on the batter for the chiles. It’s basically Diana Kennedy’s version, though I downsized it just a bit (and still had plenty left over): separate three eggs, add a pinch of salt to the yolks, beat the whites until stiff but not dry, then beat in the yolks one at a time until you have a frothy, pale yellow mixture.

puffy

I heated about an inch of oil in a skillet, dusted the stuffed chiles in a bit of flour, dunked them in the batter to coat them, then placed them directly into the hot oil, gently turning them as each side browned. When the chiles were done cooking, I set them on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil and spooned some of the tomato broth onto our plates. I mounded some cumin and lime spiked black beans on top of that, then set the chiles on top.

Setzer Gruner Veltliner 2006

Wine Pairing: Earlier this week I found a link to pairing wines with typical Mexican ingredients on Rick Bayless’ website, and I was eager to try one of the wines he suggested with our poblanos. Mike picked up this Gruner Veltliner at Union Square Wines, and it was just perfect with our meal, the crispness cutting right through the heat of the chiles.

Fun with Leftovers: Figs

Dinner:  September 27, 2007

As expected, the hectic pace I’ve been keeping over the last few weeks at the office in in preparation for our party last weekend caught up with me. Wednesday night I got home from work and was too exhausted to do much of anything; dinner that night was a platter of cured meats and cheeses left over from the party, along with cherry tomatoes, crackers, and a very quaffable red Mike brought home. I was still very stiff and achy when I woke yesterday morning, so I stayed home and spent most of the day in bed with the cats watching a fine selection of food shows on the DVR.

I often worry about dinner on sick days, but yesterday, I didn’t have to – I could smell it cooking all day long. Before he left for work in the morning, Mike seasoned a bone-in pork shoulder and put it in the crock pot, bathing it in a mixture of water, applejack, cider vinegar, chopped fresh figs (left over from the party) and chipotles in adobo. The aroma was heavenly.

By the time we were ready to eat, I was feeling well enough to put together a couple of sides – cannellini beans cooked with tomato and fresh sage, and Tuscan kale sauteed with a bit of garlic, chile flakes and lemon zest. The pork was so tender it was falling apart, so I carefully transferred it to a baking sheet and kept it warm in a 200 degree oven while I reduced the strained cooking liquid. I let it bubble away until it was reduced down to about 1/2 cup, whisked in some cold butter and plated everything up. We opened a lovely Sangiovese which highlighted the flavors of both the pork and the figgy pan sauce, and toasted to a great team effort.

Fun with Leftovers: Mushrooms

Dinner:  September 24, 2007

You may notice a theme this week, as I’m trying to use up some of the leftover odds and ends from our party. The mushroom filling I stuffed into puff pastry rolls uses a mix of dried and fresh mushrooms, and while the dried ones will keep just fine in the cupboard, the fresh ones (shiitake and crimini, in this case) have a far shorter shelf life.

I often use my mushroom filling as a topping for pasta or gnocchi, enriching it with a bit of cream, but I wanted to do something a little lighter. I did a quick search of foodandwine.com and found a recipe for Spaghetti with Shiitakes, Parmesan and Pepper, which really appealed to me, and since I could get it ready in plenty of time for us to watch Heroes, it sounded perfect.

I ended up following the recipe pretty closely, though I did add a generous amount of fresh thyme and a tablespoon of sherry vinegar to the sauce, which I think added a little more complexity to the dish. The earthiness of the mushrooms and the bite of black pepper were delicious together, and the Dolcetto we drank with our meal complemented the flavors really nicely.