Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Making Good Wine and Food Pairings

I hope everyone is not tired of me writing about the Winefest Renaissance! It was a lively evening, the first of what will hopefully be an annual event. All the proceeds benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen; a worthy and noble cause.

The fact is that though I am still recuperating a bit from all the cooking and inventing of recipes last week, it was really fun and rewarding. I found that making up recipes from scratch is not as hard as I once thought. I found that while I knew in past I had made some really great wine and food pairings, this is the first time they were served to the public. Serving to family members is one thing. Being family they are more forgiving. I had not dealt much with public. Last year I did appetizer foods for a retirement party, which hosted a lot of people I didn't know, but the venue was familiar, and family and friends were involved. This Winefest was really public in all senses. It was well received, for which I am grateful. Many of the foods were praised repeatedly and for that I am not only grateful, but relieved and fulfilled. I am so grateful for my talents and the ability to give people a pleasurable experience.

Wine tasting is an interesting experience. There are so many styles of wine and so many grape varieties. One vintner's style with a grape can be so far different from another's as to be unrecognizable. Some wines go best with food. Some are terrific all by themselves. Some can go either way. The thing is to have an open mind. Don't blacklist a grape on the basis of one wine. Try others, try it with food. My goal for this Winefest Renaissance was to instruct people to taste the wine first. Take some time examining what flavors and aromas are present. What does one like or dislike about the wine. Is it enjoyable?

Once that part is done with, try the wine with food. Obviously not just any food will be a good match for any wine. That is where my talents came into play. I have tasted a lot of wines in the course of the last 25 years. I have had ample opportunity to taste wines with various foods and develop a sense of the flavors of each, and how they harmonize. The common phrase is "wine and cheese", yet not just any cheese will pair with just any wine. Knowing what works best together and presenting these flavors to the public was my part of this event. I tried to present each wine in the very best light, creating the foods that would pair best and bring out the best flavor of both the wine and the food. There were many people who commented that the wine alone was not one they would really like to sit around and sip. With the food, however, it was just wonderful. And that was the whole point.

I created a sheet with different wine grape varieties that cross referenced the foods and flavors that go best with each wine. It is easy, though time consuming at first, to go online and research. Look at any site that talks about a Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, and see what food pairings are recommended. Being a bold wine, Cabernet pairs well with bold flavors. I researched recommendations for about 20 kinds of wine in order to put this sheet together. When I contemplated creating recipes to go with the 6 wines I chose, I used that list. I went down the column of choices and selected items that sounded like a good combination for a recipe. In the case of the Cabernet Sauvignon, I chose beef, walnuts, rosemary and Gorgonzola cheese (see the recipe in my blog of 4-14-2013). These flavors were perfect with the wine.

For the Pinot Noir, I chose figs, mushrooms, and goat cheese from the list and created little tarts by first sauteeing the mushrooms; the figs were soaked in Sherry and drained and added to the mushrooms. With the addition of crumbled goat cheese and placed into mini pie pastries, these flavors went perfectly with the wine. 

Fig, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tarts

Fig, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Tarts 

Makes about 75

Pie pastry for three 10-inch pies
6 ounces dried figs, cut into very small bits
¼ cup dry sherry (1/3 cup if the figs are very dry)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound “baby bella” mushrooms, chopped into very small bits
½ cup shallot, chopped very finely
1 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
Pepper, to taste

6 ounces chevre goat cheese

Line three large mini tart pans with pie pastry. This can be done well ahead and the pastries frozen until time to fill and bake.

Check the figs to see if they are very dry or retain some moisture. Put fig bits into a relatively flat container and pour the sherry over. If they are not too dry, use the smaller amount of dry sherry to soak them. If they are quite dry, use the larger amount. Set aside for at least an hour, to plump. When ready to proceed with the recipe, pour off any remaining sherry into a cup; reserve liquid for later.

The amounts of the mushrooms call for sauteing them in two batches. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and put in half the shallots to saut̩ for 1 to 2 minutes, to soften. Raise heat to high and add half the mushrooms, stirring very frequently for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms have evaporated any liquids and are browned. Add half the rosemary and salt. Add in half the fig soaking liquid and cook to evaporate completely. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl. Repeat this process with remaining butter, shallots, mushrooms, rosemary, salt and reserved fig liquid. Combine the figs with the mushrooms and combine. This mixture may be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 2 Р3 days . Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crumble the goat cheese and gently combine with the mushroom and fig mixture. You want the goat cheese to retain form; not make the mixture muddy looking. Spoon mixture into the tart shells. Bake the mini tarts for about 20 Р25 minutes, or until the tart shells are browned and the filling is bubbling. Serve hot or cool.

For the Sauvignon Blanc I chose asparagus, pine nuts and goat cheese and used them to make little tats on puff Pastry. Each appetizer pairing was well planned so the flavors would bring out the best qualities in the wines. Take time to research when serving foods and wines. Obviously, one cannot always have every person tasting the exact wine to go with the exact food, although when showcasing a wine, it is worth the time and effort.

Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Pine Nut Tarts 

Asparagus, Pine Nut & Goat Cheese Tarts
This could as easily be made as one large tart for brunch or dinner, accompanied by a green leafy salad.

Makes 30 – 36 (2x3” or 3x3”) individual tarts from each puff pastry sheet

1 box puff pastry, thawed for at least 40 minutes on counter top
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends snapped off
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Few grinds of black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup Parmesan, shredded
¼ cup mayonnaise
6 ounces Chevre or Montrachet goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup pine nuts

In a zip top bag, place the asparagus. Over top, sprinkle the garlic salt, pepper and olive oil and toss to combine well. Set aside for a few minutes. In a small bowl, combine together the Parmesan and mayonnaise and set aside.

Grill or broil the asparagus until just barely tender. Cut the asparagus into approximately ½ inch bits and set aside. Preheat oven to 375.

Unfold one sheet of puff pastry sheet and roll it to about 15 x 18 inches, or to fit a large baking sheet. Cut the large sheet into either 3 x 3-inch squares or slightly smaller 2 x 3 inch squares, using a sharp knife or a pastry wheel. Prick the centers well with a knife or fork. Bake the plain pastry for 6 minutes. Remove and quickly press down the centers of the pastry squares. Return to oven and bake another 6 minutes. Remove from oven and press down centers again.

While the first pastry is baking, roll out the second sheet, if using, and repeat the above instructions.

Using the back of a teaspoon, smear about ½ teaspoon of the mayonnaise and Parmesan mixture into the center of each partially baked square. Place about 1½ to 2 teaspoons of the asparagus pieces into the center. Sprinkle on about 4 – 6 pine nuts per square. Press about 1 teaspoon of the goat cheese crumbles onto the top. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 - 12 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the cheese has started to brown in patches.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.