Monday, February 9, 2015

That Wine Tasting Time of Year

Lemon Thyme Chicken Fillo Cups
Up here where I live, this seems to be the time for wine tasting events. The larger wine tasting event that will come in late March this year hasn't even started its planning yet, but I was asked to make a few appetizers for a smaller event on the 18th of this month. Less formal, this get-together takes place in someone's home, for about 25 people. I have not much information on what all will be taking place there, though I was given a list of the 9 wines to be served. The wines range from very light white to deep, dark and bold. Trying to pair 3 appetizers to cover all these wines (all but two are reds), well, I have been poring over my wine and food pairing charts to try and make my appetizers pair with the most wines possible. 

Yesterday I made 2 new appetizers, which I served as our dinner last evening, to get opinions on flavors and how things could be improved. I was the only wine drinker at the dinner table and I was not drinking any of the wines to be paired, though I believe for all intents these appetizers were great as is and will work well with the wines they were created to pair with. One little change will be made on the meat roll-ups. It will not change flavor, but only make it easier to roll and skewer. But I will get to that recipe when I finalize them with the changes I am making. 

Lemon Thyme Chicken Fillo Cups
When I am asked to make appetizers to pair advantageously with particular wines, I spend a lot of time in research before ever beginning the creation of the food. I want the food to taste good with the wine, and hopefully also enhance how the wine tastes. For example, some things I research:
  • What flavors are associated with the particular wine? Some possible adjectives: smoky, fruity, dark berry, strawberry, citrus, herbal, pepper, earth, leather, and the list is nearly endless. I use these to gear the foods towards these flavors or aromas.
  • What does the vintner suggest as a food to pair with the wine? The vintner knows best how his wine was made, and what flavors are involved, so he has the best idea. Many others also will comment on food pairings for particular wines also.
  • Are there particular herbs or cheeses that are recommended to pair with the wine? Not every site will get this involved, but there are many places that even have full recipes attached. I do not use these recipes, but I read them to become familiar with the thought process behind the pairing.
The next step in my process is to make a list of the flavors and foods to incorporate in the appetizer, things that will play well with the wine involved. To that end, in the last couple of years I have spent innumerable hours compiling lists of the particular foods
mini fillo shells
(meat/fish, nuts, cheese, herbs, sauces and even desserts), that will pair with particular grape varieties. I add to these lists as I find new information. At this point in time I have lists for these white wine varietals:  Albarino, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes and Viognier. I have lists for these reds: Bordeaux type blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chianti blends, Gamay, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Shiraz, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.
Made into a cheese ball
For possible pairing with a full flavored Chardonnay and also for the Pinot Noirs to be served, the appetizer I created would use bacon and well flavored chicken. Some of the online suggested food pairings for these wines included things like curried dishes. Thyme was specifically mentioned as an herb to use. I prefer to make appetizers that need no utensils, so I chose to use Mini Fillo Shells to hold the mixture. While creating this recipe, I had very fixed ideas of how these would taste, and I geared my process to use flavors that would coincide with my mind's "taste-buds". I wanted a sort of lemon and pepper chicken concept as a base. I included bacon in the mixture to boost flavor and bring in a smoky note. Cream cheese and Chevre would bind the mixture. Thyme added that herbal note I was looking for. 

Individual bites rolled in almond meal & thyme

I am extremely happy to report that the flavors came out tasting precisely as I imagined they should. I have no changes to make to this recipe. It is simple to make and can be made in advance. The actual filling of the mini fillo shells should take place last minute, but this part takes little time at all. I used a pastry bag with a large open star tip, but filling the little shells can be easily accomplished with a couple of small spoons. If refrigerated, the mixture could also be rolled into small balls - these little balls could be placed in the mini fillo shells (shown above), or on a cracker, or rolled in herbs or nuts and set out as individual bites, or even made into one large "cheese ball" to be served with crackers or pita chips. 

I used my own Pickled Red Onion as a garnish for these. I liked the pop of color and the pieces give just that tiny piquant bite. It takes about half an hour to make the pickled onions but requires at least 3 days for them to come to best flavor. If using these, plan ahead. They are a wonderful accent to most any dish and great to have around at any time. If not using the pickled red onion, other options might be slivers of scallion, thin slices of gherkins or just some more tiny thyme leaves sprinkled over the whole plate. The Tandoor Spice called for is my own mixture (find recipe here) and the flavors are great. You might easily substitute 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, or the full teaspoon of your favorite Curry Powder or Garam Masala (find one recipe here).

Making the mixture up to 3 days in advance helps with do-ahead planning.

Lemon Thyme Chicken Fillo Cups

Lemon Thyme Chicken Cups

50 - 60 appetizer bites

6 ounces meaty bacon, fried
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 ounces Chevre (goat cheese), softened
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 large)
1 teaspoon Tandoor Spice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
fresh ground pepper, to taste

1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 boxes (15 each) mini fillo shells

Finely chop the fried, drained bacon. You should have at least a half cup. Set this into a large bowl. Add in the 2 cheeses with the lemon zest and thyme leaves and set aside.

Cut the chicken into approximately 3/4-inch cubes. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle on top the Tandoor Spice, salt, garlic and pepper. Toss well to coat and let set for about 20 minutes.

cheeses, thyme, bacon & zest in bowl  |   chicken browned   | cooked through with lemon juice  |        chopped chicken   
Heat a large non-stick skillet on high or medium high heat. Add in the olive oil and then the chicken pieces. Toss the chicken quickly and constantly to brown completely on all sides, about 4 - 5 minutes (You will need an extractor fan going for this!). Lower heat to medium low and add in the lemon juice, stirring often for another 4 - 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Once you are able to handle the chicken, either chop it by hand into very small bits, or pulse in the food processor. Do not pulse too finely. Add the chicken to the bowl with the bacon and cheeses and with a mixer, beat until all ingredients are well combined. At this point the mixture can be refrigerated for up to 3 days if needed.

No need to thaw or bake the fillo cups before using. They are delicate, so do not apply pressure to the cup itself while filling. If using a pastry bag, the chicken mixture will have to come to room temperature first, or it will not pass through the piping bag. You will need a large tip with a wide opening for the mixture to pass through. Pipe mixture into shells. Conversely, use two teaspoons to drop bits of the mixture into the shells. Or, form balls and press the balls gently into the shells. Top with your preferred garnish. Even a small cilantro leaf would be lovely. Do not fill the cups too far in advance or they will lose their crispness and become soggy.