Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Creating Appetizers for Wine Pairing

I've been working very diligently to create the appetizers to pair with wines for the Winefest Renaissance 2015, to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen Area. As with the past two years, I have selected 6 wines to showcase, for the purpose of teaching people to take the time to really taste a wine, using a wine rating sheet of my design. This forces one to take note of the particular aspects of a wine, from the immediate bouquet, the "legs" that give some indication of viscosity, the taste of the wine itself and all the possible adjectives to describe. All these things will give a person more knowledge of what it is about a wine that they like or dislike. Does one like earthy wines or floral wines? Or maybe peppery with leather? How about blackberry and cedar? These last all describe various red wines. White wines have other adjectives such as  apple, peach, grapefruit, mineral, chalk, butter, honey, vanilla and many more.

Wine with "Legs"

Once one establishes the particular attributes of sight, smell and taste, is it a wine you like? If not, sometimes a particular food will make a wine more palatable, sometimes changing its character completely. With a proper pairing of food, a wine can be enhanced dramatically. Just as an improper pairing of food can made a wine taste awful. The goal during my presentation at the Winefest Renaissance is to make little appetizer foods that encompass the correct food flavors to show a wine's character to best advantage.

Part of my newest Varietal/Food Pairing Sheet
To assist myself in the creation of a proper pairing of food with a wine, I created wine varietal and food pairing charts. I had 5 pages made, with 5 kinds of varietal or blend per page. Some are blends, such as Bordeaux or Meritage, that always use a particular few varietals to create a blend. Most of my sheets contain single varietals and with these lists of foods to pair, I look through and come up with ideas. One particular wine was giving me fits this year. It is the Menage a Trois 'Midnight'. I had not yet actually tasted this wine, but had read about it. I do like the other Menage a Trois blends, both red and white. The "Midnight" has 4 varietals in its mix, instead of three. The part that stumped me was the mixture of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. Though I know I have tasted Petite Sirah on its own, I had no recollection of the particular attributes. And as for Petit Verdot, I had no clue at all. So, back to the internet and the beginning of another wine varietal and food pairing sheet!
Final results for Mini English Muffin Pizzas

As it turns out, the Menage a Trois 'Midnight's' claim of deep dark color can be attributed to the Petite Sirah, known for its deep, dark inky color. The Petit Verdot mostly contributes the tannic structure or backbone. Once I had those concepts in my mind, it was a little easier to see how some of the food suggestions could make more sense. Pizza, Italian food, Mexican food; these were the suggested items. I opted to make some kind of mini pizza for this Wine Tasting Event. 
Sara Lee on left, my mini on right

Then came the search for what form this appetizer would take. I completely changed my approach 4 separate times. Once it came down to the creation of a sample, I tried making pizza dough and rolling it out like for cinnamon rolls and filling, slicing, baking. Nope. This was messy at best. I tried using regular English Muffins (I used Sara Lee). Nope. My husband and I both agreed: too big for just tasting. But still, the English Muffin was really tasty for this application. I had been wanting to make English Muffins for quite some time already, and since there is a recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (which book I have been touting for over a year now), I finally went for it. I created small English Muffins about 2 1/2-inches in diameter. I used a few to test with the pizza toppings and they were just the right size. I felt like I had found Mama Bear's Chair!
Final size: one tiny muffin half

What remains for the creation of these appetizers is to first make a whole lot more of the little English Muffins. The toppings will be set in place and baked on the day of the event. Most people eat pizza cold, or at least room temperature at some time, and these will be at room temperature. To test out the taste comparison, I bought a bottle of the Menage a Trois 'Midnight' to drink with these little bitty pizzas. It was an absolute perfect pairing!

I know not everyone will have the time or ability to make tiny English Muffins. If anyone does, I made each ball of English Muffin dough to weigh 33 grams on my little kitchen scale, or a scant 1.25 ounces. They are just cute as can be. They are still about the thickness of a regular English Muffin, so they are sturdy enough to hold the toppings and easily held to eat neatly without utensils. 
Ready to bake

For the toppings, I wanted to use sausage initially, but instead opted for pepperoni. To make the toppings easy to apply, I mixed together in a bowl some store-bought pizza sauce, a little grated Parmesan cheese, some pepperoni (about one or so slice per muffin half) chopped finely and a little green pepper, just because I love green pepper on pizza! I always make garlic steeped in olive oil to brush on pizza dough before ever applying toppings, and I did the same here. I brushed each English muffing half with the oil, then placed a small dollop of the pizza sauce mixture, spreading to the edges. One of the particular cheeses mentioned for this kind of wine was cheddar, so I made sure the type of shredded cheese topping contained cheddar. They are easy to assemble this way and they baked at 375 for about 10 minutes to perfect melty goodness. 
Perfect size and perfect melty goodness

Best of all? They were absolutely perfect when tasted with the Menage a Trois 'Midnight'! I could not have asked for a better way to show how well a food can taste with a particular wine.

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. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.