Roast and Toast


He tried to get loose.

Chicken doesn’t have to be just chicken. So leave the boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breasts in the freezer for another week and tie up one of these. Roasting a whole chicken really isn’t hard. Stuffed with lemon and rubbed down with some garlic and oil, a whole chicken only requires some additional time in being strung up and rotated a few times in the oven.

The beauty of roasting the whole bird is the increase in flavors brought on by having a juicier inner core surrounded by a crispy layer of finger pulling, can’t wait to dinner sampling, Kentucky Colonel inspiring, perfectly cooked and delectable chicken skin. Better yet, the additional flavors and textures mean more wine pairing possibilities.

This would include anything from the great French Rose wines that are about to come out this Spring to a pinot noir-based red to a (depending on the amount of butter you might use) creamy Chardonnay. My reliable Reliance connection recommended the Davis Bynum Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. Think cream, toasty oak, vanilla and Royal Riviera® Pears in a bottle accompanied by some divinely roasted chicken and a well stocked (thank God Spring is almost here) picnic basket.

Davis Bynum Chardonnay

(new) Mexican Food & Wine

Gruet Blanc de Noirs Towards the end of last year, one of my favorite haunts bombed out and failed to pass the mustard during its inspection. And I haven’t been brave enough to return and risk catching a whiff of the East Amazon, z-Nola stomach bug. YET. Until then…which by that I’m thinking not anytime soon…I needed to assuage a south of the border, good-ole boy hankering for some savory enchiladas.

Although I began my typical taqueria spread with a few Modelo Especiales, I figured the non-grazing segment of dinner (that involved a first crack at enchiladas) deserved a little celebratory clinking of the glasses. So we popped a bottle of the finest valued bubbly that New Mexico – as in the state of New Mexico- has to offer, the quarter century old Gruet Winery Blanc de Noir.

On its own this Pinot Noir based, southwest sparkling wine is a keeper. Its solid citrus core is balanced with some creamy texture and a crispy, cracker-like finish. But mix it with some festive and dinner-appropriate guava juice and you have a great twist on the old school mimosa or Italian Bellini. Suffice to say, we liked the drink well enough to dub it the New Mexico Mimosa.

And not by accident, the sweet nectar of the guava juice was a refreshing chaser to some savory but very spicy enchiladas. My music doctor would recommend enjoying this pairing with a little title befitting tune from the Fountains of Wayne!

About that romantic holiday last week…

DelasAbout that romantic holiday last week….it came a little late. It’s not that I forgot Valentine’s Day but it just seemed like I was forgetting something. And that something had nothing to do with that guy and the arrow, or what was in the bottle or what it should be paired with. It’s just that last Thursday, St. Valentine’s Day, was busy.

And the adventuresome brainchild (of taking a first stab at Osso Buco and highlighting it with a killer Rhone wine I’d had stored away for over a year) was regrettably delayed. Probably would have been delayed later than that weekend in fact, had it not become a concern that the born-on-date for veal was about to run its course. Don’t forget the shelf life.

And then the post got pushed back a little more with the prospect of trying to be a little too cheeky in the subject line. Originally, I was flirting with the idea of quoting Thoreau and his marrow/ life analogy. You can remember your high school LIT class with a stroll down amnesia lane by clicking here and reading stanza 16. It is Osso Buco after all!

Then came the interlude of veal/feel word plays…. Can you veal the love tonight…. I veal good…. Come on veal the noise. All really, really bad Valentine ideas and outside of James Brown – really bad ear worms.

So, Valentine’s dinner and its ensuing blog post were late. Lucky for me, my date didn’t seem to mind. Especially when I popped open and decanted a bottle of 2009 Delas St. Joseph François de Tournon. Sound like a mouth full?

The Delas St. Joseph is a lava-red colored Syrah from the Northern Rhone. Young and brawny on the nose, it balances out with refined flavors of dried cherries and chewy dark fruits. The subtle herbal notes beckon for more and there’s no mistaking the necessity of having something meatier and richer to play along with its tannic nature.

So along comes Osso Buco! That delicacy of marrow rich, bone-in, braised veal. Covered in a typical Milanese sauce and backed-up by doubling down on the fashion capital’s own version of risotto, Risotto alla Milanese or risotto with some decadent saffron love. Ode to the crocus flower. …Flowers! …That’s what I forgot.


Jack up your Mac ‘n Cheese

Mac & Cheese 2

This ain’t yo momma’s mac and cheese! Or Kraft’s for that matter. No, this is grown-up macaroni meets some Italian-style influence meets anything other than the prepackaged, processed DayGlo orange “cheese.”

Penne pasta has become a mainstay for restaurant’s making gourmet mac’n cheese. It’s thicker and acts as an instant hideout for more gobs of gooey melted cheese. However, tonight’s deviation involved bowtie pasta with a rich and thick sauce that included garlic, red pepper flakes, cream, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, parmesano cheese, fontina cheese and tomato paste. The tomato paste and cream combination is what gives the modern day Mac its old-school orange coat. Just boil the pasta separately before stirring it into the sauce. Garnish with some freshly chopped mint before serving.

Mint? What? Trust me it works.

The heat from the red peppers and the sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes also make for an interesting back-and-forth on the palate. And since it’s mac and cheese with a tomato influence there are several wines that could pair well with it including a Spanish Tempranillo, a California Zinfandel or even an Italian Nero D’Avola. Look for the Campo Reales, the Four Vines Zinfandel or the Morgante Nero D’Avola as pictured below. These three recommendations can go in and out of the market but should be available by request.


Dessert in a Bottle

* A version of the following article originally appeared in the Sunday edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

When it comes to the pride of Portuguese red wine, nothing stands as prominent and posh as the tawny or amber colored elixir of a delectably sweet port. Customarily made from native grapes such as Touriga Nacional, port hails from the historical vineyards of northern Portugal. Here, many producers often have a British background, linked to days of old, when port was a preferred libation of the island nation.

The old world practice that separates the production of wines like Port, Madeira and Marsala (from most other wines) involves the addition of neutral grape spirits to the fermenting grape juice. Essentially, this method has a dual effect. First it stops the fermentation, allowing some of the sweetness to stay in the wine, as not all the sugar is turned into alcohol. And secondly, the addition of the grape spirits increases the alcohol content of the wine, thus fortifying it.

The fortification makes for a longer lasting, well-preserved wine that travels better in old world Europe, or more specifically for those trips to the Isles just north of the Iberian Peninsula and numerous other outposts of the once British Empire.


Across the world, the names of key port producers have become universally renowned and include the likes of Fonseca, Dows, Taylor, Croft and Grahams. These vintners have been making port for centuries and they’re still getting it right today. From the young cherry notes and light-hearted appeal of Dow’s Crusted Port to the aperitif like quality of its White Port, Dow’s is a prime example of how the best port houses make successful fortified wines that range from the aforementioned entry-level ports to a pricier and more rare vintage port.

Over the years Fonseca has become a personal favorite of the big port houses. Its Ten Year Tawny Port is dessert in a bottle. With a cornucopia of flavors like butterscotch, plum and toffee, the Fonseca Ten Year is a hard-to-beat introduction to what the wonderful world of port is all about.

Additionally, there are less recognized port houses that deserve some props. The William Harrison import of Quinta de la Rosa also makes a fantastically focused Ten Year Tawny Port. Since most ports come in a traditional darker glass bottling, it’s refreshing to see the clean, clear glass of the Quinta de la Rosa displaying the wonderful and rustic burgundy-like hues of the port wine. A sturdy 20% alcohol by volume, the Quinta de la Rosa has a wonderful honeyed aroma whose magnetism is only surpassed by its decadent and indulgent essence of raisons and dates.

During the wintertime, the sweet and warming charm of a good port may make for a cozy fireside companion, but throughout the year port is the quintessential embellishment after a magnificent meal.

Harissa and Riesling


New red potatoes, spinachy greens with garlic and a bright orange sauce called Harissa longingly await your creation this evening. Not only is it colorful and tasty but pretty damn easy to throw together.

Harissa is an African chili sauce make of roasted red peppers, cumin, cayenne, olive oil and a dash of red wine vinegar. Half and bake the new potatoes for about 40 minutes and sauté the spinach with some garlic and oil until rightly withered. All that’s left is finding a fresh fish that suits your taste and spooning some of the savory, slightly spicy African sauce onto the gently baked fillet.
German Wine Institute logo
Choosing a wine that holds its own with a spicy sauce while not burying the greens or being outweighed by the starchy potatoes in this dish can be tricky. You need a wine that understands both the politics of the palate and the benefits of balance. Enter – a German Riesling, preferably one from the Mosel. The stone fruit flavors and racy texture mean it can handle the spiciness and still compliment your vegetables.

“You broke my heart” (al) Fredo

So goes one of the more memorable lines of The Godfather trilogy. Michael Corleone delivers the kiss of death to his brother, Fredo. You can jog the old memory here:

I always think of that line when I hear or read or cook alfredo sauce. Obviously, it’s because the sauce and the character have the same name. But on a different level, it’s because I still remember tasting my mom’s alfredo sauce for the first time. And every time since. Originally her mother’s recipe, the family “alfredo” had a secret ingredient that’s really hard to put your finger on. And when I tried it for the first time it was soooo good it broke my heart. Still does.

So this past weekend, I popped open the freezer to find a not-so-discreetly hidden bag of homemade Swiss Chard Ravioli. It seems my son’s nonnie had popped them in there during a recent visit. Swiss chard ravioli are really the best; wholesome, simple and with the right sauce – magic! All that was left to do was slowly boil the pasta and attempt to replicate the family “sauce.”
Most alfredo sauces are truly quite simple with perhaps a half dozen ingredients at best. Nonna Louisa’s follows the book in that regard; butter, cream cheese, cream, more cream, the obligatory S & P, cream, etc. Seems the difference was ingenuously in the slow, constant stirring of the sauce. Yeah right!
Still, the net result was the same…. cheesy, greeny, pasta goodness. Voila!

Served family style with some grilled red and yellow bells and zucchini, the alfredo and swiss chard ravioli went well with a nice bottle of Orvieto by Sergio Mottura. A blend of indigenous Procanico and Grechetto grapes, the Mottura Orvieto is a minerally and citrus infused Italian white with a palate cleansing finish. Its prickly acidity helps cut through all the heavy cream of the alfredo while still complimenting the freshness of the green filling. And there’s no secret ingredient involved.

Fartisanal Pizza and Wine

The one thing I loathe the most about the modern “food movement” in America is the trite use of the word artisan or artisanal. Really, I’m just adverse to the word in general. It’s crap. Fartisan crap!

I first heard the word used in a food context about four or five years ago at a wine dinner. Some guy was waxing on about how the food was artisanal and the chefs were artisans and their artwork (food) was better than a regular chef’s food because well, once again, it was artisanal. Blah, blah, blasé.

I love Frito Lay brand chips. They now have “Artisan” chips. Haaah! And, quite possibly, the crust in tonight’s dinner and wine pairing might just have been made from mis-purchased “artisanal” dinner rolls. Artisan is the new black. So much, in fact, that it’s almost been worn out and faded to gray,
Fartisanal Pizza Nonetheless, this evening I used my wife’s five hundred pound marble rolling pin to re-roll the dough of a half dozen dinner rolls into a Fartisanal shaped pizza crust. Looks pretty good, after all it isn’t perfectly square or round or rectangular. Must be artisanal!
My Fartisan pie was topped with some of my Nonna’s recipe white sauce as well as a mixture of the “six super greens” like kale, spinach, chard, and romaine. Finish with mozzarella, parmesano and a few strategically placed but artisanally hatched hen eggs and you have a protein and fiber rich pizza that would have been done half an hour earlier if I’d only paid attention and purchased the desired rectangular pizza crust that rolls out a whole helluva lot easier.

To pair with it, I chose the new vintage of a French wine I fell for last year. The Guillermarine Picpoul de Pinet has simple citrus notes and some delicate apple flavors that don’t overwhelm the eggs and greens in the pizza. Plus, it’s French and different and hard to pronounce. If only it were artisanal.

Basil Risotto & New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

basil risotto

walnutblockI had to start this post with a small pic of the Risotto! Creamy with gobs of bright basil freshness, the risotto created a better mind frame than any rodent, err groundhog could manage to deliver. Delicate nutty flavors from the parmesano and pine nuts brought balance to the minty, pepperiness of the basil.

Normally I’m a purist when it comes to something like risotto and would be looking for an Arneis or Trebbiano to pair it up with. But tonight, I found myself enthralled by a 2012 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Walnut Block. Bright and pleasantly acidic, with crisp citrus flavors of lemon and grapefruit, the Walnut Block has a herbaceous bouquet that went toe-to-toe with the basil risotto. With aromas like green pepper, asparagus and lemongrass, the Walnut Block (and the basil risotto) are a much needed and early prelude to the vine of spring.

What’s in the bottle: primitivo

AnarkosHow about something different tonight? The Anarkos Primitivo recently landed in our market and by all indications it couldn’t have gotten here soon enough. Its earthy and deep cherry flavors along with the distinct aroma of blue cheese will immediately crank up the taste buds and have you planning for dinner. The Anarkos is produced in the southern Italian region of Apulia, more affectionately known as the heel of the boot. Here, grapes like Primitivo and Negroamaro grow in abundance.

A quick reference in the Joy of Cooking brought prompt enthusiasm to the Monday chicken breast routine. Stuffed with Italian bread crumbs, sage and thyme, the savoriness of the herb stuffed chicken nicely complimented the aforementioned flavors in the Anarkos. Side up with some cinnamon and red pepper sweet potatoes, and the drudgery of a Monday meal is over.

Stuffed Chicken

Hummus Fried Chicken and Oregon Pinot

Hummus Fried Chicken

Only half of my heritage may be southern, but that’s more than enough to make me a fried chicken fanatic. This recipe is an adaptation of a Readers Digest hummus “fried” chicken. Since it’s baked and not actually fried, it does make for a healthier version. I used boneless chicken thighs, smothered it in Tomato Head brand hummus out of Knoxville, Tennessee and topped with some fresh and very juicy slices of Cushman’s HoneyBell tangerines.

Although the chicken isn’t quite as crispy as regular fried chicken, it comes close enough with a brief finishing under the broiler. Avoid squeezing any extra citrus or other liquid on the hummus to increase crispness. And some garden fresh rosemary does make a fragrant touch.

A less fruity and slightly Burgundian style Pinot Noir goes well with the dark chicken meat and bean coating. Look for a food friendly Oregon Pinot like the Bergstrom Pinot Noirs out of Willamette Valley or the more affordable Adelsheim Pinot Noir, also from Willamette.

Adelsheim Pinot Noir