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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - September 2014


September brings to my mind football season and tailgating at the games. As much as I enjoy the excitement of the game, for me, the food and conversation are the best part. I like to keep things as easy as possible at the event so I can partake, not serve. I start by choosing recipes that can be eaten out of hand and need very little on-site preparation. My beverage of choice for tailgates is beer. This menu incorporates two very different styles of beer, each with its own perks. At the end, I serve my husband’s favorite, a Scotch Whiskey and a fun, break-apart chocolate-orange ball.

Starting off the meal on the lighter side, Pimento Cheese Stuffed Celery Sticks are delicious with a Pale Lager. Lager, which means “storage” in German, is a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures. It is one of the most popular types of beer all over the world, and you can look for styles like Bock, Pilsner, and Märzen. Pale lagers tend to be crisp and lean, perfect with the slightly bitter, clean flavor of celery. And, the bubbles will offset the richness of the cheese.

Moving up the scale in depth and weight is oatmeal stout beer paired with a pastrami and Swiss cheese sandwich on dark rye with the Apple Sauerkraut recipe below. You can make up the sandwiches ahead of time with mustard on the bread and the meat and cheese in between. Drain off as much of the liquid as possible from the sauerkraut and pack in a separate container, then add right into the sandwich just before serving. This will keep the bread from getting soggy. Pair this substantial sandwich with an oatmeal stout beer, usually made from up to 30% oats. Although oatmeal stouts do not taste specifically of oats, the smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the high content of proteins, lipids (includes fats and waxes), and gums imparted by the use of oats. This smooth texture will offset the acid of the sauerkraut and mustard. The deep, rich, coffee-like flavors will echo the smoky flavors of the pastrami and nutty flavors of the bread.

Bring your tailgate to a smashing end with an orange chocolate ball. I love slamming these baseball-sized round chocolates against the ground or table and then peeling them open to reveal segments of orange-scented chocolate. Enjoy the chocolate with a 10-year-old Scotch Whiskey like Benromach Speyside Single Malt. The fruit, nut, and citrus notes will complement the orange in the chocolate, and the high alcohol will keep you warm when the temperatures drop.

 So, go on. Pair Up!

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09/03/2014 09:27

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - August 2014

Back to Basics

Although there is still a little summer left, August brings to mind the coming of fall and kids going back to school. I have a daughter going off to college this year, so “back to school” has a whole new meaning to me. I created this menu in Larissa’s honor using some of her favorite foods. For those over 21, I have paired these recipes with two of the most loved wine varietals, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

While it is still hot, a cold soup makes for a nice starter in place of salad. Chilled Fresh Corn Soup with King Crab takes advantage of the local crop of fresh sweet corn. Previously frozen, pre-cooked king crab legs are cheaper than Dungeness crab and easier to get year ‘round. Pair this cool soup with a buttery Chardonnay to echo the sweet corn and rich crab. This recipe uses 2% milk in place of heavy cream, making it silky but not too high in calories.

Larissa’s favorite steak is top sirloin of beef or New York strip steak. It seems to hit that sweet spot of the beef cuts available these days: not as fatty as rib-eye, but with more rich beef flavor than filet mignon. This steak is terrific straight off the grill, but if you really want to create a memorable experience, top it off with a little Whiskey Pepper Cream Sauce. Smokey notes from the whiskey and a spike of heat from the black pepper are all smoothed out by a bit of heavy cream. And, if you like your sauce a little less creamy, just cut back on the amount of cream you whisk in at the end. Pair this dish with a classic: an intensely aromatic, full flavored, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cookies are a great way to finish a meal because they can be made ahead of time and can be eaten out of hand while sitting outside and enjoying a warm, late-summer evening. My daughter’s favorite cookie comes from a Mrs. Fields recipe called the Double Rich Chocolate Chip Cookie. On a personal note, I think it is the best tasting, “just out of the oven” cookie I have ever had. As for pairings, don’t bother looking for a wine to go with these super sweet cookies; stick with the classics – coffee or, better yet, milk.

So, go on. Pair Up!

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08/07/2014 12:02

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - July 2014

Lemon Sunshine

Lemon is an appealing flavor to me all year around, but somehow is even better on a hot summer day. This menu, based on lemon-flavored recipes, is fun and results in a meal that is packed with flavor.

Lemonade and beer are a terrific flavor combination - sweet and sour from the lemonade, bitter and savory from the beer. This combination is commonly called a Lemon Shandy. Some breweries bottle their own versions, but you can make your own with the recipe provided. Shandies are light and refreshing and go down easy on a hot summer afternoon. Additionally, the low alcohol, slight spritz, and yeasty/lemony flavor combination make it a beverage that will go with just about any food. I like the idea of pairing it with a cool yogurt dip that has an abundance of fresh herbs and a bright burst of lemon. This versatile dip is good for almost anything you can eat with your fingers, including vegetables, pita, crackers, and even chicken wings. This pairing will create a leisurely feel, perfect for a relaxing afternoon.

My kids inspired the main course. They love lemon chicken at a local Chinese restaurant. I sought out this recipe so I could make it for them at home. Deep-frying is better for keeping the coating on the chicken, but pan-frying leaves a little extra flavor in the pan for the sauce. Even if you lose a little of the coating, the result is very tasty. I like this recipe with steamed jasmine rice, pea pods, and a refreshing Albariño (a white wine from Spain). The Albariño grape makes a white wine with peach and lemon flavors that cut through the rich fat and stands up to the intense flavors of the chicken. However, if you can’t find an Albariño, a Riesling will be a fine substitute.

For dessert, I got a little help from a boxed cake mix to bake a super quick, easy cake that is beautiful when sliced. What should be its partner? How about an ice-cold limoncello? When sipped alongside, it is like having a little extra glaze with a bit of an alcoholic kick.

So, go on. Pair Up!

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07/01/2014 10:00

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - June 2014

Graduation Celebration

My family will be celebrating a high school graduation this June. For me, a celebration isn’t complete without some kind of bubbles. The bubbles don’t have to be alcoholic or made from grapes, but they do have to be served in tall, elegant glasses to feel special.

Sparkling wines are made all over the world, however, the only sparkling wine that can truly be called Champagne must be made according to very stringent French laws and come from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. In turn, other sparkling wine regions call their wines by special names as well. Cap Classique is a sparkling wine from South Africa made in the traditional methode champenoise, with the secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle. Often, Cap Classique is made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc grapes. It has bright, fresh citrus flavors and aromas. To start the meal below, choose a Brut style wine that will have little or no perceptible sugar. Simple Grilled Shrimp will be delicate and perfect with the clean flavors of the wine. For underage grads or those who prefer to consume their beverage sans alcohol, offer sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon.

Kick it up a notch at dinner with a slightly more complex wine, Vintage Brut Champagne. These wines are literally the cream of the crop. Only the best grapes are chosen each year to make vintage wines from the Champagne region. They are made from primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and usually spend time in oak. The resulting wine is creamy, toasty and a little earthy. For these reasons, Duck Breast with sautéed Chanterelles, Spaetzle (March 2010), and Creamed Spinach is the main course of choice. The slightly gamey and rich flavors of the duck in conjunction with the earthy flavors of the mushrooms will echo the earthy richness of the wine. If the cost of vintage Champagne is prohibitive, try a Blanc de Noirs or a non-alcoholic, sparkling apple-cranberry cider.

Sparkling Moscato d’Asti is one of the few sparkling wines I recommend with dessert. And, it is a really good one. It has the right level of sweetness for dessert and is also a good value (usually $10 – 20). Moscato d’Asti comes from the Piedmont region of Italy; however, Sparkling Moscatos are made in many locations, including Australia and Chile. Moscato has pretty lemon curd flavors and will pair deliciously with Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake. Finally, to end on a non-alcoholic note, try a sparkling apple-pear cider.

So, go on. Pair Up!

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06/02/2014 10:00

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - May 2014

Sweet Mama!

My mom is the sweetest lady in the world and she loves sweet wine. In fact, most of the country prefers wines that have a little residual sugar. And why shouldn’t we like sweet wine? Sugar softens the perception of acidity, tames the spice in food and just plain tastes good. In wine, the opposite of sweet is dry. This makes sense when you think of sugar as fuel for fermentation. When all the sugar is converted into alcohol, the fuel is gone and fermentation stops. It is like a gas tank in a car; when it is dry, the engine stops. If the winemaker chooses to stop the fermentation early, the residual sugar left will determine the sweetness of the wine. It can range from slightly sweet (off-dry) to very sweet. Generally, I like to serve off-dry wines at the start of a meal and save super sweet wines for after.

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a medium sweet, white wine from the South of France. Try it with Spicy Crab Stuffed Mushrooms. The sugar in the wine will offset the heat of the pickled jalapeños and hot sauce. Additionally, the fresh citrus flavors of the wine will be an excellent match with the crab. If you can’t find a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, look for an off-dry Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling.

Sweet wines come in three colors: pink, white and red. Both Lodi and Livermore Valley produce wonderful red Zinfandel, and some producers leave just a touch of residual sugar to enhance the fruit flavor. It is the perfect wine for smoky, slightly sweet, BBQ’d pork. I like shredded BBQ pork in a soft roll, piled up with my favorite coleslaw. BBQ’d pork can take days to make, so in the interest of time, consider picking some up from a local BBQ joint or Costco. Coleslaw, on the other hand, is easy. Here is a delicious coleslaw recipe that has lime juice and cilantro. You can make it with broccoli slaw or regular cabbage, whichever you prefer.

The king of sweet wines is Port. Traditionally, it is made from a blend of red Portuguese grapes, but it can be made from any grape. In California, winemakers create terrific Port from Zinfandel grapes. Port is one of the only wines I ever suggest with chocolate, and Blackberry Truffles will echo the primary berry flavor found in Zinfandel grapes. The combination of chocolate truffles and port wine will sing (and so will you after a few glasses).

So, go on. Pair Up!

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05/01/2014 16:38

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - April 2014

Spring Fling

This month I throw caution to the wind and suggest a menu entirely based on cocktail pairings. Cocktails can be a challenge to pair with foods because of their high alcohol content. This is why they are usually served with salted nuts; salt tames the heat of the alcohol. I have chosen two drinks that have additional non-alcoholic ingredients, which make them more food friendly. And, there is a strong cheese to complement a strong drink at the end of the meal.

Although our local berries have not yet come into season, blackberries from South America are fairly well priced and readily available in California. Start your evening off with a Blackberry Thyme Bramble, the perfect blend of sweet fruit, lemony thyme and woodsy gin. This refreshing gin-based drink is an excellent choice to pair with a creamy goat cheese spread on salty crackers. Both the cheese and the drink are tangy and light.

A hearty entrée of Cuban Pork Roast with Red Beans and Rice should be classically paired with its brethren, the mojito. The mojito, Cuba’s national cocktail, it gets its name from the African word mojo, which means, “to cast a spell.” Keep in mind, making mojitos in a pitcher doesn’t work—it’s impossible to distribute the lime and mint evenly, plus, the club soda tends to turn flat. Instead, muddle a large batch of mint, limes and sugar, then pour the mixture into glasses and top with ice, rum and club soda.

Finish off your meal with a classic pairing of sweet, salty and savory. Blue cheese, which is made all over the world, is a bold partner to stand up to the potent crispness of an appletini. Furthermore, sliced apples are convenient vehicles for eating cheese. Serve a plate of sliced apples with your appletini and include a couple varieties of blues: Stilton (English), Roquefort (French), Gorgonzola (Italian), Cabrales (Spanish) and the eponymous, Blue Cheese from the US.

So, go on. Pair Up!

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04/03/2014 22:10

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - March 2014

Fresh from the Garden

Every year, spring feels like a new beginning. Many people make New Year’s resolutions to eat more healthfully starting in January; I think spring is a more natural starting point. Here is a wonderful menu that takes advantage of fresh produce and offers wines to pair with them. Keep in mind that vegetables are notoriously difficult to pair with wine because they have bitter flavors. I chose a lightly sweet/floral white wine to offset the bitterness and a red wine lower in tannin, since tannin is the bitter component in a red wine.

Start with a salad of “less bitter” greens. Choose butter lettuce for its mild flavor, baby romaine for crunch, and young spinach for color. For added texture, include vegetables like mushrooms, green onion, and some diced Campari tomatoes (surprisingly good year-round). Top your salad with a dressing that is not too acidic, like the Tarragon Vinaigrette listed here. Pair with a white wine like Verdelho. Originally from Portugal, Verdelho is a white wine that reminds me of Pinot Grigio. It has soft citrus flavors accented by pretty floral notes. Quite a few wineries in California are choosing to make this wine in both a dry and lightly sweet style. Of course, if you can’t find a Verdelho, Pinot Gris/Grigio works in a pinch.

Next, we have salad’s quintessential partner, soup. Spring Vegetable Soup with Pesto has so many healthful ingredients; I feel healthier just reading the recipe! The good news is that it incorporates ingredients that soften the bitterness of the “green” ingredients and make it more wine friendly. The starchy richness of the beans and potatoes along with the sweetness imparted by the carrots and peas are helpful to a wine pairing. When choosing a partner for this soup, I immediately think of Italian grapes because of their naturally higher acids. Dolcetto comes to mind because it has relatively lower tannins than some of its brethren. Another low-tannin red is Pinot Noir.

For dessert, I wanted to share a recipe that I had as a child when visiting my grandmother who lived near the orange-growing capital of California, San Bernardino. This Fresh Orange Pie was so unique and delicious; I had to get the recipe from Edwards Mansion. It is possible to pair this dessert with an Orange Muscat wine, but perhaps sparkling water with orange slices would be a fresher ending to this deliciously fresh meal.

So, go on. Pair Up!

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03/04/2014 08:23

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - February 2014

Sunday Dinner

Sunday dinners are about family and close friends. There is a special quality to Sunday dinner; often, the food and wine is prepared and consumed in a more relaxed fashion compared to the hustle and bustle of a workweek meal. Sunday meals also give us an opportunity to talk about what is coming up in the week ahead.

I always like to have a beverage and something to nibble on when folks gather in the kitchen before a meal. If I don’t want to make anything elaborate, my go-to, wine-friendly starter is a salty bag of chips. They go with just about any wine and are easy to grab from the pantry. Two other staples are cream cheese and canned clams. My good friend John Horn gave me a recipe for clam dip that is super-quick to blend up and is loved by almost everyone. Pair it with Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine. You will love the citrus-floral flavors of the wine with the delicate brine of the clams enrobed in the creamy dip.

Roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy is a quintessential Sunday dinner. You will need to start it about two hours before you want to eat, but it requires almost no work. You could even slice the onions in the food processor before making the clam dip and just clean the bowl once. Roast Beef is a classic red wine dish. A great value-conscious choice is one of the rich, red wines from South America. Try a Chilean Cabernet or an Argentinian Malbec. It is easy to find terrific options for under $10 at any local store that sells wine.

Since dessert is rare during the week at my house, serving dessert makes the meal feel more special. Poached Pears With  Quick Chocolate Sauce fits perfectly with the simple, cook-ahead MO of the rest of this meal. Choose Sauternes, a sweet French dessert wine, to complement the pears. You can find some great values on half-bottles at Costco and other wine shops for between $10-20. They are super sweet and have classic aromas of honey, gardenia and pear. And, if you don’t finish the bottle tonight, it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

So, go on. Pair Up!

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02/03/2014 10:24

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - December 2013

Intimate Italian 

The holidays are laden with feasts for families and gatherings for groups. Sometimes an intimate dinner for two is a welcome respite from the holiday cacophony. Here is a menu that celebrates the best that Northern Italy has to offer, with delicious wines from the region and recipes that are quick and easy to make on a smaller scale.

I found this great recipe for Crispy Prosciutto Cups with Pear and thought it would be a fun twist on the classic prosciutto and melon starter. Although the recipe makes 24 cups, it could easily be divided into thirds to make a better portion for two people. The perfect partner for these salty-sweet bites is Italian Prosecco, an off-dry sparkler from the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. The bubbles are a romantic way to start the evening and will cut through the fat of the meat and complement the sweetness of the pears. Even the lemon drizzled on the pears will resonate with the citrus flavors in the wine.

While the appetizer for this meal is light and delicate, Rosemary Lamb Chops with Red Wine Reduction is hearty. Serve it with Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara or Ghemme. All these wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape and come from the Piedmont region. Nebbiolo based wines offer earthy aromas of herbs and tar along with sweet fruit notes of cherry and fig. Any one of these wines would be harmonious with the slightly gamey flavor of the lamb. Alongside, serve some creamy polenta and your favorite roasted vegetable.

Conclude your Italian tête-à-tête with the wine and dessert pairing of Recioto and Sbrisolona, a Lombardian cake with a crumbly texture. Another blended wine, Recioto, is made primarily from Rondinella, Corvina, and Molinara. It comes from the Veneto region, where only the best grapes are selected. They harvest only the highest, ripest grapes on the bunch, the part that gets the most sun. In Veronese, they call these grapes the “recia” (“ears”) of the grapes. Once the grapes are dried, the small amount of juice liberated results in tiny quantities of Recioto produced each year. The wine has a beautiful, crushed velvet texture, a spicy bouquet, and hints of dried plums and chocolate on the palate.

So, go on. Pair Up!

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12/02/2013 10:39

Pair Up with La Sommelierre - November 2013

Food and Wine Gift Giving II

Last year, I offered suggestions for the best wines to give as gifts based on their ability to pair with the most foods. This year I am providing three, homemade food items that are great for gift giving, AND I am adding suggestions for wines to pair with them.

The first food gift is a classic breadstick called Parmesan Grissini. In general, salted bread is delicious with any wine: sparkling, rosé, red or white. This recipe includes crushed fennel seeds, which add the subtle flavor of black licorice, crushed red pepper to give a kick of spice and, of course, Parmesan cheese. The perfect pairing partner is a buttery Chardonnay. Look for Chardonnays that have undergone malolactic fermentation and are aged in oak barrels. The oak will complement the low notes of the licorice and the Parmesan will echo the buttery/dairy flavor provided by the lactic acid from the secondary fermentation.

The next food item is Curried Cranberry Snack Mix. Bold curry flavors in this mix require wine that is very fruit forward. Additionally, the flavor of dried cranberries is often found in red wines; it is a smart mix-in. I also loved the addition of French-fried onions. Fried onions are terrific with wine because they have a sweet/savory quality that brings out the fruit flavor in the wine. Fruit forward varietals like Grenache and Pinot Noir are my first choice pairings but just about any red wine will be fantastic.

Sweet treats are always welcome and Fleur de Sel Toffee will fill the bill, especially since sweet and salty combinations are all the rage. I like the idea of pairing toffee flavors with a little known, fortified wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region called Banyuls. It is made from Grenache grapes and has the flavors of toasted nuts, fig newton, dark chocolate and hints of roasted coffee. It is rich and thick will echo the caramel flavor of the toffee. As a bonus, the salt in the toffee will make it more wine friendly as it balances the wine’s high sugar content and tames any rough tannin.

So go on, Pair Up!

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10/18/2013 16:00
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