Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: An 8+8+8 interpretation

As a Foodbuzz  featured publisher, I was given the opportunity to prepare and document a meal. The concept was to have friends over to enjoy dishes from the various US regions and pair them with US wines.

24 = 8 Foodies + 8 US regions + 8 Pairings

Food and wine pairing has always been fascinating, and daunting to me. I’m not sure how someone develops their senses to the extent necessary to accurately pair a dish with  wine that enhances it. That was my goal. Hang out with food and wine loving friends, and experience how wine and food play off each other.

First, divide the US into regions:

  1. New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware
  2. Mid-West: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma
  3. West: Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana
  4. Deep South: Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Maryland
  5. Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico and Texas
  6. Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington and Alaska
  7. California
  8. The Islands: Puerto Rico and Hawaii

After research, the menu went a little something like this.  

Next, to figure out the wines for these meals. The tricky part, but quite rewarding. The internet is your friend. And mine. I took full advantage of this technological advance. There are 2 sites I found especially helpful. The first one helped get in the right wine range. That is, I typed the general type of food and it gave me suggestions for the best wine pair. Wine Review Online  provided choices for specific dishes/recipes as well as by ingredient. The members of the site then offer up reviews of some of their favorites bottles.

Once I knew what type of wine or grape varietal I should be aiming for, I was ready for specific bottles. I wanted all the wine selections to be under the $24 price point, preferably under $20. Good Wine Under $20 was just the right spot for me. I am SO glad I found this site. It is comprehensive and easy to follow and the blog owner provides you with clear reviews about the various wines. Just what I needed.

 

Menu in hand and with my pairing recommendations, this is how the evening played out. Our guests began arriving around 6:30. I printed out the menus and in the back of the card I provided space for each guests’ comments–their thoughts on the dish and how the wine enhanced it, would they ever like to try it again, etc.

This was a pretty informal bunch, as they arrived we discussed whether to eat the dishes in the ‘proper order’ (salads, seafood, dark meats) or if they just wanted to enjoy the dishes randomly. We agreed on a random approach, none of us seemed terribly concerned with following the white then reds rule. Additionally, most of us have a preference for red wines. In any case, off to the first course we went.

 

First up, She Crab Soup: a specialty from the South Carolina low country and the signature dish of Charleston. This soup starts off with a crab stock, cooked onions, celery and rice to arrive at the final product. The addition of sherry and mace gave this soup a deep flavor that proved to be highly satisfying with our guests.

Pairing: Grant & Amy chose a bottle of 2008 Laird Sauvignon Blanc. On their comment card they mentioned the soup was great and light with a great nutty taste which paired perfectly with the oaky finish of the wine. Complimenting its smooth body and melon undertones’.

 

We then moved on to California cuisine with a  Fig and Grape Salad with Pancetta Crostini. This was a salad by Alice Waters, one of the chefs who’s had great impact on California’s cuisine. The salad combines arugula, figs, grapes and a balsamic vinegar reduction together with crostinis– bread sticks of focaccia–wrapped in pancetta. The suggestion from my local wine specialist was for a Riesling.

Pairing: I selected a Riesling by Loredona in Monterey County. I found that this wine really balanced the peppery arugula with the sweetness of the figs and balsamic reduction. White wines aren’t my first preference, but this Riesling was not too sweet, while still being refreshing and slightly tart.

 

For the New England area, we served a Salt Cod & Clam Stew. The base included cannellini beans, leeks, salt cod and clams. One of the suggestions was to pair it with a Pinot Grigio. Jay and Angie brought us a bottle of DaVinci Pinot Grigio. Apple and citrus flavors helped to tone down the saltiness inherent to the cod.

 

For the Midwest we took a stab at White Castle burgers and saluted the corn growers in the area. This course was an open-face White Castle inspired burger–served on a corn fritter and topped with caramelized onions. The wine recommended was a Petite Shiraz.

 

Pairing: GWU20 suggested a bottle of 2008 The Crusher Petite Shiraz and OMG! This is a beautiful wine! We were first struck by the color; the deepest purple I’ve ever seen in a wine. This is immediately followed by the herby and fruity aromas emanating from the glass. Someone commented on how the wine complimented the sweetness of the onions and peppery notes in the burger. This is a bottle that will always be on our shelf.

For the Southwest we had Lamb Chops with Pepper Chutney and Calabacitas. Mildly gamey, tender meat that comes alive with a sweet and spicy chutney that brought your mouth to life. The wine suggested was Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pairing: We selected a bottle of Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon. This is definitely a budget bottle, but it tamed the heat of the chutney while bring out the sweetness and peppery notes of the dish. For a bottle under $10, it was a nice compliment.

 

The islands: Hawaii & Puerto Rico. Kalua Pig and Plantains-I made a last minute change and included both, green and ripe plantains. This was the sleeper dish. Nothing about it was supposed to be exceptional, and yet, it was. The pork is rudimentary seasoned with Hawaiian salts and slow cooked wrapped in banana leaves. There’s no smoke and mirrors here, it was straight forward meat preparation. Meat+salt+garlic+wrapping (leaves)+ slow cooking.

Pairing: Hook & Ladder The Tillerman. This is a nice Cabernet blend with a  rich medium body. Not too boisterous to overpower the simplicity of the pork, but not shy enough to be ignored.

The Pacific Northwest was well represented by salmon. A pan seared Salmon Beer Blanc over Melted Leeks turned out to be a beautifuly simple dish. The salmon drippings were deglazed with a bit of shallots and red ale. And the leeks were cooked down in olive oil leaving a creamy oniony puree. The wine recommendation was a Pinot Noir.

Pairing: Toad Hollow Erik’s The Red. An awesome blend of about 18 varietals makes it an awesome house red. It was smooth and herby, which contrasted wonderfully with the leeks and oiliness of the salmon.

The Western United States brought us up close and personal with meat and potatoes. The last minute substitution of filets instead of roast and potato gallette instead of chips was quite well received. The wine recommendation was Zinfandel.

Pairing: The beef was marinated in vodka, salt and garlic, then seared wrapped in bacon. A side of potatoes and chives rounded up the plate. An Old Vine Zinfandel by Bogle proved to be the right wine, providing a nice spicy finish to the almost creamy, delicate texture of the filets.

 

Then there was dessert. Vanilla Bean Frozen Custard with Pinion Brittle. Creamy, cold, coupled with a nutty and slightly bitter brittle. This was served with Trentadue Chocolate Amore. It’s a merlot based, chocolate flavored dessert wine. I heard no complaints.

Lessons Learned

  1. An evening with 8 meal courses is VERY ambitious. I don’t think they’ve invented stretchy enough pants yet. However, when you hang out with friends who love eating and drinking as much as you do, anything is possible.
  2. Wine and food are like an old married couple: they don’t always like each other, but they just make each other better. All that’s required is a willigness to discover each other’s secrets.
  3. Food & Wine Pairing doesn’t have to be rocket science. Google is your ally and so is the quirky person that answers your wine questions at the store. If you don’t know, just ask.
  4. It’s always about what works for you. Don’t bog yourself down with rules. Taste foods and then have some wine, you may find that it brings out something unexpected.
  5. Wisdom comes from experience. Play with your food and wine, experience and experiment, then document for future generations.

Thanks again to Foodbuzz for the opportunity to throw down with wine and food and to share this with friends and all of you. The various recipes will be posted throughout this week, you really don’t want to miss them. There were a lot of very surprising treats.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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12 thoughts on “Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: An 8+8+8 interpretation

  1. Everything looks so beautiful, from your food to the way you set up your table. It looks very tasteful and elegant. And green happens to be my favorite color too. I think you’ve outdone yourself on this project! 🙂

    I’m liking your fig and grape salad and the lamb with calabacita. Bravo! I hope this post of yours makes it to Top 9, my friend. 🙂

    Btw, food and wine pairing is pretty daunting to me too. I’ll get around to educating myself one of these days.

    F. (and remember, it doesn’t rhyme with ‘Chris Tucker!’)

  2. Vali says:

    Wow!!! It is all so beautiful. I love wine…but I know nothing about pairings…this is fantastic. I can’t imagine cooking ONE of those meals…much less ALL of them in one day! Insanity!!!

    Great job, A. You are so talented.

  3. annibanani says:

    It was Spectacular and so are U.. I might even add OVER to ambitious , and you did it all SO well. Table was be Beautiful! Food was Imaginative and Delicious. You might be the most creative person I know! BRAVO.
    I am with Vali on her post! If good Food is made with Love.. You Spread it all over the place baby!!!!!

  4. Very nice! My husband and I host a 6 course dinner with wine pairings once a year for 10 people and it was fun to read your version. Your menu was very ambitious, but looks like you did a great job!

  5. Amy says:

    As a guest that was lucky enough to actually attend and taste/smell/touch all of these wonderful items…I was in heaven for an evening. The food was a true work of art and I can’t stop talking (and dreaming!) about it. The wine pairings were phenomenal and the suggestions were spot on for each course! Anamaris was a perfect hostess and I felt really special to be invited to something she obviously put so much time and effort into. Watching her cook was amazing and it looked effortless…as if she was whipping up a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. I was simply amazed! Thank you again Anamaris and Linz for sharing this wonderful evening with us! (Dreaming of fresh patacones…you have converted me to a plantain lover!)

  6. Missy says:

    Oh my gosh! What an amazing meal (or two). It looks like you may have outdone yourself! My mouth is totally watering. Congrats on your perfect dinner!

  7. Angie & Jay says:

    We were one of the lucky couples that were invited to partake of this divine feast. It was truly amazing – so much time and effort to make everything so perfect! I thought the table was simply elegant – love the green. We enjoyed pairing the suggested wines with exciting new dishes and found a few new keepers. After all that wonderful food, I didn’t want to see any again until dinner the next day! But, the best part was watching Anamaris in action. She makes it all look so easy and you can tell she is so in love with cooking (sorry Linz)! Thank you again for such an extraordinary evening!

  8. Thanks for all the comments, guys. It was an event! Once the concept was tweaked and the menu firmed, it was pairing the wines that was the most challenging. That’s probably because I’ve never done that before, but it was a really interesting process. I read about grapes and how they’re handled in order to achieve the different tastes and intensities. The truth is, I feel I cheated because there’s just SO much info out there! In the end, I came away with the realization that wine pairing, just like tasting, is a very personal thing.

    Even with the guests at the table, we all picked up on different notes and flavors, aren’t our tongues just interesting little organs?!!

  9. Dorothy says:

    Anamaris-I’ve told you already how much I enjoyed the evening of food and wine, but I thought I also needed to tell the world that my friend of 20+ years is AMAZING! I guess, we all have our talents and yours is evident every time I get the chance to see you in action. Thanks to both you and Linz for your wonderful hospitality. Lovingly yours, Dot

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