Things learned/observed this week:
1. There's a very large lake just a few blocks from us. Sometimes we forget.
2. Drink Kermit Lynch's Les Pallières Rosé young and fresh. Unless you like butterscotch and toffee.
3. If you think Rioja food and Ribera Del Duero wine should at least find some happy, minimal pairing crossover, you'd be wrong, at least with this week's meal.
4. Michael Chiarello's grilled fruit sangria tastes like tannins, mint and Long Island iced tea had a baby. And it's kinda awesome with fish tacos.
5. Tomato 'vinaigrette' should be a jarred condiment to be used on and in everything, including smoothies (well, maybe not smoothies But maybe...).
6. Airfare to Europe can stop being so damn schizophrenic any day now.
7. When long-overdue great weather coincides with extra time off work, it feels like a vacation. How can one make a no-work life happen?
8. The second half of Then We Came To The End better be damn good. And it better not be a 9/11 book. Just sayin'.
9. Jeff Keppinger's first walk of the year to take the lead last night sums up the entire Angels' season. I'm starting to turn the channel. First time in 15 years.
10. You can go out to eat and spend a couple hundred dollars on one meal or you can stay in and spend the same amount on five meals. Typically, we choose the latter. Because home food done well is Good and Cheap. Here's why.
Monday Lunch: Linguine al Limone with 2011 Bibi Graetz Casamatta Toscano Bianco ($10 - Binny's)
A house staple. David Rocco's simple and quick lemon pasta. Boil water. Salt water. Dump in pasta. Grate your parmesan and pecorino (two cheeses are key - it's like making meatballs. One kind of meat just doesn't cut it. Two kinds = more complexity). Chop your herbs (use tons. basil and parsley here). Zest and juice your lemons. Rub your garlic. Create your emulsified slurry. Drain pasta. Dump pasta into slurry. Mix. Bowl pasta and top with more cheese and your boatload of herbs. Done. 23 minutes.
Serve with Italian white, Spanish white with happy acid, Portuguese white. Something fresh, minerally and snappy. Gotta cut through the cheese play here to get to a happy pairing place. Vermentino or vermentino-heavy wine has been our happy place of late. This one is the latter. A vermentino, trebbiano and muscat blend from Bibi Graetz and on the cheap. Under $10. The herbs in the pasta made this wine jump, accentuating the best thing about this wine - its acid, rocks and fruit, in that order. Big pairing success here.
Total cost for two plates and wine: About $16
Monday Dinner: Tuna Niçoise with 2011 Domaine Les Pallières Au Petit Bonheur Rosé ($20 - Binny's)
A's Do Mar oil-cured tuna, fava beans, avocados, mustardized potatoes, capers, black olives, tomatoes, onions, arugula, parsley. Anchovy-heavy basic French vinaigrette, but with Thai chilies added to shallots, olive oil, lemon, thyme, white balsamic vinegar, etc. Top-three house meal chronicled many times in blog form. Clean food. Food that feels like a life reset when you eat it. Avocado on Niçoise just made itself into the Niçoise rotation. That's creamy-fresh stuff, my friend. Probably have to call it something else but we're no Niçoise snobs.
Rhône rosé is the way to go here. Regional food with wine from the same region. Learn it, know it, love it. The 2011 Les Pallières Rosé has been The Answer for a couple of years now for us. We want nothing else. It's so damn good that experimenting with another rosé seems like a waste of time and money when Goodness is right there for you, waiting to be had. The 2011, though, has shown a linear arc right into butterscotch-toffee-ville for us. Still good enough because we know this wine so well and know its nooks and crannies. Even when it gets all toffee-like, we know its intent, its former self well enough to like it. Fine enough here with the tiniest bit of fruity freshness peeking through but not enough to make this anything like a solid pairing. Opened a 2011 Charles & Charles Rosé to compare and found the freshness we wanted with tuna Niçoise. We await the 2012 Les Pallières. It's a wine friend.
Total cost for two plates and wine: About $55
Tuesday Dinner: Lamb, potato-manchego croquetas, green beans and tomato 'vinaigrette' and bread with 2008 Pingus PSI Ribera Del Duero ($35 - Binny's)
Rioja food. Ribera Del Duero wine. They're not terribly far from each other. Should work, right? Not when the most delicious part of the meal, the tomato 'vinaigrette' from The New Spanish Table, Mrs. Ney sums up perfect:
I generally avoid peeling tomatoes, but this is important food that will change your summer: Blanch, ice, and peel one pound of tomatoes. Dump them in food processor: pulse until small-chunks--not puréed. Dump into bowl, add 6 tbsp of your best evoo and 2 tbsp of your best vinegar. Toast 1 tsp cumin seeds. In a mortar and pestle, grind them up with two garlic cloves and a big pinch of your best salt. Dump that into tomatoes. Chop up some mint, add it to tomatoes, and let sit on your counter for two hours. Eat, and realize that life is better, now.
Tastes like the dirt, air and people of Rioja. It's vacation flavor all wrapped up in one bowl of tomato deliciousness. Toasties from stale bread box bread, brushed with olive oil for dipping and spreading.
Lamb marinated in lavender, rosemary, garlic, evoo, red wine vinegar. Seared in cast-iron, finished in hot oven. A Mario Batali Spanish lamb recipe.
Potato-manchego croquetas from the freezer and from I don't know when. Creamy and still delicious. Green beans steamed in meat pan, finished with balsamic and smoked paprika.
Whole bunch of Spanish flavors flying around everywhere. But the tomato 'vinaigrette' took this meal to an undeniably Rioja place on our tongues. Couldn't avoid it. That was a problem for the rather run-of-the-mill Ribera flavors offered by the Pingus PSI in the glass. The PSI has been hit or miss for us over the years. We usually have one or two a year and it's either "Wow!" or "Meh." 2008 wasn't a great vintage by any means and it showed with this bottle. Rather pedestrian Ribera flavors of dark berry and smoke, lacking true-blue depth and surprise. Felt like it was trying hard to get to a place of complexity and fun but only played on the edges of such things.
And this meal sharply showed us the difference between Rioja and Ribera. A standoffishness defined the meal, like two cranky old Spanish men from each region that patently refuse to acknowledge each other's thoughts. Good meal, odd pairing.
Total cost for both plates and wine: About $60
Wednesday Dinner: Harissa chicken thighs, grilled endive, grilled corn and dill rice with 2009 2009 Adega Pena Das Donas "Almalarga" Godello Ribeira Sacra ($10 - Binny's)
Chicken thighs marinated in harissa and extra virgin olive oil, cooked in grill pan. Old corn on the cob from the fridge done up almost Mexican street-style, using chipotle instead of cayenne (fresh = better but this was still good). Grilled endive. Another recipe from this month's Food & Wine. Good grilling issue this year. Dilled-up long-grain rice. Big ol' plate of food with a crapload of great flavors that made just enough sense together. We liked this muchly.
The wine, our first Ribera Sacra white (more coming), a 100% godello, maybe suffered from its 2009-ness but still brought some intense focus, maybe too much. Very precise and lovely core of minerals, minerals and more minerals with some pear and citrus zest tossed in. Bright, moderately jumpy and creamy on the edges. Blind it could have been a bargain Chablis, maybe a weird and delicious Italian malvasia experiment. This was good, its entry and exit simply lacked definition and personality. A $20 bottle marked down to $10. Worth more than $10 but maybe less than $20, so winner, winner chicken dinner, I say. Nice stuff with everything but the harissa, which punched it in the mouth right away and it never got up. Fancy pants Ribera Sacra in the hopper. Looking forward to it.
Total cost for both plates and wine: $25
Thursday Dinner: Mahi mahi tacos with manzano pepper crema, cabbage, guacamole and grilled corn tortillas with grilled fruit sangria
Thought we wanted to go out. Knew we really wanted fish tacos. A walk on the lake and fish tacos. That's a good day.
Here you go. The entire recipe that's as easy as pie. Follow it to the letter because Duncan Gott nailed all of it. Six times a year for us and not a bit of it has tasted like it's getting old. One change this time. Used manzano Mexican peppers instead of jalapeño. Jacked up the spice in the crema even more. Best tacos on the planet.
Purple corn sangria in the undisputed champ. But grilled fruit sangria, a Michael Chiarello recipe from, again, this month's Food & Wine, just found its place into our sangria hearts. Used the cast-iron to char the grapes, grill pan to grill the oranges and lemons. Cheap Portuguese slightly spritzy rosé, Grüner Veltliner brandy, whole bunch of mint added and a two-hour refrigeration round out the particulars. This was deep red rosé and it turned a sun tea brown after its marriage and chill. A tea tannin quality came from the grapes, mint freshened it up and the grilled citrus gave it an August in Napa quality to it. Great Stuff.
Fiddled around with going out for dinner but this was What. We. Wanted. Always and forever.
Total cost for both plates and wine: About $30
We didn't have any food, wine or food and wine epiphanies this week. But we found things out and found a couple of new loves. Ate well, drank well enough and spent $186 on five good, long, satisfying meals. We would have blown that at Avec on one meal.
I say big winner in that context.
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