"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Baked Penne Rigate with Roasted Chicken and Broccoli

Ever wonder what to do with that half of the left-over roasted chicken you have in the refrigerator besides just eating it plain?  How about the bunch of broccoli that is in the bottom drawer of your refrigerator that your kids don't want to have anything to do with?  Well, wonder no more!  I have an easy-to-make, delicious baked penne rigate pasta with roasted chicken and broccoli for you that will make everyone in your family scream for seconds -- even the kids.  Chances are you already have pasta and pasta sauce in your pantry.  And, with this dish, you can make enough to have two dinners during the week.  So, here it goes!

1/2 roasted chicken, shredded (or a couple of chicken breasts, boiled, then shredded)
1 package of fresh organic broccoli (or about 2 bunches of broccoli)
1/2 red onion
1 clove of garlic
1 box of penne rigate pasta (or ziti pasta, if you don't have penne)
2 jars of Tomato/Basil pasta sauce (or whatever flavor pasta sauce you have in the pantry)
2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups of ricotta cheese
1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped (or use 1 tablespoon of dried parsley)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Cooking Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease the bottom of a large Pyrex baking dish.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.  Cook pasta according to package instructions for about 1/2 the time so the pasta is very al dente as it will continue to cook in the oven.  During the last minute of boiling, add the broccoli in the pot with the pasta to soften just a bit.  Drain the pasta and broccoli immediately after the time is up, run under cold water, and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, saute the onions in a large sauce pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic for about 1 minute.  Add the chicken to the pan, stir to mix in with the onions and garlic.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and stir.  Add the pasta sauce and stir.  Let the sauce simmer on low heat for about 5-10 minutes to warm up and flavor the chicken.

Once the sauce is heated through, add the cooked pasta and broccoli to the pot (or use a large mixing bowl to mix the pasta and the sauce).  Spread evenly 1/2 of the pasta in the greased Pyrex baking dish.  Spread evenly 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese, 1/2 of the ricotta cheese, and 1/2 the parmesan cheese onto the first layer of pasta.  Sprinkle 1/2 of the chopped parsley on top of the cheese.  Then, repeat with the remaining pasta, cheeses, and parsley.  Cover the dish, and bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the edges are bubbling and the cheeses are melted.  During the last 5 minutes of cooking, uncover.  When done, remove from the oven and serve.

Wine Pairing Suggestion
For this hearty, red pasta sauce dish, I have two wine recommendations: One is a more sophisticated wine (a bit pricier).  The other is a little more casual, and less expensive.  Take your pick and enjoy!

The first wine recommendation is Villa Antinori Toscana -- a Super Tuscan wine (from Tuscany, Italy) that sells for about $17 at BevMo or Safeway.  It is a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Syrah.  This wine used to be labeled as a Chianti Classico.  But, the Antinoris recently started using a different blend of grapes than those allowed by the region of Chianti Classico in Tuscany.  So they can't call it Chianti Classico anymore.

This wine is medium-bodied, smooth and elegant.  It has flavors of blackberry and raspberry, with soft tannins and a nice persistent finish on the palate.  Its has intense deep ruby red color.

This wine is one of my and Patrick's favorite Italian wines. We first became acquainted with the Villa Antinori wines when Patrick and I visited Italy more than 8 years ago during my last year of law school.  We went to a wine-tasting event in Florence, Italy where we tried the wine.  Then, we went to dinner one night at a restaurant in Florence called Buca Mario (http://www.bucamario.it/restaurant).  We had a bottle of Villa Antinori there.  Oh my gosh!  We had the best meal of our lives there and one of the best nights ever!  In fact, we were the last ones to leave the restaurant there.  The waiters kept bringing us food and wine samples. That is where we first tasted Limoncello, which is an Italian lemon liquer made out of lemon zest, alcohol, water, and sugar.  It is delicious.  Well, I'll save that for another blog entry when I feature some yummy dessert.

The point is, I still dream about that meal at Buca Mario even now.  As you can imagine, Patrick and I fell in love with each other all over again in Italy during that vacation. Since then, each time we have a bottle of Villa Antinori, it brings us back to that vacation.  I hope you try this wine and make your own special memory.

Another wine that I would recommend is Novella Synergy, which is produced by EOS Winery in Paso Robles, CA.  You can normally buy this wine at Trader Joe's for about $7.  This wine is a blend of 56% Petite Sirah, 39% Zinfandel and 5% Sangiovese. It has deep purple color.  Once you taste it, it has flavors of raspberries and blackberries, with some notes of dried fruits, oak, and spices (such as fennel and pepper).  It has an excellent finish that leaves your mouth with a hint of chocolate.  It is a great wine to have during the winter or on cold nights, with a nice plate of comfort food like the penne above.  I also hope you try this wine and let me know what you think.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Tribute to Friendship

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

For those of you who know me, you probably know that I love to have friends over to my house just to hang out, share a meal, and enjoy one another's company.  Well, tonight my friends Evelyn and Rene (and their 9-year-old daughter) and my friend Keith came over for dinner.  The five of us try to have dinner, along with the kids, about once a month, and we take turns cooking the meal.  This time, Keith was the Chef in the kitchen.  He made this amazing braised chicken with artichokes and peas from Gourmet Magazine.  This dish is very scrumptious and comforting.  It is ideal for sharing with friends, and to save as left over for dinner during the week.  I have copied the recipe below, if you'd like to try it.  Keith served this dish with angel hair pasta.

To accompany this delicious dish, Keith brought over an absolutely wonderful bottle of wine: Bogle Phantom (2006).  This wine is a blend of Petite Sirah, Old Vine Zinfandel, and Old Vine Mourvedre grapes.  The 2006 vintage was released in August 2009.  This wine is a full-bodied wine that has bold, spicy and complex flavors.  Its rich and deep color makes the wine an inviting wine when you pour it into a glass.  On the nose, the wine hits you with aromas of vanilla, anise and sweet fig.  From the moment you take your first sip, you can taste traces of lush blackberries, vanilla, and black pepper.  Apparently, this wine is of limited quantity.  So, if you have a chance to try it, I strongly recommend it.  This wine sells at BevMo for about $17.  Here is a link to the winery: "http://www.boglewinery.com/bogle_phantom_facts.htm".

Keith: Thank you for a wonderful meal.  I am sorry I gave you a hard time about making a mess in my kitchen when you cook.  But, you know I am just messing with you.  I love you!  Hey: With great dishes like this, you can make a mess in my kitchen any day.

Braised Chicken w/Artichokes & Peas Gourmet | January 2007
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 large chicken thighs with skin and bone (2 pounds total)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and halved lengthwise
1 cup frozen baby peas (not thawed)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preparation and Cooking Instructions
Put flour in a shallow bowl. Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then dredge, 1 piece at a time, in flour, shaking off excess. Transfer to a sheet of wax paper as coated.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté chicken, skinned sides down first, turning over once, until deep golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a plate (chicken will not be fully cooked).

Add onion with remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden brown around edges, about 6 minutes. Add wine and boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, 1 minute. Stir in broth, artichokes, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return chicken to skillet along with any juices from plate and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover skillet and reduce heat, then simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in peas and simmer, covered, 5 minutes. 

If you try this recipe and/or the Phantom wine, please do write a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mustard-Cream Roasted LingCod Fish, Rosemary Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, and Steamed Baby Carrots

Friday was a typical San Francisco Bay Area October Day -- sunny and warm!  For our family movie night, I wanted to make something a bit light, but ultra tasty for dinner.  The day just screamed fish.  When I was growing up in Haiti, I ate fish a lot and I just love fish.  So, I made a mustard-cream roasted Lingcod fish, served with rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes and steamed baby carrots.  This dish was inspired by an episode of Barefoot Contessa when Ina Garten -- one of my favorite chefs on the Food Network -- made a similar dish using red snapper.  But, our local Butcher -- Ver Brugge on College Avenue in Oakland -- recommended the Lingcod.  They had just gotten the whole fish delivered yesterday from a local supplier, and they cut me the pieces that I needed when I got there.  You can't buy fish fresher than that.  I love Ver Brugge.  Thanks, Guys!

Lingcod is a saltwater fish that has lean, flaky white meat and is mild flavored.  When cooking Lingcod and you want to check whether it is done, you should use the tip of a sharp knife and cut through the thickest part of the fillet. If the fish has been properly cooked, the meat will appear opaque but will still be moist.

This dish is absolutely delicious.  The fish came out moist and buttery.  It soaked up the mustard-cream topping so wonderfully.  The fish, coupled with the rosemary potatoes, and the sweet baby carrots left an explosion of flavor in my mouth.  And, you know what the best thing was?  This dish is so quick and low maintenance to make, it gave us plenty of time to enjoy Finding Nemo -:) with the kids.

For dessert, I made something simple, fresh, and delicious.  I mixed 1/2 small container of Mascarpone cheese (about 4 ounces) with some light whipped cream, 1/2 a teaspoon of lemon zest, and 1/2  teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Mascarpone is a tripple cream cheese, and is the main ingredient in Tiramisu.  I layered the cheese mixture in between a medley of fresh berries (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry) in a martini glass. I topped it off with a couple of pieces of thin milk chocolate crisps that I got from Trader Joe's. My daughter had a blast making this dessert with me.

Along with this yummy meal, we had a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling (Columbia Valley, Washington, 2008).  Riesling is a white wine that originated in Germany.  This particular Riesling has a nice scent of orange and peach blossoms, honeysuckle, and sweet lemons on the nose.  When you taste it, it has a refreshing taste of juicy peach, ripe pears, apricot and citrus flavors.  This Riesling leaves a nice unexpected lingering finish in the mouth.  It complemented the Lingcod dish very well.  Surprisingly, this Riesling is inexpensive (usually sells for $9, but Safeway now has it for about $6).  I strongly recommend it if you are looking for a light, refreshing, semi-dry white wine to serve with fish.

If you would like to try any of these dishes, here are the recipes:

Mustard-Cream Roasted Lingcod Fish
4 fillets of Lingcod boneless, but with skin (or other flaky, mild-flavored fish you like)
1 small (7 to 8 ounces) container of Crème fraîche (Crème fraîche is fresh cream, similar to sour cream)
3 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard, which gives the dish some flavor
1 Tablespoon of whole-grain mustard for texture (whatever brand you have in the refrigerator)
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cooking Instructions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season fish generously with salt and pepper.  Place the fish skin side down in a shallow ovenproof baking dish.

Mix in a small bowl the Crème fraîche, mustards, shallots, and lemon zest. Add to the cream some salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon the cream mixture evenly on top of the fish. Bake the fish in the oven uncovered for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillets.  [If you use red snapper, it takes about 5 minutes less to cook.  Lingcod takes a few minutes longer because it is a bit thicker.]  Serve the fish with the potatoes and carrots (below) or your favorite side dishes.  Make sure you spoon over the fish the extra sauce from the baking dish.

Rosemary Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
1 pound of fingerling potatoes, rinsed but not peepled or cut
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (melted)
Salt (about 1 teaspoon) and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 Tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 Tablespoon of dried rosemary)

Cooking Instructions
Place the potatoes on a baking sheet.  Mix all the other ingredients with the potatoes.  Bake in the 425-degree oven along with the fish for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

Steamed Carrots
1 small package of fresh baby carrots
1 Teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions
Steam the carrots in a sauce pan on the stove top (or in a steamer).  Once cooked, drain the water, and return the carrots to the pan.  Add the olive oil and the salt and pepper.  Mix well, and cook on low for about 1 minute.

I hope you try this meal next time you are in the mood for fish.  And, next time you are at the store looking for an inexpensive bottle of white wine, pick a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle's Riesling.  And, please be sure to post a comment and let me know what you think about the fish and/or the wine.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Heirloom Tomato and Basil Bruschetta; Grilled Salmon Fillets w/Cherry, Red Wine Vinegar, and Honey Glaze

One of my favorite appetizers is a Tomato and Basil Bruschetta that I love to make every once in a while for my family.  This weekend, I made this old-time favorite as a special treat.  Along with that, I grilled some salmon fillets with a sherry, red wine vinegar and honey glaze.  I served that with a side of brown rice with some chopped fresh parsley stirred into it.  Here are the recipes below.  Give them a try!

2 large heirloom tomatoes, diced
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
1/4 cups of fresh basil, finely chopped (or use about a teaspoon of dried parsley)
1/4 cup of Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus 1 tablespoon for the bread
1/4 cup of crumbled Feta Cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Goat cheese (as much as you want for the bread)
1 sourdough or sweet baguette

Put the tomatoes, garlic, and basil in a medium bowl
Add the balsamic vinegar, 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, and feta cheese
Stir everything well to mix
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
[Add more balsamic vinegar/olive oil, if you need more flavor]
Cover and let sit for 10 minutes (this gives the ingredients a chance to blend in together)

In the meantime, slice the baguette into 1/4 inch thick slices (use as many as you want)
Brush the bread slices with the remaining olive oil
Toast the bread in a 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes
Top each slice of bread with a dollop of goat cheese
Spoon the tomato mixture on top of each slice of bread, and serve as appetizer.

Grilled Salmon Fillets w/Sherry, Red Wine Vinegar, and Honey Glaze

1/4 cup of Sherry (may leave out, add more vinegar)
1/4 cup of Red Wine Vinegar
3 Tablespoons of honey
1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce (or use soy sauce, if you don't have Worcestershire sauce)
1 Tablespoon of minced shallots (or onions)
A pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 salmon fillets

Rinse salmon fillets with cold water, pat dry, season with salt and pepper, and set aside
In the meantime, combine all the ingredients (up to the pepper flakes) in a small bowl
Add some salt and pepper, and taste
Grill the salmon fillets on the grill (skin side down first, if they have skin), for about 4-5 minutes per side
Brush each side with the glaze, as the fillets grill
Remove from grill and serve with the rice below

Brown Rice w/Fresh Parsley

1 cup of Brown rice (Brown rice is a bit healthier than white rice)
2 Tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

Cook rice per package instructions (I use a rice cooker; 2 cups of water for every cup of rice; I also add 1/2 teaspoon of salt in the rice cooker to season the rice as it cooks)
Once cooked, stir in the chopped parsley
Season with salt and pepper, to taste (if you add the salt in the rice as it cooks, don't add again)
Serve rice with the salmon fillets

Suggested Wine Pairing
With this meal, Patrick and I tried a glass of a Sangiovese our friends Evelyn and Rene brought over to our house recently.  It is made by the Rios-Lovell Estate Winery in Livermore, California [http://www.rioslovellwinery.com].  This wine is medium-bodied, with fresh strawberry bouquet.  It has flavors of cherry with soft tannins on your pallet.

Evelyn and Rene are members of the Winery's wine club.  They recently took us wine-tasting there.  It was fun and the wines were delicious. If you are in Livermore, we recommend a visit to this winery. Thank you, Evelyn and Rene!  Let's go wine-tasting again real soon.

Another great wine that would go really well with this meal is a Zinfandel that our friends Michele and Bill brought over to our house this weekend.  It is Cline's Ancient Vines Zinfandel.  This winery has special meaning for Michele and Bill because that is where they got married.  We had dinner with Michele and Bill this weekend, and we tried this wine for the first time with pizza, served with a green salad and a home-made red wine Vinaigrette dressing.  But, I think it would pair wonderfully with the salmon.

This Zinfandel is just wonderful.  It is full-bodied, with flavors of raspberry, blackberry, with hints of white pepper, spice, as well as traces of coffee and chocolate.  The ripe fruit flavors are married with a taste of vanilla in your mouth.  The soft tannins make it a very easy wine to pair with most food.  The Ancient Vines Zinfandel is also special because it is made from grapes grown on 100-year-old vines.  Give it a try next time you are shopping for wine.  Here is a link to the winery's webpage: (http://www.clinecellars.com/index.cfm?method=storeproducts.showDrilldown&productid=390f8ac0-fe3c-48a0-54a1-40fba3bfbc81&ProductCategoryID=75119e30-c7d7-cba6-5bf3-611315a990c6&OrderBy=PXPC.DisplayOrder+Asc,+P.Price1).  
Thank you, Michele and Bill!

I hope you try some of these (and all of my) recipes, and the wines.  Please be sure to post a comment and let me know what you think.  Also, please post a comment to add on some of your favorite recipes or wines.  Remember: Food and wine are more enjoyable when shared with friends and family.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Friday, October 9, 2009

Pannini w/Tomato and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup

It's Friday night, you are tired from a long week, and it's cold outside.  What's for dinner?  Here is a feel-good, easy-to-make, and delicious comfort meal for the whole family.

Friday nights are "Movie Nights" at our house.  For our "movie night" dinner tonight, I heated up on the stove top one carton of Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup from Trader Joe's.  This soup is delicious.  The tomatoes give the soup a nice tangy taste, while the red bell peppers give it a semi-sweet taste.  Even the most picky eater in my family -- my 3-year-old son -- had a few spoonfuls.  Of course, it was after he asked me why he had to eat tomato soup.  My response?  It is good for you and you will like it.  He agreed after he tried it.

With the soup, I made some "Panninis."  For the Panninis, I put slices of Havarti and Fontina Cheeses and Rosemary Ham in between two slices of Sweet French Bread.  I sprayed a counter-top griddle with cooking spray, placed the sandwiches on the griddle and pressed them until the cheeses melt and the bread is slightly crispy.  That's it!  We had a whole meal.

Patrick and I paired our Pannini-soup combo with a glass of a wonderful Cabernet that I bought at BevMo during its 5-cents sale.  It is from Argentina, and it is by a winery called Finca Lalande.  This Cabernet is similar to a Bordeaux varietal.  The wine is elegant in style, rich in flavor and very aromatic.  When you drink this wine, your palate is loaded with concentrated flavors of cherry and currant fruits, with a hint of black pepper in the aftertaste.  The tannins leave a nice long finish in your mouth.  The wine is regularly $16.99, but when you buy one bottle, you get the second one for $.05.

Although it is a Cabernet, this wine served very well with the tomato and red bell pepper soup, and the Panninis allow you to enjoy all the flavors of the wine.

If you don't want to go out to dinner, and you're tired of take-out for your family's movie or game night, try this simple, but delicious meal and a glass of this fantastic Cabernet.  And, enjoy your movie with the family!

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast w/Roasted Bell Peppers and Polenta Cakes

Think chicken breast is boring?  Well, think again.  There is nothing boring about this Chicken meal recipe that I made for my family tonight.  It is easy and delicious.

4 Chicken Breasts (slice them vertically, but without going all the way through so filling can stay in)
1 Cup of chopped frozen spinach (thawed)
1/2 Cup of shredded Gruyere cheese (or whatever Swiss-type cheese you have at home)
1/2 Cup of Feta cheese
1 small shallot or 1/4 cup of onions (minced)
1 Clove of garlic (minced)
1 Tablespoon of lowfat milk or whipping cream
3 Bell peppers sliced (whatever color you like)
1/2 Red onions (sliced)
1/2 a log of pre-cooked polenta (Trader Joe's has them in the pasta isle)
About 4 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/2 Teaspoon of Italian Seasoning


Preheat Oven to 350 degrees

Bell Peppers
Place sliced peppers and onions in a baking dish
Season with salt and pepper
Add Italian Seasoning
Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Mix well so the vegetables get coated with the seasonings and oil
Bake in the oven until soft, about 30 minutes (depending on how big the peppers are)

Chicken Breasts
Mix spinach, cheese, shallot, garlic, and milk in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper to taste
Stuff chicken breasts with the spinach mixture
Fold the stuffed chicken breasts so the stuffing doesn't come out
Tie the chicken breasts with a twine or insert a couple of toothpicks in them to keep the stuffing in
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium high heat
Brown the stuffed chicken breasts on all sides (about 2 minutes per side)
Then, put the skillet in the oven, and cook for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken breasts)

Slice the polenta into 1/4-inch sizes
Cook according to package [I browned them in a pan over the stove top, and then sprinkled them with some Parmesan cheese]

Serve everything together with a nice glass of your favorite wine.  When I made this dish, we tried a glass of Challis Lane Old Vine Zinfandel (2007).  I got this wine at BevMo, which is currently having its 5-cents sale.  When you buy this wine for $7.99, you get a second bottle for $.05.   This wine is medium body, loaded with delicious berry fruit flavors, and has a nice finish.  It goes really well with this dish.  It received a 90-point rating by Wilfred Wong.  And, at about $4 a bottle, it is a true deal.  Check out BevMo's website:http://www.bevmo.com/Shop/ProductDetail.aspx?D=challis&Ntx=mode%2bmatchall&Dx=mode%2bmatchall&Ntk=All&Nty=1&Ntt=challis&N=0&ProductID=31270.

If you try the recipe and/or the wine, be sure to write a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time . . . Cheers!