Sunday, February 24, 2013

OTBN 2013 - aka parsley is a vegetable

Feb 23, 2013 was another round of "Open That Bottle Night". OTBN was started by a couple of WSJ wine writers. It is always the last Saturday in February. A time to drink interesting wine, share the love for wine and generally have a great time. Here is a description from times past. We have a standard format for this. It is a party that suits us and our friends well. Always 10 people. Some couples, some solos. So there are 5 or six wines to taste.  It is always in three parts.
The first part is the getting together part. Here we encourage some mingling around snacks and a loosener of champagne. Second part some wine related experience "game". Third the main event.
The guests are all asked to bring a wine which means something special to them, and to bring a dish that pairs well with that wine. Over the years the mood has been towards interesting reds - and this year there was even more variety than usual. The guests outdid themesleves with terrific wines, wonderful stories and amazing pairings. The only slight downside (and I am not sure it was a real downside) was the lack of vegetables. Up intil the last round, about the only "vegetable" that we saw was parsley! It became the standing joke.

The Meet and Greet

For this we had croque messieurs and salad with lettuce, mache, arugula (rocket) from the garden. A simple vinaigrette, some red/yellow tomatoes and thinly sliced radishes. Served with a couple of bottles of Veuve Cliquot (NV). The ice was broken.

The Game

For this year's "game" we decided to taste a couple of wines in black glasses so we couldn't see the color - only relying on our noses and taste buds. That's how Mark West Pinot Noir found itself in such elite company. We lined up the glasses in 2 columns (Column A and Column B, of course). Each person was asked to taste one wine from each column, think about it, and comment. Of course there was some sleight of hand going on here because I had used a white Pinot Noir wine from Willamette, Washington in column A. Column B was the Mark West Pinot Noir. This caused some confusion, and a few, "gross" comments from column B. Oh, and I was concerned that some of our more sneaky guests might try dribbling the wines down their chins  to see the color, so I added a drop of black food coloring to the white. Obviously not the high point of the evening! Much fun, laughter and setting of mood.

The Main Event

There were six wine/food pairings and then a couple of bonus bottles and a 1985 PX Bodega sherry to finish with. Small - tasting sized pours. After all, even though this was a neighborhood group, some people claimed they had to exercise the next morning

First Pairing

This from Chuck/Jeanine. An outstanding terrine, paired with a 2006 Morey Saint Denis Burgundy. The wine was an ethereal monopole Premier Cru Burgundy . Not as much funk as some, but still with a lot of structure. Little fruit, low tannin but a surprisingly long finish. They had found this on one of their trips to Burgundy, while staying at a newly opened small hotel. It had become a favorite thereafter. Thank you for such a great way to kick off the event.

Second Pairing

This from us. A 1990 Chateau de Pommard - also from  Burgundy. This was definitely a bit past its prime. It had the Burgundy funk in spades. But almost all the fruit had gone, leaving tannins, leather notes. Served with the duck, it went off well. We had bought a mixed case (1990, 1992, 1996) from the Chateau when we there. Hoisting the case in its wooden traveling box into the overhead compartment on the flight home caused my shoulder to give up the ghost, resulting in rotator cuff surgery.

Third Pairing

From Cathy. a 2011 Sojourn Gaps Crown Pinot Noir. She had met the wine maker at a tennis event. He was just starting out. shee told him that she would buy some when he had his first Parker points. He got a 95 for this one. She paired this very fruit forward, North American Pinot with a warm goat cheese and portabella mushroom tart. The richness of the tart and earthiness of the mushrooms coupled with the deep layers of the wine made for a terrific experience. It is so good to try something never before seen. Thanks Cath!

Fourth Pairing

From Sandra/David. An Amarone Della Valpolicella 2006, Classico. David/Sandra had discovered this on one of their early trips to Italy, and had fallen in love with it. His story talked about their finding it, and then learning about the production process of Amarone - the drying of the grapes to concentrate the flavors. This was all you would want in an Amarone deep, rich, lush, almost aniseed note. Plenty of fruit, but not jammy. Paired with carpaccio - some arugula (the first green product in its element), drizzled with olive oil and a little lemon. Some Parmigiano Reggiano shavings. Oh My!

Fifth Pairing

From Victoria/Chris. A Don Melchor 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. Served with grilled tenderloin and chimichurra. The chimichurra needed something potent to stand up to it. The wine did its job beautifully. And the beef was to die for. definitely got our parsley vegetation in the chimichurra. The intensity of the wine with a little smokiness to it, depth but relatively short finish left the food/wine residual mouth experience just where it needed to be.  My mouth is still watering. Chris regaled us with stories from Chile where wine tastings were previously unheard of. The question often asked, "What do you mean you want to taste the wine, just buy a bottle?" The industry has come on strong since then and long may it continue.

Sixth Pairing

From Chuck H. A Del Dotto 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. A "war horse" ending to our wine symphony. Chuck made a rib roast to go with this intense, oaky as evidenced by strong vanilla notes, delicious Cabernet Sauvignon that he found on a trip to California for his parents' 50th wedding anniversary. A wonderful family occasion translated to a delicious wine for this event. The pairing of the rib roast (perfectly cooked, medium rare) with roasted fennel, carrots and brussels sprouts was ideal. Especially the fennel. It brought out further depth from the wine. Bravo!

The Extras.

The evening wasn't quite over. Chuck/Jeanine just happened to have another Morey Saint Denis (this time a 2004), Chris/Victoria magicked up an Alfa Crux 2008 Malbec and we had some Pedro Ximenes 1985 La Bodega sherry lying around. Served with Lindt white chocolate mouth bombs, Fortnum and Mason chocolates... The evening came reluctantly to a close.

Duck with mushroom, wine sauce and walnuts and crispy skin

I needed a dish in quite tricky circumstances. It needed to pair with a 1996 Chateau de Pommard Burgundy. It needed to be held warm while other courses were being eaten, I wanted the skin crispy...
So I hit upon this. Rich enough with robust flavors to enhance the wine.
This is not for the faint hearted. Cooking the skin separately, having enough ovens, ... Quite the adventure. But a pretty good result.


2 Whole duck breasts (4 halves)
salt/pepper to coat
6 shallots in small dice
1 clove garlic (minced finely)
2T all purpose flour
1 lb mixed mushrooms. Mostly white,cut into quarters, but with some oyster mushrooms added.
1 cup red wine (preferably a Pinot Noir because of the pairing)
1 cup beef stock
1 envelope gelatin
2 T bitter orange marmalade - just the jelly, not the rind. Of course, I used home made!
1 bunch of parsley (minced finely)
1 bunch chives (finely chopped)
8 walnut halves - toasted to bring out the nuttiness


The method is very unconventional because of the need to hold the dish for at least 45 minutes.
Toast the walnut halves and set aside. Score the fatty side of the duck breasts deeply before coating with salt/pepper. Place the breasts skin side down in a very hot frying pan. I would not use non stick for this - and there is no need. If the pan is hot enough, the breasts won't stick. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes over high heat on the first side. Turn them and cook for a coupl eof minutes on the second side. They will not be cooked, but the skin will be a deep cherry wood color.
Remove from the heat. Pour most of the fat off (leaving a few Tbs behind) and reserving the rest.. Slice the skin from the duck breasts and slice into thin strips (1/4"). Reserve the skin.
Make the sauce by cooking the shallots in the duck fat for a couple of minutes, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the mushrooms, cover and allow to cook for about 10 minutes, gently. Stir occasionally. While the mushrooms are cooking, bloom the gelatin in the beef stock. This handy trick gives the mouthfeel of a rich veal stock, but without the effort. Thanks to America's test Kitchen!
When the mushrooms are cooked, add the flour and stir, making a roux. Add the wine, the stock and the orange marmalade and reduce the sauce by about half.
Before serving fry the duck skin strips in the duck fat until they are crispy (a guest described them like chicharrones). Sear the exposed side of the duck breasts in the fat used to fry the skin. cover and place in a 450 degree oven for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove immdeiately to a warm oven to hold.
When ready to serve, stir most of the parsley/chives into the sauce. heat through. Slice the breasts thinly, place in a small bowl, layer the saue on, sprinkle a little of the remaining parsley/chive mixture on top as a garnish. Decorate with walnut half and serve

croque monsieur Toasted Cheese like never before (unless you are French, of course)

First make the brioche! I use this recipe and it is flawless, so wont't repeat it here. Allow the brioche to stale overnight before proceeding. That assumes you don't just eat it all - it is that good! Yes it does have more flour than you might expect for a classic bechamel. And it will have a lot less milk.

Panned up and ready to go

Ready to turn into sandwiches

Ingredients - For 6 sandwiches

The Bechamel sauce

2 Oz (half a stick) of unsalted butter
6 T all purpose flour
2 cups (1 US pint, 4/5 Imperial pint) WHOLE milk
1 shallot studded with 6 cloves
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
white pepper to taste

The Sandwich

12 x 1/4 inch slices of brioche
dijon or tarragon mustard
12 thin slices of Gruyere cheese
6 thin slices of a high quality unsmoked ham
13 cup grated Gruyere cheese


The Bechamel sauce

Heat the milk gently with the shallot/clove for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse. Make a blond roux with the butter/flour. Make sure you cook the mixture for a couple of minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Add the infused milk gradually, whisking continually until all the milk is added. add about 1/4 t white pepper, 1/4 t salt (the cheese and ham are quite salty, so be sparing at this stage) and the nutmeg. Bring to the boil to allow it to thicken, then cool to room temp. It should be very thick and spreadable.

The Sandwiches

To assemble the sandwiches, you will be spreading the mustard and bechamel on the brioche slices, then filling with ham and cheese.
On one side of each sandwich, spread a little mustard. Then top that with a thin layer of the bechamel sauce. On the other side of the sandwich, just spread the bechamel sauce. Layer the sandwich with a slice of cheese, a slice of ham, and another slice of cheese. Close the sandwich. Spread bechamel sauce on to the top outside of the sandwich and sprinkle with grated cheese.
Bake on a lined  sheet pan (using parchment paper or a Silpat mat) in a pre-heated 425F oven for 10 minutes - or until the cheese is bubbly on top. I use a pizza stone under the pan - you may want to double up the sheet pan to ensure you don't get too much direct heat from the heating element.
Cut in half diagonally and serve piping hot with a simple salad for lunch......