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Archive for August, 2010

Poor Man’s Chef: Monday, Monday

What’s the day of the week that has so many of us down in the dumps?  It’s Monday, of course!  The weekend was fun:  you probably drank some great wine, ate some terrific food, and spent time with friends and family.  Basically, you did everything that you wanted to do all weekend long, but then it’s all over and the start of another frenzied week begins.  Here’s a thought:  Why not turn Monday, or at least Monday night, into something to look forward to with a “special” meal?!

Here’s a Poor Man’s Chef creation to wipe away the Monday Blues:

1 package of boneless chicken breasts (Approx. 1-1/2lbs.)
1 large Yellow Onion (sliced, diced, whatever…)
1 bag of Baby Spinach (You know, the bagged salad stuff in the produce aisle)
A handful of sun-dried tomatoes
A handful or maybe 2 or 3…of fresh watercress
A few slices of VA baked ham lunch meat (chopped)
1 lemon for some fresh squeezed juice
About one cup of Near East Mediterranean Curry Couscous  (leftovers from Sunday night’s dinner)

From my spice rack

McCormick Fennel Seed
McCormick Montreal Seasoning
A dash of Chef Paul Prudhommes Magic Seasoning

Directions:

Coat a large pot with olive oil on the stove top. Add pieces of chicken breast, sliced onion and sun-dried tomatoes.  Sauté a bit, then add the spices.  While cooking, add the ham, the entire bag of spinach and handfuls of fresh watercress to the pot and simmer it all down.  Douse with freshly squeezed lemon juice and add some fresh black pepper.  After everything is totally cooked, throw in your cup of couscous.  Toss it around and maybe even add a splash of white wine to the mix.  Why not…it’s Monday!  :)

Consider pairing this kaleidoscope of flavors with a couple of kaleidoscope wines.

For a white wine – consider a box of Big House White Wine.  It’s a potpourri of different grapes blended together to produce a crisp wine with floral notes ($20 for a 3L Box).  Try to avoid drinking the entire box though – it’s only Monday!

For a red wine, consider a Cotes Du Rhone like the 2008 Kermit Lynch Cotes Du Rhone ($12 US).  This rouge is blended to perfection to make just about any “thrown together” supper seem extra special.

Bon Appétit.  There’s only 4 more days to go until the weekend…Woo-Hoo!

This Cat was Layin’ Down Some Clams

The label alone on this bottle of wine should have been a clear indicator that the 2008 Fat Cat Cabernet Sauvignon was one tune worth overlooking in the catalogue of hot licks in the California Cabernet aisle.  However, I’m a lover of all jazz music and if you tell me that you’re one ‘Fat Cat’, then you better Blow Daddy!  You dig?

The 2008 Fat Cat Cabernet Sauvignon had a cornball taste:  like that old-fashioned, cherry-vanilla syrup soda pop I used to get on the boardwalk as a kid. 

2 Stars out of 4.  A lot less noodlin’ and more variation in its chording is needed for this cat to really wail.

Price: $9.99

A-Salt of the Tiny Pink Bubbles

Admittedly, it was only a few years ago that I believed you should set aside sparkling wines for special occasions or other life-changing events only, much in the same way as say…eating chicken noodle soup and drinking ginger ale soda only when you’re sick.  Okay, so maybe this wasn’t quite the analogy that I was looking for, but you catch my drift.  Each seemed to serve a particular purpose in life, and “wine with bubbles” was only reserved for something “Special.”

But I’m all grown-up now, and I realize that sparkling wine is great any day of the week!  It can be great alone by the glass, along with some appetizers, and pretty swanky with dinner on any given night – even an ordinary Monday night!

Such was the case this past Monday night.  It was Monday, August 16th – that’s it:  nothing on TV and still several weeks to go before the start of the NFL season.  It was just your average, run of the mill, Monday night.

I decided to liven things up a bit for dinner to turn this ordinary Monday night into something “Special.” 

First, I started by putting together a simple tossed salad with an added twist:

Romaine hearts (cut up)
Butter lettuce (cut up)
A couple slices of Virginia Baked ham – lunch meat I had in the fridge (cut up)
1 avocado (sliced)
Several fresh strawberries (sliced)
Top each salad with Briannas Chipotle Cheddar Salad Dressing

Next, for my “Special” main course, I created a “Pan Seared Almond Encrusted Salmon with Charred Sun-Dried Tomatoes.”

I’ve developed quite a love affair with salmon, but on this particular night the salmon dish would become something extra special with the aid of some tiny pink bubbles from Alsace, France and some salty-sweet goodness in the form of charred (i.e., almost burnt) sun-dried tomatoes and toasted sliced almonds. 

Here’s what you’ll need to do with the fresh salmon:

Heat up a large pan and completely coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.  Next, place your piece of salmon into the pan and season it with Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Salmon Seasoning, which I already had in my spice cabinet.  You can also use a simple combination of salt, pepper and fresh lemon as an alternative to the seasoning mix. *Note: Also adding fresh dill and lemon juice will take this salmon recipe to another level!  Sear the seasoned portion of salmon (skin side down) for about 3-4 minutes on the stove top. Next, top the salmon with sliced almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, and a few lemon slices before moving the pan into a pre-heated 380°F oven, and bake it for about 10-11 minutes. 

Ok, now on to those fabulous tiny pink bubbles.

For the wine, I decided to pair both the salad and the salmon dish with the Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rose (MSRP: $19.99, Sample).  Domaine Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest and most respected Crémant producers in Alsace, France.  In 2004, this family-owned estate made history by winning an unprecedented four gold medals at France’s National Crémant Wine Challenge.  For those unfamiliar with “Crémant”, bubble lovers can find some high-powered sparkle on the cheap (relatively speaking) in places such as Alsace, the Loire, and Burgundy.  Crémants are made with the same care and attention as Champagne (méthode Champenoise), but because of its lack of name recognition, you can find many Crémants priced under $20 USD.

The Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rose is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes.  This delicious sparkler was both outstanding on its own and paired incredibly with both the salad and salmon creations.  The Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rose had a light, mildly sweet taste with very subtle hints of strawberry.  It felt right at home with the salty sweetness of the charred sun-dried tomatoes and toasted almond slivers that were on top of the salmon.  All in all, it was a wonderful marriage of flavors that, without a doubt, made this typical Monday anything but ordinary and quite “Special.”

Do you have a food and wine pairing idea that’ll jazz up a run-of-the-mill weeknight?  If so, I’d love to hear about it!

3 Stars out of 4 for the Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rose.

It’s All Business…

…but not of the risky kind with the 2008 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc.  Right out of the gate, one gets a sense of seriousness from this 2008 Sauvignon Blanc – pardon me – this 2008 Fumé Blanc from one of Napa Valley’s most respected wineries – the Robert Mondavi Winery.

For those that may not know, Fumé Blanc is actually a pseudonym for Sauvignon Blanc.  The person responsible for this brilliant and innovative marketing name change is Robert Mondavi.  Prior to the 1970s, Sauvignon Blanc was typically produced in a way that gave it an overly sweet taste, hence giving it a poor reputation in California.  In 1968, the Robert Mondavi Winery was offered a large and particularly good crop of Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  Mondavi then decided to embrace this as an opportunity to differentiate his Sauvignon Blanc from the others with barrel aging and eventually released a new style of California Sauvignon Blanc under the name Fumé Blanc, and the rest is history.

While tasting the 2008 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc, it certainly didn’t take long for my taste buds to get the sense that the boss was somehow still calling the shots, and the winemakers at Mondavi are following through spectacularly.

Dream sequence…

Boss:  As you know, we here at the Mondavi Winery created Fumé Blanc, but over the years, stiff competition from other terrific Sauvignon Blanc producers sure has made it tough for us to sell our Fumé Blanc.  I need all of you to pitch in and give me your best efforts!

For starters, we’ve got to tame that unruly Sauvignon Blanc with some barrel aging, but we can’t have people scream “Yuck!” because the oak is completely overpowering the wine. 

Winemakers:  CHECK!  We hear you boss.   We’ve got that beast Sauvignon Blanc and the oak under control!

Boss:  What about the fruit flavors?  It has to be great and keep people coming back for more! 

Winemakers:  We’ve got it boss!  Our wine will possess great tropical fruit flavors, along with a special added bonus that will enhance the consumer’s enjoyment of our wine:  with our tried and true barrel aging process, our Fumé Blanc will be as creamy and decadent as a fine Chardonnay – just like the French stuff.

Boss:  One last thing:  we need to make this the best damn wine for less than $20 (US). 

Winemakers:  A hush fell across the room, but after only a momentary hesitation, the winemakers said, “Done!”

Boss:  OK THEN – Let’s go out there and show the wine drinking public what we’re made of!

4 Stars out of 4.  Mission accomplished.  The Robert Mondavi Winery has been making Fumé Blanc for a mighty long time, and years of hands on experience really shows in their 2008 offering.  Try pairing it with a crab cake and Caesar salad.

($20 MSRP, Sample)

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