Saturday Night Dinner, Feb 26, 2011

We’ve been big fans of Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher since our Wall Street Journal reading parents introduced us to them a number of years back.

Aside from being down to earth wine critics in a sea of pretension, they also have been the advocates of a tradition they call Open That Bottle Night. The idea being that a lot of times you need to get away from pointless hoarding of wine, it is often better drunk sooner, rather than later.

As part of the whole Open That Bottle ethos, they started organizing an annual “Open That Bottle Night” the last Saturday in February.

Dottie and John Share Their Thoughts on Open That Bottle Night

When we began writing our “Tastings” column for The Wall Street Journal in 1998, we tried to write an accessible column that answered the real questions that real people had about wine. Soon, we realized that the question we received most often was this: “I have a bottle of xxxx that I received from my grandfather (or saved from my wedding, or bought at a winery, etc.). When should I open it?” (The addendum was usually: “And how much is it worth?”) We told everyone the same thing: Open it this weekend and celebrate the memories. But we answered the same question so often that eventually we figured, jeez, let’s just set a date when we will all open that bottle together and celebrate the memories. We chose a Saturday in September 1999.

A few years ago, Mrs. Flannestad gave me their book, “Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes from a Marriage”, which is a wonderful memoir of a successful marriage accompanied with an appreciation for wine.

We always try to celebrate Open That Bottle Night a little, in the spirit of John and Dorothy, accompanying a bottle of wine we have been putting off opening with a tasty dinner.

Grilled 5 Dot Ribeyes. Red Wine and Black Trumpet Risotto. Rainbow Chard braised in a spicy tomato sauce.

This wine dates back to a trip Mrs. Flannestad took to the wine country with her parents, before we were married. In fact, it was on that visit to California that we told them we were going to be married!

What, you say they only do citrus supremes on Food Network? Nuh uh, we have them at Chez Flannestad! Tarocco Orange Supremes, to be exact.

One of the advantages to living in California is the occasional beautiful day in February, usually the first time we get out the grill for the first year. The short daylight, though, usually means grilling in the dark, which can be quite spectacular when working with Lump Mesquite.

Right, well the dinner turned out wonderfully, though I thought the steaks were cooked a bit beyond my “ideal”. Fortunately, Mrs. Flannestad enjoys hers a bit closer to “Medium”, so this pleased her. Learning to compromise is an important skill in a successful marriage!

Unfortunately, while the reminiscing over the bottle brought back happy memories of that trip to Napa 10 or 11 years ago, the wine itself was corked and mildewy tasting. After a bit of wishful thinking about whether the wine tasted better after “breathing”, we gave up. Yep, that’s a spoiled wine, all right.

Slight disappointment, but from John and Dorothy’s advice Mrs. Flannestad knew to be prepared for this possibility and had another wine picked out as backup!


Sunday Night Dinner, Feb 20, 2011

The three day weekend pushed the weekly “fancy meal” to Sunday instead of Saturday.

This week’s dinner was a Beef Stew from Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station:

Osteria Stellina’s beef stew packs a warm punch, Michael Bauer

Mrs. Flannestad saved this article a couple weeks back and put it on her wish list for future meals. I do take requests.

Served it on Polenta with a 2006 Syrah from Navarro Vineyards. The warmth of the Cinnamon and spice make this a very tasty stew, indeed!

* 3 pounds boneless beef or veal shoulder, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes
* — Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 4 to 6 cups low-sodium beef or veal stock or broth, or enough to almost cover the meat
* 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
* 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
* 2 whole cloves
* 1 cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long
* 2 carrots (about 9 ounces), chopped into 3/4-inch pieces
* 1 medium yellow onion, chopped into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
* 4 celery stalks, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
* 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
* 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
* 1 tablespoon stemmed, coarsely chopped winter or summer savory (optional)
* 1 fresh bay leaf (or 2 dried bay leaves)
* 1 cup red wine (see Note)

Michael Bauer: “The cold wind and rain whipped down Highway 1 and swirled around the corner in front of Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station. Sequestered inside the restaurant, with a view of downtown through the storefront windows, we were fortunate to be spooning into beef stew.”

Michael Bauer: “Served over soft polenta, it was simply one of the best versions I’ve had. Because I was with another food person, we spent the entire meal debating what made it so good.”

I scaled the recipe down a bit, since there was only two of us. 2 Pounds of Red Dot Chuck Roast purchased at the always reliable Avedano’s.

All the chopping done, the stew in the oven, time for a beer! Racer 5 from Bear Republic in Sonoma is always a reliable choice, (unless you are a super taster).

Goat cheddar from Redwood Hill Farms as a snack while we’re waiting for the polenta and stew to cook. Keep an eye out for the smoked version of same, as it is even tastier.

Polenta is one of those slightly annoying cooked grain dishes. It takes a long time to cook at a very low heat. It will inevitably stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. No bueno.

However, if you have a rice maker with a porridge setting or slow cooker, you can easily make it in them.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a rice cooker or slow cooker, you can just bring it to a simmer then toss it in a low oven to cook, instead of on top of the stove. Saves you a lot of stirring.

1 Cup Polenta Meal
4 Cups Water (or stock)

Preheat oven to 300 F. Bring the well salted water almost to a simmer. While whisking, add the polenta meal to the water in a steady stream. When it comes to a simmer and starts to thicken, move it to the oven for an hour, checking occasionally for consistency. If it needs, add more water to loosen it up. When it is well cooked and has a shiny appearance, spoon onto a serving plate.

I guess the funniest part is that Chef Christian Caiazzo’s Mom is in my Mom’s circle of friends in Sun Lakes, AZ. I haven’t met him, yet, but I have made cocktails for his Mom.

Pot Roast Pasta

My actual favorite part of pot roast or another braised meat, is to make pasta from the leftovers. Chop yourself a half an onion and some garlic.

Saute them briefly in olive oil.

Deglaze with wine and add canned tomatoes and cook until sauce-like. Add the beef and whatever pan gravy you have to the tomato sauce. Check the seasonings.

Boil some pasta.

I’m sure there are many fine pastas in the world. I’ve been using DeCecco dry pasta for years now and it’s my favorite.

Pull the pasta and add it to the sauce. If you need to loosen it up, add some pasta water. Serve with a nice red wine.

We got this one on a recent trip to Paso Robles. It was a very dark Syrah, almost like a Petit Syrah in character. Quite reasonable, and not over oaked, with dark berry flavors.

Pot Roasted Packers

When we discovered that the Packers would be playing in the NFC championship, as good expatriate Wisconsinites, we, of course, had to stay home and watch.

Pot roast seemed like a fun idea. Football games take three or four hours to play themselves out, and so does a pot roast.

Pot roast reminds me of Sunday night dinners with my grandparents in Southwestern Wisconsin. It was one of those dishes you could count on. That and the boiled red potatoes.

Unfortunately, the Packers lost to the New York Giants.

The Pot roast, however, turned out pretty well.

Of course I doubt my grandmother would have used garlic or wine in hers and parsnips are probably a bit exotic, as vegetables go.

And there certainly wouldn’t have been a bottle of Greenwood Ridge Zinfandel to accompany the meal.

Fish Pie

Since we were off to some friends’ house for Cocktails & Canapes last evening, I made a pretty simple Saturday night dinner.

Salad with little tomatoes and a Sherry Vinegar Vinaigrette.

Fish Pie is one of those odd English comfort foods that really doesn’t sound all that appealing, but is in fact quite delicious. Make mashed potatoes. Boil two eggs. Poach some white fish in milk with a cut up onion, a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme. The trickiest thing here is controlling the heat on the fish poaching liquid, so you don’t over cook the fish or burn the milk. Pull the fish out of the liquid and strain it. Make a roux. Pour the warm milk into the roux, to make a bechamel and season with dry Colman’s mustard. Crumble the cooked fish into a baking pan including a little extra smoked salmon or haddock. Nestle the eggs in the fish. Pour the bechamel over the fish and eggs. Cover the whole thing with the cooked mashed potatoes. Then pop it into to the oven until the top is brown and it is warmed through.

It really is one of the whitest meals you can possibly have.

Serve with a nice white wine or hard apple cider.

I do not recommend following this dinner with copious amounts of delicious food and champagne cocktails. Especially not several Death in the Afternoon cocktails. Champagne spiked with Absinthe, not a great idea, if you want to remember the rest of your evening.