Being from a vineyard, the book focuses on creating memorable meals by pairing a delicious dish with the perfect wine to accompany it and each recipe has a wine recommendation with it. It is authored by Barbara Bryant, co-founder of the vineyard and president of BF Publications (and who contributes several recipes to the book), along with Betsy Fentress, writer, editor and vice-president of BF Publications. There are a wide variety of recipes in the book with chapters on First Courses, Soups and Salads, Fish and Shellfish, Vegetarian, Meat, Poultry, Side Dishes and Desserts. The food is elegant, makes the most of fresh and local foods and all of it sounds pretty incredible. I ended up selecting four different recipes in order to "road test" the book.
Having mostly watched him as a judge on Top Chef, I am a fan of Eric Ripert and I am excited he has a new show "Avec Eric" on PBS, so his recipe for Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur was the first one I tagged to make. I could not resist this very different take on a classic sandwich with smoked salmon, Gruyere cheese and a confit of preserved lemon grilled to a crispy golden brown. Ripert uses his own preserved lemons to make the confit and since I must confess that this book was sent to me to review well before Christmas, I had plenty of time to prepare the lemons which need at least a month to cure.
The sandwich is complex and delicious--the smokiness of the salmon, the sharp richness of the cheese and the intense tang of the lemon work well together. (Note: the lemons are rinsed and quickly blanched to reduce the saltiness since they are not cooked in this preparation). I did make a change in the bread--Ripert uses a sliced Pullman or other white bread and since I am not having white bread in my house right now, I used a soft seeded artisan wheat bread instead. (Sorry Eric!) The recommended wine pairing is a Pinot Gris from Alsace to bring the right acidity to this rich dish. This is a keeper recipe and would be perfect for a luncheon or light dinner.
Loving my lemon and capers made the Grilled Halibut with Spinach and Caper-Lemon Sauce a natural pick for me. The recipe is from Vince P. Bommarito, from Tony's, a long-time St. Louis restaurant. I chose to use kajiki, a local blue marlin, in place of the halibut as it was less expensive and well...fresh and local! In this recipe the fish is marinated in garlic, basil and olive oil, then dredged in breadcrumbs and grilled, then placed on a bed of spinach cooked in butter and red pepper flakes and topped with a sauce of olive oil, lemon, basil, capers and garlic. Once the fish has marinated for an hour, the recipe goes together quickly and easily and is excellent--bright and flavorful. The wine pairing for this dish is a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to pair with the bold flavors of the spinach and capers. I would make this again as a whole dish or each component separately, (The spinach cooked in butter and lightly spicy from the red pepper flakes is especially good).
I am late to liking Brussels Sprouts and I am always looking for ways to change my like to love, so this simple recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta seemed like it might do the trick. After all, pancetta, like bacon, makes everything good and roasting has gotten me to love many a vegetable that I normally don't care for prepared in other ways. This recipe is from James Fiala, chef and owner of three St. Loius restaurants. The pancetta is lightly browned, then quartered sprouts and a bit of butter are added (since my sprouts were tiny, I halved them), the skillet with the lightly browned pancetta and sprouts is placed in the oven and roasted until the sprouts are tender inside. With a little salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, they are done. It's simple and really good. Although the book recommends serving them with roasted meats or poultry, or serving them tossed with pasta, I just ate a bowl of the sprouts for dinner, and lunch the next day, and then again--they were that good. ;-) The book says that a medium-bodied red is the perfect pairing for these toasty morsels.
I was drawn to Charlie Trotter's Braised Cardamom Beef Stew with Potatoes, Celery Root, and Parsnips for several reasons; I love stews, cardamom and black pepper are favorite spices, I rarely cook with parsnips and celery root, and the dish sounded unique. I liked the fact that the beef is braised with the carrots, celery, onion and a sachet of crushed cardamom pods in the oven, while the chunks of potato, parsnip and celery root are tossed in olive oil and roasted in the same oven towards the end of the beef's cooking time. To serve, the roasted veggies are placed in the bottom of a bowl and then the beef mixture is ladled on top and topped with black pepper. This preparation gives the bonus of the tender slow cooked beef with slightly chewy texture and wonderful flavor of the roasted veggies. I did find in order to get my veggies brown, (once I removed the Dutch oven of stew), I had to turn up the temp to 450 degrees and cook them an extra 10 minutes but that worked just fine. The stew was different, layered in flavor and very good--I would make it again. The recommended pairing for this one is a red St. Joseph from the northern Rhone as it has rich flavors that would stand up to the root vegetables and subtle floral notes to compliment the cardamom.
I had marked a dessert to try, Daniel Boulud's Chocolate Mousse to be exact, but decided to be good and not make something sweet that I would only end up eating. ;-) There are some gorgeous sounding desserts in the book in addition to the mousse; Campfire Pie, Berries and Semolina Pudding, Cinnamon Panna Cotta with Apple Geleee, Goats Milk Caramel, and Huckleberries, Three Pear Cake and several others, so the category is well-represented.
Although some of the dishes are relatively simple, I would be most inclined to pull this book out when entertaining--it seems better suited for an elegant lunch or dinner than an everyday meal at home. Although it is a beautiful book with many stunning photos of the vineyard and wine-making process, I wanted to see some pictures of the actual food and recipes which are not in the book, (probably due to the fact it is a collection of recipes from different chefs and sources). But that would be my only complaint with this book--everything I made was delicious and worth a repeat and I plan on trying more. This cookbook would be good for any chef-loving foodie, home cook who likes to have people over for a nice dinner, or wine enthusiast.