Kick Off Your Summer Grill

I've been cooking for almost 30 years and have learned a lot from mom, grandma, chefs, television, books and internet.  I've tried many new things in the past number of years and I have to say, I get the most enjoyment out of grilling outdoors.  You can cook almost any meal outdoors and more than you can cook in, and the enjoyment you get on your deck or in your backyard is priceless.  

I still love a juicy steak or pork chops on the grill, but after 40 you learn to add more fish and seafood to the menu.  And recently we've instituted "Taco Tuesdays" in our house and I've been having loads of fun with it.  Cornmeal crusted tofu, chili lime rum shrimp, tequila cilantro fish, etc has been the most delicious creations of the week.

If you'd like a great way to enjoy the weather, open a bottle of white (I normally use Riesling because of its limey, mineral properties) and get to work:

  • Marinate.  Today I bought Wild Caught Walleye (if you live in Minnesota, you'll come to LOVE this fish) and prepped it with garlic, oregano, cilantro, lime, olive oil, salt & pepper and tequila.  Let it sit covered in the fridge for at least an hour before bringing it back up to temperature.
  • Drink.  Pop open a refreshing bottle to enjoy (today was Charles Smith "Kung Fu Girl" Riesling) and cool off.  Enjoy the day while the kids play in the yard.
  • Grill.  Doesn't matter whether you're using a gas or charcoal grill: cover the grates with foil.  All flaky fish will disintegrate if you don't.  And use an extra large spatula to get under that filet.
  • Additions.  You may be drinking a bit, but try to multitask.  Make sure to chop your toppings like tomato, avocado, peppers, greens, etc.  
  • Tortillas.  Always use corn- it's the original, less calories and tastes better.  And make it easy on yourself and grill them up!  Brush both sides with olive oil, place them on the grill and have your tongs ready because they cook quickly.  Have a towel or covered plate ready to keep them warm.

Now you're ready.  If you're going spicy (which I always do), you may want to stick with something that is refreshing and has a tiny bit of sweetness like a Washington State Riesling, a homemade margarita or mojito.  After your bev is ready, it's time to construct some tacos with the family and buon appetito!

Grilling & Wine for Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend is finally here- days to remember those who have served for our Freedom and celebrate the coming of summer with family, friends and grilling.  I recall going to the Forest Preserve to play softball and have a pop (when I was very young) or a beer and enjoy the smell of meat grilling over charcoal.  Now that times have changed a bit, and my palate as well, I like to try wine with these events also.  What are some good wines to try with grilling?  Let's get to it:

  • Gotta have a nice refreshing white wine for seafood or to cool off.  For that I'm calling for 2010 Ponzi Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley ($15).  A dry wine full of tropical fruit flavor to pair with grilled oysters, fish, shrimp or chicken, and weighty enough to stand up to marinades
  • Think Pink.  Rose is a great way to is a fine way to go towards beating the heat and the berry sweetness will quench your thirst and pair phenomenally with BBQ sauces. Try the Bastianich Rose ($13) made from 100% Refosco by the Bastianich Family and Chef Mario Batali.
  • Looking for that light summer red to pair with light meats like chicken and pork?  Most people would grab a great Pinot Noir like 2009 Au Bon Climat for under $20, but I like to try different things.  A Grenache has slight bit more weight but can be an amazing summer wine.  Try 2006 Fireblock Old Vine Grenache ($15) from Australia- you'll get great red fruit, twizzler (awesome), tingling spice and flavor length.
  • When we're talking lamb, beef and game with grill marks, it's time to pull out the big guns.  You'll want a red with boldness, body, spice and fruit.  This has Malbec written all over it and I'm grabbing a bottle of 2010 Achaval Ferrer ($18) from Mendoza.  Zinfandel is always a great choice in this part plus it hits with BBQ and ribs.  Four Vines and Ridge make amazing wines and even some blends using Zin and you'll love them all.  Not to be forgotten, Shiraz/Syrah has 'wow' factor with black peppercorn and deep rich fruit, so go for Kilikanoon 'Killerman's Run' Shiraz ($17).

Any direction you go you can't go wrong because you'll be spending time with those you love getting ready for a terrific season.  Enjoy!

4th of July Wine Picks


So the 4th of July weekend is upon us and now it's time to add the finishing touches to your shopping list.  Whether you are grilling, BBQ-ing, cooking in, or ordering out, these are some sure-fire picks to please all palates.


We are going to start off with a couple of good rosé wines.  Now you have to have a sparkling choice, since it is a holiday.  And for that I choose the Mionetto "il" Rose NV ($9.99) sparkling wine from northeastern Italy.  It has a great nose full of raspberry, along with minerality, bing cherry, and light crisp bubbles.  Great with almost any food options.  I also chose a still rosé, the 2008 Gustave Lorentz "Le Rosé" of Pinot Noir ($10.99) from Alsace.  A bit more depth and fruit flavor, it is light enough to enjoy on a hot sunny day- and very versatile with food.



Moving along, we may have some guests who think of sparkling or rosé as a bit "phoo-phoo".  These next cool picks aim to please.  2008 Tabali Viognier ($10.99) has honey citrus, peach, fresh herb, and creamy texture- excellent with fried foods.  For another honey toned wine, we have the 2007 Simonsig Chenin Blanc ($10.99) from Stellenbosch, South Africa.  This wine is packed with tropical flavor and complexity.  Next we move to 2007 Leitz Dry Riesling ($14.99) from the Rheingau in Germany.  Apricot, lime, and a floral nose are enough to tackle most spicy dishes.  For the ultimate summer wine, try the 2007 Puiatti "Zuccole" Pinot Grigio ($16.99) from Friuli.  This version has a bit more weight than your usual, with apples and pears, perfect with anything from seafood to 80015407_label[1]spice. 

No party would be complete without beer, and my choice is the North Coast Brewing Co. Blue StarNorth Coast Brewing Co. Blue Star Wheat Beer.  There might be nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than an ice cold wheat beer, and this one packs light hops and citrus fruit flavor.  Stick it in the cooler and enjoy the food and fireworks.

For those that need some red wine, I would choose to go with wines packed with fruit, so off to Australia.  Red Heads Studio presents 2005 Barrel Monkey Shiraz ($16.99).  Full of red rich fruit and light spice.  For aKilikanoon Killerman's Run Shiraz Grenache bit more, try 2006 Kilikanoon Killerman's Run Shiraz Grenache ($18.99) blend.  Charred red fruit and chocolatey coffe flavor on this well balanced wine will make it the hit of the day.  Both wines are the perfect complement to BBQ and sauces.

No matter what you pick, I hope you all enjoy your holiday, and stay safe.  As for me, I will be indulging in Rib Fest '09 in Naperville!


(image courtesy of flickr)

Perfect Summer: Grill and Wine

2497722293_9daed51524[1]This is my favorite time of year.  The weather is warming up, the sun isn't hiding behind the clouds, the bright green of leaves and grass along with the multi-colored flowers, pools opening, and grills firing up.  All this helps me enjoy one of my favorite activities- sharing some grilled food and cool beverages, outside with friends and family.  Now it's time to share some grilling tips and beverage pairings to help you enjoy the weather!

Let's start with the grill.  There are a few different kinds you can try (propane, charcoal, woodburning), but I like propane.  It's cleaner energy, starts up and reaches a high temperature quickly, and has less cleanup. 

Now for the food.  It's important to remember the versatility of a grill.  You can put more than just meat on it- vegetables, fish, bread, cheese, and fruit.  You can plan your entire meal on a grill, from appetizers to dessert.  Start off with grilled bacon wrapped scallops or grilled baguette topped with seared tomatoes and goat cheese.  When grilling meat, fish, or poultry, remember to use marinades and rubs.  These should be applied at least 24 hours prior to cooking, so you give them time to mix with the meat and juices.  I like to use some sort of sweetness (honey, cocoa, sugar) mixed with a kick (peppers, garlic, peppercorns), along with spice (cinnamon, clove, coriander, etc.), herbs (thyme, rosemary, etc.), and a bit of alcohol (cognac, rum, bourbon, etc.).  These can combine to make excellent flavored marinades or rubs.  The addition of citrus (lemon, lime, orange, etc.) can help, but remember the acids can "cook", so you may want to add them later.  The addition of butter during grilling, or a butter rub down of vegetables and fruits adds excellent richness as well.  Try to experiment with all of these, along with making your own sauces.  It enhances your creativity and experience!

Now for some beverages.  There is not much that I love more on a hot day than an ice cold beer.  Make sure you grab your favorites.  They can start you off, or carry you through your meal.  I love a wheat ale for the heat.  They are crisp, refreshing, and have a touch of sweet and spice which can be perfect.  Try the Sam Adams Summer Ale, Anchor Summer Beer, or Goose Island Summertime. 

For wine refreshment, starting with a rosé may seem "girlie" to you, but they have a fruity dryness that makes them the perfect bev when the sun is beating down.  I like the 2007 Meinklang Prosa ($13.99), a semi-sparking Pinot Noir rosé from Austria, and 2007 Miguel Torres Santa Digna ($11.99) Cabernet Sauvignon rosé for it's strength, fruit, and ripe color. 

Whites match up well with seafood, and oaked, fuller bodied whites can easily pair with meat.  For freshness, try 2008 Groth Sauvignon Blanc ($15.99), a full, crisp, and creamy version.  Also, 2006 Argiolas Vermentino ($15.99) will give you the perfect compliment to your seafood travels.  For your oaked white, go to Spain for the 2007 Bodegas Muga Blanco ($14.99).  It gives you something different than Chardonnay, with full tropical fruit, coconut, and smokiness.  If this wine doesn't match with the grill, I'll give you your money back!

On to the reds.  I love to pick reds with meaty body, live fruit, spice, and grill flavors like chocolate, leather, tobacco, and char.  A malbec always fits perfectly, and I really enjoy 2008 Doña Paula ($13.99).  It's black pepper and mocha fits well with any meat and most sauces.  I have been getting into Portuguese dry reds, and my favorite value is 2004 Azamor Tinto ($15.99), a blend of 6 varietals, over half being syrah, touriga nacional, and merlot.  This wine brings a gamut of flavor, fruit, body, and spice.  It is hard to beat syrah/shiraz on the grill, so 2007 Qupe Syrah ($15.99) and 2006 Final Cut Montage Shiraz ($15.99) are great spicy red buys for your grill.  Also look for the 2006 Hitching Post Generation Red ($17.99), a spicy red blend with full body, black cherry, and tobacco.

If you move onto some grilled fruits for dessert, like plums, peaches, or pears, pair them up with a tawny port.  The caramel, toffee, and dried fruits will help you savor the sweet charred fruitiness at the end of your meal. 

I will be posting some personal recipes and pairings while I enjoy my summer.  Feel free to share some of yours as well!

(Image courtesy of flickr)