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Summerset: wine, food, friends...does it get any better?

Pinotgritable_1 As part of their "100 Geek Dinners" promotion, Stormhoek Winery was kind enough to send a case of their wine out here to evenTinierTown and we put it to good use last weekend by holding a potluck wine tasting. Our good friends, Sunrise and Jessica Fletcher, loaned us the lawn by the pond at the Inn at Lucky Mud and we gathered a dozen and a half friends on Sunday afternoon to sip wine, nibble delicious food, and listen to a little guitar music (contributed by Sunrise and someoneElse, both charter members of WAGS). Sunrise even came up with a song pairing for each of the wines, which was a real hoot, especially as we got further into the evening.

I decided that we were going to make our wine tasting a potluck so that we could let everyone's efforts shine in the appropriate setting, with the right wine, and it turned out to be a wonderful idea. Invitations included an "assignment" of a wine to cook for, some tasting notes that Sam from Stormhoek provided, and what I could glean from the blogosphere on food pairings from earlier Geek Dinners. This turned out to be a great idea, everyone brought food that was very tasty and went well with their wine. It may have helped that the people who replied sayng they'd been drinking Shiraz a lot lately were given Shiraz and the farmers got a white to go with their abundance of fresh vegetables, but I'm happy with the results.

My job was bread, desserts and coordination...and onon tarts...and I think I pulled it off; the tarts didn't hurt. I decided to make an assortment of bitesized sweets for dessert, which was almost as good of an idea as having other people bring the rest of the food (did I mention it was all excellent? plus made with mostly locally produced ingredients...I wouldn't be surprised if we were darned close to meeting the locavores goal of a 100 mile radius for our foodshed...well, except for the wine from halfway around the globe...)

Details on the food and wine after the jump.

This sort of party can be a lot of work, and in some ways it was — all those cute little desserts take time, no matter how you cut it — but there are ways to spread the work out a bit so it's not all being done the day before. I've included notes on what was done ahead on each of the food items where it applies.

Anyway, on to the good stuff!

Pinot Grigio
song: "It's so easy-o to drink Pinot Grigio!" (with a kinda reggae beat)
food: Carmelized onion tarts Oddly enough, even though these have become one of my regular dishes for parties, I can't find a picture anywhere! Picture a hand-formed tart shell with a beautifully rolled edge (I can say that because there are no pictures to show my not-so-perfectly rolled edges and my vision is of the class at the HerbFarm where Toby turns out one gorgeous rolled-rope edge after another...while we all stare, mouths agape, and he tries to explain how... I'm getting better and I promise pictures next time). Picture onions, slow-cooked with bacon and sage to a sweet, golden brown, then splashed with balsalmic vinegar. (better, picture the smell...or whatever the olfactory version of "picturing" something would be) Add eggs from Stockhouse's Farm, and the heavy cream that friends buy for friends when they go across the river to shop in quaintTown. Bake to a golden brown.

Pre-prep: Tart shells were made and formed a week early and frozen raw, then baked (empty and straight from the freezer) the day before and stored in an airtight container overnight. Carmelized onions were made a few days early and refrigerated, they also freeze beautifully so I make large batches when onions are plentiful, freeze it in muffin-tin portions then tossed in a freezer bag. (you really should try this, it's one of my top10 frozen things) Everything was assembled and baked an hour or two before the party.

Sauvignon Blanc
Stockhouses song: All I can tell you is that Sunrise made sure we all knew the "c" in Blanc was silent so the rhyme worked and it was in French...oh and there was a line that translated nto something relevant. (maybe someone will enlighten us in the comments...)
food: A delightful platter of salads and fresh vegetables: tiny sweet tomatoes; a really nice potato salad (which I am sure was made with some obscure potato that Rob grows...our CSA bags have held potatoes I've never even heard of before! ah, I found my CSA sheet from last week and it was Yellow Finns with balsalmic vinegar); delicious, crisp yellow beans dressed with sherry vinegar, goat cheese, and chives; and pepper strips to go with the peppery tones of the wine. Diane and Rob did their reearch and this was a very good match. (all grown at Stockhouse Farms)

Bread with whites:
Focaccio-ish bread with fresh basil, sundried tomatoes and romano cheese
Reinhart's pain la ancienne

Shiraz
Jessica song: "Que Shiraz, Shiraz"
food: Lamb and potatoes, finely diced and cooked until tender in a really tasty sauce, topped with fresh cilantro. H and D, who brought this have been experimenting with food that goes with Shiraz a lot recently and it paid off for us. (Lamb from Wooden Bridge Farm, vegetables from Stockhouses)
Jessica and Sunrise made these tender, flavorful marinated flank steak kabobs with mushrooms, pearl onions, and peppers; another big hit. In fact, everything was a big hit. We spread all the leftover food on a table and encouraged folks to take plates home. Everything disappeared, except for the kabobs apparently, but I looked for them and thought they were all gone, so I'm betting someone hid them until we were gone or something! ...because I hear that, once they were found, they made a great lunch... slyGrin)

Pinotage
song: thrash guitar... "playing with my friends in my garage and we're all drinking..." (crowd yells) "PINOTAGE!"
food: Curried lamb (Lamb from another local farmer, everything else was probably from their garden)
Spicy pork cubes marinated with lemon, habanero, oregano; served with the infamous blueberry habanero chutney

Pre-prep: I know none of the curry details, but the folks who brought it picked it up between the airport and the party, so it must have been made ahead. The pork was  marinated in the refrigerator for a day or two, then cooked right before the party. The chutney we always have on hand. Always.

Bread with reds:
focaccio-ish bread with fresh rosemary, kalamata olives and feta cheese
baguettes

Pre-prep: The bread baking was spread out over several days, starting with a single batch of starter that was used for three kinds of bread, then making three batches that became four types of bread later. Luckily, I love the feel of bread dough so this was all fun.

Three days before: made huge batch of poolish starter, left on counter for 12 hours, fridge overnight.

Two days before: made HUGE batch of focaccia, let rest in fridge until day before. Started baguettes (with poolish) and pain la ancienne (no starter), both of which also ended up in the fridge that night. Decided the little dorm-room sized fridge was a great investment!

Day before:  Split the focaccia in half and layered in the cheese and other goodies by spreading the dough out, sprinkling on the extras, folding it in thirds, resting it for 15 minutes and repeating. Flattened the dough the third time and divided into loaves to finish shaping and rising. Shaped the other two breads and spent a few hours rotating them all through the oven.

Dessert:
song: Into the Mystic (see Sunrise, I was paying attention!)
Wine: **George brought homemade kiwi wine
First out were lemon tartlets, mini-muffin size shells filled with lemon curd that was lightened with shipped cream and topped with a just picked blueberry. The original plan was to put these out with the rest of the desserts but it was really warm and the lemon filling was melting on contact with the air outside the refrigerator. We ended up assembling them and passing a tray while I got the rest of the desserts out before putting the few that were left back in the kitchen to melt in peace. They were a great palate cleanser after the spicy food that went with the Pinotage.

Pre-prep: Shells were baked the day before and lemon curd made a day or two before that. Whipped cream was added to the curd just before we left for the party and they were assembled on site.

Polentacakes Polenta cakes with rosemary syrup and blackberries were a big hit. The tiny cakes were moist from the rosemary syrup that's brushed on while they were still warm from the oven, yet light and not at all soggy. Blackberries were mere hours off the vine. The rosemary syrup was so good that leftovers got added to the mint tea.

Pre-prep: These were made the day before and stored in a plastic container on the counter, where I could snack. (oops, was that the outLoud voice?)

Macarons Chocolate macarons filled with Lindt 85% Bittersweet ganache made from Pierre Hermes recipe. These babies are a challenge (read this) but I got the delicate meringues to mostly hold together without crumbling into very sweet dust...and more than a few of them had frilly little feet. The ganache was another story. The house was insanely hot and humid and the ganache broke while it was being beaten (I wanted it whipped so it would be a little fluffier rather than quite so dense) so sometme after midnight the night before the party found me recreating it. Not my favorite part of the prep work, but it worked out so I was happy.

Pre-prep: These can be made, filled and frozen ahead of time; which I would have done except I ran out of 'ahead of time.'

Lavshortbread Surprisingly the lavender shortbread was the fastest disappearing dessert of all! This is the simplest shortbread, using only butter, flour, sugar, and lavender. I boosted the flavor with **lavender sugar (recipe on recipe blog?)** and used fresh lavender from the garden and they were melt-in-your-mouth tender, and richly fragrant without being 'soapy' (a common complaint with overdone lavender).

Pre-prep:  I made the cookies a week early, cut them out and froze them on a huge cookie sheet, then put them in a freezer container. They went straight from the freezer to the oven the night before the party.

Conclusions:

Wines were served one at a time, with the matching food and the pacing of the party worked extremely well. Nobody got so tipsy that they missed out on the rest of the tasting and, since someoneElse kept an eagle-eye out for when people seemed to need to move on, there was nary a lull. Once we were at the party, I even got to relax and enjoy it. Added bonus: Jessica, who always has to work at every party at her place,  said she didn't have to go upstairs a single time!

While I think that the call on the 'favorite' white was fairly evenly divided (I really liked the Pinot Gri, Sam, in case you've got more cases lying around), the Pinotage seemed the hands-down favorite overall.

One couple wanted to order two cases, one of each of the reds, If I recall correctly. Amazingly enough, two of the four wines (Pinotage and Sauv Blanc) we tasted are now available from K&L Wines in the SF bay area. I think they will ship too, which should make some folks very happy.

At the end of the day, we all signed a poster to send to Stormhoek for their office hallway gallery. Then one thoughtful person ran around and got everyone to sign a poster for me. It was presented to me and I was told that the wine bottle now had a '2006' vintage so that when we did this again next year, we could start our own wall of memories. Now I must find another winery to sponsor us...or send Sam homemade goodies along with the poster and see if they still love us in a year!

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