November 1, 2013

90+ Cellars and Fall Foods

You all know I love Maine. I love the ocean, Portland restaurants, the big city/small town feel, our unique architecture, (lobsters are alright), the creative and hilarious people I've met here, the absence of significant traffic, and the seasons - this one especially.

But recently I visited a place that made me say, wait, why don't we live here? No, like let's all pack up and move out here. I have no idea what we'd do to pay our rent but who cares. There's an orange tree growing in the front yard. 

I went to Northern California.

Oh, California. You are SO not Maine. You are dusty and constantly sunny and people say "far out" with a straight face. Yes, the ocean is over there too, but it's cold and looming and people don't tend to get in it and sail on it the same way we do out here.

But those oranges. Those grapevines. That view! It triggers that dreaming response.

So I was delighted when Liz representing Boston-based 90+ Cellars got in touch to offer me some wine (I mean, obviously). But especially delighted when she offered wines from California, one from the Russian River Valley, where I'd recently had the pleasure of vacationing.

The Russian River Valley is known for their Pinot Noirs, and I sampled many a fine one while I was out there. I didn't go to the trouble of shipping wine home, being under the assumption that you couldn't ship wine to Maine. Liz was happy to set me straight, and I was happy to receive a 90+ Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Lot 75) and a Sonoma Chardonnay (Lot 88).

90+ Cellars is a unique model, buying wine from wineries that have excess for various reasons. The wine is sold at a discount, being only identified by its variety and 90+ Cellars lot number thus avoiding any discount-wine backlash. So assuming you like what you taste, the idea is that 90+ Cellars will do the legwork to find great wines, and you'll benefit by not paying full price.

I love the idea. I love that it strips you of your expectations that may be associated with a brand. And of course, I love wine that isn't expensive but is still of good quality. (90+ Cellars tells you what the wine would normally retail for, so you feel like you're getting a deal.)

This Pinot Noir is just like ones I drank on my California vacation, silky and tasting of ripe red fruits. Easy to drink and pairs with most any foods. I, of course, was thinking about in season produce like Brussels sprouts and squash. I drank my Pinot Noir with a dinner of roasted Brussel sprouts, mashed winter squash sweetened with Vermont maple syrup and garlic braised chicken thighs.

You can order 90+ Cellars' wine through their website, where there's also a very tempting wine club, or find it at your local Hannaford (I saw a Merlot for $9.99 last week). Any 90+ Cellars wine will be a great go-to for holiday dinners and hostess gifts or even with this weeknight meal for a relaxing, quiet night in.

Braised Mediterranean Chicken Thighs

1 pound skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 fresh parsley sprigs
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and sliced

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

Heat butter in medium-sized wide bottom sauce pan over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Brown chicken all over and remove from pot. Reduce heat to medium and briefly saute garlic (being careful not to burn). Add wine and deglaze pan by scraping up any brown bits.

Tie fresh herbs into cheesecloth to create a bouquet garni. Add to pan along with chicken, skin side up, and any juices that may have accumulated on the plate. Add stock and olives, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and the juices run clear.

Before serving, add lemon juice to pan sauce and stir. Note: Because of the small amount of liquid this recipes calls for, I did have to add more stock while the chicken was cooking. If your sauce is too thin when the chicken is finished, just reduce it by heating uncovered over medium-high heat until it is half the original volume.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Slice washed Brussels sprouts in half, dice thick cut bacon (raw), and toss all together in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in 400 degree F oven until sprouts are caramelized, about 20 minutes.