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Posts Tagged ‘Supper Club’

Cork Stories was designed as a platform for friends, even strangers, to share their personal experiences (and love) of food, wine and travel.  So, I am excited to welcome our first guest blogger – Abby Cucci.  Abby and I are fellow Supper Clubbers (see “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” post), wine lovers and marketing pros.  She recently visited Oregon’s Willamette Valley with her boyfriend, Craig and shares their incredible journey, including favorite restaurants and three important facts about the Willamette Valley.  ~Enjoy (with a glass of wine), Terrah Kocher

Let’s get just a few things straight:

#1: Oregon is simply stunning.

The scenic beauty of Oregon rivals anything I’ve ever seen.  The drive into the Willamette Valley provides jaw-dropping views of lush rolling hills, rows of vineyards carefully tucked in, with sprawling snow-capped mountains set behind it.  Photographs don’t do it justice (especially not with our camera); it is something you’ll want to see for yourself.

We were told we were “lucky” to experience such amazing weather with 75 degrees and nothing but blue skies the day we toured the wineries.  Clearly, though, the rain has a major payoff—the thriving green landscape is breathtaking.  One local exclaimed, “THIS is what we wait for!  This is our reward for six months of rain.”

The views from our Bed & Breakfast, The Joseph Mattey House, were well worth the trip in itself.  Not to mention the fact that everyone here knows a great deal about wine and you can’t help but join in on the enthusiasm.  Jack and Denise, our lovely B&B owners, had several bottles available for their guests’ enjoyment.

View from our balcony at the Joseph Mattey House

#2: Oregon produces amazing wine.

Surprisingly, the modern history of Oregon wine dates back to the 1960’s—not very long at all considering the competition.  There are some 300 Oregon wineries today, almost all producing Pinot Noir, with 72 grape varietals and 16 approved wine growing regions known as American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the largest of which is Willamette Valley.

There is so much to learn—but don’t let that intimidate you.  Craig and I are wine lovers, but we surely aren’t experts.  A familiar theme we heard throughout our visit was, “Start with knowing what you like.”  We all know what foods we like, why can’t we expand this notion to our wine palette?

Speaking of food, the culinary journey of Willamette Valley matches their pinot varietals. We were fortunate enough to dine in two award-winning restaurants: The Joel Palmer House and The Painted Lady.  These establishments—like most in town—tout organic, local seafood, produce, meat and wine.  While the backdrops of both places are beautifully restored Victorian homes, their menus are quite modern.

At the heart of The Joel Palmer House are mushrooms—and it’s no coincidence that their earthiness pairs perfectly well with the 500+ Pinot Noirs they have on their wine menu.  For dinner, I enjoyed the mushroom tart followed by the beef stroganoff.  The tart was unlike anything I’d ever had before—rich in color and taste, and complete with a perfectly flakey and tender crust (lard, perhaps?); it was a fungi-lover’s dream.

The Oregon Pinot Noir we ordered—The Joel Palmer House label—was strong enough to stand up to the stroganoff, yet it was low tannin, with a blend of red fruit and earthy notes, well-suited for Craig’s sturgeon, as well.  Caught the day before by the chef’s father (and founder of the restaurant), Chef Christopher Czarnecki served this dish with quinoa (a light, fluffy grain alternative to couscous, en vogue with cutting-edge chefs) with matsutake mushroom duxelle and cayenne aioli.  The solution to properly preparing this characteristically tough fish is to marinate it for more than 24 hours in olive oil, spices and herbs—and the outcome was worth trading plates with Craig halfway through dinner!  Chef Czarnecki was kind enough to speak with us at our table with as much care as if we were regulars, walking us through the wine selection, offering insight and expertise on the menu.

I must admit, it was with slight apprehension that I selected the stroganoff.  With all due respect to my mother, this was a dish I grew up with and had (foolishly) decided I didn’t like.   It turns out, I love it!  This was a perfectly rich and flawlessly balanced dish that incorporated Painted Hills Oregon Beef (served rare), wild mushrooms in a delectable cream sauce, and served over a bed of rice.

At The Painted Lady the following evening, they solely offer a tasting menu and you choose one dish from each of the four courses.  I ordered the vegetarian tasting menu, while Craig went with the main tasting menu; however, don’t consider for a second that my path was any less flavorful.  The elegant plating is worth noting, as well as the outstanding service, professional and friendly—and experts on wine.  Both Craig and I went with the suggested wine pairings per course, as well, which was absolutely delicious and added an element of surprise and fun as each bottle and pour was presented.  And, of course, it was amusing to see familiar wineries after a day spent wine tasting around Willamette Valley.  A few highlights from our culinary adventure at The Painted Lady: Craig’s Roasted Rabbit Roulade on Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Puree, and my Spinach and Artichoke Crepes with Wild Mushrooms and Red Wine Soubise Sauce, both paired with the 2009 Aryes Pinot Noir of Willamette Valley.  The small plates made it perfect for sharing (if we were kind enough to do so).  Our evening ended with a gorgeous chocolate soufflé and port wine.  Scrumptious!

the author enjoying a gorgeous view of the Willamette Valley

#3: While painfully obvious, let me remind you – Oregon is in the United States.

If it’s the mystique of another country you’re after, then a trip west won’t fit the bill.  For us, it felt amazing to, in essence, claim Oregon: This is our country.  How extraordinary!  And the people of Oregon do an outstanding job welcoming each and every visitor.  In fact, we are already daydreaming of our return.  In the meantime, we have many bottles of wine to savor our memories.  When I asked Fred Gunton, our wonderful tour guide of A Nose for Wine, how to choose a favorite, I believe he put it best: “Experiences make great wine.  That certainly weighs into your choice and enjoyment.”

Cheers!

Abby Cucci

Abby and Craig - enjoying life in the Valley

A few wineries we visited (and loved!):

What is your Cork Story?  Email Terrah Kocher – Terrahk@gmail.com to be our next guest blogger.

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Our Supper Club hosts for the month of April, newlyweds Katie and Jason Willis,  called on the expertise of Richard Goering from Cork’n Bottle to be our Sommelier for the evening, featuring six different French Country wines.  Our job – bring a complimentary pairing dish and enjoy. I’m truly beaming for this theme.  Here is the lineup and pairing recommendations from dear friend, Kathy Merchant, DWS

Jason & Katie Willis

FRENCH WHITE WINES:

Gruet Sauvage – sparkling, crisp acidity on the palate with a light yet long finish

Pairings: Sparkling: any thing with egg and cheese, for example mini quiches that could also have mushrooms. Gruyere cheese is best.

Muscadet Dorices – bright acidity and citrus notes-classic seafood match

Pairings: Muscadet: definitely seafood and lemon; oysters best, shrimp is fine. Keep it simple.

St. Gayan Sablet–  a beautiful example of white wine from the southern Rhone. Frosty acidity and sweet notes

Pairings: It almost requires something spicy like Asian food.   Explanation – White Rhone:  perfumed and floral, this one could be tricky. Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne are the grapes, maybe some Bourbolanc or Grenache Blanc.

FRENCH RED WINES:

La Pierre Raisins Gaulet – bright cherry and refreshing acidity, made from Gamay

Brunier Pigeoulet – racy blend of grencahe and syrah from the southern Rhone

St. Gayan Rasteau – rich, fruit forward red from the village of Rasteau, famous for its red wines

Pairings: Kathy recommends a spring vegetable ratatouille. These wines are both earthy (gamay and syrah) and spicy (vanilla and brown baking spices, etc.). The combination in the glass is wonderful and the wine can support tomatoes. I love the recipe in the Tra Vigne cookbook.

La Tra Vigne Cookbook

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Starring Joaquin’s Hamburger Mia’s Sangria

When I was invited to my first supper club experience, visions of Frank Sinatra–and for some reason–1950’s Zsa Zsa Gabor at a swanky hipster social club in Vegas, came to mind.  As it turns out, Supper Club is an incredibly unpretentious opportunity to break bread with new friends in the comfort of someone’s home.

Adam and I were asked to join the Supper Club by Stephanie Moore, a modern sophisticate from Pittsburgh (see her blog: Sprout) who shares my insatiable passion for food and wine.

Here is how Supper Club works:

  • Gather a group of friends, preferably who don’t already know each other (12-20 guests)
  • Create a monthly Supper Club Calendar
  • Pick a Host, a date and a theme for each month
  • Invite guests to bring the “supporting cast”- side dishes, deserts and appetizers + drinks, to go along with the theme. (Pingg.com is a great way to invite friends.  It’s a free online program that helps you keep track of RSVP’s and let’s you share your event through your favorite social media outlets.)
  • Include fun games and a laid back atmosphere. (We personally love to play the game Catch Phrase)
  • Eat, drink and be merry!
  • Set rules around attendance.  Supper Club is a community and should be a commitment.

I can only speak for our Supper Club, which is comprised of 12-20 people.  In the beginning only a few of these people know each other, typically friends of the hosts, and eventually everyone else gets to know each other, sharing the common bond of food and drink.  Each month a new supper club is hosted.  The Hosts come up with the theme for the night and they create the main course. The invited guests stick to the theme and provide the ‘supporting cast’ and drinks.  Guests show up at the host  home and the party begins. The First hour is typically spent mingling, cooking, and snacking on appetizers, wine, beer, and other libations.

Because of Supper Club, I’ve been invited to sample hundred year-old family recipes that I’d otherwise never have access to.  I’ve also been given the opportunity to celebrate holidays that I culturally have no rights to.  The true gift of Supper Club is that my husband and I have been exposed to these wonderful traditions and foods through the new friendships we’ve made during these monthly gatherings.

Our first Supper Club theme was Dia de los Muertos, hosted by Mia and Joaquin Lastra.  Joaquin is from Mexico, and this Holiday–also known as day of the dead–is celebrated throughout Latin America in honor of deceased family and friends.  Wikipedia definition: The celebration occurs on November 2 in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts).

Other supper club themes have included themes such as comfort food, a holiday cookie exchange, Italian cuisine and “Foods we love” a Valentine’s Day celebration wherin I was introduced to a protein dubbed ‘Bacon Porn.” This month’s Supper Club landed on Labor Day weekend, so of course, we celebrated with a summer cookout.

There is always one dish that stands above the rest at Supper club; on this day– once again–that dish was provided by our Latin Friend, Joaquin, who made the most incredible hamburgers that I’ve EVER had in my life.  They were even better than the burgers at Terry’s Turf Club, which is a huge compliment.  The joke is that we are going to put Joaquin’s burgers in a competition with celebrity chef, Bobby Flay on the Food Network show, Throwdown! with Bobby Flay and Joaquin would kick Flay’s ass…however, in the end, Flay would be the true winner because he would walk away with Joaquin’s secret family recipe.

Under different circumstances, this post would be dedicated to the world’s greatest Chef and his incredibly juicy, fill-your-mouth-with-flavors-you-didn’t-even-know-existed hamburger recipe, BUT, in true chef style, Joaquin’s lips are sealed and the recipe remains sacred to the Lastra family.  (The only ingredient we were able to guess was chorizo, a type of pork sausage, which made for an extremely flavorful burger. Joaquin also splurged that all of the ingredients could be found at any grocery store.)

So, instead… drum roll please… I dedicate this post to his beautiful wife, Mia, and her Super Sneaky Sangria. Super sneaky because it is so deceivingly delicious that you wouldn’t guess there was a drop of alcohol in it.  I know this to be true because soon after the party began, there was a moment when the sangria drinkers looked at each other with that “uh oh, we’d better slow down before we get wasted” look. You know the one–a bloodshot sparkle in the eye and slight slant of the lid.

Sangria is a Spanish drink blended with wine, sugars, juices and fruit.  I’ve had several versions of Sangria; the worst version I ever drank, believe it or not, was in Madrid, Spain. The best version was during May Supper Club.  Mia mixed wine, fresh lemon, mango and papaya slices.

Here is the recipe.  Enjoy! And go get your Supper Club on.

Mia’s Super Sneaky Sangria

Equipment

Large glass bowl or pitcher

Here are the basics. It’s not an exact science, so adjust to meet your
taste preference.

Start with the fruit of your choice (apples, cantaloupe, peaches,
nectarines, mangoes, etc.) Freshness is key, which is why after checking
the options at Kroger I chose mango and cantaloupe (2 smaller mangoes
and a quarter of a cantaloupe). Cut the fruit into manageable bites (you
don’t want it so small that the alcohol has a macerating effect, nor too
big that guests need a fork with their cup!)

Then place the fruit in a large pitcher or other container, and cover
with:

1) Brandy (Enough that all pieces are soaking, but not submerged. Think
a cereal-to-milk ratio)
2) Honey (about a quarter cup)
3) Granulated Sugar (a heavy dusting)

Stir and let sit for 15-30 minutes (stirring occasionally). Add a bottle
of red wine (we used a pinot noir, but another sweet or light red wine
would do the trick), the juice of 1 lime and the 1.5 cups of orange
juice. Adjust other flavors as needed. Serve over ice and enjoy (with
caution)! -Mia

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