Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Sweat Pea Versus Your Meat

“Sam! Be careful. Steps were designed to be taken one at a time; you freak me out when you do that!”

My mother watching me as I my small hands gripped the handrails on both sides of the narrow staircase that aligned the coliseum-like cement stepped seating at the Marina Pacifica center. She’d brought me there for cookies, or under the pretense of getting me a cookie. She was there for a cookie…both an actual one along with the blast of sugar like rush she got from hob-nobbing with the people she wished she was. I’d get a lemonade, fresh squeezed and face-puckering, my young tongue and lips lapping away at the sour, savory juice that would forever be my favorite. I’d drink my pucker juice and cringe through half a head sized chocolate chip cookie, (thus giving her one and a half to devour) while I watched her try so desperately try to fit in. 

I never really cared for sweets, even then but I played along as she excitedly told me we were headed to the then beautiful marina setting with its swank shops full of things we couldn’t afford. My little hands wrapping around the rails, my tennis-shoed feet leaving the ground as I swung, and would leap three or four steps at a time. Each time I landed I would first put my hands out in front of me, just making sure I had my footing, before looking at Mom and giving her the grin that let her know I was fine. Her shake of the head and eyes retreating back to her bent and creased novel, fingers pushing past the butter soaked paper to snap off another piece of peace giving cookie releasing me to swing and leap again.

I used to save the big steps, the ones that weren’t even really steps at all, but were the romantic and somewhat grandiose coliseum-like seats that I’m sure, were dreamed up by some local architect that must have smoked lots of pot and ached for a live music venue that didn’t involve driving. I saved those for when I knew she wasn’t looking. I could go up those treacherous seats; my knees chin-high and calves pulling as I braved my personal Everest. Climbing the seats like some wild monkey as the Long Beach well-to-do bustled by, bags in hand and trying fruitlessly to pretend that they were in Beverly Hills. My chest pulling, hair being lifted with the rush of air as I gained some speed. I would make it to the peak, better known as the parking level, and I would dash over to the “regular” staircase to begin my assent. Gripping hands, swinging feet.

I did stairs wrong. Been known to do lots of things wrong but for some reason those stairs always flash in my mind when I’m being told I’m doing something incorrectly. Wrong?! Maybe not traditional or the way others do, or have been doing it, but wrong?  Well I beg to differ, and once arena where I will most assuredly grab those rails or take those calve stretching steps is when it comes to food and wine pairing. Not content, or convinced for that matter, that the old ideas of pairing are all that relevant anymore. Sure the guidelines are great; white wine with white fish or chicken, but what if that delicate white flesh has been cooked in a deep tomato broth with smoked paprika, Spanish sausage and saffron? Red wine with “meat”, (this one has always bugged me. What kind of meat?! Veal, spare ribs, pork cutlet?!) okay that’s fine I guess but you still think that Zinfandel is going to go with barbeque if it is of the vinegar and mustard variety? Or Italian red wine with, “Pasta”, this one sets me aflame quite a bit. Pasta is a noodle jackass, and unless you’re fixing to eat a plate of dry noodles saying anything goes with pasta just makes you look and sound like a bleating sheep. Those kind of blanket, and let’s not forget, hollow, statements drive me absolutely batshit. Crusty. Crusty old ideas that don’t take into account the fact that food and cooking have changed in the last, I don’t know, hundred years. 

“I think Syrah would go. Maybe a Cal-Ital or Chateauneuf” suggestion from a coworker, the one I happen to butt heads with on the whole pairing issue, like a lot. I was making dinner from leftovers, roasted tri-tip and a sweet pea and cilantro puree, so I asked my fellow wine geeks what they would serve. The answers were all over but this one person was just set on a big, juicy red to accompany the dish and I simply could not wrap my head around it. I went on to explain that the puree was on the aggressive side and would likely be the dominate flavor on the plate seeing as my tri-tip is simply seasoned with salt and pepper before it takes a quick sear in my cast iron before being slowly roasted in the oven. It’s not smoked or grilled so the flavor is quite subtle, and much like the aforementioned fish, the protein was providing more texture than actual flavor. I finished my little explanation only to be met with him looking at me, while holding his hands in front of him as if he were holding a football and he said, “But tri-tip, that’s big meat, I think you need a big red” dude. It’s not the size of the meat but what you do with it. 

I ended up grabbing a Rose from Provence to go with the dish and nabbed a bottle of Manzanilla to sip on while I was cooking. Was doing my little kitchen dance while assembling; toast the tortillas on the open flame, take a sip of Sherry. Flip now charred tortilla into dry frying pan, sprinkle with Jack cheese, sip of Sherry, add thin slices of tri-tip and red onion, sip of Sherry, smear with pea puree, top with a bit more cheese and a second charred tortilla. Quesadilla built, might as well take a sip of Sherry. Once removed from the pan and given enough time of the cheese to cool just a little, I began cutting the quesadilla in quarters, slicing off a little sliver of one to see what I thought of this leftover creation. Wow. Kind of brilliant use of what we had on hand, I was feeling mighty proud of myself as I stacked the wedges on a plate and…took a sip of Sherry. What happened when that salty, nutty wine met with the cilantro and sweet pea flavors was down-right otherworldly. I took another sip, you know, just to make sure I wasn’t high…had sipped on a bit of wine while cooking but, nope, there it was again, this fucking mind bending combination of things happening in my mouth, the kind of perfect pairing that should be written about and could change the mind of those that aren’t inclined to think there’s much to this whole pairing wine with food business. It was in fact one of the most explosive and sublime pairings I’ve ever had the pleasure to put in my mouth and had I stuck with the conventional wisdom, red meat/red wine, I would not have ever experienced.

I think it’s time for more of us wine and food people to grip those handrails, let our feet swing out from under us and take a few more leaps….   


webb said...

Sounds yummy ... what time did you say for dinner?

Tried the beaujolais this weekend - lovely. I know it was not a "top" wine - Louis Jadot 2010 - but we liked it and I shall look for some others to try. This could go near the top of my "reds" list. thanks.

Samantha Dugan said...

Should you ever find yourself out my way there will always be a place for you at my table. Right on with regards to the Beaujolais! It is always at the top of my list, great albeit, simple wines.

Selyndria said...

I am salivating here! I love those pairings. Hell, I live for those pairings.

Last night, I whipped up a chicken sausage sauce for some goat cheese and pancetta stuffed ravioli and we pulled out that CMS which was just delicious with the garlicky, fresh tomato, sweet chicken sausage sauce.

Now while I was cooking I was sipping on that Lustav sherry and nibbling some blue cheese. After that magic, the rest of the night was going to be bliss no matter what.

Romes said...

Whenever you post these "types" of blogs, I just want to curl up on your leather sofa and let you cook for me. Then, I think, wait, how cool would it be to cook together, and laugh and sip and ... Makes me miss you.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Is there a more underappreciated wine category than Sherry? At least among Americans. Sadly, I'm as guilty as the rest. I'm a no-good rat Finca.

I wasn't that good at stairs myself as a child. I preferred sitting on my butt and propelling myself down one step at a time happily banging my ass each time. My grandmother always said it's what rattled my brain as a child and made me the way I am. Who knew that the key to understanding your kid is how he/she handles stairs. We're both odd stair cases.

And yet I love you!

Samantha Dugan said...

I live for them too. May not happen, least not on this scale, all the time but when they do...fucking magic.

Gawd, I was just thinking of you this evening. I had just pulled out one of the flour sack towels you gave me, tucked it into the pocket of my jeans as I bounced around my kitchen making tonight's feast. I felt the soft cloth around my wrist and wondered how you were and when you would be out here again. Think I'm missing you too.

Ron My Love,
Fuck, what an adorable story and I can actually picture you and that crafty grin of yours, thumping down the stairs on your sweet little bum. Too cute and I so wish you were here so I could smother you in kisses.

Sherry is so horribly overlooked in this country and it breaks my heart. They are simply some of the most complex, alluring and spine tingling wines around. Makes me sad that most think of them as sweet, (and I confess, have no love for those PX jobbies...blech) creamy and the stuff Granny drank. Hey, maybe I'll bring a bottle of Fino up to Napa and you and I can practice stairs while drinking it? I love you. I love you. I love you!

Romes said...

Just a short wait, I'm coming to you Feb 9 for a bit of a champagne tasting! And, as far as stairs, I used to slide down on my belly - do you wonder that maybe that is why I now have so much extra padding in that area? ;-)

Although I too did a bit of the Washam method - but I preferred rapid fire style with a hum coming out of my vocal chords to hear the funny noises it made as you hit each stair - hadn't though of either in forever - makes me think of my grandparents farm house, good memories for sure!

When is Napa? Coming up soon? You are going to be fantastic!

Samantha Dugan said...

I think we all have a little "stair story" lurking somewhere. I think that was why I wanted to use that to set the pace for this post. To take us all back, back where we were all care, and stuffy bullshit free...would just take that leap, bump on the ass or tummy, taking on the stairs in our own free-thinking way. Love that shit and know that we are far too bound by convention the older we get. Might be time to shake things up dontcha think?

Thomas said...

Led Zeppelin handled stairs rather profitably, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

"It’s not the size of the meat but what you do with it."

Dude, that applies to the kitchen *and* the bedroom. I'm so gonna steal that line.

Samantha Dugan said...

True dat me amigo. Now if I could just turn stair swinging into a paying gig! Until then, still pimpin'

I was going to use that as the title of this post but feared the google searches.

Sara Louise said...

Yes! I'm pretty experimental when it comes to my wine pairings because as soon as you take that sip, you know if it works or not. If it does, brilliant! If it doesn't try something else. It's that simple :-)

chris said...

Sam, I love the stair metaphor.

And hint, hint, ...any chance that you'll lead a Sherry tasting at The Wine Country??

Samantha Dugan said...

You would amazed at how closed minded some people in the wine business can be about these kind of things. Really is annoying as shit and plays into that, "We know more than you" bullshit that can, and does, keep people from really enjoying wine. Asshats.

We've done them before and it wouldn't be me leading the class it would be Ronnie. That being said, when and if we do another one I will ask to work it so I can be there with my beloved complex beauties. If you'd like I could let you know if we are planning one, would love to have you come down for another event!

chris said...

A Sherry tasting with Sam and Ronnie? That's something special. I'll watch for the announcement in the Wine Country newsletter.

Wine Club said...

This looks great, what a pretty photos, i like it. You are awesome with.