The dining guide’s pairings: Four double takes on delicious

[All photos by Nerissa Sparkman]

“Hey You Got Peanut Butter in My Chocolate!” Maybe this snippet from an ancient TV ad for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups crystallizes the philosophy of Pairings, our occasional column that marries unusual combinations, or the best selections, of food and drink. Susan Reigler, whose expertise spans food, drink and biology, has unearthed many serendipitous pairings, and enchanted us with many educated recommendations of particular ways to pair particular foods with particular drinks… Here are four more great ones:

White Castles and Beaujolais Nouveau

White Castles and Beaujolais Nouveau 

Caution to Wine Snobs: This column may offend your delicate sensibilities. If you think you may be harmed by the thought of this pairing, please stop reading now. You have been warned. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Accompanying photo notwithstanding, White Castle does not offer alcoholic beverages, even wine, for sale. To recreate this pairing, “Buy ‘em by the Sack” and take home.

It’s November, and while the focus this holiday season is on planning the traditional turkey-centered feast on the fourth Thursday of the month, across the ocean in France, ‘tis the season for the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau.

This fruity, young red wine always appears in stores and restaurants on the third Thursday of November. Aged only a couple of months, it is supposed to be consumed soon after bottling in a spirit of pure partying — a celebration just before the darkest days of winter descend.

Some have referred to Beaujolais Nouveau as “alcoholic soda pop.” Admittedly, some producers’ bottlings are not as good as others, and the lesser iterations can indeed taste more like grape Popsicles than wine. As in France, it’s released here on the third Thursday, so this year’s vintage appeared in stores last week.

When I stopped by The Wine Rack on Frankfort Avenue to pick up my bottle of Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, proprietor John Johnson confessed that, at one time, he almost stopped carrying it.

“It was not as big a deal as it had been,” he explained. Readers may recall that many Louisville restaurants used to serve special wine release dinners. That number has notably dwindled.

But interest has perked up again, and while it is certainly nothing like the frenetic energy surrounding the annual release of bourbons with the name “Van Winkle” on their labels, Johnson’s customers do seek it out when the season rolls around.

The DuBoeuf is indeed a solid offering, with the characteristic freshness of the off-dry, rather grapey wine. It’s best served lightly chilled. Some people like to serve it with the Thanksgiving turkey because it is actually a pretty good, approachable choice for those relatives who probably aren’t regular wine drinkers.

But my annual Beaujolais Nouveau pairing is just about as All-American as one can get. I love it with White Castle hamburgers. Really.

Now, I know that the famous little square hamburgers (which a friend of mine always referred to as “Beef Cookies”) are not to everyone’s taste. I also have a sneaking suspicion that this is genetic. Have you ever heard of someone who is neutral about Sliders? It’s love or loathe. It’s like being able to raise one eyebrow or not. If you can’t do it when you are born, you never will. If you love Castles from the time you teethe, you love them for life. They are not an acquired taste.

I do have the White Castle gene, as does my brother, and while the rest of the year I accompany them with Coca-Cola (on tap at the self-serve soda machines in the restaurants), my special treat every November is to pick up a bag of the little steamed burgers garnished with onions and pickles, and take home to pair with fresh, French wine. Ah, a bag of Château Blanc and Beaujolais Nouveau… Bon appetite!

Check out White Castle’s web site, whitecastle.com/food/recipes/recipes, for an impressive array of recipes including Hawaiian Castle Bake, White Castle Ring, Castle-con-Queso Dip, Slider-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms and White Castle Quiche. (I am not making this up.)

Here is the perfect Thanksgiving side dish, just in case your family has the White Castle gene.

WHITE CASTLE TURKEY STUFFING

Ingredients:

10-12 — White Castle® Sliders, no pickles
1 1/2 cups — Celery, diced
1 1/4 teaspoons — Thyme, ground
1 1/2 teaspoons — Sage, ground
3/4 teaspoon — Black pepper, coarsely ground
1 or 1/4 cup — Chicken broth (See directions.)

Directions:

  • In a large mixing bowl, tear the Sliders into pieces and add diced celery and seasonings.
  • Add 1 cup chicken broth, toss well.
  • Add ingredients to casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
  • Or to stuff the ingredients into the cavity of the turkey, prepare ingredients as noted above, but reduce chicken broth to 1/4 cup, then cook as you normally would.
  • Makes about 9 cups (enough for a 10-to-12-pound turkey). Note: Allow 1 Slider for each pound of turkey, which will be equal to 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.

Smoked Salmon and Green Lentils

Smoked Salmon and Green Lentils

“This is better than bacon,” declared a man standing next to me one Saturday morning at Highland Fish Market – Chenoweth Square. The object of his enthusiasm was the tray of smoked salmon fillets displayed on the top shelf of the fresh seafood case. A little curly at the edges and shining with the special house-recipe glaze applied during the smoking process, they certainly looked tempting.

But, better than bacon? Surely, the only thing better than bacon is more bacon. Obviously I needed to check out this fish. Proprietor Lori Elder wrapped a bright orange fillet for me and I headed home with my prize.

Having no desire to stand on ceremony, I unwrapped the fillet and broke off a bite. It was tender but not soft, slightly smoky, a little sweet and a little spicy. It was perfect. And while I’m not convinced that it is better than bacon I would be perfectly happy to say that the Highland Fish Market house-smoked salmon is The Bacon of the Sea.

Exactly why it’s so special is a closely guarded secret. When Lori and her husband Doug bought the business from original owner Gary Hirsch (who still runs a Highland Fish location in Middletown) they got the smoked salmon recipe from him on the condition that the ingredients remained proprietary. So wanting details is like trying to get the secret formula for Coca-Cola.  Don’t ask. Just enjoy.

In the year or so after that Saturday morning fish counter encounter, I’ve been back for many more smoked salmon fillets, as well as plenty of other fishy delights, from shrimp to trout, to lobster and more. The Elders are always happy to give cooking tips and, in hot weather, pack your purchase with enough ice to get them home safely.

My next St. Matthews stop after Highland Fish Market is Lotsa Pasta, the international food store on Lexington Road, where I can pick up Tuscany toasts (small bread slices toasted with olive oil, salt and a little rosemary) on which I can serve the salmon as appetizer or a snack. But the salmon can also star as a quick, elegant and delicious entrée.

Lotsa Pasta, in addition to, not surprisingly, a lot of pasta (much of it house-made), has a variety of other staples, among them French green lentils. It is super easy to put a third of a cup of lentils per salmon fillet in a pot of water (or chicken broth) to simmer for about 45 minutes. At the last minute, add sliced celery sprinkled with seas salt. (This is about the extent of my skill cooking vegetables.)

Warm the fish in the oven on low during the last 15 minutes of the lentils’ cooking. Serve the fish over a bed of the lentils accompanied by some warm artichoke focaccia, also from Lotsa Pasta, and which, I insist, also counts as a vegetable. Pair it with a dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc or a white Côtes-du-Rhône.

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This smoked salmon is also excellent in a traditional Victorian British breakfast dish, the sort that would be found on the sideboard after coming in from the morning hunt. Kedgeree had its origin as an Indian rice and lentils dish called Khichri. The Brits tweaked it by substituting smoked fish for the lentils. Here’s a recipe serving four that I have modified from “The Harrod’s Book of Traditional English Cookery,” a treasured little volume I found on a bookstore remainders table about 30 years ago and bought for $6!

1 pound smoked salmon, flaked
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup long-grain rice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
pinch of cayenne or paprika
salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggs
toast triangles

Cook the rice in boiling water and while cooking, scramble the eggs. Remove rice from heat and when all water is absorbed, add lemon juice, cream, salmon, seasonings, and mix in the chopped up scrambled eggs. Add the mixture to an oven-proof dish, dot with the butter and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve with the toast. For Sunday brunch, champagne is the perfect pairing, since it helps cut through the lashings of lovely cream, butter and egg central to kedgeree!


Blueberry Coffee Cake and (Duh!) Coffee

Blueberry Coffee Cake and (Duh!) Coffee

One of the stranger pastry origin stories involves the croissant, or crescent roll. In 1663, the army of Austria repelled the invading Ottoman Turks and, to celebrate, Viennese bakers invented a flaky, buttery breakfast roll in the shape of the Islamic crescent.

If you think about it, this was a fairly odd gesture. No Arabian confections shaped like crosses cropped up after the medieval Crusades. It’s an even happier circumstance that the French and the British passed on creating swastika-shaped breakfast buns at the end of World War II.

I mention this bit of baking lore because at the same time the Austrians were thumbing their floury noses at the Turks, they were embracing the bags of coffee beans the retreating invaders had left behind. The Viennese extracted the sludge at the bottom of a cup of Turkish coffee, added milk and before you could say mit Schlag, invented the coffee house. Fast forward approximately 300 years and voilà, Starbucks!

I know there are people out there who dump yogurt and berries in a blender first thing in the morning and suck their breakfast through a straw.

Enjoy.

There is the milk and corn flakes crowd, too. To my mind it is very hard to top good old bacon and eggs and buttered toast as a great way to start the day. But, I would like to submit a classic breakfast combination for your consideration, because we have such excellent local sources — coffee cake and coffee.

Europeans had been starting their days with coffee for a couple of centuries before the advent of coffee cake, which, depending upon your source, first appeared in Germany or Hungary or Sweden. It is essentially a sweetened yeast bread almost always topped with cinnamon crumbles and it seemed to have been fully embraced by Maxwell House-swilling Americans in the middle of the 20th century.

I searched in vain through my shelves of cookbooks for coffee cake recipes until I opened one inherited from my mother.
“The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook” was published in Chicago and New York in 1948. The index listed not one or two, but 17 different coffee cake recipes. They begin with Almond Butter Coffee Cake and include Coconut Curlicue, Dutch Cherry, Honey Twist, Pineapple, Prune Ladder, Spicy Apple and Strawberry.

Missing from this estimable list is an absolute classic variation on the theme available from Desserts by Helen, located on Frankfort Avenue on the border of St. Matthews and Crescent Hill. It would be hard to overstate the virtues of Helen’s Blueberry Coffee Cake.

It has the requisite top layer of sweet cinnamon crumbles. Cut it open and the meltingly-moist yellow cake swirled with blueberries is a little sweet, a little spicy and just right, especially if you warm it in the oven for about five minutes. (No, do not microwave!)

When I really want to impress the participants in a breakfast meeting, I pick up one of these coffee cakes. Know that it is not for sale by the slice. You have to buy the whole cake, but don’t let that put you off. You can slice it up and stash the pieces in the freezer. Just take it out to thaw the night before you want to eat it and, again, warm it up a bit in the oven before tucking in.

This now brings us to the matter of coffee choice. (What sort of uncouth individual would drink tea with coffee cake?) There is, of course, the ubiquitous Starbucks, and I confess to being quite a fan of its Yukon Blend. But we have a variety of local java purveyors from which to choose. And for years, various friends have been citing the virtues of a tiny shop with a name that promises serious caffeine gratification — Red Hot Roasters.

So I headed down Lexington Road to the corner of Payne Street where Red Hot Roasters is headquartered. The building is so small that there is no room for counter service, only drive-through. I requested a pound of whole bean coffee. There is dark roast, light roast and espresso, as well as decaffeinated. Without asking, the young woman at the window handed over a can of dark roast. (I must have that hardened, caffeine addict look.)

Back home, I spooned the aromatic glossy beans into my grinder, let it whirl and used the results in my French press pot. And if it wasn’t the very best coffee I’ve ever tasted, it certainly ranked near the top — a beverage more than worthy of the top drawer blueberry coffee cake.

By the way, 7 April has been designated National Coffee Cake Day. Mark your calendar.


Duck Nachos and Malbec

Duck Nachos and Malbec 

I’ve never understood why home cooks shy away from duck. It is far easier to roast than chicken. With its built-in layer of fat between the skin and the breast meat (how else did you think ducks could paddle around on those freezing ponds in the winter?), you just have to poke some holes in the skin with a fork and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes per pound. The duck very obligingly bastes itself, resulting in irresistibly crispy skin and succulent meat.

And so I have never met a duck on a plate that I didn’t like. Duck and wild rice crepes, duck a l’orange, sliced duck breast with tart cherry sauce, duck ravioli (thank you, Uptown Café), pressed duck, and my personal favorite, duck confit. There can’t be a better peasant dish than cassoulet, the slow-cooked savory stew of duck confit, pulled pork, sausages, white beans and onions seasoned with garlic and topped with a crunchy crust of bread crumbs. Alas, it is practically non-existent on local restaurant menus. So I have to resort to cooking my own. (Yes, I even learned how to make the confit, which is time-consuming, but not at all difficult.)

Happily, when I don’t want to take the time to make a cassoulet, but still need a duck fix, I can head to Seviche — A Latin Restaurant, where Executive Chef Anthony Lamas offers a distinctly Latin variation on my favorite fowl – duck nachos.

“Nachos” usually involves melted cheese, but not in this dish. Chef Lamas provided the secrets of his rich, savory creation: “We use an organic duck breast, and begin with separating the skin and meat. The skin is rendered and fried to make duck cracklins that we use to top the nachos. The duck meat is cubed and marinated in rendered duck fat, salt and pepper, and then seared in a smoking hot pan, deglazed with lime juice, and when plated, a house cumin aioli is used as the final finish to the meat. It is topped with heirloom tomato pico de gallo and country ham demi-glace, and served with crispy-fried flour tortillas that are made locally in Kentucky.”

The dish is both creamy and spicy. In fact, it is spicy enough to induce eyelid moisture, at least in me. The large tortilla chips are pillowy triangles of fried flour, dusted in salt and pepper. To eat, spoon some of the duck mixture and pico de gallo on a portion of a chip and enjoy.

However, there is a catch. The duck nachos are not part of the permanent Seviche menu, but rather one of the often-featured, cool-weather appetizer specials. So you will need to call ahead or check the restaurant’s Facebook page to make sure it is available.

The portion is perfect as a starter for two, but I am greedy about it. So I share Seviche’s excellent mixed-tableside guacamole (my “salad”) and have the duck nachos as my dinner.

To continue the Latin vibe, I drink a glass of Terra Rosa Malbec with the duck.  Malbec is a black grape that once upon a time was widely planted in the French Bordeaux. But Malbec’s current base is Argentina, where it is the most widely planted grape variety. In France it was mostly used in blending with cabernet sauvignon and other signature Bordeaux juice. But it is bottled as a varietal in Argentina, where that country’s climate allows the grapes to develop lush fruitiness that results in a rich, yet dry, red wine.

Seviche offers the 2014 Terra Rosa Malbec Mendoza on tap. Haven’t tried an “on tap” wine? Look for them. Wines are put in stainless steel kegs at the wineries and are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than bottling the same volume. An inert gas tap system keeps the wine fresh. The Terra Rosa originates in the Mendoza vineyards where the grapes are harvested and fermented. The wine is then shipped to Tierra Divina in Sonoma, California and aged in European and French oak for 15 months before bottling, or in this case, kegging. This Malbec has plenty of luscious, but dry, fruit to make a perfect partner to the spicy, creamy duck. •

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