When Dawn and I began planning our dinner we had tons of ideas concerning themes and concepts, and we ended with the conclusion of an American/European fusion dinner titled Americana Revisited. The reason why we settled on this was to highlight the essence of Midwest America without the humdrum standbys that no one wants to eat again any time soon. We appreciate the fact that Ohio is never considered as a wine growing paradise because that leaves more of the hidden jewels for us. I have to admit, that until recently even I sneered at the idea of excellent wine being made on the shores of bleak Lake Erie. It sounded like a ridiculous concept- but the mind must always be open innovation so it does not shrivel up into a repetitive heap. America is rarely known for a cuisine of its own, but that makes quite a statement in itself. Americana must always be revisited and remelted with shards of the old elements and shreds of the new to keep it the cultural melting pot that makes our cuisine great.
For our first course, I had the challenge of pairing some sort of a salad with a slightly sweet white. For the wine, Daniel and I selected a Gewurtzraminer wine from Fireland's vineyard, located on Isle of St. George in Sandusky, Ohio (home to Cedar Point if you're a roller coaster fan). We'll mention Firelands again later on. This course was our first test if you will, as despite our optimism, there was a slight worry in the back of my mind that the wine would be exceptionally sweet, and the stereotyped jabs to Ohio wine would hold true. Lucky for us, they were wrong! To compliment what the wine described as its "Rose Petal Fragrance," I choose a lemony brussels sprout hash topped with poppy seeds. The zesty flavor from the lemon complimented the delicate sweetness of the wine exceptionally well and created a wondefully refreshing pairing that we will probably plan to enjoy again.
As soon as we found out that we were going to be doing the pairing dinner, I knew I wanted to do some sort of ravioli dish. I love preparing homemade pasta, partly because of the process, and partly because of how versatile the dish can be. I don't get to make it very often because because it does take a little bit of time and space. Luckily though, I had my mom's larger kitchen to take over for the afternoon and an extra pair of hands to help put them together. For the wine, we selected a blend from South River Vineyard in Geneva, Ohio, looking for a sweeter, lighter red to transition to the dryer reds later. We have yet to visit this winery, but if you look at their site, the place looks quite amazing with the unique setting in the church. The Trinity blend was a blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, and we read would be sweeter, smokier taste. So, to try and compliment the two flavors, I prepared a Mushroom Ravioli with homemade pasta and slow cooked smokey bacon onions in (in place of a sauce). One of our guests (who happens to be related...and share a love for bacon), described the pairing of the slow cooked smoky bacon onions with the mushroom ravioli as releasing a "cornucopia of flavors" when paired with the wines. By this point, Daniel and I were both relieved I think that the myth of super sweet mediocrity was quickly being debunked.
For the soup course I had a few elements in mind that fit the criteria of Americana Revisited including Spanish chorizo, split orange lentils and parmesan crisps. For my birthday a few days ago, Dawn bought me the book Happy in the Kitchen by Michel Richard in which he composes countless dishes similar to yet reinventing the wheel of common American dishes. For example, he revisits pecan pie which, explains as being pleasantly surprised by the first time he had it in the states and inserts macadamia nuts in place the pecans. There is definitely something to be said for reinventing the wheel as long as you don't forget the principles and engineering behind it. I tossed around the idea of using fresh Mexican chorizo and finally settled on Spanish although I believe they would both work in the recipe. The bright orange split lentils added the vibrancy I was hoping for in the dish as well as marrying well with the lamb stock I prepared last weekend for the soup. Just to mesh the spicy chorizo, buttery lentils, salty parmesan crisp, and sweetness of the stock- the Chambourcin added a pleasant dry peppery note that played well as a counterbalance.
Another book I highly recommend for its thoughtful reverence of properly raised meat as well as the head to tail approach that Fergus Henderson has become so famous for is The River Cottage Meat Book by another well intentioned Brit by the name of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. His ideas and commentary from the humane approach to meat to the precedence of keeping old recipes alive make the book a must for meat lovers. Near the center I wandered upon a recipe titled something like Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder Alla Donny Brasco which he gives a bit of credit to Nigella Lawson and others for also coining the cooking method, but as usual the ingredients and unique elements are what he wanted to display. I thank him, Lawson, and whoever else is responsible for the method, but like Hugh I tinkered with the flavor profile to stuff the pork shoulder with garlic cloves and rosemary, crusting it in whole grain mustard while still slow roasting it at 200 for approximately twenty hours. The mustard sauce that I prepared with the pan drippings, white wine, and extra rosemary seemed to be a hit. The combo of meat and sauce rested over white cheddar cheese grits. And, contrary to some of our preconceptions, the '05 Firelands Cab was musty and smoky with hints of fruit but not too much as a Cabernet Sauvignon must remain true to its noble old world roots which in our case was the Ohio version. A sort of Midwest Americana that the Old world would appreciate.
Last but not least for my dishes was a wine poached pear dish with homemade ricotta that adds the creaminess that seems inherently sinful yet right when uncorking a bottle of desert wine just for those special occasions. With all the hecticness of the activities which felt a bit like us hosting our first thanksgiving, yet the celebration was not even in our house, Dawn did a nice job capturing as many dishes and angles as she could but at the end of the night we ended with very few pictures of the pears. With something as sumptuous as pears, I try to keep the kiss (keep it simple stupid) approach so as not to overwhelm the natural sweetness and delicacy that comes out during poaching. I poached them in some white wine, a shot of triple sec, brown sugar, and lemon zest. The apple pie Mead from the Brothers Drake Meadery here in Columbus (who we paid a nice visit to earlier this month, and will probably again soon) went together with the pears and cheese as apple pie goes with cheddar cheese yet with a more mellow connection rather than an opposites attract relationship. Americana can always use another apple pie/cheddar combination and my nomination is poached pears and ricotta.
Finally nearing the end. The dessert course. Initially I assumed this would be the easiest course to come up with a pairing for. I love making desserts. Pairing desserts with wine, particularly an Ice Wine that's exceptionally sweet is slightly more difficult however, as you have to be careful that the two are not competing as far as sweetness goes. This type of disaster would be quite a loss with any dessert wine, but with ice wine in particular I discovered this would be quite a travesty, as the process is quite labor intensive and a somewhat more risky venture. Ice wine gets its name because it is made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. The freezing process concentrates the grape flavor and the sweetness, producing an intensely sweet but perfectly balanced wine, but is also quite risky for the wine producers as it depends on a deep freeze occurring while the grapes are still in a ripened state on the vine. Besides the risks involved in the possible loss of the crop itself, the process of production is quite labor intensive as well, explaining why the cost is slightly higher.
The ice wine from Firelands was not too expensive as far as ice wines go, and was absolutely perfect. I think we all sat in absolute silence for a few seconds after the initial sip. The cake I choose for the pairing was a toasted almond cake with a nectarine glaze, dotted with grapes to balance the sweetness. The toasted buttery flavor of the almonds and the delicate sweetness coming through from the nectarine proved an ideal pairing. I wouldn't boast to be able to say my baking is able to compliment such an amazing wine, but it definitely didn't detract from it.
All in all, the meal was absolutely incredible. We successfully found wines to debunk the super sweet stereotype from both larger Ohio Vineyards like Firelands and Debonne, and smaller operations like South River Vineyards and Brothers Drake Fine Meads. Along our journey revisiting Americana, we learned through trial and error the sweet wines created from the different grape varietals that thrive in Ohio. While visiting the Brothers Drake Meadery, we learned about the decline of interest in mead following World War II and a bee blight about the same time, and current growth of the mead industry that emphasizes both local honeys and products, and a revisiting of wine making techniques that extend back to medieval time. The experience with pairings was rewarding and the chance to share it with friends and family in a family style meal was unforgettable. We haven't included recipes we used as this post is quite long, but please ask for any that look interesting and we'd be happy to send them to you. I'm sure you're tired of reading by now, so all that's left is to thank Foodbuzz for the opportunity to not only find some wonderful examples of Ohio Wines, but to share an incredible meal with friends and family.