May 27, 2011

Uni-Tasking: One Brain-Box at a Time

Home-Made Spicy Fennel Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper Sauced Gemelli

There were years of my life, decades, really, when I was an ace at multi-tasking. A baby on one hip, a preschooler attached to my hem, chasing a 7-year old daredevil while swinging the 'fridge door shut with the other hip; a phone perpetually pinched between my ear and shoulder; a spatula in one hand and car keys in the other; an ever-present symphony of dryer buzzers, oven timers and ringing doorbells; squeezing auto-insurance comparison shopping in between baby's nap-time and big-kid school pickup; soccer, ballet, trumpet, basketball and band practice coordination; meal planning, grocery shopping and taking dinners to the sick and grieving of our community; baking cupcakes at 10 p.m. after some scrunchy-eyed sleepyhead emerged from lights-out saying, "Mom, I forgot... I said I'd bring treats to the class party tomorrow. What can I take?" It was for the most part a fun and well-run, efficient ship. 

Ahhh. Those were the days.

Call it aging, call it Being Here Now, or maybe its that my stress-balancing hormones are shot or that I'm living in two places, but my ability to juggle all those balls is slipping away.  My thinking is becoming more and more compartmentalized with seperate brain-boxes for family, work, friends, creative pursuits, house (which has several sub-boxes), yoga and vacations. Occasionally the contents of one brain-box want to spill out onto the contents of another, but can easily be swept back into its proper cube again.

I have become a uni-tasker. And, it's not bad. With uni-tasking comes greater focus and presence.

Uni-tasking demands a simplicity which gives me a peace and a smile these days. I still get a thrill out of occasionally preparing tricky and elaborate meals, but straightforward, focused dishes in which the essence of the ingredients shines through without much intervention appeals more and more. 

 The Stuff Sausage is Made Of

A monk introduced me to homemade sausage some months ago, and I've enthusiastically taken its delicious, uncomplicated goodness from pizza to pasta. The combination of light, simple roasted red pepper sauce, gemelli "twins" and spicy, meaty sausage is simple, delicious, and meets my current uni-tasking ethos.

Sausage Spices

The sausage recipe is here, and here below is the easy, straightforward sauce.

One Brain-Box at a Time Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
a swirl of olive oil
one 12 oz. jar fire-roasted red peppers, chopped (Trader Joe's is great)
one 15 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with juices (Muir Glen's Organic brand can't be beat)
5 or 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons each chopped fresh oregano and basil
salt and pepper to taste

In a 3 quart saucepan, lightly saute garlic and onion over medium heat until translucent. Add chopped herbs and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the chopped peppers and diced tomatoes with their juices. Heat just until boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cool slightly, then whirl in your food processor until smooth, adding water tablespoon by tablespoon if necessary for a nice light consistency.

To sauce in pot, add 8 oz. hot cooked gemelli. (Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water to thin sauce, if necessary.)
 Stir in browned sausage bits. Place in baking dish(es), sprinkle with a little mozzarella (or a lot, if you'd rather) and bake at 375 degrees until bubbly and beginning to get brown toasty spots.

The Brandborg 2005 Syrah (Umpqua Valley) was amazing with this meal. This Syrah opens up with inky ripe berry fruit, sneaks into a gentle herbaceousness and ends lushly with the classic Syrah peppery tannic finish. This Syrah has a lot going on (I will say it's anything but a uni-tasker) with it's layers and layers of unfolding complexity. You simply must try it.

May 25, 2011

Nontraditional Pairings

Fried chicken and waffles. Pop rocks and champagne. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Pizza and Pinot Noir.

Yes, that's right. Pizza and Pinot Noir.

Don't all fantastic non-traditional pairings have at least one common element in the midst of the unusual match? Fried chicken and waffles both have crispy exteriors which give way to tender insides. Pop rocks and champagne both bubble up in your mouth. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss both tried unexpected things for themselves, but together. It was magic.

Admittedly, Pinot Noir isn't the first wine to come to mind when it's pizza night. But with a little masterful manipulation of the pizza ingredients to find those common elements,  nearly any wine will work with pizza. It's just a matter of what kind of pizza.

We worked with the Sarver 2008 Pinot Noir, a single vineyard Pinot Noir from the southern end of Oregon's Willamette Valley AVA. This Pinot Noir has a deep cherry fruit, dried rose petal floral notes, and good compost-y earthiness which calls out for crimini mushrooms. Crimini's, or "Baby 'Bella's" since they are really very young portabella mushrooms, are concentrated with a very similar damp organic matter flavor. This is a good start to creating a stellar pizza/Pinot pairing.

Another flavor element that connects food to many Pinot Noir's is oregano. I used a hefty dash of Mediterranean oregano over the top of this pizza. Thinly sliced red onion (to bring out a bit of earthy sweetness) and a few slices of smoked chicken sausage (Pinot Noir tends to love umami, heavily present in the sausage). Oregon's favorite mild, creamy Tillamook brand mozzarella brought it all together. And, here's the link to our favorite pizza dough recipe.

To further connect the food to the wine, we made a herbes de Provence vinaigrette for the Romaine wedges we served alongside the pizza.  The flowery quality of the herbes de Provence gave the final boost to link the plate to the glass, leaning into the rose-petal notes of the wine.

Herbes de Provence Vinaigrette

In a small recycled jam jar pour:

3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
6 tablespoons of your best-quality olive oil

Screw the lid on tightly and shake. Dress salad greens with vinaigrette.

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