It’s beginning to look like autumn…

This Sunday we took the boys apple picking at Carrigan Farms just up the road in Mooresville. What a perfect, almost-autumn afternoon we had! We began with a picnic under one of the big shade trees near the parking lot. After filling our bellies, we ventured out to fill our ½-peck bags full of apples!

The stroll up the dirt path through the orchard was picturesque. Rows of apple trees laden with huge, ripe red fruit lined one side of the path, while gentle hills with a swimming quarry lay off in the distance to the right. As you reach the end of the orchard, there’s even a small petting zoo complete with a cow (named Daisy), a pony, three little piggies, a mama hen and baby chicks, and a few goats to boot.

The farm also offers fresh cider and local honey, and soon enough it will be time to explore the pumpkin patch. We purchased some honey, paid for our peck and headed back to Charlotte to put our haul to good use. I have a great recipe for a rustic hand-formed apple tart and had this in mind all the way home….

Here’s what we started with:

The Woodford Reserve is a little somethin’ somethin’ I added to the frangipane to give it some extra tasty goodness. You can skip the booze altogether, or you can add another one of your choice. Myers Rum and Disoranno almond liqueur work nicely. I just add a splash or two when I add in the vanilla.

I love this tart recipe because the dough is so forgiving! It turns out wonderfully every time, regardless of how much I might inadvertently manhandle it – and I was particularly rushed Sunday afternoon, yet the dough performed beautifully. Though it’s always best to be as gentle with your dough as possible, truth is life gets in the way and it’s nice to have a recipe thats nearly foolproof.

Here’s the tart after I’ve placed the apples and dried cherries (I typically add a contrasting dark fruit for color and some tartness). I also diverged from the recipe by drizzling melted butter on the apples and brushing it on the crust in lieu of cream. I added some cinnamon to the sugar and sprinkled large sugar crystals on the crust for added crunch and subtle sparkle.

Off to the ovens, and the result was….

…rustic, stunning and oh-so-tasty! I hope you’ll give this recipe a try with some of the abundant local produce we’re so fortunate to have at the ready here in the Charlotte area. You can sub just about any fruit that’s not too watery – pears or peaches would be especially lovely with the frangipane.

Support your local farmers when you can, and you will be rewarded with the freshest tasting creations. You really don’t need to fancy it up too much when you start with the best produce, highest quality butter and a little bit of love.

I’m planning to use the same dough recipe, minus the sugar and frangipane, and create an onion and Gruyere tart one evening soon for supper. Served with a nice peppery arugula + pear salad, it’ll make a perfect weeknight meal.

Bon appétit!
Casey

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Dinner at Lantern

Recently we had a chance to go to Casey’s alma mater, Carolina, to root for the Tar Heels against Miami. Carolina won the game (yay!), but we won’t belabor that point since some of you reading this might not be Tar Heel fans…. Aside from the great basketball game, what was particularly memorable about our outing was the dinner we enjoyed at Lantern, where James Beard award-winning chef Andrea Reusing works her magic. We can attest – the award is well-deserved.

Dumplings at Lantern

We started with their local pasture-raised pork and chive dumplings. Fantastic! Think pot-stickers taken to new and sophisticated heights. Casey has actually made this recipe a number of times and we always love it, but having it made by the ‘creator’ herself was a real treat. Along with the dumplings, we enjoyed the duck and cracklings spring rolls. These were equally delightful and a perfect opener to our main courses. As an aperitif, we sipped a half-bottle of Guy Larmandier, Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru á Cramant Brut, which was scrumptious.

For the main event, Casey had the lemongrass-grilled local pork chop with fried farm egg. A truly stunning dish, the meaty and flavorful chop was well balanced with acidity and freshness from the salad, while that gorgeous egg provided the perfect, unctuous finish. A pinot blanc or lighter pinot noir would complement this dish wonderfully. Mark’s Korean-style braised short rib with local Napa cabbage kimchi had a great balance of richness and complexity, and he thought the kimchi was divine. The dish paired beautifully with an aged Bordeaux we brought from our personal stash (a 1994 Pontet-Canet from Pauillac, for your Bordeaux apprecianados).

Lantern - a view from outside

If you find yourself anywhere near the Triangle area, we highly recommend you make the trek to Lantern. You’ll be rewarded with a thoughtfully curated menu that beautifully marries Asian flavors with local ingredients. Each dish is very well executed and artfully presented in a warm yet modern setting. We know we’ll be back the next time we venture up that way!

Bon Appétit and Santé,
Casey + Mark

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Ringing in the New Year!

Over the years, Mark and I have come to approach New Year’s Eve as more than just a chance to celebrate and have a big time. Don’t get me wrong – we love a party as much as the next couple! But we also like to take time on New Year’s to reflect on the past year and look ahead to what we want to accomplish in the next. So this year, Mark and I stayed in and celebrated the way we do it best – with food and wine.

2011 was a particularly eventful year for us. We were grateful for a fabulous first year of business at Petit Philippe, and decided to ring in the New Year with our nearest and dearest, serving a feast befitting this momentous occasion in our lives – the successful completion of our very first year as entrepreneurs! So, my sister and her husband joined us for a rockin’ meal complete with amazing wines, decadent food and good humor all around.

For the meal, I turned to Bon Appétit, where I’d found some recipes by the Isreali-born chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I was dying to try one out, so I set my sights on the quinoa, fennel and pomegranate salad. It was divine. Complex, fresh and bright, yet also quite satisfying – it was the perfect accompaniment to the gamey richness of the pan seared duck breast with a tangy, spicy pomegranate glaze. The duck was courtesy of one of our customers, an accountant by trade but also, apparently, a fine hunter, and we were the lucky beneficiaries of his marksmanship. Thanks, Rick! The pomegranate glaze recipe came from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, though he prepares it with quail. For good measure (and just in case I botched the duck breast, which thankfully I did not), Mark grilled some peppery ribeye steaks as a back-up protein. Add in some haricots verts sautéed in shallots, and we had ourselves a veritable feast!

Mark selected the bubbly, which, although it was New Year’s Eve and perhaps we should have saved it for midnight, we actually drank first. As tired as we were just getting through the holidays with a retail shop, we doubted we’d make it to toast at midnight. Besides, who could wait several hours before enjoying a glass of 2002 L’Ermitage – undoubtedly one of our favorite bottles of bubbles from the Roederer house?!  It’s from California’s Anderson Valley instead of Champagne and really shows what new world ‘champagne’ is all about. (The ’03 just made the WS 100 list!) After a couple hours of decanting, we then tasted the 1989 Chateau Fieuzal, a bottle Mark bought back in 1998 when he lived in Grenoble. It was a stunning wine from the Graves region, showing a leaner style, but still rich with fruit and minerality. We rounded out our reds with a bottle of ’06 Cabernet from Napa’s Spring Mountain – a luscious bottle of Terra Valentine, displaying the ripeness and character for which this estate is known. It was a great occasion calling for great wines. 

After lots of laughter, our bellies full and our eyes bright with wine and good cheer, we settled in to watch the ball drop with my personal fave, Kathy Griffin, and her perennial New Year’s date, Anderson Cooper. Moments after that glittery Waterford crystal ball made its slow descent, we found ourselves drifting off. It was the perfect end to a nearly perfect year, and a hopeful and contented beginning to the next.

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Merging Cultures and Families for a Festive Christmas Eve

As Christmas approaches, I’ve been thinking about the rituals I want to share with my young sons, Max and Michael. Now 2 and 4, they’re becoming aware of how our culture celebrates (and commercializes) Christmas, and they’re also showing a real capacity for remembering events. That’s where the pressure comes in.

As their mom, I feel especially responsible for how they experience Christmas. I want to show reverence for the celebration of Christ’s birth – but they’re preschoolers, so that only goes so far. I also want it to be filled with the excitement, anticipation and sense of connectedness I experienced as a child visiting my father’s family each Christmas in New York or spending the day with my mother’s entire extended family at our annual Chandler Family Christmas in North Carolina.

KEEPING THE OLD; BLENDING THE NEW

So how do Mark and I bring the best of our shared experiences to our young boys, staying true to our pasts while creating our own future memories? One way we do it is to continue on with our Chandler Christmas, which we will host this year. But now that we live in Charlotte, we’re a continent away from Mark’s family. Having shared 9 Christmases with Mark and his parents (German immigrants) in California, I have come to appreciate the unique mix of German traditions and Bay Area influences the Meissners have incorporated into their holiday. Their Christmas Eve ritual is one Mark and I plan to bring to the boys here in Charlotte.

DEUTSCHLAND MEETS THE LEFT COAST

The evening starts with piles of fresh steamed crabs, drawn butter, crusty bread and salad. It’s an easy dinner to prepare and is wonderfully messy and delicious. It’s also a lighter meal leading in to the decadence of Christmas day. The Meissners usually enjoy it with a nice Chardonnay. Mark and I especially like Alysian by Gary Farrell, though for those of you who don’t own a wine shop, we sell plenty of delicious, value-priced Chardonnays such as Hindsight Napa Valley Chardonnay or Domaine Louis Moreau – a Chablis, or French Chardonnay. This year we’re looking forward to ordering up some fabulous crab from our neighbor, Bill, at Clean Catch. Of course, we’ll get the wine from our shop J

So, following dinner, the Meissner tradition is to attend a late evening Christmas Eve church service and return home to open a present or two by the fire. As adults, we’ve enjoyed sipping an after dinner drink with his parents, noshing on chocolates (like those I make at the shop) and other sweets as we share a present before settling in for the night. Mark remembers as a child coming home from church to find that their Christmas tree had been put up, decorated and laden with gifts while they were out – a German tradition the Meissners maintained for many years. Since I prefer the tree for longer than a few days, we put ours up early.

CHRISTMAS EVE WILL FIND ME…

But we will continue the sharing of a gift on Christmas Eve. It’s a nice way to follow up the service, and it might just help take the edge off the boys’ wild eagerness to get up early and tear open all their gifts. OK, who am I kidding? They’ll get up early regardless, but I have to say I love this ritual. It’s lovely to sit by the fire after church, filled with that desire to be just a little better, a little kinder than usual, because it’s Christmas Eve after all. And the beautiful hymns are still playing in your head. And it’s getting very late and everyone is tired and happy to share just one small gift in the quiet of the night. It makes me feel warm and content just writing about it.

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Holiday Wine Pairing

With Thanksgiving behind us, our minds and hearts are considering our holiday plans. For us, Christmas is a big time to start pulling out the Thomas Keller and Julia Child cookbooks and get the oven warmed up. With the masterminded plans for great cuisine comes an opportunity to polish up those Riedel glasses and dart for the cellar. But before you start dusting off those bottles or break the lock to the Eurocave, consider what might make your wine and food experience for the holidays truly memorable. I’m a big fan of pulling a bottle (or three!) of a wine you’re absolutely thrilled with… perhaps that last bottle of 1989 Lynch Bages you’ll been holding on to. So, go ahead and pull that special bottle and say, “This baby is ready to drink now!” If you’re still not sure you have just the right bottle (or you’ve already depleted the cellar), consider some of these great pairings:

BEEF TENDERLOIN – This is a classic celebratory dish for the red meat lovers out there. My suggestion to accompany something so characteristically rich is a complimentary riper style of red from the hillside vineyards of Napa Valley. Two great areas come to mind: Howell Mountain (try the O’Shaugnessy Cabernet Sauvignon) or Spring Mountain (PRIDE Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon). These bottles are rich in body, but will also give you the fruit, spicebox and balanced acidity you’ll want to compliment that beautiful cut of beef. It’s a bigger cut of meat worthy of the holiday celebration, and these wines (in the $80 range) also are special-occasion priced. If you’re looking for a bit more value, try our Howell Mountain treat of a bottle from Ladera (the 2007 is priced at just $31).

ROASTED GOOSE – When I think of roasted goose, I think of my father hovering in the kitchen and my mom anxiously awaiting every last bit of goose fat to dribble into the catch pan. This is a great holiday dish, with enormous flavor and a considerable amount of animal fat. But, hey, fat is flavor!  With a rich entrée like goose, my choice is a bottle of red Bordeaux. Consider ‘left-bank’ Bordeaux (Pauillac, St. Julian, Margaux, or St. Estephe) if you’re looking for a bit more tannic wine with muscular power, while a ‘right-bank’ style is best if you’re less of a Cab lover and have an attraction to Cab Franc and Merlot (Pomerol and St. Emilion are the reknowned appellations here). These bottles will be softer on the palate, but will cut through the fatty richness equally well with their bright acidity, big body and elegant long finish. The companion label from Pichon Lalande, the Reserve de la Comtesse, is a great choice. At $88 it’s our best 2005 off the shelf and is drinking beautifully.

ROASTED DUCK BREAST or DUCK CONFIT – I am a big fan of a nice duck entrée. It’s succulent with a slightly gamey flavor that can thrill the palate. Whether you prepare your duck breast with a beautifully crispy skin, or prefer a confit-style leg, I advise pairing it with a nice Oregon Pinot Noir or one from the Sonoma Coast. The Oregon Pinot will provide that unmistakable earthiness most of us search for in this Pacific Northwest gem of a region called the Willamette Valley. The Sonoma Coast vintners will give you a bit more fruit so, when choosing your bottle, I suggest you venture into the Burgundian styles which will provide more acidity and brightness, as opposed to simply heavy, extracted fruit bombs. My recommendations are the Hamacher Pinot Noir from Carlton, Oregon ($49) or the Littorai Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast ($44 –Ted Lemon, iconic winemaker, and winemaker of the year, SF Chronicle 2010).

TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN HAM – As the Piggly Wiggly slogan goes, I’m big on the pig.  And now that I’ve settled in the South, I’m quite satisfied with my options in this part of the country. Whether it’s a simple honey-baked spiral ham (served warm or cold), a nice Virginia ham or even a beautifully cooked pork roast, these are all great entrées for the hog lover in you. And what goes better with ham than Beaujolais? Nothing. Now before you panic, I’m not referring to ‘Nouveau Beaujolais’, but rather a good Cru Beaujolais – the difference being quality of fruit and time to bottling. The Beaujolais region is home to a great, and mostly unknown to Americans, grape – Gamay. It’s a bit heavier than Pinot, but has all the finesse of Burgundy and offers a bit more round spice and character you might find in a good bottle of Zin. Gamay is one of the last best wine secrets in this country, though it’s been on French wine lists for ages. Now the only thing to decide is what cru (that’s ‘commune’ in Burgundy, more specific to in the region of Beaujolais) to choose. Consider a great bottle of “Fleurie”, from the town of Fleurie in Beaujolais. Or a bottle of “Moulin-a-Vent” from the town of Moulin-a-Vent. Try simply our best from Fleurie – Pierre and Marie Chermette ($29), or Jean Paul Brun from Moulin-A-Vent ($25) and put your passion for great Cochon (that’s French for pig) and Gamay on the table.

It will be a very merry pairing this Christmas season!

Cheers!

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