Comfort food

December. Winter. Cold. Comfort food.

I needed to use up the leftover meat from my husband’s pheasant dinner last week. And I wanted something savory that would warm up the house with its aroma.

Enter pot pie.

I found a recipe for chicken pot pie in an Amish cookbook. It called for five pounds of chicken pieces, so I used two pheasant carcasses and simmered them in water with onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves to make a basic stock and collect meat.

By the way, read this blog about hunting for food to get the Cliff’s Notes version for why I love using hunted meat, and I try to use all the meat from my husband’s kill. It felt really good to get a second meal out of the pheasants, and to make a dish entirely from scratch.

The recipe called for five cups of stock, so I was able to freeze two quarts beyond what I needed tonight. And I was surprised by how non-oily the stock was. Even as I pulled the meat off the bones, I noticed that my hands were not greasy, and there was virtually no fat to skim off to the cooled stock. That, my friends, is another reason to eat wild game.

I suppose this is a good time to talk about the wine for the night. I wanted an zinfandel. There was no rhyme or reason to my wine choice tonight; I wanted a zin, I drank a zin. I thought it would be appropriate to drink Black Pheasant with my pheasant pot pie. Very poetic, dontcha think?

The plummy, jammy flavor of the wine was perfectly suitable for drinking while I cooked. Nothing outstanding, but just nice and homey. Like the rest of my dinner.

I’ve made many a pot pie, and I usually use cream-of-something for the sauce. Mix a little cream-of-potato soup with milk and herbs and you have an easy, delicious sauce. Tonight’s Amish pot pie, however, called for a REAL sauce. It was stock (made earlier from the pheasant carcass) thickened with butter and flour and seasoned with thyme, dry mustard, salt and pepper. What a difference this makes! I love the cream-of… sauces, but if I have the time, I’ll be making my pot-pie sauce with stock and flour!

I mixed up some dough for the pie crust and stretched it over the pot-pie filling. I use my grandma’s pie-crust recipe: 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of shortening, 1/2 cup of cold water. Super easy! I’ve found that putting the dough in the fridge for a half-hour or so makes it extra flaky! I added a personal touch to the pie crust – a sprinkle of seasoned salt on the top – something I like to do to most pot pies.

While the pot pie baked (1 hour and 10 minutes total), I made a little extra dough to make cinnamon rolls. This is something my mom used to do, and I try to carry on the tradition whenever I have cause to make pie crust. It’s another easy recipe: roll out the pie crust, brush it with melted butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar. Roll and slice and bake about a half-hour or until browned on top. Easy!

Tonight’s dinner was the ultimate comfort dinner. I used miscellaneous ingredients I had in my fridge, and added a dash of creativity. Just a dash.

I have to admit, I didn’t really care if tonight’s zin was good or not, it was just a glass to complete the dinner. So I was pleasantly surprised by the 2010 Black Pheasant Zinfandel. It was a steal in a WineInsiders special offer – $5.99 per bottle with $.01 shipping. It understandably did nothing for my pot pie. Black Pheasant isn’t necessarily meant to pair with pheasant. But, oooh, what a nice drink with the cinnamon rolls!

The cinnamon brought out hints of spice in the wine while taming the jam flavors. This is certainly a good wine to pair with desserts when you don’t want to brave a heavy dessert wine. The fruity-forward taste balances really well with sugary desserts.

So while tonight was not about gourmet cuisine or exceptional wine, it was about comfort, about making something easy and satisfying. It was about the 98 percent of the year when you just want something dependably good. Mission accomplished.  s

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Chameleon Semillon

This year’s post-Thanksgiving festivities involved leftover pumpkin pie and a father-son-grandpa-uncle pheasant hunt. Planned killing of (yummy) birds gives Black Friday a whole new meaning, huh? While I stalked one-day-only markdowns, my husband stalked brilliantly feathered birds. And tonight we reaped the rewards from his hunt. (I’m still trying to convince him we’ll reap the rewards of my hunt when my credit-card bill arrives. Wish me luck!)

He skinned the birds and stuffed them with green onion and oranges, rubbed them with “kick’n chicken” seasoning and wrapped them in bacon. He basted the pheasants throughout the hour-and-a-half cooking time with teriyaki sauce and garnished the finished product with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

I decided to pair his wild game with a wild deal… 2011 Bungan Head Semillon-Chardonnay (Australia), $5.99 from Wine Insiders. Have you noticed a trend in this blog? More and more of my wines are coming from either WineInsiders.com or BarclaysWine.com, two discount wine websites that I discovered through Groupon. I’ve been having a lot of fun trying wines I don’t ordinarily see in my local grocery store. (and for unbelievable prices!)

I’m not very familiar with semillon wines, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this bottle or how it would pair with the pheasant. The color coming out of the bottle was sunshine yellow, a clear yet deep shade of gold. I don’t know if this is due to the semillon or chardonnay, or perhaps the blend of both.

The aroma is almost like poached pears, lightly fruity with a wonderful hint of vanilla and nutmeg. Likewise, the flavor is not overly tart or citrusy, just a calm, mellow stone fruit toned with vanilla. It has a hint of earthy spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and perhaps cardamom.

This is definitely a white wine I could sip on with or without food, but tonight it’s all about the pheasant dinner! And this is where I have to mention the chameleon nature of this wine. It goes well with everything! The buttery French bread brought out hints of yeast and butter in the wine. The chipotle-ranch dressing on my salad brought out the spice notes. The seasoning on the bird and the tinge of bacon brought out the heavier, earthier flavors in the wine. And when dinner was over and I poured my second glass, it was still perfectly mellow and soft with just the slightest kick of lemon all on its own.

This is the white wine to pour for those who think they don’t like whites. It is so easygoing without being buttery, oaky or heavy. It’s good with a main dish and would be outstanding with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or chocolate-chip cookies. It would be good with a plate of fruit and crackers or a grilled fillet of fish (a mild white fish like mahi-mahi).

I will be adding Bungan Head Semillon-Chardonnay to my permanent wine rack to use when I just don’t quite know what else would be better.

Chardonnay and stroganoff

“Which white are you drinking tonight?” my husband asked oh so innocently.

“Huh? I’m not drinking white,” I replied, not so nicely. (hey, it’s been a long day and I’m cranky and CLEARLY the wine in my glass is not white)

“Yes you are, because I need some for my sauce, so which one do you want to open tonight?”

Oh dear. Now THAT’S a good question.

You see, opening a bottle for both cooking and drinking is not as easy as it seems. I use cheap wine in cooking, but no one wants to drink cheap wine. (Readers, I know you know the difference between cheap and inexpensive.) So that rules out my cooking-only wines. And if I were to give my husband a pinot grigio that I don’t especially like, then I’m left with a half-bottle of wine I don’t really like. (basic logic here, folks)

This warm evening calls for a glass of refreshing sauvingnon blanc, but that’s much too fruity and tangy to use in a stroganoff sauce. That leaves me with chardonnay. But chardonnays can be very oaky and buttery and I’m not sure I want to pair that with a heavy cream sauce and beef.

What to do? What to do? (Hey, this is serious business!)

I decided to open a Hayton 2009 Family Reserve Chardonnay* from Cannery Row Cellars. It was part of a Wine Insiders shipment (currently $14.99 on the website) I recently received and not a wine I was familiar with. I took a gamble, knowing it could turn out to be oaky and heavy, so I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth and light it was.

The flavor is mostly apple and lime but it not biting or tangy. The acidity is perfectly balanced to be smooth yet refreshing. This chardonnay made an incredible stroganoff sauce and was a delicious wine to pair with the dish. And since it didn’t start out too tart, I feel like I can drink a glass and  put the rest in the fridge until tomorrow without running the danger of it turning into vinegar.

Moral of the story: Take a chance on cooking wines – you might be surprised. Bonus lesson: Don’t worry about cooking wines – your HUSBAND is COOKING after all!

* The 2009 is not on the Wine Insiders website right now, so the link is to the 2008.