Dinner Gang 14: Going Down Under

Dg14 lineupThe theme for Dinner Gang 14, which we hosted, was Australian Wines.  We wanted a challenging theme with accessible wines.  We were not disappointed.

Our path to what we made (as hosts, we’re responsible for the main course and dessert) was relatively straight.  We first figured out what we wanted to pour—in this case, some kind of Cab/Shiraz blend—and then made food to match.  I’m pretty sure that everyone else did the same.  Cab suggests beef, although Aussie Cab tends to have riper fruit than others.  Because there are two non-beef eaters in the group, we also had to consider something beef-like that fit the same recipe.  We decided on individual Beef Wellingtons, substituting whole portabellas for the non-beefivores.  Wellingtons—used generically here for beef wrapped in some kind of pastry—leant themselves quite nicely to what we had in mind.

Course 1:  Vietnamese Spiced Duck with Pickled Jalapeño, Cucumber, Carrot, and Red Onion

Duck goodness

Duck goodness

Kathryn and David, last month’s hosts, had first course duties.  They hit it out of the park by pickling their own vegetables and putting them on top of what David described as basically “pulled duck.”  Using Vietnamese spices, they slow-cooked the duck and then shredded it for easy topping on baguette slices.  Anchored to the bread with a lemon aioli, the toppings had it all:  rich, lively flavors, great textures (from the creamy aioli all the way to the crunchy veggies), and just enough heat.

They paired it with 2009 Dandelion Vineyards Shiraz Red Queen of the Eden Valley.  The deep, dark color of the wine matched its flavors.  Heady chocolate and tar on the nose with a big, black fruit palate, the wine matched well with the rich flavors of the dish.  The slight residual sweetness set off the spice just so.  Inspired pairing and bonzer start to the meal.

Course 2:  Peach and Tomato Salad with Crumbled Feta in Cherry Basil Vinaigrette

Peach Tomato SaladI have to admit being skeptical about the peach and tomato salad.  It seemed such an odd coupling.  I ate it, and was a skeptic no more.  The sweet fruit of the peaches made a stark contrast to the tartness of the tomatoes, brilliantly mirrored and brought together by the sweet and tart of the dressing.

This dish was all about the wine pairing.  Neal and Jim chose 2011 Nugan Estate Chardonnay Nugan Family Third Generation, ripe with stone fruit that perfectly—and I mean perfectly—matched the flavor of the peaches in the salad.  I got the aroma of popcorn on the nose, an understated buttery scent which resolved into that great palate.  I had wondered if anyone was going to bring an Aussie white wine since I haven’t had too many which I’ve enjoyed.  Neal and Jim rose to the task to find this diamond in the rough (which I’ve since found out is a terrific value).  It was so good that we drank a second bottle even after the salad was gone.

Course 3:  Individual Beef Wellington, Duchess Potatoes, and Broccolini

WellingtonThe Wellingtons were amazingly easy to make.  It’s a platform that I want to experiment with more and more.  The idea of wrapping delicious meat in puff pastry just gets my motor running.  We picked up 5 ounce center cut filets (they were supposed to be 6, but the butcher didn’t get it right and we didn’t check until we got home—remember, trust but verify!) and whole portabellas—the beefiest of all mushrooms.  We prepped the filets by rubbing them with a little olive oil and then searing them on all sides.  We cooked some of the moisture out of the mushrooms by salting them and roasting at 350F for about 20 minutes (after de-stemming and scooping out the gills).

I took the recipe for the duxelles from Tyler Florence:

20 oz. baby bellas

2 shallots

4 cloves of garlic

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 tbl each of butter and olive oil

After peeling and rough chopping the shallots and garlic, I threw the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulsed until fine.  I then sautéed the mixture in the butter and oil for about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms stopped giving up moisture.  I set it aside to cool while I was prepping the meat.  We rolled out the sheets so that we could get two servings from each sheet.  I slathered some Dijon mustard on the steaks before laying them on a bed of the duxelles.  I then topped them with another layer, Gretchyn folded them up, and they were ready to go.  We prepped them half an hour before everyone arrived, covered them in plastic, and put them in the fridge.  We brought them back out half an hour before we cooked them.  We prepped them early to save some time, but the process was so fast and easy we could have done it between the second and third courses.

The potatoes were another matter.  This was the It was good that we prepped them early.  We pulled a recipe from food.com to make sure we had the proportions right.  The first part of the process was easy.  Piping them onto the tray proved a little more difficult.  We had to put them back in the mixer a second time to get them to a consistency smooth enough to come out of the piping bag.  With all the frustration, it still only cost us about 20 minutes—no time at all in the big picture.  Just like with the beef, we tucked them into the fridge until it was time to cook.  The broccolini went in the steamer, and we were loaded for koala.

I audibled at the line and added a bottle of 2006 Clarendon Hills Grenache Kangarilla to start off the dish.  I had hoped the low tannin and mellow fruit of the Grenache would mesh with the mushroom mixture and set up the power of the wine to follow.  It did.  When we were about halfway through the course, I poured 2006 Glaetzer Anaperenna, which had been in the decanter about two hours.  I chose the Anaperenna because of the 75/25 blend of Shiraz/Cab.  I don’t like pouring heavy Cab to go with filets, since there simply isn’t enough fat in them.  The Cab here provided structure, power, and silky smooth tannins, while the Shiraz gave an explosion of ripe, black fruits plus a little peppery spice that melded with the aromatics of the dish.  As pairings go, I’d call it good, not great.  As wines go, however, it was the bomb.

Dessert:  Pear and Apple Crisp with Marscapone Ice Cream and Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Pear Apple CrispDessert also sprung from what we wanted to pour.  RL Buller & Sons makes a great Fine Muscat, which has a fantastic caramel and golden raisin flavor to it.  Unfortunately, I forgot to pick up a bottle.  I ran to the store, but they were out.  The good news is that we still stayed down under because Buller also makes a decent Tawny Port.  It was less perfect than the Muscat would have been, but paired well nonetheless.

The crisp is something that Gretchyn has been working on for a while, tweaking and experimenting.  Here’s her recipe:


4 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced

3 pears, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup sugar

1 Tbl flour

1 Tsp cinnamon

1 Tsp orange zest

1-2 tbs orange or lemon juice



1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

10 tbs butter

1 1/2 cups oats

We did individual portions for this, we normally use a medium-sized baking dish.  Simply layer in the filling, then top with the crisp part.  Bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes, until the topping is golden brown.

The ice cream and bourbon caramel sauce recipes both came from Food & Wine.  The sauce is so good that you’ll find yourself buying or making extra ice cream just to have something to drizzle it on.

We’re all getting pretty good at this Dinner Gang thing.  Everyone again rose to the challenge of the theme and made outstanding dishes with excellent pairings.  It makes me want to do it even more often.


About sheldonmenery

Sheldon Menery is a self-taught food and wine aficionado who has circled the globe in search of the riches it has to offer. He's wined and dined at some of the best (and worst) places in the world.
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