Archive for the ‘Recipe Inspiration’ category

When beginning to plan a meal – why not start with the wine first?

July 8th, 2011

Wine with the mealWhen beginning to plan a meal – why not start with the wine first? I find that picking the wine first wholly simplifies the process of picking the food you want to eat. Certainly, the task of picking a wine off of a shelf of 300 other bottles that look nearly the same can be daunting… but the possibilities with food are nearly infinite. Let’s say there are 100 ingredients at the grocery store that you’re likely to use. If you use 5 of these ingredients in each dish, you have over 75 million ways to put them together… Amazing huh?

While choosing a wine can be complex and confusing, the decisions that we make at the grocery store every day seem to be way more complex! Wine will only have a couple of flavors listed on every bottle – and that provides the framework to match things up to it. Walking through the vegetable aisle at the store probably offers about 100 different products right there – if not significantly more.

That’s why it can be such a help to choose wine first for an important meal – be it a romantic evening with your better half, a dinner party for friends, or heck – whenever you want to be serious about cooking.

Let’s do a little brainstorm off of a sample bottle, to get the wheels turning.

The flavor terms listed on the bottle are:

Dark Cherry

So – the first thing to notice here is that these are all relatively “dark” flavors – often an indicator of a wine that is darker in color, and heavier in body. This type of wine will work amazingly in winter, when we’re looking for that extra bit of “stick to our ribs” flavor. It requires fairly intense flavors to live up to it. With a wine this powerful, your favorite white fish isn’t going to cut it.

Let’s delve into the nuts and bolts of these flavor notes

Any mention of a darker colored fruit (dark cherry) is pretty much the “go ahead” to use any meat that isn’t chicken or fish. Right off the bat, Pork seems like a great choice – it takes fruit flavors so well. And really, it is. However, it’s not going to match up as well with the tobacco and tannin flavors as well as beef or lamb will be able to. Unless you’re not going to be barbequing or smoking pork, beef or lamb will tend to work better with bitter and smokier flavors.

Basically, you’re probably going with lamb or beef – or whatever other darker meat you may have. Venison/hare will work well, but I’d probably prefer beef/lamb for being a bit more substantial in general.

Licorice is always an interesting flavor in terms of paring to it. Most conventional kitchen spices will work great – Allspice, cinnamon, cardamom. You do want to be careful not to overdo it. It’s very easy to overpower your dish matching to this type of flavor, so just a hint of whatever spice you choose. Tobacco can be a tough one as well – it has a very sweet flavor, but in a particularly complex way. Darker fruits match well, so the dark cherry described in the wine is already a point in you direction. All smoked foods will work well – but that’s often a pain or an expense we’re not quite prepared to take. Basically, it can function somewhat the same way licorice does – works well with spices, but use them sparingly

Tannin almost sounds ugly to begin with – typically bitter and astringent tastes, without much else to add. However, tannins provide the balance that your delicious wine rests on – fruit flavors often taste sweet to us, regardless of how sweet our wine may be. Without something to balance these flavors, our pairing dishes would nearly always require some sort of sweetness, just so they’d link up in some way. A slightly more tannic wine begs for a side dish that incorporates some bitterness. Dark greens are always a great choice – kale, chard.

Given all of these elements – here are some dish ideas to work off of:

Ribeye Steak – Steamed Swiss Chard, Sweet polenta

Use lemon to accentuate the chard – it’ll cut the fat of the steak and make the wine more refreshing. Polenta offers a nice compliment – the sweetness/relatively neutral flavor will temper the bitterness of the chard, while the smooth texture will match well with the chewiness of steak.

Lamb – Blackberry/Allspice Pan sauce

After cooking the lamb, toss a pat of butter, some wine into the pan to deglaze. Add the allspice/blackberries (blueberries would also work well) into the pan, and simmer for 8 minutes, or until you can easily smash the berries into the sauce. Use the back of a spoon to crush the berries into the sauce. This would work great with a sweet potato mash, or possibly a squash puree – sweeter elements to link up to the blackberry is the key.

Lamb – Oregano/Lemon Juice

A very classic combination – it does the double duty of linking to the wine by spicing the lamb, and also cutting through the fat of the meat with the acid from the lemon. I might pair this with an artichoke that’s been squirted with a bit of lemon/olive oil, just for fun.

Braised Short Ribs – Carrot, Onion, Celery, Allspice, Bread

You can’t go wrong with a classic French mire poix for a beef stew. The allspice really makes this combination amazing, and links everything perfectly to the wine. I like to toast the allspice and put it into some cheesecloth and then into the stew for easy removal. That way, you’re not fishing it out later, but still deriving all of the flavor from the spices. A bit of simple bread and some salad is all you need with this dish. The basic method is sear the beef, add wine/stock, and simmer for an hour(depending on the cut, this timing can vary greatly). Add your vegetables, and simmer for another hour. You can easily thicken the stew at the end of the cooking time by making a slurry of arrowroot or cornstarch in very cold water, and then stirring it into the boiling stew

Next time you’re in the wine aisle – try and find a flavor you relate to that you can use somewhere in the meal! Even slightly linking your cooking to your wine will open you to a whole new world of flavor and fun.

Risotto, anyone? Check out our newest cooking video!

July 30th, 2010

View the recipe here!

Pork Saltimbocca

July 15th, 2010

saltimboccaIf literally translated, the word Saltimbocca means “to jump in your mouth”. And that’s exactly what the flavors in this dish do!

Saltimbocca is a dish traditionally made with veal, although it can be done with pork, chicken or even turkey. It’s super simple and super fast to make and it’s always a crowd pleasure.

Think about it: prosciutto, pork tenderloin, fresh sage leaves – all sauteed in a pan and topped with a creamy beurre blanc sauce made with our ACADÉMIE White Wine Blend #2. What could be better?? We chose Blend #2 because the bright citrus and lemon/lime notes brighten up the pork and prosciutto nicely.

This recipe is certainly one of the “classics” to keep in your repertoire – check out the recipe by clicking on the link below!

View Pork Saltimbocca Recipe!

Strategies for “fixing” your dish

May 14th, 2010

chefToo sour? Too sweet? Or perhaps your dish is just a bit too bitter?

Well fear not, friend. It can be fixed! In this blog post, we’ll outline a few strategies for “fixing” flavors that may be a bit out of balance in your dish.

It’s too sour or tart

Sour and tart qualities can be very nice, especially in balance. However, when cooking with wine, the acidity can be a challenge because as the liquid evaporates with heat, the acidity will concentrate and become stronger. Couple this with other “sour” ingredients like citrus or vinegar, and it might make the sour component too much in your dish.

You can solve this by adding sweet or protein laden ingredients. Sweetness will balance sour, regardless of whether you have wine in your dish. Think sugar or honey. A famous example of this is “Sweet & Sour Pork”, which uses vinegar and sugary flavors to balance the dish.

If your sourness is coming from wine, keep in mind that proteins will also neutralize lots of the sourness and acidity without adding the sweet (but you’ll get other flavors depending on the source of the proteins). You can get proteins from glaces, stocks, creme or butter (a huge component of buerre blanc sauces). Keep in mind that proteins will add other flavors as well, so make sure you keep the big picture in mind.

Yikes! It’s too sweet

This is the opposite problem of above, but with the same solution. If you’re dish is too sweet, add sour! A spritz of lemon juice, vinegar or wine will help balance the sweetness (but be careful when adding wine – as you probably don’t want the alcohol with it. A quick reduction in a sauce pan will solve this problem as you will boil out the alcohol). Saltiness can also balance sweetness by adding a savory component to the mix (which can be very pleasant, but don’t over-do it. Too much salt can destroy a dish, and it’s a nearly impossible problem to fix).

Borrrring! This dish is too bland!

Experiment with a pinch of salt, sugar or sour (vinegar, wine, citrus). These can sometimes add the little extra your dish needs to make it more interesting.

It’s too bitter

Fats and/or a bit of sweetness can help smooth bitter components in a dish. Think sugar and cream in bitter black coffee, for example. Salt can also help with bitterness (but again, use in moderation).


Making great food is a personal thing…you have the final say on your culinary creation and you have the ability to take the flavors in whichever direction you choose. Have fun. Experiment. If the flavors get off track, use the tips above to get back on the main path.

Bon appetit!

Make time with thyme: The fastest sauce

April 10th, 2010

Grilled chicken breastWe’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: In the age of XYZ Corp’s Plastic Bottle Sauce (with loads of sodium), it’s easy to forget that you don’t have to be a master chef to create a sauce that is healthy and *very* fast to make (around 5-10 minutes).

The following sauce is an all time favorite of mine – and it’s one of the easiest things I’ve ever cooked: Wine reduction + butter + thyme.

First: What’s a wine reduction?

A reduction is the result of simmering your wine and letting the water and alcohol evaporate – which amplifies the flavors in your final “reduction” (all the goodness left in the sauce pan).

Second: Which wine?

For this reduction, we’ve chosen our Blend #1, a dry red wine blend (with a large Pinot Noir component) because it’s earthy, oaky nature is very complimentary to the only spice we use in the sauce: Thyme. As the sauce reduces, the spice notes of the wine itself get stronger and sharper. This harmonizes perfectly with the earthy and grassy components of the Thyme.

Lastly: Let’s get cooking!

  • Pour 1/3 cup of our Blend #1 into a sauce pan and crank up the heat.
  • Throw your chicken breast fillets on the grill (I love the George Foreman Grill because it’s so darned fast and easy to clean up).
  • You may want to start some rice too, to serve as a side.
  • The wine should be simmering now. You’ll want it to simmer until about half of it has evaporated. If in doubt, you can *carefully* pour the liquid into a measuring cup to see how much has evaporated so far.
  • Once there, toss in 3-4 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Most butter sticks have a little measuring guide on the wrapper. Simply cut according to the measured out lines. Add to wine. Stir until thoroughly melted.
  • Now sprinkle in some thyme to taste and you’re there, baby!

Your chicken breasts should be done now. Pop them on a plate, spoon over your wine sauce and BAM!

So easy, yeah?

Seriously, it doesn’t get much easier than this for a gourmet meal. And you get all the health benefits of wine (and the flavor benefits of *right* wine, at that). Also, you boiled out the alcohol in the wine as you simmered it, so there’s no problems there (alcohol boils at around 175F and water boils at 212F).

There you have it, chef. Nice work. Bon appetit!

Five classic ‘tastes’ in your cooking

April 1st, 2010

Tasting soupGenerally, the qualities of your individual dishes will have a predominant taste and will fall into one of the five main taste categories: sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and umami. You may find that some ingredients have qualities from more than one category (mustard, for instance, can be sour and salty). Occasionally you can find a synergy between two categories that you wouldn’t think might go together (a great example is salted taffy).

Here are a few ingredients from each category to illustrate the four categories:


vinegar, dry wine, sour cream, yogurt, tamarind, mustard, pickles, lemon juice, lemongrass, mustard

Great butter/beurre blanc sauce:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #2 + lemon juice + butter + salt. Butter balances out the sourness of the sauce and adds volume and body.


fish sauce, soy sauce, mustard, capers, olives, anchovies, bacon, prosciutto, aged cheeses

Awesome teriyaki sauce:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #3 + soy sauce + garlic. Saltiness of the soy sauce is balanced by savory components of reduced wine and garlic.


cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, grapefruit, coffee, oaked wine, watercress, radicchio, endive, mustard greens, black pepper, walnuts, dark chocolate

Excellent reduction sauce for chicken breast:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #1 + thyme + butter. Earthiness of thyme is balanced by bitter oak and fruit components of the wine. Butter adds volume and melds flavors together.


sugar, chocolate, ketchup, roasted bell peppers, caramelized onions, molasses, melon, fruit juice, sweet wine, honey

Great fish or pork marinade:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #4 + cane sugar + coriander + ginger + dill weed. Sweetness of wine/sugar balanced by fruited aromatics and fresh summer spices.


portabello, shiitake, porcini, and morel mushrooms, corn, smoked or cured fish, shellfish, soy sauce, miso

Tasty mushroom finishing sauce:
ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #3 + brown sugar + paprika + portabello mushrooms. Sticky sweet components balanced by umami from mushrooms.


By keeping in mind like flavors, you can craft recipes (or build upon existing recipes) in a harmonious way.

One of the interesting things about cooking with wine is that it can easily support and add something special to ingredients in each of these different categories. Experiment. Have fun. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with your loved ones!

Cooking Light, March 2008

What’s a “dry wine” anyway?

March 4th, 2010

Woman with laptop in the kitchenAdmit it. You’ve been there at one point or another. Even if you know all about wine, at some point you saw the words “dry red wine” and thought, “what the heck is a dry red wine?”.

I was there. In college I would see this on recipes and would usually just pick another recipe.

I mean…c’mon. First off, I didn’t know what a dry red wine was. Varietal names swirled in my mind and I knew some were considered “dry”, but not which. Even if I did know though, how could you tell me that something as vague as a “dry wine” is appropriate for a recipe?

They didn’t tell me to “add 2 tbsp of spice”. They told me which spice.

Why don’t they do this with wine?

The intent of this blog post is to clarify what dry wines are and hopefully show you how rediculous it is to call for something as vague as a dry wine in a recipe.

So lay it on me. What’s a dry wine?

Wine is made from grape juice – we all know this much. Basically (mind you, this is a big simplification), winemakers smash up some grapes of a certain type and ferment the juice with wine yeast.

But yeast doesn’t ferment juice. Rather, it ferments sugar. And here in lies the key to the term “dry”. Dry simply means that most of the sugars in the juice have been fermented out and turned into alcohol. As such, usually “dry” wines are less sweet or sugary.

That’s it. Off-dry wines have a bit more sweetness to them. And sweet or fortified wines have even more residual sugar.

There are all sorts of ways to control the sugar content in wine-making land, all of which are beyond the scope of this post (and do you really want to know about them anyway?).

“Dry wine” simply means wine without much sweetness. You’ll notice that this doesn’t say anything about flavor. All wines have different flavors. And when you cook with these wines, the inherent flavors are going to amplify as you burn off the alcohol and water and concentrate them in the cooking process.

So why don’t recipes go a bit more into depth and tell you which wine to use? Well, even if they did tell you a varietal, that may not actually help much. A Chardonnay can taste very different depending on the wine-maker’s take on Chardonnays. They can be tart and acidic. Or round and buttery. Or very oaky. Who knows how this or that winery’s wine will taste.

A quick note about ACADÉMIE wines

We’ve developed our wines’ profiles with chefs to ensure that you’re always cooking with the wine that will make your food taste best. Best of all, the wines taste great. You can drink them while you cook (if you so choose). After all, we know you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. And we help you take the next step – making sure that this good tasting wine will actually help your recipe taste the best it possibly can.

Make quick & easy sauces with wine!

February 24th, 2010

bowls of spicesCreating your own sauces & marinades:

We don’t know how it happened – but at some point we started thinking that we need to get all our sauces and marinades from a plastic bottle in the “sauce section” of the supermarket from corporation XYZ. If you flip over the bottle and read the ingredients in these sauces, you’ll find all sorts of stuff that you probably don’t want in your body – most notably, lots and lots of sodium and chemical preservatives.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s a quick and easy way to have lots of fun in the kitchen and also come up with a sauce to liven up your main course or sides.

It’s as simple as…

Step 1: Put 1/4 – 1 cup of wine in a pot.
Step 2: Boil it for 10 minutes.
Step 3: Consider adding butter, cream, or sugar as a base to thicken your sauce.
Step 4: Add a spice and taste your sauce.
Step 5: Add another spice according to what you feel it needs.
Step 6: Repeat until you’re happy with your creation.

And you’re done! So fast. So simple. So easy. So natural and fresh! Spoon your sauce over your dish as a finishing sauce.

You choose the salt content. You choose the sugar content. The alcohol burns off in the first 10 minutes so you don’t have to worry about that. What could be easier?

Working with complimentary flavors:

The trick here is a simple idea: we all know that wines taste different when you sample them. And we all know that when you cook with wine, you boil out the water and alcohol, so whatever’s left over (I.E. all the flavors!) becomes amplified and stronger. So cheap flavors get cheaper. Stale flavors get more stale. And even if you’re cooking with good or great wine, those flavors may not be right for your dish. In fact, they may even make it taste *less good*!

So you just want to make sure the flavors you’re working with are right. And that’s where our wines come in. We work with chefs to make sure that each of our wines is right for the different types of cooking you’ll be doing. We blend our wines with drinkability in mind too, so don’t be afraid to pour yourself a glass while you cook. As you do, think of the flavors the wine will be adding to your meal.

Flavor Affinities

A really great book for finding complimentary flavors is “The Flavor Bible“. In it, you can look up just about any spice/ingredient you could imagine and find complimentary flavors.

Here are a few to get you going with your sauces, but don’t let these limit you. Experiment. Follow your intuition. Have fun!

ACADÉMIE Blend #1 Wine + short ribs + tomatoes + cinnamon
ACADÉMIE Blend #1 Wine + bell peppers + garlic + olive oil + onion + thyme + zucchini

ACADÉMIE Blend #2 Wine + artichokes + mushrooms + onions + sausage
ACADÉMIE Blend #2 Wine + lemongrass + cilantro + mint

ACADÉMIE Blend #3 Wine + star anise + pork + soy sauce + sugar
ACADÉMIE Blend #3 Wine + brown sugar + chili flakes + garlic

ACADÉMIE Blend #4 Wine + clove + coriander + cardamom + cinnamon
ACADÉMIE Blend #4 Wine + peaches + ginger + sugar

Learn more about our wines and each wine’s flavor profile here!

Some quick tips in cooking with wine:

  • As we mentioned, alcohol will boil out of your wine reduction sauce within roughly 10 minutes of boiling. Smell the steam as it rises (careful, don’t burn yourself!). If you get an alcohol burn in your nostrils, there’s still alcohol present in the wine. Simply boil until you no longer get a alcoholic burning sensation in your nose.
  • All wine has some degree of acidity. As you cook with it, this acidity gets more intense because you are boiling out the water. If it’s too strong for you, you can easily balance acidity with cane sugar or brown sugar. Just a small amount will do wonders. Experiment to taste one teaspoon at a time.
  • You can do a really cool one-two combination by creating a marinade and then using this same marinade as a finishing sauce. So, instead of boiling your wine first, add your spices directly to unboiled wine. Marinate your meats with your marinade (sealed together in a plastic bag) for 2-24 hours. The alcohol will work to tenderize your meats during this time. When you are done, boil the marinade for 10-15 minutes and then use it as a sauce over the very same meats once they are ready to serve! Make sure you boil the marinade thoroughly as it has come in contact with raw meat.

Spanish Romesco Sauce & Crusty Bread

February 19th, 2010

Romesco Sauce

Click here to view the recipe!

I love things that are multi-purpose, which is why I have such a fondness for romesco sauce. I just whipped up a quick batch and used half as the base for a sausage and potato soup that’s simmering on the stove right now; the other half will serve as a dip for raw vegetables and a spread for hearty slices of bread at a get-together with friends tomorrow evening. (Make a double batch and tuck into jam jars to share with friends or store in your freezer!)

ACADÉMIE Wine Blend #1 hits all the right notes in this recipe, bringing out the sweet smokiness of the roasted peppers and garlic, riffing off the tangy tomato flavor and harmonizing with the richness of the olive oil – don’t be shy about pouring the remainder of your bottle into a glass or three to enjoy with whatever creative concoction your romesco sauce finds its way into!

Click here to view the recipe!

Poached salmon with an Asian-inspired dressing!

January 28th, 2010

Poached SalmonClick here to view the recipe!

The holidays have passed but the friends continue to stop by… and we love a full house! I always want to feed folks but having eaten more than my fair share of cookies, fudge, and homemade German nut stollen, I really needed to come up with something delicious but easy on the ol’ waistline. ;-)

My solution — heart healthy poached salmon with an Asian-inspired dressing! Ready in 30 minutes, plus and hour or two (or overnight if need be) in the fridge for chilling, this healthy, Omega 3 packed meal will get your new year off to a great start. Look for wild Alaskan salmon and avoid the farm raised stuff — did you know that Trader Joe’s sells it frozen for just $7.99 a pound?

Wishing you a happy, healthy 2010!

Click here to view the recipe!