This is the latest from my wine blog, Maggie’s Wine. A little rest from all-politics, all the time.
April 17th is World Malbec Day. Last year I wrote about three Malbecs and I was late doing it. This year I’m a day early to give you time to get to your favorite wine merchant and celebrate this enticing varietal. One of my choices in 2013 was Bodegas Salentein’s Portillo Malbec 2011. Tonight hubby and I tried the 2012, along with my version of Southern Living’s King Ranch Chicken Mac and Cheese (recipe below), slightly Tex Mex, using a non-traditional pasta, and a salad dressing that’s a keeper. It was a nice, and perhaps surprising pairing. The 2012 is different from the 2011 in several ways. I enjoyed the 2011 and found it well-worthy to write about, but the 2012 is an incredible find for quality and price. I buy all of my own wine. I do not sell wine. I do not receive samples, as it’s illegal in my state, so I buy to discover new wines and to compare producers I like as the vintages roll by. Needless to say, I taste numerous wines I don’t write about. I write only about what I like, with no interest in reporting on inferior wines, so anything you see at Maggie’s Wine is something I have enjoyed, or is a good example of a particular varietal, or is a particularly good value, or maybe a new and trendy wine, while not my style, might be a favorite of yours.
Bodega Salentein is the winery. Portillo is one of their specific lines of wine. They have Reserves, single vineyards, and other price categories. “Portillo” refers to an historic mountain pass in the Andes, considered the gateway to the Valle de Unco (altitudes of 1,000 to almost 4,000 feet) and a “crossing used by General San Martin…and by scientist Charles Darwin.”
This 2012 Malbec is a dense, dark purple with a vibrant violet edge when held to the light. A nose of ripe, perfumy black fruits — no one in particular stands out to me, but it’s a heady sniff. From the tip of the tongue through the swallow, the tannins are soft and round on a long, quite full finish. Nicely balanced, I enjoyed a small glass before dinner and another with my Tex Mex Chicken Mac and Cheese and green salad. I came straight from the table to the computer — still have some in my glass. This is a wine capable of standing on its own. Take it to your favorite chair (where in my house there’s always a dish of dark chocolates) and enjoy.
100% Mendoza, Argentina Malbec in the bottle, 14 percent alcohol, imported by Palm Bay. I see it priced online between $9 and $13.00 — a bargain to get excited about. Grilled meats yearn to digest with this jewel.
Mac and Cheese is back. Remember the years we turned-up our noses at this traditional dish? Think of the generation that missed it completely and the generation just now discovering it. I find it in our upscale restaurants, usually combined with lobster or portobellos, and on lunch menus everywhere. Chefs are having fun with an old favorite. What’s not to like about Mac and Cheese? Even with lobster, it’s still not sophisticated, or healthy, but it’s an ultimate comfort food. Why not give it a twist and make it a bit Tex-Mex? Why not.
Yield: 6 servings (for two people, I make three small casseroles and freeze two, and have left-overs from the original)
I use a 10″ iron skillet when we have guests (sometimes), otherwise any casserole dish will do, including an 11″ x 7,” or 13″ x 9″ baking dish, or a round 2 quart dish, lightly greased or sprayed. If you use the recipe for several casseroles, as I do, just fill-up any shaped dish.
Preheat oven to 350°F
The recipe calls for cellentani pasta, or small elbow macaronis. I use DaVinci “Flowers.” I sometimes find them packaged under other brands as “trumpets.” The creamy sauce clings to the little pretty little fluted tubes with a flourish on the end. You can use traditional elbows, or penne, rigatoni — whatever you have.
1/2 (16-oz.) package pasta
2 tablespoons butter (I often use garlic butter as I keep it mixed and ready)
1 medium onion, diced (purple or red onion adds color and works well)
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 (10-oz.) can diced tomatoes and green chiles (I use Rotel brand, mild)
1 (8-oz.) package pasteurized prepared cheese product, cubed (I use Velveeta)
3 cups chopped cooked chicken (I use three chicken breasts)
1 (10- 3/4-oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese
You can use precooked deli chicken, and chop it, but avoid highly-seasoned chicken such as blackened or with fajita spices. I cook my own chicken breasts, usually microwaved for expediency, but have baked them as well.
At times I have substituted half of the “prepared cheese product” for Fontina, and for Manchengo. Any cheese that melts well works, but I have to admit that I love the richness of the old-time yellow Velveeta.
If I have them on hand, I substitute the diced green bell pepper for the small mini-peppers in red, orange and yellow, cut into rings, not sauteed, but added at the same time I add the pasta.
I do all my prep work before I start bringing the pasta water to a boil, as the pasta is added last and should be hot, rather than cooling in a strainer. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Less time is usually better as the dish also goes in the oven; for instance, my “Flowers” call for 7-8 minutes. At 5-6 minutes I drain mine (after testing).
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper (if I use the little pepper rings, I add them last, just before adding the hot pasta — they cook in the oven and still retain their shape) and sauté 5 minutes or until tender.
Lower the heat to medium or a little less. Stir in tomatoes and green chilies with the liquid, and the prepared cheese product, cook, stirring constantly 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Stir in chopped chicken, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, chili powder, and cumin. Blend in the drained, hot pasta.
Pour mixture into prepared dish. Top with shredded cheese.
Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.
I add the shredded cheese on top, after thawed and brought to room temperature. Since the dish is not hot when you put it in the oven, you have to make sure it’s heated all the way through; 30-35 minutes is usually enough, but I check it by inserting a wide spatula. If not yet heated through, I make two wide spatula cuts and rock the spatula back and forth to make a little crevice to let the heat in, and sometimes I run the spatula around the edges of the dish to allow more heat.
I serve this mac and cheese with a side salad, usually half-and-half romaine and spring mix. I add crunchy cabbage, sometimes from a packaged cole slaw mix, sometimes I use red cabbage. Radishes are good — avocado, for me, is a bit much for dish. When serving this salad with a meat dish, not a casserole, I add all the crunch I can for fiber — tiny broccoli florets, tiny pieces of cauliflower, tomatoes, of course, chopped apples, sesame seeds, whatever you love.
I have a standard Dijon vinaigrette that I keep on hand. It’s my go-to salad dressing. I double the recipe below:
1 oz. Balsamic vinegar (I pear-infused Balsamic)
1 clove chopped garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8th teaspoon salt (I generally use slightly more)
1/8th teaspoon pepper
4 oz. extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil
I tend to think of wines by season. I have two reds I will have on hand this summer, although both are winter wines as well. We have “patio” guests during the summer months, and do some grilling, so I shop particularly for the warmer months: The Crusher Red Blend 2011 and the Portillo Malbec 2012 will be a staple. Haven’t shopped for my summer whites yet, but will soon.
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