We split our grocery shopping between several stores but Trader Joe's seems to be a particular favorite as there's something about the place that makes me feel like I'm shopping at an outpost or getting the scoop on some secret deal or ingredient. I imagine their head buyer is a Hawaiian shirt wearing, Mr. J Peterman meets James Bond like character who travels the globe to find the most exotic strain of green beans ever from some remote area and then purchases the entire allocation for the next 40 years just to sell it to us $2.99 a package. The staff at the checkout lane are also abnormally inquisitive and I find they are always commenting on my grocery selections and offering tips on how to cook or serve certain items or asking me what I'm going to with a certain ingredient, etc. I guess wearing a Hawaiian shirt and ringing bells all day can do wonders for your disposition with customers. Anyways - this cold weather is putting me in the mood for something spicy and hearty so I headed to TJ's to pick up some groceries to make a jambalaya-esque stew of chicken, chorizo sausage, shrimp and veggies.
I wandered down the wine aisle and found this bottle of Altano, a Portuguese red for $8.99 that I thought would pair nicely with the spicy flavors of the dish. Sure Trader Joe's is the home of Two Buck Chuck but I have also found some really decent selections at affordable prices here.
The Altano is made by the Symington Family, a legendary Portuguese family who have been making Port wines in the Douro Valley for over 350 years. Their amazing portfolio includes famous brand names such as Graham's, Warre's, Dow's and Smith-Woodhouse just to name a few. In fact Port wines were originally produced as dry reds but the Portuguese merchants soon discovered they needed to strengthen or fortify the wine with neutral grape spirit in order to survive the voyage to thirsty customers in England. In 1999 the Symington family decided to produce non-fortified red wines and Altano was born as a result. The Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes are harvested from breathtakingly high vineyards in Northern Portugal that are so steep it's hard to imagine finding anyone sane enough to work the land. By the looks of this picture, it's pretty easy to figure out where the name for Altano came from - as in alto or high. All this for only $8.99 a bottle. The biggest hurdle with Portuguese wines is that the grapes are not recognizable and are often hard to pronounce. This obscurity is good for bargain hunters as Portuguese wines are not at the top of the wish list for wine snobs therefore competition to purchase does not drive up the price.
When I first opened the wine, I found it was a little tight and had a bit of a short finish so I decided to throw it in a decanter to open it up and soften the rough edges. Decanting is like yoga for wine plus anything served from a decanter looks expensive. The wine was medium bodied and elegant with flavors of raisins, figs, prunes and dried cherries. It paired nicely with the chorizo and spicy flavors of the stew. It's a pretty decent drink and just what you need on a cold winter night.
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed into 1 1/2 inch pieces
3 links pork chorizo sausage from Whole Foods, sliced diagonally
3/4 lb 26-30 count shrimp, shells removed but tails still on
4 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
3 zucchini, diced
4 medium carrots, sliced into chunks
1 14 oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Green Onions for garnish
In a large cast iron pot, on medium-high heat saute bacon until fat is rendered, add chorizo sausage and brown evenly on all sides, approx 4 minutes. Add chicken and saute until golden, approx 6-8 minutes. It's good to get brown bits on the bottom of the pot as this will contribute depth and flavor to the stew. Add Old Bay Seasoning, cayenne pepper, chili flakes, thyme, black pepper, onion, garlic, celery and both bell peppers. Cover pot and cook until onions and celery are translucent - approx 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, 3 cups of water, zucchini and carrots. Cover and cook for 20 minutes on medium heat until zucchini and carrots are done. Remove pot from stove, toss in shrimp. The residual heat will continue to cook the shrimp. Serve in bowls and garnish with chopped green onions.
Approx 6 servings
An Argentine sommelier once told me "To be a vegetarian in Argentina is like being a priest at the Playboy mansion. You are bound to suffer." Okay, so this is an exceptionally crass way to describe the Argentine love affair with all things meat but it is true. The per capita meat consumption in Argentina is 150 lbs every year and if you visit the country you will see how easy it is for them to rack up this number. A typical meal is a Dr. Atkin's dream come true and will include a small salad of mixed vegetables, sausages, sweet breads and other organ meats, french fries, potatoes tossed with mayo and of course MEAT! Despite this diet, the Argentine people are all slender with model-esque physiques. I read in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma that grass fed meat is supposedly better for you as the fat from grass fed meat is rich in Omega 3 - a healthy fatty acid. Who knows if this is true or not but the meat did taste really good to me. You can find grass fed meat in the US for example Bill Kurtis' Tall Grass project. Grass fed meat has a different flavor and texture vs. corn fed or corn finished beef but if you pair it with a strong, chewy red like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon, it all makes sense.
We visited the famous La Cabrera Steakhouse in Buenos Aires. The fries covered with scrambled eggs were amazing! The diet Coke was surely not going to help the caloric count at this point but I needed the caffeine. We paired the meal with Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec.
When I returned to the States after my first trip to Argentina a few years ago, I kept ordering empanadas every time I saw them on a menu only to be dissapointed that they were not even close to what I had in South America. Maybe it's the water, beef lard, earthen oven or perhaps everything tastes better when you are on vacation but they fell short of what I remembered. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and found this recipe which got me pretty darn close. You can make your own empanada dough or you can find frozen wrappers at your local Latin grocery store. I was told by my Argentine friend Nora that most people use the frozen wrappers.
Recommended wine: Argentine Torrontes - try the Crios from Susana Balbo.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add beaten egg, yolk, milk and melted butter or shortening. The dough will be soft and slightly greasy due to the butter. Put in refrigerator to firm up as the chilled dough will be easier to roll out.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
2 tablespoons raisins (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
Cut each egg crosswise into 10 thin slices and set aside.
Cook onion in olive oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened. Add garlic, cumin, paprika and oregano and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in beef and cook, breaking up lumps with a fork, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add raisins, olives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and tomatoes then cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced but mixture is still moist, about 10 minutes. Spread on a plate to cool.
Yield - 20 empanadas