I am the first to admit that when it comes to food and wine pairing, I am by no means an expert. Although I can tell you the most striking difference between Sanjiovese and Sauvignon Blanc is that one is red and the other is white, detailing the subtleties of each is something I would most definitely defer to a sommelier.
And a sommelier I am not.
What I can tell you though is that I always enjoy a glass of wine with my evening meal. And yes, “Clean Cuisine” and a glass of wine are perfectly compatible (you can read more about why my husband and I have been enjoying a glass of wine with our evening meals for over 15 years now HERE.) Still, unless I am at a restaurant who happens to have a knowledgeable sommelier on staff to walk me through my food and wine pairing selections, the focus of my typical dinner at home is inevitably the food; the choice of wine is more of an afterthought. This is not the case for Jay Deratany, owner of the The Kirby, a luxury boutique hotel and wine bar with restaurant located in Douglas, Michigan. Jay’s passion for hospitality and fine dining has made him an expert at food and wine pairing, which is why I was super quick to accept his generous offer to put together a “Clean Cuisine” food and wine pairing for a cozy winter meal.
Food and Wine Pairing Perfect for Dinner In Front of the Fire
Let’s face it; the holiday season might bring good cheer, but it can all be a little bit exhausting too. Sometimes it is nice to just have a cozy winter “picnic” in front of the fireplace (or the Christmas tree!) with food that is easy to prepare, fills you up and makes you feel good. With this in mind, right after I posted my Savory Whole Grain Bread Recipe (made with superfoods: hemp and chia seeds), Jay suggested creating a simple winter menu consisting of a “grown-up” grilled cheese with some sort of vegetable-based soup. Brilliant idea I thought! Why complicate things? Plus, you’ll have plenty of leftovers with the bread recipe, so you can do it all over again the next night if you like.
Knowing Clean Cuisine is primarily dairy-free, but still allows for a bit of gourmet cheese gave Jay the leeway to introduce the deliciously complex flavors of a creamy, earthy and nutty gruyere, which always makes the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches. And trust me, a little melted gruyere goes a long, long way to making any homemade whole grain bread recipe instantly more amazing!
Once the soup was decided, Jay would be able to consider the flavor profile of the recipe and determine what direction to go in with his “grown-up” grilled cheese. After we had the food nailed down, the wine selection could then be determined. Easy peasy.
For the soup, I decided on the Apple Leek Soup Recipe below. The combination of lemons and apple contributed a nice brightness and acidity that was offset by the richness of the pine nut “cream”. By the way, the pine nut “cream” enabled me to make the recipe completely dairy-free (I decided if we were going to have cheese in the sandwich, we better go easy with the soup!) But whether you serve the Apple Leek Soup with the grilled cheese or not, it’s a great recipe for a winter evening.Print
Apple Leek Soup
- Yield: 4 1x
- 4 cups organic vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion (chopped)
- 2 cups sliced leeks (washed well and patted dry)
- Unrefined sea salt (to taste)
- 2 organic Granny Smith apples (chopped (no need to peel the skins))
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- Place the vegetable broth and pine nuts in a high-speed blender (such as a Vitamix) and process until smooth and creamy. Set creamy broth aside.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onions and leeks and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft. Season with salt to taste. Add the apples and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, until apples soften. Sprinkle with white pepper and nutmeg. Add the lemon juice and thyme and cook until liquid is reduced, about 2 or 3 minutes.
- Pour the creamy broth in with the onions, leeks and apples. Use a handheld stick blender and process ingredients until smooth and creamy. Simmer over low-heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm.
For the grilled cheese sandwich, it made sense to incorporate the apple and thyme called for in the soup. A nice Gruyere-Apple & Thyme Grilled Cheese with plenty of mache lettuce sounded very “grown up” to me!
To make the grilled cheese, you’ll want to either have two medium-thick slices of my Savory Whole Grain Bread (click HERE for the recipe) or 2 slices of another whole grain bread of your choice. Simply brush both sides of the bread lightly with extra virgin olive oil and then assemble your sandwich by adding 3 tablespoons of shredded gruyere, several slices of thinly sliced Granny Smith apple (crisp, tart apple slices are so delish when combined with nutty gruyere), a teaspoon of fresh thyme and some soft, buttery mache lettuce. Grill the sandwich in a hot pan, making sure both sides get nice and toasty. Oh! And be sure to use a handheld sandwich press to press your sandwich together (if you have never used a handheld sandwich press, trust me, once you use one you will never make another grilled cheese or any grilled sandwich ever again without it.) Of course you will definitely want to eat your sandwich warm, so you be sure the soup is ready before you grill your sandwich.
As for the best part of the food and wine pairing…
Selecting the Perfect Wine
According to Jay, it was a bit tricky to select the perfect wine given the creamy, fatty nature of the cheese and the acidic nature of the apples and lemons, but he suggested going with a Beajolais, which is a wine I had actually never heard of. However, Jay said winter was the perfect season for a Beajolais and that this particular wine had just enough acidity to cut through the creaminess of the cheese, but not so much to overpower the soup. I took him at his word and picked up a bottle of Georges Duboeuf Beajolais-Villages Nouveau 2014 for just under $15. It was perfect. Thank you Jay.
And there you have it! A simple food and wine pairing for a deliciously comfy, cozy winter dinner. The only thing missing are the cookies (wink).
Jay Deratany is the owner of The Kirby a luxury boutique hotel in Douglas, Michigan. His passion for hospitality and fine dining inspired him to add hotel owner to his resume, which already includes law firm founder, human rights activist and film producer. He frequently shares his expertise in travel, food, wine and the law on several online publications. For more, visit www.TheKirbyHotel.com