March 08, 2006

Cheap Date Night - Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with "Wednesday Night" wines

In my twenties, my favorite "exotic cheese" was fresh mozarella. And I stayed away from wine -- on a budget, it was a dangerously expensive habit and cheap beer was a far safer buzz, at least financially. And then I met John. And my whole world changed.

In fairness, I can only blame John for my more recent cheese obsession (more on that in a moment). The wine thing wasn't his fault. The wine rack was a product of the kitchen remodel. It was an attractive display at the end of the island we built for pasta and pastry. I distinctly remember telling the contractor I would NEVER fill a 24-bottle wine rack. Ha! Five years and several regional wineries later, we've invested in another free-standing wine rack and we're seriously considering cold storage. These obsessions, they creep up on you. I'm keeping my head though. No three (four?? five?!?!?!) digit bottles of wine for me. Weeknight wine (when we indulge) is under $10. Weekends where we're more likely to put effort into dinner, $15-25. Fifty for a special occasion. I don't "get" wine over $50. And in the interest of maintaining a retirement fund, I'm quite happy that way.

Cheese is a newer fascination, and one I can blame more squarely on John. Before we met, I wouldn't touch stronger cheeses -- goat, sharp cheddar -- they just turned me off. John's taught me to appreciate their subtlety, especially when paired appropriately with other food and libation. I'm still picky about *really* strong cheeses -- blue, gorgonzola -- but a year or two ago I wouldn't have touched them. Now, with the right, full-bodied wine, I sometimes find myself going back for seconds of the cheese course. Which is progress in some direction.

So we've been together for ten years now... what has all this to do with cheap weeknight dates? Enter The Grapevine's Wednesday "Cheap Date Nights" -- wine and cheese (or pizza and beer) tasting events for the budget conscious foodie. For $20 you sample 4-5 wines and a handful of different grilled cheese sandwiches made with artisnal ingredients. In a word, yum.

Tonight's event did not disappoint.

The wine flight:
Lizard Rock, Sauvignon Blanc/Roussanne blend, 2004 (VDP, France) - This was the surprise hit of the night. A surprise for us because we're really picky about white wine. And apparently a surprise for many -- it seemed to be their top selling bottle of the evening. We left with four bottles of our own.

Bulletin Place, Merlot, 2003 (South Eastern Australia) - This was everything I love about Merlot -- smooth, rich, deep. Yummy.

Roudon Smith, “Claret”, Petite Syrah blend, 2003, (California Central Coast) - another one I was mildly surprised I enjoyed so much... smooth like the Merlot, but spicier.

Cordon Creek, “Pemberton Vny”, Zinfandel, 2000 (Amador County California)

The "grilled" cheese selection:

Urgelia, Tapenade and Roasted Bell Pepper on Sweet Baguette
Mixed Blue and Fig Paste on Baguette
Raclette and Salami on Herb Focaccia
Chevre, Tomato, Shallots, and Tarragon on Sliced Baguette
Taleggio, Rosemary and Grapes on Panini

We liked the Raclette/Salami, Blue/Fig a lot and the Taleggio, Rosemary and Grapes on Panini was my personal favorite:

Taleggio, Rosemary & Grapes
(Makes 50 1 inch pieces or 20 1/2 sandwiches)
Serves 10 people as a very filling meal
1 3/4 lb Taleggio - sliced
2 TBL fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 c olive oil
3/4 lb red seedless (or other) sweet grapes - sliced in half
10 panini split lengthwise in half

George Forman Grill or other Hot Sandwich Maker

Mix rosemary and olive oil together and spread lightly over open sides of the sliced panini. Place the sliced Taleggio evenly on one half of the Panini. Top with sliced grapes, sliced side down. Cover with other half of the Panini place in the George Forman Grill. Toast until cheese melts (about 3 min). Slice crosswise into 1 inch pieces. Serve warm.

At last, a use for the Foreman Grill I got in college!

I suspect some rendition of several of them will appear on our open house menu next fall.