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My first ever Veal Osso Buco with Garnacha Par Excellence

My first ever Veal Osso Buco with Garnacha Par Excellence

I know, I should be probably dieting like everybody else. I need it. But I didn’t make any New Year resolution regarding my weight issues. I watch what I eat year around. Unfortunately, for some reason, it doesn’t always show. Why bother when I know I will be hosting a private wine dinner the very first Saturday of 2011?

How do you diet with 5 courses and 5 different wines??

Food to me is very important part of well being. And not just any food, it must be good too! I love the whole process getting the idea, working, improvise and play with it, until it’s done to my liking.

My Osso Buco story wasn’t different. I saw some nice looking veal shank in Whole foods. Since I have never made it before (but I had it in the restaurants), it represented a challenge. I decided it shouldn’t be so hard and bought two good looking veal shanks.


OK, there was another reason too. But let’s start from beginning.

Thanks to an unbelievable generosity of a dear friend (let’s call him JO), part of my almost empty “wine cellar” got an unexpected makeover last week. Unexpected, but very, very appreciated!


Suddenly, I needed to create a special dinner to accommodate a very special bottle of wine. No problema para mí!

I started by looking for the recipe. I wanted the best, so I looked up Mario Batali’s version. I agreed with him that there is a beauty in simplicity (as long as you have fresh quality ingredients). Just to compare, I also looked up other respected Italian chef’s recipes but returned to Mario’s base.

Yet, as always, I ended up not following the recipe completely. But when the philosophy of the dish is understood, I believe it can take few twists here and there.

See my version of recipe here

As I was cooking my memory took me back to he beautiful Moncayo Mountains we traveled to visit the vineyards of D.O. Campo de Borja. Rough terrain that my stomach remembers as well. Inigo Alberto, (our guide) for some reason drove crazy fast.

Up and down the hills, on the dirty little roads, in his small car, gas and brakes, until I got car sick. My sickness later disappeared – about the time we got to Alto Moncayo wines during our wine tasting.

(Inigo later asked me to mention it in front of his bosses – so maybe they would finally buy him the Hummer he has repeatedly asking for). I totally brought it up in my thank you speech and you can see that it was received very well). I wonder if he got the car yet…
Anyway, visiting Bodegas Borsao and Alto Moncayo was one of the highlights of our Spanish trip. Our kind hosts spent quite some time with us, answering all our nosy questions and tasting their great wine portfolio with us. The catering chef, who brought an excellent menu for the tasting, even interrupted his vacation to be there! And, they have some of the most impressive tasting room we have seen!

The vineyards of Bodegas Borsao and Bodegas Alto Moncayo have a great potential – some of them located in about 2,000 ft elevation, planted between 1910-1967. Old vines have an extremely low yield, additionally decreased by green harvesting. The age of vine, the quality of the fruit, high elevation and a challenging soil is a promising combination for an incredibly rich and complex wines. And that’s exactly what you get here.

Starting with their super bargain Borsao red, Monte Oton or Tres Picos, to the high end of Alto Moncayo and Aquilon, these wines are a showcase of Garnacha Par Excellence. Although Campo de Borja is not as famous D.O. as for example Rioja, Ribera del Duero or Priorat, these wines are getting the attention they deserve! And the professional wine ratings are reflecting that as well.

Alto Moncayo Veraton 2007:
Wine Enthusiast October 2010: 91pts
Stephen Tanzer: 92pts 2010 review: 92pts!

2006 Vintage: Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: 94pts

The winemaker Jose Luis works closely with famous Australian winemaker Chris Ringland, who oversees the winemaking process. Jose Luis told us that exact age of some of their vines is unknown….

So, that’s my story with my first ever Veal Osso Buco and Garnacha Par Excellence relationship. It was delicious, although the wine ended up being much bigger than the dish. Next time, I will prepare a steak or lamb. We absolutely didn’t mind it though, and finished the delicious bottle. You can’t really put it back to the bottle once you decanted it. Ok, you can, but we didn’t feel like it.

Before my last sip I had a tiny bit of dark chocolate (and I am not a big fan of pairing chocolate with wine) – but it was an amazing transformation! This big, excellent Garnacha, approached by cacao became a velvety sensation.

And as far as the diet talk goes, isn’t veal a diet meat after all? I know, not the shank particularly, I hear you. Just so you know – it was delicious, but no, I didn’t eat the whole thing…

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A true friend

A true friendAll of us might come up with a different definition if we were asked to specify what the term “true friend” means to us.

When you think about it, it meant different things in different stages of our life. When we were young, the true friend would be somebody who held our hand when we were afraid. Or maybe somebody who stood next to us when we were in trouble.

Later on it might have been someone who you tried your first cigarette with, someone who never betrayed you. Perhaps true friend to you was a good listener and someone you spent hours on the phone with, discussing all the important issues of your life. How do you describe the true friend today?

Is it somebody who is always there for you? Is it somebody who brings you food when you are sick, who makes you smile when you are sad and who shares your values and success with you proudly? Does your true friend care when nobody else does? Is he someone who doesn’t judge you when you failed and offers a shoulder to cry on instead? Is he someone who will always have a helping hand for you even at times he needs one himself?

I must say, I feel blessed to have a few true friends in my life. The closest ones are of  Italian heritage, French Canadian, Spanish and Polish. They are a substitute for my own family that lives far away. They have always been there for me. When we were moving few years ago, they came to help us for several days, sacrificing their own time, driving hundreds of miles not to mention working like dogs, so we can get back to normal as soon as possible. When I think about it, there are not many people throughout my life that would have done more for me than my friends already did.

A true friendWe spent this Labor weekend with a couple of my friends. We have shared our passion for food, wine and fun with them on every occasion we had.

This couple came to almost each of my wine events to support me. They would bring their friends along. They even joked that I spoiled their palate – so now they can’t go back, drinking wines they once used to like.

When times were not so good, they were there again, helping, praying, checking on me, and offering a hand. I never took it for granted. I am not sure if I ever told them that but I hope they know. Lately, they were even considering putting their own house at risk to help me to pursue a dream to open my own business. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that thought anyway, but that’s just the kind of friends they are.

 A true friend

We have laughed a lot this last weekend (which I needed really badly), ate a lot – although I decided to prepare all kinds of finger food – tapas to accompany our “special wines” – we ended up eating much more than if we just had a regular dinner. (I was fixing my stomach later at night with Fernet-branca – what a good medicine that is). But most importantly, we have opened some spectacular wines together.We took our time to enjoy it – started slowly with Cava and whites, so by the time we got to “the real stuff”, the reds were just about ready for us. You probably know that opening a special bottle with the wrong company can spoil the enjoyment for you. I think we all have done that mistake before. But when the opposite happens, it is a pure heaven. This weekend will most likely be very hard to beat (although we can always try) and this is how they changed my prospective on a true friend definition:
The true friend is someone, who lets you spoil their palate. Someone, who trusts you enough to let you hook them on wines you adore yourself and now they adore them with you.

Someone who allows you to turn proud Italians into Spanish food and wine enthusiasts. And when the times are not so great, the true friend will go out, buy that special bottle (when you can’t do it yourself) and brings it over to your house to enjoy it together. The bottle they have never tasted before. The bottle they only heard you bragging about.

A true friendSo this weekend, our wine list sustained of Segura Viudas Brut, Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc (Californian exception), couple of bottles of Muga Blanco, a bottle of Alto Moncayo Veraton, and we finished this Spanish dream with a bottle of Clio.

For a desert we have opened a bottle of Jorge Ordoñez Victoria, an outstanding sweet Moscatel from Malaga and yes, we have finished the whole thing. There you have it! We loved every drop of it!

It tasted so much better when shared with people that appreciated it as much as we do. Life is good when you have true friends. I am really grateful for that. Believe me, that’s the kind of true friends you want in your life. I truly appreciate to have them in mine.

All recipes paired with wine, Fish and Seafood, Poultry

Galician Paella


Galician Paella
Galician Paella

You will need a paella pan – the one on my picture is for 8 people – if you don’t have a paella pan, heavy duty pan will work as well. Preferably with metal holder or removable holder when placing to the oven. Paella is a symbol of Spain for me, and I have a huge respect for it. Every region makes it’s own kind, with their own ingredients. For example in southern Jumilla in Spain I had paella made with escargots only. It was so delicious. Although I am usually not big on following the recipes, preparing a paella,  I wanted to learn it the right way.

I was invited to Costa del Sol’s (Spanish restaurant in Hartford, CT) kitchen and had the privilege to watch Spanish chef making paella step by step. As this family came from the region of Galicia, this is THEIR traditional paella. I wasn’t taking notes but I wrote it down as soon as I came back home. Ever since I respectfully follow these directions. It may seem difficult but believe me, if you take your time and prepare this dish, it is well worth it! The best way is to make paella when your guests are already around, open that good bottle of Spanish wine you saved for a special occasion and cook along – it’s entertaining too!


¼ onion, chopped
¼ red bell pepper, chopped to little pieces
¼ yellow pepper, chopped to little pieces
Few fresh white mushrooms sliced (3-4)
1 chorizo (the original cooking chorizo is available at Costa del Sol store inside the restaurant)
1 pound of chicken breast or thighs (what ever you prefer), trimmed from fat and cut into small pieces ( I love thighs they have way more flavor)
1 pound of extra large shrimps
Clams, mussels (about a pound all together)
pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon of diced tomatoes (or tomato paste)
Rice (Uncle’s Ben’s) (measure 1 cup for 2 people)
Olive oil
1 cups of white dry wine
Chicken broth (2 cups per 1 cup of rice) (watch out – if you are using low sodium broth, you will need to add salt to the dish – don’t repeat my first paella mistake!)
½ cup of green peas (could be frozen)

Start your paella on top of the stove on high heat with quite a lot of olive oil (you will later drain the rest away and can save it for future cooking). Heat the oil, add onion, peppers, mushrooms and chorizo and saute it for a short time on high heat.

Galician Paella

Keep the heat up and place all the chicken to the pan – spread it all over the pan, not in one spot. (I clean my chicken a day before, mixed small cuts of meat, slightly seasoned with salt and pepper with a little bit of olive oil. It could be left in container in the fridge for few hours. The Spanish chef didn’t use salt at all, he said the taste of paella come from the chicken broth.) Today, I use smaller pieces of the thighs – like half of what you see on the picture. It cooks faster and more evenly.

Galician Paella

Turn chicken so it is equally fried from all sides. (next time I made it, I cut the pieces of chicken smaller) . Drain most of the oil out, leave just a little (or put a fresh one in), bring heat back up and pour a white wine all over the meat. Sprinkle pinch of saffron to the dish and stir.Spread evenly uncooked rice (1 cup per 2 people) and broth (2 cups per each cup of rice) over the pan. Add a little bit of diced tomatoes (tablespoon full) and stir. Leave it alone for ten minutes. Add clams and mussels to the broth, spread all over the pan.

Galician Paella

Let paella cook on low heat for another 10-15 minutes, the rice needs to be cooked for 30 minutes total. When the broth is almost soaked in the rice, add shrimps to the dish, dig it in to the hot rice, sprinkle it with few green peas and put it to the oven (350 °F) for the last 10 minutes. (You can also use your medium heated grill outside and finish paella there under closed cover). When the rice is ready, take it out and cover the pan with clean dish cloth for few minutes for the rice to develop flavors.

Paella is traditionally served directly from the dish – just place it in the middle of the table, add spoons and dig in!Believe me, the best paella experience is the leftover next day – just place your leftover paella in a deep pan, add a bit of chicken broth, cover it up and let it warm up through. Delicious!!!Remember, paella is most importantly a rice dish. All vegetables, chicken and seafood are there just for a taste and color – so don’t over do it! Enjoy!!!!

Paella time!
Paella time!

Wine pairing suggestion:
With this Spanish masterpiece I usually pick my best Spanish red I have on hand. Even though this dish is made of seafood and chicken, the chorizo gives it an earthy flavor. How about spectacular Alto Moncayo Veraton, Old wines Garnacha from the region of Borja?

You can pair this dish with white or red, it’s going to work. For some reason, when I make a paella, it’s a special occassion and I pick the best Spanish wine I have on hand. So I picked an amazing Tempranillo from the Rioja Alta – a single vineyard wine made by Marcos Eguren called Señorío de San Vicente. One of my personal all time Spanish favorites…