Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Grillin' and chillin' in Wine Country

Oh, did you think I meant Napa? Or California Wine Country? Oh heck no- Iowa Wine Country! I suppose a lot of people don't realize that Iowa has become one of the wine-producing hot spots in the nation, with more than 300 vineyards and over 100 wineries currently producing in the state. In fact, Iowa is divided into five separate "wine trails" that cover the entire state and make for some awesome day-tripping. Some of the wineries make wines exclusively from grapes grown in their own vineyards, while others import juice or grapes from other regions and make some of the wines most people are familiar with, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Iowa, being in zone 5 for agriculture, requires grapevines that can withstand cold temperatures for the long months of winter. Most of the familiar vines cannot, so growers here raise vines such as Edelweiss, Chardonel, Frontenac, St. Croix, and many others. Some closely mimic their warmer climate cousins, and some have unique flavors and aromas all their own. Touring a vineyard and winery in Iowa is fun! I've toured wineries that were little more than a garage with a few fermenting tanks to an elegant Italian villa setting in the middle of a downtown business district. Each Iowa winery is distinctive and has their very own niche.

Cooking with wine is very rewarding. By integrating the flavors in your glass into your food you are immersing yourself in the wine experience as much as possible, and adding depth and character to whatever you are preparing. I love a good steak marinated in rich red wine and herbs. The wine adds such a delicious fruitiness to the meat, residual sugars help to add to the caramelization on the grill, and nothing beats adding herbs for a punch of flavor. Herbs allow you to have a lot more flexibility in the flavors of your food too- some are more earthy and hearty, like sage and rosemary, while others, like thyme or chives, bring a fresh "green" flavor.

Today we are grilling up some steak kebabs. I'm a big fan of kebabs because they are quick to cook on the grill, keeping the meat juicy and tender, and when you add vegetables to the skewers you can make a little steak go a lot farther. Veggies are another great way to customize your meal. Cook only what you like! In this case, we're grilling, so if you wanted to add potatoes, say baby new potatoes, you might want to precook them a little before threading into the skewer. I like to stick with things that cook at about the same length of time- summer squash, onions, mushrooms, peppers. Cherry tomatoes work well also. Asparagus on the grill is phenomenal. Use what's fresh and what's in season.

Iowa Wine Country Steak Kebabs

top sirloin steak- allow about 4-6 ounces per person/serving
fresh vegetable of your choice- I used zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, mushrooms and           onion
1 cup Pinot Noir
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more
herbs of choice- I used Herbes de Provence for this batch 
salt, pepper
crushed or minced garlic, usually 3-4 cloves will do

Cut steak into generous cubes- I like 2 inch cubes- they don't overcook and they are easier to thread onto the skewers. Place in large zip close bag and all everything except the vegetables. Close the bag, removing as much air as possible. Smoosh and massage the bag to distribute the wine and seasonings evenly. Place on plate or tray in fridge for 2-4 hours, or as long as overnight. I used Pinot Noir in my marinade, but any big bold red will work- Cabernet is awesome, Chianti is a little "spicier", Merlot is also very good. Use whatever red wine you like but stick with a drier wine- this is not the place for a red Moscato.

Meanwhile soak skewers in water to prevent burning, or use metal ones. Clean and cut the vegetables into pieces about 2 inches like the steak cubes. Using separate skewers for the vegetables, thread them onto skewers as you like, alternating bites or make skewers of all the same vegetable. Sometimes this way works better when you are using veggies like baby potatoes that may need several more minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Remove meat from marinade. You can pat dry lightly with a paper towel but don't rinse off the meat. Thread the cubes onto the skewers. Drizzle or brush with a little bit of additional oil to prevent sticking on the grill. 

Cook skewers until desired doneness. To serve, you can either let each person have a skewer of each or you can remove everything, discard the skewers and serve in bowls/platters- whatever works best for you. I find that if some people like their meat more rare than others, it's best to leave them on skewers and separate. 

If you're wondering what the heck is the deal with the four mini
skewers on the top rack- we have furkids,  and they are spoiled!
Most importantly, please serve the wine you cook with alongside the meal. Never ever ever buy "cooking wine"- you should never cook with something you aren't willing to drink. If you don't want to drink it right now, save it and make spritzers or sangria, or freeze the wine for future cooking (old ice trays are great for this). It's ok to use an inexpensive wine, as long as it's also something you are willing to drink. 


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