Warm Chocolate & Cherry Bread Pudding with Anglaise Sauce


I don’t eat dessert’s very often for a variety of reasons!  Usually they are too sweet for my palate, they aren’t very special (meaning you can get them in most restaurants) and they don’t work very well with most dessert wines.  In general sugar is not my friend. For me it translates into a big, bad, very ugly migraine headache. So for that reason alone I usually steer clear.

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Chocolate Valentine’s Dinner: The Wine Guys Tasting Notes, Feb 10 2016



Corporate Executive Chef – Sherrie Robbins
Wine and food pairings by Claude Robbins

Raw Cacao Bean
Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde, NV

First Course
Crostini with Pointe Reyes Blue Cheese,
Roasted Bosc Pears, Hazelnuts & White Chocolate
Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Alsace Grand Cru “Goldert”, Muscat, 2012

Vermouth de Chambéry, Blanc, NV

Second Course
Cocoa and Spice Dusted Pork Tenderloin Medallions Over Chocolate
Risotto With Dried Cranberries and Soubise Sauce &
Roasted Carrots With Balsamic & Thyme
Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien, 2007

Third Course – Salad Course
Bitter Greens With Toasted Walnuts, Shaved Parmesan &
Forastero Cacao Bean Nibs with
Cara-Cara Orange-Vanilla Vinaigrette

Fourth Course – Dessert Course
Warm Chocolate & Dark Cherry Bread Pudding
with Crème Anglaise
Banfi, Brachetto d’Acqui, Rosa Regale, 2014

Valentines day was not always about chocolate. In the beginning Saint Valentine was the name given to martyrs in Rome, as early as 496AD.  It would be Chaucer, about 1382, who would add a love component – but is was birds choosing their mates.  By the 1400’s the term “Valentine’s Day” would vary from place to place, and date to date, depending upon when spring occurred.  Spring was often marked by the bud burst of grapevines in the vineyard.

Chocolate becoming part of Valentine’s Day occurred in the mid-1800’s, in England, when less expensive ways to produce chocolate were developed and the combination of a Valentine’s Day card (also an English invention) and chocolate hearts become very popular.

The idea of having a Valentine’s Day Dinner in which each course includes chocolate (or cacao) is relatively new. We have done this for about ten years, with it changing each year, so the Chef and Sommelier don’t get bored.

Again, the food is moving from simpler to more complex and lighter to richer as we move from dish to dish. 

Of course, the use of chocolate creates interesting issues.  Even with the aperitif.

Aperitif and Amuse Buche

Raw Forestero Cacao Beans
Casal Garcia, Vinho Verde, NV

casal-garcia-vinho-verde-nvTo start this meal, placed in the right-hand upper corner  of each person’s menu was a cacao bean that they could break open and taste the raw cacao.  It is fairly bitter and not sweet at all.  This is an important component of each dish all the way through dessert.  That is, we are pairing wine to bitterness not necessarily sweetness.

I purposely chose a starting wine that has dramatically improved over the past few years and is now considerably a better produced wine than it has been historically.  A Vinho Verde (in Portuguese it means “green wine”) is a dry, acidic and slightly effervescent wine.  Not enough effervescence to be a “sparkling” wine, technically we would call it “spritzig”, the German technical tasting term for a slightly effervescent wine.  It has good, but slight, fruit characteristics and is light enough to be a good starting point for a dinner.

Having this wine with the acid and slight effervescence creates a nice contrast to the bitterness of the cacao, and the combination of acidic and bitter acts as a tradition aperitif.  Of course, the combination of acid and bitterness clearing the palate and setting it up for dinner.

A Vinho Verde is not often thought of as a winter wine, but it works quite well as a starting point.  It should be chilled to about 50F and served.  This wine is better known as a starter in summer.

The wine:
Producer: Casal Garcia
Growing Area: Vinho Verde, Portugal
Style: Blanco (white)
Vintage year: Non-Vintage (NV)

First Course

Crostini with Pointe Reyes Blue Cheese,
Roasted Bosc Pears, Hazelnuts and White Chocolate
Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Alsace Grand Cru “Goldert”, Muscat, 2012

Course 1C wine

The first course was delicious and a very interesting combination of a wide range of flavors and textures.  Blue cheese, with pears, hazelnuts and a white chocolate and honey sauce, all layered on a grilled crostini.

One of the keys to pairing wine in this course is that there is not an overpowering blue cheese in the dish. This is important because the blue cheese is used in the first dish, not a principal dish or closing dish.  It cannot overpower the palate since it is a starting point not an ending point.

So as you take a bite you can observe the crostini, the blue cheese along with the pear, hazelnut and sauce.  None overpower, all or in balance.  That is important when finding a wine that will bring out all the flavors.

Muscat is a grape that most people think of that is used to make a dessert wine: very sweet, high viscosity, but enough acid to keep it from being cloying.  In Alsace (France) they also make a medium-dry, medium-bodied varietal Muscat.  In addition the Grand Cru style goes thru a malolactic fermentation (MLF) and is rested in French oak (for a short period of time).

These production techniques add more complex flavors, a slight increase in viscosity (the wine term is palate-weight) and an increase in flavor intensity.  It creates a wine with classic Alsace characteristics as well as more intense flavors.

Muscat is Vitis Vinifera Modern number 1.  That is, the species of wine grapes that fall in the V.v.Modern family, Muscat is the first to appear about 3000 BC, possibly earlier. Probably named for “fruit fly” because of the sugar content, the modern name may be derived from the Persian (Muchk), the ancient Greek ( Moskos), or the Roman Latin (Muscus).

This wine is worth remembering if you like this combination of flavors because it will go quite well with a dish like this that has been made to not be too heavy with blue cheese. So make sure that the blue cheese does not overpower all of the other flavors.  Although a heavier blue cheese and very ripe pears are used to make a dessert dish, in this case the wine is not going with a dessert.  Because this is not a dessert dish you don’t want the very sweet, high viscosity dessert style of Muscat.

The wine:
Producer: Domaine Zind Humbrecht
Growing Area: Alsace Grad Cru (France)
Vineyard: Goldert
Grape: Muscat
Vintage year: 2012

The idea of using the term “Cru” in Alsace is over 1000 years old.  Even the term “Grand Cru”, or “great growth”, has been used in Alsace since at least 1575, way before other parts of France (like Burgundy and Bordeaux) have used the term.  Although the term has significantly different meanings in Bordeaux compared to Burgundy or Alsace.

However, a legal AOC Grand Cru (GC) system in Alsace has only been legal since 1987.  With the process of “determining” the Alsace Grand Cru set of vineyards beginning in 1962.

In 50 of the 51 Alsacian GC vineyards a grape grower can only grow up to four different grapes: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürstraminer, and Muscat.  Only 8 of the GC vineyards actually grow Muscat at all, and “Goldert” is the only vineyard that specializes in Muscat.  That makes this wine unique. It also may make the wine difficult to find.  However, an Alsacian GC Muscat from any of the 8 GC vineyards should be workable.  Make sure when you talk to your wine merchant that you are looking for a medium-bodied, dry to medium-dry wine.  Also, there are several producers that make an Alsacian Grand Cru from “Goldert.”

It must be a Alsace Grand Cru, not a regular Alsace wine.


Dolin, Vermouth de Chambéry, Blanc, NV

Course 1.5 wine

Although the term intermezzo is used in a musical sense, it is also used to mean a brake during a dinner.  In many wine dinners an intermezzo is inserted just before the principal course. 

It serves two purposes: (1) to clear the palate and set up the palate for the upcoming course and (2) to give the Chef additional time to fabricate and prepare the next (i.e.: principal) course.  In this case the Chef requested an intermezzo be inserted to provide more time to prepare the principal course.

Since we usually follow the fairly standard restaurant approach of allowing 20 minutes between courses, in this case the Chef needed 30 minutes so we inserted the intermezzo.

Using a vermouth for an intermezzo is common in Europe but not in the US.  In the US we often insert a sorbet.  This can work fine if it is slightly acidic and bitter – it’s goal is to clear the palate.  Avoid a sweet or slightly-sweet sorbet.

The wine:
Producer: Dolin
Growing Area: Vermouth de Chambéry (France)
Style: Blanc
Vintage year: NV
Note: adding the lemon slice is optional

You only need to serve an ounce to an ounce-and-a-half of this fortified wine for it to work as an intermezzo.  Pour it into a glass with one or two ice cubes.  This is probably the only time you will hear me suggest ice cubes in a wine.  But it works great anytime you are using a vermouth (from France, Italy or Switzerland) as either the aperitif or intermezzo.

Dolin is considered the best produced in France and the flavor profile includes several herbs to create the unique flavor profile.  Again, works great as a summer wine.

Second Course

Cocoa and Spice Dusted Pork Tenderloin Medallions Over Chocolate
Risotto With Dried Cranberries and Soubise Sauce and
Roasted Carrots With Balsamic and Thyme
Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien, 2007

Course 2 Wine

This is a combination of several herbs in addition to a cocoa (75% cocoa) powder as a rub for the pork.  The risotto also uses the same bitter cocoa. This gives the meat and risotto similar, but not identical flavors. The Soubise sauce is a white cream sauce base, with several vegetables used to give the risotto a broader and richer flavor profile on the palate.

The 2007 vintage of Ch. Branaire-Ducru is an excellent vintage that is just reaching its drinking phase.  Although still young, it has reduced acid and softened tannins and very good fruit charactistics. This wine is classically a blend of 5 grapes, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the informing grape of the wine.

The bitterness of the chocolate is a complement to the bitterness of the tannins.  The richness of the dish helps reduce the remaining acidity of the wine and bring out the fruit characteristics of the wine.  This is an excellent example of a wine that tastes one way when drunk by itself and more in balance when served with food.

The wine:
Producer: Château Branaire-Ducru
Growing Area: Saint-Julien (France)
Style: Rouge
Vintage year: 2007

You really do want this specific producer and vintage year for this dish.

Third Course – Salad Course
Bitter Greens With Toasted Walnuts, Shaved Parmesan and
Forastero Cacao Bean Nibs and
Cara-Cara Orange-Vanilla Vinaigrette

Following a classic approach to a coursed meal, no wine is served with the salad course.  The purpose of this course, called a transition course, is to “relax” the palate by not being as heavy or as rich as the principal course.

In this case the vinaigrette dressing made from Cara-Cara oranges with vanilla and oil really holds the entire dish together.

Fourth Course – Dessert Course
Warm Chocolate and Dark Cherry Bread Pudding
With Crème Anglaise
Banfi, Brachetto d’Acqui, Rosa Regale, 2014


Dessert is always one of the most difficult dishes to pair wine too.  This case is no different.  A combination of dark chocolate, slightly acidic dark cherries along with Crème Anglaise needs a wine that works with chocolate and fruit and can stand up to the richness of Crème Anglaise.

The key is that this dish is not extremely sweet.  Therefore the wine shouldn’t be extremely sweet either.

The wine:
Producer: Banfi
Growing Area: Acqui (Italy, DOCG)
Informing Grape: Brachetto
Style: Sparkling

Vintage year: 2014

This is one of the two world-class Italian sparkling dessert wines from the Piedmont.  The other is the DOCG Moscato d’Asti.  The strong fruit flavor of the Brachetto is a complement to the cherries and the chocolate and the acidity of the wine keeps the Crème Anglaise from tasting chalky.

This is a natural wine to go with chocolate so long as it is not too sweet.  This sparkling wine will work with a variety of chocolate desserts.

Crostini with Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Roasted Bosc Pears, Hazelnuts & White Chocolate


This is an adaptation of an Italian Appetizer from Venchi that calls for Gorgonzola Cheese and Dark Chocolate.  In this recipe I used a milder blue cheese from the coast of California called Point Reyes Blue Cheese and white chocolate instead of dark chocolate.

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Cocoa & Spice Dusted Port Tenderloin Medallions over Chocolate Risotto with Dried Cranberries & Soubise Sauce

porkMichael Chiarello has written several outstanding cookbooks and has several successful cooking shows over the past decade.  I love his newest cookbook “Fire” which discusses all of the various methods to cook something outdoors.

This dish was inspired from his spice blend called “Cocoa Spice Rub” which he talks about in “Fire”.  Although I have made a few modifications to his original recipe because I love spices like cumin and garlic, his recipe is equally outstanding.

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Honey Lemon Curd Tart with Torched Meringue


Meringue is a little tricky to make. If your utensils have any oil or dirt of any kind it will ruin the meringue.  When you crack the eggs the white should not be contaminated with any yolk.  Also when separating the eggs they separate better if they are cold.

After separating the eggs bring them to room temperature to ensure a good volume when whipped.  Another trick is to use eggs that are several days old, not fresh ones!  Older eggs will give the meringue more volumn!

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Seared Foie Gras Steak with Cherry Gastrique topped with Mousse de Foie Gras


As soon as chef Sherrie mentioned a dinner with foie gras as the main course I could not wait to make it.

For me pate, mousse de canard, foie gras steaks are worth all the work and calories.

When I was in France a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to stay with a wine maker that also was an awesome cook.  She showed me a special room where she stores all her terrine, country pates and compotes. Since then I do not pass an opportunity to make any of the above items.  Also that same year I had a one-on- one training with a french chef. The training was all about foie gras, duck a l orange and his techniques for making pate.  This was such an opportunity to learn about one of the great cuisines I love to eat and make.

Let us start by buying a frozen or fresh lobe of foie gras .  If you get it frozen let it thaw in the fridge for about two days then take it out and put it in a bowl of cold water to defrost completely before working on it.  For mousse ,terrine and pate you need to devein the lobe. When searing a foie gras steak you can omit this step.


As you see in the picture above the lobe is split and you have to run your fingers gently and feel where the veins are. You can use twizers if it is easier or a pairing knife to pull it out. You will notice a big long vein in the center.  If your foie is a little damaged by working with it, don’t panic ,once put together and covered with fat, or put in a torchon it will reform.

Recipe for the Mousse de Foie Gras

1 1/2 lb of fresh or frozen foie gras, Grade A

2 tsp of fleur de sel

7 juniper berries, crushed

3 tsp of quatre epices a french spice (you can find it in specialty herbs and spice stores)

1/8 c of cognac

1/2 c of heavy cream

2 1/2 c of milk to soak the lobe of foie gras in

A couple of thin white cloths for the torchon(french word for cloth used to wrap the foie gras). I used a fine woven cotton dish towel.

A roll of plastic wrap

A  large pot 3/4 filled with water

A few strings for tying the end of the torchon

As a first step you need to clean the foie as shown above.

As soon as this is done soak it in the milk and let it rest for a couple of hours at least. This helps draw the blood out.

Remove the foie gras and  pat it dry with a clean cotton towel.

Meanwhile prepare the pot of water and let it come to a boil.  Turn the heat off. Roll the foie gras in the plastic just like making compound butter.  It has to be tight. Repeat the process twice so you have two layers of plastic surrounding the foie gras.  Twist the ends tightly and knot.  Then get the white cloth to make a torchon, using the same process you did with the plastic wrap. Tie the ends with the string.  Insert into the hot water.  Leave it there until the water is luke warm to the touch. I left the torchon in the water for around 1 hour.


Take the torchon out of the water and remove all of the wrappings. Place the foie gras and all of the ingredients for the mousse and blend till smooth.  Line a rectangle terrine with a plastic wrap and pack the mousse in it and smooth the top.

The mousse should be packed down like you do when making a meat loaf.

Pour the cognac gelee over it to seal it.  Refrigerate for a few days .  IMG_0840

For the gelatin follow the instruction on the  gelatin box.  In this case I used one envelop of gelatin powder with 1/2 c of cognac and 1 tsp of sugar.  Dissolve and pour over the mousse. Let sit for a couple of days. The unmold and cut into portions.  I cut about 3/4 inch slices then cut each slice in half to top the Foie Gras steaks and potato galettes.

To Prepare the Foie Gras Steaks

I used another 1.5# lobe of Foie Gras.

Cut the Foie Gras into 1/2  – 3/4 inch thick slices, salt and pepper, crisscross with a pairing knife to score a diamond pattern into both sides of the steaks.

Bring a dry saute pan to very high heat. Place the  Foie Gras steaks in the pan and sear each side for 40 seconds.  This is one of those recipe where you can not turn away to attend to anything else. If you leave the steaks in longer the fat in the Foie Gras could completely melt and turn the steaks into a puddle of mush!!!! Not exactly what you probably had in mind after spending upwards of $100 per lobe for Foie Gras!

Remove the seared steaks.  You can keep them warm in a 170 – 200 degree F oven for a short time till serving.


Potato Galettes

5 potatoes

2 eggs

5 tbsp of flour

1/2 onion diced

1 1/2 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of pepper

After shredding the potatoes squeeae the water out of them.  In a bowl put together all the other ingredients and add the potatoes.  Make a pattie in the palm of your hand.  Place the potato pattie in a hot skillet with a little melted butter and fry till lightly golden brown in color and potatoes are cooked.  Set aside on paper towels.


Cherry Gastrique

2 c of sugar

1 c of water

1/2 c of cherry juice

1/2 c of white vinegar

1 c of fresh pitted cherries

1/4 of a vanilla bean pod (open and scraped)

In a pot cook the sugar until it turns into a nice caramel  brown color.  You will need to constantly stir your sugar so it does not burn. It should be a pretty amber brown color.


Slowly add the liquid if the sugar consolidated don’t worry.  Keep stirring until it dissolves again.  Add the cherries and cook for half hour until the sauce reduces a little.  You might want to add 1 tbs of corn starch of it is too runny.  Do not add too much starch since it will change the flavor of the sauce and make it grainy. Strain the cherries from the sauce and reserve. Set aside.

Caramelized Onions

1 yellow onion, sliced as thin as possible using a mandoline

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp sugar

Heat a medium-sized skillet and add the butter and oil and heat on medium heat.  When the butter and oil are hot add the onions and let them sweat.  Stire frequently.  After the onions become transparent add the sugar to help the onions caramelize. This took about 45 minutes – 1 hour.  Remove the onions and place on a plate and set aside.

Cooked Apples

2 Granny Smith Apples, washed, quartered, sliced thin

2 tbsp butter

1/2 cup apple juice

Melt the butter in a large skillet until hot. Add the apples and sauté for a 5-10 minutes until the apples begin to slightly soften.  Add the apple juice and continue to cook until the apples are soft but not falling apart.  Remove from the heat and place in a bowl so the apples will not cook any further.  Set aside.

Assembly of Dish


To assemble the dish use a pastry brush to lay a strip of the cherry gastrique on the plate.  Nest place a few slices of the cooked apples.  The place a potato galette on top of the apples.  Next place the seared Foie Gras Steak on top of the potato galette. Then place another potato galette on top of the Foie Gras Steak.  Add the caramelized onions followed by the Mousse de Foie Gras.  Last sprinkle with a few micro greens and a few of the cooked cherries.

I wish I had a plate of this to eat right  now!

Maple Bacon “Pops”


Is there anything on earth better than one bite of bacon deliciousness?  For the life of me, if you put me on a desert island and told me I could only have one thing to eat I would want BACON! Sweet, salt, and fat! Yum, Yum, Yum!

The bacon I cure and smoke (usually on applewood) has a texture similar to canadian bacon.  It is meaty, with a small layer of fat, and has a nice outer smoke layer.

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Gastro Pub 4 – Course Dinner


Wine and food pairings by Claude Robbins


Corporate Executive Chef – Sherrie Robbins

Chef de Cuisine – Jocelyne Fay

Aperitif and Amuse Buche

Chef’s House Cured Maple Bacon “Pops”

With A Hint of Maple Syrup

Veuve Clicquot, Champagne, Brut, NV

Course I

Crusted Medley of Winter Squashes With The Chef’s Homemade

Dill Creme Fraiche Dipping Sauce

Marqués de Cáceres, Rioja, Crianza, 2010

Course 2

Wild Mushrooms Purses with Cream and Pernod

over Mushroom and Pea Risotto

Faiveley, Vosne-Romanée, 2009

Course 3

Layered Pan Seared Foie Gras Steak and Mousse de Foie Gras over Potato Galettes, Onion marmalade, Pan Fried Apples, and

Burnt Sugar Sherry Cherry Gastrique

Lustau, Jerez, Sherry, Amontillado, Seco, Los Arcos, NV

Dessert Course

Honey Lemon Curd Tart with Torched Meringue

Marchesi di Gresy, Moscato d’Asti, La Serra, 2013

A gastro pub (or gastropub) specializes in high-quality food.  It is a relatively new concept, first occurring in London in 1991, and introduces the concept of fine dining in a very casual dining situation.  Think about going to your favorite sports bar and discover they are serving fine dining with a great wine list.

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Poultry & Pork Brine


Brining is my favorite way to make sure that both Poultry and Pork dishes stay moist and juicy.  I do this step whether I am roasting, pan frying, or smoking the meat.  The other thing that I pay close attention to is the internal temperature of the meat.

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Baked Apples with Golden Raisins, Pecans & Maple Cinnamon Sauce


My mother-in-law, Sarah, used to come for a visit and we would go to an apple orchard a few miles away and pick a bushel of apples. Our favorite dish to prepare  was stuffed, baked apples.  The whole house smelled divine like apple pie when we were baking   At the time I was a student in college and it was such a delight to pull a few of these out of the freezer and heat them up on a cold day after class when I was tired and needed a treat.

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