A Merlot Tasting Dinner to Celebrate Columbia Crest’s Mobile Site Launch

by Kelly on August 29, 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s not everyday that I get to cook for my family so it was a fluke that I got to cook not just one but to two big meals for my family.  In addition to being selected to cook a meal with Alaska seafood I was also chosen by Foodbuzz to cook one up to celebrate the launch of Columbia Crest’s Cork & Fork mobile site.  Usually these opportunities only come across every few months so the fact that I had two in one week is definitely not normal.  Basically, the site has complete menus focused on different varietals, recipes by Bobby Flay and entertaining tips.  I find the latter to be especially helpful because I admittedly am not the greatest of hostesses.  I don’t think that just because you are a good cook you will necessarily be a good hostess.  There is just so much more to think about!  My personal favorite tip is to disguise a bottle of wine inside a paper bag and have guests try to guess what it is.  I love that it’s a grownup take on a party game.

For my party I decided to take Bobby Flay’s Merlot-centric menu and give it a twist.  Instead of making his recipes verbatim I thought it would be fun to take the main ingredients for each course – lobster, salmon, and apple and put my own twist on them.


Tomatoes in a Glass PitcherFor my first course, I went with a Lobster, Sweet Corn and Tomato Panzanella.  If you are not familiar with panzanella it is basically an Italian bread salad, usually a way to ensure nothing goes to waste by using stale bread.  I’ve been making it about once a summer and this year, I’ve craved it since Maris made it.  However, I wanted to wait until I could prepare it with my homegrown tomatoes.  (I’m up to 5 1/2 pounds harvested this season so far, incase you are counting.)  Mine combines stale baguette cubes with halved Sun Gold tomatoes, sweet onion, basil, corn, and a little lobster for a touch of elegance.  Dressed lightly in olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, and a little salt and pepper, it perfectly captured the season.  It’s also a great way to serve up lobster because a little goes a long way.


The main dish was a Pan-Roasted Salmon with Shiitake Mushrooms.  I had originally planned for a grilled main dish, but with a cooler turn in the weather roasting seemed more appropriate.  Adapted from a recipe in The White Dog Cafe Cookbook, it’s a dish that looks impressive, but is actually easy to make.  Shiitake mushrooms are laid on a pan and then covered with salmon fillets before roasting in the oven.  The fish is then served with a Merlot-Rosemary Butter, which plays up the meal’s focus on merlot.  I loved this dish because the savoriness of the mushrooms and the richness of the wine went perfectly with the salmon and using the Merlot in the butter was a great way to pair the dish perfectly with what we were sipping.


P8167826And for the final ingredient, apple, it became Apple Cupcakes with a Dulce de Leche Filling and Cream Cheese Icing for dessert.  I discovered the recipe on The Sweetest Kitchen who adapted it from Baking Bites.  If you’ve ever wanted to make apple cupcakes but shied away out of fear they would taste too much like a muffin, these will convince you.  The supple cake, tasting cleanly of apple, pairs nicely with the sweet and caramely dulce de leche and rich cream cheese frosting.

Overall it was an enjoyable dinner.  My family thought the meal was perfect for enjoying with Merlot and great for celebrating a beautiful summer night.

Lobster, Sweet Corn and Tomato Panzanella
Adapted from Plating Up.
Serves 4-6

-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
-Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste, plus more for salting onions
-1/2 cup chopped sweet onions
-3 cups Sun Gold tomatoes, halved
-3 cups stale cuped baguette
-1 cup cooked sweet corn
-1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
-8 ounces cooked lobster


Make the balsamic vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the chopped onion on a plate and cover liberally with salt. This will remove the sharpness from the onions so they are more pleasant to eat raw. Set aside for 15 to 30 minutes. Rinse onions and combine with vinaigrette and remaining ingredients. Toss well to coat and set aside for 30 minutes before serving.

Pan-Roasted Salmon with Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 6


-1 cup Merlot
-¼ cup minced shallots
-2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
-½ teaspoon salt
-½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
-½ lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
-8 ounce shiitake mushrooms, sliced and any woody bits removed
-1 24-ounce salmon fillet


Prepare the Merlot-Rosemary Butter by combining the wine and shallots in a small, nonreactive saucepan set over high heat. Boil to reduce the mixture until the wine is almost evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Combine the wine and shallot reduction, rosemary, salt, pepper, allspice, and butter in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork or wooden spoon until evenly combined.

Shape the butter into a log 2 inches in diameter and roll up in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 2 months. Slice for serving.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Oil a baking sheet.

Arrange the mushrooms, in a row on the baking sheet. Make sure their edges touch slightly. Season a salmon fillet with salt and pepper, set it, rounded side down, on the mushrooms.

Roast on the bottom rack of the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or 6 to 8 minutes, if you like your fish less well done.

After roasting, the mushrooms should adhere to the bottom of the fish; carefully slide a metal spatula under them and remove the fish from the baking sheet, cutting into 6 slices.

Serve the fillets mushroom sides up. Top with a few slices of the prepared butter.

Apple Cupcakes
Adapted from The Sweetest Kitchen
Makes 12 cupcakes

-3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-1/4 cup brown sugar
-1 large egg, room temperature
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
-3/4 cup apple butter
-1 cup, packed, grated granny smith apples


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, followed by vanilla extract.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Add one third of this mixture to the butter mixture, stirring to incorporate, followed by half of the apple butter. Repeat with the rest of the flour and apple butter and mix only until no streaks of flour remain in the batter. Fold in diced apples. Divide evenly into prepared muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the muffins spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

When cooled completely, fill cupcakes with dulce de leche (recipe follows). Frost with cream cheese frosting (recipe follows).

Dulce De Leche
Adapted from The Sweetest Kitchen
Makes enough to fill cupcakes plus about 1/4 cup leftover

-1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
-Boiling water


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Open up the can and pour the sweetened-condensed milk into a pie pan. Cover tightly with foil. Place into a larger pan and pour boiling water in larger pan & around pie plate (level of water should be about halfway up the pie plate). Don’t let any water seep up and into the pie plate.

Place in oven and bake for 1 hour. At the one hour point, peel off foil and check for progress. If the mixture has thickened and turned a caramelly color, it’s done. If it doesn’t quite look thick enough or dark enough, cover it up and bake it a little longer (mine took 75 minutes).

When the mixture appears to have turned into a nice, thick caramel, remove from the oven. Let sit for a few minutes, and then beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from The Sweetest Kitchen

-1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces
-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
-3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
-2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar


In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate icing for 2 to 3 hours, but no longer, to thicken before using. Frost cupcakes and then serve.

*Note: I received a stipend for posting this meal that I used to buy the lovely ingredients to make it happen. However the opinions and ideas here are my own.

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Mary August 30, 2010 at 11:57 am

What a fantastic meal. I found your salmon especially appealing. I love to visit here. There is always something delicious to see or hear. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings…Mary


Mo@MommyRd August 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm

OMG…I could lick the screen right now. I especially want to make that salmon. Anything with shitake mushrooms pretty much gets my vote. Your family is lucky to have had such a wonderful meal and wonderful hostess!


Kelly August 30, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Mary – Thank you, it was pretty tasty and so simple. I’m now obsessed with the idea of using mushrooms to make a crust.

Mo@MommyRD – I’m in the same place. It surprises me to remember that I ever was in a place where I didn’t like mushrooms.


Sues August 30, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I love the idea of a merlot-centric dinner. And those cupcakes look out of this world!! OK, really? Everything does!!


The Duo Dishes August 31, 2010 at 12:20 am

Congrats on nabbing both of those! The lobster panzanella sounds perfect, perfect, perfect. Especially for this time of year.


Joanne August 31, 2010 at 7:27 am

I really love themed dinners! They are just so much fun. I appoint myself invited to your next one, as all of these sound delicious!


Shannon August 31, 2010 at 9:14 am

wow, what a meal! drooling over those cupcakes 🙂 and that a bounty of tomatoes, you lucky girl!


5 Star Foodie August 31, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Congratulations – what a fabulous meal! Everything here is superb!


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