The other night, Chef Matt and I uncorked a bottle of wine from our trip to Napa Valley, one that we had been eyeing ever since I was able to imbibe again: a tempranillo from a family owned Sonoma winery, Robledo. It was gorgeous -- robust, full of dark fruit, with aromas reminiscent of some ancient Spanish vineyard where the grape was born.
It would have been fitting to pair such a fine wine with an equally fine appetizer as we made dinner, maybe roasted poquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, or a dense foccacia dipped in 10-year balsamic vinegar. At our house, however, it has become the norm to pair elegance with inelegance, so we saw nothing strange about sipping a beautiful red wine while munching on plain ruffled potato chips.
Like the person who buys a 900-square-foot plain Jane house and installs a professional gourmet kitchen, we inject bits and pieces of excellent into our menu of otherwise ordinary in an attempt to pretend that most of our meals don't originate in the Campbell's Soup Cookbook.
Our sad, tiny pieces of generic sandwich bread do not taste quite so dull when transformed by fancy homemade jams or gourmet slabs of cheese. Our elbow macaroni and marinara bakes taste a little less like a college meal when mixed with bits of steak and topped with Panko bread crumbs.
Even when we create elaborate meals with high-end ingredients, there is always an element of our Poor Man's Pantry that I want to casually eliminate when I am describing the dish, or at least mumble it quietly out the corner of my mouth: slow-cooked, pulled-pork stroganoff with sauteed kale and sweet cippolini onions and ... shhhh ... cream of mushroom soup. Or, smoked salmon and scrambled egg fajitas with fresh dill sour cream and ... don't tell anyone ... Imitation American Cheese Food.
Such motley cooking habits remind me vividly of a scene in the movie "Sideways," when the main character sits in a fast-food restaurant, eating onion rings and drinking the rare, perfect bottle of wine that he has been saving for the absolute right special occasion.
I think the lesson is that every occasion is the right one for luxurious foods, no matter what you see fit to pair it with. Drinking a rich tempranillo with potato chips may not be classy or a practice endorsed by celebrity chefs, but the reality is that most of us do not have the available funds or particular palates to support singularly ostentatious eating all the time. Saving a bottle of champagne or an expensive prime rib for just the right moment is a lovely idea, but sometimes it is more enjoyable and memorable to create that moment out of thin air, even if it means you have to add a little Imitation Cheese Food to make it happen.