I don't know if my French ancestors are to blame, but for me, a paddling trip (or any trip, actually) without good wine in my dry bag seems pale, bland and boring. Not that I need the high that alcohol provides to feel better. It's just that to me wine has always been closely linked to every special meal or occasion. In my culture, wine is not something you should fear, but rather part of a normal food and beverages arsenal. It's part of a meal. I've always consumed wine in moderation say one or two glasses, two to three times a week.
Wine as a flavor enhancer
But I really enjoy cooking with wine because it brings the sensual and cultural experience of wine sipping in good company to a whole new level of amazing flavors. And it's not because you're camping or staying in a rustic chalet during a paddling excursion that it makes it harder to use wine in your portable kitchen. Simply consider wine as one of the most efficient ingredients to transform an ordinary dish into something extraordinary. And don't worry about exceeding a health-conscious consumption: any wine or spirit that's been heated long enough (5 minutes or more) loses its alcohol content.
It's easy to add wine into many dishes without making any change to your favorite recipe. For instance, try adding half a cup of the same red wine you will drink to your spaghetti meat sauce and you'll never want to go without it any more. Ditto with minestrone soup: add one cup of dry red wine to the beef broth: mama mia! The reason for that sexy zest is that wine can be seen as a fabulous and natural flavor and aroma enhancer. It's often even more effective than salt and it complements herbs and pepper perfectly. You have a nice family recipe of chicken thighs in a creamy white sauce that comes from granny? Replace half a cup of the liquid you use for the sauce with a good quality dry white wine, complete with a pinch of fresh tarragon just before serving and your family will thank you forever because this classic dish will then be infused with new refinement.
Marinade and dressing
Another interesting and very easy way to cook with wine is to use it as a salad dressing or as the basis for marinating replacing lemon juice or vinegar. One of the reasons most chefs often use wine instead of those acidic ingredients is because it makes it much easier once the dish is served to marry it with a good wine without killing the bouquet of the precious beverage. Wine doesn't like citruses or vinegar because they are too strong. They tend to overpower the tannins in a red and the acidity of a white.
When you make a dressing, try this simple basic recipe: add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons red or white wine (depending on the dish you're serving) salt, pepper, fresh or dry tarragon and parsley or marjoram, a clove of crushed garlic if you like. Add 6 tablespoons of a good olive oil and mix well with a fork until smooth and well blended. You can serve this vinaigrette in a salad, as a sauce (hot or cold) or as a marinade.
On the first day of a paddling trip, if you carry the appropriate cooling equipment, you can store beef, pork, venison, chicken or tofu pieces in an airtight container. Then pour some of this marinade on the meat (make it with red wine) and store in a cooler filled with icepaks. At night, when the camp is set and it's time to cook dinner, just pat-dry your marinated meat and grill it quickly in a frying pan; then keep it warm while you boil the remaining marinade for 5 minutes over high heat to use as a delicious sauce. If you're an angler and like to fish for your nightly meal, cooking with wine is even easier. Start by cooking your fish or seafood in a frying pan with a bit of oil or butter, then keep warm on a plate. Next, pour half a cup to one cup of dry white wine in the pan and deglaze for about five minutes to get a delicious sauce that's infused with the fish-seafood taste and with the wine aromas. A touch of butter at the last minute, and voilà! You've got a sumptuous French cuisine-inspired sauce in no time that's one of the most useful secrets great chefs use in their kitchen every day.
Cheese and wine go hand in hand
For an easy cheese fondue that's mouth watering, simply pour one tablespoon of butter or olive oil in a pot, add two tablespoons of all-purpose unbleached flour, mix well over medium heat. Add one cup of dry white wine. Bring to a boil, add two to three cups of your favorite grated cheese, such as old cheddar or gruyere, and keep mixing until it melts and makes bubbles. Dip in raw mushrooms and broccoli bouquets along with whole wheat bread cubes for a quick and filling meal.
Another favorite camp cooking recipe of mine that's making good use of wine is a simplified version of the classic French onion soup. For a sturdy soup for four, chop 2 to 3 large onions thinly, crush two cloves of garlic. In a large pot, sauté the onions in olive oil until almost translucent, add garlic, one cup of red wine, 2 tablespoons of parsley, salt and pepper to taste and two cups of beef or vegetable broth made with cubes. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 5 more minutes. Cut four large slices of whole grain bread (they can be toasted if you like) and place them in the bottom of four serving bowls. Add one tablespoon of real bacon bits and four tablespoons of grated cheese. Then add the onions and finish with the wine broth. Of course, the melting cheese won't make a nice, crisp golden crust, but I can guarantee that the added flavor that wine brings will compensate.
Wine for dessert
For dessert, try this: bring one cup of dry red wine to a boil with 1 / 2 cup of sugar and one stick of cinnamon. Lower heat and poach 4 fresh pears, plums or peaches cut in half in the liquid for about half an hour. Remove the fruits from the wine syrup, pat dry. Serve with two tablespoons of fudge sauce and some toasted almonds.
You can also make a nice dry fruit compote by mixing dry cranberries and apricots with a few tablespoons of white wine and a bit of sugar. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes and serve with vanilla or plain yogurt.
Enjoy, and remember: drink and cook responsibly!