Each Thursday, a group meets at the winery for a couple hours of good wine, good food, and good company. As a winery employee, I was automatically initiated into the Port Club, which is made up of most residents from a nearby gated community. It’s a close-knit group of people, the kind of people you want on your side because if they like you, they will do just about anything for you...like take home boxes of dirty wine glasses to run through their dishwasher to save you from hand-washing them all, and bringing you plates of food while you’re working on a busy weekend.
Each week, the Port Club members bring home-cooked goodies to share over several bottles of good red wine. Sam is known for his chicken wing gumbo, peanut chicken lettuce wraps, almond cake, and pate (though, I have yet to try the pate). We’ve enjoyed Dan & Sharon’s pasta salad and Mexican layered dip. Ron & Gloria’s chicken salad, tomato bruschetta, and prosciuto-wrapped asparagus. We’ve eaten an array of cheeses, sausages, and crackers.
Cooking for the Port Club is a somewhat intimidating experience. These are good cooks, retirees who have all afternoon to prepare things like gumbo and pate. They relish their culinary creations, oohing & aahing over each bite, describing how it lingers on the tongue and discussing how it goes with different wines.
The first recipe I shared with the Port Club was my feta bruschetta, a mixture of roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, fresh rosemary, feta cheese, and olive oil that was eaten on sourdough baguette toasts. It went over well enough that I was encourage to share other recipes.
Last week, I made baba ghannouj, something I have never made before. After roasting a couple eggplants, squeezing out their squishy flesh, & blending it with garlic, lemon, sesame paste, and olive oil, the finished dip was delicious and had a nice smooth texture when it was still warm. Once chilled, however, it firmed up and lost its creamy spreadability. Sam was the only Port Clubber there that day, and I don’t think the cold, gelatinous goop impressed him at all.
I had to redeem myself this week, so I made the artichoke-stuffed bread I’ve been eyeing on Bake and Shake. The French loaf I bought was rather large, so I decided – at the last minute – to double the filling recipe to ensure that I had enough. So, I chopped up two cans of artichoke hearts, fried up 8 strips of bacon, sauteed an onion, then mixed it all with mayo, sour cream, cheddar, parmesan, garlic, oregano, & a few shakes of Tabasco. I spread this heart-stopping filling into the hollowed-out loaf, topped it with roma tomato slices, and baked it for 25 minutes. I placed the still-hot baking sheet on my passenger seat, then headed up to the winery.
Upon my arrival, I was poured a glass of Meeker Pink Elephant (a deep red rose with a dry but fruity taste) and the bread – crusty on the outside & creamy on the inside – was cut into pieces immediately. Oohs & aahs were uttered. The entire loaf was, much to my delight, devoured before the night was over.
Personally, I thought the filling was too much; it was so thick and rich. I thought that it would have been much better simply schmeared on the top of a sliced loaf before baking. So, when I got home that evening – feeling swirly from drinking glasses of a 1999 Meeker Petit Verdot, Hahn Cab Franc, Meeker Barberian, Meeker Petite Sirah, Meeker Carignane, a bubbly Bouvet, and Mackeson triple stout (which, by the way, is absolutely delightful with chocolate cake) – I had another go at the artichoke bread. I tore off a piece of the French bread top, the part I had sliced off of the original loaf, and topped it with a rather thin layer of the artichoke spread (note to self: there is no need to double the filling recipe, unless you want tons leftover...which might be tasty stirred into scrambled eggs in the morning). I baked it in the oven until the bread was crisp, then stuck it under the broiler until the top was browned and bubbling.