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Wine and food pairings, and more, plus recipes for Valentine’s Day

Whether you’ve found a perfect match or you’re still searching, celebrate the day dedicated to love with food pairings made in heaven.

For Valentine’s Day we talked to local wine, chocolate, beer and nutrition experts to gather recommendations for culinary matches that just work better together.

Many of these pairings are wine and food combinations that can be easily picked up at the store. Others include a recipe and will require a little more work. Some will help you and your sweetheart stay on track with healthy eating goals. Others may sound downright strange.

Hallets Chocolates with Earl Grey tea

Chocolatier Kari Kane at Hallets Chocolates in Spokane likes to pair some of her family business’ handmade chocolates with cup of Earl Grey tea. Try Mighty Leaf Earl Grey Tea with one of Halletts dark chocolate Champagne truffles ($1.50/each) or a dark chocolate orange brandy truffle ($1.50/each). Stop into Halletts coffee house, 1007 E. Trent Ave., for an Earl Grey tea latte and one of those chocolates (or one of the amazing array they keep on hand).

Unibroue Quelque Chose with Dolfin Au Lait Chocolate

Here’s a pairing for those who are a bit more adventurous: Wine steward Drew Smith, with Spokane Wine Co. inside Huckleberry’s on the South Hill recommends warming the fruit beer and serving it hot with Dolfin Au Lait ($3.89) chocolate.

Smith says he tried the pairing at previous tasting at Huckleberry’s and tasters thought he was crazy when he pulled the warmed beer from pan and began pouring. The Quelque Chose ($15.99/750 ml) is a strong cherry ale brewed in Chambly, Canada. “It was spectacular.”

To warm the beer, open and place the beer in a saucepan partially filled with water. Smith will be trying more unusual beer and chocolate pairings Saturday afternoon during a tasting at the bistro inside Huckleberry’s. This time he’s making all of the chocolates himself. The tasting is $5 and will be held from 2-4 p.m.

Brachetto d’Acqui with Chocolove

Rocket Market wine steward Matt Dolan says you’re sure to send your tastebuds swooning with a sweet dessert wine from Italy paired with a chocolate bar that has fruit in it. Try a Banfi 2006 Rosa Regale ($21) and a bar of Chocolove Raspberries in Dark Chocolate. Or, maybe Chocolove’s Chilies and Cherries in Dark Chocolate, or Chocolove’s Cherries and Almonds in Dark Chocolate…

“There’s a love poem inside each bar and they are high quality and a great price. How can you go wrong with that?” he asks.

Cremeaux de Bourgogone with Champagne

Kate Allison, cheesemonger at Saunders Cheese Market, says any triple cream cheese will taste amazing with your favorite Champagne or sparkling wine. She especially likes Cremeux de Bourgogne ($27.99 per pound) with Bollinger Champagne ($49.99 and up) if you want to splurge. The soft-ripened cheese has cream added into the curd until it reaches 75 percent butter fat. It is very spreadable and can be served with a cracker of your choice. “(The cheese) is slightly salty and very luscious and that is why they pair so well with sparkling wine. It just cuts through the creaminess and the fat,” Allison says.

Saunders also offers small wheels of Brillat-Savarin ($12.99) or Mt. Tam ($20) triple cream cheeses. And if you want to keep the wine a little closer to home, Allison suggests a sparkling wine made in Spokane, Mountain Dome Vintage Brut or non-vintage sparkling wine.

Porter with Belgian Lambic

At Daanen’s Delicatessen in Hayden, Idaho, proprietor Mark Daanen says he likes to pair two different beers for a celebratory and romantic drink. Pour a fruit-infused Lindeman’s Belgian Lambic Framboise or Kriek ($11.95 for 750 ml) into a glass half filled with Black Boss Porter ($4.50/ 17-ounces). You can adjust the brew to taste by adding more porter or more lambic if you prefer. The chocolately nuances in the porter will work nicely with the raspberry flavor of the framboise or cherry flavor of the kriek, Daanen says.

Do-it-yourself pairings

Don’t let others have all the fun of discovering the perfect chocolate and wine pairing. Cost Plus World Market and many other stores carry chocolates that come with suggested wine pairings so you can taste and sip your way to your perfect combination. Pick up a box of Signature Chocolates, by Rena ($9.99), which includes 24 sample-sized chocolates with varying percentages of cacao. There are guidelines right inside the box: Pair the 31 percent cacao milk chocolate with a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Try the 55 percent cacao with a merlot or petit syrah. They suggest 61 percent semisweet chocolate with merlot or pinot noir. The bittersweet chocolate 72 percent cacao needs a bolder match.

Eric Parker, the store’s beverage department manager, suggests Brazin, Old Vine Zinfandel, from Lodi, Calif. ($16.99) to pair with the dark chocolates. The store also offers Brix, Chocolate for Wine ($8.99) that is designed for wine tastings. The large bricks must be cut into bite-sized pieces for tasting.

Whole grains with healthy fats

If bringing sweets home to your sweetheart would undermine his or her healthy eating goals, local dietitians have a couple of other ideas that will help keep you out of the doghouse on Valentine’s Day. Registered dietitian Joan Milton, of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, suggests whipping up a romantic dinner that pairs whole grains with healthy fats. She shared recipes for a Hazelnut Encrusted Halibut served with a Bulgur Pilaf (recipes follow).

Milton says most American’s don’t get enough whole grains in their diets and your body will thank you for the monounsaturated fats in the nuts and olive oil, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish.

Spinach with citrus

Registered dietitian Kara Werschler, of Northside Internal Medicine Associates/Columbia Medical Associates, added to the healthy dinner menu by suggesting spinach paired with citrus. Eating some foods together can assist with the absorption of important vitamins and minerals, Werschler says. One example is vitamin C and iron. Spinach and Citrus Salad with Sweet and Spicy Pecans from the Food Network fits the bill. Look for the recipe below.

Overbluff Cellars Siren Semillon with sautéed scallops

One of Spokane’s newest wineries, Overbluff Cellars, has a weekly newsletter with recipes and wine recommendations.

Owner and winemaker John Caudill recently recommended serving Pan Sautéed Scallops with Fresh Herb Pasta Salad and a Parsley Coulis. Serve with the Siren Semillon ($17.99) from Overbluff Cellars, 620 S. Washington St. The winery is normally open Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.

Overbluff wines are also sold at Huckleberry’s and it will be stocked at Rosauers on 29th Avenue starting Feb. 20.

Skylite Cellars Merlot with Pixie Dust Chocolate

Josh Wade, wine blogger and the owner of the new Nectar Tasting Room in downtown Spokane, suggests pairing red wine and chocolates for the perfect Valentine’s Day treat.

He suggests 2007 Skylight Cellars Merlot with a three pack of Pixie Dust Chocolates. The wine hails from Walla Walla and is one of the five wineries represented at the new tasting room at Main Avenue and Stevens Street. Customers can buy wine by the glass or bottle.

Pixie Dust Chocolates are made locally by Melissa Barnett, who taught herself how to make the chocolates. In addition to Nectar Tasting Room, the chocolates are also sold at The Chocolate Apothecary, Jackie Lynn’s Floral, Just Roses, The Basket Cases, Huckleberry’s, Rocket Market, Latah Creek, Simply Northwest and WineStyles.

The chocolates range in price from $3 for a single flavor to $24 for a 10-ounce sampler box.

Moscato d’Asti with huckleberry white chocolates

WineStyles marketing and events manager Colleen Pettit recommends pairing the flavors in an effervescent moscato d’asti with huckleberry white chocolate from Pixie Dust Chocolates.

Pettit likes Saracco Moscato d’Asti ($21.99) with the huckleberry white chocolates from Pixie Dust Chocolates.

“The wine just has the perfect amount of acidity to complement the chocolate … and the orange undertones really bring out the flavor of the huckleberries and the smoothness of the white chocolate,” Pettit says.

WineStyles is located at 8801 N. Indian Trail Road or reach the wine store at (509) 468-9463.

Coeur d’Alene Cellars Syrah with Blue Cheese and Honey

Sarah Gates, co-owner, artist and resident chef for Coeur d’Alene Cellars, says she likes to serve gorgonzola and other blue cheeses with crackers or baguette. She drizzles honey over the cheese on a cheese plate.

Gates serves them with any one of seven different syrahs that are made at Coeur d’Alene Cellars. Prices range from $20 to $40 each. The wines can be purchased at Huckleberry’s or Vino! A Wine Shop, in Spokane.

Gates shares many of her recipe ideas on the Coeur d’Alene Cellars web site at Click on Culinarea for recipes that each have pairing suggestions included. If you’d like to serve a red-themed dinner for Valentine’s Day, Gates suggests the Walnut Red Pepper Dip, Beet Soup with Potatoes and Carrots, Tenderloin Steaks with Red Onion Marmalade and finish with Rhubarb Cheesecake.

Coeur d’Alene Cellars is CDA Cellars is at 3890 N. Schreiber Way, or the Barrel Room No. 6 tasting room in downtown Coeur d’Alene is at 503 E. Sherman Way.

Champagne or Muscadet with Oysters on the Half Shell

At Vino! A Wine Shop, Terry Knight says she likes to suggest serving 2004 Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blanc Champagne ($55) caviar or oysters on the half shell (especially Kumamoto) sushi or even popcorn.

Another pairing to try, she says, is the less expensive 2009 Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet ($11.95) with oysters on the half shell or King crab legs.

Vino! is located at 222 S. Washington St. in Spokane.

Dry Fly Vodka with Cranberry Juice

Don Poffenroth says with spirits, drinkers at the distillery like to celebrate by combining Dry Fly Vodka ($35) with cranberry. “We call it a PMD, or Pink Manly Drink,” he says.

Simply vodka with a splash of cranberry, the drink is refreshing with the appropriate Valentine’s Day hue.

Find the Dry Fly Distillery at 1003 E. Trent Ave., No. 200. Or, call (509) 489-2112.

Hazelnut Encrusted Halibut

From Joan Milton, registered dietitian Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center

1/3 cup filberts or hazelnuts

1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1 egg

14 ounces Atlantic or Pacific halibut fillets

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Pulse the filberts or hazelnuts and breadcrumbs in a food processor until finely ground, but not ground into a paste. Pour into a shallow dish.

Mix egg with 2 tablespoons water and pour into a shallow bowl. Dip the halibut in egg mixture to coat.

Gently press halibut fillets into the nut mixture to coat both sides and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Place the halibut fillets into the skillet and cook until the halibut begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn fillets over, transfer to the oven and bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 5 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 271 calories, 16 grams fat (2 grams saturated, 53 percent fat calories), 25 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrate, 85 milligrams cholesterol, 1.4 grams dietary fiber, 203 milligrams sodium.

Bulgur Wheat Pilaf

From Joan Milton, registered dietitian Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center

2 cups dry bulgur

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

8 celery stalks

1/4 cup ground flax seed

4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons poultry seasoning

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries

1 ounce dried walnuts

Rinse bulgur in strainer, drain. Heat oil in nonstick skillet; sauté onion and celery for 2-3 minutes. Add bulgur wheat and flax seed and sauté for 3 minutes more. Add broth and poultry seasoning and heat to a boil. Reduce heat, add sweetened cranberries, cover and simmer for 10-20 minutes. Add walnuts and serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Approximate nutrition per 1/2 cup serving : 227 calories, 7 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated, 28 percent fat calories), 7 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 9 grams dietary fiber, 69 milligrams sodium.

Spinach and Citrus Salad with Sweet and Spicy Pecans

Recipe courtesy Melissa d’Arabian,

3 cups fresh spinach, washed and dried, cut into chiffonade

2 green onions, chopped

1 orange, segmented and halved

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Citrus Dressing:

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons orange or grapefruit juice (or a combination)

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the spinach and green onions in large salad bowl and sprinkle with the halved citrus segments.

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, add the butter and sugar and stir until the butter is melted. Add the pecans and toss until the pecans begin to brown. Stir in the rosemary and cayenne and stir just a few seconds to release the aroma. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Sprinkle the pecans on the salad while still warm.

To make the citrus dressing, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until emulsified.

Drizzle over salads and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Pan Sautéed Scallops with Fresh Herb Pasta Salad and Parsley Coulis

From the Overbluff Cellars newsletter, recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 bunches parsley, stems picked

1/4 white wine

12 sea scallops

Essence, recipe follows

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped fresh mild herbs (basil, chervil, tarragon, parsley)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

8 ounces fresh angel hair pasta, cooked, shocked and tossed in olive oil

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

For the Essence (Emeril’s Creole Seasoning):

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

In a sauce pan, bring the chicken stock up to a boil. Remove from the heat. Pour into a blender along with the parsley and white wine. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Combine all of the ingredients for the Essence and season the scallops with it.

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sauté the scallops for 2 minutes on each side. (The scallops should have a nice golden brown sear on each side – the oil must be almost smoking.) Remove from the pan.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the herbs and extra-virgin olive oil together.

Add the garlic. Toss the pasta with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the coulis in the center of the plate. Mound the pasta salad in the center of the sauce. Arrange the scallops around the salad. Garnish with the cheese, and parsley.

Yield: 4 servings