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Throwing a Dinner Party Like Gail Simmons

You might know the food writer Gail Simmons from her role as a judge on TV's Top Chef, but as the Estancia Winery Ambassador she's paired five party-worthy recipes with wines to match. Cheers!

Courtesy Estancia Winery

Red Wine-Braised Chicken Thighs with Celery Root, Pearl Onions and Dates over Herbed Israeli Couscous

Paired with Estancia Monterey County Chardonnay or Estancia Monterey County Pinot Noir

Serves 4-6

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2 3/4 pounds total)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound pearl onions, peeled
6 thyme sprigs
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup pitted dates, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups pearl couscous (sometimes called Israeli couscous)
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley plus more for garnish

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. In a large Dutch oven or wide heavy pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add half of the chicken to pan skin side down; cook, turning once, until browned, 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Brown remaining chicken. Add celery root, onions and thyme to pan; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add broth; bring to a boil. Nestle chicken between vegetables. Transfer pan to oven and braise chicken uncovered, 15 minutes. Stir in dates and continue braising until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes more.

Meanwhile, prepare couscous. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add couscous and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain couscous; transfer to a large bowl. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons oil, chives, parsley and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Adjust seasoning to taste. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and vegetables to serving plates. Serve with couscous and a spoonful or two of the chicken pan juices, garnished with parsley.

Courtesy Estancia Winery

Grilled Corn & Zucchini Quesadillas with Scallions, Cilantro and Pepperjack Cheese

Paired with Estancia Monterey County Chardonnay

Serves 4

1 ear of corn, shucked

Canola oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium zucchini, sliced on the sharp diagonal 1/8-inch thick (16 slices)
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup shredded Pepperjack cheese
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on diagonal (1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro plus more for garnish

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Rub corn with oil and season with salt and pepper; grill, turning, until lightly charred all over, 6 to 8 minutes total. Let cool slightly, then cut the kernels off cob.

Brush zucchini with oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender, about 3 minutes per side. Lay tortillas on a work surface. Leaving a 3/4-inch border, top evenly with cheese, corn, zucchini, scallions and cilantro then fold each tortilla over to form half moons. Grill quesadillas until cheese is melted, turning once, 5 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board; cut into wedges. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot.

Courtesy Estancia Winery

Pancetta & Rosemary-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Braised Red Cabbage

Paired with Estancia Monterey County Pinot Noir

Serves 4

2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped rosemary
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 (1 to 1 1/4 pound) pork tenderloins
6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (10 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sugar
Special equipment: 12 pieces kitchen string, each about 12 inches long

Preheat oven to 325ºF with rack in middle.

On a cutting board, finely chop together garlic and rosemary; transfer to a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; stir to combine.

With a paring knife, make 12 (1/8-inch-deep) X-shaped incisions all over each pork loin and stuff with about 3/4 of the herb mixture. Rub loins with remaining mixture. Wrap loins with pancetta (do not overlap slices). Tie securely at 1-inch intervals with kitchen string, then snip ends of string.

In a 12-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add pork, reduce heat to medium and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned all over, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and roast pork until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat registers 140ºF, 18 to 30 minutes, depending on thickness of loins. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest while you prepare cabbage.

In a Dutch oven or wide heavy pot with lid, heat remaining 1/4 cup oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add cabbage and cook over medium heat, stirring, until cabbage is wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender, 12 to 15 minutes more.

Remove from heat; stir in vinegar, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and generous pinch pepper. Adjust seasoning to taste. Snip and discard strings from pork, then slice. Serve with cabbage.

Courtesy Estancia Winery

Watercress & Goat Cheese Salad with Green Apple and Toasted Nuts and Honey Vinegrette

Paired with Estancia Monterey County Chardonnay

Serves 4

1/3 cup almonds or hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches watercress, tough stems removed
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
3 ounces mild goat cheese, crumbled

In a small skillet, toast nuts over medium heat, watching closely and shaking pan evenly, until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice and honey; in a slow and steady stream, whisk in oil. Season with generous pinch salt and pepper. Add watercress, apple and nuts; toss to coat.

Courtesy Estancia Winery

Chocolate-Cherry Bread Pudding

Paired with Estancia Monterey County Pinot Noir

Serves 8-10

1 pound brioche or challah, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 12 cups)
1 cup dried tart cherries
8 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for greasing pan
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3Ž4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread brioche on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, stirring once or twice, until lightly golden and dry, about 15 minutes. Place cherries in a small bowl. Bring 1 cup water to a boil, then pour over cherries to plump; set aside.

Place chopped dark chocolate in a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Whisk in milk and granulated sugar; heat just to a simmer, then pour over chocolate. Let rest 5 minutes, then stir together until smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla; add to chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Add brioche; toss to coat well. Let stand 15 minutes to allow brioche to absorb custard. Drain cherries, then add to brioche mixture with chocolate chunks; gently stir to combine.

Grease a 9-by-11-inch baking dish with butter. Pour brioche mixture into dish, then sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake bread pudding until set, about 50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve warm, with ice cream, if desired.

Note: Bread pudding can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated, covered. Reheat in oven at low temperature before serving.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest