Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Salad Fetish

My friends tease me about loving citrus in my salads. (I know I know - "what's wrong with your friends that they think that's so weird?" you're asking. J)

But I do love citrus in salads, and it makes the winter months as lovely a salad season as is summer, in my book.

Here is a simple, delicious salad of organic spinach, yellow bell pepper, English cucumber, green onion, and a blood orange (from my friend Marcia's tree).

I dressed it with a simple vinaigrette of Meyer lemon juice and a rich flavored olive oil from Figone's (Sonoma County residents - check them out!). Some black pepper and a tiny pinch of sea salt.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Beautiful Side Dishes

Readers may remember that I love to cook from Joanne Harris’ and Fran Warde’s cookbook, The French Market. If I ever come close to cooking every recipe in a particular cookbook, this may be the one I'll choose. (I won't do it in a year, and I won't blog about it.) I've made a number of dishes from this book: I love the Poulet Chausseur (a sort of French Cacciatore), the Chèvre aux Figues, which always gets rave reviews when I bring it to gatherings, and the wonderful and homey Lentilles du Puy, which I've posted about before.

The book contains wonderful side dish recipes for all seasons. As all manner of greens are beautiful in my area this time of year, I elected to try the Bettes du Vigneron, or Vineyard-Style Swiss Chard.

This recipe calls for Swiss Chard, a sliced onion, garlic, raisins, toasted pine nuts, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper. So I assembled my ingredients. I toasted the pine nuts, gathered some raisins, a Meyer lemon, and sea salt.

I washed and chopped my Chard.

I sliced my onion (I chose a red onion - I thought its sharpness would be great with the other flavors), and sautéed it with the chard stems. When they were soft, I added the chard leaves, the minced garlic, and some salt and pepper. I upped the heat a bit and sautéed them just till the leaves were softened. Then I added the raisins and pine nuts, sprinkled on the lemon juice, and mixed it all up.

Wow! The slight bitterness of the chard, the sweetness of the raisins, the sharpness of the onions and lemon and the nutty crunch of the pine nuts were such a lovely flavor combination! So much better than the quick sauté in oil and garlic that I usually do with chard!

I suppose one would normally serve a vegetable like chard with a white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc. However, I think that the addition of the raisins and onions provides opportunity for fuller bodied whites - perhaps a Viognier - or a light bodied red. Quite delicious!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Winery Adventure: Special New Year's Edition!

Readers will (or perhaps won't :) remember that Mock Turtle and I have a long-standing New Year's tradition of visiting a new wine region, tasting, and generally having fun bringing in the New Year together. This year was no exception, and on New Year's Day we headed up to Healdsburg, CA at the edge of Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley appellation to see how many tasting rooms we could find open.

We quickly gave up on the wineries outside of town, and parked near the little Healdsburg Plaza to walk around and see what we could find. We wandered into Thumbprint Cellars - an elegant, art-filled tasting room that was a perfect setting for tasting some lovely wines. The 2009 Reisling and Viognier were each floral, dry and pleasant, although I think I would have enjoyed a little crisper acidity in each of them. I particularly enjoyed the 2008 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. It had a cherry nose, with notes of red currant, tobacco and cocoa powder. I loved the balance.

We also tasted the 2007 Alexancer Valley Syrah, with a velvety mouth feel and notes of cassis and dried cherries, the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel with flavors of black cherry, nutmeg and chocolate covered blueberries, and the 2007 Alexander Valley Cabernet, with an earthy nose and notes of cassis, blueberry and dark chocolate.

The folks at Thumbprint sent us down to Camellia Cellars, where we got a chance to taste some older wines. The 2001 Sangiovese had an earthy nose with notes of tobacco and cherry. The 2006 Zinfandel had notes of black cherry and cassis with some black pepper, and I thought it would pear nicely with a bolognese sauce. The 2002 Cab was very smooth, with notes of mushrooms, cassis, cocoa in the finish. I wanted a pot roast with it. My favorite was the 2002 Diamo Grazie, a blend of Sangiovese, Cab, Cab Franc and Petit Sirah - a very nicely balanced wine with notes of cigar box and currant. If you visit, say hi to Brett!

Longboard Vineyards was a great find. I loved every wine we tasted, and plan to return with friends. With seven wines to taste, I'll just hit the highlights: The 2008 Chardonnay was the standout of the whites. This was a beautiful wine, richly flavored yet only lightly oaked with just a bit of butter and hints of pie spice in the finish. We also loved the 2008 Dakine Merlot, composed of 82% Merlot and 18% Malbec. I really tasted the Malbec - it lent lots of "blue" notes, and the wine was spicy and balanced. We wanted to pair it with smoked turkey!

We had the added plus of being able to chat at length with winemaker Oded Shakked as he poured for us. He told us about his love of Syrah and his desire to build more of a Syrah following in Sonoma County. I think he has a good shot at it, in light of how lovely the two Syrahs we tasted were! The 2006 Russian River Dakine Vineyard Syrah (90% Syrah, the rest a blend of Rhone varietals that I didn't write down) had a mushroomy nose, notes of blueberry and cedar, with black pepper and some sort of baking spice that I don't bake enough to be able to discern. We wanted a big steak with it! The 2006 Sonoma Coast Rodger's Creek Syrah had a deeper color and darker fruit than the Dakine - earthy, spicy, velvety with notes of cigar box, blackberry and a hint of custard in the finish. Beautiful!

Go visit Longboard. And say hello to Oded!

Last stop of the day was Topel Winery. Once again, there were a large number of wines to taste, so I'll just mention my favorites. I particularly enjoyed the 2007 St. Helena Battuello Vineyard Cabernet with notes of leather and dried cherries. It was just released, an I'd like to go back to see how it develops. Another favorite was the 2006 Le Mariage bordeaux blend - it had a soft mouth feel with notes of blackberry and black pepper. Quite lovely. Interesting honorable mention goes to the 2006 Topel Estate Syrah Noir (a Syrah clone), with lots of black fruit, blueberry, white pepper and a hint of chocolate.

MT and I rounded out our tasting weekend with one more stop the next day to Audelssa, very close to my home. The tasting room was elegant and uncrowded, providing lots of opportunity for conversation, and the wines were lovely as well. Here are the highlights: First was the 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay with a tropical fruit nose, and hints of citrus, white peach, pineapple, and a custard finish. Nice acidity, very nicely balanced. Then came the 2007 Zephyr - a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) with notes of black cherry, leather, cassis, plum and cocoa in the finish. This was a big favorite! The 2007 Alder Springs Merlot had hints of black cherry, plum and mocha, and I wanted to serve a beef roast with it. The 2007 Tempest was beautiful, 95% Syrah, earthy, spicy, notes of pepper and cassis. Finally, the 2007 Reserve Cabernet was lovely, smooth and balanced with notes of leather and candied cherries. We loved these wines, and I look forward to returning. If you visit, say hello to Andy!

That's the report from this year's New Years Wine Weekend! Some great finds here in Sonoma County!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Civet Poop Coffee!

My culinary student and former barista nephew Joel slipped a fun present into my Christmas stocking this year. (For those of you who are now crushed because you were laboring under the delusion belief that only Santa fills stockings, my sincerest apologies.)

It was this!

Famed as one of the most prized and expensive coffees in the world, Kopi Luwak is produced in Indonesia. The coffee berries are eaten by the Asian Palm Civet (an adorable little animal), pooped out, gathered, cleaned, roasted, and the resultant coffee is flavorful and reputedly less bitter than other coffees.

Who knew? I didn't know, but my nephew did, and he was insistent upon tasting the coffee with me.

So off we marched to the kitchen to brew a pot and try it out. Joel's mom wasn't exactly thrilled about the idea of any coffee having to do with poop coming anywhere near her coffee maker, so we brewed it in the French Press - which was much more fun anyway.

As you'll see, we boiled the water, filled the press with coffee, added the water, and waited.

After the appropriate wait time, we pressed the coffee and tried it out!

Well what was the verdict? My nephew and I both wished we'd made the coffee a bit stronger. But that said, it was very smooth, very flavorful, with no bitterness at all. Two thumbs up!

And yes, it smells like coffee - it doesn't smell like poop!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Sans Microwave

So when did you buy your first microwave oven? I’m sitting here trying to remember, but can’t quite. I’ve been going through each of my apartments in my mind over the last several years, trying to recall in which dwelling I can “see” a microwave sitting on the counter. It appears in my memory sometime in the ‘90s, although I can’t pinpoint the year.

Never mind. Leaving aside the trip down memory lane, let’s just say that like most people, I’ve probably owned a microwave oven pretty steadily for somewhere between 10 and 15 years.

And now I don’t!

I was rarely one to cook entire meals in my microwave oven. However I had been accustomed to using one daily, whether to boil water, defrost frozen foods (if I was in a pinch), or to quickly heat up leftovers. Ever since I bought my first microwave oven, it has been a standard kitchen appliance, seemingly as necessary as my coffee pot.

However now, lovely though my new kitchen is, I don’t have room for one. Counter space is at a premium and I’m unwilling to relinquish an inch of it to a microwave. And I suppose I could buy a small stand for one, as I have done in the past. But floor space is limited as well, and I’m loath to make my kitchen feel any more cramped than it already does.

So I’m living without one, and you know what? I’m managing just fine! I’ve reverted to using the same methods I used before microwaves were inexpensive enough to own and I bought my first one - whenever that was!

I boil water (infrequently as a matter of fact, not being a tea drinker) in a pan on the stove (no, I don’t have a teapot either – note the non-tea-drinking thing). I defrost food the old fashioned way – time. And I heat up leftovers in the oven, or in my Creuset saucepan on the stovetop, covered with a bit of liquid (stovetop is faster, I find). It takes a bit more time. I have to plan ahead a bit – leftovers aren't hot in 2 minutes; it takes more like 10-15, depending on the food item.

I'm a bit surprised to find I’m not missing that microwave, and I have no plans to buy one in the near future!

I feel like a pioneer or something. You know, a homesteader. Stage coaches and what not. I think my family thinks I’m a bit nuts (as if they needed another reason :)

And I’m feeling a bit smug about it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Planting Party & Wine Tasting

As I have reported in the past, CornerStone in Sonoma is a fun collection of gardens, wine tasting rooms and shops focused on design. An added plus is the frequent community events they host, such as this weekend's Fall Planting Party.

So I showed up looking forward to creating a pot full of bulbs that will brighten up the little balcony of my new home! The event featured a lovely (and well priced!) selection of bulbs, planting pots, and CornerStone's own horticulturist, Dawn who assisted participants in creating our own pots full of bulbs that will bloom from late winter through spring, year after year.

So I headed off to visit my friend Tom at Potter Green & Co., and selected a beautiful celadon colored pot for my bulbs, plus some worm casings for fertilizer. Then I came to the Planting area.

I selected a variety of bulbs - some narcissus, some tulips, some crocuses and muscari and anenomes - and brought them over to a work table to build my planter.

I added rocks on the bottom, soil and fertilizer, and a row of the tallest growing bulbs, some more soil and the shorter bulbs, and then topped the planter of with some violas, since I wanted the instant gratification of Color Right Now. Here is the end result!

But no visit to CornerStone is complete without wine tasting, and the Fall Planting event included complimentary tastings. How great is that? So my first stop was Meadowcroft tasting room, a relatively new addition pouring a selection of wine labels under Meadowcroft's ownership.

I got two free samples, and selected the 2009 Thomas Henry Verdelho, as it was unfamiliar to me. Verdelho is a varietal from Portugal, and this one was grown in Lodi (Borden Ranch AVA). It was floral in the nose, with notes of white peach and a pleasant though not exactly crisp acidity, and I found it quite enjoyable. I also tasted the 2006 Magito Cabernet Blend, with grapes from Chalk Hill and Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. It contained 60% Cab, 20% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc, had a jammy nose, Big Black Cherry flavor and some cassis in the finish. Very nice!

My next stop was the Keating Wines tasting room, also a relatively new addition.

I really enjoyed these wines! First I tasted a 2008 Sonoma Valley Merlot, with a berry nose and notes of red and black cherry and rasberry. I found it young, and dare I say it, a little thin. However, the 2006 Rockpile Malbec was much more impressive - very soft with cherry and blueberry notes. Better still was the 2007 Rockpile Petite Sirah - a rich wine with notes of blackberry, black cherry and cassis. My server John and I thought it would pair beautifully with grilled tri-tip.

Last were two cabs. The recently released 2008 Montecillo Cab was a bit young and tight, with some red current notes. I am curious to see how this wine will develop as it ages. However, I really enjoyed the 2008 Napa Beckstoffer Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon - a 100% cab sourced from the Rutherford appellation which officially hasn't even been released yet. A lovely claret color, an herbaceous nose with hints of eucalyptus, and notes of red current. I really loved this wine, and savored sipping it while I chatted with my server about things to expect from this year's challenging vintage.

All in all, a very enjoyable afternoon of planting, sipping and chatting with friendly folks! And here is the end result of my adventure on my little balcony.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zion 2010 Report: Camping, Foodie Style!

Now, it is certainly understandable that we didn't get great shots of the good cooking (or reheating of prior good cooking) and good drinking that went on in our homey little Zion campsite, because by the time we were cooking it was pitch dark.

                                                                (Photo by Cindy Powers)

But how could it happen that five women and five cameras didn't snap a single shot of the communal campsite where all the cooking and imbibing occurred? Shocking but true. Ah well. Trust me; it was a lovely home away from home :) Here is the secondary campsite. Nice view, eh?

                                                               (Photo by Cindy Powers)

So I'll just have to scatter Other Fun Photos around while I describe our fine dining. Could be worse :)

The first night, our bartender Desert Deb created cocktails for us that she labeled Flirtinis, while we set up camp and prepared to cook. We sipped our cocktails and snacked on chips dipped in tapenade and Rasberry Honey Mustard. We heated up a Split Pea Soup made pre-trip by yours truly (a wonderful recipe from Myra Goodman's Earthbound Farm Food to Live By cookbook), had Kim's homemade cookies for dessert, and sipped a very nice Torrontes and a lovely Enkidu Humbaba Rhone blend, as well.

Each morning we feasted on coffee, tea, cereal, yogurt, melons, bagels, and fresh eggs from Desert Deb's own chickens. Yum! And then we packed sandwiches, fruit and trail mix for lunch. Here is a view from our first day's hiking trails.

                                                           (Photo by Daphne Drescher)

Our second night was an even greater feast. For the first course: more cocktails, and Deb's amazing vegetarian chili. Then Deb and I prepared a sweet potato/vegetable medley, sauteed mushrooms and spinach, and pan-seared steaks. Deb and I have cooked together quite a lot in our time, but that we prepared this fabulous meal in the dark with lanterns and flashlights is something I'm a bit proud of. We sipped a lovely Bordeaux and a spicy Shiraz (no idea about the labels - it was too dark - but we enjoyed them). Delish!

Next day was our much anticipated Narrows hike, and how I'm going to pick only one fabulous photo to sum it up, I do not know.

                                                                (Photo by Cindy Powers)

So I'll choose a second :)

                                       (Photo by Cindy Powers)

Our last night, we had a lovely meal at the Spotted Dog Cafe in Springdale, which has become a bit of a tradition for us. We relaxed, and had good food, wine and desserts. (And I also left my car/house keys behind there and failed to notice this until back in CA . . . but I digress.  That's a tale for another blog post, which I will no doubt have to entitle, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers - and dear friends too.")

Guess that brings the report on the 3rd annual Zion Camping Trip to an end.  Good times, folks!