Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mock Turtle's Birthday Dinner

I don’t usually write restaurant reviews – and well, this isn’t so much a restaurant review, although Mock Turtle’s Birthday Dinner did occur in a very enjoyable restaurant.  It’s really more a tale of a fabulous wine and some interesting wine pairings.  It all happened in December, in celebration of Mock Turtle’s Birthday, at Garcon! in San Francisco
MT brought along her bottle of Artiste Winery’s Reflection – an amazing blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah which they bottled in 2007.  MT and I visited the Santa Ynez Artiste Impressionistic Winery and Tasting Studio during our annual New Year’s wine trip which rang in the year of 2008.  During that visit, we enjoyed a number of Artiste’s delicious wines, but were particularly enamored of the Reflection bottling, which turned out to be the standout wine of that trip.  It was a stunner of a wine to bring to the Birthday Dinner, and we were excited to see how it would pair with our dishes.

The wine was tight at first, but softened and improved over the course of the meal.  It had notes of big red currant and black pepper, perhaps a hint of cranberry in the finish, and a lovely texture.  It paired beautifully with MT’s French Onion Soup Gratinee – the wine and soup each improved with the pairing.  Meanwhile, my Lychee Martini actually paired pretty nicely with my Beet Carpaccio Salad with goat cheese and fennel relish. 

This salad had delightfully fresh flavors, not too tart, perfectly dressed and balanced.  We also decided that the salad would be wonderful with a Pinot Blanc, or perhaps a Sancerre.  Our waiter, Josh, brought us a taste of the 2008 Domaine Auchere Sancerre to test this theory.  We enjoyed the Sancerre – it had honey in the nose, a round mouth feel and notes of pear and Meyer lemon. 
MT ordered the Chef's Menu salmon on a mushroom duxelle with truffle oil, served with pearl onions and Brussels sprouts.  It was amazing how well this dish paired with the Reflection.  The dish softened the wine so much, it was like a pillow in the mouth, and brought out notes of cocoa.  Delicious!

The wine paired reasonably well with my outstanding Coq au Vin.  This dish was a true taste treat, the chicken and vegetables melt-in-your-mouth tender, the sauce thick and rich.  I adored it so much that I vowed to make Coq au Vin my next recipe test.  We thought it would pair a bit better with a cabernet franc or Bordeaux blend.

The meal was capped with a lovely Crème Brûlée, silky smooth, swimming in vanilla, the caramel topping perfectly crunchy.  In yet another gesture of generosity, Josh brought us samples of a wonderful Muscat which was perfect with the brûlée – very floral, imbued with orange blossoms.

We went home full and happy, having enjoyed a wonderful wine and food, as well as superb service from Josh at Garcon!, and grateful to have shared birthday wishes and great friendship.
Visit Artiste if you can!  Go to Garcon!  And feel free to send me your favorite Coq au Vin recipes – I promise to try them!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Wine Party

For the past several years I have hosted a holiday wine party, but this was the first year to have the party in my new hometown of Sonoma!  Fourteen of us gathered to sample fabulous wines and an assortment of finger foods, some provided by me, some brought by my wonderful guests.  Note:  I realize that a food blog is supposed to have delectable pictures of party food, but alas!  When I host and cook and mingle, I sometimes forget to snap pics, and that’s exactly what I did this time! It's my only disappointment from an otherwise delightful evening!

Our lovely spread included my favorite holiday party dish of all time (I make it every year), Baked Semolina Gnocchi with Sage (; another favorite of mine, Warm Camembert with Wild Mushroom Fricassee (; Citrouille au Jambon de Bayonne or Pumpkin with Bayonne Ham, from Joanne Harris & Fran Warde’s The French Market cookbook (I substituted prosciutto for the ham); and my own tweaked version of Spinach Balls.  Guests brought lovely cheese and charcuterie platters.  And we enjoyed an amazing Caviar Torte, which paired perfectly with the sparkling wines, prepared by my friend and fellow blogger Bon Vivant (  And last but not least, a remarkable chocolate cake made by my friend Regina of Tuscan Cowgirl Dezerts.  Very Fun Food!

Here is a list of the wines we were sampling – many thanks to my guests who brought such lovely wines!
1999 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon
2002 Valley of the Moon Zinfandel
2005 Turley Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel
2005 Ombra Montsant produced by La Cova dels Vins – a Grenache blend
2005 Summerland Duet (a grenache mourvedre blend)
2007 Sebastiani Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
2007 Beringer Sbragia Limited Release Chardonnay
2007 Mayo Saralee’s Vineyard Viognier
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs
Allimant-Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Rose

Great friends, great food, great wines!  Great holiday fun!  I can't wait to do it again next year!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving in the Desert!

This year I traveled to Pioneertown (near Joshua Tree) for a wonderful Thanksgiving with Gourmet Gal and other dear friends.  (Photo by Kerstin Goetz)

There is a spare beauty to this area, and we spent a lot of time just looking at the scenery, and watching the birds at the bird feeder.  (Photo by Kerstin Goetz)

When we weren’t doing that, we were cooking, because Gourmet Gal cooked the Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd of 13, and it was fabulous!  In addition to the usual turkey and stuffing, we had Gourmet Gal’s fabulous potato fennel gratin, braised carrots and pumpkin cheese cake, two sweet potato dishes, a beet salad and more desserts brought by guests, and brussels sprouts and cranberry relish prepared by yours truly.  We enjoyed chatting with old friends and new, sharing the fabulous food together, and consuming copious quantities of wine.  Good times!  (Photo by Jeanne Talbot)

Note:  The cranberry relish recipe comes from Sarah Lea Chase’s Cold-Weather Cooking, and goes like this:
1 ½ lbs. fresh cranberries
1 lime
1 tangerine
¾ cup (packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar (Note: I used less sugar – 1 cup total)
3 TB orange liqueur (I used Triple Sec)
Scant pinch ground cloves
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Process the cranberries in a food processor till coarsely chopped, and transfer to a mixing bowl.
Cut the lime and tangerine (peel and all) into small pieces, remove the seeds, and process in the food processor till finely chopped.  Add to the cranberries.
Add the sugars, orange liqueur and cloves to the cranberries and stir well.  Taste for sweetness and adjust if it seems too tart.  Fold in the pine nuts, and refrigerate over night so the flavors can marry.  Keeps for several weeks refrigerated.

Enjoy, and cheers!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday in Carneros!

Each year the Carneros wine region puts on a two day wine open house event, including more than 20 Carneros wineries.  In addition to serving a selection of their wines, participating wineries feature live music, food pairings, and special tastings.  A group of friends and I were in attendance this year, and here is my report!
We began the day at Schug Carneros Estate Winery, where we sampled delicious Thai Style Pumpkin and Creamy Wild Mushroom soups, to pair with the whites and reds, respectively.  I loved the 2007 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay with the pumpkin soup, and the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir with the mushroom soup.  We also sampled Calolea olive oils here.
Next we visited Cuvaison Estate Winery, and loved the very modern lines of the tasting room.  The winery served delightful little pulled pork sliders, which were delicious and paired wonderfully with the 2007 Carneros Syrah.  I particularly liked the 2008 Carneros Chardonnay, and took a bottle home.  The '06 Mount Veeder Cab was great as well!
We visited Etude, where they were serving delicious cheese samples in the beautiful tasting room with it's Great Wall of Wine Bottles. 
Our next stop was McKenazie-Mueller – the standout winery of the day for me, where we loved every wine we tasted!  The 2006 Los Carneros, Napa Valley, Pinot Noir was stupendous, as was the 2001 from the Library collection!  The 2005 Malbec was another standout wine – I had difficulty choosing which one to buy.  Combine these fabulous wines with a pleasant cheese spread, very friendly winery personnel, and live music with a bit of a CSN vibe going out front, and our visit to McKenzie-Mueller was a wonderful mid-day respite.
We made a very quick visit to Ceja Vineyards because we knew they would have superb live music, and we weren't disappointed!  They had run out of tapas, which was a shame for us, but I enjoyed the 2006 Sonoma Carmeros Pinot I tasted.  (This is Lisa by the sign.)
Our last stop was the beautiful Truchard Vineyards, with the lovely gazebo, grounds and cellar, outstanding food and music.  The Chardonnay, Pinot and Syrah they poured were all really nice, and I particularly liked the '06 Cabernet – yummy!
It was all in all a delightful day enjoying food, wine and festivities with good friends!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pollo Alla Cacciatora Cookoff

I recently did a Chicken Cacciatora Cookoff . . . with myself!  Pollo alla Cacciatora (we often see the Americanized spelling of cacciatore) is a northern Italy dish which, tradition has it, was prepared on the eve of a hunt, hence the name, “Hunter’s Wife’s Chicken.”  It is, to me, the very definition of home cooked comfort food.  I have several different recipes for the dish, and I decided to prepare three of them to see if one became a favorite.  Note: I prepared them in succession, not the same day, because a) I don’t have that many burners, and b) even with my brother coming for dinner, we couldn’t hope to consume enough of them that I wouldn't have leftovers for weeks.

I started with Chicken Thighs Cacciatore from the Sept. 2002 issue of Cooking Light.  I’ve made if before, and it is fast and easy.  I used a cut up chicken, rather than just thighs, and used only red rather than red and yellow peppers, but otherwise pretty much followed the recipe.  It calls for canned diced tomatoes, thyme, fennel, bay leaf, and red wine.  I like this chicken, the flavor is quite good, if somewhat heavy on the red bell pepper flavor (it calls for 2 cups chopped, for heaven sake!).  The sauce is a bit thin, almost watery.  Its ease and speed work in its favor, however – it is on the table within 45 minutes.

Next I prepared Marcella Hazan’s version of Pollo alla cacciatora.  The two recipes differ slightly, in that Marcella’s dish uses green bell pepper (cut into thin strips rather than chopped), less onion, and a bit of carrot and celery thinly sliced.  The chicken is floured prior to browning, and I like the substance (one can’t really call it crispiness) this gives to the chicken.  Also, Marcella calls for white wine rather than red (and more of it), and I think results in the most prominent difference in flavor between the two.  I used all chicken breasts rather than a cut up chicken, but otherwise followed the recipe closely.  The flavor was quite rich, although the texture is chunky due to Marcella’s instructions about cutting all the veggies in thin strips and slices rather than dice.  I’m not sure I prefer that, but I can always dice the veggies instead when I make it again.

My third recipe was the version from my Saveur Cooks: Authentic Italian cookbook.  This recipe uses onion and garlic only, no peppers or other vegetables.  It calls for whole canned tomatoes with juice, rosemary, bay leaf, white wine, and chicken stock.  The sauce is quite thin; I think the recipe contemplates the wine and juice from the tomatoes evaporating off more rapidly than it actually did - and I was cooking the dish at a good simmer.  I feel I didn’t need the stock to replace the evaporating tomato juice (as described in the instructions), but I added some anyway for flavor, although not the full cup called for.  I have to say I liked this recipe the least; the flavor just wasn’t balanced.  It was too heavy on the canned tomatoes, not enough of anything else.  Interestingly, I prepared this dish the first time “incorrectly,” in that I used diced instead of whole tomatoes, probably more rosemary than called for (which I particularly liked), and no broth.  I actually liked the dish better the first time, although there was still a large quantity of sauce.

All in all, I believe my vote goes to Marcella Hazan’s version.  As noted, I really like the effect of flouring the chicken (this no doubt thickened the sauce as well), and I love the rich flavor.  I have simply made a note to dice the veggies rather than slicing them next time.

Note:  I do have two more chicken cacciatora recipes to try, so there may be a second installment.  Bon appétit!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekly Winery Adventure!

Jacuzzi Family Winery is of particular interest to me for at least two reasons:  they focus on Italian wine varietals, which is different and fun, and their farming practices are “natural and sustainable,” which appeals to me.  At a recent Face 2 Face networking event I attended, Harry Miller of Jacuzzi Family Vineyards gave me a Complimentary Tasting card.  So, I brought my dear friend Erica along with me to take advantage of the offer.  We had a great time tasting a big wine lineup, chatting together about cooking, and chatting with Harry about the wines.  I enjoyed all the wines we tasted, but these were the stand-outs for me.

The 2007 Moscato Bianco is delightful!  It has a lovely, floral nose with grapefruit notes, and is quite crisp and clean.  We thought it might make a nice Thanksgiving wine, and each bought one (for that very purpose, in my case).  I also loved the 2007 Nebbiolo, a juicy wine with notes of pomegranate, Bing cherries and black pepper.  We thought it would pair wonderfully with braised beef.  The next favorite was the 2006 Primativo – I understand this is the grape from which American Zinfandel vines were cloned.  It has a wonderful nose, with notes of candied red currants, red cherry, black pepper, truffle, and a hint of raspberry in the finish.

Jacuzzi wines are, in my opinion, a great value for the quality.  I’m sure they will become a regular presence in my wine fridge!  If you visit on a Sunday, say hi to Harry!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Squash, that is.  I had a small butternut squash that I decided to roast for dinner.  I preheated the oven to 375.  I nuked the squash for about 3 minutes to soften it enough to cut and peel easily.  Meanwhile, I sliced up a red onion into large chunks, and put them into a roasting pan.  I then seeded the squash, peeled and sliced it into big chunks, and put it into the roasting pan as well.  I poured over some olive oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper and rosemary, and tossed it all together.  I covered the roasting pan with foil, and popped it into the oven.  I roasted the squash for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, and turning the heat up to 400 at some point because it seemed to be cooking slowly. 

What a wonderful dish!  Both squash and onion were melty-soft but not burned, and so sweet!  I loved the herbaceous note added by the rosemary!  Easy, too!

I’m sure I’ve seen recipes for roasted squash before, there is nothing particularly new about this preparation.  I didn’t look it up though; I just prepared and enjoyed it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend Whirlwind Winery Tour

I have a group of friends who, for the last several years, have converged together for an annual weekend wine tasting trip.  This year, where else could we go but my new home region of Sonoma!  With three days to run wild and all of Sonoma Valley to play in, we visited Landmark, Chateau St. Jean, the Mayo Reserve Room, Arrowood, Imagery, Jacuzzi, Rochambo, Larson, Sebastiani, Bartholomew and Ravenswood.  Whew!  Here are some memorable moments!

Naturally I had to bring my friends to one of my favorites, the Mayo Reserve Room, where every wine was a hit, and we tasted some wines I hadn’t tried during my last visit.  This time, I particularly liked the 2007 Los Chamizal vineyard Zinfandel, which was jammy with hints of white pepper, candied blueberries, bittersweet chocolate.  Yum!  (And my thanks to Noah for outstanding service, even though they were super busy that day!

We had a lot of fun at CornerStone in Sonoma, with its shops focused on design, modern lines, whimsical art pieces and amazing gardens.

We were lured there, however, by the tasting rooms, and in particular, Roshambo Winery.

I enjoyed the 2006 Scissors Rhone varietal blend, with its fresh, light notes of white peaches, lime and a hint of anise in the finish.  I also really liked the 2006 Rock, a big, inky blend of petite sirah, syrah and zinfandel, with notes of black currant, ripe blueberries and white pepper.  An added bonus – the tasting room Rocks!

Finally, we visited the lovely tasting room at Ravenswood, where there are delicious wines available that can’t be found in grocery stores.  Although I usually think Zin when I think of Ravenswood, this visit I especially enjoyed the 2005 Pickberry, an earthy, herbaceous blend of merlot and cab, with spicy notes of tobacco, currant and eucalyptus.  Outstanding!

My Wine Girlz and I had a blast bombing all around the valley, sharing wine and wine notes, sharing great meals (a stunner at La Salette on the Plaza, a lovely lunch at the renowned Girl and the Fig, and of course, incredible breakfasts at Chez Moi – SonomaSipper’s own kitchen), and sharing friendship.  Does it get any better?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Weekly Winery Adventure

I set out for my winery adventure yesterday with a list of errands to run after my visit - errands which didn't get accomplished.  Who knew I would wind up spending a happy 1 1/2 hours relaxing, chatting with chefs and fellow tasters, and sipping great wine!  It seems that's what one does at the Mayo Family Winery Reserve Room in Kenwood.   Mayo also has a tasting room in Glen Ellen, I discovered, but the Reserve Room is the one I drive by frequently, so it's the tasting room I stumbled into, and boy am I glad!

The Reserve Room does Food & Wine Tastings, in which their chef and his crew prepare interesting small bite dishes to pair with each of their wines.  I only did a wine tasting there, but will certainly want to go back for the food and wine tasting in the near future, because all the dishes looked and smelled fabulous, with innovative flavors and interesting pairings.

I enjoyed every wine I tasted, but there were some standouts.  The 2007 Saralee's Vineyard Viognier was quite amazing - a delicious nose, a very smooth and full mouth feel, lots of butterscotch with hints of vanilla and tangerine.  I loved it; I bought one, and can't wait to serve it.  Chef Max even gave me his crab cake recipe to pair it with!

The crew also let me have a little vertical tasting, so I could compare the 2006 and 2007 Ricci Vineyard Zins.  Wow!  I loved them both.  They were each quite spicy, the '06 showing more black fruit (cassis, leather, hint of vanilla in the finish, very smooth), while the '07 had more red fruit notes (red currant, rasberry) and was perhaps a bit more complex.  I was particularly intrigued by the dish being paired with the '06 Ricci Zin - Shaved chicken breast with smoked heirloom tomato salsa cruda - I asked Max about this, and he explained it's the smoked tomatoes that pull it all together with the Zin.  An idea to experiment with!

Finally, I loved the 2005 Los Chamizal Cab Franc, soft and luxurious, with currant notes.  Max brought me a sample of his Niman ranch skewer with molé spiced shell (yes folks, that's chocolate covered beef - how creative is that?), which was incredibly delicous, and a perfect match with the wine!

All in all, a very enjoyable winery visit, and my thanks to Noah, Max and Khambay at Mayo Family Winery Reserve Room.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cauliflower: Boring?

Or worse, Cauliflower: Ugh!?!?!

Well, if you really hate the flavor of cauliflower, I probably can't help you, but if you're merely bored with steaming it . . . well, this recipe may be for you!

I love the Cauliflower with Melted Onions and Mustard Seeds from Food and Wine December, 2000. It's easy, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious! You place the cauliflower florets into a roasting pan, stems up, with vegetable oil and some butter (I always use a bit less than is called for), season with salt and pepper, cover with foil, and roast at 450 for 30 minutes. Then you turn the heat up to 500 for 10 minutes. Then you remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes. This creates lovely little caramelized florets that melt in your mouth. But that's not all!

While that's going on, soften sliced onions in oil in a skillet over low heat, covered. Let them cook about 20 minutes until very tender. Stir in some curry powder and mustard seeds, and cook 5 more minutes. Then add some lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and serve in a bowl over the cauliflower.

I leave out the cilantro sprinkled on top that the recipe calls for, as I'm not fond of it, but all you cilantro lovers might like that even more.

I recently prepared this along with Parmesan Crusted Chicken (Food and Wine August, 2003), cooked in the oven with the cauliflower, and they were wonderful together!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weekly Winery Adventure

This week I arrived at Valley of the Moon Winery about 10 minutes before their closing time, and they were gracious enough not to make me feel rushed. I selected the $5 Standard Tasting (still broke, dontcha know), and had pleasant chats with the various servers there. My favorite white was the 2008 Sonoma County Pinot Blanc. It had a lovely nose, and flavors of pineapple, apple, and a hint of kiwi.

It was very smooth and delicious. I thought of pairing it with a salad, or perhaps a grilled chicken salad.
My favorite red was the 2006 Sonoma County Sangiovese. It was a very pretty color, with lovely notes of chocolate and a dried cherry finish. I thought it would pair wonderfully with a Bolognese sauce or a chicken cacciatore.
I also tasted the 2008 Unoaked Russian River Chardonnay (tangerine!), the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir (red cherry, smokey finish – I would pair with blue cheese or perhaps salmon), and the 2006 Sonoma County Syrah (chocolate covered blueberries – yum!).
Of course, I rounded out the evening with happy hour at what is becoming my favorite local hangout, the Meritâge Martini Oyster Bar & Grill, where I had a lovely caramelized onion (etc.) pizza, which paired well with the Inama Carmenere from Verona, Italy. And I met new friends, as I always do at Meritâge.
All in all, a happy weekly winery day!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Soup Is Good Food!

Today I made a vegetable barley soup – yum! I sautéed an onion, some carrots, some celery, and a sweet potato. I added a mix of vegetable and chicken broths (I like Wolfgang Puck’s all natural broths – what’s your favorite?) and a little water, and about ¾ cup barley. I seasoned with white pepper, marjoram, and my favorite Herbes de Provence made by Victoria Gourmet, Inc. which I bought at – of all places – Marshalls (go figure!). Fifteen minutes before I called it done, I added some spinach too wilted for a salad (but who cares in a soup!) and some chard.

I am quite happy with the result! There is a sweetness to the broth – from the marjoram perhaps?? I’m very curious to see if it improves tomorrow after the flavors have time to marry.

I served my soup with my favorite corn bread recipe, which comes from Huntley Dent’s The Feast of Santa Fe. I love this corn bread – even though I modify it a bit (yellow instead of blue corn meal, oil instead of butter, milk instead of buttermilk, which I rarely have on hand), primarily because it contains no sugar! I prefer my cornbread savory rather than sweet.

All in all, a happy meal. Oh . . I drank an inexpensive little Sauvignon Blanc with my meal – a perfectly pleasant pairing.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Weekly Winery Adventure

This week, I visited Robledo Family Winery. This winery had been recommended to me by the bartender at The Plaza Bistro, where I had a lovely glass of Rose last Friday evening. Robledo has a beautiful tasting room with tables for visitors to sit, each decked with fresh roses. The server and the other tasting room guests were all a lot of fun.
Due to my budget, I tried the Estate Tasting for five bucks, and tasted three whites, three reds, and two dessert wines. The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc has won awards, and it’s true – it was particularly nice! I tasted grapefruit, with a hint of stone fruit (apricot maybe) in the finish. I also enjoyed the 2006 Pinot Blanc, which had a nutty, toasty flavor with hints of honey and tangerine. Of the reds, although it was the Cab and the Los Braceros blend that won the awards, my personal favorite was the 2007 Petite Sirah, with notes of pie cherries and a soft vanilla finish. I note that for the winery’s upcoming (Sept. 12) Mexican Independence Day Celebration event, they plan to pair it with Shredded Beef Sopes! Sounds like a wonderful pairing to me!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pork and Pinot

Well friends, in a previous post I said I would test the 2007 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir against a really nice pork dish, and here is the report. For this pairing I brought out the big gun: my favorite Crispy Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder (Food and Wine Dec. 2003). I love this dish. I first made it for Christmas dinner in 2006. Since that time, my dear friend GourmetGal ( has stolen it from me after I served it at a dinner party – she makes it much more often than I do – but nonetheless, I still count it one of my favorites. The garlic and ginger caramelize after the long roasting, yet the meat stays really moist. Yummy!
So I prepared this dish with some rosemary roasted potatoes and a lovely spinach salad. I have to say that I did enjoy the wine with this dish. It showed notes of dried cherries, which rounded to more of a black cherry over the course of the evening. It’s really a delicious Pinot.
And it was a really fabulous meal! I wouldn’t say it was the perfect wine-food pairing however. The spices in the meat produced just a hint of harshness in the wine. There are many other wines I’d like to try with this dish. Possibly a Zin. Or even a substantial Gewurztraminer!
And of course, now I'll have to buy another bottle of the Pinot in order to continue my search for its perfect pairing! I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Farmer’s Market

Today I walked down the Sonoma bike path from my little home to the Friday Farmer’s Market. There was no shortage of friendly people out walking and biking the path, and it was a beautiful morning, though getting hot already. The Market is a pleasant blend of very local produce and fruit, some other local food items such as artisan honey and cheese, some items from a bit farther afield (but still California) such as flavored olive oils (yum!) and olive blends, and finally, craft items such as bags, clothing, etc.

As is my habit, I browsed through all the items before selecting some beautiful chard from one small grower, and some Early Girl tomatoes and lovely orange sweet peppers (I failed to note the variety!) and pablano peppers from another grower.

I also stopped and chatted with the folks representing Organizing for America, with a booth supporting healthcare reform. This is an issue that’s very personal to me, as without the passage of a reform bill, I’m worried about finding affordable health insurance now that I’m self-employed!

On a tomato note, since I arrived I’ve been getting such delicious tomatoes both at the local farmers markets and at the supermarket. Yesterday I used one in a lunch of sweet onion, yellow split peas, vegetable broth, bulgar wheat, some spices (fennel seed, cumin seed, coriander seed) and some spinach. Very satisfying!

I can’t wait to use those peppers! I’ll keep you posted on my menus!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekly Winery Adventure

Now that I live in the lovely wine region of Sonoma County, I decided I’d like to visit a winery a week. My goals are to explore what my amazing new home region has to offer, meet wine industry folks, and above all, “shop local” (which is big around here, I find).

So today I set off to visit Schug Carneros Winery tasting room. I selected it in part because the website says it has no tasting fee (about which, more in a moment), and let’s face it, I’m trying to spend as little money as possible given the fledgling state of my business. However, although I had looked at the map and the directions on line, I failed to take the map with me in the car, and took a couple of wrong turns and an extra 20 minutes or so to get there. "Geeeze!" #1. However, I persevered and managed to find the tasting room.

Of course, as may have been expected because there are practically no (i.e., virtually zero) free tasting rooms any more, there was a tasting fee of $5, which would be no big deal except that (and here is “Geeeze!” #2) I had no cash and no debit card on me because yesterday, when I walked the Sonoma bike path (lovely walk btw!) I had put them in my pocket so as not to carry a purse and of course failed to take them out of my pocket and return them to my wallet. AND since I hated to put a mere $5 on my Visa (at least, this was my rationale), when the tasting was done I just had to buy a bottle of their actually quite lovely 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir! Which is "Geeeze!" #3! But shuckie-darn, it’s really a quite lovely Pinot, just enough complexity to stand up to, say, a really nice pork dish, which I intend to try pairing it with sometime very soon. I’ll let you know how it goes!

And that was my first Weekly Winery Adventure!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cooking by the seat of my pants

When and why do I modify recipes? Because I lack one or more ingredients. Because I think an ingredient will clash with another dish I’m serving. Because I’m in the mood!

Sometimes a recipe serves more as a description of a technique for preparing a particular ingredient, and then I modify the ingredient list to suit my needs. The Quinoa pilaf I made for the dinner party (see previous post) is an example.

The original recipe (Food and Wine Jan. 2003) calls for 12 ingredients, creating a wonderful blend of strong flavors. I followed it exactly the first time I made it, and I loved it! But this time I just needed a refresher on making a pilaf with quinoa – how long to cook it, the proportion of grain to liquid (although I modified that as well!). I planned to serve this pilaf with a braised chicken sort of stew with an assortment of root vegetables, seasoned with paprika and herbs, and I wanted more of a savory accompaniment, less of a bold statement. I didn’t have the zucchini or fresh tomato on hand, plus I felt that the more summertime feel of tomato and zucchini wasn’t appropriate for the meal. I also thought the mint might clash with the other flavors I was serving. While I like the flavor of the chili powder the recipe calls for, I wanted a rich rather than tangy flavor, so I used Ancho chili powder instead. I kept the turmeric, which created a lovely color, and kept the sautéed onions but also added scallions (the whole thing, white and green parts) for color and added sweetness. I garnished with parsley, and the result was a savory but subtle, nicely textured accompaniment to my chicken dish.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


My favorite thing about entertaining is not showing off the fabulous new recipe. Rather, it’s creating a setting for a fabulous mix of friends to enjoy each other’s company. I love dinner parties. I love every element. I love the menu planning, the shopping, selecting the wines. I love choosing music to suit the mood I want to set. I love decorating the rooms with candles and table runners, I love selecting the place settings and setting the table. I don’t even mind the cleaning! And when guests arrive and comment on these things (“oh feels so mellow here!” or “what a lovely place setting”), then I know I’ve succeeded!

A not-so-long-ago memorable small gathering was no exception. It was a bit impromptu – I had only invited my guests the day before, and I was quite relaxed with the menu – I selected well-worn dishes I have made before. I was focused on cooking a pleasant meal and enjoying old and new friends, not on trying out the fascinating new recipe. (This time, anyway ;-)

So out came my beloved braised chicken and vegetables which I’ve made so many times (it came from Cooking Light originally, but I’ve modified it over the years), a quinoa pilaf for my non-meat eating guest (a Food and Wine recipe, again modified to suit the meal), and a spinach blood orange salad with walnuts & parmesan with a lovely citrus oil and balsamic vinaigrette. Tasty, satisfying, and well received! But the joy of the evening for me was the lively and interesting conversation which accompanied the meal.

By the way, we drank a beautifully balanced 2006 Stags’ Leap Chardonnay with cheese before dinner (contributed by one of my guests), and Epiphany’s rich and complex 2004 Gypsy Red blend with dinner.

Sunday, August 9, 2009