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 app├ętit!

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.