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!