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!