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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wind, Waves and Rain


(Read notes on last year's ZAP--Zinfandel Festival)

Northern California wine country is inundated by more than 4.5 million tourists each year, most of whom visit between May and October. Highway 29 can be bumper to bumper in the summer and reservations for the top restaurants hard to obtain. That's why we like to visit between Christmas and New Year's when rain and birds are more prevalent than visitors and eateries have space for walk-ins.
McPhee's Grill in Templeton is always our first stop on the drive north. Chef Ian McPhee serves up the quintessential California Cuisine: fresh, local, quality ingredients simply prepared with subtle influences from around the globe. There are so many tasty dishes: the oak grilled artichoke, sweet potato fries, Ian's salad with artisanal goat cheese and meaty bay shrimp, the cedar planked salmon...this time we happily shared the succulent tempura prawns dipped in spicy peanut and sesame  sauce redolent of mustard, with a side of lightly vinegared Asian slaw and pickled ginger--each bite a symphony of textures and flavors. We shared a glass of the house Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris handcrafted by Jim Clendenen, the excellent winemaker at Au Bon Climat, from grapes sourced from his own vineyards plus the famed Bien Nacido vineyards.  Au Bon Climat was listed on Robert Parker's Best Wineries of the World in both 1989 and 1990, and Clendenen was named Winemaker of the Year in 1992 by the Los Angeles Times, Winemaker of the Year in 2001 by Food and Wine Magazine, Winemaker of the World in 2004 by Germany's leading wine magazine Wein Gourmet, and in 2007 was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America--all these accolades, and the wine was only $9 for the glass! Bien Nacido's vineyards are in the Santa Barbara AVA where Southern California sun moderated by cooling fogs pushing inland from the Pacific Ocean create the ideal climate in which grapes can develop their truest varietal flavors with balanced ripeness and acidity. Their grapes are highly regarded and purchased by many notable Santa Barbara wineries, including Foxen, QUPÉ, and Fess Parker. The Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris we tasted was highly aromatic, with the crispness of the Pinot Blanc nicely balanced with an almost unctuous, honey sweetness and round mouthfeel of the Pinot Gris. Karen McNeil's "The Wine Bible" (on display at the wine exhibit at SFMOMA--more on this below) says of the winemaker "flagship" Pinots: "Supertalented owner Jim Clendenen is an unconventional wild man whose passion for Burgundy shows through in his own Pinots, which are about as primal, sensual, and earthy as they come."

San Francisco was festive for the holidays with kittens in the Macy's window displays, ice skating in Union Square and high rises and bridges decked with lights for the season. We saw the wine exhibit at SFMOMA "How Wine Became Modern" which, since it was an an art museum, was more about the visual objects of wine rather than a comprehensive exploration of wine. An entire wall of bottles chosen for their ingenious label design held some of our favorite wines--like Freestone's FogDog and Goats do Roam. The "smell wall" of aromas found in wine, such as anise, was engrossing as was the exhibit of artists' innovations in wine glasses and a collection of important printed works on wine, including Karen McNeil's book mentioned above--a must-have for anyone looking for fundamental wine knowledge presented in an engaging style. But, in general, the exhibit seemed "thin" for such a rich topic; much better curated was the Henri Cartier-Bresson retrospective. The photographer was born into a wealthy family, but spent his life documenting an extraordinary time period in human history--two World Wars, the Great Depression, Gandhi's leadership in Indian independence, the establishment of Communism in Shanghai, Mao's Great Leap Forward...a remarkable visual history created by a formidable talent! Enjoy the exhibit, then walk across the street to the Metreon for tasty Japanese food at Sanraku, with ample portions and a view out to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial fountain.

Yesterday, after breakfast at Café de la Presse (try their Oeufs à la Norvégienne which are Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon) we drove in the drizzle through the gently sculpted hills of Petaluma where muddy sheep speckled the emerald hills and grazed unperturbed by the rain in their wooly coats. We're staying in the lovely Bodega Bay Lodge with views of the vast expanse of the estuary and bay. The photo is the view from their Duck Club Restaurant. Last night the wind howled and drove the rain in diagonal sheets into the plate glass windows and the chimney whistled in the wind. Today the sun is out, but the wind persistent.
We donned our foul weather gear to hike Tomales Bay, then ate addictively delicious Tomales Bay clams in a garlic cream sauce in Valley Ford--sopping up every delectable drop with crusty French bread. Rocker Oysterfeller's is worth seeking out, they use organic, local ingredients--and what a place to source food!--next to Petaluma's artisanal cheesemakers, Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes fresh seafood, and Sonoma and Russian River wineries. We tried the 2008 Unti Petit Frere: a Grenache/Mouvedre/Syrah Rhone-style blend. Only 440 cases made, so it's a local gem, like most on the restaurant's wine list.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas dinner 2010

Wishing everyone happy holidays!
On our table tonight: prime rib for the carnivores, salmon (marinated in oj, cherry jam and mustard), roasted Yukon potatoes, cauliflower, beets and carrots, and apple/candied pecan salad. I used egg white to bind the sugar to the nuts instead of butter and they are crispy without being cloyingly rich:
spray olive oil
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. water
3-4 drops vanilla
1 cup white sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 pound pecan halves
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Spray a baking sheet lightly with oil.
Whisk together the egg white and water in a mixing bowl until frothy. Add a few drops of vanilla and whisk to mix in. In a wide, flat bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Add pecans to egg whites and stir to coat them evenly. Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon, and roll them in the sugar mixture until coated--this is easiest to do in small batches. Spread the nuts out on the prepared baking sheet so they do not touch each other and put into the preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour. Let cool before serving or tasting--they are hot inside when they come out of the oven!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Sideways" Author Releases Sequel "Vertical"

When I saw a copy of "Vertical" by Rex Pickett, the sequel to "Sideways" (the novel, not the film), wrapped in cover with the familiar pea green and Merlot maroon colors, I snapped it up. I LOVED the film and saw it at least three times. I will never forget the collective scream of disbelief that erupted from the audience when Miles and Jack scrambled back to their car while being pursued by the trucker--or the outrageous, grotesque and hysterically funny image of his naked blubber pursuing the two. That scene was just one of many in the movie that created a buzz about the film that lasted for years and put Santa Barbara wine country on the international oenophiles' travel itinerary. Visitors from around the world wanted to eat at the Hitching Post and (unfortunately) to drink out of the spit bucket at Fess Parker's Winery.  Pinot Noir sales increased 16%- 50% (depending on which source you believe) and the film grossed over $71 million according to imbd.

I really wanted to love "Vertical" because I was hoping for a follow-up film that would make me laugh as much as the original. Sadly, there's not much to laugh about in this book. The author Rex Pickett modeled Miles after himself, so in the sequel, Miles has written a book about Pinot Noir that was made into a hit movie, making him a media sensation in demand for speaking engagements and irresistible to all women. He goes a binge of womanizing and drinking that makes the Jack character from "Sideways" look like a saint. That could be luridly fascinating or comically entertaining with clever writing, but the disparaging, dismissive attitude the author portrays towards women is frankly disgusting. I'm not overly sensitive toward sexism, but I normally would have given up on the book after the first scene where Miles steals from a woman after having sex. The scene seems contrived for the sole purpose of humiliating and belittling her and setting up Miles as a sexual superman. But, determined to have patience with the book in case it changed course, I pressed on through various sexcapades described in language so derogatory towards women that it was disgusting. I knew this book was unredeemable when Pickett used the word  "receptacles" as a descriptor of the female gender. (Spoiler alert here--don't read on if you don't want to know the plot) Miles is taking his wheelchair-bound mother across country to live with her sister. When they arrive, it becomes obvious the sister cannot care for Miles' mother and he is faced with the unwelcome task of caring for her himself. Unwilling and unable to show her real love or allow her dignity (along the route, he has her impacted tooth removed by a veterinarian), he suffocates his own mother, murdering her with under the self-delusional guise of releasing her from pain.

I never read the original book "Sideways" so it is possible that it was the same dreck as this one and Alexander Payne crafted a silk purse from a sow's ear. However, I can't for the life of me think of how anyone could turn this book into a successful film. Miles was a loser in "Sideways", but he was a sympathetic character who seemed like a good person at heart. We laughed at Jack's whoring and boozing because he wasn't the protagonist. "Vertical" the movie would have a protagonist with a dank and putrid cesspool instead of a heart; it would be a tragedy instead of a comedy. Sadly, the Miles character we enjoyed in "Sideways" is dead, may he R.I.P.

Through no fault of their own, the beautiful Willamette Valley, the kind inn keepers at Brookside Inn and Justin Winery are all prominently featured in "Vertical".  Justin Winery is my favorite place to taste wine in Paso Robles. We just had a bottle of their luscious Isoceles (a “left bank” Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc) and I brought their rich, jammy Obtuse (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) Port to the last wine class for the other students to try. Take the lovely drive up to their tasting room in the hills west of Paso the next time you are there--and make sure to stay with Bruce and Susan at the Brookside Inn if you are touring Willamette Valley--you can try their delicate blueberry scones here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can You Bake A Cherry Pie, Billy Boy? Easy Pie Crust!

After years of furiously snipping cold butter into bits and chilling all my implements and ingredients to roll out a good pie crust, I tasted a thin, delightfully crisp crust at my friend Doreen's house which she made with oil and no fuss. It's not flaky and buttery, but rather a wafer-thin encapsulation of the filling without the excess carbs and calories. The filling was easy, too: two pounds of pitted bing cherries, about a cup and a half of sugar (add to taste), a teaspoon each of cinnamon and clove, all simmered for about half an hour, then thickened with three tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with a couple tablespoons of water. I put a "G" on it for my daughter, then baked it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until golden brown and served it with whipped cream...yum!

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Measure the vegetable oil and the milk into the same liquid measuring cup but do not stir. Add to the flour/salt mixture; mix briskly to combine until the dough comes together into a ball.
Divide the dough in half. Roll out each half to 1/8 inch thick between 2 sheets of wax paper.
NOTE: Because this pastry dough is made with oil, it must be used right away. After a day in the refrigerator, the oil will start to separate and seep out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Joys of Handmade Pasta

Making pasta is one of the joys of cooking. When the clumpy, gooey mess of flour and egg begins to come together, the supple smooth dough begins to feel like firm pliant flesh. The pasta springs back to the touch like a living being, and it has a wonderful, fresh smell of egg yolks and good olive oil. Pasta is one of the best things to make for a potluck because people are impressed (don't let them know how easy it is to make!) and if done well, becomes the hit of the party. You'll know when it has been a success when people crowd you for the recipe--so this one is tried and found to be true!

Helpful hints for less mess:
1. Use a big ceramic bowl to mix the dough--the one I have is large enough that I can do all the kneading inside of it and not have to clean up a floured board.
2. Use parchment paper to keep the dough from sticking to the counter, instead of flour--the clean up is easier and there's no wasted ingredients.
3. Drape the bottom layer over a mini-muffin tin, but don't press it into the cups. The dough will droop down a bit, making a small depression where you can spoon the filling exactly in the center of each ravioli.

1 cup blue cheese
1 1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated grana padano
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups white flour
3/4 cup pastry flour (can be whole wheat)
3/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. olive oil
handful rock salt
You will need a pasta machine and optional mini-muffin tin.
Mix flour and salt in large bowl; make well in center. Add eggs, yolks, and olive oil to the middle of the well. Mix with your fingers, then start kneading. The dough will be sticky at first. Keep kneading in the bowl or on a floured surface (or large ceramic bowl) for at least 10 minutes. The dough will get smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic and let rest 1 hour at room temperature. Cut the dough into four sections and and roll out each one through the pasta machine. Cover the dough that is not being rolled with plastic wrap while you work. Begin with the thickest setting, folding the pasta into thirds after the first run. Run it through 2 times through each setting (or according to your pasta machine's instructions) until you get to the thinnest, which you can just run through once. Lay a sheet over a mini-muffin tin--do not pat down into the muffin holes. The pasta will droop a bit over the holes--spoon a teaspoon of filling into each depression, then top with another piece of dough and press around the filling to seal. Cut out the individual ravioli with a sharp knife. Using your fingers, press the top and bottom dough together around each ravioli. Save the scrap dough to reroll into sheets that can be used for more ravioli or for noodles. Lay the finished ravioli on a sheet of parchment paper or lightly floured surface. Boil a large pot of water, then toss in a handful of rock salt. Cook the ravioli until al dente, about 10 - 12 minutes. Plate and serve with sauce. Makes about 28 ravioli--six to nine servings, depending on your appetite. Pair this delicious ravioli with a glass of 2007 DARE Cabernet Sauvignon.

Antonio Gardella's wine class at the School of Culinary Arts flew by in a flash. We'll miss having him regale us with stories of fabulous wines and experiences that are beyond any we will ever have--like dinners with Julia Child and Robert Parker, Jr. and winemaker feasts in Europe where fine wine flowed in rivers. Recently, he met with his Santa Barbara wine tasting group whre all the wines had to have ratings of 98 point and above--they had 18 of these wines in one evening! What we will remember most, besides his encyclopedic knowledge of wine, is his passion for his work. It's clear he loves all aspects from the vineyard to the glass, and loves teaching wine appreciation. "Wine" he says, "opens the doors to ecstasies and dreams and stirs the fierce embers of memories".

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have some arsenic and plastic with that turkey?

Raised free range and fed organic soy and corn, my organic Diestel turkey is brining away in the frig in preparation for tomorrow's meal with sprigs of rosemary and oregano. I don't eat turkey myself, but make a traditional dinner for family and friends. Today's Los Angeles Times includes an article on arsenic (yes, it's legal!) in commercial-grade poultry feed, as well as the use of an arsenic-based antimicrobial compound called Roxarsone to improve the appearance of turkey meat. Besides organic producers, the article mentions Tyson and Purdue Farms as producers that shun the use of Roxarsone.
Brining turkey for a day before roasting is no longer a novelty, as we cooks have found it vastly improves the moistness of the meat. It's alarming how many people brine in plastic that is not food grade. I remember going to one bbq where the meat had been marinating in plastic lawn bags. Food grade plastic is regulated by the FDA, other plastics usually contain pthalates and BPA to improve flexibility, which may leach into food and cause a host of problems.

A plethora of roast turkey recipes are available online. After decades of trying every method, here is my tried-and-true recipe for roasting a great Thanksgiving turkey:
1 organic turkey--this year 18 lb.
handful fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh oregano
cup of sea salt
spray oil
1 container (2 1/2 oz.) paprika
2 Tbsp. ground sage
2 Tbsp. ground thyme
2 Tbsp. ground marjoram
1 cup chicken stock
1 stick butter
1 cup good white wine
Sterilize the sink, wash the turkey inside and out with cool water. Put a brining bag (food safe with a ziploc top so water will not spill in your frig!) into a your baking pan, put the turkey in the bag and fill with water so the level is halfway up the turkey. Add the salt, rosemary and oregano. Seal and put in the refrigerator a the day before Thanksgiving. Turn the turkey over in the bag a few times during the brining time. On the big day, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Drain the turkey, then pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Lightly spray with olive oil. Mix the paprika, sage, thyme and marjoram. Fill the paprika jar with the mixture and sprinkle the turkey all over so the entire surface is covered with spice. Put the turkey on a rack the baking pan so it will not sit in the juices and put an oven-safe thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh. Pour a cup of chicken stock into the bottom of the pan. Tie the legs together and put aluminum foil over the end of the wings. Put the turkey in the oven, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a pan and soak a 2 foot length of clean cheesecloth in the butter. After the turkey has cooked for half an hour, put the butter-soaked cheesecloth over the breast, folding it as needed to fit. After another half hour of roasting, begin basting the turkey with the juices every half hour. If any part of the turkey starts browning too much, put some foil over it. About an hour before the turkey should be done, pour the white wine over it and continue roasting and baking it until the thermometer reaches 165 degrees (170 degrees if the turkey is not organic) and the skin is golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit for 20 minutes while you make the gravy.
To make gravy for your Thanksgiving, put the innards (gizzards, neck, etc.) into a pot with a bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots and 4 cups of water. Simmer the entire time you are baking the turkey, adding water to keep the level constant. Skim most of the fat off the top of the turkey cooking juices, then use a spatula to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the baking pan. Add to the stock, stir, then strain. Use some of the fat you skimmed off to brown a 1/2 cup of flour in a pan. Add the strained stock and simmer until it thickens, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Some people like to mince the gizzards and liver and put it into the gravy.

If you love to talk about food as much as you like to enjoy it, let us know what you're cooking tomorrow. I'm making roasted acorn squash slices, brushed with butter and maple syrup, then baked until the outside is a bit caramelly, sprinkled with pepitas. We'll have that as an appetizer with cheese and crackers my neighbor is bringing and some Domaine Chandon sparkling wine. Roast turkey with sausage, onion, and green apple stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, Brussels sprouts pan-fried in olive oil with veggie baco-bits and Parmesan cheese (veggie version of this recipe), buttered green beans with toasted almonds, green and black olive bread, salad, and pumpkin and apple pie for dessert. Chardonnay being brought for the white wine lovers, 2009 Jaffurs Syrah and 2003 Paradise Ridge Rockpile Vineyard Merlot (one of my favorite wineries) for those of us who love red. mmmm...

I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pour ME Only RED Wine!

Food magazines and wine sites are full of advice on what wines to pair for Thanksgiving. A cursory look through them confirmed what I suspected--crisp, light whites or sparklers to start, then medium bodied whites like Chardonnay to pair with the turkey. Lighter reds like Pinot Noir or Rhone blends are suggested, with an occasional mention of a medium fruity red like a Syrah or Bordeaux. But the big California Cabs and Zins seem to be shunned, probably because they are too tannic, too fruit-forward, too bold.

As a host, I'll have a selection of wines for friends and family to enjoy, and as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time trying to pair the perfect food with a wine, I will advise a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir for my guests so their palate will not be overwhelmed. But when it comes to pour my glass of wine--pour me only red wine--as bold and brash as they come. I adore Cabernet, Zin and Barolo, that's what I love to drink. I'll be cooking, but not eating the turkey, so a big red will pair perfectly with yams cooked with maple syrup, puffed cauliflower with cheddar cheese, cranberry sauce spiced with mustard and cinnamon, black olive bread and garlic mashed potatoes. Besides, this is the one meal of the year where one should select just what one desires to eat, so the same should hold true with the wine. If you love oaked Chardonnay--drink what you love! If you love a powerful red, I'll join you with a glass of my own. To all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are some other reasons to choose red wine over white:
  • phenolic compounds in red wine inhibit the oxidation of LDL ("bad cholesterol") and increase levels of HDL ("good cholesterol) and help prevent platelets aggregation (decrease the chance of blood clots leading to stroke and heart disease)
  • resveratrol, quercetin and catechin in red wine are all anti-oxidants and help prevent cancers
  • procyanidin in tannic red wines may be the agent that aids artery and vein health
  • one glass of wine a day is especially beneficial to women in preventing heart disease, according to the American Council On Science And Health
Speaking of wine--Wine Spectator is allowing free access to their website until November 28th! It normally is blocked, unless you pay $49.95 per year, so this is the chance for us to get in and look around. Here's what they have to say on Thanksgiving wine pairing.

Southern California locals! Save tons of money this Saturday at the big Wine Warehouse Sale. Also, try the $20 three course meal at the Harbor Restaurant on a Sunday - Thursday night. I've been twice and last night the poached salmon with bok choy, asparagus and crisped mashed potatoes was served with a tasty beurre blanc. A tremendous value at an upscale restaurant where the entrees are mostly over $ a gorgeous view of the ocean and our lovely Santa Barbara.

A family tradition for 50+ years, this cranberry sauce is sweetened with orange juice and spiced with mustard, clove and cinnamon. Wonderful with Thanksgiving turkey or ham, it's also great with pumpkin waffles the next morning.

2 lb. homemade or canned cranberry sauce
3/4 Tbsp. dry mustard
juice and zest of 1-2 oranges
4 tsp. corn starch
juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 Tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
Dissolve mustard and cornstarch in orange and lemon juice. Add cranberry sauce, zest and sugar. Cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes while stirring with a wooden spoon, until it starts to thicken. Can be serve warm or chilled.
Try with one of the International wines from this week's International Wine Sampler special.

Friday, November 12, 2010

There's nothing funny about Chardonnay...

I've worked with a couple of people who had a joke or pun for everything, but never heard a joke involving Chardonnay. My Google search for one only turned the following, which is painfully un-funny:
The mother superior of a convent was worried. She called her community of nuns together and said: “Sisters, I have grave news. We have found a case of Gonorrhea here in our convent…”
“Thank The Lord,” came the cry from one of the older members of the community. “I’m getting sick of Chardonnay!”
Ugh--so here's my challenge to contribute a joke: make us laugh about America's favorite wine!

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing 101--Part III in a four part series:
If you raise a glass of California wine to toast Thanksgiving this year,  there's better than a one in four chance it will be Chardonnay.  Americans fell in love with Chardonnay in the 1960s, when Robert Mondavi, among others, began making quality varietal wine in Napa Valley. Wine growers love Chardonnay because the plants adapt well to a variety of climates and soils, are relatively disease and mold resistant, can produce abundant fruit,  and the juice responds sensitively to the winemaker's techniques. At its best, Chardonnay highlights the flavors of apples, lemon, and tropical fruits with a rich, unctuous mouthfeel. At its worst, it is flabby from lack of acidity, or over-oaked with overpowering butter or vanilla flavors.

Since Chardonnay has little tannin, oaking can give it some tannins as well as impart a butterscotch, buttered toast or vanilla flavor which is delicious when done with delicacy. In this decade, there has been a  push-back again heavy oaking (remember the ABC mantra at the end of the last decade--Anything But Chardonnay?) prompting winemakers to return to steel-fermentation or to use a lighter touch on the oak. Chardonnay is one of the grapes in France's Champagne,  Chablis, and white Burgundy where the cooler climates yield wines high in acidity.  

Whether choosing a fruitier California Chardonnay or a more acidic French wine form of the grape, you will find plenty of satisfied company when pairing the varietal with your Thanksgiving dinner. The 2008 Summerland Chardonnay is a great value, with flavors of peach, pear and citrus. If you call, I think we still have a few bottles left of the lovely Freestone Fog Dog Chardonnay -- a wonderfully balanced example of the equilibrium between acidity, fruit and oak. Bon appetit!

From Hall Wineries, a lovely side dish that could work well with your Thanksgiving dinner. A simple dish packed with plenty of flavor.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and Pancetta
2 lb brussels sprouts
1 Tbsp. salt for water
2-3 tbsp. butter
3-4 slices of Pancetta, chopped
1 tbsp. garlic, chopped
4 tbsp. shallots, chopped (about 2 large shallots)
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Boil brussels sprouts in 8 cups salted water until tender, then place into ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Sauté pancetta and garlic in butter for several minutes over medium heat. Remove Brussels sprouts from ice water, drain and cut (vertically) in half.

Next, add Brussels sprouts and shallots to pancetta and garlic and cook over high heat until brown on sides, adding more butter if needed. Add chopped thyme, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Serves approximately 6.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A 'Sideways' Glance At Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir vine Willamette Valley
It's not possible to forget Miles' obsession with Pinot Noir if you've seen the movie "Sideways". His passion for the grape was infectious, as evidenced by the estimated 40+% increase in Pinot Noir sales in the year immediately following the film's release. Pinot lovers abound, showing up by the hundreds for Pinot Noir-only festivals like California's World Of Pinot Noir and Oregon's International Pinot Noir Festival. Pinot Noir is the primary grape in the classic red Burgundy wines of France and is one of the three grapes of the traditional Champagne region of France used to make their sparkling wine. It is grown in Germany, where it is called Spätburgunder and in Austria, where it is known as Bläuburgunder, and in Italy was Pinot Nero. Pinot is king in Oregon, the cooler regions of California, such as Carneros and the Russian River Valley, and in fog-influenced Santa Barbara County appellations, as well as the Finger Lakes district of New York, in Chile, Australia and New Zealand, where a small winery won the International Pinot Noir Trophy at the international Decanter World Wine Awards. (You can read some tasting notes on Willamette Valley Pinot here.)

A little-known fact is that despite Miles' exhortation "if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving!", , his most coveted bottle of 1961 Château Cheval Blanc is actually a Left-bank Bordeaux wine from Saint-Émilion, made of a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Lest Merlot-lovers despair at their wine being dis-respected, take heart! Merlot sales have risen steadily since "Sideways" and Americans buy more Merlot than any other red wine besides Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the irony of Miles' favorite wine being partly comprised of his most hated grape, which probably was an insider's joke on the part of the filmmakers, "Sideways" caught the rapture that can result from tasting really great Pinot Noir. The grape is said to be the most difficult red grape to grow, due to its thin skin, susceptibility to all kinds of molds and viruses, and its requirement for a long, cool growing season despite its susceptibility to early frost which can prevent it from leafing and budding. It is the most terroir driven of all the red grapes, responding to the soil, weather and winemaker's hand with the utmost sensitivity. So, the quality of Pinot Noir is all over the map: from sublime to musty or shrill.  At its best, Pinot Noir has medium-intense fruitiness with just the right amount of tannic structure and a crisp acidity. Its complex aromas of black cherry, cinnamon, sassafras, mint and mushroom lead to substantial flavor on the palate with a velvety smooth texture.

Pinot Noir may be the perfect Thanksgiving wine--delicate enough not to overpower the lighter flavors of the meal but with the intensity to meet the stronger flavors, all with an elegance that befits a special occasion. Sommeliers and chefs often suggest roast poultry and mushrooms as perfect pairings for Pinot--sound seasonally appropriate? Pinot Noir--a perfect match for the Thanksgiving menu!

Sweet, mellow, caramelized onions complement the nutty, slightly salty taste of Gruyère. Enjoy now, or as the appetizer course of your Thanksgiving feast. Wine pairing suggestion: the 2008  Fritz Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion
1 tsp. ground sage
1/8 cup Passito* or brandy
8 oz of a 16 oz. package of frozen phyllo dough
spray olive oil
2 cups grated Gruyère
1 pint half and half
6 eggs
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white peppe
*What is Passito? Passito is a sweet Italian wine made with raisinated grapes--grapes dried to concentrate the flavor and sugar. I found my bottle for less than $10 at the local grocery. You can substitute brandy or sherry if you can't find Passito.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and quarter the onion, then slice very thinly. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over low heat. Cook the onion in the butter, stirring often until the onion is soft and golden brown. This will take from 30 to 45 minutes. Stir in the sage and Passito* and continue cooking until the liquid is evaporated.
Spray each sheet of phyllo dough--the easiest way to do this is to stack the layers, spraying with the olive oil as each sheet goes onto the top of the stack. Cut the stack into quarters and peel off two sheets at a time. If you are making mini-tarts, the two sheets will be enough to line each tart cup. If you are using regular muffin tins, line one half of a tart cup, then use two more sheets to fill in the other side. Fold the corners underneath and press the phyllo into the cup so there is space for the filling. Spray the tops of the phyllo cups with olive oil. Mix the eggs, half and half, salt and pepper together using a whisk. Put a pinch of grated cheese at the bottom of each tart cup. Pour a bit of the egg mixture into each cup, so it is divided equally. Then, place a bit of the onion on top. Finish with a layer of the rest of the grated cheese, divided among the tarts. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the egg is set and the phyllo is nicely browned.

Pair the warm tarts with the 2008 Fritz Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Makes a dozen tarts baked in a regular muffin tin or 4 dozen mini-tarts baked in mini-muffin tins.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

White Wines From The Old World And New

Growing season in Southern California is year round, but some vegetables susceptible to chill start dying off in the fall. My next-to-last harvest of eggplants and tomatoes included heirloom varieties of white and yellow eggplant (White Beauty and Thai Yellow Egg) from Hirt's Gardens seed company. Browse the Hirt's website for unusual varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers--like these miniature Mexican watermelons that are only 1-2" at maturity and the fractal-like Romanesco broccoli.

An invitation to a dinner party spurred me to whip up this appetizer with eggplant, tomato, garlic and cilantro from my garden:
3 cups eggplant (about one large globe or a half dozen Japanese eggplant)
2 cups ripe tomato (about one giant heirloom or 7 Roma tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. basil
spray olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced cilantro
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/4 cup pistachio nuts
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil a pot of water and pop the tomatoes in for a minute or just until the skin bursts, remove, cool, seed and slice them. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic--not too small so the pieces do not crisp in the roasting process. Peel and cut the eggplants into bite sized pieces and lightly salt them. Spray a baking pan with olive oil and spread the tomato slices and eggplant on the bottom. Press the garlic into the tomatoes and spray the top well with olive oil. Sprinkle the basil leaves on top. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the tomato is soft. Stir the vegetables together and bake another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the eggplant is soft and the juice from the tomato absorbed, remove from the oven to your serving dish. Stir in the olive oil, cilantro, lemon, pistachio nuts and pepper. Wait to add salt to taste, as it may not be necessary.

Serve with pita wedges, a soft cheese like Brie or Fontina, and a crisp, refreshing glass of the 2008 Carmichael "Grigio e Bianco" Pinot Grigio or 2009 Rex Hill Pinot Gris--both available from Touring and Tasting for purchase with FREE shipping on or before Nov. 3rd.

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing 101
This is the first in a four part series:  
What To Pour With Your Thanksgiving Feast
  1. Today: Light And Crisp White Wines
  2. Nov. 4: Fruity And Medium Bodied Red Wines
  3. Nov 11: Oaked Or Full Bodied White Wines
  4. Nov 18: Rich And Powerful Red Wines

For perfect Thanksgiving wines, there are some easy guidelines, backed by science and years of tradition. However, your own taste and preference takes precedence--if you prefer Cabernet Sauvignon with turkey or Chardonnay with everything, then your taste buds rule!
Here are some basic guidelines:
  • Balance oils and butter fat with acidity--heavy gravies and sauces rich with butter and oil will be overwhelming with a viscous, buttery-tasting wine liked oaked Chardonnay that has gone through malolactic fermentation. The wines in our free shipping special were chosen to have crisp acidity to balance heavy food.
  • Match the texture and intensity--light and medium bodied wines go well with lighter meats, such a turkey or fish, a bold red wine would overpower the lighter foods, for example, a powerful Zinfandel overpowers delicate foods but finds its match in spicy bbq ribs. The texture of a wine matters: the mouth-feel and weight should complement the food. Medium-bodied whites such as this week's wine special will do well with soups, vegetables, rolls and turkey.
  • Look for complementary flavors--just as one squeezes a bit of lemon on fish, a crisp wine with a lemony zing will refresh your palate between bites. The slight saltiness of ham will be balanced with a wine with fruit forward taste like the Challenger Ridge Viognier.
  • Avoid known mis-matches--the science behind taste has discovered the chemical compounds behind flavors. For example, limonene in creates a citrus flavor. So, knowing some science can help us avoid some bad matches: iodine in fish reacts with tannins in red wine to give an unpleasant metallic taste. Artichokes contain cynarin that makes a wine paired with it taste cloyingly sweet, unless they are cooked in a deep-fryer, which neutralizes the cynarin--a good reason to pair them with a robust, tannic Sangiovese. Other traditionally avoided pairings are dry wines with very sweet foods which will make them taste bitter, herbal or grassy wines like Sauvignon Blanc with red meats, and Cabernet Sauvignon with white meats.
Good wine pairings with Pinot Grigio: pastas with cream sauce, crabcakes, prosciutto and melon, smoked salmon, hazelnuts, cream of vegetable soup, risotto, or scalloped potatoes or vegetables, turkey.

Good wine pairings with Viognier: chicken and turkey, grilled fish, apple salad, dishes with cinnamon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Gentrification of The Land And How Exports Shape Rural America

Photo George Naylor --Farm Bill Basic

In the 1980s, a crisis hit farmers hard. A loosening of export policies in the '70s allowed huge grain exports to the hungry Soviet Union, jacking up commodity prices. Removal of restrictions on lending by our Federal Land Bank led to a boom in farmland prices and ballooning debt. Like the speculative real estate boom prior to the mortgage crisis we face today, farmland in the '80s experienced a bubble, which popped when the oil embargo sent interest rates soaring into the double digits. Family farms, some held for generations, had to go on the auction block as families across the Midwest declared bankruptcy.

Domestic and alcohol abuse and suicide rates jumped and some farmers broke under the pressure. In Iowa a farmer killed his banker and wife, then himself. In Minnesota a farmer and his son killed two bankers. Small towns in rural areas went into decline as the population moved away to find employment; many never recovered and now are ghost towns.

I was thinking of this as I took the drive from Santa Barbara north to Monterey along Highway 101 last weekend. I spent a great deal of time driving this route in the '90s to Paso Robles. After the cluster of Andersen's Pea Soup, hotels and gas stations at the junction with Highway 246, there was a seemingly endless drive through brown rolling hills devoid of anything except a few native coastal oaks and some cattle in widely spaced fenced pasture. It was a two color, two hour drive--just brown land and blue sky, except for two or three brief months when the former turned green with spring rains.

Star Lane Vineyard, Santa Ynez
Two decades later, the land looks positively pastoral. Green blocks of grapevines rake across the hills, festooned with sparkly strips to shoo the birds from the fruit. Winery signs punctuate the edges, and grand establishments can be glimpsed among hills, now verdant year round. We witnessed the same in our trip to the Willamette Valley where the transformation is even more noticeable. Old, worn stores and restaurants with their paste-on letter signs missing parts of words and light-up marquees, ringed now with only a few working bulbs, are cheek-by-jowl with shiny glass, brushed concrete and steel restaurants, bakeries and gourmet cheese shops.

What has happened is stupendous in its implications for rural areas: in 1995, there were only 944 wineries in California, now there are nearly 3000. In Oregon, there were 71 in 1990 and over 400 today.
Read through the biographical information on winery owners and you'll find individuals successful in other careers who had the big bucks necessary to establish their own winery: actors like Fess Parker, lawyers like Bob Hartenberger of Midnight Cellars, corporate executives like Lisa Pretty of Pretty-Smith or bankers like Selim Zilkha of Laetitia. With wineries has come a welcome infusion of capital into rural areas, as wineries need a support system: hotels for tasting room aficionados, gourmet restaurants, vineyard and winery employees, winemaking supply companies, schools for the children of the new residents, internet service...the list goes on and on. The business of wine has revitalized rural areas and given winemaking states a huge economic boost. Exports have played an enormous part of this growth. In 1995, the U.S.A. exported about 143 million liters of wine overseas, in 2009 over 413 million liters were exported. The economic impact on California by the wine business is estimated to be over $51 billion and over $103 billion on the US economy. So, the next time you enjoy your glass of wine, give a toast to yourself for helping to boost our rural areas and contribute to American jobs!

This week's wine pairing recipe!
2 lbs. beef fillet or top rump roast
Salt and pepper
1 lbs. frozen puff pastry
4 Tbsp. semolina flour
2 egg yolks + 2 Tbsp. warm water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic powder or 2 cloves of garlic, diced fine
2 Tbsp. powdered thyme
Dijon mustard or horseradish sauce, as condiment

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and sear the meat on all sides. Transfer to a baking pan and put into the oven for 10 minutes for medium rare, 20 minutes for medium, 30 minutes for medium-well or 40 minutes for well-done. If you like your meat rare, don’t put it into the oven and skip this step. When roasted to the desired doneness, remove from the oven. Let the meat sit and cool for several minutes.

In the meantime, set out the puff pastry to thaw. Stir the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Mix the garlic, semolina flour and thyme together and rub all over the meat. Roll out the puff pastry to about 1/4" thickness. Lay the beef on top and drape the puff pastry around it, brushing egg yolk on the "seams" so the pastry will seal and cutting off excess with a sharp knife. Try and get the main seam under the beef, and tuck the ends underneath. You can use a cookie cutter to make decorative shapes with the remaining pastry--attaching with some egg yolk. Brush all over with the egg yolk mixture, and return to the baking pan and oven to bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Let the beef sit for 10 minutes after removing from the oven before slicing and serving. Serves 4. Pair with a powerful California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes, Oregon

Lodge with Bandon Dunes Course behind, then the ocean.
Part of the 32 acre practice area
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort opened in 1998 on the spectacular, wild coast of Southern Oregon after the Scotsman David McLay Kidd spent three years getting to know the land and designing the first course, Bandon Dunes. Pacific Dunes, designed by Michigan architect Tom Doak opened in 2001, and four years later was named the best golf course in the U.S. by Golfweek Magazine, putting it ahead of Pebble Beach. Now, there are four unique 18 hole courses, with the inland Bandon Trails added in 2005 and Old MacDonald in 2010, which is rated #10 out of the top 100 courses by, plus a two enormous driving range with unlimited balls for guests, a six hole practice course and apparently another course under development. The resort is lovely and treads lightly on the land with wildlife in abundance. We were looking for Fred, the porcupine we heard lived outside our porch, but only saw many sweet-faced deer grazing just steps from the door and on the fringes of the courses.

We played Bandon Trails the first day, the employees' favorite and the only one not on the water, though we did get some ocean views. It's more protected and proved to be an excellent choice on the first day when there was wind for the other three courses. The first photo is a look at the carry on one of the men's tees--the triangle in the center of the photo is the fairway and green.

Hole 7 has a nasty elevated green, with sloping sides on all sides, this side shows a deep bunker waiting to snare any balls that don't land within the green's small center. I had a bad time and took an 8 here.
I think this was hole 10 where my tee shot landed to the right of the fairway and this was my view to the pin which you can barely see on the right side of the green. Of course, I managed to get in the sand but luckily managed to chip out and onto the green. At this point I already had sand in my shoes and hair, so was getting used to it!
Looking back from the 18th green, ocean in distance.

Old MacDonald was my first experience playing links golf and I loved it! The fairways are hard and tight and the balls roll forever. The greens are almost indistinguishable, just mowed a bit shorter. The wide fairways are deceptive in that the course looks easy, but it is laced with bunkers that are either incredibly deep (often 10 ft. high on the greens side) or impossibly huge. Also, the greens are enormous and undulate. Our wonderful caddie Shane said that they hid elephants under the greens and they do look that way--with enormous bulges and ridges and valleys.
 I was at the lip of this bunker from hell and tried to chip up to the green (pin just out of the shot on the right) but flubbed and ended up in the sand again and couldn't get out. I was so nervous on the front 9 of this course due to being paired up with some big shot golf course owner that I just picked up my ball on this hole so I wouldn't slow down the pace of play.
Hole #5--Paul hits a smooth wedge shot on this par 3 and gets a hole-in-one! His first in 40+ years of playing golf. A great achievement on a beautiful course on a day with perfect weather. A day to remember!

 A great view just before making the turn--not a bad place to get a lemonade and soak in the scenery.

This was one of my few triumphs--it doesn't look so steep, but this was an uphill hole with two bunkers and I managed to get into both of them. My tee shot went into the first, I hit it into the second, somehow managed to chip it up to the green and had one putt for a par 4!

Thanks to awesome and encouraging caddie Shane, I managed to loosen up and start hitting the ball better on the back 9. On 18, he handed me my hybrid which I swore never to use again, and essentially said "trust me!" I hit two good fairway shots with it and made a long putt to make par!
If we're fortunate enough to return to Bandon Dunes Resort, the next time we'll play Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes courses. By the way, the food is excellent at all the of the venues and the sweet potato fries are the best I've had anywhere.