My photo
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.

Search This Blog

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".