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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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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning How To Make Sushi From A Sushi Master

Do you love this face? It's one of two baby harbor seals being cared for at the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center, which has the highest success rate of any marine mammal rescue center worldwide, with 90% of the animals successfully saved. Founder and marine biologist Peter Howorth runs this center on grants, donations and volunteerism. They had a fundraiser last fall, where we got to meet Philippe Cousteau and won a personal lesson on how to make sushi.

A volunteer from the Center, Ashley, works at Sakana Sushi in Montecito. She brought the amazing sushi chef Teru to show us how to make sushi. He was very generous with his time and top quality ingredients! We had mounds of delectable sushi for lunch and dinner and went with them afterwards to see the baby seals.
Matsuri brand rice
1 cup vinegar
150 gm sugar
30 gm salt
small piece of konbu (about 3" long)
dash of Yuzu, optional
Cook the rice per directions. Gently simmer the vinegar, sugar and salt for ten minutes. Put the konbu in and let cool. You can add a dash of Yuzu (Japanese citrus juice). Mix the rice and vinegar mixture. (see this post to see how to mix them properly so the rice is not mushy--the rice should have texture--like "al dente" pasta)

1. Always cut across the grain.

2. Salmon is cut into blocks that are four fingers wide. Trim the fillets so they are four fingers across, then cut them into four finger wide squares. Then slice them.

3. Other fish, like yellowtail: cut the fillets into long triangular pieces, then cut the slices at a diagonal. It's a little hard to see in the photo, but notice that the yellowtail fillet is triangular and you can see the diagonal cut at the end.

1. Take a small bit of rice in your right hand and gently roll it into a loosely packed ball using the index, middle and ring fingers against the palm of the hand.

2. Place the fish slice in your left hand and use your right index finger to daub a bit of wasabi onto the fish.

3. Put the rice ball on the fish (in your left hand) and press it down with the left thumb. Use the right thumb and index finger to squeeze in the sides of the rice to shape a rectangle.

4. Turn the sushi over on your left palm and hold the top of it with your left thumb. Curl your left index finger over the end of the sushi to keep the straight edge and use the right thumb and index finger to shape the sides of the sushi. Turn it 180 degrees (still fish-side up) and repeat.

*The goal is to make the sushi rice into a rectangle that is slightly wider on the top, like this diagram. The left index finger in step #4 is instrumental in making this slope on the short sides of the rectangle.

5. I didn't get a shot of this, but the finishing touch is to put the sushi fish-side down into the right palm and cup the palm so it slightly rounds the top of the fish.

Thank you so much, Teru-san and Ashley from the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center for the tour and the lesson on how to make sushi!

Beet salads are popular on the menus of fine restaurants. Make yours at home and enjoy with the 2009 Healdsburg Ranch Un-oaked Chardonnay.
2 each orange and purple beets
2 artichokes
spray olive oil
juice and zest of 2 oranges
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 cup microgreens
1/8 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the root end and leaves off each beet. (Save the leaves: chop, steam and season them with butter and lemon pepper for a healthy hot vegetable side dish) Cut each beet in half, spray with oil, then wrap in tin foil. Cut the artichoke in quarters, remove the thistly inside and cut off the sharp ends of the leaves with a sharp knife. Rinse, shake and pat dry, spray with oil and wrap in foil. Roast until soft, about 1 hour. When the beets are cool enough, peel off the skins and slice them. Mix the orange juice, zest, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, pepper and salt and add the beets and artichoke quarters. Mix gently, then plate with microgreens and the fresh basil.


Kitchen, Notebook, Memory: A Writing Retreat Inspired by the Five Senses
Saturday, March 19, 2011, "Bambooland," Santa Barbara, CA
Led by Chris deLorenzo, this writing retreat with workshops is for all levels of writers. Set in a beautiful Ryokan-styled home surrounded by lush Japanese gardens and koi pond, we are sure to find our muse, especially since we will be regaled with the fabulous aromas and flavors coming out of Chef Skip's kitchen! (read my post on him here)

5th Annual Artisan Cheese Festival
Friday, March 25-Sunday, March 28, Petaluma, CA
Tickets are selling out fast for Farm Tours on Friday--the Giacomini family will show off their cheesemaking operation, followed by a multi-course meal with local wine, produce and CHEESE! Saturday's seminar choices include curd-stretching, the world of mold, wine pairing, transhumance (traditional cheesemaking from herds moved to seasonal pastures) and...aahh...more cheese.
(read my post from 2009 here)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pierre Miodownick -- A Force Behind Kosher Wines

"I make all these wines," he boasts, with a wave of his hand at two tables laden with top labels from France like Chateau Pontet-Canet and Leoville Poyferré as well as wines from Spain, Australia, Israel and more. How is it possible for one man to make so many wines? We have just arrived at the Herzog 4th Annual International Food and Wine Festival celebrating kosher wine from around the world. Speaking to us is Pierre Miodownick, who does indeed make wine for an astonishing variety of wineries under the auspices of Royal Wines, the parent company of Herzog Wine Cellars. Kosher wines must have a "hands-on" observant Jew making the wine from harvest to bottle. Wineries such as the aforementioned will allow Miodownick to work in tandem with their winemakers, using the same grapes and exact techniques, with a "shadow" winemaker from the label, to make identical wine, but under kosher protocol. In this way, those who keep kosher can still enjoy a wide range of wines, spanning all styles and price points.

The Festival was a first-class event, held in Herzog's gleaming state-of-the-art winery. After reading their promotional flyer, I was expecting a room with less than a dozen wineries and a few samples from their restaurant, but was astounded to find room after room of wineries. On arriving we made a beeline to the "French" room where we met the effusive Miodownick. Mindful that I had to drive back to Santa Barbara, I limited my tasting to just one sip each, taking more time to experience the bouquet of the wines, which were a feast for the senses. I was captivated by the 1999 Chateau Guiraud Sauterne which was not sweet with a cloying sugar but sweet in the way nectar from the bulb of a honeysuckle flower is sweet, with a sweetness that kisses the tongue then ascends to the nose with layers of citrus and caramel.
Among my other favorites: the Puligny Montrachet (I think a 2004), the perfectly balanced 2005 Leoville Poyferré,  the 2004 Pontet-Canet which was aromatic and tannic (94 points from Robert Parker), the still young and tight 2005 Chateau Malartic La Graviere, which Miodownick thought might be ready to drink in another 10-15 years. I think it will be absolutely stunning when the corners are rounded. We were so intrigued by Miodownick's wines that we barely had time to try any others--a shame as what we sampled was just a drop in the bucket of what was available to taste. On my list of "absolute must-try" wines: the highly-rated Covenant Cabernet (full-bodied and full of flavor) and their Red C, which is a press wine priced only around $25, but still rating high marks from Parker. While enjoying those wines, we met the winemaker Jeff Morgan, whose inspirational history I had read in the NY Times. Herzog had been instrumental giving him a 'leg up' in establishing his winery in Napa. I wish we'd saved more time for Herzog's wines; I didn't realize the scope of wines Herzog makes, from value priced table wines, mostly from grapes from the Central Coast, to their top end Herzog labels. Their 2004 Chalk Hill Cab and 2003 Special Reserve Syrah were both terrific.

Of course, we had to leave time to sample Tierra Sur's cuisine after hearing so much about the restaurant in press and from word of mouth. Once again, I was amazed at the quantity and quality of tasty appetizers: three rooms of food! Chefs at each station were busy assembling hand-preparing delicacies like mini-stacks of layered potato and Jerusalem artichoke with bowfin tuna, aoili and pickled sea beans; cold-smoked yellowtail, Meyer lemon aioli and pickled beets on a hand-made potato chip; and pan-fried corn tortilla with tomato, pickled onion, and spicy peanut sauce (obligingly prepared for me--the vegetarian--without the braised tongue and duck confit which Nancy declared delicious). The pièce de résistance was one of the best cocktails I've ever tasted: made from Arango Reposado tequila (rated Highest Recommendation by Wine Enthusiast), just-squeezed cucumber juice, Yuzu Luxe Sour (Yuzu is a Japanese citrus), and rimmed with chile verde salt. Wow--it was fresh and clean like a mouthful of garden goodness.

Sated, we rolled back to Santa Barbara, impressed with Herzog/Royal Wine's role in developing quality kosher wines and promoting them to the public. We barely scratched the surface of all there was to experience at the Festival--I'll hope to return next year and will definitely make a point to drive down to Oxnard dine at Tierra Sur.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kosher Wine Festival At Herzog--Kosher Wine From Around The World

Herzog Cellars will host the 4th Annual International Food and Wine Festival 
Wednesday, February 16th,  6-9 pm
Many of the top kosher wine producers from around the world will be pouring their wines. Participants include:
Chef Aarons of Tierra Sur restaurant will pair his luscious Mediterranean-influenced dishes to the wine. Tierra Sur has the highest Zagat rating in Ventura County--so this will be a real treat! (read more)
I have the opportunity to attend the pre-festival press event with Touring and Tasting's VP of Business Development, so I delved into the internet to learn about kosher wine (corrections and additional information appreciated!). A succinct explanation of the kosher process can be found at Gems In Israel and on Herzog's site, with more detail at Judaism 101. Basically, a Sabbath-observant Jew must be in charge of the entire winemaking process from harvest to bottling and non-kosher ingredients--such as isinglass which is made from fish bladders and used to fine wine (remove sediment)--is proscribed. More stringent rules include banning grapes from vines younger than four years (common even in non-kosher viticulture), not allowing fruits or vegetables to grow between rows, letting a vineyard lie fallow every seven years, and "tithing" a percentage of the wine. Additionally, some Conservative Jews consider even the touch of an 'idolater' to spoil kosher wine. Mevushal wine is boiled or flash pasteurized under a mashgiach (authorized supervisor of kashrut or kosher practices) and becomes immune to the idolater's touch. More liberal Jews don't feel this is necessary and also consider non-kosher US and Canadian wines that are products of automated winemaking, still acceptable to drink as long as they don't use non-kosher ingredients.

Herzog Wine Cellars is in Oxnard, about half an hour south of Santa Barbara. The roots of the winery reach back over one hundred years to Slovakia where Philip Herzog made such tasty wine for Emperor Franz-Josef, that he was awarded the title of baron. WW II brought the evils of the Nazi regime and grandson Eugene and his family had to find sanctuary wherever they could--for a period of time they were sequestered in the walls of a woodshed, only to be forced by Communist persecution to emigrate to the USA three years after the war had ended.  The family was nearly penniless when they moved to Brooklyn, NY where Eugene labored making sweet, Concord grape wines in a kosher winery. Through dint of his hard work, he took over the winery which he renamed Royal wines in recognition of his grandfather Baron Herzog. The winery has been on an upward rise to quality since then, with the expansion into California in 1985. Herzog is committed to sustainable, socially equitable farming and has a state-of-the-art kosher facility at 3201 Camino Del Sol, Oxnard, CA. They will host the International Food and Wine Festival at their winery on the 16th.

Leoville Poyferré is a winery in the Saint-Julien appellation of the Médoc, established in the mid-17th century. The Château's vineyards are planted to the classic Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon 65%, Merlot 25% , Petit Verdot 8% and Cabernet Franc 2%. The wine produced at the estate was classified in 1855 as one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification.

Pontet Canet is also from the Médoc, in Pauillac. The winery was established over 300 years ago. It has been experiencing a Renaissance under Guy Tesseron, his son and granddaughter who have been improving winemaking techniques and garnering recognition for their efforts. (read this article on They use horses instead of tractors to till and harvest as part of their sustainable, hand-crafting of their Bordeaux.

Yon-Figeac is a small winery, about 61 acres in the Right Bank St. Emilion appellation of Bordeaux, planted to Merlot 80% and Cabernet Sauvignon 20%.

Giraud is a Château Neuf du Pape Rhône winery with a lineage of six centuries of winemakers. They hand-pick their grapes and make the traditional GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) blend the region is known for, as well as white Rhônes from Grenache blanc, Clairette, Burboulenc, and Roussanne.

Malartic La Graviere is one of only six Graves estates to produce both red and white classified wines. The red varieties include equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot at 45% each, with 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot and the white are made from 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon.

Laurent Perrier is well-known in the USA for their delightful, highly-acclaimed Champagne; they are even the official Champagne producer for the Oscar awards!

Capçanes Flor de Primavera is one of Spain's biggest co-operative wineries, comprised of 120+ wine producers in the Monsant DO (neighbor to Priorat). Most of their vines are very old--some 90+!

Domaine du Castel is a family winery situated in the Judean Hills above Jerusalem, producing Chardonnay and Bordeaux blends, which have received high scores from Robert Parker, Jr. 

Yatir's vineyards are in the Yatir forest--once arid wasteland and now teeming with wildlife. This stunning transformation was encouraged by Ben Gurion who asked the Weizmann Institute of Science to formulate a plan to make the land productive. The Jewish National Fund financed the planting of tens of thousands of trees by hand. Yatir Winery's wines also have received top marks from Robert Parker, Jr. plus gold medals in international competitions. Interestingly, ancient wine presses have been found on site--evidence of advanced winemaking 2,500 years ago.

Barkan Winery near the city of Ariel, Israel is the second largest producer of wine in the country and makes brandy, vermouth, gin and rum in addition to a wide variety of wines from their grapes: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Petit Syrah Carignan, and Colombard. They are pioneering the South African varietal Pinotage.

Covenant receives huge scores from Robert Parker, Jr. for their Cabernet Sauvignon, they also make Chardonnay sourced from Russian River Valley Bacigalupi vineyard. (read this touching article on the winemaker's discovery, published in the NY Times)

For the foodies, I'll add the mouth-watering sample menu for the event from Chef Aaron of Tierra Sur:
Cold Fish Bar
Cold smoked artic char and Hawaiian Kona kampachi
Blood orange ceviche
Molasses cured King salmon
Black Bowfin Caviar
Hot Fish Bar
Achiote marinated albacore fish taco housemade masa gordita
Mesquite smoked King Salmon
Fennel and black pepper encrusted seared Ahi Tuna
Venison terrine
Duck rillette
Grilled liver pate
Lamb ham
Lamb bacon
From the Wood Burning Grill
Variety of house-made Sausages
Pomegranate marinated lamb
Fresh maltagliati mille herbe truffle oil
Tomato & lamb bacon
Mexican Influence
Birria chili braised lamb
Mole verde
Oxaccan red mole
Decadent Chocolate Buffet

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Big News!

Rodney Strong Vineyards and Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery will be joining us on the wine cruise this summer! Rodney Strong is a terrific Sonoma winery with loads of medals, awards and 90+ point ratings from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. They hand-pick and hand-sort their estate grapes, producing stellar Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Meritage and will be pouring their single-vineyard and Reserve wines for us. (see their website)

Michigan's Brys also makes hand-crafted, estate wines from their cooler weather grapes: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Their wines have won over 220 medals in international and local wine competitions, including three medals in the esteemed 2010 International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. Brys owners Walt and Eileen Brys will pour their single vineyard, small batch wines for us on the cruise, which will be a treat as their online store is sold out. (see their website)
We're looking to add two more wineries to the cruise--but I can't say anything about this yet, except that now we have wineries representing two distinct wine growing regions, it would be great to have Oregon and Santa Barbara represented. Stay tuned!

More cruise news--in addition to all the activities and wine events that come as part of the cruise package, it looks like we will be able to pay (around $49-$135 per event) for some great shore excursions: Spanish cava (sparkling wine) tasting in underground cellars, tasting homemade cheese, smoked ham and wine in Dubrovnik, tasting wine and homemade mozzarella cheese and olive oil in Naples, and the best part--making pasta at a farmhouse outside Rome! (read about the cruise here)

Some may think me foolish to worry about this, but I was concerned about safety in Croatia and Montenegro, not ever having been to Dubrovnik or Kotor and, frankly, being ignorant about the countries in general. I was relieved to discover that they are both Christian, rather than Muslim, countries. I'm not discriminatory against Muslims, but with world events being what they are, it seems legitimate to be concerned when travelling in close to areas where there has been notable anti-American sentiment. The US State Department gives both countries a thumbs up!

In my research, I discovered that Kotor is a tiny town of just 13,510 residents. It began as a Roman settlement that Emperor Justinian fortified during the Middle Ages. It was invaded by Goths and Saracens, belonged to the Venetian Republic, the Ottomans, Napoleon, the Austrian Empire and Italy before becoming part of Montenegro in 1945. During the Renaissance, it was considered equal in influence and wealth to Venice. The best examples of its art and architecture are from this period, earning it designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dubrovnik is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been a maritime trading heavyweight for most of its history. It is thought to be of Byzantine origin and has suffered many travails. In 1667, an earthquake killed over 5,000 residents and during the breakup of Yugoslavia, it sustained seven months of heavy shelling. Yet, many gorgeous building survived, like the St. Blaise Church and the Rector's Palace. George Bernard Shaw said of the city, "If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik". Apparently, the streets are lined with white marble which gleams in the sun.

This week's Online Grapevine features four terrific estate-grown Argentinian wines, grown at 4,200 feet elevation. The grapes are hand-selected; the wines aged in a blend of French and American oak for six mon­ths (with the exception of the fresh Torrontés), then bottle aged for at least six months before release.  Pair this recipe with the 2008 Andeluna Malbec, Decanter's International Trophy winner. (more Argentinian recipes can be read here and here)

Open face empanadas brimming with pork loin cooked in cumin and orange juice can be made as tapas or the main course.
Pastry for Empanadas:
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter
1/4 cup cold water
In a small bowl, mix the egg and extra yolk slightly, using a fork. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or two dinner knives (cross the blades so they act like scissors), cut the butter into the flour until the butter bits are less than 1/4" across. Mix in the egg with half of the water, mixing quickly with the fork until the dough just comes together, adding the rest of the water as necessary.  Knead quickly on a floured board, only to incorporate all the ingredients. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Orange and Cumin Pork Loin Filling:
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. pork loin, in 1" cubes
1/4 onion, minced
juice of 1 orange
spray olive oil
salt and pepper, optional
sprinkle of slivered almonds
Heat the oil in a heavy pot (with a tight fitting lid) over medium heat, and sear the pork cubes on all sides, along with the cumin, minced garlic and onion. Add the orange juice and turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Braise the pork for an hour, stirring occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more orange juice or water. At the end, you would like the pork to be juicy, not soupy or dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray four of the muffin cups in a large muffin tin with olive oil. Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and divide in fourths. On a lightly floured board, roll out each piece into a circle and fit it into one of the cups, mounding the pastry around the edges to make a rim. Fill with the pork mixture, then bake in the oven about 10 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. Serves 4.