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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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Friday, December 28, 2012

Festive Kale and Pomegranate Salad and Sonoma Travel

The two weeks prior to Christmas are always a blur of extra work, wrapping, cooking, and too many Christmas cookies! This year, the kids made tamales for Christmass and I made this colorful salad of kale and pomegranates.

Tama's Roasted Carrot, Kale and Pomegranate Salad
4 large carrots, cut into 1/2" chunks
spray olive oil
1/2 pomegranate
1 bunch kale
1/4 - 1/2 lemon, juiced
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Turn the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, add the carrots and spray them on all sides with olive oil. Bake for around 1 hour, until soft but not mushy, with browning around the edges. Remove and let cool.

Remove the thick part of the kale stems, then slice the leaves thinly. Put into a non-reactive glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl. Squeeze 1/4 of the lemon over the kale, sprinkle liberally with salt, a few turns of pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, work the dressing into the kale so it is coated completely with dressing. Adjust seasonings, adding more lemon to your taste. The dressing should be bright and acidic.

Mix the roasted carrots and kale in a colorful serving bowl, top with pomegranate seeds.

Cooking Tip:
To remove the pomegranate seeds without a mess--and having clean hands at the end--use this technique I learned from Chef Michele Molony.

Fill a large bowl with water and place the pomegranate half inside. Push on the round "back" of the pomegranate to open it, then brush the seeds out--all underwater. The seeds will sink to the bottom, the skin and membranes will float, and your hands will be clean.

The two of us are on our annual post-Christmas trip to N. Cal wine country. We've been staying at the historic Honor Mansion in Healdsburg. Built in 1883, the main mansion has tall ceilings and beautiful furnishings. We've enjoyed our gourmet breakfasts in this sunny window seat that we decided is "ours" for the duration of our stay. This morning, tender fresh berry scones with a lemon-y icing awaited us, along with a spinach egg bake and fresh pineapple.

We've had one day of glorious sunshine between soaking rains and spent it at the Healdsburg Golf Club at Tayman Park, up to our ankles in mud due to the 6" of rain that fell last week, but enjoying the views and hilly terrain of the 9 hole course.

We've eaten at our favorite Bistro Ralph on the main square, which always satisfies with tasty food and excellent wines by the glass, downing wild mushroom soup, butterleaf/mustard salad and short rib ravioli.

We loved lunch at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar so much we went back for dinner! It's a stylish tapas-style restaurant with delicious food--like succulent lobster spiced with remoulade sauce and wrapped in a soft roll, fresh oysters on the half shell, fish tacos in handmade tortillas, and clam and garlic flatbread.  Their by-the-glass wine list is superb and we tried the Dominio de Tahrsys Cava, Rochioli Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Oakwild Ranch "Old Vine" Russian River Valley Chardonnay, M. Chapoutier "Belleruche" Côtes du Rhône Rose, all great pairing with seafood.

I try to avoid eating dessert, but crème brûlée is my weakness. I used to be teased that I should have a blog just for it, but someone has beat me to it:

Willi's Seafood crème brûlée is one of the best I've had--with warm raspberries and a thin caramelized sugar crust. MMMmmmm...

Friday, December 14, 2012

How To Make Good Pie and Tart Crusts

One of the hallmarks of a good cook is the ability to make a tender pie or tart crust. Here are some simple tips for good crusts.

Tough crusts can result when the gluten in the flour is developed by over handling the dough. Gluten is a protein that forms long strands that gives bread dough its stretchiness and gives bread its chewiness. The elasticity of bread dough contains the bubbles of gas created by the yeast--which is what makes the holes in the bread. But, pie and tart crusts should be flaky, not chewy, so low gluten pastry dough is best. Also, minimize handling of the crust dough to keep it tender.

When small bits of butter in the dough melt in the oven, steam is released to create flakiness in the cooked crust. You want to have small bits of butter dispersed in the dough, but not melted butter soaked into the flour. The aim is to coat the bits of butter with flour, add just enough liquid to hold the dough together and do it all quickly before the butter starts to melt and blend with the flour. Keep your butter and water as cold as possible. There are several techniques for the butter, including grating frozen butter. My technique is to cut the butter into small cubes, then put it back in the fridge for 10 minutes to chill before pulsing it into the flour in a food processor.

Put the flour/butter mixture into a plastic bag, then add the ice water. This minimizes the mess and you can easily squeeze the dough together into a ball inside the bag. Then, press it into a disk while it is still in the bag, this will minimize time spent rolling the dough. Refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes before rolling it out.

This is what professional bakers do--make a slurry of 2 tablespoons melted butter plus 1 tablespoons flour to brush on over a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the tart or pie pan. I cut the parchment paper for a tart so it goes 1/2" up the side of the pan. This way, after the tart is cooled, it's easy to remove the ring and slide the tart off the bottom of the pan onto a serving dish by holding onto the edge of the parchment paper.

Professional bakers use a silpat for a number of techniques. It is a non-stick silicone mat. Lightly flour it, put the dough disc on top, put a light dusting of flour on the top of the dough and roll out quickly. The silpat is the width you'll need for a tart pan, so it's easier to roll out the proper sized circle. Flip the silpat onto the tart pan and peel it off the crust. This minimizes cracking that can happen if you use the traditional method of draping the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it into the tart pan.

Start preheating your oven in plenty of time to allow it to come to temperature before you bake the crust. If you put the crust in the oven when it is still heating, the butter melts into the flour without creating steam and your crust will most likely be tough. You may find an oven thermometer helpful in learning how long it takes your oven to preheat; every oven is different. Hope these tips on crust-making techniques helped!




ROASTED VEGETABLE TART (bottom photo at right)

ALMOND TART (middle photo on right)
Ingredients For the Tart Shell:
1 cup cold butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
cold milk, if needed

Ingredients For Greasing the Tart Tin:
4 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons flour

Ingredients For the Filling:
2 cups blanched almonds
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
confectioner's sugar for topping

Directions For the Tart Shell:
Cut the butter into small cubes, then put back into the refrigerator as you prepare the other ingredients. Whisk the egg in a small bowl. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry blender or quickly rub together with your fingers until the mixture is like crumbs. Mix in the egg and the smallest amount of milk possible, just so the dough can be gathered together, but is still a bit crumbly. Turn into a plastic bag and squeeze into a ball. Put in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour.

Mix the melted butter and flour together in a small bowl. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of your tart shell, then brush the butter/flour mixture on the parchment and inside the walls of the tart tin.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board and press into the tart tin, trimming off any excess. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Put in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 355 degrees.

Directions For the Filling:
Pulse the almonds in a food processor until roughly chopped. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and eggs together. Mix in the lemon zest, almonds, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour into the tart shell and bake in the oven for 1/2 hour or until golden brown.

Let the tart cool in the pan. When cool, remove from the tart tin. Cut decorative shapes from a piece of paper--shown in the photo is a circular zigzag made by folding a square paper into fourths, then along the diagonal, then cutting diagonally. You can also make leaf shapes, etc. Put the decorative shapes on the cooled tart, then sprinkle confectioner's sugar through a sieve. Remove the decorative shapes to see the pattern in the sugar topping.

2012 A Year of Weird Weather, but California's Harvest is Great

"We’re short of wine," declared Bertrand Girard, chief executive officer of Groupe Val d’Orbieu, the largest French wine cooperative in the world's largest wine region when he was asked about the 2012 harvest. He added, "We’ve never seen that in three or four decades." Terrible weather decimated the harvest in southern Europe with a 1.3 billion bottle shortage forecast this year. The weird weather included massive storms, a cold start to the season, hailstorms and a summer heat wave.

Copa-Cogeca, which calls itself "The united voice of farmers and their co-operatives in the European Union", predicts a 10%+ drop in European Union grape production this year. The harvests in France and Italy may be their smallest in 40 to 50 years. Champagne is expected to report a 40% drop due to frost and Bourgogne Beaujolais 30%. Drought and excessive heat hit Italian vineyards hard; they expect a 8% drop in overall harvest. BloombergBusinessweek reports Italian Pinot Grigio prices are already up 10%. Nyetimber, the largest vineyard in the United Kingdom that produces award-winning sparkling wine, is scrapping harvest altogether because the grapes failed to mature due a cold, wet summer. writes "What's made 2012 so strange? Two words: 'timing' and 'location'. We've seen events occur much earlier in season than what's considered average.  We've also seen weather events in locations you wouldn't expect. Finally, we've seen persistent "high-amplitude" weather patterns crank out impressive precipitation totals (rain and snow) and prolonged heat or cold."

Weird weather included 18 feet of snow that fell in just two days in areas of Germany, Austria and France, after the warmest autumn in 150 years. Hailstones the size of softballs fell in Hawaii, of all places. Then, there was the devastating storm Sandy, which was called a 'megastorm' for its 1,000 mile diameter.

The result for wine lovers? Budget wines from Europe are going to be more pricey. For example, Spanish bulk wine has doubled in price from two years ago. And some wines will be more scarce (and more expensive) like Champagne.

The silver lining?

Across California, wine grape growers are praising this year's crop as "outstanding" and "ideal".  “Mother Nature smiled upon the California wine harvest this year with a bountiful crop of amazing quality,” announced Kathleen Heitz, president of Heitz Wine Cellars.  Frank Cabral of Trinchero Family Estates agreed, saying "The 2012 harvest has been exceptional…the 2012 harvest is shaping up to be one that will become known for its abundance of fruit and quality of wines.” Sounds like we'll be enjoying stellar wines from the Golden State--I'll toast to that!

Recap Wine Tourism Conference 2012

Two decades ago, there were less than 2,000 wineries in the United States, now there are nearly 8,000, with wineries in every state of the nation. Representatives from 19 states, plus 2 provinces in Canada, came to the Wine Tourism Conference sponsored by Touring and Tasting and hosted at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa last week. A great deal of terrific wine was tasted, a mountain of business cards exchanged, and a cornucopia of ideas shared in the seminars, panel discussions and break out sessions on how to promote wine tourism through networking, social media, advertising and partnerships with government and private enterprise.

Wine country tourism is big business. An estimated 17 million people will visit wineries in 2012, contributing to a chunk of the $852 billion spent overall this year on domestic travel. Overall, the wine industry contributes $162 billion to the US economy and has revitalized many rural areas. In the 1980s, Paso Robles was a pastoral ranching and farming community of less than 10,000. Today it is an international destination with first-class wineries, accommodations and restaurants. Their tongue-in-cheek promotional video called the PasoWineMan has gone viral on YouTube, exemplifying the reach of new media. As David Bowman, VP of Marketing for JUSTIN Winery said, "we take a very irreverent approach" in marketing and in winemaking, with tremendous diversity of varietals and techniques embraced in this AVA, the second largest in California after the Central Coast AVA.

Todd Davidson, CEO of the Oregon Tourism Commission and one of the panel speakers, noted that "the wine and film businesses are the 'dynamic duo' of Oregon's economic recovery" with 8,000 new wine jobs added in the state last year. His remarks on the growth of wine biz was echoed by other panelists including Steve Warner, President and CEO of the Washington State Wine Commission, who said that his state is in the midst of "explosive growth". He credits Washington State's success on the ideal terroir of eastern Washington where 99% of the vines are on their own rootstock, not having had problems with phylloxera due to the sandy, dry soil. Sparse precipitation minimizes pest and disease issues, but since the fourth largest river by volume flows through eastern Washington, growers can irrigate precisely. However, in regards to wine tourism, they are challenged by their distance from major urban centers. Their marketing effort is multi-pronged and includes partnerships with private enterprises. For example, private enterprises help facilitate wine country travel by allowing travelers to rent a car one-way without the usual additional fee, so they can drive one way and fly out the return affordably.

Virginia is in an enviable location for wine tourism, being just a two hour drive from Washington DC and within a day's drive of 2/3 of the entire population of the United States. Virginia wineries are also enviable for the support their state legislature and their governor provides. A percentage of wineries' excise taxes fund the Marketing Office ($1.35 million in 2010) and tax credits are offered for winery startups. Annette Boyd, Director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, outlined some of the many ways they are promoting their wine country, noting that the traditional stalwart of a current driving map with a comprehensive list of wineries remains the workhorse of their promotion.

Morgen McLaughlin, CEO of Finger Lakes Wine Country New York, stressed the need for a media rich website, among other important factors in marketing wine country. Their website brings together the ideas she and other panelists highlighted: social media links, videos, informative content, partnership between wineries, accommodations, restaurants, transportation, events and a convenient trip planner that can be accessed via computer or mobile phone.

Traci Ward, Director of Marketing for Visit California presented promotional videos and outlined the myriad ways that travel marketing organizations can help wine country businesses promote tourism to their area. One of the points brought up by various panelists was how much organizations and state and federal agencies can assist businesses in marketing their wine region.

Touring and Tasting sponsored the Regional Wine Reception on Wednesday, with representatives from 40 winery regions pouring their wines--including up and coming regions like Idaho and Colorado. The Wine Tourism Conference was organized by Zephyr Adventures with the support of an advisory board which included Sonoma County Tourism. Touring and Tasting's Dan Fox was praised opening day by the moderator, saying "There was nobody who worked as hard as Dan Fox of Touring and Tasting on making this year's Wine Tourism Conference a success". Kudos to all for an excellent conference, providing a wealth of information on specific marketing strategies and innovative ideas on public relations. Portland, Oregon will be the host of the 2013 Wine Tourism Conference, scheduled for November 14-15, 2013.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Flavor! Napa

The Appellation Trail Tasting at Flavor! Napa last night was one of the most gluttonous (and delicious) experiences in my life. I tasted samples from all 30+ top Napa restaurants--fantastic! And like any tourist, I had to have my photo taken with Chef Morimoto!

When I have the chance, I'll post photos from this hedonistic debauch of food. Held at the The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, it was a showcase for the talents of top chefs across the Napa appellation.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Best of the Wurst

You have to love Santa Barbara. Besides the glorious beach and Mediterranean climate, a walk through downtown always yields surprises. Yesterday, there were 10 colorfully painted pianos on various street corners, waiting for passerbys to create impromptu performances. I snagged the photo on the right from the "Pianos on State" Facebook page. As I walked down State, there was an earnest young man at one, pounding his way through a difficult classic.

Walking across Cota, I saw this sign saying"To The Wurst", written in swirly script, like something you'd expect to see in Alice in Wonderland. I couldn't resist following the pointing finger--even if were to lead me down the rabbit hole! Instead, I found a friendly woman behind the blue door facing this alley. It's a little pop-up restaurant serving homemade sausages, some vegetarian entrees and some of the best french fries in Santa Barbara.

I had the veggie wurst with grilled onions and peppers and cilantro pesto.

At the backdoor of Blue Agave: The Wurst Natural Sausage, 20 E. Cota, Santa Barbara.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Foodist, Foodie or Lazy Bum?

Just for fun, take this 'tongue in cheek' quiz to see if you're a foodist--someone appreciates good food and will go to some effort to cook or obtain it, a foodie--someone who is overly obsessed with food, or just a lazy bum.

1. You're exhausted from a long day at work, you come home and for dinner:
a. You find something in the freezer and pop it in the microwave.
b. You pull out yesterday's left over coq au vin, make a nice salad, and pour yourself a glass of red wine.
c. You've been thinking all day about how you love the taste of artichokes with Gruyere, so you make a cheddar cheese crust and bake yourself a artichoke and mushroom quiche. (recipe)

2. When asked the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon:
a. "Um, you stir your tea with the teaspoon and put the tablespoon on the table?"
b. You know that there are 3 teaspoons to a tablespoon.
c. Outside of making pastry, which requires exact measurements, you never need to measure a tablespoon or teaspoon because you can eyeball them from experience.

3. Your dear friend has just been dumped by her boyfriend:
a. You avoid calling her, because who wants to get dragged into an awkward emotional conversation?
b. You call her to let her know that you are there for her.
c. You make her favorite dessert to take her. (recipe)

4. You're on the first day of your vacation and it's time for dinner:
a. You find the nearest burger joint--whatever is most convenient.
b. You ask at the hotel front desk if they can recommend a restaurant.
c. You've probably chosen your vacation spot based on what food you are going to eat and have already mapped out most of your meals by researching Yelp and Zagat weeks ago and have made reservations via OpenTable because you love getting that free $20 certificate for every 2,000 points.

5. The flu is coming on; you are feeling run down, with low energy:
a. You get a Five Hour Energy drink or Venti latte and scarf down a bunch of candy to get the sugar rush.
b. You dose yourself with Vitamin C, make a cup of antioxidant-rich herb tea and lie down to rest.
c. You want to eat something easily digestible and full of natural vitamins, so you make yourself some nourishing soup. (recipe)

6. You're brewing the Web, looking for photos:
a. We don't even want to know.
b.You have some laughs looking at LOLcats and Cake Wrecks.
c. "OMG, did I really spent three hours looking at photographs of food, figuring out how the dishes were prepared and plated and dreaming about making them?"

7. Your philosophy on food and life:
a. I eat to survive.
b. Making and eating great food is one of the pleasures of life.
c. I live to eat great food. A bad meal is a missed opportunity and puts me into a bad mood.

If you answered all "a", shame on you! If you answered all "b", you are a foodist. If you answered all "c", join the foodie club. If you had a mixture of answers, congratulations, you're normal!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween Appetizers - Bones and Eyeballs

Here's a great appetizer to pair with a bold red wine. You could make your own bread dough and marinara, but this is so simple to put together with premade ingredients. The bread "bones" are delicious dipped in the marinara; the Mozarella "eyeballs" melt slightly in the warm marinara.
Tama's Halloween Bones and Eyeballs Appetizer
1 package frozen bread dough
1 jar ready made marinara sauce
8 ounces of baby Mozarella
1/16 cup pitted black olives

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; do not oil. Let the bread dough thaw until softened (or make your own recipe white bread dough). With a sharp knife, portion the dough into 1 ounce pieces (a heaping 1/8 cup). Using lightly floured hands, roll each piece into a "bone" with large ends and skinny middles. Press the ends with your thumb to make the "joint" ends of the bone. Line the "bones" up on the parchment and let sit for 15 minutes, until they have risen just slightly, but before they dough has risen enough to change the shape. Bake in the preheated oven until baked but not browned. Remove and set aside.

Heat the marinara sauce in a small pot. Marinara without chunks of herbs or vegetables will look more like "blood". Cut the olives into small "irises" for the eyeballs, using a sharp paring knife. Cut a small hole in each baby Mozarella ball to fit the olive piece inside. Pour the warmed marinara into a serving dish and dot with the "eyeballs". Serve the "bones" on the side to dip in the sauce.

Spook your friends with this "bloodbath" of marinara sauce, bread "bones" to gnaw on, and Mozarella and olive "eyeballs". Especially bewitching with a bold red wine, like a sangiovese or a blend, like the Tamas "Andiamo" sangiovese and zinfandel blend.

Anyone else obsessed with shishito?

Michele Moloney was trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and to look through her meticulous notes--carefully sealed in protective plastic--is a window into classic French technique. Now, lucky Santa Barbarans!, she caters and teaches continuing education classes here and we get to learn from her and cook tasty things like roasted beet and pomegranate salad, lemon lavendar cake, delicata squash tart and rosemary olive knots.

We had pan fried shishito peppers last week and I'm hooked! The mild Japanese pepper goes well with bold red wines--just melt some butter in a cast iron skillet, fry until they blister, then sprinkle with salt and pepper--divine. I liked finding something low-cal to serve as an appetizer with wine.

Yesterday, I made a fantastic frittata with them. Gruyeré pairs beautifully with the shishito and where the cheese met the outside rim of the cast iron skillet, it crisped into a delicious crunchy texture. I used my 6" cast iron skillet for this individual frittata.

Shishito and Gruyeré Frittata
2 tablespoons butter
handful shishito peppers
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, whisked together
sprig of fresh thyme, destemmed
1/4 cup grated  Gruyeré

Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet and sauté the shishito until they are browned and blistered, stirring to brown evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut the stems off and set the peppers aside.

Pour the eggs into the hot skillet, they should sizzle. Turn the heat to low and place the peppers on top. Sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper, then the cheese. Put a lid over the pan and cook until the eggs are almost set.

I had this frittata for breakfast with a waffle, but it would be great with a fresh green salad and a glass of bold red wine for lunch or dinner.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Claiborne & Churchill Vintners Runestone wineI think we can all agree on this proverb: "Vin skal til vinar drekka".  I would have been scratching my head, too, except Clay Thompson, Ph.d, former professor and department chair of Nordic Studies, expert in the esoteric study of runology, plus co-founder and first winemaker of Claiborne & Churchill Vintners, clued me in on the meaning of the runes found on his Runestone wine label. There are three things I love about this bottle of wine. First, the label. The full inscription on the runestone reads: "Claiborne ok Fredericka gerdu vin that. Vin skal til vinar drekka.", which means "Claiborne and Fredericka made this wine. Wine should be drunk with a friend." How cool is that!! Dora in Finding Nemo speaks "whale", but Claiborne speaks "rune". Secondly, "vin" means "wine" in Old Norse and "vinar" means "friend". A great connection.
pinot noirThe third thing I love about this Runestone bottle is that it contains terrific Pinot Noir. The winemaker notes include this: "…there’s no such thing as a “best” wine. However, if there were such a thing as a best wine, this would be it! Put it this way: take the other Pinots we make, add a few layers of complexity, and multiply by six. That’s our 2007 Runestone!" Take a sip of this barrel select pinot and you can understand why Claiborne & Churchill Vintners is known for great pinot--one of theirs won “Best Pinot Noir in California” at the California State Fair. Best Pinot Noir in California! In a state with so many premium pinot producers and regions--that is a stratospheric achievement.

Claiborne & Churchill VintnersClaiborne & Churchill Vintners also won "Grand Winner" at the international Pinot Noir Summit, where over 200 pinots were tasted by a panel of experts over a 3 month period, as well as many other medals and awards. But, you won't see the acclaim splashed across their website or sense any "attitude" in the tasting room. Claiborne & Churchill Vintners exemplifies everything wonderful about a family owned winery: the friendly staff and owners, the delicious handcrafted wines, the care taken to produce wine sustainably, the "ground-up" success story and the sense of community. While we were there, a wine club member stopped in to pick up his monthly shipment and we had the chance to witness this sense of community and the personal touch that a family winery provides. As Claiborne (or Clay as he is known) explained, "we live here, we party here, you walk in and chances are you get us".

Claiborne & Churchill tasting roomMy Inside Wine - Santa Barbara co-founder Lila and I had driven up to Edna Valley for a day. (read about Edna Valley's unique terroir). We stopped into the Claiborne & Churchill Vintners tasting room and had the opportunity to meet Claiborne and his lovely wife Fredericka Churchill and to hear their fascinating story. Clay was a professor of Nordic Studies and Fredericka taught German at the University of Michigan. Despite his success in the academic world, he was not happy with the politicking involved. In 1981, they were driving up from UCLA to Berkeley on an academic trip, when they stopped to taste wines at Edna Valley Vineyards.  As they toured the winery, he was amazed to see that the workers there liked to go to work, rather than dreading it. They seemed to like each other and he got the sense that they felt their life had meaning.  Clay "got the bug" for winemaking that day and determined to make a career change. A Ph.d from Harvard in Nordic Studies was not the usual background for winemaking, but the winemaker and founding partner at Edna Valley Vineyards, Dick Graff, was a Harvard music grad who hired Clay for $6 an hour. Clay went from department chair to "cellar rat" without hesitation.

Truth window straw baleClay worked his way up to producing his own wines inside the Edna Valley Vineyards winery to renting a warehouse where he and Fredericka began buying premium local grapes and crafting Alsatian style dry Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Americans tend to think Rieslings are sweet but in fact they can be quite dry with very little residual sugar. These are not sweet dessert wines; they are crisp, fruity, refreshing whites great to pair with food. Their 2001 Dry Riesling is the only American wine to win a Gold Medal at the French Riesling du Monde competition. Besides the aforementioned wines, they produce small lots of Pinot Gris, Dry Muscat, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon (from grapes grown in the warmer Paso Robles), a Syrah, interesting blended wines, a Sparkling Brut Rosé made every other year, and a number of sweet dessert wines. These small lots sell out quickly as they become available during the year. They still buy 90% of their grapes with long-term relationships with vineyards with their estate vineyard fulfilling the rest of their need.  As Clay said, "it's fun to not be restricted to what you grow".

Claiborne & Churchill straw baleIn 1995 Clay and Fredericka built their winery using straw bale construction. This innovative building is environmentally responsible and energy efficient. The 16" thick walls have four to five times the insulation factor compared to traditional construction. This allows the winery to operate without mechanical heating and cooling. Peer into the tasting room's "truth window" to see the straw bales behind the plaster.

Clay ClaiborneIn 2007, Clay promoted his assistant winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia to winemaker, but he, his wife and daughter are still hard at work at the winery. As he said, "there's a lot of pride that goes into to being a family owned winery". Perhaps delegating the winemaking into capable hands leaves Clay more time for another area of expertise--being a "cruciverbalist".  An avid crossword fan, Clay has published his crosswords in the Los Angeles Times and on his "Clueless" wine labels. His latest, the "Clueless White" is sold out. It had a crossword on the label that listed the varietals in the blend when the puzzle was solved.
Here's a puzzle clue of my own: what 3 word name starts with a "C" and denotes a great place to taste well-balanced, beautifully crafted wines? Guess right--and you win!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Nine Sisters and Edna Valley

7 sisters of Edna ValleyI've driven five hours roundtrip to the Antelope Valley to see the rolling hills of the Poppy Preserve incandescent from millions of tiny poppy petals. I've endured the car-sickness-inducing hairpin curves of Jalama Road just to stand on a rocky outlook above Jalama Beach and watch line after line of white capped waves stroke the pristine bay. So why didn't I ever drive the 86 miles from Santa Barbara to Edna Valley to see the "nine sisters" marching in a line from the sea? I could have simply taken the highway 227 cutoff from highway 101 during my countless trips from Southern California to Northern California. It would have shaved 2 miles off my trip.

Morro Bay RockYou may have noticed the chain of peaks extending from Morro Bay into the distance to the south east. They are volcanic plugs--the hardened interior rock of ancient volcanoes that erupted along a series of fault lines over 20 million years ago. The seven "sisters" or morros have two more siblings under the sea, so there are actually nine in all. The first on land is the monumental Morro Bay Rock that rises 576 feet above the bay. The next "sisters": Black Hill, Cerro Cabrillo, Hollister Peak, Cerro Romauldo, Chumash Peak, Bishop Peak, and Cerro San Luis continue in a south-easterly direction, ending with Islay Hill clearly visible beyond the neat, green rows of the 1,200 acre Paragon vineyards.

Paragon VineyardsThe peaks are not the only interesting geologic feature of Edna Valley. The soil is mainly comprised of Pismo Formation, created under ancient oceans, with thick deposits of clam and oyster shells up to 60 feet deep. Viniculture has a long history in the area, beginning with the Spanish Mission founded in 1772 in San Luis Obispo, where highly regarded wine was produced from locally planted grapes. Jack and Catherine Niven, along with the founders of Chamisal Vineyards, were pioneers in Edna Valley, planting the Paragon Vineyard in 1973. The Niven family  started with Cabernet Sauvignon, but quickly realized the terroir was perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Today, the Paragon Vineyard's largest plantings also include Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris.

Edna Valley VineyardsThe Edna Valley is a long valley that runs from the ocean unobstructed. There is a gap in the mountains along the coast in the Los Osos Valley which acts like a funnel for marine air to flow into the valley. Like the Sta Rita Hills AVA just north of Santa Barbara, the Edna Valley enjoys the benefit of cooling marine air. This brings crispness to the fruit while the extraordinarily long growing season insures development of sugar in the grapes. Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines can begin sending out shoots as early as March and the harvest can run into late October. A combination of the long growing season, the marine/volcanic soil and briny ocean air give the wines concentrated flavor and individualism.

Jack Niven Hospitality CenterThe Edna Valley Vineyard tasting room makes the most of the winery's spectacular view of the seven sisters and the ocean, a mere 7 miles away. Situated on a hill, with floor to ceiling windows, the one-of-a-kind landscape visible from the Hospitality Center is breathtaking. The spacious tasting room is adjoined by a large indoor reception area for weddings and special events as well as an ample outdoor area. Edna Valley Vineyard is consistently rated "Best Tasting Room" in San Luis Obispo by locals and Wine Enthusiast magazine lauds it as "one of the best places in wine country to be married."

Edna Valley Vineyards tasting roomBy visiting the tasting room, we were able to taste wines only available at their winery, including their tasty Reserve and Estate Pinot Noirs. Tasting Room Manager Blythe Conaway pointed out that the wines are "true to varietal" and consistent year to year. We admired her work environment: a panoramic vista of the peaceful Edna Valley.

Demonstration VineyardThe careful attention winemaker Josh Baker gives to the Edna Valley Vineyard wines includes sorting the individual grapes by hand and using new French oak aging barrels for many of the wines, both hallmarks of top notch winemaking and very expensive. I found the pricing of their wines extremely reasonable for the extra care that is taken in the grape growing and winemaking.  A bonus to a visit to Edna Valley Vineyard is their Demonstration Vineyard where you can sample firsthand the difference between 14 different grape varietals. It was interesting to taste the grassy notes in the Sauvignon Blanc grapes and experience first-hand the difference between the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grape. Also, 7 different trellis systems are used, so you can see how the manner in which the grapes shoots are trained leads to different configurations in the vines. The view is unparalleled and the Edna Valley Vineyard experience is definitely worth the drive! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Success! Inside Wine - Santa Barbara

My "baking buddy" Lila and I started a new Meetups group called Inside Wine - Santa Barbara and we had our first event last Thursday. It was a great success! 60 people attended, they loved the wines and the food. Here are some of there rave reviews:

What an amazing evening!! The organizers are very wine savvy, offering us a wide variety of choices and background with each wine. The appetizers were scrumptious, especially loving the fig topped brochetta!! -- Elvina

I had a great time looking forward to the next meetup! -- Robin

This was an absolutely wonderful event! Not only was it in a fabulous venue, but it was great to make some new friends AND learn about the wine being poured. PLUS - I won the "mystery wine" contest -- how cool is THAT! Thanks so much, Tama & Lila for a great event. I'm looking forward to future events!  -- Pattie

Had a great time! -- Jennifer

Great evening out, Good wine, food and presentation. Very gracious sponser! Enjoyed the evening, nice group of people, First meet-up it was a great success! Glad I joined. -- Sandy

I made three kinds of focaccia: caramelized onion cooked with Passito, sun-dried tomato with Romano cheese, and olive oil and rosemary, also the cucumber/roasted beet/creme fraiche appetizers shown below. Lila made amazing crostini with sundried tomato and sweet figs in balsalmic. Yum!

Tama's Roasted Beet and Cucumber Appetizer:
Ingredients For the Roasted Beet:
1 large beet, peeled
approximately 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
spray olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Ingredients For the Appetizer:
1 cooked beet
1 Japanese cucumber (with edible skin)
1/2 cup sour cream (regular or Tofutti) OR 1/2 cup soft goat cheese OR crème fraîche
1 slice lox, minced
approximately a dozen chive stems
1 teaspoon dill
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon or more of salt, to taste

Directions For the Roasted Beet:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut the peeled beet in quarters, then slice each half into 1/4" slices. Put on a baking tray (use a piece of foil between the tray and the beets for easier clean-up) and spray the beets all over with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper, then toss to coat. Roast in a 350 degree oven for an hour or until tender on the inside and slightly caramelized on the outside, turning once or twice during the roasting process.

Directions For the Appetizer:
Slice the cucumber into 1/4" slices. Cut off the top 2" of the chives and set aside. Slice the rest of the chives thinly. Mix the sour cream, lox, chives, dill, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings--the mixture should be slightly on the salty side. Spoon a bit of the sour cream mixture on each cucumber slice and top with two slices of roasted beet. Slice the reserved chive tops lengthwise and use to decorate the appetizer.

These pair with a number of wines--for a red, Pinot Noir, for a white, an Albarino.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Versailles - The Best Cuban Lemon Garlic Chicken In California!

I don't miss living in L.A. The traffic, the insane drivers (you will be insane, too, if you have to battle other drivers for hours each week), the smog, the endless rows of ugly stucco mini-malls and potholed streets.

But, I do miss the fantastic ethnic restaurants. Not quite as diverse as San Francisco, Los Angeles encompasses a cornucopia of mom-and-pop restaurants started by immigrants from around the globe. Living in Culver City, my two favorite places were Emerald Thai and Versailles. The latter is a Cuban restaurant and it looks like all the photos I've seen of Havana eateries--the brightly colored walls, the lazy ceiling fans, the cheap tables and a bevy of white-shirted, black-panted waiters with towels slung around their arm.

The restaurant Versailles makes the best chicken I've had anywhere--very lemony and redolent of garlic--the skin crispy and the meat juicy and tender. I gave up eating chicken and meat long ago, but the greedy foodie in me couldn't resist when I had to drive past Culver City at lunchtime. I had to go in and taste it one more time!

I came home and made my own version, which I served to my boyfriend and his family. I stuck to my beans and rice this time, but was lauded for this Versailles-style lemon garlic chicken recipe. My boyfriend's dad said it was the best chicken he'd ever had! Try it and see what you think.

Tama's Versaille-Style Cuban Chicken In Lemon Garlic Sauce:

Ingredients For the Mojo Sauce (pronounced moe-hoe):
zest of 2 oranges
juice of 2 oranges (about 3/4 cup)
zest of 4 lemons
juice of 12 Meyer lemons (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon ground oregano
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 1/2 heads of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Ingredients For the Chicken:
4 chicken breasts, bone-in
1/2 cup butter, clarified
1/4 cup good white wine
1 tablespoon flour
a slice of onion, quartered, for garnish

Directions For the Mojo Sauce:
Peel the garlic. Set aside one third of the cloves; slice the rest. In a blender or food processor, puree the garlic, zest, juice, oregano, onion, salt and pepper until smooth and creamy. Set half aside. Use the other half to marinate the chicken in a large glass bowl for an hour, turning twice during this period so the chicken marinates evenly.

Directions For the  Chicken:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After marinating, remove the chicken to a tray or platter lined with paper towels and blot to dry. Pour the marinade from the bowl into a 9" x 13" glass baking dish.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan (cast iron pan works the best). When the butter bubbles, add the chicken, skin side down. Sear until golden brown, turning to sear the chicken on all sides. Turn off the heat under the frying pan so it can cool. Put the chicken into the baking dish, with skin facing up.

Carefully pour the reserved marinade into the frying pan (it will spatter if the pan is still very hot), stirring it into the butter. Whisk the flour into the wine and add to the sauce. Bring it to a low boil for 2-3 minutes, whisking occasionally to incorporate the flour as it thickens. Adjust the seasonings--the sauce should be VERY lemony.

Pour the sauce over the chicken, coating all the pieces. Tuck the reserved garlic cloves around the chicken breasts. Bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour until the chicken is cooked through (internal temperature of 165 degrees). During baking, baste the chicken frequently. When the chicken is done, plate it on a deep dish pouring the rest of the sauce over it. Garnish with the onion slices. Serve with black beans and rice.

Notes: Chicken cooked with the bone in is always more flavorful than boneless. You can make this recipe with boneless breasts, but they will not be as divine. Bake for only 10-15 minutes. Use Meyer lemons, which are sweeter and more floral than ordinary lemons. If you must use regular lemons--Eureka or Lisbon--add a bit of sugar to the sauce. You can start with a tablespoon, then adjust to taste. Use clarified butter for a smooth sauce without foaming--look here on how to clarify butter. Use a good quality, buttery Chardonnay to cook with and to pair with the dish. Any off-flavors in the wine will show up in the sauce!

Sunstone Winery - "Sunlight Into Wine"

Sunstone Winery VillaA half hour scenic drive north on Highway 154 from Santa Barbara will drop you into the Santa Ynez Valley. Sunstone Winery is one of the closest to Santa Barbara, just past the turnoff to highway 246.  Go past the "wild west" town of Santa Ynez and the mammoth Chumash Casino, undergoing renovation, then turn left on Refugio Road. You'll enter an area that feels like a world unto its own. Expansive hills slope gently towards the Santa Ynez River, with a dramatic backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, completely unmarked by development. No wonder Fred and Linda Rice fell in love with the place when they discovered it in the 1980's and decided to purchase an abandoned horse ranch. Linda was known as "The Visionary" and what she had envisioned for the property was a palatial, but comfortable home in the style of the grand villas of Italy or the chateaus of France.

Sunstone Winery VillaFortunately, as a successful contractor, Fred had the means to build their dream. As the couple travelled in France, they found architectural treasures in reclamation yards: limestone blocks, heavy hand-carved beams from Queen Victoria’s lavender factory, hand-formed roof tiles, a prison cell door from Normandy constructed during Napoleon’s reign. They shipped forty-five containers, each containing 40,000 pounds of material, from Europe to build their dream home.

John KochisI was able to tour the Villa thanks to the friendly Sunstone Events Director Annamarie Kostura, whom I met at the Santa Ynez Valley Visitor's Association new member mixer. Due to a combination of the hit movie "Sideways" and the high ratings awarded Santa Ynez Valley wines, tourism has been booming in the Valley. Wineries, hotels, and business owners formed the SYVVA to promote managed growth in the Valley. As  Board President John Kochis pointed out, "Growth will happen; you can't keep people away from a beautiful place like this, but we are looking at quality, not quantity growth".
Sunstone Villa kitchen"Stunning" is not hyperbole when describing an architectural marvel that is castle-like due to its grandeur, the interior and exterior limestone, the soaring ceilings and the immense windows through which light streams.  All I can say is if you live the lifestyle of the 1%, the entire 8,500 square foot Villa can be yours for $15,000 a night: all five spacious suites, the ample grounds, the outdoor wood-burning pizza oven, bocce court and the kitchen with a 1,000 year old stone sink from France and floor-to-ceiling windows leading to a Tuscan-style courtyard with bocce ball court, hedged with lavendar and rosemary. Or, for considerably less money, you can stay in one of the enormous suites, each with a separate entrance, which Bion's wife Anna has decorated in comfortable luxury, with big puffy couches to sink into while reading a book by the fireplace, big soaking tubs, and luxury linens.  As I was there, workers were readying an expanse of lawn for an outdoor wedding, which will be picture-perfect with the Villa and the spectacular views of vineyards and mountains.

Sunstone Winery tasting roomI hadn't visited Sunstone before; I didn't realize a place like it existed outside of Napa. To enter the tasting room, you walk through a natural wall of towering oaks, then walk past a classic Provençal French kitchen with copper pots and braided garlic hanging over a rustic wood table, to a long bar cheerfully lit with candles and wall sconces. Two stone barrel-aging caves, over 5,000 square feet in size, have been carved into the hillside, and a private tasting room displays racks of verticals of Sunstone's wines. The long bar opens to a sunny patio with a view of the lower half of the 28-acre vineyards and the spectacular mountain backdrop. It's no wonder Sunstone Winery was named “Best Tasting Room” in the Santa Barbara Independent reader poll.

Bridal suite Sunstone WinerySadly, Linda Rice passed away in 2010. The Rice family continues to run Sunstone, one of the few family-owned and managed wineries in the Valley, as many others have been bought by corporations. Fred and Linda's son Bion is President and CEO of Sunstone. The family has moved from the Villa and it is now being transformed into an exclusive event destination for wine pairing dinners, wine country accommodations, weddings and corporate events.

Touring & Tasting in Sunstone WineryFrom the beginning, the vineyards have been grown without pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fungicides. The Rice family have been careful stewards of the land, guarding the health of the vineyards, workers and consumers by being certified 100% organic. Taste Sunstone's wines at their tasting room, especially their rich Rhone varietals, including their award-winning Merlto, Viognier and Syrah. By the way, I was happy to see a copy of Touring & Tasting in the Villa's kitchen!