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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, 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!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Random good food pairings

Kestrel Vintner's Red Table WineI rummaged through one of my three wine coolers to find a wine to pair with a simple dinner of black bean soup, chips, salsa and guacamole. I pulled out this bottle of Kestrel Vintner's Red Table Wine that has been hiding for a while--it must have been a Touring and Tasting wine club offering. So, here's the news--pair it with Mexican flavors for a big win!

Kestrel Vintner is in central Washington, with some of the oldest vines in the state. Their soil, deposited from past glacial activity, and their long summer nights and cool temperatures provide ideal terroir. "There is plenty of sunshine, a long growing season, virtually no chance of harvest rainfall, and control of the water supply through drip irrigation… Washington State is now one of the worlds’ most exciting viticultural regions." --Robert Parker Consumer Guide
Kestrel Malbec
The inky, rich Red Table Wine is made from mostly Merlot, Syrah and Cab. It has a slight mineral taste and tons of dark fruit overlaid with vanilla and tobacco. A couple of years ago, Touring & Tasting had the 2007 Kestrel Malbec, a single varietal which I could not find currently on Kestrel Vintner's website, that was a plush and full-bodied example of the grape with the same distinctive minerality found in the Red Table Wine. As Harvey Steiman wrote in Wine Spectator: "[Washington wines] all share Washington's signature attributes of pure fruit flavors that balance with moderate alcohol, acidity and tannins. Some rise into another realm, coaxing layers of complexity that make for compelling sips, often at very reasonable prices."
I'd say Kestrel wine have risen to "another realm"! If you're fortunate to have a bottle of one of these profound Kestrel reds, pair it with the Creamy Polenta Pie Casserole.

I was out at the spectacular Sunstone Winery today, talking to the hospitality manager about hosting one of our new Inside Wine - Santa Barbara wine tasting meetings. Stopped at Grappolo for lunch--a bit of Italy with fresh ciabatta bread and arugula salad, but with an Asian twist--sesame crusted seared ahi. Not bad with a glass of the Foley Grenache Rose´.