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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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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!