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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.