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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Inside Wine Santa Barbara Off To A Great Start

Lila and I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara in September last year--just on a whim, because we love wine and food and thought it would be a way to bring people together. Our first event was held at the beautiful courtyard of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. We had 60 people show up--a successful start to our new wine tasting group. We started the wine tasting group on Meetup--a social network designed to "build community"--one that is very effective in getting like-minded people together, whether they like wine tasting, hiking, reading, or whatever.

In October, Karen Steinwachs poured her Buttonwood Family Winery wines for us and the Hyatt Santa Barbara hosted, laying out a beautiful spread of food--a "build-yourself" appetizer bar with hummus, tapenade, cheeses, pita, Parmesan crisps, various flavored honey, and fruit that paired very well with Karen's wines.

The Hyatt also lit the big rock fireplace in La Cantina room, which made everything very cozy. We enjoyed Buttonwood's 90 point Sauvignon Blanc Zingy and Cabernet Franc, among others.

We had lots of rave reviews on the tasting, like this one from Richard: "I want to THANK Tama and Lila for a wonderful event! The venue was just perfect and the Hyatt provided very nice appetizers. Lila and her helpers did a great job of keeping the tastings poured and it was a delight to have Karen, the winemaker at Buttonwood, present to tell us about her wines and wine making. FABULOUS!!!"

In November, we had a simple get-together at the stylish Bistro 1111 at the Hyatt Santa Barbara--they have really good happy hour food--like ahi tuna sliders and garlic flatbread--and all small plates and well drinks are just $5 each. It was a fun, casual way to get to know some of our Inside Wine - Santa Barbara members better.

As a thank you to our members, in December, we had a Holiday Party with some amazing prizes--beautiful wine gift baskets from Touring & Tasting that were chock-full of gourmet treats, like organic local pistachios, and stunning wines, like the Havens Meritage and the Lucas & Lewellen Cabernet Sauvignon; a round of golf at the prestigious Ojai Valley Inn; movie tickets; and a gift certificate to Seagrass Restaurant. The Hyatt had decorated the room festively, with a sparkly Christmas tree and holiday decorations.

Later that month, Lila hosted a wine tasting of the wines she reps with Franco Wines, at Vino Divino. I bought several bottles, including a wonderful Amarone that I neglected to photograph, that lasted for a week open--not turning, but developing in the bottle with age. Molto gustoso!

In January, Clay and Fredericka Thompson, of Claiborne & Churchill, came down to pour their well-balanced Alsatian-style wines for us. They even brought us tank samples of their 2012 Gewurtztraminer that was going through cold stabilization. I wrote at length about Claiborne & Churchill in this post.  They have a remarkable story, and Inside Wine Santa Barbara was as enthralled with is as I was when I visited their winery in Edna Valley.
 Some of our lucky Inside Wine members won door prizes of $25 gift certificates to Claybourne & Churchill. As member Debbie said, "A very lovely event. Great wine, nice venue and wonderful crowd."

Our last event was a tasting of Stacked Stone Cellars wines. Winemaker/owner Donald Thiessen poured his Paso Robles wines for us. He's a small-lot producer with a dry-farmed, head-pruned estate Zinfandel vineyard. He blends west-side Paso grapes into field blends where he can balance the ripe fruit with acidity and tannins. Affable, with a good sense of humor, Donald quipped that wine making is turning green into red--his "green" (cash) into red (wine)...and that the tasting was an attempt to turn red into green (i.e. sell some wine). He outlined some of the history of Zinfandel from its roots in Croatia, to the introduction into Italy, where it is called Primitivo, to the US. He jokingly told us that he is a wime maker who doesn't drink wine...because what he does is "research", not drink.

So, after half a year, I can say that Inside Wine Santa Barbara has been both a success and a lot of fun. In the year ahead, we're looking forward to a "field trip" to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto and a more structured wine tasting with a sommelier--we'll see what this year brings!

Follow us on Facebook and check out our Meetup page.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Where To Taste and Stay in Sonoma County

Touring & Tasting's Vice President of Business Development, Nancy Burgner, just returned from a trip to Sonoma. Together, we were rhapsodizing over the Bodega Bay Lodge, since she had just returned from her stay there and I had just had a perfect sojourn with my sweetheart at the Lodge between Christmas and New Year's. I've written about the Bodega Bay Lodge before (see post). It was our fifth or sixth vacation at this one-of-a-kind accommodation--a luxury retreat from the world with all the plush amenities to make a stay comfortable, like a gourmet restaurant, top notch spa services, spacious suites, fireplaces, and the like--but located on the edge of Doran Beach and the Bodega Head State Marine Conservation Area.

From its prime location, one has a panoramic view of Bodega Bay and the quiet pools of water in the estuary reflecting the sky. There is a profound sense of calm and peace that envelopes the property. Fresh air blows in from the sea and all cares and stress fall away in the presence of Nature's pristine beauty.

 There's plenty to do besides relax. We often play golf at the ocean view Links at Bodega Harbour, but the ground was sodden with rain that had inundated Northern California during the previous week, so instead, we drove to Spud Point for lovely walks along the paths that front the ocean and along the raised walkway across the harbor where people catch crabs with buckets baited with tuna fish.

At the Spud Point Crab Co., a load of live crabs had just arrived from a fishing boat and customers were already queuing up for their crab-packed sandwiches and tasty clam chowder. We had our picnic on this bench under the cerulean sky--quite a view!

The next day, we drove to the tiny town of Bodega, famous for being the location for Hitchcock's classic thriller "The Birds". The Bodega Country Store has a wall and a display case packed with movie memorabilia.

Their rich crab mac 'n cheese, sprinkled with their signature topping made from oregano, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, is highly recommended! The friendly storekeeper gave us free samples of their New England style chowder and we ogled their smoked salmon--we will definitely return to taste more of their fare. Also, the church and school that were used in the film can be viewed across the street.

A short drive led us to the Joseph Phelps, Freestone Vineyard tasting room where I purchased a bottle of their FogDog Chardonnay which I love for its crisp, pear and citrus flavors, with an edge of minerality.
Of course, we had to go next door to the Wildflour Bakery, which bakes its sinfully delicious breads, scones and biscotti in a wood fired brick oven. There's no skimping on ingredients here. Yes, that is an enormous quantity of butter the baker in the photo is cutting into his scones. Their sticky bun is a foodie's wonderment--an enormous bread made from fresh ground whole grains, packed with dried fruit and slathered in a sweet sticky sauce that tastes like butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. During the last trip with the kids, we devoured one in record time--nom nom.

Nancy had highly recommended the Honor Mansion for our stay in Healdsburg. This stately Victorian on a quiet residential street is rated #1 on TripAdvisor out of all the accommodations in Healdsburg. The lists of awards and accolades is too long to mention here, but I will say that their attention to detail is extraordinary--from candles and aromatic bath salts so one can enjoy one's big soaking tub at leisure (our spacious bathroom had a fireplace, too!) to baskets of tea and hot coffee brought to your room in the morning, even when you have a coffee maker in your well equipped wet bar.

Breakfast is served in the main house, which has with tall ceilings and windows and period furnishings. We felt proprietary about "our" sunny breakfast nook where we partook of the lovely gourmet buffets of fresh baked scones, eggs, breakfast meats, fresh fruit, cereal and yoghurt. Rain prevented us from taking advantage of the four acre grounds and its PGA designed putting green; tennis, basketball, croquet and bocce courts; and pool. But, we took note that this would be a great place to bring the kids, especially as all the sports equipment is on site.

Anyway, I could barely be pried out of the downy four poster bed with European linens. I could easily have spent several days reading in bed, soaking in the tub or sharing a bottle of bubbly in the jacuzzi on our private deck. But, there were meals to pursue, so we made forays into town for food, eating for the first time at Willy's Seafood and loving it so much we returned for dinner. The restaurant features fresh, innovative cuisine stylishly presented. We ate tapas style, sharing plates like clam flatbread, fish tacos and the best warm raspberry crème brûlée I've ever had (and I am particular about my crème brûlée).

The wine list is excellent, particularly for those like us who like to share wines by the glass so we can try more than one wine with a meal. We shared a crisp glass of M. Chapoutier “Belleruche” Côtes du Rhône Rose and round Lambert Bridge Chardonnay.

We stopped for a picnic at the picturesque Dry Creek General Store then visited the distinctive Hop Kiln Winery. The tasting room is housed in the historic buildings built in the 1880's to process hops for beer; they are a California Historic Landmark. A wall of windows looks out onto the duck pond and 248-acre estate planted mostly to the Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and there are shelves of gift and food items to peruse, in addition to tasting their portfolio of wines.
The Honor Mansion poured a Mauritson Zinfandel at one of their complimentary wine and cheese hours. The wine enticed us to drop by the Mauritson tasting room on our way out of town. The Mauritson family has been farming in Sonoma for 140 years and they have estate vineyards in Rockpile as well as Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. They are all great winemaking AVAs, but there is something very special about Rockpile wines. Only 15 producers make wines from Rockpile grapes, since only 160 acres of vineyards are planted in this tiny winegrowing region.

Carol Shelton and Paradise Ridge are two of the other wineries making Rockpile wines, and they, like Mauritson have garnered numerous medals for their terrific wines.

The Rockpile vineyards are between 800 - 2,000 feet in elevation, so they remain mostly above the fog line. The ground has sparse soil and little water, so the grapes grown here need to be tenacious. One benefit is that the climate is moderate and the fruit ripens fully and evenly. The result are wines loaded with fruit and flavor. SFGate writes, "Established in April 2002, the Rockpile AVA (short for American Viticultural Area) in the northwestern corner of Sonoma County is rapidly gaining recognition as the source of some of California's biggest, richest, most intensely flavored Zinfandels, Syrahs and Petite Sirahs."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sun-dried Tomato, Olive, Onion and Rosemary Bread

A little experiment: take two equal parts of a bread dough and bake them two ways. One was placed on a baking sheet lined with parchment and the other in a preheated Dutch oven.
The result: the loaf baked on a baking sheet had the same tender, chewy texture inside as the other, but the crust was markedly different. It was smooth and dry and very thin.
The loaf baked in the Dutch oven had a textured surface that had more chewiness and visual appeal. The loaf also had quite a bit more oven rise, resulting in a larger, fluffier loaf.

Tama's Sun-dried Tomato, Olive, Onion and Rosemary Bread

1 + 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/3 cup + 2/3 cup warm milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil from the jar of sundered tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons pitted and minced cured olives--salty ones, like Greek olives
1/8 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

*Makes a small 8" loaf, this recipe is easy to double--just double all ingredients for two small loaves.

In a medium bowl or measuring cup, mix 1/3 cup warm milk, sugar and yeast, stir well. If yeast proofs--activates by starting to grow, continue.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, flours and salt together. Make a well in the center.

To the milk/yeast mixture, add the remaining 3/4 cup warm milk and oils. Pour into the center of the flour and mix together. As the dough comes together, use your hands to work it into a dough ball. Then, turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes, until the dough passes the "window pane" test.

Lightly spray the bowl with olive oil, round the dough and put it inside, cover the top with a moist towel and set in a warm place for 2 hours until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down, add the sun-dried tomatoes, onion, olives, rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon yeast. Knead until they are well incorporated into the dough. Let rise for about 45 minutes.

In the meantime, place your oiled Dutch oven on the middle rack and preheat to 375 degrees.
Carefully lift the heated Dutch oven off the rack, gently drop the dough ball into it, cover immediately and put back into the oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Let the bread sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Serve warm with melted Brie and a fruit forward red, like the Jaffurs Syrah, for a wonderful treat.

*Windowpane test: if the dough can be stretched out so you can see light behind it without the dough tearing, then the dough passes the windowpane test.