Monday, January 26, 2009

Visiting Domaine Carneros, Etude, and Darioush & Home Creamery Submissions

Home Creamery Event Participants: Out of consideration of shopping lists gone awry and butter muslin sheets not arriving in time, I am extending the first Home Creamery Event ricotta submission deadline to Wednesday night, Janruary 28th. I do, however, welcome and love early submissions. Event details may be found in paragraph three or four of this post, and submissions may be emailed to

Most weekends, our excursions involve deciding whether to hike in Oakland's Redwood Hill park or walk down Fruitvale Ave to get a taco. Or pan dulce. This past Saturday, however, my husband and I filled up the gas tank, said farewell to Oak Town, and drove to Napa. Our mission: wine tasting at Domaine Carneros, Etude, and Darioush.

It's been our practice to visit wineries during the winter months when there are less elbows to nudge at the tasting bars and (slightly) fewer swerving cars on the road. Fortunately, one out of any two winter days in Napa is guaranteed to have clear skies, so in addition to seeing sullen clouds cloaking the haunted Domaine Carneros chateau, we spotted yellow wild mustard shining in vineyards. Here's a little piece of our trip.

The Domaine Carneros Chateau.

Sure, the high end Pinots Noirs we sampled from the Domaine were nice, but the sparklings were the big hits. Our favorites were the rosé and "Le Reve," (The dream) sparkling. Good Pinots run rampant all over California, they can be practically found at every rest stop. Good Cali sparklings, on the other hand, are few and far between.

My husband knows we're not allowed to stop the car without a promise of cheese. Domaine Carneros had a plate that went smashingly with their wines that featured Cypress Grove's Mad River Roll goat cheese, Bellwether Carmody (both amazing with everything), and a brie, that while tasty, was overshadowed by the local beauties.

I love Etude, and this is the 1999 Heirloom Merlot that we took home with us. It had raspberry and plummy fruit with smokey tobacco flavors and enough acidity and tannins to last two to five more years. We just happened to visit Etude on a day when they were sharing their Heirloom wine with club members and managed to invite ourselves to the release party. We had party hats in our back pockets. Etude's Heirloom wines are limited edition bottlings available for purchase at the winery that are intended to express the nature of old vines around Carneros. They are, quite simply, gorgeous.

Thalassa Skinner, manager of Oxbow cheese in downtown Napa and part-owner of Culture , a new quarterly cheese magazine just released that has taken on the duty of singing me to sleep at night, selected cheeses to pair with Etude's Heirloom wines with the help of assistant manager Ricardo (not pictured). My husband is the lurker.

Cheeses pictured from Oxbrow market are Abbaye de Belloc, a sheep's milk cheese made by Benedictine monks in the Pyrenees mountains of France, and Beecher's Reserve Cheddar.

Our last stop was Darioush. They make yummy, very expensive wines and their tasting room is modeled after a Persian palace. Enough said.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Carrot-Apple Salad and Gros Manseng

When it's a warm day and the seventy-degree California air outside whistles at you with disgust when you reach for a skillet but your vegetable crisper is still packed to the till with the root vegetables the January weather normally dictates, reach for the grater. Make a root vegetable and apple salad, dress it with a light lemon, olive oil and dijion vinaigrette, and call it lunch. Sip with Gros Manseng.

After a week of days blessed with sun that warms the soul in the middle of winter, turning on the stove feels like a kitchen sin. Take heed, dear readers, there is a livelier way to utilize those those previously soup and braising-bound veggies.

While we normally think of using spring peas or summer tomatoes for a seasonal salad, grated root vegetables can rock a salad bowl too. Just as braising winter produce soothes their starchy nature and brings caramel-like sugars to the surface, shredding a carrot or parsnip into fine pieces breaks down the grainy fibers and softens the plant's rough edges. Futhermore, the acid in the vinaigrette cooks the veggies like citrus cooks or processes fish in ceviche, so the vegetables soften, and guests won't still be chewing on fibrous roots on the car ride home.

There are a couple things to keep in mind when going root-style. First, since root veggies generally become limp and uni-textural when shredded and dressed, adding something with a snap like apple or celery to the mix adds another dimension to the salad that keeps your mouth coming back for more. Unless your a fan of that soft slaw that sits on family picnic tables, adding crunch is key, otherwise, add mayonnaise. Another way to booster even more crunch is by tossing in a small handful of roughly chopped nuts like walnuts or pecans at the last minute. Next, to liven up the salad's sugary, simple winter flavors, make a punchy extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette heavy on the lemon, seasoned with a handful of chopped herbs and dijon that will contrast the sweetness of the roots and offer the salad balance.

Quick and Easy Winter Root-Vegetable Apple Salad

serves 3-4 people

shredded root vegetables- 2 carrots, 2 parsnips or 1 small celery root (mix and matching possible)

1/2 tsp. dijion mustard
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped

1 small handful roughly chopped pecans

1 crisp apple, such as fuji

salt and pepper

Place shredded root vegetables and chopped pecans a large bowl. In a small bowl or jar, mix dijion, lemon juice, oil and chopped herbs and set aside. Cut apple into match stick pieces at the last minute to avoid browning and add to large bowl. Pour dressing over salad and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.

What to drink

It's afternoon, it's cool. If you're feeling like a glass of cold wine, grab a bottle of Gros Manseng or another crisp, punchy white from Gascony or the Laungedoc regions of France. Typically made with Gros Manseng, Petite Manseng, and sometimes Ugni Blanc, whites from this region are typically high-acidity, aromatic wines that pair with vegetables like Sophia Loren pairs with a slim-cut dress. If you were under the impression that Gruner Vetliner had no match in the contest of who paired best with vegetables, well.... Gros Manseng (get ready for this) tastes good with brussel sprouts, broccoli, and even asparagus. I know, I know, life continues to amaze. And best of all, it's relatively cheap in the world of good wine. The Domaine des Cassagnoles bottle I drank, pictured above, went for $13.50, and the bottle I had from the Laungedoc last week sported a $9 pricetag. The flavors, you ask? Granny smith apple, quince, apricot, flowers, lemon, and a finish that makes your lips purse.

Any favorite salads that utlilize the tougher winter produce in your house?

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Brief Intermission: A Stroll Down Fruitvale Avenue

When my husband and I couldn't decide whether we wanted to head to Redwood Park five miles from our house, or go for an urban hike down the long stretch of Fruitvale Ave, in Oakland for our leisurely Sunday activity, it was the food that swayed us. Here's a short photo essay capturing our decision.

Is there an area near you that you go for awesome Mexican food?

The hot sauce aisle at a Fruitvale grocery store.

El pastor and carne asada tacos from a corner taco truck.

Los Mexicanos Pasteleria- everything made in-house. You tell them when you're ready to order, they hand you a silver tray and tongs, and you select your morsel.

Coconut Cream Pan Dulce from Los Mexicanos.

Lastly, a quick note for Home Creamery event participants, I found a great website where one could purchase butter muslin and other supplies that will be needed for future dairy adventures that can be found here

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Book Giveaway Home Creamery Winner!!!


Just a little cheese porn to get us all supped up for the dairy love to follow.

After excluding my father's vote in the comment section for Claire's favorite cheese, which we later determined he probably knew because she told him, there was only one contender. The competition was fierce and furious. I wrote his name on a piece of paper and put it in a hat, shook it around to give him a fighting chance, washed the bones to clear the air, and then grabbed absolutely the first name my fingertips brushed and drew it from the hat.

The winner for the first of three monthly Home Creamery Book Giveaways is...... JACK!

Way to go Jack! Congratulations.

While my heart would be warmed if Claire's favorite cheese was a bandaged wrapped cheddar or Epoisse, the young cute pie is a picky eater and would probably wrinkle her nose at the sight of bandages on cheese or the smell of Epoisse. But, we'll get her. She's moved from string cheese to cheese with holes. This is big. Next time I see her, I'll cut holes in slim peice of Comte, make it into a mask shape to involve her in the cheese process, then eat the cheese holes. We'll get her folks, oh, we'll turn her around.

Now, for the first assignment from The Home Creamery book by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley (drum roll please, again)... RICOTTA! Ricotta's story starts on p. 68, and the recipe starts on pg. 70. It's probably a good time to mention that no one will be denied participation in the Home Creamery Event if they are interested in making dairy products at home. Although the event is based on Farrell-Kingsley's book, partially because of its easy,d friendly nature and partially because I love the idea of supporting this author whose teaching us to take cheese into our own hands, participants are welcome to use any recipe of their choosing for the dairy challenges. I would encourage everyone to buy this awesome book, but I just really want you to play dairy with me.

To sum up the event's guidelines:
1) Make the dairy product of the month at home.
2) Either pair the dairy product to a wine or suggest a wine you think you might enjoy sipping with your milk creation. There are no limits here- it's okay if you want to make something with your creation beyond the raw dairy product, like ricotta cake, dumplings, or baked ricotta, or you can suggest a wine to sip with simply the fresh, buttery ricotta. Your choice. Also, I'll forgive you if you don't want to pair your goodness with wine, and just want to make join in on the dairy love.
3. Send me one of two things by the last Monday of the month (Jan 26th for the first month):
a) If you have a blog, send me the link to the post where you talk about your Home Creamery experience and I will feature it in on my Home Creamery post.
b) If you don't have a blog, email me a photo of your results ( by the last Monday of the month and a brief 2-4 sentence sum up of your experience and your delectable pairings, which I will feature on my blog post.

That's it for now, i'm so excited to start the event. Please leave any questions, concerns, or excellent ricotta making advice in the comment section. This is my first time with ricotta, so if it's important not to eat the concoction until it's finished, someone warn me.

Thanks for playing! Remember, in the next two months there will be two more chances to win The Home Creamery book.

Jack, please email me at with your info so we can get you that great book.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Home Creamery Event Giveaway Contest: Making Cheese and Drinking Wine

Some readers might be wondering why cutie Claire's picture is topping the Vin de la Table home page. Although appearances are deceiving, she does not look old enough to disperse coq au vin and Burgundy pairing advice or impart a baconsnap recipe upon the masses. Ah, but there is a glorious reason. Read on.

Get out your milk and pots, dear readers, for the first Vin de la Table Home Creamery Event: Making Cheese & Drinking Wine is almost upon us. After months of anticipation, the blogging event that will applaud your attempts and triumphs at creating dairy morsels in your own kitchen has arrived. No longer will you have to pay thousands for that tub of fresh ricotta, because after making it once from the Home Creamery book, you will have the power to create that plush goodness at home.

Home Creamery Event Details: The event is open to the public. Every month, I'll pick a recipe for a cheese or dairy good from The Home Creamery book pictured above, and participants (that's you!!!) will make the dairy products. Suggestions for next picks are welcome. After making the dairy product (here's the Vin de la Table hook), participants would pair it with a wine of their choice. There are no limitations. Say we're making mozzarella. Jane Doe (ohh, how she loves fresh cheeses) could focus entirely on pairing the cheese she just made with a favorite wine, or she could make a fried mozzarella sandwich, then tell us about the wine sauce she dipped her creation in and the glass of wine she sipped with her fried cheese (Jane's a naughty girl).

All entries are due until the last Monday of every month (first entries are due January 26th), and contestants are urged to purchase the Home Creamery book by the wonderful Kathy Farrell-Kingsley because while the dairy product recipes and advice included on each page are straightforward and pretty simple, they are too long to post on this blog. Plus, it might provoke fuzzy feelings in us to know that by buying the well-priced $16 book , we are supporting a writer who is nuturing our own creative cheese endeavors.

But before the actual event, I have more good news having to do with the aforepictured Claire. Are you sitting?

In celebration of all things blogging and milk-related, Storey publishers have agreed to donate three books to kick off the Home Creamery event! So, in honor of Storey publisher's generosity and the Making Cheese & Drinking Wine event, I'm holding a contest called: Guess the Cheese.

Guess the Cheese

Every month for three months, I will post a picture of a person (Claire rules January) and contest participants will guess that lovely lady or man's favorite cheese out of a selection of five offerings. The names of all correct guessers will be tossed into a hat, one name will be drawn, and the winner will win a Home Creamery book that they will use to participate in the Vin de la Table event. Please leave your guesses on the comment section of this blog, and for privacy's sake, email me ( your contact information in case you are the winner.

Please remember to email me your contact info in case you are the winner so we can decide where to send the book!

And now we begin!

Guess the Cheese:

Is Claire's favorite cheese:
Swiss Cheese (with holes)
String Cheese (at room temperature)
Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar

Info about Claire that might or might not help one win the contest:
She is six.
She likes to decorate tables for Christmas.
She aims to grow out her hair until it reaches her lower back.
Her mother is a teacher and her father is a cook.

The contest will end Sunday, Jan 11th, midnight, Oakland time.

Good luck! Lastly, three book giveaway rules:
1. All contest contenders must participate in Vin de la Table Home Creamery: Making Cheese and Drinking Wine event.
2. Unless willing to support all of the book's shipping costs, all contestants must live in the United States or have a shipping address in North America.
3. Individuals may enter the contest only once.

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