Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Not You, it's Brie

It's not so hard to say goodbye after all when you're only going next door, to a cheese kingdom.

To my dear Vin de la Table readers, I spend all day pouring, tasting, selling, and writing about fermented grape juice, and although I love it and my former blog base, I am very excited to finally start sharing my other gastronomic love on the blogsphere. Sadly, there is only so much time in a day, and because I won't be able to keep up with all things, I'm letting this blog go. It's had a good run.

I invite you to instead visit my new blog, “It’s Not You, it’s Brie.” Focusing on dairy magnificence, "it's Not You,.." will serve as a platform for fromage obsession, explore cheese’s role in our everyday and ceremonial lives and include recipes, cheese memories, and interviews.

Feel free to email me questions about wine and food pairing anytime at itsnotyouitsbrie@gmail.com, and feel comfort in knowing that it will be a rare occasion that I will write about cheese without involving wine.

To my Vin de la Table fans, I still have a candle-lit shrine devoted to you. I hope that you still love me too and will visit me at my new home often. Thank you so much for your readership. It's meant so much to me.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Edible East Bay & Wine and Cheese & Dessert Classes

Hello. I've been away. I've been working on projects galore, including a new cheese blog that I'll be very happy to share as soon as it looks half as good as Baskin Robbin's peanut butter & chocolate ice-cream does in my favorite ice-cream dish. Does anyone else eat this anymore? You should.

Until I get more going in the blog world, I'd like to share an article that I wrote for Edible East Bay called "Wear Shoes to this Year's Crush." Maybe it will distract you from the neglected blog page. Anyhow, working on this article provided me with a wonderful opportunity to interview some of Berkeley's finest winemakers, and was really fun to write. And believe it or not, it is even more fun to read. I swear.

On a final note, I will be teaching both a French cheese and wine pairing class and another focused on dessert wines at Solano Cellars in Albany, CA (bordering Berkeley) in May and June, respectively. If anyone is interested in going, or reading more about them, they can do so here:

Regional French Cheese and Wine Pairing: Le Duet Dynamique Saturday, May 9th, 2-4pm

Stickies and Sweets: The Last Course - Thursday, June 4th, 6:30- 8:30

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nicoise Steamed Monkfish Salad: What Would You Pair With.....?

If you were throwing your father a birthday lunch, and served a nicoise salad, a la monkfish, what would you serve as a wine or refreshment? Where would you serve it? Who would be there sipping the refreshment too?

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Homemade Mozzarella Focus: Home Creamery Event III

I'm going to be out of commission for a few more days, dear readers, due to a short trip to L.A, articles deadlines, a wine list that I'm updating at Brown Sugar Kitchen, and the demands of starting a new blog devoted entirely to cheese (and wine, of course, always about the wine). Did I mention that I really need to wash my car? But I wanted to take a moment to emerge from my office hermit hole to announce the object of the next Home Creamery Event's devotion. It is mozzarella.

I must admit I'm a little scared. Anything involving heating milk more than once and stretching the outcome two or three times is a little dangerous in my accident-prone kitchen. I'm excited for this sexy venture too, but mainly fearful of my runway elbows hitting pots while stretching.

As mozzarella is a feat that requires a little more time than other Home Creamery focuses, we're going to take a little more time to make this one. The entry for this pasta filata style cheese is due in a month from now, on April 20th.

A recipe for buttermilk starts on page 82 in Farrell-Kingsley's book. Online, more recipes and advice for making buttermilk are available at these links here , here , and here . Look around, see which inspires you most. These recipes can be surprisingly different. Anyone know why? I don't....

Warning: Check out your specific recipe before the event. Some require cheese-making products that not everyone already has at home.

Event Rules:
Home Creamery Event Guidelines:
1) Make the dairy product (MOZZARELLA FOR APRIL) of the month at home.
2) Optional: Suggest a wine you think you might enjoy sipping with your milk creation in a raw or transformed state (i.e with buttermilk fried chicken or cardamon-buttermilk pie).
3. Send me one of two following things by the last Wednesday of the month (Feb 25th for the second 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 post some of your findings on my Home Creamery post.
b) If you don't have a blog, email me a photo of your results (vindelatable@gmail.com) by the last Monday of the month and/or a brief 2-4 sentence sum up of your experience and your delectable pairings, which I will feature on my blog post.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Buttermilk: Home Creamery Event III

Don't my buttermilk biscuits look gorgeous? Aren't these buns just the perfect blend of crispy exterior and fluffy, inner, buttery goodness? The story this picture tells is that the last Home Creamery exercise of making buttermilk worked out as smoothly as Jane Fonda in a three-piece leotard.

But no.

My buns were flat. And I think it was because the homemade urban buttermilk I made to use in the biscuit recipe and the buttermilk with which Dorie Greenspan's biscuit recipe was tested were structurally different. I hope. Darn that baking. Darn those exact measurement devices and chemical reactions. See below for the actual size and lack of height of my little creations.

Alas, that's how baking goes. And that's how I bake. Sigh. Maybe I should have used the recipe Dan did below. His buns were fluffy. Why? Why? Although the Home Creamery event suggests pairing the Home Creamery creations with wine, just for fun (!), I couldn't. I was busy throwing my biscuits against the wall when I had a break in tears rolling down my face.

Dan's Biscuits and Buttermilk Experience, in His Words

"Making the buttermilk was easy; I followed the simple recipe from the Homery Creamery which called for whole milk (Strauss Family Creamy) and Creme de Tartar. And I couldn't resist attempting to make the buttermilk Fantail biscuits on the cover of the recent Gourmet magazine. Build the yeast, make the dough, cut 'em up, fill the muffin pan, let it rise again and then wack it in the oven.

The biscuits were a delicious mix of light and flakey and rich and creamy. The small pieces fanning off each other were easily separated and allowed us to spread either a tarragon butter or olive oil marinated goat cheese with oregano and red pepper. We paired these buttermilk bread treats with our other appetizers and 2006 Sancerre from Alphonse Mellot (Edmond). The wine, made from 100+ year old vines, was refined and elegant, yet rich and juicy. When tasted against a 2006 Larkmead Sauvignon Blanc, it was quite the opposite - the Larkmead being intense and textured. Both faring quite nicely with the biscuits. Thanks for choosing buttermilk for this month's activity - I have always been curious about it, since eating Thomas Keller's buttermilk fried chicken at Napa's Ad Hoc. Looking forward to next month's challenge!"

And here's a link to participant's Simone's buttermilk action at her Bricole blog . She made a gorgeous blueberry buttermilk sorbet, but it seems as if she wasn't satisfied with her Home Creamery attempts either. Is it possible that we picked the only recipe in the book that doesn't work? I think we both chose the recipe that used vinegar rather than cream of tartar.

Does anyone know why the buttermilk flopped?

Also, any ideas for our next Home Creamery dairy selection?... I'd love to hear, leave em' in the comments below.....

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chick Pea Salad: My Legume Love Affair

If I had to choose my favorite legume, it would be chick peas. Or lentils. Or the peanuts in Reeses peanut butter cups.

Although my heart is warmed upon tasting homemade hummus laden with enough garlic to keep vampires away for seven nights and part of a twilight, and the manner in which Greek chick pea and lemon soup manages to taste like actual chicken thrills me like dandelions do a two-year old, when I cook chick peas, their destination is most often Salad City. And they don't just get tossed on some lettuce. I compose a salad around them. Or rather, I roast off what's remaining in my vegetable drawer right before it's time to go shopping again, add some olive oil and lemon, and call it dinner.

On occasion, for a super fantastic night, I go all out, think about flavors and textures, and put some fish on top. Like I am doing, for example, for the following event.

At the wine bar where I work, we have a winemaker dinner this weekend with Sergio Germano of Germano Ettore winery in Piedmont, Italy. I wanted to do something special because, well, he's one of the nicest guys in the winemaking world, and because his lemonesque, mineral, clean and sprightly dry Riesling, which we are serving with the first of four courses, deserves some extra attention. Extra special chick pea attention, that is. Since the My Legume Love Affair blogging event just happens to take place on the date of that occasion, I'm going to share a little chick pea love with the legume folks too.

The meaty chick peas carry the mineral, fiesty nature of Germano Ettore's Reisling well, and I made sure to pack the salad full of lemon, in zest and juice form to carry the citrus flavors and high acidity of Ettore's wine. For the event, I am cooking squid to top the salad. In the photo below, marinated anchovies that I used to top the salad another time are featured. Instructions for both preparations follow the salad recipe.

Chick pea, feta, and arugula salad

* Serves 4-5 people
* Soak legumes in water overnight or for at least six hours before cooking.
* Salad will taste best if all but arugula marinates overnight.
* In the salad photo, you might notice I tossed some carmelized onions into the salad. For the event, I choose to keep it a little fresher and omitted the onions. Include if like.

8 oz chick peas, soaked
bay leaf
rosemary sprig
zest of one lemon
juice from 1 1/2 lemon
2 - 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 oz French feta
1/2 bunch fresh chervil, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh tarragon, chopped
2 large handfuls arugula
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring soaked chick peas to boil (in fresh water) in a medium-sized pot with bay leaf and rosemary. Once boiling, adjust heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until legumes are tender, but not mushy. Drain, and discard herbs.
2. Once peas are cool or at room temperature, place in a large bowl, add lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil and stir until well-blended. Crumble feta and add to bowl along with fresh herbs. Salad may be set aside to marinate now, or before arugula is added.
3. Add arugula right before serving, and divide among 4 plates


This was my first adventure cooking at home with the sweet, oily little fish. If you want to top your chickpeas with anchovies per photo, do as follows.
Wash the little guys in cool water. Make sure your cat is outside. Cut off head directly beneath gills. Glide fish knife from underneath the gills on the crease of fish's belly to the end of its tail. Open the fish, it should open into two flaps. Remove the organs. Pluck out the blones with the tip of the knife and pull out with fingers until removed. Cut the anchovies into two fillets.
Heat a sauté pan to high heat. Once hot, drizzle with canola oil/olive oil mixture. Gently place fish in pan, skin side down, and cook for one to two minutes each side. These fish are salty, salt with extreme caution. After cooked, set aside in small bowl and cover with thin lemon slices and olive oil to marinate until ready to serve.

Oh how I love calamari, in all it's glorious forms.
(thank god for video):
Cut into rings about half an inch thick. Heat sauté pan to high heat, and drizzle with canola oil/olive oil mixture. Add squid rings and tentacles to pan, and saute briefly. The key to cooking squid without going rubbery is to either cook the swimmer for under three minutes, or over thirty minutes. Cook here for two minutes or under, or until rings and tentacles are just firm and no longer translucent. Top the salad and drizzle the juice in pan around the plate.

Do you have a favorite chick pea dish you make at home or enjoy at a restaurant?

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Homemade Buttermilk: Home Creamery Event II

Buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles from Brown Sugar Kitchen.

The forces have spoken. The dairy focus of the next Home Creamery Event will be.... BUTTERMILK. That's right, buttermilk. What's the point of buttermilk, you ask? What culinary magic can one create from this tangy, creamy lactose haven?

First, there's a recipe for buttermilk pot cheese (cooked in a pot, you naughty readers) in Kathy Farrell-Kingsley's Home Creamery book. Second, buttermilk pancakes. Or fried chicken, buttermilk ice cream, buttermilk biscuts, Panna-Cotta, cardamon-buttermilk pie, or, of course, there is the old standby of buttermilk wrapped in bacon, simmered in buttermilk and a rare late-harvest Sancerre from the Loire Valley, then wrapped in short pastry dough and topped with a reduced bacon and buttermilk sauce. Wow.

Two different recipes for buttermilk can be found in Farrell-Kingsley's book on pages 38, and 39, or very different recipes for buttermilk are available at these links here, here, and here . Look around, see which inspires you most.

Hope to see your buttermilk concoctions soon!

Event Rules:
Home Creamery Event Guidelines: (for the end of the month)
1) Make the dairy product (BUTTERMILK IN FEBRUARY) of the month at home.
2) Optional: Suggest a wine you think you might enjoy sipping with your milk creation in a raw or transformed state (i.e with buttermilk fried chicken or cardamon-buttermilk pie).
3. Send me one of two following things by the last Wednesday of the month (Feb 25th for the second 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 (vindelatable@gmail.com) by the last Monday of the month and/or a brief 2-4 sentence sum up of your experience and your delectable pairings, which I will feature on my blog post.

Lastly, the contest (see below) for guessing Dot's favorite cheese to win a copy of Farrell-Kingsley's The Home Creamery is still on, as no one has guessed correctly. Consider that an itty bitty hint.

Any buttermilk or buttermilk making experiences to share? Any helpful hints that we all should know or recipes favorite we have to try?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Home Creamery Event Giveaway: Guess Her Favorite Cheese

It's finally time for the second of three Home Creamery Book Giveaway Contests, and this month, Miz. Dot Joo (on right) is the star. Storey publishing has donated three of Kathy Farrell-Kingsley's books, The Home Creamery, in honor of Vin de la Table's monthly event, and we're going to send one of the books off to the lucky event participant who is able to correctly guess Miz Joo's favorite cheese. There are five given possiblities. It's a good time to mention that although the event is based upon Farrell-Kingsley's publication because of its ease and friendly nature, no one will be turned away from participating in this event for lack of this book. Any recipe is fine. As long as one makes the monthly dairy love product, they are invited to play.

Following the five cheese guesses are the contest rules, the main event guidelines are included at the end of this post, and have fun guessing the cheese! Please leave a comment at the end of this post with your cheese of choice guess by this Sunday night, Feb 15th, 12pm Oakland time. Thanks!

Is Miz Joo's favorite cheese:
Vella Dry Jack
Hook's Cheddar

Info about Miz Joo that might or might not help one win the contest:
1. She was a guest blogger on Vin de la Table .
2. Her parents own a deli on the East Coast.
3. She loves cheese.
4. She made Hello Kitty waffles for her neice on Christmas morning and a space ship out of wooden wine boxes for her to play in.

Contest rules
1. Anyone who wins the book 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 win the contest only once.

Home Creamery Event Guidelines: (for the end of the month)
1) Make the dairy product of the month at home.
2) Either sip your dairy product to a wine or suggest a wine you think you might enjoy sipping with your milk creation in a raw or transformed state (i.e the cheese itself or a cheesecake). 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 Wednesday of the month (Feb 25th for the second 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 (vindelatable@gmail.com) 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.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Home Creamery Event: Makin' Cheese, Drinkin' Wine, and Ricotta and Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Gnocchi recipe at end of page

As fellow Home Creamery Event participant Dan Petroski stated, ricotta is "quite possibly the easiest and least timely cheese to make." It is also a strong contender for the least photogenic cheese ever. It doesn't ooze. It doesn't stack. It doesn't glisten in the right places- it just sits there, waiting for its white curds to be baked or drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. If there were paparazzi of the cheese world, they wouldn't waste time scaling ricotta's Berverly Hill's gated mansion. Ricotta does not look good in a bikini.

But bless the cheese, although it is not as succulent as Brillant Savarin or studded with diamond-like crystals like Beemster, it rolls up its sleeves, puts in full days at work, and only stops for cigarette breaks. In short, it is the ultimate cooking cheese.

For the first Home Creamery Event, the dairy product of choice was ricotta and the participant number was three: Dan Petroski, the assistant winemaker of Larkmead vineyards and Simona Carini of Bricole, blog and me.

Although the Home Creamery Event is based on Farrell-Kingsley's book, Carini made two types of ricotta. One was the buttermilk and whole milk recipe from the book, and the other she made from whey and milk she had leftover from an earlier home cheesemaking venture. I loved this. Anytime a recipe for the dairy product of the month other than Farrell-Kingsley's inspires you, by all means, use it in addition to or instead of the one in the book. The link to Carini's two experiments can be found here . Keep on eye on this girl's blog, she's a dairy master. Prior to playing ricotta with us, Simona's been crafting aged goat cheeses at home with milk from a friend's farm.

Makin' Ricotta
Now, instead of talking about my own ricotta making experiences, I'm going to share parts of Petroski's write-up about his time in the kitchen. I'm doing this because Petroski summed up the experience so well, and even though my own time with curds and whey was much more exciting than his (I alternated between watering the plants outside and visiting the local strip clubs during the acidification process) I like the way his words flow. Plus, he emailed me cool pictures that I swear I didn't shrink to make mine look better. Towards the end of this post is my ricotta and sweet potato dumpling recipe that I made with my homemade ricotta.

Petroski's Cheese: A Homemade Ricotta Experience

"My ingredients, as pictured, were pretty straight forward - Strauss Family Creamery organic whole milk and heavy cream, white wine vinegar and salt. After getting the temp up to 185F, I removed from heat and stirred in three tablespoons of the vinegar for thirty seconds and then half a tablespoon of salt for thirty seconds and let stand, covered, for about two hours.

As soon as the vinegar was added, the milk/cream mixture began its curdling and at that point, by smell alone, I knew things were going to turn out well. After the alloted time I moved the curds to the cheese cloth and let sit, wrapped for two more hours in a colander above a bowl.

While the cheese was coming together, I halved a couple of Roma tomatoes, de-seeded them and filled a pyrex glass dish with a half of cup of olive oil, placed the tomatoes, drizzled them with more oil added salt, sugar and oregano and baked them in the oven, cut side up, for one hour and then flipped them for another 15-30 minutes. I plated the tomatoes drenched in their own oil and juices; cut open the cheese cloth and sliced some ciabatta.

All the while, during the waiting period, I pulled the cork on a 2001 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino. Tasted for corkiness and then double decanted to let it develop, opened, in bottle until we were ready to snack, The Val di Suga translates to "Valley of the Sauce." With the vineyards slopped high on a hill facing the Tuscan sun, these Sangiovese Grosso grapes bake all day long, giving the wine a wonderful core of red and black fruit hidden under pepper and earthy terroir; the refined tannins and bright acidity confirms why Sangiovese is the king when pairing with tomato sauce drenched pasta. However, our little creation this night with a little extra sweetness coming from the tomatoes, the texture of the cheese and the crusty bread all helped round out this relatively young wine and allowed the food and wine to sing in concert."

After making my two cups of ricotta from a gallon of milk and quart of buttermilk (I choose a different recipe in the book from Dan), I decided to put the cheese to work. It had, after all, cost me around the same amount as high-end ricotta purchased from a store so I thought that I should get my money's worth out of the curds and create something in addition to the cheese. My dish of choice was sweet potato ricotta dumplings. Whether you choose to call them gnocchi or not is your choice. I've heard that gnocchi made from anything other than potatoes and flour are gnocchi impostors and should really be called dumplings. I'll let you decide if you want to shame yourself as I have in the title.


An Italian mother once told me that when boiling potatoes for gnocchi, always use the older ones laying around one's kitchen. Water won't be able to penetrate though the older, tougher skin as much as it would with a new tuber with thin skin. This is good because less water in the gnocchi mix produces a lighter, fluffier dumpling.
* a food mill or ricer is recommended for this recipe.
* have a small pot of boiling water ready to test the dumplings.

2 medium sized sweet potatoes (I used the standard orange guys found in supermarkets across the country)
1 cup ricotta, well drained
1/4 - 1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper

1. Put sweet potatoes in a medium-sized pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, bring to a simmer and cook until a fork inserted into the potato slides out with little effort (about 20-30 minutes).

2. Once potatoes are cooked, remove from water and let set only until cool enough to touch. Peel, cut into thirds, and run through the food mill over a bowl. It is easier to put potatoes through the mill when they are still warm and the resulting puree will have a smoother consistency. Cool after milling.

3. Add the ricotta to the bowl and mix throughly with fingers.

4. Add a little flour at a time to the bowl until the mixture starts to cling together and sticks less to your fingers. I eventually used around a half a cup of flour. Use as little as you think might be necessary because the more flour used, the heavier the dumplings. Salt and pepper to taste at this point.

5. Now do a test run. Form an oval ball about half the size of an egg with your hands and make an indentation with your thumb unto one side of the dumpling. Drop into the boiling test water already on the stove and lower the heat to a simmer. If the dumpling rises to the top of the water and does not fall apart within 3-5 minutes , you're good. If it falls apart, you need to add more flour to the original batch and make another tester to check your progress.

6. When ready to cook the entire batch, bring a large, salted pot of water to a boil. Add only half the dumplings to the pot at a time so they will have room to move about and cook throughly. After 3 minutes, run a gnocchi under running water and then taste. If it tastes of uncooked four, continue cooking the batch for one to two more minutes.

7. Remove dumplings from water with a large slotted spoon or small sieve. Continue process with next batch.

8. At meal time (these gnocchi keep best uncooked in the fridge until ready to cook and serve), cook gnocchi and serve with sage leaves and browned butter.

I enjoyed this hearty dumplings with an arugula salad and an Uvaggio Vermentino from Lodi. The nose on the Vermentino was lightly floral, pear and lemon-laced, and crisp and dry on the tongue. Most times when I make a light sauce like browned butter and sage for a pasta or dumpling, I like to let the ingredients shine and keep the wine light, but I've been known to pour a Viognier or Rhone blend with this dish, which brings out the earthy and sweet butter and potato flavors.

This is the end of the ricotta home creamery edition. I welcome you to join us for the next Home Creamery Event and would love to hear about your ricotta experiences or any prefences for the next dairy product we tackle in the comment section below. Thanks for playing!

To sum up the event's guidelines again:
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 (vindelatable@gmail.com) 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.

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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 vindelatable@gmail.com.

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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