Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheese School

Sunday afternoon we began a unique adventure. We went to Cheese School. What is that? you might ask. We weren’t really sure. But it was being offered by Chef Jaimie Casey and that was good enough for us. We’ve attended two events where she’s prepared the food and we were very impressed. I had read in the San Jose Mercury News that she hoped to start a cheese school and now it is a reality.

We arrived at Hidden Villa in time for the 4pm start. Only a few minutes away, this location is like being transported to another world. It was the perfect, peaceful setting for a culinary adventure, even if it was the hottest day of the year!

The dining room table of the villa was set for the guests. At each place was a plate of a local fresh goat cheese with truffle honey, Rhinette (a soft Gruyere – like cheese washed in apple cider), seminola anise crackers, red flame grapes and mission figs. J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc was served with this cheese plate. This was to keep us satisfied while Jaime taught us how to select a cheese vendor, choose the freshest cheese, how to properly clean and store cheese and then introduced a variety of handy cheese utensils.

Next came the rest of the cheese. Jaimie discussed how to create an enticing cheese platter and perfect accompaniments. She prepared three different platters with different themes and demonstrated how to prepare and serve them. Then we got to eat it all, comparing and testing the flavors of the various cheeses and their partners. These platters were accompanied by J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot. I tried some really strange food here – have you ever had pickled walnuts? Not something I need to eat again. One tiny nibble was enough for me.

This tray is one with savory accompaniments. All the cheeses are firm textured and there is one each of goat, cow and sheep’s milk for variety:

Cypress Grove Midnight Moon                    Warm citrus olives
Grafton 2yr Aged Cheddar                          Rosemary roasted nuts (made by Jaimie)
Cypress Grove Lambchopper                      Sliced coppa

Another highlight was the opportunity to taste Jaimie’s homemade jams. She served red plum jam on the tray with sweet accompaniments and apricot lavender preserves on the blue cheese tray. Both were delightful. And, as always with her programs, there was a surprise treat at the end. Goat cheese and dark chocolate- a decadently delicious combination to wrap up a great gathering. Hopefully, there will be more cheese school classes to come.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Just for the Halibut

Larry chose this recipe for the halibut he purchased at the Asian market. He wasn't too pleased when we started preparations for dinner and he realized that you don't cook the asparagus for the salad. The original recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine, but we customized it for a smaller serving size and for ingredients we had on hand (and left the capers out of the dressing because Larry HATES capers):

Halibut with Shaved Asparagus and Fennel Salad

Halibut steak for two
1 c Pepperidge Farm seasoned stuffing, crushed
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 Tbsp lemon peel, finely grated
2 Tbsp butter, melted
non-stick cooking spray

10 asparagus spears, trimmed and cleaned
1/4 c fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

For the salad, whisk lemon juice and mustard in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil and season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave asparagus into long thin strips. Place asparagus in a small bowl with shaved fennel. Cover and chill.

For fish, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Coat a rimmed cookie sheet with nonstick spray. Mix stuffing mix, cheese, herbs and lemon peel in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with melted butter and toss to mix evenly. Place halibut on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Press stuffing mixture on top of fish to adhere. Bake halibut until opaque in center, about 20 minutes. Turn on broiler and broil briefly just until breadcrumbs start to brown.

Place halibut on platter. Pour dressing over asparagus and fennel mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Serve salad with halibut.

In spite of Larry's initial concern about raw asparagus, he wished we had made more salad! It was a perfect tangy accompaniment to the halibut and so easy to prepare. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Last Blast of Summer

The calendar says summer is over, but someone forgot to tell the weather. Summer has finally arrived in Northern California! We’re having temperatures over 100 degrees for several days. I was already resigned to autumn soups and stews, but now my body and brain are thoroughly confused. It's sweltering and I’m back in the barbecue mode again. And in the heirloom tomato mode. I thought I was finished with writing about heirloom tomatoes for the season, but apparently not. At the farmers’ market this week, the tomatoes were even more beautiful than ever. And the price has come down from the usual $3.50 per lb to $2 in some places. My “Tomato Guy” says he’ll be there for at least another month. Vine-ripened tomatoes until the end of October is my idea of paradise.

So to celebrate the last blast of summer, we reverted to our summer Sunday lunch of heirloom tomato salad while dining on the patio. We also had some really sweet late season watermelon, so I added that to the salad as well. Tomatoes, tiny red onions, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil were joined by the watermelon and a little bacon leftover from Larry’s breakfast, crumbled on top. Add my half of the Acme Bread herb roll and once again I'm transported back to summertime.

Fall Harvest Feast

Full Circle Farm is an 11 acre educational farm and orchard located in the heart of Silicon Valley. I read about their benefit Harvest Feast on Food Gal’s blog. She is a big fan of Michael Miller, executive chef of the Silicon Valley Capitol Club, who was in charge of the dinner featuring farm-fresh produce. Good food, a benefit for a good cause – I thought it was worth checking out.

The weather has suddenly become summer-like, so it was a lovely warm evening. With a full moon thrown in to set the mood for the experience. After champagne and cheeses in the park, we headed to the park to find a table. A few speeches later, it was time for dinner, served buffet style in a tent with twinkling lights.


Braised and Then Broiled Pork Ribs
Chicken with BBQ Cherry Sauce
Prawns with Citrus and Tarragon
Baby Tomato Salad with Basil, Balsamic and Feta 
Farm Fresh Veggies
Butternut Squash Potato Puree
Soft Polenta with Sage and Marscapone
Roasted Potatoes and Sweet Dumplings with Garlic
Jamie’s Almond Cake
Chocolate Truffles

It was too dark to see what we were eating, but it was all tasty. There was plenty of good food and no one went home hungry.

The farm stand is open Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. You can check their website for more information on their educational programs and opportunities to donate or volunteer.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What a Grape Day!

By all accounts, the grape harvest in Northern California is several weeks behind schedule. But at last, the harvest has finally begun. Early in the summer, Larry starting asked the winemakers at La Honda Winery if they allowed volunteers to help with winemaking; he wants to learn more about the process. They said they could always use help during the harvest season, especially with "sorting" the grapes.

Last weekend was the designated date for him to volunteer. La Honda was open for their monthly tasting day on Saturday and expected to receive a shipment of grapes in the late afternoon. Our plan was to go for tasting, Larry and our friends Claudia and Jeff would stay to help and I would hang around just long enough to take a few photos.

The grapes arrived later than expected, around 5pm after the winery had closed. Meanwhile, Larry scrubbed and prepared equipment. The vineyard owner and her crew had started picking at dawn and drove the two tons of syrah grapes from Lake County in a pickup trip with a trailer attached. After delivery, they still had to drive back that night.

I was dressed in “social,” not work clothes, since I was only taking photos. Colin, the assistant winemaker weighed the grapes then began pouring them into the de-stemming machine. Suddenly, there was a stream of purple cascading down the chute. Larry, Claudia and Jeff were supposed to quickly remove any remaining stems and green grapes as they tumbled by. WHOA!

When I saw how many stems they were missing, I couldn’t just stand there any longer. I jumped into the fray and began grabbing stems. I didn’t mean to stay beyond the first bin. It was back-breaking, messy work. But we developed a rhythm, all working together, and four hours later we had processed all two tons of grapes.

Claudia and I departed, exhausted from the sorting. Larry and Jeff stayed to help Colin transfer all those grapes into the tank for fermentation. Larry didn’t get home until 11:30, tired, but happy. The head winemaker emailed the next day to thank us for our help and to let us know that the fermentation process looked perfect so far. Who knows, maybe we’ll go back and help again sometime. If I do, I'll make sure to wear work clothes and comfortable shoes!

On the Bright Side

I am certainly disappointed that I didn't make it to the next round in Project Food Blog. Thank you to everyone who voted for me. I appreciate all of your comments and made lots of new friends in the process.  But there is actually an upside to elimination. I was really struggling with how I could meet the deadlines for the next couple of challenges. With work, two major birthday celebrations, Cheese School and a trip to LA to visit my grandson all in the next week, I was pretty stressed about how I was going to manage. So the good news is, now I can relax a little and blog about my choice of topics and on my schedule. And I’m still going to make the ethnic dish I had planned for the second challenge (just not in the next two days) and I’ll tell you all about it. It's Brazilian.
Good luck to all those who advanced. I look forward to reading your posts in the next round.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Festival

The annual Heirloom Tomato Festival at the Kendall Jackson Wine Center has been on our calendar for over a year. We had high expectations and we weren’t disappointed. The day was bright and sunny and the temperature was in the 90’s. I was concerned about the heat and the crowds, but it was well organized and there was plenty of shade.
Tasting Tent

I was anxious to head right away for the tomato tasting tent. Kendall Jackson grows over a hundred varieties of heirloom tomatoes in their garden on site. The tasting tent had samples of every variety imaginable cut and ready to sample. 

They provided a sheet for tasting notes, listing all the varieties in order by color. I made at least four trips to the tent and only managed to taste about 40 of the different varieties.

Hosea from Top Chef
A celebrity chef challenge ran continuously all day. Well-known chefs competed in challenge rounds, in a Top Chef-style competition. If you’re a fan of Top Chef, you might recognize some of the participants.

CJ from Top Chef
The chefs clearly enjoyed themselves in the fast-paced, friendly competition, in spite of the blistering heat due to the sun, stoves and grills. We got a bit of an inside peek at how it all works since the son of friends works at KJ for events like this. “Dangerous Dan,” as he is known, is one of the hard-working local chefs who work behind the scenes to help make an event like this successful. The competition was very entertaining, but I couldn’t stay for it all. There was too much going on!

Dangerous Dan

In addition to the requisite KJ wine tasting, there were 48 restaurants serving up samples of their best recipes using heirloom tomatoes. We ate continuously all day, and still couldn’t try all the delicious offerings. The creativity and variety of tomato recipes was amazing. Everything from more traditional salads, salsas and ceviche, to waffles, octopus, pulled pork, tomato cake and yellow tomato lobster bisque.

It would be hard to choose a favorite, but I loved the heirloom tomato chipotle glazed pork shoulder shown  on the right with KJ 2006 Grand Reserve Zinfandel prepared by Equus Restaurant, the vanilla butter cake with pineapple and cardamom scented caramel and brown sugar heirloom tomatoes by CutieCakes (above, bottom left) and the heirloom tomato waffle with whipped tomato butter and heirloom syrup by Nectar (above, top center).

There was also Bruschetta Boulevard where KJ paired their wines with different bruschettas. They prepared some unique bruschetta and no tickets were needed for the wines here. This area was also the location of the winners of the heirloom tomato growing contest. There were some real beauties in spite of our late growing season this year.

A live band for listening and a variety of seminars rounded out the entertainment for the day. I was far too busy sampling the food and wine to attend a seminar. But if the long line for the chocolate/wine pairing seminar was indicative of participation, a lot of other people did attend. The day ended all too soon, and I can’t wait until next year!

Contest tomatoes

Monday, September 20, 2010

Today's the Day - Vote for Me!

Today is opening day for voting in Project Food Blog's first challenge. If you haven't read my official entry, you can find it here. Votes are flying fast and furious, so don't delay. If you like my entry, you can go to the box on the right with this picture of me at the farmers' market and the Project Food Blog logo. Then click on the link that says "Vote for Me." It will take you to the voting page. My entry should come up near the top - it's this picture of an appetizer plate of artichoke pesto and feta cheese with tomatoes. You must be registered on FoodBuzz to vote. Have fun looking at all the other entries, too. And good luck to everyone who entered!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Variations on a Theme - Leftover Mole

When we had grilled chicken with pumpkin mole sauce the other night, we had a lot of sauce left over, even though this was only half the original recipe. It was too good to discard, so I wanted to use it again in something a little different. I thought it might make good enchiladas. Excellent idea!

We grilled two boneless chicken breasts and shredded the meat. I spread some of the mole sauce on flour tortillas, placed the shredded chicken on the sauce and rolled up the tortillas. Put four in a baking dish and poured the rest of the pumpkin mole sauce over the rolled tortillas. Heated the dish in a 350 degree oven until hot- about 30 minutes. To serve, I topped the enchiladas with crumbled cotija cheese, sliced red onion rings and cilantro sprigs. I also toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) to sprinkle on top, which really went well with the pumpkin mole. Served sliced avocados on the side. Quick and easy once you’ve already got the sauce made.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Who Am I and What Am I Doing Here? Project Food Blog Challenge #1

COOK. EAT. FOOD. WINE. TRAVEL. ENTERTAIN. If this were Jeopardy, the question (answer) would be "What does Judy think about all the time?" I am a busy working professional, but "What's for dinner? What wine will pair with it? When and where is our next vacation? What do they eat there?" are questions that occupy my thoughts daily. 

Our favorite winery

While recovering from two surgeries and six weeks of subsequent treatment, I had very little energy for anything. But when I felt well enough, I would visit a local winery or try a new recipe. I was too fatigued to pursue my usual creative outlet of collage and fiber art, but I needed a way to express myself. Instead of using paper, fabric and fiber as my medium, I wanted to write. Not about my illness, but about something I loved – cooking, food and wine. I had never read food blogs, much less considered writing one. But I could blog when and where it was convenient and writing was not as physically demanding as fiber art.   
Recovery food

And food is also art. I see it from the perspective of a fiber artist. Food is woven into every aspect of our lives and is a thread that not only runs through our days, but weaves us all together. We can’t live without food, so why not approach it with joy, passion and humor. My blog tells the stories of my life, past and present. I recount my experiences through food and dining; how I have become ME and what I've been doing lately.

I recently wrote about my mother's cooking lessons and how her memory still influences me:

My mother wasn’t much of a cook. She could have been, she had the skills, but she didn’t seem interested. She was coerced into teaching the cooking badge to my Girl Scout troop when I was in the fifth grade and she did an excellent job. She taught us basic cooking skills such as how to measure solids and scrape the measuring cup with the back of a straight knife, when and how to sift flour. She grew up with very little money and her frugal nature never allowed her to enjoy cooking or eating. Being a working mother of three children probably didn’t help either.

Years later when my mother died, we had only four days to empty her apartment. It felt like we were erasing her life. We sold/donated/discarded most everything she owned. I packed just a few special items to ship to my home in California. When my package arrived, I was dismayed to see that my husband had slipped in other items he thought I’d appreciate later.

Mom's recipe box
One item Larry packed was my mother’s recipe box. Recently, when I couldn’t sleep, I looked inside the box for the first time. I’m sure she never made most of those recipes. Of all the magazine and newspaper clippings and the typed or handwritten index cards in the box, we shared only two recipes that I could find – two that I had requested from her over 30 years ago: a squash casserole and a strawberry Jello salad.

My son and his
This sleepless night was the fifth anniversary of my mother's death. And also the due date of my son’s first child. I was relieved that my grandson Isaac arrived early and did not have to share his birthday with the bittersweet memories of my mother’s death. It was so difficult to leave him and return home just a few days after his birth. Maybe I wasn't just suffering from a grandmother's version of post-partum depression after having to leave this beautiful child who began laughing at four days old. Maybe I couldn't sleep because I was also missing my mother.

I'll keep the recipe box. I'll probably never use the recipes, but I like the idea that I could. My mother didn't spend much time with my son, but  I hope to spend far more with his. Maybe I'll even teach him to cook. At least I can show him how we collected recipes before there were computers, by keeping his great-grandmother's recipe box.

Over the years, I have taken the basic cooking skills I learned from my mother and developed them beyond anything she could have imagined. My mother rarely left North Carolina and never left the country. I love to travel and try new food experiences. Larry and I have dined on excellent cuisine in recent years from South Africa, Brazil and Ecuador. I love to return home and see what I can create based on new flavors I have experienced. Then I see if my friends will try my experiments. I suspect my mother would not be willing to eat much of what we cook now.

Some meals are exotic, others are simple. My trips to the farmers’ market are a weekly ritual to help create healthy and interesting meals. Northern California is a paradise when it comes to produce, so the opportunity to explore fresh and local ingredients is almost unlimited. Even with our healthier California cooking, I’ve never quite conquered the food addictions rooted in my childhood. Southern fried anything, donuts and M&Ms will probably never disappear from my diet. At least now, I can sometimes justify succumbing to the cravings for the sake of blogging.

At the market

What does my future hold? I have, at least for now, abandoned fiber art. Every day there are new inspirations in my “inbox” providing clues as to where I might go next in my culinary journey. It’s all a glorious adventure. An adventure that I hope lasts for a really long time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Farewell to Summer

I have officially given up on summer. Usually we have hot weather well into October. But this year there was almost no hot weather at all. The mornings are already cool and crisp and you can feel the fall chill already in the air. I love fall, but I missed having a real summer. With a sigh, I cooked my first pumpkin dish for dinner and acknowledged that I don’t get to vote; autumn has arrived.

I am always reviewing my collection of old Bon Appetit magazines for recipes. This week I saw one where they listed Tom Colicchio as a rising star. I got a good chuckle from that. I found a recipe for grilled chicken with a pumpkin mole by Rick Bayless, one of my favorite celebrity chefs. He was already listed as a “legend” back in 2003 when this recipe was published. There was no canned pumpkin in the grocery stores yet, but luckily I had some in the pantry. I had also requested that Larry look for red corn this week, as I wanted to try the recipe I had seen in spcookiequeen’s post Red Corn-Wonder What It Tastes Like?

So I bowed to the changing of the seasons and made the pumpkin mole, red corn and served it with an avocado and tomato salad. I changed the corn recipe slightly to make it a little more Latin flavored and to use the peppers I already had in the frig. I used a red, rather than yellow pepper, substituted a Thai bird chili for an Anaheim pepper and added the cilantro. This turned out to be an excellent recipe.

Same for the chicken mole. My version always ends up a little different because I tend to use what I have on hand, rather than buying new ingredients. Here’s my version and we loved it:

Grilled Chicken with Creamy Pumpkin Mole Sauce

1 dried arbol chili, stemmed, seeded, torn into pieces
Vegetable oil
1 white onion sliced into rings
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 slice buttermilk bread, crust removed
¾ c canned diced tomatoes, drained
1 can low salt chicken broth
2 canned chipotle chilis
1 can pure pumpkin
1/3 c heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar

4 boneless chicken breasts
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Lime wedges
Salt and pepper

Heat large pot over medium heat. Add arbol chili pieces and toast pressing and turning pieces with a potato masher about 2 minutes. Set aside one piece for garnish. Transfer remaining pieces to small bowl and cover with hot water. Soak until soft, about 20 minutes.

In the same pot, heat oil and sauté onion rings and garlic until brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a food processor. Add bread slice to pot and with remaining oil, toast until golden, about 30 seconds per side. Add bread to processor (reserve pot). Add tomatoes to processor and puree mixture until smooth. Transfer mixture to bowl. Don’t clean processor yet.

Drain arbol chilis and put in food processor. Add ½ c chicken broth, 2 chipotle chilis and puree until smooth.

Add 1 Tbsp oil to reserved pot and heat over medium heat. Add arbol chili puree and cook until mixture thickens, stirring often, about 1 ½ minutes. Add tomato puree mixture. Simmer, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Whisk in pumpkin and the rest of the can of broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickens, 15 – 20 minutes. Whisk in cream and brown sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grill chicken breasts. Spoon mole sauce onto chicken. Crumble reserved arbol chili on top. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve with lime wedge.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Kind of Post

Dear Readers and Followers:

You may have noticed the new box over there on the bottom right with a picture of me at the farmers’ market and wondered what that's about. It’s for a contest, Project Food Blog. I am a member of FoodBuzz, a community of food bloggers and they are having a contest to crown the best food blogger. There is a series of 10 challenges judged by well known food personalities. The first step was to create my contestant profile which you can see by clicking on the link in that box. The first challenge is due soon, so in the next few days, you’ll see a post labeled as a Project Food Blog Challenge.

I decided to participate in the contest as a personal challenge. I want to stretch my limits as a blogger since I’m such a newbie. Some of the challenges are far out of my comfort zone. The first one is to write a 1000 word post with at least two pictures describing what is great and unique about my blog and why I should win. This is really not my style – thus the personal challenge part. I’ve been working on the post for a month. For future challenges we don’t have nearly that much time to prepare, so with my busy schedule, I’ll just have to see how it goes.

Anyway, there is a viewer’s choice selection for each round and you can help determine that selection. You must register at to vote. It doesn’t mean you have to write a blog if you register. There are plenty of people who belong because they are interested in food. There is a lot of information, interesting people, great blogs and good recipes to be found there. So check it out if you’re interested.

And watch for my first challenge post. Coming soon…..

Another Amazing Weekend

After our evening of wine and appetizers at J. Lohr Winery on Friday night, we left on Saturday morning for Santa Rosa and the Kendall Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival. More about that and the rest of the weekend later. This is about how we ended a great weekend in San Francisco.

As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge heading home, we could see that the weather in the city was crisp and clear. I had seen a restaurant on Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives located on the pier that seemed perfect for such a gorgeous afternoon. Only I couldn’t remember its name. We found a parking place near Pier 35, which was pretty amazing for such a beautiful day. In 26 years here, I cannot ever remember being in SF when I thought it was warm enough to be wearing shorts (which I was – it had been 90 degrees in Santa Rosa). After walking around briefly with no luck finding a place that looked right, Larry checked his trusty smartphone and we determined it was Café Pier 23.

I had selected this location because most of the seating was outside overlooking the water. Just what I had in mind. Being on DDD, I was pretty sure the food would be diner food and I was hoping for fried clams. We were greeted with the news that there was a $10 cover charge per person. What! Not what I had in mind. Twenty bucks for the privilege of eating greasy bar food??!! I don’t think so. And I said as much. Very politely. There was a live band and I guess some people sit all afternoon and take up space. I convinced the attendant that we were really going to order food and she waived the cover. Again, another surprise- it was not crowded on such a perfect day.

We selected the last table in the corner with a perfect view of sail boats, sea gulls and sea lions. Unfortunately, no clams on the menu. But we did order calamari which was pretty good. We also split a shrimp and crab sandwich. It was served with a pungent wasabi cream. I put a little too much in some spots on my sandwich and got a good purging of my sinuses. It brought back memories of the first time I ever had wasabi. At a work event, a thick creamy green wasabi was served right by the tortilla chips. Thinking it was guacamole, I scooped up a big helping and popped it into my mouth. My head nearly exploded. At least it didn’t turn me against wasabi forever.

A perfect ending to the weekend, relaxing by the bay, basking in the September sun. The food was so-so, but given the mood of the day, I give Café Pier 23 on Sunday afternoon an A+.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Oh, no! Not another one!

Well, we did it. We joined another wine club. After my birthday treat of the dessert and wine pairing at J. Lohr Winery, we went back for the wine and appetizer pairing. It was just as delightful. Once again, Chef Jaimie Casey prepared a delicious menu to go with the wines. Finding a winery so close to home, with such good wines and interesting events, we just couldn’t resist. Having such a friendly and hospitable staff and family who run it is also an important factor in the decision.

Check out the menu and drool:

Chilled Tomato Consommé
2009 J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Halibut Ceviche with Pear Granita
2007 J. Lohr Arroyo Vista Chardonnay

Hot Smoked Salmon with Avocado, Butter Leaf Salad
2009 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdigue

Rilette of Duck with BlueBerry and Basil Preserve, Rye Crisps
2007 J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir

Flash Seared Kobe Beef with Saki and Asian Slaw
2009 J. Lohr Gesture Zinfandel

Ravioli of Lamb and Minted Fava Beans
2007 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon

We also had a goat cheese chocolate truffle treat that was not on the menu that paired quite well with the cabernet. Jaimie loves to throw in surprises and always shares her recipes at these events.

There was a lot of lively discussion about the pairings this time. We were encouraged to mix and match beyond the proposed sets. We often found other combinations we liked as well or better than the official recommendations. The tomato consommé was an exquisite and flavorful opener, but I preferred it with the chardonnay. Larry agreed with their choice of the sauvignon blanc.

Everything was delicious, but I have to comment on the duck rillette. I don’t like duck so I was very hesitant regarding this particular appetizer. But when I go to an event such as this, I am determined to at least taste everything offered. If I don’t like it, I let Larry finish it. He likes almost everything. So I was quite amazed that I actually liked the duck. It was not too fatty or too rich, and the blueberry and basil preserves (made by Jaimie) and rye toast were a perfect match.  I also thought it was the most perfect pairing with the Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir. The figure-eight ravioli shown here was also quite a masterpiece.

Another good reason to attend events like this is the fun of meeting interesting people. I sat next to a young woman who is a pastry chef and food writer for Metro Magazine. I enjoyed talking to her about her job and discovered she is also a blogger. What are the chances of that! I guess food bloggers are everywhere! You can check out her blog, Original Cinn for pastry-related posts.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fallen for Figs

I have recently fallen in love with figs. As a child I ate a whole package of fig newtons on more than one occasion. But I don’t think I’d ever had a fresh fig until we were in Egypt two years ago. We were told not to eat any fruit or vegetables that you couldn’t peel, which really limits the choices. There was a beautiful fruit basket in our room that looked very enticing. In it were figs. I was hungry and I decided I could scrape out the inside and give them a try. Nothing like fig newtons – far better!

The figs at the farmers’ market this year have been delicious. And they keep coming down in price, so I keep buying more. We’ve fixed them a variety of ways, but I keep looking for new ideas for how to prepare them. I saw a recipe for a fig pizza in Bon Apetit magazine that I thought might be interesting. Larry objected, because it called for Gorgonzola cheese, not a favorite for either of us. But I wanted to be adventurous and for some reason it sounded good. I did modify the recipe in some other ways, but it was a success. We loved it, even with the Gorgonzola!

Here’s my version:

Fig Pizza
1 pkg purchased pizza dough (we used Trader Joe’s)
2 c crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
6-8 figs cut into thin slices
2 Tbsp fig balsamic vinegar
8 slices pancetta, cooked
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
cornmeal (for pizza peel)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Follow directions for pizza dough to roll out and prepare for two 10" rounds. (We made two pizzas from the dough.) Crumble cheese onto dough and sprinkle with pepper. Lightly oil a cast iron skillet with vegetable oil and heat on high until just starting to smoke. Place the pizza dough on a pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal so that it slides off easily. Place dough into hot skillet and then into the pre-heated oven to cook.

Place sliced figs in a bowl and drizzle with 1 Tbsp of vinegar to marinate while pizza cooks.

Bake pizza until crust is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Place pancetta on top of cheese and figs on top of pancetta. Bake about two minutes more until figs are warm. Transfer pizza to cutting board. Whisk remaining vinegar and oil in bowl and add arugula. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Place arugula on pizza and cut into slices to serve.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Weekend on the Way

It's Thursday night. I love a local hangout where you always run into friends. Join us at the Red Pepper if you're in the mood for Mexican.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What a Weekend!

Our fabulous 25th wedding anniversary celebration has come and gone. It was a wonderful event that was months in planning. We chose an 80’s theme to celebrate the decade of our wedding. I tend to get carried away with themes, which is one of the reasons for all the frenzy of planning activities. The tables and decorations were black and white polka dots with accents of neon colors. More than 65 friends and family members of all ages joined us to celebrate. They came dressed in many creative interpretations of 80’s attire including Return of the Jedi characters, a Robert Palmer backup singer, many Cyndi Laupers, Miami Vice and lots of jazzercise wear, just to mention a few. My son says my costume was a cop-out, but I dressed as a bride since getting married was what I was doing in 1985. Larry dressed as Indiana Jones. And he's decided to keep the beard, at least for now!

Usually I host our parties at home and we do the cooking, but this time we decided to go all out and held the party at La Honda Winery where we are wine club members. I also hired a caterer. This was my first experience with a caterer and it was a delightful one. John Silva at CulinaryEye Catering seemed to be able to read my mind. The food was excellent and he designed a unique table setting for the 80’s theme. Even the servers got involved in the fun by adding some 80’s spice to their attire.

I’ll share the menu with you since everyone raved about the food:

Passed Bites:
Firecracker Prawns with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce
Marinated Late Harvest Tomatoes in Miniature Bread Boxes with Fresh Basil
Angus Sliders with Pickled Red Onion and Wild Rocket
Miniature Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Buffet Dinner:
Slow Cooked Pulled Pork
Grilled Chicken Skewers with Roast Red Pepper Romesco Sauce
Marinated Grilled Vegetable Skewers with Sherry Vinaigrette
Tarragon and Herb Fines Marble Potato Salad
Heart of Romaine Caesar Salad with Jumbo Garlic Croutons and Smoked Paprika Dressing
Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad with Balsamic Reduction
Artisan Sliced Breads and Compound Butter

Stationed Dessert:
Meyer Lemon Shortcakes, Mixed Berries, and Spiced Chantilly Cream
Miniature Chocolate Cake Bites with Salted Chocolate Truffles

We served five La Honda wines for tasting during the cocktail hour that paired nicely with the appetizers:

2009 Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc (just last week won a gold medal from the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers)
2007 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay
2007 “Sequence” Pinot Noir (just awarded silver medal from SCM Winegrowers)
2007 “Exponent” Red Table Wine (another silver!)
2007 Lone Hawk Cabernet Sauvignon (multiple awards, 93 points from Wine Enthusiast)

The evening was filled with fun and games such as 80’s karaoke, vintage video games, a costume contest and a quiz to see how much people knew about us from 25 years ago. My son gave a humorous and touching toast in celebration of our 25 years. A few tears were shed when he related that I have often asked him what he will do differently as a parent and now that he has a newborn son his answer is “Nothing.” The choice of sparkling cider or La Honda’s 2005 Napa Valley Viognier (multiple silver awards) for the toast was a fitting end for the evening.

It was wonderful to gather so many of our friends together for the party. And then we had the rest of the weekend with my son and his wife, his in-laws and our new grandson. We continued to eat and drink the leftover food and wine and just enjoy being together. We especially love just watching six-week old Isaac changing every day. As his grandparents, we are assured of a lifetime of entertainment. What a weekend!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Leftovers

Soon I will tell you about the AWESOME 80’s party on Saturday night where we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Right now, I am still too tired and overwhelmed from all the celebrating. But I will share with you what I had for breakfast this morning made from party leftovers. One of the desserts created by the wonderful caterer for the event, CulinaryEye Catering, was Meyer Lemon Shortcakes with Mixed Berries and Spiced Chantilly Cream. We’ve been nibbling on the party leftovers for the rest of the holiday weekend with our family guests and this dessert gave me an idea for breakfast.

I heated the leftover shortcake, which was very much like a biscuit, topped it with a helping of plain Greek yogurt and the leftover berry mixture. Along with a cup of strong coffee it made a great way to start the day.

Now that the houseguests have departed and the house is quiet, we can return to our normal routine. I already miss the cooing and baby noises (even the occasional shrieking) provided by my tiny grandson Isaac. It was his first trip to our house. Time stands still when I am with him and nothing else matters. I am used to my routine, but I hope he comes back soon to rearrange my routine again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Meatless Since Monday

I didn’t mean to go meatless, it just happened that I haven’t eaten meat since I ate the five spice pork bowl for lunch again at MoBowl Food Truck on Monday. It was even better this time than the last! Surprisingly, I haven’t missed eating meat. I’ve really enjoyed the seasonal fruits and vegetables along with the cheese and grains we’ve been eating in a rush all week. Basically, I just haven’t had time to cook.

We are in the final countdown to a gala celebration on Saturday for our 25th wedding anniversary. I don’t know if you’re supposed to throw your own anniversary party, but no one seems to object to attending. I’m pretty well known for my parties, although this one is far more elaborate than anything I’ve ever tackled before. I thought that hiring a caterer would mean I didn’t have anything to do. Was I ever mistaken. I have spent countless hours on decorations, activities, costumes, etc. It’s an 80’s theme and I tend to go overboard on themes. I expected the caterer to be horrified at the idea of paper plates. But I explained to him that people would think something was dreadfully wrong if I had plain white plates. I have been known to throw a party around a great paper plate design that struck my fancy. He has been very cooperative and has even designed a special themed setup for the food using neon fluorescent lights to match my 80's neon and polka dot decor. I can’t wait to see it.

But I made a little time for cooking today. I had a few minutes to toss a couple of potatoes into the oven early this morning before our predicted blistering heat was scheduled to arrive this afternoon. I had seen another Bon Apetit recipe I wanted to try, this time for Indian style grilled stuffed potatoes. And to go with the potatoes, I decided to adapt Chef Dennis’s squash tower using Indian spices, rather than African. I loved all the food we had in Zulu country last summer, but didn’t have his spice mixture on hand. So I used Bina’s Magic Indian Spice as I call it (a version of chaat masala), and made the squash with an Indian twist.

I had no time to take more pictures of the finished product, but we had an enjoyable dinner. The potatoes turned out to be very messy and I’m not sure I would make them again using the same technique. The flavor was good, with the chilis and cilantro but I don’t really think it needed all the complicated steps in the cooking and the spicy sesame yogurt paste, although tasty, came out rather runny. Thus the messy part. Next time I’d skip the grilling altogether and just bake them like standard twice-baked potatoes.