Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Rough Cut Through the Wine Cellar

The Chapman House Line-up -- click on the photo for the label close-up.

No Foodspiration vacation would be complete without the wine . . . and since we're traveling by road rather than air it only makes sense to pack a mixed case from our collection. It took only minutes to choose this line up (not that I knew what I wanted to bring, but I was already running late and getting increasingly in big trouble with my 'collaborator'), so I went with my gut. Now after putting the bottles side by side, I'm more than satisfied with what made it into the box . . . I went with some 'old and/or distinguished wines' . . . either those wines with some sort of story or and a few that are simply wine cellar 'driftwood' (how appropriate for a seaside vacation).

2002 Twomey Napa Valley Merlot -- We had just visited Twomey (Silver Oak's second winery) for the first time this April with our Pebble Place Wine Club. We liked what we tasted and picked up this winery-aged Merlot for drinking now. I cracked this bottle on our post-midnight arrival. Full fruit with tannins in full fade . . .

2002 Argyle ‘Nuthouse’ Willamette Valley Pinot Noir -- Not sure where I picked up this bottle, but I most likely bought it in homage to our Minnesota wine friends (the Smiths) who tended to favor this quaff, especially when Costco made them a deal. I was looking forward to putting this up against . . .

2002 St. Innocent ‘Anden Vineyard’ Willamette Valley Pinot Noir -- for a little horizontal pinot noir cage match. Both '02, both Willamette (damn-it!), and this wine bought in homage to our Oregon foodie friends Ann and Bill, who apparently know the proprietors or farmers (or someone?).

1999 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon -- This wine may be the kingpin of the bunch, as this is Lauren and my 'engagement wine'. We were engaged in 2002, however as we traversed the Napa Valley on that warm September day the '99 Caymus was our favorite wine. Every now and then I'll pull a bottle . . . we've probably got another half case laid away to celebrate future events. While it is our sixth Anniversary this fall, it will be decade of age for this this guy!

2000 Concha Y Toro ‘Don Melchor’ Puente Alto Cabernet Sauvignon -- I've been to this winery on the boarder of Santiago. If Chile had 'first growths' this would be one . . . somehow they are always able to pack an impressive wine into a $45-50 package year-after-year and distribute in quantities that you can find all over the world.

2000 Chateau Talbot Saint-Julien Bordeaux -- This wine was one of the first, and only, wines that I bought on the futures market. I heard the 2000 Bordeaux were going to rock and as an impressionable wine collector thought I should get in on the action . . . In the French corner of the cellar I have a few of these laid down along side the pricier Chateau Palmer and the more affordable Chateau Gloria.

2003 Dievole ‘La Vendemmia’ Chianti Classico -- I lugged this wine back (with her bigger brother the 'Novecento') over the pond from after our stay in Sienna in 2006. Dievole happened to be just down the road from our agritourism-converted-monestary-home-away-from-home and we liked what we were drinking . . .

2001 Franco-Fiorina Barbaresco -- I picked this Barbaresco up on the cheap while filling out the wine cellar in back in Minnesota. At the time it was on deal (note the orange sticker) because it was already old enough to become a burden on their inventory. I'm hopeful this wine will still be drinking fine as I broke into a '00 FF last month and was not disappointed.

2000 Rizzi Barbaresco -- I have no memory where this wine came from. I am drinking this wine as I write this post. The balance of the bottle may be going into the lamb shank that will be accompanying the gnocchi we're making tonight. No defects, but I think all this leathery goodness may best marry with that bone marrow and I can move on to the next bottle for drinking (plus the recipe demands 2 cups of dry red and I have to make the tough call).

NV Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Sparkling Wine -- Even though I brought this wine from home it is definitely the hometown favorite! Just down the street from our oceanside getaway, we may visit Roederer before the week is out. We decided to pair this sparkler with Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese dripping with Gipsons Golden blackberry honey for our happy hour.

2006 Clos Du Bois North Coast Sauvignon Blanc -- This wine is a bit of a castaway . . . unloved and unappreciated we were 'gifted' this wine by a friend that didn't drink whites. I've sat on the wine long enough . . . it's 2009 already and it definitely ain't getting any better. Hopefully it gets hot so we have a reason to give this bad boy a reason to be before it is all acid and fruit is dead (unless that has already happened).

2005 ZD Napa Valley Chardonnay Reserve -- I'm not much of a Chardonnay man, especially those over-oaked malo-lactic bombs that form the template for many California Chards. I usually prefer the zip and zing of Pinot Grigio and Sauv Blanc on those hot summer days, however, on a visit to ZD I got really turned on to their fruit-forward stainless steel fermented Chardonnays.

What are some notable omissions? Well, I guess I missed anything from Australia or New Zealand . . . I scanned through that part of the cellar and pulled and then returned a few Penfolds and a Dead Arm or two, punting for a while. There's no Burgundy or CdP . . . I worked in those Oregon Pinots, but the really isn't any type of attempt at Syrah/Shiraz or in the Rhone style. Spain is overlooked as well as are many, many whites from everywhere.

Next time we'll have to take a longer vacation!

Local-esque Happy Hour: Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Blackberry Honey and Sparkling Wine

Well what better way to end the day and start the evening than with a happy hour!

Today's happy hour selection included: Roederer Estates Sparkling Wine (in Philo near Mendocino), Rustic Baguette (from Healdsburg) with Point Reyes Blue Cheese (from Point Reyes Station, CA) drizzled with Blackberry Honey from Gipsons Golden in Santa Rosa, CA. While these items were not within 50 miles they were within 150 miles and all from California.

Here's the view from the deck...We are planning a delicious dinner and a movie tonight with a fresh green salad, homemade gnocchi with sage butter and braised lamb shank.

A Hearty Brunch to Start the Inspiration

We started off this first morning of vacation with a hearty brunch of eggs, sausage and a freshly blended smoothie.

We started off with Hans' All Natural chicken, fontina and garlic sausage. It has a very clean ingredient label and is delicious. We did a bit of pan-frying and then a final steam with a bit of water and a lid to finish them off while keeping them juicy. Check out the open range in this kitchen with a vent in the middle rather than above.

While we pan-fried the sausage, we peeled a few oranges and grapefruits for a smoothie.

The Vitamix, a new addition to the Foodspiration kitchen, came out to blend the whole fruit (sans peel) into a fresh fruit smoothie. With the addition of few raspberries and a kiss of honey added to take the bitterness off of the grapefruit, the Vitamix turned them into a thick and vibrant smoothie.

We'll be exploring how to make more ideal combinations this week and to see what this Vitamix can do!

Justin made the usual scrambled eggs with goat cheese after wiping out the frying pan. There was just enough flavor left to make the eggs extra delicious.

And brunch was served. We are now sufficiently fueled to go in search of some local ingredients for more inspiring meals. Some bike riding and pilates are also on deck...

Foodspiration is on an Inspired Cooking Vacation!

Hooray! We are finally starting our week of Foodspiration vacation! It's NOT a vacation from the blog but FOR the blog.

The ingredients:

1) one really inspiring house in Mendocino overlooking the ocean and with architectural charm and character from the 1960s.

2) five boxes of kitchen ingredients (flour, sugar, fruit we had at home etc), kitchen tools (blenders, ice cream makers, gnocchi board etc), good wine from the cellar and several cookbooks

3) a well appointed kitchen with adequate cooking space (overlooking the ocean)

4) wonderful local ingredients which we will begin seeking today

5) 2 foodies and their dog (Beaker isn't so sure about the sound of the ocean!)

Mix well, let simmer for 6 days until wonderful ideas and inspiration develop!

Look for daily blog posts from us this week!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Easy Saturday Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs and Goat Cheese

Saturday mornings are perfect for a hot breakfast and after a late Friday night, we wanted something that was tasty and easy. I spied some of the amazing eggs from our farmer's market and some delicious goat cheese and a plan was hatched.

We've posted before about the high quality of eggs from pastured chickens and it continues to amaze me. These eggs are from Your Family Farm, a family farm in California that raises about 250 chickens and pastures them so that they are actually free-range. Here's the shell picture link. And the eggs aren't cheap ($7) but because they are so expensive, we treat them like gems and really appreciate them. You can see the exquisite color and height of the yolks.

This goat cheese came from Lunardi's and it is so delicious. If you haven't tried goat cheese, I recommend it. We often by Cypress Grove but this was a softer, moister goat cheese that didn't crumble as much and had a slight sweetness.

A quick scramble followed by a sprinkling of cheese and fresh ground pepper and voila: the most delicious and gorgeously bright scrambled eggs. Hooray for weekend breakfast!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Roasted Beet, Goat Cheese and Walnut Salad

I heart beets: pickled beets, roasted beets, beet salad. We got these delicious red and golden yellow beets at our farmer's market and we had to pair them with one of my other favorite things: goat cheese.

We decided to keep the skins on during roasted so I did a bit of scrubbing with a potato brush and these dirty gems polished right up.

After wrapping them individually in a bit of aluminum foil, we roasted them in the oven at 400F until they were done (stick a knife in and check.)

Then while they were pretty hot, we carefully slipped off the skins and sliced the beets. They were piping hot and the red beets stain like crazy so don't wear any clothes that might show a stain. You'll see why a lot of natural coloring comes from beet and beet juice!

We tossed the beets with a bit of red wine vinegar and olive oil. Topped with toasted walnut, crumbled goat cheese, and fresh ground pepper, this salad was a winner. In fact, it was almost even more delicious the next day when eaten cold from the fridge!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Celebration of the Heirloom Tomato!

Last week, despite the unusually cold weather, these heirloom tomatoes were selling summertime! And I bought them!

Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, non-hybrid tomatoes known for their great flavor and beautiful color. Many heirloom varieties have been passed down for generations. They are more expensive than supermarket tomatoes but you will find yourself treasuring every bite of these tomatoes.

You can see the beautiful variation in color as well as the varigated structure. Each one is like a piece of edible art!

And how should you eat an heirloom tomato? They are wonderful with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt. We ate these with a gourmet hamburger but they are also great with fresh mozzarella and basil. Happy eating!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Our Deep Fat Fryer Makes a Double Appearance

One of Lauren's co-workers told her that "your life is just one big block party". Well, maybe he's right. We kicked off our weekend with wine night at the dog park . . . a new Friday tradition where a few choice bottles of red and white are discretely served up in plastic cups while our furry friends tumble and bark and chase.

At sunset, we shifted the fun back to our place where we fired up the grill for gourmet burgers and decided to dust of the deep fat fryer to make its first appearance of the summer. Mmmm . . . onion rings.

We opted for Rachel Ray's Tempura Onion Rings recipe. The onions were soaked in ice water for 15 minutes prior to coating them with a simple batter of flour, baking powder, corn starch, and ice water. Once coated, they went immediately into the fryer.

This recipe yielded light and crispy rings where the onion could shine as tasty co-star. Either directly on the burgers or as a complement, our guests loved them.

Waking up to Saturday morning meant staring down a few dishes and of course the fryer. Since it is always much more fun to use than to clean and put away, I was inclined heat that oil one more round. With Lauren still slumbering away I began searching the internet for Buttermilk Bar doughnut recipes, her absolute favorite. I landed on La Fuji Mama's blog post for buttermilk donut holes from just a few day's earlier. I'm not going to repost the recipe because I tried to dutifully follow LFM's instructions and she calls out that her recipe was an adaption of Bringham Young's buttermilk doughnut recipe, so please refer to these more authoritative sources.

The flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg (freshly grated!) were combined and set aside. The buttermilk, egg, and melted butter were whisked together then mixed with the dry ingredients forming a loose dough. At this point I didn't realize that I forgot to add the 3/4 cup of sugar . . . whoops!

The hot frying oil (375 deg F) received small spoonfuls of dough and started to crack and brown, just not as much as they should have. Luckily a doughnut expert appeared and immediately identified my error. Rather than start over, I opted to go free form add and knead in additional sugar. With additional sugar, the buttermilk bites browned more and had the much needed sweetness to balance with the buttermilk.

Buttermilk bite mistake without sugar (left) and reworked with sugar (right)

The final step was to roll the warm buttermilk bites in sugar and enjoy! Too much for just us, we walked them around to the neighbors to share. Now, time to clean the fryer . . .

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sometimes the simple things are the best...

and tonight it was a fresh, crusty pain epi from Acme Bakery and a delicious triple cream cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blue Cheese Broiled Asparagus

Mmm, it's time for asparagus! This was a vegetable that I hated as a kid because it was always steamed and served with mayonnaise ( and I will not eat mayonnaise!). But, now I love asparagus when it is topped with a delicious cheese, seasoned with salt and pepper and crisped and cooked under the broiler!

You can also brush a bit of olive oil on it but we've even been skipping that when we have a really flavorful cheese. Basically, we washed it and snapped off the ends and put them close together on a foiled lined cookie sheet. I crumbled Point Reyes Blue cheese near the tips and seasoned with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. We cooked them for a few minutes on the top rack of the oven near the broiler until the cheese was brown and melted and the asparagus was cooked.

If you don't like blue cheese, goat cheese or parmesan is also lovely! However, I must say this particular blue cheese was excellent with the asparagus and our favorite so far.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hooray for the Farmer's Market

Hooray, our local farmer's market is open again! It's within walking distance and we took Beaker there this past weekend. The only catch is that dogs aren't allowed, so we took turns going in.

You can see the abundance of wonderful food in California. We bought strawberries, boysenberries, apricots, pluots, peaches, artichokes, eggplant, onions, zucchini, and cherries.

We also bought a cherimoya, which is a custard apple. This one is locally grown and we are excited to see how it compares to the ones we had in Peru! This one is a lot smaller! Click here for that post.

We also bought some eggs from Your Family Farm where a family raises 250 chickens and pastures them. They had great photos of the farm and the chickens and I was happy to pay the price. Check out our past post on Full Belly Farm eggs here. You can see we have a new philosophy on quality eggs and why we will pay more than a few bucks for them.