Category Archives: VINTOGENIC

The Wine Picnic that Welcomed 27

Considering this post is about two weeks late, you can imagine the repercussions of such a fun, memorable birthday celebration. I’m excited to share one of my best birthday events to date, although I don’t know how I’ll ever top this (maybe spend my 30th at St. Barth’s?)

While a lot of work for the hostess (i.e. me), this event was affordable for the quality delivered. Wine tasting for large groups will add up quick, so it’s important to cut costs; yet take it up a level so it’s over-the-top-birthday-special.

On top of paying for transportation and tasting fees, you can either opt to pay a winery for boxed lunches (it’s not cheap and yields little)…or make your own. I decided to cater the lunch myself, that way I could control the menu. I wanted to serve cold, picnic friendly foods that would compliment summer wine tasting in the Sonoma heat.

Most wineries will not let you bring a picnic lunch (and your own silverware/table decorations/serving platters…yes, my mother went there.) so you have to do a little digging. Surprisingly enough, there are some beautiful, large wineries in Sonoma that specialize in Pinots and welcome an outside picnic: Sebastiani was so great and set us up with a private, seated tasting under a grove of shady trees to enjoy our lunch.

It was a perfect day, with the best group. I think 27 is shaping up to be a great year, and couldn’t have been welcomed by a better celebration.

The Wine Picnic Menu

Sweet Corn Ceviche

Pasilla Chile + Lime Cabbage Slaw 

Roasted Rainbow Beet Salad with Feta, Mint, and Fig Vinaigrette

Roasted Red Peppers, Roma + Cherry Tomato Salad with Olive Oil + Basil

Cheeses: Goat, Brie, Gouda, Blue

…don’t forget the crackers

Mint Chutney (to compliment the goat cheese)

Two types of freshly sliced Italian salami

Freshly baked breads (we picked them up that morning)

Grapes

Of course, I had to post the “silly” pic (the expressions are priceless, really)

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Weekend Brunch Guide: An Excuse to Socialize with Food

Brunch is an institution. It’s highly anticipated every Saturday and Sunday (and holiday), involves the best combinations of savory and sweet, and is a great excuse to gather with friends (and drink champagne fresh squeezed juice). Brunch is a fabulous party designed with the guest in mind. Of course, hosting is another story. Hosting is personal, memorable to your guests, and significantly cheaper than restaurant fare. It’s the best excuse to socialize with yummy food.

I recently hosted a brunch for 10 friends. Sounds daunting, but with a little advanced planning it was pretty easy. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Set your budget. Your budget depends on the type of event. If you’re looking to host a pot-luck family style brunch (the best kind), then it’s best to delegate dishes to guests, or agree on a per person spend (like $20 for example).

Step 2:  Is your brunch event BYOB? Since it’s the weekend after all all, your guests may enjoy a mimosa or chilled glass of wine. Most people are happy to bring wine/champagne if you make a request, and make sure to have a couple bottles on hand just in case.

Step 3: Choose your menu. This is the fun part! Select a diverse variety of foods that range from healthy to not-so-healthy (lots of options are always a hit). Be sure to choose items that can be prepared one night in advance, as you don’t want to be caught in the kitchen for more than an hour during your event. 

Weekend Brunch Menu (recipes to follow)

Savory Spinach & Sage Strata

Organic Barley Salad with Corn, Leeks, and Shredded Zucchini

Potato, Parsnip & Carrot Hash with Goat Cheese

Not-so-fancy Bacon

Zucchini Bread

Baked French Toast with Apple Compote and Whipped Cream

Fresh Pineapple

Chocolate Cake

Step 4: Create the ambiance. Don’t spend anything, except for a fresh bouquet of flowers (my friends were sweet enough to bring some). I know it sounds shocking, but you may have ideal décor lying around the house…dying to become a table scape.

The Recipes

I am a big fan of looking to other chefs for inspiration, but also like to be creative and cook dishes on the spot. The following dishes are a mix of others’ masterpieces and my own miracles (sometimes you get lucky):

Spinach Srata with Sage & Gruyere (my own modifcation: add sauteed leeks and shallots to the spinach mixture before baking….gives it a little something extra)*make the night before, store in fridge before baking

Organic Barley Salad with Corn, Leeks, and Shredded Zucchini (my own modification: add sauteed leeks and raw shredded zucchini leftover from zucchini bread; toss with dressing)*make the night before, and toss just before serving

Potato, Parsnip & Carrot Hash with Goat Cheese*

*This dish was the favorite of the day, and also a complete accident. Sometimes the best creations are made with no plan. (Control freaks should let loose once in a while)

8 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces

8 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces

2 1/2 lbs red potatoes, chopped in half, or quartered (pieces should be uniform in size)

1 large yellow onion, diced

Sea salt + fresh ground pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

5 oz fresh goat cheese (the secret ingredient, which was added at the last minute)

To be made day of, an hour in advance of guests arriving.

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss potatoes, parsnips, and carrots with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread onto 2 cookie sheets, and roast for 30 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet, when browned, and set aside.

Pre-heat a heavy bottomed frying pan, and olive oil. When oil starts to ripple, add onion and stir frequently. When onions begin to look translucent, add the potato/carrot/parsnip mixture. Saute for another 20 minutes. Add goat cheese 5 minutes before serving, stir, and keep warm with a lid.

Not-so-fancy bacon (super easy: you can throw this in the oven right before brunch is served)

Zucchini Bread (I ended up having leftover shredded zucchini, so I added it to the barley salad to enhance the texture) *make the night before

 Baked French Toast with Apple Compote and Whipped Cream (my modification: while blueberries are delicious, I did not include them. Instead, I created an apple compote to compliment the maple syrup. Peel and chop 6 mixed apples, add some cinnamon and sugar to taste, a squeeze of lemon juice, and saute with 1/2″ water until soft, about 20 minutes. Serve with freshly whipped cream.)

Fresh Pineapple – ask someone in produce to point out a ripe pineapple. The flavor definitely makes a difference, so be sure that it’s ripe. Chop and serve!

Chocolate Cake – one of my friends actually made this cake, and it’s her secret recipe. It was a delicious addition to the baked french toast! You can choose any cake; it’s just nice to have as the brunch centerpiece. Check out your local bakery for yummy cakes – it doesn’t necessarily have to be homemade.

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Not so Winter Wonderland

As a Bay Area native, and San Francisco resident, I lazily stick to the city’s 7 by 7 radius and unintentionally neglect the wonders beyond the city limits. Most San Franciscans will agree that it’s very easy to develop a city-centric weekend schedule with minimal effort, so the prospect of making an actual commitment and venturing elsewhere is easier said than done.

Of course, by exception, I will travel far and wide to experience a quality glass of wine, and perhaps a world famous chef’s culinary empire.

This past weekend’s miraculous 70-degree weather influenced me to cut the neighborhood brunch routine and venture to Napa Valley: San Francisco’s robust back yard with the finest food and wine in the country (or, arguably the world). The drive is less than an hour, and the location couldn’t be more enticing with sunshine and low-season crowds (the manageable kind).

I highly recommend the breathtaking views and serene surroundings of Alpha Omega winery. The outdoor seated tasting will take that crowded air-conditioned tasting room to a new level, offering a more relaxed and personalized opportunity to sample world class wines in a casual setting.

Try not to spend your entire day here, as it’s easy to get lost in the luster of the blue fountain, while sipping on hand-pressed wines (out of the barrel, if you play your cards right).

If you crave a more non-traditional winery experience, or frankly want something other than beautiful rolling hills, you must add Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley to your to-do list. Ma(i)sonry, located in Yountville, boasts tastings from a multitude of award-winning wineries, and an art gallery with eclectic, note-worthy pieces. The experience was like no other, and a preferred location among locals.

I’ve explored the Napa Valley in the past, but admittedly overlooked Yountville as a wine country destination. The small town, located a few miles north of Napa, is home to many tasting rooms, hotels, and restaurants, including chef Thomas Keller’s world famous The French Laundry. More to come on this restaurant in future posts, however, I was initially impressed with the building’s subtlety and adjacent farmland. I can’t wait to score a reservation to this place (my bank account feels otherwise).

Of course, I had to try one of Thomas Keller’s other restaurants in town (having recently become obsessed with his cookbooks), and made prior reservations at Bouchon. This French bistro had exquisite service with friendly staff, a comfortable atmosphere with plush red velvet seating, and the most memorable cuisine. I couldn’t stay away from the buttered poached lobster tail. The photo does not do enough to illustrate the deliciousness. Go ahead, give this restaurant a try. And while you’re at it, ask your server for some winery recommendations, as they may know a thing or two about the local gems. 

For those of us that need a little more chateau in our lives – fear not. Domaine Carneros, off of highway 12 (and on the way home!), will satisfy the “inner-castle” in you. Seated table service and sunshine make this outdoor tasting the perfect finale (or start here first) to any wine tasting trip.

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Dare to be Dungeness

I recently received several emails and texts surrounding a similar phenomenon: “the crabs are here!”… Yes, the boats purveying nets full of dungeness crabs have arrived to harbors of the Bay Area, and foodies alike couldn’t be more excited.

After battling with several aggressive patrons at Fish in Sausalito, I successfully nabbed a few pounds of this desirable, fresh-off-the-boat dungeness crab. OK, so no fists were thrown in the process (sorry to disappoint), but the tact and vigor required for this stuff is definitely understated! Buyer beware. But, it’s worth it.

Definitely worth the dungeness.

Wine Pairing:   Chateau St Jean Riesling ’09

Ginger Garlic Dungeness Crab 

4 2 1/4 lb dungeness crabs (cracked and cleaned – make sure to ask your seafood market for this generally complimentary service)

8 garlic cloves, minced (seems like a lot, but the crab absorbs the flavor nicely)

4 tbsp fresh ginger, minced

1 1/2 c. chopped cilantro

1 1/2 c. chopped scallions

3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 c. dry white wine

Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Heat a large heavy bottomed skillet using medium heat, and add extra virgin olive oil

2. Add scallions, ginger, garlic, and cilantro, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until garlic is lightly browned

3. Add the crab and white wine, and cook until crab is cooked through, about 18-20 minutes

Enjoy as an appetizer, or combine with noodles or a green salad as an entrée.

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Pizza Pizza

There is nothing better than homemade pizza. Fact.

Although the task of creating the perfect pizza dough involves lots of practice and a few lopsided  test-subjects, you will be surprised with the simplicity of this meal and will make your own pizza for years to come.

I tried this recipe from Gourmet.com to create a classic Pizza Margherita, and made enough dough and sauce for a second pizza with Wild Mushrooms, Caramelized Leeks, & Zucchini. The second pizza is without cheese (don’t freak out), since I wanted to focus on the flavors of the vegetables and keep the second pizza light.

Wine Pairing: St. Francis Merlot ’07

Rule #1 when making homemade pizza: invest in a pizza stone. The differences between using a heated pizza stone versus a metal pizza pan are incomparable.

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Naturally Nachos

If you’re in search of an impromptu snack/small meal that will take care of afternoon hunger pains, then consider whipping up some homemade nachos with items already stocked in your kitchen.

Wine Pairing: Layer Cake Primitivo ’08

Ingredients:

6 homemade style corn tortillas

Extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups of organic black beans

1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese

1 cup of sweet corn

1 avocado, chopped

1 pint organic cherry tomatoes, halved

1 large shallot, minced

salt & pepper to taste

2 lemons, juiced

1 cup of cilantro

Slice tortillas into sections using a pizza wheel, and sauté in extra virgin olive oil until crispy on both sides. Transfer cooked tortilla “chips” onto a paper towel, and let rest for 15 minutes before assembling nachos.

Place beans in small sauce pan and cook on medium heat until warm. When ready to serve, add cheddar cheese and layer on cooled chips.

Combine cherry tomatoes, shallots, lemon juice, and salt & pepper, to resemble a pico de gallo salsa. Add chopped avocado, and layer on top of beans and chips. Top with corn and cilantro and serve.

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Shrimp, Leek, and Sweet Pea Risotto (two ways)

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Risotto, a great alternative to pasta, tends to get overlooked because of its perceived difficulty.

This recipe, intended to impress your next date, is simple, easy to follow, and only requires a bit of patience to yield crowd-pleasing results.

Wine Pairing: Frog’s Leap Chardonnay Napa Valley ’10 http://bit.ly/sRAdQc

If you happen to feel over-zealous and double the recipe by mistake (hey, you’re a hungry chef, after all…), then consider altering unfavorable leftovers to create your next appetizer: Arancini. 

Using the cooked risotto, chop the shrimp into small pieces and stir. Assemble meatball-like balls (about 1″) and coat with flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs. Use extra virgin olive oil to pan-fry, and cook until golden brown and crispy.

Wine Pairing: Villa Nozzole Chianti Classico ’07

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