"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Birthday Dinner . . . Just Perfect!

Happy birthday to Mommy, Happy birthday to Mommy, Happy birthday to Mommy, Happy birthday to Mommy!

Today is my birthday.  The kids, Patrick, and our Au Pair Ten celebrated my birthday tonight with a very special dinner and my favorite cake.  The dinner was breaded veal chops with a tomato ragu sauce, served with mushroom risotto and baby arugula salad.  The cake was an Almond Vanilla cake from Katrina Rozelle Bakery on College Avenue in the Rockridge District of Oakland - one of my favorite bakeries. 

Patrick got a great bottle of wine from Paul Marcus Wine located inside Market Hall in Rockridge: Rosso di Montalcino (2006) by Talenti.  This wine is from Tuscany, Italy -- my favorite part of the world.  It is made from Sangiovese grapes.  It has bright red colors, with enticing aromas of ripened red fruits, and mild acidity.   It is well-balanced, full-bodied, with a lingering finish on the palate.  I have learned that this wine is a younger version of the classic Brunello from Tuscany, which is a full-bodied, strong, and powerful wine also made from Sangiovese grapes.  The San Francisco Chronicle recently reviewed this Rosso (see http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/03/20/FD8616G78T.DTL).  I really enjoyed this wine with the veal. 

Thank you, Baby, for a wonderful birthday dinner.  I love you!  Thank you, kids, for my cards, camera, butterfly (made by my baby girl in her ceramics class) and for reminding me every day of how blessed I am to have you in my life.  Your smiles and constant "I love you Mommy" melt my heart every day.  I love you so much!  Ten: Thank you for my "oh so cute" purse and for celebrating my birthday with me.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Halloween Weekend To Remember: The Kids' Smiles; Great Wines; and The Company of Friends

This past weekend was Halloween.  The kids had a blast trick or treating around our neighborhood.  It is amazing how many children were running around trick or treating.  The grown-ups also had a fun weekend.

Day 1 - Halloween Night
On Halloween night, our friends Evelyn and Rene (and their daughter) came over for dinner before we all went out trick or treating.  They brought over this absolutely amazing bottle of wine that they had picked up from Napa during a recent visit.  It is the Decoy blend (2007).  When Rene showed me the bottle, the first thing I said was I loved the label.  Then, he and Evelyn described the wine to us, and their recent tasting at the winery (Duckhorn).  All I can say is: I wanted to pack up a bag right there and head to Napa for the night.  Well, I can dream, right?  I could not go to Napa that night.  But, we had a great time enjoying the bottle of wine with pizza, while watching "Babe" before going trick or treating.

This wine is a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot grapes.  It is produced by Duckhorn Winery in Napa Valley, CA (http://www.duckhorn.com).  The aromas of this wine reminded me of ripened raspberries and freshly baked cherry pies with a hint of spices on the nose. The wine was so smooth to drink.  It had flavors of fresh cranberry, cherry, and raspberry, with a hint of coffee and chocolate, and traces of white pepper on the tongue.  It had supple tannins, and a very long and enticing finish on the palate.  This wine would be a perfect wine to drink with a holiday meal.  Evelyn and Rene: Again, thank you for an absolutely amazing bottle of wine, and even better company!  Let's go to Napa soon for another wine tasting trip.

Day 2 - Day After Halloween
On Sunday (day after Halloween), we had a guest over for dinner (Michael) and he brought us a delicious bottle of Malbec from Argentina.  It was Tierra Brisa Malbec (2007).  This wine was really good.  I love Malbecs, and the Argentinians really know how to make a good Malbec.  And, Michael: You really knew how to pick a great bottle of Malbec.

This particular vintage was full-bodied, smooth and elegant.  It had deep red color, aromas of fresh ripe cherries and some spice (like cloves).  It contained flavors of black currant, some raspberries, and a hint of spice.

For dinner that night, we started out with some roasted bell peppers, tomatoes, basil and Feta cheese Tapenade that I made.  Then, for entree, we had Lamb Shank braised for 4 hours in a medley of carrots, celery, onions, garlic, chicken broth, served with whole grain spaghetti.  I don't have a good picture of the complete dish, but I'll be sure to update this entry next time I make it.

 For dessert, Rene made this amazing "dessert pannini" made out of pound cake, nuttella, and fresh strawberries pressed until the pound cake is slightly crispy.  Rene said this recipe was inspired by Giada De Laurentiis (from the Food Network show Everyday Italian).  That was delicious.  Thanks Rene!

Overall, the weekend was absolutely amazing: Great fun with the kids and enjoyable time with friends. My perfect weekend -:)

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Monday, November 2, 2009

Cheesy Broccoli and Potato Soup; Fig and Blue Cheese Stuffed Red Snapper

While I was on the BART train coming home from work last week, I was reading Parents Magazine.  In their Healthy Eating section was a very simple recipe for a broccoli and cheddar soup.  It sounded pretty simple to make, and best of all it is loaded with great vitamins and nutrients, and it's a creative way to get our kids to eat vegetables (hey: Kids love anything sprinkled with cheese, right?).  I made the soup last week as an appetizer, and it was pretty tasty.  My 7-year-old actually liked it.  You can actually double this recipe and make a meal out of it by serving it with a nice salad.  I have posted the recipe below in case you want to try it.

 That night, I also had some fresh Red Snapper fillets (boneless/skinless) from Ver Brugge (our local butcher).  I decided to do something different and interesting with the fish.  I stuffed each fillet with chopped dried fig and goat cheese, sauteed the fish in a sauce pan for a few minutes to brown the sides, and baked the fish in the oven.  I made a quick white wine and cream sauce to serve on top of the fillets.

As side dishes, I made some potato au gratin (see the recipe below) and steamed green and yellow beans.

Given the slightly sweet and naturally buttery taste of the fish, we decided to try a glass of another Riesling (Columbia Crest Grand Estate 2007).  This wine is medium-sweet, but well balanced.  It has refreshing and inviting aromas (it just smells like a nice tropical fruit salad).  It offers tastes of fresh, ripe fruits such as juicy peaches, apples, and honey-suckle.  Normally, it is $10, but BevMo has it as part of its $.05 sale: Buy one for $10.99, and get another for $.05).

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup
2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups of broccoli, chopped
3 cups low-salt vegetable stock (I used chicken stock as this was what I had in my pantry)
1 cup reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (I used regular white cheddar cheese)

Cooking Instructions
In a large stockpot, heat oil and saute the onion for 5 to 7 miutes over low to medium heat.  Add potatoes, broccoli, and stock. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until broccoli and potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

Remove the mixture from the stove top; allow to cool a bit.  Pour mixture and cheese into a blender, puree. (Alternatively, you can use a handheld blender to do it right into the stockpot, which is what we did).I also sprinkled some cheese on top of each bowl.

Fig and Goat Cheese Stuffed Red Snapper
3 Snapper Fillets (about 1/2 pound each)
1 cup of finely chopped dried fig
1/2 cup of crumbled goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream
some twine or string to tie the fish so the stuffing doesn't come out

Cooking instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Rinse the fish, and pat dry.  Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides.  Lay the fish down on a flat even surface.  Divide the chopped fig evenly down the middle of the fish.  Then, devide the goat cheese evenly on top of the fig.  Roll the fish with the stuffing from one end to the other.  Tie the twine or string across (lengthwise) so the stuffing stays nice and tight inside the fish.

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Sautee the stuffed fish on all sides (about 2-3 minutes per side).  When lightly browned, place the whole skillet in the oven.  Bake for about 10-15 minutes (depending on how big your fillets are).  Make sure the thickest part of the inside of the fish is white (no pink) and the fish is flaky.

When done, remove from skillet and set aside in a plate (cover it with some aluminum foil).  Put the skillet on a burner on the stove top.  Turn the heat on to medium-low.  Add the wine, and scrap all the bits from the pan.  Season with some salt and pepper (if needed).  Add the cream and stir for a minute until heated through.  Serve the sauce on top of the fish.

Potato Au Gratin
1 pound of mixed Yukon gold and red potatoes with skin (can use russet potatoes if that's what you have, but I would discard the skin).
1/4 cup of finely chopped onions
1 cup of shredded Gruyere cheese (or white cheddar cheese, or whatever hard cheese you like)
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of butter

Cooking Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease the bottom of a baking dish with the butter, and set aside.  Boil the potatoes in a pot of water so they are slightly soft, but not mushy (they will cook in the oven, so don't over boil them).  When they are softened up a bit, remove them from the heat, rinse them under cold water, and slice them diagonally into 1/4-inch pieces.  Arrange the potatoes on the baking dish, one layer at a time.  On top of each layer, season the potatoes with salt and pepper, sprinkle some onions and the cheese on top, then add some of the whipping cream.  Make sure that you've split the ingredients evenly among the layers.  Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes appear soft when you insert a fork in them (the time may be shorter or longer depending on how thick your slices are and how cooked the potatoes are).  When done, remove from heat, let cool for  5 minutes or so, and then serve.

Green and Yellow Beans
I just blanched a small bag of green/yellow beans from Trader Joe's in a medium pot of boiling water for about 3-4 minutes. I drained the water out.  Then, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, seasoned the beans with some salt and fresh ground black pepper.  VoilĂ !  It's done. 

I hope you try one of the above recipes, or the wine.  If you do, please be sure to write me a note in the Comments section, and let me know what you think.

Until next time . . . Cheers!