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

-Dario Zucconi

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ginger-Garlic-Soy Sauce Baked Chicken with Baby Cauliflower

"The hardest job is the best job."  This is a quote from a television commercial I saw tonight during the Olympics Trials. The commercial was about a mom working hard day in and day out working, taking care of her home, and shuttling her daughter from gymnastics practices and cheering her on.  At the end of that quote, the words "Thanks, Mom" flashed on the screen. That commercial resonated with me.

As moms (and contextually dads), most of us work tirelessly to make sure that our children are taken care of, are fed, are introduced to different extracurricular activities, are cheered on when they excel, and feel supported when they need to try a little harder.  For me, the words that I love to hear most from my kids (besides "I love you" - I get a lot of those from my peanuts) are "Thank you, Mom."  With my picky eaters, when I hear "Thank you, Mom" at the end of a meal, I can't tell you how happy it makes me feel.  Someone once asked me "why do you love cooking so much." I responded: "I don't just love cooking, I enjoy sharing a meal with my family (and friends)." Tonight, I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with my family that was simple, but delicious, as my family told me. The meal also reminded me of how blessed I am for every meal I am able to share with my family.

Today, I am embarking on a new journey.  As with most journeys, you always hope to reach the end feeling satisfied that you've accomplished the goals you've set for yourself.  But, you can never be certain of what lies ahead. You can only hope and pray that you are prepared mentally (and sometimes physically) for the challenges ahead.  For some journeys, knowing that you have loved ones on the sidelines and at the finish line to cheer you on, is all you need. I learned this when I ran the Nike Women's Marathon in 2010 in honor of my friend Evelyn, who is battling Leukemia, wearing an ice pack starting at mile 18 for 4 out of the 26.2 miles because of a knee injury. I never gave up because I knew that my family and friends (including Evelyn) were right there with me cheering me on.

So, going back to the meal.  For dinner tonight, I made some baked chicken pieces, marinated in an ultra aromatic and flavorful home-made marinade that consists of the following ingredients: chopped fresh ginger, garlic, cilantro, and green onions; soy sauce; lemon juice; honey; brown sugar; and extra virgin olive oil.  I had picked up a whole organic chicken from Berkeley Bowl last weekend. I had the Butcher cut it up into pieces for me.  After rinsing the chicken under cold water, I patted the pieces dry, and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Then, I poured the marinade over the chicken pieces. I mixed them up so the marinade can get in all the pieces. Then, I placed the marinaded chicken in a Ziploc bag and placed the bag in the refrigerator this morning. This evening, we just placed the chicken pieces on a lightly greased metal rack over an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and baked the chicken for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees.  We served the chicken with some steamed rice.

As a side vegetable, I also baked these beautiful baby Cauliflower that my daughter spotted at Berkeley Bowl last weekend, and wanted me to try them. She picked most of the colorful ones - as you can see (we only have one white one). These baby Cauliflowers are a little milder than regular Cauliflower. I like them better because they don't have the strong Cauliflower taste. They stay really firm even after baking in the oven for about 20 minutes. To cook them, I simply took the leaves off, add about a Tablespoon on extra virgin olive oil, some salt and pepper to taste.

Then, the piece de resistance: The DESSERT! Simple and delectable baked sliced pineapple pieces with vanilla ice cream. We had a pineapple that was a little more ripe than I like them. And, the kids love pineapple. So, I decided it would be a perfect summer dessert to just slice them, sprinkle some brown sugar and cinnamon on top, and then bake them at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.  They were perfect! [If you like them a little more brown/charred, you can always put them under broiler for about 3-4 minutes, but watch them closely so they don't burn.]

Everyone enjoyed their food. My 6-year-old, who usually asks to have a taco with his meat whenever he senses that I have made something that doesn't look familiar or that has "green stuff" (like fresh herbs) in them, actually said he liked the chicken.  And, at the end of his meal, he said in a smiling voice, "Thanks, Mommy for making us dinner!"

As challenging as our every day lives may be with work, chores, and various activities, I hope you continue to cherish those rare moments when you are able to sit down at the dinner table and share a meal with your family.  Your family, especially your children, are the reason why life's many journeys are worth traveling.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Veal Chops with Fresh Cherry Madeira Sauce and Stuffed Baked Tomatoes

(Red cherries)
One of my favorite things about the summer time is the abundance of fresh cherries.  Red cherries. Rainier cherries. You name it! They are sweet, juicy, and succulent. Cherries remind me of when I was a little girl in Haiti. We usually walked to school. During the summer time, on our way back from school, we would pass those huge cherry trees. We could not resist the temptations.  So, we would put down our school bags, pick some cherries, sit down for a few minutes, and enjoy some fresh cherries. Those few minutes were some of the happiest times of our young lives.  

(Rainer cherries)
As an adult, I have discovered that fresh cherries are very versatile. You can enjoy them as a healthy snack. You can have them as dessert. And, you can also enjoy them on savory dishes. Fresh cherries make wonderful sauces. Today, while shopping at Berkeley Bowl, I picked up some beautiful cherries.  My kids love cherries. My daughter, who was shopping with me, must have sampled a dozen cherries inside the store. 

Tonight, I wanted to make a wonderful and romantic meal for Patrick and me.  I had picked up some veal chops at Berkeley Bowl while shopping there.  As my daughter and I were picking the cherries, I got this wonderful idea to make a sauce with the cherries.  To kick things up an extra notch, I also decided to make some stuffed tomatoes as a side dish. 

For the Veal Chops
  • Two veal chops
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Steak seasonings (if you have some)
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil (if you are using a cast iron skillet, just sprinkle some Kosher salt in the skillet rather than oil)
Directions: Heat the skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chops with salt and pepper, and the steak seasonings.  Brown the chops on each side until you have a nice brown sear on them.  Finish cooking them in the oven.

For the cherry sauce
  •  1 cup of fresh cherries (pitted and halved)
  • 1 small shallot (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of Madeira (or port or sherry - whatever you have)
  • 2 Tablespoons of cherry jam (I use Black Cherry preserves)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried Thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried Rosemary
Directions: Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter. Sautee the shallot, with the thyme and rosemary for about 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and the Madeira.  Cook for about 1 minute. Then, add the fresh cherries and jam. Lower the heat to low. Simmer until the sauce thickens and the cherries are softer.  Serve the cherries over the veal chops.  [NOTE: This cherry sauce would work great with pork chops as well.]

(After baking)
(Before baking)
As a side, I made these beautiful stuffed tomatoes, courtesy of the Food Network Magazine (July 2012): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/sausage-and-basil-stuffed-tomatoes-recipe/index.html

  • 8 medium tomatoes, preferably with stems intact
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 pound luganega or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced, plus a handful of celery leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups bread cubes (from about 1/2 baguette)
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a serrated knife, slice off the top quarter of each tomato and reserve the tops. Scoop out the pulp from inside each tomato and transfer it to a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the cayenne to the food processor and process until smooth; pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, herbes de Provence, bell pepper, onion, diced celery and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the sausage browns, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage mixture and bread cubes to the food processor and pulse until chopped. Pack the tomatoes with the sausage-bread mixture so the stuffing is domed on top. Put the stuffed tomatoes in the baking dish on top of the sauce. Place the basil, walnuts, cheese and celery leaves in the food processor and chop. Sprinkle onto the tomatoes. Put the tomato tops, cut-side down, between the stuffed tomatoes. Bake until the stuffing is golden, about 20 minutes. Cover each tomato with a top and serve with the sauce.

To accompany these dishes, Patrick and I enjoyed one of our personal favorite wines: Franciscan Estate's Magnificat (Napa Valley, 2008).  We got this wine as one of our shipments from the Expressions of the Vine Wine Club.  This wine is a Meritage, which consists of four different grape varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.  It's a close cousin to a Bordeaux Blend (only it's missing the Cabernet Franc). It is a delicious wine, which goes very well with veal or steak. This vintage is full bodied, rich and well-balanced.  The color is a deep red. It has aromas of sweet ripe berries and dark cherries, with a hint of vanilla.  On the palate, you can certainly taste the deep, ripe fruits and some spice notes.  The finish is wonderful, with rich, yet soft, tannins. The oak gives it a nicely round finish on the palate.  This wine certainly can age for years. But, as you have come to know me by now, I don't believe in "aging" wine. If a wine is good, now it's always a perfect time to enjoy it with loved ones.  You never know what tomorrow will bring.

Tonight's meal was absolutely perfect. It was delicious and romantic.  You gotta love the summer!

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Braised Beef Roast with Fresh 4th of July "Star" Raviolis

Today was work as usual! But, I refuse to dwell on the challenging parts of the day, and instead am choosing to cherish my favorite part of today - the evening at home and seeing the excitement on my children's faces as they watched me take out these colorful 4th of July-inspired "Star" Raviolis and set it on the dinner table.

We continue to be blessed with gorgeous weather around the Bay Area.  Although we love the warm weather, the kitchen in our house faces the west. So, on hot days, our kitchen gets extremely hot because it is right in the path of the hot afternoon sun. So, we try to avoid using our oven as much as we can during warm days.  We also try to spend as little time cooking on the stove as we can when it's hot.

But, the fact that we avoid using our stove or oven does not mean that we can't have some savory meals for dinner.  (Take-outs are "prohibited" in our house except for Fridays.)  My best friend is our slow cooker.  Tonight's creation was a slowly braised beef roast with fresh "Star" Ravioli - a super fun pasta for the kids.  It took me about 1/2 hour to prepare the beef before I went to work. And, it took less than 15 minutes to boil the Ravioli.  I like braised meats because it's very versatile, and you can have plenty of leftovers.  You can have it with pasta, with rice, as a stew with some corn bread, with tortillas as tacos, you name it! Very flexible.

First, for the Braised Beef Roast: 

2 pounds of beef roast cut into large chunks or stew meat (left overs are yummy)
1 Large 28-ounce can of diced Italian flavored tomatoes (in juice)
1 Small 6-ounce can of tomato paste (Italian flavored or plain)
1 small red onions (diced)
2 celery stalks (diced) - can leave out if you don't have it
1 large (or 2 small) carrots - diced
2 cloves of garlic - finely diced
A bouquet of herbs tied (including parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs, 1 large bay leaf)
1/2 a cup of dry red wine
1/2 a cup of beef stock (or vegetable stock, if that's what you have in the pantry)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Italian seasoning (dried; about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 Tablespoon of brown sugar
Cooking oil (like Vegetable Oil to brown the meat - about 2 Tablespoon)
Extra virgin olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon)

Get up about 1/2 hour earlier than usual - if you are going to work.  [You can actually dice the vegetables the night before, and place them in a sealed Ziploc bag.]  Season the meat on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat the cooking oil over medium high heat.  Brown the meat on all sides (about 6 minutes, depending on the size of your meat chunks; cook them in batches so you don't over crowd the pan).  Remove and place the batches of the browned meat in the slow cooker as they are cooked.  When you are all done, discard the cooking oil. Wipe the pan with a paper towel.  Add the olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, and celery.  Saute until the vegetables are soft (about 8 minutes).  Add the diced garlic, and cook for about 1 minute.  Add about the Italian seasoning.  Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, beef stock, and sugar. Season with some more salt and pepper if necessary.  Add the sugar.  Mix well.  Put the bouquet of herbs on top of the meat in the slow cooker. Then, pour the onion/tomato mixture into the meat. Cover and set on LOW for 8 to 10 hours (depending on how much time you have). Taste and season with a pinch of salt and pepper, if necessary.

For the "Star" pasta:
I wish I could say that I made fresh pasta from scratch.  Nope! I got those from Costco in the fresh pasta isle. My kids loooooved them! They were excited about the different colors. And, given 4th of July is right around the corner, it was a pretty cool and fun companion to our beef dish. The pasta cooks in about 3 minutes in boiling water.

It just so happens that, today, we received one of our wine shipments from Expressions of the Vine.  In the shipment was a Franciscan Estate Cabernet (Napa Valley, 2009). http://www.franciscan.com/assets/client/File/FRN_09_NV_Cab.PDF  As you may recall, earlier this year, I featured the 2008 vintage (See February 23, 2012 post).  We decided to have a glass of the 2009 Cabernet with the braised beef tonight. This wine is actually a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Syrah, 1% Malbec.  It has a beautiful deep, garnet red color.  On the nose, you get a rich bouquet of ripe dark cherries, sweet plums, cocoa, and exotic spices (like cloves with a hint of vanilla).  On the palate, this wine has layered and complex flavors of dark cherries and mocha.  You can also taste some aromatic spices like cinnamon and anise -- giving it a welcoming flavor.  The dark fruit flavors also give it a long, smooth, and balanced finish on the palate.  It's definitely one of my favorite "all occasion" Cabernet Sauvignons.

Until next time . . . Cheers! ZinAdel

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Light and Crisp Dinner Salad with a Refreshing French White Wine on a Hot Summer Night

Today was a hot day around the San Francisco Bay Area (80s in Oakland). So, I decided that today was a "no cooking" day, unless it was grilling.  Unfortunately, Patrick's allergies were killing him today. And, he is my grilling man. I didn't want to torture him by making him grill outside.  We decided to just do something simple - like a salad - for dinner.

While I was browsing the wine isle at Costco today, I noticed this French white wine that captured my attention.  It's the 2009 Guy Saget Vouvray Marie de Beauregard [http://pasternak-wines.simpleflame.com/pdfs/Marie%20de%20Beauregard%20Vouvray%20Chenin%20Blanc%202009%20product%20sheet.pdf].  This is a 100% Chenin Blanc wine.  

Chenin Blanc is a white wine grape varietal from Loire Valley, France [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chenin_blanc]. Because Patrick and I are both red wine drinkers for the most part, our challenge often is to find a white wine that we enjoy drinking on hot days like today, and that is versatile and goes with different kinds of food.  As I do with most wines (and foods), I like to try new white wines and see what I like and do not like.  So, I decided to try a bottle of this wine, which was about $12.00.  I figured it must be decent because it received a rating of 91 points by Wine Spectator [http://m.wine.com/catalog/details?productid=73443.]  

We both actually loved it.  This wine is a well-balanced, semi-dry white wine.  It has notes of honeysuckle, sweet dried fruits (like persimmons and peaches). It reminds me of a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  It is rich like a Chardonnay, with a subtle taste of almond.  But, it has the perfect amount of acidity.  It has a mildly sweet honey taste, which makes it that much more delicious.  It has a smooth, long lasting finish on the palate, making it really enjoyable.  

While at Costco, I also decided to pick up a package of "Chinese Chicken Salad" kit.  That comes with roasted chicken, sliced almonds, wonton strips, crispy noodles, and sesame dressing.  Hey - didn't I say today was a "no cooking" day? You need those every once in a while.  Of course, I like to modify things and put my own spin on it. So, I decided to make my own "light" vinaigrette dressing with sweet Meyer lemons, olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, sesame seeds, and salt and pepper to taste.  I also put a handful of dried cranberries and seasoned the salad with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  It was a delicious and light meal -- perfect for a hot evening.  And, paired with a glass of the Vouvray, it was a wonderful and refreshing meal.  We sat out on our patio for dinner.  There are two giant redwood trees next to our patio, which help bring a little bit of shade to the eastern side of our patio.  The trees also are home to these beautiful and melodic blue jays/blue birds.  So, it was enjoyable to hear the birds chirping and see them fly around us.  As the sun set, the cool evening air started coming in, and the night sky was as clear and crisp as can be.  It was one of those days that reminded me of how lucky and grateful we are to live in the Bay Area.

I hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing weekend with your family!

Until next time . . . Cheers! ZinAdel

Friday, June 8, 2012

Experiencing The Sonoma Wine Country: Relax. Reconnect. Create Lasting Memories.

Today's post is not about a particular food or wine. . . it's about an experience.  It's the experience my husband and I had recently when we visited the Sonoma Wine Country over the Memorial Day weekend for a quick, one-night get-away.

We stayed at the Gables Country Inn in Santa Rosa, which is a beautiful Victorian Bed and Breakfast. http://www.thegablesinn.com/.  We love staying at B and Bs because we love the hospitality, the warmth, and the pampering that come with staying at a B and B. Who doesn't like to wake up to the intoxicating smell of fresh baked pastries, the inviting scent of freshly brewed coffee, and the mouthwatering aromas of Quiche baking in the oven?  B and Bs are truly heavenly!

There are two words that come to mind whenever we take a little trip to the wine country: Nostalgic and blissful.  Whether we go for one night or three nights - I always feel rejuvenated and recharged each time we visit the wine country.  Here is a tip for you if you ever find yourself planning a trip to the wine country.  Do your homework ahead of time! Check out the wineries you want to visit or check out some websites that list the wineries, if you don't know which ones you want to visit.  One of my favorite websites is: http://www.sonoma.com/wineries/featured.html. Call ahead and make reservations for private tastings, which will cost between $15 and $25, depending on whether you get a tour and/or food with the wines.
Our one-night trip began at Medlock Ames Winery in Alexander Valley where we had a private food and wine tasting. [http://www.medlockames.com/VISIT-US/TASTING-ROOM].  It was a beautiful sunny day. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed some good wines and delicious bites of salumi, local cheeses, bread, and homemade jams with ingredients from their own garden.

After Medlock Ames, we headed to Lancaster Estate Winery for a private tour of the vineyards, cave, and winery http://www.lancaster-estate.com/.

The Lancaster experience began with a tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc.  While sipping the Sauvignon Blanc, our tour guide, Mike Madigan, started giving us a tour of the vineyards.  Mike was an amazing tour guide.  He knows a lot about the winery’s history, the wines produced by the winery, and the different varietal clones of grapes (did you know there were different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon? I didn’t until Mike told me.)   He knows a lot about the area and the different wineries and the different regions.  I could tell Mike thoroughly enjoys helping people who visit Lancaster have the best experience they can have.

Mike began by telling us a little bit about the different vines, the turn dial clock on the ground, and the Grand Estate – which is an actual house that you can rent. I told Mike when Patrick and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, we’re going to rent that estate with our friends and family and have a grand old party.  He said that would be great and that we would enjoy it.  I’ve got 10 years to plan it!

Then, we walked up a little hill and into the wine cave where we took a tour of the barrels of wine aging to perfection. 

After the tour of the cave, we sat at our tasting table (inside the cave) where we sampled four different estate red wines:

Sophia's Hillside Cuvée (2007 and 2008 vintages side-by-side). This wine was named in honor of the winemaker’s daughter Sophia.  Both vintages of this Cuvée reflect a fruit forward wine that is elegant, luscious, and delicious.  The 2007 vintage is composed of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Merlot;  and 9% Cabernet Franc.  It is a little softer on the palate, and more balanced because of this composition.  It more closely resembles a Bordeaux style blend with the addition of the Cabernet Franc.  It is smooth on the palate, with tastes of ripe dark cherries, black berries, cocoa powder, and a hint of vanilla.  The aromas are very pleasant with notes of red cherries, black currants, with a soft rose fragrance.  The finish has a nice hint of oak and warmth to it. http://www.lancaster-estate.com/assets/client/File/07Cuvee_WineNotes.pdf.  The 2008 vintage is composed of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Merlot.  It is a wine that is ready to enjoy now because the tannins are layered and not overwhelming.  It has a beautiful dark color in the glass.  On the nose, you get aromas of fresh berries, black cherries, vanilla, and a little bit of spice like cinnamon.  On the palate, you get intense, but smooth, tastes of dark berries, black cherries, chocolate, and fresh plum.  It has a wonderful prolonged finish in your mouth.   We took a bottle of the 2007 vintage home as we liked it better than the 2008. http://www.lancaster-estate.com/assets/client/File/08cuvee_winenotes-web.pdf

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (2007 and 2008 vintages side-by-side). The 2007 is made up of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 9% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. The 2008 is composed of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. The 2007 is just such a pleasant wine to drink.  It has wonderful aromas of fresh dark fruits on the nose like ripe cherries, blackberries, and black currants.  You also get a scent of cocoa powder. The tannins are well-refined and balanced, but with some good acidity.  http://www.lancaster-estate.com/index.cfm?method=storeproducts.showDrilldown&productid=20a1dead-9bcc-2281-3fc9-26ce2ce8db1f&ProductCategoryID=f6c88da0-1cc4-fbb6-23c9-95904af249d2&OrderBy=PXPC.DisplayOrder%20Asc,%20P.Price1.  The 2008 had a little more tannins.  It tasted more like a Cab, with very strong and earthy layers of dark berries, nutmeg, and vanilla. http://www.lancaster-estate.com/assets/client/File/08LE_CS_WineNotes2.pdf

After Lancaster, we picked up a sandwich at Jimtown Store in Alexander Valley, which makes some pretty delicious sandwiches. http://www.jimtown.com/story-of-jimtown/   

Then, we stopped by Chalk Hill Winery for a little tasting. http://www.chalkhill.com/.  They are more known for their white wines.  Although we are not big white wine drinkers, we enjoyed their Chardonnays.  The Manager also gave us a sample of one of her favorites – a late harvest Riesling – which was very enjoyable.

After Chalk Hill, we checked into Gables Inn.  The Innkeepers, Mike and Pam, were spectacular and welcoming.  Our room was immaculate and just so beautiful.  The only downside for that room, particularly, is that is the closest to the main road. I am a light sleeper, so I had to bring in ear plugs. But, it was worth it!

That evening, we had dinner at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg (at the Square) http://www.charliepalmer.com/Properties/DryCreekKitchen/.  The food was spectacular. The atmosphere was very lovely.  The service was superb.  We got a very special table with a view of the Square.  Our favorite thing that night was the “Diver Scallops En Croute”.  It’s diver scallops cooked with a fennel fondue, and then baked with puff pastry on top – like a soufflé. When they bring it to your table, they poke a whole in the puff pastry, steam rises from within, and then they poured in a champagne beurre blanc sauce with American caviar inside. I was so in awe of the dish that I started digging into it immediately.  With the first bite of the scallops, I was completely blown away.  The crust on the puff pastry was perfect.  The scallops were cooked evenly and they were so buttery and delicious.  The sauce they pour inside – oh my gosh – truly amazing.

Two other things that we particularly loved there. One was the ice cream and sorbet sampler, which consisted of nine different flavors, including Lavender, Orange, Coconut, Honey.  They were all delicious!  We also had these little mini Beignets (little donuts) with a fresh kiwi salad - Yummy!
The next day, after having a delicious breakfast prepared by Pam and Mike, which consisted of freshly baked scones and pecan crusted French toast, we headed to one of our favorite wineries, of which we are wine club members, Arrowood Winery http://www.arrowoodwinery.com.  We went to pick up our wine shipment for the quarter, and also to do a special private tasting.  

On our way there, we stopped at a couple of places. First, we stopped at Ledson Winery to take some pictures http://www.ledson.com/. That place is beautiful!  

We also stopped at Kaz Winery to taste some wines with Winemaker Kaz himself. The wines were a little too acidic for our tastes, but it was fun visiting with Kaz and hearing some of his stories.  He is a "one-man" show, with no employees.

Then, we stopped at Kenwood Winery http://www.kenwoodvineyards.com/#/our_winery.  They had a huge Memorial Day sale that weekend.  We got a pack of four vertical Jack London Series Cabernet Sauvignon (1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002) at less than $20 a bottle.  Some of these vintages are no longer available for purchase outside of the winery.  One of their suppliers decided that they were not going to sell them anymore, so the winery was left with a few excess cases. So, they decided to sell them to their guests. We tried the 2001 tonight with some Steaks, it was very good and surprisingly smooth, well-balanced. We didn't even have to decant it; we just used an aerator when we poured it into our glass. It was a perfect way to end what was surely a difficult work week. Remember one of the quotes on my blog - we don't collect wines, we create memories!

We then had a relaxing private tasting at Arrowood Winery. After that, Patrick picked up some delicious sandwiches for lunch from the Glen Ellen Village Market. http://www.sonomamarket-glenellenmarket.com/.  I highly recommend this place - lots of yummy sandwiches to soak up all the wine.  We ate the sandwiches on the Arrowood patio with complimentary glasses of the 2007 Cabernet.

On our way home, we stopped at Sift in Santa Rosa – a winner on the Food Network Cupcake Wars show –  to pick up some cupcakes for the kids http://www.siftcupcakes.com/.  After eating the Lavender cupcake, I understand why they won Cupcake Wars.  Delicious!

I hope your travels this summer take you to the wine country. And, if they do, I hope you have some truly memorable experiences.  Feel free to e-mail or send me a note here in the Comments section if you have any questions or need suggestions.

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Family Supper: Soulful BBQ Ribs w/Black Beans and Rice

This weekend was a super busy weekend for the Warner family. It all started with a one-night camping trip with my daughter's Girl Scouts Troop at the Anthony Chabot Regional Park on Friday (http://www.ebparks.org/parks/anthony_chabot).  The Campground is just about 10 miles from our home, but I didn't know this spectacular place existed. It was a fun night.  The kids enjoyed playing with other kids and the adults enjoyed some grown-up time and catching up with one another.  On Saturday night, Patrick and I went to this lovely party for the parents of my daughter's 4th Grade class.  That was a great way to "toast" to surviving another year of school.  On Sunday, my 4-year-old had a little performance with his gymnastics class.  He was sooo cute!  After that, my daughter and I went to watch one of her best friends' ballet performance.  Her friend was very lovely!

With this jam-packed weekend, it was a wonderful surprise when my friend Keith (my 4-year-old's Godfather) texted me to say that he was smoking some BBQ ribs in his smoker on Sunday and he wanted to bring over dinner for us and the kids. 

To go with the ribs, I made some Black Beans and Rice (Haitian style) -- one of Keith's favorites and one of my favorite comfort foods.  I don't really follow any particular recipe for the rice since it's something that I have been making since I was about 12 years old.

While his BBQ was smoking for 5+ hours, Keith decided to make these yummy, finger-licking, day-dreaming cupcakes.  The kids were super happy to see "Uncle Keith" walk into the house with a container full of cupcakes.

As a starter, I made this super simple, but delicious, appetizer using (1) Smoked Salmon; (2) cream cheese, (3) chopped chives, and (4) dried toast (you can find it in the same isle as crackers).  First, I mixed about 1 Tablespoon of chopped chives with about 1/4 a cup of fresh cream cheese (you can use whatever cream cheese you have in the Fridge). I then sprinkled a pinch of salt in the cream cheese mixture.  To assemble, I took one piece of toast, spread a little bit of the cream cheese mixture on top, and then top it with a little bit of the smoked salmon. Voilà! You have a delectable one-bite appetizer. 

To accompany this soulful and comforting meal, we had Arrowood's 2007 Merlot (Unfined and Unfiltered - true Arrowood style): http://www.arrowoodwinery.com/wines/MerlotSC07.html. This Merlot is not your typical Merlot. It's a full-bodied and complex wine that more closely resembles a Cabernet Sauvignon than a Merlot. When you open it, your nose is pleasantly welcomed by aromas of dried cherries, licorice, cedar and a hint of vanilla.  With your first sip, the taste on your palate is smooth, rich, and velvety, but with some nicely balanced ripe tannins.  The toasty oak finish lingers in your mouth as you take the second sip.  This is one of my favorite and more versatile wines. 

The weekend may have been loaded with activities and a little too short - I could use another day.  But, thanks to Uncle Keith, we had a nice and relaxing family Sunday dinner.  I hope you had a chance to enjoy this weekend with your loved ones.
Until next time . . . Cheers!