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

-Dario Zucconi

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Roasted Rack of Lamb - A Welcome Home Feast

What do you miss most when you are traveling on business? For me, I miss my family.  I miss my warm and comfortable bed.  I also miss cooking and having a home-cooked meal.  There is nothing better than coming home from a long business trip and being welcomed by a home-cooked meal.  That’s exactly how we welcomed my husband home yesterday.  He had been on a business trip to India for almost two weeks.  We missed him terribly!  The kids were counting the days when Daddy was returning home.  So, yesterday, I decided that I would make him something special for his homecoming dinner.  

What was on the menu?  Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella cheese – one of Patrick's favorites and an awesome summer appetizer; rack of lamb marinated with fresh herbs and garlic, seared in a cast iron skillet and then roasted to perfection in the oven; roasted mixed vegetables (multi-colored squash, bell peppers, sweet red onions, and garlic); fingerling potatoes with rosemary and extra virgin olive oil; fresh peaches first grilled to get a nice brown color, and then baked with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, almond extract, amaretto liquor, and orange juice.  For the wine, we enjoyed a wonderfully delicious blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah from Croad Vineyards in Paso Robles, CA.

If you would like to make any of these dishes for your next special welcome home dinner or special occasion, here is a summary of the recipes:


(Fresh Heirloom Tomatoes at the Local Market)
Heirloom tomatoes are one of my favorite summer vegetables (or fruits, as my daughter often corrects me).  It's so beautiful, decadent, and so versatile. Here is an easy to prepare recipe for a caprese salad.

Heirloom tomatoes (ripe, but firm so you can slice them easily; get different colors for fun)
Fresh basil (washed)
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste)


(Patrick likes big chunks of Mozzarella Cheese)
After rinsing the tomatoes under cool water, slice them cross-wise to your desired thickness.  Chop some fresh basil.  Slice the mozzarella cheese (you can also buy pre-sliced cheese, especially at Trader Joe’s).  Arrange the tomatoes on a platter or plate.  Sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper and some basil on the tomatoes (leaving a few sprinkles of basil for the top).  Sprinkle a little bit of balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes (just enough to get some flavor in the tomatoes).  Arrange the sliced cheese on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle a little more basil, vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper each.  Finally, sprinkle some olive oil on top of the cheese and around the platter.  For optimum flavor, you can cover the platter with some saran wrap and place the platter in the Fridge for a couple of hours or until you are ready to eat it.  It’s a great make-ahead appetizer.  Enjoy!


1whole rack of lamb (about 8 ribs) – trimmed and frenched (have the butcher do this for you)
2 Tablespoon (roughly) of finely chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon (roughly) of finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon (roughly) of finely chopped fresh thyme
About 6 cloves of garlic (crushed well)
1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
About 1 Tablespoon of sea salt (or Kosher salt) – this depends on your salt tolerance level; the key is to make sure that the meat is perfectly seasoned before cooking
About 1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper


Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel if there is any excess moisture.  Season it with about ½ the salt and pepper.  Lay it in a baking sheet or dish.  Mix all the remaining ingredients (using only 1 Tablespoon of olive oil) in a small bowl.  Rub the herb and garlic mixture all around the rack of lamb.  Cover it with saran wrap.  Place it in the Fridge for up to 24 hours.  The longer you marinate it, the tastier it is.  But, if you don’t have 24 hours, a few hours will do just fine.

Take it out of the Fridge about 30 minutes before you are ready to cook it.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat a cast iron skillet (or non-stick skillet) on medium high heat.  Add the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet.  Sear the lamb (with fat side down first) for about 7-8 minutes per side until you have a nice brown color – use a tong to turn it over.  Place the skillet with the lamb in the pre-heated oven and finish cooking it for about 20-30 minutes, depending on your desired doneness (medium-rare, medium, etc.).  Don’t overcook it.  You can always put individual slices in the oven to cook more (if it’s too rare), but if it’s overdone, you can’t go back.  When it’s finished cooking, take the skillet out of the oven, and let it sit for about 10 minutes before slicing.  This helps ensure all the yummy juices remain in the meat when you slice it to avoid ending up with dry meat (which is not good!).  When you are ready to slice, place the rack on a board or platter, and slice through each bone and serve.

Mixture of squash or zucchinis (washed and cut into quarters or large cubes)
1 whole sweet red onions (cut into large cubes)
2 large cloves of garlic (sliced lengthwise)
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of Italian Seasonings or Rosemary or Thyme (whatever flavorful dry spices you have in your pantry)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Place the vegetables in a large baking sheet.  Put the vegetables in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes (or until soft, but not mushy).

NOTE: If you want to make the roasted fingerling potatoes, put them in the oven about 10 minutes before the vegetables.  All you need to do is wash the potatoes, mix them with about 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and about 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary.  Place the potatoes in a baking sheet and put in the 375 degree oven.  Cook them for about 30 minutes (or until soft but still whole).


Fresh peaches make wonderful and healthy dessert.  Just take some nicely ripe, but firm, white peaches.  Cut them lengthwise in half.  Take the seeds, and the dark spots around the seeds, out with a small tea spoon.  Brown the flesh side in a non-stick skillet with a little bit of butter until you get some nice brown color.  Butter a glass or ceramic baking dish.  Place the grilled peaches – flesh sides up – in the baking dish.  Then sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on the grilled sides.  Then, sprinkle some pure almond extracts (or vanilla extracts if you would rather have vanilla flavor).  DO NOT USE THE IMITATION EXTRACT – IT WILL RUIN YOUR DESSERT! For a little more sophisticated taste, sprinkle some Amaretto Liquor on the peaches and a little bit in the baking dish for moisture.  Squeeze the juice of ½ orange in the baking dish for added moisture and flavor.  Bake the peaches in a 350-degree oven for about 25-30 minutes (or until soft, but still intact).  Let cool completely.  Serve with fresh whipped cream (see below) or vanilla bean ice cream.

[FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Place 1 cup of heavy whipping cream in a medium bowl.  Add ¼ cup of granulated (white) sugar to the cream.  Add about ¼ teaspoon of pure almond extract (or vanilla extract, if you’d like).  Using a hand mixer, or whisk, whip the cream until firm and peaks are formed.  Chill in the Fridge until you are ready to serve.]

To accompany this wonderful meal – and to add that extra special touch to Patrick’s welcome home dinner – I decided to open up a bottle of wine that we had picked up from Croad Vineyards during our recent visit to the Paso Robles wine region.  Croad is a family winery that is owned by Martin Croad – from New Zealand.  http://www.croadvineyards.com/  We discovered Croad when we visited J Lohr Winery.  Ann – our Tasting Room host – had recommended Croad to us.  We drove to Croad that day.  When we got to the winery, the gate was closed.  I called the phone number listed in the wine tasting map, and a gentleman answered.  When I explained to him that we were referred to his winery by Ann at J Lohr, but we did not realize that it was closed that day.  The man said: “well, since you already drove here, and I am on the property doing some work, why don’t you come on up? I’ll open the gate for you.  Besides, there is another couple here right now who are in the same position as you.”  So, he opened the gate, and we drove up.  

(View from Croad Vineyards)
The view from the winery overlooking the valley was breathtaking.  Martin was hospitable, friendly, and extremely welcoming.  Their motto at the winery is: "Kia Ora," which means "Welcome" in the native New Zealand Maori language.  Martin told us a little bit about his background and New Zealand heritage, how he came the United States, how he started the winery, the highs and lows of owning a winery, and how he continues to take on various projects around the winery.  In fact, when we visited, he was working on building a bed and breakfast on the property.  That’s why he happened to be on site the day we drove to the winery.  We tried about 3 different wines, which he had opened that day specially for the other couple and us: the 1011 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008 Zinfindel, and the 2008 Towhenua Pure.  We ended up purchasing a bottle of the 2008 Towhenua, which is a blend of 50% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, and 30% Syrah.  This is a full-bodied wine, with a deep ruby red color.  It has complex but well-balanced flavors of dark ripe fruits, such as black cherries, and plum with a hint of mocha. It received a silver medal from the SF Chronicle. I thought it was fitting to pair this wine with lamb – both of which have roots in New Zealand.

(Ten, the Kids, Patrick, and me, July 30, 2012)
Needless to say, Patrick was very grateful for this wonderful and welcoming meal.  But, I got another great compliment on this meal.  Our Au Pair, Ten, told me during dinner that she did not usually like to eat lamb because when she has had it before, it had a gamy smell and taste that she did not like.  But, she said, she did not get that smell and taste from my lamb.  She ate both of her pieces.  She said I should definitely make this dish again because she would eat it.  Thank you for the compliment, Ten!

I hope you try some of these dishes the next time you want to make something special for yourself or that special someone in your life.  These dishes also would work great for your next dinner party.  You will definitely impress your guests, especially with the lamb.

Until next time . . .

Cheers! ZinAdel

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pan-Seared Steak with Roasted Corn, Tomatoes, and Arugula Salad

Today's post is about Love, Family, and the Hope for Good Health. I often get the following question: "Why are you so tense?" in various settings: At the spa - while getting a massage. At the pool during swimming lessons - which I have started taking recently.  And during doctor's visits.  My answer: "I don't know."  My doctor recently asked me the question in a different way: "What helps you relax?" I said: "Well, lots of things: Running. Taking Zumba lessons. Exploring new places and learning about new things. Spending quality time with the kids and Patrick.  Cooking, especially cooking with the kids.  Just cooking generally helps me forget about everything that bothers me." She said: "Your homework for the next visit is for you to do as many of the things that relaxes you and gives you joy, and I would love to hear about them."

A dear and loving friend recently reminded me to focus on the many positive blessings in my life, and to let go of the things and people that create negative energy. Lately, I have been focusing on those things that fill me with the most joy and calm.  We recently spent a few days hanging out at the beach and the pool with the kids. They absolutely loved it. And, I was so happy to watch them just enjoy being children and having a great time.  Patrick and I also recently had a fun "dinner and a movie" date night. We went to see The Amazing Spiderman, and it was great talking with him afterwards about the movie. He used to read the comics books, and growing up in Haiti, I knew nothing about Spiderman. So, it was something different to talk about and something for me to learn about. The weather has been very nice lately around the Bay.  With nice weather, especially on the weekends, the kids like it when we have dinner outside.  As is the case most weekends, I don't usually think of the dinner menu until I go to the grocery store.  This menu is all about enjoying the summer and the outdoors.

For starters, I made this amazingly refreshing and delicious appetizer that consisted of smoked salmon, goat cheese, fresh cilantro, and fresh ground black pepper, stuffed inside fresh cucumber tubes.  I can't tell you how easy it was to make, and how incredibly tasty it was.

For the actual entree, we had some steaks pan seared in a cast-iron skillet topped with blue cheese. For sides, I made two of my favorites: Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Roasted Corn, Tomatoes, and Arugula Salad.

For the sweet potatoes, I simply peeled the sweet potatoes, cut them into cubes, stirred some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes (or until soft, but not mushy).

For the corn salad, here's the rough recipe (I make this often, so I don't really follow exact measurements):


 4 fresh ears of corn (with husks on)
1/2 each red, yellow, and orange bell peppers diced (or whatever color you have in your Fridge)
1 cup of Cherry Tomatoes (cut in half)
Extra virgin olive oil (about 2 Tablespoons)
Italian Seasonings
1/2 cup of crumbled Feta Cheese
1/2 avocado (diced)
1/4 chopped fresh basil
1 Cup of fresh Arugula (or baby spinach if you have them)
1/2 lemon juice
Salt and pepper (to taste)


Remove the husks and hairs off the corns.  [My boys love to shuck the corns for me (taking the husks and the hairs off). This is one of the most fun times we have cooking together. So, I always give them that job to do.]

Then, using a knife, remove the kernels off the cob (by placing the corn in a bowl and slicing down to remove the kernels).  Place the kernels in a large bowl, and discard the ears.  Then, add the diced bell peppers.  Add about 1 1/2 Tablespoon of olive oil, fresh ground black pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon of Italian Seasonings. Place the corn in a cookie sheet and roast the corn at 375 for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, place the tomatoes in a cookie sheet. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the remaining 1/2 Tablespoon of olive oil, fresh ground black pepper, and a pinch of Italian Seasoning. Place the tomatoes in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes (make sure they are not too soft).

When corns and tomatoes are done, remove them from the oven.  Turn the broiler on and broil the corn for about 3 minutes (make sure you watch them so they don't burn).  Transfer the corn to a large bowl.  Then, add the roasted cherry tomatoes, the basil, and the arugula. Stir lightly to combine.  Then, add the lemon juice and the Feta.  Stir gently. Then, add the avocado and stir gently. Add salt and pepper, to taste (if necessary). Enjoy!

To accompany the meal, Patrick and I enjoyed a glass of a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon by J Lohr J Lohr is known for its Cabs. And, Cabs are great for steaks. But, this Cab is not just a regular Cab. It has an amazing story behind it that I wanted to highlight it on my blog.  It is J Lohr's 2008 Carol's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, CA).  Patrick and I recently visited the Central Coast (Paso Robles area). During our visit, we decided to stop by J Lohr Winery.  We had a amazing time tasting the different wines that J Lohr makes. Our host, Ann, was wonderful and very knowledgeable about J Lohr, the winery, and the wines.  They were all incredible. We bought a couple of bottles of wines, including the Carol's Vineyard Cab.  This Cab is named after the winemaker's wife, Carol, who died of breast cancer. Cabernet Sauvignon was one of her favorite varietals.  These grapes are planted in Napa, and this wine is made in her honor to celebrate her love of life and family. J Lohr donates part of the proceeds from every bottle of wine sold to the American Cancer Society.  What a wonderful way to remember and honor Carol!

I decided to pair this wine with this meal not only because it is an awesome Cab.  It is a complex but well-balanced wine.  It has notes of blackberries, dark cherries, oak, and pepper, with a hint of vanilla. It has a long lasting finish on the palate. It's delicious!  But, the wine also has a story that touches my heart.  It was a blessing to be able to visit the winery, enjoy some wonderful wines, and be reminded about what's important: Love, Family, and Good Health!

For dessert, we had fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries marinated in simple syrup and lime zest.  I served that with a slice of pound cake and topped with fresh whipped cream. The kids just loved this because they got to cut the pound care into different fun shapes of their own choosing.  And, they got to build up their own dessert like a taco bar.  All three of them were so happy with dinner. My 4-year-old said "Mom, you're the best 'food maker' ever. I love you!"  So, as you can probably guess, this was a very enjoyable and relaxing evening for me. I am grateful for life and for my family. Here is a toast to good health. And, here's to Carol's family and their memories of her!
I hope you and your family had a wonderful weekend and are enjoying the summer.  Remember that the key ingredients to life are: love, family, and good health.

Until next time . . . Cheers!