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

-Dario Zucconi

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Thanksgiving Feast. . . . for the Eyes, Body and Soul

Although I didn't grow up celebrating "Thanksgiving" - in the traditional United States sense, I have come to love the traditions of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is centered around family, friends, and food. Those three things have made the holiday one of my favorite holidays.

It's always fun to spend Thanksgiving with all of our extended families. But, this year, we decided to stay home for a little bit of a more relaxing Thanksgiving holiday - and not travel for Thanksgiving. My mom and my baby sister (Tanicha) came up to spend Thanksgiving with us. My mom has had a rough year this year - especially with her health. So, it's nice for her to have a little bit of a "vacation" in the San Francisco Bay Area. I tried hard to make sure she just relaxes and not do anything. But, for Thanksgiving, she made one of our traditional Haitian dishes (Red Beans and Rice). Although we missed our larger families, having Mom here for a few days is a special treat.

We were also blessed to spend Thanksgiving with our dear friends, Nadine Glinski and Gail Hunter (and their two kids).  We decided to do a joint family celebration of Thanksgiving. Our families practically have become more of a blended family. Thanks to our younger boys who met each other in pre-school, decided that they were going to be best friends, and bringing our families together in the most special way. For a Thanksgiving project at school, they said they were thankful for each other and each other's family.

To memorialize our joint family celebration, I decided to "create" a menu of the dishes we were all making. This menu perfectly captures the passion that all of us have for creating delicious dishes and celebrating special occasions with food, family, and friends. So, how did it all come together?

The Appetizers . . . .

For appetizers, I did a cheese platter that took our taste buds on a tour around the world. The platter included two soft cheeses and two hard cheeses, based on the recommendations of Chris at Berkeley Bowl.

For the soft cheeses, I used a Brie-like soft cow's milk cheese, Chaumes, from South West France. The rind is a beautiful orange color. The inside is soft pale, with a rich and full-bodied flavor and a creamy smooth texture. I also used a blue cheese (made with cow's milk), Fourme d'Ambert, one of the oldest French cheeses from Central France. I love the cylindrical shape of the cheese and its full and delicious flavor. To accentuate the flavor of this cheese, I included some Macadamia Nut Blossom Honey (Hawaii) to drizzle on the cheese. That was simply superb!

For the hard cheeses, I picked a delicious traditionally-aged (18 months) cow's milk Gouda from Northern Holland, Uniekaas Reserve. It has an appealing orange color and a sharp and salty taste, with notes of almonds. Lastly, I used a medium-hard sheep's milk cheese, P'tit Basque, from France. It has a unique rind - a thin light brown color, with a basket weave pattern. This cheese - and the blue cheese - were the two biggest hits of the day.

My sister, Tanicha, assembled the cheese platter. She did a beautiful job arranging the cheeses, with some fresh Concorde Pear and dried Turkish Apricots and dried Thompson Raisins.

The Turkey. . . .

Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without a whole turkey roasting in the oven for hours, resulting with a turkey that has beautifully golden and crispy skin on the outside but is tender and juicy on the inside.  It's great to get the Oooohs and Ahhhhs when you unveil the finished product. But, my favorite part of making the turkey for Thanksgiving is the stuffing. This year, Gail and I did a duo of stuffing. I stuffed the turkey with my traditional Haitian-cuisine inspired stuffing with a fennel and roasted garlic chicken sausage, grilled onions and garlic, tomatoes, and a whole lot of spices and fresh herbs crushed with a mortar and pestle (from Haiti). Patrick jokes "my stuffing is one of the reasons he married me!" Gail made this amazing bagel stuffing, loaded with flavors from aromatic spices, and a beautiful balance of tart cranberries and sweet raisins. Each bite of that is like a festival in your mouth. That was delicious!

The Side Dishes. . . .

The turkey is always the star of Thanksgiving. But, for me, I find the sides to be the most fun part about Thanksgiving. I love loading up my plate with a little bit of each side - taking a bite of each one after I've tasted the turkey. For our meal this year, we had sides inspired by four different "chefs": Me, Patrick, Gail, and my Mom. This will be one of my most memorable Thanksgiving meals - because of the sides. And, here's why. . . .

Patrick made his famous garlic/parmesan cheese potatoes. That's a requested dish by the kids. My Mom made Red Beans and Rice, a classic Haitian dish - my Mom makes it the best. And, I made these crunchy green beans, lightly sautéed with shallots and garlic, and also some collard greens (braised with smoked turkey legs, onions, and garlic). But, Gail took the prize for my favorite side dishes: Her delectable Baked Sweet Potatoes and homemade Cranberry-Orange relish. The sweet potatoes were one of the best sweet potatoes I've ever had. Gail also made this wonderful fresh sweet and tart cranberry relish, combined with zesty orange. Cranberry sauce has always been my least favorite side dish for Thanksgiving. But, this year, I actually had seconds. I absolutely loved it!

The Desserts . . . .

Some people may say that the best part of Thanksgiving is all the dessert and special treats that you get to enjoy for Thanksgiving. For our meal, Nadine and Gail made three delicious desserts: A decadent Cheesecake, a homemade Pumpkin Pie, and a warm Apple Cobbler.

We enjoyed all three of the desserts, which were a great combination. But, if you like apple pie - or apple cobbler - the Apple Cobbler was simply delicious. The dough was flaky and crispy, and beautiful in color - inviting you to dig in. When you take your first bite, the inside filling was warm, sweet, tangy, and just excellent. You couldn't help but go for a second, and a third bite.

The Wine. . . .

For me, no celebration is complete without a special bottle of wine. For this Thanksgiving, we had an amazing red wine blend (Cabernet Franc and Merlot) from the extraordinary winemaker and proprietor Daniel Daou (DAOU Winery, in Paso Robles, CA).  We visited the winery a couple of summers ago on our way back from Pismo Beach, based on a recommendation by a waiter at a restaurant in Paso Robles. First of all, the vineyards are breathtaking, and the winery is beautiful, warm and inviting. I met Daniel - the owner - during the visit. I learned that he had visited Haiti, and he actually spoke Creole (my native language). It was so awesome to talk to him in Creole, learn about his amazing journey to winemaking, and his passion for wine. I bought a Magnum bottle of one of his signature wines, the Seventeen-Forty.  This wine - paired with all the wonderful flavors of our Thanksgiving feast - was the icing on the icing on the cake! http://www.daouvineyards.com/

The Decorations. . . . .

Another thing I love about hosting holiday parties (like Thanksgiving and Christmas) are the decorations and the dinner settings. I love this part also because my daughter always participates in the decorations - especially doing the place cards.

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving. And, if you're on the road this year, here's wishing you a safe return home.

And, cheers to Nadine and Gail, and to my family!

Until next time . . . Cheers!


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Birthday Celebrations: Pot Roast with Rosemary Roasted Potatoes . . . . And Some Extra Special Treats

Today's post is not about recipes - necessarily - although food is certainly at the center of this post. It's more about CELEBRATION!

November is a special month - not just because of Thanksgiving. Turkey day is awesome! But, November is an extra special month because my family gets to celebrate two birthdays: Mine and my youngest son's birthday. We're the duo Scorpios!! Here are some of the special ways we've celebrated our birth month. Since both of our birthdays fall on weekdays, the celebrations have been continuous for the past couple of weeks.

Mommy's Special Day Celebration
(Bread pudding at Artisan)

I've enjoyed celebrating my birthday the past couple of weeks. The weekend before my birthday, the kids and Patrick took me out to dinner at one of my favorite local restaurants, Artisan Bistro (http://artisanlafayette.com/). Artisan knows how to make you feel special on your birthday - they print the menu with your name and a "happy birthday" note on it. But, the best part was the bread pudding, which was especially delicious.

(Soufflé at Santé)

(Private wine, cheese, and
chocolate tasting at Arrowood)
(Lone bunch of grape
in the vineyard
Last weekend, Patrick surprised me with a trip to the wine country (Sonoma) for a quick birthday celebration get-away and spa treats for me. A huge thank you to our dear friends Nadine and Gail for taking care of our kiddos overnight. It takes a village, for sure!

The night away was amazing. We had a lovely outdoor dinner at Santé Restaurant (Sonoma Mission Inn) - with a scrumptious soufflé (Above). And, we had a special private wine, cheese, and chocolate tasting at Arrowood Winery (http://www.arrowoodvineyards.com/).

(Pumpkin Tart dessert at Duende)

My birthday celebration continued this past Friday. . . . Nadine and Gail took me out to dinner at another one of my favorite restaurants, Duende (http://www.duendeoakland.com/).  Duende is one of those special places that is not just a restaurant, but feels like going to your best friend's house for dinner. The food is like no other. The Chef and Owner, Paul Canales, is a dear friend of ours. He's not only a creative and brilliant Chef, he makes sure that every dining experience is one you will remember - no matter how often you've been there. We had an awesome time. Thanks, Paul, Nadine, and Gail! Okay, I think that's the end for now. . . . It's been a birthday that I won't forget!

Now. . . . My Baby Boy's Celebration

Today was all about my little man, who turned 7 this week. Since his birthday fell during the week, we decided to do our family celebration today. We did our usual Sunday activities in the morning. Then, in the afternoon, I prepared a special Fall family comfort meal for dinner: A tender and savory pot roast, which was braised for about 4 hours; roasted fingerling potatoes; Caesar salad (my son's new favorite side dish); and of course chocolate cake (his absolute favorite).

To kick off the afternoon celebration, I prepared the meat for the pot roast. I first seared the meat (boneless Chuck Roast) to give it a nice brown color on the outside before I put it in the pot with the liquid. That way, all the flavors are trapped inside.

I also sautéed a mirepoix (mixture of carrots, celery, and onions) with fresh herbs and garlic for the pot roast. Then, I added tomato paste, a bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon), 1 cup of beef broth, and 2 bay leaves. I covered the pot, put it in the oven (325°) for 4 hours (turning the meat over 1/2 way through). 

The result was perfection! The meat was tender and juicy. The flavors were popping in your mouth. The house smelled like culinary heaven. Patrick and I enjoyed the pot roast with a glass of Arrowood Cabernet (2010).

(My son was leading us
on the trail.)
The best part about today wasn't necessarily the food (Don't get me wrong - that was a big hit for my family!). But, the highlight for all of us was the fact that, while the pot roast was in the oven - braising slowly, we went on a hike through Robert Sibley Regional Park. It was a cool, crisp Fall afternoon (not too cold and not too hot - just perfect!).

My son and I are enjoying our birth month. I am especially grateful for my health, my family and friends (near and far), and all those who have made my birthday an extra special one in all the wonderful ways that you have expressed your wishes for me. I'm forever grateful!

Until next time . . . Love and Cheers!