Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rainy Day Minestrone Soup

Minestrone originated from humble Italian origins, and was a main course in poorer Italian households. In fact, Minestrone has been a part of the Italian diet since the 1600’s, and possibly even earlier. In the 1700’s tomatoes and potatoes were added from the Americas. This soup ranges in texture from thick and dense to a broth soup with lightly cooked vegetables. Enjoy our version of Minestrone Soup on a wet rainy day, and savor the history and flavor of this popular soup.

Minestrone Soup

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 small-med. onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

14 oz. can chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp. Italian seasoning

1 carrot, finely diced

1 ½ small potatoes, finely diced

9 oz. peeled pumpkin or winter squash, finely diced

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

14 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

4 oz. leafy cabbage or other greens

3 oz. pasta (such as macaroni or shells)

3 cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Heat olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add tomatoes, carrot, potato, pumpkin, water and stock. Bring to boil and stir occasionally. Add the beans and cabbage and reduce heat to dimmer. Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes until vegetables are tender. In a separate pan, bring salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until tender and add to the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with parmesan cheese and chives. Serves about 6.

Recipe by Karen

Wine & Friendship

Great friendships make great wine and few friends better demonstrate this then the guys behind Karl Lawrence Cellars. Karl Lawrence Cellars was started by two friends who wanted to make a unique Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. The name comes from the two founder’s middle names, who later partnered with one of the founder’s brothers. He lends his middle name to their Aldin Chardonnay and Red Wine.

The wines are made from some of the greatest cab and chardonnay producing vineyards in the Napa Valley – proof that these guys know how to make friends. Take their signature cabernet - 100% cab made from fruit sourced from some of the best Napa Valley vineyards – Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford, Lamb Family Vineyard located on the hillsides of Howell Mountain, To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville and the Dr. Crane vineyard in St. Helena.

There’s usually a wait to get on the mailing list but if you can score a spot, it’s worth it. Their web site also has a great blog where you can get a peak into what the owners are up to. And you can always give them a call when you are in the Napa Valley and stop by for a taste of the latest vintages.

For more information, visit

Written by Linzi

Local Deals

Are you looking for a bargain these days? We’ve scouted out some of the best local deals around. From $2 beers to affordable 3-course meals, don’t miss out on these opportunities for enjoying the good life in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys without breaking the bank.

Taylor’s Refresher at Oxbow Market, Napa – Taylor's Refresher at the Oxbow Market is leaving behind their popular 1-2-3-4 special for a new special, the 3-3-3-3. They'll offer a $3 white wine, $3 red wine, $3 beer and 3 menu items at 50% off on Tuesdays from 5-9pm. Get there early to beat the lines! This deal is only good at the Oxbow Market location.

Rutherford Grill, Rutherford – This is not a new deal, but in case you don’t know, this bustling hot spot in Rutherford never charges corkage on any bottle of wine. So save some dough by bringing in your own bottle and filling up on the Grill’s consistently good food!

Go Fish, St. Helena – Spend a relaxing lunch at Go Fish with their new lunch special. For $21 you can enjoy a 3-course lunch that includes soup or chowder of the day, the Chef’s choice of an entrée and house made sorbet and cookies.

Martini House, St. Helena – Visit this St. Helena hot spot on a Monday night for a 50% off Wine Page and waived corkage fees.

Estate, Sonoma – Enjoy a pizza and Pinot for just $10 at the bar of this newer Sonoma restaurant located in the former General’s Daughter space. You get a 10” wood-fired and a glass of Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio. Just mention the Pizza and Pinot promotion to the bartender.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Basil Pesto & Chicken Pasta

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ve whipped up a good-for-your-heart pasta that still tastes good! It’s made with fresh and heart healthy ingredients like pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and whole wheat pasta. Even better it can be prepared in just 15-20 minutes.

1 large bunch of basil (about 30 leaves)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 oz pine nuts
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 ½ lb whole wheat pasta
2 whole skinless chicken breasts

Place washed basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts and cheese into a food processor, or crush by hand using a mortar and pestle. Blend for about 20 seconds, and slowly add olive oil while mixing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook chicken in microwave or in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cut chicken into 1 inch square pieces. Cook pasta of choice and drain. Place pasta, chicken and pesto into a serving dish and mix. Garnish with remaining pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and basil leaf. Serves about 4.

The intensity of flavors in pesto sauce pairs best with an intensely flavored white wine. Try an Albarino, Riesling or Unoaked Chardonnay.

Recipe by Chef Emily Buller

The Love Affair of Chocolate & Wine

Chocolate and wine are both extremely complex and some would say that pairing them is nearly impossible. We disagree. If you follow a few simple pairing guidelines, the results can be quite tasty. And even better, red wine and dark chocolate are both considered good for your heart. Here are some guidelines for finding the perfect pairing for your favorite type of chocolate.

Rule #1 - As with any dessert and wine pairing, the wine should be as sweet, or even a tad sweeter, than the chocolate.

Rule #2 - Match lighter-bodied wines with lighter style chocolate and full-bodied wines with richer style chocolate.

Rule #3 – As a general rule, avoid delicate wines like Champagne as the chocolate will make the wine appear tart. Riesling and Gewürztraminer should also be avoided unless you are pairing with white chocolate.

We suggest these wine and chocolate pairings…

Milk Chocolate – Muscat, Pinot Noir, Tawny Port

White Chocolate – Muscat, Riesling, Gewürztraminer

Dark/Bittersweet Chocolate – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, Merlot

Written by Linzi

The Sonoma Diet

Revealing the Secrets of a Healthy Lifestyle

The Sonoma Diet actually has roots in the fertile Mediterranean Sea as well as California’s Sonoma Valley. These two regions have a shared love of great food and wine, as well as enjoying flavorful and fresh local foods.

Connie Guttersen, PhD, RD is a registered dietitian and the author of The Sonoma Diet. She describes every meal as a “celebration” rather than “deprivation.” The secret, says Guttersen, is not avoiding certain foods, but enjoying the right foods in the right amounts.

The diet begins with a 10-day period in which whole grains, eggs, nut and low fat dairy are consumed. Following that period, many other foods are introduced, including wine and a limited amount of sweets. Most foods on this plan are not forbidden, but what are limited throughout the plan are foods with saturated fats, refined white flour and added sugar. Processed foods are simply not in the picture.

This is an idea diet for those who love fresh fruits and vegetables, wine, fish and lean meat. Like the Mediterranean diet, the Sonoma Diet has a host of whole grains, fish and nuts as well as fruits and vegetables. Guttersen says these are the foods “we’ve inherited from our Mediterranean friends.”

The plan’s “power foods” include almonds, bell peppers, broccoli, olive oil, grapes, spinach tomatoes and whole grains, to name a few. Not only are these foods heart-healthy and low calorie, but they are packed with antioxidants like vitamin C, calcium and other vitamins and nutrients.

Extra-virgin olive oil (from the first press of the olives), also a staple of the dietj, is antioxidant rich and can help lower bad LDL cholesterol and is a staple of this diet.

The fiber in the whole grains such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice is another ticket to the success in this diet. Their job is to boost metabolism and reduce the risk of cancer.

Finally, fresh fruit or wine plays a large part in the Sonoma Diet for their phytonutrients which Guttersen believes is the key to Sonoma’s healthy way of life.

Written by Karen

Monday, February 2, 2009

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Potato gnocchi is simple to make and is a delicious change from the average pasta dish. You can choose whatever variety of potato you like, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn or Russet. Russet potatoes usually make the lightest and fluffiest gnocchi. Add your favorite sauce such as a light mushroom or wine sauce, or a thicker cream sauce like our Gorgonzola and Sage sauce.


2 ½ lbs potatoes

2 ½-3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1 ½ tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

Clean the potatoes and cook in a large pot of boiling water until tender but not falling apart. Make sure you do not overcook the potatoes. Remove the skins while the potatoes are still warm. Then push them through a vegetable mill (or ricer) into a large bowl-do not use a food processor. Stir in the eggs and oil with a wooden spoon, and gradually stir in 1 ½ cups of flour and salt. Stir until the dough sticks together but is still not too firm.

Knead the dough for about 5 minutes on a floured surface, adding more flour as needed. When the dough does not stick to your hands, it is ready.

Divide dough into 6-7 equal parts. Roll each part into a rope about 1/2 inch thick and about 10 inches long, and cut each section into small pieces into 1/2 inch squares. Lightly press a fork against each piece to create small ridges in the pasta.

Add gnocchi to a large pot of boiling water, and cook until all the gnocchi rise to the top. Remove from water with a skimmer. Add sauce to top, or freeze gnocchi for later use. Serves about 6.

Gorgonzola and Sage Cream Sauce

3 tbsp. butter

3 sage leaves, finely chopped

2 cups whole cream (can be substituted for milk)

½ lb gorgonzola cheese

½ cup pine nuts (toasted in oven for 2-3 minutes optional)

Chives, chopped, to garnish

In a sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the cream or milk, gorgonzola and sage and stir until cheese melts completely. Stir constantly until sauce is creamy and thick, and add salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add sauce to gnocchi or pasta, and sprinkle with pine nuts and chives. Serves about 6.

Recipe by Chef Emily Buller


This week I picked up a bottle of Singing Gruner Veltliner (pronounced GREW-nuhr Felt-LEEN-her) made by Laurenz V at Sunshine Foods in St. Helena. I haven’t spent much time exploring this predominately Austrian varietal but I always seem to enjoy it when given the chance. With a reputation for pairing well with food, I thought I’d try it out with our Super Bowl Sunday nachos. The result was a delicious pairing.

Gruner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape variety in Austria. You won’t find any Gruner in Napa or Sonoma. The closest wine growing region in the United States where you will find some plantings is in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The name Gruner is a German word that means green, referring to the crisp acidity and bright flavors that are characteristic of the varietal. Gruner has a characteristic white peppery flavor and is considered an extremely food friendly wine.

The 2007 Singing Gruner Veltliner from Laurenz V. has a beautiful perfumed nose with flavors of honeysuckle, apricot and a bit of the classic white pepper. It retails for $14.99.

Written by Linzi

Also Known As...

After several months in operation, I finally made it to St. Helena’s newest and most anticipated restaurant, AKA. Although I have received mixed reviews from different people, I decided it was about time I go and experience it for myself.

Formerly Keller’s Market, AKA opened its doors in October at 1320 Main St. in Saint Helena. Most entrees are priced under $25.00, and are made from locally grown organic ingredients. They serve lunch and dinner daily, with a beautiful large bar and lounge area with over 600 wine selections.

AKA’s menu boasts a range of dishes from pasta with foraged mushrooms ($16.00), grilled organic vegetable sandwich ($14.00) to build your own burgers ($12.00). If you are looking for an entrée, you can try Pan Roasted Wild Pacific Salmon ($24.00), Herb Crusted Ahi Tuna Salad ($22.00) or the All Natural Flat Iron with Organic Vegetables and Steak Fries ($24.00).

We arrived at around 7:30 on a weeknight with no reservation and were promptly seated at one of the several open tables. The décor— a mix of elegance and traditional with urban minimalism—is appealing and fresh. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, and so were our greeter and server.

I ordered the Portobello Mushroom Fries ($9.00) appetizer which was wonderful—fresh and full of flavor, with a surprisingly light taste. My main course of a Whole Roasted Game Hen ($19.00) arrived in a timely manner. On the side were crushed potatoes (which were light and delicious), garlic spinach, and a very small amount of Cabernet Jus. I don’t usually order game hen, but decided to give it a try. It was well seasoned and fairly good, although I felt it was a bit dry and needed a more balancing sauce to compliment the Game Hen’s subtle flavors. My husband ordered a Rueben sandwich (14.00) and reported that his was really nothing above average.

I finished dinner with a molten chocolate cake ($8.50), which was tasty, but unexceptional and very small. I would not recommend trying to share this dessert.

Although I did have an overall pleasant experience considering the delightful ambiance, I was not overwhelmingly impressed. But I did enjoy the décor, ambiance and friendly wait staff and I think it would be worth trying again. It is nice to see an unpretentious place that feels comfortable serving sandwiches for dinner, but I feel they have a little ways to go to becoming an “exceptional” Napa Valley dining establishment.

Written by Karen