Monday, March 30, 2009

Meyer Lemon Curd

My dad has a small Meyer lemon tree in his yard, bursting with hundreds of juicy lemons. The Meyer lemon fruit is rounder than the common lemon, with a slight orange tint and a sweeter, less acidic flavor. While picking away at his most prized Meyer tree, I contemplated all of my favorite lemon treats to make, and came upon one versatile option-lemon curd. Lemon curd is a great topping for toast and breakfast scones, and a wonderful cookie and tart filler, to name just a few. Plus, you can enjoy some now, and preserve more for later. You really can use any lemon variety you would wish, even Buddha Hand lemons (my grandmother grows these unique varieties-but we’ll save that for another week).

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
3 tablespoons lemon zest, finely grated
6 large egg yolks

Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in sugar, lemon juice, zest and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the yolks until mixture becomes very smooth. Over medium heat, cook the mixture while whisking constantly, until it thickens and leaves a path on the back of a wooden spoon when a finger is drawn across it. Immediately pour lemon curd through a strainer and allow to cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. Refrigerate covered, until ready to serve. Lemon curd keeps for a month in the refrigerator and for about 3 months in the freezer.

Written by Karen

Sonoma Malbec

Malbec is gaining quite a reputation these days as American wine drinkers are discovering the intensely flavored Malbecs that come from Argentina. But there are also some wonderful Malbecs being made in our own backyard from some well-known Sonoma winemakers. They are hard to come by but they are worth seeking out.

A native to Bordeaux, Malbec is typically a blending grape that you will find blended in small percentages with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, often to bring a deep color and added complexity to the wine. Until recently, you didn’t hear much about Malbec standing on its own in California wine country. But there is a small area in Sonoma between Glen Ellen and Kenwood, where a few adventurous winemakers are creating wonderful Malbecs that definitely stand on their own.

Traveling on Highway 12 in Sonoma, you can find Malbec from Mayo Family Winery, Arrowood Winery, St. Francis Winery and what I consider the “queen” of Sonoma Malbec – Chateau St. Jean. This handful of wineries, along with a few more of their neighbors, are producing some exceptional Malbec wines that are unfortunately a bit hard to come by, typically only found in their tasting rooms or through their wine clubs. They’re worth seeking out though…and maybe splurging a bit.

Favorite Sonoma Malbec

Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County Reserve Malbec
– Only 500 cases of this wine are made each year and it’s definitely worth trying to get your hands on a bottle, even at $60. Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren has always held a particular fondness for the Malbec grape and has been a champion of the grape in Sonoma. This fondness for Malbec has translated into some truly outstanding wines. Blended with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot, this is a powerful wine with soft tannins and a lush finish. Definitely makes the top of our list!

St. Francis Vineyards McCoy Vineyard Malbec – The grapes for this wine are grown on twenty-five year old vines on a hillside vineyard in the Mayacamas, producing a deep concentration of flavor in the fruit. The wine is extremely limited and priced at $35/bottle.

Written by Linzi

Backyard Vineyards - A Hobby or a Money-Maker?

Have you ever wondered if you could actually make money cultivating your own small vineyard? While many people are allured into the romantic idea of growing grapes on their property and making their own wine, could that passion ever become profitable?

Although the volume growth of wine shipments to the U.S. market has slowed in recent months, California shipments still grew two percent last year, to an estimated 196 million cases, according to the Preliminary Grape Crush Report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. So there still is quite a demand for wine grapes today.

Here are some quick facts that I have learned. A vine typically takes 3 years before producing usable grapes, and the lifetime of a vine is 30-35 years. There are approximately 4-5 grape clusters in a bottle, 40 clusters on a vine, 500-1300 vines per acre, 13.5 barrels per acre, and 4,000 bottles per acre, according to Napa Now wine statistics. That seems like a lot of bottles of wine even if you just have a few acres! But can you make money on your own small vineyard?

Growing grapes is typically not a profitable endeavor if it is only a few acres. It usually takes a larger vineyard-around five acres or more to produce profitable quantities of grapes, according to reporter Broderick Perkins who has researched the value of small vineyards.

Lynn Wonderlich from the University of California advises caution when trying to make money with a small vineyard, and says that farming even at the best of times can be risky.

Finding a buyer for your grapes may be another large challenge for a small hobby vineyard, especially in this economy. A small grower might not have enough grapes to interest a potential winery.

But there is a growing number of small “backyard vineyards" that do manage to make some money. They are growers around the Bay Area with favorable terrain, soil and climate.

One reason many people choose to plant vines is that vineyards can boost the property value of a house. A property with vineyard landscaping can really increase the resale value and attract a larger clientele, according to Napa Valley property management owner, Don Buller. Especially in areas around wine country where people place a great value on a vineyard view. Besides the property boost, vines can help with erosion and water drain off.

Farming grapes can also be a more sustainable crop, with established vine stock reproducing grapes year after year, with very little plowing or other farming practices needed for other crops. Growing and harvesting your own grapes, can, however be a rewarding experience if you are in it for the love and not the money.

Before you start make sure that you have a few basic things needed for success. First, you need lots of sunshine, so make sure that you plant your vines where they can get a lot of sun. They also need a good water supply when they are actively growing in spring or summer. In areas of little rain, they should be watered at least once a week.

Second, you need to plant a grape variety that is suitable to your property, and to your climate. Some varieties will not survive cooler weather, while others can tolerate freezing temperatures. Some vigorous varieties need lots of space (at least 8 feet), while other vines might be planted six feet apart or less. So do your research before you plant.

Recruit friends or people you know in the wine or grape business to help you and consider taking a few classes on winemaking and business management.

So if you have the property, there are many good reasons for starting your own small vineyard. All you need for success is the property, a little grape knowledge, hard work, and of course, a great passion.

Written by Karen

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday Supper

Sunday dinners have always been about comfort food for me, providing a good way to ease into the week. In the colder months that usually means a hearty bowl of soup, a casserole or other one-dish meal. One of my favorite Sunday meals is a gratin from the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook. This cookbook is chock full of comfort food recipes and this Italian Gratin is no exception.

Italian Gratin
From the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics Cookbook

1 cup diced onion
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups undrained crushed tomatoes (28-oz. can)
1 Tbsp olive oil
¾ cup bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
¾ cup raw orzo
2 cups rinsed, stemmed, and chopped fresh spinach
4 cups sliced mushrooms
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 11x7-inch casserole dish.

In a bowl, mix together the onions, basil, salt, and tomatoes. Set aside. Warm the oil in a small skillet and sauté the bread crumbs and garlic until the bread crumbs are lightly browned.

Spread half of the tomato mixture in the bottom of the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the orzo over the tomatoes. Layer the spinach, mushrooms, and 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese on top of the orzo. Top with the rest of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese and then finish with a layer of the seasoned bread crumbs. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake the gratin for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 25 minutes, until lightly browned.

Written by Linzi

Buon Appetito!

When you think of Italian wine and food, images of hefty carafes filled with rustic regional wines and overflowing bowls of pasta may come to mind. That is certainly a wonderful way to spend a long, leisurely lunch in Italy. But Italy is home to much more than a carafe of red wine and a bowl of pasta – there are many wonderful wines and unique varietals that pair with the delicious regional dishes that are specialties throughout Italy. Here’s a little primer on Italian wines and some of the best pairings for those wines.

You may be familiar with Chianti and Pinot Grigio when it comes to Italian wine, but what about Nebbiolo, Aglianico or my favorite to read off a wine list - Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. The many regions of Italy produce many excellent wine varietals, some of which we are just starting to see in the United States and often at great values. Italy is a country with a wide array of wines and foods to please the palate and the senses.

In Northern Italy, you will find the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region which is home to many unique white varietals including the most well-known, Pinot Grigio. Northern Italy is also home to the Piedmont region, known for Barbaresco and Barolo – two full-bodied and dry red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. These are Italy’s most expensive and sought-after wines.

Traveling a bit south, you will find Tuscany, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. Tuscany is arguably Italy’s most famous winemaking region and is home to the Sangiovese grape - the key varietal in Chianti. Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino also come from Tuscany. Umbria and Emilia Romagna are not nearly as well known but they are producing some interesting wines. Umbria is most known for Orvieto, a semi-sweet white wine while Emilia Romagna is most famous for Lambrusco, a wine made popular in the 1970’s as a fizzy, semi-sweet beverage. Lambrusco is making a come-back but not in the same style. Popular Lambrusco’s today are dry and fresh and make for a perfect summer evening sipper.

In Southern Italy the primary wine producing regions include Puglia, Campania and Abruzzi. Although not as famous throughout the wine-drinking world, there are many fruit-driven, juicy red wines from these regions given the warm, southern climate.

What foods to pair with Italian wine? In Italy, selecting wines from the same regions that the dish comes from is a good rule of thumb. For example, nothing pairs better with the rich and flavorful foods of the Emilia Romagna region than a crisp, dry Lambrusco while the tomato-dominant dishes of Tuscany pair wonderfully with a rich and full Chianti.

Buon Appetito!

Written by Linzi

Recession Menus

Throughout the country, discounted prix fixe menus are beginning to emerge, as restaurant owners hope to entice uneasy diners out of their homes. “Recession Menus” are now beginning to pop up all over the Bay Area and Wine Country—and even popular bistros and restaurants promise an enjoyable night out without breaking the bank.

I recently visited the sushi restaurant CC Blue in St. Helena, and found this out firsthand. Although CC Blue has received its share of bad rap over its few years in operation, I like the place. I am lured in by the quiet, intimate setting, the urban chic décor, and the fresh and always delicious sushi. Sure, service can be a bit slow at times with usually only one waitperson covering the small dining room, but what is the reason for rushing through a good dinner after all?

Now, what has been holding me back from going more often (and believe me I would) is the cost. Although it is comparable to other Wine Country and Bay Area sushi/Asian dining spots, we are curbing our spending just like everyone else is.

So, upon my last visit I was delighted to see a new “recession plate” nestled in to the regular dinner menu. For $14 you can get a choice of California or spicy tuna rolls, miso soup and vegetable tempura. I ordered it, and it was a delicious dinner—accompanied with a guilt-free price, too.

Today prix fixe menus are popping up everywhere, offering three-course meals for $15 to $40, instead of the regular $40 to $80 you would expect to pay. And "Recession Menus," and new small-plate, bistro menus are making their appearance in even the most posh restaurants.

One amazing deal that has come to my attention is at the Martini House in St. Helena, where they are offering a “family meal” for $10-$15. One recently served meal was coconut curry vegetables with lemongrass and steamed rice for the unheard of cost of $11. Plus, you can ask for takeout or enjoy it in the cozy ambience of the cellar.

The Napa Valley Wine Train even boasts a “Recession-Blues Buster” package for the (financially) weary traveler. This package comes with a couple of nights at the Hilton Garden Inn, a gourmet lunch on the wine train, tasting at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, and free tastings at select wineries—all for a special price.

Consumers are also eating out less while at the same time, ordering cheaper bottles or wine by the glass when they do, reports a recent Wine Spectator.

While many restaurants are feeling the crunch, others are on the edge of shutting their doors completely. The most adaptable will survive—those who are in touch with what consumers are looking for—a good meal and a really good deal.

Written by Karen

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wild Mustard Chicken Carbonara

With a golden blanket of wild mustard spread across the valley floor, we thought this would be a great time to enjoy its spicy flavor in an original seasonal dish. Mustard makes a great addition to chicken, red meat, fish and salads. You can pick it yourself, or you can purchase it at your local market, such as Oxbow Public Market in Napa.

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

1tbsp. finely chopped garlic

4 Sprigs thyme Leaves

1/3 cups Olive Oil

1 tbsp. Dijon Mustard

½ cup beer

1 tbsp. Lemon Juice Freshly Squeezed

Blend ingredients and marinate 30 mins. before grilling

6 pieces of thick bacon sliced and sautéed

2 heads of radicchio

1 bunch mustard greens

2 garlic cloves diced

1 shallot diced

½ cup chopped parsley

1 tbsp. red chili flakes

2 whole eggs

1 lb thin spaghetti

¼ cup Olive oil

½ cup Parmesan cheese

Chop parsley and add to egg mixture with chili flakes and Parmesan. Split radicchio in quarters. Sprinkle with olive oil, garlic, mustard greens and shallots. Place on sheet tray in the oven at 350 for 10 mins. Bring water to a boil for pasta. Chop radicchio and mustard greens into 1¼ inch pieces. Boil pasta in water and immediately toss with rest of ingredients. Serve while hot. Serves 4.

By Chef Emily Buller

Open That Bottle Night

This past Saturday was Open That Bottle Night. This unique event was started ten years ago by Wall Street Journal wine writers Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. The catalyst for the idea was the large number of letters they received from readers asking when they should drink that one special bottle of wine they had been holding on to for years. The event occurs on the last Saturday of February and has gained quite a following.

No matter what the size of our wine collection, most of us have a few bottles that we are holding on to for just the right occasion. But what is that occasion and what if it comes after the bottle has reached its peak and maybe even after it’s no longer even drinkable? The experience of opening up a bottle of wine that you’ve held on to for a special occasion, only to find it has gone south, is not one that you wish to repeat often.

That’s the point of Open That Bottle Night. It’s a great excuse to pull out that wine you’ve been saving before it’s over the hill. You can make it a special occasion with friends or even just an opportunity to open up a bottle with your special someone at home over a simple meal.

In celebration of Open That Bottle Night, my husband and I opened a special “family” bottling of 2003 Carneros Merlot that was given to us as a gift. Since this particular wine is not available for sale to the public, we considered it a bottle for a special occasion and have been holding on to it for several years. It was just the two of us at home and we opened it with dinner. Although no sparks flew as we tasted that first sip, it was a great bottle of wine and we were happy with the idea of opening this special bottle on an ordinary evening at home to enjoy between the two of us.

Although Open That Bottle Night has now passed, there is no reason you can’t make any night the perfect night to open a bottle of wine that is collecting dust in your cellar, closet or wine rack. Don’t let those wines collect dust and age beyond drinkability while you are waiting for that special night, celebration or other occasion to drink them. Wine is made to be enjoyed so enjoy your special bottles!

Written by Linzi

More Than Mere Mustard

Photo by Rodney Friedrich

The splendors of the mustard season are in full bloom now, and the Napa Valley is bathed in a vivid carpet of golden yellow. But mustard season is more than mere eye candy, it now encompasses all the senses with food, wine, art and entertainment.

So where did all these luscious yellow blooms originate from? Legend has it that the mustard in California began in the mission Era in California. According to the story, each mission was just a few days walk apart from each other, and the missionaries sprinkled mustard seeds along their path so that after winter when the path was covered with the lush spring grass and covered the trails, the mustard would guide them to the next mission. Sections along Highway 1 and Highway 101 that were a part of the original mission trail are filled with the bright blooming mustard each Spring.

Today the mustard still guides travelers through the beautiful wine country. But mustard no longer is banished to shine its glory from the ground; it can now be viewed on walls, in markets, on plates in fine restaurants, and covering the walls in photography and fine art.

The mustard usually begins blooming in late February, with festivities throughout March. During this vividly beautiful time of year, Napa Valley businesses welcome visitors to the valley with art shows, cooking demonstrations, mustard tasting and mustard photo contests.

This year Napa Valley celebrates the 16th Annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival. The grand opening event, which took place on Saturday, January 31st at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena set the stage for this month’s events. Here, fine art (literally) came to life, with renaissance paintings by European mastered taking on a theatrical edge with a live visual exhibit. This was followed by a visual arts competition and silent auction, as patrons danced in the candle-lit barrel room, and tasted the gourmet buffet.

This next Saturday and Sunday, March 7 & 8 from 1-6pm mustard festivities continue in downtown Calistoga with Mustard, Mud & Music—A Calistoga Jazz Festival. This is a popular event for foodies and Jazz lovers alike, where you can enjoy live music as you stroll through the sops and dine at the local pubs.

The upcoming Awards dinner is the next of the signature events, which takes place on Friday, March 13 at the Black Stallion Winery on the Silverado trail in Napa. Live country rock, and some of Napa’s finest vintages will be tasted alongside creative mustard recipes. Patrons will also witness the worldwide mustard competition awards. Tickets are $100 in advance and $125 at the door.

Another popular event of the festivities takes place at The Marketplace on Saturday and Sunday at Robert Mondavi Winery, with celebrity chef cooking demonstrations, a Sunset Magazine pavilion, and the taping of Martha Stewart Living radio shows. There will also be live jazz and classical music, and art shows. Tickets for this event are $35 in advance and $40 at the door.

For more information, visit

Written by Karen