Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Baked Halibut with Mango & Avocado Salsa

This is one of my favorite springtime meals. It’s simple and easy-to-prepare with loads of great flavor. Although you can use almost any fish in this recipe, we prefer the medium weight and mild flavor of halibut. Try to find wild-caught California or Pacific Halibut. The tropical fruit flavors in the salsa pair nicely with a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

4 medium Halibut Fillets

Olive Oil


2 Avocados

2 Mangoes

1 Tbsp Shallot

2 cloves Garlic

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

2 Tbsp Lemon Juice



Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat each halibut fillet with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish and bake in oven until done, approximately 10-15 minutes. Dice avocado and mangoes into ¼ inch pieces. Place in medium sized bowl and add shallots, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Mix together and add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon ½ cup salsa on top of halibut.

Recipe by Linzi

A Springtime Sauv Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect wine to drink this time of year. Its crisp acidity and medium weight pair perfectly with a wide variety of foods, including all those yummy veggies that start popping up in the spring. And although the Napa Valley is known for its big Chardonnays and even bigger Cabernets, there are some great Sauvignon Blancs that come from the area. One of our favorites is the Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc from the Stags Leap District.

Cliff Lede Vineyards is located in the heart of the Stags Leap District, right off the Yountville Cross Road. It’s a beautiful winery built by Cliff Lede, a Canadian businessman who hired some top Napa Valley talent to make his wines, including viticulturist David Abreu, winemaker Michelle Edwards (formerly from Colgin Vineyards) and consultant Michel Rolland. All of the wines are good but the Sauvignon Blanc is my particular favorite…especially in the spring.

I paired the Sauvignon Blanc with my baked halibut and mango avocado salsa. The 2007 vintage has lush aromas of passion fruit and honeysuckle and crisp, vibrant flavors of citrus, melon and of course, more passion fruit. It’s a little fuller on the palate than other Sauvignon Blancs giving it a richer mouthfeel and long finish.

Find it online at http://www.cliffledevineyards.com/.

Written by Linzi

Neela's in Napa

Could Napa possible need another restaurant to add to the hundreds found throughout the valley? It could—especially when it’s an Indian restaurant, and the newest hot spot to visit in downtown Napa. Created by Neela Paniz—Indian chef and cookbook author—this new spin Indian cuisine combines traditional Indian dishes prepared with a fresh, contemporary style.

Paniz incorporates fresh local produce with freshly ground spices and combines them to create decidedly lighter Indian dishes.

Paniz grew up in Bombay and Dehli, but learned to cook when she came to the United States where she cultivated her love of cooking into a successful career.

Neela’s previous restaurant, Bombay Café in Los Angeles had become a very successful operation by the time her cookbook was released in 1998. This cookbook, “The Bombay Café,” made her a well-known name in contemporary Indian cuisine.

It also brought her to the Napa Valley to attend the annual Worlds of Flavors conference at the Culinary Institute of California at Greystone. She said she was surprised that the Napa Valley didn’t have an Indian restaurant and loved the area, so she decided to move to the valley and open an Indian restaurant.

Upon our Saturday night visit a few weeks ago, we were greeted by the hostess, who was warm and friendly upon our 7:00 p.m. arrival. I reserved our table several days in advance, and by that time several time slots were already booked up, so make sure you make a reservation ahead of time, especially on a busier weekend.

Inside the lofty space, it was minimal and contemporary, with a particularly airy feel enhanced by high ceilings and broad-spanning windows. It was filled with contemporary, cool finishes not often associated with Indian décor. One large antique Indian Mural rests on one wall, offering a traditional feature to balance out the rest of the modern touches.

Our waiter was outgoing and knowledgeable about the menu, offering suggestions to compliment our tastes. Our party of four wanted to order several smaller dishes to share. We started with the Kathi Rolls, tandoori chicken tikka with mint chutney and marinated onions wrapped in egg-washed “rotis” ($10.00).

We enjoyed the Sindhi “fry” chicken with dal, rice and gobi (cauliflower) sabzi which was light but still savory ($21.00). The Tandoori Murghi, and delightful combination of cornish hen in a yogurt-saffron marinade was delicious, with a fresh accompaniment of mint chutney, marinated onions and naan ($19.00). We also sampled the California Tandoori Salad with chicken tikka, paneer, mushrooms and romaine. The cilantro cumin dressing beautifully brightened up the contemporary flavors of the dish ($12.00).

Since my visit the menu has changed to offer family-style menu options. Overall, I think this new restaurant is a wonderful and much needed addition to Napa Valley cuisine.

Neela’s is located on 975 Clinton St. in downtown Napa and is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a. m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, and Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 5-9:30, and Friday and Saturday 5-10 p. m. Visit www.neelasnapa.com for more information, and call 226-9988 to make a reservation.

Written by Karen

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chicken Chow Mein with Spring Veggies

This dish is easy to make, and a great way to enjoy the fresh spring vegetables available. You can substitute any of your favorite vegetables, or add mushrooms and watercress to the mix. The mint adds a fresh contrast to the traditional Chinese dish.

2 medium chicken breasts

½ pound dry wonton noodles

3 celery stocks, chopped

½ white onion, chopped

½ cup broccoli

½ cup carrots, sliced

1 bell pepper, sliced

½ cup snow peas

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. soy sauce

½ cup chicken broth

1 tsp. cornstarch

2 tbsp. fresh chopped mint

½ tsp. garlic, finely chopped

Cut the chicken into strips or small chunks. Dissolve cornstarch into the chicken broth, then mix in soy sauce and garlic. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, and cook wonton noodles according to package directions. Drain noodles and place into cold water, then drain noodles again. Wash and chop vegetables and set aside. In a wok or large saucepan, heat the oil on medium high heat. Add onion and chicken and cook thoroughly, then remove chicken and onions from pan. First cook the broccoli, adding a small amount of water as needed, and cook for several minutes. Then add carrots, celery and bell pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes longer-until tender, then and add the snow peas, cooked chicken and onion to the pan. Add the sauce and sauté until mixture thickens. Pour stir fry over noodles and top with mint. Served about 4.

Recipe by Karen Grimes

Put a Spring in Your (Wine) Step

Spring is here and it’s time to put away the big and hearty red wines of winter and turn to the lighter side of wine. That doesn’t have to mean white wine. There are many great red wines that are perfect companions to the best spring meals. This week we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite springtime sips to help put a spring in your step!

Domaine Carneros Brut Rose – this Napa Valley sparkler has loads of bright strawberry flavors. A blend of 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay, this fruity wine is a perfect way to start an evening on the porch or kickoff a springtime dinner with friends. $36

Trefethen Riesling – Riesling is hard to come by in the Napa Valley with just about 130 acres planted in the entire valley (compare that to over 18,000 acres of Cabernet!). The fruit for this dry Riesling comes from their Oak Knoll Vineyard. It’s a surprisingly fragrant wine with bright fruit and good minerality typical in a dry Riesling. This wine would make a perfect accompaniment for Asian stir fry or Sushi. $22

Gundlach Bundschu Gewurztraminer
– I think this one has made our list for favorite springtime wines in the past. We’re including it again because Gewurtz is always fun this time of year and there are not that many local Gewurztraminers. Another rarely found varietal in Napa and Sonoma. Gun Bun makes a fun Gewurtz with just enough spice and lots of great flavors of pear and lychee. $25

La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – La Crema wines are always good value for the money and this tasty Sonoma Pinot Noir definitely does not disappoint. Loads of bright cherry aromas and flavors make it a perfect springtime wine. $24

Written by Linzi

Sprintime Edible Gardening

Now is the time to get outside, enjoy the fresh spring air, and get your edible organic garden off to a good start. Here are a few tips on what to plant now, how to control those pesky snails and insects, and how you can help the bee population.

What to Plant in April

As the weather warms up you can start planting your favorite colorful annuals, such as impatiens, as well as start your edible vegetable garden (if you haven’t already). A few easy-growing choices for the west are beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melon, lettuce, pumpkins, radishes, squash, tomatoes and peppers. Spring is also a great time to plant your favorite perennials. African daisy’s, clematis, foxgloves and lavender are all low-maintenance choices that will produce beautiful blooms year after year. Don’t forget your favorite kitchen herbs! My no-fail favorites are basil, chives, cilantro, dill and oregano and parsley. Must-have perennial herbs that I enjoy all year in my kitchen garden are sage, rosemary, lavender and thyme.

Keeping your Garden Organic and Snail-Free

One way you can rid your garden of snails is to place a shallow bowl of beer or fruit juice in between your plants. The snails will be attracted to it and will drown in the bowls. Cedar bark, gravel or sawdust placed around plants are an irritant to snails and will help keep them away. If you see a snail traveling through your garden, a little sprinkle of salt on the snail will rid you of individual snails.

Keep the “Bad Bugs” Out

Pesticides can be harmful to animals and small children, so instead of reaching for the spray, look for alternatives to help combat the bugs. And remember that not all bugs are bad. Ladybugs and spiders feed on the insects that destroy your plants. You can actually buy ladybugs and set them free in your garden, or buy plants that attract these helpful bugs (check with your local nursery). Invest in plants that repel these bad bugs such as Marigolds and the borage herb plant.

Help the Bee Crisis

Many of you have heard that honey bees are dying at an alarming rate. Over the last couple of years, more than 25 percent of the honey bee population has disappeared. Since the bees are responsible for more than 100 different crops, and according to ABC News, this could make it more difficult to get many of our favorite foods like nuts, fruits and berries. Although the exact cause of this disappearance is not known, there is something you can do to help. You can get your own garden growing, and include bee-friendly plants. Some of the favorites of the bees in my garden are lavender and fruit trees. As the soil warms up, spring is a great time to plant citrus trees, which the bees can use as much as you can!

Written By Karen

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Orzo Pasta and Blue Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast

Chicken is one of the healthiest and most versatile meats, making it a wonderful springtime dinner option. This delicious dish combines complimenting flavors of aged blue cheese and orzo pasta contrasting nicely with the freshness of bell peppers and onions. Enjoy it with a side of fresh or sautéed spring vegetables and a good chardonnay.

4 skinless chicken breasts
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
½ white or yellow onion, finely chopped
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
2 cups cooked orzo pasta (long-grain rice may be used instead)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ tbsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper

Cook pasta or rice according to directions. Combine pasta, bell pepper, onion, blue cheese and seasonings together in a bowl. Slice chicken breasts in half and stuff with a small handful of mixture until breast is full. Sprinkle each breast with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place chicken breasts in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes (or until there is no pink in center). Serves about 4.

Recommended Wine Pairing: Russian River Chardonnay – try La Crema’s 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30)

By Karen Grimes

Napa's Stags Leap District

The Stags Leap Wine District stretches for three stunning miles along Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail and is home to some of the valley’s finest wines. The region gets its name from the legendary tale of a stag that eluded hunters by leaping to freedom across the distinct peaks of the Stags Leap Palisades. Cabernet Sauvignon is the star of this region and the cabs that come from Stags Leap vintners are often described as soft and lush yet intense, making them wonderful wines to pair with food or to enjoy on their own.

Stags Leap is one of my favorite stretches of the Silverado Trail due to the beautiful and rugged geography of the area as well as the amazing wines that come from the rich and unique soils. At just two square miles in size, Stags Leap packs a long list of Napa Valley’s preeminent wineries into its small district. These wineries include Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards, Quixote Winery, Stags’ Leap Winery, Chimney Rock Winery and many others.

Cabernet is king in this region and helped put Napa Valley on the map during the infamous 1976 Paris Tasting when a Cabernet Sauvignon from the area beat out its French rivals for first place. You can also find some amazing Petite Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc here. The distinctive soils, including both river sediment and volcanic erosions, made Stags Leap the first Napa Valley AVA to be called out and defined.

A trip to Napa Valley would not be complete without visiting this unique region. Here are a few of our favorite wineries to visit.

Stags’ Leap Winery – One of the earliest wineries in the region, the Stags Leap Manor was originally a prominent retreat in the Napa Valley. The winery is tucked into a small “valley within a valley” and once you drive up the long tree-lined drive, you know you’ve arrived at a magical place. Open to the public by appointment only and space for tours is extremely limited, so plan early. Stags’ Leap Winery is known for their Petite Syrah and their distinct Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite is the Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon called The Leap. You really can’t go wrong with any of their wines.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – Not to be confused with Stags’ Leap Winery (notice the different placement of the apostrophe), Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars made its name during the famous 1976 Paris Tasting. At this tasting, Warren Winiarski’s 1973 Stag’s Leap S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon beat out its French counterparts for first place, including some of France’s first growths. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is definitely known for its cab but they also make a great Sauvignon Blanc.

Quixote Winery – it’s worth visiting Quixote winery even if you go only to see the magnificent architecture of Friedensreich Hundertwasse. The winery is the only building created by this famous Viennese architect in the United States and the use of curvy lines, color and unique textures makes for a magnificent sight. Almost as if an added bonus, the wines are sourced from the family’s 27-acre organic Stags Leap vineyard and they focus on a Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their 2005 Quixote Petite Syrah is a stunning wine.

Written by Linzi

Eating Locally

With the recent addition of a vegetable garden to the White House grounds, local dishes popping up at many of our favorite restaurants and Farmer’s Markets opening up all across the United States, there is a lot of talk these days about eating locally. Yet for all the recent buzz, the movement is anything but new. The idea of eating locally was championed years ago by chef and author, Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Now those simple ideas have created a buzz around the country and created a new focus on what we eat.

There are many reasons to eat locally. Eating locally is good for the local economy. Some studies report that a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. Eating locally also keeps us in touch with our local community, keeps us better in tune with the seasons, is healthier for us and just plain tastes better. Have you ever compared a tomato that has travelled hundreds of miles by truck compared to a ripe tomato just plucked from your garden or purchased at your local farmer’s market? There really is no comparison.

One of the questions that frequently pops up about eating locally is how you define your local area. Does eating locally mean you buy food that is grown in a 25-mile radius from your home? What about a 100-mile radius? Does that still qualify? Or maybe it just means you buy your produce and other edible goods from Farmer’s Markets when you can and making a conscious effort to eat what is in season. There really are many definitions about what eating locally means and we don’t think there is any one right way to define it. You can answer the question for yourself by determining what makes sense for you and how you can best help support your local community and your local economy.

There are some great tools available to learn more about how to eat locally and sustainably. To find a Farmer’s Market in your area, visit Culinate.com or LocalHarvest.org. Local Harvest will also help you find farmer’s that will deliver boxes of produce to your home, office or another centralized location. This is a great way to ensure fresh produce throughout the year. Of course, you’ll have to figure out what to do with those bunches of Fava Beans that inevitably show up in the spring and summer months.

One of the best books I have read about local eating and definitely an inspiration to me is Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In this book she chronicles a year of eating from local farm’s and her family’s own backyard. It definitely makes you realize the challenges that we face when it comes to an exclusively local diet but it is also extremely motivating and offers many great recipes, tips and suggestions for eating locally.

However you define local eating, it is an adventure full of many wonderful surprises. Not the least of which is great tasting food that you can feel good about eating.

Written by Linzi