Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pear Salad on Endive

This is always a favorite appetizer, and a great one to serve at your next outdoor dinner party. It has a light, delicious flavor with creamy Cabozola combined with a sweet and refreshing pear salad, all placed neatly on top of an endive “boat”. This appetizer pairs perfectly with a glass of bubbly.

½lb. wedge Cambozola cheese

1 large pear, finely diced

4 Belgium endive

1 tsp. honey

4 tsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. champagne vinegar

1 shallot, finely diced

1 tbsp. chives, finely chopped

Cut the ends off the endives, leaving the individual endive leaves. Mix the diced pear, diced shallot, chives, olive oil, vinegar and honey together in a small bowl and set aside. Place the Cambozola cheese into a small Ziploc bag and pipe a small amount onto each endive. Then place about 1 tsp. of pear mixture on top of cheese. Finish with a half of walnut or pecan. Serves about 6 (serving 3 per person).

Recipe by Chef Emily Buller

Unfined & Unfiltered

These days you see a lot more of the terms unfined and unfiltered on wine labels. These terms have become more widely used in the wine industry as some experts argue that wines that have been fined or filtered lose a certain amount of their character and complexity. Yet fining and filtering have long been used to make wine, removing bacteria, yeast and sediment from the wine before its bottled and many truly great wines are made using fining and filtering practices. So why the new trend toward unfined and unfiltered? Does it really make a better wine, leaving more flavor, aroma and character?

If you are not familiar with unfined or unfiltered wines, you may be a bit surprised when you pour a glass of one of these wines, especially a chardonnay. The wine in your glass will look a little cloudy. Don’t fear, there is nothing wrong with your wine. The hazy appearance comes from the yeast and sediment that remain in the bottle.

Some of my favorite unfined and unfiltered wines come from Newton Vineyards in Napa Valley. Newton winemakers have a long history of making wines without using fining or filtering. The result is beautifully elegant wines with a rich mouthfeel. I especially like the Newton Chardonnay. Would I like this wine any less if it was fined and filtered? That’s hard to say since the winemakers have selected to make their wines without these processes and the wines are an expression of the winemaker’s style.

I think unfiltering and unfining are additional ways that winemakers can differentiate their style from the thousands of wines available today. Great wines are made both ways and it’s fun to try them all.

Written by Linzi

Breakfast Spots to Get out of Bed For

Breakfast is one of my favorite meals. It’s always a spur of the moment decision whether to eat out for breakfast so there’s no pressure and it’s hard to find a truly terrible breakfast spot. Most places can at least serve up a good fried egg. But I do have three criteria for a really excellent breakfast spot – a warm cuppa joe, a nice sunny patio and delectable pastries. There are a few spots in Napa and Sonoma that meet these simple criteria. Here are a few to get you out of bed in the morning.

Boon Fly Café, Carneros

Although Boon Fly doesn’t serve up any patio seating, it does make an excellent cuppa joe with a fresh pot always waiting at the door for the long wait you are sure to encounter on a weekend morning. And as for pastries, they have Napa’s best donut holes. You can get a Baker’s Dozen or just get four with your coffee (I’d opt for the Baker’s Dozen!). They also make a great Eggs Benedict and unique breakfast pizzas. Worth the wait.

Sunflower Café, Sonoma

Sunflower Café has one of the best patios making it a great spot to spend a sunny morning. Located right off the Plaza in Sonoma, they have a great menu full of omelets, breakfast sandwiches and yes, yummy pastries. Although maybe a bit rich for breakfast, you have to try their homemade bread pudding served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

ABC Bakery, Napa

ABC stands for Alexis Baking Company and the bakery items at this spot definitely are worth the visit. I’m also a big fan of the breakfast sandwich complete with eggs, chilies, jack cheese and salsa on a cornmeal bun. There are a few outside tables and the coffee’s always great and plentiful.

Pacific Blues Café, Yountville

Another great patio option is Pacific Blues Café in Yountville. Although the service is always a bit slow, the food is good and there is no better patio for breakfast north of Napa. Their Flatcar Flapjacks are big and fluffy and one of my favorites.

Gillwoods Café, St. Helena

This is a local’s favorite—especially on the weekends where you should expect a short wait for a table. Once inside, the atmosphere is quaint and casual, and the food is good old American. While you can’t expect anything too cutting edge, you can expect large portions of traditional home-cooked breakfasts, served fast and fresh. And you can pick up a copy of the morning newspaper waiting for you right inside the door. Gillwoods also has a location in downtown Napa.

Written by Linzi

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Simple Sushi Rolls

Sushi rolls make wonderful summer party food that are great for sharing on a warm summer evening. Many people are intimidated by Japanese food like sushi rolls, when in reality it can be fun and quite easy to make. You can make vegetable rolls, or any fish or combination rolls that you like. This is a great dinner to include your friend in making. Just prepare the rice ahead of time, and have each person roll his or her own.

¼ cup rice vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup sushi rice (see recipe below)
1 large cucumber, unpeeled
1 large carrot, peeled
1 large avocado
3 sheets seaweed
4 oz. fresh salmon or tuna, skinned
Wasabi paste or powder
A sushi rolling mat
Pickled ginger and soy on the side

To make rice:
1 ¼ cup short-grained rice
3 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt

Wash rice in a large bowl until the water is clear. Drain and let stand in strainer for one hour. Place rice in large saucepan and add 2 cups of water. Bring to boil, covered and cook for about 10 minutes, or until all the water is gone. Remove from heat with the lid still on and leave covered for an additional 10-15 minutes. In another bowl, mix rice vinegar, sugar and salt until dissolved. Transfer cooked rice to a large shallow dish and sprinkle with vinegar dressing. Using a wooden spoon, fold the vinegar dressing into the rice, but do not stir. Let the rice cool to room temperature before making sushi.

To make sushi:
Using prepared vinegar rice, mix the water and rice vinegar together. Slice cucumbers into ½ inch thick, and 3 inch length strips. Using a carrot peeler, slice a small handful of carrot peels. Slice avocado into ½ inch strips. Set vegetables aside. Cut tuna or salmon into ¼ inch sticks. On a sushi rolling mat, place a sheet of Nori seaweed, then place a small handful of rice on top, making a log shape in the center of the seaweed. Dip hands into vinegar bowl before touching rice. Spread the rice evenly over the seaweed, leaving a ¼ inch margin on one side. Dot a pea-sized amount of wasabi paste down the center of the rice. Next, arrange 1 strip of cucumber with a few strips of carrot slices and avocado down the center of the rice, or use sliced fish. Roll the mat over to the center, then press slightly and roll so that the two ends of the seaweed stick together. Place rolled sushi on a cutting board and cut into 6 pieces. Repeat using tuna or other variations in the center. Garnish with wasabi and pickled ginger. Makes about 6 rolls-36 pieces of sushi.

Recipe by Chef Emily Buller

Bring on the Whites

Spring brings with its arrival a bounty of newness. From the crisp, fresh smell of a spring morning to the weekend crowds gathering at the local farmer’s market to pick out the freshest produce, there is a certain brightness in the air. It also signals the release of a whole new slew of white wines. This spring brings with it the 2008 vintage and although it was a very difficult vintage for many growers in Northern California owing to late frosts, wildfires and other pesky factors, there are some amazing white wines coming from the 2008 vintage.

April frost kicked off what would result in a dramatic 2008 growing season in Northern California. Some growers lost entire crops to the frost. If that weren’t enough, the wildfires that raged through California in June and July took their toll on the grapes. Then a heat wave in late August left many rushing to pick their grapes as everything ripened at once. Despite these challenges, many are finding that the 2008 vintage is serving up some great wines and although we will have to wait a bit for the reds, some of the white wines are just now making an appearance.

One of the first 2008 white wines that I tasted this year was the 2008 Crocker & Starr Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Retailing for about $28 and with limited availability, this Sauvignon Blanc rarely disappoints. The style is a bit fleshy and floral with good crisp acidity and it has all the flavors we love – peach, melon, pear and nectarine. A great start to tasting our way through the 2008 vintage!

After spoiling ourselves with the Crocker & Starr, we decided to seek out some more widely available whites from the 2008 vintage and found ourselves trying the 2008 Cline Pinot Grigio. The fruit for this wine comes primarily from the Sonoma Coast and Carneros. This is a very approachable and refreshing white and a great buy at $12.

Another great Pinot Gris, this time from the Napa side of Carneros, is the 2008 Etude Pinot Gris. Although the winery is located on the Napa side of Carneros, the grapes for this wine come from Etude’s estate vineyard in Sonoma Carneros and from a vineyard in Napa Carneros. The result is a bright, crisp wine with hints of citrus and peach flavors and good stone minerality. This is another one that is a bit hard to come by and a splurge at $24.

This is just a small sampling of what’s to come with the 2008 vintage. It seems that the vintage is off to a strong start and we’re looking forward to more to come. As we all taste our way through these wines, we’d love to hear your favorites from the 2008 vintage in Northern California.

Written by Linzi

The World's Oldest Game

Since throwing balls towards a target is the oldest of human games, it was little surprise to me to discover the intense appeal of Bocce Ball throughout the wine country. It is the world’s oldest and one of the most widely played games, and along with the game comes people of all ages who come together to eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company.

Every Thursday, Linzi and I join our bocce team in hopes that this might be the week that one ball might land us a victory. Since we have yet only won a single game, we won’t let our hopes get to high. And still every week there is something that our whole scoring-challenged team looks forward to. A night to throw aside our stress, share a picnic dinner with friends, and meet new people from around town.

Originating around 5000 B.C., the Egyptians played a form of Bocce Ball using polished stones, trying to get as close as possible to a target. Greece caught on to the game around 800 B.C., and the Romans learned the game from the Greece, quickly introducing it to the entire empire. In fact, the game’s name bocce is actually derived from the Latin word bottia, meaning boss.

Famous Bocce Ball players include Galileo and Da Vinci, Augustus, Queen Elizabeth, and Sir Francis Drake, to name just a few.

The Romans played the game similar to how we know it today, using bocce balls carved out of hard olive wood. As its popularity grew throughout Europe, it became the sport of the both the peasants and the nobility alike. At the turn of the century, Italian Immigrants brought bocce ball to the United States.

Bocce is traditionally played on an oyster shell court, but has also been played on decomposed granite, marble, soil, and asphalt courts that are approximately 60 feet by 8 feet.

The pallino is the small target ball that is tossed from one end and must land at least 5 feet beyond the center of the court. Each player throws his ball as close as possible to the target, with players from each team on either side throwing four shots each.

Once the first bowl has taken place, the other side has the opportunity to bowl. From then on, the side which does not have the ball closest to the pallino has a chance to bowl, up until one side or the other has used their four balls. At that point, the other side bowls its remaining bocce balls. The team with the closest bocce ball to the pallino is the only team that can score points in any frame.

The scoring team receives one point for each of their balls that is closer to the pallino than the closest ball of the other team. If a ball hits the end of the court, then it is disqualified. The winner of a game is the first to score 9-15 points in pairs, or 9-18 points in team competition.

For more information and complete rules, visit Visit your chamber of commerce to see bocce events and schedules in your area.

Written by Karen