Thursday, November 7, 2013

Easy Way to Prep Squash for Roasted Butternut Squash

These are very large squash, I recommend buying small ones
I made roasted butternut squash for the first time the other day. I did a few new things that made the process of prepping it go a lot easier:

#1 I bought very small squash at the grocery store. Since they were small, they were much easier to cut up, especially that critical first cut that goes from top to bottom of the squash.

#2 I used a serrated vegetable peeler to peel the outside. The serrated edge really grabs the peel and moves easily down the curved side of the squash (serrated edge peelers are great for peaches and tomatoes too, so consider adding this to your kitchen tool arsenal).

Once I had my squash cut and peeled, I tossed it with olive oil, kosher salt, long pepper and Penzey’s garlic powder. Then I put it onto a baking sheet that was lined with foil and sprayed with olive oil spray. I baked it at 400 for about 30 minutes.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Life has gotten in the way, but I am committed to good food and wine even with a hectic life. I have a lot of ideas for holiday posts and am working on some tips for eating and drinking well even when life is hectic, so watch for those periodically.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Three Tips for Finding Value in the Wine Aisle

#1 Be flexible about how much you spend on a bottle of wine. I had a friend tell me recently that she does not spend over $17 on a bottle of wine. I explained to her that some varietals work well at a lower price point, some do not.  You will probably use your wine budget more efficiently (and drink better wine) if you don’t have a rigid idea of how much per bottle you will spend, but instead take a longer view and say you will spend X on wine over a period of time. This way, you can allow for lower and higher priced bottles into the mix. A great example is pinot noir. It’s a tricky grape and most good ones are not cheap.  If I had $40 and I wanted to get two bottles of wine, I’d spend $30 on the pinot noir and $10 on a bottle of sauvignon blanc. This takes some practice and “research” (darn!) so experiment a bit.

#2 Be open to different varietals
Another way to get value out of wine is to look for off-beat varietals. Two to look for – Torrentes and Barbera. Torrentes is a white wine from Argentina that is cool, crisp and refreshing.  Zolo makes one that is typically less than $10 per bottle. Barbera is a red wine from Italy - check out my post on why Barbera is a great pizza wine. Ask for some recommendations the next time you are in a wine store and be open to varietals that are new to you.

#3 Take good care of your wine investment by doing these two things:
Store your wine correctly – Make sure your wine is at its best by storing it in a place that’s not too hot and not cold. Check out my post with more info on creative (and cheap!) wine storage ideas.

Serve wine at the right temperature – You can dramatically improve even a cheap bottle of wine by serving it at the correct temperature. It makes a difference and it’s worth the effort. Check out my post with more info on how to get your wine to the right temperature. Hint – all you need is a fridge and your kitchen counter.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wine and Food Pairing: A Visit to the Bubble Room at J Winery

Wine and food pairings are a great way to expand your wine (and food!) knowledge. One of my favorite places to do this is in the Bubble Room at J Vineyard and Winery in Healdsburg. J makes a variety of wines – sparkling, pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir and viognier. The Bubble Room is a separate room at the winery where they have seated wine and food tastings. The setting is beautiful and the staff is very informative and attentive.  I went with five friends and we spent a wonderful two hours (you can do the tasting more quickly, but this is not something that can be done in an hour) leisurely tasting our way through the wonderful J wines and food. Here is a recap  of what we had: 

On left: Chilled zucchini & sorrel soup with almond, creme fraiche and bee pollen. On right: Heirloom tomatoes, popped quinoa, a goat milk cheese/foam concoction and black garlic. Wine pairing was the 2012 J Vineyards, Cooper Vineyard Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley for the soup and 2011 J Vineyards STRATA, Chardonnay Russian River Valley with the tomatoes.

Spaetzle with prosciutto, swiss chard and mustard sauce. Wine pairing was the 2010 J Vineyards Nicole's Pinot Noir, Russian River
Pan roasted duck with Dry Creek peaches, chanterelle mushrooms and lavender biscotti. Wine pairing was 2010 J Vineyards Freestone, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley.

On left: Savory Point Reyes Blue cheesecake with thyme and walnut crumb and cherries. On right: Plum upside down cake with cardamom cream. Wine pairing were two sparking wines - J Cuvee 20 Magnum, NV, Russian River Valley with the cheesecake and J Brut, 2006, Russian River Valley with the cake

If you go, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Make a reservation.
Plan on being there for about an hour and a half, at least.
Consider appointing a designated driver or hiring a limo as the tasting offers quite a bit of wine and it’s all wonderful.

This is not a cheap experience but I think you get a lot of value for your money. Cheers!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gravenstein Apple Juice in the Vitamix

Gravenstein apples
It’s fairly common knowledge that Sonoma County is known for its grapes and wine. You may not know that the area is also known for its apples – Gravenstein apples in particular.  Gravenstein orchards were planted long before the grapes and sadly many have been ripped out to make room for grapes.  Yet, among other things, there is still a Gravenstein Highway and a Gravenstein Apple Fair which celebrates these early harvesting apples.

I got a few Gravenstein apples at the farmers market recently and decided to try to make apple juice in my Vitamix, using this recipe from the Vitamix site. I followed the directions and it turned out really well – the juice was thick and very apple-y.  It does not make very much, maybe about 8 – 10 ounces. I think it would be a good ingredient for some sort of apple cocktail or maybe mixed with some sparkling water. Or, you can do as I did and just drink it all by itself!
And here is the finished juice!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Peach and Lemon Verbena Spa Water

I’ve been making what I call spa water – water with fun, fresh add-ins – every week this summer.  I was on a lemon cucumber – lemon verbena – lemon water kick for a few weeks. This week I changed it up to fresh peach and lemon verbena.  I make up the mixture on the weekends and just add water to the pitcher throughout the week to refresh it.  It’s tasty, healthy and a really easy way to drink more water. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sonoma County Wow Dishes: Liberty Duck from Willi's Wine Bar

Willi’s Wine Bar is a wine bar and small plates restaurant in Santa Rosa.  The food is consistently great and the wine menu is interesting. They do a good job of having a rotation of seasonal items on the menu and maintaining old favorites that regulars would miss if they were not there.  

My favorite dish there, and the one I get every single time no matter what, is the Liberty duck. the Liberty ducks themselves are local from a place called Sonoma County Poultry.  The dish is sort of a duck stew where the duck has the consistency and feel of pulled pork.  It sits on a bed of white cheddar polenta and has plenty of sauce. It has a bit of sweetness to it and is the ultimate comfort food. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sonoma County Wow Dishes: Burger from Healdsburg Bar & Grill

Healdsburg Bar and Grill is just off the main square in Healdsburg (which was recently included in a list of the 10 best small towns in America).  It’s an unassuming place in a town filled with lots of nice restaurants.  The menu is not large, but it has a range of choices and is a great stop for a quick lunch while wine tasting. 

I almost always get the HBG burger. The bun is perfect – not too hard, not too spongy and it comes from Costeaux Bakery which is also in Healdsburg. The meat itself is juicy and tasty. You can add toppings such as Fiscalini White Cheddar, bacon, heirloom tomato, etc.   The pickles on the side are right combo of tart, sweet and spicy and local, they come from Sonoma Brinery.  Garlic aioli is the perfect condiment. Fries with chipotle seasoning are nice on the side.

Fries with Chipotle seasoning