Sunday, June 28, 2009

Auction Dinner Two - The Giving Back Continues

The annual auction dinner is here again! Four couples combined bidding forces to win the eight course small plate and wine paring dinner at our house. We helped to raise $1,300 to benefit our nephew’s school.

Planning for the dinner began a month ago, with mapping out the menu and selecting the wines. Since the auction had an Italian theme, I put a twist on the dinner by having Italian foods pared with California wines, with the exception of the Muscato d’Asti for dessert.

Everyone arrived around 6:30pm with their appetites ready. Since it was near 100 degrees outside, we stayed inside for appetizers and prosecco. Everyone enjoyed the lemon and thyme fava bean crostini along with the parmesan and pecan dip with endive leaves.

About 7:15 everyone adjourned to the dining room, to enjoy the eight course dinner. Each person had a copy of the menu and a tasting notes book for the wines. The tasting notes book, discusses the art of how to taste wine, a list of the wines on the menu with a space to add their personal tasting notes followed by tasting note highlights from established wine experts. These are special touches I created to have each guests leave with a keepsake from this special dinner.

Caprese Napoleon
Tiny Heirloom Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil, Aged Balsamic Vinegar, Pesto, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
(Imagery Estate – Sauvignon Blanc – 2008)

Herbed Fritters with Pesto Aioli
Fried Puffs of goodness with fresh herbs accented with Homemade Pesto Aioli
(Grgich Hills Estate – Chardonnay – Napa Valley – 2006)

Roasted Tomato Soup Shooter with Italian Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwich
Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup with Garlic and Harry’s Bar Famous Grilled Ham & Cheese
(Turnbull – Viognier – Napa Valley - 2004)

Handmade Ricotta Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Ragu
Fluffy Ricotta Dumplings, Assorted Wild Mushrooms, Creamy Herb Sauce
(Silver Oak – Twomey Merlot – 2005)

Pan Seared Halibut
Salsa Puttanesca, Sauteed Asparagus and Leeks
(Acacia Pinot Noir – Napa Valley – 2002)

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
Creamy Parmesan Polenta, Roasted Carrots
(Textbook - Cabernet Sauvignon – 2006)

Palate Cleanser
Blood Orange and Lemon Sorbet with Prosecco

Layers of ladyfingers, Mascarpone Cheese, Kaluaha, Espresso, Cream
(Tintero – Muscato d’Asti)

A small, handmade gift for all of the guests was handed out when they finished dessert. It is to be enjoyed “tomorrow” and it was my famous Surprise English Toffee. Found a great little favor box, cute stickers and placed into a small plastic cookie bag with silver tie. It is just a unique touch to end your event, that your guests do not expect and will remember the dinner event.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ghost Block - 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

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We enjoyed this wine with a friend of ours whose significant other owns a winery in the Napa Valley. All of us were blown away how fantastic this wine was. After several minutes of being poured, the wine opened up wonderfully.

Ghost Block vineyard is named in honor of Napa's ground breaking winemakers who rest in a tiny 150 year old cemetery on the north edge of Yountville. Blessed with perfect drainage and sunny exposure, Ghost Block Vineyard is a grand prize, passed down through a single family for over 100 years.
The fruit from this winery and their neighbors have been center of many of Napa’s cult status wines.Ghost Block is a winery that specializes in Cabernets from Yountville and Oakville, all of the vineyards are family owned and organically certified. Production is limited, with a large focus on using the best fruit to produce the wine.

Rob Lawson is the winemaker and mentions that 2006 growing season was extended and quite cool. The wine making team was extremely patient and let the fruit develop. The 2006 vintage has vivid and graceful notes of cherry, blackberry, tobacco, spice and roses. Once on the palate, the deep fruit explodes along with dark chocolate and hints of coffee. The finish is completed with toffee and orange. Aged 24 months in French oak, of which 60% are new barrels.

Costs: $55.00

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

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Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

8 oz. Baby spinach
2 Large eggs, hard boiled and grated
12 pieces of center cut bacon
8 White mushrooms, sliced
1/3 C. crumbled blue cheese
1/3 C. Toasted or candied pecans
¼ C. Red onion, thinly sliced

6 T. Bacon drippings
5 T. Red wine vinegar
1 T. Sugar
2 t. Dijon mustard
¼ t. Salt
6 to 8 Grinds freshly ground pepper
4 T. Red onion, finely minced

In a large bowl, place the spinach and sliced mushrooms.

In a small sauce pan, fill 2/3rd full of water and add 1 t. of vinegar. Place the two eggs in the water. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat. Let sit for 15 minutes and then remove and place into an ice bath to cool. Peel and use a box grater to grate the eggs. Cool in refrigerator if needed.

Fry the bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Let cool and break into small pieces. Reserve 6 tablespoons of the bacon drippings for the dressing and discard any extra drippings. Use the same pan you cooked the bacon in to make the dressing. Add the red wine vinegar, diced red onion, Dijon mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until combined. Turn off burner and let cool slightly.

Add the blue cheese, crumbled bacon and grated egg to the spinach and mushrooms. Add the warm dressing and toss well. Divide among four plates. Top with the sliced onions and pecans. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thai Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

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Thai Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

18 Rice Paper wrappers
4 Cups fresh spinach, thinly sliced
2 Cups bean sprouts
1 Medium Red bell pepper (sliced thinly and cut in half)
1 Cup shredded carrots
1/3 Cup thinly sliced mint
1/3 Cup thinly sliced cilantro
1 jar of store bought peanut sauce for dipping

Prepare all the above ingredients prior to assembling the spring rolls. Place each ingredient in separate bowls for ease of assembly. Have a large bowl of fairly hot water (not hot enough to burn you) and a large plastic cutting board to prep the rolls on.

Dip the dry rice paper sheets one at a time in the hot water and flip once. You will want to soak just until it begins to wilt. Work on one roll at a time. Lay the wet rice paper onto the cutting board. Add about a ¼ cup of spinach to the center, and then on top add, 6 to 8 bean sprouts, 2 -3 red bell pepper slices, a pinch of carrots, then top with a pinch of the mint and cilantro.

To assemble, fold the top of the circle to the middle (the twelve o’clock position, then the left side to the middle, then the right side. With your thumbs and forefingers, slightly push the filling to the back and roll tightly until the roll is secure.

Cut each one diagonally in half and arrange onto a platter with a decorative bowl in the middle to place the peanut sauce into. You may need to water down the peanut sauce with a little hot water if too thick out of the jar.

Keep refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap until you are ready to serve.
Tips: The rice papers can be found at Asian food markets or specialty food stores. They are typically inexpensive and great to pick up several packages. I have found that Jade brand peanut sauce is one of the best around but several others are good and usually available at Safeway and Trader Joe's.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sweet Italian Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

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Sweet Italian Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

48 White mushrooms (about 1 ½ diameter)
½ C. Mushroom stems
1 Lb. Sweet Italian Sausage Links (remove casing prior to cooking)
½ C. Flat leaf parsley (packed)
1 t. dried oregano
1 Garlic clove
1 Slice soft white bread with crust
½ C. Parmesan cheese
4 to 6 T. Heavy cream
2 T. Scallions, finely minced
Pepper, freshly ground

Preheat oven to 375.

Wipe mushrooms with a paper towel to clean. Remove stems.

Remove the sausages from the casings and crumble into a large skillet and cook over medium heat. Break up the meat as much as possible. Transfer to a paper towel lined large plate to drain.

Add the meat, parsley, oregano, scallions, garlic, mushroom stems and bread. Pulse until finely chopped. Add pepper and cheese. Pulse quickly. Add 4 tablespoons of the heavy cream and pulse. Add additional until the mixture is combined together.

Use a large baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Place about 1 to 2 teaspoons full of the mixture into each mushroom until it is slightly mounded. Place onto the baking sheet. Bake until the stuffing begins to brown on top, 20 to 25 minutes.

*Adapted from a Tori Ritchie recipe

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

A few years ago I purchased a “Beer Can Chicken Rack” and just had to try it. Okay – I did and you know what – It was divine! The BBQ flavor, steam from the beer and the seasonings make a phenomenal combination and a super moist chicken. I put this in the same category as the “deep fried turkey” – you simply must try. I think I found the rack at Target, but go online to find one.

Beer Can Chicken


3 ½ to 4 lb. Chicken
Favorite rub seasoning
Potato for the neck cavity
½ can beer, any brand (12 oz can)

Cook using indirect heat on a grill. I used a gas grill. The cooking time is between 1 ¼ to 2 hours. Must be covered, so have a grill with a large enough lid to cook the chicken standing.

Prepare and clean a whole chicken, removing the giblets from the cavity. Rinse chicken inside and out. Drain and blot dry with paper towels. Apply generously the rub all over the chicken to the inner and outer portions of the chicken.

Pour out (or drink) half the beer and place the beer can in the middle of the rack and then place the chicken on top of the beer can so it is standing. Stuff a small potato in the neck cavity to seal in the vapors.

Heat the grill on high on just one side, since you will cook the chicken on indirect heat with the lid closed. Cook chicken 1 ¼ to 2 hours or until skin is dark golden brown and crispy. Using a meat thermometer, temperature should reach 180 degrees in the thigh.

Transfer upright to a platter and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove carefully from the beer can. Carve and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Molten Chocolate Madeleine's

Molten Chocolate Madeleine's

4 oz. Butter plus 3 T. Butter
5 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate (70% Cocoa)
3 Egg yolks
3 Eggs
1 ½ C. Powdered sugar
½ C. Flour
½ t. Espresso powder
½ t. Vanilla

To melt the chocolate, place a glass bowl over a pan filled 1/3rd full of water. Make sure the bowl just rests on top of the sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Place the butter and chocolate in the bowl. Let melt gently. Stir to bind mixture together. When completely melted, remove from the stove and cool a bit.

In a large bowl, add the eggs and yolks and whisk together until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and stir well to combine. Add the espresso powder and vanilla. Now add the chocolate mixture and whisk together. Last, add the flour and stir. Mixture should be creamy and silky. Mixture can be made a few hours ahead of time and refrigerated.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees when ready to serve, since you will want to serve immediately.

Using a Madeleine pan, lightly grease each cookie mold. Spoon the mixture into each and fill to the top. Bake for 4 to 4.5 minutes to achieve the “molten” center. Let cool for about 30 seconds to set before removing with a sharp knife from the pan.

Fun to serve with a milkshake in a shot glass and two Madeleine cookies as dessert.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Arugula and English Pea Pesto Salad

Arugula and English Pea Pesto Salad


2 Cups shelled English Peas (Or frozen petite peas)
4 Cups loosely packed arugula leaves
½ C. Prepared Pesto or homemade
½ C. Shaved Parmesan Cheese
¼ C. Minced green onions
1/3 C. Toasted Pine nuts
Salt and Pepper

Shell the English Peas and steam in the microwave with about a ¼ cup of water in the bowl for about 3 minutes. Take out of the microwave and place cold water and some ice cubes in the bowl to stop the cooking and chill the peas. Drain well prior to dressing the salad.

To assemble: In a large bowl, place the peas, onions and pesto and toss well. Add the arugula just before you are ready to serve and toss. Add the parmesan cheese and pine nuts and toss well. Salt and pepper to taste.

Adapted from Ina Garten - The Barefoot Contessa

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chicken Street Tacos

Street Tacos

You might ask: Why are they called street tacos? If you walk down most streets in Mexico, you will smell BBQ steak or chicken. The street vendors are very proud to pass along their family recipes for the street tacos and each one will add that little something different. They are a small, hand held taco that is easy to eat but has tremendous flavor.

1.3 lbs. Chicken Breast (cut each one in half lengthwise)
Package of corn tortillas (5” La Tortilla)
1 medium white onion, small dice
1 Cup cilantro leaves loosely packed, then finely minced

2 Ripe avocados
½ t. Garlic powder
¼ t. Salt (add more after tasting)
4 to 6 grinds freshly ground pepper
1 t. Lime or lemon juice

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the large seed. Scrape out the avocado from the shell and add to a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until creamy.

Spicy Rub
2 T. Chili powder
2 t. Garlic powder
¼ t. Ground red pepper
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. Salt

In a small bowl add all of the above ingredients and stir.


Prepare the chicken by cutting the breasts in half lengthwise and trimming any fat. Sprinkle the spicy rub on both sides of each piece of chicken. Over a medium to high grill, place the chicken breasts down and cook well. The chicken should cook for about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove and let cool. Cut into small pieces.

Mix the diced onion and cilantro together in a bowl.

Heat the tortillas over medium heat in a large skillet or stovetop griddle.

When ready to prepare, lay the tortilla flat, add chicken, onion/cilantro mixture and then top with the guacamole. You can add your favorite hot sauce. Enjoy!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sirloin Sliders

Sirloin Sliders

The recent surge in popularity for mini burgers gave me the inspiration for creating my own. Went to the grocery store and found these soft dinner rolls and thought they would be terrific for the “Mini Sirloin Burger”. These are pretty classic, but there are hundreds of variations you could make.

"The burger"
1.3 Lbs. Lean ground sirloin
Hamburger seasoning from Williams & Sonoma (or your favorite seasoning)
3 Deli slices of Jarlsburg Cheese

Form approximately 12 small hamburgers – 2 inches each in diameter
Sprinkle the Williams & Sonoma Hamburger seasoning on top of each one.
Heat the grill to high and add the burgers right before you are ready to eat, since they cook fast. Turn down to medium and cook for a few minutes on each side, depending on your degree of doneness desired. Add the cheese after you flip them.

Slider BunsPackage of soft dinner rolls
4 T. Melted butter

Cut each dinner roll in half with a sharp serrated knife. Brush the melted butter on each side of the rolls. Using a stovetop griddle, over medium heat, grill each one. They should be golden brown and toasty.

Caramelized onions
3 T. butter
1 large onion
1 t. sugar
½ t. pepper
½ t. salt

Peel and cut in half lengthwise the onion. Then proceed to thinly slice each half of the onion. Melt the butter gently in a large saucepan and add the onions. Toss to completely coat the onions with the melted butter. Add the sugar, salt and pepper. Cook the onions over medium heat until caramelized. (Lightly brown)

To assemble:
Add the cheeseburger to the bottom bun, top with caramelized onions, your favorite condiments and the top portion of the bun. Serve with fries and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spring Pea Soup with Lemon Creme Fraiche

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Spring Pea Soup with Lemon Crème Fraiche

English Peas are found in the springtime at your local farmer’s market. When purchasing, you will want to buy a large quantity if making this soup. It will take some time to peel the pod and remove the peas, but completely worth it. Eat a couple along the way - they are so sweet! The bright, fresh green color and sweetness make this soup appetizing both visually and flavor wise.

4 C. English Peas (substitution - frozen petite peas if you can’t find English Peas)
2 Shallots, peeled and finely minced
4 T. Butter
8 C. Chicken Stock
1 C. Russet potato, peeled, small dice
Salt and pepper

4 T. Crème Fraiche
2 t. Lemon zest (use a microplane)

In a large stock pot, melt the butter. Add the minced shallots. Let the shallots cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat until soft. In a large microwave safe bowl, add the peas and about ¼ cup water. Steam for about 3 to 4 minutes until the peas are soft. In a food processor, add the peas with the water and puree until smooth. This step will help with keeping the soup that vivid green color.

To the shallots, add the chicken stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let the potatoes begin to fall apart. Add salt and pepper to taste. Last step, add the pea puree and cook for about five minutes over medium heat. Be careful not to overcook or you will not retain the bright green color. Use a hand blender and mix the ingredients together until smooth.

To make the lemon crème fraiche, add the 4 tablespoons to a small bowl. Add the lemon zest and stir.

Use large bowls and add the soup to each one. Top with the crème fraiche and let set for one minute. Use a knife to make a decorative design by gently swirling.

Serves about 4
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