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

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!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spring Pea Soup with Lemon Creme Fraiche

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