Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Entertaining with Wine" Class

Monica teaches “Wine Appreciation 101” classes in the East Bay cities of Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Pleasant Hill. ( We have been friends since college and I frequently assist her with the classes approximately once a quarter by pouring wines, preparing the food and answering questions during the classes.

Monica began her wine career over 20 years ago by running the marketing department of her family’s winery, Stony Ridge in the Livermore Valley. She worked as a wine buyer for Cost Plus World Market for about five years and then took a leap into the dot com world by joining as a buyer and manager of the wine clubs. Currently she is a busy Mom who loves to share her knowledge of wine with folks and teaches classes in Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Lafayette. She writes a monthly wine column for the Lafayette Today and Alamo Today Newspapers and is a regular contributor to Walnut Creek Magazine.

She recently hosted a class (October 29th) “Entertaining with Wine” in Walnut Creek and she asked me to speak and share my entertaining tips with the class. We had an intimate class of eight students, which in turn gave everyone the opportunity to ask questions and interact. Monica chose six wines to evaluate and learn about the flavors and varietals. It is important to evaluate each of the wines by: sight, smell and taste. Tasting Note sheets are provided which enable each student to detail the brand name, varietal, vintage date, appellation, sight, smell, taste and overall impressions.

The wines selected for “Entertaining with Wine” were:
  • Zonin Prosecco – NV Italian Sparkling Wine
  • Santa Cristina Antinori – 2008 Pinot Gris, Sicilia
  • Kim Crawford – 2008 Marlborough – Sauvignon Blanc
  • Clos Du Bois – 2006 Pinot Noir, North Coast
  • Montes Classic Series – 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
  • Flore de Moscato – 2008 California Muscat Wine

The food selections for the class were done appetizers style and would be perfect for entertaining and to pair with the wine selections chosen for the class.
  • Prosciutto wrapped bread sticks
  • Lemon – herbed goat cheese, endive leaves with pear and walnut
  • Rosemary scented polenta cups with gorgonzola and pine nuts
  • Crostini with roast beef and chimichurri Sauce
  • Cracker topped with manchego cheese, quince paste and marcona almonds
  • Toasted pita chip with shrimp and mango salsa

Ten Authentic Suburban Gourmet’s Entertaining Tips:
  • Determine date, location, venue, number of guests and type of invitations (paper or Evite)
  • Holidays can get filled up fast with parties all falling on the same days – think about having an Open House, so that if multiple parties are planned, your guests will be able to attend since it is more of a flexible event.
  • Balance the appetizers between hot and cold along with mixing up the flavor profiles to make it interesting. Think about meats, cheeses, seafood, crunchy, spicy and vegetarian.
  • Clean your house two days before the event and touch up the guest bathroom the day of the event. Purchase paper guest towels and have your favorite candle burning. Put a new roll of toilet paper on the roll.
  • YOU! Take your shower and get ready at least two hours prior to the event starting. You will be relaxed and able to finish your preparations and welcome your guests.
  • “People eat with their eyes first” – Food should have “negative” or empty space around it. Use over sized platters and be careful not to overcrowd.
  • Place cards – If you are having more than 6 people for dinner, mix up the seating arrangements to encourage conversation.
  • Set your cheeses out 30 minutes prior to your guests arriving. The flavors will peak at room temperature.
  • Signature drink – Serve one signature drink at your event and then supplement with wine, beer, bottled water and sodas.
If you would like to learn more about wine, I would encourage you to sign up for a “Wine Appreciation 101” class with Monica. Please visit her blog to learn about the classes and read great articles about wine.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pie Crust Cookies

When I was a little girl, my Mom would make pies for us. As a treat, she would take the extra pie crust pieces that were not used and brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Once they cooled just a bit, we would dive right in. These are definitely a fond childhood memory.

Pie Crust Cookies

1 ½ C. Flour
¾ t. Salt
½ C. Shortening
4 T. Ice water
2 T. Melted butter
2 T. Sugar
1 t. Cinnamon

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt and shortening. With a pastry cutter, cut the shortening into tiny pieces and work until the mixture is in small course pieces. Add the water and with your hands form the dough into a ball. Be careful not to over knead, otherwise you will create tough dough.

Flour a large cutting board and roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thick. Use your favorite cookie cutters or cut into free form pieces. A two inch cookie cutter will make about 30 cookies.

Melt the butter in a small glass dish in the microwave for about 45 seconds or until melted. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

Using a large non-stick cookie sheet lay the cookies out on the sheet. Using a pastry brush, paint the melted butter onto each cookie, and then sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container, if there are leftovers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Zuni Cafe in San Francisco

Yesterday the Restaurant Club went to the iconic San Francisco dining destination - Zuni Café which is set on the corner of Market Street and Rose Alley. We met in Marin and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, which had a spectacular layer of fog that barely let the red tips of the bridge pop through. One of the many reasons I love living in the Bay Area!

Our reservations were set for 11:30am with a line of hungry patrons quickly formed around the corner prior to opening. Several folks were having an early lunch before heading to the Curran or the Opera House for a matinee show. We were seated at a great corner table by the hustling kitchen, with a terrific view of the bottom floor of the restaurant. Zuni opened in 1979 and in 1987 Judy Rodgers became the chef. Shortly a large brick oven was installed and she begun to put her mark on the menu. The signature dish by far is the Roast Chicken with Bread Salad – takes one hour to prepare, so order immediately. Dining at Zuni is must do for any foodie’s bucket list.

The staff at Zuni Cafe is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. When we were waiting outside, the large expansive windows were open and the staff was prepping for service with tasting the food and wine. Lynette and I began with a glass of Hanzell Vineyards 2006 Chardonnay. It had an elegant fragrance of chamomile, lemon and grapefruit pith, with darker tones of honey followed by hazelnut and even savory elements of thyme and walnuts. Based out of Sonoma, this was a new find for the wine cellar. At $70 per bottle, it would be for special occasions. Brenley started with a tall glass of ice tea. The dark, crusty bread and butter arrived shortly and we purposely did not eat breakfast and decided to go family style for our lunch.

We began our first course with two salads, the signature Zuni Cesar salad and Frisee salad with pomegranate seeds, medjool dates and walnuts. Typically, I do not order a Cesar Salad, but since it is a signature dish, we had it on our list – this salad certainly did not disappoint! The dressing was amazing and the croutons were supreme. The Frisee salad was interesting but needed more of the goodies on the salad.

Our second round was the Pizza with ricotta salata, tomato sauce, and oregano along with the Fettuccine with chanterelle mushrooms and pistachio picada. Both dishes had good flavor and warmed up our taste buds for the main event – Roast chicken with bread salad.

I must exclaim that Zuni's chicken and bread salad is the most divine roast chicken I have had in a super long time. Each element is wonderful on its own, but when eaten together, they combine into one interconnected work of art. The salty and crispy bite of skin, the moist and tender meat, the crispy country bread cubes, (oh those bread cubes) and the tang from the champagne vinaigrette and not to mention the crunchy pine nuts, currants, scallions, and bitter greens. We asked for the pepper grinder to be left on our table to season the chicken and it just put the final checkmark on an outstanding dish. Well worth the $48.00 price tag and the hour wait.

We had just enough room left to share a dessert. After reviewing the menu, we chose the “Piccolo Meringata” with crème fraiche, wild huckleberry sauce and candied tangerine. It resembled a napoleon and I had NEVER seen a meringue that thin before. It was a magical dessert that was such marvelous creation. Another successful Restaurant Club excursion and next time it is my turn to select our destination. So far, I am inclined to choose “Dry Creek Kitchen” in Healdsburg or “Martini House” in St. Helena.

Zuni Café
1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

Julia Child made this dish famous. Revived by the recent movie, “Julie and Julia”, this dish was highlighted and Julia’s un-canny pronunciation of the dish is incredibly memorable. My husband’s birthday was a few days ago and ever since he purchased a Regional French Cookbook with a photo of Boeuf Bourguignon on the cover, he asked me to make this. After looking at many recipes, I created the one below with all of the common ingredients.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Ingredients• 1 tablespoon good olive oil
• 10 ounces center cut bacon
• 2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
• Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 pound baby carrots, cut in half
• 1 large yellow onions, sliced
• 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
• 3/4 cup Cognac
• 3 ½ Cups dry red wine
• 2 cups beef broth
• 1 six ounce can of tomato paste
• 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
• 1 ½ pound fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate with paper towels for draining.

Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Cook in batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to a plate and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

Toss the carrots, and onions, 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 additional minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and cook for one minute to burn off the alcohol. Add the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.

Combine 1 tablespoon of flour with 2 teaspoons of water; stir until combined to make a slurry. Add to the stew and stir in. Sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter, over medium heat until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Handmade Gnocchi with Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce

Handmade Gnocchi with Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce

4 Medium Russet Potatoes
1 ½ C. Flour
½ t. Nutmeg
1 Large Egg
1 t. Salt
Rice Flour for dusting
Parmesan Cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake until easily pierced in the center with a fork, about 1 hour. Let cool. Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop potatoes from the skins, into the ricer and pass through, into a large mixing bowl.

Spread all-purpose flour on a clean, dry work surface. Place potatoes on top of flour. Add egg, nutmeg and salt. Use your hands, mix together ingredients on work surface until well combined to form the dough. Gently knead dough into a 10-by-8-inch rectangle. Let rest for a few minutes.

Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with rice flour. Cut the rectangle into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch-thick rope. Cut each rope into 1/2 inch gnocchi. It is best to store gnocchi on a rice flour-covered baking sheet until ready to use and dust with rice flour.

Chanterelle Mushroom Sauce
¾ Pound Fresh Chanterelles (2 Cups chopped)
1 C. Leeks, Finely chopped
1/3 C. Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
1 ¼ C. Chicken Stock
5 T. Butter
1 T. Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once melted, add the leeks and sauté for about 5 to 7 minutes until soft and translucent. Turn the heat to medium high and add the chanterelles. Season with salt and pepper and stir and cook until golden brown for about 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat and add ¾ cups of chicken stock. Let simmer until the liquid is reduced to half. Add the remaining ½ cup of chicken stock and 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook on medium low.

To assemble:
Fill a large pot with water and generously add salt. Bring to a boil. When ready to serve, add the gnocchi and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until they float to the top. Using a large strainer, add to the Chanterelle sauce. Add the parsley and gently stir. Taste and season as desired with additional salt and pepper. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts – cut in half lengthwise (will make eight pieces)
4 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
½ cup flour
1 t. Lowery’s seasoned salt
1 t. pepper
3/4 c. dry white wine
½ c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. chicken stock
1/3 c. drained capers
¼ c. chopped chives or parsley

Slice each chicken breast in half lengthwise. Place chicken between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap. Using meat pounder, lightly pound chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Mix flour, seasoned salt and pepper in a bowl to dredge the chicken breasts. Dip chicken into flour to coat; shake off excess.

Heat 2 T butter and 1 T. olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breasts to skillet and cook until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to platter; tent with foil to keep warm.

Bring wine, lemon juice and broth to boil in skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in capers, parsley and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add chicken back into sauce and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the sauce thickens. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.