Monday, May 31, 2010

Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg

Restaurant Club was in full swing with our trip to Healdsburg. Our dining adventure and reservations were at Dry Creek Kitchen – the Charlie Palmer signature restaurant in California’s wine county. He creates a menu that celebrates the bounty of the land, utilizing artesian products and extraordinary wines. The recipes are uncomplicated yet elegantly seasonal and inspired by the local wine country vibe.

Our reservation was for 12:15pm and we were seated almost immediately. We chose to enjoy the interior of the restaurant versus dining al fresco. We had the best waiter and he even inquired if we had any food allergies – which is going above and beyond. A young man came around with a basket of three different kinds of bread – we all chose to enjoy one of each. The butter was to die for – handmade at Dry Creek Kitchen and a hint of olive oil was added – simply divine.


We began with a glass of Anaba Coriol from Sonoma Valley which is a Rhone blend of 48% Roussanne, 30% Viognier, 12% Marsanne and 10% Granache Blanc. The wine is aged for eleven months in French oak barrels of which 20% are new French oak. This wine has a floral, tea like aroma with hints of honey and pear. It is a medium bodied blend with notes of peach, citrus, a bit of spice and a subtle minerality was an extremely bright and satisfying wine. This is one incredible wine - a must try!

We chose our starters from the wonderful menu and selected the Chilled Asparagus Soup with spicy shrimp salad with espelette oil. The baby shrimp were sweet and tender and paired beautifully with the vibrant color and flavor of the asparagus. Next was the Grilled Chicken Paillard Salad with petite watercress, toasted hazelnuts, slow baked grapes and red verjus gastrique. This salad was off the chart delicious. The chicken was extremely thin and layered the bottom of the plate. It was topped with quenelles of fluffy blue cheese and the grapes, nuts and greens with a bit of radicchio. Each and every bite was heaven on a fork and our taste buds.
We each selected a different entrée, so we could nibble and taste a variety of flavors. We began with Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with cauliflower mousseline, pickled purple cauliflower and house made ricotta salata. It was not a heavy laden sauced pasta dish, which enhanced the flavors and they popped off the plate. The mousseline was perfect, just wished there was a bit more on the plate to enjoy.

Is there nothing better these days than a slider? We ordered the American Kobe Mini Burgers on toasted brioche, with black winter truffle aioli and crispy Yukon gold potatoes. The burger is prepared on the rare side but you can order however you prefer it. It just melted in your mouth and embodied so many flavors. Lastly we had the Fresh Pappardelle Pasta with house made chorizo, manila clams and fennel confit. The chorizo was full of flavor and melted in your mouth.


You are probably thinking – how do they have room for dessert? We did not think we would but when we pursued the menu, two items stood out. We shared the Coffee Crème Caramel with buttermilk beignets and cinnamon whipped cream. This little decadent dessert was absolutely supreme. The tiny deep fried buttermilk beignets literally melted in your mouth and left you craving more. It was rich, creamy and luscious with delicate flavors of coffee, cream and cinnamon that blended together magically.

Along side, we enjoyed Valrhona Chocolate Bundino with Guinness ice cream, salted caramel ganache and house made pretzels. The Guinness ice cream was a stand out and complimented the entire dessert. Hard to believe the pretzels were hand made, but they were divine and crunchy with just the right hint of salt.

We enjoyed a divine lunch, stimulating conversation, terrific weather, wonderful shopping and great people watching. We reminisced over the restaurants that we have experienced so far and we all agreed that Dry Creek Kitchen was ranked toward the top. Next time it is my turn to pick the dining destination – where should we go – any ideas?

Dry Creek Kitchen
Hotel Healdsburg
317 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Tel: 707.431.0330

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes

Sometimes the simplest ingredients put together make the very best combinations. The effortlessness of flavors matched together by enhancing through the roasting process, layers the experience for the diner. Pork tenderloin can be made hundreds of ways, but my favorite way is to pan sear and then finish in the oven. It comes out almost perfect every time. Be careful to not overcook the pork – a ting pink in the meat is perfection. Pork is such a lean meat that absorbs whatever flavor you add to it.

Typically I will whip out my favorite chutney to serve along side the pork. Wanted to make something a bit different yet still healthy, so I decided to roast the basket full of grape tomatoes I had in the refrigerator. Once roasted, the sweetness of the tomato is pronounced and perfect with just that hint of garlic. Have a bite of pork with the roasted tomato and nirvana on a fork will transpire.

Pork Tenderloin with Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes

1 Pork tenderloin
Olive oil
Napa Style Roasted Garlic Rub or your favorite rub

Take the tenderloin out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Prep the tenderloin by removing the fat and silver skin from the meat. Cover all sides of the tenderloin with the rub. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in an ovenproof skillet and sear the tenderloin over medium-high heat to brown all sides, about 3 minutes in total. Place skillet in the oven and roast 25 to 30 minutes, until internal temperature is 145 degrees. Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes prior to slicing.

2 C. Grape tomatoes
2 T. Olive oil
1/2 t. Garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large baking dish add all the ingredients and mix well. Cook for about 30 minutes until the tomatoes are tender.

To prepare, lay the sliced pork tenderloin on a warm platter and spoon the roasted tomatoes over the middle. Serve.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kumquat Marmalade and Ricotta Crostini

Kumquats are a curious little fruit. Almost like an oversized orange for a Barbie doll. They are often eaten raw and have a sweet rind and a juicy center which is sour and salty. These little gems are considered ripe when they reach a yellowish-orange color and just a slight hint of green. It is native to south Asian and the Asia Pacific and symbolizes good luck in China and other Asian countries. Often used to make kumquat preserves, marmalade or jelly, but also can be sliced and added to salads. Great to garnish a cocktail or made into a liqueur.

I found pints of these tiny treasures at Trader Joe’s and have always wanted to make kumquat marmalade and 2010 is the year. Typically a couple times a month I will whip up a batch of scones and enjoy orange marmalade with them. My first batch of marmalade is ready for scones this weekend.


In the meantime, I wanted to try something different and put a slight twist on how I used the kumquat marmalade. I toasted a thin slice of sourdough baguette, let cool and spread with ricotta cheese and then a spoonful of the handmade kumquat marmalade. The flavor combination was out of this world – the crunch of baguette, creaminess of the ricotta and sweet/sour combination of the kumquat marmalade was perfect.
Kumquat Marmalade

1 lb. 3 oz. Kumquats
1 Lemon, zest and juice
1 ½ C. Sugar
1 ½ C. Water

Cut the kumquats in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Then use a sharp chef’s knife and cut into thin slices. Add the prepared kumquats to a heavy non-reactive pot, lemon juice and zest along with the water. Over the pan, and simmer for 25 minutes until the fruit is soft and tender.

Add the sugar, and stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up and cook at a full rolling boil for 5 minutes and test for a set. When the marmalade has reached the setting point, ladle into hot sterilized jars, seal and label.

Friday, May 21, 2010

{ Rhone Valley + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 5 }

In Southern France sits the Rhone region and produces many wines under various Appellation d’origine controle (AOC). The Rhone is sectioned into two sub-regions with distinct vinicultural traditions, the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone. The northern sub-region produces red wines from the Syrah grape and white wines from Viognier grapes. Other white grapes produced are Marsanne and Roussanne. The southern region produces an assortment of red, white and rose wines, often blends of several grapes such as in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The northern Rhone is characterized by harsh winters but warm summers. The appellations in the northern Rhone from north to south are: Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, Chateau-Grillet, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas and Saint-Peray.Northern Rhone reds are often identified by their signature aromas of green olive and smoky bacon.

The southern Rhone is more of a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. The most famous red wine is Chateauneuf-du-Pape and is a blending of varieties of wine, both red and white. Southern Rhone reds may include Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan and Cinsault. They are full bodied, contains tannins when young and have aromas of prune, foliage, chocolate and ripe dark fruit. A few of the southern Rhone appellations include: Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Vivarais, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rasteau and Gigondas.

We began our evening’s journey through the Rhone valley with a 2009 Domaine Rouge-Bleu “Dentelle” Rose. This wine is 55% Carignan and 45% Grenache from the Vin de Pays de Mediterranee. Tasting notes include cherry and black currant flavors with hints of smoke. Asparagus is one of those incredibly hard vegetables to pair with any wine however, Suzanne hit a home run with this wine. She roasted asparagus and garnished with crispy pancetta.

Next was the 2008 Domaine Rouge-blue “Dentelle” and it was paired with sauted baby shitake mushrooms with thyme and minced garlic. Tossed at the last minute with some wonderful fleur de sel, it was perfect with this well balanced wine from the south of France. Our third bottle had the cork removed and we poured our wine, only to find out when we smelled it, the wine was corked. If you open a bottle of wine that smells like a musty trunk or wet dog, it is most likely corked. The cork in the bottle and the oak barrels in which wine was aged can expose the wine to a fungus induced by the natural compound trichloranisole (TCA). I would suggest that you discard that bottle and move onto a new one to enjoy.

Staying in the Northern region, we enjoyed a wine from the Hermitage appellation, called Laurent Combier Crozes-Hermitage which was a 2008 vintage. It is 100% syrah with a perfume quality, hints of mineral, smoky black fruit, spicy and clean. Let this wine sit and open up for a fantastic tasting experience. We enjoyed this wine with oven roasted fingerling potatoes mixed with fennel and scarlet turnips, tossed with olive oil and fresh thyme. A long and slow cooked roast pork shoulder with a crispy caramelized crust was accompanied with the roasted veggies. The crunchy crust from the pork was to die for - so rich, crispy and full of delicious flavor.

Two fellow students in the class, Meg and Joe have an affinity for wine and brought a bottle from their personal cellar. It is from Stolpman Vineyards located in Los Olivos on the California central coast and called L'Avion. This wine is 10% viognier and 90% roussanne. Full bodied, floral, honeysuckle, pear, caramel and a tiny hint of minerality are flavors and scents found in this wine. This wine paired beautifully with the roast chicken served. One of the highlight wines of the evening for me.

Nearing the end of our wine adventure we tried a 2006 Domaine de la Bastide Blanche Bandol, a commanding red, with concentrated red and dark fruit flavors, including fig, dark plum and raspberry. Remarkable tannins and acidity support the finish, which is blended with notes of chocolate and black olive. It is a blend of mourvedre and grenache grapes. The scent of this wine is a bit funky and almost like a rusty penny, but let it open and I guarantee you will enjoy.

Now at the end of our class along with almost at the end of the six week course, we enjoyed our final wine, 2005 Edmunds St. John “Wylie-Fenaughty” Syrah. It has a rich ruby color, dark berry, smoky, minerals and black olive on the nose. Cassis flavors are underscored by cracked pepper and candied licorice qualities, with soft tannins. The smoke and dark fruit qualities repeat on the finish, which could only be syrah. The wine is very controlled, with sweet, big tannins encompassing dark fruit and plenty of acidity. This wine is produced in El Dorado Hills near the American River.

As the saying goes “save the best for last” and indeed that is what we have planned to accomplish at next weeks class. Suzanne has graciously opened her home for the entire class to be held for our last one of the six week series. Chad plans on sharing very special and unique wines with us and Suzanne will prepare some exciting food pairings for us to enjoy. I can’t wait to share the last class of the series with all of you. Until then…… Cheers!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

{ Pan Roasted Salmon with Baby Shitake and Green Garlic }

My husband and I have a goal to eat pretty healthy during the week and then splurge a bit on the weekends. We figure the balance along with some exercise, will keep us healthy. With this goal, we have now added salmon at least once a week to our dinner menu regime. At the farmers market they had these amazing baby shitake mushrooms at one of the vendors I visited, so I had to purchase them. I ventured a few stalls down with green garlic flowing and knowing it has a short season, another purchase was made. In looking at my farmers market treasures, I came up with this recipe.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Baby Shitake and Green Garlic

2 half pound salmon filets
¼ cup flour
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
3 T. olive oil

In a bowl mix flour, salt and pepper. Rinse and pat dry with a paper towel each of the salmon filets. Dip each one into the flour mixture and dust off excess.

In a medium, oven proof skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Place the filets into the pan and sear for a minute or two on each side. Start with the non-skin side. Place into a 350 degree oven for 12 to 17 minutes until the salmon is just firm.

2 C. Baby shitake mushrooms, trim stems
5 Green garlic, trimmed and sliced the white and tender portion of the green
2 T. Olive oil
1 T. Butter
Salt and pepper

In a large skillet add the oil and butter to melt over medium heat. Add the shitake mushrooms and cook on medium high heat for about 4 to 5 minutes or until fragrant and they begin to brown. Add the green garlic and sauté for a couple minutes with the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When ready to serve, add a bit of butter on top of each filet and then spoon the mushroom mixture on top of the salmon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Asparagus Soup with Crème Fraiche

Snap, Crackle, Pop! I know you are thinking why is she going to talk about a breakfast cereal and how could that possibly tie in with Asparagus Soup. Well you can top the soup to add crunch with rice krispy cereal. Just kidding! The snap is the action you take when breaking off the tough portion of the asparagus stalk and then it pops as it breaks. You can also simply cut the stalk about 2 to 3 inches from the bottom and it will remove the majority of the tough, inedible portion.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

{ Burgundy Wines + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 4 }

Burgundy and its wines are legendary in the wine world. The complexity, fullness and style of a great Pinot Noir from Cote de Nutis, is something that wine connoisseurs from around the world will agree upon. The Chardonnays from Chablis and the Cote de Beaune have preserved their originality and perfection. The topography of Burgundy’s vineyards is far less spectacular than elsewhere. The steepness of the land and its south facing orientation are less dominant factors, with most of the grand crus in the Cote d’Or. The climate is neither warm nor especially dry.

The reputation of Burgundy’s classification system is exemplary. The Appellation d’Origine Controlee (A.O.C.) covers the following elements: the variety of the grape(s), traditional win-growing techniques, the wine’s minimum and maximum alcohol content and its typical style. It is essentially a symbol of quality.

Burgundy has 100 appellations which are divided into four levels – Regional, Local, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The Grand Cru appellations has wine that are grown on the best plots in the villages, with thirty two in Côte d’Or and one in Chablis.

Wines produced in the Burgundy region are among the most sought after, rare and pricy wines. Wines often begin at $40 to $50 per bottle and increase from there. In addition, a large number are rare with small lot productions. It is one of the most complex regions in France producing lush wines. The key to fantastic Burgundy wines is the weather and soil along with minimal intervention. The subtleties equal the flavor which is extremely powerful.

We began our journey with a taste of 2008 Lamblin Bourgogne Blanc as a palate awakener. It is 100% chardonnay with light oak, good acid and a wonderful richness. Hints of pear, vanilla, grapefruit and citrus were quite apparent. By now we have moved to the kitchen to discuss and taste wine while Suzanne prepares the food. In a large pot, golden fingerling potatoes were steaming. Our second taste was being poured – a 2007 Gerard Tremblay “Fourchaume”, which was a Premier Cru, aged in neutral wood. This wine has charm, elegance, is silky and stylish.

The steamed fingerling potatoes were tossed with Normandy butter, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Chad proceeded to toss a good amount onto a large plate and set on the middle of the kitchen island. Everyone grabbed a fork, stabbed a potato and tasted it with the wine. Then sautéed baby shitake mushrooms were added to the plate and the level was increased. The pairing was brilliant, however the next wine, a 1999 Domaine Du Chateau De Puligny-Montrachet “Les Chalumeaux” was a magnificent match. The creaminess of the potato and wine together was a true pairing that was pure heaven in your mouth. This wine is a Premier Cru with subtle floral aroma and elegant minerality.

Each week the wine selections are magical and interesting. This next wine, 1999 Lopez De Heredia “Vina Gravonia” was by far the most attention-grabbing wine of the class. We ventured away for a few minutes to Spain for this well balanced, full and lively wine. Aromas and flavors of almond, tea, caramel, orange peel, white flowers and pine were present. It would pair beautifully with a roast chicken with truffle oil.

Suzanne’s pairing choices are exemplary and tonight’s menu exceeded our expectations. She prepared a Duck Confit salad with assorted farmer’s market greens, sherry vinegar (Vinagre de Terez) and rich olive oil. Chards of shredded duck were tossed together with the greens and sautéed mushrooms to create a masterpiece. Sautéed cipollini onions in butter and earthy bread accompanied the main course.

Are you seeing red? I hope so. A trio of Pinot Noir were poured simultaneously to enjoy with the Duck Confit Salad and accruements. First was 2007 Domaine Du Chateau De Puligny-Montrachet Bourgogne Rouge. It has a beautifully perfumed nose of bright cherry fruit, with medium body and a very pretty finish along with hints of the terrior. Next was a 2007 Handley “Mendocino” Pinot Noir with a deep red color and the nose delivered cherry with hints of chocolate and spice (cloves perhaps). The wine is light-to-medium bodied, fruit forward with soft tannins and nice acidity culminating in a medium finish. Our last wine was a 2007 Kazmer & Blaise “Primo’s Hill” Pinot Noir. Produced from a small seven acre vineyard, it has hints of smoke, dark cherry, silky mouthfeel and a full & firm finish.

Tonight we learned and explored just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to Burgundy wines. The pairings were perfect and interesting. The conversations were enlightening and the knowledge shared invaluable. I have now added a trip to the Burgundy region in France to my ever growing bucket list.

(Photo from google images)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bake Sale Betty's in Oakland

Several years ago, on a Sunday morning, my husband and I would go to the Farmer’s Market in Walnut Creek and have the pleasure of enjoying wonderful ginger and pear scones from Bake Sale Betty. Not to mention the Lamington’s, which are like an Australian zinger of sorts, made of sponge cake, strawberry jam, dipped in chocolate and covered in coconut. If you did not get there early, they were gone.  She set up her shop on old fashioned ironing boards and the crowds would follow.  With her quite distinctive bright blue wig and australian accent, she left an impression on her customers.  Great marketing plan "Betty"!

One day we went to the market and realized that Betty (aka - Alison Barakat) was no longer hitting the farmer’s market circuit but rather that she opened her first bakery in North Oakland's Temescal District.  Congratulations!

When you visit the bakery, the first thing you will notice is the unique dining tables outside – vintage ironing boards with stools. The second thing you will notice is lines out the door since customers come from near and far to enjoy all of the wonderful treats. The stand out sandwich is the legendary fried chicken sandwich that is crispy and piled high with spicy slaw on a soft roll. For me, the slaw is unbeatable with the tangy, spicy vinaigrette dressing and mandolin thin jalapenos that just dance around your mouth.

The ginger cookies are chewy and spicy with bits of crystallized ginger. I could easily eat two or three of these. The strawberry shortcake is fresh, fruity and will exceed all of your expectations. Be prepared to wait in line, but believe me, the wait is completely worth it. Visit today – you will enjoy every bite!

Bakesale Betty's Fried Chicken Sandwich
(Recipe Source: San Francisco Chronicle)

Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each
Kosher salt to taste
1 quart buttermilk


1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 jalapenos, seeded, cut in half and sliced crosswise
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 green cabbage, core and outer leaves removed, and very thinly sliced
Kosher salt


1 pound all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt + more to taste
11/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

4 Acme Bakery torpedo rolls, sliced lengthwise

Instructions: Season chicken breasts with kosher salt. Let sit at least 5 minutes. Fill a wide, shallow non-reactive bowl or casserole dish with buttermilk. Add the chicken and soak in the refrigerator for 1 hour up to overnight.

Vinaigrette: Combine mustard, vinegar and salt in a bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until well blended.

For the coleslaw: Macerate onions in red wine vinegar, and let sit at least 20 minutes. Remove onions and discard vinegar. Toss onions with jalapeno, parsley, cabbage and salt. Toss with vinaigrette until evenly coated.

To fry chicken: Pour vegetable oil into a large stockpot. Do not fill up more than halfway, or the oil could splatter. Bring oil up to 365°, using a digital thermometer/candy thermometer to monitor the heat. Prepare the the breading while waiting for oil to heat up.

In a wide shallow bowl, mix flour, cayenne, salt and pepper. Pull a chicken breast out of the buttermilk one by one, letting excess drip off, and dredge completely in flour. To create a thick crust, place in buttermilk and dredge in flour a second time. Do not drain or shake off excess buttermilk or flour during the breading process.

When the oil is at 365°, carefully place chicken pieces into oil one by one. Let it cook for a minute before disturbing chicken, then help it "swim" in the oil with tongs, until it is evenly cooked, about 5-7 minutes. Remove chicken from oil and drain on paper towels. Season immediately with salt.

For the sandwich, pllace fried chicken breast on bottom of torpedo roll or other soft roll and top generously with coleslaw.

Original location:
5098 Telegraph Ave, Oakland

New Location:
2228 Broadway Ave, Oakland

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

{ Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Shitake Mushrooms }

Fingerling potatoes are small, elongated and finger shaped. They are unusual and growing in popularity for their flavor and creamy texture. They can be baked, roasted, grilled or boiled. Fingerlings are ideal for roasting, particularly in the juices of other foods, and give subtle, sometimes dramatic variations on the potato theme.

Like the majority of all potatoes, their roots can be traced to the Andes Mountains of Peru. Popular fingerling potatoes include the yellow-skinned Russian Banana, the orange-skinned French, and the Purple Peruvian. Due to their size and greater expense compared to other potatoes, fingerlings are commonly either halved and roasted as a side dish or used in salads.

Roasting these little darlings, brings out the most flavor. The skins crisp up and the centers remain rich and creamy. Toss in a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and you now have a perfect side dish for steak or roast chicken. Serve with a rich, buttery and slightly oaky chardonnay and you might just reach a pairing nirvana.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Shitake Mushrooms

1 lb. Fingerling potatoes
3 T. Olive Oil
12 to 14 Fresh shitake mushrooms
Fleur de Sel
Fresh ground pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Use a large shallow baking dish. Wash the potatoes and either cut in half or leave whole. Place into the baking dish. Remove the stems from the shitake mushrooms and quarter. Add to the dish and toss both the potatoes and mushrooms with the olive oil. Seasaon with salt and pepper and toss again.

Cook for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Toss once midway through the cooking process. Check for doneness, by poking a sharp knife in the potato, if comes out easy without resistence, the potato is done.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cast Iron Flank Steak with Salsa Verde

Nine times out of ten, I will cook a flank steak on the barbeque and it is absolutely delicious. I purchased a cast iron skillet about a year ago from TJ Maxx and had yet to use it. I was under the impression that it was complicated and much preparation was needed. Thank goodness, it was a misconception and it was a rather simple process.

Cast iron enjoyed its popularity back in the 1,800’s and is making its resurgence today. There are numerous reasons that people rant about their cast iron pans. Besides being an ideal heat conductor, cast iron cookware heats evenly and consistently, it is economical and will last a lifetime by taking great care. When well seasoned, a cast iron pan will be stick resistant, require no more oil and gets better with age. (Just like a fine wine)

Preheat your cast iron frying pan before cooking. Water droplets should sizzle, then roll and hop around the pan, when dropped onto the heated surface. If the water disappears instantly after being dropped, the pan is too hot. If water only rests and bubbles in the pan, it is not quite hot enough.

To maintain your cast-iron cookware, the secret is the seasoning. Your food will never stick to the bottom of the skillet or pot, the iron will not rust if it is correctly seasoned and will clean easily. Seasoning cast iron cookware means filling the pores in the metal with grease of some sort, which subsequently gets cooked in. This provides a smooth, non-stick surface on both the inside and outside of the cast-iron pan.

You season a cast iron pan by rubbing it with a thin coat of oil, such as canola or vegetable. Place the oiled pan in the oven at 350 to 400 degrees for 30 to 60 minutes. Remove and let cool. Repeat one more time and you should be good. The more you cook with your cast iron, the more seasoned it becomes.

Unless you use your cast-iron pans daily, they should be washed briefly with a little soapy water and then rinsed and thoroughly dried in order to rid them of extra surface oil. If you do not do this, the extra oil will become rancid within a couple of days. Do not put cast iron cookware in the dishwasher.

Salsa Verde

1 C. Flat leaf parsley leaves, minced fine
2 T. Capers, chopped fine
2 Small cloves garlic, minced fine to almost a paste consistency
1 t. Anchovy paste
7 T. Shallots, minced fine
3 T. Red wine vinegar
4 T. Chives, minced
5 T. Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, add the shallots and red wine vinegar. Let sit for 15 minutes to macerate or soften. Make sure that the flat leaf parsley is minced super fine. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Taste and then season with the salt and pepper as desired. Let sit for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to incorporate.

To prepare the flank steak, trim the majority of the fat off the steak and score each side of the meat to form diamond shapes. Drizzle with olive oil on each side and work in with your hands. Season each side with salt and pepper. Let the meat come to room temperature for about 60 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the cast iron skillet on the stove on high. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Test the temperature by splashing a bit of water as described earlier in the posting. Cook for about two minutes on each side. You will know when it is ready to flip, when the meat will not stick. Flip and cook for about two more minutes. Finish in the oven for about five more minutes for medium done. See doneness by touch chart. Let rest for about 5 minutes, so the juices absorb back into the meat before slicing.

Slice about half inch thick and drizzle the salsa verde on top and serve.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

{ Blending + Bordeaux + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 3 }

Week three, mid-point of our “Thinking, Eating and Drinking” class and the adventure takes us to Bordeaux. Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in southwest France, where Bordeaux wines are produced. Some are simple everyday table wines and others among the most expensive and prestigious wines in the world. Bordeaux blends are amalgamation of the classic red wine grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, or the classic white wine grapes Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

What does “Thinking, Eating and Drinking” have in common with Bordeaux? They are both analogous and parallel in theory and reality. Bordeaux essentially means a blending. When we think, we blend words and thoughts together. Eating is blending of unique food ingredients and flavors, from simple to complex. Drinking wine is an intricate experience of tasting and smelling flavors that can transcend you from a basket full of ripe cherries to a cedar plank. When your senses (smell, taste, sight, feel, sound) are alive and you pay attention to the details, the experience goes to the next level. Hence – thinking begins!

The experience of sharing a meal together along with great wine and conversation is the cornerstone of life. We jumped into the kitchen this week with Suzanne Drexhage to have hands on experience with preparing our dinner. As in the past few weeks, we have had a small tasting with each wine, tonight it was a full meal. Wine was flowing and there were eight wines to taste and evaluate. While in the kitchen, we enjoyed two white Bordeaux wines. Chateau La Rame is 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Grown in clay, limestone soil, this wine has a bright acidity and a grassy quality. Green apple, lemon sherbet and a hint of grapefruit stand out on the palate and nose. Chateau Du Seuil Blanc was poured side by side with the first wine to experience the variances. This white Bordeaux, which was aged in 90% neutral wood and 10% new wood, gave it just a hint of oak without over powering the wine. We paired this with a creamy gruyere potato gratin that just danced on your palate and was a bite of heaven.

Let the heart of Bordeaux wine begin to flow – the classic red. Chateau La Coustarelle Cahors from the west coast of France has an herbaceous quality along with hints of melted chocolate. A bright ruby color with hints of blackberry and raspberry flavors, this wine is 90% malbac and 10% tannat. This wine paired wonderfully with the flap steak accompanied by a handmade salsa verde. Flap steak is the portion of meat that extends down from T-bone and porterhouse steaks. Beautifully prepared in a cast iron skillet on the stove with just a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, it was finished in the oven. Wonderfully tender and flavorful.

We did stray a bit from Bordeaux and visited Chile with a 2007 Calcu. It is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carmenère, and 15% Cabernet Franc. This wine has ripe tannins along with a fresh acidity and undertones of mineral notes. Bright, peppery and spicy are quite apparent. With our meal, we enjoyed sautéed rainbow chard with hints of garlic and olive oil. The chard was trimmed, cut and blanched prior to cooking – a great tip for easy entertaining. Let’s jump back to Bordeaux – okay perhaps flying there might be quicker. One of the most interesting wines of the evening was the Chateau de Falfas “Les Demoiselles”. The first initial sniff is a bit overwhelming and a bit gamey. It is a blend of 75% merlot and 25% cabernet sauvignon. As the wine opens up, the flavors had red plum and green olive notes. It is bright, juicy, tannic and certainly paired well with the flap steak by mellowing the fat and rounding out the experience.

Winding down the evening, we enjoyed Chateau de Praza Minervois, which was similar to the Corbieres we tasted in week one of the series. This wine had quite an array of flavors and aromas including: cinnamon, plums, prunes, nutmeg, hints of chocolate and a subtle herbaceous quality. Chad Arnold saved the best for last – Kathryn Kennedy Lateral. Situated in Saratoga, Lateral is encouraged by the famous wines of the St-Emilion district of Bordeaux. It is a true meritage with a blending of 54% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot and 6%t Malbec. It was well-balanced, medium bodied wine that had hints of floral, fennel, cedar and smokiness. If you had to describe this wine in one word – “Coco- Cayenne” – okay that is two words per se, but it nails the entire tasting experience.

As with all good things, the evening came to an end. We enjoyed a magnificent meal together, stimulating conversation, delicious food and interesting wines. Can't wait for week four and continue to share my experience with all of you.