Monday, February 28, 2011

Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits

When you have a craving, is it for sweet, salty or starchy foods? For me, I will take a starchy or salty treat over a sweet treat any day. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a sweet tooth every now and then. If you offered a couple cookies or a bag of potato chips with dip, the chips and dip would win hands down.

Sunday morning was such a craving. Typically, my hubby likes to either go out or have a big breakfast at home on Sunday mornings. With the weather around the Bay Area unusually cold over the last few weeks, it makes you want to retreat to sitting in front of the fire and enjoying comfort foods.

A great biscuit is fluffy, light, flakey, buttery, soft and crispy on the bottom. You can rarely just eat one – they are addictive. Plain, with jam or butter, they are one of life’s simple pleasures.

As with my philosophy about life, I strive to do the best job I can do. I posted these biscuits a while back and they were good, but I do believe this version is better.  My inspiration and adaptation came from seeing this post on The Sophisticated Gourmet. Thank you Kamran. We enjoyed them with the grapefruit marmalade that I made during the holidays. What a great way to start a beautiful Sunday morning.

Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits

2 1/8 C. Flour
4 t. Baking powder
2 1/2 t. Sugar
¼ t. Cream of Tarter
½ t. Salt
1 Chilled stick butter or shortening (1/2 cup) cut into small pieces
⅔ C. Buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400º

In a large bowl, blend together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add in the cold butter and toss the butter in the flour. Using your finger tips quickly cut and rub the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles pea-size pieces. I recommend using your hands for best results but do not overwork.

Pour in the buttermilk. Using a fork, mix everything until it just comes together. Lightly dust a bread board with flour. Turn the dough out, lightly dust the top with flour, and gently knead the mass until it comes together.

Using your hands, flatten the dough out into a rectangle one-inch thick. Cut into twelve pieces.

Transfer each biscuit to a non-stick baking sheet. The closer you have them together, the softer they will be. Bake for 10-15 minutes until they are lightly golden brown around the edges. Best eaten right out of the oven for peak deliciousness!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Linguine with Garlic, Olives and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Mangia, Mangia is an Italian phrase meaning Eat! Eat! I can just imagine an Italian grandmother in the kitchen saying this to her family as she puts out on a long table large bowls of spaghetti and other Italian classics. Although I do not have one ounce of Italian heritage in my gene pool, I adore Italian cuisine.

Several weeks ago, we took clients to lunch at an Italian Restaurant in Livermore called Terra Mia which was unassuming from the outside, but lovely inside. It was actually warm enough to sit outside, so we dined al fresco in January. Several items on the menu made my mouth water, but when my client described her signature dish that she orders every time she dines here, I was sold.

You often hear that phrase; the simplest things in life are the best. The “Spaghetti Aglio, Olio Peperoncino” was the dish I ordered.  It was simple ingredients and when combined together were absolutely heavenly. It was served in a large bowl with al dente spaghetti, which was sautéed with garlic, red hot chili peppers, black olives, extra virgin olive oil and sun dried tomatoes. Along side were parmesan cheese and spice small red peppers in seasoned olive oil to add extra heat.

This was one of those dishes that satisfied you and left you wanting to return the next day for another bowl. Being a foodie, I needed to recreate and put my own little spin on the recipe. Mangia! Mangia!

Linguine with Garlic, Olives and Sun Dried Tomatoes

1 Lb. Dried Linguine
½ to ¾ C. Olive oil
8 to 10 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 C. Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
½ C. Sun dried tomatoes, packed in oil and julienne sliced
1 t. Dried Chili Flakes (add more or less if desired)
Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper

Cook the linguine according to the package until al dente. Drain and set aside. In a large skillet, add ½ cup olive oil and cook on medium heat for a couple minutes. Add the garlic, olives, dried chili flakes and sun dried tomatoes. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on medium heat then add the pasta and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes until pasta is heated through. Add more olive oil if desired.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve either in a large bowl or individually and place a large bowl of parmesan cheese for your guests to use. Mangia!

Note: This recipe is a bit “free form” and you can add or delete the amounts to your desire.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Panna Cotta with Spiced Apple Compote featuring Spice Islands Trading Company

Panna cotta has been on my list for quite sometime to conquer. When it comes to a custard dessert, often it could be intimidating – not Panna Cotta. I was amazed by how simple it was to make. It is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and mixing with gelatin. This traditional Italian dessert is typically served with berries, caramel or chocolate. Panna cotta is a straightforward dessert that can be made with different flavors, shapes and sizes.

Saturday night we had my parents over for dinner to enjoy an evening together full of interesting conversation, good food and great wine. I wanted the dinner to be simple with tons of flavor but no too fussy. I decided on filet mignon, roasted fingerling potatoes and a salad for dinner. The final part of the evening would be Panna Cotta - “Carpe Diem”.

A couple weeks ago I was contacted by Amanda on behalf of Spice Islands Trading Company. She inquired if I would be interested in trying some of their products. I was extremely honored by the offer by such a well-known company whose reputation precedes itself for the highest-quality, most flavorful herbs and spices from all over the world. How could I pass up such a generous offer - so I couldn’t possibly say no.

Soon a box arrived on my doorstep. Once I opened the unassuming white box and a beautiful exotic box made of wood appeared. When I removed the wood box, I pulled the arched latch from its socket, the lid was lifted and to my surprise there were three full size bottles. Amanda sent Pure Vanilla Extract, Cinnamon and Cloves. I had been contemplating what to create with these from the moment I knew they were in the mail. Let me first give you a few Spiced Islands Product highlights:

Spiced Islands Pure Vanilla Extract: It is 100% vanilla extract with beans from Madagascar and no corn syrup is ever added. Due to the warm, moist climate and fertile soil in Madagascar, the rich flavor comes through from the first scent to the baked goods you make.

Spiced Islands Ground Saigon Cinnamon: It has a rich golden red-brown hue and warm inviting aroma that enhances baked goods from breads to cookies. Two main types of cinnamon exist – Ceylon and cassia. Cassia is much richer and sweeter – it is the Cadillac of cinnamon. Spice Islands source their cinnamon from Vietnam where premium cinnamon is grown and has an intense fragrance and sweetness.

Spiced Islands Ground Cloves: Cloves are produced from the dried, unopened buds of a small evergreen tree native to the enchanted Spice Islands. Their flavor is strong, sweet and pungent. The potent flavor only requires a small amount to be used in recipes.

My quest for making Panna Cotta would be created with these wonderful items from Spice Islands. Apples were the absolute perfect accompaniment for these three spices. I decided to do a play on apple pie and create Spiced Apple Compote to drizzle on top of the creamy custard. The combination of vanilla extract, vanilla bean, cinnamon and cloves was a marriage made in heaven.

A big thank you to Amanda and the Spiced Islands company for your generosity! Hope you enjoy the Panna Cotta with Spiced Apple Compote.

Panna Cotta with Spiced Apple Compote

Serves six
Panna Cotta

2 C. Heavy cream
1 C. Half and half
¾ C. Sugar
1 T. Spice Island Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Spice Island Vanilla bean, cut in half and scraped
3 ½ t. Powdered gelatin
4 T. + 1 ½ t. Cold water

In a large sauce pan, heat the cream, half n half and sugar on medium until hot, but not boiling. Add the vanilla extract and stir. Remove from heat and add the cut vanilla bean along with the seeds to the mixture. Let stand for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl mix the gelatin and water together. Add to the cream mixture and return to the burner to heat and let gelatin incorporate. Use a whisk to combine. Remove from heat.

Lightly oil six ramekins with non-flavored oil. Divide mixture evenly among the ramekins. Let chill for 2 to 4 hours. When removing, loosen with a sharp knife around the edges. You may need to hold in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes to loosen the bottom. Be careful to not allow any water to touch Panna cotta.

Spoon the spiced apple compote on top of each Panna cotta when ready to serve. (recipe below)

Spiced Apple Compote

2 Large Apples, Granny Smith
3 T. Butter
1/3 C. Sugar
¾ t. Spiced Islands Ground Saigon Cinnamon
Pinch of Spiced Islands Ground Cloves
1 t. Spiced Islands Pure Vanilla Extract
1 t. Lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Peel, core and cut each apple into small cubes. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and sugar. Add the apples and stir together. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Next add the vanilla, lemon juice, cinnamon and cloves and combine well. Cook for an additional minute.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

{ Brown Butter Shaved Brussels Sprouts }

Yesterday was raining, cold and even snowed in certain parts of the Bay Area. Snow in the Bay Area?  You betcha - it was found on Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, Grizzly Peak and even Livermore to name a few.  It was also a perfect day for staying indoors with the fire on, laying on the couch with multiple blankets and having what my hubby and I call – “A Veg Day”. We hung out in our PJ’s and watch movies all day. These days are quite rare with our busy lives, but when we do have them, they are magical.

It was the ideal day for a movie marathon that began around 9am and ended right before the 10pm news cast. We bounced from science fiction to romantic to feel good to Oscar nominate to finally a suspense thriller. Here was our line up of movies:

Knowing with Nicolas Cage is a science fiction movie that begins with a scene of a child writing a random list of numbers on a page that gets buried for 50 years in a time capsule. Once the letter is open the sequence of events begin to unravel and his family plays a role in the events that are about to unfold. If you enjoy suspense, a bit of science fiction and an intriguing ending – I would suggest checking this movie out.

The Time Travelers Wife stars Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. It is a romantic drama about a librarian in Chicago with a genetic disorder that causes him to involuntarily travel time and the complications is creates for his marriage. I am fascinated by the concept of time travel and love romantic movies, so this movie was a perfect combination.

The Little Princess is a remake from the 1939 film starring Shirley Temple. This version was made in 1995 and is about a young girl who is relegated to servitude at a boarding school where her father goes missing and is presumed dead. It is a fairytale princess story with some twists but overall a “feel good” movie that the entire family could enjoy.

The award winning film, The Social Network was our fourth movie of the day. The movie is a chronicle of the founding of Facebook. With such a social networking success phenomenon, this is a very interesting film and leaves you wondering, is this 100% accurate?

Our last film of the day was Law Abiding Citizen which depicts a frustrated man who decides to take justice in his own hands after a plea bargain sets on his family’s killers free. It is no holds bar on who he targets. It is an intellectual thriller that keeps you on a winding road throughout the film. At points, I had to turn my head, but the movie was certainly worth the watch.

Since snacking was the primary source of eating we did all day, dinner needed to be rather light. I had a large bag of Brussels sprouts that I purchased from the farmers market. In my refrigerator was applewood smoked bacon, so quickly I cut into small pieces the bacon and cooked until crispy. I drained most of the rendered fat and added olive oil in an attempt to make things healthy. I added the cut Brussels with some season salt and pepper and cooked on medium high until golden brown. I added the crispy bacon back and tossed for one more minute. This was our snack during Law Abiding Citizen.

The recipe below is a continuation of my love for Brussels Sprouts. I created it on Friday during my day off from work. I was inspired by the Brussels Sprouts that are made at Wood Tavern in Oakland. Simple yet full of flavor and I could eat a large plate of these everyday. Bon Appetite!

Brown Butter Shaved Brussels Sprouts

1 Dozen Brussel Sprouts
4 T. Butter
2 T. Lemon Juice
¼ C. Pecans, chopped and toasted
Pecorino Cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper

Cut of the ends of each Brussels sprouts and using either a mandolin or sharp knife, slice into thin slices. In a large skillet, add the butter and cook on medium high until it browns and the flavors overwhelm the room with deliciousness.

Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and toss into the butter and cook for two to three minutes. Add the lemon juice, pecans, salt and pepper. Taste for any alterations. Either serve individually or on a large platter. Garnish with pecorino cheese.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wood Tavern in Oakland

It seems as though new restaurants are popping up all over the neighborhoods in Oakland. Whether it is Downtown, Piedmont Avenue, Uptown, Jack London Square, Temescal, Rockridge or Grand Lake, the food scene is exploding in Oakland. Perhaps it is fueled by reasonable rents, city officials or changing demographics, there are certainly some wonderful hot spots to visit. 

On my list for quite sometime is Wood Tavern on College Avenue in Oakland. It came to life in 2007 by its proprietors Rich and Rebekah Wood. It is a contemporary yet rustic neighborhood haunt which focuses on American comfort food with flair and whole bunch of style. The menu is focused and inspired by California culture and uses local and sustainable ingredients. Maximilian DiMare is the executive chef and loves rustic hearty fare. He worked at Scala’s in San Francisco where he met the proprietors and opened Paragon in San Francisco.

The moment you enter Wood Tavern, you almost feel like you are someone’s home. The rich wood of the floors, tables and bar are warm and welcoming. The green walls compliment the wood and bring it all together. It is not a large place, so reservations are highly recommended. I went for lunch on a Saturday with my friend Helen, who discovered this hidden gem with her husband. They are frequent guests and I felt right at home, since she introduced me to several folks who work there. In fact for her husbands birthday in January, a couple of members of the staff did the bartending and catering for the party.

As expected the place was super busy, however we were lucky to capture two seats at the “chefs table" in front of the exhibition kitchen. It was a four seat mini bar area and we could see the entire action taking place. In my mind, we had the best seat in the house. We both started off with an adult libation, since it was a Saturday and a perfect way to wind down from the long work week. I had a glass of Santa Caterina Vermentino, from the Ligurian DOC of Colli di Luni. Aromas of flowers, rosemary, straw, grapefruit and apple introduce the flavors to follow on the palate. Bone-dry, with a chalky mouth feel, this wine shows a perfect balance between lively herbaceous fruit and a hint of minerality.

Helen enjoyed a Pimm’s Cocktail with Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, muddled cucumber, ginger ale, fresh lime juice in a tall glass. It was really refreshing and perfect for the sunny day that we visited Wood Tavern. The bar portion was hopping that day and each patron was enjoying a wonderful libation. We decided to share a few different items, so we could taste more of the wonderful things on the menu. We started with Burrata & Warm Roasted Wild Mushrooms. It came on a wood cutting board of sorts with a watercress salad, the creamy burrata with toasted crushed hazelnuts on top and a quenelle of pureed mushrooms with a hint of truffle oil. To enjoy these delicacies, toasted walnut bread points were served to spread the burrata and accent with the mushroom quenelle.

Next we had the Shaved Brussels Sprouts sautéed in brown butter, accented with lemon and garnished with toasted pecans and a touch pecorino cheese. Even if you don’t like Brussels sprouts, these may just convert you. Since we sat at the chef’s bar, we experience the chef firing these up one pan at a time. Pure deliciousness!

Our last savory dish was the Hot Pastrami sandwich with Emmenthaler Cheese and Dijon-Horseradish Dressing. It is served on La Farine Baguette with Tavern Slaw and House Made Pickles. Not quite sure how they make the pastrami, but it was literally the BEST I have ever had. It has a ting of sweetness with a perfect balance of spices.

What is a Saturday decadent lunch without having dessert? Of course we could not pass up the opportunity to continue the feasting. We decided on the House Made Ice Creams. We enjoyed four different flavors – Salted Caramel, Cole Coffee, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Fudge and Vanilla. All of the flavors were amazing but the Salted Caramel took first place.

Overall I would give Wood Tavern an A+ for ambiance, service, food and wine. If you are planning a trip to Oakland put this on your agenda – you will not be disappointed.

Wood Tavern
6317 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Raspberry Jam Filled Heart Cookies + 40 Valentines Day Ideas

Do you think of Valentines Day as a greeting card holiday or a day lovers express their love for one another? I prefer to not think of Valentines Day as a Hallmark Holiday. Call me old fashioned, but it is nice to have one day out of the year to pay special attention to the one you love.

Valentine's Day is one of the most romantic days in a year. So it is natural that each one of us wish to celebrate this day in our own special way. But the question arises as to how to celebrate this wonderful day in a special and unique way. Use your own romantic and thoughtful ideas for creating a unique Valentine's day celebration. There are numerous valentine ideas and tips but the first and foremost thing to be kept in mind is to create the love ambience around you and your beloved. Your valentine day gift to your beloved need not be expensive but it should be straight from the heart.

40 Valentine’s Day Ideas:

A Valentine’s card, whether it’s cute, classy or traditional, is considered the most important item to receive on Valentine’s Day – personalize it by writing more than just love and your name.

Home-made gifts show thoughtfulness, consideration and creativity- think along the lines of home-made cookies, a personalized photo frame or a delicious three course dinner for extra brownie points.

What you write in your personalized Valentine’s day card says way more about your relationship than what you buy. Be sure to put the date and year, so you can look back over time.

Personalized messages and private jokes show openness and the ability to be honest about your feelings. Be somewhat careful unless you can guarantee no one will read it beside you and your loved one.

If you want to write a poem - remember it doesn’t have to rhyme to be romantic – so just give it a go. Check out the internet for ideas if you have writers block.

Think staying home – enjoy a home-cooked meal, foot massage, bubble bath or even agreeing to watch sports or Desperate Housewives are all activities that are easily achievable and just as effective as love hearts and roses.

It's no secret that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach! Create a decadent, sexy supper for your loved one and ensure romance from the first course through the sweet ending.

Don’t worry about restaurant reservations - this Valentine's Day, the real romance is at home. And best of all, it doesn't involve a five-course meal with hours of preparation (less cooking leaves more time for canoodling!).

Shower him with kisses by putting on bright red or pink lipstick and smooching post-it notes. Write a note on the post-its that there's more where those came from and stick them in his laptop bag and wallet when he's not looking.

Serve your partner breakfast in bed to set the tone for a heart filled Valentine's Day. Use heart shaped cookie cutters to make heart shaped pancakes or French toast. Add red food coloring to the pancake batter for an extra touch.

Are you looking for a romantic flick to watch with your love this Valentine's Day? Here is a list of movies that span the decades with unforgettable stories mixing passion and heartbreak. Here are a few classics to consider: Casablanca, African Queen, Love Story, Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Sleepless in Seattle, Jerry Maquire, Titanic, Love Actually and The Notebook

Sure, diamonds are a girl's best friend, but there are other ways to show some love this Valentine's Day. Here are a few last minute ideas for that one have you breaking bank: chocolates, romance novels, flowers, sexy yet comfy sleepwear, jewelry box and a gift certificate to a nail salon for a manicure or pedicure.

The first and most important thing you should keep in mind while thinking about romantic valentine ideas is the setting. Whatever romantic ideas you are considering, set a romantic atmosphere beforehand. This plays an important role to implement a successful romantic valentine idea. A passionate kiss to your beloved in the early morning sets the perfect mood for the day. If she/he is away from you, you can send message like 'Good morning sweet Valentine' or a small love note which he/she loves to treasure.

Send a romantic message through facebook of twitter to your loved one to start the Valentines Day celebration.

Recreate your first date – Maybe your first date was the standard dinner and a movie. If the restaurant where you dined is now out of business, dine in!

Create a Spa Day – Certainly this Valentine’s Day gift is ideal for ladies, but now a days many men will enjoy it too.

Create a Scavenger Hunt – Purchase a few small inexpensive gifts that your mate would be sure to like. Hide the gifts wherever you plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Have a portrait drawn – Have an artist duplicate an image from a photo you submit, into a hand-drawn pencil sketch.

Create or buy a coupon book – be creative with this classic gift

Love letters - Send a love letter from a famous author every day starting February 1, then on Valentine’s Day present an original love letter. Purchase a beautiful box to give your last letter in and then you are able to store the other 13 letter.

Cater to your loved one: Set up the whole day to cater to the other person. TiVo or DVR their favorite shows, cook their favorite meals, run a bath and give them a massage. Be sure they don’t lift a finger for their special day.

Have a Spa day: Buy bath salts, candles, massage oil, pedicure products, etc., from the store and set up a spa at home. Invite the lucky lady or guy over and pamper them.

Make chocolate candy together - after the candy is made enjoy it together.

Take cooking class through a local culinary school or college.

Weekend get-a-way to a bed and breakfast – they are often quaint, quiet and perfect for a romantic get a way.

Skip the restaurant and crowds, make each other’s favorite dinner for the other person or make a “red” dinner together. Make spaghetti and tomato sauce, drink red wine, then bake a red velvet cake or cupcakes together.

Prefer to kick it old school? Stick to one of the classics, write a love poem, song, or just call to say “I love you.”

Serve breakfast in bed. Use cookie cutters and make heart shaped pancakes, heart shaped toast, and even heart shaped melons (watermelon or pineapple).

Use an old pill container and turn it into a 'prescription for love' and fill it with Valentine heart-shaped conversation candies. Create a label on your computer that says: Take twice daily with a kiss.

Romantic note in their lunch asking them to be your valentine

Leave little love quotes all around the house

Send him/her a dozen of their favorite flowers to work – think beyond the traditional roses

Serenade your sweetie with a long song such as “My funny Valentine” or another favorite

Wear pink or red lipstick and leave a kiss on the mirror, on a card or on a love note

Get a box of kids Valentines Day cards and fill them with love notes. Put them in a one large box or envelope for them to reach throughout the day. Perhaps have them choose one each 30 minutes.

Create a love song CD filled with Valentine’s Day related songs or love songs that describe your relationship.

Most local bars also throw together something special for Valentines Day, have a ball enjoying the music and some dancing with your partner.

Make your own Valentine's Day card. You can buy own special paper and use free software that you can get online.. You can use your own pictures and create your own poetry.

Cut out little pink and red heart notes. Write clues and messages on the hearts in obvious places for her to find. Send her on a treasure hunt with the notes. End up the evening with dinner, music, and dancing.

Role-play with your loved one and pretend you're on your first date. Recreate everything down to the last detail.

Raspberry Jam Heart Cookies

2 Sticks butter, room temperature
1 C. Powdered sugar
1 Egg
1 T. Vanilla
2 ½ C. Flour
1 t. Salt
Raspberry Jam
Powdered Sugar for dusting

In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and confectioners sugar on medium speed until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla and salt and mix well. Mix in the flour on low speed slowly until all is incorporated. Form the dough into a ball and flatten and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour, until firm.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper, a silpat or use a non-stick cookie sheet.

Roll the dough out on a well floured work surface to about ¼ inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters as desired. Half the cookies will have a smaller heart cut out of the middle. Bake about 6 to 8 minutes until lightly brown on the edges. Let cool.

Spread about a teaspoon of raspberry jam on the whole heart cookies and with the cut out cookies, dust with powdered sugar and place gently on top of jam cookie. Repeat process until all cookies are complete.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

{ Napa Valley Selene Merlot + Food & Wine Pairing Tips }

The Selene name bears its origin from Greek mythology. There are three goddesses associated with the moon in this mythology; Artemis, the maiden goddess of the waxing moon, Selene, the mother goddess of the full moon, and Hecate, the wise crone goddess of the waning moon. With beautiful moonrises over the Napa Valley hillsides, this must have been an inspiration for Mia Klein, the winemaker.

The Selene wines are focused on the Bordeaux Varietals that thrive in Napa Valley. The Merlot has been produced since 1991 and is extremely food friendly. This wine is well balanced and full of complexity at the same time. Mia Klein has an immense affinity for making great wine. She received her degree in Enology from U.C. Davis and worked her way through the ranks of the winemaking world. She gained experience from working at Challellet and Robert Pepi and did vast consulting for well known wineries such as Viader. Her next journey was to start Selene Wines which is her personal expression.

Mia chose both Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc as the first wine production since they are her personal favorites. She enjoys crafting unique and richly expressive wines. The fruit for her Merlot is sourced from a variety of ranches including Madrona Ranch in St. Helena, Toth Family in Coombsville and Frediani Family Vineyard in Calistoga.

The Selene Merlot is a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. This Merlot has an impact and concentration in the mouth along with a lengthy velvet finish. With a rich ruby color, there are expressive notes of plum, chocolate, currant and spicy undertones. The extraordinarily oak inspired cherry and sweet sandalwood flavors are very present along with subtle smoke characteristics. This medium bodied, supple and seductive wine should continue to evolve over the next seven years.

Food & Wine Pairing Tips:

Typically I would veer towards Cabernet Sauvignon as my red wine of choice, however, over the last several years I broken out of my comfort zone to gaining a great admiration for all of the red varietals and blends. Merlot is a varietal that is extremely food friendly. Since Merlot is a lush red wine with tones of plum, black cherry, chocolate, hints of pepper, spice and caramel is it a match for many dishes. Listed below are some wonderful pairings with Merlot to consider:

Cornish Game Hen
Chocolate Soufflé
Lamb with Mint Pan Sauce
Pork with Caramelized Onions
Chicken parmigiana
Steak Au Poivre
Steak Delmonico
Boeuf Bourguignon
Huevos Rancheros
Stuffed Mushrooms
Pizza with Garlic
Chicken Marsala
Veal Marsala
Gruyere Cheese
BBQ Duck
Grilled Chicken
Pasta Alfredo
Swiss cheese
Spicy ethnic foods

When you are first pairing food and wine, start with the wine and then select and create the food around it. It is much simpler to change or tweak a food recipe to make it more compatible with the wine, then to start blending your own wine. In the beginning, choose a wine you already know and enjoy. You will already have a sense of the flavors and have a starting point for your pairing.

Forget the "white wine with white meat" and "red wine with red meat" theory you always hear about. The food and wine should complement each other and not battle against each other. Think about simple wine with complex foods and complex wines with simple foods. Understand how the food is prepared with the different components and flavors. If the dish has unique ingredients that may throw off your pairing, take that into consideration. For example, chicken can be roasted, grilled, fried or poached and each cooking method will change the flavor of the chicken. Lastly, think about the additional flavors and sauces that can be added to the chicken dish. It is an art form to produce the best food pairing with wine.

Remember the best pairing is great food, great wine and great company. Friends and loved ones are the most critical ingredients. To assist you on your food and wine pairing journey, I have listed tips below:
  • When you bring wine as a hostess gift to a dinner party, do not worry about matching the wine to the food unless you have been requested to do so and have enough information about the complete meal.
  • With a multi-course dinner party that has as different wine chosen for each course, it is customary to serve lighter wines before the full-bodied ones. Dry wines should be served before sweet wines unless a sweet flavored dish is served early in the meal. Lower alcohol wine should be served prior to higher alcohol wines.
  • Balance the flavor intensity of each wine. Pair light-bodied wines with lighter food and fuller-bodied wines with heartier, more flavorful, richer and fattier dishes. Consider how the food is prepared. Delicately flavored foods, poached or steamed, pair best with delicate wines. It's easier to pair wines with more flavorfully prepared food, braised, grilled, roasted or sautéed. Pair the wine with the sauce, seasoning or dominant flavor of the dish.
  • Match your flavors. For example, an earthy Pinot Noir matches beautifully with mushroom dishes and the grassy flavor of Sauvignon Blanc pairs perfectly with goat cheese.
  • Often when you think about food and wine pairings, cheese and wine come to mind. Red wines go well with mild to sharp cheeses. Pungent and strong flavored cheeses go better with a sweeter wine, such as Riesling. Soft cheeses like brie or camembert are wonderful with any type of red.
  • Taylor the food flavor to enhance the pairing with the wine. Sweetness in a dish will increase the bitterness in wine, making it appear drier, stronger and less fruity. Increased amounts of acidity in food will decrease the sourness in wine and make it taste richer and smoother.
  • Look out for bitter flavors in food since they will increase the tannic elements in wine. Sourness and salt in food suppress bitter taste in wine. Salt in food can decrease the bitterness and astringency of wine and may make sweet wines tastes sweeter.
  • Think about pairing opposites. Hot or spicy foods often work extremely well with sweeter wines such as a Riesling. Opposite flavors can create new flavor sensations and cleanse the palate.
  • Pair geography, region and location. Regional food and wines often have a natural affinity for each other.