Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shiitake Mushroom Spaghetti

I know you have all had a dish or two or perhaps three (smile) that are simply delicious.  Typically it is not the dish that has a million ingredients but rather a few perfect ingredients that combined together are “awe inspiring” to your taste buds.  It is a combination perfect in many ways.  From the flavor profiles to the textures to the satisfaction that it brings to your mind, body and soul – I deem those dishes – Simply Sublime.  

Speaking of simply sublime, I am introducing a new weekly series to my blog aptly called – “Simply Sublime”.  This series will be a weekend series that will appear either on Saturday or Sunday each week.  It will be dishes that I have made that are worthy of being called Simply Sublime.  Dishes that awake the taste buds that in turn make me & hubby smile along with not being complicated will earn a starring role in this exciting new series.

To kick off this exciting new series, I am going to share a simple dish that has now become a favorite for me and hubby.  Hubby typically always like a rich, thick red sauce to adorn his pasta, however, a pasta with garlicky olive oil and parmesan cheese is now a staple in his menu of favorites.  In the past, I have made it with the addition of red pepper flakes and/or chopped green olives.  My latest version is made with the ever so flavorful shiitake mushroom.  Of course the addition of garlic and parmesan push this dish to the simply sublime category.  Check it out for yourself!

Shiitake Mushroom Spaghetti

Serves four

1 Lb. Dried Spaghetti
3 Cup Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms, de-stemmed
8 Garlic Cloves, minced
½ Cup Flat Leaf Italian Parsley, rough chop
¾ Cup Olive Oil, Extra Virgin
Salt and Pepper
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Cook the dried pasta according to the package until it is al dente.  Remove and drain quickly.  In the meantime, use ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and place into a large skillet.  Heat on medium for a few minutes then add the de-stemmed shitake mushrooms and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove and add to a small bowl.

Add the ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and heat on medium.  Add the minced garlic and cooked shitake mushrooms.  Heat for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the cooked spaghetti and toss together with the oil, mushrooms and garlic.  Taste and then season with salt and pepper.  Toss in the flat leaf parsley.  Add to individual bowls or one large bowl.  Add desired amount of parmesan cheese to taste.  Enjoy!

Note:  If you can't find fresh Shiitake Mushrooms, you can use the dried version. Simply rehydrate into hot water until soft then de-stem and cook according to the recipe.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Thai Cocktail Meatballs with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce

When I think about an iconic, retro yet modern appetizer – the cocktail meatball comes to mind.  Do you remember throwing a jar of grape jelly and a jar of chili sauce in a pan with meatballs?  For me, that is one of the retro classics.

Today the cocktail meatball takes a vast array of  flavor profiles from: Asian to Mexican to Thai to American BBQ.  The possibilities of combinations are endless.  It is one of the simplest appetizers that is a crowd pleaser almost 100% of the time and easily made ahead of time.  My hubby absolutely loves cocktail meatballs, so I wanted to try something new for Friday Night Bites and surprise him.  

My other inspiration for the Thai Cocktail Meatballs was the Sweet Thai Chili Sauce.  I typically always pick up a bottle of this tasty condiment versus venturing on my own to make it from scratch.  Creating this sauce is a snap and the end result is a mouthwatering dip.  I did research on the required ingredients to create my own twist on this tasty dipping sauce.

A perfect wine to pair with the Thai Cocktail Meatballs is a Riesling.  Sometimes Riesling can be a wine that is more on the sweet side; however I have discovered quite a few that veer towards the dry side versus sweet. Riesling is a food friendly wine.  Why?  Rieslings are known for their balance of acid and sugar.  The acid gives way for hearty foods and tangy Asian flavors.  The relevant fruit components of the wine (apple, pear, citrus and tropical) and the light sweetness of an off-dry Riesling tackles spicy foods.

My Riesling pick for pairing with the Thai Cocktail Meatballs is from Bex Winery. The Bex Riesling comes in a tall skinning bottle with a screw top and a simple modern label.   With a typical price tag of under $10.00 – this is truly a hidden jewel. The winery is located in Graton California with the grapes sourced from the Mosel region in Germany. The freshness of this wine is from the fermentation process done in stainless tanks. 

The Bex Riesling embodies a light golden color with refreshing fruit notes including melon, grapefruit and apricot.  Honeysuckle and honey are present in the flavor profile. This wine creamy, soft yet mouth-filling all at the same time and finishes with a lemon curd note.  With the spice in the Sweet Thai Chili Sauce and meatballs, this perfectly balances each bite.  Cheers!

Thai Cocktail Meatballs

Makes approximately 30 meatballs

1 Pound Ground Turkey
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 C. Panko bread crumbs
2 Tablespoon Fresh Ginger, minced
1 Egg
1 Tablespoon Garlic, minced
3 Scallions, minced (white and green parts)
2 Jalapenos, minced
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 Tablespoon Chili Garlic Sauce
1 Tablespoon Lemongrass, finely minced

In a large bowl add all of the above ingredients and mix with your hands until incorporated.  Form one inch balls and place onto a cookie sheet.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the meatballs and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until fully cooked. 

Sweet Thai Chili Sauce

1 Cup Rice Vinegar
1 Cup Sugar
½ Cup Water
2 teaspoon Fresh ginger root, minced
1 teaspoon Garlic, minced
2 teaspoon Hot chili pepper, minced
1 Tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons Cornstarch
½ teaspoon Dried chili flakes

Pour the water and vinegar into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir in the sugar, ginger, garlic, chili peppers & flakes and ketchup; simmer for 5 minutes.  Stir in the cornstarch.  If you feel like it is not getting thick, then add one more teaspoon of cornstarch.  Remove saucepan from the stove to cool.  Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until needed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bacon & White Cheddar Ranch Dip (a.k.a. – Crack Dip) + Handmade Potato Chips | Secret Recipe Club

Fall has arrived.  The leaves are turning a golden color along with a subtle crispness in the air and the days are getting shorter.  Pumpkins and mums adorn porches across America.  Halloween is around the corner.  Christmas decorations are up for sale already at many retail establishments. How did 2012 fly by so quickly?

The time has arrived for the Secret Recipe Club big reveal for group C.  If you are not familiar with the Secret Recipe Club, let me quickly share with you the premise.  It is an online cooking club where once a month food bloggers are secretly matched with another member to select a recipe from that blog. They choose a favorite recipe to make and everyone puts up the post on Monday morning at the same time for the big reveal.  It is fun to explore other blogs, select a favorite recipe and put your own spin on it.  If you are interested in joining in on the fun, simply click here.

For October, I was paired with Julie from Julie’s Eats andTreats.  Julie, her hubby Jason and official taste tester and their new baby live in Minnesota. Julie started her blog in 2010 as a method of sharing her love of cooking with friends and family.  Her creative juices are quenched with her blog and she is constantly updating her blog as her thirst for learning new things continues.  Julie’s recipes are simple yet packed full of flavor.  I can only imagine that her hubby probably eats really well along with her friends and family.

After browsing through her vast array of tasty recipes, one recipe kept haunting me and I knew I needed to try it.  The name alone – “Crack Dip” caught my eye and peaked my curiosity to know what is in this crack dip. Not only is it one of her most popular posts, I knew it had to be delicious.  I changed the ingredients slightly by cooking some Apple wood Smoked Bacon to use instead of bacon bits.  In addition, I used white cheddar cheese and added finely minced green onions for an added pop of flavor. 

Instead of serving store bought potato chips, I opted to make handmade potato chips that are oven fried.  They could not have been easier to make and the taste was remarkable.  This dip is a perfect weekend snack to enjoy while watching your favorite television show, sports game or movie during a cool autumn day.  Thank you Julie for a wonderful dip recipe!

Bacon & White Cheddar Ranch Dip (a.k.a. – Crack Dip) + Handmade Potato Chips

16 oz. Sour Cream
1 Packet Ranch Dressing Mix
6 Slices Apple wood Smoked Bacon, cooked crisp and cut into small pieces
1 Cup White Cheddar Cheese, shredded
½ Cup Green onions, finely minced

Add all of the above ingredients to a medium sized bowl and mix well.  Let rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour to develop the flavors.

Handmade Potato Chips

Makes about 30 to 35 chips per potato

1 Large Russet Potato
1/4 Cup Olive oil

Heat oven to 425 degrees

Rinse the russet potato.  Use a mandolin to cut the potato into thin slices.   Add to a bowl of cold water and then dry with a paper towel. Use a non-stick baking sheet.  In a bowl add about ¼ cup olive oil.  After the potato slice has been rinsed in the water bath and dried, dip in the olive oil and lightly coat with olive oil.  Using your fingers, push away excess olive oil, then lay onto the non-stick baking sheet.  Be careful to have each slice not touch.  Once the sheet is filled, back for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Halfway through the cooking process flip the potatoes for even cooking.  Remove onto a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

After being away from my primary office for the last several days, I walked into my office and instantly had a big smile on my face.  The distinctive Amazon box was sitting on my desk front and center.  My Baked Elements:Our 10 Favorite Ingredients had arrived - yippee skippee!  I already own Baked Explorations: ClassicAmerican Desserts Reinvented and Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.  Now my collection is complete - okay until Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito publish their 4th masterpiece. If you are in New York City, you can check out where it all began at the bakery aptly named - "Baked".

I could not contain myself when I got home that night to turn each page and begin to drool.  Matt and Renato broke this book down to 10 of their favorite ingredients and created masterful delights with each ingredient.  The list is comprised of – peanut butter, lemon & lime, caramel, booze, pumpkin, malted milk powder, cinnamon, cheese, chocolate and finally banana.  What a brilliant methodology for a cookbook!

You can imagine that each turn of a page stirred the creative juices for me.  I simply wanted to make everything in the book.  After the first complete review of the book, I went back for a second look.  One recipe stood out for me that was both simple and mouth watering.  The Pumpkin Seed Brittle simply stood out to me.  Plus I had a large bag of Pepitas in my pantry. Pepita is a Spanish culinary term for pumpkin seed.  The seeds are typically rather flat and oval, and light green in color inside a white hull.  The word refers to the roasted end product.

I purchased the pepitas already roasted and salted from Trader Joe’s which saved time from the recipe.  I decided to cut the cinnamon amount in half, since I just wanted a slight hint of cinnamon flavor.  The end result was pure brittle perfection.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Cups Raw, hulled pumpkin seeds*
2 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
2 Cups Sugar
¼ Cup Light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons Honey
6 Tablespoons Butter, cut into small cubes
¾ Teaspoon Baking powder
½ Teaspoon Cinnamon

(*I used Roasted & Salted Pepitas from Trader Joe’s, which eliminated the roasting of the seeds)

Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels.

Place  the oil in a medium heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Swirl the pan a few times to make sure the oil is completely covering the bottom of the skillet.  When the oil is hot, after 1 to 2 minutes, add the raw pumpkin seeds and toss with a large spoon until they just start to brown, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, toast the seeds in a 350 degree oven by tossing them with 1 tablespoon of oil and spreading them in a even layer in a baking pan.  Bake for 10 minutes, stir the seeds, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until lightly brown.  Transfer the seeds to the prepared baking sheet, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and let them cool.

Place the cooled pumpkin seeds in a small bowl.  Remove the paper towels and line the baking sheet with parchment paper.  Light coat the parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan over very low heat, gently stir together ¼ cup water, the sugar, corn syrup, and honey until the mixture is almost clear.  Stir in the butter.  Increase the heat to medium high and continue gently stirring the mixture until it just begins to boil.  Stop stirring and cook until the mixture is golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. (For a darker color, I would continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes until dark golden brown) Remove from the heat and gently stir in the baking soda, then the cinnamon and the remaining 1 ½ teaspoon of salt.  After the mixture has stopped bubbling vigorously (light bubbling is fine), stir in the pumpkin seeds.  Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and sue a lightly greased offset spatula to spread it out in an even layer.  Allow the brittle to cool completely, at least 3 hours.

Break the brittle into pieces with a sharp knife or your hands.  It can be stored  at room temperature, between layers of parchment in an airtight container, for up to one week.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Pumpkin Empanadas with Cilantro Mint Chutney

Where has the month of October gone?  It is already the 18th and it seems like the calendar just flipped from September to October.  Living in the Bay Area, the seasons are not quite as distinct as other parts of the country yet we do have our seasons.  Right now we are experiencing what we call “Indian Summer”.  This is the time of the year when it is officially fall yet it seems like summer.  Today the temperatures reached 90 degrees.  Don’t get me wrong, I personally love the warmer weather, but having some cold and rain might be a nice change.

After listening to the weather forecast, it is going to change on Monday with the temps cooling and rain is expected.  I must admit that I absolutely love the flavors of fall with the rich soups, hearty pasta dishes and braised meats.  This year I am obsessed with all things pumpkin.  While thumbing through the latest issue of Sunset Magazine, I could not help but be entranced with a recipe for Pumpkin Curry Empanadas.  Making empanadas has been on my list for quite sometime and not time like the present to whip up a batch.  This would be my introductory recipe into the world of empanadas.

Several weeks ago while visiting the San Francisco Ferry Building; I spied a new spot in one of the corners of the building called El Porteno which serves hand made empanadas.  From traditional to contemporary flavors, there is an empanada to suit everyone’s taste.

Last Friday for our weekly wine and appetizer night, I thought I would serve the pumpkin empanadas that I made the weekend before and froze.  Yes I said froze.  They are a perfect snack to make ahead of time and then simply brush with egg wash and bake.  They were simply perfect.  We invited our good friend Kathryn over for the evening.  I switched out the curry spice blend in favor of using garam masala.  Between the flavor of the roasted pumpkin and the garam masala, it was a delightful bite.  I made the suggested chutney to accompany the empanadas and it was a perfect addition.

As for a wine pairing, you could actually go with a nice Spanish white wine or Cava.  However, one of my favorite white wines is Conundrum.  It is a proprietary blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier.  The fruit for the wine is sourced from Napa, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Tulare Counties.  The wine has endless layers and aromas but is extremely balanced with a subtle complexity.  When you first sniff, you will smell aromas of green apple, tangerine and honeysuckle.  You can taste peach, apricot nectar and pear with hints of citrus and a subtle vanilla undertone.  If you have never had this wine, I highly encourage you to pick up a bottle. 

For a delightful bite for your Friday night or weekend gathering, this Pumpkin Empanada is a sure winner and your guests will thank you!

Pumpkin Empanadas with Cilantro Mint Chutney

1 T. Olive oil
12 ounces cubed peeled baking pumpkin
1 Large onion, finely chopped
1 T. + 1 t. Garam Masala
¼ C. Currants, softened 10 minutes in hot water to cover
Salt and pepper
1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Rub a rimmed baking sheet with 1 t. oil.  Spread pumpkin on sheet and roast, uncovered, turning once, till tender when pierced, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent.  Stir in garam masala and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Transfer onion to a medium mixing bowl.  Drain the currents and stir into the bowl.  Add warm pumpkin and mix well, mashing with back of a spoon to create a slightly chunky mixture.

Working with one pie dough disk at a time, roll dough on a lightly floured surface into a 1/8 inch thick round.  Using a 4 inch ring cutter, cut out 20 circles, re-rolling scraps.  Mix 1 tablespoon water with the egg yolk and brush onto the dough rounds.  Spoon 1 tablespoon pumpkin mixture into center of each round, fold over, and seal edges with tines of a fork.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Arrange empanadas on sheet, slightly apart.  Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve with chutney.

Cilantro Mint Chutney

1 t. Red chili flakes
2 C. Cilantro leaves
12 large fresh mint leaves
2 T. olive oil
1 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. salt

In a food processor, pulse red chili flakes, cilantro and mint until reduced in volume by half.  Add 2 T. water, the oil, lemon juice and salt.  Whirl until smooth, adding more oil if needed.

Pie Dough

3 C. Flour
1 T. Sugar
1 ½ t. salt
1 C. Butter, cold and cubed

Whirl together in a food processor the flour, sugar and salt.  Add the butter and pulse into pea size pieces.  Drizzle 2/3 cups very cold water over crumbs and pulse until moistened.  Turn dough onto a work surface and gather into a ball, turning to combine any dry crumbs.  Divide dough in half, form each into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts + Lancaster Estate Winery

Within the heart of Sonoma County is the beautiful town of Healdsburg and wine growing region of Alexander Valley, which I am absolutely enamored with.  Among the many distinctive and intriguing wineries, is Lancaster Estate.  Ted Simpkins is the founder and creator of this magnificent winery.  The terroir embodies diverse soils and the sun drenches the vines perfectly to produce idiosyncratic wines. A marine influence rushes over the vineyards to which extends the growing season and allows time-honored Bordeaux varietals to mature, gain tannins, along with a impartial structure that is vibrant and perfectly balanced.

It was in 1995 that Lancaster Estate debuted under the Simpkins name and began to produce their rich and distinctive wines. The wineries creates four different Bordeaux style wines that are produced on this 53 acre estate along with being micro-farmed vineyard blocks and own the founder’ vision.

The actual winery tasting room and building was designed by Eugene Silva and seamlessly melds into the landscaping.  One of the distinguishing landmarks of this estate is the hillside cave.  The unique cave is 9,000 square feet of serenity, natural cool air and a peaceful quietness.  The cave embodies a unique round tasting room that hubby and I experienced our private tasting.  The wall is surrounded by a unique racking system for the many wine bottles to call home.  Deeper in the cave is another tasting area for larger parties set up with a luxurious leather chairs and a large wood table.

I first experienced Lancaster wines when one of my employees gave me a bottle as a gift.  This was over 5 years ago.  It was love at first sip.  I jumped onto the internet to learn more and join their wine club called the Guild of Six.  With just this one bottle, I knew I needed to join the club without even visiting the actual winery. Three times a year, I receive a present of this elegant wine – okay, not quite a “present” since my visa is charged, but it is a gift each time we open and enjoy a bottle.

Jesse Katz is the gifted wine maker behind this well-designed and highly crafted wine.  He earned a degree from Enology degree from Fresno State University with a minor in chemistry.  He mastered his wine making skills in Argentina and Napa.  Jesse was recruited from the cult producer Screaming Eagle in 2010 and has worked with legendary wine makers Andy Ericson, Paul Hobbs, Hans Vinding-Diers and Robert Foley.  Jesse certainly has the pedigree to make phenomenal wine and he is accomplishing this at Lancaster.

After being a long time club member of Lancaster, hubby and I finally made an appointment to have a private tour and tasting at this magnificent winery.  We ventured to Healdsburg for my birthday in JuneLancaster was one of our excursions for the weekend.  The grounds are simply perfect along with the cave and of course the wines are among our favorites.  We were treated to a glass of Samantha’s Sauvignon Blanc while our private tour started with a ride in the estates suburban around the entire estate. Samantha’s Sauvignon is named after one of the Simpkin’s twin daughters.  This wine is aged in stainless steel Bordeaux size barrels with a small number of new French Oak barrels to round out the flavor profile. Immediately you sense floral aromas and tropical notes.  A rich and smooth wine that is perfect for sipping on a warm summer day.

After our mobile tour around the estate, we were treated to a red wine tasting in the small round room within the cave.  The walls are surrounded by wine bottles that are uniquely secured to the wall; a striking light hangs over a large wood table where our pre-poured glasses awaited us.  We first enjoyed Lancaster Estate Sophia’s Hillside Cuvee and this vintage is named after the other twin daughter of the Simpkins.  This Bordeaux style wine is primarily cabernet sauvignon with a hint of merlot.  It embodies aromas of clove, cinnamon and hints of fresh berry.  After the long finish, you will experience hints of dark chocolate and taste the French oak.

Next was the Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon or as I always associate as the “purple label” bottle.  This is the noble wine of the group with traditional Bordeaux blending of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  It is a rich wine that will surely be a teeth stainer, in good way.  With a balance of dark fruit, cherries, dark chocolate, cassis and vanilla this wine is a true winner.  Among the other things I love about this wine is the earthy quality and nutmeg undertones. Robert Parker gave this wine a 94 rating and deemed it “outstanding”.

Last but not least is the Lancaster Estate Nicole’s Proprietary Red named after Ted’s lovely wife Nicole.  This wine is reserved for the wine club members and I am so happy that I am a member of this exclusive club and aptly named the guild.  This wine is made from the 18 best barrels from that particular vintage.  It has expressions of espresso, clove and dark fruit.  The wine has a finely woven minerality and is bottled unfiltered.  This wine is simply exceptional.

If you are headed to the Healdsburg area or the Alexander Valley region, put Lancaster Estate on your list of  must places to visit.  Lancaster takes appointments by making a reservation only.  It is a unique wine country experience that you will be completely impressed by and is quite unforgettable. 

Speaking of unforgettable, I thought I would include a simple yet extremely flavorful recipe for Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts that I discovered on the food network while watching Dinners, Drive ins and Dives.  The recipe is courtesy of Brian McDaniel from South of Beale Gastropub in MemphisTennessee is on my bucket list and this gastropub is a must visit restaurant.  I guarantee that you will be making this recipe over and over again!  Enjoy!

Maple Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts

4 Cups Brussels Sprouts, cut in half
6 Strips of Applewood Smoked Bacon
6 Tablespoons butter, cubed
4 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Rinse the brussels sprouts under cold water and dry.  Once dry, cut each sprout in half.

Place the bacon strips on a cutting board and cut into 1/2 strips.  In a medium saute pan, heat the bacon over medium heat until crips.  Strain the bacon out of the pan and place on paper towels.  Keep the bacon fat in the pan and add the butter and heat until melted.  Once the butter is melted, add the Brussels Sprouts and stir frequently.  Saute until the sprouts begin to brown.  Add the bacon back to the sprouts and add the maple syrup.  Heat until the syrup appears to stick to the Brussels sprouts and a deep caramelization is reached.  Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Roasted Tomato Burrata Crostini

Hard to believe that it was a week ago that I debuted my new seriesFriday Night Bites.  Time just goes by way too fast.   I am excited to share my second installment of this fun series.  A Crostini is one of my all time favorite appetizers.  With the pure simplicity and endless possibilities of toppings, it is the perfect appetizer.  A two to three bite wonder.

If you are busy person like me and work 50 to 60 hours per week, a Crostini is a simple appetizer that you can throw together in no time.  You can almost shop your refrigerator and pantry to come up with a creative Crostini. 

Last Friday we ended up having guests join us for our tradition.  We enjoyed a cheese platter and multiple bottles of wine.  It was an impromptu gathering, so I shopped the refrigerator and pantry for the cheese platter ingredients.  I realized later that I had all of the ingredients for this Roasted Tomato Burrata Crostini but with my time constraints getting home late from work and the guests had already arrived, it would not have been feasible.  I did however make it over the weekend and enjoyed each bite.

A few months ago I attended the SF Chefs event in San Francisco and went to the Sommeliers Blind Tasting Seminar.  Essentially there were three master sommeliers at the front of the class who evaluated each wine and put their best guess out to the group.  My friend and I would guess along with them and actually correctly identified 5 out of 6 of the wines.  I have to admit that my friend is in the wine business but I was holding my own.  Smile.

One of the wines that we tasted was Nipozzano Riserva Chianit Rufina DOCG 2008 from Castello di Nipozzano.  With the Italian flair of the Crostini, I thought this wine would be a perfect pairing.  It hosts a deep purplish color.  The nose envokes scents of sour cherry, raspberry and dried plum.  Next you experience an aroma of black pepper, vanilla, cocoa powder and espresso bean.  The finish is smooth and endless and extremely well balanced.  A winning choice!

Hope that you enjoy this Friday Night Bite and wine pairing!

Roasted Tomato Burrata Crostini

Makes 12

Baguette, 12 half inch slices
Olive oil
2 Garlic cloves
Pesto (see recipe below or use store bought)
12 Grape tomatoes

Roasted Tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut each grape tomato in half and place onto a baking sheet cut side up.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove and let cool.


To make the Crostini, slice the baguette into 12 slices that are about ½ inch thick.  Brush each side with olive oil.  Place onto a cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Check to make sure they do not get too dark.  Should be golden brown on both sides.  Flip at 5 minutes to ensure even cooking.  Remove from the oven and rub the raw garlic clove on the top of each Crostini.


To assemble cut about a tablespoon of the burrata and spread onto each Crostini.  Next spoon about 1 to 2 teaspoons of pesto on top of the burrata.  Add 2 of the tomato halves on top of the pesto.  Sprinkle with a touch of salt.  Serve immediately and enjoy!!

Basil Pesto Sauce

2 C. Fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
½ C. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/3 C. Pine nuts, toasted
½ C. Olive oil
3 Garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a food processor to make this sauce. Simply add the basil leaves, parmesan cheese, pine nuts and garlic cloves. Pulse for 10 seconds and then slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture while food processor is on. Continue to pulse until the mixture is smooth. Taste and then season with salt and pepper. Place into an airtight container immediately so the bright green color remains. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Garlic, Thyme & Parmesan Popcorn

Yesterday was a great day. 

My Dad was finally able to come home after spending approximately seven weeks recovering from a hip replacement.  We would go and visit him at the rehabilitation facility each week, but it was not the same as visiting at my childhood home where my parents still reside.  Though my parents are aging, I still think of them as young parents who can do anything.

They are extremely active from my Dad continuing to consult with his clients to my Mom’s vast volunteer activities to their monthly RV excursions in their thirty foot motor home that my Dad still commands the driver seat.  Oh and they tow a jeep wrangler in the back.  Though my Dad is now taking a respite from his busy life, I have no doubt that he will be back in action very soon.

Yesterday was a great day.  Yes I am saying it again. Smile.  My Dad was home.  It is a good thing. We ate dinner all together as family and all seemed to be getting back to normal again.  Just simply hanging out with my parents was a great day.  Popcorn was a staple in our household growing up.  From piling into the car to go to the drive in movies to simply having a bowl while watching television, it was something my Mother would always make.

Popcorn in our house was always white not yellow.  Always popped in a cast iron pan that my Dad owned prior to meeting my Mom and often drizzled with melted butter.  To assist with ensuring the butter touched every popped kernel, my Mom would dump into a double paper bag and then hit with the melted butter and salt.  With my parents on my mind, I thought I would whip up a batch of popcorn and add a gourmet spin.  I actually polished off a bowl while writing this post.  Delish!

Garlic, Thyme & Parmesan Popcorn

6 T. Salted Butter
4 to 6 Garlic Cloves, finely minced (About 2 tablespoons)
3 T. Canola or Vegetable Oil
1/2 C. White Popcorn Kernels
1/2 C. finely grated parmesan cheese
2 T. Fresh Thyme Leaves, rough chop
Sea salt to taste

In a sauce pan, melt the butter then add the minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves

You’ll need a large heavy-bottomed pot with lid. Heat oil over medium heat with 2 or 3 popcorn kernels. Once the kernels begin to pop, cover with a lid.  Shake periodically so the kernels do not burn.  Once you stop hearing popping, take off the heat.  Add to a large brown paper bag.  Best to double the paper bags to allow for the oil to absorb and not come through.

Drizzle the garlic and thyme butter over all of the popcorn once in the brown bag and shake well.  Next add the parmesan cheese and shake well.  Taste and then add salt and shake well, until it reaches the desired taste levels you are looking for.  Next add one tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves. With the salted butter and parmesan cheese, you may not need to add too much salt.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Balsamic Fig Jam Brie Cups

I am extremely excited to share with all of you the debut of my new weekly feature titled “Friday Night Bites”.  For anyone who personally knows me or has been following my blog, understands my love of appetizers and wine.  A little background for you – my hubby and I began a tradition several years that every Friday night we celebrate the end of the work week by unwinding with a bottle of wine and assorted appetizers.  As you imagine, it has evolved over the years. Sometimes we celebrate with simply just the two of us and other times, several friends will join in the festivities.  Either way, it is a cherished tradition that we look forward to each Friday night.

Now for the series name - a couple weeks ago, I shared this idea with my hubby during one of our Friday nights since I was struggling with what to name the series.  Within a minute or perhaps two, he came up with “Friday Night Bites”.  It was catchy. I loved it.  “It was perfect” - I exclaimed. The funny part was he really wanted to ensure that I gave him credit for the name.  Of course honey, I would give credit where credit is due.  I was simply amazed how effortless it was for him to think of it. Big smile.

My goal is to share this new series every Thursday with all of you.  The concept is to give you a fresh idea for an appetizer that you can enjoy on Friday night or during the weekend or in the future.  Since wine is an essential part of the Friday night celebrations, I will share a recommendation that pairs well with the highlighted appetizer. I enjoy making simple yet flavorful appetizers.  Most recipes should have ingredients that are accessible across the country. I apologize in advance if I am too adventurous and create an appetizer that has unique ingredients but will try to share ideas on substitutions.

With my excitement mounting, I am pleased to share my first appetizer in this series with all of you for Balsamic Fig Jam Brie Cups.  I truly have an ongoing love affair with my balsamic fig jam.  It goes with so many things and is quite frankly – addicting!  Hubby and I spent last weekend in Healdsburg for a wine event at Lancaster Estate Winery.  There were 500 people there but I felt like there were only 100 people.  The catering company was simply amazing.  From the Duck Confit filled Savory Doughnuts with Lingonberry Sauce to Mini Chicken and Waffles to the Cookie Bar with assorted cookies and frostings, the food was remarkable.  Okay, if you have never tried Lancaster Wines and you love a full bodied red, please run don’t walk to the winery or order online – you will not be disappointed. Smile.

For these Balsamic Fig Jam Brie Cups, a classic pairing would be a buttery Chardonnay or Brut Champagne.  However, I wanted to step outside the classic just a bit and suggest a light Pinot Noir. On the way home we stopped in HawleyWinery & Vineyards in downtown Healdsburg.  Our intention was to pick up a few bottles of their Viognier, which we enjoyed on our last trip to Healdsburg.  However, in true traditional tasting fashion, you can’t simply walk in and purchase, you have to taste.  Hawley’s Pinot Noir is an awarding winning wine and once I tasted, I completely understood the distinction and honors this wine has earned. 

This Pinot Noir comes from the Russian River Valley and was harvested late to allow for the development of the incomparable flavors in the 2008 release. I tasted ripe cherry fruit with vanilla notes and a very smooth finish. We left with a couple bottles of Pinot Noir and Viognier.  The Pinot Noir is a lovely match for the Balsamic Fig Jam Brie Bites.  This appetizer is a loose recipe that you can make 1 or 3 dozen or more easily.  I have included my Balsamic Fig Jam recipe but you can also purchase fig jam and it will be just as delicious. Enjoy!

Balsamic Fig Jam Brie Cups

Makes 12

Wonton wrappers
Olive oil
Brie (triple crème)
Balsamic Fig Jam
Fresh figs
Micro greens, chives or parsley

Preheat oven to 350

On a cutting board lay out 12 wonton wrappers and brush each side with olive oil.  Use a mini muffin tin to place each prepared wonton wrapper.  Place it centered in the muffin tin and gently push down to fully line the muffin tin.  Press the sides together to secure leaving the center exposed.  Continue until all 12 slots are filled with the wonton wrappers.  Cook for about 5 to 6 minutes until lightly browned and remove.

Fill each wonton with about one to two teaspoons of brie.  Top with about 1 teaspoon of fig jam. Repeat until all wrappers are filled with brie and jam.  Return to the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the brie.  Top the cups with a quarter of fresh fig and garnish with a sprig of microgreen, chive or parsley to add a pop of color.

Fig Balsamic Jam

Makes 12 to 14 pint jars

6 Pounds Fresh Figs – remove stem and cut into quarters
4 ½ Cups Sugar
1 ½ Cups Balsamic Vinegar

Use a large pot. Add all of the above ingredients to the large pot. Stir well to combine all of the ingredients. Place on the stove on high heat and bring to a boil. Once really bubbling lower the heat to medium. The sugar will begin to thicken and the figs will soften. Once the figs are soft, about 45 minutes to one hour. Simple test by pressing the spoon against a fig to the side of the pot. If soft and the liquid is thicker, then it is probably ready.

Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 to 15 minutes. Using an emulsion blender, puree the jam. If you like it with chunks, then process less.

To process the jam, add to each sterilized jar and wipe around each rim to remove any of the jam that spilled. Put the lid and rim on each jar and tighten, but not too tight. Add each jar to the boiling water of the large pot with tongs and use a canning rack. Process for 10 minutes. Using tongs remove each jar and place onto a towel on the counter. This will prevent the jar from cracking if it hits a cold hard surface. Let cool.

You will hear the lids popping. The popping means the jar is sealed. After an hour, check each jar to ensure you can’t press and hear a popping sound. If you do, it means it did not seal. Simply re-process to obtain a tight seal.