June 28, 2010

Spit or Die

Remnants of White Wine from Speed Blogging

This past weekend I learned to spit. Spitting is a necessity, needless to say, if you are going to actually taste upwards of 200 wines or so within a three day period of time and live to tell the story.

The Wine Bloggers Conference 2010 was held last week in Walla Walla, Washington. Three days of wine tasting, seminars, keynote speakers (like Steve Heimhoff and Lettie Teague), being wined and dined by wineries, a food and wine pairing seminar by Jeffrey Saad, networking, very good food and the infamous speed blogging events.
Portrait Cellars Lovely Label

Speed blogging is much like speed dating, only instead of five intriguing or torturous minutes with a prospective date, you spend it with a winemaker and one of his or her wines. Five whole minutes for a winemaker to offer information, answer your questions, and for you to taste and form an opinion about the wine and to send your impressions into the ether via Twitter. This process is repeated every five minutes for an hour, putting you front and center with a total of 12 wines, and that's only the whites. The reds come tomorrow. Each taster has his or her own spit cup along with the larger spit buckets on each table, and using them is the only way to gain a true impression of the wine and find a vocabulary to describe it, which was in part my motivation for attending the conference.
Lots of food and wine pairing opportunities occurred during the conference. I've never seen so much Riedel stemware in one place in all my life, and was glad that I wasn't working the dish room during this event.
Really nice photo opportunities were everywhere the eye could see.It was announced that the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 will be held next July in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was last there in 2008 and am curious to see what is reported to be exponential growth of the industry there and how their wines are coming along. With Virginia's blossoming wine industry, it should be a very good time, and will allow for our east-coast blogging buddies to more easily join us. There are a few I'm hoping to meet, like Jason and Margot at Ancient Fire.
Wines from Jefferson Winery in Charlottesville

One of the promised events at the next conference is an exclusive event at Monticello. I've already registered, have you?

June 24, 2010

Pre-Wine Bloggers Conference "Petite Tour"

I'm not a wine blogger per se. Wine bloggers have a single minded focus: Wine, of course. My voice here is this: Celebrating food, wine, life and love in Oregon wine country. Only about half of my content references wine, within the context of food and wine pairing that is representational of my mostly Oregon larder. That is why I was surprised and delighted to be invited to the Wine Bloggers Conference pre-conference "Petite Tour" through the Yamhill-Carlton AVA hosted by Solena Estates.

We were invited to a day of wining and dining at Solena, Soter Vineyards, and Anne Amie Vineyards with a focus on Oregon Pinot Noir.

After meeting up with a group of about 18 other bloggers, our transportation into the Yamhill-Carlton area was via Double Decker PDX, Portland's own party bus. Two cute boys, Kent and Brooks, freshly graduated from the U of O and apparently with some entrepreneurial moxie, treated us to Double Decker PDX's inaugural run. The launch party for their new bus transport/party business is next Thursday, July 1. Follow the link for details. A sweet ride, indeed.

Lynette Shaw, who runs Solena's Carlton tasting room and is involving social media into their marketing efforts, gets 99 Wine Spectator points for inviting us to this gig. Lynette made sure we were comfy and energized by these Voodoo Doughnuts. In case you haven't heard, Voodoo Doughnuts have a cult status here in the Pacific Northwest. Crazy as it sounds, people line up around the block for these grape-KoolAided, M & M'd and Fruit-Looped things. Realizing that escalating blood sugar wasn't a good set-up for my day of wine-tasting, it wasn't hard for me to say no this time. But I digress...

This beautiful welcome, glass after glass of Solena 2008 Pinot Gris, awaited the group. Clean, crisp, and a perfect refresher for our first hot day of the year.

Winemaker Bruno
Our tour of their vineyards and state-of-the-art wine making facilities included a good overview of the geology and soils of the area and why they produce Pinots that rival the best Burgundies. The tour culminated in an extraordinary barrel tasting of many (I didn't count... more than 6, less than 10?) Pinot Noirs from various of the Montalieu's Yamhill-Carlton vineyards. Breathtaking. Like meeting that many gorgeous super-models.

Our extraordinary hostess, Danielle Andrus Montalieu. Danielle shared the romantic story of her marriage to Laurant Montalieu, their deep wine industry backgrounds, and their root stock wedding registry. As a propertied bride-to-be myself, I find this charming.

Our group of bloggers, cameras and notepads at the ready, were then ushered into a fantabulous dining room with a gorgeously appointed I've-died-and-gone-to heaven banquet table. Here we were treated to a summery four-course wine-paired meal crafted by chef Matt Howard.

The first course was a shimmer of summer corn soup with potato, proscuitto and basil oil, paired with the neutrally oaked 2008 Solena ElvenGlade Vineyard Chardonnay.

The second course was plank-roasted wild Sockeye salmon atop an earthy fava bean puree with shaved fennel salad and a dab of rhubarb & nectarine compote. This was served with the 2007 Solena Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir. The structured and mushroomy forest-floor qualities of this wine provided my favorite pairing of the day.

Our gracious host, Laurent Montelieu, kindly answering many questions over lunch.

The third course was grilled Cascade natural flat iron steak with a Yukon Gold potato and leek crispy hashbrown and smoky heirloom cherry tomato relish paired with the 2008 Solena Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir. This is a dish we will aim to recreate at home soon. Stay tuned.

I flip for dessert, so it's no surprise that I forgot to photograph our dessert course. I was too busy greedily nibbling at the rosemary and crunchy fleur do sel shortbread. The cookies were served with fresh Oregon strawberries and Bellweather Farms Carmody cheese. As lovely a dessert as I can remember having, served along with the lush 2008 Solena late Harvest Riesling.
Chef Matt Howard
There is so much more to tell about this day, but for now I want to give proper thanks to Lynette and the Montalieu's at Solena for a lovely experience. The Wine Bloggers Conference starts in Walla Walla tomorrow morning!!!

June 20, 2010

Compose Yourself

Salade Niçoise

Let's face it... when a person is falling in love, I mean the head over heals, butterflies in the tummy, foggy thinking, something crazy is going on here and don't let it stop kind of love, it is the easiest time and the worst time to loose your composure. Perhaps that is why I turned to this salad in the early days of my relationship to the man I'm about to marry. It was an effort to impress, yes, but I also needed to lean on all the composure I could muster.

Salade Niçoise is one of the worlds better-known composed salads (a salade composée.) A specialty of the Côte d’Azur region of France where fish is abundant, this salad is named for Nice, the city from which it originated. For our salad, I took a non-traditional approach and had My Baby grill fresh tuna rather than use the usual canned variety. Like so many regional dishes, I understand that there are many variations on the theme but one thing stands as true: The vegetables must be cooked, not raw. In France, there may be as many "very best" Salade Niçoises as there are mamans, as each cook has her own approach.

So together we shared a delicious Niçoise Salad, as we are apt to call it here in the States, on a warm summers night on my balcony deck with a bottle of French something-or-another (like I said, my head was a little foggy and that was before the wine), a loaf of crusty bread, and learned a little more about one another.

Salade Niçoise

French Vinaigrette
1 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 Tablespoon each finely chopped fresh basil, tarragon and oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Shake all ingredients together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Set aside.

1/2 pound small red potatoes, halved
3 Tablespoons dry vermouth
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound haricot verts (green beans)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/3 pound good tuna
3 Tablespoons tiny capers
1/2 cup Niçoise olives
1 2 oz. tin flat anchovies
4 hard boiled eggs, halved
4 ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Stem potatoes until tender, about 15-20 minutes depending on their size. While still hot, drizzle with vermouth, then sprinkle with shallot, oregano, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Blanch the green beans in boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes, just until tender. Drain, refresh in cold water, then drain again. Toss with the tarragon and a bit of the reserved vinaigrette. Set aside.

Grill tuna briefly over very hot coals or an a hot grill pan just until seared on both sides. Set aside.

Toss the tomatoes with the basil and a bit of the reserved vinaigrette.

Arrange potatoes, green beans, eggs, tomatoes and tuna on a large platter. Adorn the egg halves with anchovy fillets. Sprinkle capers and olives atop of it all. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the entire salad and serve immediately.

Sit back and watch love grown.

Photo credit: Scott Spettel

June 10, 2010

Have It and Eat It: Cake

White Chocolate & Fig Pound Cake

C-a-k-e. Four little letters that, when put together, make my heart throb every time they are heard or said. I love cake. Sponge cake; butter cake; chiffon cake; custard cake; angel food cake; devil's food cake; pound cake; génoise; dacquoise; you name it, I love it. Topped with ganache or buttercream or whipped cream or meringue or just a simple dusting of confectioner's sugar all agree with me just fine, thank you. Downy textured cakes and hefty cakes, fudgey-gooey cakes and cakes that crumble all occupy a warm corner of my heart.

This recipe is one I've had my eye on from the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook, and it's wonderful. The white chocolate chunks warm in the oven to ooze their cocoa butter into the soul of the cake. The fig seeds offer a marvelous textural crunch. The vanilla-scented crumb is buttery-unctuous, and the whole thing thing comes together in one amazing cake.

Let me warn you; this is a dense cake. My Baby has been putting special emphasis on the word "pound" when he's referring to the pretty ring under the glass dome in the kitchen. It is not dry at all, just dense with goodies, butterfat and cocoa fat. Do not make this cake if light and fluffy are what you're about. There's just no way you'll get light and fluffy from 1 cup of butter, five eggs and a half-pound of white chocolate.

Next time (and there will be a next time), I'll replace the figs with dried cherries, just for fun.

White Chocolate & Fig Pound Cake

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup milk
8 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
12 ounces dried figs, finely diced (or other dried fruit)

Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter and flour a 10-inch fluted pan.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add sugar, and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, beating again until well incorporated and fluffy. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add about half of the flour mixture to the batter, mixing gently until mostly incorporated. Add milk, mix gently, then add remaining flour mixture. Remove from mixer and do the final mixing with a wide rubber spatula by hand. (This method keeps too many gluten strands from forming, rendering the most tender cake.) Mix in white chocolate and figs by hand also.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, until cake edges just begin to pull away from pan and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on rack for about 10 minutes, then invert onto pretty cake plate to cool completely.

2 ounces white chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons cream

In glass dish in microwave, melt together white chocolate and cream in 20 second increments, allowing to sit one minute and then stirring well between each zap. (Any quicker than this, and the mixture is likely to seize. Utilize your patience here. A lack thereof is a certain do-over.) When mixture stirs completely smooth, drizzle atop cooled cake.

June 7, 2010

Spring Everlasting

Greek Lamb Kebabs with Feta Tzatziki Sauce and Reustle Tempranillo

The first week of June has nearly passed, and it is still gray, rainy and none too warm here in the Pacific Northwest. My arachnid-like frame is ready to warm itself on a rock. I yearn to wear sundresses and shorts and feel the sun warm my muscles to the bone and to feel limber and lithe; to feel summer.

To view the world in a glass-half-full way, I'm choosing to see how these mild temperatures and drizzle of spring combine to make the lettuce, chard, broccoli and kale burst to life in the garden. The hillside grasses are a regular chlorophyll explosion... green, green, green everywhere, in every shade imaginable, making the neighbor's lambs grow fat. I imagine the water table rising, building a reserve from which the roots of my favorite dry-farmed wine varietals will draw moisture when the temperatures are soaring. And the cool mist makes our Oregon forests spectacularly mystical this time of year.
Until summer comes, we'll draw our little table, not mentioned in this former post on our many outdoor dining settings, out of the rain under the cover of back porch, wearing our fleece jackets while we grill outdoors, continue to sip and savor deep, heavier red wines while looking forward to the Rosé days ahead.

Fresh Off the Grill

For this meal, we gave chunks of local lamb a good soak in a Greek-inspired marinade, threaded them with onion and red pepper, and grilled the kebabs over hot coals until the lamb edges were crispy but the interior was still melty-tender. Long slices of eggplant were brushed with the same marinade and set over the coals, too.

We served the lamb in pitas with generous dollops of a tangy, creamy, herb-y sauce/spread/dip, alongside a salad of crispy lettuces from our garden, tiny cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, garbanzos, a sprinkling of Feta, and a great homemade salad dressing.

We served Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2007 Tempranillo. This award winner has deep, dark fruit and notes of dusty cocoa and ground coffee. This Tempranillo provided a nice compliment to the smoky grilled notes of the meal. In the Umpqua Valley AVA, the Reustle's vineyard and winery is beautiful, complete with an elaborate tasting cave. Each tasting is served with a complementary food pairing and a good deal of personal attention, and is definitely worth going out of your way to visit.

Our recipes for the lamb marinade, Feta tzatziki sauce and salad dressing are below.

Murray the Amazing Wonder Dog, Working on His Invisible Trick

Greek-Inspired Marinade for Lamb
In a one-gallon zip-top bag, place:
The zest and juice of one lemon
8 cloves of garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons dried Mediterranean oregano
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Squish ingredients together. Place cut pieces of meat into bag. Squish everything around together again. Allow to marinate, refrigerated, at least one hour and up to overnight. Or, if you wish, place the entire bag in the freezer for another day. Simply thaw and grill.

Feta Tzatziki Sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 teaspoons dried dill, or 2-3 teaspoons fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 four-inch piece English cucumber, finely diced
3 oz. tangy Feta, crumbled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients together. Allow to sit for 30 minutes or flavors to marry.

The Best Greek Salad Dressing
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon Mediterranean oregano
1 small shallot, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients except olive oil in jar. Screw lid on tightly and give it a tremendous shake. Add olive oil. Shake again. Allow to mellow for at least 30 minutes. Shake again before dressing salad.

June 1, 2010

The Breakfast Book

Blueberry Blueberry Orange Scones

I've kept it no secret on these pages that I love breakfast, so it will be no surprise that my favorite cookbook of all time is Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book. When I was younger and poorer, I checked out The Breakfast Book from the local library as many times as was allowable before being required to place it back in circulation. Reluctantly I'd leave it until the next weekly trip to the library, hoping all week long that no one else had borrowed it so I could begin "owning" the book over again.
Last year I found my very own signed first edition copy of The Breakfast Book in a used book shop on Clement Street in San Francisco. It is one of my treasures.

I love The Breakfast Book for several reasons:
  • This is where I learned to shirr eggs. There is nothing as comforting as a shirred egg in the morning. As a matter of fact, there's nothing that was ever done with the simple egg that is not in this book. At least I'm pretty sure.
  • Marion Cunningham, the modern Fanny Farmer, advocates having cookies, pies and cake for breakfast. There's a whole chapter on the subject in this book.
  • Charming "antique" quotes are sprinkled throughout the volume, such as, "The breakfast table is not a bulletin board for the curing of horrible dreams and depressing symptoms, but a place where a bright keynote for the day is struck." Prof. B. G. Jeffries, M.D., Family Receipts: The Household Guide or Domestic Encyclopedia (1902)
The recipe for these Blueberry Blueberry (for the dried and fresh berries in them) Orange Scones has me with its tender crumb, beautiful lavender glaze and subtle orange undertones. These scones would be so pretty served at a bridal or baby shower, and are a lovely weekend-at-home treat too. While not in The Breakfast Book, this recipe certainly has been informed by my years of baking from the book. In actuality, the recipe is a made-up concoction pulled from bits of various recipes over the years. I think Marion Cunningham would approve.

Blueberry Blueberry Orange Scones

This recipe makes 8 small scones, an appropriate amount for My Baby and me to consume over a couple of mornings. If you'd prefer 16 small or 8 large scones, simply double the ingredients, except for the leavening, the measurements for which I've included in the recipe.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (2 1/2 teaspoons for larger batch)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
zest of 1/2 large orange
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/3 cup frozen blueberries
1/4 cup dried blueberries
2/3 cup cold buttermilk, plus 2 Tablespoons additional for brushing tops

8 blueberries, thawed and smashed, big pieces of skin and pulp removed with fingers
Juice and zest of 1/2 orange
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Mix first seven ingredients (flours through orange zest) together in mixing bowl. Add butter, rubbing with fingertips while tossing in the flour until mixture resembles coarse meal, trying for nothing larger than pea-sized butter bits. Toss in frozen and dried blueberries. Gradually add buttermilk, stirring until moist clumps form. On a well-floured surface, turn dough out and knead briefly to bind. Gently pat dough into a 1" thick square. Cut square into four quarters. Cut each of the four squares on the diagonal, creating 8 triangular wedges. Place wedges on parchment lined baking sheet and brush tops with additional buttermilk. Space them about 2" apart, as they do expand. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool ten minutes.

While scones are cooling, whisk smashed blueberry juice, melted butter, powdered sugar and orange juice until smooth, adding additional orange juice drop by drop until glaze is thin enough to brush over scone tops, but substantial enough to make a thick glaze on the warm scones. Serve warm or room temperature.

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