Monthly Archives: January 2010

Comforting Myself with Citrus

a bowl of love

Sundays are supposed to be cozy, comfort-filled days with family rituals and a wonderful meal with everyone at the table.

As a kid, I remember occasionally going over to my grandparents for dinner. Grandpa was a jolly fellow with a huge sweet-tooth and Granny was a bit fearsome, but under that facade she was warm, loving and a whiz bang in the kitchen. She was an amazing fiber artist too, knitting, crochet, embroidery, crewel and who knows what else. I have fond albeit vague memories of sitting at her feet holding skeins of yarn away from her mischievous Burmese kitty and Granny wound yarn and taught me these gentle arts. I wish I had the pleasure of learning how to cook with her, that was something she and my mUm did together. They would laugh and chat and finish each others sentences, just like mUm and me in the kitchen fast-forwarded four decades later. mUm was lucky to have such a great relationship with her mother-in-law, and I feel lucky to have a few treasured family recipes from Granny that I can recreate in my own kitchen.

Granny made many amazing and delicious desserts that are my favorites, recipes she made to keep Grandpa and his sweet-tooth happy.

During this time of year the markets and neighbors trees are exploding with citrus of all types. Well, not in my neighborhood of course, but many of my friends neighborhoods. The largess sometimes lands in my lap, and I joyously accept all contributions, especially Meyer lemons. I have also been long on the hunt for yuzu, a Japanese citrus kind of a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit. They aren’t pretty fruit, or at least not the yuzu I found at my local Japanese market. The fruit are the size of clementines but yellower with pebbly, deeply pored, extremely aromatic rinds.

I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but I have been missing my family a great deal this week and feeling a bit indigo in mood, so I pulled out my ancient box of recipe cards and found Granny’s recipe for lemon cake pudding. I supplemented the yuzu with some Meyer lemons from a friend’s tree. What better way to comfort myself on a solitary Sunday with a wonderful dessert and one that was my childhood favorites.

It seems very fitting that the bowl I use to bake this pudding was one of Granny’s; the medium size of the nested Corningware mixing bowls. This pudding is easy to put together and is baked in a buttered bowl set into a larger pan of hot water. The finished pudding has a tender lemon cake atop a lovely, thick, warm lake of lemony pudding. I am staring at the oven right now willing it to bake faster!

First I zested the yuzu and really enjoyed the way my whole apartment was filled with the flowering scent of citrus. And my hands smell divine too. I also started the tea kettle because all the citrus really put me in the mood for a cup of green tea with citrus, a gift from a lovely lady at the NASFT Fancy Food Show.

Zesting the yuzu and lemon

After zesting the yuzu, I cut it open and was surprised to see how little pulp and the abundance of seeds. I juiced my four fruits anyway, which yielded a scant tablespoon of  juice. Fortunately I had a half of a Meyer lemon to fulfill the 1/4 cup of juice needed for the pudding.

Juicing the yuzu
(super seedy fruit)

I measured out the milk into the measuring cup with the zest, and measured out the flour, sugar and salt into a little sieve set over a small bowl.

Measuring out the dry stuff

Then, I separated the eggs and beat up the yolks to an appropriate lemon yellow color. They got mixed into the milk along with the lemon juice. The flour mixture was added next and this thin batter was mixed until smooth.

egg yolk collage
(yolks, before and after)

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Quickly, I beat up the egg whites, and then poured in the batter, and with a few folds with a spatula the batter was ready for its buttered bowl.

white collagefolding in the batter and the egg whites
(it doesn’t look very nice at this point, but a few quick folds with the spatula and
the batter becomes nice and smooth – but barely mixed)

The bowl was sitting in an ancient metal roasting pan, a Foley pan from my other grandmother actually. I poured super hot water from my tap into the metal pan and popped the whole assembly into the oven.

Finished batter in a buttered bowl, set in a bain marie

Finished Yuzu Lemon Cake PuddingDetail of Granny's Bowl
(Granny’s bowl, does anyone else have this set?)

a bowl of love

A word about these pictures, this is a homey, homely dessert. It does not photograph well, but it tastes fantastic!

I dug in after it cooled off a bit.  I could really taste the yuzu in this, despite the juice being primarily lemon.  Just so homey and wonderful.  I miss my Granny, but making her recipes help me miss her less.  And I can’t wait to call my mUm and sister and tell them what I’ve baked tonight!  Envy will ensue, I guarantee. heh heh…

Lemon Cake Pudding

My mUm’s comments:

If you are looking for some different way to use lemons – here is the fabulous recipe of Granny’s:

¼ c. sifted flour
1 c. Sugar
¼ tsp. salt

1 ½ or 2 T grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
¼ c. lemon Juice (exact)
2 Egg yolks (well beaten)
1 c. milk

2 egg whites (beat until stiff, not dry)

Sift flour before measuring. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat egg yolks, with a whisk, until lemon yellow. Whisk in milk,
lemon zest and lemon juice and when well blended. Mix the milk, etc. into flour and mix until well blended. Fold in the beaten egg whites just until blended. Pour into buttered heat-proof bowl. Place bowl in pan of hot water in 350 F oven. Bake for ~30 minutes. Cake will rise to top of bowl with a brown top and will draw away from the sides of the bowl, slightly.

Cool. Can be served in shallow bowls with the extra “sauce” over the top.  Does not have to be cold.  A word about the name – its really more of a pudding than a cake. Very, very light.

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Note: I often leave the pan of hot water (or bain marie) in the oven overnight to let it cool because it can be a bit tricky to pick up a sloshing, steaming pan of water and transport it in my tiny kitchen, ever mindful of the cat who stealthily flops behind my feet at every opportunity.  Also, I love my silicon hot pads because when I use fabric ones to lift the bowl out of the hot water I inevitably dip them in the hot water and that’s messy.  Plus wet hot pads do not protect your hands.  A bonus is that the silicon pads come in such citrusy colors!

But tonight I braved maneuvering the bain marie out of there because I wanted to roast off a butternut squash while the oven was hot (an energy-economy measure to bake multiple things while the oven is on).  I split it in half, put it on a foiled tray, tossed some butter into the cavity and a sprinkle of Turkish barbecue spice, and a final drizzle of maple syrup.  So my comfort dinner tonight is dessert first, followed by squash. And wine…. Pure bliss…

Hope you have a lovely cozy Sunday night too.

10 in 10′: Week 4

It is Week 4 of my participation in the 10 in 10′ Healthy Challenge, almost halfway through and past the 21-day mark where an activity can become a habit.

Thanks to my dear friend G___ I have joined a “blitz” at blitzometer.com, Strive for Five as part of my quest to eat more (or at least some) fruit each day. I love vegetables so that part won’t be a challenge but this blitz helped to remind me about the fruit part. Thanks G-Man!!

There is something about daily accountability and having a coach that really helped me keep on track. At Blitzometer, whatever blitz you select comes with a clear description of your goal, an oath that you commit to the goal, a daily email reminder from your coach and an online form to complete to show what you did that day. Most of the blitzes are physical activity-related but the Strive for Five blitz is to eat five fruits and vegetables per day. Easy, right? Ha! It is still a challenge for me but I really enjoyed it.

I also joined a new blitz starting next week, the TV Workout, where you do stomach crunches and pushups during commercial breaks. I do like to watch television in the evenings when I am home, watching the mystery shows especially, and I promised my dear friend R___ I would watch the Amazing Race show with her (virtually). We will see!!

On the whole I did meet my daily goal of five servings of fruits and veggies. One day I totally cheated because I made those delicious stuffed peppers and had them for dinner and lunch the next day, but that’s not *really* cheating, is it. I discovered that my local Japanese grocery has its own organic farm for the bulk of their produce, and their fruit selection is naturally a bit more exotic to the Western palate. I tried two of the four different varieties of Asian pears, which are presented in a case individually wrapped in tissue paper and spongy protective socks. They are crunchy and juicy and delicious! I also found yuzu, at last. It is not a snacking fruit but one rather lauded for its aromatic peel, and tonight is is going to be transformed into my Granny’s lemon cake pudding (I will present the recipe in another post). Overall I get an A for this segment of my challenge.

Despite all the rain, I have been walking a lot, and one day clocked 2.5 miles, even though I was wearing clogs that day. It felt really good splashing about in the rain. The streets are quite pleasant when they are washed all clean. It’s like an obstacle course, walking for exercise in an urban environment in the rain, skirting puddles and blocked storm drains, hugging the buildings in spots here and there to avoid being splashed by waves of water thrown up by passing cars speeding through massive puddles and the ballet of keeping the umbrella from turning inside-out on windy corners. Sometimes I felt like Ichabod Crane with my long raincoat swirling around my legs as I stalked along, trying to extend my strides to stretch my muscles and ligaments. Fortunately, I have plenty of cozy knitted things I’ve made up to keep my head and neck warm, and my handknit socks to keep my feet ecstatically happy while pounding the pavement. For my walking goal I get a B+.

However, I give myself a big fat F this week for my sleep goal. Due to some circumstances outside of my control in my apartment building I have not been able to sleep more than 4 hours at a time, albeit restlessly. The problem is slowly being resolved and I hope to be able to have a restful night sometime soon. It can’t come too soon though as I am feeling decidedly haggard and ragged about the edges.

Overall, it has been a productive week, and for the purposes of this challenge, one of which I have enjoyed a new mindfulness.

Have a healthy week!

Summer in My Kitchen, in January

Finished pepper

It has been raining almost non-stop for over 12 days, but today the sun peeked out and I felt like celebrating! When you need a bit of sunshine in your life, there is nothing better than eating a savory stuffed pepper for dinner or lunch. The combination of bright, happy peppers, savory meat and rice, tender vegetables, aromatic herbs and a touch of lemon make any gloomy day instantly illuminated with Mediterranean sunshine.

Sunny Stuffed Greek Peppers

4 red bell peppers (or orange or yellow or a combination)
1/2 # ground beef or lamb or pork (I used beef today)
1/2 c olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped – divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c brown rice (I like TJ’s brown rice medley)
3/4 c cold water
1 tsp. Kosher salt, divided
pepper
1 zucchini, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 large tomato or 1 c cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/3 c fresh dill, chopped
1/3 c fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp. dried mint (or 1 T fresh, chopped)
1/4 c pine nuts
1/2 c plus 3 T dry white wine or vermouth
juice of half a lemon
a handful of small fingerling potatoes

Prepare the peppers:

With a sharp knife cut off the tops of the peppers, ensuring a good 1/2″ of flesh is included with the top. With a small paring knife cut out the core and ribs, being careful not to cut through the fleshy wall of the pepper. Use a grapefruit spoon to remove all pith from the ribs and bottom, and also from the underside of the caps. Season inside with salt and pepper and set aside.

pepper collage
(eating foods with bright colors like these peppers is really good for you)

Make the rice:

In a small saucepan, add a teaspoon of olive oil and saute half of the onion, the celery and the carrot with 1/2 tsp of salt until soft. Add rice and water, stir and cover and cook 35 minutes. If you are using a different kind of rice be sure to adjust the cooking time, 20 minutes for long grain, up to 55 minutes for brown rice; arborio is also a nice rice to use).

Make the meat mixture:

In a skillet, add a teaspoon of olive oil and saute the other half of the onion and the ground beef or lamb until the meat is cooked through and the onion is soft. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and herbs, salt and pepper and saute for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 c of the white wine and cook for a few minutes more until most of the liquid has evaporated but a tablespoon or so remains. Add pine nuts and remove to a bowl. When rice is done, add to the meat mixture and combine well. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.

filling collage
(you can see the steam rising off the filling! If you have a little extra filling as
I did today, it is lagniappe for the cook, yeah….)

Stuff the peppers:

Use a covered dish that will hold the peppers snugly. I’m so lucky to have a Le Creuset tomato shaped pot perfect for the three peppers I was using for this recipe. I also have one of those Corning Ware covered casserole dishes with a glass lid that is the right size for 4 peppers. If you don’t have a dish with a lid, a pie plate or tart pan will work just as well, it will need to be sealed tightly with aluminum foil.

Add most of the olive oil to the pot, reserving a little for drizzling on top.

Hold a pepper in your hand and spoon the filling inside, filling it well and mounding it slightly. Place the stuffed pepper in the pot and repeat until all the peppers are filled. Fill the empty spaces in the pot with the small fingerling potatoes. If your potatoes are larger than mine (the largest was the size of my thumb), then cut them into wedges and place in the openings.

Drizzle the top of the peppers and potatoes with the lemon juice and the 3 T of wine. Place the tops back on the peppers, drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Place the lid on the pot (or cover with foil).

Picnik collage

Bake at 350 F for 1 hour.

Serves 4 for dinner, or 8 as a first course. If you are serving them for 8 people, halve the peppers instead of cutting off the tops (leave on the stem for effect, fill them and arrange in a casserole pan). Each serving gets a few potatoes on the side.

It is an excellent idea to have a slice or two of crusty bread to sop of the juices, a bit of feta cheese and some bitter greens (like arugula) also on the plate. If you like olives they would be a good addition to the party.

finished peppers

As I sit down tonight with my plate of stuffed peppers, just for a little while I will pretend I am in a villa in Greece, and hearing the ocean on the shore below me instead of the rain crashing against the window.

ευθυμίες!

Wordless Wednesday

Seeing rainbows!
(gives way to sunshine…)

In Search Of: The Yeti

No, not really the Yeti but the elusive perfect soup dumpling…

I can almost hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice in my ear narrating as I venture forth on my quest.

I heard tell that there was real hole in the wall in the inner Sunset that had good soup dumplings. When I heard I had a chance to lunch with a dear friend while her company was on haitus we quickly nailed down a date and rendevouzed at the metro stop at Market Street.

We hopped on the N Judah to the inner sunset and danced between raindrops to find the King of Noodles. In what must have been a converted garage space, this little restaurant is unassuming and yet immaculate with amazing scents wafting from the tiny kitchen.

We claimed the last table and examined the menu and the specials. We knew that soup dumplings were the main thing but there were so many other intriguing dishes listed, and *so cheap*!

First up, I wanted to try the pan fried soup dumplings, and the beef chow fun with XO sauce. E__ wanted garlic chive pancakes and shrimp and pork wonton soup. We both were excited about shrimp and garlic chive dumplings and very curious what salt and pepper tofu was but the potential quantity of food was getting a bit excessive, even at these prices.

After a bit of a wait we ordered and sadly they were out of pan fried soup dumplings. E___ pinch hit by ordering the salt and pepper tofu instead, and everything else we discussed getting, rationalizing that the leftovers would be great. They were, and the salt and pepper tofu turned out to be the surprise hit of the day.

Soft squares of tofu crisply fried and dusted with Sichuan peppercorns, salt and perhaps a little sugar, they were all at once crunchy, chewy, squishy, salty and spicy. Ever movie theater and sports complex should sell these and they would outsell popcorn in a heartbeat.

The focus of the day, however, was soup dumplings and I was most anxious to try them. From what I had heard and what captivated me was the thought of a tasty dumpling filling surrounded by a pocket of savory soup *inside* a sealed dumpling. Magic, you say? Conceptually it is easy. The usual dumpling dough, rolled out and encasing a ground filling with chicken or pork or both, aromatics like ginger and garlic and seasoned with soy or what have you. Then the magic, a large spoonful of jellied aspic or chicken stock reduced until it forms a jelly when chilled. When the dumpling is steamed, the aspic liquifies and becomes amazing soup inside the plump dumpling. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Imagine a bite of this, bursting in your mouth, the flavors pooling on your tongue, the sensation of hot soup, tender but toothsome meat, slighly chewy noodle, ahhh. Food porn.

The execution of a successful soup dumpling is another matter. I have heard soup dumpling horror stories: burst, dry dumplings, soggy dumplings or tough thick noodle casings that defy chewing. But thanks to my pals on Twitter I have compiled quite a list of places in the Bay Area that have rocking soup dumplings and the King of Noodles was high on the list.

Our ordered arrived. Six plump dumplings were nestled atop leaves of Napa cabbage, steam still swirling up from inside the bamboo basket. Little ramekins of red vinegar diluted with soy and shreds of tiny juilienned ginger floating around were delivered with soup spoons. With the same care given to a game of Operation, we plucked up a dumpling with our chopsticks and deposited into the soup spoons. Carefully now, we nibbled a tiny corner off of the tender noodle casing. Puffs of steam blew sweetly in our faces and we discretely slurped out the hot soup, trying to balance our greediness to eat with the danger of incinerating our tongues with boiling hot soup. Then, a quick bath in the dipping sauce, we ravished the dumpling in great chomps. It was divine, all I had hoped and dreamed of, and I had two more dumplings left to consume! Totally addicted, I dreamed of daily visits to this dumpling heaven, becoming a regular, miraculously learning Mandarin by osmosis, eating every item on the menu, slowly gaining the trust of the staff and chef, and then finally allowed into the kitchen to learn the secrets of their dough, filling, aspic and construction methods. Well, perhaps not, but a gal has to dream after all.

We turned our attention to the garlic chive pancakes. Pancakes in the Chinese cuisine have as many variations as the dialects in China itself but this pancake was of a configuration unlike any we had seen before. And trust me, living in San Francisco, we both have eaten tons of amazing Chinese food. These pancakes were almost quesadilla-like, without the cheese of course, folded over to incase a hearty filling of chopped garlic chives, minced ginger, dried shrimp, and silver noodles. They were amazing, delectable, and it was hard not to fight over the last one. I was getting full at this point and we hadn’t even tackled the other three dishes!

Onward then, we plunged onto the wonton soup and the shrimp dumplings. The filling in all three dumpling products we ordered were distinctly different, and each were fantastic. The shrimp and green garlic chive dumplings were almost sui mai in texture but shaped like a traditional dumpling. A succulent curl of fat pink shrimp was cuddled by a robe of garlic chives and seasonings that were perfect as-is, no dipping sauce, no hot sauce, just naked. But the King of Noodles makes their own chile paste that is as fiery as Vesuvius and, after one recovers from the lip numbing heat, the sweet chile and pops of garlic enhanced both the dumplings and the chive pancakes. Suddenly, it was very warm in there and in a vain attempt to dilute the chile we swirled perfect jasmine tea around our mouths, exhaling vast clouds of steam like the Hogwarts Express.

The wonton soup was excellent. Playing mother, E__ ladled out a petite bowl of steaming soup, lighter in taste than what is inside the soup dumpling, but rich with perfect dots of golden chicken fat glistening on the surface. The wontons were pork filled and tender and luscious. I love how silky the noodle casing became in the soup and they just slithered down our throats. To our surprise, the large tureen was also filled with fat coiled rice noodles, thick slices of shitake, and halved baby bok chow. I have always wondered how on earth anyone is expected to eat these crisp-tender greens, too big for the spoon, too drippy for chopsticks and frankly so slippery between the plastic tools it was almost impossible to even get it near ones mouth. But we managed, flipping droplets of broth all over the table and each other, as if we were standing on the bow of a Red & White ferry on the bay during a typical small craft warning.

I must interject at this point to say that E__ and I are true ladies, gentile and well versed in the feminine arts, as well as our professional accomplishments and a strong passion for the Giants. But no lady, not even the bluest of the bluebloods could deftly manage the trickery of baby bok choy in broth without some collateral damage.

We took turns between the various dishes spread across out table, serving each other courteously like Chip and Dale, glancing longingly to the XO noodles and knowing we couldn’t even manage a bite.

They were happily packed for home along with shameful amounts of everything but the pancakes and the soup dumplings, long since scarfed down. Alas, we abandoned the remainder of the soup to the busboy’s attentions. We did not, however, leave behind a single cube of tofu, which upon reheating later was still as divine despite the departure of its former crispness.

After paying the exceedingly modest bill for our bounty, we strolled back to the train stop and headed our way to our respective homes. I don’t know about my friend, but I promptly took a deep and satisfying nap. Food coma!

The XO noodles were incredible, even the next day. My stomach growls at the thought of them even now.

King of Noodles
1639 Irving Street
(between 17th Ave & 18th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 566-8318

My rating: 6 out of 6 dumplings!!

I look forward to visiting the next dumpling place on my list, would perhaps you like to join me?

10 in ’10: Week 3

Week 3 just whizzed by, where *does* the time go?

Well, the bulk of my week was spent at the Fancy Food Show, where time operates in another dimension. I will recap the show another day but suffice it to say that while there few of the bazillion things I sampled would be called healthy options. I feasted on a hundreds of fancy cheeses, beer and booze, candies and caramels, hams and cured meats from every country, and caviar and foie. Oh, there was a little fruit in there, and fruit based things, and even flowers! The only things I ate outside of the show were a bowl of pho, the leftovers of the pho the next day and some guacamole and cervice on the final day. And Cuties of course.

The show was physically huge, both halls of the vast underground Moscone Center were filled with booths. They had signs up saying that if you walked through both halls in one day it was 10,000 steps or 3 miles. I don’t think they took into account the running two and fro in between the two halls that I did each day, to the press room (with friends) and the constant retracing of ones steps, where was that booth with the cute mozzerella guys anyway? And always looking for the ladies room when you are at the furthest point from it at any given time.

After the show was over I was conpletely pooped out. I did not eat. I just drank water with packets of EmergenC and snoozed a lot. It was pouring rain and being inside was really lovely and cozy and warm. I did a fair bit of exercises for my back to help it after the abuse it received from packing around huge bags of goodies from kind exhibitors each day. Oy. The rest of the week I cleaned the Roost from stem to stern, necessary work but hard on the extremeties, which now need a bit of rehab from all the repetitive motions. Double oy.

The best part of the week, as it relates to the 10 in ’10 Challenge, is that I was able to go everywhere I wanted and have a lot of fun without my gimpy ankle or other body parts bothering me overmuch, or at least I ignored it until I got home. I drank a ton of water (or other liquids, heh heh). And I got a lot of sleep for about 3/4 of the week.

Total grade: B-

I hope you have a healthy week!

The Pinot Expedition

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A few days back I saw an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune about comparing Oregon and California Pinot Noirs.  This is a hotly debated topic and there are many strong feelings on both sides.  Being a Californian and believing most firmly that we have the best wines, hands down, I have to also admit that the Oregon Pinots I have tried are pretty fantastic.

I let a few of my wine-loving friends know about this article and then too received a passionate response on the California side. I must comment that some of my friends are quite knowledgeable in wines and can be called oenophiles. I am fortunate to know them as they have been gently educating me throughout the years, much to our mutual enjoyment.

The idea was launched by dear G___ that we should have a Pinot Party next month, and try a few from each state and see what we think.  My dear friend C___ has some major favorites from California, and G___ wanted to go in search of other California Pinots, whereas I am tasked with finding an Oregon sample.

Today, C___ and his darling wife D___ and G___ and her dear beau J___ ventured forth to Windsor, a small town north of Santa Rosa, to visit Martinelli Winery.  Martinelli has been one of my favorite producers of Chardonnay.  C___ has been on the coveted mailing list for eons and knows about their full repertoire of varietals and we were delighted to have an excuse to visit, and go out to lunch somewhere to make a day of it.   The days of hitting a dozen wineries and getting blotto are no more, our preference is now to visit one or possibly two places, have a great lunch and then discuss the wines we sampled, a more selective and refined approach to wine tasting, wouldn’t you agree?

We arrived at Martinelli and realized it was one of the Wine Road weekends, a massive tasting program where over 100 wineries participate at various times of the year.  It can be a lot of fun but it also means that the wineries all packed to the gills on these weekends and offer limited tastings as a result.  Fortunately for us, the wines offered today were the four that we really wanted to try, a Chardonnay, two Pinots and a Syrah, not usually offered for tasting.

Mart?nelli

Our congenial and charming host for the afternoon was George Martinelli himself.  His great grandfather and great Uncle started the winery and planted the vineyards.  The Martinellis are among the founding families of the wine industry in California and it was a special pleasure to spend such a delightful interlude with one of the family.  George, humbly calling himself a farmer, poured for us and I really enjoyed discussing the geological makeup of the soil at the various vineyards, the impact of elluvial versus clay-like soils, amendments for the soil, the possible impact of the previous plantings of apple orchards on the vineyard and, of course, the flavors, textures and aromas of his current vintages. Naturally George prefers the California Pinots as well, particularly his own product, and I have to admit it was among the most delicious wines I have wrapped my tongue around.  C___, said it was they were both the kind of wines with which he would like to get better acquainted, quipped with a sly chuckle and a waggle of the brow, causing a big grin from George.

We started with their 2005 Zio Tony Ranch Chardonnay. I really lack the words to describe this wine. It was rich and yet not a butter bomb. It has a lovely fruit to it, apples and pears, but there was a nice minerality to it too. Uncle Tony would no doubt be delighted that such a wine has been named after him.  The Pinot Noir came next, both from 2007. I preferred the first one for sipping on its own.  The Moonshine Ranch had a deep fruit and full mouth feel with just enough tannin to make it interesting. The Bondi Home Ranch Pinot was very different, with an herby almost leathery quality with a spicy finish. I imagine this wine would be best paired with dinner, I’m thinking my marinated lamb would be perfect. The final wine was a treasure, a ’06 Hop Camp Vineyard Syrah. Very complex, blackberries and bold tannins. George suggested this wine to pair with game, as he and his family enjoy a lot of the local wildlife, ah, the joys of living in the country! Elk, boar, gamebirds – drool, drool, drool…. He suggested opening the wine in the morning and replacing the cork but letting it open up throughout the day in time for dinner. We played with an aerator with this wine, and it was truly amazing how pouring a measure of this Syrah though the little chubby spout really knocked back the tannins and brought out bright berry and heightened acidity in the wine.

It was fascinating to experiment like this and we were sorry to see the hordes of Wine Road  participants pouring in to the tasting room.  We took our leave of our charming host and ventured into the sales room to pick up a few bottles for a special evening at home another time.  Debbie, the tasting room manager, suggested that we visit Willi’s Wine Bar in Windsor for a nice lunch break.  At an unassuming wide spot along the Old Redwood Highway, Willi’s was such a delight and a true culinary gem.

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(a gloomy day outside but Willi’s was warm and welcoming)

The quiet and soothing interior was perfect for our planned discussion of wines, life and the odd hilarious anecdote.  The menu was an intriguing list of small plates from various countries, great flights of wines and flights of cheeses, including wine flight suggestions to accompany the cheeses.  Of course their wine list reflected the local vineyards surrounding the restaurant, and we were so excited to see Martinelli’s Blue Slide Ridge Pinot Noir on the menu outside the front door, but sadly they had sold out.  We were tempted by the Martinelli River Road Chardonnay but having been well experienced with it, we comforted ourselves instead with a lovely Gewürztraminer from Handley Cellar’s Anderson Valley vineyard, 2007.  It was overchilled when first poured but exhibited a wonderful and complex blend of minerality and fruit, pears and perhaps star fruit as it warmed up a bit. I love C___’s thoughts on how to define mineral: “a flinty stone, like spring water over clean rocks”. Pure poetry.

willi collage

The Gewürztraminer was a delightful match to my small plate of pork belly and shitake potstickers.  I ordered the flatbread topped with caramelized onions, feta cheese and fingerling potatoes and mint (although I did not detect the mint).  So delicious!  It let to an interesting discussion on what difference, if any, is there between pizza and flatbreads. To me, there is none, other than the flatbread is usually thinner, but then again so are many pizzas.  In my opinion using the term flatbread allows the chef to use different toppings that most people wouldn’t find equitable with a “pizza”. What are your thoughts?

Flat bread

My fellow diners tried other dishes that were also amazingly executed and creative.  three of our party selected the mac’ and cheese with ham, caramelized onions and Gruyere. I snagged a oozing morsel and it was truly delicious and has led me to believe that caramelized onions, like bacon, can only improve any dish. D___ really enjoyed her calamari salad with Andouille, shishito peppers, and a basil & charmoula aioli but naturally wanted more calamari (there can never be enough calamari!). The truffled french fries with truffle aioli were a spot of heaven. Doused in aromatic and pungent truffle oil, and yet still crispy, they were probably the best fries I have tasted. G____ chose a beautiful trio of cheeses, served with a fruit compote and a dish of deep umber honey. Her arugula & endive salad, with great bites of avocado, Manchego dheese, almonds and a Meyer lemon truffle vinaigrette looked beautiful, so fresh and really delicious.

Picnik collage

We shared a few desserts, each urging the other to have yet another bite, with cups of Flying Goat espresso and a massive mocha for J___. I especially enjoyed the Gipson’s orange blossom honey crème brûlée, garnished with the plumpest blackberries. Orange blossom honey was a subtle yet discernible taste on the tip of the tongue and the sugar brûléed topping was expertly done, like shimmering sweet glass. The other big hit was the chocolate chunk and banana croissant bread pudding, served in a shallow wide plate. The chocolate remained in melty but distinct morsels with the sweet ooze of baked bananas and the croissant lent an almost crepe-like quality. I haven’t used croissant in bread pudding and think that it might be my new favorite.

Picnik collage

Fully satisfied and well pampered, we headed back through the grey mist to the city and possibly for a nap! Thanks to J___ for driving and for hosting such an amazing lunch, and to everyone for their companionship, good conversation and for being such great friends.

I am now on the hunt for a good Oregon Pinot Noir so if you have a suggestion please do let me know!

10 in ’10: Week 2

A quick note about my journey along the 10 in ’10 Healthy Challenge.  This week I tackled a persistent problem of insomnia.

Everyone has been there at one point or another, flopping around like a fish on a pier, staring at the ceiling in a dark room wondering why on earth are you still awake, and feeling like you are wading through a vast pool of oatmeal the next morning.

My challenge has been to get a minimum of six hours of sleep every night, which is below the recommended level of sleep, but an extra hour or two over what I usually have been getting.  There are a myriad of health problems associated with insomnia (helpful information here), not to mention the fatigue and cranky factor.   Having tried over the counter remedies and prescriptions I have instead turned to a more positive regimen of destressing and better living  not through chemistry.

One of the biggest factors in helping me get better sleep this week has been to turn off the electronics by 10:00 pm or 10:30.  There have been some interesting studies done in Sweden and elsewhere showing the stimulus from cell phones, laptops, etc are a causor of insomnia, something to do with cell phone radiation, which is also present in your wireless equipment.  These scientists also have found that the visual stimulation of the television activates brain activity, so the late night tv shows are a big no no.   There are so many factors that cause insomnia though, and for me, addressing this one area has been very helpful.  And very hard to do!  Must.  Resist.  Checking.  Email…

So after I unplug, I brew up a tisane of lemon verbena (leaves steeped in hot water).  It is very soothing and relaxing, and after reading a few pages of my book du jour, I have been getting much better sleep this week.  I am not yet averaging 6 hours a night but it is improving, and one night this past week I slept 9 hours!

Trying to do these two things has had a modest and yet noticeable impact.  It seems so simple and I wonder why didn’t I try this before, but getting good sleep is a habit and as all of us know, it’s easy to get into practices that may be fun but not the best for your health. Such as checking the laptop for email and Twitter before bed, next thing you know time has slipped by.

My plan for this 10 in ’10 challenge is not to make drastic changes or even ambitious changes which may not stick, I want to use this as a springboard towards overall better living. I want to be mindful of what I am doing and what my body really needs.   Many people fail with a New Year’s resolution because making a change in lifestyle is difficult.  And why put additional pressure on yourself when there is so much pressure on you from the world already.  Frankly, with the sad news this week, it has been quite helpful to focus on the little things that will make a big impact for me down the road.

I hope you have a healthy week!

Bacon Jam and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

It came to my attention last night that several things I thought to be universal are not.  My childhood experience of watching the Monkeys and having a grilled cheese sandwich and Campbell’s tomato soup are not everyone’s childhood memories, yes for many, but not for everyone.  I was blathering on and on about how great my grilled cheese sandwich was yesterday when I realized that the party to whom I was speaking had never actually made one.  Are there others out there who do not know the joy of the simple grilled cheese sandwich?  This cannot continue!!

And, for those of you who do share, to my mind, my commonplace culinary background, to pique your interest I offer you a twist upon your grilled cheese sandwich repertoire.

Bacon Jam.  Or Pig Jam as we are now calling it.

The addition of pig jam into any grilled cheese sandwich elevates it to a peak unlike the lofty air at Everest.  Or at least Annapurna.

For Christmas a dear dear friend S___ gave me three whole jars of bacon jam, and the first one is almost gone and I *have* been practicing a great deal of restraint, despite what you might have read here or on Twitter.

Mmmm, amazing

REC: Grilled Cheese with Pig Jam

2 slices of bread
butter
3 T soft goat cheese
1 T pig jam (see note)

First, place a skillet on the stove but do not turn on the burner.  One one slice of the bread, spread the pig jam.
Spread the first slice thickly with bacon jam
(sad to see how empty that jar is.)

For this sandwich yesterday I used a potato bread with oats, a grocery store staple and a departure from my usual 29,000 grain bread (but it was on sale!).

On the other slice of bread, spread the goat cheese.
And then spread the second slice with goat cheese

My cheese was rather cold and therefore crumbly. However, it really doesn’t matter. If you would prefer the more traditional cheddar cheese, be sure the slices are nice and thick and that the entire piece of bread is covered but no cheese hangs over the edge.

Place the bacon-spread slice on top of the cheese spread slice, and then generously butter the top of the bread thusly.
Put the bacon jam spread side on top of the cheese

I like unsalted butter, but that’s just me. Please do not use margarine or other spreads. If you cannot handle a little butter then just don’t make this sandwich… Unless you are using duck fat, hmmm, let me think about that!!

Place the sandwich in the pan, buttered side down, and turn on the heat to medium. Slowly the pan will heat, melting the butter under the bread and toasting to a perfect golden brown. Meanwhile, butter the top of the sandwich.

New Message

As you can see in this picture a few crumbs of the goat cheese slid out when I placed the sandwich in the pan. I just tucked them back inside before buttering the top. Also, in the corner of the picture you can see my pot of tomato soup, which I had with my sandwich.

When the bottom of the sandwich was crispy and browned, I flipped it over and browned the other side, which takes just a minute or two.
Flip the sandwich over to toast the other side

Then, onto a plate and slice it into quarters.
Cut the toasted sandwich in quarters

I tipped up one quarter so you can see the oozy cheese and the rich tangy pig jam. Here is another qualifier of my childhood: the sandwich has to be cut into triangles rather than into squares. Which way do you like your sandwich cut?  My rationale back then, and today, is that the pointy ends are better for dunking into the tomato soup. And that is what it is all about, the dunking.

Now, a word about the pig jam.

A marvelous place in Seattle called Skillet has been making this concoction for a few years. I heard about it a few years back and have been dying to try it and it was everything and more I had hope for. Rich, tangy, bacony, oniony… It’s hard to now imagine life without bacon jam.

A fun anecdote, the other day a friend was over and I showed her the pig jam and we stood there in the kitchen, not speaking but just making nom nom noises and crunching the pig jam on baked pita crackers.  I was fortunate to be on Twitter when @meatmaven shared her own recipe.  What a kind heart!  What generosity!  What an amazing recipe!!  Thank you, Tatiana, from the bottom of my heart.  Here is what she tweeted:

1/2lb good bacon, chop & cook slow on lowest heat, at least 30min, til brown but not crispy. Remove bacon, reserve.

add 4 L red onions, diced, to bacon fat. Cook on lowest heat at least 1 hour. Chop bacon in cuisinart, add back to reduced onions.

Add maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt & pepper. Spread on anything (or everything). Store in fridge if there’s any left.

I casually mentioned I had a recipe to my pal for pig jam and with a slight bit of pleading (well, none actually!), I emailed these three tweets to her.  I adore her for promptly going home and making some.  The next day we went marketing together.  We conspired to have a taste test, so I brought along the pita chips and my jar of bacon jam and she brought her jar with a fork.  We sat in the parking lot, vulching for the next open spot, eating bacon jam out of her jar and my jar and discussing in fine detail the differences between home made and Skillet made, like winemakers of old over a barrel of fine Cabernet.

The world works in mysterious ways and perhaps it was no accident that we had to wait at least 20 minutes for a parking space.  But the delay afforded us ample opportunity for our taste test and to consume most of the bacon jam in both pots.  For a moment I felt like offering some to the gal in the car behind us, who was waiting for a second spot to open up, but we were covered in crumbs, knitting projects in various stages and it just didn’t feel like the right time to effect an introduction.

My friend has a tale of her own to tell about her pig jam and I will be sure let you know when it is ready on our alternate blog site.

I strongly encourage you to either buy or make some pig jam and to make a sandwich promptly.  Trust me, it will change your feelings about grilled cheese sandwiches forever…

Wordless Wednesday: Fun with Produce

Heeed!Stealing from Farmer MacGregor's garden
Hello little guy!
(I am from Planet Parsnip!)