Category Archives: Napa

Dinner for 6 (aka the importance of a larder)

Hen tortellini with nasturtium in consommé

We had some first time visitors for dinner Saturday. I never quite know how people are going to react to their first dinner. I never know how many times my wife will have to apologize for her crazy husband’s cooking. I’m happy to report we did well on both fronts. The dinner was complicated by us being out Friday night, me participating in a running event Saturday morning, and my son acquiring a remote controlled airplane which, of course, required spending some time in a field trying to get it in the air.

As a result the dinner required dipping into the strategic reserves. One of the guests is French so my mind landed on featuring lamb and flageolets in the main course. I love lamb and thought about doing racks but they are just horribly expensive. If you move down a touch you can find the chop. I’ve started buying the whole cut that turns into chops and then taking both pieces of meat off the bone and tying them together to form a roast. I did this Thursday night seasoning with rosemary, salt, pepper, and anchovies (yes try it!) then left them to cure. Before the guests arrived these got dropped into the Sous Vide machine to cook to rare over two hours before browning on the stove. One of the guests claimed it was the best lamb they had ever had. Who am I to argue ;)?

The rest of the menu fell in to place after consulting a few more cookbooks and the larder. A nice make ahead is the Comte crackers from Dorie Greenspan’s excellent Around My French Table.They can be made ahead and then sliced and baked as your guests arrive. With the crackers I served some bread with roasted Piquillo peppers and sheep milk cheese. I had roasted and frozen these a few weeks before not knowing when I would use them. The first course was the tortellini that I had learned to make at Flour + Water in a consommé, both of which were also in the freezer. With the lamb and beans (which were also cooked and frozen) I served a Heston Blumenthal inspired salad of radicchio, greens, shaved blue cheese, hazelnuts, and pears. And since my wife won’t eat lamb I did butter basted chicken for her.

On the list of things to try was a cake from Miette, a local bakery that produces some killer cakes. I had just read an article that put their Tomboy cake on a short list of best cakes in the country so how could I resist even though I have limited experience with layer cakess. Not as pretty as their versions but quite tasty. It is a rich, double chocolate cake with a raspberry buttercream.

I am pleased to announce that we were also able to consume five bottles from the wine fridge over the course of the long evening! I chose a nice creamy Benovia La Pommeraie Chardonnay to pair with the tortellini. The Selyem Rochioli and Beuhler Cabernet accompanied the main course. The sparkling cider is what we call “kid’s wine” and the sparkling fermented juice was served at the beginning of the evening. The pairings were quite successful.

It was a fantastic evening. There is nothing quite as satisfying as cooking in front of an appreciative audience and our friends were that and more. The meal has left a lingering glow in the house even after the last of the wine glasses was cleaned and put away.


Sous Vide Lamb Roast

kosher salt 3/4 tsp per pound
few sprigs of rosemary
freshly ground pepper
one anchovy fillet per pound
touch of lemon zest
olive oil

Chop the rosemary and anchovies and then rub together with the salt and lemon zest. Add olive oil until you have a spreadable “paste” and rub all over the lamb roasts (I trimmed some of the extra fat as well) and marinate for 24-48 hours. Tie the roasts and vacuum seal. Warm the sous vide to your desired doneness in my case 130 F (54.5 C) for the bottom end of medium rare and cook for around two hours. Pull and dry the roasts while you heat a pan. I added some garlic, thyme, and butter to some olive oil and seared the roasts while basting them. Slice and enjoy!



Filed under Baking, Cookbooks, Cooking, Family, Food, Napa, Russian River, Sous vide

Happy New Year!

We managed to run away to wine country for a couple of nights (my son’s idea!).  I was up early the first morning with the kids grabbing our traditional morning pastries from the Bouchon Bakery when I spotted a hot air balloon rising into the air.  Then I saw a second behind some trees.  A few moments later the three of us were on a balloon chase.  We quickly found the field they were taking off from and then tagged along as they floated through the crisp, early Napa Valley morning.

We finally caught one landing in a beautiful park above the western edge of Napa and watched as they came to rest on the ground and then stowed the balloon away.  The kids and I had a blast on the small, spur of the moment adventure.

While were in town I was able to meet up with some of the amazing cooks I worked with while on my cooking adventure.  They continue to be inspirational for me and I have started to plot a return ;).  Somehow the more you learn the more you are ready to learn.  There are always ways to improve your cooking.  Having had some time to digest the lessons from my last trip I have begun to realize how I might be able to use a second trip to improve even more.  That trip was the inspiration that also started this blog earlier this year.  A big thanks to all of you who have joined me on this journey.  I continue to be amazed by the online blogging community and humbled by the number of people that stop by mine from all corners of the world.  Happy New Year everybody!



Filed under Family, Food, Napa

It’s my party and I can blog if I want to (Part 3)

This is part three of my Turning Old Birthday Party.  If you haven’t read part one or part two you might want to start there or even with the Turning Old intro.

One of the dessert courses (yes, as in one of many) at that French Laundry meal that you are are likely tiring of at this point was something called White Truffle Float.  I was a bit confused by the notion of truffles in dessert.  The confusion quickly turned to awe when I tried it.  Somehow, someway, when placed in a dessert the white truffle metamorphosizes into something else.  Something closer to deep nutty flavors with a complexity the average tree fruit only dreams of.  It was quite simply the best dessert I have ever had.  I remember wondering if I would ever have it again.

Enter the truffle.  When I saw the size of the truffle I had managed to get I knew that I had to try to recreate the dessert.  I knew that if I could do it justice my guests would be in for a treat.  A recent addition to the cookbook collection (yes, I admit to having a problem) is Eleven Madison Avenue.  It is an impressive and interesting book but to be honest I got it for one reason.  It contains a recipe for white truffle ice cream!  Another recent cookbook Heston Blumenthal at Home (it was a gift I swear!) instructs the crazy home cook to use dry ice when making ice creams that contain eggs.  Of course I to try, right?  A word of warning, the reaction can be dramatic though the results are stunningly smooth ice cream in approximately 60 seconds.  I first tried this late in the evening after everybody had gone to bed.  I could barely stop laughing which meant I had to make a second ice cream, caramel in this case, just so I could do it with spectators.

When the time came I spooned some caramel from the Milk cookbook into some glasses, added a scoop of caramel ice cream and then two scoops of white truffle ice cream, some Virgil’s Creme Soda, and then topped it off with shaved truffle.  Not as good as The French Laundry but awfully darn good!  Part way through the course came my favorite quote of the evening: “Josh, you made me feel like a kid again!”  For an avid cook, with more than a bit of the hospitality gene, this is as good as it gets.  A course with the ability to transport.  Awesome!

After the last of the desserts disappeared the after dinner drinks found there way to the table including a birthday gift 40 year old Graham’s Tawny Port.  With the cooking chores behind me I relaxed into this amazing beverage savoring what was the finest meal I had ever made for the best dinner party we had ever thrown.  I couldn’t quite believe I had pulled it off, seven courses, excellent wine pairings, 11 happy diners.  What a way to celebrate!

Now what should I do for the next big one…


Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Napa, The French Laundry, Thomas Keller

Living Riche


For the second year in the row I find myself on the East coast for a family vacation.  This year brings us to Cumberland Island just off the coast of Georgia.  As a cook it is a bit of a challenge in that the island has nothing in the way of stores on it so provisions for a week of cooking had to be procured as quickly as possible on the way out.

This holds true for beverages as well so I turned to Chandon Extra-Dry Riche for our first evening as bubbles are how we like to start vacations.  On the nose a nice mix of lime, coconut, and unmistakable honey.  On the palate this turns into a mixture of apricots with peach and again the honey.  Not the most intriguing sparkling wine I’ve ever had but a nice way to start a vacation.


Filed under Napa, Wine, Wine tasting

Notes from the party

One of our guests on Saturday reads my blog and gave me a hard time after my last party when I said I wasn’t able to provide wine reviews.  She came to the party with several bottles of wine and a notebook with pink trim :).  She thought I could use it to take notes during the meal for the blog.  So I dutifully took some notes and here they are.

Carpene Malvolti Prosecco $?  This was one of the wines my friend brought over.  It was a delightful way to start the evening and brought a lot of citrus, especially pronounced orange and lemon, to the nose.  One the palate it is crisp and refreshing with a flavor reminiscent of a creamsicle.  For those not familiar, an American frozen confection of orange and cream.

Elizabeth Spencer Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 $?  This was yet another bottle my friend brought over.  For those not familiar Elizabeth Spencer is a charming little winery whose tasting room is right off the main drag (route 29) of Napa just south of St Helena.  Definitely worth a stop if only because their tasting room is open later than most ;).  I decanted this wine and later found a nice mixture of kir, cherry, strawberry, and a touch of menthol on the nose.  The palate followed the nose with nice red fruit and the tannins which were stiff on opening mellowed with decanting though could still be felt on the inside of the cheeks.

Wind Gap Syrah Coast 2008 $36.  Wind Gap is a recent discovery and personal favorite of mine.  First, a confession.  I was pretty down on Syrah for a long time.  It always came across as overly alcoholic, too big, and too gamey for my palate. Then I started finding wineries like Wind Gap and Drew who specialize in cool climate Syrah.  This is an entirely different beast.  Wind Gap is named after a portion of Sonoma California where the cool wind off the Pacific blasts through the coastal range.  Instead of fruit bombs you get balanced wines, especially with the hands of Pax Mahle, Wind Gap’s winemaker.  I first heard about them at the Wine and Spirits Top 100 which led to a visit when I was in the hood.  To say their Forestville tasting room is not presumptuous would be quite an understatement.  When we pulled to the back of the non-descript warehouse in “downtown Forestville” we were greeted by Pax himself and had just a wonderful time tasting their wine.  What I find amazing about this Syrah is the distinct aroma of black olives combined with dark cherry and pomegranate , just a wonderful nose.  Not the typical California fruit bomb.  On the palate the olives, cherry, and pomegranate continue but are joined by a hint of cinnamon and black licorice and finish with something that closely resembles black tea.  A great food fine that will match all manner of cuisine.  I highly recommend it or at least trying a similar cool climate Syrah if you too had given up on “hot Syrah.”


Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, Prosecco, Sonoma, Syrah, Wine, Wine tasting, Winery

Napa Day

The next day we rose early and headed back to the bakery, of course.  The best time to hit the Bouchon bakery is before 9:00 when normal people are finally up and about.  We walked around and waved at Chef J who beckoned us inside.  She was working on a wedding cake for a friend but stopped to say hi.  We ordered up a haul of treats including the above pictured toffee donut which was pretty darn awesome.

After that we wandered up the The French Laundry garden and saw my friend.  We talked about growing tomatoes and about how they were doing it (quite a bit different than my way of course!) but we learned a lot and also about how they irrigated so I will be detailing some more changes in the garden soon!

Then we were off up the valley to see the Old Faithful geyser of Napa.  It turns out that it is pretty cool and there are goats and sheep (kid magnets) as well so the family had a good time.  Before long we were headed back for our lunch date at Bouchon.  I’m embarrassed to say the photos of that meal did not turn out that well but it was delicious and we were treated quite well despite the place being slammed and the staff preparing for multiple events.  Annabelle and I snuck in back to say thanks to Chef S after all.  So nice to step into the kitchen!

The rest of the day was consumed with swimming and bocce and a late run to Napa for pizza for calling it a day.

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Filed under Bouchon, Bread, Family, Food, Napa