Category Archives: Russian River

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

Nobody doesn’t like Saralee

This is a wine or at least a winery that people should be able to find.  Joseph Swan is one of ye olde California wineries and if you ever see a Pinot saying they use the Swan clone, yup Swan was one of the first Pinot producers in the state.  If you haven’t been, I would definitely recommend a visit to this unpretentious winery just off River Road outside Santa Rosa.  This is a 2006 Saralee Vineyard Pinot Noir.  The color is an amazing light brick red with a hint of brown on the edge showing a touch of age.  The nose is just wonderful.  To be sure there is cherry and strawberry but there is a lot more including hints of cinnamon and black licorice.  Quite complex and a joy to smell.  On the palate there are berries with currants now and the licorice persists into the finish.  To me a very nice wine for $25.  I definitely recommend it.


Filed under California Wine, Pinot Noir, Russian River, Sonoma, Wine, Wine tasting, Winery

A Confession…

*Disclaimer: I paid for this myself which means I probably want it to be good.

Recently I have fallen a bit out of love with the great American grape Zinfandel.  I had a string of Zins that just didn’t have a whole lot going on and began to doubt the whole varietal.  I’m happy to report that some recent experiences have “saved me.”  One of our recent stops in Sonoma was at a small winery called Porter Creek tucked away on a corner of the mythical Westside Road.  It is a beautiful property and the staff are great but, of course, the proof is in the bottle.  Friday night is homemade pizza night and I am always looking for an interesting pairing so I decided to open one from our trip.  It is the 2008 Porter Creek Sonoma County Zinfandel and says Old Vine on the label.  I can’t quite remember what the age of the vines were but I am definitely fond of older vines.  I would be remiss not to mention that they also add 10% Carignane to the mix.

On the nose I smell a lot of red fruit, including, raspberries, cherries and strawberries but also a hint of cinnamon.  The taste on the palate is pretty darn explosive starting with cranberry and leading into bitter chocolate before transition to mineral and, to me anyway, dirt.  It is a pretty darn long finish for zin.  For the $34 price I would say pretty good juice though not an every night wine.  It worked well with the pizza though I think burgers would be even better!


Filed under Russian River, Small Winery, Wine, Wine tasting, Zinfandel


Sunday was Mother’s Day.  After a last run to the Bouchon Bakery we packed up and headed for the Petrified forest.  Connor was a bit disappointed but I have to say it was pretty darn cool to see trees that had turned to stone.  After a long pause in the gift shop we headed down the west side and into Sonoma to hit a few wineries “on the way home.”

After some negotiations with the “family” (wife), who clearly understood how painful it was to be in Napa and not visit a winery, we opted for the extended day and point the car toward Quivira just North of Healdsburg.  We had seen the pigs and solar panels on the last trip but hadn’t had time to stop.  It had been some time since I had tried Quivira so I didn’t know what I was in for but I figured it was “family friendly” so I would take it as it came.  It is only now, a few days later, that I realized I should have kept notes of my tastings that day.  If only to legitimize my stacks of wine boxes in the dining room but maybe even to help figure out how I too can get people to send me wine to try!  Next time.  I promise to review the wines I purchased as I open them but the short of it is the Quivira wines impressed me (especially the Rosé) and I would recommend a visit or a purchase.

Next up was pickup at Williams-Selyem whose mailing list I’ve been on for a few years.  Again, didn’t take notes but the cement fermented Pinot Gris was good enough that I got a few bottles.  The stainless Chardonnay was also quite good but its price point was a touch too steep.  I will admit the Vin Gris was a bit disappointing given the Quivira Rose.  Next was the Sonoma County Pinot Noir (excellent!), Russian River (a bit closed), Westside Neighbors (not ready but still delicious), and the Bacigalupi was the picture of a hedonistic Zin that could be the anchor for a terribly fun evening!

We headed down the Westside Road and I asked about stopping at one last winery which I had wondered about for quite some time, Porter Creek.  I had first heard of Porter Creek when we stayed at The Farmhouse Inn and was intrigued.  Because there was in fact a creek I was able to cajole the family to one last stop.  The staff there was a lot of fun and the wines are quite good.  I have to say that the Pinots are very floral on the nose which is not my favorite but they are very well made.  I did enjoy the Syrah and Zin quite a bit though and will review them soon.  Annabelle and I ran up the hill and some fellow tasters snapped this photo.


Filed under Dry Creek, Family, Russian River, Sonoma, Wine, Wine tasting, Winery