Category Archives: Wine

It’s my party and I can blog if I want to (Part 2)

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

Several years ago I was in a small restaurant in Bologna where I had Ragu Bolognese.  The restaurant looked old enough that Galileo may have frequented it.  The ragu was a revelation.  I was pretty sure they were practicing witchcraft in the kitchen.  How else could something so simple and humble be so good?  As a result ragu is something I am always returning to at home and at restaurants though the latter usually meets with disappointment compared to the memory.  Because of my fondness for this dish I decided it had to be part of the party.  I wanted something a bit more elegant so I thought I would wrap it inside a ravioli.  Of course I couldn’t do a regular ragu so I made duck confit and then used the confit in place of pork/beef and substituted fennel for celery because it just sounded like a superior match to duck and looked so good at the farmers’ market.

The pasta dough was parsley, black pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano from The Glorious Pasta of Italy cookbook by Domenica Marchetti.  I admit it took a lot longer to fill these than I had anticipated!  I made a duck consommé to serve them in, an homage to another Emilia-Romagna classic: tortellini en brodo.  I topped the ravioli with a little Parmigiano and a splash of special 50 year old balsamic purchased on that same trip to Italy.  I clearly need to figure out how to make this kind of dish look a little better but the flavor was everything I was hoping for and I don’t think I saw a bowl with a drop of leftover consomme.  I paired this with the 2009 La Pommeraie Benovia Chardonnay because when I made a test ravioli the week before I was struck by the sweetness of the duck and I wanted to complement it.

A year ago we were lucky enough to dine at The French Laundry near my birthday.  This is Thomas Keller’s three Michelin star restaurant in Napa wine country.  It was white truffle season and we had two courses that included this very special ingredient.  It was the first time I ever had white truffles and I was blown away.  It is simply like nothing else in this world and I can still close my eyes and return to that revelatory moment.  Because I enjoyed the truffle courses so much I very much wanted to share this experience with my guests to whatever ability I had.  Through a very special contact I was able to procure the truffle pictured above.  I let the table take a whiff  of this special ingredient that had traveled so far before serving, a step I recommend.

Yet another photo of yours truly (surely a record), truffle in hand, adding as much truffle slices as I could before people stopped me.

I’m somewhat proud to say that this recipe was the only one actually taken straight from a cookbook.  In this case The French Laundry Cookbook.  The nice thing is the directions call for par-cooking the risotto and then finishing it quickly right before serving which is great because risotto typically takes so long to prepare.  I paired this with a 2006 Hirsch Vineyard William Selyem Pinot Noir.  A sublime match to a sublime dish.  Truly everyone should experience white truffle risotto once in their lives.  Please add this to your list or, as a good friend at work said, get me to invite you over for me to make it for you ;).

For the final savory course I opted for braised short ribs.  Braised short ribs are something I look forward to making when the weather turns “cold” in California.  I wanted to serve braised ribs but I wanted to do them in a special way.  Enter a sous vide.  I’ve been torturing myself over getting or not getting a sous vide for at least a year.  Turning old was as good an excuse as I was going to get to take the plunge so I did.  David Chang calls for braising short ribs for 48 hours sous vide in his Momofuku cookbook.  The trick is that you can braise them at a medium-rare temperature (60-61 C).  The long cooking tenderizes the meat but rather than melting into tiny pieces as braises usually does it has the “firmness” of a ribeye steak.  At least that was the theory though I felt like I was rolling the dice trying this for the first time for the big dinner.

I usually use a recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques so I took the flavors from that recipe and paired it with the new technique.  I decided to sous vide the heck out of the plate so I paired the beef with potatoes sous vide in duck fat and young red onions sous vide with herbs and olive oil.  All three were browned right before serving and then plated with some horseradish creme fraiche, pickled mustard seeds (these were a surprise hit!) and some peppercress which was assuredly not just for show.  It is delicious with a horseradishy bite.  This was paired with a 2005 Alexander Valley Silver Oak Cabernet.  All in all it was a very successful plate.  The short ribs are very different than what you are used to but this was the favorite dish of at least one of our guests which, if you don’t mind, is saying something :).

One more entry coming…



Filed under Cooking, Family, Food, Sous vide, The French Laundry, Thomas Keller, Wine

It’s my party and I can blog if I want to (Part 1)

Whenever we have people over for dinner I usually get too busy to take photos for the blog.  Even though this was my most ambitious dinner ever I was determined to make sure I got decent photos of the dishes so I set up some equipment in the kitchen.  This way I just had to grab the camera and take a quick shot or two right before serving.  We also had some other people running around taking photos which meant we have some great memories of the evening!

We started with a selection of cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco including a cool Italian water-buffalo cheese called Castica, oysters on the half shell, and vintage Champagne (2002 Bollinger Grande Année and 2000 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas-Francois).

Here is something you don’t see much on the blog: a photo of me in action.  The first real course was a salad.  It is a gussied up version of a simple salad I have served a few times.  I learned of combining black olives and oranges a while back from Mark Bittman.  It seemed like a strange idea when I first heard it but the combo is wonderful, especially if you sprinkle a little freshly ground fennel seed on top to seal the deal.

In this case I also steeped some bay, thyme, peppercorns, and fennel seed in olive oil and mixed it with the olives the day before to season them.  Finally I paired it with a small frisee salad dressed with a sherry vinegar vinaigrette and topped with some thinly sliced radishes.  This was paired with a Lazy Creek Riesling from Anderson Valley.

Ten years ago I had another big birthday and I served lobster.  I thought it would be fun to return to it.  Thomas Keller has a pretty killer way to do this in The French Laundry cookbook.  You pour boiling water over the lobsters and “steep” them for only a few minutes.  Just enough to free the meat from the shell but not enough to cook meat.  This lets you make stock with the shells which is a really cool perk.

Saint Thomas then calls for finishing the lobster in a nice beurre blanc soak.  This is perfect for a dinner party because you finish the lobster in a matter of minutes and it is perfectly cooked.  Also, you can freeze the leftover butter and use it for things like crab cakes!


Two photos of me in the same entry is a new record.  The chefs coat from a couple who came to the party.  I have to say wearing it made me feel pretentious but my wife insisted so what could I do.  I also have no idea why somebody thought I needed pens in the pocket but I was a bit busy!

Here is the final dish: lobster poached in butter with melted leeks, golden beet puree, and chive oil.  Clearly I still need to work on plating but trust me when I say it was pretty darn good.  If you have never tried beets with lobster they are quite nice together, give it a whirl!  The wine pairing for this was a 2000 Paul Pernot Båtard-Montrachet which was my knockout wine of the evening and why I simply had to do the lobster course.  Wow, what a wine!

To be continued…


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

How do you make a $1000 dinner?

When I returned from my cooking adventure at Bouchon I was excited and decided to offer a french bistro style dinner for six at our house in our school charity auction.  We have never done this before, at least in part because dinners sometimes go for very low amounts of money and we always fretted that this might happen to us. Our dinner came up to bid and before I knew what was happening the price had soared over $1,000 which is rarified air for our auction.  I just couldn’t believe it and was even more amazed to learn that the winners were a couple we didn’t even know and so for several months I’ve been wondering how to make a dinner worthy of this generous donation to the school.

It wasn’t long before I learned that the winners were an international couple from Belgium and Italy.  The excitedly relayed that they would be bringing a bunch of French people including someone who is in the fine French foods business.  In other words, little ol’ me was going to have to cook French food for people who actually knew what French food was <gulp>.  And so the question of how to pull this dinner off lingered in my mind for months.

I corresponded with the winner over the course of a few months and a few interesting challenges came up along with the news that the guests were all adventurous eaters.  Challenges in the good sense of course.  He was intrigued at the notion that I might make my own charcuterie for one.  A member of their party didn’t drink wine for another.  And the last was the easiest: chocolate dessert.  Slowly the menu took form in my mind until I found myself a week out.  I did a full day of prep on Sunday and then got bamboozled by a roommate reunion on Wednesday and having to cook a midweek meal for an old friend and his family who were in town unexpectedly.  So I wasn’t really able to restart until Friday and worked until late.  I was up early Saturday and worked pretty furiously until about an hour before showtime and a funny thing happened.  I was ready!

Our dear friends, who actually knew the couple, generously offered to come and help.  They helped decorate the table outside, served, took photos!, helped entertain (us in the kitchen too!), and did a stunning amount of dishes helping make the dinner a success and the evening a lot of fun.  In the spirit of serving our guests like a restaurant I served us all a staff dinner while we waited to start the evening.

I planned the menu to be one that capitalized on advanced prep and required the least amount of cooking during the dinner.  They all arrived at once and we showed them to the garden where we could let them settle in and where I served the first wine.  After hemming and hawing I opted to serve all California wine for my French bistro dinner.  What can I say, it sounded fun and a little mischievous.  We poured some Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose to go with the first few courses.  At my Sunday market the week before I stumbled upon a Kabocha squash.  I had made a Kabocha – Fennel soup before from one of my favorite cookbooks so I decided that with some creme fraiche, chives, and sherry vinegar it would make an excellent amouse bouche.

Next came a charcuterie plate.  I found some nice olives which I marinated.  I roasted some yellow beets fresh from the market that morning then tossed them with a shallot and sherry vinaigrette.  If you don’t mind me saying they were quite good.  I added some garlic sausage which I actually just purchased and then my first secret weapon Lapin (Rabbit) Rillettes with spiced prunes.  I had had rillettes the last time I was at the Bouchon restaurant and since our guests wanted charcuterie and some daring dishes I couldn’t help myself.  This proved to be one of the most popular parts of the whole meal!

Next was my other secret weapon and something I had practiced a few times: parisienne gnocchi.  These are delightful pate choux dumplings with mustard, cheese, and herbs mixed into the dough.  The mustard might sound strange but it turns out to be an excellent ingredient.  I browned the gnocchi and added garden tomatoes, market squash, olives, homemade chicken stock, and butter.  This turned out to be the second biggest hit of the night reminding some of the guests of home.  I paired this with a Carneros Lioco Chardonnay.  Which I had tried with the gnocchi earlier in the week.

In my correspondences with the winner of the auction it came up that he liked Mango Lassis.  I couldn’t bring myself to pour him this filling drink with the likes of rillettes but I wanted to work it into the menu.  I opted to turn it into a sorbet and serve it as a palette cleanser between the first and main course.

The main course was the trickiest because it required the most cooking during the dinner and tricky timing because I didn’t know how long it would take them to eat the first courses.  I ended up “firing” it when they started the charcuterie platter.  I wanted a protein course and settled on lamb.  The Bouchon cookbook has a roast leg that requires you to cut the leg into different pieces, remove connective tissue and then make small roasts.  Note: this is a lot of work.  I browned the lamb on the stove and then snuck it out the Big Green Egg to roast away.

I served the lamb over flageolet beans that were finished with shallots, garlic confit, thyme and a lamb jus I had made the week before.  The guests didn’t say much about it but back in the kitchen we thought it was pretty darn good!.  I served the Bedrock Lorenzo’s Heirloom Red Wine with this course.

The final course was dessert.  The Bouchon bakery makes these wonderful chocolate bouchons.  I thought they with some homemade vanilla ice cream would be a great way to end the evening

Despite my self imposed high standards (I won’t blame these on anybody) and the fact that we were serving complete strangers a complex multi-course dinner, the meal was a grand success!  At least from my perspective.  The guests seem to have a great time.  There was a lot of lively chatter and laughter and they said some nice things when we chatted a bit at the end of the evening.  Our friends had worked so hard cleaning as we went along that there wasn’t even a mess at the conclusion of the meal!!  We ended the evening with our friends chatting over a few more bites of food and savored pulling off the $1,000 dinner!


Filed under Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Uncategorized, Wine

Paella Party!

A few years ago now I bought an actual Paella pan.  In my own defense there were a lot of pan sizes to choose from, as is often the case.  From the diminutive, single portion size to the feed a town size.  When viewed in this relative context one can easily choose a pan that is on the big size for your needs.  This is exactly what happened to me so when I go to pull the Paella pan out it is time to invite some people over.  As many as we can find usually.  Here is a closeup of the pan showing the signature dimples.

I once saw a food show of some sort that showed Paella being cooked over orange wood.  Of course this meant that I had no choice but to always cook Paella on the grill which leads me to the second part of the story.  I’ve been in the market for a new charcoal grill and a recent, generous gift from my parents meant that I could afford the one I’ve been pining for.  What better time to get it then for a Paella party.  The one small aspect I overlooked was assembly of said grill.  One hour before the guests arrived I had dessert done, cracker dough chilling, and chicken seasoning but had done little else.  I realized I couldn’t finish the assembly in time so I reluctantly called off the assembly.  My friends, upon arrival (and after the first bottle of bubbly and some homemade crackers) graciously volunteered to finish the job and set about the task.  In fact they were a little upset we hadn’t called them over earlier to do it.  Silly me always trying to do everything myself when there are good friends who would like to help!  Anyway, I will post more about the new grill later as I learn how to use it.

As is often the case when I get behind the blog suffers so my photo count is low and I don’t have any photos of making the Paella.  Here it is finishing up on the grill.  I will have to make it again soon since this calls for more photos.  To say I have a recipe is to exaggerate a bit since I was really winging this.  Instead let’s call it Paella Guidelines.   I will also not pretend that this is authentic but I will say it is yummy.

Paella Party Guidelines

2 C chopped onions or shallots or mix
1 lb peeled shrimp (shells reserved!)
3 C arborio rice
Legs, thighs, and wings from two chickens
Some mussels
Some green beans from the garden
Some piquillo peppers
Handful of chopped tomatoes
3 oz Chorizo chopped into pieces
two generous pinches saffron soaked in some wine
smoked paprika
6 c chicken stock (homemade right?)
1 C white wine out of the fridge
Lemon from the lemon tree
chopped parsely
salt and pepper to taste

A few hours ahead season the chicken with salt (around 3/4 tsp kosher salt per pound), pepper, and smoked paprika to taste and put in the fridge.  Pull chicken from fridge 30-60 minutes before cooking.  Cook the shrimp shells in a large pot until they color and pour your stock over them and bring to a simmer.  Preheat the oven or grill to 350.  Heat the Paella pan (I start on the stove).  Brown the chicken well on both sides and set aside.  Add some olive oil and then the onions/shallots and chorizo and cook stirring frequently.  Add some more smoked paprika and a splash of wine never hurt.  When things are looking good pour in the rice and mix some more and allow to toast a bit.  Then pour in most of the stock and make sure things are mixed and spread out well and check for seasoning.  Place the chicken pieces and peppers around the pan and move to the grill or oven.  Keep an eye on things.  Probably about 20 minutes in I put the green beans in.  Around 30 minutes in I added the shellfish.  A lot of times people call for putting the shrimp in at the beginning but I just don’t like overdone shrimp.  I added a little bit more stock at this point.  When it is about time I tasted the shrimp to check on seasoning and for doneness.  Season or add more stock/wine as appropriate.  When it is done bring it to the table putting some nice lemon wedges around the outside and topping with some chopped parsley if its handy.

I have to say it was good, especially the chicken.  I think the early seasoning and then long amount of time on the grill absorbing some smoke made it really nice.  The one thing we didn’t have in abundance was the crust you are supposed to get on the bottom.  Not too bad for first try on a new grill though.  Here’s a shot (taken by a friend!) of my wife with the kids looking on getting everything settled.  I didn’t take wine notes but wines that were enjoyed include Lucien Albrecht Cremant D’Alsace Brut Rose (nice light, fruity sparkler), Harmonie 2010 Muscade Sevre et Maine (if you can find this it is very good for the price), Remelluri Eioja 2007 (a perfect match for Paella!), Bedrock 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah (a nice cold climate Syrah that I love).


Filed under Cooking, Cremant, Family, Food, Muscadet, Recipe, Rioja, Syrah

Woodenhead Zin

Woodenhead is a small winery off River Road in Sonoma County.  I definitely recommend a stop if you are the neighborhood and like Zinfandel or Pinot Noir.  My disclaimer of purchasing this wine continues ;).  On the nose I get cranberry, dark chocolate, blackberry jam and a touch of cedar.  Flavors include the dark chocolate bordering on mocha with more cranberries followed by strawberry and blackberry jam.  It finished with soft tannins and notes of earth.  Quite a wine with a good bit of complexity though also a hefty 15.8% alcohol content (though I don’t taste it) and price tag at $45.  If you like Zin this is definitely an interesting wine if the price point is within reach.


Filed under Sonoma, Wine, Wine tasting, Zinfandel

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

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


I am a little loath to post this wine (especially since I have a bunch of others to post!) because this is a wine that pretty much nobody will be able to find.  Selyem is one of those mailing list only wineries but it was the one my hand found as I was looking for a match for dinner.  As soon as those free samples start rolling in I’m sure I will have more main stream wines for you all ;).

This has a delightful nose of what started as lime zest and what struck me as cotton candy though I also smelled green apple and chalk as I swirled the glass more.  On the palate there is a splash of lemon juice bringing nice acidity to the minerals all coming together for a decently long finish.  I know they ferment in cement so the minerals are not a surprise.  A light a decent match for my pasta.  I would recommend if it was more widely available :(.


Filed under California Wine, Chenin Blanc, Wine tasting, Winery

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


For Friday night pizza night I turned to Italy and Amantis Sangiovese 2006 $22.  This is a very interesting wine.  When I first opened the bottle it was incredibly floral with a strong Jasmine smell.  As it opened up the floral component almost completely disappeared.  If you have never done it I would highly recommend tracking how a wine changes over the course of an hour or more by at least smelling it, if not tasting as well over time.  After the pizzas were done the floral smell was replaced by what I can only think of cherry cough drops and milk chocolate with a hint of cinnamon.  The palate is incredibly similar with the cherry cough drops, chocolate, and cinnamon leading into what tastes and feels like black tea.  A very interesting wine with a bit of age that definitely mellows it.


Filed under Italian Wine, Sangiovese, Wine, Wine tasting