Wine Events and Root 246

Two reasons for coming to Santa Barbara in September! Touring & Tasting is having a Northwest Wine Tasting Sept. 9th from 5:30-7 pm--only $20, half of which can be used toward purchase of bottles of wine you like during the tasting. And there will be a Warehouse Wine Sale Sept. 12th from 2-5 pm with unbelievably low prices. I stocked up during the last warehouse sale and this will be even better as the wines are at 60% discount and lower! Come early as some wines sell out. Call 800-850-4370 ext. 100 for more information or click here Fall is gorgeous in the Santa Ynez valley, the grapes are getting close to harvest, the days are sunny with a bit of a autumn crispness in the air, the you-pick apple farms are open, there are cherries and flowers for sale in the roadside stands along the rural roads between wineries, and you can stop and taste estate grown olive oil and enjoy wonderful meals. The Los Olivos Cafe is a favorite, but we drove out this week to try the new Root 246 restaurant in Solvang that's been the center of a lot of food blog buzz. (read Gayot's review) Chef Bradley Ogden is renown for his "New American" cuisine of fresh, highest quality ingredients and as being the winner of James Beard's "Best Chef of California", among other awards. The restaurant is elegant but not stuffy with comfy upholstered chairs, dark wood floor and recessed lighting. We tried two salads: the Roots’ farms baby bib lettuce with goat cheese, pears and honey lavender pistachios and the golden beet and artichoke salad with sherry vinaigrette, then the short rib stew with a parsley onion dumpling and the Ono "Nicoise" with julienned beans and olive tapenade, finishing with the butterscotch pudding "taster". Everything was fresh and lovely to both the eye and the palate. I prefer my beets roasted until they are carmelized, but there were no complaints with the delicate beet salad that had the perfect touch of vinegar in the dressing to complement their sweetness. The fish was cooked to perfection, moist and flavorful even if the tapenade overwhelmed it a bit. But, these were minor notes. The dumpling was fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth and the pudding to die for. The "taster" desserts are just a few mouthfuls--just enough sweetness to end the meal without feeling overstuffed--and at $4 for our taster, an affordable decadence.


Chewy Red Wine Sale and Soupe Americaine Au Pistou

A big Napa red, two Paso Robles beauties, rich Monterey County Syrah...here's your chance to finish summer with a BANG and stock up on delicious red wine for fall. These four favorites are in short supply so order today and you'll be enjoying them for Labor Day and the weeks that follow.
  • '03 Don Ernesto "Crescendo" (Napa, CA):
    Nose of smoky cherry and mouth of spicy red and black licorice with silky tannins. (Retail $24)
  • '03 Martin & Weyrich Nebbiolo (Paso Robles, CA):
    Dark berries, plums and raspberries in the true Italian sense of this varietal. (Retail $22)
  • '06 Peachy Canyon "Westside" Zinfandel (Paso Robles, CA):
    Sweet dark fruit, caramel, hint of smokiness, long juicy finish. (Retail $19)
  • '07 Carmichael "Sur le Pont" Syrah (Monterey County, CA):
    Warm, roasted chestnut quality across the mid-palate and a full finish. (Retail $18)
How could one not feel exuberant after seeing the new film "Julie & Julia"? It's great entertainment with a tour de force performance by Meryl Streep, lots of laugh-out-loud, clever dialog and, best of all, it's an unabashed celebration of cooking and food! And who could not love and admire Julia Child? I'll never forget one TV episode where she picked up a chicken as one would pick up an infant and patted its little bottom with complete affection. You could see how much she loved food, cooking and her show. The film "Julie & Julia" is wonderful in the way it describes the arduous work that went into her fame, the battle against sexism, and the tireless working and reworking of her first cookbook "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking". What she knew could not be learned in a year, but the food blogger played by perky Amy Adams was fun. It's inspirational to see two women who found personal fulfillment and professional success as a result of their obsession with food. So, as an homage to the great Julia Child, this week's wine pairing recipe is a modern, American version of her "Soupe Au Pistou" from "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking". This is not the same recipe but is in the same spirit of using fresh, in season vegetables. Most of the ingredients are what is available now in a home garden or farmer's market.
1 cup dry Great Northern beans
1 cup peeled, diced carrots
1 cup peeled, diced Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup diced onion
1 Tbsp. salt + more to taste
1 bay leaf
1 ear corn
spray olive oil
1 cup diced green beans
1/8 tsp. white pepper
pinch of saffron
1 large white roll, like a hoagie roll
about 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 large tomato peeled and pureed, with juice
1 clove garlic minced then mashed with side of knife or in pestle
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Wash and pick through the Great Northern beans to make sure there are no pebbles and put them in a large bowl and cover with water. Let sit overnight, then rinse and drain. In a large pot, bring to boil 1 quart of water with the Great Northern beans, carrots, potatoes, onions, 1 Tbsp. salt and the bay leaf, then turn the heat down and adjust it so the water is just beneath a boil--just before bubbles break the surface of the water. Stir occasionally as it cooks, until beans are soft, about 40 minutes. There should be plenty of water, but add water if the water evaporates so much that the vegetables are not covered. In the meantime, spray oil on the husked corn on the cob and grill on the lowest temperature with a little foil tent as shown in the photo to keep the heat in. Turn now and then so all sides of the corn are cooked. A bit of char is fine. Prepare the Pistou by mixing the tomato, basil, garlic and olive oil then set aside. Remove bay leaf from the soup and add green beans, pepper, saffron and the corn cut off the cob and turn down the heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Slice the white roll diagonally and brush the top of each slice with olive oil, then sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Broil until bread is golden brown. Set one piece of the bread aside per serving (photo shows two slices). Chop the rest of the bread slices into small 1/8" cubes. Stirring continuously, slowly pour the pistou into the hot soup, then stir in the cheese covered bread cubes. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste, then serve immediately with the bread toast placed in the soup bowl--it's yummy to dip the bread in as you eat the soup! Serves 4. Wine pairing for this recipe: the lovely French-style wine from Monterey County: the 2007 Carmichael "Sur le Pont" Syrah.


Steak with Cabernet Mushroom Sauce and CAB SALE!

One of the joys of summer is grilling dinner and sitting outside for the meal with nice company and a good glass of wine. One of the joys in cooking is when you find the perfect balance in a recipe. You can find any number of recipes for mushroom sauce but this hits the spot. This mushroom sauce has a bit of richness from the cream, but avoids being heavy or cloying. It has a bit of bite from the mustard and Worstershire but never loses the good mushroom flavor. Try it, it's bound to be a favorite!Personally, I don't eat beef, but I have eager taste testers for my meat recipes in friends and family. I served this with a rib eye steak, but for me, used the mushroom sauce to top a vegetarian nut loaf. A good wine pairing will be the 2005 Salisbury Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
3 cloves minced garlic
1/8 tsp. ground pepper
2 steaks
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup thin sliced shallots
1/2 cup red wine (try this week's 2004 Yosemite View)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. Worstershire sauce
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/3 tsp. ground pepper
salt to taste (start with 1/8 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. minced fresh oregano
2 Tbsp. half and half
Heat the grill to high and wipe an oiled cloth over the grill before putting on the steak. Sear one minute on each side, then turn the grill to low and cook to desired doneness, turning halfway through the cooking. In the meantime, melt the butter in a saucepan, then the shallots and mushrooms and cook over low heat, stirring often until mushrooms are cooked. Add the wine, parley, Worstershire, mustard, oregano and pepper, cover and cook a 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the half and half just before serving and season to taste with salt. Serves 2. A good wine pairing will be the 2007 Mariposa Yosemite View Cabernet Sauvignon.

Save Over $120 On A Full Case Of California Cabernet Sauvignon With FREE Shipping* Save $9 per bottle on Order B or over $10 per bottle on Order A! Read Offer
  • 2005 Salisbury Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon:From Paso Robles' warm inland vineyards comes this luscious Cabernet. (Retail $27)
  • 2007 Mariposa Yosemite View Cabernet Sauvignon:Currant and herb aromas; light toasty bouquet. (Retail $15)
  • 2002 Silver Mountain Alloy:Explodes out of the glass with rich blackberry and currant flavors. (Retail $27)
  • 2002 Martin & Weyrich Etrusco Cabernet Sauvignon:Paso Robles produces stellar Cab, 85% of this blend. Sangiovese adds bright flavors, layered complexity, and velvety texture. (Retail: $22)
  • 8/10/09

    Japanese Knives

    Prepping vegetables is no longer a chore; it is an exhilarating, slightly dangerous, fully engaged experience! My new Hattori chef's knife arrived from Japan: a gleaming silver art piece of layered Damascus steel both beautiful and wickedly sharp. Touch the edge to a cucumber and just the weight of the knife propels it cleanly through to the cutting board, no effort required. The slices are translucently thin. But this is not a knife for the careless; one slip could mean the loss of a digit. After all, generations of Japanese sword smiths are behind the crafting of this blade. Gruesomely, the sharpness of the Japanese samurai sword was tested by seeing how many human bodies it could cut through in a single swipe. I'm keenly reminded of this when the Hattori comes close to my fingers; slicing vegetables becomes an example of the exhortation to "be in the moment". One has to be extra alert and focussed when using a knife like this, so I experience the knife, the vegetable, the cutting board and my fingers with heightened awareness--is this the true Zen of cooking? This is not a low maintenance piece of cutlery. You cannot simply use a sharpening steel or commercial knife sharpener. It requires three whetstones; five passes back and forth across the first stone starting with the tip and working up towards the handle, again with the second, then the third. Sharpening takes about 20 minutes: a commitment to the upkeep of the blade, but resulting in pure pleasure for those of us who love the process of cooking as much as savoring the result.

    I've had two other pieces of Japanese cutlery in my kitchen for years, both of which were purchased in L.A.'s Little Tokyo: a yanagiba for delicate slicing of fish for sushi and a Shigemitsu deba bocho for the heavier fish prep. Otherwise, my block set of stainless steel has plodded along for many years. Why upgrade my cutlery now? Because after a lifetime of learning how to create the tastes I want, I'm looking for a better presentation--clean, precise edges being part of a polished look. It took two days of intensive research online to decide on the Hattori HD 7 Gyuto and the soon to arrive Misono 130mm Sweden Steel Petty. Two days' worth of research yields only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what there is to know about chef's knives. In brief, in the European tradition, there were essentially 3 types of knives used in prepping vegetables: the "cook's knife" or "French knife" which is long (around 300mm or less) and broad with a curved belly making a 'rocking-horse' motion while slicing, the paring knife (around 190mm) that fits easily into the hand and used mainly, as can be surmised by the name, for paring and decorative work, and the utility knife which is halfway between the two. Knives were commonly made of carbonized steel, which takes a very sharp edge but required vigilant maintenance to avoid rust and to keep the edge. The advent of stainless steel eliminated the need for such rigorous maintenance but the edge was hard to keep honed. Modern stainless for knives is made of steel with added carbon to try and improve the knife edge; there are dozens of types of steel: Cromova 18, Cowry-X, MC66, etc. and several chef's forums online where the merits of each is debated (ChefTalk is one). Layered steel is discussed below.

    There is another line of kitchen knives originating in Japan. During the US occupation of Japan after WWII, the creation of samurai swords was prohibited and the generations of knowledge about the hand-forging of blades was nearly lost. Some of the sword smith families, primarily in the city of Sakai carried this knowledge forward into the present and are making kitchen knives in the same tradition. A truly hand-made chef's knife costs thousands of dollars, so they also manufacture affordable knives using factory manufacture with some hand finishing.
    Dozens of specialized knives appear in a Japanese professional kitchen, including a Takohiki just for preparing octopus and a Udon-Kiri for slicing noodles. The main tools for prepping vegetables in a Japanese kitchen are hybrids of the tradtional and modern. A Santoku is the "cook's knife" equivalent (the Japanese style is a Gyuto), a Nakiri is a thinner version of the Chinese cleaver and the Petty spans the size from paring to utility knife. The traditional Japanese knife (though they now make traditional forms with European edges) is straight on one edge and beveled on the other, or beveled just 30 percent on one side and 70 degrees on the other. This also makes a sharper edge possible and gives a cleaner cut. European style knives are bevelled evenly, 50/50, like a "V".

    What made samurai swords so sharp and capable of the grisly body tests described above was the technique of lamination and layering. The Japanese discovered a solution to the dilemma of steel--that softer steel is sharper but isn't as durable and hard steel, though it withstands shock and force better is not as sharp. They came up with a method of encasing a core of softer steel inside a protective outer sheath with the soft steel exposed at the edge for maximum sharpness. Their swords were not only layered from hard outer to softer inside, but each of the steels was hammered out repeatedly and folded over, creating layers within the steel and driving out any impurities that could weaken the metal. Small crystals in the metal, some barely visible to the naked eye, give the hand-forged Japanese blade a misty glow, the patterns of which are used by fine art sword experts and collectors to assess the age and provenance of a samurai sword. If you have the chance to see a fine example of this artistry, please appreciate the beauty that has gone into the creation of it. There are some fine blades in the "Lords of the Samurai" exhibit at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
    (*note: since this post, I bought a Shun Chef's knife at Sur la Table and have been using it the most of all my large knives as it has more weight than the Hattori, making it more useful for the wider range of cutting jobs. I still love to use my Hattori Gyuto for fine knife work with vegetables. I also bought an inexpensive Swiss Kuhn Rikon that never needs sharpening and use it more than my expensive Wusthoff or Misono. Just $9.95!)


    Good meals this week...plus popover recipe

    Good restaurant meals this week: Ensalada de Tofu Picosa at Alcazar Tapas bar in Santa Barbara with sauteed bell peppers, tofu, pasilla chilis over greens with goat cheese and tomatillo dressing; seared ahi salad with an extra side of their herb crusted warm goat cheese in a balsamic vinagrette at perennial favorite Fresco, also in Santa Barbara; and lunch at Mariposa in the Neiman Marcus in Newport Beach. The latter is a hidden gem: a light, airy lunch-only spot tucked into the second floor of the department store. As it turns out, Neiman Marcus popovers are well-known and much appreciated--crisp on the inside and creamy soft inside the crust, served with a delicious whipped butter/strawberry concoction. Below is the recipe from an article by By Joyce Saenz Harris of The Dallas Morning News. The meal was so good, we ordered the cookbook which should have the recipe for the sweet and citrusy Mandarin Orange Souffle' which accompanies the chicken salad. We had ice tea, but I would pair a nice California Chardonnay with these tasty popovers.
    3 ½ cups milk
    4 cups all-purpose flour
    1 ½ teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    6 large eggs, at room temperature
    Place milk in bowl and microwave on High (100 percent power) for 2 minutes, or until warm to the touch. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together in large mixing bowl. Crack eggs into work bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk, and beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until foamy and pale in color. Turn down mixer to low and add warm milk. Gradually add flour mixture and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Turn machine off and let batter rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

    Preheat oven to 450 F. Spray popover tin generously with nonstick spray. Fill popover cups almost to the top with batter and place popover tin on cookie sheet. Transfer to oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn down oven temperature to 375 F and bake for 30 to 35 minutes longer, until popovers are deep golden brown outside and airy inside. Turn out popovers and serve hot with strawberry butter. Makes 12 popovers. Note: Chef Garvin advises: "The key to making great popovers is having the eggs and milk warm before mixing. It is also important to let the batter sit for an hour before baking it. Popovers do not freeze well, and pre-made batter has a tendency not to work properly the next day.
    1 ½ cups butter, at room temperature
    1 cup good-quality strawberry preserves
    Place butter in work bowl of electric mixer and beat on high until light and fluffy. Add preserves and beat until well combined. To serve, spoon or pipe the flavored butter into ramekins or onto side plates. Makes about 2 ½ cups. Note: Keep refrigerated in an airtight container. This spread will last for two to three days.