Has your Santa been naughty or nice? Goji and Riserva

Poor Santa. He has to stuff his big belly down sooty chimneys and haul his sack full of goodies in a mad dash from North pole to South. Perhaps a smooth, fruity glass of 2005 Falernia Carmenere/Syrah Reserva from the Elqui Valley of Chile will brighten his spirits. The Goji berry cookies will nourish him and provide antioxidants and vitamin C to ward off any sniffles as he works hard to bring Christmas cheer round the world. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or any another day of gratitude; I wish you joy and happiness! I saw the following anonymous quote that expresses the wish well: "There's more, much more, to Christmas than candlelight and cheer; It's the spirit of sweet friendship that brightens all year. It's thoughtfulness and kindness, It's hope reborn again, For peace, for understanding, And for goodwill to men!"
There's a lot of hype about Goji berries, like the story of Li Qing Yuen,  a Chinese man who allegedly lived to be 252 years old eating Goji berries daily; some brands claim their Goji berry products fight cancer and cure diabetes and glaucoma. The non-hype facts are that the berry, which has been cultivated in China for thousands of years, contains six vitamins, including high concentrations of vitamin C  (up to 148mg per 100 grams), potassium, iron, selenium and vitamin B2, plus Beta-carotene and Zeaxanthin (this is one of the carotenoids in the retina--so there may be some truth to the glaucoma story).  It's also known as "wolfberry" and is a member of the Solanacea family (tomato, potato, eggplant, etc.) An interesting bit of trivia is that wolfberry was introduced to the UK in the 1730's where it can be found in hedgerows, feeding and sheltering birds. Hedgerows are lines of bushes and trees that have been woven together, some since Anglo-Saxon times, to form natural fences between pastures and farms. Since reading about hedgerows in National Geographic years ago, one of the places on my travel "wish list" is to go to see them in rural England (see article on Bexley) They can be a tangled mass of vegetation many feet wide and tall,  habitat for an amazing biodiversity of insects, birds and small animals.

2 sticks softened butter
1 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 extra large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
2 2/3 cups uncooked rolled oats
1/2 cup Goji berries
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar together in electric mixer, stopping occasionally and using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla and almond extract, mixing well after each addition. Sift the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Add the flour mixture in batches, mixing until just mixed.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the oats with a spoon, then stir in the Goji berries and pecans. Using a large tablespoon, spoon heaping dollops onto buttered cookie sheets, leaving at least an inch between cookies. Bake 9 to 12 minutes until golden brown and cooked in the center. Use a spatula to place on wire rack to cool. Makes about 30 3" cookies.

This week's Online Grapevine suggests the World Class Wine Gift...


Melted Cheese, please! + Hurrah! Syrah!

I hope my acupuncturist and Shiatsu practitioner don't read this...in Chinese medicine, cheese is to be avoided as it "causes dampness in the body". In fact, my incredibly knowledgeable acupuncturist gave me a detailed, scientifically documented, and thorough explanation of why our digestive system is not designed for ingesting dairy. It seems irrefutable; but I love cheese! I can't promise not to eat cheese, just to eat less of it! Sometimes, one just needs a bit of gooey, melty cheese, especially on a cold day with a great glass of wine to pair with it. I thought of this as I reflected on what to serve with the luscious 2006 Matthews Estate Syrah. It received 92 points from Wine Spectator and it's a wonderful wine. The expert winemaker describes it thusly: "A beautifully aromatic wine with ripe blueberry and fresh fig. A lingering of leather, black pepper and spice. A palette focused with mild tannins and minerals, a structured wine with a soft lingering finish leaving you with hints of violets. This Syrah shows Matthews' move toward a cooler climate style, with subtlety and layers of game and beef blood." In my (non-expert) tasting, I have no idea what is meant by "game and beef blood"--the idea of drinking blood sounds hideous to me! I don't taste that, what I do experience with the Matthews Estate is a rich, complex Syrah with structure, a full mouth of fruit with notes of black pepper and spice, and the lovely lingering smooth finish the winemaker describes. I was thinking that a multi-flavored dish with Portobello (a good pairing for Syrah) would complement this wine and that a cheesy center (similar to Chicken Cordon Bleu) would be a fun surprise. Voila! A recipe was born, I hope you enjoy it.

I actually love my acupuncturist and shiatsu practicioner--they have been restoring my energy and healing my body! I recommend Shiatsu Rincon in Carpenteria for a sublime experience. It's tucked into Gubernador Canyon and housed in a handcrafted home with a genuine Japanese o-furo (hot bath). Relax in the private bath overlooking a peaceful Zen garden, then give yourself over to capable hands for the best Shiatsu you've ever had, then acupuncture to heal hurts or revitalize your system. Ahh, bliss...

8 Savoy cabbage leaves (about half a head)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dry lentils
1/2 cup dry quinoa
2 cups broth--either vegetable or chicken broth
2 Tbsp. butter + extra for greasing muffin tin
1 Tbsp. garlic (about 2 cloves) minced
1/2 cup minced onion
1 cup Portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. marjoram
1 5.5 oz. can of V8
4 oz. Gruyere--cut into 1 oz. chunks
Green top of one shallot, sliced finely

Boil enough water in a pot to cook the Savoy cabbage (about 2 quarts). When the water boils, put in the cabbage leaves and blanch for just a couple minutes so the leaves are cooked but before they start falling apart. Carefully put into a collander, rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, and drain.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse lentils, drain, then put into a pot with the broth and quinoa. Bring to a boil, stir, cover tightly and turn heat to low to simmer for 15 minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the onion, garlic, mushrooms and spices over low heat until onions and mushrooms are cooked. Divide in half and put half in with the quinoa mixture, stir thoroughly--the quinoa will be soft like mashed potatoes. Set aside to cool, taste and add additional salt if desired.

Add the can of V8 to the half of the mushroom mixture still in the saucepan and simmer for ten minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Put into the blender and puree until smooth. Grease four of the holes in a large muffin tin with butter. Pat the cabbage dry with a paper towel if needed. Put a cabbage leaf in each hole, then use the extra leaves to fill in so the Savoy will line the muffin tin hole with enough left to cover the top when done (see photo at left). Fill each cabbage leaf halfway with the quinoa mixture, then place the Gruyere in the center. Fill the rest with quinoa mixture, packing it down so the top is level with the top of the muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes.

Reheat the sauce so it is warm when the cabbages are ready, taste and adjust seasoning. Carefully put a (unheated) cookie sheet on top of the muffin tin, then quickly turn it over so the stuffed cabbage ends upside down on the cookie sheet. Spoon a fourth of the sauce on the bottom of each serving plate, then use a spatula to center a stuffed cabbage on each plate, sprinkle with minced shallot greens. Serves 4. Pair this recipe with the 2006 Matthews Estate Syrah.


Cows Gone Wild and Bird on the Barbie

Highway 5 is the main artery for travel between northern and southern California, a flat straight shot throughout he heart of the San Joaquin Valley--growing fields for a quarter of the U.S. agricultural production and former stomping grounds of writer John Steinbeck. You can still see traces of his world, while whizzing by at breakneck speed, in little farming communities like Los Banos with rusted tractors, faded signs and barns. But mostly one sees  mile after mile of farms, watered by a Byzantine and archaic system of levees, dikes and canals that channel water from the Sacramento watershed. Signs saying "Congress Created Dust Bowl" have sprouted up along the highway as the third year of drought and water wars continues. Midway, the massive Harris Ranch stockyards are perceptible by your nose miles before the eyes see them reach towards the horizon. The Harris Steakhouse is famous for their beef but we decided this time to continue onto the windmill of Andersen's Pea Soup in Santa Nella for a tureen of the green stuff before continuing on to family in Redding.
     They have a ranch tucked away in the wooded hills south of town and us "city slickers" had the chance to wrangle the cows from one pasture to the other. We made a bit of a mess of things as we stupidly stood in the path of the cows, confusing them and ultimately causing them to run off in the opposite direction. Not a good thing as the back acreage extends for miles and takes over 4 hours to travel by quad. Turning them meant running up the slippery, rocky slopes to try and get ahead of them and turn them by flapping our jackets. It seemed like fun until a thousand pound monster ran at me full speed and I jumped behind a tree. So much for being a cowgirl!

    The Thanksgiving turkey was cooked on the bbq--stuffed with onions and herbs, coated with olive oil and cooked 12 minutes per pound over coals. Note the drip pan under the turkey with the coals around the outside to prevent drippings from catching fire. Our host also has an oil can that he uses to cook chicken (see photo at left) The coals go on the bottom and half chickens are hung on hooks on the bars across the top, the oil can lid is put on and the chicken slowly cook/smoke until done.

      On the way home, we stopped in Napa for a day and found a new favorite restaurant: Celadon on the riverfront which is rated #1 restaurant in Napa by TripAdvisor. Reviewers raved about the goat cheese and fig appetizer; it deserved the praise--warm goat cheese in a macadamia nut crust with sliced apple and figs infused with port. Yum! The acai/basil gimlet has an excellent sweet/tart balance but we found the cactus fruit margarita too sweet. We sampled crispy coconut shrim p and halibut with Manila clams which was perfectly cooked. The creme brulee was one of the best I've had--topped with baked banana. Napa is lovely in the autumn, the weather was crisp and the sunshine brilliant. Grape leaves are turning color--it's New England on the vine.

2 lb. salmon cut into four fillets
1/3 cup cherry preserves
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup red wine
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. minced ginger
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Mix preserves, juice, wine, sugar, and ginger in a glass bowl. Marinate the salmon fillets, skin side down, for two or more hours. Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with the oil and heat over medium flame for a minute. Carefully place the fish, skin side down, in the pan with long tongs (to avoid being spattered with hot oil). Reduce heat to low, cover with the lid and cook until the fish is nearly opaque. Remove the fish with a spatula to a serving dish and cover with the lid. Remove any skin left in the pan but keep any brown bits. Add the rest of the marinade and the red wine ; turn the heat up to medium. Deglaze the drippings: stirring in the liquid and scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan to mix well. Reduce the sauce by half, then spoon over the fish and serve with the 2007 Ernst & Co. Pinotage. Serves 4.
*Regarding this week's wine pairing for the recipe, if you havent' heard of Pinotage: "In recent history South Africa has been known for Pinotage, a varietal developed in 1925 by Professor A.I. Perold by crossing Pinot Noir and the Southern Rhone blending-grape Cinsault. It tends to make a chewy, tannic, medium-bodied wine with pungent fruit aromas." (Jim Clarke, "Cape Crusaders", StarChefs.com)