The room is serenely quiet; but 26 floors below, San Francisco buzzes with street life. Walking through downtown, one hears the hum of the city, the shrill call of an ambulance, the clang of cablecars, bits of conversation in many languages in this city that is #8 on the list of tourist destinations worldwide.  SF is a foodies dreams with excellent restaurants of every ethnicity and pricing. Imagine being able to sample tidbits from 50 different restaurants of the Bay Area in one night--each prepared to match a specific Zinfandel! One of the delectable perks in working in the wine business is attending the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) annual event in San Francisco for free. Thanks to Touring & Tasting, we have an elegant room in the Intercontinental Hotel with panoramic views of the city and bay glittering beyond two walls of floor to ceiling glass.
Tonight was the "Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing" with around 50 wineries pouring their Zin at Fort Mason, each with a individual recipe created by a chef--a foodie's paradise! Some of my favorites were the gougères (see my post 3/26/09 for a recipe for these French delicacies) with hand-cut bacon by the Gamba Estate Restaurant (pictured below) paired with the Gamba 2007 Estate Old Vine Zin from the Russian River; the ravioli with shitake and crimini mushrooms in a cream black truffle sauce from
Pazzo in Petaluma with the Starry Night 2007 Old Vine Nervo Station from Alexander Valley; and the French Onion Soup with Cipolla Onion and Gruyere--a bit delicate for the zesty flavors of Zin, but a beautiful dish prepared by Taste of the Sierra Foothills--a restaurant that was give the Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence" in 2008 and 2009. I don't pretend to be a wine critic--but to my taste, the best Zin was from the Mounts Family Winery who has been growing Zin in Dry Creek Valley for over 50 years. Zin is like Cabernet Sauvignon in one can really taste the terroir in the wine. Dry Creek Valley in northern Sonoma County is home to many stellar wineries, producing old vine Zin as well as noted Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Saturday is the Grand Zinfandel Tasting with over 200 wineries, so stay tuned!


Burmese Coconut Squash Soup With Caramelized Onions

My parents had a Burmese friend (Burma is now Myanmar) who was a whirlwind in the kitchen. He would pile the kitchen counter with fresh herbs and rifle through the cupboards for every spice. He'd prepare six or seven vegetarian courses at once, each dish unique in its flavoring and texture. He never tasted as he cooked but judged each dish by its aroma. To this day, the smell of fried onions stirs memories of his garnish.  Most squash soups use cream, this one uses creamy coconut milk for a rich taste. It's thick and spicy, with the sweet caramelized onions on top. It needs a dry, acidic wine to balance the richness: pour the 2007 Scheid Sauvignon Blanc.
1/2 baked acorn squash (about 1 cup cooked)
4 Tbsp. olive oil, in two parts
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 medium onion
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dry ginger powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce (use Burmese if you can get it)
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Put cut side down of one half of the squash on a sheet of aluminum foil on a pan and bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees or until flesh is soft when pierced with a cooking fork.  Remove from oven and let cool until you can scoop the cooked squash into a food processor.  While waiting, thinly slice the onion (1/8" slices). Put 2 Tbsp. oil plus the butter into a saucepan and heat for a minute over medium heat, then add the onion and sauté them until translucent, stirring or flipping continuously so they brown evenly. You may need to lower the heat to keep the onions cooking and their liquid evaporating without burning. When they are golden brown, sprinkle with sugar and continue cooking and stirring until they are deep brown. Spread on 4 layers of paper towel when done. Film 2 Tbsp. oil in a saucepan and cook the ginger, garlic, chili, coriander and turmeric for a couple of minutes over low heat. Add the fish sauce, coconut milk, water, vinegar and pepper. Tip: shake the can of coconut milk well before opening as it usually separates. Bring to a low boil for two minutes. Carefully pour into the food processor. Mix on "liquefy" until smooth.  Taste, and then add salt,  adjusting the  seasonings, adding more chili if you like it spicy.  Some fish sauce is saltier than others, so the amount of salt will vary according to the sauce used and your taste.  Serve in small bowls, topped with the sweet carmelized onions. Makes 4 servings.


Foods to Fight the Flu

First, this week Touring & Tasting has a great deal on World Class wines--save from $28-$100 depending on whether you're a wine club member and if you order one or two bottles each of the three hand-crafted wines. I wanted to make something different to match the full-bodied 2007 Sculpterra Maquette--the highly extracted Bordeaux blend from Paso Robles, and came up with this crunchy appetizer:
2 pita
1/2 cup almonds
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbps. dried onion flakes
1/4 cup sundried tomato
1/4 cup + approximately 4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Japanese cucumber
1 cup prepared hummus

Chop the almonds into small pieces about 1/4" across. You can use a food processor--just pulse briefly so the nuts are not ground fine. Chop the sundried tomatoes, mix with the almonds, sesame seeds, spices and 1/4 cup olive oil to make a paste. Cut the pita into 6 wedges each and spread the paste on each piece equally. Toast in the broiler until golden brown. Slice the cucumber. Put the hummus in a serving bowl, sprinkle with paprika, then drizzle with a swirl of olive oil. Place the pita and cucumber slices around the hummus. Serve with a spoon to put a dollop of hummus on the pita or cucumber. Serves about 8 as an appetizer. Serve with the mouth-watering 2007 Sculpterra 'Maquette'.
The new year knocked me out with the flu and since it seems to be going around, I thought I'd share my five top foods that helped me recover from the flu:
1. Ginger tea. Ginger has long been used to treat nausea from seasickness or pregnancy and according to the U. of Maryland Medical Center can be used for upset stomach for cancer patients and can alleviate arthritis inflammation. Cut an inch off the fresh ginger root, peel, slice and put in a cup of hot water for a tasty brew.
2. Peppermint tea. UMMC reports peppermint is antiviral and antibacterial as well as working as a decongestant. Crush a handful of fresh peppermint in a pot of hot water--using fresh rather than dried means getting the peppermint oil. A study by the American College of Gastroenterology found peppermint oil most effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome. Maybe more important is the fact that peppermint tea is soothing and smells heavenly!
3. Miso soup. When you have the flu, you don't want anything acidic and are advised to stay away from dairy, carbonation, and caffeine. Also, when you can't keep food down, electrolytes can be off balanced leading to weakness. Miso is a bit salty, helping to rehydrate the body and balance electrolytes and it's nutritious with a lot of protein. I make miso from scratch with dashi and miso from the Asian market:
2 cups water
1 dashi pack (soup base made from fish shavings)
4 heaping Tbsp. miso (red or white) paste
1/2 block firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 egg
Boil water with dashi pack for ten minutes, turn heat down to simmer. Spoon miso paste into a strainer that can be immersed into the soup, stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the miso. Add the tofu and turn the heat up for a low boil. Crack the egg into a small cup and slide the egg into the gently boiling soup, poach for two minutes. This makes about 3 servings, save the left over in the frig and reheat to poach another egg, if desired.
4. Chicken soup. I don't eat chicken anymore, for compassionate reasons, but I still make chicken soup for family as it does seem to hasten recovery. The garlic and lemon have an antibacterial effect in the stomach and it's protein and vitamin rich.
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 fryer, cut up
1/2 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. marjoram
1/2 Tbsp. thyme
1 qt. chicken broth
2 potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, cut into pieces
2 corn cobs, cut into 2" pieces
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 lemon approximate
salt to taste
 1 avocado, optional
Heat oil in cast iron pot, like a Dutch oven, and sear the chicken all over. Add the garlic and onion, turn down the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the spices and add water to cover the chicken completely and cook for about an hour with the lid on. Turn heat off and remove chicken pieces to a tray to cool. When chicken is cool enough, remove the meat and return it to the broth. I like to keep the meat pieces large--tearing the chicken breasts into about four large pieces. The corn cobs are difficult to cut into 2" slices--use a very sharp, heavy chef's knife. Add the vegetables to the soup, turn the heat on to low and cook for another 45 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. Add as much of the chicken broth as needed to keep the vegetables submerged. When the vegetables are cooked, chop the 1/2 bunch cilantro and add to the soup. Squeeze the lemon juice into the soup, adding the salt slowly and tasting after each addition. You want to find the right mix of flavors between slightly lemony and slightly salted. The amount of lemon and salt used will depend on the other ingredients and your personal taste. Serve with slices of avocado, if desired. Makes about 8 servings.
5. Almond butter. The local health food store has a machine that grinds roasted almonds into almond butter. The aroma of roasted almonds is very appetizing! Almond butter on a toasted waffle was all I could take for a couple of days, it seemed neutral to my stomach which allowed it to remain when all else was rejected. Turns out almonds boost the immune sytem and reduce inflammation--turns out my "gut instinct" was right on!



Last week would have been the perfect time to blog about Temecula, since last week's sold-out wine special included two wines from that region. But, I was knocked to my knees with the flu and just barely eked out my work for the week before collapsing for four days.

Many years ago, Temecula was just a flash of a sign seen from highway 79, going from San Diego to Riverside. She's a grownup lady now and bustles with shops, restaurants and a burgeoning wine industry. We sat on the expansive patio of Thornton Winery for a chat with winemaker Don Reha about the development of the wine business in Temecula Valley. When Don arrived, most wineries were mom and pop operations without the tools and techniques of modern enology. He brought a degree from UC Davis and a pedigreed resume from Fetzer, Cline Cellars and Renwood to Thornton in 2003. Since then, the 25 or so wineries in Temecula have also stepped up their game and are producing notable wine that's putting Temecula on the wine touring map. Thornton is known for their sparkling wines made in the Méthode Champenoise: with the ocean just 17 miles west, the surrounding hills are bathed with the cooling fog necessary for Chardonnay grapes. But, it's the hotter valley floor soil that excites Don. Every winemaker lists the grape quality as the number one element in making great wine. The dry, sandy soil requires drip irrigation which gives precise control over nutrients, thus yielding superior grapes. Don has been moving the winery towards more red wines and winning multiple awards along the way. He poured us his "baby": the 2006 Thornton Estate Syrah. I loved it so much, I bought a case to bring home!
We stayed at Temecula Creek Inn, thanks to Touring & Tasting, and played two of the three parts of their 27-hole golf course. The Stonehouse 9 is particularly beautiful with the fairways lacing through rock outcroppings. My short game fell apart and I chased my ball over around the green and was ready to give up the game for good. Golf, I hate you! But, golf is a devilish teaser--it takes you to the brink of despair, then gives you a peek at heaven and you're hooked again. On the last hole, I had a perfect drive, two perfect fairway shots with my fickle fairway driver, one of my rare decent chip shots and two putts in on the sloping green ringed with bunkers. Golf, I love you!
We enjoyed our meals at the Temecula Creek Inn restaurant, particularly breakfast with the panoramic view of the course through the floor to ceiling windows in the dining room (try the pecan waffles). One evening we opened a special bottle of 2006 Phelps Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon we had brought--a wine given 90 points by Wine Spectator. It was dark and intense with flavors of black cherry and sage and paired with filet mignon and grilled salmon. We also enjoyed a fine lunch at Falkner Winery: the Pinnacle Peak. The rich artichoke cheese appetizer would have been enough for six; the wild mushroom soup was delicate and flavorful, the Cobb salad fresh and large enough for two.
Another wine tasting stop to enjoy is the Briar Rose tasting room. The property was built by a former Disney contractor and it has storybook charm, with Disneyana in abundance. The wood paneled tasting room is intimate and you can try their small-lot, handcrafted wines. Also, stop in old town Temecula and enjoy a free olive oil tasting at the Temecula Olive Oil company. All the tasting rooms were full when we visited, between Christmas and New Year's, a welcome sign during this time of economic stress. Perhaps some of the increased traffic comes from Temecula's location, being so much closer than Napa/Sonoma to the major urban centers like San Diego and Los Angeles. It's half the drive from Santa Barbara and though not quite the world class destination that the Napa and Sonoma area is, it's on it's way and certainly a tasty and more affordable weekend getaway.
None of my photos turned out well, so I nabbed the photos from the websites listed above.

This week's Online Grapevine saves you 50% off retail. The wine shipment includes the 2005 Hall Napa Valley Merlot.I try to keep my rudimentary Italian current by reading Corriera della Sera online; the recipe section is a particular favorite of mine. I found the following recipe as a wine pairing. If you read Italian, check out their Scuola di Cucina for more ricette and tools and techniques of Italian cooking.
2 oz. fatback (or lardon, if you can obtain it) or 2 strips bacon
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk of celery
2 oz. butter
2 lb. beef roast
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup red wine
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 1/2 cups water and 1 1/4 cup yellow corn meal (or 6 servings of prepared polenta)
Mince the onion, peeled carrot, celery and the fatback or bacon. In a heavy pot (like Dutch oven), melt the butter over low heat. Add the vegetables and bacon and cook for around ten minutes, stirring frequently. Add the beef and cook for a few more minutes, turning and browning it on all sides. Add the salt, pepper and red wine and continue cooking until the wine reduces by half, stirring frequently. Mix the tomato paste into the broth and add to the pot, covering and simmering for 2 hours. Uncover, turn the meat and cook another 2 hours, ladling juice over the meat from time to time. While the beef is cooking, boil the water in a separate pot, sprinkle in the cornmeal and cook, stirring continuously until the polenta is done. Serve slices of the beef on a scoop of polenta, with the cooking juices spooned over the top. Approximately 6 servings. Pair with the 2005 Hall Napa Valley Merlot.


Killer Shrimp

Ugh, I have the flu, so I don't even want to think about food. If I'm not eating, then I must be REALLY sick. Fortunately, I have this recipe in my stash of favorites that will pair well with one of this week's wines. Imagine a restaurant that serves only one dish, it would have to be really killer! And it was. Killer shrimp in Los Angeles had two branches that for years had only shrimp and French bread, though they later added salad and dessert. It was a meal that was literally finger-lickin' good--a big bowl of juicy, spicy, buttery, garlicky shrimp with chewy bread to mop up the sauce.
1 stick butter
2 stalks celery, minced fine
3 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. rosemary
2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. chili pepper flakes
2 quarts chicken broth
8 ounces clam juice
 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and pureed
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds cleaned shrimp, whole or with shell
1 loaf crusty French bread
Cooking the shrimp with heads on adds flavor, but is not necessary. Do not use peeled shrimp because the shells add flavor to make this dish truly delicious. Make sure the shrimp are cleaned by slitting down the back with a sharp knife and removing the digestive "vein". Crush the herbs together in a mortar and pestle or herb grinder. Melt the butter over low heat in a heavy saucepan and add the garlic, celery, and herbs and cook for a few minutes. Add the broth, clam juice and tomato puree and simmer for an hour, then add the wine and cook for another two minutes. Taste the broth and add salt only needed, then add the shrimp. Cook until shrimp are just cooked, when they have turned pink (about two minutes). Don't overcook or they will be tough. Serve the soup with French bread, which is tasty dipped in the broth, and a glass of the 2008 Callaway Pinot Gris. Serves four hungry people or six moderate eaters.


Happy New Year and Papa Miner's Hot Cakes With Strawberry Sauce

Some days in Santa Barbara, the sun peeks shyly over the horizon, blushing softly in pastel pink and orange, her light barely kissing the sleeping Channel Islands and her skirts brushing the sea with the palest reflection of her light. This morning she rose hot and harsh with flashing eyes and a challenge to get up and get things done! I had two weeks with very little time on the computer, busy with family and friends and holiday meals--but it's time to get back to work. I finally tasted the famed "Papa Miner's Buttermilk Hot Cakes" after years of hearing how great they were. Papa Miner was a crusty character who purchased 330 acres of Southern California land just below the National Forest, to build a family compound with houses for his kids. The kids produced grandkids who lived an idyllic life safely romping in the woods and gobbling up hot cakes. They (the hot cakes, not the grandkids!) were smothered in strawberry sauce, simmered from bushels of fruit harvested from the extensive garden. Grandpa Miner is long gone and sadly it seemed that his recipe had passed as well, but lo, a recipe was found and I share it with you below. These hot cakes are both dense and fluffy, which seems contradictory, but try them and see for yourself!
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk (regular, not non-fat)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. dark Karo syrup
Sift the dry ingredients together, then mix with a whisk. Separate the eggs and beat the egg whites until stiff. Mix the yolks with the Karo syrup. Shake the buttermilk well and add to the egg yolk mixture and whisk together. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and gently turn over with a large wooden spoon until just mixed. Carefully fold in the egg whites. Don't beat the batter; it will be lumpy. Cook on a griddle until bubbles form in the dough, then turn to cook the other side. Serve with the strawberry sauce (and whipped cream if you want a sweet treat). Makes about 14 medium pancakes.
1 pint fresh strawberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
+ Karo syrup to taste
Bring to a boil, then simmer until the strawberries are soft. Taste and add Karo, if desired.