Post Zinfandel Weekend and School Of Culinary Arts

Last weekend at ZAP, someone told me it is the single largest wine event in the world with 9,000 attendees.
I don't know how to verify that, but I can tell you that the Saturday event had a convention-like hum during the press/trade hours, but when the Zinfandel afficionados were let in there was a roar and din for the rest of the afternoon that made it impossible to hear anyone who wasn't shouting in your ear. It was crazy! But fun! Zinfandel has grown up and is a far cry from the insipid factory produced white Zinfandel that gave the grape a bad name. Now small-lot, Estate winemakers with vineyards in prime Sonoma, Napa, Lodi and Mendocino real estate are making wonderful, complex, jammy, structured wines.

Saturday I was working the Touring and Tasting table giving away magazines,
so only had the chance to scurry off and have a few sips, but was impressed, especially with all the Seghesio Zins: the 2008 Sonoma, the 2007 Old Vine and the 2007 Cortina, Dry Creek Valley. Many of the best Zins came from the Dry Creek appellation (just north of the Russian River), like the 2006 Dry Creek Old Vine (their 2007 Heritage and 2007 Summer's Ranch also good). Speaking of Old Vine, I wonder if that may be one reason some Zins are so delicious. Zinfandel has been planted in California for almost 200 years and not only are there very old vines yielding highly extracted wines but Zinfandel has become identified so much with California that some call it "America's vine and wine".  A benefit for those of us watching our budgets is that the Zin price points are lower than Cab, and an extra benefit (or so I experienced) is that the Zin "audience" seems to be friendly and unpretentious. Anyway, I hope to be at ZAP again next year!

On another note, I'm taking cooking classes at the School of Culinary Arts at Santa Barbara City College. I'm not taking the full course, but petitioned to take the Modern Food: Design, Style, Theory with Vincent Van Hecke, chef at the Valley Club of Montecito. Each week we cook dishes from a different country. Next week is Spain and Portugal, so I came up with my version of the favorite empanada with a sauce that's essentially a thick gazpacho with Manchego cheese:

1 /12 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
 1  egg, stirred, in two parts
1/8 cup ice water
3/4  Tbsp. white vinegar
Sift flour with salt into a large bowl, then quickly cut in the butter until the lumps are the size of peas. Use a pastry blender or two dinner knives-- with one in each hand and the knives crossed in the middle of their blades, cut the butter by closing the blades together so they act like a pair of scissors. Whisk together 1/2 the egg, water, and vinegar in a separate bowl. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. Avoid overmixing or being slow and letting the butter melt, otherwise the dough will be tough and not flaky. With floured hands, gather the dough together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour along with the bowl containing the rest of the egg.
1 half chicken breast with rib and skin
1 bay leaf
1 baking potato, quartered
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Put potato, chicken and bay leaf into pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken and put it in a bowl inside a larger bowl of ice to cool the chicken so you can remove the meat. Chop into 1" pieces. When the potatoes are just done (don't overcook), remove them to a bowl to cool inside the ice bowl. When cool, remove the peel and cut into 1" cubes. In a pan, saute the onions until translucent. Mix the chicken, potatoes, onion mixture, garlic, and cumin in a bowl. Taste and add the salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough and egg out of the refrigerator and divide the dough in two. Roll out each part of the dough into a long oval on a floured board. Mound half of the chicken mixture on one half of the dough, dip a finger in water and run it around the edge of the dough, then fold the empty side over the chicken mixture and press the edges together. Poke the empanada with the end of a sharp knife to make holes where steam will escape. Repeat for the other empanada and brush the remaining egg on the tops. Put the empanadas on a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of parchment paper in the oven and cook 35 minutes or until golden brown.
Optional Manchego-Tomato Dipping Sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped onion
1 clove garlic
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 lemon
2 Tbsp. parsley leaves
1/4 tsp. salt
dash pepper
1/2 cup finely grated Manchego
Mix all the ingredients, except the parsley and Manchego cheese, in a blender on "liquefy" until smooth. Add the parsley and pulse until it is cut into small bits but not blended completely--you will see flecks of the green parsley. Use a spatula to transfer into a saucepan and add the Manchego. Heat over medium flame until warm and serve with the empanadas along with the French-oaked 2007 Greenwood Ridge Chardonnay. Serves 2.

CULINARY ARTS CLASS WEEK #1: This week was our first class cooking in the School of Culinary Arts commercial kitchen and I have to say I was nervous! I'm used to cooking in my kitchen alone with ample time; the class is run like "Top Chef" where each team cooks three recipes in an alloted amount of time and is judged by the class. Luckily Chef Van Hecke gave me a break since I didn't know where anything was or how to fit in--I was an extra member for one of the teams and had to make something supplemental to the three dishes, which were a Scottish pastie (last week's region was the British Isles), cod cakes and scones. My team made some lovely pasties with flaky crust that I garnished with a parsley/tomato relish (more on this later),  scones that Jesse plated beautifully with a spiced tea and my pineapple/raisin compote, and cod cakes with aioli. When I first started, I let my nervousness get the best of me, at one point, I looked down at my cutting board which was a mess of parsley and tomato for the garnish. Chef looked over my should just at that moment and pointedly asked how I was doing. "I've gotten off on the wrong foot", I gasped. "Well, we learn from our mistakes." he replied and it prompted me to take a deep breath, say my prayers and get myself organized.  Fortunately, the class liked what I prepared, so I felt like I'd passed the initial test, though I still managed to do something dumb out of ignorance. Not knowing the protocol for washing dishes, I put a dirty dish with food scraps into the rinse basin and was reprimanded by one of the students, and rightly so, for as I realized, with thirteen cooks running around a kitchen with hot pots, sharing the equipment and facilities under time constraint, anyone getting in the way or messing up the system takes away from the efficiency of everyone else. There's plenty of opportunity for me to make a mistake in the future, so I'm determined to think things through in the future and remember mise en place: to get all my ingredients assembled and prepped before starting to cook so my workspace can be clean and neat. Anyway, the class is nerve-wracking but exhilarating. I definitely feel in my element being with others who are crazy about good food. Yesterday morning my daughter found me at the computer looking at pictures of food. She rolled her teenage eyes at me and said "Mom, only YOU would be looking at food at 6 in the morning." I haven't been able to confirm this yet as I don't really know the other students in my class, but I'm sure there are kindred spirits who are thinking about and researching food in their free time as well!


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