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Sweet and Savory – Olive Oil Cakes

Can I tell you, I’m a sucker for those video recipes on Facebook.  They snag me every time! I mean, they look amazing!  Am I right?

That said, I’ve never tried one.  So, one in particular caught my attention, and I thought I would give it a try. Spoiler alert: the result was delicious!

The recipe I decided to try is for chocolate dipped olive oil cakes.  This may not sound like the most appetizing thing on a menu. Before I ever tasted olive oil cake, it was not generally in my “go to” category for a dessert.  However, now that I know how succulent, flavorful and interesting an olive oil cake is, I will order it any time I see it.

The first time I ever tried an olive oil cake was at the restaurant Osteria Mozza, in Los Angeles (now nominated for a 2016 James Beard award for best pastry chef). My foodie friend, Adrienne took me there for my birthday and suggested we order the olive oil cake for dessert. She has never led me astray when it comes to food, so I agreed.  Sure enough, that first bite of olive oil cake filled my mouth with a beautiful combination of sweet and Olive oil cakessavory.  I was surprised and delighted.  It was so simple and yet the flavors were complex and delicious.

When I saw the video recipe for chocolate dipped olive oil cakes, I thought, why not?  Besides, I needed to start thinking about a new recipe for the Wine Club to pair with a sparkling rose brut.  This sounded like the perfect paring!
Here’s the thing…I’m such a brat.  Seriously.  I can’t just follow a recipe.  I always end up tweaking it and doing my own thing.  The video recipe was for small olive oil cake bites, dipped completely in chocolate.  Aside from altering elements of the recipe slightly, I filled up the tin and basically made olive oil muffins, which I dipped either half in chocolate or topped with chocolate.  I even hollowed out a couple and gave them a chocolate surprise inside.  Regardless, they all turned out perfectly Chocolate dipped olive oil cakesand were super moist for days.  They made a lovely dessert or snack with coffee.

So, with no further ado, here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. of finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. of orange zest
  • 2 Tbsp. of whole milk
  • Melted chocolate
  • Sugar orange twist for garnish
  • Rosemary leaves for garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.
  3. Mix together rosemary, sugar, eggs, olive oil, orange juice, orange zest and milk in a separate bowl.
  4. Slowly add the flour, baking powder and salt to the bowl with the wet ingredients until you have a consistent batter.
  5. Oil your mini muffin tin.
  6. Fill each slot with batter so it’s 1/2 way to the top.
  7. Bake at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and let it cool to room temp.
  9. Dip each mini olive oil cake in melted chocolate (it’s also delightful to serve with vanilla ice cream)

 

 

 

 

 

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Taco Cravings – Al Pastor

We celebrated Cinco de Mayo last week.  Normally that’s a day I will wait among the crowds to have a delicious Mexican meal and maybe a margarita or two.  Unfortunately, that tradition is a bit of a challenge here in the Midwest.

While I have always lived a stone’s throw from any crazy good taco joint in Los Angeles, that’s not the case here.  The one Mexican chain in town is not so fresh, and the one place with “taco” in its name has chicken fingers at the top of its menu.  Toto, we’re not in California anymore.

What’s an LA Girl to do?  Make my own, of course!

I love just about any kind of taco I can get, but my favorite is al pastor.  That sweet and savory pork combination makes my tongue happy. Marinade for Al Pastor

There are a variety of ways to make al pastor.  However, there are three elements that are all the same:  1. A combination of medium and mild chiles, 2. Pineapple, and 3. Thinly sliced pork.

Since some ingredients are difficult to get here, I had to improvise a bit to create a version of al pastor that satisfied my craving.  Here’s what I used:

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds pork
  • 5 guajillo chiles (fresh or dried), seeds and stems removed
  • 2 serrano chiles
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ cup of pineapple
  • 1 white onion
  • Tortillas
  • (Lime wedges, cilantro and salsa for garnish)

Directions:

  1. Cut the pork in thin slices (about 1 centimeter thick).
  2. Place chiles in water and boil. Remove from heat and let it cool.
  3. Add the garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt, pineapple, ½ of the onion and process until smooth.
  4. Combine the pork and marinate and refrigerate overnight (or for a minimum of 4 hours).
  5. Cook the pork slowly in an oven at 225 degrees for 6-8 hours or barbecue.
  6. Serve with warmed tortillas, chopped onion and cilantro, lime wedges and 2 types of salsa (I prefer salsa verde and chipotle salsa).

 

First of all, the pork is supposed to be thinly sliced. I froze the pork, thinking I would bePickled Onions able to get super thin slices.  What a mistake!  By doing that I had a block of pork that was more like a rock than a nice hunk of meat.  I tried my new super sharp chef’s knife, but only managed to create small hacks.  I tried a serrated knife.  That didn’t work very well either.  Finally, I let the pork thaw slightly before trimming it down with an old-timey electric knife.  This thing was given to my parents 48 years ago as a wedding gift, and yet it was the only knife that really worked on that meat rock.

Toppings for Al PastorWhile ultimately I was able to get some really nice, thin slices, I found the slightly thicker cuts (about 1 centimeter thick) were the best.  The acid from the vinegar and pineapple broke down the smaller cuts into a revolting meat goo.

When it comes to cooking the meat, some recipes say to cook the pork slowly on low heat, while others recommend barbecuing.  I think it’s all a matter of preference or what is available to you.  If you barbecue the meat, the marinade will nicely caramelize and the pork will be slightly tough.  If you slow cook the meat, it will turn out tender and juicy, but will lose that char.

I also made some pickled onion slices to go with the tacos.  It was the right amount of tang that gave the tacos some balance:

Ingredients:

  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients in an air tight container and refrigerate for 4 hours or more (can be made days ahead).

 

I’m not going to lie – this is a lot of work!  The result, however, was worth it!  I got exactly what I wanted, and my taco craving has passed…for the moment…

Al Pastor taco

These Vines Are Thirsty

Spring is finally here!  The grass is green once again.  The dogwoods and cherry blossoms are all in bloom.  It’s gorgeous!Spring

All this new foliage reminds me of Spring at the Vineyard.  It’s that time of year when the vines are once again in bud break.  They awake from hibernation and baby green shoots and leaves begin to emerge.  It’s one of my favorite times of year at the vineyard.  It may seem small to many, but it represents a reawakening and new life to me.

During the winter, the vines lay dormant.  Leaves are gone and the vines look like deciduous trees when they lose their leaves.  They are brown and barren.  In fact, I once had a guest at an event at the vineyard in December ask me what was wrong with our vines.  I still laugh when I remember this, because he was certain our entire vineyard had been hit with some sort of blight.  Even when I explained the vines are always bare during the winter, he thought I wasn’t telling him the truth.

Vine Close Up2

Photo by Greg Hayes Photography

The cycle of the vineyard is fascinating to me.  Each month brings something new and beautiful.  Once the vines go through bud break, it only gets better and better.  They begin to flower and then the berries start to form.  By the time summer is in full swing, the grape clusters change color and they are round and juicy.  Finally, in the fall, the grapes are harvested.

Or, at least, that’s how the cycle is supposed to be.

With the California draught over the last few years, the cycle has shortened.  Bud break came early this year.  When I visited in February, the vines were already green.  This normally doesn’t happen until March or April in Southern California.  Last year, the vineyard was harvested in August.  It had never been harvested so early, but the sugar in the grapes was at the correct levels.  They were ready to be plucked.

When giving tours at the Vineyard, I have often been asked what the draught means for the California Wine Industry.  The shortened vineyard cycle is just one consequence of the heat and lack of water from the draught.

Grape vines do well when they struggle.  The more they struggle, the better the wine…to a point.  Like all vegetation, grapes do need water.  However, they do very well on a drip irrigation system that drops water where the vine needs it and when the vine needs it.

A Single Vine

Photo by Greg Hayes Photography

With less water, the vine puts its energy into the grape clusters.  Sugars are more condensed and the grapes have more robust flavors.  This makes for some bold, delicious wine!  The 2015 vintage for the winery I work for are some of the most complex and luscious wines we’ve created to date.

However, because the water is limited, there are not as many grapes as usual.  Less water equals fewer grapes.  Vineyards throughout California had lower yields in 2015, some reporting as much as 80% less.

For many vineyards, less water can mean a buildup of salt in the soil.  Salt kills the vines.  The only way to get rid of the salt is to have water flush it from the soil.  So, even with the increased rain from El Niño this year, California still needs a few more years of good rain.

Some vineyards have started dry farming, where vines only get the water that comes naturally.  There are plusses and minuses to this technique.  These vines are adept at surviving draught since the roots grow deeper to find more water.  The wine produced is also rich and complex since the roots are influenced by the deeper soil, rather than the topsoil.  However, the yields of the grapes are smaller and sometimes the wine can taste “raisiny.”

I had the opportunity to taste a 2012 Syrah that had been dry farmed at Foxen Canyon Tinaquaic Vinyard.  It was not the typical Syrah I know and love, but it was something surprisingly richer.  The tasting notes describe is as “laced with rose petal, white flowers, mint, blood orange and spices with gorgeous aromatics.”  I remember the taste of the blood orange in that Syrah.  It was unexpected and made me want to try more dry farmed wines.

Dry farming is not a new concept. This technique has been used for hundreds of years in the Mediterranean and was the only way California vintners grew grapes until the 1970s.  If you’ve seen “Bottleshock,” the wine that won the “Judgement of Paris” and put California wines on the International map, was dry farmed.  Currently, only a handful of California wineries dry farm, mostly along the coast and in the foothills.  The vineyards that are known for dry farming, like Tablas Creek, have reported good yields and great fruit in the last few years.  However, since they have been dry farming for years, the vines are used to these conditions.

I don’t want to say the outlook for the California Wine Industry is bleak.  California has survived draughts in years past.  It just might be a time for vintners to get creative about the way the grapes are grown and resurrect some techniques from the past.

 

When In the Midwest…

I’m going to say something I know is shocking.  I am not a pizza person.  Sure, I like it.  Who doesn’t?  However, given the choice between pizza and something else, I am more likely to select the second option, whatever that happens to be.

My husband, on the other hand, can eat pizza every day of the week.

So, imagine his surprise and joy when we moved to the Midwest and I discovered Chicago Deep Dish Pizza.  I’ve had deep dish before, but not like this.  Suddenly and without warning, I became a pizza person…or at least, more likely to order pizza than I had been before.

Then it happened…one morning a video for making pizza showed up in my Facebook feed.  I watched the dough get rolled out and toppings heaped onto it.  I craved pizza for the rest of the day.

I subscribe to the “if you crave it, you should have it” camp.  I ran to the store and picked a few items so I could make my very first deep dish pizza, complete with a homemade cornmeal crust.  Yum!

After making bread, the crust was easy.  Prep the yeast, add the flour and cornmeal, let it rise.  Plus I just bought a really cool, handy-dandy, dual purpose, silicone/French rolling pin from a kitchen store that was going out of business.  So, voila, the crust was made!  I set it in my deep cast iron skillet that I could put in the oven with no worries.

The toppings were fun.  I started with pepperoni and added fresh onion, tomato, marinara sauce and, of course, a lot of mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan with some Italian herbs.  The best part was, the sky is the limit when it comes to toppings!

Then I popped it in the oven and had homemade pizza 25 minutes later!

So, I say “25 minutes later,” but the truth is, I kept it in the oven longer than that, which was a mistake.  I also didn’t heap on nearly enough cheese (for my taste at least).  So, there are the two things I will do differently the next time.

However, my husband raved about how great the meal was and how I am the best wife ever.  I’ll take that.

Here is the recipe:

Pizza slice

Dough:

  • ½ cup warm water
  • 2 ½ teaspoons dry active yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¼ cup ground yellow corn meal
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt

Pizza:

  • Sauce (I used a traditional marinara sauce)
  • Any toppings you prefer (vegetables, meats, cheeses – I used onion, tomato, pepperoni, mozzarella and Parmesan)

Method:

Make the dough:

  1. Prep the yeast by combining the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Let stand about 10 minutes or until it foams.
  2. Add the oil to the mixture.
  3. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine flour, cornmeal and salt.
  4. Slowly add the prepped yeast water until a doughy ball is formed.
  5. Place in a well-oiled bowl and cover.
  6. Let it rise for an hour.
  7. Punch the dough down.
  8. Let it rise for another 30 minutes.

 

Make the pizza:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Roll the dough out and use it to coat the inside of a deep pan (preferably cast iron)
  3. Start by layering in cheese, then other toppings, and finish with the sauce.
  4. Sprinkle a small amount of Parmesan cheese over the sauce.
  5. Bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes.

 

Grüner Veltliner – The Perfect Food Wine

A couple of years ago, I sat at a large table.  The Owner and Proprietor of the winery was at the head, his darling wife next to him, a few of my coworkers and our Winemaker filled the rest of the table.  We were engaged in a “blending session,” where we were tasting all of the new vintages of our wines, creating blends of the wines and sampling juice that was for sale on the bulk market to add to our collection.

The blending session is always one of my favorite things to do.  It’s the time of year wineries get to be creative and strategic.  Not only do they construct what ultimately goes in the bottle, but they plan out the year ahead.  For the juice they purchase, they build a wish list of wines they would like to have in their portfolio.  Then on the day of the blending session, they get to try them.  It’s like Christmas day for adults!

At this particular blending session, one unexpected varietal was poured for us to try:  Grüner Veltliner.  Our Marketing Director and I immediately perked up.  Grüner Veltliner is known as an Austrian varietal.  It is one of the largest grown grapes in Austria and that region of the world, but is lesser known elsewhere.  We were about to try Grüner Veltliner grown in California.  Things just got interesting!

Our glasses were filled and slowly, sounds of delight echoed around the table.  While Austrian Grüner Veltliners are usually crisp and taste primarily of minerals and spices, this one was bolder.  As with most California wines, fruit was the dominant feature.  It tasted of grapefruit and green apples with just a hint of minerals and white pepper in the finish.  It was delicious!

At the time, our owner was concerned it might not sell.  While the wine was fantastic, the varietal was not well known.  Customers usually want to buy what they know.  However, we all assured him selling the Grüner Veltliner would be easy. The wine was so delectable, we were certain with one taste, people would love it.  With the added mystique that only 20 acres of that varietal were planted in California, and there were only a total of 30 acres in the entire United States, we knew we had something unique and desirable.  Sure enough, we sold out of the wine within a few months.

Before this experience, Grüner Veltliner was always one of my favorite “go to” wines if I could find it on a wine list.  The crispness of the wine makes it the perfect wine for food.  It goes well with almost anything.  It’s fantastic with shellfish and seafood.  The acidity of the wine complements most cheeses.  Of course, it is the ultimate companion wine for sausages, Schnitzel and goulash – the traditional food eaten in Austria.

While I’m not sure where you can find a California grown Grüner Veltliner at this time, Austrian grown Grüner Veltliners are fairly accessible.  There were several at my local wine shop, priced from $10 to $20.

I picked up a 2014 Grüner Veltliner Langenlois Kamptal by Loimer for $20.  The wine has a golden hue.  It has the slightest scents of chalk and honey.  There is a natural effervescence you can see in the glass.  While the California Grüner Veltliner tasted like grapefruit, this Austrian Grüner Veltliner has a light sweetness to it, but it mostly tastes like minerals, spice and chalk, with pepper on the finish.  The acidity of this wine is fantastic!  I would pair this wine with oysters, pungent cheeses, and even barbecue or ribs.

Whether it is grown in California or its native Austria, Grüner Veltliner is one of my favorite wines to drink with food.  It complements the meal rather than standing out on its own. I highly recommend it.

Cheers!

Italian Wines, or More Specifically, Gavi

I had the most wonderful meal at a new Italian restaurant.  Finally!  There is a world-class Italian restaurant in this town.  I was really beginning to think I was going to have to make do with the Olive Garden.

By chance, I got to sit down and have a conversation with the Italian-born owner, Dario, prior to my meal there.

He was ebullient and engaging.  He asked me my history and was happy to talk to another person who had lived in Los Angeles.  He did his education at UCLA.

Then he asked me about my “passion for Italian wines.”  I paused.  I’ve been working in the California wine industry for long enough that I’ve almost ignored the rest of the world.  How unfortunate!  I smiled and explained how laser focused I’ve been in the last few years.  That said, I have always adored Italian wine, especially Prosecco, Dolcetto, and all things Sangiovese.

He asked me what I thought of his wine list.  I commented on the Super Tuscan and an Amarone on his list.  Then I said I would like to see a Gavi on there.  He explained how difficult Gavi is to sell because no one knows what it is.

So, let’s talk about Gavi. Are you ready to get a little wine nerdy?  Here we go!

Gavi is a wine from the Piedmont area, in Northern Italy.  This is the same area known for Barolo, Barbaresco, and yes, it is also known for Asti Spumante, admittedly my favorite sparkler when I was in my early 20s because it’s on the sweeter side.

Gavi is made from the Cortese grape.  I like to think of Cortese as an Italian Chardonnay.  It tends to be a little lighter, but can manipulated with oak or made into a sparkling wine, like Chardonnay.  It goes well with robust, red sauced, Italian food.

Gavi won’t break the bank.  I found several nice ones at my local wine store between $10 and $12.

I realized the last time I had a Gavi was when I was studying for a wine exam.  So, l thought I would try one and share it with you.

I selected a 2014 vintage Stefano Massone Masera Gavi.  It is DOCG rated, or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – the highest classification for wine in Italy.  At 12% alcohol, it is easier to drink than most California wines, which average around 13% to 15% alcohol.

The color is so pale, it’s almost clear, with a just the slightest hue of straw.  The nose on the Gavi is bright, with bold aromas of citrus, apple and slight hint of vanilla.  Light flavors of green apple, melon, lemon and slate finish the wine.  It has great acidity.  It even left some fizziness on my tongue.  Sometimes this happens in crisper white wines due to the fermentation, and I love that effervescent feeling when it does!

This Gavi is beautiful.  I tend to like big, full-flavored wines, but this Gavi is nice and light without being boring.  I would pair this with an aged gouda, salty meats like salami or coppa or a creamy pasta.  It would also go well with salmon and leafy greens.

So, there you have it!  Don’t be afraid to grab a Gavi the next time you’re looking for a bottle or invited to a friend’s house for dinner.  You might find a new favorite!

Winter Carbs – Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, there is something about winter that makes me crave carbs.  I tried my hand at bread, why not try pretzels?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be walking through an airport or a mall and I will smell Auntie M’s Pretzels.  The scent is intoxicating.  It’s that beautiful combination of honeyed dough with butter and garlic.  It instantly makes my tummy rumble, and I need to have it.

There is also something about a pretzel that’s special.  I’m not sure if it’s that hard layer on the outside, followed by tender chewiness on the inside or if it’s the slightly sweet, but savory flavor, or a combination of all of these things that make pretzels so yummy, but they just are.

So, I browsed through a few recipes, and it didn’t seem so hard.  Like bread, the yeast gets prepped, then flour and the good stuff is added.  It takes some time to rise and then it gets shaped.  Unlike bread, pretzels get boiled before they are baked.  This seemed like a more difficult step, but it wasn’t something that would deter me from making them.

The first part went smoothly.  The yeast fizzed into a fragrant potion.  However, the next part was a little tougher.  No matter how much flour I added, the dough was incredibly sticky.  Since I didn’t want to add too much flour, I gave up and plopped it into a covered bowl to rise.

Once risen, the dough was not pasty at all.  It didn’t stick to my fingers, as it had done before.  I could actually manipulate it simply by hand rolling it into long ropes, which I formed into pretzel shapes.

Then something happened I couldn’t explain or fix no matter what I tried.  After forming the pretzel shapes, the dough crept back on itself, leaving me with something more like a pretzel bun than a pretzel.  I tried less dough.  I tried more.  I fought with it and forced it into the shape.

I finally gave up and boiled the pretzel buns, hoping either the water or the stove would fix the problem.

The boiling of the pretzel buns was easier than I had imagined.  Once in the pot, the dough toughened and formed a skin.  However, it did not expand out into the pretzel shape I desired.  Instead, it slightly shrunk in on itself.

The oven didn’t fix the problem either, however it did produce some gorgeous, full-figured pretzel loaves.  The pretzels looked like they had been stuffed, they were so poufy.

Once again, I was impatient to try them.  I nearly burned my hand on the steaming goodness in front of me.

I paired the pretzel buns with some melted garlic butter and a spicy mustard.  The soft, chewiness of the pretzel bun was tastier than I had hoped.  They may not look like pretzels, but they were delicious!

INGREDIENTS:*

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 ½ tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour, plus 4+ tablespoons (see step 3)
  • 8 cups of water
  • 4 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • Salt

For dipping:

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter mixed with ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Mustard

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the yeast, milk, and honey in a bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.
  2. Blend in the melted butter and salt. If you are using a stand mixer, use the dough hook attachment.
  3. Add flour and mix until blended. If the dough is really sticky, add flour, one tablespoon at a time. (Do not add too much flour – the dough will become less sticky when it rises.)
  4. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover and set in a warm place. Let rise for 1 hour, or until it is doubled in size.
  5. Punch the dough down, re-cover, and let it rise for another 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  7. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and brush oil on the sheets.
  8. For each pretzel, remove a fist sized amount of dough and roll it into a long rope. Form the rope into a U-shape, then cross the ends of the dough and attach them to the bottom of the “U” to form a pretzel shape.
  9. In a large pot, bring water and baking soda to a boil. Place pretzels into the water, one at a time. Let boil for 30 seconds, then flip the pretzel over. Let boil for 30 more seconds and remove. Drain any excess water and place the pretzel onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.
  10. Beat an egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush the pretzels with the mixture.  Sprinkle with salt.
  11. Bake for 11-12 minutes, or until golden brown.
  12. Serve with melted garlic butter and mustard.

 

*Recipe inspired by Real Simple