Easy Meals: Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of our favorite seasonal foods here in the Bay Area is stonefruit. Colleen loves it so much, she got peaches tattooed on her back. True story. I was at the Alemany Famer’s Market today to stalk the sour cherry vendor (2 more weeks…) and snagged a tasty-looking sample from a neighboring stall. All they had were yellow nectarines, which happen to be my favorite.

Holy moly! They were amazing. So sweet, juicy, tart and creamy – the perfect stonefruit. I picked up a big bag of them for $3/lb (organic, too) with no real intentions for them other than shoveling them into my face.

I left the Alemany market, took a detour for the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and found that Cowgirl Creamery is now selling mini 4oz. tubs of burrata. While I have no issue plowing through a full 16oz of this sweet, creamy, heavenly cheese, I decided it would be better for my heath and pocketbook if I bought the little tub. It’s the perfect amount for two people and it only cost me $5.

I remembered a cheesemonger once told me that the perfect accompaniment for burrata was stonefruit. I then recalled a salad I recently had at Eno Wine Bar in Union square with grilled peaches, peppery greens and burrata cheese. It was heavenly, although the peaches were under-ripe. I thought I would do the concept justice and make my own rendition at home with perfectly ripe fruit. I picked up a big bag of watercress from County Line Harvest and took my bounty home to Brisbane.

My husband and I enjoyed this lovely salad accompanied with a peppery champagne vinaigrette and a bottle of Wind Gap 2012 Trousseau Gris. Trousseay Gris was once widely planted across California, but these days there’s only about 10 acres of it left. It creates a wine that is delicate and fresh with aromas of honeysuckle, mineral & citrus. It’s so fresh and delicious, I thought it would be a lovely compliment to our summery salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pair was a match made in heaven. You can pick up this wine for yourself for the super low price of $24. It’s hard to find a wine this delicious and well-made at this price point, so I suggest buying up as much of it as you can if you see it in a store.

The salad was very easy to make, the recipe is below.

Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad with Black Pepper Vinaigrette
(serves 2)

Ingredients:
1/3 lb. watercress, pepper-cress, spring mix, arugula, or whatever
1 tree-ripe yellow nectarine or peach
4 oz. burrata
Olive Oil
Champagne vinegar
Pinch of salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Put the greens into a large bowl.
  2. Pour equal parts champagne vinegar & olive oil (about 1 oz each) into a 4 oz canning jar with a lid or a small bowl.
  3. Add salt and pepper to the dressing.
  4.  Put a lid on the jar and shake the dressing, or whisk in the bowl.
  5.  Cut your nectarine or peach into pretty slices.
  6.  Cut your 4 oz. of Burrata into wedges.
  7.  Pour the dressing onto the greens and toss.
  8.  Plate equal parts of greens into two separate bowls.
  9.  Fan out your stonefruit slices and place them in the center of the salad.
  10.  Garnish the stonefruit slices with two wedges of burrata.
  11.  Drizzle the burrata with olive oil and give it another grind of black pepper

Enjoy your amazing salad and wash it down with copious amounts of California Trousseau Gris.

 

Cocktail Recipe: French 75

french75ingredients

I have been on a bit of a gin kick lately. It started with a simple Gin & Tonic made for me by our very own Colleen McGarry, made with home-made tonic from another friend of ours. I was in love and have been exploring Gin cocktails ever since.

What better & cheaper way to learn about cocktails than making them yourself? I was at a wine shop buying some St. George Mt. Tam Terroir gin ($31, KLWine.com). Who doesn’t love California’s terroir? I dare you to tell me you can’t replace the idea of garrigue with chapparal. This gin is lovely; Inspired by the coastal forests of Mt. Tam, it has aromas of Bay Laurel, Douglas Fir and coastal Sage. This was clearly exactly the gin I needed in my life. I happened to also be buying some sparkling wine, and the guy at the counter mentioned I was just a few ingredients short of a French 75.

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I was intrigued by the idea of a fancy new cocktail that I’ve had only once before, and that was before I discovered that I love gin. It was at the Claremont Hotel’s restaurant Paragon (which is awful, by the way, but if you are at the Claremont you don’t have a lot of choices). The cocktail was great, and so I decided to poke around the internet to distill a recipe. I came across the NY Times version and I trust them, so here’s my spin on their rendition of the French 75.

French 75 Recipe
(from the NYTimes)

Tools:
Cocktail Shaker
Cocktail Strainer
Champagne Flutes
Lemon Juicer
Vegetable Peeler
Pint Glass
Jigger

Ingredients:
Gin
Lemons
Simple Syrup (make your own)
Dry Sparkling Wine

Method:
(makes 1 cocktail)
Chill your champagne flutes, glasses, what-have-you.
With your vegetable peeler, peel the zest of the lemon for your garnish & set the zest aside.
Cut your peeled lemon in half, and squeeze the juice into a small jar.
Fill your shaker with ice.
Measure & pour 1 oz. gin, 1/2 oz lemon juice & 1/2 oz simple syrup into your ice-filled shaker.
Put the pint glass over your shaker (if it doesn’t have a lid) or the lid and shake for 5-10 seconds.
Remove the pint glass or lid from your shaker, replace with a strainer, and strain the good stuff into your chilled glass.
Top off with sparkling wine (about 2 oz).
Twist your lemon zest over the glass, wipe the skin around the rim and drop it into the drink.

french75Enjoy this tasty adult beverage on a warm summer night, preferably made at home and consumed in your own back yard. Invite some friends over; you went through the trouble of buying and opening a whole bottle of sparkling, you might as well share!

Seasonal Foods: Ramps

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If you’ve ever walked into a fancy restaurant in California during the spring-time, you have probably seen Ramps on the menu, complimenting your favorite main courses. These seasonal little nuggets of oniony goodness are basically wild leeks, which have recently found fame on the menus of fancy restaurants all over America due to their intoxicating aroma and good looks. Ramps have deep roots in Southern Appalachia where they are used in traditional recipes and in the past were used as a tonic to ward off the ailments of winter.

I have not heard of ramps growing in the wilds of California, but you can certainly buy them here at specialty grocery stores. Out here we seem to have this other variety of useless wild onions that pack no flavor and will take siege of your backyard given the chance (ask me how I know). I buy ramps at the Far West Fungi stall in the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace for $5 a bunch. I am sure those in Southern Appalachia would balk at the price, but let’s be real; this stuff is shipped across the country. If they were local, they would cost at least twice as much (har).

Ramps have a pungent garlicky-oniony smell and look much like a green onions. They are best served with foods from the same season such as King Salmon & morels. In the South, they are often fried with potatoes in bacon fat. In fact, ramps are so delicious that they are considered a threatened species in some places where they don’t grow as voraciously as they do in Appalachia. Maybe someday ramps will be as endangered as blue fin tuna due to demand. Real talk.

Tonight I am going to try grilling mine and serving them with Prather Ranch skirt steak tacos on Rancho Gordo tortillas ($3). How would/do you prepare ramps? Let us know in the comments.

Affordable & Esoteric California Wines

This weekend was a busy one for the ladies of Winelandia. We had a packed agenda for Saturday – the Wind Gap Open House (in their new winery!) and the 7% Solution tasting in Healdsburg. Sunday we had reservations at Manresa in Los Gatos. Colleen brought a friend – Miss Naomi – the mastermind behind the Seattle food blog The Gastro Gnome. Two wine bloggers, one food blogger, perfect weather and a Fiat 500 convertible equals the best of times.

Colleen_Gnome(Naomi of The Gastro Gnome & Colleen of Winelandia)

The Wind Gap open house is one of the finest in all of Winelandia. They pour a plethora of wines and serve the finest foods you could imagine. We first tasted through Pax Mahle’s second label called Lucques – lovely and affordable wines that are thought-provoking and ready to drink now. They are priced from $18-$24, which is a steal for such lovely and interesting wines. We hope to add these wines to our line-up once our ABC applications are approved.

Lucques

We started on the Wind Gap Trousseau Gris ($24), Lucques Blanc ($22), Lucques Rosé ($18) and then wandered inside to taste the rest of Wind Gap’s wonderful creations. There were a variety of Chardonnays (Yuen, Brousseau & James Berry Vineyard), then moved on to the Grenache, Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir, Mourvedre & Sonoma Coast Syrah. My favorites were the Trousseau Gris, Lucques Blanc, Grenache & Mourvedre. Colleen loved the Brousseau Vineyard Chardonnay, which I also love. Maybe Wind Gap doesn’t make wines we don’t like? Totally possible.

Crowns_Cap_WG

One of my favorite things about this open house is the food that they serve to highlight the wines. We had blue point & kumamoto oysters, a QUARTER-WHEEL of Fiscalini Cheddar (maybe we were in heaven?), a variety of Charcuterie and grilled Sausages.

WG_CheeseAfter the Wind Gap open house, we headed off to Healdsburg for the 7% Solution tasting. This is a first-time event which showcases wineries that produce wines from obscure varietals. The name is called 7% because 93% of California’s vineyards are planted with money-maker grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay & Pinot Noir. This event was a homage to the less-planted and appreciated red-headed stepchild grapes such as Trousseau Gris, Vermentino, Mourvedré, Pinot Gris and a bunch of others that are too hard to recall because they are just THAT crazy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were pleased to run into Scott Schultz, the winemaker for Jolie-Laide. He makes just a few wines and we got to try two of them at this tasting. There was a direct-to-press Pinot Gris which was bright, fresh and fun to drink. His other wine was a skin-fermented Trousseau Gris ($24). If you see this wine in a store or on a restaurant wine list, do NOT hesitate to buy it! It’s so great! I didn’t catch the vintage (I would guess it was a 2011?) because I was so distracted by the babes on his labels. Hubba Hubba!!!

All in all, it was a great day. It was really fun to try so many new wines by so many up-and-coming producers. I am especially excited about the fact that a lot of these esoteric wines are so inexpensive. I hope that we can showcase these wines on Winelandia once our store-front is set up. Keep an eye out for more of these great wines in future posts.

Winery Visit: Arnot-Roberts & Ryme Open House(s)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArnot-Roberts is a magical unicorn amongst California wine-makers. It all started in 2001 when two childhood friends Duncan (Arnot) Meyers and Nathan Lee (Roberts) started their wine-making operation in Healdsburg. The two of them are producing a microscopic 2000 cases per year, a total of thirteen (!) different wines. Theirs are considered the best of the best amongst natural California wines and their tasting room is not open to the public. The only times you can get to see the facility is either on a pick-up day (if you get on their mailing list, you will be notified of new releases and can schedule to pick up your wine twice a year) or during their open house, which was just this last weekend. Colleen and I were lucky enough to make it over there both times.

Arnot-Roberts is very well-known for their Syrah, which they ferment 100% whole cluster and age only on French Oak. They also produce some very elegant Cabernet Sauvignon, a super fresh & fun rosé (of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao), Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, and a white field blend (our personal favorite). You can find their delicious wines at a few retailers in the Bay Area but the best way to get their wines is by joining their mailing list and receiving an allocation email each time their new wines are released. You can join their mailing list here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese guys really know how to put on a party. The food was fantastic! There were platters of charcuterie, cheeses, what I am certain was artisinal bread, warm omeletes with seasonal vegetables and plenty of wine, of course. Even the white cloth tables were decorated with lovely pink peonies and roses.

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Colleen and I were having the best time. After all, it’s not often we are lucky enough to try so many Arnot-Roberts wines in one sitting. However, we overheard that Ryme Cellars was also having an open house, so we hastily finished our Meyer lemonade and made a bee-line for my car so we could get to the Ryme winery before their open house was over.

I first heard about Ryme’s wines while I was picking up my allocation from Wind Gap, with whom they share a wine-making facility in Forestville. Ryme is a husband-and-wife operation run by Ryan & Megan Glaab. Ryan is the assistant winemaker for Pax Mahle, the owner and wine maker for Wind Gap. Ryme produces wines from obscure varietals such as Ribolla Gialla, Aglianico & Vermentino. Their second label, Verse, produces Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We were quite excited for the opportunity to try a pretty complete line-up during our visit. I particularly enjoyed their 2010 Ribolla Gialla which was a lovely amber color from the month it spent macerating on the skins post-fermentation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColleen wanted to buy all of the wines. I had to hold her back so that we didn’t overload my tiny little car so full of wine that the bumper scraped the ground (between the two of us, we have been pretty close). We settled on a bottle of the Ribolla Gialla.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are excited to see what else Ryme has up their sleeves. They have only been producing wine since 2007, which means they are just getting started and will hopefully wow and zow us with all sorts of crazy wine in the years to come. Definitely call them up and stop in for a tasting (by advance appointment) if you are in the Forestville area, you won’t be disappointed. I have also seen their wines for sale at Arlequin Wine Merchant in San Francisco.

Until next time!

Secret Wine Club: Domestic Pinot Noir

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery month or so, my friends and I get together to pitch in some money and taste wines we normally wouldn’t try. Colleen and I take turns hosting these events from our homes. Generally we have a theme such as Domestic Pinot Noir, French Chardonnay, Syrah, or Rhone Whites. We usually have around 12 people that come, which is the perfect number for a tasting since a bottle of wine contains approximately 25 oz. That means each person ends up with a tasting-sized pour and can go back for seconds if they want to revisit.

Our last tasting’s theme was Domestic Pinot Noir. To determine the event’s theme, we conduct a poll within the group. Domestic Pinot Noir has been a close second for the last few polls, and this time we decided to pick it because we love to honor the underdogs of the world.

I collected examples of wines produced from this noble grape from many of the important growing regions in the US. This included Willamette Valley (OR), Russian River Valley (CA), Anderson Valley (CA), Sonoma Coast (CA), Santa Cruz Mountains (CA), and Los Carneros (CA). While most of the wines were red, we did have one Rosé and a Pinot Noir-dominant sparkling wine. I felt it was important to show people that PN doesn’t just make red wines, but also pink and sparkling.

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Our wine list for the evening:

2012 Paul Mathew Rose of Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley
2008 Robert Sinskey Three Amigos Vineyard – Los Carneros
2009 Neely Spring Ridge Vineyard – Santa Cruz Mountains
2010 Hirsch San Andreas Vineyard – Sonoma Coast
2010 Porter Creek Fiona Hill – Russian River Valley
2010 Knez Winery Pinot Noir – Anderson Valley
2010 Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvée – Eola-Amity Hills (corked)
2007 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve – Willamette Valley

Pinot Noir produced domestically is very different from its Burgundian forefathers. It tends to be more fruit-forward, higher in alcohol, and less mineral-driven. However, that isn’t always the case. American winemaking styles dictate some of the outcome, while terroir & weather dictate the rest. California does have some rocky limestone soils, but it is in much smaller and less consistent swaths than the soils of Burgundy (which have tons clay & limestone). Burgundy was under the sea approximately 150 millions of years ago. Sediment created by ocean life, which settled to the bottom of the ocean over long periods of time, eventually fossilized into limestone. Seashells can still be found in the vineyard soils of France.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(this Hirsch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir has a very prominent mineral character)

Mineral soils are largely what produce “minerality” in wines, that stony or earthy backbone which you may or may not notice. Thusly, wines grown in mineral soils can have a mineral character, although it can be quickly overshadowed by unbalanced ripeness and heavy-handed winemaking techniques. You can still find domestic wines with a mineral element, although they can be hard to weed out and expensive. Domestic wines historically have been produced with much riper grapes, more oak, and with more manipulation than fine Burgundy. There has been a shift in recent years for domestic Pinot Noir producers to make wines that are a more pure expression of the terroir. I hope this is a trend that sticks around.

Back to the tasting: I believe that wine should be enjoyed with food, so I love to create a tasting menu to be served along side the wines being poured. Pinot Noir can be so different between producers and regions that it allowed me to pair all sorts of foods. I like to stick with “classic” pairings, and then do a little bit of experimentation.

Here’s a list of foods that were paired:

Smoked duck breast, seared & thinly sliced
Roasted beet salad with vinaigrette & meyer lemon infused shaved fennel
Seared king trumpet mushrooms with roasted white spring onions
Flatbread with morels, roasted red spring onions & mozzarella cheese
Truffled ricotta & asiago ravioli with arugula, olive oil & shaved parmesean
Herbed camembert, aged gouda & sea salt crackers

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TL;DR – Pinot Noir loves mushrooms, cheese, onions, fennel, herbs, beets and duck. You could also do no wrong with herb roasted chicken or vegetarian dishes.

The crowd favorite of the night was the Neely Santa Cruz Mountain PN. It was lovely; brooding, balanced and complex. My personal favorites were the Iron Horse Brut X and the Hirsch San Andreas Vineyard PN. The Iron Horse is one of my favorite Green Valley wines of all time; bone dry with an ethereal creaminess while still having a crystalline structure. The Hirsch stood out in the crowd because of its mineral backbone and earthy character; it was unlike any of the others in the room.

I am looking forward to the next Secret Wine Club and hope everyone who came is too.­

Pastry How-To: Palmiers

photo 20A few weeks ago, the ladies of Winelandia got together to make some cookies. It’s true they’re cookies, but they’re also our favorite cookies, and an easy way to create something that will make someone in your life feel special. Palmiers are also called Elephant Ear cookies, among other names, and they’re made with puff pastry. While I did make my own puff pastry from scratch, you don’t have to in order to produce a successful palmier – just buy a batch of the good stuff from your local market. DuFour is the best brand I’ve tried from stores, but some local bakeries in the San Francisco area will also sell their own. I know Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg does, for example.

Puff pastry, whether you buy it or make it, will come in some kind of a rectangle shape, like this. I needed to measure mine to make sure what I was starting with was the right size.photo 9

Check out all these layers! This batch was made according to the great Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s specifications, and it has 7 turns, which results in 2187 total layers. It took about 5 hours to make.

photo 11

So anyway, you need to roll your sheet of puff pastry out to a very large, relatively thin piece of dough. Many recipes have specifications for how big, but honestly I think the thinner the better, by and large. I’d say somewhere around 1/8″ thick is perfect, which is how thick your pie crust should be if you’ve ever made pie. Before you begin rolling, spring your work surface with white sugar – maybe 1/4 cup. Then, lay your rectangle of dough down, and sprinkle the surface with another 1/4 cup of sugar. Once both sides are coated, you’ll roll the sugar into the dough, which will help it be incorporated into the cookie and caramelize with the butter in the dough. Try to keep the edges even.

photo 15

Once you’ve made a nice thin rectangle with sugar rolled into both sides, you’ll roll or fold the whole thing up from each side. I measured my dough and made a rough mark in the center so I knew where to stop. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and like I said, you can roll or fold it. Rolling will give you a rounder cookie, but you can start with maybe a 1/2″ flap and fold it inward toward the center, which will give you more of a heart-shape.

photo 17

When you finish rolling it together, wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for an hour or so. You want it to firm up before baking.

photo 18

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

After an hour in the fridge, take your log out, unwrap it, and slice it into 1/4″-1/2″ slices. Puff pastry expands a great deal, so even if they look small and thin, you will be rewarded in the end.

photo 19

Lay the cookies out on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or with a silicone liner, leaving plenty of space between them for expansion. Slide the trays into the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and delicious looking. Cool them on a wire rack and enjoy!

Recipe: Pan-Seared Duck Breast with Parsnip Puree & Salad

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I went to the City of Lights – Paris, France – and ate one of the finest meals of my life. I barely spoke any French but managed to order the duck breast at Les Enfants Perdus in the 10th arrondissement. It came with a lovely purée of parsnips and a light salad. It was simple, beautiful and delicious.

It’s been about a year since my last trip to Paris and this Sunday I am leaving for Italy & Spain. I thought I’d get myself in the mood for food by re-creating that amazing meal at home. Here’s how I did it.

Ingredients:
2 boneless Muscovy duck breasts with skin on (about 1/2 lb. each)
2 big handfuls of arugula
2 lbs. parsnips, quartered and cored
1 cup dry white wine
1 medium shallot, minced
Fresh thyme sprigs
Butter
Olive oil
Champagne vinegar
Salt
Pepper

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Toss the cored parsnip quarters in a bowl with salt and a long pour of olive oil.
4. Arrange the parsnips on a cookie sheet (with foil for easier cleanup) and bake for 15 minutes.
5. While the parsnips are roasting, score your duck breast skin with the tip of a sharp knife. Cut through the skin and fat, but not into the meat. This will help the fat render out from underneath the skin and make the skin crispy.
Duck Skin6. Turn your roasted parsnips, then put them back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes. They don’t take long to cook, so be careful not to burn them. They are done when a knife slides easily into the thickest part.
7. When your parsnips are done roasting (they should look like the photo below), put them into a food processor or use a stick blender to purée them. Throw in a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter or olive oil to help them along. Purée until creamy. Use a little bit of stock to loosen up the mixture if it’s too thick. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Cover and put in a warm spot.
7. Pat the duck breasts dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper on both sides.
8. Heat up a stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat until it’s pretty darn hot but not burn-anything-that-touches-it hot. If you flick some water at it, the droplets should sizzle and bounce around. Once hot, lay down your duck breasts skin-side down. Don’t use oil, the fat in the duck skin will render out and create more than you need. Once the skin starts to turn golden (about 5 minutes), drain the fat in the pan off into a jar (you can use this for cooking later, and never pour fat into your drain), turn the heat down to medium-low, and slowly render out the rest of the fat until the skin is a deep golden brown, another 7-9 minutes or so.
9. Turn the head back up to medium-high. Flip the duck breasts so they are meat-side down. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until medium-rare or medium. Don’t overcook them.
10. Remove duck breasts from the pan to a warm plate in a warm place, and let them rest for a couple of minutes. Don’t cover them, the skin will lose it’s crispness.
11. Drain the fat off the pan into a jar and save for later use.
12. Next, toss your minced shallots and a couple of sprigs of thyme into the hot pan that you cooked the duck in. Cook these over medium heat for about a minute, scraping up the fond as you go, and then pour a cup or more of white wine into the pan and reduce by 2/3. It should look like it’s boiling ever so slightly, otherwise it will take forever to reduce. Continue to scrape up any fond in the pan, it’s packed with flavor. Pour in any juices that have leaked out of the duck that’s resting on the plate. Once the pan sauce is reduced, turn off the heat and toss in a tablespoon or more of butter. Melt the butter into the sauce and strain the whole shebang into a small jar.
13. Next, make your salad dressing. Pour equal parts champagne vinegar and olive oil into a small jar with a lid. Add some salt & pepper, then put the lid on and shake it up. Put your arugula into a bowl and pour the dressing over it, then toss.
14. Time to plate! Put a big scoop of roasted parsnip purée onto a plate and then lay the duck breast over it. Lay a sprig of thyme over the duck breast as a garnish. Put a handful of the dressed salad next to it. Now, pour some of that delicious pan sauce you made around the parsnip purée but try to keep it out of your salad.
Duck Finished
Voila! Delicious, Paris-inspired meal. You can make it even better by pairing the perfect wine with it. I paired a really nice Arbois Chardonnay by Jacques Puffeney (2010) – $26 from Arlequin Wine Merchant in San Francisco. This wine is slightly oxidative but still really fresh and food-friendly. Jura wines are some of the best food-wines I have come across. Alternatively you could pair it with a nice Burgundy or even a domestic Pinot Noir. Have fun with it! A good wine pairing should make both the food and the wine taste better than they do by themselves.

Enjoy!

Winery Visit: Ambyth Estate

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Nestled in the hills on the Eastside of the Paso Robles AVA, right in the path of the winds from the Templeton gap, lies a 1000 case-per-year production Organic & certified Biodynamic winery. The owners – Philip & Mary Hart – are two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They purchased the land in 2001 and planted their 20 acres in 2004. They grow Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Sangiovese & Tempranillo. In addition to grape vines, they grow olive trees from which they produce their own Organic olive oil and raise 2 cows, 2 sheep, 25 chickens, 2 dogs and 7 cats.

DSC_8154Cid the Wine Dog; buggy buddy, stoic protector of chickens

Colleen & I first met Philip’s assistant, Frederic Ballario, at the 2013 Rhone Rangers industry tasting in San Francisco. We always stop by the AmByth table at this event because we so rarely get a chance to go down to the Paso area. It’s always exciting to try their new wines since we love the style of them. They are the polar opposite of most Paso wines; they are lean, low in alcohol, unmanipulated and completely natural. I was very excited to see some new wines from them, including a now sold-out skin-fermented Grenache Blanc (aka “orange wine”) and a red table blend from the 2011 vintage. Colleen and I spent some time chatting with Frederic and we immediately loved him for his warmth, knowledge, energy and friendliness.

DSC_8147Tala & Frederic chatting over Syrah vines

A most serendipitous thing happened a few days after the Rhone Rangers event. Frederic and I ran into each other at another wine tasting and he told me they needed someone to represent the winery at an event at K&L (who now carries their wines). He asked if I was available to pour wines for them for a couple of hours (I was) and subsequently he invited me down to the winery to go over their winemaking practices, teach me a little about Biodynamics and to get to know the processes a little better so I could better represent them at the tasting. So, I packed up my Husband/Software Engineer/Photographer and headed South to AmByth Estate.

Upon arrival, I was lucky enough to get to taste through their entire line-up of wines. Right now they have about 8 wines available; a Viognier, a white Rhone blend, a few red Rhone blends, a Syrah, a red table wine, a Zinfandel and a Tempranillo (which is drinking superbly right now). Frederic spent some time talking about their latest winemaking practices and equipment while showing me around the facility. AmByth recently purchased several amphorae which are now filled with fermenting wines, shown below. We cleaned the strangely beautiful green glass airlocks attached to the amphorae and tasted through all of them, most of which were still either full of CO2, in the middle of MLF or still under primary fermentation (in April!).

DSC_8187I am particularly excited to try their wines produced in amphorae. I have never actually seen one of these in person before this and they are quite beautiful. All of them were hand-made in Italy.

The climate is very unique at AmByth Estate. In the summer, it can be 100F and higher, but it cools down to about 50F at night because of the cool marine wind coming through the Templeton Gap. This temperature swing and wind preserves the acid in the grapes and produces wines which are much fresher, nervy, full of energy and great with food. In addition to the balancing acidity in these wines, they are made with minimal or no SO2 and are built for the long haul. These wines drink great when they are young but I anticipate they will keep on giving for years and years to come.

DSC_8156I asked Frederic a lot about Biodynamics as I really don’t know a whole lot about it other than it’s a pretty hard-core natural farming and winemaking process. He explained to me like this: Biodynamics help facilitate the flow of energy between the earth and the sky (or ‘cosmos’, as he put it). The moon, sun & earth all have natural cycles and Biodynamics help the system function to it’s full potential. Their belief is that good winemaking happens in the vineyard; the grapes need to be their best for the wines to follow suit. In the winery, little is done. They use 100% native yeast, minimal intervention and very little SO2 (none as of the 2012 vintage). The resulting wines speak to the fact that Biodynamics really do produce something unique, super-natural, and very different from conventional wines.

DSC_8159I am truly humbled by the generosity and warm hospitality from Frederic during our stay. I really encourage all of our readers to make a trip to Paso specifically to visit this winery. It’s really something special in a sea of mediocrity. If you are unable to make the trip to see them, you can come to K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City this Friday, April 12th from 5PM to 7PM to taste their Syrah and Red Table Blend. Yours truly will be pouring that night so come by and say hi. There will be 3 or so other wineries also doing tastings and the fee (I believe) is $10. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments.

Cooking Techniques: How to (easily) poach an egg

poachedegg

If you’re anything like me, you love brunch. You love it specifically because it provides a valid excuse to go out and eat poached eggs. They are delicate, fresh-tasting, healthy and satisfying. If you’re anything like me, you have spent countless hours trying to perfect this technique at home only to have your attempts explode into a water-logged, filamentous mess.

Through much trial and error, I finally came up with the easiest and most fool-proof method of poaching eggs. In my opinion, it’s easier than frying an egg and healthier too. No oil or butter, no cracked yolk, no hard-cooked nastiness.

Here are the important points to keep in mind:
1. Your eggs must be HELLA fresh. I am talking, right-out-of-the-chicken fresh. The older your eggs are, the runnier the whites will be and the harder it will be to poach them. You can determine how fresh your eggs are here.
2. Vinegar in the cooking water helps keep the white of the egg “tight” and keeps it from exploding.
3. You don’t want to plop the egg into the hot water; you need to lower it gently within a container other than the shell and gently DISPLACE the egg into the pan from the container with water.
4. You don’t want your water to boil hard or to create a “whirlpool” in the pot of hot water. While I’m sure someone, somewhere is able to poach an egg like this, I never have been able to and find that it just makes things really difficult.

I hope that this tutorial demystifies the process for you and helps you achieve perfectly cooked, tender, just-runny enough goodness.

What you’ll need:
Water
Extremely fresh eggs
Light-colored vinegar (champagne, white wine, apple cider, white)
Salt
A tall-sided skillet or shallow pot
Slotted spoon
4 oz canning jar, metal ladle, or a small bowl that can get hot
Something to put your poached eggs on (get creative)

Method:
1. Fill your tall-sided skillet or shallow pot with 2-3 inches of water.
2. Bring your water to a simmer. You should see lots of small bubbles and a few big bubbles (see photo).
3. Add a couple tablespoons of vinegar and a large pinch of salt to the hot water.
4. Crack your extremely fresh egg into your 4 oz canning jar, ladle or bowl.

rawegg
5. Gently lower the jar/ladle/bowl into the hot water and displace the egg from the container with the water.

displacedegg6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you reach the total number of eggs you want to eat (but don’t crowd them).
7. Set your kitchen timer for 3 minutes (soft cooked) or 3.5 minutes (medium cooked). We don’t poach eggs hard around here.

poachingegg
8. Gently remove the egg from the hot water with a slotted spoon and put on whatever vehicle you have chosen for your eggs.
9. Throw some shaved aged parmesan, chopped parsley, sea salt & pepper on there for a truly exquisite brunch. Skip the hollandaise sauce if you want to live a long and healthy life.

That’s it! Enjoy new skill.