About Lindsey McClave

Lindsey McClave

Lindsey McClave has a deep love for food, wine and travel. While she has no intentions of becoming a chef or a sommelier and doesn't consider herself an expert in any culinary area, she is obsessed with learning.

She says, "the one thing I've taken away from my wine travels is that wine is meant for everyone - rich, poor, and everywhere in-between.” Whatever cooking becomes to you, she encourages you to find that foodie place, embrace it and run with it.


Latest Posts by Lindsey McClave

New York City: It’s Almost All About the Food

September 2, 2014 by  

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It is an inevitable feeling, one that leaves me all twisted up inside every time we board a plane/train/automobile and make the trek back to Louisville from wherever our travels have taken us.  I don’t want to leave.  I want to go back.  I need to go back.

This feeling was ever apparent on our recent trip to New York City.  Despite an unexpected third night to explore, my mind and soul were left parched, and the thirst to return is palpable, almost all-consuming.  The thing about New York City is that it is virtually impossible to scratch the surface in one weekend.  But do you even do so in a lifetime?  It’s varied corners and pockets of people seem endless, the city moving forward at a rapid pace and remaining rooted in history all at the same time.  It is a beautifully overwhelming place to visit and the desire to return is a confliction I am happy to possess.

Z and I were inundated with recommendations of where to go, what to eat and what to drink.  Everyone has a strong opinion about New York City and everyone has an all-time favorite restaurant.  A spot that spoke to them the loudest, that left an indelible impression on their heart.  I wanted to go to all of these haunts and then some but alas that was impossible.  Instead we remained focused on a few key restaurants and would fill the time in between meals walking and absorbing our surroundings.  Since we couldn’t be everywhere we resolved to be in the moment.  And we had some fantastic moments.

The first of which occurred as soon as we arrived in the city.  We landed at LaGuardia at 9pm, took a quick cab ride straight to our home base in the East Village, The Standard, refreshed and hit the pavement by 10:15.  Our first stop: Prune.

It is a shoebox of a restaurant, no more than two dozen patrons accommodated at once.  The kitchen sits square in the back, much, much smaller than what I had conjored in my mind when reading Blood, Bones and Butter, Chef and Owner Gabrielle Hamilton’s self-penned recounting of her life and the food that shaped it.  However unlike a book you read prior to seeing the movie, only to find the movie has portrayed the characters and stories in a grossely inacurate manner, I was a bit taken aback when Z and I stepped through the open doors of Prune.  It was even better than I had imagined.

The menu is concise and well-constructed, making the decision for the diner that much more of a challenge as you quickly find yourself wanting to order one of everything, the idea of selecting one of the four entrees nearly impossible.  It just so happened that we came to Prune on a night they were introducing a new menu, and, after much debate and some disappointment over the fact that both the pasta starter and the cold roast beef with lettuces were sold out, we settled on a spicy chicken soup, Gabrielle’s play on pasole, to begin our meal.

Our first course was followed by the fried rabbit with buttermilk dressing and onions and the ‘fish taco,’ an artful take on a classic, the crispy skinned catch of the day layered atop a crunchy, paper-thin flatbread and topped with mixed herbs and peppery radish.

As our varied selections posed a bit of a wine conundrum, we were delighted to find a bottle of 2004 Lopez de Heredia Viura, a ten year old bottle that is a rich and unusual white wine with an almost port-like quality, offering enough body to hold up to the chicken and rabbit and a bright acidity to accentuate the fish.  It was also the perfect pair for our fantastically simplistic dessert of fresh peaches served on crisp, buttered bread, confectioners sugar coaxing out the natural sweetness of the fruit.

Saturday morning brought along a short stroll to Russ and Daughters, a 100 year old classic seafood deli located on East Houston Street in the Lower East Side.  If you’ve watched many cooking or travel shows, chances are you’re already familiar with this NYC staple, however it manages to retain every ounce of it’s natural charm, refusing to change regardless of the fame and attention their expertly cured fish and pickled herring have brought upon them.

We sandwiched our way into the store, fitting snuggly between two long deli cases, one a rainbow of smoked salmon, trout, sturgeon and herring, the other a sampling of confections of old.  Mounds of house made cream cheese play with your imagination, looking more like freshly spun gelato than the schmere for a bagel.

I resisted the urge to go against my gut and stuck with my plan to order the classic smoked salmon sandwich, selecting Scottish salmon, plain cream cheese and a plain bagel with onions and capers.  Z was thankfully more adventurous and requested the Fancy Delancy sandwich, a unique layering of smoked tuna with wasabi flying fish roe and horseradish-dill cream cheese.  We wiggled our way through the crowd of waiting customers and took our breakfast on the road, hailing a cab to Central Park.

We strolled the expansive park until we found a cozy nook and we dug into our sandwiches.  Mine, while simple, was a shining example of why the trinity of smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagels came to be in the first place.  The salmon was silky, salty and rich, the cream cheese soothing and light.

The bagel had wonderful texture.  I was in smoked fish heaven.  Z enjoyed his selection as well, the wasabi flying fish roe offering that distinctive pop, an addictive textural element that complimented the spicy cream cheese and highlighted the thinly sliced tuna.  After lunch we set our sights on Eataly, beginning the hike across town with a long walk through Central Park.  We marveled at the thousands of people who were occupying this expansive and famous space.  The serenity of the park was refreshing and calming.  There was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out, relax, and escape the hustle and bustle.

The lush greenery slowly began to fade as we exited the outskirts of the park and reentered the throngs of people rushing about the streets of New York.  We made the three mile walk to Eataly, strolling through Times Square along the way.

Originating in Italy, the aptly named Eataly was brought to America by celebrity Chef Mario Batali.  It is difficult to describe Eataly as it multifaceted, the only overarching commonality being it’s devotion to the foods of Italy.  A celebration of all things Italian, Eataly is a hybrid market-meets-restaurant-meets-wineshop-meets-bookstore-meets-specialty-foodstore.

There are five aisles dedicated to pasta alone.  You can find nearly every olive oil in world at Eataly.  There is an entire shop dedicated to Nutella for crying out loud!  Upon entry, my initial reaction was to turn and leave.  There was too much to see and it felt too confusing.  But we elbowed our way through the crowd waiting in line to select their scoop from at least thirty different flavors of gelato, and entered the belly of the beast.

Several exposed kitchens from the various restaurants located in Eataly were buzzing, orders being shouted between servers and Chefs at the pass, countless individuals standing at a ham bar indulging in Italy’s finest cured meats, the clinking of wine glasses ringing through the air.  We settled in at the bar of Il Pesce and enjoyed freshly grilled shrimp and slices of raw tuna drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with flaky black sea salt.  It was a perfect pick me up after our three mile trek and was just light enough to help us continue on for another three miles, as we made our way back through the street of New York to The Standard in the East Village.

I would go back to The Standard in a second for the service, the amenities and the great location.  But the view – THE VIEW!  That is more than reason enough to book this hotel during your next New York City jaunt.  Within walking distance of countless bars and restaurants, we set out for some pre-dinner libations.  We were happy to find two seats at the bar at Terroir, a wine-centric watering hole which dubs itself as the ‘elitist bar for everyone.’  Z had discovered this cozy wine temple during a recent business trip to New York and we enjoyed some German sparkling to kick off our second night in the city.  It was going to be one to remember.

And then, there was Ko.  The most intimate in David Chang’s series of New York City staples, Ko is unlike any other restaurant Z and I have ever experienced.  Nestled behind a decorative iron door, marked only with the eponymous peach, the singular bar of Ko stretches the length of the room, providing seating for only 12 patrons at one time.
This dining experience is made all the more intimate by the three masterful Chefs working on the opposite side of the bar, the full kitchen on display as if you had been invited into someone’s home.  You are entirely ensconced in what is happening in front of you, deft hands working quickly and efficiently as sauces are simmered, fish is seared and beef is charred over a blisteringly delicious flame.
Ordering alcohol always leaves me a bit befuddled during a meal of this length and magnitude, an unknown (but sure to be plentiful) number of courses awaiting our consumption.  Z and I enlisted the advice of the hostess – “champagne and beer” she replied, without missing a beat.  And so it was.  Twelve courses later I had savored thinly sliced mackerel layered over watermelon, black sesame and kimchi, was given goosebumps by the perfect pearls of handmade tortellini stuffed with peas and paired with crab and almond, and had eaten the best egg dish of my life.  Soft boiled, the egg is sliced open on the plate, the viscosity of the yolk just right, pouring ever so gently onto the dish.  Caviar dotted the brilliant yellow, miniature potato chips provided crunch and salt.
Z and I both agreed that the egg course was easily one of our top ten best bites.  What really made the dinner was the interaction we had with the Team, Chef Jay patiently answering each and every question I peppered his way.  My only complaint about the dinner is that it was too short, the 12 courses passing in a flash while we were entranced by the show being put on in front of us.  I simply didn’t want to leave.
The next day we meandered our way to Estela for brunch.  I had heard nothing but effusive praise for this relatively new and self-coined ‘beverage driven restaurant’ tucked away on Houston Street.
The menu comes off as simplistic, however there is much more to each dish than the sum of the few deceivingly simple items noted.  The blood cake with onion marmalade and egg was as complex as it was homey and comforting, the cake lightly caramelized around the edges while the yolk mixed and mingled with the slow cooked and practically candied onions making up the jam.  A lighter than air dollop of fresh burrata cheese topped our second dish, a charred baguette soaking up bracingly fresh salsa verde.  From texture to taste I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
My favorite dish of the meal came in the form of fried arroz negro with squid and romesco.  The crispy rice and squid ink took me back to a seaside table in Barcelona, the cool breeze from the ocean whispering against my skin as I dipped my fork into the paella pan.  We recapped our adventures from the evening prior, laughing as we recounted the many comedic moments we were treated to courtesy of the lineup at the The Comedy Cellar.  A veritable institution and training ground, many of the most popular comedians of past and present have honed their craft on the tiny stage located under ground off of MacDougal Street.  We arrived early and found a spot at the bar at The Fat Black Pussycat, which is located just above the theater.
 Our bartender was friendly and attentive, and, after friendly conversation, promised to secure two front row seats for us when our show time arrived.  Each night the Comedy Cellar presents a lineup of up-and-coming standup artists peppered with spontaneous appearances from veterans such as Louis CK, Dave Chappell, Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld.  The bar was lively and it didn’t take us long to notice the small gathering of comedians seated at the table directly behind us, Aziz Ansari (best known for his role on NBC’s 30 Rock) quietly reading through a small notebook.
We laughed for a solid hour and a half that night, watching 15 minute sets from brave new comedians giving it their all and more practiced artists like Aziz who were trying out new bits, playing with jokes and various angles to see how they passed with this intimate crowd.  With tickets a mere $24, the Comedy Cellar has landed at the top of our must-do list for any and all return trips to NYC.

 

Our original plans to return to Louisville Sunday evening were unexpectedly stymied just as we were prepared to head to LaGuardia.  Our flight had been canceled and our only option was to catch the first return trip on the docket for Monday morning.  The Standard accommodated our quick return and we decided to head over to Bar Ssam for a mid-afternoon snack of steamed buns with pork belly, hoisin, cucumber and scallion, blackened bluefish with miso, chips and pickles and tempura soft-shell crab with pimento cheese, green tomato and sesame seed.  
We jetted over to the West Side of the city to stroll the High Line, a long and winding park that sits above street level.  An ingenious repurposing of space, the High Line was built on a converted historic freight rail line.  
With plenty of grassy space and creative seating areas, we watched the sun set and allowed our appetite to build back up for our final dinner of the trip. L’Artusi had come highly recommended by a dear friend and former New Yorker. We sampled perfectly al dente bowls of pasta while admiring their unique wine offerings. As we rode back to our hotel post dinner I could sense my body fighting against itself. I was tired. I was full. My feet were beyond aching. I was overwhelmed by all that I had seen, by all that we had done in a few short days. And, while our lucky misfortune of a canceled flight had extended our stay, it was hard to accept that there was still so much to do, still so much to see. How could we possibly be leaving already? I am constantly having to accept the fact that I will never see it all, never do everything my wild little mind has conjured in my dreams. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try my damnedest. With that said, until next time, New York.

 

Having Fun With Meatballs, Spaghetti & Sauce

June 8, 2014 by  

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I love pasta.  Worcestershire sauce from Bourbon Barrel Foods and balsamic vinegar are added to the mix to enhance the natural flavors of the beef and breadcrumbs soaked in whole milk promise for a perfectly succulent and tender final product.  Make it a trifecta and pair with my recipe for fresh pasta and my go-to, easy-as-pie marinara sauce and you will have a locally grown meal that is as wholesome as it is impressive.  Enjoy!

To begin, place one quarter cup panko breadcrumbs in a small bowl.  Pour one quarter cup whole milk over the panko and allow to sit and absorb while you prep your veggies.  Over a twenty minute period the panko will soak up the milk, thickening and becoming very soft.  This will not only help bind the meatballs together but will also make sure there is plenty of moisture in the beef, keeping it from drying out while it cooks.

Turning to your cutting board, prep the following: one third cup minced shallots, one third cup finely diced carrots and three tsp minced garlic.  Set a pan over medium heat and warm.  Add one tbs of olive oil and heat for thirty seconds before adding your shallots and carrots to the pan.  Sauté the veggies for five to ten minutes until they have softened and the shallots are translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute, until fragrant.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place one pound of ground sirloin in a large bowl and add the sautéed carrots, garlic and shallots along with the following: one large egg, one quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes, one teaspoon worcestershire sauce (I recommend Bourbon Barrel Foods), one teaspoon balsamic vinegar, one half teaspoon dried oregano, one third cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, one quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and one half teaspoon kosher salt.

Use your hands to bring the mixture together until well blended.  Be cautious not to over mix.  You want to simply make sure the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the meat.

Take approximately two tbs of the meat and roll into a small ball in the palm of your hand.  The meatballs will be just a bit over half of the size of a golf ball.  This recipe will yield 20-24 meatballs.  Once all of the beef mixture has been rolled out, place the meatballs on a plate and set in the refrigerator for twenty minutes to an hour.  We have both an egg and our moistened breadcrumbs in these meatballs, but the cool air from the fridge will ensure that they hold together and will not fall apart in the cooking process.

Warm a large sauté pan over medium heat and add one tbs of olive oil.  Allow the oil to heat for one minute and then carefully add the meatballs, one at a time.  Cook for five minutes on each side and then remove to a plate.  Tent with foil to keep warm.

Drain off any excess fat from the bottom of the pan and add your marinara sauce, dropping the heat to medium-low.  I highly recommend my quick and easy marinara recipe which you can find by clicking here.

While your marinara is warming, return the meatballs to the pan so they can warm back through and soak up a bit of the tomato goodness.  Cook your pasta (I also highly recommend my recipe for handmade pasta, which may be found by clicking here) and drain.

Remove the meatballs from the marinara and add the pasta directly to the sauce.  Toss to coat and cook for an additional minute over medium-low heat.  You should always let your pasta finish off the cooking process in the sauce so the flavors get to the very core of the noodle.  Plate the pasta and top with the meatballs.  Garnish with grated parmesan and freshly chopped basil and serve immediately.  Cheers!

Makes 20-24 Meatballs (Serves Four)

  • one pound Foxhollow Farm ground sirloin
  • one quarter cup panko breadcrumbs
  • one quarter cup whole milk
  • one third cup diced carrots
  • one third cup minced shallots
  • three tsp minced garlic
  • one large egg
  • one quarter tsp red pepper flakes
  • one half tsp dried oregano
  • one tsp worcestershire sauce (Bourbon Barrel Foods is recommended)
  • one tsp balsamic vinegar
  • one third cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • one quarter tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • one half tsp kosher salt
  • two tbs olive oil, divided
  • four cups marinara sauce (foodie-girl recipe found here)
  • one pound spaghetti (foodie-girl recipe found here)
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese and chopped basil for garnish

To begin, place one quarter cup panko breadcrumbs in a small bowl.  Pour one quarter cup whole milk over the panko and allow to sit and absorb while you prep your veggies.  Over a twenty minute period the panko will soak up the milk, thickening and becoming very soft.  This will not only help bind the meatballs together but will also make sure there is plenty of moisture in the beef, keeping it from drying out while it cooks.
Turning to your cutting board, prep the following: one third cup minced shallots, one third cup finely diced carrots and three tsp minced garlic.  Set a pan over medium heat and warm.  Add one tbs of olive oil and heat for thirty seconds before adding your shallots and carrots to the pan.  Sauté the veggies for five to ten minutes until they have softened and the shallots are translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute, until fragrant.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place one pound of Foxhollow Farm ground sirloin in a large bowl and add the sautéed carrots, garlic and shallots along with the following: one large egg, one quarter tsp red pepper flakes, one tsp worcestershire sauce (I recommend Bourbon Barrel Foods), one tsp balsamic vinegar, one half tsp dried oregano, one third cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, one quarter tsp freshly ground black pepper and one half tsp kosher salt.
Use your hands to bring the mixture together until well blended.  Be cautious not to over mix.  You want to simply make sure the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the meat.
Take approximately two tbs of the meat and roll into a small ball in the palm of your hand.  The meatballs will be just a bit over half of the size of a golf ball.  This recipe will yield 20-24 meatballs.  Once all of the beef mixture has been rolled out, place the meatballs on a plate and set in the refrigerator for twenty minutes to an hour.  We have both an egg and our moistened breadcrumbs in these meatballs, but the cool air from the fridge will ensure that they hold together and will not fall apart in the cooking process.
Warm a large sauté pan over medium heat and add one tbs of olive oil.  Allow the oil to heat for one minute and then carefully add the meatballs, one at a time.  Cook for five minutes on each side and then remove to a plate.  Tent with foil to keep warm.
Drain off any excess fat from the bottom of the pan and add your marinara sauce, dropping the heat to medium-low.  I highly recommend my quick and easy marinara recipe which you can find by clicking here.

While your marinara is warming, return the meatballs to the pan so they can warm back through and soak up a bit of the tomato goodness.  Cook your pasta (I also highly recommend my recipe for handmade pasta, which may be found by clicking here) and drain.  Remove the meatballs from the marinara and add the pasta directly to the sauce.  Toss to coat and cook for an additional minute over medium-low heat.  You should always let your pasta finish off the cooking process in the sauce so the flavors get to the very core of the noodle.  Plate the pasta and top with the meatballs.  Garnish with grated parmesan and freshly chopped basil and serve immediately.  Cheers!

 

 

A Southern Chicken & Bourbon Mustard BBQ Sauce

June 7, 2014 by  

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I am not sure why I have a penchant for mustard-based barbecue sauce but there is something about the tangy, bold nature of a sauce with a mustard backbone that acts as a defibrillator for my palate.   When I was posed with the challenge of creating a barbecue sauce utilizing Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, I knew I would be bypassing the ketchup and reaching instead for the jar of yellow mustard in my fridge.

This was my first time dipping my toe in the world of barbecue and seeing as I live in a condo and do not have a grill, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin.  Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main offered me loads of expert advice and the result was a beautifully roasted, impossibly juicy chicken bathed in a spicy and bright mustard sauce, one that took me three tries to finally get right.

In keeping with what I’ve found in most recipes, creating the sauce was all about layering flavors and the Four Roses Small Batch gave me a fantastic profile with which to work.

This bourbon blend brings strong notes of spice which are quickly quelled by a light sweetness and pleasant viscosity.  Brought to a boil with shallots, garlic and jalapeño, any bite from the alcohol is removed, the base flavors remaining and enhanced, pacifying the abrasive nature of the mustard and brightening the notes given by the cumin and red pepper flakes.

Local Kentucky sorghum and brown sugar, a near must for any barbecue sauce, match the natural sweetness of the bourbon nose-to-nose, finishing out a beautifully flavored, bourbon inspired sauce.  At Levon’s advice, I had brined the chicken overnight to ensure the oven didn’t take away any of the natural juices.  After roasting for a bit until almost cooked through, the sauce is drenched over the chicken and baked on for the last few minutes of cooking time, sealing in the flavor and finishing off some of the best chicken I’ve ever cooked at home.

I tip my hat to those who have spent years perfecting the craft of barbecue.  It is a complicated and delicious culinary road to travel and I look forward to exploring the path, my bottle of bourbon in hand.

 

Chef Levon’s first piece of advice to me was to brine my chicken.  I had always thought brines were reserved for Thanksgiving turkeys and other special occasion preparations.  It was as simple as throwing together a marinade and goodness it made all the difference in the texture and flavor of the chicken.  You can flavor the brine as complexly as you’d like.

I kept mine simple and mixed the following in a very large bowl: eight cups of warm water, one quarter cup kosher salt plus an additional eighth of a cup, one quarter cup sugar plus an additional eighth of a cup, and one tbs red pepper flakes. Stir until all of the salt and sugar dissolves in the water.  Allow to cool to room temperature and then add the chicken quarters (the leg and thigh of the chicken, in one piece), ensuring they are completely submerged.  Refrigerate for six to 24 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees and remove the chicken from the brine.  Pat dry and place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Season with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the meat is nearly cooked through and the skin is beginning to brown and become slightly crisp (if you use a meat thermometer you are looking for a temperature of 140).

While the chicken is roasting make the sauce!  You can certainly make this sauce ahead of time.  It will last in the fridge for up to two weeks.  Begin by warming a medium pot over medium heat.

Add one tbs of olive oil and sauté the following: one jalapeño, minced, and one third cup of chopped onions.  Sauté until the vegetables become tender and the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add two cloves of garlic, finely minced, to the mix and stir for one minute until fragrant.  Now it is time for the piece de resistance: the Four Roses Small Batch.  Keeping the heat on medium, slowly add one cup of Four Roses to the pot.  This may flame up a bit, which is fine.  It is just the alcohol burning off.  Just be sure to go slowly and keep your face away from the pot.

Allow the bourbon to deglaze the pot, stirring and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon.  Next up: the mustard!  Add one cup good quality yellow mustard to the Four Roses mixture, along with two tsp good quality dijon mustard.

Continue by adding the following: one half cup apple cider vinegar, one tsp ground cumin, one quarter tsp red pepper flakes, one tbs local Kentucky sorghum (local honey is a good substitute), two tbs brown sugar, one tsp Worcestershire sauce (Bourbon Barrel Foods’s Worcestershire sauce is my favorite), and one half tsp kosher salt.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil.

Once the sauce is boiling, drop the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for twenty minutes, reducing the sauce and helping the flavors meld and concentrate.  Next, remove from the heat and strain the sauce through a fine sieve, separating out the jalapeño and onion and leaving you with a smooth, delicious barbecue sauce!

After the chicken has cooked for 35-40 minutes, remove from the oven and brush liberally with the bourbon-mustard sauce.  Drop the oven temperature to 350 degrees and put the chicken back in to roast for an additional 15 minutes.  The meat will finish cooking and the sauce will begin to set.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for five to 10 minutes.  Serve along with additional bourbon-mustard on the side.  Enjoy!

Chicken to Serve Two, Recipe Yields One Cup of Sauce

The Chicken

  • two chicken quarters
  • eight cups warm water
  • one quarter cup kosher salt, plus an additional one eighth cup
  • one quarter cup sugar, plus an additional one eighth cup
  • one tbs red pepper flakes
  • one tsp olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper for seasoning

Four Roses Bourbon-Mustard Sauce

  • one jalapeño, minced
  • one third cup chopped onion
  • two cloves garlic, finely minced
  • one cup Four Roses Small Batch bourbon
  • one cup good quality yellow mustard
  • two tsp good quality dijon mustard
  • one half cup apple cider vinegar
  • one tsp ground cumin
  • one quarter tsp red pepper flakes
  • one tbs local Kentucky sorghum (local honey is a good substitute)
  • two tbs brown sugar
  • one tsp Worcestershire sauce (Bourbon Barrel Foods’s Worcestershire sauce is my favorite)
  • one half tsp kosher salt

I had always thought brines were reserved for Thanksgiving turkeys and other special occasion preparations.  It was as simple as throwing together a marinade and goodness it made all the difference in the texture and flavor of the chicken.

You can flavor the brine as complexly as you’d like.  I kept mine simple and mixed the following in a very large bowl: eight cups of warm water, one quarter cup kosher salt plus an additional eighth of a cup, one quarter cup sugar plus an additional eighth of a cup, and one tbs red pepper flakes. Stir until all of the salt and sugar dissolves in the water.  Allow to cool to room temperature and then add the chicken quarters (the leg and thigh of the chicken, in one piece), ensuring they are completely submerged.  Refrigerate for six to 24 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees and remove the chicken from the brine.  Pat dry and place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Season with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the meat is nearly cooked through and the skin is beginning to brown and become slightly crisp (if you use a meat thermometer you are looking for a temperature of 140).
While the chicken is roasting make the sauce!  You can certainly make this sauce ahead of time.  It will last in the fridge for up to two weeks.  Begin by warming a medium pot over medium heat.  Add one tbs of olive oil and sauté the following: one jalapeño, minced, and one third cup of chopped onions.  Sauté until the vegetables become tender and the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add two cloves of garlic, finely minced, to the mix and stir for one minute until fragrant.  Now it is time for the piece de resistance: the Four Roses Small Batch.  Keeping the heat on medium, slowly add one cup of Four Roses to the pot.  This may flame up a bit, which is fine.  It is just the alcohol burning off.  Just be sure to go slowly and keep your face away from the pot.
Allow the bourbon to deglaze the pot, stirring and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon.  Next up: the mustard!  Add one cup good quality yellow mustard to the Four Roses mixture, along with two tsp good quality dijon mustard.  Continue by adding the following: one half cup apple cider vinegar, one tsp ground cumin, one quarter tsp red pepper flakes, one tbs local Kentucky sorghum (local honey is a good substitute), two tbs brown sugar, one tsp Worcestershire sauce (Bourbon Barrel Foods’s Worcestershire sauce is my favorite), and one half tsp kosher salt.

Stir to combine and bring to a boil.  Once the sauce is boiling, drop the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for twenty minutes, reducing the sauce and helping the flavors meld and concentrate.  Next, remove from the heat and strain the sauce through a fine sieve, separating out the jalapeño and onion and leaving you with a smooth, delicious barbecue sauce!
After the chicken has cooked for 35-40 minutes, remove from the oven and brush liberally with the bourbon-mustard sauce.  Drop the oven temperature to 350 degrees and put the chicken back in to roast for an additional 15 minutes.  The meat will finish cooking and the sauce will begin to set.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for five to 10 minutes.  Serve along with additional bourbon-mustard on the side.  Enjoy!

A Chat with Johnny Iuzzini, the Dessert Master

May 28, 2014 by  

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Are you a lover of desserts? If so, then meet Johnny Iuzzini, who is to the dessert world what Shawn White is to snowboarding.  He is a master of this decadent craft and firmly solidified his place in the land of pastry after a decade of work at the renowned four star Jean Georges in NYC and countless accolades, including the prestigious James Beard award for Pastry Chef of the Year.

Add a touch of rebellion and a dollop of TV star power courtesy of Top Chef: Just Desserts (Johnny was the head judge) and one would likely feel a bit of nervous enthusiasm if given the chance to meet this rock-star of sweets, wouldn’t you say?  This is the state I found myself in when I was presented with the fortunate opportunity to interview Johnny during his recent trip to the Bluegrass for the Kentucky Derby.

Recently, we chatted about what drove him to the world of pastry in the first place.

Johnny started, as many young Chef’s do, working his way through the savory track at the Culinary Institute of America.  It was when he was training in a restaurant and was given the duty of killing the lobsters every morning in preparation for dinner service, that he found the Chef world loosing it’s luster.  His Mother was a generous and kind caregiver, particularly when it came to animals.  While he is not a vegetarian by any means, Johnny found that he couldn’t start each day in this manner and he saw a peacefulness in the Pastry Chefs surrounding him that lead him to request a change in his focus.

Clearly this was the right decision and Johnny’s career took off at an impressive rate.  He released his first book in 2008, Dessert FourPlay: Sweet Quartets from a Four-Star Pastry Chef and his second book, Sugar Rush, is due out this September (it is available for pre-order here).  As someone who is quite terrified of making desserts, this book seems almost made for me.

Johnny is breaking down the basics this time around, showing the reader how to build a base of pastry techniques and to grow from there, guiding you every step of the way with his expertise and charm.  This mastery and ease was every apparent in his cooking demo, where he prepared four different dishes, all of which were terribly impressive and addicting, not to mention shockingly approachable for the home cook.

I was particularly excited when I saw that strawberry shortcake was on the menu.  A favorite childhood dessert, Johnny puts a grown-up twist by bathing the fresh berries in balsamic vinegar, imparting a deeply rich sweetness that is further amplified after the berries bake for over an hour in a 200 degree oven.  The juices of the berries concentrate and intensify, calmed only by the cool cream which has been whipped to perfection, flecks of vanilla bean adding depth and structure.

A classic biscuit is split to hold all of this goodness, flakes of salt secured to the top during the baking process, adding that certain something to this absolutely flawless dessert.  Now, I wouldn’t dare claim that my biscuits are half as fluffy as Johnny’s or that my cream is whipped as lightly.  But I can attest to the impressiveness of this classic dish, the volume turned up in such a way that any home cook can master.  It was a fantastic evening and I am quite grateful to Macy’s Culinary Council for giving me the opportunity to meet Johnny Iuzzini.  My dessert inspiration has runneth over!  I may just have a sweet tooth after all…

It is hard to put into words how satisfying these roasted strawberries are and they couldn’t be easier to make.  Begin by cleaning and topping three pints of local strawberries (you can find them at any farmer’s market now and they are dramatically tastier than those found in the big-box groceries).  Slice the strawberries in half and place them in a large bowl.  Cover with balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for thirty minutes to one hour.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place the strawberries, cut side down, in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for an hour and a half until their color has deepened and they are soft but still hold their shape.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the berries are soaking in the vinegar make your biscuit dough.  This was my first venture into the biscuit world and I know I have some work to do to master this craft.  That said, what I had anticipated to be a daunting task was actually quite simplistic.  The key to a perfect biscuit, as I’ve been told, is to be sure your butter, milk and eggs are all very cold.  Next time around I plan to cube my butter ahead of time and then place it back in the fridge to chill.  I found the warmth from my hands to have more of an effect on the butter than I anticipated and it became soft at the edges quickly.

To begin your biscuit dough, sift the following into the bowl of a food processor with the flat blade attached: two and one quarter cups all purpose flour, four teaspoons baking powder, one half teaspoon baking soda and one half teaspoon coarse salt.  Pulse several times to bring everything together.  Cut six tablespoons of cold butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture.  Continue to pulse the blade until the butter breaks apart and turns into small pea-sized pieces (you want the butter to remain in small pieces, you do not want it to completely incorporate with the flour).

Whisk two thirds cup whole milk with one large egg until combined.  With the blade running, pour the milk and egg through the feed tube, continuing to pulse until the dough comes together and pulls into a ball (this will happen quickly and be careful not to over mix).

Lightly flour your counter and turn the dough out onto the surface.  Form into a square and cover in plastic wrap.  Set in the refrigerator for one hour.  Resting dough is an important aspect in just about any recipe.  It gives the glutens time to come together and develop and will result in a much more texturally pleasing biscuit/cookie/pizza, etc.  Preheat your oven to 425 while the dough is resting.

After one hour, remove from the refrigerator and place on a floured surface.  Roll the dough into a half-inch thick square.  Cut one and one-half inch square biscuits from the dough and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the top of each biscuit with melted butter and sprinkle with pink salt (if you don’t have pink salt, another course salt will do fine).  Bake for five to ten minutes until they have puffed up and are golden brown.

While the biscuits are baking whip up the vanilla creme chantilly topping.  Pour one cup heavy cream, one cup creme fraiche, four tbs confectioners’ sugar and the seeds from one vanilla bean into a large bowl.  Whip until the cream is light and airy and forms stiff peaks.  Remove the biscuits from the oven, top with the whipped creme chantilly and slow roasted strawberries.  Garnish with fresh mint and serve.

Makes 12 Strawberry Shortcakes

Slow-Roasted Strawberries

  • three pints local strawberries
  • balsamic vinegar
Biscuits
  • two and one quarter cups all-purpose flour
  • four teaspoons baking powder
  • one half teaspoon baking soda
  • one half teaspoon course salt
  • six tbs butter, cut into small cubes and kept very cold
  • two thirds cup whole milk
  • one large egg, beaten
  • two tbs unsalted butter, melted
  • pink salt
Vanilla Creme Chantilly
  • one cup heavy cream
  • one cup creme fraiche
  • four tbs confectioners’ sugar
  • one vanilla bean, seeds scraped out and reserved
  • fresh mint leaves for garnish

Slow-Roasted Strawberries
Begin by cleaning and topping three pints of local strawberries (you can find them at any farmer’s market now and they are dramatically tastier than those found in the big-box groceries).  Slice the strawberries in half and place them in a large bowl.

Cover with balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for thirty minutes to one hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place the strawberries, cut side down, in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for an hour and a half until their color has deepened and they are soft but still hold their shape.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Biscuits
To begin your biscuit dough, sift the following into the bowl of a food processor with the flat blade attached: two and one quarter cups all purpose flour, four teaspoons baking powder, one half teaspoon baking soda and one half teaspoon coarse salt.  Pulse several times to bring everything together.  Cut six tablespoons of cold butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture.  Continue to pulse the blade until the butter breaks apart and turns into small pea-sized pieces (you want the butter to remain in small pieces, you do not want it to completely incorporate with the flour).
Whisk two thirds cup whole milk with one large egg until combined.  With the blade running, pour the milk and egg through the feed tube, continuing to pulse until the dough comes together and pulls into a ball (this will happen quickly and be careful not to over mix).
Lightly flour your counter and turn the dough out onto the surface.  Form into a square and cover in plastic wrap.  Set in the refrigerator for one hour.  Resting dough is an important aspect in just about any recipe.
Preheat your oven to 425 while the dough is resting.  After one hour, remove from the refrigerator and place on a floured surface.  Roll the dough into a half-inch thick square.  Cut one and one-half inch square biscuits from the dough and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the top of each biscuit with melted butter and sprinkle with pink salt (if you don’t have pink salt, another course salt will do fine).  Bake for five to ten minutes until they have puffed up and are golden brown.

Vanilla Creme Chantilly
Pour one cup heavy cream, one cup creme fraiche, four tbs confectioners’ sugar and the seeds from one vanilla bean into a large bowl.  Whip until the cream is light and airy and forms stiff peaks.  Remove the biscuits from the oven, top with the whipped creme chantilly and slow roasted strawberries.  Garnish with fresh mint and serve.

Louisville Kentucky: Proof on Main’s Bardstown Bellini

May 1, 2014 by  

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It is impossible to walk into 21c Museum Hotel and not be inspired.  I have the distinct privilege of calling this my workplace and on my very best days I am treated to the carefully curated delicacies turned out by Levon Wallace and the team at Proof on Main.  Levon’s deft hands craft beautifully creative dishes utilizing the very best the Bluegrass has to offer.

This artful and local approach extends to the bar where you will find over 75 bourbons, house-made tonic that you will want to take home by the jug-full, and a seasonal cocktail list that is as playful as it is sophisticated and delicious.

I am a sucker for any drink involving sparkling wine, so the Bardstown Bellini immediately caught my eye when it made it’s debut during National Bourbon Heritage Month this past September.  Bourbon + Peach + Prosecco.  What more could you want?  Bourbon and peaches are a natural combination and we all know the Italians got it right when they combined peach purée and Prosecco for the classic Bellini years ago.  On the surface it all seemed obvious and straightforward; however my first sip of this drink drew curiosity.

What was that essence rounding out the flavors, deepening the intensity and soothing my taste buds all at once?  Small black flecks danced across the top of the glass, seeds of a vanilla bean brought to the surface by the effervesce of the Prosecco.  Vanilla.

Who would have thought?  It is the vanilla that actually makes this drink.  It brings the peaches to life, excites the Prosecco and allows the bourbon to shine in all of it’s Kentucky glory.  This cocktail is the perfect alternative to a Mint Julep, taking the edge off and leaving no bite.  The Bardstown Billini will impress bourbon aficionados while turning those bourbon-shy individuals into instant fans of our native spirit.

Your Derby Day drink menu is complete.  Send the thank you card to Proof on Main.  Or better yet, hand-deliver it.  I hear their spring cocktail menu is fantastic…

 

This drink kicks off with the peach purée.  There isn’t much better than a fresh peach however when they are not in season the frozen variety will work just fine.  Defrost one bag of frozen peaches (12-16 ounces) and purée them in a blender until smooth.

Strain the peaches through a sieve, pressing down with the back of a spoon to extract all of the peach juice, while leaving any unwanted solids behind.  We are going to heat this purée on the stove, so I strain the peaches directly into a small pot.

Run your knife down the center of a vanilla bean, allowing the seeds to begin to escape from the pod.  I opened my vanilla pod up a fair amount but did not scrape all of the seeds out.  I wanted the vanilla to be a flavor enhancer and did not want it to take over the entire drink.

The vanilla bean will release plenty of flavor as it warms in the peach purée and several little flecks of vanilla will find their way into the mix.  This is really when it comes down to flavor preference, however, so feel free to scrape the seeds out of the pod and add them directly to the peach purée.

The peaches are tart and we need to coax the sweetness out of them.  We also want to thin out the purée.  Add one cup of water and one tbs of sugar to the peaches.  I fall on the savory side of the sweet spectrum, but taste as you go and add additional sugar if you feel the flavor is still too tart.  Every bag of peaches is going to be a bit different so taste and continue to season to your liking.

Turn the heat to high and stir until combined.  Once the mixture comes to a boil remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Bourbon time!  Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the following: two shots bourbon, two shots cooled peach purée, one shot orange juice and six dashes mango or peach bitters.  Regular bitters will work here as well but I recommend investing in a variety of flavored bitters.  They are very fun to play with and add great depth to cocktails!

Shake vigorously until well blended.  Pour into a champagne flute, top with Prosecco and enjoy.  Cheers and happy Derby!

Makes Two Drinks

  • one bag frozen peaches, defrosted (12-16 ounces)
  • one vanilla bean
  • one tbs sugar
  • one cup water
  • two shots bourbon
  • one shot orange juice
  • six dashes peach or mango bitters
  • Prosecco
Defrost one bag of frozen peaches (12-16 ounces) and purée them in a blender until smooth.   Strain the peaches through a sieve, pressing down with the back of a spoon to extract all of the peach juice, while leaving any unwanted solids behind.  We are going to heat this purée on the stove, so I strain the peaches directly into a small pot.   Run your knife down the center of a vanilla bean, allowing the seeds to begin to escape from the pod.  I opened my vanilla pod up a fair amount but did not scrape all of the seeds out.  
I wanted the vanilla to be a flavor enhancer and did not want it to take over the entire drink.  The vanilla bean will release plenty of flavor as it warms in the peach purée and several little flecks of vanilla will find their way into the mix.  This is really when it comes down to flavor preference, however, so feel free to scrape the seeds out of the pod and add them directly to the peach purée. 
 The peaches are tart and we need to coax the sweetness out of them.  We also want to thin out the purée.  Add one cup of water and one tbs of sugar to the peaches.  I fall on the savory side of the sweet spectrum, but taste as you go and add additional sugar if you feel the flavor is still too tart.  Every bag of peaches is going to be a bit different so taste and continue to season to your liking.
Turn the heat to high and stir until combined.  Once the mixture comes to a boil remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the following: two shots bourbon, two shots cooled peach purée, one shot orange juice and six dashes mango or peach bitters. Shake vigorously until well blended.  Pour into a champagne flute, top with Prosecco and enjoy.  Cheers and happy Derby!

Foodie Heaven Along Napa Valley’s Trail

April 21, 2014 by  

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Z and I set off on the hour long drive from San Francisco to Napa after a whirlwind 48 hour exploration of the city by the bay.  We reunited with Matt and Glynnis and, per my request, headed straight for Model Bakery, where they make the most phenomenal English muffins. 
There are two Model Bakery locations, one on Main Street in St Helena and the other situated just outside of Oxbow Market.  Oxbow Market is a beautiful example of a modern version of a historic tradition.  
A place for local food purveyors to sell their wares, fresh seafood, local meats, handmade pastries and breads are intertwined with a rainbow of bulk spices, a bevy of kitchen and dining accessories and an impressive selection of artisan cheese.  It is a must-stop for the makings of a picnic lunch, a quick breakfast prior to hitting the wine trail or for a simple stroll, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of this California bazaar.
 Happily fortified, we made our way to Plumpjack, our first winery stop of the day.  A sister winery to Cade (read about our previous visit to Cade here), Plumpjack is known for their expertly crafted Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah.  
Matt had arranged for us to meet with Aaron Miller and Brett Brockmeyer, the Head Winemaker and Assistant Winemaker for Plumpjack, who he and Glynnis have the pleasure of calling their friends.  We got to know one another in the tasting room while sipping on their Chardonnay, a beautifully balanced and elegantly crafted wine, bringing out pear and green apple notes with an undercurrent of oak and lemony acid rounding out the palate.  
We tasted through their current offerings and then took a stroll into their barrel room, large oak vessels stacked in neat and high rows, a sight of which I will never tire.  Aaron and Brett were generous enough to give us samples of what they were working on, harvests from previous years yielding unique results based on the climate the grapes were subjected to during their growth.  
It will come as a surprise to no one that there are great things to come from Plumpjack.  We were grateful for a preview and for the generous hospitality shown to us by Aaron and Brett.
 Neyers Vineyard and Ehlers Estate were next on our tour of the Valley.  Neyers boasts an impressive variety of wine for their small, well regarded estate.  We sampled a multitude and found each bottle to be elegant, approachable and of excellent value for the price.  Ehlers also shines amid their limited production and this was ever apparent as they only had two bottles for us to taste upon arrival.  
Everything else had been bought up almost as soon as it was released.  Their One Twenty Over Eighty was a standout, the name paying homage to the proprietor’s dedication to cardiovascular research.  It is a beautiful example of a Bordeaux-inspired California Cabernet and Z and I were excited to pick up a bottle for our small but growing cellar.

As we departed Ehlers, the sun was beginning to drop and we were all feeling happily hungry.  A table was waiting for us at Torc, a newly opened downtown Napa hotspot that had received high praise from nearly the moment they opened their doors.

Lofted ceilings enclose an expansive space with a galley-style exposed kitchen lining the back wall.  A low hum emanates from the culinary crew as they fire dishes that have California roots and global inspiration.  Flavors of Morocco, Italy and India make themselves known in the spicy marinated olives, the creamy coconut rice and in the delicate perfection of their handmade pasta and gnocchi.  

The seasonal menu rotates but always boasts the signature roast chicken for two, which Matt was gracious enough to share with me.  Paired that evening with baby bok choy and the aforementioned creamy coconut rice, a thin layer of house-made brioche bread was placed carefully between the meat of the chicken and the skin, crisping under the hot flame, soaking up the juices from the bird all the while.  It took a couple of bites to grasp the full complexity of this creative genius.  

The sweetness of the rice was a wonderful offset to the umami nature of the bok choy, and the entire experience was highlighted by the perfectly roasted chicken, the rich brioche adding a stuffing-like quality to the meal.  Simply put, this is not your average restaurant chicken.  This dish, in fact, is not average in any way… an ideal fit for our not-so-average weekend in Napa.

We awoke the next morning to a vibrant and beautiful day, the temperature slowly climbing as the sun rose high into the sky.  Today would be dedicated entirely to Flora Springs and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Our friends Becca and Joe would be joining us for the day’s activities and I couldn’t wait to see them.  I was also happy to meet Kit and Eddie, Matt and Glynnis’s friends who arrived just in time to hop in the limo with us as we were whisked off to the sweeping vineyards of Flora Springs.

Wine release parties are a common occurrence and wineries never miss an opportunity to celebrate the love and labor that was poured into one particular, often signature, wine.

For Flora Springs that wine is Trilogy and they spare no expense when honoring this cabernet blend.  A long, vineyard-lined drive takes you to the Flora Springs estate, a must-stop for any Napa Valley itinerary in my opinion (by appointment only, so plan ahead).

You will be hard pressed to find a more open and kind crew than those who are a part of the Flora Springs Team and they have made us feel more than welcome, time after time.  We were quickly given a glass of Chardonnay as they directed us into their hillside caves.  A wide and open tunnel of sorts, we strolled past row upon row of barrels, snacking on freshly shucked oysters that were handed to us along the way.

 

Turning the corner, there was literally a light at the end of the tunnel.  The sun pouring in we emerged from the wine caves to a raucous crowd, a New Orleans inspired band jamming away as dozens of people buzzed about a beautiful and green courtyard that sat above the vineyards.  A beautiful view of the Napa horizon laid out before us and my senses were pulled in a hundred different directions.

I had no idea where to begin.  A massive paella pan was filled to the brim with clams, sausage, saffron and crispy, perfectly burnt rice.  From a steaming pot of water emerged a large ball of freshly crafted mozzarella cheese, a chef carefully drizzling California olive oil over top after laying the cheese on a crispy baguette and sprinkling it with large flakes of sea salt.

Tiny meatball sliders packed with rich tomato goodness were being swiped up almost as soon as they were set out.  In between it all, notes of peppery black fruit tugged at my nose, the 2011 Trilogy making itself known.

We traded out our Chardonnay for a healthy sample of the Trilogy and set off to immerse ourselves in this wine wonderland.  Amongst the paella, mozzarella and meatballs I immediately spotted thin, lightly charred slices of pizza, steam whispering off of the top of the just-melted cheese.  Now I knew exactly where to begin.

Over the next three hours we noshed on these offerings and many others all while savoring the flavorful and elegant craftsmanship of the 2011 Trilogy (and a variety of other Flora Springs creations).  Our dining was interrupted by a sudden flash mob performance and a surprise visit from the University of California marching band.

The energy of the day was ample and oh-so comfortable and I could have stayed for days on end, whiling away in this little piece of heaven.  Eventually it was time to journey on however, and we piled back into our limo, singing at the top of our lungs as we headed to Jessup Cellars to wind down while sampling their beautiful pinot noir.

Our perfect day was capped off with a cookout and – you guessed it – more wine by the fire pit back at Matt and Glynnis’s house.  It’s a luxury to feel that contented and I did not take any part of the experience for granted.

Day three is always my favorite during our Napa visits.  There is a sense of relaxation and calm in us all, two days of full-living having come to a head, setting the stage for a peaceful day of exploration and enjoyment.

Traces of a hangover pull at your senses but are quickly banished with more good food and even better wine.  I sort of float through our Sundays in Napa, wrapped in a happy state of contemplation and serenity.  Everything just feels right.  As we set out that Sunday morning there was a sense of relief and hopefulness in the air, a light mist dropping from the clouds.  In desperate need of rain, any precipitation, no matter how minimal, was welcome.

We planned to spend the day in Sonoma and made the scenic drive amidst the raindrops, arriving at Scribe after traversing a long road lined with tall, skinny palm trees.  A stone building set with strong wooden beams sits atop a hill overlooking the valley floor.

With pinot noir as their anchor, the golden-grape of Sonoma, Scribe has branched out beyond this beautifully structured red wine and is playing with a variety of lesser-known offerings for this region.  We sipped on their beyond-bone-dry riesling, the strong acidity tempered by a pleasant minerality.  Next up was their chardonnay, my favorite wine of the day and one of the best chardonnays I’ve had to date.  It was delicate on the palate, taking it’s time to open up and show it’s full complexity which is ripe with green apples, lemons and a delicate viscosity.

 

Scribe helped us shake off any adverse remnants from the previous days’ fun and we moved on to The Reserve Room at Mayo Family Winery.

Mayo takes a special interest in pairing their wine with food and they offer a seven course tasting experience that is without question the best value in the Sonoma Valley.  A mere $35 will buy you a dining experience where the food is crafted to fit the nuances of the wine, rather than the wine chosen to highlight the food.  A multitude of elements play a part in a wine’s end result, one of the biggest factors being the climate during the grapes growth.

These individual elements were picked apart in each wine we tasted, the flavors of the food put in place to specifically balance out any misgivings in the wine.

Chef Clayton Lewis walked us through the extensive thought process that went into every dish, telling us why, after tasting Mayo’s 2011 Viognier, he chose to top char-roasted cauliflower with a herbacious sauce of Moroccan Ras al Hanout spices and finely ground matcha tea.  His riff on the traditional Provencal bouillabaisse was an ideal companion for the boldness of the 2012 Mayo Reserve Chardonnay, the foamed broth of the fish stew just briny enough to cut through the viscosity of this creamy California Chardonnay.

The courses continued, each one creative and forward thinking, impressive on their own but truly meant to be enjoyed with their better half – the wine.  My favorite course was a decadent offering of braised beef tongue and cheek, the tender richness of these lush ingredients cut in half by the jam-like qualities of the 2010 Reserve Zinfandel.  What the Mayo Family Reserve Tasting room lacks in view and setting it makes up for in the bold flavors being brought forth from the kitchen and the vast variety of wine being poured.  It was a wonderful way to spend our Sonoma day.

 The rest of the afternoon lacked a schedule and we were free to wander and meander in between the precious raindrops that were falling upon the parched vineyards.  We toasted our last night and the end of yet another trip to remember over pizza and pasta at Oenotri, a casual and warm establishment in the heart of downtown Napa.  
Steaming pizza pies and hot bowls of handmade pasta filled our table and I cherished the far-too-rare feeling of total contentment.  When I tell people that some of our best friends live in Napa Valley their reaction is always the same – ‘Wow, lucky them!’  And while they will be the first to tell you that they are very lucky, I will emphasize that much of this luck is self-made.  
They realized a dream and saw it through, making a move that honors the adage ‘live life to the fullest.’  This inspiration is not lost on me and Z and we are doing everything possible to keep our sights set on fulfilling our dreams.  If part of that fulfillment is an annual pilgrimage to the valley then so be it.  We’ll see you next year. 

Farm Tacos with Pickled Vegetables, Goat Cheese & Microgreens

April 8, 2014 by  

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Tacos are so wonderfully adaptable, their malleability making them the perfect dish to experiment with in the kitchen.  With that spirit in mind, this recipe takes tacos down a slightly different path… a path paved with pure grass fed goodness from Foxhollow Farm.  Gone is the overly seasoned, overly processed, mass produced ground beef.

Here instead the natural flavors of Foxhollow’s beef are enhanced simply and richly with a homemade blend of cumin, garlic and cayenne.  Bourbon Barrel Worcestershire sauce and freshly squeezed lime keep the meat moist and the flavor complex.  Pickled red onion, peppers, carrots and cabbage take the place of the usual diced tomatoes and white onion while bagged shredded cheddar cheese is happily moved aside to make room for locally made, lightly creamy Capriole Farm’s goat cheese.  Newly harvested microgreens from Foxhollow’s greenhouse top everything off, their freshness a welcome note in this compilation of flavors.

If you aren’t already sold on Foxhollow’s grass fed ground beef, I am confident that this recipe will do the trick.  I am equally as confident that you will fall unabashedly in love with the technique of quick pickling.  Few things add such complexity and satisfaction to a dish and you will find yourself wanting to add your personal blend of veggies to nearly everything.  A classic meal with a welcome twist – consider this your new go-to for taco night!

 

Generally it takes me a solid hour to an hour and a half to test a recipe.  I stop to take notes along the way, rethink things, etc.  It takes me twice as long if I am taking photos of the final results.  This recipe took me less than 30 minutes, minus the additional time the veggies need to soak in the pickling juice.  If you pickle the veggies a day ahead of time this will be on the table in 20 minutes, tops.  That is my kind of weeknight meal!

I’ve played around with a few quick pickle recipes and especially liked the ratio I found on Instructables.com.  At it’s base, quick pickling is a simple combination of vinegar, water, sugar and salt.  Additional spices and such can be added to mix it up.  Here, I warm one half cup apple cider vinegar, one half cup water, one tsp sugar and one tsp kosher salt over medium heat.  Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and pour over your thinly sliced vegetables of choice.

I went for the colorful combination of thinly sliced carrots, red onion, red bell peppers and chopped cabbage.  Throw in a clove of garlic, quartered, and allow to sit at room temperature for thirty minutes.  Making the pickled veggies ahead of time?  No need to heat the liquid.  Just stir until the sugar and salt dissolve and then marinate in the refrigerator overnight.  These pickled vegetables should last for a week in the fridge.

Warm a large saute pan over medium high heat.  Pour one tsp of olive oil into the pan and add the ground beef, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon.  Add the following to the beef: one tsp ground cumin, one half tsp garlic powder, one quarter tsp cayenne, two tsp Worcestershire, the juice from one half of a lime, three quarters tsp kosher salt and one quarter tsp of freshly ground black pepper.  Toss to combine and lower the heat to medium, allowing the beef to break down and for the spices to sink in.  Cook for eight to ten minutes until the beef is brown and cooked through.  Add one tbs minced fresh cilantro.  Taste for seasoning.

While the beef is cooking wash the microgreens and toast the tortillas.  The microgreens are delicate so you want to use a light touch.  A quick rinse under cold water and then a light pat between two paper towels to dry should do the trick.  For the tortillas, I like to turn my burner on medium-high and to set them directly over the flame.  They won’t take more than 15 seconds per side to char and develop a wonderful crust.  Just be sure to keep a close eye as they will flame up quickly.

Using a slotted spoon, layer the beef on the warm tortilla and top with the pickled veggies, goat cheese and microgreens.  Enjoy!

Makes Six Tacos

Pickled Vegetables

  • one half cup apple cider vinegar
  • one half cup water
  • one tsp sugar
  • one tsp kosher salt
  • one garlic clove, quartered
  • one large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • one half of a red bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • one half of a red onion, thinly sliced
  • one cup cabbage, chopped
Beef Tacos
  • one pound Foxhollow Farm ground beef
  • one tsp olive oil
  • one tsp ground cumin
  • one half tsp garlic powder
  • one quarter tsp cayenne
  • two tsp Worcestershire
  • the juice from one half of a lime
  • three quarters tsp kosher salt
  • one quarter tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • one tbs freshly minced cilantro
  • Capriole Farm goat cheese
  • microgreens
Pickled Vegetables
Warm the apple cider vinegar, water, sugar and kosher salt over medium heat.  Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and pour over your thinly sliced vegetables of choice.  Throw in a clove of garlic, quartered, and allow to sit at room temperature for thirty minutes.  Making the pickled veggies ahead of time?  No need to heat the liquid.  Just stir until the sugar and salt dissolve and then marinate in the refrigerator overnight.  These pickled vegetables should last for a week in the fridge.
Beef Tacos
Warm a large saute pan over medium high heat.  Pour one tsp of olive oil into the pan and add the ground beef, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon.  Add the following to the beef: one tsp ground cumin, one half tsp garlic powder, one quarter tsp cayenne, two tsp Worcestershire, the juice from one half of a lime, three quarters tsp kosher salt and one quarter tsp of freshly ground black pepper.  Toss to combine and lower the heat to medium, allowing the beef to break down and for the spices to sink in.  Cook for eight to ten minutes until the beef is brown and cooked through.  Add one tbs minced fresh cilantro.  Taste for seasoning.
While the beef is cooking wash the microgreens and toast the tortillas.  The microgreens are delicate so you want to use a light touch.  A quick rinse under cold water and then a light pat between two paper towels to dry should do the trick.  For the tortillas, I like to turn my burner on medium-high and to set them directly over the flame.  They won’t take more than 15 seconds per side to char and develop a wonderful crust.  Just be sure to keep a close eye as they will flame up quickly. Using a slotted spoon, layer the beef on the warm tortilla and top with the pickled veggies, goat cheese and microgreens.  Enjoy!

Oh Those Blue Skies in San Francisco

March 7, 2014 by  

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“This is what the term ‘melting pot’ means” I muse to Z.  We are in the process of scaling one of San Francisco’s famously steep streets, lines of cars parked perpendicular to the sidewalk, a precarious sight.  A gust of wind thrown just the right way would surely send them toppling like dominos to the bottom of the hill.  But yet they make sense, all while seemingly defying the laws of gravity.

With a couple of tours of this city by the bay under my belt, I’m beginning to think that this is it’s shtick; San Francisco operates by it’s own set of rules and is individual in every sense of the word.  Layered with sophistication and grit, there is a place for everyone and every way in this city.

Z and I arrived on a Wednesday and had the impossible task of absorbing as much of San Francisco’s culture as possible in 48 hours.  We mapped out a list of ‘must-see’ (Golden Gate Park) and ‘must-eat’ (China Town) priorities and hit the pavement, traversing as many corners of the city as we could on this whirlwind of a trip.  Friday morning we would set off for Napa.  For now, the city would ensconce us.

Upon arrival we checked into The Hotel Des Arts (conveniently located a half block from the entrance to China Town) and set about walking to Swan’s Oyster Depot, a small restaurant that consists of one long bar and serves up some of the very best just-hauled seafood you will find.  Patrons have been known to wait for hours for a bar stool to vacate and for the chance to sample the freshly-shucked oysters and piping hot clam chowder.  A mist in the air and our early arrival (I recommend getting there as close to 11am as possible) were on our side and we were able to saddle right up to the counter, no wait at all.

A dozen oysters, a sashimi plate of the day’s fresh catch and the roe of one fresh sea urchin later and I was in vacation mode, my standard glass of sparkling the perfect accompaniment to the ocean goodness.  I am a big believer in small meals when on vacation in a large city, allowing for sampling throughout the day, maintaining a steady buzz of both the local swill and the region’s best food.

Our all-seafood brunch left us just short of full and we were more than ready to dig into an oven-fired pizza from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, an award-winning spot located in North Beach, the Italian heart of San Francisco.  The ideal afternoon snack, this pit-stop would carry us into the evening, when we would be dining at Atelier Crenn.

Chef Dominique Crenn is French born and helms the small and warm Atelier Crenn restaurant.  This was a meal I had been dreaming of for several months.  The first female Chef in America to ever be awarded two Michelin Stars, Chef Crenn’s menu is dictated to the diner in the form of poems she has penned, poems that tell us of the season we are experiencing, the coolness of winter as felt perched by the sea.  Upon reading the poems my mouth instantly began to water and I felt a calm come over me.  As I have been developing recipes and writing about food, I find a similar comfort and release when I write as when I cook.  Chef Crenn was speaking to my foodie-heart before I had tasted a single bite of her food.

What followed was a dinner experience I will never forget.  We spent a leisurely three and a half hours at Atelier Crenn, a multitude of courses presented to us, each one at just the right time and just the right size to maintain our curiosity, to ensure that we did not become overly satiated.  With the menu presented as a poem we were unaware of how many courses we would be receiving and what, exactly, we would be eating.  We simply had to let go, to trust Chef Crenn and her team, and submit ourselves to this experience.

No foreshadowing, no expectations.  Just simple, culinary bliss.  The meal maintained a theme of seafood throughout many of the courses, serrano ham and a paper-thin slice of wagyu carpaccio peeking through here and there as the meal progressed, the dinner coming to a climax with a perfectly cooked guinea hen and then bringing us gently back down and into the welcoming arms of dessert.  We had the opportunity to meet Chef Crenn during our visit and she was so kind and unbelievably generous to us.  This meal will not be taken for granted.  It’s impression on me was indelible and I am so very grateful for the experience.
If you’ve read any of our past travel posts (find them all here) then you will know that walking is my and Z’s favorite way to absorb the world.  The following morning we set out on foot, winding our way through various pockets of San Francisco for an hour or so, finally finding ourselves at Golden Gate Park.  It was somewhat early and the streets remained quiet throughout our stroll, shop keepers greeting us as they swept off their stoops and readied their stores for the day.  Now there are many ways to take in the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge but I challenge you to find one more refreshing than gazing from below, standing in the sand of the beach at it’s base.  We relaxed for a bit from our walk and watched dogs dart through the sand, watched the waves crash lightly on the beach.

Lunch time was near and we caught a cab back into town.  We had somehow missed the opportunity to dine in China Town during our previous visit to the city and had vowed not to make the same mistake twice.  We were  given several recommendations for go-to dim sum spots and, after much deliberation, settled on lunch at Lai Hong Lounge, located on Powell Street just off of Broadway.  It was clear upon arrival that we were the only tourists in the restaurant.  All eyes in the large, red dining room turned to look at us as we waited to be seated.

My first instinct was to turn around but I knew that this was a very good sign that we were somewhere authentic and that we would be sampling food that was blissfully un-Americanized.  Our waiter spoke very little English but wore a large and genuine smile, putting me at ease quickly as he poured us cups of piping hot tea.  We ordered dim sum from a large menu, marking our selections with a bit of trepidation as the bulk of the items were unfamiliar to us.  Standards were obvious – dumplings both fried and steamed – and fantastic.

The fried shrimp dumpling, while incredibly simple, packed a crunchy wonton full of plump and perfectly cooked shrimp.  It was a highlight for me along with the stuffed tofu skins.  Z became instantly addicted to the steamed pork buns and, since our return, declared them his best bite of the trip.  We ordered eight items and our eyes proved to be larger than our stomachs.  We left in a pleasant food-coma, strolling leisurely through the streets of China Town, our schedule open and the sky a beautiful blue.

We had visited our favorite bookstore, City Lights, the previous day however I had heard of a foodie-centric bookshop that I was anxious to peruse.  We made our way to the Mission neighborhood where Omnivore Books on Food resides.  It feels as if you are on the set of a movie when you enter, the small, neatly arranged store almost too perfect and too quaint to be true.  Thankfully it is very real and we took our time scouring the shelves that lined the walls and stretched toward the ceiling, small foot stools available for any books that were out of reach.  Intermixed with the current must-have-food-reads and classic tomes such as The Art of French Cooking and The Joy of Cooking, vintage copies of food and beverage related books can be found.  Tucked in the nooks and crannies you feel as if you are coming across something hidden, an item that was left behind many years ago by someone who loved the culinary world as much as you.  It was a lovely place to spend part of our afternoon.

One our way to Omnivore we had passed a large park set against a steep slope and complete with a wonderful view of San Francisco.  Called Mission Dolores Park, we took our new reads and spent some time in the sun, taking in the view and relaxing, soaking in the wonderfulness of not having to be anywhere, to do anything.  Later that evening we would find ourselves wine tasting at The Hidden Vine, a dark and loungy spot in the financial district.  Luck would be on our side for dinner and we would manage to score a table at State Bird Provisions, the highly acclaimed mixed-service establishment named 2013′s best new restaurant in America by James Beard.  For the moment however all that I sensed was the grass at Dolores Park tickling my arms, the pages of my book shuffling in the breeze.  A group of friends several feet away passed around a pet snake, reminding me that I wasn’t just anywhere.  I was in San Francisco where the beat of the drum is different.  It is a beautiful sound.

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