Devouring Citrines

Over-roasted Spaghetti Squash = A Heavenly Dish of Citrines! 

Image from Google gems

Dean made us Spaghetti Squash last night.  One of my absolute favorites.  But, as luck would have it, our housekeeper was running a bit behind and Dean didn’t get a chance to remove the Squash from the oven after 50-55 minutes like we normally do.  Instead, the Squash roasted for a longer period of time (about 65-70 mins at 350’F) and we ended up with the most delicious, golden roasted squash imaginable.

Not the prettiest picture but it was so good I ate half of it before remembering to take a picture!

The secret to this sumptuous roasted squash is to wait until the shell of the squash is collapsing in on itself and cracking a little.  Remove it from the oven and you will see some dark roasting colors on the flesh of the squash and it should remove very easily into a pretty bowl.  Mix in butter, salt, and parmesan reggiano cheese to taste (I like lots) and serve immediately.  You will swear it’s like eating nature’s best jewelry for dinner too!

Golden Spaghetti Squash

  • 1 golden spaghetti squash
  • real butter (1-3 tablespoons)
  • pinch of sea salt (remember it’s more of a sturdy flavor than cheap, iodized salt)
  • Parmesan Reggiano cheese (grated)

Preheat oven to 350’F

Cut ends off the squash and slice in half long-ways.  Remove seeds with a sturdy spoon and discard.

Drizzle cooking olive oil on the roasting pan and all over the flesh of the squash.  Place flesh side down on the cooking pan and slide into oven.

Roast 65-75 minutes or until shell begins to collapse in on itself and the shell cracks.  Flesh should have a bit of a roasted char loveliness going

Remove squash from the oven.  Using oven mitts, hold each half of squash and drag a fork down the inside of the vegetable, drawing out the “Spaghetti” strands into a pretty serving bowl.

Mix in butter (melted preferably), pinch of salt and cheese to taste. Serve immediately!

Usually I’d pair this with a hearty white but the glorious roasted flavors can stand up with a medium to light bodies dry red wine.  Nothing overly fruity!  Our 2009 Anni’s Blend Meritage went really well with it!

Bar cubes

Did you know that if you use distilled water for homemade ice cubes, your ice will last twice as long in your evening cocktails? And drinks taste better.

Restaurants and bars use professional filtration systems to create clear, long lasting ice — freezing water quickly to prevent bubbles.  Clear ice “isn’t just for show: Its crystals are more tightly bound. So it melts more slowly, preventing waterlogged beverages.”

When we make ice at home, especially in standard fridge/ freezer systems, ice freezes from the outside in and clouds with minerals and trapped bubbles. But you can make pure, great-drinks ice too if you use DISTILLED WATER which, unlike tap water, contains no minerals.  If you choose to boil the water first for a few seconds, bully for you! That’s even better to dissolve gases before freezing.

Any way you crunch it, super-clear ice lasts twice as long as regular cubes.  And drinks taste better!

— adapted from Cook’s Illustrated (March & April 2012)

Epic Disaster

I may have made one of the worst meals of my entire life last night.  And that’s saying something — considering my dabbling in cinder-brick Asian noodles ca. 2008.

But this dish looked so good (and easy!) in the magazine.  Nothing is worse than seeing a fetching dish photographed in a food magazine — Only to make it and end up with a big, goopey mess.  You know it’s bad when your dear, sweet friends take bites and all quietly look around for what’s in reach, what new thing to add to improve this wreckage — pepper, more cheese, salt.  Even Anni reached for more cheese.  And she’s 2. 

For lunch today, leftovers were no better.  No ingredient improved with time spent together.  Dean reheated this disaster for lunch today and after half a plate, enough food to kill the pain, he said to our child, “Here Anni, we have a special garbage can for this pasta.”

So learn from me fearless food friends! Trying new things is good.  But never add cinnamon and cloves to rigatoni with cauliflower and broccoli.  Ever!  No matter how pretty that glossy picture.

Divine Beets, Goat Cheese and Spinach Salad

Beets are one of the few vegetables you can buy, stick ’em in your fridge drawer and legitimately come back to them a week or so later and say, “I forgot you were there! Huh… what can I make with you today?”

Yummy & Healthy: Goat Cheese, Roasted Beets, and Spinach salad

I came up with this dish mostly out of laziness this past summer…as I kept encountering week-old beets and mismashed veggies left over from other meals.  But this week, I toasted left over pine nuts (from garden pesto) and it is now ready for prime time sharing with you!

The prep time is easy but roasting Beets takes about an hour but your kitchen is infused with a fantastic, earthy aroma.  Like you are baking the Gods’ favorite dish.  But once the beets cook, prep time is 5 minutes and everyone is happy.  Even your toddler!

Beet & Goat Cheese Salad:

You will need:

  • 3 red beets
  • 3 gold beets
  • 5-7 oz Goat Cheese — I prefer Laura Chenel Goat Cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts — Toast them in a small pan until lightly brown and set aside
  • 5-6 handfuls of fresh Spinach leaves (or Augula, whatever they have that is a dark green salad leaf)
  • Olive oil

Preheat oven to 325′. Line a small roasting sheet (or whatever you have) with tin foil.

Red beets ready for cleaning

SCRUB beets and trim off the root end and any funky looking parts.  Rub cooking olive oil all over the beets with your hands and place in a single layer on the sheet.  Slide into the oven for 55-65 minutes, or until beets are roasted through.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together:

  • 2 cloves chopped garlic or shallots
  • 2-3 tablespoons of your good olive oil.  — Not your cooking oil but your drizzling/dressing oil
  • Pinch sea salt and 2 twists fresh pepper
  • 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard (stone ground or smooth)
  • 2 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Let mixture stand and marinate while Beets cook.

Beets are finished when a fork side through. Once finished, remove beets from the oven and skin them using a fork and knife.  Quarter the beets and let cool a few minutes while you put the spinach in a salad bowl and whisk the salad dress mix one more time.  Taste for seasoning.

Add beets to spinach and crumble goat cheese over the beets.  The still warm beets will slightly melt the white goat cheese, making the cheese a fun pink. Toss salad with dressing and toasted pine nuts.

Serve immediately with a chilled, CRISP Rose or White wine.

 

 

 

Don’t Be A Cheeto: Happily Eating “Unhealthily”

“How are you so thin??” 

I heard this today from a very lovely woman visiting our winery.  She expressed shock and horror that a.) I eat bread and pasta and cheese regularly and b.) that I am 5 months pregnant.

How to answer? I’ve been mulling it over since and decided to inflict you good folks with my response.  First, I could start out by explaining that I used to be one of the millions of Americans with a weight problem.  That I worked out religiously, ran those miles to sweat calories only to eat too much of preservative packed “healthy” foods without realizing what I was ingesting.  This is true.  Second, I should give a huge shout out to PJ Rex at Deerfield Ranch Winery who taught me about proper portion control (think 1 salad plate) and the 100% importance of eating vegetables and olive oil-dressed salad at the end of every day.  Roughage… *ahem* cleans you out overnight.

Really though, it was about moving to Sonoma and adopting a healthy attitude about life and movement and most importantly, eating REAL food and drinking REAL wine that changed my life.  And my figure.  In fact, I stopped killing myself at the gym, took up pasta at least once a week, eat greens AND bread almost daily — and lost 64 pounds.  In 8 months.

So what to eat for dinner? Or lunch?  Easy: REAL FOOD.

Michael Pollan writes about America that “…other countries, such as Italy or France, [decide] their [food] decisions on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition, eat all manner of “unhealthy” foods (i.e. bread, pasta, triple creme cheese, full butter) and, lo and behold, wind up actually healthier and happier in their eating than we [Americans] are… Yet [he] wonders if it doesn’t make more sense to speak in terms of an American paradox — that is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.” (Omnivore’s Dilemma).

The plain truth is that “Industrial Agriculture” and “Industrial Eating” is wielding terrifying damage on our environments and to We the People as individuals. Granted, I am speaking from within a national treasure — northern California is a virtual breadbasket of artisan foodstuffs, cheeses, farms, and ranches.  Some 85% of what is produced here is consumed within a 65 mile radius.  The wine, oils, and cheeses alone!! (*swoon*)

Sharon at Oliver's Market cheese counter. The Cheese Monger of Mongers!

So when I up and moved to Sonoma, the choices available to me were overwhelmingly healthy and actually real food.  But that’s just it.  It is REAL food.  The list of ingredients on a label is in English — if there even is a label.  Real Food does not come in a box.  Real Food does not come in flashy packaging.  Real Food is not a soda pop or bag of candy or super-sized anything.  Not that I ate alot of crap before but I had no idea what I was doing… or missing.  Real Food tastes soooooo much better.

Today, I shop the outside perimeter of the super market.  AVOID the interior aisles! Load up on green vegetables, meats, butters, cheese, garlic, pancetta, fresh pastas, tomatoes, apples, locally baked breads, and dairy instead.  There is no difference between the foods I eat today and likely what my grandparents would have consumed in their 30s.  Arguably.  (I don’t like gin or halibut or instant coffee, so those are theirs.)  I took the cold plunge from that first weekend here in 2007 and cut out all foods that weren’t 100% real food.  And seriously lost pound after pound. But it will suck as the processed flours and refined sugars leave your system.  Plan on being cranky for a good week.

The rule of thumb is simple for happy, healthy eating — and living.  You ARE what you eat. If you want to be a Cheeto, then fine.  But if you don’t, then eat as fresh and as close to the source as you can.  Read the label — eat REAL foods.  Your body is not meant to be junked up with dirty, chemically created “foods” and drinks.  If you want to live healthy, more slender, “clean” lives, then eat REAL foods.  Throw out everything else.  I promise you, your body will thank you.  Plus, your ass will look fantastic.

And for the love of God, eat real butter, cheese, olive oils, and avocados.  GOOD fats do not make you fat.  They are delicious!

“Cork Dorks” vs. the Wine Aroma Wheel

Much has been written, and even more said, on the subject of Wine.  Wine has been produced for literally thousands of years.  The earliest known production appears in the archaeological record around 6,000 BC in Georgia — that’s the late Neolithic era people!   And the last 40 years of cross-cultural competition and technological improvements (plus rise of New World wines!) only capitalized on millennia after millennia of a drink enjoyed by Kings, Queens, clergy, farmers, scholars, sailors, artists, whores, and more.

Before being in the industry, all I knew was that I very much enjoyed drinking wine.  But the consistent and proactive exploration of wine and my palate (i.e. mouth, tongue, nose) has become a lifetime passion and one of my central tenants.  After 5 years, I know a ton more than I did but now I also know that one lifetime is not nearly enough to truly master this subject.  I am still a newbie and a novice.  And may be so for at least another decade.  But my life on the Annadel vineyards and in making and writing about wine provides me a unique position to at least talk frankly about wine.

First, there is an absurd amount of snotty people who use Wine as their pillar of snobbery. They are idiots.  Knowledgeable yes, but idiots nonetheless.  I am also guessing they have never really worked in a vineyard or tracked dirt into the house racing in to pee. Their nails have never been purple for months on end nor have their clothes begun to self-ferment because Harvest is just that nuts!  

These “Cork Dorks” are just a different variation on the age-old-theme of someone with a ton of knowledge, but even more insecurities. *I am not talking about the down-to-earth wine lovers and Soms.*  But in my book, the passionate pursuit of Wine is democratic and should be available to anyone.  We all have tongues and noses and taste buds and empty glasses with which to pour a beverage of choice when we eat dinner or lunch.  Or breakfast! Wine goes very well with eggs.  But Cork Dorks would have you believe Wine is an aloof art cloistered to Private Clubs.  However, when you grow the grapes, make the wine, bottle it and cook food with which to pair it, I can emphatically tell you that’s a load of crap.  While Wine is a lofty art form, it is also a beverage.

It is a luscious passion that takes joyful work.  A key to learning this love (I think) is the invaluable WINE AROMA WHEEL by Dr. Ann Noble at UC Davis.  Everyone needs this.  If you buy one thing to learn about wine, this is it.  And it is only $6.  *There are lots of spin-offs for four times the price (even on Amazon) so be sure you buy it from the source.  Go here: http://winearomawheel.com/

Keep it on the kitchen table.   When you taste wine at night — or better yet with a regular group of friends — this Wheel will help teach your tongue and mouth to think together.  How to describe the wine accurately!  To connect your palate with brain.  So when you taste currants or cassis or toasted walnuts you say “aha!! so that’s what that is.” Even the snootiest Cork Dork had to start somewhere.  No one is born knowing the difference between stewed and fresh red tree fruit or passion fruit and white tree fruits.  You have to teach your brain to know how to describe the flavors.  The Aroma Wheels boils down words to the central flavors of pretty much all wines out there — no matter the country or maker — in one $6, laminated circle of knowledge.

I promise you, learn your own words and claim ownership over your tastes for wine.  You will never listen to Cork Dorks again.

 

Sun-drenched Beltane Ranch

On a night like tonight, when even the walls are still warm, this preggo is too hot to sleep.  So I am cataloguing the past year’s paintings. And this piece of mine from the sun drenched horse pastures at historic Beltane Ranch feels most appropriate.

True confession time: after 20+ years of active, closet painting I now consider myself an Artist.  I am out!  I simply love Beauty.  Now, I will never claim to be a realist.  Seeing the Beauty in our natural landscape and then breathing oil onto canvas to capture how a place feels is tough as nails and amazing. Something I hope to pass on to my babies.  My love and pursuit of artistic Beauty is why I paint.  (And it is why I fall in love with and collect art from living, Californian artists.)

Every Monday, Anni and I head out with my collapsible easel, some graham crackers, and converted picnic basket of paints, Turpenoid, and palette.  And join a handful of talented Plein Aire painters all around Wine Country.  In any given season we paint in Bodega Bay, Healdsburg, Sonoma Valley, Calistoga, Petaluma, Dry Creek, and Tomales Bay.

Painting outdoors is a tonic and a joy.  It is also the hardest damn creative exercise I have ever under taken.  Except for ceramics.  I failed ceramics.  And Home Ec.  Literally.  I kept sewing myself to my apron.

Tomato Crack

What to do with aaalllll of the tomatoes out there right now? All the perfect, gorgeously ripe fragrant tomatoes? It’s a gluttony! Our local Farmer’s Market, Sonoma, Glen Ellen and Oliver’s markets are chock full of tomatoes — not to mention that our kitchen garden truly just lit itself on fire in orange, red, yellow and green hues of tomatoes.  So what to do?

Here is my answer: Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta on sumptuous Butter Toast

And it literally takes 20 minutes.  Maybe.

All you need is:

  • Many colorful, heirloom tomatoes.  All shapes and sizes. Coarsely chopped.  Halve the cherry tomatoes.   (We did 3 batches last night and went through at least 3 lbs fresh tomatoes.)
  • Handful of fragrant, fresh Basil (Italian, not Thai)
  • 3 cloves chopped fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons good quality Olive Oil
  • Pinch of sea salt or Kosher salt
  • Few twists of freshly ground pepper — I use rainbow peppercorns

Mix all of this into one pretty bowl. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare toast.

You will need:

  • Rustic bread (your choice.  Opt for mild flavors if possible to not compete with amazing tomatoes)
  • Real Butter — 1-2 tablespoons per batch of toast

Slice the bread into 1/2-3/4 inch thick slices.  Too slim a cut and the bread will split in the butter.  Halve bread if you like.  (* Its okay to use day old or two day old bread.  The butter will soften the bread as it toasts.)

Melt the butter in a medium or large pan over a medium high flame.

Place the bread in the melted butter.  Don’t leave the stove.  Stand there with a fork, checking often to be sure it doesn’t burn and only “toasts.” Flip the bread to do the other side. It might smoke some.

Remove to serving platter and spoon the tomato mixture over the toasts.  Garnish with fresh basil. Serve immediately.

Dean says this dish of mine whole heartedly has his “Italian seal of approval.”   Repeat as often as you have belly room!

 

Moroccan Lamb Casserole with Preserved Lemons

I refuse to be one of those foodies who turn their nose up at magazine rack food rags.  A great recipe is a great recipe, no matter from where it originates.   This one is from “Ultimate Casseroles” special publication (pg 57) that hit stands courtesy of Better Home & Gardens in 2012.

I have made some great changes in quantity but the recipe ingredients remain the same. This recipe is a true favorite in our growing household.  Minced lamb sautéed with vegetables, Israeli couscous, fresh ground Cumin, garlic, ginger, and lemon.  Hhhhmmmmmm.

It’s quick, savory, and perfect with a chilled bottle of dry Rose or medium- to light- bodied red wine.  You don’t want too heavy a red as it will overwhelm the luscious Moroccan spices and luxury of preserved Meyer lemons.

Note: You must, must, must have a mortar and pestle.  For the love of God! A mortar and pestle may seem like one of those odd kitchen gizmos but there is a reason every good cook has one.  Why every kitchen stock carries them always.  I use mine several times a week!  At the very least the pestle “wakes up” dried herbs and fantastically helps “muddle” the flavors of even the simplest dishes, rendering them scrumptious.  You don’t want stale herbs.  Then you have flat food.

 

Recipe: MOROCCAN LAMB CASSEROLE WITH PRESERVED MEYER LEMON

  • Israeli Couscous (at least 1 cup dried) – you should have 1-2 cups ready couscous
  • ½ cup rinsed and chopped preserved Meyer lemon (see specialty or higher end markets) or 1+ tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 & ½ teaspoon ground Cumin seeds (use your Mortar & Pestle!!)
  • 2-3 minced fresh garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh Ginger (peel skins first)
  • ½ teaspoon ground Cinnamon
  • 1&1/2 ground Lamb
  • 2 medium or large carrots (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1 medium yellow onion cut into thin wedges
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes  (undrained) – *optional
  • ¾ cup golden plump raisins
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • a few turns of fresh ground pepper
  • 1/3-1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped for serving

Preheat oven to 350’F

In a small bowl, combine preserved Meyer lemons, cumin, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon.  Set aside.  *Can do this well in advance for stronger flavors!  

Cook couscous according to package directions.

In a large skillet, cook ground lamb, carrots and onions until meat is brown.  Stir in coked couscous, lemon mixture, tomatoes (*optional), raisins, salt and pepper.  Mix well.

Transfer mixture into a cute 2 to 2 & ½ Qt Dutch Oven for good baking and pretty serving.

Bake uncovered about 30 minutes or until heated through.  (Note to bake it covered should you omit the tomatoes.)

Toast almonds in a small pan while casserole is cooking.  Chop cilantro.  Place in separate bowls for serving.  

Makes 4-6 servings.